INTERVIEW WITH PHIL DEMMEL OF VIO-LENCE
After leaving Machine Head, Phil Demmel has been busy during the past few years. The legendary Vio-lence returned to stages and several projects with different musicians such as BPDM(Blitz, Portnoy, Menghi, Demmel) going on have kept the axeman Phil Demmel hectic since the departure. Therefore it was about the time to talk to Phil Demmel about the on-going projects and of course Vio-lence. If you are willing to find out about the Vio-lence history, check out our interview back in 2002.
Interview by Arto Lehtinen / Live pics by Arto Lehtinen & Marko Syrjala
Let’s start the interview about the new project; Blitz, Portnoy, Menghi Demmel. As for the name of the band -Did you decide, when performing the band, this is going to be the name, BPMD?
I think that Mark and Bobby and Portnoy – I didn’t have anything to do with it – They were just throwing the initials around, because of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. All these other bands had kind of done it that way. It was just an easier thing. It’s all of us and try to come up with a name. I don’t know if we’re really a band. We’re just four dudes who got together to jam on these covers and hopefully play live at some point. For the most part, we’re not really a creative band. We’re just a bunch of buds jamming on some covers.
It’s more like a project thing for fun.
Yeah. That’s what it’s all about. It’s 100% what it’s about, updated tones, a little more heavier picking. We put a heavier spin on some classic tunes.
As far as the songs are concerned; Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, Cactus, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and so on. I think that each of you chose two songs. You picked up Van Halen and what’s the other one?
Blue Öyster Cult.
The other guys came out with the other songs, but basically some guys didn’t like other songs and you didn’t like some other songs…
Yeah. I think that I liked the other songs that we picked. There were Bobby’s choices; the Cactus and The Mountain songs. I had never heard before, but I liked the songs. There were two songs that we all chose together that we voted on, James Gang and Grand Funk Railroad were an American band, but we gave ourselves a criterion to only pick ’70s American bands. Songs that were released in the ’70s by all American bands. I don’t think anybody had ever heard the Blue Öyster Cult song that I picked. It was cool to be able to play that and kind of soup it up and bring it up to 2020.
Was it interesting to explore the American ’70s rock music, discovering something new and special and offering the audience something else besides the typical ones?
I think that listening to Bobby songs opened me up to that band Cactus and what a cool thing that was, and some Leslie West and Mountains stuff. For I was ’70s kid. I was there when it was all happening. For me to discover stuff from this project, but then to go ahead and gather these 10 songs, and present them in a way to a younger generation now. They can go back and really appreciate and go, “There’s some heavy stuff back there and maybe shoot them back and listen to it.”
How much did you have to change these songs for example, “Toys In The Attic” has a double guitar work because you are a four-piece ?
Yeah, there were a couple of songs like the Aerosmith. I had to blend the Brad and Joe parts to make something sound one. I did two tracks, but they’re both kind of played the same. Mark was playing the baseline. The Skynyrd thing was three guitars, so I had to fill a lot of space in that sense. Have you heard the record yet?
Yeah, I got a promo.
Yeah, yeah. You hear the thing I was doing with the feedback pick up in “Saturday Night Special”. I just wanted it to be just cool, four different harmonies of feedback going on during this big open space. As for the Van Halen song, I started to double track that and I told Juan or Tiago the guy, the engineer and I said, “We got to stop. We have to play this like Ed.” Ed would do one pass and solos and everything all on the same track. That’s what we ended up doing. We paired it like Van Halen did. We had to catch some Eddie Van Halen vibe there.
You were not familiar with Cactus?
No, at all. I’d never heard of the band before. Carmine Appice I had heard of, but the rest of the band was off my radar. I hadn’t heard of it. It was a great song. I think that was my favourite. My favourite solo that I did on the record was in that song.
You recorded the whole album at Portnoy’s place. It was a short recording process I guess.
We did the drum tracks there. I took a red-eye out there, woke up, took a couple of hour nap. Mike doesn’t get up until noon or 1:00 O’clock every day, so I had to wait for him to wake up. We went over there and we busted out to 10 songs. We sat in his home studio, recorded all the drum tracks, and then we all went home that night. We had a couple of beers and I got on a flight the next day and I started tracking at home. I tracked in a day, all the rhythms, tracked all the songs in another day. Then sent tracks off to Mark who started tracking and then Bobby too. We tracked all the drums in a day and then took it from there.
Was it more drinking beer than playing?
Yeah, yeah. We didn’t drink during the day. We took a break and we went out to eat, had a couple of drinks. They did, I didn’t. Because we had the beer drinker’s songs still to do and I got to sing that. We came back and I had a beer before we did it and we did the first take, what you’re hearing is the first take of us playing that song. It was such cool vibe, we were all loose and it’s a loose party song. It was cool.
I was a little bit surprised that Napalm Records released the album, because Napalm Records has released more power metal stuff.
I think it might’ve been the pedigree of with Blitz, Overkill and Portnoy’s best stuff. My Machine Head Vio-lence background. I think that it was the lure of all of that. Mark’s Metal Allegiance. I think maybe the uniqueness of this that they were drawn to. I don’t know. They’ve been great.
If and when you’re going to make the second one, have you talked about which songs that you’re going to play for the next one? Are they going to be more ’80s or ’70s stuff or more obscure stuff?
We haven’t determined the region yet, because we’ll probably do another region, but it’ll probably be the ’70s again. We don’t want to do anything getting to current, because part of the lure of this to me was taking these older songs and making them sound 50 years later, what was happening. I think we’ll go the ’70s again. I think that there’s a lot from that little rock there sitting in the Atlantic ocean that we can choose from.
I was thinking about which bands you could cover for the next cover, like your favourite band Journey of course.
They’re an American man. That’s not going to happen.
No more American bands?
Now we’re going to find another region in the world to do. Like I said, there’s a little rock sitting out there in the Atlantic ocean that’s brought a lot of bands like Sabbath and Priest and Maiden and all these bands that we could. The UK might be next, you never know.
Which bands have you seen live, that you have covered?
Of these bands I’ve seen Aerosmith. I saw Van Halen, not back in the day. I didn’t go to my first show until 1981. I don’t know if I’ve seen Ted Nugent. I don’t think I’ve seen Ted. I’ve seen Skynyrd. I’ve never seen James Gang. I’ve never seen Grand Funk. I haven’t seen ZZ Top.
The most those bands and musicians like Aerosmith, they’re still around. They’re even bigger than for example in the ’90s. No-one basically paid attention to or care about Ted Nugent or ZZ Top in the ’90s, whereas nowadays they’re much, much bigger.
Yeah, I don’t know. It’s that cycle of music that comes around and it’s not cool to listen to some music at some point, or they’re just not putting out relevant stuff. A lot of those brands just have the catalogue in their heritage bands now that just play off their hits. Maybe they were on the verge of, “Your new album sucks, but you’re not quite the heritage. You can’t play off all your hits yet.” I’m not sure why that is.
Ted Nugent has played at Sweden Rock a couple of times, but he hasn’t played that much in Europe. I think he’s more like American thing.
He’s a pretty American dude.
THE RETURN OF VIO-LENCE
For the first time when you got back together 200o, for the Thrash of the Titans. Then you played it for two years in a row until you joined Machine Head. What is the biggest difference between 2000 and 2020?
They’re just older. They’re 20 years older. It’s amazing that we’re still doing home shows and having this crazy selling out and it’s crazy. There’s no difference. These people are just going insane for the band and the crowd has gotten younger. It’s pretty awesome to see. It’s a spectacle. I can’t really believe it.
Regarding Bobby Gustafson. When Ray Vegas decided to leave the band, was Bobby immediately on your mind that you asked or how did this come about?
Without getting into any details about that situation. Ray leaving the band, Bobby has been friends with Perry for probably 30, plus years, 25 years or so. They had been jamming or had been wanting to jam and it was just familiarity. Perry knew him so well and anybody that could be friends with Perry can be friends with anybody. I know that he’s going to be a pretty easy going guy and Perry will tell you that himself. He’s a legend. A very good guitar player, an awesome guitar player. We didn’t have to try anybody out. We just knew that he was going to slide right in and be fine. We all love him, awesome dude. I’ve known Bobby for years. We toured with Overkill back in 1990, on the YEARS OF DEACY, you know, we did a West Coast tour with them. It was an easy choice.
Are you surprised that you have managed to keep your reputation, for being a thrash band that attracts the young generation, even though you have been on hiatus for 20 years?
It’s kind of crazy that all these young fans are. I think that with the advent of the internet. I think we would have been a much bigger band back in the day, if more people would have seen what was happening with us and heard about us or whatever. It’s more people are seeing what we’re about and it’s exciting that the younger kids are into what we’re doing. We’re writing an EP right now for Metal Blade records. We’re almost three or four songs. We’re almost four songs into it. We’ve scrapped some of the songs just because I want to have a boner about all this material. I don’t want there to be any that’s okay song or songs that we’re just whatever, any filler. I want it all to be awesome.
You’re basically the riff master for Vio-lence songs?
Yeah. I’m writing these five songs with the guys. Sean Killian has ideas too that we all get in and we flesh out ideas and we try stuff. Perry’s had some ideas. Sean’s had some killer ideas and notes selection. Sean being not really a musician, but having an ear for music and notes, and having this kind of weird outside. He’s actually written riffs for Vio-lence in the past. He wrote the “Mentally Afflicted” riff. He wrote “Torture Tactics” riff. I shouldn’t say he’s not a musician. He brings these ideas and Perry too. Perry comes up with some cool stuff. I come up with most of the rifts. I have most of the ideas for structure, but the other dudes are contributing too and it’s working out great man. These new songs are awesome. They’re super. They’re hard to play. The riffs are crazy. The lyrics are killer. The vocals are awesome, the drumming is insane. We’re really excited to get things done.
Do you have any kind of pressure when writing the new songs? When you’re putting new songs out – are you nervous what people are going to say?
Yeah, of course. Anybody who creates and most artists want their art to be appreciated. Maybe there are some that aren’t, but I don’t know any of them that doesn’t want to put it out and have people go, “That’s great and be appreciated.”We’re pretty confident. Of course, we’re concerned maybe that people are going to dig it. I think that we’re working so hard on it that we’re confident that people. Especially our core fans are really going to like it. These just aren’t five songs just to push out to have a new product. These are five songs to make a statement.
WORKING ON DIFFERENT PROJECTS
You’re writing for different projects and playing the guitar all the time. How do you know that riff is for Vio-lence, this riff is for other projects?
I do. I think first and foremost, right now Vio-lence is my priority. The rifts I come up with, if there are any can b. I present them to the guys and go, “This is something.” If they dig it. Sometimes I just go, “This doesn’t sound like a Vio-lence riff for me.” I’ve got that The Permanent Decay lineup that I’m working with Dave Ellefson, Dave McClain and Brandon Schieppati. That’s a more down-tuned, more maybe modern, a more groove-oriented, more melody involved. Because with Vio-lence it’s pretty not a lot of dynamics. It’s a straightforward thrash. This other project is heavy, but not necessarily a thrash band. I’m writing music with my wife too and recording stuff here. I’m doing these cover collaborations we just did, this Alice In Chains song.
That was a great cover.
Thank you man. My buddy with Eric from Shinedown and my wife and McLean on that. I’ve got one just getting finished, Mike Inez from Alice in Chains has texted me. The video is going to be done for… We did “Bad Reputation” by Thin Lizzy. It’s me, Mike from Alice In Chains, Dave McLean, Richie from Judas Priest and Lizzy Hale singing on it. Super excited to have to get that out. I just reached out to these guys, said, “Let’s just cover the song, film yourself doing it, let’s throw it together and see if we can put this collaboration jam together.” Just did one with me and John Tempesta and his brother Mike, Joey Vera from Armored Saint. My wife Marta is singing backups on it. We did “Assault Attack” by MSG and Graham Bonnet is singing on it.
Yeah. Pretty exciting man. Pretty exciting.
How did you do manage to get him to sing?
The Tempesta brothers. They reached out and he was into it and he graced us with the vocal tracks. Him and my, my wife was playing keyboards on it. I’m doing one right now that we’re finishing up with Dirk from Megadeth, Steve DiGiorgio from Testament and Dino Jelusic. He sings on a Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Dirty Shirley with George Lynch. He’s amazing Croatian vocalist, man. He’s going to nail Dio. I wanted it to be done by yesterday by Dio’s anniversary, but we’re doing “Falling Off the Edge of the World”. We’ve got all these cool things in the pipeline now. Lots of fun.
Lots of fun and lots of work.
It’s been a lot of work man.
Where the heck do you get enough time for all of this?
We’re on quarantine, so there’s nowhere to really go. The wife is really gracious and taking care of – because we own the bar that’s been closed down. The wife will go down there and do some work while we’re closed and we’re fixing it up. It takes some time to wrangle all these musicians together, to get your tracks in and figure stuff out. I’m working on the pro tools and learning some stuff. I’m learning how to track and it’s pretty exciting.
Are you nowadays a more private entrepreneur, working on your own?
Yeah. Yeah. The Echoes of Reckoning is my kind of my music. I call it my music umbrella to where I can release my own music. I’ve got my own account set up. I put it up on iTunes and the money comes right to me and I distributed to the musicians that are included. That’s something that I’ve set up now and I will start putting more music on in that sense. I’ve been approached by a lot of video games and other bands and artists to write rifts for. I’ve got to go on. I got the riff set up and be able to record at home. I got all my guitars. I got everything set up here in the home studio. It’s exciting. Keeping busy.
I read some interview when you left Machine Head that you had to weigh your life and future, because you got a normal paycheck. Nowadays you are working with different musicians and projects to make the money to pay the bills.
Yeah. Walking away from that paycheck was the biggest obstacle for me from doing it. We bought a bar six months before I quit and we own a very successful business and that made it easy. That made it easy. I had my benefits. I was working a construction job for most of my Machine Head career. It wasn’t until my Jackson endorsement started. I started getting royalties from Jackson that I was able to quit my day job for Machine Head. The uncertainty was kind of a big deal, but knowing and I bet on myself to be able to do it and 2019 was a very lucrative career for me, both financially and emotionally. Finding myself not having to rely on somebody else to feel credible. I don’t know how much of that road I want to travel down. It’s good to be on my own and playing with people that I enjoy playing with, and that I trusted that I feel are genuine.
Is it challenging for you to keep your face in the public that people wouldn’t forget you?
I don’t know how important that is to me, because consider myself – I’m a blue-collar guy. I’m a working man. I’ve never considered myself separate from – I go to the front of the house to watch shows. I don’t have to watch from the stage or have a laminate. I’ll still buy a ticket if I need to get into a show. I don’t feel that separation from people. I consider myself one of the people and to be relevant in that sense. As long as I’ve got my respect for my peers, then I’m okay. I don’t need all the angulation. I don’t need all that. Of course it’s every musician or everybody that does this, has a little bit of that ego that wants to be like, “They like me.” I don’t think it’s that all that important to me.
Regarding the interview with Zetro Souza that you did a couple of days ago. You said that you have the whole world open for you nowadays. It is a completely new thing for you. What’s the limit?
I don’t know. I haven’t reached it yet. I still have time in the day to do stuff. Dave Ellefson told me at Nam while we were doing stuff together. He’s, “Man, you’re just like me. You don’t say no to anything. You’ll do anything.” If I have time and if it’s something cool that I’m into, then I will. I will take it on, because I want to be involved. I enjoy doing all this stuff and it’s nice to be asked. I get hit up. Some offers come in by people that I just go, “I can’t believe it that this person is asking me to do this.” It’s fucking cool to be on that radar and be respected in that sense. I haven’t found the limit yet. I’m not there yet. We’ll find it.
For example, when you got the Slayer gig, you didn’t say no. Basically, it opened the new doors for you.
The first thing I asked was, I looked at my wife to make sure that – Because it had happened I hadn’t been unemployed less than 12 hours before. I just quit Machine Head the night before was home. The wife still had a hangover from the night before when that happened, and I was just going to be leaving again in another day. I had to make sure it was okay, but she said, “Of course you have to go do this.” Nobody’s going to say no to that.
FROM MACHINE HEAD TO SLAYER AND TO VIO-LENCE
Regarding the Slayer thing, you said in some interview that you were quite nervous when you got on stage in Copenhagen for the first time. When you got on stage in Helsinki, I felt that you were more flexible, relaxed.
Yeah, that was the fourth show.
Yeah. The last show was weird for me, because the whole thing regarding me being there. The first show, of course, I want to play good. I’m just bearing down and trying to play as well as I can and play these songs, respect. If you probably remember Helsinki in 2007, when I had to leave a tour because my father died and went home. Guys from DragonForce and Trivium and Arch Enemy filled in for me. By the time I came back to the tour, it was in the Ice Hall in Helsinki. It was the last night of the tour. Here I am, that was 2018. 11 years later, almost to the day. That show was… I’ve got the poster right there. That show was on the 12th of December and 11 years earlier. It was the 6th of December that happened, when I came back to the last tour and all these things coming around. I’m filling in for Gary now who went home to be with his dying father. It was a very hurtful and emotional thing, full-circle thing and special thing for me. Here is Slayer, the reason why I play heavy music. They’re the reason. I had friends that wanted to play more commercial rock in high school, and then I saw Slayer and it’s just, “No, this is what I’m doing.” Most of that early Vio-lence stuff was all patterned after Slayer. I think one of the first shows was the 35th anniversary of SHOW NO MERCY coming out. Here I am playing with the band. I will always be indebted to that band for giving me that opportunity to probably save my musical career.
When Slayer was over, then your phone started ringing and people started asking you for several projects.
It did before, because I had quit Machine Head in September. I backed out of a tour, but then they were just going to have to cancel it. I was hoping that they would just replace me, but they didn’t because Dave quit too. I had to do the tour and so people had known. I had been talking to people during that process the months before, but the Slayer thing was the next level for sure and put me on a lot of people’s radar and it’s fun. It’s really fun.
Then four months later you were on the stage once again with Vio-lence.
Crazy, right? We get home in December and Sean contacts me in January, and wants to put the band back together and wants to start playing shows again. The last time I had seen him I had put together a charity golf tournament for him. He looked really sick, man. He was really gone and really unhealthy. In the year after he went through his surgery and everything, he felt he was up to it. We got the guys to get back together and decided to put a show on sale. It’s sold out in hours. We said, “Hey, let’s try to do another one.” It sold out in minutes. It’s pretty exciting to know that. We could have played a bigger place, but we wanted to keep it at this place called the Metro, kind of a punk rock hall and no barricade.
There are a lot of videos of the first gig.
It’s so fitting for what we wanted to do and it just burned into more offers and doing stuff. It turned into a record deal and it’s exciting, man.
Did you get surprised that all of a sudden you are flying all around the States, and playing in Europe, because Vio-lence has mostly been more of a Bay Area band?
Yeah, surprising. After we’ve done these shows and we have such a quality product. We played in L.A with Sacred Reich and it was our most insane show I had ever been a part of Vio-lence playing and it was at the region – It was a place where Machine Head had previously shot the DVD. I don’t know if we sold it out that night or whatever, but this show sold out well in advance. It was an insane show. It was so insane. I don’t know if you saw the video of the guy getting his hair stuck in my headstock.
I have seen that.
From the Machine Head experience to the Vio-lence experience, it was night and day. It was night and day. I could not believe that this band that hadn’t been around for however long is going into this and was received in such a way. We’ve had some amazing shows all over the world. We had to cancel a bunch for this year. We played in Puerto Rico. We’re supposed to go down to South America. We’re getting offers to go all over the world and it’s really exciting.
Do you like playing gigs without the barricade or with barricade?
I like without the barricade. I like the kids right there. I like them jumping on stage and jumping right back off. I love them being right there. I think all of us do. I think if you pull us away from an audience, it sups us of that connection. We’re not the look at us type. t’s like, “We’re in this thing together. We’re the engine, but we’re all the vehicle.” All of us together are the vehicle. We don’t need all the pretty lights and all the smoke and all the backing tracks. We’re about jeans t-shirts, plug it in and let’s roll
INKING THE DEAL WITH METAL BLADE
When you inked the deal with Metal Blade, to be honest with you I wasn’t that surprised. I started wondering because you incorporated Sacred Reich very closely and I figured out that if the Sacred Reich helped with you to get the deal with Metal Blade ?
I’ve been friends with Brian Slagel for a while. We had been approached by all the metal labels and I got a lot of good friends in Nuclear Blast and Century Media. Nuclear who were my label with Machine Head were awesome dudes and they’re great friends and great hangs. I think it’s an awesome label. I think that with Brian, there are a whole lot of things going on with the Murder In The Front Row. Knowing that he is so embedded in our history and everything I just wanted to do, and it might’ve been selfish on my part. I wanted to work with Brian Slagel. He was such a fan and not to say that none of these other guys weren’t, that they weren’t. I felt this connection with him to where I want to do this five-song EP with Metal Blade and Brian Slagel. I just want to work with him and, maybe or maybe not my solo stuff too. That hasn’t even been talked about at this point. It’s all about Vio-lence. I think that I was on tour with Nonpoint. I filled in for this band, my buddy’s at Nonpoint. We played in Vegas and I kind of hit him up out of the blue. I said, “Hey, what are you doing?” I sat down with him and we just chatted. It was a good talk about music and about the band, and what we wanted and what I was looking for and what the band was looking for. It felt right. We didn’t even talk about the money. It’s just like, “I don’t want to borrow a bunch of money from a label, where we’re going to have to pay back.”He’s just like, “We’re probably going need this to record with. Not going to be a lot, we’re all local and we’ll stay local and let’s make a quality record and go kick some ass.”
Does that mean that you’re going to have a full-length album after the EP on Metal Blade?
We have a five-song EP deal right now, and that’s all we’re concentrating on that. I am going to guess that we will end up doing a full length at some point or maybe another EP. I don’t listen to records anymore. I don’t listen to albums anymore and I don’t want to write 10 songs.
Does it make any sense to make and release full-length albums nowadays, because everybody is listening to the streaming and Spotify ?
Yeah. I want to do these five and maybe in a year and like I said, the three of us are writing and Bobby’s in the band now. He should have been doing a bunch of shows with us already, but they all got cancelled. He was out last week. I’ll probably have him do some solos on the record. Because we’re still getting to know each other in a band sense. I’m taking this five-song EP pretty personally, and it’s something that I want to do. Again, maybe being a little selfish that this is my first real post Machine Head writing. I wrote the first Vio-lence record pretty much, except for “Calling in the Coroner”. It was all me. I want to get back to that sense and get back to that writing and bust up these five.
The whole catalogue of Vio-lence is not on Spotify, only ETERNAL NIGHTMARE.
Yeah. I was able to get ETERNAL put up.
Do you have rights for the albums?
OPPRESSING THE MASSES, Atlantic owns and they’re not doing anything with it. They don’t want to release anything. They don’t want to reissue anything. We still are un-recouped on that record and they just don’t want to do anything. They’re not answering any calls. They’re not answering any emails. I’ve given up on OPPRESSING THE MASSES. I think NOTHING TO GAIN could probably get put up, because we probably own the rights to that. I don’t know if I care too much.
You played a couple of songs from the NOTHING album on comeback gigs.
Yeah, we did. We played “Colour of Life” and we played “Ageless Eyes”. We’ll still play “Ageless” and we’ve played “Colour of Life” in New York and it was adored. We’ll look into that.
And the TORTURE TACTICS EP.
Yeah, I think that’s an Atlantic record too.
AND SOMETHING ABOUT TORQUE
As for the Torque re-issue. How did this come about?
I had those four songs. I had the four songs: “Circling, Erased, Sever and Isolation in my mind”. I wanted to get them up on… I saw that Torque wasn’t on Apple music. It wasn’t on any of the streaming or anything. I wanted to get, it’s just part of my legacy. That record was me singing. I told them, I said, “Hey, I’ve got these four songs. Let me sell you these four songs and let’s do a re-issue and get that up.” Now it’s up in the modern technology. I love those last four songs we did. It was good solid four songs. There you go.
What are your plans for the future now?
Finish this Vio-lence record. Still continue to write some stuff with The Permanent Decay guys. There’ll be lots of Vio-lence stuff in the next year and everything’s on hold because of this quarantine. It’s just staying at home and writing, still do these cover collaborations. These are super fun and take it from there. I’ll wait for the big band to call.
All right. Thank you.
Thanks a lot. Goodbye.
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