Heart of Steel: Interviews

Phil Demmel:


Interview by Luxi Lahtinen & Arto Lehtinen
(Transcribed by JP)

Phil Demmel (classic pic)

L-R: Phil from Vio-Lence and Luxi (Metal-Rules.com).Talk about so-called "golden opportunities!!" Having a chance to meet and talk to no one other than one of the ´metal icons´ in Thrash Metal, Phil Demmel of the legendary Bay Area thrashers Vio-lence, could well be considered (at least in my opinion), a rather exceptional and somewhat unique opportunity. No matter what someone else may think of this.

When we, Metal-Rules.com´s relentless Finnish Thrash freaks - Arto and me (Luxi) - suggested the idea to Phil about trying to come back to some of the best times he has experienced in with legendary Bay Area Thrashers and to  reflect on some of these experiences up to this day on some sort of a nostalgic level, he seemed to be more than willing to do the job.

We politely asked several questions about the whole Vio-lence thing. We mostly covered the past of the band and a bit of the present as well. The man kindly answered like a true gentleman and the result is here. ENJOY!!!


Those Thrash fans who are trying to hunt down your earlier albums nowadays either as vinyl - or CD - formats, will notice that it´s extremely tough yet expensive get them ´coz all the formats have been sold out for so long; especially trying to get "Eternal Nightmare" and "Torture Tactics" on CD, is really hard work  unless you are one of those lucky bastards and got them from some 2nd hand store by accident at a very cheap price. Just out of my own curiosity, have you ever thought of making them available as re-mastered versions again in order to make them available for everyone who has been after them possibly for some years already?

We are in the midst of re-releasing "Eternal Nightmare". The five original members, with Rob and Perry and Dean, Sean and I all pooled our money and bought the rights off of Mayhem Records. We now own the rights to "Eternal Nightmare" and we are in the midst of getting initial offers to see which way we want to go, as far as releasing it. "Eternal Nightmare" will be back in the stores by the end of the year so you can find it yourself. Megaforce is going to re-release "Torture Tactics". "Nothing To Gain"…we are looking into re-mixing it because that album sounds horrible. We are re-mixing that thing and trying to get it out there as well. "Eternal Nightmare will be coming out on Vio-lence's own label…probably…that is what we are looking at now. As for "Oppressing The Masses", Atlantic wants waaay too much money to license it so chances are that one will never get re-released.


In your past, it used to be that you always wrote music and your vocalist, Sean Killian wrote all the lyrics, which was only logical as he was your singer. Wasn't it kind of tough work for you all in all for being pretty much the only one behind VIO-LENCE´s music even if I´m pretty sure the rest of the VIO-LENCE´s killing team did contribute the bands song writing process whenever you needed some help with the music in the form of different ideas - being it single riffs, solos, drum parts, whatever really; correct?!

In the beginning, before Sean got in the band, I wrote all the music and all the lyrics. I kinda of enjoyed it because I enjoyed playing a lot. My lyrics were really, really bad! (laughs) I'm old 80's guy, I am into Savatage, Trouble and a lot of the old stuff (laughs again) pretty, pretty bad lyrics…so Sean re-wrote them and I was fine with that. I wrote most of the first album, all the songs except for one "Calling in the Corner" that Rob wrote, but it was basically right before we recorded "Eternal", "Torture Tactics", was basically a Forbidden song, (Forbidden Evil at the time) that Rob had wrote, it was called "Court Jester". The beginning g part…even when he was with the band, Paul and Russ and the guys said "Hey, that sounds like a Vio-lence tune" so he brought that with us, and when Rob first joined we actually played "Chalice of Blood. Since it was Rob's song. People were so petty when they are younger, so we said, "Hey he wrote the music so we are going to take the song and change the lyrics and we played it a couple of times and it was called "Calling in the coroner"…kinda silly…we scratched it. Good thing too.


Listening to the classic "Eternal Nightmare" album, you immediately pay attention to those strong and extremely catchy riffs the album has. How pleased are you with that particular album; I mean, song-wise? Is there a riff or two you might have done otherwise if you had a chance for re-making some parts all over again - or are you pleased with the whole content of it the way it is on that album?

I welcomed Rob's writing, as a writing partner, a real guitar-head, always playing his guitar, really, really good player. I learned a lot from playing with him. So, us writing together was a welcome change as far as I was concerned, it was so much better and we complimented each other with our playing too. Actually as we went on, Sean welcomed us writing lyrics, and that just got to "Nothing to Gain" which is kind of a crap album as far as I'm concerned, so I won't speak much on that one.

Listening To Eternal Nightmare I'm very pleased with the way it was. It catches us at that point in time, I turned 21 when we were recording it so it just makes me think back to where I was at that time. Sure you listen to stuff and as times change your tastes change and the songs are pretty long and they are not structured as songs but that was the music for that time. Just riff after riff after riff. I'm really pleased with the way it came out and I'm really proud of it as an album. Like I said, some of the songs are a little long but that's what they demanded. There were a couple of songs within a song you know, and it takes you through different mood swings. The slow crunchy parts, into the real fast galloping quick parts so it kinda throws you through a couple of moods.


How hard was it for you to start writing for "Oppressing the Masses" in the first place after an immense success of your debut? Did you feel that the pressure was always there right from the beginning set out by both general opinions about it and as well what the medias wrote about it?

I think that there was a lot of pressure on the band, to do well on the second one. I don't think the first album can be deemed a success. I think that people liked it but I don't think it sold a lot. We started writing on the Voi-vod tour. We wrote "I, Profit" and actually played it on the Voi-vod tour, where the writing …we were excited to write it. We were playing the other stuff for a couple of years and we just excited to write new stuff.

The media didn't really like the first album, nor did they like Sean vocals. They loved us as a live band but we wanted to show them that we were ready. I mean, we were ready we were always following in Testament's shadow, so we were kind of using them as a template, as we were seeing them as successful, so we were kinda watching what they were doing and the moves they were making, so we were trying to shadow them a little bit. Of course with your egos on fire we wanted to surpass them so we saw every step that they we taking and we wanted to match that and exceed it. It was a good thing for us, watching the bands around here grow up. Exodus was of course was of course in front of them for a little bit.


I remember reading that right after you signed a deal with MECHANIC sometime in 1987-88, the staff of that label did a pretty unusual promotion campaign for you; namely whoever wanted to get your 4-song demo FOR FREE, you just had to drop a letter to them and they would send it over to you - and what was the best, FOR FREE!! Was that idea originally theirs or did you have your own fingers in the game as well?

Yeah, that was entirely their idea. They put us in the studio to record. It was kinda a pre-production type deal as well. We were able to work with John Cuniberti (Ed's note: producer for Possessed, Satriani and others) and pre-produce some of the stuff, and have him get a feel for what we were doing. I mean, it was amazing for them to send it out like that. It got a big buzz on the band. It was entirely their idea and something and it was something we agreed whole-hearted too. It was an overwhelming response. It turned a lot of people onto "Paraplegic" as well.

Phil - Live (filling in for machine head)

Was the name of VIO-LENCE created basically to describe the aggressiveness and relentlessness of your music - or did it originally have some sort of a deeper meaning in itself? And do you personally think it´s overall only wise and reasonable to come up with such suitable band names for music that somehow describes your own style of music your band is churning out?

Yeah, the name Vio-lence came to us kinda…we were Death Penalty, which was a little cliché. Vio-lence was cliché as well but it is a little more, straight in your face. I think that is does describe the band to a "T". It was topical because violence is everywhere, it's on the news, it's in the movies, it's in your video games, it is everywhere. We were a pretty socially aware band and not afraid to speak our mind at all. Violence is abrasive, as we were as band, so was the music, so I think it was a great description of what we were.


In the late ´80s/beginning of the ´90s you were touring pretty heavily for both the "Eternal Nightmare" and "Oppressing the Masses" albums. Since I never got an opportunity to see any of your live shows myself, I was just wondering how those shows were, seeing it from your point of view? Lots of headbanging, stage diving, everybody going crazy in the moshpit by VIO-LENCE´s utterly brilliant performance and overall enjoying your gigs thoroughly…?

Actually we didn't tour that much, we had two tours for "Eternal Nightmare" just in the States and the "Oppressing The Masses" we did one half of the States tour and a couple of fills, so we really didn't tour that much. It was great playing live, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is my favorite thing as far as music is concerned. We have had some unreal crowds and our crowds seem to be in the Slayer vein, it was like…you don't go around saying "Slayer sucks" to anyone who likes slayer because they will kill you. Same with Vio-lence, a diehard local following and the people who were into us just LOVED us. So that would have to be it for me, watching people singing the words back to you. One of our last shows with Sean, it was like the last Vio-lence show actually, we played with Forbidden, and their manager got upset with us because we played too long but it was our last show. They pulled the power on us and we were playing "World on World", no PA and the crowd was singing the words above the music. It was amazing! It was definitely a highlight, something I will never forget.


VIO-LENCE headed out for the first US tour along with the Bay Area fellows namely TESTAMENT. It surely was a great tour from every aspect, but could you tell some crazy stories about the tour?

Ha! Ha! Ha! The Testament tour. A lot of crazy stories…It was very fun for us, it was our first tour. Kids out on the road, getting a couple cases of beer every night and drinkin'…all of us squashed into a little van with the drums on top…it was almost like a cartoon. It was unreal. It was a whole lot of fun… a LOT of fun. Can't really spill any stories in an interview but it was just plain great shows, it was Testament's New Order tour and they were headlining for the first time and they were doing really well. They had a great, very good headlining and it was great to open up the tour.


But then the tour with the Canadian techno thrashers VOIVOD has been said to be one hell of a disastrous tour, what went actually wrong with the tour after all?

The Voi-vod tour wasn't really a disastrous tour. It didn't draw as well but it was a good tour and they were good guys to tour with. The numbers of people coming to the shows every night wasn't as much but some nights were really good and some night we were not playing in front of hardly anybody. It was good practice for us and we had a chance to write and keep the name out there. So, I mean the our wasn't as…we thought that maybe we had developed a bit of a draw coming back through, but the Testament following was a lot bigger than the Voi-vod following that's for sure.


All your albums has been put out by different labels; "Eternal Nightmare" was released on MECHANIC in 1988, "Oppressing the Masses" on ATLANTIC/MEGAFORCE in 1990, "Torture Tactics" EP on CAROLINE in 1991 and your last album by thus far, "Nothing to Gain" came out on BLEEDING HEART RECORDS in 1993. As I assume, you were quite unlucky considering all the label changes at that time…? What kind of reasons did actually force you to jump from one label to another?

All the labels changes…well, "Eternal Nightmare"…we had big heads. (Laughs) We felt that Steve Sinclair at Mechanic wasn't really behind the band, he was offering ideas and I kinda felt it was a mistake looking back. We should have just gutted it out. I mean, he did put a lot of promotion into the band and was offering ideas but we felt we could do better.

Getting off Megaforce was basically them losing their deal. We wanted to record "Nothing to Gain". We went in and when they asked us not to, they wanted to hear some more songs. They felt the songs weren't ready, we said we were going to anyway and recorded it. They shelved us.

As far as "Torture Tactics" that came out because Atlantic did not want to put it out and that was Megaforce actually going to bat for us and putting it out.

"Nothing to Gain", we basically gave it away to Bleeding Hearts in '93. That was just to try to get over to Europe. Most of the changing was just not a cohesive relationship with a label. We got tired of just waiting around, Megaforce didn't want us, should have let us go earlier…we should have stayed with Mechanic.


How much did you receive tour support from your previous labels when you were touring a lot; or did you have to finance some of these tours partly from your own pockets?

Yeah, Mechanic put us out a couple of times. Megaforce, that's were I was disappointed. We headlined our only tour for them and, I mean it was our second album, we shouldn't be headlining. We should be going out with a Megadeth or Overkill or somebody like that and you don't win over new fans headlining. That was just…they didn't really back us touring-wise. We never had to finance them ourselves but that's why we sat at home.


As for your most memorable shows, can you still remember where were the best places for you to play at and for what reasons indeed?

Definitely the bay area, playing The Omni, playing The Stone; always sold out, always did well, always had the crazy fans here. We just did a reunion show here in December, December 14ht. We sold out a club called Slim's here. They were just packed into this club here in San Francisco and it was great to see everyone still singing the songs and still just loving it. We did the Thrash of The Titans thing for Chuck Billy too and that was cool. This was our night, this was our crowd. New York always treated us well. Down in Florida they loved us. Arizona. Texas. Pretty much everywhere. Everyone was very, very supportive.


The Bay Area thing will always be a strong part of VIO-LENCE´s history and it goes without saying - and it really has had a huge impact on everything that how the current metal music has been proceeding its influences from there in many ways and forms. Just out of my own curiosity, what does this "Bay Area" -thing mean to you nowadays? Have your views and opinions about it been changing some way over the years and did your life chance drastically when VIO-LENCE got buried under the ice for an unknown period of time?

I think the reason why Vio-lence got buried is because we did not have anything fresh. I mean, we kept losing…we lost Rob…we sustained with Ray Vegas, we were drawing well and had some good shows. Perry quit to play with Billy Milano and Bobby Gustafson and we replaced him with Mark but we were still beating a dead horse. We were trying to get the album out and nothing was really happening. People got tired of hearing the old songs, everything was turning into grunge and slowing down, a little heavier…Pantera…the groove thing was coming around. It was hard. It just wasn't a time for that music anymore. I don't blame the Bay-area or anything, it's just that people's interest just tends to go away, and we were not putting on the same show so it was time to move on.


Iis there actually some nostalgia involved now when you have been doing some gigs with VIO-LENCE again? I mean, when you walk on a stage with a guitar in your hand and start to kick off those vintage VIO-LENCE songs in the air, does that situation bring some of those successful, past years back in your mind again?

Exactly! When I go on and play the intro to "Liquid Courage" and see every body just getting ready to go off. Everybody's losing their hair a little bit, a little bit gray, a little older, a little chubbier but. (laughs) that goes for the band too, we are all up there…a little older, a little balder, a little chubbier...but still…we hear those songs man, and…I'm old and out of shape but I can still go for an hour and a half playing all those tunes. Something about "Bodies on Bodies" or singing "World in a World" and…it is just some of the lyrics and some of the breakdowns...the end of T.D.S….just the whole breakdown from there… (quotes lyrics) "Cold displeasured face...the look of waste" It's just …I'm getting chills now even just talkin' about it man! If there is a crowd for it, I WILL play in this band. Everyone's head is on straight, we are playing in L.A. again. I'm just excited talking about it. I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate the interest that you guys have and the fever for the music. It's like I said in my little preface to this whole interview, you guys, the crowd, are in equal part in what the music is all about. Your wanting and your desire to go off on the music is what drives everyone to do it. So I thank everybody who does that!


What kind of people come to see your concerts nowadays? I bet it has changed quite drastically since the days of "Eternal…" and "Oppressing…" due to a natural evolution of the Heavy Metal genre in general even if you have still been able to see and meet some of those ol´ fans in your concerts who have been there since the beginning of VIO-LENCE´s existence and been following you pretty loyally during all these past years? How does it feel like to meet and talk to these old fans anyway? I guess it has to be pretty damn special for you ´coz these guys can actually tell you that VIO-LENCE has meant something special for them - correct?

It is truly special to see people come up who we used to see at the front of the shows back in the day. You know, they are there again. But what is also special to me is seeing the kids running around with Vio-lence's shirts on…it is weird, you know…15 years later, 12 years later, whatever it is just like the second wave coming through. They are truly enjoying what we do. You know that people are saying that the band was special to them is as equally special to me. It makes it all worth doing!


Have you seriously had any serious talk ´bout VIO-LENCE´s, -eh?! let´s say, possible "2nd coming" - even without Rob Flynn´s contribution as I don´t believe he would ever quit MACHINE HEAD because of VIO-LENCE? I personally would like to see a new VIO-LENCE album to be recorded anyway, so gimme one soon, goddamnit!!!

(Laughs) So you want a new album goddamnit huh? Well…I don't know about that. My present project, Technocracy is taking up all my time. It is my baby and it is something I truly believe in. Viol-lence will always be very special to me but at this time I have five guys in Technocracy that I'm devoting my time to. They have given up their time to make this thing work and I have to stay dedicated to them. They are understanding about the Vio-lence thing, the band. They are really patient and they are really cool about me doing this stuff. They are really cool about it. They help me with gear, they are really cool about it.

Yeah…I don't know about another album, man…(laughs) as of now that is not gonna happen. We are just gonna settle for the re-release of 'Eternal Nightmare'. How does that sound?


Torture TacticsHow much do you have unreleased material out of the sessions of your previous recordings, by the way? Any intentions to re-record and put all that stuff out sometimes?

No unreleased material, no old sessions. Just the "Torture Tactics" that… we recorded it twice. It was going to be on Eternal nightmare, so we have it from that session and we have it from the "Oppressing The Masses" session as well. So that is it as far as unrecorded stuff.


After the split up of VIO-LENCE Flynn started carrying on MACHINE HEAD whereas other guys somehow disappeared from the map, but you went to form a band called TORQUE. But as far as I know that combo in question never managed to gain any huge cult status, although at least one album however, saw the light of day on Mascot. How do you personally view on TORQUE's music and reasons why the band got ignored totally?

We did OK. We had marginal success in the area. I don't feel like we got a lot of respect out of the area here. We did out the album out and like I said, just marginal success. I don't think we were doing anything to new. I thought that we had some great music, it was to sing, but I don't think we were doing anything too different to set us apart at the time though. So that's probably why we didn't enjoy any major success.


Could it been said TORQUE was a pre-step to your current band TECHNOCRACY as you and Mark Hernandez were already involved in TORQUE? How did TORQUE get started in the first place?

Actually, Torque was the remaining Vio-lence members after Sean quit. It was basically Ray Vegas, Mark Hernandez and Dean that were left after Sean quit Vio-lence. I had three songs that I had recorded that we had recorded with Sean's vocals for…it was going to be the new Vio-lence stuff. We just re-recorded it with my vocals and that became Torque and we went on from there. We did another demo and Mascot picked us up and we went and played Dynamo in …'95??…96?? 96! We played with Venom and Slayer and Skrew… Sacred Reich. After that we came home and Mascot did not pick up the option for the second album. We did another demo, which was probably our best stuff as Torque, four songs…which was pretty original. I had just grown tired of going to practice every night I needed a break, so I quit that band and took a couple of years off. I started doing some recordings with…my cousin introduced me to a guy doing programming and re-mixes of old "Eternal Nightmare" , The New Order" some old Carcass and stuff. I just laid some guitar tracks down and started sampling them. That was Steve Machada (SP?) my singer in Technocracy. We brought Mark in to play. It's a whole new ball game. Real heavy, real melodic vocals, samples and some keyboards but they are solid songs and heavy as hell.


TECHNOCRACY recently unleashed the first self-titled album via MIGHTY SPEC, I for one haven't heard the album yet due to the limited distribution of the label. But it has been described and compared to sound like FEAR FACTORY. How much do you basically agree with all these FF comparisons and how would you describe the music of TECHNOCRACY to all those people who have no idea what´s it all about musically?

I would say it is reminiscent of Fear Factory just because it is kinda heavy with the programming. That's it. Steve doesn't growl like Burton. I love Fear Factory, and it is great to be mentioned in the same sentence BUT…I feel like we are a totally different band in terms of the sampling and programming goes. I will send you a Technocracy disc so you can tell me what you think about it yourself.


And some gigs have been done by now under a moniker of TECHNOCRACY…?

Yeah, we have been playing under Technocracy. We have played with Testament and Exodus, played with Machine Head, under Ten Ton Hammer. We are playing with Strapping Young Lad and we are actually, I'm bringing Vio-lence down to L.A. and Technocracy is gonna open. So, we are doing some shows and getting a great response.


The legendary "Thrash Of The Titans" event was arranged to help out Chuck Billy as well as Chuck Schuldiner to get funds to finance their battle against cancer. The whole event was without any doubts one big megalomaniac gig for every old school thrash freak. To be honest IF that gig hadn't been arranged VIO-LENCE would have never have gathered together to do old immortal tunes?

Yeah...I think that…I had been talking to the guys about doing another album. Yes, I had, just talking about doing another album, at that time maybe not gigging, just writing the songs and recording another album for Mighty Spec. So, I don't know if we had gotten together on another show or not that is hard to say, but it probably would have happened.


I have witnessed some live clips from the TOTT event and read a lot of articles about it and that it was VIO-LENCE that caused the most intensive and ballistic reactions in the audience. How much were you surprised at getting such huge yet insane reactions from the audience who still remembered and recognized the band?

Amazing night! A very long day. We went on late at night like 12:30 or so and everybody stayed to watch us. It was just amazing. We had a crazy response and as tired as everybody was they just WENT OFF! It was just amazing! It was one of the best hours of my life for sure.


As far as I know you are working on the DVD of your newer gigs. Is that correct? But have you been considering adding the older live material from the late 80's to the DVD release, too?

We recorded the whole Slim show with a bunch of camera's and what we are going to do is record some stuff…do some interviews, go back to some of the older places we played and talk about some of the songs we did and just stuff like that. It is going to be the quintessential collection for a Vio-lence fan…include the videos and just give…if you haven't heard about the band you would know everything about it by the time you were done watching it. Still working on some footage it will probably be done by the end of the year.


Before quitting this long in-depth interview, we are all keen on finding out if you will continue VIO-LENCE and will the band be seen on stages of the European metal festivals like in Wacken this year, for example?

I don't know about Wacken, I don't know about Dynamo, I don't know what happened, it was kind of a last minute type of deal. Wacken hasn't contacted me. We talked maybe about a Thrash of The Titans tour. Everything is up in the air right now and all I know what we are doing for sure is this L.A. show, June 15th.


We both thank you for having this great opportunity to ask a few questions about your bands and we wish you all the best in the future as well. May the last words be yours…

I have to thank you guys again for your interest in the band. It's really heartwarming to know that the effort that you put in and something you create it did have a mark on their lives or it is something that they will go, "Yeah",…a point in their life that they will remember when they listen.

Luxi and Arto, thank you very much for the interview and I'm so sorry for the delay. Metal-Rules.com, you guys are a godsend. All the best to you guys, and all fans of the metal. Just keep supporting the music. You guys make the difference. Without the fans, there is no music. Thank you!


Official Site: www.vio-lence.com


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