Interview with vocalist and bassist John Chernack
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 4, 2014
New Jersey's Fantom Warior started out as Phantom Lord (1983-85) as basically a cover band but soon switched to originals and a new name. The New Jersey thrashers debut 5-track demo, Morbid Invasion, became one of the most circulated demos in the Metal underground back in the day (thanks to the very active tape trading scene) and brought them a lot of popularity and opportunities to play live.
In 1987 Fantom Warior's debut album, Fantasy or Reality, was released on Token Records, a label that was put together by their guitarist's cousin. The response was again overwhelming, though it did not have the desirable effect of keeping the band alive and Fantom Warior disbanded in 1989.
Who would have guessed that in 2011-2012 these American thrashers would decide to resurrect Fantom Warior, even if there were no plans to actually reform the band? The Metal Crypt asked founding member John Chernack (vocals/guitars) to tell us more about that decision and anything else he'd like to share about past and current events surrounding this fine American Thrash Metal act.
Luxi: How is it going John? Feeling good and ready to start your day?
John: The day is going well Luxi. We've got many new and exciting developments going on with Fantom Warior.
Luxi: First off, let's concentrate on the history of Fantom Warior. Could you tell the readers of The Metal Crypt what things put an end to Fantom Warior some 25 years ago?
John: After a strong four year run as a band, I think our heads just started to go in different directions. Also, I began to prioritize partying over rehearsal, which is almost always a death wish for any band.
Luxi: Fantom Warior started out as Phantom Lord in 1983 and at that time you were a Heavy Metal cover band. Did you basically play songs from the most commonly known bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath or did you have some unusual and not-so-common songs in your setlist?
John: We were very young when we began so our first goal was to play anything we could actually play. We started with simple songs, such as "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All Night," and then slowly progressed into AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, Overkill, Metallica, Slayer, etc.
Luxi: Did you get any gigs for Phantom Lord in clubs or did you usually invade things like high-school parties?
John: Phantom Lord's first few gigs were at the Rec Center, The Union Elks and The Masonic Lodge. All of these venues were in our hometown. They were great gigs and many of our friends were there to support!
Luxi: When Fantom Warior's 5-track demo, Morbid Invasion, was released in 1986 it brought a lot of attention to the band from every corner of the world, thanks to the active tape-trading scene. Did you feel at that time, when you were just in your twenties, that you had achieved something truly remarkable with that demo?
John: We were excited when we began to interact with other Metal fans around the world. It was truly a great experience. Even though we received a tremendous response to the demo, I don't think I ever really understood how well it was received because I had nothing to compare to. It was only after the advent of the Internet that I discovered how popular and loved the demo has been by fans from all over the world.
Luxi: Did you get better opportunities to play live because of the Morbid Invasion demo?
John: We began branching out to other towns but I am not sure if this was a result of the demo or just us putting in the calls to set up the gigs. I was very much involved with writing the music and lyrics but I didn't set up the gigs. I can confidently say that our live show had a strong impression on those who came to see us back then and I am sure that played a huge part in clubs wanting to book us.
Luxi: What kind of status did Fantom Warior have as part your local Metal scene in the 80s? Were you friends with Overkill, Whiplash, Insaniac, Blood Feast, Blessed Death and the many other killer local bands that were from your area?
John: I used to go to Rock 'n' Roll Heaven, the store run by Megaforce Records owners Jon and Marsha Zazula. It was like the capital of the underground Thrash scene back then. I picked up the Blessed Death vinyl and the Whiplash's Power and Pain cassette. We played gigs with our friends Insaniac, who were also based out of Union, NJ, and members of Blood Feast came to one of our shows at the Blue Ribbon Inn in Hillside, NJ. I've recently had an opportunity to meet the guys from Blood Feast and get to know them a little better. CJ Scioscia from Insaniac, who played with us for a little while, is now playing with them. It is very common for underground Thrash bands to share members. Tomorrow I am going to see the boys in Overkill in Sayerville, NJ. Things are the very much the same in 2014 as they were in 1986.
Luxi: Were there any real "cock fights" between local bands over who was going to the king of the hill in this or that territory or anything like that?
John: Ha ha ha ha...!!! We were so young and we were very egocentric so our main focus was on Fantom Warior and how we could be the best band possible. We rarely thought about other bands in the area and didn't have time to initiate drama. However, like any band, if we were on the same bill as another local group we would do our best to make sure we were a little better than they were. What we lacked in musicianship we made up for with our energy and creativity.
Luxi: It must have felt good to see the Morbid Invasion demo covered in such high quality magazines as the UK's Metal Forces and Denmark's Blackthorn back in the day, with both magazines giving pretty darn flattering reviews...
John: We were given high reviews by every magazine, as I remember. We were happy to see that so many people enjoyed what we had created. The magazines were great because they enable us to reach more Metal fans! Now that we are back as a band our true fans have an opportunity to see us whereas in the past they may not have. We have been getting a lot of respect from true Metal fans. We have been called the best reunited underground Thrash Metal band to come back onto the scene. We give 100% when we play live and the fans know it and respect it.
Luxi: As things progressed, soon the Fantom Warior camp was getting ready to enter the studio to record the band's debut album, Fantasy or Reality, which was released in 1987. What memories do you have from the sessions at Merlin Recording Studios?
John: It was an experience that was different from the demo. On the demo we did it live, as I remember, whereas on the album everything was tracked separately. It was done much more professionally.
Luxi: Why did you end up releasing Fantasy or Reality on your own label Token Records instead of shopping it around to the labels of the day? Did this have anything to do with how young you all were at that time and maybe not really knowing how the music business worked?
John: We played music because we liked to play music. We never gave a shit about getting signed to a label or making money back then. Keith, my guitarist, had a cousin that created the label. He is now working for a major label. We kept it in the family and have no regrets. The important thing for us as a band is to create the music we choose. It's important to maintain one's own creativity, which can be difficult when signed to a major label because he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Luxi: When Fantasy or Reality came out it was also very well received among underground Metal fans, just like the band's demo. Fantom Warior had taken an important step and was no longer just a "demo" band. With an actual album out did you see Fantom Warior gaining even more acceptance from the underground Metal?
John: We were blessed. We received nothing but full support from all that we came in contact with except shady club owners and promoters that often didn't fulfill their promises. That wasn't much of a major issue.
Luxi: Even though Fantasy or Reality was released on a small label that obviously had quite limited resources, I was very surprised to find it here in Finland back in the day. Do you find it surprising that the album was available for purchase all the way in northern Europe?
John: I know we sent our album to many parts of the world but it still blows my mind to think that it was sitting in a record store in Finland. I would love to hear the story behind that! (The owner of this record store had very good connections back then –Luxi.)
Luxi: Having an album out must have made it easier for you guys to get gigs. Was that the case?
John: We found that word was traveling fast and more and more people were coming to our gigs. I am certain the demo and album had much to do with this. These, coupled with our live show and the spreading of the word done by our true fans, made for many a great gig.
Luxi: Despite Fantom Warior's popularity 25 years ago the story ended way too soon and you disbanded in 1989. I am sure there were many reasons but could you tell us what eventually killed Fantom Warior?
John: As I previously mentioned, partying became a priority, as did other life events. We wanted to try different things and, to be honest with you, disbanding was how it was meant to be, therefore there are no regrets. The great thing is we are back together and actually much better than we were then.
Luxi: Sometime around 2011-2012 you decided to resurrect Fantom Warior. Do you think the time was right because of the Thrash Metal revival going on these days with new and young Thrash Metal bands popping up everywhere like mushrooms after the rain?
John: We had no intention on getting back together. Our ex part-time singer from the early days of Fantom Warior Jason Raeph Glicken, our friend Paul Delaney and my nephew Howard Hubbard kept asking us to get back together. Finally, we decided to give it a shot. We hadn't seen each other in years. However, when we got back together it was just like the early days when we got along very well and there were no sabotaging behaviors getting in the way of scheduling more practices. We have been moving forward as a unit ever since and have no intention of stopping. We are enjoying playing music as a band again and truly enjoy each other's company.
Luxi: When you decided to reform Fantom Warior would you say the chemistry is the same as you had in the old days only this time it is more mature and grown-up?
John: Well said Luxi. We are more mature now and our chemistry is perfect. Keith, Jaime and I have always been the core of Fantom Warior and have been friends since elementary school. That lifelong bond is part of what makes Fantom Warior a force to be reckoned with. We work well together.
Luxi: Is it safe to assume you had already a bunch of new songs written and ready for your second album when you broke up in 1989? Do you have plans for this unreleased Fantom Warior material?
John: No, not at all. When we decided to get back together, the goal was to remaster the old material and repackage it for those who have been unable to find our demo or vinyl. We had one song that was unreleased called "Prepare for Battle," which was going to go on the CD. I decided we should create an extra new song to give our fans something special. Then I was like "let's do a few new songs" and then I said "Let's do a whole album with all new material!" This is where we are today. We have five songs finished and we will be finishing up our new album, Titans of War, in the next few months.
Luxi: How would you say your new material compares to the band's old material? Does it have the same vibe and feeling of the old days?
John: We have stayed true to our roots. Our music is still Thrash Metal reinforced with heaviness like no other. I think our new music is just as good, if not better, than our old stuff. The new album is going to be killer!
Luxi: Since the reformation of Fantom Warior you have played a bunch of gigs and met both fans of the band who have been there for you since the day one plus new fans who weren't even born when Fantom Warior was originally formed. Do you find it flattering that both old and new generations of Metalheads still know who Fantom Warior are, no small thanks to social media these days...
John: We are extremely proud and honored that so many of the younger generation, for whom 80's Thrash Metal is their music of choice, love Fantom Warior. We have met so many cool kids and it is great seeing our old fans from the 80's at the shows. It is truly a great experience thrashing with all of them at our shows and talking to everybody afterward.
Luxi: When you were kids you were obviously influenced by many different things that helped channel your energies into Fantom Warior. How have those influences changed over the years? Do you get your musical kicks from other things these days or is it still albums like Kill 'em All, Show No Mercy, Spreading the Disease, Endless Pain, Welcome to Hell and other classics that keep the inner fire burning?
John: Those albums, and many more, were the lifeblood of my listening pleasure back then and still are to this day. I also listen to many types of music from different artists from different time periods. Influence and creativity come from my life experiences as well as all of the music I listen to.
Luxi: When can we expect you guys to enter studio again to record your next album?
John: We will be back in the studio at the end of October/early November to start recording our new album.
Luxi: Besides working on new material I assume you are trying to play live whenever a good opportunity comes your way. Will you be engaging a booking agent to allow you guys to concentrate on new music?
John: We don't book any of our shows. Promoters offer us gigs and we decide whether or not we want to play the gig. We have been very fortunate in that way. It gives us plenty of time to focus on our music.
Luxi: What sets Fantom Warior apart from other Thrash Metal bands these days, from your point of view?
John: Our sound is unique and we do our own thing. We don't care what others think about us. We are true to ourselves and to our music.
Luxi: One last question; now that Fantom Warior has officially made a comeback, what can people expect from you in 2014-2015?
John: People can expect one of the best Thrash Metal albums of 2015.
Luxi: I want to thank you John, on behalf of The Metal Crypt, for doing this interview and wish you and Fantom Warior all the best in the future. May your road be full of rewards. Any last comments?
John: Many thanks to you and the fans in Finland as well Luxi! We appreciate your support and remind you as TRUE TITANS OF WAR TO TAKE NO PRISONERS!!!!
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