Interview with WHIPLASH´s Tony Portaro and Joe Cangelosi
Interview by Niko Karppinen
Live pictures by Arto Lehtinen
Transcription by Antaura Zed
About once in a lifetime you get an opportunity to meet one of your childhood heroes. When I heard that one of the thrash metal legends,Whiplash, was going to play at Jalometalli festival in Oulu in 2009, o’boy I became very excited!
As if that already wasn´t enough, I also got a relatively privileged chance to talk with the one and only original member of the band Tony Portaro and Joe Cangelosi (who replaced Joe Scaglione in 1986 when he temporarily joined the Slayer ranks) – just before their gig took place at the festival. So one can only think how such a larger-than-life opportunity meeting these fine 2 maetros of thrash was for an old-timer metalhead like me.
In case you might be eager to know a bit more about Whiplash´s latest activities – just like hearing a thing or two about their comeback album, titled UNBORN AGAIN (which is out and available now, carried by some of the biggest metal companies from Displeased to Nuclear Blast, etc.), what happened to the band some 10 years ago since they released their THRASHBACK album – amongst other things as well.
Made you curious about them already? Then be my guest and just keep reading on… ;o)
WHIPLASH COLLECTING ITS TROOPS AGAIN
Whiplash was originally formed in 1984 and band remained active until THRASHBACK, which was released 1998. After that, the band had ten-year break. What happened?
: After THRASHBACK?
Yeah, after THRASHBACK.
: Well, I wasn’t on THRASHBACK. Tony Scaglione and Tony Bono were on THRASHBACK. I mean, basically it was the original Whiplash line-up on THRASHBACK. And after Thrashback was over we did, um- that was it, right?
: For ten years.
: Yeah, I was just dealin’ drugs and smokin’ weed. No.
: No. What happened? I don’t even know.
: I guess I took time off to have a family and, uh- do the family thing and then I got a call from Joe and he said, “It’s time to get this thing goin’ again” and I said, “You’re right, so let’s do it – and if we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna give it 100%” and that’s what we did. And we started writing songs again, stuck to a gruelling schedule, and that’s- then after we wrote the songs, we recorded – we got the record deal, recorded – and then we started rehearsing for live shows again. So it took about thirteen or fourteen months but now the album’s gonna be out in the middle of September, so…
WHIPLASH AND ROADRUNNER
If I may ask, what happened between Whiplash and Roadrunner?
: We had about three different labels, so it’s sort of like a blur to me. I don’t really remember what happened with what label, but it could have been Roadrunner where- you know, when we were young and naïve and we signed our first record deal, it was with Roadrunner, I remember that. And it probably was more of our fault than anyone else’s, but it turned into from being fun and having all the glory to a business and we seen the record labels were making all the money and we weren’t making any so it just took all the fun and inspiration out of our playing. You know, it just- it wasn’t inspirational anymore so we just kinda broke up and got out of the contract and so on.
Whiplash now has a totally new line-up. Was it difficult to get the right guys for the band?
: Well, Joe was in the band on the second and third albums and did a couple European tours with myself and now he’s back again. And Rich, Richi Day, is a lifelong friend of Joe’s – they both grew up in Brooklyn and they were both playing their instruments together for nearly their entire lives. Rich was always a friend of the band so he was always in the scene and hanging around with us. We couldn’t get rid of him back then and we just figured, “All right, come on.” He’s a great bass player, honestly, and you’ll see tonight and I hope you enjoy the show.
Somewhat surprisingly, Whiplash signed with Pulverised Records from Singapore. Can you tell us something about how the band came to this decision?
: Our manager is the one who got in touch with Pulverised. Or I’m not sure if they got in touch with him or how that happened, but the deal that they offered us was very good and…
WHIPLASH AND PULVERISED
… so they wanted you to join the label?
: Definitely. And the deal that they offered us was more than we thought we could get from any other label so we didn’t even shop around this time to any other labels. We said, “This is a really good deal, let’s jump on it now and get this album moving.” And it’s a one-album deal, so anything could happen after this. If it takes off, we’re in really good shape, you know, we could sign with any label we want. But so far they’ve been treating us good and we’re just disappointed that the album is being delayed. It was supposed to be out on July 15th and now it looks like it might not be until September 15th, but it doesn’t appear to be their fault – it’s something that’s out of their hands. So, you know, we can’t really blame them but we keep pushing to get it out as fast as possible now.
Pulverised Records has a few really interesting artists under their wing, so to speak. Have you planned to tour in Scandinavia with other bands from Pulverised Records?
: We haven’t talked about that yet, but I think if anything like that does happen, it would be in 2010 because right now I think every show in 2009 – every show that we’re gonna play – is already booked. The only thing we have in 2010 right now is the Keep it True festival, so there is a lot of room for more shows in 2010 to come, but we haven’t really talked to Pulverised about touring with any of their bands. We would love to make it out to the area of, like, Singapore and Japan, China, that whole area – we never played out there yet, so we would look forward to that.
Whiplash has always had a sound of its own – one that’s fast and aggressive. You’re now going to release UNBORN AGAIN and I have to say, after hearing a few songs from the album, Whiplash is back and even meaner than before. Was it difficult to recapture that old feeling when you composed new material?
: It was. It came very naturally and we were very surprised. I mean, my technical background is I went to Berklee College of Music but when we sat down to write this new material, we just threw all of the theory right out the window and just let the songs write themselves. So we would come up with a nice guitar riff that was typical of POWER AND PAIN and the TICKET TO MAYHEM albums and we would just let the song write itself from there. It just felt so free to just let it go and come out of our hearts and not worry about the theory or any kind of, you know, chord progression that might be technically correct. It brought us right back to the days of the past. These songs fell together so quickly that it felt like there was some kind of outside source of power looking down on us and just making it so easy for the songs to come together. Joe and I look back at it and we think it could have been Tony Bono just looking down at us and helping, taking part in the writing or just coming in through us. And it was surprising that this album and this new material was written probably faster than any of the previous Whiplash albums.
COMING BACK WITH UNBORN AGAIN
Was the title UNBORN AGAIN decided a long time ago? You gave some indication to this in an interview you gave to Ad Arma magazine right after the release of THRASHBACK.
: Yeah, I remember having the title UNBORN AGAIN for a long time. But recently, before we really decided to use UNBORN AGAIN as a title, we were going to use the title PITTBULLS IN THE PLAYGROUND but we kept that as a song title and went back and decided to go with UNBORN AGAIN – because it does sorta symbolize the band getting back together and releasing another album, you know. Just like THRASHBACK simulated the same thing: we’re back together, playing thrash again. Now with UNBORN AGAIN, we’re back again.
There’s one song in the upcoming album – “Firewater” – which contains an Indian melody at the beginning. Where did that idea come from?
: I think that song is either 9/4 or 11/4 but- I came up with the riff and we loved it so much. And then we worked off of the title, “Firewater,” and then I added a couple leads there that made sound like an American Indian sound. Then Harris Johns was producing the album – co-producing with Whiplash – and he’s half American Indian, so he offered to do some chanting in the beginning of the sound, which worked out really well and we’re really happy with it. It is a song that I was trying to get that, like, Corrosion of Conformity groove and that Black Sabbath kind of feel and luckily we just incorporated that along with, like, the Indian feel and it worked out to where we were really pleased in the end.
THRASH IS BACK… AND THAT IS GOOD
Whiplash is one of the most legendary speed/thrash metal bands from the “golden era” of thrash metal. Now thrash metal has become popular again. Do you think this newfound popularity is one of the reasons why we’ve witnessed so many reunions from old bands? And was this one of the main reasons why Whiplash got back in business?
: That probably had something to do with it ‘cause when Joe gave me a call he was sayin’, like, “This is the perfect time for us to do it again”. So it does seem like thrash metal is getting, if not as popular as it ever was, maybe even more popular right now. And it’s good for us and it’s good to see other bands getting involved again, but more importantly, it’s good to see the people that followed Whiplash years ago still into it and, on top of that, this whole new wave of younger people, like, everyone from like, thirteen years old up. It just makes our fan base, like, three times as big as it used to be and it’s really good to see the younger kids getting into thrash nowadays.
During the 80s, the underground scene was very strong, especially in Europe. Overall, do you think the underground scene was one of the reasons why thrash metal survived?
: Yeah, definitely. I remember the days of people trading cassette tapes all over the world. We even had live shows that we did way back in ’85 and ’86 and- I remember one of our friends, Paul Nestorrock, he used to have- they would never let recorders into these shows but he had sewn a pocket on the back of his sweatshirt, underneath the hood, and he would put his recorder in that pocket behind his hood and they would never search back there and then he would get into the show and he’d be taping all these shows and trading with everyone across the world.
Have you ever thought to release that stuff somehow?
: I don’t think so ‘cause the sound quality was probably not what we would want to be released. But it was good that- that did keep the underground scene alive and, you know, people interested in Whiplash and other bands that were still being traded with the tapes back then.
TRI-STATE AREA SOUND
Whiplash has always had hardcore elements in their songs, as do many other bands from New York: Agnostic Front, Type O Negative, Cro-Mags, to name a few. Keeping in mind that New Jersey is pretty close to New York, is there a certain kind of sound that belongs to a certain area? Is it a cultural thing, perhaps?
: I think it is because of that tri-state area sound. I mean, years ago we spent most of our time in New York and we used to hang out with a lot of those bands, even Carnivore back then. Pete Steele – he sang background vocals on our first album, POWER AND PAIN, and Harley from the Cro-Mags, I believe, and a few other guys – Roger from Agnostic Front. Agnostic Front sang backgrounds on our first album. But we all shared the stage of many of those places in Manhattan. CBGB’s – I think we played there thirteen times over the course of the years and a lot of that hardcore sound – that East Coast hardcore sound – was born there, you know. We were friends with a lot of those guys even though we were more on the metal side it seemed like to me, in my opinion, but they took us under their wing and became our friends and we got along really well and we appreciate that from them. They just welcomed us right into Manhattan even though we were from New Jersey – it was like they were our next door neighbours. It was a lot of fun and I do contribute that to that hardcore feel that we might still have. If you think so that’s cool, I like that. We do have that raw kind of sound at the same time. You’ll see on two of the songs we’re doing tonight, the middle sections are totally moshing, like a hardcore sound, and I hope to see the crowd going crazy in the pit. We did Norway two nights ago and it was a cool place and they were great but they were just like, fistbanging and headbanging. They knew all the words, that was cool, but I never seen the pit really get started and I was trying to get ‘em going but, I dunno, maybe the security didn’t allow it in that place, who the hell knows? We wish there wasn’t a photo pit in between the stage and the crowd – we like the crowd right up front, right with us, divin’ off the stage, and that’s what we miss now when we come to these stages that are so big and the crowd is pushed back ten or fifteen feet away from the stage. We don’t like that; we want the crowd to really be involved. You know, if you seen us years ago, even at the Sodomania tour – and I think that was ’85 – we would be divin’ off the stage at the end of the set too, you know, and now we don’t get a chance to do that half of the time because the crowd is pushed back away from the stage.
In the 80s, Whiplash also toured in Europe with German thrash metal bands like Sodom, Kreator and Bleeding Death. What kind of memories do you have from Europe?
: Oh, the "Sodomania" tour was a highlight of our career and I’ll never forget it. We had so much fun. It was great sharing the tour bus with Tom and Chris and Frank. Frank even joined us and played two guitar leads on two songs on UNBORN AGAIN and we had the pleasure of him joining us on stage at Wacken this year to play those two songs live with us, which was a lot of fun. But we had a hell of a time back then and we would even sing backgrounds live, I remember. It was just as much fun off-stage as it was onstage. I remember- I don’t know if you seen a video clip that we did for Witchhunter’s concert that was this year, but we did tell a story there that you should go online and check out about him being in this restaurant that we ate at and he went downstairs and he was like, leaning on the bathroom sink and fixing his hair or something and washing his hands and the whole sink fell off the wall and the water was shooting all over the place and instead of helping out and doing anything we were just lookin’ and laughin’ and it was so funny – you really had to be there; it was hysterical.
This is the very first time Whiplash has played in Finland. It took twenty-five years to get you here to play. Will we have a chance to enjoy Whiplash again in the near future?
: If it’s up to me, yes, but we’ll just have to see how the cards land. Sure, after tonight’s show we’re gonna want to come back here again. Norway was good, it was a lot of fun, but we’re really anticipating this show here in Finland because of the size of the festival and the people here and getting very excited because the show is only about thirty minutes from now and we’re psyched and we’re gonna tear this place up. Really fuckin’ psyched – and we’re gonna go crazy.
About new bands… are there any new bands that have impressed you lately?
: There is one new band that I found online and nobody ever told me about ‘em and I’m not really even sure how popular they are, but they’re from Germany – they’re called Electro Baby. I really like their style and vocals and it’s something that’s really appealing to my tastes and I hope that everyone else out there takes a listen to them and feels the same way and as strong as I do about the band.
What kind of plans does Whiplash have for the future?
: Well, hopefully just to keep doin’ what we’re doin’ right now, you know. We wanted to come out with the album – that was first and foremost – and now we finished that and now we’re right back into being as tight as we ever were live so it’s a really good feeling that we were able to accomplish that in, like, thirteen months and now we don’t want to let it go because it took a lot of work to get here and if we let it go, it’s going to take almost that much work to get it back again. But now we got it, so if we keep the ball rollin’, that’s all we gotta do and it’ll be easy from hereon.
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