Helix / ex-Kaos Guitarist
Interviewed by EvilG
Transcribed by Vampe
On Saturday, August 7 2004, myself and Rick made our way to Gander, Newfoundland to meet up with Celtic Bob to all once again see Canadian hard rock / metal legends…HELIX! We had all witnessed their return to ‘The Rock’ for the Canada Day celebrations and were quite impressed with their live performance, enough for myself and Rick to drive the 4hours into Gander. On the humid afternoon of the 7th I managed to get an interview with Rainer and one with Mr. Helix himself, Brian Vollmer [his interview will be online shortly].
For those older metalers from the east coast of Canada, you will remember Rainer’s band KAOS from he mid 80’s which coincidentally was the opening act for the cross-province tour with HELIX while on the LONG WAY TO HEAVEN tour in 1986. That is why a good chunk of this interview is about his previous band, KAOS. I wanted to get some background on the KAOS story and on his current involvement in HELIX. In one spot in the interview, Rainer’s wife (singer from KAOS and current backing vocalist for HELIX), chimed in with some comments. The interview ran about just over 30mins and as it was I had to drop about 1/3 of my questions due to time constraints! So let’s head into the hotel where Rainer is stringing and tuning his guitars as our interview begins…
How did Kaos get together and when did it all start?
That was a long time ago…I don’t remember [laughter]. When it all started, I think we originally had some ideas to form a band back in about ’83, and we had the makings of the band as it was afterwards. Well that was the first line up with Sandy Forbes as the drummer and Bernie Brodrick as guitar player & Glen Party as the bass player. At the time that we had talked to all these guys about putting a band together. We really didn’t have a focus about "we’re going to make this band and it’s going to be Kaos and we’re going to do this and and we’re going to do that."
Actually what happened was that we got a call from a buddy of ours who heard that the CBC was going to put a program on which was like what is now American Idol & Canadian Idol. At that point in time it’s what they called "The Fame Game" which was a couple of bands from the local area & the Halifax region that were to get together to of course compete through different stages of the elimination process of the vote. Whoever won, would go onto the semi-final, until eventually there was to be a "Canadian winner" which at that point you were supposed to receive a real pittance of a reward [laughs] for being the chosen best band. We thought it would be kind of neat to participate in that competition. But at that point in time we didn’t actually have any songs written or a band together at that point. We thought it would be kind of nice to participate in this kinda kick-start for the band, a new band. And right away of course to get national TV exposure with a brand new band…but it ended up that we couldn’t get Sandy to play drums on that particular show, so we ended up filling that with a guy by the name of Steve Butler. He is actually now is a booking agent in Toronto and he books tribute acts, so that’s kinda interesting [laughs]. But anyways, he was the drummer for that show & we came second place with a song that we had basically written and recorded just the week before that. So basically that was how we got started. From there on in I guess we just started to playing some gigs & finish writing some more material.
When you listen back to 2 KAOS albums you did, do any of them still stand the test of time for you?
For me no [laughs] they need to be re-recorded & re-done [laughs] because things have changed a little in however many years. I think overall, when we did record them & we did record them at our own studio, with our own equipment when we started. I think the first 2 albums we did were recorded on 8 tracks and there was a lot of bouncing and a lot of technical differences that now if we were to re-record them they would sound much, much better. I think for us its just sonically, when I hear the albums I hear them much more from a producers point of view, rather than a players point of view & I think back at what we could have done differently, but you know the songs are still quiet strong. Having said that… you know what’s a good song? At the risk of having someone say "ohh it sounds dated , it sounds like something that was written in the 80’s" well you know, it was! [laughs]. Things change there are bands out right now that are doing stuff that is very much 80’s or the late 70’s. I mean you’ve got a band like The Darkness or Jet or bands like that or new bands that are sounding very much like what the older bands were sounding like back then… the basic rock riffs that AC/DC based whatever you want to call it. It’s nice to see that happen, its nice to see things come around again. You know for about the last…up until about 3 years ago, the 10 years prior to that as far as I’m concerned didn’t really happen [laugh] and in the music scene there wasn’t much going on apart from in the real hardcore metal scene.
KAOS – backstage in Grand Falls, Newfoundland 1987.
Rainer is third from the left, Cindy is on the far right.
When you were touring with the band, you played across the island at least twice. What are some of your memories, good or bad, of all the shows you did in the little places you played?
I don’t think you’ve got enough tape for that [laughs]. Oh well overall I think we had a good time in most of the places we played. We had lots of stuff happen along the way. You know you think of the mark on your calendar "Truck broke down here" [laughs] or you lost money there because they PA’s were blowing up and you had to pay the rental company back. There’s all kinds of good, ups & downs with everything that happens. But I think the highest point for us was when we first started to really realize that we enjoyed doing this more than anything is when we did that initial Helix tour which was back in ’86 and subsequently we did our own tour in ’87 with a couple bands opening up primarily "Gemini" in a couple of places that we played. That particular tour we have good and bad memories.. I think the worst memory of that tour, is the fact that we realized what a nightmare it was to get the whole thing properly promoted & properly organized when we had…we pretty much did the whole thing ourselves. We thought that we had some promotional assistance from different areas and it turns out you can’t be in 2 places at the same time, so while you’re trying to be a band & write your music & coordinate your stage show, you can’t do that & at the same time try to promote a concert tour. You know it became a kinda impossibility & if we had to do it all again we’d make sure that we had somebody on board who could really do the proper promotion on it & it would work out a lot better.
KAOS in Grand Falls, Newfoundland 1987.
Rainer and Cindy in front of "Gus" the Kaos tourbus.
I remember a video of yours, "Summer of Love", aired on NTV and VOCM (local radio) supported the band to some degree back then. These days hard rock / metal bands don’t get ANY support from those types of outlets. Of course back then, perhaps it was more accepted or what was the reason?
No, I think we were lucky, because we to found out that part of the problem that we had, was lack of support, lack of promotion…you name it. I don’t know, a couple of things fell into place for us at the right times and in certain ways…
Cindy: We did a lot of back to back in regards to promotion, like we wash your back, and they wash ours. Like I went to them, they asked me to do some advertising for them and they’d do a little ad on TV for the ‘Concerts in the Park’ and there were promotion. So I’d say in return will you do this for us? It wasn’t so much that they supported us…that’s basically what happened though. It wasn’t necessarily that they supported us a whole lot. We really struggled to try and get some help. The thing with that was, at the beginning we did things for them & in return they did things for us and then what happened when Much Music (Canadian music station) came on board and wanted to promote the band a little bit, and wanted to interview us & play our video. Then, all of a sudden, these people started calling and people got more interested in us because "ohh Much Music got interested in you.. so maybe you guys are not a bad band" y’know?
Yeah and again that was a result of that initial Helix tour when we got asked to come on board for that. At the time that came about we were struggling in Ontario playing dates for little or no money with a management company who was more interested in what cover tunes that could get us to do & what bars they could get us to play in. Luckily we had some mutual friends that were involved in the management of both bands, of Helix and ourselves. The promoter that promoted the tour, the original Helix tour here in Newfoundland, was someone that we knew and at that time it was quite a challenge to get on board that tour and convince the right people that we were a good opening act. It wasn’t until all of maybe 3 days before the first show that we had solid confirmation that we were actually going to be part of the tour! When we did do the tour all of a sudden we got the extra exposure, Much Music came on board and all of a sudden things kinda fell into place. And that’s why originally we got an opportunity to do that video which you spoke of that got aired. Like NTV sent a camera crew down to basically film that. All of a sudden they had an interest in some local talent and decided that yeah okay, lets do a few things on a promotional level to maybe bring a local act up a little bit into the forefront.
Cindy -On stage with KAOS in Grand Falls, Newfoundland in 1986.
The band eventually relocated to London, Ontario. This is a bit of a grey area for me in terms of what happened. This is before the band ended, you did relocate off the island, I know that much. So what happened, did that go as well as you’d hoped or did things not go like you thought they would?
Um…..I think ultimately what happened was that when we did relocate we did so reluctantly without some of the members that were part of the band in the first place. We had originally made some decisions that were .. uh.. Sandy our original drummer was going to come with us, to relocate, the one guitar player that we had at the time, that was in that band at that point in time , had already left… Derrick Joyce – because he basically had some obligations in St. John’s and didn’t want to leave. So we had already faced the possibility of getting a new lineup when we left. Then at the last minute, Sandy basically said he couldn’t leave, he was taking care of his elderly dad in a house that he didn’t want to leave. Finally when push came to shove he decided he’d best stay and take care of his dad and he couldn’t really leave & relocate. So we basically said okay we’ve gone to the lengths, we couldn’t really go any further in Newfoundland, based on what opportunities presented themselves for us here. So we said lets go anyway and hopefully we’ll get a new lineup and start from scratch…and that’s the problem, starting from scratch when you’ve already got some kind of momentum going and then having to suddenly take 3 steps back, get new people involved, try it, start all over again.
So when we started with a new lineup in Ontario, we found ourselves again struggling to get gigs, struggling to kinda make enough money to basically live. You know, when you’re on the road trying to keep bills paid & have money coming in and play original material…..well it’s no different right now. I record a lot of act’s that are just starting, up & coming bands starting out with original projects. I’ll record their first CD and it’ll cost them however many thousands of dollars to do the album with artwork, and so on & so forth. But that’s money they’re putting up themselves. Lots of times there’s no record company involved, there’s nobody giving them anything and then when it comes time to make their money back playing original music, they’re setting up shows in bars and stuff where they’ve gotta play for a hundred bucks and maybe a case of beer and maybe if they’re lucky what comes in on the door. They maybe make money on merchandise sales and so on and so forth, and most of those guys are either living at home or they’re all living together in a 1 bedroom apartment with no money. And there came a point with Kaos, with myself and Cindy specifically where we’d been doing this for 7 – 8 years of trying to get the profile of the band up. We just one day said… Look we can’t do this anymore, we can’t live on a hundred bucks a week and we all had better get jobs [laughs] and that’s what we did. I started working in the music store full time, at that point in time and in the mean time still trying to do the odd gig here and there. It just kinda fell apart, not because of lack of interest of the members in the band, but I think because of the logistics…the economic situation surrounding bringing and original act up with, at that point in time, very few connections in the industry. It just became very difficult to make a go of it.
Rainer and Cindy on stage in St. John’s, Newfoundland June 30, 2004
So for some young guy who is in a band, who reads this, who thinks he’s going to be a rock star – what would you say to him? (Apart from dream on) [laughter].
That’s not really fair, it can happen you know. I think, realistically, to be a career musician, there are a few reasons why you want to do it in the first place. I always say… well people always ask me well "why did you start playing guitar" Well I started playing guitar, I think most males, and this kinda…I don’t want to sound sexist here, but there are very few female guitar players and I think it’s because most guys pick up guitars because they wanna impress the girls. The girls don’t pick up the guitars because they want to impress the guys. They just pick up the guitar because they like it. [laughs] When you’re a young kid going to high school, and when everyone around you is playing sports and they want to be in the NHL & want to be a football player, and you’re some skinny kid you think "what am I gonna do to impress the girls" [laughs]. So you pick up your first guitar and you look in the mirror and go "wouldn’t it be cool to be like Eddie Van Halen or be like.. y’know , whatever…". Eventually you either grow to realize you appreciate what you do. You really like your guitar and all that sorta falls away, and then you do it because you really enjoy playing. A lot of people DO pick up the guitar because they enjoy playing. But if you’re lookin’ at yourself in the mirror thinking this is what I’m gonna do, and I’m gonna be a rock star and impress everybody in the world, not only the chicks, I’m gonna get a big record deal… maybe you’re doing it for the wrong reasons [laughs].
If you’re really, really lucky and you’re really, really good… one of two things.. you might get noticed. You’ll get more noticed. Maybe if you’re in the right band playing music that connects with people, with music that is maybe not technically as challenging as what you as a good guitar player thinks that you might need to play. So being a rock star might not necessarily mean you have to be great. And I don’t think I’m a rock star [laughs]!! You’re asking…the question was anybody that wants to be a rock star growing up, that’s something that happens coincidentally to people who might happen to be in the right place at the right time. Or be really good. But if you practice for 16 hours a day, for 10 years, you might actually at one point in time wake up, and then you’re too good. You know, you’ve got people like Yngwie Malmsteen who maybe don’t sell that many albums compared to some other guys maybe like Metallica, none of the guys in Metallica can play as good as Malmsteen or Eddie Van Halen, or any of those guys. But Metallica probably sell way more albums than Malmsteen has sold collectively in his entire career. So sometimes you’ve got to realize it’s not just how good you are, or any of that. A lot of coincidences can that happen, wherever you are at that point in you life.
Rainer and Brian Vollmer in Gander, Newfoundland on August 7, 2004.
How did you first get involved in Helix & how you did you get to where you are today with Helix?
Well obviously I had met Brian Vollmer previously in the 80’s. But about 2.5-3 years ago….I have studio in London, Ontario and I’ve been responsible for a lot of metal bands’ initial releases, some pre-production stuff. I’ve worked with Kittie. There is a band that is up and coming right now, they’re going to be on the Slayer tour this summer, a band called Thine Eyes Bleed. I did some work with them on the original pre-production for their album. I’ve done some work with a band called Blood of Christ who have had 3 albums out internationally now, well now 4, their last album was not something I was involved in but their previous 3, I was involved in those. Basically I’ve had a lot of young talent come through the studio. I’ve got some really good equipment and have made a good reputation for myself out there.
Brian Vollmer approached me about doing the next Helix album there, because it was convenient for him and I gave him a really good rate [laughs] lets just start it with that. I thought well , it’d be a nice feather in my cap, to do another album with a name act..a well known recording act. And originally the idea for the album, you asked Brian previously "why did it take 3 years to do this album", well initially he came in and he wanted to do 3 songs, to just see what it would sound like and whether it’d be worth doing a complete album or if it was just gonna be a demo project for him to show up some new material. At that time he didn’t have a studio album in mind. We started work on it and did 3 songs and he liked what he heard and said "okay I’d really like to do an album, but I don’t have all the songs written yet". So then it progressed to having to wait for these guys (in Helix), as he spoke to you about earlier, with the scheduling with who was writing the album and so on. It took a long time to write the songs that we ended up keeping on the album because not every song was suitable for recording. So maybe out of 10 songs we might write 15 or 16 and pick the best ones. That was the process that happened. As time went by, this album sort of grew, in the creative process, I became more and more a part of it. I started playing on certain songs – a few solos on this one, a little bit on that one. We basically developed a relationship as producer/artist as well as musician-wise. A couple of months before we released and finished the album he asked me if I’d be interested in joining the band and I thought "yeah well, why not!" I can pretty much make my own time based on what I do for a living. I have my recording studio, my repair business, so on & so forth.. and I am pretty much my own boss. At that point in time we weren’t looking at doing any extended touring – 6 weeks there or 4 weeks here, it was basic weekend work, one off a couple of days here, a couple of days there, fly out, fly back and I thought we’ll you know to be fair, I can make time to do all those things in my schedule and I can accept the offer, and that’s sort of what happened.
Not long after that, during the rehearsal process of this Anniversary show, when Cindy was doing backing vocals, all of a sudden he called me up one day and said "do you think Cindy would mind if we asked her to join the band?" Well I said, "give her a call!" [laughs] I don’t think that’s my decision. I dont think she’s going to mind your asking her to join the band. It’s kind of an interesting development.
What was it like the first time you played on stage with the guys in Helix?
I think we rehearsed the show pretty much, as much as we could. Luckily our first show was a local gig, fairly low profile. We opened up a set that had us on the bill with Sass Jordan & Chillawack and we were the first band on. It sorta seemed like we just went up and played .. and it came and went instantly. It was just one of those things you just get up there and then all of a sudden it’s over. You don’t even know the passage of time. It was all kind of a blur but I think we played pretty well [laughs].
Are you still involved with the tribute band to Meatloaf called BAT OUT OF HELL? (www.batoutofhell.ca)
Yep, as we speak there is still a couple of gigs booked. Next week or the week after we’re doing a festival, it’s called the Jarvis Corn Festival, its a big outdoor festival, just outside of Toronto, we’re doing that. Then every year for the last 6 years we’ve been doing the Western Fair in London, and we’ve got 2 nights there again this year. We’ve got another gig coming up someone in Sudbury, I think sometime in the next week or 2, and that’s pretty much it though. I think after the western fair gig, that’s it for the meatloaf band until the second week of September. I think once those are pretty much done with, we might end up putting the band on the blocks for a bit, I mean if we get a few calls and someone wants to send us to Vegas, we’ll go back to Vegas. We did 3 nights down there a couple of years ago with that band, and that was a total blast.
With the Meatloaf tribute band, do you find you get bigger crowds than some of the ones’ that show up for Helix?
Its hard to say, because we’ve played in different situations, we’ve played at the C&E in Toronto with the meatloaf band on one of their side stages, a couple of shows, a few years ago and we had a lot of people for that. We had a show in Sudbury about 3 years ago for boat races. It was us and an AC/DC tribute act and there was thousands of people at that & we just did a Helix show just outside of Regina and there must have been 8-10,000 people at that. I don’t know, I guess it really depends on the gig. The last couple of Helix shows that we did…we had fairly good presentation at the time, people wise, there were a lot of people there. Most of the stuff we’ve done recently was mostly outdoor festival type stuff we get a lot of people at that. It’s hard to say what draws more people. So far, the shows with Helix shows have drawn more people than typically the Meatloaf band would, only because obviously the history of the band and the fan base. Whereas with the meatloaf tribute…I suppose we’re just playing for Meatloaf himself, it’d be a different story. We’re not just doing a Helix tribute band! I don’t know it’s just hard to say.
Is there any news on, or is there a possibility to release any of your own Kaos stuff, maybe put it on CD and release it or re-record it? You now have your own studio, so it’s not too hard to imagine that you could do that!
There has been some thought put into that, specifically now since the profile of myself & Cindy has become a little bit more than that it was than when we were struggling to bring the band Kaos, as an original band, into it’s own. And at this point in time, specifically in Newfoundland, where the band had a name for itself that many years back, we’ve been thinking of exactly what you’ve said – maybe re-mastering the original stuff that we did on the 2 EP’s that were limited releases, putting them on a CD. But I think what I’d like to see happen is, and there has been some talk of potentially doing it, is to record an album of maybe 10 or 12 NEW Kaos songs and packaging that as a double CD album with re-mastered versions of the old original material. So that basically you get 2 CD’s in the one package and you get all the old stuff on one, and another CD with all brand new material just to kind of give it a little bit of continuity, rather than just look back and say this is what we did 15-16 years ago. Yeah there has been some talk about it. I’ve just put some new machinery into my studio right now. I just bought a new console, it is an analog console, but it has full digital control on it. One of the reasons that we hadn’t done the Kaos thing prior to myself being able to re-vamp the studio, was that the studio as it was, was very old school, very analog. If I was doing a project for somebody I’d have to pretty much put everybody else on hold, because I had the board set up to mix down somebody elses’ project, and then I couldn’t really work on my own stuff, because it meant changing settings, re-setting everything by hand and starting from scratch from where we were before on somebody elses’ project. The studio has been very busy, so I just made a major investment in a very expensive console which has digital instant recall. So basically if I’m working on somebody’s project yesterday, and then I go and decide we’re going to record some of our own stuff, I just basically have to push a button and all of my settings recall instantly to where I left off the week before and then if band "x" comes back and wants to finish off their project, I don’t have to start from scratch, I can just push a button and everything goes back to where we were 2 weeks before that. That is going to free up a whole lot of time and whole lot of opportunities to spend time & work in our own studio to put some new material together without stepping on everybody else’s toes.
The studio for me has been a source of income, as with everything else that I do. So I’m basically self employed. So it’s important that I don’t fuck up somebody else’s project [laughs] just because I want to record a song. Sometimes it’s not been entirely convenient to find the time between projects to work on my own stuff , but now as it looks like I’m going to be able to free up some time and work more effectively and efficiently in the studio, I think the potential for putting another Kaos album out sometime with in the next year could be a bit of a reality.
Can we get "March of the Gremlins (Part II)"? [laughter] It’s perhaps the best guitar instrumental that has even been recorded here.
It’s funny you should say that, because incidentally, last night, the band that was up here was just great, we got a chance to go up and play a couple of songs and as we walk up to the stage the first thing I hear their guitar player playing "March of the Gremlins" [laughter]. It’s amazing how much of an impact that has had here and how many people remember that. Maybe that is another reason, an incentive for doing another Kaos album.
Celtic Bob and Rainer way back in 1987! Ha!