Interview with guitarist Mike Usifer
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 11, 2012
NY's underground Death/Thrash Metal patrol Prime Evil first came into existence in 1984 under the Mutilator moniker but the name was soon changed to Prime Evil due to a Brazilian band already using the Mutilator name. Prime Evil undoubtedly enjoyed its most successful heydays in the worldwide underground Metal scene during 1987-91, until the band started falling apart piece by piece. Eventually the band was forced to face the same destiny as many other potential, yet popular, Death/Thrash bands of those days (Dr. Shrinker, Sindrome, Exmortis, False Prophet, Derkéta, etc.); splitting up without getting any full-length studio albums recorded.
Several years passed by and in August 2010 all of us were hit by the breaking news: NY's own vicious beast Prime Evil is back with Mary Ciullo joining as the last member to complete that so-called 'classic' line-up.
What happened after that, The Metal Crypt contacted one of Prime Evil's founding members, guitarist Mike Usifer, to find out more about the band's current activities. Read on...
Luxi: First off, congratulations for bringing Prime Evil out from its ancient grave. I guess it feels good to be back again, and make some new material with this band after such a long time, doesn't it?
Mike: Thank you Luxi, and yes, it does feel good to be making NEW music! I never stopped writing songs for Prime Evil, so to be able to play them with the band and release on CD is very rewarding.
Luxi: When I first saw the news, Prime Evil's reunion had exactly the same line-up these days that you had in1987-91. From my point of view it's really rare nowadays, if a band has been away from the scene for some twenty years, to get the original troops collected and start making music again because in 20 years anything can happen. People form their families, have their daily jobs, may change their location from their original home countries to some other countries and even get killed in a traffic accident. But then again, things can change radically even over one night: Mary, Todd and Gary are no longer a part of the Prime Evil line-up. What actually happened and why did they choose to go their separate ways, leaving you and Andy to carry Prime Evil's evil master plan for conquering the world?
Mike: Well, we DID have what everyone is calling the 'classic line-up' of 87-91, but unfortunately because of some of those things you mentioned (family, jobs, proximity), not everyone was able to continue with Prime Evil. Both Todd and Mary departed from the band after we played the Metal Suckfest in NYC on 11/04/2011, citing that the band was interfering with work and family. We knew it was a hard chore for Mary to be involved, and we are so grateful to have been able to jam with her again! Gary quit in April stating that he didn't want to be in a working band. Andy and I have always been the driving force of the band, and we have always been the songwriters for Prime Evil, so nothing changes there. Our goals have never changed, and we shall fulfill them no matter what it takes! Now that we have a rejuvenated line-up with some talented musicians who are just as excited to play as we are, EVIL shall be unleashed!
Luxi: They have all been replaced now, so would you kindly let us know who the new guns are, and where you found them?
Mike: Well, we found our drummer almost immediately! We are very excited to have Billy Wassweiler (In Darkest Days) blasting the skins for us! We are able to jam almost daily, so we have achieved a lot with him. He has also started writing new songs with us! He is a tremendous drummer who brings more to the table than any other drummer we've had! Next, we picked up Steve Levin (Rooms of Ruin, Project Insanity, Excommunication) to complete the dual axe attack. Steve is an amazing guitarist whose solos will blow you away! Finally, we have Will Escolano (Necroptic Engorgement) pounding the thunder. Will is also an amazing musician who can play anything on the bass! This is definitely the most talented and coolest line-up we have ever had!
Luxi: Before we start remembering some blasts from the past, let's stick to some current activities of the band. There's a new Prime Evil EP in the works right now as we speak, so would you share some thoughts about it for the readers of The Metal Crypt?
Mike: Our new CD EP Evilution will be released on Infernö Records of France! We just signed a deal with them on June 25th, 2012. We are very excited to be signed with them! The EP has 3 new songs: "Crucifixion Aftermath", "Barbarick Rites", and "Evilution Decree". They are no doubt the fastest, heaviest, sickest songs Prime Evil have ever done! It will be released worldwide and digitally on July 20, 2012. We will also be launching a new web site where you will be able to purchase the CD, stream the songs, get links to downloads, and buy Prime Evil merchandise.
Luxi: How important do you see it for the band to maintain the same sound, with these new songs, that you had before Prime Evil decided to call it quits in 1992? I guess it's very important for you guys to not let your old fans down, hence you at least try to stick to the old formula that made Prime Evil sound like Prime Evil in the first place?
Mike: I have never really had a formula when it comes to writing. I just write. I let the music dictate how the song will be. The music just sort of flows. I guess all I can really say about my writing is that it constantly progresses. If you look at the progression from our first demo in 1987 to The Manifestation and then the progression to the Industry Demo in 1990, you can see the Evilution of Prime Evil. Fans can expect that same progression today... hence the title of the EP - Evilution.
Luxi: How much have your songwriting methods changed with the current members of the band? Which of you take the responsibility for coming up with new stuff, writing lyrics for the band and so on? Or is there not that big of a difference compared to your past times?
Mike: Like I said before, methods haven't changed. I still write all the music and Andy writes all the lyrics. There really isn't a difference. It feels just like old times again!
Luxi: You have been working with producer/engineer David Powers at Starr Ridge Studios in Brewsters, NY. Obviously you wanted to work with the kind of guy who had a clear understanding what kind of sound you were after for Prime Evil's forthcoming EP?
Mike: Yes, most definitely. Andy has recorded there before with our ex-drummer Tad Leger; and Prime Evil had used his studio many times to rehearse with full stage gear before shows, and to try out various musicians. So, Dave had a great understanding of our sound. He is an amazing engineer and an outstanding musician. It was most definitely the best experience I have ever had recording, and I couldn't be happier with the results. I think Prime Evil has found their guy!
Luxi: Once this EP is out and available, will one of your main intentions be to start shopping it around for some well chosen record labels that could consider Prime Evil as one of their most important priorities; not just a band among dozens or hundreds of others on their label?
Mike: Well, now that you know that we have signed with Infernö Records, we don't have to do that... but yes, we would have, had we released it ourselves. Infernö Records is the perfect company for Prime Evil to be signed to. They treat all of their bands as a priority, and they don't have a hundred of them. They have a nice manageable roster of some very talented acts. They don't want to steal your music like some of the other 'bigger' independents, and they are just as excited as we are. We couldn't have asked for a better deal. It was everything we were looking for, plus some. Hail Infernö!
Luxi: Supposedly the next step from Prime Evil, recording-wise, is to write more new material and then record your first ever full-length album, which never happened though you came pretty close to that ultimate goal with Kraze Records (home of Ripping Corpse, Biohazard, etc.) in 1991. Now, if you look back, have you ever regretted that you had to turn down offers from some smaller labels back in the day because you, practically speaking, already had a record contract in your pockets for Kraze Records?
Mike: That's funny that you know all of that! Back then, we did regret having to turn down smaller offers while we were in contract negotiations for 6 months with Kraze Records. We had never had so many offers before, and who wants to say no to a record deal! Unfortunately though, we had to politely turn them down; and then the day of the contract signing, Kraze tell us they are going bankrupt! But what I bet you didn't know is that exactly 20 years later, in 2011, Prime Evil had a negotiated contract in our hands, days away from signing... and the company went bankrupt! Talk about irony! I will not mention the name of the company, because it isn't their fault people don't buy CD's anymore!
Luxi: Now lets talk about some blasts from the past. Battlezone Records had the privilege of releasing a compilation of Prime Evil's demo and EP on one CD, titled Unearthed, in 2002. That compilation was well put together, covering Prime Evil's 3 demos, the EP you did for Ed Farshtey's Rage Records in 1992, and 2 songs that you exclusively recorded for a compilation CD called History of Things to Come (on Growing Deaf Entertainment). In addition it also featured the lyrics for all of your songs, a set of rare Prime Evil vintage photos and liner notes written by Ed Farshtey. Was the owner of that label an old friend of yours and therefore somewhat easy to get the CD released on that label?
Mike: Haha! Yes! See my answer below!
Luxi: On the inner sleeve of that CD there is a special mention from Prime Evil to King Fowley of Deceased (among other bands), saying; "Prime Evil would like to extend our sincerest thanks to King Fowley for stepping up and succeeding where others bailed..." My guess is this has much to do with King believing in what he has been doing in the underground Metal scene for many years without caring about any trends, gimmicks or anything that would stop him from making music that he loves to do and is from his heart and soul. Or, is there possibly more behind this special mention of yours on the Unearthed CD?
Mike: That would be a great guess, because it's all true! However, it's because Battlezone Records was King Fowley! This project actually started in 1999 when we signed a deal with a European company to release our first 2 demos on vinyl. So, we gathered all of the masters and converted them to DAT for the pressing. Well, that never happened. Then we got another offer in 2000 to release all 3 demos on CD and that fell through as well. Finally, Mary approached King about releasing all 3 demos on CD and he agreed... and succeeded! Hence, the quote. Our ex-drummer Tad Leger did the whole layout for the insert, which came out great! It is definitely something we are proud to have been able to achieve, with the help of King Fowley!
Luxi: As I understand it, Unearthed was a pretty limited release, making it kind of hard to come by these days. Have you had any talks about making your old material available again, possibly with a bonus DVD?
Mike: We are not considering re-releasing any old material at this time, however, we did record video and audio of the set we played at The Metal Suckfest at The Grammercy in NYC on 11/04/2011. If we ever get it professionally edited, it could be suitable for release.
Luxi: Back in 1986, when Prime Evil was formed, Thrash Metal was the "hot" thing among the kids that got them united in a great way. Everyone was going to see bands like Slayer, Dark Angel, Anthrax, Death Angel, Exodus, etc., and there was just a huge tape trading scene going on at that time too, helping people become aware of new and talented acts all the time, if you were actively a part of it. Prime Evil was one of those new brutal sounding Thrash Metal bands on people's lips back then and it was this massive tape trading scene that helped to get Prime Evil's name spread in basically every corner of the world. What kind of memories do you have from those so-called "golden days of tape trading"? Obviously you also became friends with many other band members due to your active involvement with the tape trading, correct?
Mike: I actually formed the band in 1984, and Andy joined in 1985. We went under the name Mutilator then, but had to change it because of the one from Brazil. We started using the name Prime Evil in 1986, but yes, the tape trading seen was huge! It was the only way for bands to get their music out there. Making friends with fans and bands was the best part. There was so much support back then. There is still support today, just in a different way, and I guess that's fine. Whatever works!
Luxi: Also, as a downside of the music industry in those days, certain trends tended to come and go during the late 80's/early 90's (Grunge was raising its ugly head from Seattle, then a new form of extreme Metal called Death Metal, with bands like Morbid Angel, Massacre, Nihilist, Deathstrike, Obituary, Amon, Cannibal Corpse and countless other bands), pretty much killing Thrash Metal because labels were no longer keen on signing Thrash Metal bands. Prime Evil probably suffered from this quite a bit but so did some other promising Thrash Metal acts like Illinois' Sindrome, or North Carolina's False Prophet (later Infernal Hierarchy) that both released some quality demos during that time. How much, from your point of view, did these trends have a "not-that-welcome" impact on Prime Evil's ability to find a suitable record label to release material, if any at all?
Mike: I think you hit the nail on the head Luxi! We started before the Death Metal scene, so we did not have that sound. Although we played with all those Death Metal bands you mentioned and got great reactions from the crowds, the labels were still not interested in non-Death Metal, and we never changed to try and suit them either. We are who we are. Like us or don't.
Luxi: New York has always been a fertile ground for all kinds of metal bands over the years. From the perspective of Prime Evil, how much has the New York underground Metal scene changed since you started out and up to this very day? Undoubtedly New York is still a hotbed for some killer Metal bands, isn't it?
Mike: Yea, no doubt. I love the NY scene! It's still a great place to play and see bands. There are so many killer bands, it's almost impossible to keep up with them all... but I do try!
Luxi: I'm sure some of the 'Metal-friendly' venues in the New York area from 20 years ago have closed down and perhaps turned into pathetic discos, dance clubs, regular restaurants and shit. What are some of those nostalgic venues in the whole NY area where one is still able to see some good Metal concerts?
Mike: Unfortunately, all of the nostalgic places are gone: CBGB's, L'amour, The Ritz, Sundance, Streets. However, there are some great places to see shows still: Irving Plaza, The Grammercy, Webster Theatre, St.Vitus, Nokia/Best Buy Theatre, The Chance, etc. So, although those great clubs are gone, there are just as many to take their places.
Luxi: Prime Evil played their farewell show at the Marquee in NY on July 8th, 1992 and it still exists but the whole place looks very different that it did some 20 years ago. Their official homepage says that Marquee underwent quite a drastic facelift in March 2003 and it hardly looks like a place where you could see a Metal band playing any more. Quite a pity, isn't it?
Mike: Yea...we'll probably never play there again. I did enjoy playing there and seeing shows there.
Luxi: Since Prime Evil reunited in 2010 you have played a few shows around; the Metal Suckfest at the Gramercy Theatre in NYC being one you have done thus far with the classic Prime Evil line-up. Then there will be A Day of Death festival coming up in October for you. What else will happen for Prime Evil in the following months?
Mike: As you now all know, we have a new line-up, and our first show out with them will be on July 27th, 2012 on the Mortal Extinction Fest with Mausoleum and Funerus at The Loft at The Chance. We also just booked September 15, 2012 at St. Vitus. Our main concern right now is getting down more new songs.
Luxi: I suppose you are also aiming at playing on European soil some day, if not any earlier then in 2013, at least. Is this the plan for you?
Mike: That would be awesome! I guess we'll have to wait and see if we can swing that one.
Luxi: What other goals does Prime Evil have for the near future? Are weeks of touring with some more established Metal act out of the question due to your families, jobs and so on?
Mike: Weeks of touring are probably out of the questions because of Andy's job, but we are hoping to do a lot of weekend road trips, and hoping to get some opening spots on National tours when they come through NY. Again, our main goal is to get the new material I have written down for a full-length CD.
Luxi: I guess that is it this time, so I want to thank you for taking this opportunity to talk about one of the underground's finest and partly 'lost' Metal gems, Prime Evil. Also, I want to wish you all the best with the future endeavors of the band. May your path be full of pleasing surprises and such (any last words, curses, swear-words, anything to conclude this interview?)
Mike: Thanks for the kind words Luxi! That's awesome! We wish you the best of luck also! As for last words, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about Prime Evil! Also, you can follow us at the following websites:
Thanks again! CHEERS! \m/\m/
|Other information about Prime Evil on this site|
|Interview with guitarist Mike Usifer and vocalist Andy Eichhorn on September 26, 2014 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
Copyright © 1999-2018, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.