Interview with guitarist Jon Torres
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 12, 2012
It has come to pass that Ulysses Siren is no more, which is a screaming crime, at least as seen through the eyes of true Metal fans who appreciated what Ulysses Siren were all about. Above the ashes, the compilation CD featuring both of Ulysses Siren's demos, will be the band's legacy for their loyal fans whose undying support, love and care for this Frisco-based Thrash Metal band, obviously was a big part of what kept the band going it was formed in 1983.
Despite Ulysses Siren disbanding for good, guitarist Jon Torres kindly wanted to share a few thoughts about the rise and fall of the band for The Metal Crypt.
Where is all the fairness in this world when a band like Ulysses Siren should go on and make new music but instead they go and split up?
Thanks to Tambré Bryant of Tambre Management for setting up this interview with her husband Josh Torres.
Luxi: First off, congratulations for keeping Ulysses Siren alive and kicking since the band was resurrected back in 2002. How did it feel to make new music with the band again at that time; tough and time consuming, perhaps?
Jon: Thanks. It's a tough gig to keep alive. It was a bit challenging after not writing Siren songs for years. It was definitely time consuming!
Luxi: After listening to one of your new songs, called "Justifiable Homicide," several times during these past weeks, it was a big relief to hear that Ulysses Siren haven't forgotten their roots; intensity, aggression, killer hooks, in-yer-face riffs, angry vocals, unyielding wickedness etc. They were all still a part of Ulysses Siren's core sound, which I guess is something that you had been aiming for with your new stuff. It's those roots that made your two old demos such sought-after items among the underground Metal maniacs back in the day. Just feel free to correct me if I am completely wrong, sir...
Jon: We try to stay true to our roots when it comes to writing Ulysses Siren songs. We're happy that you like the new stuff. No, you are not wrong at all.
Luxi: How proud are you of what you accomplished on those two widely circulated and traded demo tapes, especially when you think about the fuss they caused in the underground Metal scene, some 25-27 years ago?
Jon: Yeah... How time goes by... very proud. It's kind of a bittersweet situation. It's great that people like the songs so much, but I wish more could have come of it. It's kind of a shame.
Luxi: Do you feel grateful and fortunate that people still remember Ulysses Siren's name, even though the band never had the opportunity to record a real studio album? I'm sure some label bosses dug the hell out of your demos when they got their hands on them.
Jon: I do feel very grateful for the fans of Ulysses Siren mostly. They are a hardcore bunch and I wouldn't trade that for anything. The shame of it all is not having done a proper studio album and getting very little response from the record industry in general.
Luxi: What were those unfortunate things that caused Ulysses Siren to fall apart at the end of the eighties? Were there some conflicts between members of the band or did certain issues at that time have a negative effect on Ulysses Siren?
Jon: Well, unfortunately, the members of Siren (especially back then) were like five ticking time bombs ready to explode at any given moment. That may sound a bit melodramatic but the fact still remains. Add alcohol and other assorted substances to the mix, along with raging paranoia and psychosis, and you are bound to have failure and band problems and that is exactly what happened.
Luxi: The band reunited in 2002. Was it easy to bring the band back to the limelight back then, especially in light of the fact that Relentless Records caused a stir among the fans of the band by releasing both demos on CD (titled Above the Ashes) in 2003?
Jon: Yes indeed. No, it was not easy. The hardest part was getting the two Steves (Pickering and Heuser) together without a full-scale battle breaking out. Trying to get Mr. Clegg on board didn't work out either so we had to replace him with original bassist Joe Jimenez. Then there was the issue of who wrote what and how all of the copyrights and publishing were going to be distributed. It turned into a big nightmare. The only good thing about the situation is that the two demos were finally released as one piece of work.
Luxi: Above the Ashes was first reissued by Scrap Metal Records in 2005 for a CD release as well as Shaxul Records in 2008 for a vinyl release. Those two releases seem to be hard to find. The quantities for both of them must have been very, very limited. Would you be kind enough to shed some light on this issue, please?
Jon: It was first released by Relentless Metal Records and they distributed 1000 to Scrap Metal (or Crookd Records). Relentless sold 4000 copies and Shaxul only made 500 copies, which sold out relatively quickly. What it all comes down to is having the revenue to generate more CDs and the money to advertise as well. Money we simply don't have.
Luxi: Let's get back to the new millennium. Ulysses Siren recorded a 4-song demo last September and it was meant only for promotional use with record companies. Curiosity killed the cat, that's for sure, but what came out of it; do you have a record contract in your pockets? If so, which label it is for?
Jon: Yeah, unfortunately the sad truth is that nothing really came of it. There were only two labels that showed any interest but they wouldn't even pay for the recording costs. It was basically explained to us like this; most record labels are staying away from signing older bands like Siren and signing newer younger bands. Now if that is the actual truth, then so be it, but I've heard that line from more than one record company rep.
Luxi: How many songs do you already have completely ready for your first studio album, and what type of schedule do you have to find some studio and record the album?
Jon: Those four were all that we recorded and plan on recording. I wish I had better news, but I doubt that Siren will ever record a full-length record.
Luxi: Do you have any plans to use some guest musicians on that record perhaps and who have you already considered?
Jon: I thought about it but, as I said, that probably won't be happening either.
Luxi: Talking about playing live a little bit, Ulysses Siren should be playing the Slaughter by the Water festival on August 25th on the USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier in Alameda, California, where Exodus will be the main headlining act. How much are you looking forward to playing there and have you played such unusual locations ever before?
Jon: We cancelled that show. The long and short of it was that we were scheduled to play the main stage then relegated to a second stage very low on the bill without being told. We felt disrespected. We would have gone on at 2:30 in the afternoon on a pier outside the actual ship. Not to sound self-centered or show any disrespect to any of the other bands, it was the promoter who has no clue about who we are or what they are doing.
Luxi: Obviously your set list will contain many old classics but I assume you'll do some new stuff there, as well. How important is it for Ulysses Siren to introduce new songs to the audience even if you don't have an album out yet? Supposedly playing live is the best way to showcase new material because when it's time to get the record out, your fans already know what to expect from you guys, right?
Jon: Well there would have been a mixture of both. We would have only had 25 minutes so we would have had to cut the set short.
Luxi: The band already performed at Germany's Headbangers Open Air Festival on July 2006, playing with such legendary acts as Girlschool, Blitzkrieg, Satan, Metal Church and so many others. Can you still recall what kind of experience it was for Ulysses Siren to hit European territory and play for all of your fans on the old continent?
Jon: Yeah, yeah! It was a great show. I'd already been to Europe several times with Heathen, Warning SF, and Angel Witch. It was fun for me to watch the rest of the guys have a blast because most of them had never been to Europe before. I love playing in Europe!
Luxi: After this experience, did you start getting offers from other European festival organizers that wanted to book the band? If you did, were you forced to turn them down due to some other, more important duties in your life at that time?
Jon: Not so much. We even sought out some festivals to see if they were interested in having Siren play but got very little response. Very depressing.
Luxi: Ulysses Siren's music was also used for a documentary called Get Thrashed - The Story of Thrash Metal. It was released on September 16th, 2008 on DVD, and it became a hugely popular DVD among Metal fans all around the world. How did Ulysses Siren get involved with this documentary and do you believe the Get Thrashed DVD gives the most insightful, in-depth and best possible overview into the worldwide Thrash Metal scene?
Jon: If I remember correctly the guy who was director of Get Thrashed contacted our manager and asked if we would like to have our music on the DVD. We agreed and the rest is history. I've only seen the DVD once. I thought it was ok.
Luxi: While we are at it, talking about DVDs, do you have any plans to get a Ulysses Siren DVD out in the coming months, maybe even a 2-disc set containing both old and new live footage of the band?
Jon: As much as we'd like to, I just don't see that happening either.
Luxi: What is the current state of Thrash Metal where you live? Do you feel that the spirit, vibe and the feeling have changed drastically in your area, so much so that you feel an "outsider" from the latest Thrash resurgence? Perhaps it is more like the opposite and you feel even more connected to it now than ever before?
Jon: There is no "Thrash" scene here any longer. It's a pale shadow of what it once was. I feel like an outsider for sure. Sad but true.
Luxi: Which things do you miss most from the golden times of 80's Metal scene and/or music? The tape-trading scene? Actively recycled, used stamps? Youth and wildness? Crazy, drunken parties without worrying whether tomorrow is meant to come or not? Or just all of these things in general?
Jon: All the things you mentioned plus the size of the scene then. There were so many places you could play without having to pay to play like it is now. It's a fucking joke!
Luxi: What people can expect from Ulysses Siren in the fall of 2012 and/or the beginning of 2013?
Jon: Unfortunately not much my friend. It has come to pass that Ulysses Siren is no more. We decided to end our partnership about two weeks ago. It would take an act of God at this point to resurrect the band. It wasn't pretty I'm sorry to say.
Luxi: Congratulations again for making it this far in this interview. Time for the very last question; when will Metallica play as an opening act for Ulysses Siren? ;o)
Luxi: I want to sincerely thank you for your time and talking to The Metal Crypt, and wish all the best with all the future endeavors of Ulysses Siren. May your road be polished and full of rewards. Any last comments or ugly swear words, perhaps?
Jon: I am truly sorry that I didn't have better news to give you and your readers (I wish you had better news, too! - Luxi). I appreciate all of the fans and press that have been so kind to us over the years. For that I am truly thankful. You guys rule! Cheers!
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