Interview with David Smith of Blacksmith
Conducted by Robert Williams
David Smith, guitarist and founding member of the eighties New York heavy metal band Blacksmith has a lot to be excited about, what with the recent release of "Strike While The Iron’s Hot" the newly issued career spanning compilation of the band’s early material (Also available with a bonus DVD of archival live footage in limited quantities) from the cult US metal label Heaven and Hell Records. The band newly reformed, are out for blood once again and recording and touring possibilities for the coming year loom on the horizon. Blacksmith mainman David Smith took the time out of a recent press filled day to speak with Metal-Rules.com about all of the current metal madness surrounding the band.
How are you doing today David?
I am doing great, life is good and everyday is an adventure, thanks for asking.
"Strike While The Iron’s Hot" is the name of the newly released career spanning compilation disc, issued as part of the "Lost Relics" series through US cult metal imprint Heaven and Hell Records. This massive collection contains the self titled Blacksmith EP from 1986, the "Fire From Within" full length from 1989 as well as a DVD of archival performance footage. How did this exciting release initially come about? Do you feel like there was a lot of demand from your fanbase over the years for these out of print recordings?
This all came about from a communication I received from Heaven and Hell Records owner Jeremy Golden. Jeremy explained who he was, and that he was a fan of the band, it kind of snowballed from there. He expressed interest in reissuing the first Blacksmith EP and the full length " Fire from Within" .
The DVD stuff was kind of an extra bonus after the fact, but when the label saw all the stuff I had, the project grew from that and our many communications. I think there is some demand for the Blacksmith product; I know I have seen many bootleg versions of our stuff for sale and on the internet. I have been contacted many times over the years by metal magazines and internet fan sites in regard to the band. I do receive emails and letters from all over the world, to this day.
With Heaven and Hell’s release, I am seeing more and more interest in Blacksmith.
I think one aspect of this release that Blacksmith fans will be ecstatic about is the fantastic re-mastering job on "Strike While The Iron’s Hot" by Jamie King (Between the Buried and Me, He Is Legend) of In The Basement Studios. How did you end up working with Jamie on this project and give me your thoughts on the end result…
The re-mastering by Jamie King is totally from Jeremy at Heaven and Hell Records; I was not familiar with his name or his work.
As far as the sonic results, from what I have heard it sounds great. Jamie did a fantastic job, the label is happy and I am happy with it. When I physically get the completed package in my hands, play it on my system and in the car that is when I will know completely how I feel about it.
You must have had to dig through a small mountain of archival concert footage to cough up all of the content on the bonus DVD for "Strike While The Iron’s Hot" Was that a pretty nostalgic process for you? Did all of your memories of performing at all of those old Blacksmith shows hit you like a ton of bricks and inspire you to get the band’s name back out there?
I did go through a lot of archive stuff while helping put this project together for the record label. Certainly there is some nostalgia involved. My memory of it all has always been crystal clear. It didn’t hit me at all; I have always lived with it all in my heart and in my head. I have been playing and performing music professionally for the last twenty five years (even more so now than with Blacksmith) so I am always in the zone and I remember things down to all details quite well.
It was fun to watch the original Heidi era footage, had not looked at it in years, fun stuff! That original version of Blacksmith was great, the band and those members were a riot, real evil cartoon stuff!
I do think I gain more of an appreciation for lead vocalist Malcolm Mania Lovegrove and Blacksmith Mark II "Fire from Within" era. That band was brilliant and we worked together like a true team,
the whole Tropical, Mark Avnet years were very special. Malcolm has always had a lot of heart and was, and is a great front-man and performer. Malcolm is very creative, writes cool stuff and is a good worker for the cause. He has always kept making music; even after Blacksmith he did a great project with Jason Bitner, from Shadows Falls, a few years back. I am glad to be friends and working with him again.
Same can be said for Chris Caglione; Chris is a phenomenal drummer, possibly the best I’ve played with, love the guy. It is good to be friends with Chris again too, and have his drums alongside my guitar.
Chris is a great musician as well. He has scored a few film projects and is an all around creative and talented guy. Bassist Chris Madsen, was fantastic and a good friend, unfortunately I have not seen or heard from him in years, but do wish him all the best wherever he is these days. The four of us worked great together and it was nice to view some of these shows working on the archive material for the project. Blacksmith never left my heart, I am, and always will be at heart a metal musician and metal guitar player. I think and speak metal, my attitude certainly is metal, and I will always bleed heavy metal blood! The time just felt right to get the guys together and do it. Heaven and Hell’s release made it easier and gave us a reason. My partner and Blacksmith bassist John Dodge and I wrote a number of new Blacksmith songs several years ago, so we are hoping to get them out with Malcolm and Chris.
What are your current plans as far as playing out live in support of "Strike While The Iron’s Hot"? Are you only planning on doing some shows in New York? Can we plan on Blacksmith making the rounds on the festival circuit? Any overseas appearances lined up?
Current plans… Blacksmith are open to everything possible, we are playing, rehearsing, and working on new music. We will most likely be playing a show or two in and around New York, nothing concrete yet. We were looking at a German festival for 2012, but we just found out we were passed on by the promoter, very disappointing since they contacted us initially…
We would love to lock into the overseas festival circuit, if there are any promoters or booking people interested, please contact us. The band sounds great and we are working on the usual killer Blacksmith show. We want to play overseas and reach the people that have supported us for years, Blacksmith live will not disappoint.
We are going to appear at Progpower XII in Atlanta, GA. in September with Heaven and Hell Records to promote the new release and do meet/greets and all that jazz. We are looking forward to getting out there and meeting the fans and making new ones. I hear it is an amazing festival and can’t wait.
Give me a little back history on Blacksmith, how did you all originally meet and who were the bands that were inspiring you at the time the when the band formed?
Blacksmith was formed in Albany New York 1984 by myself and vocalist Heidi Black. Heidi and I grew up in the same area of New York, went to the same school and eventually were in a serious committed personal relationship with each other. I left my high school / college band Dead End to form Tokyo Rose with Heidi, this band eventually became Blacksmith. I chose the name Blacksmith, drawing from my English and Welsh heritage from my father’s side of the family, actual Blacksmith’s, Indian fighters and explorers from my Smith family tree dating back to the 1500-1600 hundreds.
We had several drummers and bass players, until we found the ones that stuck for the first EP and tours. We were all metal heads; we lived and breathed Blacksmith, metal and the lifestyle.
As far as influences and inspirations when the band formed, I loved Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Priest, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, AC/DC, Michael Schenker, Randy Rhoads , Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore, the N.W.O.B.H.M, Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult and Rush among many others. My favorite band that made me pick up the guitar and want to be a professional musician was Kiss, early Kiss.
I also loved The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Motorhead, The Rods, Riot and I was very influenced by early Metallica "Kill em All" and "Ride the Lightning". Films, movie soundtracks, books and comic books gave me a lot of inspiration and influence for writing and the basis of many songs.
A lot can be said about the New York metal scene of the early eighties with a host of some of the biggest names to ever emerge in the North American metal scene including Manowar, Virgin Steele, RIOT, Twisted Sister and The Rods. What are your memories of the New York metal scene in the early eighties? Do you recall a competitive spirit amongst the bands? Was there camaraderie? How do you look back at those days?
I love the early New York metal scene. Kiss, The Ramones, Blue Oyster Cult and the New York Dolls were the grand dads of it all. The Rods were great; I played my first professional gig opening for The Rods. Riot were awesome, Manowar were, and are still earthshaking, I used to see Virgin Steel a lot,Overkill were killer, T.T. Quick was bad-ass and Twisted Sister were the best, twisted before they became pop metal. T.S. were brutal in the clubs and ferocious as shit! You were afraid not to clap at their shows, in fear of Dee kicking your ass!
There really was not much of a scene in New York City per say, a lot of it came from L’Amour in Brooklyn and Queens, out on Long Island and over in New Jersey. Upstate Albany was a metal zone as well, and that’s where we came from. There was a competitive spirit sometimes bordering on a tribe, street fight mentality among bands and fans. There was camaraderie, but bands were like gangs and most times were aware of each other, but not overly friendly but highly competitive. I love those days and those times. Much like Kiss in the early days, total N.Y.C. band, but didn’t mix well with others.
Tell me about how Blacksmith originally landed your first record deal with Tropical records, was that a direct result of the self released EP or playing live shows or were you discovered by an A&R scout at Tropical? How did that all go down…
The "Blacksmith" EP was out through Important Distribution in New York City. Important was the pulse of independent label metal in those days, Metallica, Raven, Overkill, Megadeth among other were all being distributed by Important. We were playing our shows and getting articles and interviews in the small metal fanzines and publications of the day, we were really spreading the word hand to mouth.
As the new version of Blacksmith "Mark II" came together, I had interest from several independent labels. Tropical Records was one of those and I really connected with the label owner Mark Avnet.
Mark became our manager and producer. He was fresh out of Hollywood as owner of the label and Mad Dog Studios, working with Leatherwolf, Megadeth, Poision and many other California bands. Mark checked us out, listened to our music and spoke to us as people. We signed with Tropical for a multi-album deal in late 1988.
Blacksmith originated as a female fronted metal band with your at the time girlfriend Heidi Black helming the vocal duties. She would eventually exit the band’s lineup and be replaced by Malcolm "Mania" Lovegrove who is once again singing for the revitalized Blacksmith. Have you kept in touch with Heidi all of these years? Do you have any idea what she’s currently up to?
Yes, Heidi and I speak on occasion and we will always be friends. Heidi has worked as an on air personality and news director in radio for a number of years, I do believe she had left the radio business as of late. She is a mom and has two great kids and a happy marriage; she is living the Heidi life! She and I spoke about working together, and I did want her involved with the Blacksmith revitalization, but nothing came of it unfortunately. I wish her the best, Heidi kicks ass!
There’s a lot of stories out there on the internet of the onstage mayhem experienced during the early club days of Blacksmith, stories of you guys breaking all kinds of stuff onstage, audience induced riots and police shutting down gigs. How much of these stories should be taken with a grain of salt? Were things really that chaotic and out of control?
The Blacksmith early days were indeed very volatile and crazy, there were many bat shit crazy, fucked up moments; fights, riots, arguments, on and off stage altercations with each other and civilians. Car crashes, cops and hotel and club demolition and re-decoration were indeed fact. Hey, urban legend is a great thing, I go out to clubs and in public and people come up to me and tell me, that they saw me do this or that, or saw me throw a T.V. through a wall or something years ago at a club or party, sometimes its true and sometimes I hear of shit I never did, myth building at its finest.
People come up with the craziest stuff; again urban legend is an amazing thing. We didn’t break anything on stage, but our asses in Blacksmith, that was my earlier band Dead End all those show were shut down by ensuing chaos or local authorities. Times were crazy and so were the members of Blacksmith, we used to go out looking for fights, preferably with other bands we didn’t like. Heidi or Tom Roy would start the fights and I would finish them, nice huh? (laughs)
Needless to say that was a long time ago and I certainly have grown up and matured considerably. I still don’t take shit from anyone though, so don’t piss me off OK? (Laughs) I guess this comes from my Italian / Irish heritage, my mom taught me not to take any crap in life (all 5ft 2in of her). Also you have to know we (in the band) were treated like shit by club owners, booking agents and music industry weasels and scum, we fought back the best we could and it makes you tough.
Chaos, rage, anger and revenge are all great ingredients and strange but typical bedfellows for good metal and rock and roll! There is always the take it with a grain of salt measure to it all, but we lived and breathed it and we were young and full of piss and vinegar and did not give a fuck! Most of it is true and I will someday be riding the chute down to hell!
Looking over your lengthy career as a band, I guess the obvious question on people’s minds must be what were the reasons for splitting up back in 1991 and will the unreleased "Time Out Of Mind" album that was recorded a year prior to the split ever see the light of day?
The split came for several reasons. We were getting burned out. We played straight for years, recorded several albums in a row. Our record label was coming apart and down with internal and financial issues. Personally my musical tastes were changing and me and the two Chris’s wanted to go in a different direction. Malcolm wanted to go and do his own stuff, so we bought him out and we moved on with Freaknation. In retrospect, we should have taken a break and a breather and kept it together. We had a great album in the can and if we took our time we could have landed at the next level, had we just used our heads. We all made some hasty choices. I am hoping "Time out of Mind / Burn Down the World" will see the light of day, great stuff, best of our career and what Blacksmith had done up until the point. I am hoping Heaven and Hell Records will release this soon. I have seen bootlegs for sale on the internet.
Did you continue to stay busy as a musician during the two decades of inactivity with Blacksmith? What were you up to during that period of time and did you ever envision reforming the band at some point or was that brought on by the release of this older, out of print material?
Yes, I went right from Blacksmith to Freaknation. We released a record / CD titled "Achilles Mojo Fix" in 1995 on the Circumstantial/ Relativity / Sony Label. Freaknation toured and recorded through to late 1997. From 1998 to the present I have fronted on guitar and lead vocals for my band "David Smith and Bad Karma", this is a real stripped down biker, heavy riff kind of thing. I have been doing Bad Karma for the past thirteen years and I have loved every minute of it. My partner and Blacksmith bassist John Dodge owns Bad Karma with me, we play and sing get together and we have a ball, most of the time!
Around 2005-2006, John and I went into the studio and cut some new Blacksmith music, with me on lead vocals. One of the songs appeared on the Dean Guitars compilation D.O.A. CD, a song entitled "Broken Bastard" this was a tribute to Dimebag. With the Heaven and Hell release it certainly prompted us to revitalize it and put Malcolm and Chris Caglione in touch with John and I. Didn’t really think much of a new Blacksmith, until Jeremy and Heaven and Hell Records came into the picture. I started with Blacksmith, think I might want to end with Blacksmith.
The word on the street is that Blacksmith is working on a new album. Describe the musical direction fans can expect on the next full length, will it retain the same aesthetics as your early material or should we expect something more modern sounding?
Yes, we are working on a new album / CD. We have about seven songs in the can. Malcolm and Chris are writing too. The music is big and heavy, much like the original Blacksmith sound. I
think the basic aesthetics are still there in place. I actually think the new stuff is heavier and more relevant to today. Technology is better, the world is a small place, certainly modern is not a bad thing, new influences, new interests but same players and kick ass vibe. When, where and if it comes out, you will be the judge. I would like to put out a new Blacksmith release each year moving forward.
You are currently endorsed by the world renowned Dean guitars, what is it about their axes that initially won you over as a guitar player?
Dean guitars are great, I love them! I have been working with Dean Guitars and owner Elliott Rubinson for close to nine years. Their USA and import guitars are fantastic and I love everything about them. The shapes and design are killer, the electronics sound top rate and Dean Guitars are cool as hell! They feel like old friends, when you pick them up.
The headstock says metal! As a kid I always loved the design of the V’s, Z’s, ML’s and Cadillac. I was drawn to Dean Guitars, even as a kid. One of the most satisfying and happy things in my professional life, has been working with Elliott and representing Dean Guitars.
At what age did you first pick up a guitar and begin to learn how to play? Who or what was it that inspired you to become a career oriented musician?
I stole my first guitar at age seven, it’s been downhill ever since! I played since I was a kid, but really got serious around fifteen. I have never been out of a band since I was seventeen.
Kiss was my number one influence to pick up the damned guitar to play, sing and show off. I love Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley, I love early Kiss. Many others, as well Michael Schenker, Tony Iommi, The Ramones, Ritchie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, E.V.H., Angus Young, Sex Pistols, Maiden and Priest.
At what point did you realize that heavy metal music owned your soul? Can you pinpoint a specific band or group of bands that forever changed your life and made you proud to label yourself as a metalhead?
Heavy metal has always owned my soul, I can’t remember a time when it didn’t. Again Kiss forever changed my life. As a kid I would see concerts and the tears would come to my eyes watching and hearing the bands, the guitar, the vocals, the vibe, the symbolism and the tribal experience of metal and music. Metal was my family and became my religion early on. Could be from a bad childhood, but metal gave me confidence, belonging and attitude. Metal gave me my life, my family and my career in and out of music. I wear the badge with honor and pride.
What’s next for Blacksmith? Tell me any goals that you guys might be working on as a band for the remainder of 2011…
In 2011 it’s great hanging and playing with my brothers again. We want to play live and make Blacksmith better than ever. We are working on the new music, getting it together again and having fun! As stated, we would like to get "Time out of Mind" out there; we would like to put out a new material release of Blacksmith music. Play overseas, hit the metal fests and exist as a current and relevant band moving forward.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk metal with me today David, Before we wrap this up do you have any last words for your fans reading at home?
Cheers to all, thanks for the love and support. We hope to see you out on the boards. Thanks to Jeremy Golden and Heaven and Hell Records for all. Thank you for the interview opportunity, and your time Robert. Please pick up "Strike While the Iron’s Hot" it’s a great package, real value for the money; music, DVD and enhanced features, great liner notes, photos and downloads. To all, feel free to drop me a line on the Blacksmith website and Facebook, I would love to hear from you all. Stay Heavy!