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Steve Gaines

Interview with Steve Gaines

Interview conducted by Sargon the Terrible

Date online: October 3, 2004

Steve Gaines needs no introduction, or at least he shouldn't. He was in Abattoir and Bloodlust back in the heyday of thrash, and here he is 20 years later and the guy just won't quit. He's got more bands at once than most people have in a lifetime, and he still put out a killer of a solo record just recently. With a guy who has been to Hell and back and then back to Hell again, a guy who has been metal for a quarter of a century, I knew this was going to be good. So I'll shut up, you read.

Sargon: Feel free to give answers as long as you want, as we have no space restrictions, and the longer and more detailed your answers, the more fun this will be to read.

Steve: Okay, Sargon. You asked for it now. I have a tendency to be long-winded, or in this case, long-typed. Let's get it on.

Sargon: You started out in Bloodlust, then joined Abattoir way back in the mid-80's, now you're busy again with Pagan War Machine, Dreams Of Damnation, and your solo record, what did you do in the Dark Ages in between?

Steve: Following my departure from Bloodlust in 1988, I started working on Tactics – a band that I started in 1986 between Abattoir, and my second stint in Bloodlust. We were together until about spring of '99. We did 1 album, a whole bunch of demos, and played all over the States with some pretty good bands. But we all know what happened in the '90s to metal. We kept at it, but the band ran its course. The drummer now plays with Agent Steel, and one guitarist is with Society 1. My biggest regret was not marketing this band more actively to the European metal market. Totally my fault, as it probably would have gone over big in Germany.

Sargon: Right now you've got no fewer than three projects going (that I know of), why so many? All your works are pretty much in the thrash vein, so why all the different monikers?

Steve: I learned an important life lesson about 5 years ago. My Mom died of cancer, and the last day I spent with her she said something that will stick with me for the rest of my life – "I wasted so much time. There was so much that I wanted to do, but I never did it because I was doing other things that I thought were more important". And my Dad said " And for what? For this?"

I have been playing metal almost my entire life, and I realized at that point that there will come a day in my life when I am going to look back, probably on my deathbed, and ask myself " did I do it all?" I really started to go for it then. At that time the Abattoir reunion was just starting, and I jumped in. When other opportunities arose, I jumped on them. I am not randomly grasping at straws here, but having the opportunity to play with as many people as possible..

The fact that all of them have a similar thread probably says as much for my influence on others as it does for those who influence me. If you stand back and look at it – from a recording standpoint I have done the equivalency of an album per year since 2001 – the unfortunate thing for me is that they have been with different bands. Here in '04 it's my solo CD – next year I will do another one, along with the possibility of doing some recording with Bloodlust – more on that in coming questions.

At the end of the day, I just want to play - I don't care if I sing, play bass, guitar, percussion, or even stand behind a curtain and play keys. I can either write all of the songs, or none of them – I don't care. The only thing that matters is that I have to believe in the music. I will do it with whichever body of people wants to work. When one band decides it's more important to get stoned and watch football than play, I move on. When another member decides to shut a band down to prove that they are the most important, fine. I have other things to do. Call me when you are ready, and I'll show up. But I will continue to work on this music – not because I want to be a rock star. That's a pipe dream. But rather because I cannot turn the switch off for the engine inside me that writes music. It is like a disease – if I ever quit, I may as well drop dead. Metal is my life, and I don't want to be held captive to one band – if I could, I would do this every day. I am a lifer.

Sargon: As someone who has witnessed the rise and fall and rebirth of the metal scene from the inside, what do you think of the modern resurgence of metal? Are things as good as they were then? Or is there something special about the 80's scene that will never be matched?

Steve: It can be equated to one important fact – the new fans are the children of the 80's Metal heads. And the 80's Metal heads are turning out for shows with their kids. It is amazing to me to play a show, and someone shows up who I have not seen in 15-20 years. They inevitably introduce their kids, and the kids say "I grew up with your music". That's an awesome feeling. The fact is that it is the same bloodline – how cool is that? They spent most of the 90's raising their kids, and now that they are of age, they come to the shows. Wow. In some ways things are better – because I don't see any posers there anymore. Anyone who is there now is there because they love metal – there is a scene, but it is not the all-encompassing fashion show that it was then. Now it is only the music. There are some great new bands, and they feather in nicely with the stalwarts from back in the day. But what can never be created is that feeling of when it was all new. A lot of history has been played out, and the fortunate – or unfortunate – thing is that there are guidelines to follow. Only in few circumstances will there be a band or artist who will re-write the rules. There are possibly a few in existence now – time will tell if they are visionary or not.

Sargon: What motivated you to do a solo album? Surely it must have been a lot of work to put it all together yourself. Are you aiming for a record deal or was it just for your own satisfaction?

Steve: On one hand it was a lot of work. On the other, it was a breeze. Let's get into the motivation factor. As you may know, Abattoir has been working on an album since … forever. We started recording it 4 different times – each time a session was discarded for what I believe were stupid reasons. But when you work in a democracy, you tend to stay quiet about certain issues for the good of the whole. So, anyway, after about 2.5 years, the recording part of the album was complete (my tracks having been completed about 14 months prior). We had a rough mix, but our drummer (who ended up doing the recording the 4th time) had a computer snafu in which all of the tracks were lost – GONE.

At the same time, while Abattoir was in the studio, I got bored, and was hanging around with Dreams Of Damnation, when Jim Durkin showed me some other songs that were "too melodic" for DOD. So suddenly I was recording with him, doing bass and vocals. And it came together very quickly – this became the 4 songs PWM demo. It was a great feeling – finally I found a person as motivated and driven as I was. One day at a rehearsal, I sat in with DOD as a guitarist, and they asked me to join.

Long story short, here in early 2004, DOD starts recording, and again the issues of democracy and the good of the band came to head again. As a result, the process was very tedious – and my input to this project was minimal. The label (if you can even call them that) really fucked up the project, and everything ground to a halt. So, 2 recordings within a 9-month period that I was involved with were just a mess. But, DOD soldiered on, until the first week of June when an 'event' happened within the band that changed everything. Since it doesn't directly affect me, it is not my place to air dirty laundry. But everything that I had worked for (and put other priorities aside) was suddenly secondary to everyone involved. Also, there were other events in my life away from music that happened – some of them pretty shitty, involving family, friends, people who stab you in the back, and people who make you the scapegoat.

So, all of this hit at about the exact same time. And while I am usually an angry person, I was just seething with rage, and all of this music just exploded out of me. I had plenty of songs already, but the majority of this CD was written the last 2 weeks of June, and I started recording the second week of July. The theme, and the title "Anger As Art" were just perfect – it was almost as though the gods of metal reached down and said "Go forth, O ye of righteous anger" (hee hee). And there it was. It is almost a concept album, and I didn't intend for it to be – but the theme was evident. I really just wanted to complete something without somebody else fucking it up. That was my motivation.

Now, the process – it was the most satisfying thing I had ever done. I have spent so many years keeping my input on the back burner so as not to offend anyone. But there are things that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt – for example guitar tone. There was no way I was going to create a mud pie by layering 5 or 6 guitar tracks – there are only 2 here. Left and right. And the secret is what I learned from being a Judas Priest fan for so long – never have both guitars play the exact same thing. Otherwise why have 2 guitarists? Bass? Never have the bassist play the exact same thing as the rhythm guitar. Hold down a low end, create a floor for the music to stand on. (This is what I did with Pagan War Machine, and dare I say it is why the rhythm guitars stand out so much.) When you do this, the guitars are on top, drums are on the bottom, and PRESTO – a giant sound with only 2 guitar tracks and one bass track. Vocals? Every studio project over the past couple of years, the recorder has insisted on having me double track everything. That's great if you're Ozzy, but if your voice has character, it is lost when doubled. Inflection and diction are everything, and your presentation should be evident. Yes, it is important to hit all of the right notes, but the attitude and presentation is more important. So, on the vocals, I did single tracks of everything and just let the anger course through my veins.

Now, my original plan was to have an all-star list of lead guitarists come in and do solos. But when I started to talk to players, I started getting attitude. Things like "Well, I should come in a and do rhythm tracks, and maybe I can change things." Sorry, this was not a band situation this time. It was my vision, and I wanted to see it through. I talked with my producer Chris Trent, and we came to the conclusion that I should do the solos. Now you gotta understand that I am not a lead guitar player, or at least I wasn't. Until this. It was a crash course in Gary Moore study, I'm telling you. But I also have a theory about guitar solos – they are as important as the melody. They have to say something, and it should be meaningful. Nothing is as annoying as a guitarist who literally is all over the map. So, I was able to test all of my theories, and to my ears they all proved right. It was a source of vindication.

Also, I have been told many times that I either cannot write songs, or my songs are not good enough for the bands I am in. Or someone will take your vision, change it all around, fuck it all up, and then blame you for the results. Not this time. So many times, it is the result of an insecure person who feels threatened by another writer in the band. They want the spotlight all to themselves. That is not me, I swear. I didn't want to be a solo artist. It would be much more gratifying to be able to do this within the confines of a band – your gang of rebels taking on the world. But when others don't see it that way, what are you going to do? I cannot put a stop on my creativity, so I had to go this route.

And by throwing it out there, the public is telling me what they think. On the liner notes, it says 'no backing band, no safety net, no one else to blame'. I really wanted to lay myself and reputation on the line, without dragging anyone else down. And do you know what? People are responding so favorably to it. Wow, isn't that amazing?

In all seriousness, I don't care if it gets me a deal or not. My only motivation is to get it into the hands of as many as possible. If you are a thrash metal fan, I hope it will be the disc you pop into your player on the way home from work after dealing with assholes, idiots, and morons all day. It is therapy, a catharsis of sorts (keep in mind that I lived and work in L.A., so I see examples of all 3 every day).

Sargon: What do you think about the resurgence of thrash as a distinct form in recent years? Bands like Intruder, Agent Steel, Exodus and others have been re-issueing old albums and recording new ones, do any of them still have what it takes?

Steve: I think it is great – this is the soundtrack of my soul. Keep in mind that the re-issues wouldn't be there unless there was demand. I am not too familiar with Intruder, but Agent Steel have never sounded better. And Exodus? I thought TOTD was the best album since Bonded By Blood from them. Zetro did an amazing job. I am sorry to see him step down from the band, but for where he is in life it is totally understandable. He did 'the right thing' for him, and I can only imagine how he labored over the decision to step down.

Sargon: What makes you love thrash more than other forms of metal? What do you think of more modern forms like Black Metal, Power Metal, and the so-called 'Gothenburg' sound?

Steve: There is something about the looseness, and tightness of it that I cannot put my finger on. It is somewhere between Punk Rock and Progressive. But at the same time there is a distinctive 'bounce' to thrash that is just not there in any other form of metal. It is the form of music that reaches out to me more than others. Why? I don't know.

Black Metal? To me, that will always be Venom. (Talk about loose) But Black Metal is an amazing, expressive art form. The only problem as I see it is that there is a very distinctive box that the genre exists in. And no band is daring enough to venture out, without facing ridicule. Example: Dimmu Borgir are going over pretty well right now, but because they bring other elements in, they are not considered Black Metal. Why? I love Cradle Of Filth – I see them as a Black Metal WASP, in a way. But beyond that, most bands sound the same. I go to Black Metal festivals here in L.A., and have many friends who play the music. But I try to show up for their set only, otherwise it all starts to sound and look the same. And, advertising 101 people – make sure your logo is readable. Could you imagine if Sears, or Wal-mart, or Campbell's Soup used the philosophy of the Black Metal logo? You need to be able to glance at it from the highway while doing 70 on a rainy night, and make out what it is. Product recognition, vs. 'what is the name on the side of that big Dept. store?'

Power Metal? In and of itself, is a great form of music – but unfortunately it comes across as pretentious – that is he nature of the beast. I have seen bands (and you have, too) who have earned the reputation of "Sword Metal". Another thought – I am a huge basketball fan – and defining power is Shaquille O'Neal. There is no daintiness, or pretension in his game – it's all power. Perhaps we should start calling it "finesse metal" because so much attention is paid to getting everything perfectly orchestrated – kind of like Hakeem Olajuwon when he played. I have never seen such finesse in one man's game. Each way is very effective, but let's call it what it is. (Hopefully that makes sense)

The G'burg sound? It has changed since I first heard it – I think it is in a state of transition. I am grateful for it, but don't know enough about it to comment on its merits or destiny. My fear is that it will end up kind of like Seattle did in the 90's – that once record companies have mined it clean, it will be tossed aside like it was a fad. But how amazing must it be to be in a city where everywhere people are committed to playing an aggressive form of metal? I have made many friends over there, and wish them all well, and many years of creativity.

Sargon: What would we find in your CD player? What music inspires and energizes you?

Steve: That depends on the day of the week, or the mood. Slayer still gets played a lot. I get a kick out of listening to the Century Media and Nuclear Blast samplers – made some great discoveries there. I still listen to Sabbath, Priest… you know, the bands who made metal what it is. I listen to Gary Moore – a lot of inspiration there from a guitarist standpoint. A huge influence in my life is Henry Rollins – not so much because I like his music, but his attitude. I got into him after reading "Get In The Van" which is his diary of being on tour with Black Flag. Every time I think I have it rough, I look to him. And here he is at almost 45, still killing every night. And it is real to him. Old guys? How about Motorhead? Lemmy is pushing 60, and he'd still wipe the floor with "Good Charlotte". Dave Grohl inspires me – particularly with having just done my own CD. I hated Nirvana, but how do you come from an influential band like them, re-invent yourself with the Foo Fighters, be a guest with Tony Iommi, and David Bowie, and then do a 180 and release Probot? If that doesn't inspire you, what will?

Sargon: I'm not the only reviewer to say your music sounds a little like Pantera, feel free to sound off about that.

Steve: I don't know why this bothers me. I am not a big fan of Phil Anselmo, or Pantera for that matter. I respect what they have done, and continue to do, but it seems to me as though they went out of their way to be un-melodic. The first time I heard them, it was the Power Metal album (before Cowboys – the first album with Phil) and while the songs were not original, they were honest. I liked them. I think they tried to go overboard with the heavy, to the detriment of the song. They destroyed the use of the word 'groove' in metal – groove should be Motown applied to Thrash. As time went on, it got worse. Why does Phil scream like he does on Great Southern Trendkill? (the song) And the next track on the CD? Okay Phil, we know you are a bad boy, now calm down and sing. But the real issue I have is a few years ago, Phil had a drug overdose while they were on tour. This happened in Phoenix, and 2 nights later they were going to be in L.A. with a night off in between. Well, it made the radio that he OD'd, but was fine and would do the show. So, he stops the show in L.A. and starts ranting about it being his life, how he can do what he wants, f*** everyone, yada yada yada. And my thought was and still is – what an ingrate. What if he died? What about all of those people who bought tickets to see him perform? Was he thinking about them when he was using? He made a pact with his fans, and broke the pact – unacceptable. Kind of like John Entwhistle of The Who. He knew he had a heart condition and was on medication. So what does the selfish bastard do? Uses cocaine, and he dies of a heart attack the night before their tour starts. Now the others have to finish the tour because they were paid in advance. What a selfish idiot. Not worthy of the legendary praise he garners. And he was a hero of mine – not anymore. Going out that way was tantamount to stealing from me.

Having said that, I cannot fault you for your opinion – it is yours. Speak it proudly and boldly. You hear what you hear in there. I just don't see the connection between our voices.

Sargon: Someone who has been around as much as you must have some great live stories. What was your best, funniest, and worst live experience?

Steve: Funny ones always seem to involve nudity or embarrassment. Funny that I cannot think of any at this time. One bad experience was playing at a club in L.A. when a shooting happened about 15 feet from the stage. Heard a gunshot over the music, saw people run… very scary. Another one was Mel Sanchez in Abattoir not getting out of the way of a flashpot, and burning his hand – it left a burn mark on the neck of his bass, and where his fingers were, burns were in between. He finished the song. What a trooper. I remember being in a 4 piece band, and within one verse of a song – the PA went out, guitarist broke a string, bass amp blew a fuse, and drummer broke his snare head. Thank you, good night. That was awful.

But, good memories? Too many to mention. But the one theme is this –playing for a new crowd in a new city, and when you realize that you have them in the palm of your hand. I remember one gig in Phoenix AZ last year with Dreams Of Damnation – the show started bad, but by the end of the set we had them – during the last song I was shouting in the bass player's ear " We win, motherf***er! We win!" In all honesty, I wouldn't trade the bad for all good. In fact, aside from a few little things, I wouldn't change anything.

Sargon: What's next for you? Are Pagan War Machine going to put out more stuff, or will it be another solo work? What should we look for?

Steve: I honestly do not know what is going to happen with Pagan War Machine. Everybody but Jim is ready to go forward. In some ways I feel like my CD was the next logical step for Pagan. But Jim will not commit to doing anything with Pagan, which leaves that band in a bind. For that matter, I am not sure of the status of Dreams Of Damnation. Again, that is all up to Jim.

I do plan to do another CD in 2005- in fact I could do one right now, but I want to wait and see what life experiences will happen, and how they will influence the writing. It will still sound like Steve Gaines, but I will push the envelope beyond anger to the point of bludgeoning. In fact that is one of the song titles – The Bludgeoning. In all honesty, I hope to be able to apply these songs to a band, but I just don't think that there is anyone who can keep up with me from a work ethic standpoint.

Also, Abattoir will release the rough mix of the album we did, along with all of the demos we did going in. It will be called 'From The Ashes', and hopefully will include a concert DVD that we are planning to shoot early in 2005 for the 20th anniversary of Vicious Attack with all original members. Plus, Bloodlust will be reissuing all of the releases on one CD in 2005, and will be headlining festivals all over the States and Europe. I have also been contacted to play bass with Bitch on some European dates – nothing confirmed yet. I have done some vocals on some songs written by my friend and producer Chris Trent, and you can find a link to them on my website. Also, I have some other projects in the works. As you can see, being creative is my MO. Honestly, if this all came crashing down tomorrow, I could look in the mirror and say I did my best.

Sargon: What do you want to be doing ten years from now?

Steve: If I am still alive (and I plan to be) I will be making music. What or how, I don't know. Will people be interested? I don't know. I do know that 10 years ago, I was asked the same question. Still the same answer.

Sargon: Is there anything else you want to mention? Rant or plug away!

Steve: Well, Sargon, I want to apologize for writing so much. I just looked over these questions, and damn if I didn't ramble on. But thanks for asking. I appreciate your words of encouragement. And criticism, too. Go for it. All in all, you gave great reviews to my CD, and also to Pagan War Machine – I am glad that the music reached you, and that hopefully it took you some place. And for those who read this, if you come to my website to check out soundbytes, I hope the music speaks to you. Write me, and I will send a CD to you.

But, more important than that - please understand that I have no ego. I am absolutely grateful that you took time to read this, and might go to the webpage to check it out. I take presenting music to you very seriously. It truly is a covenant that I make with you. If it speaks to you, you have every right to expect that I will do whatever I can to make sure that I never let you down, or take you for granted. We, fans of metal – we are in this together. Let me know your thoughts on any of these topics discussed here.

In Metal…
Steve Gaines

Dreams Of Damnation
Pagan War Machine

Other information about Steve Gaines on this site
Review: Anger as Art

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