Interview with guitarist Jay Visser
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 23, 2012
Wisconsin-based cult thrashers Morbid Saint were a short-lived act. The band was originally formed in 1982 and the band's whole career basically culminated with their debut album, titled Spectrum of Death, originally released on Mexican underground label Avanzada Metalica Records in 1986. Morbid Saint broke up in 1994 (the last Morbid Saint show happened in December 1993), and since then the band's legendary debut album Spectrum of Death has been bootlegged a couple of times.
Morbid Saint was resurrected in early 2010 and since then they have managed to play quite a few shows, of which Maryland's Deathfest at the end of May, 2012, was surely one of the highlights with the band's new line-up. Morbid Saint have already scheduled some time off to concentrate on writing new material, hoping to release the first Morbid Saint CD with all new music in over 20 years.
Let one of the founding members of Morbid Saint, guitarist Jay Visser, tell us what they have been up to lately - and also share a few stories from the band's past with the readers of The Metal Crypt...
Luxi: First of all, my sincere congratulations for bringing Morbid Saint back, a band that many thrashers around the world consider one of the truest and greatest Thrash Metal bands ever, even if you released just one album (Spectrum of Death) back in the day before calling it quits. I assume you have enjoyed every moment since you regrouped and started playing gigs again?
Jay: Thank you. After all these years of Morbid Saint being dormant, to be able to have played the shows we have so far, you definitely appreciate everything. From the great bands we have met and played with, to the truly incredible fans that have supported us since returning, we couldn't have imagined it to be any better than what has transpired since returning to the scene...
Luxi: What were the reasons you decided to take another shot at Morbid Saint? I guess all those demands from your die-hard fans to get the band reformed were one of those most important reasons why you are back but what about some other reasons behind this decision to breathe life into Morbid Saint again?
Jay: It is really amazing to us that there is still interest in this band after all these years. To have an opportunity to play these songs again live and to have the right people to be able to do this at this time just seemed like the right thing to do, plus the incredible response from people worldwide. We can't thank you enough for your continued support of Morbid Saint!!
Luxi: You and Pat (Lind) are the only original members left from the first recording line-up of Morbid Saint; the rest of the guys are new. How did you find the other members to complete the line-up?
Jay: The current line up consists of old friends of ours (Pat's and mine). The current line-up is Pat Lind on vocals, Jay Visser on guitar, Randy Wall on drums, Kevin Koski on guitar and Bob Zabel on bass. Randy Wall (drums) was in a band that had played with Morbid Saint in the 80's. He was also in a Thrash Metal band with Pat and me called Sgt. Discharge for a few years, and also a metal cover band called Boxshaft, with Jim Fergades (original Morbid Saint guitarist) and me. Kevin Koski (guitar) had played in Morbid Saint for a few shows in the early 90's when Jim Fergades had left the band. Bob Zabel (bass), had been playing in bands with me on and off for the last 15 years. When we had talked about the possibility of reforming Morbid Saint, it just seemed like this line-up would be the logical choice. We all live close, we all like playing this music, and we're all great friends, which makes all the practices and traveling so much easier.
Luxi: You did Maryland Deathfest X at the end of May. How was it as an experience for you guys overall? I have seen some pictures from your performance and from them it looks like Morbid Saint pretty much slaughtered the audience. Did it feel the same way for you guys?
Jay: Playing at the Maryland Deathfest was a lot of fun and we made so many new friends and the crowd was insane!! It was a little warm for us old guys but we felt we did well there, and would love the opportunity to do it again.
Luxi: Were you able to watch some other bands performances there? If so, which bands surprised you with their tight live presence?
Jay: While we were there we mostly saw bits and pieces of bands sets. All the bands we saw were really good and getting to meet some of them was awesome. We did get to see full sets of Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, and our new friends, Hellbastard, who were all just incredible...
Luxi: Do you find it kind of surprising sometimes how this band is able to make people so crazy and wild, especially when you are on stage playing for your fans and seeing the furious moshpits and wild headbanging going on in the audience? I bet a supportive crowd truly makes playing live such an enjoyable experience for you guys, right?
Jay: I find it surprising that after all these years people even know who we are!! Yes, it is very motivating when we play and the crowds get a little crazy. It's cool at some of the smaller shows where people can get up on stage and interact with us a little, but playing the bigger shows for thousands of people is pretty awesome, the fan electricity at big shows is just unbelievable...
Luxi: How well was this festival organized from your point of view? What were some of the things you were mostly happy with at that festival and what about some other things that the organizers of the festival could improve on to make it a perfect Metal festival?
Jay: The organizers at The Maryland Deathfest did a great job of keeping everything in order, considering the amount of bands, people, vendors, and the people working at the show. It was extremely organized. We were only there for 2 days, but when we were there, we were treated great. There were no instances or issues that that we had seen at all, we all had the best time there!!
Luxi: Also, you did a show in the Mexico City on May 4th of this year together with the reunited German thrashers Exumer and the originally Columbian-based Inquisition. How was it, and was it the very first time for Morbid Saint to play in Mexico? Did everything go as originally planned without any troubles with Mexican authorities, or anything like that, when crossing the Mexican border?
Jay: The show in Mexico was absolutely amazing, Exumer, Inquisition, and all the local bands that played were incredible, and the crowd was just insane!! We couldn't have asked for a better show for Morbid Saint's first time outside the U.S. We can't wait to go back!! We didn't have any trouble entering Mexico, but reentering the U.S. was a little more interesting. After a small welcome back by Houston security for some of us, we all managed to make it back pretty much unscathed.
Luxi: Still on the subject of playing live, do you see it as kinda odd whenever you find out that there's still some talk going on, in some discussion forum or other, that Morbid Saint played lots of shows with Death despite the fact that you played only twice with them: once at Metalfest and a second time at the Crystal Palace in Milwaukee, along with Dark Angel. Why do you think people are so misinformed about your live experience with Death? Is it because Eric Grief, who was your manager back in those days, also happened to be a manager of Death at that time, too?
Jay: Yes, the whole Death association thing is interesting. I suppose it does have to do with Eric Greif, who we can't thank enough for everything he has done for us. We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for his continued help and support throughout the years, but if we're going to be associated with another band, it certainly is a huge honor for us that we are associated with Death!! But there are a lot of things that I have read on forums about Morbid Saint that either aren't true or are incorrect. Personally, I feel that if someone is going to take time out of their day to write something about Morbid Saint, good or bad, just the fact that they are writing anything at all about us is greatly appreciated!!
Luxi: Did you get along well with Chuck (ed. Chuck Schuldiner, Death guitarist/vocalist) at that time? I've heard that some people thought Chuck was an asshole while others say he was one of the nicest and most humble people they had ever met. Obviously, if Chuck liked your personality, then there was no problem at all to get along with him...
Jay: Chuck was always very cool to us; we never had a problem with him or anyone in Death. He was a very down-to-earth normal guy every time we played with them, and talked with him. As far as we are concerned, at his passing, the Metal world not only lost a great talent, but a great guy...
Luxi: I want to stick to this Milwaukee gig for one more question. As Dark Angel played at that night too, I was just wondering whether you knew those guys as well and whether you shared some common interests, besides playing the most brutal and heaviest Thrash Metal on earth, of course?
Jay: It truly was an honor being able to play on that show; both Death and Dark Angel were incredible. We didn't really know the guys from Dark Angel, but talked with them a little at the show. Gene Hoglan is one of the nicest people, and such an amazing drummer.
Luxi: Did either Death or Dark Angel inspire your songwriting somehow when you were writing Morbid Saint songs such as "Lock Up Your Children", "Assassin", "Burned at the Stake", "Damien", etc.?
Jay: I would think so, we did listen to them a lot back in those days.
Luxi: Were there other bands from those days that were inspirations for Morbid Saint when you were working on the band's first material that ended up on your first demo, Lock Up Your Children?
Jay: At the time when we were writing those songs we were listening to a lot of Slayer, Exodus, Kreator, Whiplash, Death Angel, old Metallica, Testament and a lot of that good old 80's Metal, so I guess it would have had an influence on us.
Luxi: Sticking with Morbid Saint's past, you recorded the Lock Up Your Children demo at Opus Recording (nowadays know as Wave Digital) in Gurnee, Illinois. How much do you still remember from those recording sessions? I can imagine that the whole band was very excited about the opportunity to use a professional studio for the first time, and to try to do your best with the songs you had, believing 100% yourselves and knowing that you'll kick ass with this demo. Was it actually like that?
Jay: When we recorded the Lock Up Your Children demo, I don't think any of us ever thought it would be something we'd still be talking about 20+ years later. It was a very interesting experience being in a professional studio for the first time and we were very excited about the opportunity to record there. We actually took out a loan to pay for the studio time, so we wanted to make sure we were prepared to play the tracks as quickly as we could and not waste any of the time. We recorded the drum and both guitar tracks together live, and we recorded all the songs on the first take, except two which were recorded on the second take. There wasn't any fancy editing, or time aligning, like the way music is recorded today, which is why I think it has a different feel to it.
Luxi: That demo eventually caught the attention of a Mexican label Avanzada Metalica and in 1988 Morbid Saint's, at least semi-legendary, debut album, Spectrum of Death, was released originally as a vinyl version only with the CD version following in 1991. How did you end up signing a contract with this Mexican label back in the day? Were they the only label that showed serious interest in Morbid Saint at that time?
Jay: Eric Greif was working deals with Avanzada Metallica at the time, we just happened to be included with those deals. There wasn't a lot of interest in us back then.
Luxi: Have you ever regretted signing to Avanzada Metalica? I mean, if you had waited a bit more patiently for the right moment, who knows, Morbid Saint might well have made a deal with a more established record company, like Century Media, Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast, etc.?
Jay: Absolutely no regrets whatsoever, we can't thank George from Avanzada for giving us the opportunity to be released on a label. ALL the other labels were not interested in us in the least. Combat Records flew out from NYC to see the Ultimate Death tour that we played on in Milwaukee, but were not interested in signing us, so if it wasn't for Avanzada, Spectrum of Death may never have been released.
Luxi: How much does it irritate you that Morbid Saint's debut album, Spectrum of Death, has been bootlegged by a couple of labels (Keltic Records and No Colours Records) and the band members are not making a dime from these releases?
Jay: On one hand it is very flattering that someone would want to bootleg us at all, so there must be a demand for it, but no, we haven't seen much at all as far as royalties go on Spectrum of Death. The first time we actually saw anything cash-wise was when it was released by Power Play Records. It wasn't much, but it was cool finally getting something after all these years.
Luxi: Spectrum of Death was available as vinyl again on June 26th via Relapse Records as they decided to take the opportunity to re-release this ultimate Thrash Metal gem, with the permission of the band. Are you happy and satisfied with the way the vinyl re-release of Spectrum of Death turned out?
Jay: Yes, we are happy how it turned out. We used a higher quality master for the LP, so the sound will be better than the original LP, and we finally have a picture and give credit to the right people that played on Spectrum of Death.
Luxi: There's now this 3-CD(-R) set available from the band, titled Thrashaholic, which includes basically everything from Morbid Saint; both of your albums, one live DVD and some bonus material. What more can you tell about this release, for all the interest parties around the world?
Jay: Thrashaholic is almost everything that Morbid Saint wrote before the band dismembered in 1993. It includes remastered versions of Spectrum of Death, Destruction System (which was never finished, what we have is a rough unmixed copy that we took home from the studio until we returned to do the final mix, but that never happened), live concert footage from a show in 1991, and 4 newly recorded old songs "Dying Day", "Lifesblood", "Death Before Dawn" and "Thrashaholic".
Luxi: Thrashaholic is also the first ever Morbid Saint song you penned and is featured for this 3-CD set as a bonus. I am curious to know why this particular song in question never ended up on your debut 8-track demo, titled Lock Up Your Children? I suppose it wasn't THAT bad-sounding of a song, or was it?
Jay: When we recorded Spectrum of Death we had 5 or 6 more songs that weren't included on that release, mostly due to our budget. We only had so much studio time to finish the entire project. The final product includes the songs that we felt worked best together.
Luxi: Wasn't Relapse Records supposed to release a Morbid Saint DVD, too, including 2 live shows from your band? What happened to that one, or is it still on their 'to-do' list?
Jay: We decided to release it ourselves which ended up as the 3 disc set Thrashaholic. We have a very good relationship with Relapse, and a future release with them is not out of the question.
Luxi: You have also launched a merchandise section on the band's official homepage www.morbidsaint.com, in which you are also selling a new Morbid Saint 2-sided t-shirt with a pretty cool design. Is this a limited t-shirt and do you have plans to have more new Morbid Saint merchandise available for sale through your website? A limited, hand-numbered box set of Morbid Saint stuff would sound tempting too, maybe including a t-shirt that's made exclusively for this box set, some other rare live performance of Morbid Saint as a DVD, plus, of course, both of your albums as limited, hand-numbered digipack versions, also exclusively made for this very limited box set. How about that?
Jay: I think that sounds great, and something we may look into!! Right now besides the shirt available on the website, we have a shirt that we are selling exclusively only at our shows, a hoodie, and a can cooler. We are looking into expanding our available merchandise into more and different items.
Luxi: Where does all the intensity and aggression of your material come from? The older you get the angrier sounding your songs start to sound, eh?
Jay: HAHAHA!!!! Being that we're not young kids anymore, maybe senility has something to do with it??
Luxi: Back to the current day and the future activities of Morbid Saint. As far as future live performances of Morbid Saint are concerned, it's already official that Morbid Saint will play at Germany's "Keep It True XVI" festival on April in 2013. You must be thrilled about being a part of that legendary festival, aren't you?
Jay: It is an honor for us to be a part of the Keep It True festival next year, and it will be our first time playing in Europe, so to be able to play for and meet all of our friends that have contacted us on the internet and support Morbid Saint is very exciting!! We are really looking forward to this show!!
Luxi: Obviously there will be more European festival shows announced from the Morbid Saint camp, as it's hardly likely that you'll only do the "Keep It True XVI" festival. Are there also some other possible Morbid Saint festival appearances in the works?
Jay: We are currently booking more shows around the time of the Keep It True fest next year, so if anyone wants Morbid Saint to play in their city, contact your local promoter and let them know you want Morbid Saint!!
Luxi: Probably the most ticklish question out of all questions that should excite Morbid Saint fans all around the world is this; when can we expect a new Morbid Saint record to come out? Undoubtedly you have been talking about this inside the band and perhaps there are already some new Morbid Saint tracks written? Would you mind revealing some more about your future plans regarding a possible upcoming Morbid Saint release?
Jay: We have actually scheduled some time off to concentrate on writing new material, and hopefully sometime next year record and release the first Morbid Saint CD with all new music in over 20 years.
Luxi: I just noticed I had written more questions down for you than I first thought I would, so let's cut this here. I wanna sincerely thank you for your time and for making this interview happen in the first place, and wish you guys all the best whatever you may be doing in the future. If there's something else you'd like to add to conclude this interview, by all means feel free to do so up next. The rest of space is saved for you...
Jay: We would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to do this interview, and are very excited about the future of Morbid Saint. From the shows to the chance to be able to record and release new music, and to the truly supportive people we have met and are always meeting, we can't thank you enough for your support!! We are always available to be contacted directly on our Facebook page Morbid Saint official, so if anyone wants to contact us directly about anything, and everything Morbid Saint, or just want to say 'hi', feel free to drop us a message...
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|Review: Spectrum of Death|
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