Interview with guitarist and vocalist Ron Daniel Eriksen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 1, 2012
Once-disbanded old Thrash Metal bands are constantly coming back. This trend has been going on for years and LA thrashers Viking have joined the club, after a long 21-year hiatus. Viking was reunited in 2011 by guitarist and vocalist Ron Daniel Eriksen and drummer Matt Jordan for the purpose of creating new songs that are said to be musically close to Viking's 2nd album, titled Man of Straw.
Viking made two excellent and highly valued albums back in the day; the debut, Do or Die, came out in 1988 and its follow-up, Man of Straw, in 1990. Both were released on Metal Blade Records. Because of both Ron Eriksen's and Matt Jordan's conversion to Christianity and a desire to stop touring, they decided to put Viking to rest in 1990.
For the past several months, the guys have been working hard on Viking's 3rd album. This comeback album is called No Child Left Behind and is close to being finished. How Gene "The Atomic Clock" Hoglan (Dark Angel, SYL, Testament, etc.) got involved with this project is something I'll let Viking's Ron Daniel Eriksen tell more about. He'll also share his thoughts about every new Viking song on the No Child Left Behind record, track by track, and many other things too.
Luxi: How's it going Ron? You told me that you just turned to 45 about a month ago. Aging does not scare you, does it?
Ron: I'll tell you what, aging sucks. I didn't think it was too big of a deal until this year and my beard started getting gray hairs in it. I may feel 23 inside, but my face in the mirror is saying, "You are getting OLLLLLDDDDD!"
Luxi: Cali-thrashers Viking reunited in 2011 but without the complete original line-up. There's still both you and Matt Jordan left from the Do or Die line-up, which is, of course, great news for the fans. Did the two of you find the right chemistry right away when you started discussing with each other the making new stuff for Viking?
Ron: Matt and I are the kind of friends that can go years without talking and then pick up immediately where we left off. Neither of us had taken the fan requests for a Viking reunion too seriously, until things just sort of worked out right in our lives to let it happen.
Fortunately, our philosophy about the music was - and still is – the same: We want it fast and "punch you in the face" brutal. But not so technical or fast or complex that your brain can't enjoy what's going on. We feel like we're "the working man's Thrash" - kind of like Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and AC/DC were for their generations. We're Thrash for the white trash! (*laughs*)
Luxi: What about getting Mike Gonzalez (also in Dark Angel in 1986-92) to play bass in the reformed Viking line-up; how did that happen? Obviously you have known the guy for quite a long time...
Ron: We really tried hard to track down our original band members Brett and James. If they had been at all interested in this reunion, they would have been our ONLY choice. But when that didn't come together, we started looking in the immediate Viking family - guys that were there, at the shows, being our friends, hanging out as part of the family.
We were having no luck finding a bass player who fit that bill, and so instead I'd gone out and found a really talented player to do the record. When we were in the studio recording drums and scratch guitars, Mike texted Gene just to say, "Hey, how's it going?" Gene said "I'm in the studio with Viking," and we all very quickly realized that Mike was the family member we'd been looking for. I hadn't seen or talked to him in like 22 years. But we wanted him in Viking full-time, and he wanted to be in Viking full-time. And man, he is such a solid thrash bassist. When you hear the new record, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
Luxi: It was Gene "The Atomic Clock" Hoglan (Dark Angel, SYL, etc.) who came in to do drums for this new Viking album on a relatively short notice, as Matt's schedule to do them, changed all of a sudden. Undoubtedly such a talented drummer as Gene is, he didn't have any problems of getting them laid down for this forthcoming Viking record, did he?
Ron: When I'd booked the studio time, we set it in stone. We really wanted to make sure that the record was in the fans' hands by New Years of 2011/2012 (I didn't know what was in store for us as far as delays went.) So when Matt's schedule got messed up, I called Gene and said, "Hey, here's some of the new material. Would you be able to fly in and do this?" Gene loved the new tunes, had an opening in his schedule, and so we started collaborating to make sure that the few days he'd be here we'd have them down and ready.
Luxi: When Gene came in to do his share for this record, did he also give some useful ideas for some of the songs that you eventually wanted to re-arrange with him?
Ron: Yeah, absolutely. He asked me up front, "Do you want me to do these exactly as you've got them, or do you want my input?" I said, "Tell me everything you're thinking, and I'll listen to your suggestions, and change what I think is right." One tune we sped up about 20BPM, and some other tunes we chopped parts out of to be more concise. But of course his biggest contribution is being an absolute monster of beats. He asked if he should be playing Matt's parts exactly as written, or if I wanted his input there as well. I told him I didn't want to lose the fact that this is a Viking record start to finish, but that I was totally open to what he suggested might be better. And man, he not only nailed Matt's parts, but radically improved some other parts with the tastiest drumming we could have imagined!
Luxi: For the 2nd guitar, you have Glenn Rogers, who used to be Viking's stage manager (also founding member of Deliverance, and a longtime member of Hirax). Was it easy to talk to him and ask him to join Viking as a second guitarist?
Ron: Glenn was Viking's stage manager, and was best friends with Brett for years. So he was as close to being a Viking family member as anybody could be. Glenn and I stayed friends and had talked quite a bit, so when he was talking about leaving Hirax, he asked if I'd be interested in singing for a new project of his. That project never materialized, but when the Viking reunion started taking shape and I couldn't find Brett anywhere, Glenn was the first call I made in search of a guitar player.
Luxi: Has Glenn contributed some ideas for some songs on this new Viking record? I know that joined the regrouped Heretic line-up in 2011 for the 2nd guitar, too, and is playing on Heretic's comeback album titled A Time of Crises. He seems like one busy guy...
Ron: I thought it was important to keep the Viking songwriting style the same, and so Glenn and I agreed that I'd be the one writing the riffs and arranging the tunes. And of course, he's fully involved with the new Heretic as well, so that worked out great for him. It freed him up to use all the killer riffs he'd been writing for their new record, which has just come out.
Luxi: You were telling me just recently that No Child Left Behind has been the working title for Viking's comeback record for quite a while - and it hasn't changed. Would you be kind enough to tell what the story is behind this album title? Why did you choose that title?
Ron: About ten years ago, the US Government enacted "No Child Left Behind," which has been really controversial and basically made teachers spend all their time teaching students how to take a test instead of actually learning anything. The record doesn't have anything to do with government protest, but I thought it was a great play on words for a Viking invasion. When you attack a village, you leave nothing in your wake, not a child is left behind. In addition to that, we've tied it into a bunch of other things as well. The phrase actually shows up in the lyrics of one of the tunes, in the context of your innocence being forcibly stolen from you.
Luxi: Also, you told me that you have had some unfortunate setbacks during this whole process to get No Child Left Behind recorded that have pushed the original schedule behind like 10 months or so. Would you be more specific about these setbacks that have caused these delays to get your comeback album recorded and out for the fans of the band?
Ron: Man, we really really wanted this record to be done before 2011 ended. But we couldn't get Mike out here to do bass parts until February. Then I got a throat infection that lasted two months, and kept me from finishing the last few vocal parts I had left. Right as I was getting back to full health, my mom came out for a week-long vacation and out of nowhere got sick and died (I'll tell you what - that's the worst part about getting old is that people you love start dying.). And that has messed me up pretty good for the last couple of months. To be honest, the last thing on my mind then was finishing the record. But we're getting back on track here. There's almost nothing left to do now before the final mix. One more guitar solo, a couple more verses of vocals, some tweaks here and there, and we're pretty much done.
Luxi: No Child Left Behind is supposed to contain all new Viking songs, so would it be too much to ask if you gave some sort of a brief rundown about each song what they are all about thematically, plus describing a little bit each song musically too?
1. "9:02 on Flight 182"
When I was 11 years old, I saw a 727 crash into my neighborhood, right by my house. Almost 150 people died, and it messed me up inside like no one can imagine. This is the tune that opens up the record, and sets the tone for the whole thing. It's got killer halftimes and stops and screams and everything you expect from a good Viking song.
2. "By the Brundlefly"
This one seems to be most people's favorite. The main riff is just as heavy as hell. It's written from the perspective of scientist Seth Brundle (from the movie The Fly) after he's teleported himself and is discovering he's suddenly got more strength, agility, and quickness. This is great, until he starts falling apart and looking like he's diseased or dying.
3. "Blood Eagle"
"Blood Eagle" is a fast tune that's written in the lyrical style of classic Viking. It's about the Nordic method of torturous execution called "the blood eagle." Here's the Wikipedia synopsis: "It was performed by cutting the ribs of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim's back." That tells you pretty much all you need to know, LOL! Lots of headbanging opportunities in this song -I think it's a killer.
4. "Debt to Me"
Every one of these tunes has been my favorite at one time or another throughout this project. But every time I hear the intro to this tune, I think "Yeah, that's freakin' heavy." This one is about someone's helplessness when they're in prison. Being tortured, physically and mentally, and the bitterness that results.
5. "An Ideal Opportunity"
"An Ideal Opportunity" has probably the most transparent lyrics I've ever written. I've struggled with major depression my whole life - it's just something that happens chemically and I've learned to recognize it for what it is. It's like a storm front that moves in and covers me in darkness for a few hours or a few days and then fades away and I'm fine. One day I decided that if I was going to have to put up with this crap, at least I could get a song out of it. The next time the storm started moving in, I started writing down everything I was feeling. Good screams and solos in this one, too.
6. "Eaten by a Bear"
This song actually replaced one I had slated for the album. Pretty late in the project, I read a news article titled "Teen Made Cell Phone Calls to Mother While Being Eaten by Bear in Siberia." It was the saddest and most tragic true story I can ever remember hearing. I thought, "This has to be turned into a Thrash song." Mike's bass playing in this intro is simple but perfect, and Gene actually throws in a couple of ridiculously fast blast beats as highlights, along with some crazy heavy playing. Lyrically, I switch the narrative voice around between different perspectives.
7. "Wretched Old Mildred"
The intro to "Mildred" is what I remember Heavy Metal doing to me when I was a teenager - being heavy as can be and continually building up. Of course in true Viking style, we jump into speed, and then give you brutal half-time parts to headbang to. The lyrics in this song are about Mildred Ratched, the black-hearted authoritarian nurse from the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
8. "A Thousand Reasons I Hate You"
Have you ever met someone you just hate from the minute you meet them? And everything they do and say and are just makes you seethe with rage? This tune is written about one of those guys. Most of these lyrics weren't even written down. We hit "record" and I started screaming about why I hate this person. Lots of cool riffs in this song, and a tempo change near the end that I almost turned into a second song called "The Boy Who Was Ignored to Death."
9. "Helen Behind the Door"
There was a time in my life when I had a stalker - a beautiful young woman who became obsessed with me. She'd been in and out of mental institutions, and actually ended up stabbing a guy who tried to keep her from getting to me. Needless to say, I lived with some paranoia about when she would show up and what she would do when she did. Once I was lying in my bed and looking at the open door to my bedroom. The door started to slowly swing closed, and there was this woman standing there with a huge knife. She started coming towards me, with that familiar expression of love and hate on her face. I didn't realize that I'd fallen asleep, so the whole thing felt very real and very horrifying. I still get chills thinking about it. This was the first tune I wrote when we decided we were making a new Viking album. Classic Viking intro of lots of riffs and parts layered on top of each other. Great speedy tune.
Luxi: How would you say this new record can be compared to Viking's two earlier albums, Do or Die and Man of Straw? Can people still recognize right from the first moments of No Child Left Behind that this record is about 100% bullet-proof Viking stuff, or have years somehow changed your sound?
Ron: Writing-wise, I can definitively say that this is what the third Viking album would have sounded like. My Thrash writing style has stayed the same as it used to be. I for sure felt the absence of Brett, because we used to collaborate a lot. But I made a concerted effort to write riffs that were in Brett's style as well, so that it didn't feel like only half of Viking's history was resurrected. I think that this stuff is as Viking as people are hoping it will be. As for the production sound, it won't sound like the other two records. Do or Die was a recording disaster, so nobody wants to hear a record sound like that. This album will be much closer to Man of Straw, but with different production. For example, the bass tone we got on this record is a thousand times better than we ever got before.
Luxi: Lost & Found Records re-released Man of Straw in 2006 (with 4 rare bonus tracks), which has long been sold-out, and became a collector's item. When will we, the Viking fans, get an official reissue of Viking's debut album Do or Die (with perhaps some bonuses if we could wish for something?) so we can get rid off all of our lousy sounding Greek bootleg-CDs? I guess this idea has crossed your mind more than just once or twice, hasn't it?
Ron: Matt and I have talked at length about how we can get Do or Die into the hands of fans. As for the lousy-sounding bootlegs, if you listen to the original LP, you'll hear that the lousy sound was what was originally there. We don't have an answer for this question this year, but hopefully will in 2013.
Luxi: Have you also planned to play some one-off gigs after this new record has been released and hits the stores? Is a full tour out of question due to other commitments in your lives, perhaps?
Ron: We are definitely planning to play live shows. You're right; touring for months at a time isn't very realistic for guys in their 40's with full-time jobs. However, we do have plans in the works for being able to hit a lot of areas. So stay tuned.
Luxi: How much have you had time to follow what's been going on the worldwide Metal scene ever since Viking decided to call it quits in 1990? Have there been some bands that have made a big impression on you, simply for their musical achievements, and not image-wise, scandal-wise or anything like that?
Ron: To tell you the truth, I haven't followed much of the Metal scene since then. When guitar solos went away, and vocalists started sounding like guttural growling cookie monsters, I wasn't happy with that at all. When things get too technical for my brain to follow, I don't like it. When the guitars get tuned down so low I can't hear what's going on, I don't like it. When the lyrics are unintelligible under the grunting and growling, I don't like it. I also didn't like how segmented the Metal scene became. There are so many variations and sub-genres now; I don't know what they all are. I don't know what the difference between Speed Metal and Thrash Metal is. I don't know what makes Death Metal, Doom Metal, Black Metal, Grindcore, and Nu-metal unique from each other. But I do know when I like something. Someone handed me This Godless Endeavor by Nevermore and I thought it was excellent. (I recently did lead vocals on another band's tune that Nevermore's Jeff Loomis was also playing on, so that was cool for me.) So the answer I guess is, no, I really haven't been influenced by any bands since Viking split up.
Luxi: Viking split up in 1990 after having two fine full-length Thrash Metal albums out, which of course was a sad day for all dedicated Viking fans. You released these two albums on Metal Blade Records, and actually had a deal for four more albums with them. Have you ever regretted that you didn't continue doing new albums with Viking, after the band was put to rest?
Ron: Yeah, I have had some regrets. My biggest regret was leaving the band so abruptly. It wasn't fair to the other guys, who'd invested so much of their lives and energy into it. These guys were my close friends, and I pulled the rug out from under them. As far as making new Viking music, this new record will demonstrate what we could have accomplished back then.
Luxi: After Viking broke up, you became a minister. Was that kind of an obvious choice for you at that time because it is known that during the recordings of Viking's 2nd album Man of Straw, you became a born-again Christian, which is also said to carry the idea "to become children of God" through trust in the name of Jesus Christ. Is this exactly what happened to you? What about changing some of your lyrics to be more "Christian-friendly" on Viking's 2nd album, Man of Straw? Was this strictly and purely caused by your dedication to a Christian lifestyle, or was there probably some more behind this matter why you ended up re-writing some of the lyrics for the Man of Straw record (like some censorship issues and stuff like that)?
Ron: I did change some of the lyrics on the Man of Straw album when I became a Christian. I think I only changed one word in "They Raped the Land" and a few words in "Creative Divorce." The only complete re-write was "The Trial." The only censorship was personal censorship. Metal Blade Records didn't complain about the satanic lyrics or the Christian lyrics. They believed in us as a band and gave us total freedom. Also, when I left Viking, I definitely wasn't planning on becoming a Bible teacher. I was doing a lot of college-level studying, and was telling people what I was learning. Pretty soon, people started telling me to tell everybody at the same time, and suddenly I had big groups of people gathering to listen. When I moved to Wyoming, I started a study in my living room that became one of the largest churches in the whole state. But that was a long time ago, and I haven't been a Bible teacher or even been to church in a very long time.
Luxi: Do you believe each human being on the face of the earth has a pre-written destiny as to how long time they are allowed to walk among us other people?
Ron: To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I used to think that I had the answer to every question, but I know now that I don't. I think that if you love life, you won't waste the time you have. I think that if you really care about people, you won't live selfishly. But I don't preach anything to anybody anymore, because my own brain and life are so messed up, I'm not a good example for anybody to follow.
Luxi: What do you hope to achieve with the new Viking in the next 2-3 years or so?
Ron: I'd like to get this record out and see what the fan reaction is. We're not foolishly dreaming about being in the Big 4 (or even in the Big 25), but if it's as well-received as I expect it to be, then I think we'd see a whole lot of U.S. shows and European festivals in the next 2-3 years. I'd also expect at least one more album project to happen in that time.
Luxi: We have come to the end of this interview, so I wanna sincerely thank you Ron for your time for getting this interview done for The Metal Crypt. Instead of saying "let's light our black candles and sacrifice a couple of innocent virgins in the name of Satan" (since I am not interviewing Mr. Benton of Deicide this time around), I wanna also say both you and your band's ways be blessed, full of joy and happy times for many years to come. If there's still something you'd like to add to conclude this interview, be my guest...
Ron: I'd just like to say thanks for keeping Viking alive. If it wasn't for our fans who've loved these records for the last 22 years, and the new ones who are still discovering them, we wouldn't be putting out this new one. And I think the new album absolutely kills, so I'm hoping you'll be glad we did.
|Other information about Viking on this site|
|Review: No Child Left Behind|
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