Interview with guitarist Scott Waldrop of Twisted Tower Dire
Conducted by Robert Williams
There are very few American metal acts that play the style of traditional heavy metal that Twisted Tower Dire have so long embraced. It could be argued that the band’s influences lean more towards classic British metal than anything. Formed in 1995 in West Virginia; Twisted Tower Dire has survived lineup changes, seen record labels come and go and beared witness to an ever shifting musical climate and has still managed to steadily release quality classic metal albums throughout the years. First with "The Curse Of Twisted Tower" in 1999 followed shortly there after with 2001′s "The Isla Of Hydra" Piet Sielck of Iron Savior fame lent his producer skills to "Crest of The Martyr’s" in 2005, while the 2007 release "Netherworlds" marked the swansong of longtime vocalist Tony Taylor.
Now relocated to North Carolina, the band is enjoying playing as a reinvigorated unit; given their second wind so to speak, with the addition of new vocalist Johnny Aune. Founding member and lead guitarist Scott Waldrop recently took the time to fill me in on all things Twisted Tower Dire.
How are you today Scott?
I’m doing great! Thanks for asking.
It’s been a little over two years since Twisted Tower Dire’s most recent album "Netherworlds" was released through Remedy Records. What have you guys been up to since that time and is there a follow up for "Netherworlds" in the works?
A lot happened after we released "Netherworlds". We had a bit of a "falling out" with our former singer Tony Taylor and had to find a replacement. We wound up joining up with Viper (NC) singer Johnny Aune and we went on to play all over with him including a European tour. I had been working on songs for the Netherworld’s follow-up while we were mixing Netherworlds so we’ve been spending lots of time perfecting those songs live and at practice. We also wound up throwing away lots of completed songs that we either thought weren’t catchy enough or didn’t fit the mood of the new album. Aside from all this stuff we were trying to get out of our Remedy contract (which we did but it took a while) and we’ve had a lot of stuff happen in our personal lives like marriages, moves, etc etc…
Your upcoming album will be the first full length from Twisted Tower Dire to feature the vocals of your new singer Johnny Aune. In your opinion; what should your fans who have never had the benefit of hearing an Aune-fronted Twisted Tower Dire expect?
I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised. His vocals are more aggressive than Tony’s and the songs this time are our catchiest ever so it will be a radically different incarnation of TTD but certainly not alienating to former fans.
What direction musically do you plan on going for the next album? Some have said that TTD has taken more of a progressive approach than past efforts on the last album…
Aune’s vocals can be compared to old Riot or Jag Panzer in my opinion and our new tunes are very heavily hard pop rock influenced. You’ll hear everything from the Ramones, Cheap Trick, BOC, to early Maiden and Slayer (BUT NOTHING IN BETWEEN). Not sure how much I would say "progressive" on this album but there’s always been a tinge of that in our sound only in the sense that we like to throw in the odd "indulgent" riff here and there but this album by and far showcases our most concise, refined, and hooky songs of all time.
Regarding the departure of your longtime vocalist Tony Taylor, what was the reasons for him leaving the band?
It was a long time in the making and there were multiple reasons. It became increasingly difficult to get him to commit to things, then he would always cancel things and we began to get a reputation for being slackers and flakes. We noticed his drug use was slowly becoming more frequent ‘til it got to the point where it wasn’t recreational anymore. We were scared to go play in most places because we thought he was going to find trouble. We eventually just got sick of him stepping on us and his weird behavior so we told him to take a break from the band and clean himself up while we finished up some shows we had on our plate with a replacement singer. That hurt his pride and he didn’t like the ultimatum so he left. Haven’t spoke with him since.
Do you still keep in contact with former members of the band such as Taylor, Janet Rubin and Jim Murad?
Marc talks to Janet sometimes though I have not spoke with her in a while. As for all the other former members Tom Phillips, Nick Mertaugh, Hayes Elkins and the mighty Jimmy Murad: these were all very old friends of mine some even pre-high school so I’ve never lost contact with any of them. Speak with ‘em regularly even take vacations with some of them and their families so yeah, other than Tony and Janet, there were no messy breakups, ha ha.
How did you come across his replacement Johnny Aune?
We’ve always been really tight with the guys from Widow and they started raving about this really young band called Viper that was totally amazing and better than TTD and Widow put together. So we went to see ‘em and it was total NWOBHM meets the early 80’s Sunset Strip, choreography amazing catchy songs, sick playing and tons of girls in the audience so we became friends instantly. They had actually grown up going to see TTD shows so that was really cool. When we needed a replacement for a mini tour we asked Aune to do it and he was always just happy to get out of the Raleigh area and party. It worked too perfectly and when we realized how fun the band was again with him singing it was a natural choice, not to mention he sings awesome and people like him.
Twisted Tower Dire has a longstanding tradition of recording covers of heavy metal classics to be used as bonus tracks that accompany your album releases. Can you disclose any upcoming covers your fans can look forward to hearing?
Actually this time I think we are going to finally break that tradition. We do a bunch of our covers live still but we wrote so many songs for this album (something like sixteen) and we only chose to use eight so we have no shortage of bonus material ideas and damn…we’ve covered so much crap that we’ve run out of ideas for covers.
Both "The Curse Of Twisted Tower" and "The Isle Of Hyrda" have been reissued with a slew of early demo material and bonus tracks previously unavailable on compact disc housed in deluxe packaging of early band photos and past flyer collages via Heaven and Hell Records out of North Carolina. How closely did the band work with Heaven and Hell on the reissues and are you pleased with how they turned out?
Yea, we’re really happy with how they turned out. If you’re gonna re-release something you might as well do it right. Jeremy from Heaven & Hell Records was very adamant about these being special so he worked closely with us and put tons of work into organizing video shoots and stuff like that. At one point they had a big check list for us to scavenge video footage, demo masters, old photos etc. which was a challenge because I catalogued all of our stuff through the years but had a house fire in 2006 so a lot of original stuff didn’t survive. Anyway, I didn’t mind the work because it was awesome how enthusiastic Heaven & Hell Records was about putting them out.
What was the primary motivation in relocating the band from West Virginia to North Carolina?
Tony was from West Virginia. The rest of the founding members grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC (Northern Virginia). The band moved down to North Carolina slowly. I moved first because I was sick of DC. The cost of living and traffic was horrendous. My wife and I wanted to have a nice place to live and raise our son so we split in 2004. Then Jim Hunter who was also sick of DC was persuaded for similar reasons, they didn’t have a kid but it’s a nicer place to live, you can afford a house and the music scene is great. Then Marc Stauffer moved down here out of luck because his job offered him a relocation and promotion. So that’s pretty much it. As for Dave Boyd he’s never lived in the same city as us so we’ve always had a "long-term relationship" with him.
Do you feel as though NC has a better metal scene with more opportunities to perform live?
It’s just a smaller area and people get out of their homes here more than they do in DC. There’s lots of bars for metal bands including a place called Volume 11 that is open 7 days a week and does nothing but metal.
While Twisted Tower Dire has performed at some of the most prestigious European metal festivals like the Wacken Open Air and Keep It True festival and even stateside at the Milwaukee Metalfest, there hasn’t been extensive touring in support of your previous releases. Is this something the band is working toward or should fans count on doing some traveling to catch you guys in concert?
It’s hard to say until we get our next one out and see what the opportunities are. Right now our only focus is getting our 5th album out so that we have the opportunity to play anywhere at all ha ha ha. Yea, if we could do a longer tour we definitely would. The future is open.
What has been your personal experience performing in front of European crowds? Do you feel that your brand of American True Metal was embraced and well received by the festival audiences?
Sure, European crowds have always been super cool with us. I’d been tape trading with folks over there years before we ever got there to play so TTD started spreading our name around there in the early 90’s. I also think that Europeans have a very definite idea of what "true" metal is and TTD delivers.
Your latest US festival appearance was at Ohio’s "Warriors of Metal" concert. What was your opinion of the turnout, promotion and reception for this festival. Can you see it becoming continuing as an annual event? Would you make a return performance at "Warriors of Metal"?
We had a blast and would do it again. The turnout wasn’t great but it takes a while for these festivals to gain momentum and popularity. Thankfully there were still some enthusiastic folks there to see us when we went on at 1:00 AM. The one thing I can say about the fest was the quality of bands was incredible. Some really amazing stuff, we had to step it up!
If we could go back in time fourteen years ago, can you describe how Twisted Tower Dire was formed? How did you find the right players with the right influences?
Me and Jim Murad had a band called Golgotha which formed in ’91 which later wound up turning into TTD. Golgotha was basically a bunch of high school kids who partied all the time and we never got to do much more than play some parties and some local clubs. Eventually as high school came to an end we tried to find people that took it more seriously so that’s always been the constant search. Even in bands that have been together for 20 years people break apart due to artistic differences. You have to be open-minded about other members’ influences but I never wanted TTD to be one of these bands that look like they all randomly hooked up at the bus stop and decided to form a band. It’s important that there be a certain pedigree to all of our members.
Who were your influences personally at that time?
At the time I was really into doom so it was a mix of doom like Pentagram and Candlemass , Sabbath and Maiden. We wanted it to be epic and atmospheric but still extremely metal.
How long had you been playing guitar at that point in time?
I started sometime in the mid eighties. My brother had an SG knock off he gave me and taught me some Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Deep Purple riffs plus some chords. Then I took it from there and slowly started finding other kids to rock with.
Was there any definitive motivation behind you picking the guitar as your primary instrument? Anything you can pinpoint that created a spark that changed your life that made you say "I wanna learn how to play guitar."
There were lots of teenagers that had bands in my neighborhood in the 80’s and it was the "cool" thing to do if you weren’t into sports. I guess it was a combination of this and watching MTV and seeing Van Halen and Motley Crue videos.
The climate in heavy music has seen so many changes come and go since the mid nineties and Twisted Tower Dire has always stayed true to it’s roots. What do you attribute most to the longevity of the groups success?
First and foremost we’ve stuck it out because we’re all really good friends and we’ve been able to get through all the good and BAD situations with humor. We also really enjoy the road trips even if the show turnouts suck. We all agree that playing live is one of the coolest things in the world and we all enjoy writing music together. I think if you have these common threads it’s easy to stick it out.
Looking back at all that the band has accomplished, so far what have been some of the most fulfilling and rewarding goals that the band has met through your near fifteen year career?
If you ask any one member the answer will be different but for me the most rewarding thing has been finding a solid group of musicians that can take things past the garage. I love it when you get your first shipment of CD’s in the mail and you get to hold your new album for the first time. Or I love it when you go to some new place far from home like the Acropolis in Greece and you get to see stuff like that knowing that your music took you there. Perhaps one of the coolest things is playing to a big crowd and seeing everyone lip sync lyrics that you wrote while bored at work one day years ago. That’s a really cool feeling.
What can fans expect in the immediate future from Twisted Tower Dire?
Our main goal right now is to get this album done. It’s called "Make It Dark" and it’s the first album so far where all the songs and lyrics are done by myself so this is going to be extra cool for me. Fans can expect what I feel is the coolest group of songs we’ve ever put together. That’s all I can expect because right now we have no label and therefore no idea what’s going to happen other than this CD coming out.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk metal with me today Scott. Before we wrap this up do you have any last words for your fans reading at home?