TONY PORTARO & JOE CANGELOSI – NEW COMING OF THE LEGENDARY WHIPLASH
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
The true heyday of thrash metal was naturally the 80´s. Many great thrash bands were formed during the 80´s, and also many great thrash albums were released back then that are considered as some of the genre´s most classic and strongest albums even these days. Exodus´ BONDED BY BLOOD, Vio-lence´s ETERNAL NIGHTMARE, Slayer´s REIGN IN BLOOD, Dark Angel´s DARKNESS DESCENDS, Metallica´s RIDE THE LIGHTNING, Testament´s THE LEGACY, Forbidden´s FORBIDDEN EVIL, Anthrax´s AMONG THE LIVING, Kreator´s PLEASURE TO KILL, Destruction´s INFERNAL OVERKILL – and just dozens of other releases from that particular era, were definitely some of those genre-defining albums that many today´s releases often get compared to – and that´s just really understandable when overall thinking what thrash metal is really all about: Violence, rage and aggression.
For some strange reason, Whiplash from Passaic, New Jersey, never seemed to reach the same cult status with their releases as some of their fellow thrashers did in some other thrash bands at that time. Whiplash 1st two albums, POWER AND PAIN and TICKET TO MAYHEM were both some of the most frenzied, rawest, most powerful and unstoppable slaps of intense speed/thrash metal from those days that hardly paled in comparison to any other albums from the same genre, but were still somehow left a couple of steps behind the shadows of many other speed/thrash releases back then. Fair to say, the world isn´t always that justified place for everyone, I guess.
Whiplash´s last studio album, THRASHBACK, was released in 1998 with 3 Tonys (R.I.P. Tony Bono), and I bet many of us already thought we would never see another Whiplash album any more.
But as so many old thrash acts that undoubtedly lived their gloriest days in the´80´s before splitting up, have made their comebacks on the verge of new millenium and released decent albums, it was finally Whiplash´s turn to return back to form and start writing new songs again.
Tony Portaro, Joe Cangelosi (ex-Kreator, ex-Massacre, etc.) and Rick Day (ex-Primal Scream) are currently preparing songs for Whiplash´s 7th full-lenght album, titled UNBORN AGAIN – and before it will hit the stores around the world, let both Tony and Joe tell more about this process, plus the past days of the band a bit as well…
How are you doing today Tony? Getting more and more excited day by day to get your 7th full-length album, titled UNBORN AGAIN out some day?
Tony: It’s been a lot of work in a short period of time. We’ve been writing at a frantic pace… Faster than we ever have. And, the results have been fantastic. We’re very pleased and have even thought about continuing to write the 7th full-length album almost as soon as UNBORN AGAIN has been recorded.
Joe: We are having a great time, always laughing and really enjoying the creative process with tools that we never had in the old days. Technology has definitely made it easy for us to get our ideas together fast. and Tony’s studio kills!! A great time for all!!!
What are your overall feelings about the songs on UNBORN AGAIN? Do you strongly believe that many Whiplash fans will love it unreservedly because as you have already stated the material on UNBORN AGAIN will throw Whiplash back to the times of your first two albums, POWER AND PAIN and TICKET TO MAYHEM?
Tony: Yes, definitely. It has many ripping thrash riffs that break down into serious mosh sections that will keep the live crowd very busy! Some of these mosh parts are the heaviest sounding Whiplash material in a very long time. The speed metal riffs are very fresh and modern, yet bring you right back to the mid-eighties Whiplash style at the same time.
Joe: It’s going to be fun to see the reaction!!!
How easy (or difficult) was it actually for you to find that same raw and relentless thrash vibe back to UNBORN AGAIN that you had on both POWER and TICKET albums?
Tony: It was frightening how easy it was. Joe and I knew our hearts were always there, but had no idea how fast we would be able to produce and albums worth of new material. To watch the collection of songs grow so fast was exciting and kept the drive going. Now we are the point where we can burn a CD and hear the songs one after the other and it’s easy to hear the songwriting quality of the album as a whole. It definitely has the potential to be the best Whiplash album of all and that is very, very exciting for us after all these years.
Joe: This is a dream come true for me, I’m back home where I belong!! It feels great to be back in the band that I grew up in! The energy is brimming over the top still and I knew after we started to write songs that we were going to have something special again. The vibe was there in an instant because of the great chemistry Tony and I have together. Rich Day who I played with since I was like 14 is the perfect fit without a doubt.
Could you give us a brief description about each song in UNBORN AGAIN how the songs sound like musically so that all the Whiplash fans around the globe would get an idea what to expect from this new Whiplash opus?
Here’s a few ideas for them to ponder:
“Swallow the Slaughter” begins with a drum intro, then a shredding guitar riff. Harris Johns emailed me and said this will be a “classical killer”! It has a catchy vocal melody and shouting in the chorus. The middle section has a key change into one of the heaviest Whiplash mosh parts ever. Then, a race to the finish with a classic Whiplash anthem ending.
“Feeding Frenzy” is another speed metal thrasher that reminds me a bit of “The Burning of Atlanta” in the verse. Another catchy chorus, but the chorus vocal melody is not written at the time of this interview. It also includes another section that will awake the mosh pit. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite bands, Exodus.
“Snuff” has such a modern, shouting, hardcore chorus, yet a classic Whiplash riff and thrash drum beat for the verses.
“Fight or Flight” is in 6/8 time. This is one of my personal favorites with dive-bombing slide guitar. Some people have compared parts of this one to Led Zeppelin! I will make this guitar lead shred when we are working with Harris in the studio. A very abrupt ending.
“Firewater” is a slower grooving tune that has 11/4 time scattered throughout the song. It has many parts that sound very American Indian-like and a very catchy grooving guitar riff in the verses.
“Float Face Down” begins with the bass, then a string section joins in with a grooving guitar riff which leads to a fast thrashing verse riff. The vocals have a very unique rhyming scheme. The rhythm behind the guitar lead is almost like a song in itself with a few key changes. To end, we revert back to the string section / guitar riff part similar to the intro.
“Parade of Two Legs” starts with a killer tom-tom rhythm in 9/4 time. It’s heavy as all hell. Joe wrote the rhythm back when he was in Kreator, but they never used it. I came up with the title and we turned it into something special. Right now we are thinking about keeping it as an instrumental.
I bet all these songs that will be included for this UNBORN AGAIN album, didn´t actually born only within 1-2 years, but some of them may be even older than that. Does that correct? If so, what are some of the oldest songs on the record – and what about the freshest ones that you put together just before you entered the studio?
Tony: Actually, they were all written in the last 4 or 5 months of 2008. There are a very fresh representation of what we are doing now.
Joe: I think its the freshest Whiplash to date! And hopefully we continue to pound songs out at such a urgent yet creative rate.
You have also been doing this video blog about the making of UNBORN AGAIN. Do you think running a video blog is actually a nice way to give a short teaser or overview to your fans, what they can expect from your new album content-wise?
Tony: The blogs were a lot of fun, but believe me, after writing for 2 days straight it was work trying to get psyched up for those. At times we were so mentally and physically exhausted from writing at the pace we were, that we just kept pushing the recording of the blogs back. In the end, we didn’t regret it one bit. I think it not only kept the Whiplash followers aware of what was going on, but also made them laugh. We can thrash like mad and still have some pretty good sense of humor to go along with it. Some bands are a little too serious. It’s good to have fun while you are working as long as you can produce the product at the same time. We manage to do that and it keeps our spirits up.
Joe: Man, let me tell you it was a laugh a minute… But also very serious and productive. It was a lot of work, but we did it and had the best time with it. I would like to thank our manager Rob Bolger for putting many painstaking hours to edit the footage and put it together… Great job!
WHY TITLE "UNBORN AGAIN"?
Why the title UNBORN AGAIN? Did Sabbath´s album BORN AGAIN somehow give you some sort of inspiration to name this new album to UNBORN AGAIN?
Tony: Not at all, although we have always respected Black Sabbath. UNBORN AGAIN was a song title that I had for a while. We were going to call the album PITBULLS IN THE PLAYGROUND, but opted for UNBORN AGAIN because it gave you that sense of reuniting again, sort of like THRASHBACK. I also had lyrics for the song we were going to call UNBORN AGAIN. It is about a girl into drugs and alcohol. She then becomes religious and born again, then reverts back to her evil ways.
It´s been 10 years since your last album, THRASHBACK, so I guess it´s not too unfair to ask from you why it took so many years to get a new album from you guys? We – the Whiplash fans, have been starving to death to hear new stuff from you – that´s already certain, I cal tell… ;o)
Tony: I always wanted to get together and write more music with some of the Whiplash members in the past, but it wasn’t until Joe committed to the project that we could really put together something that was a true collaboration of the minds. There’s already talk about another album from us after UNBORN AGAIN and we have been thinking this may be the fastest turnaround between Whiplash albums ever.
Joe: Yes, it feels great to be back home again… And this time we are pedal to the metal!!
You did your previous album THRASHBACK for a German label Massacre Records in 1998. What about negotiations with some labels that might be interested in releasing UNBORN AGAIN? Have they already started? Might it be even possible that Whiplash could re-sign to Massacre again if an offer from them was good enough?
Tony: By now you probably know that we have signed with Pulverised Records. They are showing an incredible amount of enthusiasm and things have been working out perfectly, so far.
You had a couple of guest musicians on THRASHBACK. Do you have any intentions to use some on UNBORN AGAIN, or did you already decide to not use any guests on this record but instead just do it by three of you only this time around, from start to finish?
Tony: There will be one special guest that will play at least one guitar lead on UNBORN AGAIN, but I am not able to mention his name at this time. Of course we will have gang background vocals from our friends in the industry as well.
Joe: The special guest is an old friend… That´s the only hint you get.
Would you say that it was relatively painful to start working with Joe (Cangelosi) and Rick (Day) for UNBORN AGAIN because both of them have a long history in bands – and they obviously knew very well what you personally expected from these new Whiplash songs?
Tony: Joe & Rich have been playing music together on and off since they were 14 years old so they have a well developed chemistry. Joe and I also have a great chemistry from recording as well as touring. Also Rich is a very professional bassist. When we starting working on the new material, everything seemed to fall into place effortlessly.
Joe: It is one of the most effortless musical experiences I can dream of, Tony and I have written, recorded and played together for years – and the same can be said of Rich. The only thing painful I can think of is the brutality and conviction in which we intend to deliver on UNBORN AGAIN.
CONNECTION TO CALIGULA
You (Tony) also have some history in some other bands but not only in Whiplash. I´m especially interested in finding out what made to quit Caligula back in the day because in my honest opinion their TECHNICAL AGGRESSION demo, which they recorded back in 1987, is still one of the finest thrash metal demos of all times…
Tony: To be honest, I don’t remember the circumstances at the time. I don’t remember any hard feelings, though. I have recently been in contact with Chris as well.
Joe: Those guys are killer. The drummer Eddie Klinger lives in Brooklyn. I think Tony left Caligula because he wasn’t finished with Whiplash. Tony Scaglione left the band and they were left without a drummer during that period.
As it´s been seen and heard for a quite while already, there´s been this huge resurgence of old-school thrash metal. Many thrash bands that split up in the late 80´s and early 90´s, have been resurrected from the dead – plus, many young musicians have formed their own bands during this last decade that at least try to sound old-school and make their best out of the ´80s thrash metal sound (Merciless Death, Violator, Warbringer, Guillotine, Gama Bomb, etc.). What´s your own standpoint about this whole vast 2nd invasion of oldschool thrash anyway? Do you also find it as overwhelming and exciting as much as I do?
Tony: Yes, it’s amazing. Grunge appeared to be the downfall of metal at the time. It’s good to see that the thrash metal scene has made such a strong comeback.
Joe: All I got to say is it´s about time!
KILLER TIMES… TAPE TRADING
Back in the day, metal fans had this huge and active tape trading scene in which they discovered many new killer underground metal bands – and nowadays we have the Internet that makes finding new bands very easy for each of us. As Whiplash naturally was a part of the tapetrading scene I need to ask from you how much do you still miss those times – being an old-timer like you are – when every metalhead was heavily involved with it and spreading the word around about their favorite bands and so on?
Tony: Those were great times, but the internet has made us aware of many Whiplash followers that we never knew about. For instance, we never had any idea how many people in Italy were into our music. Now we are going to be performing there based on the response that we have seen from them through the world wide web. There is a similar situation with Spain.
Joe: Yeah, it has changed… But to be so close to the fans that are so far in distance is incredible and we enjoy talking to all of them if we can!! It has open all of the doors of possibilities. So feel free to drop us a email www.myspace.com/whiplashusa
How much would you see the Internet has helped Whiplash to send a word out about the band that you guys are still alive and kicking – and making some powerful and heavy riff- and double bass based thrash again? I guess according to an overwhelming response from your fans that you supposedly get every day, you could even say that the true fans of Whiplash are still actively on the move, and begging to see the band live again and overall infusing you guys with courage that your ´new coming´ is worth the wait. Do the aforementioned lines hold any of the truth?
Tony: We can only assume, but we believe the internet has at least tripled our fan base. It’s exciting to see the younger generations into our music. I believe some of the youngest fans may have been born the same year as Whiplash.
Joe: It has been a great communicator to the masses… It rules!!
You (Tony) also played in M.O.D. on the tour in 1993 with Tony Scaglione as guests. Can you still recall how you guys involved on that tour, and what is your craziest memory from that particular tour? I guess those were overall pretty crazy times to tour with Billy Milano and his band… Are you still – even occasionally in touch with Billy Milano?
I haven’t talked to Billy in a while, but I believe we exchanged myspace friendships. Tony Scaglione was already in M.O.D. and Billy needed a guitarist. Tony gave me a call and I wasn’t doing much at the time. It was a lot of fun and it was also great to perform together with Rob Moschetti who now fronts the band Full Scale Riot. Three memories come to mind, but one was this venue where many of the crowd were diving off the balcony to the ground floor level.
EX-WHIPLASH MEMBERS… WHAT´S UP WITH THEM?
Out of my own curiosity, what about the former members of Whiplash (Tony Scaglione, Glenn Hansen, Rob Gonzo, etc.)? Have you (Tony) talked to any of them since they quite Whiplash, and do you know what they are up to these days?
I talk to Tony Scaglione every now and then. I think he is enjoying life with his family at this time, but I truly hope that the right project falls into his lap. He is very talented and many bands would kill to have him perform on their albums. I talk to Glenn Hansen as well. In fact, he brought a client, Tommy Butler, to my recording studio not long ago and we both performed on his CD. I was very much fun and I was very proud of the production. Rob now has a band called Gonzo and recently he came to my studio, Concrete Island, to record a single for radio. I was on regular rotation for some time. I also speak with Warren Conditi as well. He’s a great guitarist, has perfect pitch and is very brilliant. He actually offered to rewire my new wah-wah pedal which I though was very cool.
You (Tony) played some killer shows with Whiplash back in the day. One of the most memorable and mind-sticking simply must be your show at Ruthie´s Inn in Berkeley, CA with Possessed and Death Angel because it was your first ever live performance. What do you still remember from that particular Whiplash show in question?
I remember meeting Gary Holt who is still a friend to this day. Also, Metallica was there. I met Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton was also there. I hope we will be playing a show with Possessed again before long.
Do you have any touring plans for 2009 already? I think many metal festivals that are arranged during the summer time especially in Europe, sound pretty tempting for you Tony – correct? ;o)
Tony: Oh yes. You are 100% correct. It would be a dream come true to play the Wacken 20 Year Anniversary show. Years ago we were supposed to play it, but the record company screwed us big time. All we were asking for was $800 USD. The record company said no, so we said we weren’t going to play. I guess they didn’t believe us. They sent the plane tickets and followed up with a telephone call to confirm that we were going the day before we were supposed to board the flight. I explained that we didn’t rehearse in 3 months and my passport had expired. They were begging us to play, but it was too late.
Joe: I hope Whiplash gets a chance to play Wacken. I was fortunate to have played there when I was with Kreator in 96. It´s a great festival!!
Talking about playing live – and especially today´s metal crowd at concerts. What´s your opinion about this “Wall of Death” phenomenon that you see quite a lot in metal concerts nowadays, when kids obviously get hurt themselves (some even badly) when taking part of this madness? I cannot deny it a bit but it definitely looks damn cool when a mass of crazy metalheads get hit to each other, but the other side of this coin is that some of them loose their teeth, get their bones fractured while getting several other minor injuries (bruises, etc.). Do you, however, prefer a regular circle pit with headbanging and stuff to this “W.o.D.” thing?
Tony: Yes, we never want to see any of the Whiplash followers get injured. We especially do not want to see them hurting each other. In fact, I have been thinking of telling the moshers in between songs to not use their elbows.
Joe: Yeah… It could get crazy in that pit. I remember the violence of it all and I also remember the camaraderie especially in places like CBGB and the old Ritz in NYC. I remember when Whiplash played in Mexico City in ´90, I saw the kids making towers of bodies like 8 feet high… Crazy!!
25 YEARS OF THRASH
What about DVD plans? I´m sure it would a great thing for your fans to get a collection of vintage Whiplash stuff captured on one DVD, so I need to ask from you whether these type of plans have crossed your mind lately?
Tony: Yes, our management has been working on something. In fact it will be called 25 YEARS OF THRASH and it will be out this year.
Joe: It should be cool. We are still asking out there for any footage that could be added to it that we don´t already have. So, if you do please contact us about it!
You already have this limited Whiplash skateboard + T-shirt thing coming out. Whose idea was it to make this piece of merchandise, a skateboard with the Whiplash logo tagged on it? Do some of you in Whiplash love doing skateboarding, or did this idea become reality because some of your loyal and devoted Whiplash fans have asked them from you?
Tony: That was our management´s idea although I still haven’t had the chance to see the boards as of yet. I have seen some of our fans in the Philippines are very much into skateboarding.
Joe: I know a bunch of skaters that are stoked to check em out. I want one myself!
CONDOMS WITH "TICKET TO MAYHEM – FEEL THE LOVE OF WHIPLASH" TAGGED ON THEM
What kind of further plans do you have in your mind to expand the Whiplash merchandise in the future? Selling f.ex. baseball sticks that might say: “Power and pain… The one and only Whiplash style!”, or condoms (with size XXL only) that would carry the text: “Ticket to mayhem – Now feel the love of Whiplash” in them, ha-ha! ;oP
Tony: That’s funny. I think we should hire you for the marketing aspects (Ha-ha… Thanks for the compliment and offer, Tony. I think I´ll pass… for now though. ;o) Luxi adds)
Ok, I think I pretty much got covered what I wanted to know about Whiplash´s ´new coming´ – for now, I mean of course! ;o) So thank you very much Tony for your time with my interview questions, and if you feel there´s still something that you´d like to add to this interview about the band, then feel free to do so next…
Tony & Joe: Thank you Luxi. We hope to meet you on the road in 2009. Have a kick-ass day! Thanx again Luxi!!