Meliah Rage Guitarist Tony Nichols

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Interview By Lord of The Wasteland

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Exodus, < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Metal Church, Megadeth, Metallica?Meliah Rage?  Yep, the Boston-based power thrash band deserves to be part of this list not only for having toured with them but also for unleashing two of the most underrated albums of the ?80s?1988?s KILL TO SURVIVE and 1990?s SOLITARY SOLITUDE.  The band was swallowed up by the grunge movement and dropped off the scene for a few years but their comeback album, BARELY HUMAN, finds three-fifths of the classic line-up in place and they are back with a vengeance. 

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Being a long-time fan of Meliah Rage, it excited me to hear that the band was getting back together for a new album.  I hoped that, as is too often the case, the new CD would not tarnish the band?s legacy and find them clutching desperately at past glories.  Fortunately, BARELY HUMAN sees the band keeping every bit of the aggressive riffing and mixing it with melodies and a modern take on their classic sound. 


Guitarist and founding member, Tony Nichols, called me up one cool, October Sunday afternoon and for forty minutes, we discussed the new CD, the changes in metal over the last fifteen years and talked shop about Annihilator, Manowar and Godsmack, among other things. If you?re a fan of Bay Area thrash and aggressive metal, check out Meliah Rage, but first, read what Tony has to say?



Hey, this is Tony from Meliah Rage!  What?s up, buddy? 

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Not much, man.  How you doing, Tony?


I?m hangin? in there but I may have to put you on hold every ten minutes or so.  I own a video store/adult video store so I?m stuck here.  Where am I calling today?


I?m in < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Vancouver, BC up in Canada.


Vancouver, BC!  Isn?t that Annihilator territory?


Absolutely!  Yeah, Jeff Waters is still up here putting out the albums!


A buddy of mine?Neil Goldberg?actually played on their third album, SET THE WORLD ON FIRE.  He was the second guitar player and Mike Mangini, who played drums on that album, as well as the new one, is also from Boston.


Yeah, Jeff gets guys from all over the place.  Every album is almost a different band with him in the driver?s seat.


Yeah he does.  He is Annihilator.



Alright, well enough about other bands!  I guess we should talk about Meliah Rage, huh (laughs)?


(Laughs) Let?s do it, bro!


BARELY HUMAN, your comeback CD, for lack of a better term, has been out now for a couple months so how has the feedback been?


Response has been great.  The e-mails we get are all 100% positive.  The reviews I read are 95% positive.  You get the occasional one here and there that says its okay, but the majority of them seem to really like it.  You do the best you can do and see what happens, you know?  I read your review, too, and it was awesome!  Thanks!





My pleasure, Tony.  It was well deserved.  How are things going with Screaming Ferret Wreckords so far?  Are they getting behind BARELY HUMAN for you?


Screaming Ferret has been great.  It?s our third label.  The first one was Epic/CBS Records and obviously you can?t go wrong being on a major label.  They had plenty of dough to spend and distribution that got you on the radio and on the big tours with a tour bus.  They even give you a blank check for gear.  It was great!  Then we went to Backstreet Records which was an independent label and that sucked for us (laughs) because the funds were limited.  They didn?t really know metal that well.  We were their only real metal band so I don?t think they did as good a job as they could have because I don?t think they really knew what to do with us.  But Screaming Ferret lives for metal.  That?s what they do.  I was talking to Tim about the new Exodus album today and he can name every band member in Exodus so they know metal and they know what to do with us.  They?re doing the best they can for an independent label.



It must be reassuring that the band has finally found a place where you are appreciated, too?


Exactly!  They actually came after us!  The two guys from Screaming Ferret actually showed up at my door about three years ago trying to get us to do a new record.



Are you happier now than you were even back on Epic Records?


That?s a tough question.  I was 23 when our first record came out on Epic and I?m on a tour bus and on MTV?I didn?t need a job.  Life couldn?t be much better!  I was pretty excited then but it?s good now, too.  It?s just different.  I own a business now which supports me but I?ve also dedicated half my time to Meliah Rage and I enjoy it.  I feel that I do it better now than I did before.



With age comes wisdom.


I think so!  We start the new record this week for release next summer and everybody that?s heard the tunes say they?re the best.



Did you get a bigger budget for the next CD than for BARELY HUMAN?


Yes, absolutely.  With technology now, you can do a record better and for cheaper.  Back in 1990 when SOLITARY SOLITUDE came out, we spent $80,000-100,000 making a record and nowadays you don?t have to spend that with all the digital stuff.  BARELY HUMAN was whipped off pretty quick but the new record will be a lot better sound-wise.




Do you have a working title, or even a final title, decided yet?


No working title, but we basically dedicated next June through October to hitting the road full force.  When you get in your late 30s and pushing 40, it?s tough to get five guys out on the road all at the same time, so we basically had to plan six months in advance so everybody can take four months off and go.  That will be next summer and we?ll have a new record to push.  It should be out in June.



Is BARELY HUMAN available in Europe and outside North America, as well?


Absolutely.  I?ve gotten three times as many foreign reviews sent to me as American reviews.  Germany seems to be the place that it?s really done the best.



Metal bands over there turn up on the top 20 charts which is unheard of in North America today!


Yeah, I?ve read things that Germany is a strong metal market, as is Canada.  The U.S. is definitely geared towards what?s hot now with a big media push for both movies and music.




Bob Mayo, who was actually in Meliah Rage at one time and played bass on DEATH VALLEY DREAM, makes an appearance on ?Invincible.?  Why did he play on just one track and not rejoin the band full-time?


I played bass on a few tracks but ?Invincible? is pretty fast, so I figured I?d better get someone who is more familiar with the bass.  I called up Bob and he came down for a day and did it then Jesse [Johnson], the original bass player, finished up the rest of the record.  Jesse was who we wanted from day one because we said we weren?t going to do the album without three original members and since Jesse wasn?t back in the band yet, we were trying to figure out who could play bass on a couple of the tunes.  




What kept original vocalist Mike Munro from rejoining the band again?


Bottom line?he?s married and has a four and a five year old now and he just couldn?t commit to the road for four or five months.




What is he doing now?

He?s a union carpenter and does pretty well for himself.  We did negotiate with him.  I sent him a disc of all the new tunes that I?d written in my home studio and he liked it all but he said he could do the record and not much beyond that.  I knew we had to do more than that because you can?t just throw a record out there and not hit the road.  We did that in ?96 with DEATH VALLEY DREAM and nothing happened with it.  I think we did maybe fifteen shows in total for that record.



Was Stu Dowie invited back, as well?


We hadn?t talked to Stu in ten years so we couldn?t even find him.  He kind of disappeared.  Jim [Koury, guitar] and I have always been the core of the band.  We had all of KILL TO SURVIVE written before Stu, Mike and Jesse were even in the band.  We had a drummer and a singer before them but they were the first lineup after we got signed to Epic.



Since Mike Munro couldn?t rejoin, you have a new vocalist, of course, named Paul Souza.


Let me explain this.  We knew we had a big, bad-ass singer that the kids loved.  Mike Munro had that big wrestler image and the kids loved it.  Mike was part of the Meliah Rage image?the big, bad guy?and we weren?t going to settle unless we had someone like that.  Jim and I knew Paul from some side projects that we did together and there was no question that Paul was the guy to do this.  We could not have done this without Paul.  Paul is 6?4? and he continues the Meliah Rage ?presence.?




He looks like a bad-ass that?s for sure!  I saw him in the video and he scared the shit out of me! (laughs)    


Yeah, he?s got that crazy look in his eyes (laughs)!  That?s his job, you know?  The thing about singers?I?ve seen a hundred bands in my day, especially locally, and they?ll have a good band but the singer is just a goofy white guy from the suburbs with no charisma.  You?ve got to have a frontman with charisma.  He has to be a little off-base or have something about him, you know? 




A little quirky?


Quirky!  Exactly!  Whether it be macho or feminine.  Just something off-beat about him and Paul is it, man.  He?s a commanding presence when he walks in a room.




Is he being received well by the old fans?


We were totally horrified about what might happen but they all love him.  Meliah?s first show back was at the Chicago Metalfest last summer and one of the reviews said he was the best singer out of the two days!  He?s good live, man.  You?ve got to see him live.



Well on record, he certainly has a good range.  Where he really surprised me was on the song ?Ungodly? because he sounds a lot like James Hetfield from Metallica.


(Laughs) I?ve got that about twenty times, man.  Barry [Spillberg, drums] actually helped with the melody on that tune.  Barry was humming it and he asked Paul to try something.  Barry is a big Metallica-head and one thing led to the next and now I?ve read ten reviews that all say that sounds a lot like Metallica (laughs).  Not that we?re going to complain since they are one of the biggest metal bands in the history of the world.  Paul used to be in a cover band that I would go and see and they would do everything and he would hit all the songs note for note.



?Wrong Place, Right Time? has a writing credit that I was curious about.  Who is Clark Lush?


An old roommate of mine.  We used to sit around on the couch and he had this riff?it?s that mid riff before the solo part?and I liked it so I asked him If I could use it.  I?d never take a riff and not credit anybody so as small as it may be, we gave him credit.



?Hell Song? is a bit different from the rest of the tracks.  Did you go out of your way to write a southern bluesy cut to mix things up a little?

I couldn?t have gone less out of my way.  What happened was that the last day we were recording, I was at my home studio and I picked up the bass and played this simple ?duh-dud-duh-dud-ah? riff.  I laid that down and then threw some guitar harmonies on it and finished it in about forty-five minutes!  The engineer and Paul improvised on it and literally had the thing done in two hours.  I wrote the thing one night at 7:00 and we had it done the next night at 7:00.  I just threw it in there at the last moment to kind of break it up a little, you know?  We had a song like that on SOLITARY SOLITUDE called ?Deliver Me,? which was clean guitar, piano and nothing else.  But ?Hell Song? was just a last minute thing to throw in there, you know.  The album was already written.  Some people like it and some people don?t.



Was ?Rigid? written as an instrumental or was it just a track that you couldn?t find the right vocals for?


?Rigid? was always an instrumental.  We?ve had three instrumentals and it?s usually that I just like the riff and the song doesn?t seem right for vocals.  I think the riff carries itself in ?Rigid.?  I could have rearranged it and made it into a regular tune but I tried something different. 



On the live front, the band has played a couple of festivals already this month?Northern Aggression on October 1st and 2nd and Sayonara Summer on October 9th?so how is the setlist mixed up in terms of old songs versus new songs?


It?s split right down the middle?five or six new ones and five or six old ones.  From the new album, we?re doing ?Hate Machine,? ?Barely Human,? Bloodbath,? ?Motor Psycho,? ?Wrong Place, Right Time? and then we do the standards from the old days like ?Bates Motel,? ?The Witching??all the old video tunes. 




Which areas are you planning on hitting with the BARELY HUMAN tour?

Northeast and then they?re talking about trying to sneak us in to Germany for ten days and maybe some sporadic stuff in Canada.  It?s really tough for us to get out there for any length of time right now, so we?re only going to do sporadic dates until next summer.  Between now and then, we figured we might as well get a new record out while there is kind of a buzz going.  Hopefully next summer will be the big comeback because we?re looking at BARELY HUMAN as a stepping stone to get back to a certain level.



I read that there is Meliah Rage music in the TV show, THE SHIELD, and also in a new movie called GOD OF VAMPIRES (  How did you get involved with these projects?


How the GOD OF VAMPIRES project happened?and I didn?t really have anything to do with it, the label hooked us up?is that it is an independent movie about vampires being shot in the Boston area.  They worked out a deal where we would shoot our video on their set and some of the footage from the movie would be used in our video for a little cross-promotion.



I watched the video last night and it looks pretty cool.  Are you happy with how it turned out?


I thought it was pretty cool.  When I go in the studio, I know how to make a record and I?m pretty aggressive and in charge of what?s going on there, but I have no idea what?s going on in a video.  Just tell me where to stand.  You kind of feel goofy doing them!



Will this be the only video from this album then?


For BARELY HUMAN, yes.  The next one will probably have two.



There is a bonus disc packaged along with BARELY HUMAN that contains the UNFINISHED BUSINESS demo from 1992.  Was that a label decision to include that or did you really want it to get out there for people to hear?


(Laughs) Dude, I had no idea it was even on there until it was printed.  A guy at the label called me and said, ?Oh?by the way, they threw UNFINISHED BUSINESS on as a bonus CD.?  I guess it?s pretty trendy now to have a bonus CD.  To tell you the truth, I wasn?t particularly thrilled about it because UNFINISHED BUSINESS is just a bunch of demo tapes, man, and nothing more than that.  They weren?t intended to be released because the songs are filled with sloppy playing and they aren?t uniformed together, but there is a big curiosity factor because Sully [Erna, drums; now singer with Godsmack] played on it.  They wanted to include it to help sell records and that?s their job is to sell records and mine is to make records, so I told them that it was their decision and if it helps them out, so be it.



It?s good for fans that would not have had an opportunity otherwise to hear the songs and it certainly does sweeten the package, as well.


Well, UNFINISHED BUSINESS was released a couple years ago on its own, but, again, that?s their decision and they?re the businessmen, not me.  Whatever advantage we can get, so be it, I guess.



You mentioned that Sully Erna played drums on UNFINISHED BUSINESS and he, of course, has gone on to tremendous success with Godsmack.


(Laughs) Yes he did!


(Laughs) That seems to be the first statement in a lot of the press I have read surrounding the bonus CD.  I guess it piques people?s interest.


That?s not my doing, man.


Do you still keep in contact with him or is he a name from the past?


I see him around once in a while.  I know Barry was hanging out with him and a couple of the Red Sox the other night after the Red Sox beat the Yankees, so yeah, we see him around here and there.  He?s busy and he?s hanging out with Metallica, so he?s done well for himself.  He used to sleep on my couch back in the Meliah Rage days.


I guess he can afford his own couch now (laughs)?


(Laughs) Yeah, he?s doing okay.  I?ve never once said a bad thing about Sully.  The reason we never got along is that he?s a leader and he needs to be in charge of the band but me and him just wasn?t going to work. 



Well I had never heard UNFINISHED BUSINESS before so when I got BARELY HUMAN and was listening to it, I found it really frustrating knowing that in 1992, some A&R guy thought there was no market for the songs because it wasn?t Nirvana or Pearl Jam!


Those demos were done after we left Epic in ?92 or ?93 and we were going for a new deal.  We just went in and whipped off some tunes, literally, in a day.  We knew they were rough and needed to be chopped up and rewritten a little tighter, but in ?93, we were looking for another major deal, or at least a deal that would be comparable to getting us back to a decent height.  It just wasn?t going to happen with that grunge movement.  You had to be selling 400,000 units to stay on a big label at that point?


Or sound like Nirvana!


Yeah, or sound like Nirvana.  It?s funny because our first tour was in 1989 with Metal Church and when we rolled into Seattle for the first show, I remember seeing all these posters on the walls of the venue for all these bands.  I?d never heard of any of them but I said, ?Boy, they dress kind of funky!? It was Nirvana and friggin? Pearl Jam!  Then three years later?BOOM!



Did you have any foresight at that point and think, ?Uh oh!  The end is coming??


Oh yeah.  I knew it was changing.  I think what killed real metal more than anything was that the L.A. poseur guys made metal uncool and goofy.  They called bands like Poison and Motley Crue ?metal? and your average person thought it was really goofy to be in metal.  Those L.A. flash players killed lead guitar, too!  For ten years, it wasn?t cool to play a lead because of the over-indulgence of those morons with big, spiked blond hair!  I blame them (laughs).




The first Meliah Rage album, KILL TO SURVIVE, didn?t come out until 1988 when hair metal was at its peak.  Do you think if you would have been putting out records in ?84 and ?85 that you may have been bigger?


We?ve heard that 130 times.  ?You came three years too late.?   



Do you believe that statement?


I don?t know.  I really couldn?t tell you.  Maybe we never would have got signed?!  I never complain, man.  We did three records on a major label and to this day I think it?s pretty cool.  How many bands ever get that?



That?s almost beyond the shelf life of bands these days!


Yeah!  I?ll never forget the time I turned on MTV and there we were!  That was pretty friggin? cool!  I?ll never be unhappy because we did more than 99.9% of the bands out there.  We try to keep the glass half full.  Right now, I?m just happy making good metal music.



A lot of people don?t know that you played in a hardcore band called Gang Green before Meliah Rage.  Do you miss playing that style of music at all?


Ehhhhh?kind of.  A little bit here and there.  I?m forty years old now so I don?t have the same?when I was in Gang Green, it was full tilt all the time.  Life has changed.  I ride my Harley now and relax a little.  The new Meliah Rage songs are very listenable and catchy instead of in your face at a hundred miles an hour.  But Gang Green was fun.  I only lasted with them for less than a year because I was a metal guitar player.  I liked riffs and wrote guitar harmonies.  I remember when they were writing an album that I was about to get involved with, I said, ?Why don?t you try a minor on that? and they just looked at me!  They didn?t know what a minor was, so I knew right off the bat that wasn?t going to work.



During the Epic years, Meliah Rage toured with some big names: Megadeth, Metal Church, Testament, Manowar, Morbid Angel?do you have any good road stories you can share?


Manowar?the biggest disappointment in the world!  Not because of their music but after seeing them on all the album covers, we expected these big giant guys to show up and they?re all like five foot six (laughs)!  We were like, ?That?s Joey DiMaio?!?!?? (laughs)  They are the loudest band I ever played with, I?ll give them that!  Joey DiMaio had, like, forty five cabs on his side of the stage and they were all on ten (laughs).  They are the true-life Spinal Tap!




How about Metal Church?  You guys had a pretty similar sound and as you mentioned, they were on your first tour.


I haven?t heard from them in years.  It?s weird because I always thought they were almost like our west coast power metal brothers.  Neither one of us were really speed metal.  We were both five-piece bands with similar styles.  After the tour, they went off and did their thing and we got dropped.  They couldn?t sell a record after 1991 either, so I?m sure they went off and did other things like we did.  We?ve had pretty similar careers as far as album release dates, too.



They just released a new CD, too, called THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD.


They did one album in the late 90s and it went nowhere.  They got killed in the 90s just like we did.



Well, metal is having a surge in popularity again!


I hope so and I hear the same thing.  When you?re twenty one, you?re really entrenched in the scene and you?re buying the magazines and paying attention, so it?s much easier to stay in touch with what?s going on than when you?re forty like I am now.  I hear and feel that traditional metal is back but I rely more on people from magazines like yourself to tell me during interviews that it is (laughs).



There are a lot of bands that are incorporating elements of traditional metal and thrash into their style now and bow at the feet of groups like Exodus, Testament and bands like that.  It?s definitely making a resurgence, that?s for sure.


Well that?s good.  I know Testament has a new album coming out next year and Metal Church and Exodus both have new albums, Death Angel has a new album?



Meliah Rage has a new album!


(Laughs) Meliah Rage has a new album!  It all seems to have happened this past twelve months.



During the time off from Meliah Rage you and Jim formed Cactus Land.


Whoa, you?re an educated guy (laughs)!



Well, you know, I get around (laughs)!


Paul Souza was the singer in Cactus Land.  Cactus Land was basically a much mellower version of Meliah Rage.  We just thought we?d try something different.  I don?t know if you go back far enough, but it sounded a lot like the 1971 Alice Cooper album, KILLERS.  It?s that style of music.  I paid for everything and we signed to Aureus Records, which was one of the old CBS Records A&R guys.  We did a record and a video for them and they shelved it because their accountants told them it was financially better because they didn?t get the distribution deal they wanted.  We were the number one rock band on that label but then they got a hit with a hip-hop guy and they went straight into being a hip-hop label, so we just got shelved.



Do you think that if Cactus Land would have taken off that you would have still reformed Meliah Rage?


Probably not, because Paul would have been associated with Cactus Land and he couldn?t have been the new singer of Meliah Rage.  I don?t think it would have worked.




Did you always plan on getting Meliah Rage back together again, though?


It was always in the back of my mind but I needed a few years off.  I didn?t want to become one of these bands that threw an album out every year in the 90s that totally got ignored.  There are bands that have put out ten records in the last twelve years and I couldn?t name one of them.  I think it plays to a band?s advantage to maybe spread your work out a little bit.  It worked for Metallica.  When they do an album, the anticipation is pretty damn big! 



They get criticized a lot for what they do, though.


(Laughs) Yeah they do, but when you?re king of the mountain, people are going to throw rocks at you.  If they kept playing MASTER OF PUPPETS, then people would say ?They just keep doing MASTER OF PUPPETS? but if they don?t, then people say, ?Metallica needs to do another MASTER OF PUPPETS.? 



Even a band like AC/DC gets criticized for not taking a different path musically but you can be damn sure that if they tried something different, people would freak out!


But when they do an album, the anticipation is not as big.  AC/DC has not changed their sound one bit.  Metallica has changed their sound and spaces their albums out, so people start to wonder what it?s going to sound like when they do release a record.  AC/DC is an all-time fave and I always know what I?m getting.



Where do you think Meliah Rage fits in the world of metal in 2004?  Eight years is a long time to be away!


I have no idea (laughs).  We?ve been doing some shows around here and we just did one in Manchester, New Hampshire where some of the bands were good and some?their singer?s sound like drunken gorillas!  When we came out with ?Bates Motel? in 1988, maybe that was pretty heavy for the day but it?s not so heavy now.  We don?t sound like the newer bands and I don?t know if any of them sound like us.





I don?t think anyone sounds like Meliah Rage.  Not these days anyway.  I suppose SOLITARY SOLITUDE could be compared to Dark Angel or Metal Church but no one really sounds Meliah Rage today.


When our first record came out, the big speed metal movement was happening and the first song on KILL TO SURVIVE, ?Beginning of The End,? had nothing to do with speed metal.  One of my early influences was Riot?s FIRE DOWN UNDER and I think we had a little bit of that on the first record.



How important is the Internet to a band like Meliah Rage?  Have you guys embraced it to help get your music out to people?


Sure, absolutely.  I wish it was around in ?88, you know?  When I was a kid, we didn?t know anything about our favorite bands.  I loved Ted Nugent, Aerosmith and AC/DC but besides what you saw on TV, you didn?t know anything about them.  Nowadays, you can find out what kind of guitars they use, their shoe size?it?s pretty damn cool! 



What?s your stance on the whole mp3 and downloading controversy?


Well I?m in the music business AND I own a video store so I guess I?m really against it.  It?s bad for business.  What?s the name of that douche bag who plays bass for Motley Crue?

(Laughs) You mean Nikki Sixx?


Nikki Sixx.  He was sitting there blasting Metallica for suing people and said it was wrong because more people that hear your music the better.  He said that because nobody buys Motley Crue?s records anymore (laughs)!  You can look at it two ways: you?re losing sales or people will download a song or two and then go and buy the whole record if they like it.  What are the stats, though?  I don?t know how many people go and buy the record.  I saw something on 60 MINUTES about it and you get jerked both ways on the issue.  If 100,000 people have BARELY HUMAN and only 4 of them paid for it, then I?m not very happy about it (laughs).  But if 100,000 people download one or two songs and then 30,000 of them go out and buy the CD, then that?s good.



You mentioned that you have started up a video store but what else were you doing during the downtime of Meliah Rage?


I?ve been in the video business for about ten years but I opened up my own store in the last two years called Video King.  It looks like a Blockbuster.  3,500 square feet with games, videos and an adult section but we really rely on the porn.



Is Video King a chain or is it just one store?


Right now it?s just one store.  I?ve got two business partners?suit and tie types–who are much smarter than I am who are really trying to push it as a chain.  I?d love for the next record to really take off so we can go back to playing music full time like we did from ?88 to ?92.  That was the life.  We didn?t have to work!



So besides the new CD and tour in 2005, what else is the band going to be up to?


Between now and April, we?re recording.  The next record is really going to be a much bigger production.  Again, BARELY HUMAN was whipped off pretty quickly.  There will be a lot of input in this record.  We?re going to send the mixes to New York to make sure it sounds really good.  They want to push us to get back to the level we were at in 1990.  Easier said than done but they?re going to give it a shot!  The label is really happy with all the great reviews for BARELY HUMAN and we just charted in the States for radio play so things are on the move.



That?s awesome, Tony.  Thanks for the call today.  It?s great to have you guys back kicking ass again!


Thanks, man.  It?s been a pleasure and stay in touch!


Thanks to Al at Chipster PR for setting up the interview. 

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