Interview with guitarist Phil Demmel
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: May 17, 2019
Who ever saw this day coming? Bay Area Thrash veterans Vio-lence announced a couple of reunion gigs on April 13 and 14, 2019, which both sold out in just a few hours (the latter in a few minutes). Unbelievable, isn't it? These shows proved there are still many fans dying to see these Californian thrashers live, so more shows are being booked around the world.
For those people who don't know, Vio-lence today is Sean Killian on vocals, Dean Dell on bass, Perry Strickland on drums and Ray Vegas and Phil Demmel on guitars.
The Metal Crypt was fortunate to have a little chat with Phil Demmel about some Slayer stuff, the comeback shows, etc. and what the future holds. New Vio-lence songs maybe? Is it wishful thinking? Obviously, time will tell...
Luxi: So, Phil, how's life after Slayer and with good old Vio-lence these days?
Phil: Slayer was in December and in January, I got the text from Sean wanting to do Vio-lence shows. Since the beginning of the year, it's been super busy rehearsing with Vio-lence, learning the songs. I had the NAMM show in January. There was the Metal Allegiance show. There was the Randy Rhoads show. There was the Ronnie Montrose show. There was the Dimebash that I did.
What else happened that weekend? I did the Ultimate Jam Night. It was a cover song mania that whole week. And then I also did the Metal Allegiance tour in April. We were practicing for the Vio-lence shows in April. It's been super busy. I'm filling in for Nonpoint in June. More Vio-lence shows with Sacred Reich coming up here in May. Another Metal Allegiance show coming up in July [*laughs*]. It's been pretty fucking busy, man.
Luxi: Before we start talking about Vio-lence's reunion, what was the experience like taking Gary Holt's place in Slayer? As I understand it, you had to learn to play those songs quickly and you pulled them off just great!
Phil: Thank you, man! It was the best experience. I was just coming out of a not-so-great experience. Ending the Machine Head tour was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and welcomed by a text from Kerry King inviting me to come and join this legendary band on their farewell tour replacing a legend. It's an honor to be asked and considered for that. Taking Gary's place was [*laughs*] everything you would think would be, you know.
I had to learn the songs fast. I got the call on Sunday and on the Monday, I had to go pick up all my Machine Head gear because that was the end, it was divorce day. I went and picked up all my gear and then on Tuesday I was on a transatlantic flight, learning all of the Slayer songs and writing notes. It was a lot to take in. Those songs aren't easy, as I'm sure you know.
Luxi: You saw Slayer for the first time back in 1983, which also was one of their first shows up in the Bay Area. Obviously, Slayer's importance to your musical career is greater than many might think, right?
Phil: Yes. I saw them the first time in Northern California in the Bay Area opening for a band called Lääz Rockit. I don't usually smoke, but I was smoking some hash with my then girlfriend and sat along the back wall in the Keystone Berkeley and watched as the theme from Halloween started playing and these guys in their get-ups walk by and play "Evil Has No Boundaries". I couldn't believe how fast they were playing, I was like, "Fuck it! Am I that stoned or are these guys that fast?" Loved it. I was brought up in a pretty Christian home, but these guys singing about the Antichrist and all this other stuff was pretty awesome. The power of the music was amazing. When I was playing with them, one of the shows fell on the 35th anniversary of Show No Mercy coming out. Getting to play "Black Magic" on the anniversary of that album coming out, going back 35 years and thinking someday I'd be playing in that band is just unfathomable.
Luxi: As far as Vio-lence is concerned, you just played a couple of shows this past April, one on the 13th and the second on the 14th. There also was some talk about filming the gigs for a future DVD release. What made these shows more special was the fact you played the band's debut album Eternal Nightmare in full, an album many thrash bangers consider one of the finest Thrash Metal albums ever released. Have you played this legendary album from start to finish before?
Phil: Yes, we played two shows: Saturday, April 13th and Palm Sunday, April 14th. We called that the Palm Sunday Massacre. The first show was amazing. Both shows were sold out. The first one in hours, the second one in minutes and all the merch just flew off the shelves. It was like Ruthie's Inn 1986. It was insane. This was the anti-production show. We had half stacks and just jeans and t-shirts and shorts. It was just comfort level 100%, no barricade, basic lights. The crew worked for free. We used the house sound guy. They had that Ruthie's Inn feel. The energy was just amazing. It was so cool that all these people were coming out and feeling these songs that we hadn't played in so long. I don't think that we've ever played Eternal Nightmare start to finish. I think we played all the songs in a set one time but never start to finish like that.
It was fun from that standpoint. I don't know if you're going to ask this coming up but, with the second night, we had Mark Hernandez (Torque, R.I.P.) with us. He replaced Perry in Vio-lence. He came up and played a couple of songs that we wrote. Gary Holt came up on Sunday and played "A Lesson in Vio-lence" with us. It was pretty fucking rad.
Luxi: I am sure you had no problems playing the Eternal material live after all these years, as those songs have obviously become a part of your DNA over the years. As those dates were getting closer, were you getting more nervous, wondering, "what if something goes wrong, one of us gets sick, one of us doesn't remember how to play "Bodies on Bodies" correctly, etc." Many things can go wrong and we can only wish for the best...
Phil: [*laughs*] Yes, there was just a matter of people finding the time for rehearsal. Everybody is putting in hard work on their own.
Perry was pretty nervous at first and so was Dean. I think Ray was pretty confident because he had worked hard. Sean was super confident and he was honestly the guy that I was worried about the most with his health and being on stage and he's still looking off the lyric sheets, he is still kind of cheating up and until a week or two before so that's where my concern was. I put in considerable time playing because I wanted to play these songs well. I wanted to play them the way that they were meant to be played and I think I did that. I personally think that these were the best Vio-lence shows that I've ever played musically.
Luxi: As you said, both shows sold out in a few hours so it's hard not ask if you have planned more shows? Would a summer festival tour be completely out of question this or next year?
Phil: The thing is that everybody in the band has a job and kids. There are responsibilities that won't allow us to do an extended tour. We're talking about maybe doing Australia for a week and that would mean everybody taking their vacation that week. It'd be a once a year type of deal, so everything we're going to be doing is going to be limited to the weekends, for the most part. We do have shows coming up. What are we doing? We're playing in Belgium at the Alcatraz festival in August. We've got two shows booked in New York. We're playing LA and Phoenix for Sacred Reich. We're playing the Full Terror Assault festival in Illinois in September. We're playing the Psycho Las Vegas festival in Vegas. I was just confirming a Mexico City show.
Yeah, we've got a lot of one-offs coming up, so not a festival tour, but we'll definitely be doing some festivals.
Luxi: Do you think if any of your forthcoming shows be streamed live so that all the Vio-fans worldwide have a chance to see one of them as it happens? That would be a cool idea, in my opinion...
Phil: People were talking about us filming the Metro shows, but I didn't want to do that. We just want you to be there and experience it. You can't stop people from filming. I guess you could try with the phones so we're not gonna do that, but we want people to come in and feel the vibe and catch it from there so no live-streaming.
Luxi: It was announced earlier that the lineup for these reunion shows doesn't have Robb Flynn Ray Vegas replacing him on guitar. Do you feel like this is the only reasonable lineup to pull off the forthcoming Vio-shows in terms of chemistry between the band members is concerned?
Phil: Rob was never an option after coming back together. Ray was the option. We are going all original except for Rob. Rob left the band. Ray's actually put in just about as much time in Vio-lence that Rob has. Yes. Everybody in the band agrees that Ray is the guitar player and that Rob will not be the guitar player in this band.
Luxi: When you first gathered the 2019 lineup together, did you feel the connection was already there, that this is the lineup that you'd like to play those shows with?
Phil: Yes, when we first got together, that's exactly how we felt. We thought that this is the lineup we want to play shows with. There have been concerns in the past about people being able to do this that were expressed but everybody has made the effort and is doing awesome, so there's no question. Even when we first gathered, we knew this was the five that we want to make work.
Luxi: All of you are in your fifties now so does playing live with this lineup and seeing all those fans, both older and newer, encourage you to carry on playing with the band. Would new Vio-songs be worth considering?
Phil: We're going to do shows. Are we going to write? I don't know. I don't know if I'm considering it right now. There is interest in doing them. I don't know if I have a slew of Vio-lence songs or if it's something I want to write right now. Stand by on that as we have only played two shows. Let's get through a couple more shows and see how we're doing.
Luxi: There's always been a demand for Vio-lence merchandise. Will you be launching new Vio-merchandise in the coming weeks/months so this new generation of Vio-fans can get their hands on some?
Phil: Yes, that is going to happen. We've been bootlegged to death because we've been totally nonexistent with no presence. We are in the process of agreeing to a deal to get a webstore launched and have international shipping and get it all out to everybody who wants it. That will be happening very soon.
Luxi: Do you still remember the show you did at Ruthie's Inn in Berkeley, on June 7, 1986? You shared the stage with Annihilation, Tyrannicide and Adolescent Revolt. Was it a special show that has stuck with you?
Phil: Well, I do remember that this was a show that, I think, Annihilation... Hmm, was it Tyrannicide or was it Forbidden Evil?
You probably have the flyer, but I thought Forbidden Evil played, but Annihilation had set up. There weren't a lot of people there. We weren't quite a headliner then and I don't think Annihilation really was either. It was just a night that we had to book our own show. I remember we all wore trench coats, haha! Was Sean in the band? I don't think Sean was in the band yet. 86? Maybe... We had trench coats. June 7, 1986. There was a show where we all had trench coats and we came out with trench coats on. I'm not sure.
Luxi: Whose idea was it to start writing the band's name with hyphen and is there a cool story behind it?
Phil: There's not really a cool story other than I think Sean was tired of everybody. Everybody's logo looked like Metallica's with the two little tails on each end. He wanted something that was going to fill up a flyer more.
Sean is not the most grammatically correct dude in the world but he didn't care, haha! The hyphen doesn't make much sense, but it doesn't have to. We had Sean commission this girl to create the logo with the brick and it was pretty rad. It was just something we went with.
Luxi: Thank you, Phil, for your time and answering my questions. Wishing you all the best with Vio-lence. Take it easy!
Phil: Thank you.
|Other information about Vio-lence on this site|
|Review: Eternal Nightmare|
|Review: Eternal Nightmare|
Copyright © 1999-2019, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.