Interview with guitarist Ken McGee
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 15, 2015
In the eighties, during the golden era of Heavy Metal, the underground was fertile soil for the rise of a whole new generation of Metal acts. Both America and Europe produced a great number of Metal acts like Liege Lord, Omen, Running Wild, Helstar, Warlord, Grave Digger and many others.
Ruthless started out in Los Angeles, CA in 1982 and many still remember their 1984 Metal Without Mercy EP as well as the Discipline of Steel debut that was released in 1986. Ruthless was working on their second album, due to be released in 1989, but sadly the band broke up before it was finished. The band was asked to perform at the Keep It True Festival in Germany in 2009 and that led to a series of concerts worldwide. Ruthless returned to the limelight almost by accident.
One of the original members of this Los Angeles based Heavy/Power Metal band, guitarist Ken McGee, took some time to tell us about Ruthless' return and revealed some of the funniest moments from the band's early career. Read on...
Luxi: How's life in Los Angeles, California in 2015? How was your New Year's Eve? Partying with friends or staying with the family and changing diapers for the little ones in your family?
Ken: Life in California in 2015 is great! Kids are grown, for me anyway. New Years was quiet but the new for Ruthless is looking good!
Luxi: One of the better pieces of new for 2015 was that Pure Steel Records would be releasing a new album from LA Metal legends Ruthless at the end of January titled They Rise. How thrilling was this news for you?
Ken: This new album is very exciting for us! I can't believe Ruthless is back. This was not planned; it just happened. That's what makes it even more exciting!
Luxi: How did you end up signing a deal with Pure Steel Records? Did you send out a demo containing new Ruthless material and that did the trick?
Ken: Our manager Sean sent our recording to Pure Steel Records. They responded quickly and wanted to sign us. They were the only record label that we sent our new music to. We decided that we wanted to act quickly and get things rolling. This was our chance to get new Ruthless music out again. Pure Steel has done a great job so far. We are very pleased!
Luxi: What kind of deal do you have with the label and how many albums is it for?
Ken: We are going to do two more albums with Pure Steel Records. We are already in the new writing phase.
Luxi: There will be nine new songs on They Rise. Are you pleased with the musical direction that you took or would you say that you stuck to your old, well-known style, which will remind people of the kick-ass band that once recorded Metal Without Mercy back in 1984? No need to fix something that isn't broken...
Ken: We are pleased with the new album! We just write what we write. It just comes out naturally. We don't try to be any one but us! We have some good chemistry. I think we left off where we ended; loving the writing process. It just happens.
Luxi: Was it an easy process to get all nine songs together for They Rise? Did you face any major obstacles before you booked the studio time and got them recorded? I would think sometimes writing songs can be a true pain in-the-butt thing and there are millions of things that can drive you to frustration.
Ken: We wrote the nine songs in six months and had them down. We called producer/engineer Bill Metoyer and played a live recording of the songs we wanted to record. He listened and said, "Yes! Let's do this." Six weeks later we were in the studio recording. It took us six weeks to record the new songs. It went really smoothly. We were tight and ready.
Luxi: How did you share the songwriting process for They Rise? Did everyone try to bring an equal share vs. just one or two individuals?
Ken: I started playing some guitar riffs and everyone else started throwing in ideas. This was a group effort. Sammy wrote most of the lyrics. The rest of us helped arrange the songs. So yeah, it was definitely a group effort!
Luxi: Do you feel you have the right chemistry within Ruthless to the point that if one of you leaves the whole band would fall apart?
Ken: The chemistry is the strongest yet! We all have great ideas. I hope this line-up stays together. I don't think anyone is replaceable.
Luxi: Are there some specific songs on the forthcoming record that you extremely pleased with, for one reason or another?
Ken: The opening song "Defender" is a favorite! Killer guitars, drums and vocals! "Laceration", the second song opens with slow guitar picking then there is a killer double harmony guitar riff and totally killer vocals! "Time Waits" is our slower song; very emotional! I love the vocals that Sammy laid down. Also "Hangman" is an awesome song! It is fast paced with a slower chorus and is very powerful!
Luxi: You were working with Bill Metoyer at the production helm. What made you choose Bill to produce the album and do you believe you made the right choice now that you have heard the final product?
Ken: The first person we thought of to engineer/produce was Bill Metoyer. He did our Metal Without Mercy EP. We liked what Bill had done back then. We are very pleased with the outcome. We definitely made the right choice with Bill Metoyer, no doubts!
Luxi: What can you tell us about the cover artwork on They Rise? Was it is something one of you had in mind or did you simply hand over some sort of sketch or idea to the artist who took care of the rest? How satisfied are you the final album cover?
Ken: Our first release of Metal Without Mercy, on Iron Works Records, had a reaper-looking guy on the cover. We decided to have that kind of a cover again to re-introduce Ruthless in 2015. It's our version of Iron Maiden's Eddie. We love the new cover and it was hand-sketched by an artist in Italy named Dimitar Nikolov.
Luxi: Ruthless is mainly remembered for the Metal Without Mercy EP that was released back in 1984. Without perfect chemistry in a band coming up with such a high quality product is nearly impossible. Why do you think metal fans from all over the world still rank it so highly as part of their collections? The EP does have an unexplainable, strong aura that makes metal fans to return to it again and again...
Ken: I feel that the Metal Without Mercy EP is just good old school Metal! It sounds powerful but we did not know that it would last over the last thirty years. It's great that it is still relevant today. With the EP being the bonus tracks on the new record I hope we can reach even more metalheads around the world.
Luxi: The Discipline of Steel album was released two years after the EP, in 1986. How pleased are you with that record today? Do you believe it represented Ruthless the way you hoped?
Ken: I was not a big fan of Discipline of Steel. I only like a few songs on it. That was when we changed our drummer and guitarist. The new guys that came in and we gave them a lot of open writing. I don't think it was the right move but the album sold pretty damn well!
Luxi: What makes Ruthless sound like Ruthless, in your own words?
Ken: Sammy and I have a great writing chemistry and that makes Ruthless sound like Ruthless. It's a natural thing that just happens.
Luxi: Do you believe that without your successful performance at the Keep It True festival in Germany in 2009 there may not be a Ruthless these days?
Ken: If it weren't for Oliver at the Keep It True Festival, Ruthless probably never would have reformed. Thanks Oliver!!
Luxi: Do you believe that Europe has always been more accepting of Ruthless than your own country and why do you think it has been so?
Ken: Europe is definitely more of a Metal atmosphere. In the USA it had died off for a while but it's been coming back in recent years, which is great of course!
Luxi: A music video is always an important part of promotion. Do you have any plans to shoot one for one of the songs off They Rise?
Ken: We do not have any plans for a video at this time. We would like to do one, maybe soon.
Luxi: How about promoting the new album with live gigs? Do have plans to go out and do some festival appearances during 2015?
Ken: We are going back to Germany in July of 2015 at the Headbanger's Open Air festival. We hope to get more dates in Europe after the CD drops. There are lots going on right now. We are in development mode.
Luxi: Remembering the whole history, and especially the very beginning, of Ruthless what would be your funniest and most hilarious memories? I am sure you have a few stories to share with all the Ruthless fans around the globe ;o)
Ken: I think the funniest moment must be when we were opening for Stryper. The members of Poison were there and asked if they could open up for us. We said "what? NO!!!" And when we opened for Slayer our road crew walked off with their guitars accidentally. They got 'em back though... (*laughs*)
Luxi: I think that is at this time. I want to sincerely thank you for taking some of your precious time with my questions. I also wish you all the best with your future endeavors with Ruthless. May the force be with you or something. Any closing comments/curses perhaps?
Ken: We are totally happy that we are back with new music and hope to take this band to the next level... thanks!!
|Other information about Ruthless on this site|
|Review: They Rise|
|Review: They Rise|
Copyright © 1999-2016, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.