INTERVIEW WITH JUAN GARCIA:
GUITARIST OF EVILDEAD AND AGENT STEEL
Interview and live pictures by Arto Lehtinen
Back in the 80’s albums such as UNSTOPPABLE FORCE, SKEPTICS APOCALYPSE, ANNIHILATION OF CIVILIZATION were effectively spun on the record players of several thrash metal fans. Those albums belonged to the raging thrash metal era when thrash metal was unique and intense. The gigs were pure mayhem and chaos. Juan Garcia of Agent Steel and Evildead, and of course Abattoir, has been in the metal scene and seen the furious metal years in the 80’s, the low times in the 90’s, and the resurrection of metal. Agent Steel were a unique band with vocalist John Cyriis with the traditional classic metal style. After Bruce Hall’s departure from Agent Steel, Cyriis returned to the band. Besides Agent Steel, Juan Garcia is also involved in the reunited thrash metal patrol Evildead. The five piece recently published a new song and are doing more and more gigs. I had a pleasant task to talk Juan Garcia about both bands and how he views metal nowadays.
MASTERS OF METAL – RETURN OF CYRIIS
You finally made to Sweden rock. I think it took some pain and work to get here, but you finally made it here.
Yes, I finally made it here. It’s been a journey, you know, starting last year when Bruce Hall left and John contacted us about the possibility of coming back to the band and I was optimistic about it and it’s been a voyage to say the least; absolutely.
A painful journey, I guess more an interesting one?
It’s been a learning experience. I’ve learned patience. I’ve read some eastern religion books about Buddha. How Buddha was a prince; and he said “life is suffering” and he had everything in the world; everything in life. He was a very, very wealthy person; He’s Buddha and he said life is suffering, so it just goes to show you that even with all the money in the world, you eventually learn it’s all about balance, the art of balance.
As for John, does he live in the eastern countries or LA?
I think he lives in Europe now.
And he has a family.
That’s what made me wonder that why he wanted to get back to Agent Steel because he is living here.
We kind of rushed into the reunion just a bit; it’s been for the most part good for the fans. You see lots of bands go through a lot of singer changes, and I don’t want to name names, but lots of groups go through different vocalists, and for us it’s been humbling, and at the same time, it’s very exhilarating to be able to do a full circle. We started this band back in 1984 with John, with the demos, live shows, and then we signed to Combat Records, and Roadrunner/Europe with “Skeptics Apocalypse” with our debut. Putting the record out and just going full circle, and coming back and playing Sweden Rock festival.
As far as I know this was the last show with John here in Sweden Rock?
That’s a really good question and I don’t have an answer for you. I wish I had an answer for you, I don’t know; I mean quite possibly so, or maybe not? I’ll be honest and who knows, maybe we could continue and do the festivals. I don’t think we could be a full on touring band, and play clubs, and having to deal with the rigorous elements of touring; personally I can handle it but not sure if it’s the best scenario for Agent Steel at the present. I think Agent Steel with John Cyriis belongs on festival stages; unfortunately, we will not be playing the Rock Hard Festival this year. The only way I can see Agent Steel continuing is after a well-needed break after Sweden Rock. And then perhaps coming back to play festivals only if it all works out.
Did you record some demo stuff with John?
We tried, we really tried. When we got together in September for the reunion shows in Tokyo, Japan along with Exodus, Overkill and Nevermore at the Thrash Domination festival. We booked studio time to record vocals and it just didn’t pan out. We have not recorded anything with John.
What about Rick – The guy from with Steel Prophet – Is he now a temporary member?
Yes. It’s a bit confusing and there’s lots of rumors and gossip out there. Rick came in for the ‘70 Tons of Metal festival’ cruise because John contacted the band and said he couldn’t make the shows on the cruise; He didn’t give me a reason why. I know the reason now and if he would have told me the reason then, we would have probably canceled. I didn’t know the reason then, so we forged ahead with the inaugural ’70,000 Tons of Metal’ and I was fortunate enough to have associates like Rick from Steel Prophet, and James Rivera from Helstar, who are both good friends of the band. I contacted them by phone and asked “Hey, you guys want to go on a metal cruise? I told them to learn some Agent Steel songs, come with us and sing the songs because John can’t make the trip. So, they were cool with it; John was cool with it. It was a lot of fun. It was a little stressful because it was very short notice. So, from there what I think happened was that the press spoke to Rick on the ship, and he mentioned he was singing with Agent Steel and it was taken out of context. There were journalists, lots of people, tons of booze on the cruise and the rumors started, especially in the age of the Internet. Rick was happy that he had the opportunity to sing with us; I guess that started the stories. Afterwards it didn’t help that there was a cancellation of Agent Steel with John Cyriis at the Keep It True festival in Germany. The rest of us performed at ‘Keep it True’ with Rick, under the name ‘Masters of Metal’, and to make it clear, it wasn’t Agent Steel; it was members of Agent Steel with Rick Mythiasin on vocals under the moniker ‘Masters of Metal’
I remember reading your Facebook that a lot of the people asked if you are now Agents Of Steel or Master of Metal, or Agent Steel?
It’s a bit confusing I suppose; at this point it seems like if we perform with John Cyriis it’s Agent Steel, and if we perform with another vocalist like Rick from Steel Prophet; the band is “Masters of Metal” either way we deliver 110 percent pure kick ass music; executed with precision and in your face metal. Honestly, to me it’s really about the music and having fun. So, today in Solversborg, Sweden we are Agent Steel.
You recorded something new called “Tomb Of Ra” with Rick. How did that come up?
We were suppose to record a song with John, and it just didn’t happen; he wasn’t prepared at the time; in his defense he was focusing on the live set for Japan, and didn’t have the proper time to record in the studio. The song was written by me, Bernie, Rigo, and Bobby; at one point way back Bruce had some lyrics for the song which had a different title, but we wanted to use our own lyrics and melodies since he left the band. I hadn’t written lyrics since; I don’t even remember; perhaps the EvilDead days, so I started scribbling down some lyrics, and I e-mailed them to Bernie, then Bernie added some additional lyrics and we just kind of put it together ourselves, and had Rick sing it; just to see how it would sound. Here it is. We gave the song away for free on the Internet. We recorded it under ‘Masters of Metal’ new from the Agents of Steel that’s how the song “Tomb of Ra” came about.
RAISE OF EVILDEAD
You did a new song with Evil Dead as well?
Yeah, we have written new music with EvilDead as well. Albert Gonzalez mainly wrote the new song, and I co-produced it along with a friend of mine who’s also a producer and who plays guitar in the Black Eyed Peas. He’s a metal fan; a metal brother and he plays in a huge commercial band; one of the biggest in America. He said to me, “hey come check out my studio; I really want to work with you guys” and that’s how it all came about. So we just went in his studio and layed down the tracks there and just recorded everything.
But, however, he plays a commercial rock band….
He produced the song. I helped co-produced it with him, and we had a top mixer also involved. I really wanted to do something different and explore and work with different musicians and industry folks; people who think outside the box.
But he still has a passion for metal.
Yes he does, of course. He’s a guitar player for the Black Eyed Peas; but you can catch him hanging out with top metal musicians; his name is George Pajon; one of the coolest cats in the music biz that I’ve ever met.
But you got a new singer to Evildead?
Yes. Steve Nelson.
Why didn’t the previous one Phil Flores want to join?
I don’t know. We don’t know where he is? and Steve jumped right in and all the pieces fit. We got together and Steve was playing in a band with Rob Alaniz our drummer; that’s how he was introduced to us. When we went in to record; we didn’t know what he was going to sound like and we think it’s pretty amazing how his vocals fit with the EvilDead style. I think he sounds a bit like Phil without really trying.
I guess it is like a family thing, someone has played in Abattoir, then in Agent Steel and Evildead. I guess really easy for you, thinking that ”OK, we help a lot of members of the band and a family”
Exactly, that’s what it was. It was really easy to put together.
What’s the purpose to release a new song of Evil Dead?
I’ll tell you what it is; the song is called “Blasphemy Divine”. I’ve been in contact with SPV records; we were entertaining the idea of reissuing the past catalog; “Annihilation of Civilization” and “The Underworld”, so we wanted to give them and also the fans a new song; to kind of prep things for promotion, and press. We gave the song away for free through the Internet. We are talking about reissuing the catalog in various different formats including; digital, vinyl, CD and maybe cassette, and eight-track; no, I’m kidding about the cassettes and 8-track of course.
SPV went out of business. How were you able to get the reissue out?
They own the rights. Yeah, back in 1987 when EvilDead recorded an Ep “Rise Above” and also the “Annihilation” debut. Actually, Roadrunner wanted to put it out in the United States. They wanted to release the EvilDead record in the U.S. really bad. We were signed with SPV a the time and the U.S. division shut down; then they had a disagreement with their label partners; it’s a long story, but basically SPV/Steamhammer didn’t license them our debut; it was a shame at the time. However; Roadrunner did manage to release the “Rise Above” Ep in the states.
So, when Evil Dead did their first album, Annihilation Of The Civilization – there was a video as well. Was a good thing for you to have a real video because you didn’t get any video with Agent Steel back then?
You know what that was a favorite of mine? A video compilation called ‘Tales from the Pit’ by Jerry Allen; He’s the one who produced the EvilDead video. ‘Tales from the Pit’ was cutting edge stuff; He filmed and interviewed lots of bands like The Mentors, Sepultura, Exodus; he just had a camera and was filming, documenting. He has all kinds of the footage with icons like Paul Baloff. He really liked that song from “Annihilation…” and he said to me; “I want to make an EvilDead video” and I said; let’s do it! So we filmed the footage in Long Beach, California. We recorded it and I sent it to SPV and they submitted it to MTV and the next thing you know, it’s on MTV Europe. I agree with you that Agent Steel could have benefited from the video format back then. We never had a video. But the cool thing now is there’s Youtube.
What about Abattoir. You’re no longer a member of the band.
No, Abattoir is on hiatus. It’s a band that we started off and I remember helping Slayer get their first show in Hollywood at the Troubadour when they released “Show No Mercy” and Abattoir opened for Metallica at the Country Club; a really good venue in Los Angeles. Abattoir should have gone somewhere, but didn’t… It just didn’t happen; a lot of management problems were to blame for this. We recently did a reunion in Europe for the ‘Keep It True Festival’ we also did a few other shows, but I just don’t see anything going with that. It’s a classic first record; “Vicious Attack”. It was a great record; I love Motorhead and our cover version of “Ace of Spades”. There were really cool songs on the first Abattoir album. I learned a lot from them; I’ve got to thank Mark Caro and Mel Sanchez for that.
Well, wow are you able to share time because you have two band; Evildead and Agent Steel? Switching the bands all the time?
It’s really easy. It’s not that difficult. EvilDead are friends of mine that I went to high school with. Mel Sanchez and I; we were in Abattoir together with Mark Caro. It’s just really easy with ‘EvilDead’ things go smooth. It’s really not complicated. It’s like friends who get together and play music and have fun; we talk about guitars, amps, and we write songs. It’s lots of fun, that’s what it’s really all about.
SWITCHING THE LABELS
So, are you somehow disillusioned about record labels as you have been on Road Runner, SPV and when Agent Steel returned you have been on Candlelight, Scarlet?
It’s been an adventure; friends tell me I should write a book. It’s a time in my life where I want to take a step back. I think everybody in this band wants to take a step back and really, smell the roses a little bit until we make our next move; we are in no hurry; it’s better to do things right.
What has been the reason why Agent Steel has been on several labels – You have been on Scarlet and so on – Can’t remember all of them.
Well, it started with Candlelight Records with Agent Steel – ‘Omega Conspiracy’ comeback album, and then we moved to Scarlet Records, and then Mascot. Basically, at this point in the game, I don’t even see why some artists need a label anymore? Unless you’re with a solid company who markets and promotes the artist it’s almost pointless to be signed. The music industry is in a decline; and there’s lots great new bands, and awesome new music coming out. I hate to say it, but today you can pretty much self-produce your own music on your own label and do well. That’s just the way things are now unless you got good label backing; and there are quite a few good labels out there of course.
Well, albums are not selling anymore nowadays.
Exactly, they’re not, and we know; we all know that. That’s why we are very fortunate as Agent Steel and honored to be able to play festivals like Sweden Rock.
Have you been able to keep your eyes open in these bootleg cds of Agent Steel for example I came across one version where the Unstoppable Force had been ripped from a vinyl version?
No, I don’t even care anymore. I don’t even know how many have sold. I know that when we released ‘Unstoppable Force’ it sold over 26,000 copies the first day of shipment; which at the time it was the second biggest shipment next to Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning”, on a label that we forgot to mention, MFN, Music for Nations. When Metallica was on Music for Nations, we were on the rock charts just behind them. It’s been a humbling experience through it all; a great experience and I’m glad to be here.
Do you think that this was good for you that Century Media came in and picked up the old Agent Steel album?
Yeah, for me they licensed the rights and I was talking to some people that know the whole story. Sony actually owns the rights. They licensed it to Century Media. It would be nice if it was officially re-released in the United States; not just the Agent Steel catalog, but also bands like Possessed, Exodus – Bonded by Blood, Megadeth; the whole complete Combat Records catalog. All of that old classic stuff, even the hard-core stuff that Combat put out, some really cool releases. Crumsuckers; one of my favorite bands from back then; they were actually one of the originators of New York hard core before S.O.D..
Agnostic Front, of course.
ABOUT HARD CORE AND METAL
So, you love hard-core stuff?
When I was growing up there was really no hard-core music that I can remember, so I turned to punk. Bands like Black Flag, and the Dead Kennedys. There was the West Coast punk scene and the east coast hard-core came a bit later for what I can recall.
Was there some kind of tension between the west coast and east coast in the punk / hard-core scene?
No not for me I never had problems. I appreciate the east coast sound. There was never problems this is Metal, It’s not hip-hop.
Well, Suicidal Tendencies was having the fan base in your area and ….
Yeah, I remember that, but the tension was minor in the punk and metal scene; although some Suicidal Tendencies shows were complete mayhem and dangerous for sure.
I saw some of the documents of the USA punks and hard core, and there were a lot of bands and fans telling about the music. It was an interesting document otherwise.
Yes the punk scene is still kicking ass. It’s interesting you bring it up; what I noticed is that the fans of that style of music still buy vinyl and CD’s also; they mainly buy albums, vinyl, it’s very interesting. They support the bands and their scene. It actually seems like the punk/hardcore support is more than the metal support in the United States.
But do you think that metal community is more technically advanced because of..
Yes. Because of the Internet.
But, however, do you miss the old days?
No, not really.
I’ve been fortunate to experience a lot of cool things through it all, the path has been a learning process. With the line-up that we have now; I think we’re making relevant music; whether it’s John singing, or Rick singing, or Bruce singing, it doesn’t matter as long as the songs are good, and we deliver live, so that’s really what matters to me; the music and message. Don’t get me wrong the old days were legendary for sure, but future possibilities are infinite.
Do you think that, because you have seen three decades of heavy metal, the metal thing has become more industrial; part of the industrial business, as what I did back in the day it was like do it yourself thing?
I agree with you. The industry seems to be about branding a product, which in a sense the idea, and cookie cutter approach bores me. Agent Steel is a brand. A band like Exodus is a brand. That’s what I’ve become aware of lately. More importantly to me, it’s about the music, not about a brand or a name. I do understand the importance of branding in a business sense. The do it yourself thing is coming back, I don’t think it ever went away really, you make a valid point.
Agent Steel used to be gigging a lot back then. I guess the shows were much much wilder back then than nowadays?
I ‘m going to be honest with you. It was much wilder back then, of course. There’s no doubt about it. It was magic. But I also see that happening now. Especially in Los Angeles, mainly on the West Coast believe it or not? A whole new generation of speed and thrash kids coming to the metal shows; a bit like Europe. I think the key here is Europe really, but I’m sure the metal movement is globally as well. The denim vests, with the patches, the retro white sneakers with the pants tucked in; it’s incredible and they know their music; they really know the history; They’re not posers. Maybe their parents got them into metal? It’s really interesting and they’re really into it.
Does it make your heart warm when you see bands like Warbringer Lazarus A.D. and others playing?
I swear to you, it’s just like back in the day. Yes, of course it will never be exactly like the 80’s scene; I remember touring Europe with Anthrax, Agent Steel and Overkill that was fuckin’ incredible; sometimes it’s a little bit like that.
Most of the old school metal people who had been around the eighties have vanished completely. How have you survived that you are still visible and you are so active in the metal?
I don’t know. A bit of luck and persistence.
Because I remember in the 90s, you kind of vanished.
I vanished for a little while yes. The band Overkill never vanished in the 90’s; but yeah, I dropped off the metal radar. Heavy Metal is my passion and that’s really the main reason I’m still around I guess.
What was the one reason that Evil Dead kind of split up. Then grunge came in the 90’s. It took years until Agent Steel came with the comeback album and I guess that during that period you didn’t do that much music thing at all.
I was involved in music; I was doing some stuff with Rigo Amezcua, the current drummer in Agent Steel, we had a band called “Terror” in the 90’s and we released an album on BMG Records in Mexico; with Spanish vocals; the album was entitled “Hijos de Los Cometas” it’s out of print now though. It was really, really underground, but there’s a very big Latin Rock scene. It’s just not recognized in Europe so much. Yeah, I kind of disappeared from the European music scene for a little bit.
Yeah. What are you doing for a living because I have seen pictures of you at Grammy Awards, your in the big four thing. Are you a local celebrity?
No. I’m not a local celebrity. Some people perhaps may think that, but I’m not. I do real estate and when I get to attend those types of events, it’s just friends who hook things up with VIP passes; I was fortunate to attend the first Big Four show here in California. It would be great to see bands like Metallica and Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer to also bring out other bands on tour. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a side stage at The Big Four with bands like Exodus, Death Angel, Agent Steel, Testament, and Overkill? I think it would be nice to include a side stage, and I think eventually it may happen. It really all depends, maybe they will do that some day? Because there’s a lot of bands that deserve to be on the big four; I read an interview with Tom Araya where he mentions Sepultura deserve to be there, and I agree with him.
If the reunion happens.
If the reunion happens, Sepultura deserves to be there without a doubt.
You have the common past with Slayer and the other bands like Armored Saint
Yeah. We’re all from Los Angeles.
The last time when you visited was over here were at Jalometalli, Finland
Yes Jalometalli was the last time Agent Steel visited Europe until no in Sweden.
So, what do you think about Finland, the element of it in general?
It was a great show! I really enjoyed “Jalometalli Festival” in Finland very much. I liked the fact that Electric Wizard, and Voi-Vod were also included on the bill; I thought all the bands were quite good live. I find the weather in Finland quite interesting; especially how it barely gets dark; overall a great experience.
Are you going to check out Ghost?
Yes, they remind me of Blue Oyster Cult meets Mercyful Fate
Yeah, yeah. All right. I thank you for your time.
Thank you. Thank you.