Interview with Steve Ratchen (bass), Bob Mitchell (vocals) and Bill Pena (guitar)
Interview conducted by Michel Renaud
Date online: October 8, 2002
Vyndykator was born from the ashes of the cult band Attacker, unleashing a horde of bloodthirsty killers from New Jersey upon the unsuspecting metal fans. Hmmm... OK it didn't go quite that way but it's about 50% accurate. :) As the band, fronted by legendary (I'm just saying that so he'll buy me a beer) vocalist Bob Mitchell, prepares to unleash its first studio album, I asked them a bunch of weird questions hoping to get at least 5% of useful information out of these madmen - I think it came close to that. The nature of an e-mail interview is a bit evident here, a few things having happened between the time I wrote the questions and the answers were written, rendering some of the questions a bit inaccurate or outdated - but you'll live. :) After sending mobsters with baseball bats to Bob's house, he finally sat down and did his homework, and returned his answers (after the doctor removed his arm casts, that is...) so I could publish the interview. Anyway, as you'll see in this interview, the band members are very down to earth guys with a good sense of humor. Enjoy!
Hails! First off, I know you guys aren't too much into talking about your past endeavours and prefer to focus on the future with Vyndykator so I'll stick to that, but for the benefit of the readers, could you name the bands that each member has performed with in the past, and/or any other bands or side-projects you guys are involved in at this time?
Steve Ratchen (Bass Guitarist): Bonjour Michel, comment vas tu? Before I begin I just want to thank you for taking the time and effort to feature both Vyndykator and Alchemy X on your site! Having alluded to Alchemy X, your readers may or may not know that my involvement with Vyndykator came about after I had "recruited" Bob to sing for AX. A mutual exchange of sorts as he joined me in AX and I joined him in Vyn. In the past I had fronted various power and prog trios like Trinity and Dominion, which is actually where and how I met Bob and the original Attacker line-up. In retrospect, I think the most important aspect of my past endeavors was not so much the projects themselves as the groundwork that was laid to make bands like Vyndykator possible.
Bob Mitchell (Vocalist): My past involvement with both Attacker and Sleepy Hollow has brought me to this point of my career. As proud as I am of my past accomplishments, being in both of my current bands just proves that I can still go with the best of them. One thing I do have is longevity, which is not an easy thing to accomplish in this business, but my former bands have paved the way for me to do so. No matter how things may have turned out, good or bad, I will always be grateful for the opportunities given to me by them. In turn, my experience has allowed me to find the band members I have in both bands now. The combination of musicians from my current two bands is without question, the most talented group of people that I have ever been with and I think it shows in the music as well as our live performances.
Bill Pena (guitar): The reason we don't discuss our past is it would compromise the terms of the Witness protection program.
Previously played with Rob Oriani in a metal cover band Kevorkian Housecall that moonlighted every Halloween as an all-Manowar tribute band named Hail and Kill. Also played in Mobile Cactile, a power pop/alternative type band where I was a backup guitarist, I always played clean (no distortion) and it was a great change of pace. Other past bands include Shaved Head Kenny, Psychodrama: but not while John also played with them, and the Omo's - which despite the goofy name, was the heaviest and fastest band I was ever in.
You're signed to Battlezone Records. What kind of promotion and support are you expecting from the label? One sure thing about being signed with such a dedicated metalhead as King Fowley is that he's trustable enough that you don't have to worry about being screwed by the label - he's in it for the music, not for the mighty greenback! :)
SR: Unfortunately, due to some tragic circumstances that befell King, we had to cancel our deal with Battlezone. Both King and ourselves felt terribly about this, but we have rebounded and signed a vintage vinyl agreement with Outlaw Recordings (based out of New York) as well as signing a CD deal with Unisound Records in Athens Greece. We continue to be on friendly terms with King and wish him nothing but the best.
BM: The CD version will be out this November and there will be two vinyl versions coming out of OUTLAW. Picture Disc and Classic Vinyl. In fact, they should be out by the time this interview goes public. It is unfortunate that the Battle Zone deal fell through, but we promised our fans a release for 2002 and we have come through on our promise. Thanks to various contacts that I've made through the years, not only did I manage to get a new deal for Vyn but I also finalized licensing deals for Alchemy X and Sleepy Hollow. All on the same label (UNISOUND) mind you! Sleepy Hollow is currently out now and Alchemy X should be out in December, not bad, eh? By the way we are expecting to finalize a Vinyl deal with OUTLAW real soon.
BP: We are no longer on Battlezone Records. We still love King.
What are your expectations for the band?
SR: Simply to make the best possible music, with regard to songwriting prowess, playing aptitude, and of course, giving everyone who comes to see us live their money's worth and then some! I was going to say something flip like "exploiting the world for our own gain" but I figured Pena had already beaten me to the punch with at least one puerile remark by this point!
BM: Judging from the reactions we have been getting from fans and press alike, I know that we're gonna have an even better year in 2003. We've already started working on the new album. 2002 has been a really great year for us so it can only get better. As PRIEST would say, we're gonna "Deliver The Goods"!
BP: That every night we perform turn into a depraved orgy of blood-soaked mayhem. Afterwards we'll go on stage and play music.
This is a relatively new band with experienced members - did that generate a "buzz" among fans and the press? Do you get contacted a lot about Vyndykator?
SR: A good amount, yes. With regard to myself, I think Alchemy X has a fairly high profile in terms of progressive fans, particularly in Europe, and obviously, Bob brings the lions share of press from his past life in Attacker and Sleepy Hollow. So between the two of us constantly spreading the gospel of both bands, we've at least tried to cross-pollinate our fans, so to speak.
BM: Again, it all stems for the fact that the longevity factor has certainly come into play. Vyndykator came from a failed attempt to revive Attacker and it has paid off in a big way. The press has been great to us and we appreciate all the exposure that we have gotten thus far. The fans, undoubtedly, have remained loyal and it shows when we perform. Michel I believe that you are witness to that fact.
BP: The only buzz I hear is when I'm too tired to please my girlfriend.
As members of the band, how would you describe your music?
SR: There are elements of so many diverse influences and genres, which I think bears some testament to the talent and writing ability of everyone. Just listening to the tracks on "Heaven Sent from Hell" I can hear traces of old school power metal, neo-classical, doom, thrash, prog, etc. etc. I can tell you that eclectic mix of sorts is something we're quite proud of.
BM: Good point. We are quite diverse in our influences but one thing is for sure our music is not true metal, it's just a cold hard fact. If one were to label us, I would say that we are, simply, a Heavy Metal band. The music I am doing with Vyndykator is heavier than anything I have ever done. The music lends itself quite well in a live setting. The reaction has been great and I couldn't be prouder.
BP: You call this noise music?? (er... Bill, could you tell your dad to keave the keyboard alone and let you answer the question? :) - Ed.)
"Heaven Sent From Hell" is due for release soon, but if I'm not mistaken it was originally set for release last year (or earlier this year)? Why the delay? You want to torture us, admit it!
SR: Mais non Michel, I think we subjected you guys to enough torture that night in Cleveland!
BM: Well I have been known to be a bit of a tease. (lol) But in all seriousness, as I mentioned earlier, there were some problems and now they're gone. So we win and the fans win as well.
BP: Our watches stopped and we lost track of time. Fortunately we put all our watches in a glass of beer and that fixed them.
What kind of feedback did you get from the "Heaven Sent From Hell" promotional sampler?
SR: I never realized the post office had that many "Return to sender" rubber stamps! In all seriousness, though, we've had nothing but positive reviews thus far, and for that we are very grateful to the various zines and press, yourself included of course!! For the uninitiated this is the shameless pandering to our host section of the interview!
BM: Fantastic feedback Michel, a lot of people are waiting for the album itself.
BP: People flung them back at us like frisbees shot out of God's slingshot.
I think the album will be released on both vinyl and CD? Same label?
SR: Actually, as I alluded to earlier, the vinyl version will be out on Outlaw Recordings in September with the CD version on Unisound Records shortly thereafter.
BM: What are you, sleeping? Mincia! Let me have what you're having I wanna get loaded too. (I seriously wonder why the hell this question is here and not closer to the label question.. damn... Note to self: No more drinking beer while writing interview questions. - Ed.)
BP: Look for the union label!
Are there any particular subjects that you discuss in your songs, some "theme" maybe? Is everyone involved in the songwriting, how do you guys go about this?
SR: "HSFH" is an homage to the great Bela Lugosi, with each of the songs pertaining to a particular Lugosi character. For instance, "Mr. Murder" references Lugosi's "Murder Legendre" character in the 1930's horror classic "White Zombie". With regard to songwriting, everyone contributes to the process, so that while a particular piece may have been started by any one of us, the collective input of all parties kind of morph it into a "Vyndykator" song.
BM: Bela is one of my Heroes. He was a great actor, a tremendous artist. I am honored that I finally had the opportunity, thanks to my boys, to pay a tribute to this great icon and thank him for the years of entertainment his films have given me and to everyone all over the world. Often imitated but never duplicated, thanks Bela!
BP: We love to sing the praises of Scrapple, headcheese, and haggis. The songwriting is very democratic, except the voting process is similar to the Florida/Bush fiasco. We all sit around, one of us will come up with an idea and another will say "That sucks!". Then another idea gets passed around and someone will say "That REALLY sucks". Yes another idea get introduced and someone says "That REALLY REALLY REALLY sucks". Whichever ideas did not earn a "really" become our songs.
Time to throw in a standard question: What are your main musical influences?
SR: Band-wise, in no particular order, Rush, Marillion, Dream Theatre, Concrete Blonde, Kansas, Slayer, The Tea Party, Age of Electric, Bach, Handel, Journey, the Beatles, Fates Warning. As far as individual musicians, I guess Geddy Lee first and foremost, although now that I think about it, I don't know of anybody else besides myself who plays right handed seven string basses upside down!
BM: Favorite Bands- The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Savatage, Exciter, Saxon, Anvil, Deep Purple, Raven, Accept, Judas Priest, Gillan. Favorite Metal Singers- Ian Gillan, Jon Oliva, Paul Di'Anno, John Gallagher, Udo Dirkshneider, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio and Tim "Ripper" Owens. Favorite Non-Metal Singers- Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, Tony Bennete and Frank Sinatra!
BP: Any band that I perceive has bad lawyers so they won't sue when I steal their riffs. Ok, real answers this time: Voivod, Rush, Slayer, Descendents, and I like to mix melodic ala Cars, Cheap Trick, with brutal ala Cryptopsy, and add some complexity ala Yes. Those songs are usually the ones that really really really really suck.
SR: Well, I suppose when we start getting forgetful and resort to telling boring old stories of bygone glory days that dissolve into gibberish, like that great show in 1988 when Trinity, Attacker and Sneak Attack did the Hudson County NJ club circuit- what a hootenanny! They were packed to the rafters they was, back then we wore onions on our lapels, um, what was the question again?
BM: No question that Dio and Lemmy are a true testimonial of greatness and yes they are an inspiration to me personally. But as for me, well, I decided that I will retire from music when I turn 40 years old, I'm 37 now. I began my career in 1983. In 2003 I will be in this thing ours 20 solid years. I feel great knowing that fans appreciate my past endeavors. Now I will leave this business with peace of mind knowing that I have done it all with a large body of work to prove it. With both Vyndykator and Alchemy X I can go out with a Bang! I also plan on doing some special things in the year of my retirement. I have a wife, three sons and they are the world to me. I want to look back at all that I have done and enjoy the proverbial "fruits of labor". Our Press Agent Hans Perlseig, is planning on writing a book based on my life but that won't be for quite some time yet.
BP: We're the Methusulahs of Metal and proud of it. I think most of the fans are older too, metal isn't picking up too many younger generation kids. Some of them eventually grow into it. I'm sure some 'the kids' will discriminate against us because we are old but that's life.
How did you guys like playing at the Classic Metal Fest in Cleveland, despite the low attendance? That Attacker song you played at the end of the set resulted in an amazingly positive reaction from the crowd (so nice to be surrounded by classic metal fans that night... *wipes tears*). Will that be a regular number in your set-list?
SR: We had a great time Michel, and what the crowd lacked in size they made up for in sheer intensity. Extremely knowledgeable and rabid fans! I must've autographed two dozen CD's, of course once they looked at my signature, the inevitable, "Hey you're not Joey Vera!" reaction was somewhat sobering. All kidding aside, "Call On" does seem to bring the house down, so to speak, so as long as people want to hear it, I think we'll keep it in the rotation.
BM: It was a very special event to say the least. The bands, the staff and the kids were just great. We were treated extremely well by all. Just like Ozzy closes with "Paranoid" and Gillan closes with "Smoke On The Water", we will always close our set with "Call On". The kids seem to still love that song and wrote that with someone who was very special to me.... Jim Mooney.
BP: It was a lot of fun, except for the oppressive heat. I saw some red dude with horns and a pitchfork complaining that it was too hot even for him. We always play "Call On" but we added a medley portion of Kick Your Face coz it was requested. We'll just probably do Call On in the future. Hey, if people want to hear it, why not?
Would you play at a 3rd edition of the CMF? (If there's a 3rd one, I'm going, and you better be there. :))
SR: If I'm not mistaken, we've already agreed to do it. But this time, we're not washing the promoter's car, ok?
BM: I just spoke to Brad Youngblood and CMF3 will be in Chicago next year. We did agree to do it but some things need to be ironed out. We'll make an official announcement soon.
BP: Certainly, it was a fun and very professionally run. It was great to be amongst metal fans and bands, we are too few and far between.
Where else have you played as Vyndykator? Any good or bad stories? ;)
SR: Let's see, Club Luxx in Brooklyn, NY, A's in Bergenfield NJ- Honestly the shows have all gone over extremely well in spite of the usual equipment troubles you encounter. All of the racier details I'll leave to Rob Oriani's unauthorized biography.
BM: So far so good and will get better as we move on.
BP: Club Luxx and A's, both clubs treated us very well and I sincerely applaud clubs that still will book metal bands, and other non-trendy rock. Bad stories: my endless string of equipment troubles. Unexplained amp failure at our first show, and I had the amp serviced 2 weeks prior - all new tubes etc. Then another show I dropped my pre-amp - the core of my sound and broke it. Sheer clumsiness. And I keep forgetting to wear pants on stage.
Are you planning on any kind of tour, or will you just stick to festivals and similar events?
SR: Festivals and the odd local event seem to be the best modality for conveying this music to a live audience. It's really a shame that there's not the market in America there used to be for any kind of challenging or thought-provoking music.
BM: That's right. Ultimately, we really want to come out to Canada and Europe. We've always had a really good following in those countries with regard to our past endeavors so I think we would do really great out there. But for now we take each show as it comes.
BP: All depends on response to the music. If there's a demand, we might do small tours but will primarily focus on festivals.
Any plans for merchandizing in the near future? I noticed you now have t-shirts available from Cafe Press. Any other things coming to vyndykate the hordes?
SR: I think you'll find a surprise or two from us in the future. I'd say more but instead I'll resort to this shameless plug: For all your Vyndykatin' needs just mosey on down to www.vyndykator.net there pardner.
BM: Merchandising is a great thing but the music has got to be the foremost thing for us to promote right now. We do have some really cool stuff over at CAFEPRESS but, again, our main focus is to make sure the MUSIC gets over first. I mean, what good is an awesome looking T-Shirt if the band is hitty. At least that's what I think. (I agree, but don't tell these things to the mainstream music scene, you'll break their heart. - Ed)
BP: I feel drawn towards the chanting hordes. Oh I'm sorry, I thought you said whores. We plan to sell bootleg Metallica and Dr. Dre CDs just to piss them off further. Plus we might do a celebrity auction on ebay for the Vyndykator Infamous Green Bucket of Hair.
Are there any newer bands that you guys are into? There hasn't been much new "traditional" heavy metal band in the past few years, although it seems to be slowly picking up.
SR: Well, quite honestly I have absolutely no use for the so- called "Nu Metal" bands. Certainly I don't begrudge them any success, but from a purely aesthetic perspective, they're just grunge bands trying to capitalize on the trend of "Puddle of Mud" types. I'm not exactly sure when or where it all went wrong, but at some point young men and women deteriorated inexorably from wanting to be Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Anne Wilson, Joan Jett, or even Prince to emulating talentless cretins whose main claim to fame is their crudity. I know that sounds harsh and horribly arrogant, but we now have an entire generation or two who equate "music" with some guy scratching a turntable or uttering guttural nonsense over some sampled soundbite. Okay, anger beginning to wane, climbing off my pedestal now.
BM: I'm a fan of Heavy Metal Music. I appreciate music that requires talent. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case with a lot of these newer bands. I applaud their efforts in being successful. But in this industry, nowadays, it's no good. The fact is, 90 percent of releases through major labels fail miserably. That's a sad thing you know and that is why, just as a point of example, The Beatles, Elvis, Ozzy and many other acts from the past are still being exploited. Because the record companies need to stay in business. Vyndyaktor and Alchemy X may have a small fan base compared to most bands, but you know what? They are our fans and they always will be. I myself have been around for twenty years and never had to answer to anyone. Nor will I allow my guys to be told what to do. The TRUEST nature of being in a Heavy Metal band is to be INDEPENDENT, capice? I really love the fact that we have these licensing deals and that we aren't imprisoned by some buciac who wants to own what we break our asses for. There's no anger here, but try taking me off my pedestal (heh,heh).
BP: Not much new, sad to say. I'm sure there's great stuff out there but due to lack of media exposure, it's hard to find. I'm always looking for new good stuff, I download a lot from mp3 share services.
I think the 'newest' band I've grown a fondness to is Cryptopsy, though they've been around for awhile. I've discovered artists that are new to me, like Vader and Judy Tzuke, but they're veterans in their fields.
Existential question: Vinyl or CD?
SR: CDs are certainly more practical and easier to work with, but there's just something about vinyl that's a tangible link to another age.
BM: I feel that to have something released on vinyl is a true testament, a high compliment for any artist. The music, the artwork is admired more so on vinyl. I don't believe that practicality is well equated with the work of an artist. Actually I have found that a lot of Vinyl albums sound better than the CD versions. I like both, but I came from the Vinyl era of our genre so I have a sentimental attachement to that format.
BP: 8 TRACK TAPES!!!!
CD wins because i'm too freakin lazy to flip the album over. Plus I love selecting the track order. And they don't deteriorate like albums do.
What I hate about CDs is the loss of the dramatic pause when you did have to flip the record. It's like an intermission in a concert. It resets the emotional mood and builds anticipation for the next act.
Plus the WORST thing about CDs is that too many bands (except us ahem) feel compelled to fit in 74 minutes of music. The average album was 9 or 10 songs, now all cd's are like 12-14. Nobody on earth is good enough to put out 14 gems, we're getting too much filler. I want quality, not quantity.
A lot of CDs today, lengthwise, would've qualified as double albums in the past.
Another loss to CD is album cover art. A square foot of creative canvas. (So, essentially, you're saying CDs suck? :) - Ed.)
We're getting close to the one year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in NYC and the Pentagon. Any thoughts on that and what has happened since then?
SR: Just a testament to what we've always known. That is, that organized religion has been used far more as a vehicle for hatred and mayhem than it ever has for tolerance and forbearance. I'd like to at least think those who created these disciplines of thought original intentions were in the right place, only they've been horribly perverted over time.
BM: It's a fuckin shame what happened, really. I don't really discuss stuff like that, but I will say this, they have puttin away the wrong people for a long time and I think the folks in this country are getting wise to that. Let's leave it at that.
BP: Like everything else in this short-attention span society, the patriotic fad came and went. It united the nation for a short time, which was great, and then we went back to all hating each other. Unfortunately it couldn't happen at a worse time, it's given way too much power to that rancid anus John Ashcroft. I thought Ed Meese was bad, this guy unchecked will be the next Stalin. It's shown the good, bad and ugly of the United States and how the world perceives us. There's a lot of hypocrisy from foreign countries as well as within our borders.
Seems to me that the US is stuck in a Catch-22. If we're isolationists and don't help anybody, then it's our fault bad things happen in the world. Then we're cold heartless bastards who don't help globally. If we do help, and happen to favor one nation over another, then we're the bad guys, we're influencing the world, we should stick our nose out other countries' business. We can't win.
Hypothetical question... One day Bob walks into the rehearsal room with spikey hair, tons of piercings, tribal tatoos, baggy pants, and says "yo homies! let's rap on this one, guitarists downtune, play with 3 chords and no solos - here, I brought 8-string guitars! yo! Da 80s be dead ya sucka! Jump da fuck up!" (his grammar suddenly starts to suck as well...) Do you:
1. Kill him
2. Hurt him. Hurt him bad.
3. Call an exorcist.
4. Jump on the bandwagon (and subsequently get crucified on my web site...)
5. Get Fred Durst. Might as well get the real thing, yo. *shudders*
6. Wonder if the aliens that kidnapped Metallica in 1988 did the same thing to Bob
SR: As inviting as options 1 and 2 might be in such an instance, we'd be too busy signing our mega-zillion dollar recording contract if he behaved like that! Zut Alors Michel, don't you know anything?
BM: Who's asking this question, BOOKER T? Sorry pallie, but I you're not gonna get me to do no "Spinaroonie". The aliens that I know can't afford a bus pass let alone a spaceship. What a crazy question. Michel have you gone balmy??
BP: Kill him, Metallica, and Fred Durst. Though I would like an 8 string guitar.
Alright, that's all I got for now - thanks for your time, and hopefully I'll catch your live show again soon! Anything else you'd like to add?
SR: Thanks again for your time Michel, great questions by the way! Not your standard fare, and I for one, speaking as group supreme egotist welcome any chance to subject people everywhere to my views! Then again, Bob loves an audience so much he does twenty minutes every time he opens the refrigerator! Where's that rimshot?
BM: (RIMSHOT)!! Here's one for you, Guy comes up to me and says, "How do you prepare for when the audience faces you"? I said "They face you"? About that book, I actually wanted to call it "Yes I Can" the Transcript was returned to me saying "No You Can't". Hey don't laugh, Oh... you weren't going to anyway? Thank you I'm here till Thursday! What? that was yesterday? Well then I must be going. Thanks Michel I had a great time and remember TO CALL ON THE METAL!!!!! The METAL CRYPT RULES!!!!!!
BP: Yes, more money to my bank account.
|Other information about Vyndykator on this site|
|Review: 3-song sampler from Heaven Sent From Hell|
|Review: Heaven Sent From Hell|
|Review: Show at Connections-Clifton, New Jersey|
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