Interview with guitarist Vince Levalois
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 27, 2013
There are quite a few bands using the Psychosis moniker these days but this particular Psychosis plays old-school Thrash Metal and comes from one of the hot beds of Heavy Metal, Los Angeles, California, USA.
LA's Psychosis was formed in 1988, so they have been around, off and on, for about 25 years. However, for 13 years they went under the name Prototype and were a whole different musical entity compared to Psychosis.
The band's debut album, Lifeforce, was released independently in 1992 and many years passed before Psychosis went in the studio to record a 3-track, self-titled EP in 2010. The follow-up EP, also a 3-track effort titled By Our Hands, was released at the very end of 2012 to raving reviews all around the world. This is where The Metal Crypt got interested and posed a few questions to the band's guitarist, Vince Levalois...
Luxi: How's it going Vince? Life keeping you busy?
Vince: Just working away! Yeah, things are busy with work, family, bands, etc.
Luxi: LA's Psychosis has a long history; the band started in 1989 when Grunge was getting really popular all around the world, especially in the States. How tough was it for you guys to keep your heads above water, knowing that record labels were going crazy for Grunge, while at the same time avoiding Thrash bands like the plague...
Vince: We really didn't care about Grunge at all, we just kept doing what we wanted to do; to play the music we wanted to play and that was it. There was a lot of good Metal that was coming out during that time and that's what we listened to. We weren't concerned much about "getting signed" but we did want to get our music out to as many people as possible and that's why we recorded our 5-song EP Lifeforce back then.
Luxi: You released that album on your own, without a record deal. Was that because, as I mentioned, it was really difficult times for Thrash Metal bands to get signed amid the popularity of Grunge?
Vince: Yes, we financed the whole thing ourselves, including manufacturing the CD copies. We did a lot of grass roots marketing, staying in touch with fans, sending CDs to fanzines, etc. That's how we were able to get the word out about Psychosis.
Luxi: After Psychosis' debut album came out in 1992 did you try to bring the band to the next level by playing live as much as possible? That's one of the best ways to get people talking about a band, right?
Vince: Yes, we played as much as we could back then. As with any band, things can change. We lost our drummer, Mike Johnsen, and bass player, Jason Mirza, which hampered our efforts to continue pushing the band forward with more momentum. This hurt the possibilities at the time but we didn't give up.
Luxi: You kept the band active until 1993, when Psychosis was put on hold for what turned out to be 13 years. What things led to this decision, Grunge as a big global phenomenon, Death Metal becoming popular amongst kids, your jobs and families, etc.?
Vince: Psychosis was put on hold because we changed our band name to Prototype. We never really expected to return to Psychosis 13 years later, it was more of a whim. Prototype was the main focus at that time. We had evolved somewhat from our more purist Thrash roots and injected more progressive and melodic elements to our sound. We got a new drummer (Damion Ramirez) and bass player (Steve Gambina) and played the local scene heavily, releasing a 3-song demo in 1994. When we brought back Psychosis it was to rekindle the sound and legacy of the band. We hadn't had much contact with Jason, who had pursued other musical endeavors. However, in conversations, the idea was thrown out to revive the band, and so we did.
Luxi: Psychosis was resurrected in 2006 and you found Jimmy Schultz to play drums and Bruce Hall for vocals. This marks the first time Psychosis became a 5-piece band. How important were the additions of both Jimmy and Bruce to the band's line-up? Was it crucial for Psychosis to get more so-called "fire power" for the line-up?
Vince: We already knew Jimmy because he helped us in Prototype when Pat Magrath left the band in the early 2000's. He played a few gigs with us (including the ProgPower III pre-part show) and is an all-around excellent person and drummer. We've known Bruce since the early days of Psychosis, when he was in a band called Grichfist. We'd play local shows with them, so we knew them relatively well. Jason actually went to play bass for Grinchfist after leaving Psychosis, so there was a connection there. When it came time to come back together, I decided to step down as frontman/singer so that we could try something different and see what came out of it. It was easy getting Bruce in the band. He's a great singer/vocalist.
Luxi: The first 3-track EP that you recorded with this line-up was released in the first half of 2010. Bruce Hall had just left his other band, Agent Steel. Your music became much more aggressive, heavier and even a bit more Thrash-oriented. Bruce's vocals, added to a great wall of ferocious Thrash riffs, seemed to take center stage within the music. Was it your intentional to make Psychosis' sound more mean and aggressive or did it simply happen by accident?
Vince: This just happened on its own, but Bruce's vocals certainly have a lot to do with it. His style is far more aggressive than mine, which leads to more violent tone to the music.
Luxi: The opening riffs in "Broken Man" sounds a bit like the beginning of Slayer's "Chemical Warfare." Have you heard this comparison before?
Vince: No, this is the first time I've heard of this comparison but I now hear what you're saying, ha-ha!!
Luxi: How hard did you work to promote Psychosis to record labels after the EP was out and available in a physical format? I would think the quality of your music, plus the experience of the line-up on that particular EP, would have made it relatively easy to get Psychosis signed to some big, well-known label...
Vince: You would think so, but that's not the world we live in. People, in general, think that just because you sound good, have good songs and a great line-up that you're almost guaranteed a contract of some sort, but it doesn't happen that way. It's all about who you know and the timing of it all. We've done our part in letting the respective labels know who we are, what we sound like and what we're capable of, but honestly, we're tired of those aspirations. We've been doing this for a long time and at this stage it's about having fun and not wrestling with constantly pushing to get some label deal. If it's meant to be, it'll come on its own, but otherwise, we'll keep doing what we enjoy.
Luxi: Since Bruce Hall joined the band in 2009 do you feel his input has given some new life to the band, in terms of popularity? Have you seen a rise in attendance at your gigs?
Vince: There's some added vitality to our popularity, but it's mostly online. People don't go to that many shows anymore. There are so many choices here in L.A. that it's overwhelming. I know I'm guilty of this as well.
Luxi: What are the most memorable gigs for you with Psychosis? I bet one of the three gigs on the Live Force DVD, must stick in your mind, right?
Vince: Actually I'd say that my most memorable show was playing with Death at The Whisky-A-Go-Go in Hollywood, CA in 1998 with Prototype. Around that time we were playing a lot and it was probably our most popular time as a band. With Psychosis it was probably playing with Sacred Reich at what is now known as The Avalon in Hollywood. We were the only supporting band and the place, by our standards, is fairly large. We felt like we had stepped up a couple of notches.
Luxi: Have you played outside of the States yet? Are you aiming to make an invasion of Europe any time soon?
Vince: Not as Psychosis. As Prototype, we played Europe back in 2003. There are no plans at this time to play in Europe unless we're offered a tour that makes sense financially.
Luxi: Psychosis' second EP, released at the end of 2012, also independently, has been generating lots of positive feedback for you guys from all over the world. The EP is packed with some quality Thrash Metal, where melodies clash with piercing Thrash riffs in a great way. You must be very pleased with the songs on that EP, I assume?
Vince: Yes, we're very happy with it. It represents a progression in our sound and it's a better quality effort that the last, which is what counts.
Luxi: Has this EP caught the attention of music industry people? Would you say that band might have a big announcement to make in the near future?
Vince: Not really. We haven't had any interest from labels that I'm aware of. Wish we could announce the contrary but that's just not the case.
Luxi: Psychosis took part in the NAMM 2013 event. What kind of experience was that for you and what were the benefits for the band?
Vince: NAMM is a yearly event that most of us attend to maintain relationships with musical equipment manufacturers, etc. We don't do much band promotion but we do talk to the reps of the brands we endorse to find out about the latest gadgets, etc.
Luxi: Are you working on new material and, if so, would you mind about revealing something about stuff that you currently have in the works? Are you trying to stick to the musical formula of the two EPs or will there be something different you are going to try out?
Vince: We've written songs for a new EP and are getting ready to record again here soon. The new tunes are just as crushing and stay true to form as far as the style and thrashiness of it all. We can't wait to release them, hopefully the end of this year or the beginning of 2014.
Luxi: Since some of you also play in other bands, do you see time-sharing as a problem for any of you in Psychosis? Both you and Kragen are in Prototype and Kragen also plays in Heathen while Jimmy has his other bands, Cerebellion and New Eden. Obviously arrangements must be made whenever one of these bands is actively gigging, songwriting, etc., right?
Vince: Yes, it's a tough schedule, but we do what we can. Right now, for example, Kragen is on tour with Heathen, so Jason and I are getting together and working on finalizing some arrangements, etc. We still work when not all are present, but it does slow down the process a bit.
Luxi: How do you keep things challenging for yourself if we strictly talk about songwriting methods that you use? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist that may work weeks and weeks, even months, with a song until it feels "right"?
Vince: Playing Thrash is always a challenge, from the physical act to writing new fresh ideas that don't sound too dated or repeated from what we've done in the past. Usually when an idea is inspiring the song comes together fairly fast. It's those ideas that are not as obvious that take longer. Principally, it's Kragen, Jason and I that build the main riff structures, etc. Then we let Bruce listen to what we've got and he'll sometimes recommend some changes to fit his vocal ideas. At that point we'll come together as a band and try the songs out. It's only then that we know that a song can be called complete and worthy.
Luxi: What's in store for Psychosis in 2013?
Vince: As I mentioned before, putting the final touches on these new songs and recording. Hopefully some shows as well, time and schedules permitting.
Luxi: I guess that's it at this time. I want to sincerely THANK YOU for your time, Vince, and I wish you all the best with all of your future endeavors, Prototype and Psychosis especially. Want to use this opportunity to throw out some last comments, perhaps?
Vince: Thank YOU for the interview!! We only ask that people check out our music at www.psychosisthrash.com We're also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/psychosisthrash
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