Interview ex-Armoros guitarist Jed Simon
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Canada has always been known for its strong metal scene, in the last few decades at least. As for the 80s Canadian speed and thrash metal scene, who among us wouldn´t be familiar with Voi-Vod, Sacrifice, Slaughter, Infernäl Mäjesty, Razor, Exciter, DBC, Annihilator and so many other names that paved the way during the 80s for many other younger Canadian metal bands to come. Then there were also some speed/thrash metal bands that possessed an incredible amount of potential in them to make it happen for themselves some day, but unfortunately ´Mr. Fortune´ doesn´t treat everyone in an equal way.
From Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, came a young and hopeful speed/thrash metal act in the mid 80s that managed to get their name on many of the lips of the people who had just gotten involved with the tape trading scene a little bit back in those days. That particular band was called Armoros, that recorded two highly popular demos, RESURRECDEAD in 1987 and REMEMBER MICHELLE in 1988 in particular that both got Armoros´ name stamped firmly on the international ground of metal. Soon the band´s potential was noticed around the world and a deal with Ever Rat Records was signed. PIECES, which was supposed to be the title of Armoros´ debut album (and undoubtedly would have become one of the landmark releases of Canadian thrash metal), was never released back then because the label went bankrupt and unfortunately meant a death blow for the band as well.
Now however, after 20 years of impatient waiting, PIECES has finally been released as a part of 3-CD box set that contains all the essential recordings from Armoros. Thanks to the Brazilian Marquee Records for understanding the importance of this band, and getting this absolutely fine gem of Canadian thrash metal released in 2008.
After ordering a copy of PIECE BY PIECE from Marquee Records directly, I got this idea to contact Jed Simon (on guitar in Armoros, but also plays/has played in such bands as SYL, Zimmers Hole, Tenet, etc.), and ask whether he would be keen on telling about those times with his first band Armoros, some 20 years ago. Told him also that we used to be penpals during the 80s, writing letters to each other and stuff. Quite funny yet strange he still somehow remembered me… Someone´s got an elephant´s memory, I guess. ;o)
But read yourself what he had to say about those days when he was still thrashing the grounds together with Armoros.
So Jed, what´s going in your part of the world these days? Any earth-shattering news from your country of metal to get us all shitting our pants, ha-ha!
Well my part of the world these days is on the east coast, I live in Philadelphia now! I met my wife when I was here with SYL back in 03… I never, ever would have imagined that I’d be here. Life has a way of changing things when you least expect it, and I couldn’t be happier! So we have a little boy named Eddie who is almost 2, and since SYL has disbanded, I have been a stay at home Dad. Of course my metal ouptut always continues… Over the last couple of years we did the last Zimmers Hole album, I’ve done some guest spots on other albums (I just finished a guest spot on legendary Canadian thrashers Sacrifice’s new album), and I have just completed work on the long-overdue Tenet album, which will be released this year. Life is good, life is busy!
GETTING STARTED WITH ARMOROS
Ok, let´s getting serious and start digging up a grave a little – the grave of Armoros, to be more precise. Armoros was your first real band that really made a name for itself around the world back in the day, especially by the RESURRECDEAD and REMEMBER MICHELLE demos. If you could recall those times for our readers, what are some of your topmost thoughts about the entire lifespan of Armoros when the band existed back in the 80s?
Armoros was a band of many ‘firsts’ for me. As I stated in the liner notes for the release this year of PIECES, it served as a ‘boot camp’ to me, it taught me many things… Brotherhood, the magic of making music, the joy of recording it, the effort needed to perpetuate it. We had a plan, and it was no less than Universal Domination. Sadly that plan fell short, but what we created together lives on… And to have PIECES finally see the light after 20 years is a testament to it’s timelessness. We were inseparable, and we had so much energy. We had all the right parts, and we made some killer music. We’re still friends to this day and that is very cool as well. All the things I learned with Armoros have helped me along my musical path, and has helped mold the player I’ve become today.
How did you end up choosing the name, Armoros, for the name of your band in the first place? Did you think that it was a fitting enough name for the type of band that consisted of a relentless young bunch of musicians like you were back in those days, playing fast and aggressive thrash metal?
Mike came up with the name. He found it in a book that was about fallen angels. It fit perfectly, it represented us exactly as we were… Fast, against the grain, and most certainly evil at times!
When I first got to hear your RESURRECDEAD demo through the tape trading scene, my sincere reaction was something like: “Wow… This band´s got lots of energy and so much potential in them. They fuckin´ rip!! I need to find out who are these guys…”. Then I read your demo review about the REMEMBER MICHELLE demo from Metal Forces magazine, then ordering it from directly you – and remember telling to every friend of mine (who were into metal) how much this Canadian thrash band called Armoros did rule. It´s funny that almost everyone reacted the same way like I did towards Armoros: They were just blown away by your stuff immediately!! I´m sure all of you in Armoros were personally pretty amazed by all this overwhelming and positive feedback that you received from all over the world back in those days, especially right after some highly praising demo reviews were published in some major magazines (like in the aforementioned Metal Forces magazine) about the Armoros demos. It certainly felt really good to be a part of Armoros back then, didn´t it?
It sure did, yes! After those great reviews in Metal Forces, Kerrang!, and others, the underground tape trading scene really gave us life. I was really into it and my job for the band then was to take care of the mail and write letters, send out demos etc. I made a lot of friends then, some of them are still my friends!! I loved that ‘family’ feeling that the underground tape trading community had. It’s not the same at all anymore with the internet revolution. I love the internet for sure, hell, I’m a bona-fide computer nerd, but some of the magic has surely disappeared from the glory days of the 80′s. It took effort to make a tape, write a letter, go to the post office and deliver it… And when you got a response from that effort, the personal feeling of reward was much greater than it is today by just clicking a few buttons, ya know? I miss those times… It felt more ‘connected’ than it does today.
OTHER BANDS´ INFLUENCE ON ARMOROS
Such bands as Slayer, Exodus and Dark Angel – amongst others, were some of the greatest inspirations for Armoros in the beginning, and it also could be heard in Armoros´ sound as well. If you think back to those days when you recorded your first 4-track demo, titled DEBUT ASSAULT, who were some of those musicians you admired a lot back then, and even trued to learn a thing or two from them? Who were your – may I say, real ´tutors´ into becoming a metal musicians like what you have become nowadays?
Well you have pretty much nailed it right there… The other band that influenced us greatly was most certainly Mercyful Fate. We all had different influences that we brought to the band and that was great, but as a whole those aforementioned bands were the largest influences on the band.
About some not-that-simple mathematics, did you ever keep any count how many copies of both RESURRECDEAD and REMEMBER MICHELLE demos were sent out to the world? Packing hundreds – or even thousands of demos, and bringing them all to a local post office, was more or less a very time-consuming and tough thing to do, but it somehow still was very rewarding because of the amount of fan letters that you received from all those people afterwards – from all over the world, that had just received your demos and wrote back to tell you how much they actually liked them. I bet those were truly the times that you´ll always remember and cherish somewhere deep down in your heart… ;o)
We did keep count back then, but those numbers are long lost to history now. It was quite small the actual number of tapes that we put forth, and then the underground did the rest. I’m sure I visited the post office with packages to send at least a few hundred times… Not much, but enough to get us out there. It’s like I said a couple questions ago, there was a lot of effort needed to get a package together and to get it in the mail, and when you got a response from that letter it was very rewarding for sure. And yes, I will always cherish those memories… It was awesome. Here is a great example; A guy frrom Russia wanted a tape, so I sent him one, and when he wrote back to me a month or so later, he included a picture of himself playing the drum set that he built himself, by hand, because there were no music stores around him. He built his own drum kit!!! I’ll never forget that, it was very eye opening for me and gave me a view into someone else’s life, a world away. Of course, that happens with a click of the mouse now, but like you say, it was far more rewarding back then because of the work you put into it.
How much were you involved with the tape trading scene during the 80s, trading away your own demos against some other band demos? What were some of your most interesting band discoveries that you made by trading your demos with some other musicians in bands?
I was fairly involved, but never heavily involved, I had enough to keep me busy with the band… It was through my letter writing duties that I was involved, but it was minor compared to some of our friends who were very into it. And I can thank them for turning me on to all kinds of great music. As for remembering bands that I found through trading, there were many… A few that come to mind are Death Squad, Forced Entry (who we became great friends with), Aftermath, early Death, Legacy, Sindrome, Stygian, Xecutioner, Evil Dead, Annihilator, Deranged… Of course you will recognize some of those bands but back then they were just demos we got in the mail or through friends… Very cool indeed!
I´m curious to know what kind of rehearsal place you had when you had just put Armoros together, and were those rehearsals mostly intense and serious happenings or just having fun together mostly that most often turned into some crazy drinking parties?
All of the above! We started out in Terry’s basement… I remember his mom would make us sandwiches and come down to give us lunch. His mom liked to have a few beers now and then, and sometimes the sandwiches were nothing more than relish and butter and bread… So we coined the term ‘pickle sandwiches’ from that, ha-ha! Man, that is some funny stuff! Once we found our direction and got serious, we got our own room above a music store and that is where we stayed for some time. We were very focused. The rehearsals were intense, prolific and very long. After a few years we moved into a house together, and although it was very difficult at times, it was when we really bonded. We spent so much time jamming, it was all we did! That room was our home, and spent every free moment there. Of course we partied a lot there too… Hell, we partied a lot everywhere! We had a bit of a reputation for being over the top party animals, which I guess in hindsight, was pretty accurate, ha-ha! All of the partying aside, we were a very serious band though, the music was foremost and we were always writing, always focused on the music, before all else.
MAKING NECKS HURT BACK IN THE DAY
With Armoros, you got a chance to play many great shows together with such names as Dark Angel, Sacrifice, Kick Axe, Forced Entry, The Accused and many other bands as well. For relatively young guys like you were during the days of Armoros, I bet playing with any established band, was always in itself a somewhat breath-taking happening for you guys, wasn´t it? Could you describe a little bit how well you actually prepared for all those gigs when this opportunity came to warm up for these more known and bigger bands in front of hundreds of people? I guess it always wasn´t that relaxed situation for young guys to just go onstage and play in front of all those crazy and screaming metal heads… Or was it after all?
You know, I never had a problem with nervousness or anything else… Getting on stage was, and still is, therapy to me. It’s when I get to be my ‘other self’. It’s very hard to explain, but the live experience is the best. I think the other guys would agree with me on that. The highlight for me was getting that call to open for Dark Angel!! I’ll cherish that always… It was very special. And who would have though that just 7 years later I would be in a band with Gene? And who would have thought that 16 years after playing with Sacrifice, Rob Urbinati would be the best man at my wedding? It has been an amazing journey. Anyway… Yes it was very exciting for us to play with these bands, and we prepared much the same way as we always prepared for a gig. We jammed for days and days, perfecting our set. We were very relaxed on stage… It was our second home!!!
What´s the most memorable show you did with Armoros, and can you tell why this particular show will always stay in the back of your mind for the rest of your life?
That’s easy… Dark Angel! Why? For the reasons I mentioned above and the fact that we got to play with some of our heroes, they were very influential to us. Meeting all the guys, having them sign my copy of LEAVE SCARS… Man that was awesome. I remember that Eric Meyer had a white custom King V guitar… When I got my first custom guitar from ESP, it was modeled after that guitar. I’m sure you know the guitar I mean if you have seen pictures of me and SYL playing. That gig is unforgettable to me and will always be special.
Did you have some guy behind Armoros who booked Armoros for all these gigs, or did you have to book them all by yourselves? Wasn´t it kind of a tough business to get the band to play at places, especially when you were still considered as a demo band only?
Luckily we had a good reputation as a live band, so we got offers fairly regularly. We did some booking by ourselves, but we did have a friend who ‘managed’ us, and he was a big help. We all had different duties within the band so that made things easier too. I did the mail, Mike did the art, Rick did interviews and Terry did the driving. I think that’s how it was anyway, kind of hard to remember, but we all had a specific task and that helped everything go smoothly.
Talking about the Canadian speed/thrash metal scene during the ´80s, it goes without even saying it, it was simply great and very strong back then. Sacrifice, Annihilator, Infernäl Mäjesty, Razor, Exciter, Dead Brain Cells, Armoros, etc. etc., were only but a few strong speed/thrash names out from Canada that kept the flag flying high for some quality Canadian speed and thrash metal. Due to the amount of respect your country gained for its strong and talented metal bands at those days, I´m sure it all made you felt like a proud Canadian metal musician – and putting a lot of faith in Armoros that this band was meant to be something bigger some day, correct?
Absolutely, yes. There was a good scene, and I think the only thing that hampered us were logistics, most notably being from an island, isolated on the west coast. We moved to the mainland later on in our career but still it was very difficult for us. If we had been on the eastern side of Canada I think things would have been much different. We had high expectations, it’s too bad we couldn’t have done more, we were a killer band.
ATTEMPTS FOR RELEASING PIECES COLLAPSED
You were also close to getting your debut album out by the end of 80s, titled PIECES. However, Ever Rat Records that was supposed to release it, they cancelled the contract with Armoros, and the album never got released. This surely felt like a death-blow for a young and ambitious band like you were – waiting for your debut album to be unleashed for the fertile metal markets, which unfortunately never happened for you. Did the label go bankrupt, or what actually happened between Armoros and Ever Rat Records back then?
Well now we know that the parent company went bankrupt and the result was devastating for us. Back then we weren’t really sure what had happened and no one ever contacted us to tell us exactly what transpired. It was a death blow for sure… We kept on trying but that single event really took some life from us because of all the uncertainty and wondering what the hell went wrong, and why. Still a bit of a touchy subject for me, it bums me out talking about it… But I’m so happy that the album finally got to see the light after al these years.
It´s been said that you won some recording time for PIECES by achieving the 2nd place in this so-called ´battle of the bands´ event that was arranged in Vancouver in 1988. Now all of us are naturally very curious to know, can you still remember what was that band that took the victory at that competition for themselves, right in front of your noses?
Of course I remember!! Our friends Karrion took 1st prize. I still think the event was rigged for them to win, ha-ha!! They were a great band and we got along famously… Some of the most generous and hospitable people we had ever met.
Was that the only band competition Armoros took part of, or were these some other similar competitions arranged back in the day in which Armoros participated in as well?
No, we did a couple others over the years, but they were earlier on I believe. That one is the only one where we actually won something, so that was very beneficial for us.
Armoros disbanded around in 1989-90, almost right after the reality hit your band hard when all of you realized that your debut album PIECES, was not going to be released after all. However, Armoros came back in 1992 and recorded one more 6-song demo, which was never released officially. I guess in the beginning of 90s, the hottest thrash boom was over, and labels were mostly looking for death metal bands because it had become the next big thing in the worldwide metal scene. Was that also a part of the reason why you decided to bury your plans for a new coming for good, playing thrash in the changed world of metal in which death metal as the hottest genre of the time was gaining more and more space from bands like Armoros that still counted on the power of thrash?
Well, we just wanted to try it one more time. I had been in a band in Vancouver with Byron called Caustic Thought. The 1st couple demos I did with them were very metal, but then they started to get a bit grungy sounding and I wanted to do metal. At the same time, Mike (Armoros guitarist) called me and said let’s do it again, I said hell yes, and away we went. Unfortunately it was rough from the beginning. We had all begun to change personally and the old vibe didn’t really seem quite as prevalent as it did before. The guys had been writing before I came back and I wasn’t totally thrilled with the direction the band was going in. There were new songs that were fabulous, but there were a few that I thought just didn’t belong. That led to tensions, especially in the recording studio. This is of course my opinion on the whole matter, and I’m sure the other guys may have their own thoughts, but I’m just telling you how I felt at the time. I wanted to be heavy as fuck, I was very influenced by the new death metal stuff that I was hearing and wanted to keep things as brutal as we always were, but the guys wanted to get a bit more progressive, and it just didn’t sit right with me.
So although the demo is good, I don’t feel that it was Armoros’ finest. We had also tuned our guitars up to A440, and Ricks vocals were a bit less ‘edgy’ than they had been, so sonically it felt a bit weak to me too. And I believe it just wasn’t meant to be… And that’s why it never got properly finished. That was right about the time when Devin called me looking for a guitar player for his band Noisescapes. A couple years before we started SYL, so that took me away and began a long journey for me. I’m not upset by what we did at all man, or that it didn’t work out. I’m glad we tried, because we would still be guessing about Armoros and whether or not we should have tried again.
As you have surely noticed by now too, thrash metal has been resurrected back from the dead by a new and young generation of metal heads these days, and labels have become interested in signing and making records with many of these bands. Bands like Merciless Death, Fueled by Fire, Warbringer, Gama Bomb, Avenger of Blood, Guillotine, Violator, Dekapitator and many others, are some of the first fruits of this new coming of thrash metal – and this whole new thrash metal scene seems to get more and more new fans all the time. What´s your own standpoint about all this, why thrash metal has become such a popular form of music amongst kids these days? Do you think that it has much to do with the fact that playing fast and aggressive music is also a great way to let off some extra steam and aggression – and as we all know, young kids seem to be full of them these days due to a madly gone, fucked-up world in general? ;o)
I’m happy as a clam at the new life that has woven its way back into thrash metal!! There are a lot of great new bands out there and it makes me smile when I hear them. It also means that all the work laid down by the forefathers of thrash and speed has not been forgotten, and that these kids are understanding where it all came from. It makes me feel good too because I still play it, I always will, and like you say in your question… Yes, it is a bombastic way to get all the angst out… Music, especially aggressive thrash metal is the best fucking therapy there is!! I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have music as an outlet, and I’m sure the same could be said about a lot of the youth who play this music today.
Is there, or are there some new thrash bands out there that has/have crossed your path lately that you personally think are very much worth checking out bands for what they are in terms of skilled playing style and overall sheer talent these bands are blessed with?
Evile comes to mind immediately, there are killer, and when I headbanged mercilessly! Warbringer for sure too man, they are great! I just saw them recently and it was like a trip back in time!
COLLECTING THE HISTORY OF ARMOROS – PIECE BY PIECE
Now back to Armoros for the last 3-4 questions. PIECE BY PIECE, is a great collection of everything essential that one should get from the band; a very fancy looking 3-CD boxset containing your unreleased PIECES album, all the demos, live shows, liner notes written by your band, flyers, etc. etc., released by Brazilian label Marquee Records. Now I need to ask from you what kind of a project was it to get all this stuff together? Was it the owner of Marquee Records, Armando, who first suggested this great idea for this release, or were you already looking for a label much earlier before Armando contacted you, and wanted to release them in this one boxset?
It was a long, difficult project, believe me!! But it was also a labor of love, so it was done by all of us and our friends who helped us as such. It was my buddy Rob Urbinati from Canadian thrash legends Sacrifice who told Armando about us, so thanks to Rob for that! Marquee did a wonderful job on the old Sacrifice back catalog and when Armando asked Rob if he knew of any other Canadian acts that he could release, Rob told him about us, so there ya go!
Two Canadian thrash legends together: Armoros and Sacrifice
Did you give free rein to Armando to take care of the layout of this package the way he wanted to do it, or did you basically give him some advices how the band wanted it to be done for this release?
Well we still had the original artwork from just about everything we did, so we gave it to Armando plus all of the old pictures and stuff… Looking at pictures for this project was one of the funnest things for me as I was usually the one with the camera back then, so to take all the old photos out and look through them was a real treat for me… Such great memories! Anyway, we gave it all to Armando and he put together the layout that you see for the finished product, and he did a killer freakin job, thank you Armando and your family!
When you eventually got a chance to hold the final product in your hands, what were some of your uppermost feelings when you just stared at it and wondered silently back in your mind something like: “It took ´some years´ to get our debut album PIECES out, but oh man, it was very much worth it as well…” Better late than never, as they say. Anyway, is there anything at all in this very much luxury-looking boxset that you´d like to change afterwards, or did it come out just the way you wanted it to come out, looking 100% perfect and professionally done for your eyes?
It was a big weight lifted off of my shoulders. This album needed to be released, and to finally hold it in my hands makes all the work we did way back then seem relevant and worth all the effort we put into Armoros. Armoros was our life, so this is a fitting way to put closure on something that was so massively important for us as friends, musical brothers, and for laying the groundwork that we followed in life, be it music or otherwise. It’s perfect, and I’m a happy guy.
ARMOROS DVD COMING UP?
Does your label, Marquee Records, have any further plans to expand the Armoros merchandise a bit more, like printing some vintage looking Armoros shirts, or even collecting together some good quality Armoros live shows and put together a DVD by using some of that stuff for it?
We have talked about that, and we will see what the future brings. We still have a heck of a lot of old stuff, especially live videos. so it would be cool to have some of that stuff released as DVD’s for sure. Stay tuned!
I think I covered enough regarding this mighty Canadian thrash act called Armoros for just one interview, so I wanna sincerely thank you Jed for all of your time you put into this interview. However, if there´s something you´d still like to add to this interview session, the rest of space is reserved for you for that purpose… ;o)
I appreciate the fact that after 20 years, people still want to know about Armoros, and it makes me feel very proud to have been a part of it. Very proud. Stay up to date with Armoros at our MySpace page at www.myspace.com/armoros. I’d also like to mention, if I may, that my ‘solo’ thing called Tenet is finally done and will be released this summer through Century Media. It’s not so much a solo thing any more, it’s a full on band of veteran dudes making some heavy shit. And, there is even a re-written Armoros song on the album, a tune called "Crown of Thorns" that was never recorded with Armoros and I thought it deserved to be heard properly. Tenet is myself on guitar, Glen Alvelais (Forbidden, Testament) on guitar, Zetro Souza (Exodus) on vocals and Gene Hoglan on drums… Check it out over at our MySpace page: www.myspace.com/tenetforce
Thanks Luxi and keep in touch!!
(Jed Simon on March 30th 2009)
ARMOROS Myspace site: