Interview with drummer Steve Grice
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 2, 2014
The Sanity Days, a new project launched in 2011 by Steve Grice, former drummer and founding member of British Thrash Metal legends Onslaught, has been working on their debut album for the past 18 months. In addition to Grice, The Sanity Days features guitarist Al Jordan (who played on Onslaught's 2007 comeback album Killing Peace), bassist Jase Stallard (from 1985's Power from Hell and 1986's The Force) and last, but not least, ex-Grim Reaper singer Steve Grimmett, who fronted Onslaught on the 1989 album In Search of Sanity, which is considered the band's best-selling album of all time.
The Sanity Days have played various shows around the world, including several headlining gigs in South America followed by a headline show in Tokyo, along with a good number of European festival dates. Some of these shows showcased tracks from the band's forthcoming album, such as "My Demon Mind" and "The Edge," both of which received positive reactions from the audience.
The table is set for The Sanity Days' debut album, which is due to be released by Candlelight Records in February 2015. Steve Grice agreed to raise our (high) expectations for the record by telling us a thing or two about it via the following interview that The Metal Crypt conducted with him just a short while ago...
Luxi: First off, how excited are you at this moment in the studio recording The Sanity Days' debut album? How are things coming together?
Steve: The album is almost complete and, yes, we are excited about releasing our debut. It's taken almost 18 months to write this record and we hope it's worth the wait. We're not in the business of praising ourselves, saying how great or heavy it sounds, or it's this, that or the other; just wait and decide for yourself. The album is going to be released in February 2015.
Luxi: How many songs are you aiming to record for this debut of yours? Did you try to re-capture the sound, vibe and feeling that were present on Onslaught's most commercially successful album, In Search of Sanity, or would you say there are some musical similarities to that semi-legendary release but The Sanity Days' album won't be just a carbon copy of In Search...?
Steve: There are 9 songs written in total. Originally there were 8 but we knocked a song up in the studio as we felt 8 was too few and would short change the record-buying public. I guess it does have a slight feel of the Sanity album but that's probably just because Steve's voice is on it. In terms of the actual sound of the songs, it isn't really similar. We have taken a more mainstream, maybe an alternative, approach. All of us tend to listen to completely different styles of music, and I really do believe this has come across in the writing of this record.
Luxi: The Sanity Days debut will include a tribute song to the one and only Ronnie James Dio, who sadly passed away on May 16th 2010. However, this will not be a cover of a Dio song but The Sanity Days' own, sort of Sabbath-tinged tribute, which, obviously, is quite different from the rest of the material on the album. Could you tell us a bit more about the song and who came up with the idea to do this tribute to one of the biggest fallen heroes of Heavy Metal?
Steve: The song you speak of has a real Sabbath-esque sound and feel to it. When I wrote the lyric, I tried to include as many titles of Dio's songs that he performed during his illustrious career as I could (I believe there are 18 in total). Dio's music really touched me for many years and with Steve's voice sounding very similar I felt this just had to be done. I personally found it very sad what he went through and, from what I hear from everybody that I speak to that met him, he seemed like a really lovely, genuine man who loved life and also what he did for music. It's kind of our thank you to him for producing the music he did and for giving us the inspiration for a lot of the feels and textures on this record. The song is called "Ruler of Eternity" because, although the great man has passed, his voice will forever live on as one of the greatest voices in rock music.
Luxi: Will there be some other cool surprises on this forthcoming album from The Sanity Days that might surprise some listeners?
Steve: Anybody and everybody that is expecting THRASH is going to be surprised. It was not my intention to compete against my former band. I played Thrash music for 10 or so years and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it and, yes, I still listen to Slayer as they are purely and simply the masters of fast Metal; nobody even comes close to competing to the style of music they have written and what they have achieved in the music business. They have stuck to their guns for 30 years and not felt the need to change their sound, feel or lyrical style one bit and it seems it has worked well for them.
I needed to have a crack at something a bit different for my own Sanity, plus the other guys in this band are not former thrashers.
In terms of people being surprised, yes, I think they will be, and for good reasons, I hope. People I have played this album for over the past week or so have looked at me with eyes wide open and said "shit, I did not expect that" and when asked what or who they thought it sounded like most said Iron Maiden/Metallica/Van Halen.
Luxi: On the In Search of Sanity album, recorded 25 years ago, there is a song called "Welcome to Dying," which is a powerful, peaceful and mellow sounding ballad type of song. Are you also aiming to get a similar type of song recorded for The Sanity Days' debut that would allow Mr. Grimmett to use his whole range of vocal styles?
Steve: Yes, there is a very similar style song on this album called "Broken Wings." It is a guitar and vocal epic that Al Jordan wrote 100% on his own while he sat chugging away on his own little planet. Al is a very talented guitarist and comes up with some real fucked up riffs and timings. We work very well together on the record. Al will come up with the main shape of the song and then I will add my flavours, intros, endings, middle bits and lyrics. Steve has added his vocal style and what we have ended up with is a classic ballad that even has some blues undertones in there. Steve came up with the lyrics and vocal melodies for the chorus and I added the lyrics to the verses. It's about a guy who is very religious and spends his whole life dedicated to God, but when the chips fell and he eventually looked to his God for help to cure his life threatening illness, his God was nowhere to be seen! A ballad, yes, but with very angry undertones.
Luxi: What kind of production are you trying to get on this album? Are you trying to link The Sanity Days to the 80's period of Metal music, you know, a warm and organic type of production rather than the slick, plastic and over-produced soundscapes of today?
Steve: The overall sound is very smooth but heavy. We decided we didn't want to run the recording through Pro Tools and quantize it like every other band does at this moment in time. That process makes records sound far, far too robotic and we just didn't want it to sound like that. The feel of this record is very organic, as Jim Hinder put it, and yes, you can hear some things wander marginally off time here and there. This is the way we used to record in the 80's and the great albums of all time were written this way. The guy who has worked on this album is a very young, up-and-coming guy called Phil Kinman. What he has done to the sound has gob-smacked us all.
Luxi: How did you end up signing a record deal with Candlelight Records and what made you choose this particular label as the home for The Sanity Days?
Steve: I work well with Steve and Edward even though they didn't really see eye to eye with all the other Onslaught members when we were signed to them. We did more press and interviews with them then we did with AFM when Sounds of Violence came out, so that was also important knowing they will work hard to publicize this record.
Luxi: The Sanity Days have already played a good number of shows around the globe, so what is next as far as gigs for this year? Were the gigs that you played in South America successful and memorable for you guys?
Steve: The shows we did in South America were great. I feel we played to bigger crowds than we played in front of when I went over there with Onslaught and, despite this, we don't have any product out. People also come to see Steve, due to his connection with Reaper, obviously. The gigs also seemed to be better organized this time around and the venues were of a better standard.
Luxi: Since the Onslaught name popped up in my previous question, it's that all of you have been part of that band at some point in your careers; some for longer times, some shorter. Do you consider yourselves lucky to be back after all these years? I am sure some of you have built up your careers outside of music, have big families to be supported, regular day jobs, etc.
Steve: I have kept in touch with every single ex-Onslaught member, with the exception of the two guys who we formed the band with in the first place. I have always got on well with everybody from day one to the time we either split or the time people left (or were booted out). It's not luck that we are all back together; it has to do with friendship, loyalty and respect for each other over the years.
Luxi: Now if we go back in time just a little bit, there is going to be a special release of the In Search of Sanity album this year, with some special and unheard live material. Could you possibly shed some light on this release?
Steve: Well, there was going to be, but somebody has stuck his oar in and tried to halt its release because he thought we were trying to release it in conjunction with our album. The 25th anniversary release was going to be a great collector's piece for Onslaught fans to have; it was going to include a live recording that I have of us playing the Bristol Hippodrome in 1989, with Steve singing, and has been re-mastered and mixed, but it looks like it's not going to happen as I'm not prepared to put myself through the shit, stress and legal threats that will come with it. All of the artwork has been completed with some great unseen photos and live reviews; the record is even at the pressing plant as we speak ready to go. It was going to be a great package but obviously personal grudges are more important than collector pieces for fans as I see it.
Luxi: As this year (2014) is the 25th anniversary of the In Search of Sanity album, do you have some special In Search of Sanity shows being sketched on the drawing board? Feel free to correct me if I am wrong about this...
Steve: I kind of guess you are. We put this band together to play the Sanity album for a short period of time and then split. It was by pure luck that we ended up writing one of our own tunes that led to us actually deciding to release an album. We will be playing some shows but we are waiting for the album to come out before we start booking them. I am not sure if we will include any Sanity songs in the set though. I guess that's something we all need to discuss.
Luxi: Talking about the time of In Search of Sanity record, which I previously mentioned, was Onslaught's most commercially successful release, what do you believe made that album such a success? How much did Steve Grimmett's (known from Grim Reaper) joining the band and replacing Sy Keeler play into that success? Steve Grimmett joining is obviously one of the key events that led to more success for Onslaught and, I would guess, put some extra cash in London Records' coffers but also earned the band a couple of extra bucks, I suppose?
Steve: Don't forget, London signed us while Sy was the singer. It was only certain people moaning about Sy's vocals whilst we were recording the album that lead to Sy being sacked. I would also like to point out that I was back at home in Bristol while the vocals were being recorded and had numerous phone calls from a certain person continually moaning about the vocals. Yes, Steve was a big part of the album's success, but we did all of the hard work prior to his arrival. I've no doubt that had Sy sung on the album it wouldn't have had the commercial value that it did with Steve, but nevertheless I still feel the album would have been relatively successful. The Force was one of the biggest selling Thrash albums in Europe at the time so this is proof that we were calling the right tunes in terms of commerciality and viability within our genre.
Luxi: In 1987-88 Onslaught signed a deal with London Records and Under One Flag had to let you guys go. I am sure those difficult times for your band because, undoubtedly, Sy didn't leave by his own choice, having sung the vocal parts in for In Search of Sanity. But the management at London Records wasn't completely happy with his vocal parts, right? Was it just London Records that was pressuring you guys to get rid off Sy Keeler and get Steve Grimmett, hoping that would push Onslaught to the next level?
Steve: At the time, there was a wedge forming between Sy and the rest of the band. I'm not 100% sure now why there were bad feelings. I do recall that the way some advances were split did cause some problems, but most of it came down to attitude, from what I can remember. London records signed us with Sy as the singer and, despite all previous rumors, they went through hell and high water to keep Sy as the front man. They laid out thousands of pounds to send Sy to not only singing lessons but to a health farm to trim him down, at one point. It was somebody's sudden intention that "we" now had to divert our sound from the typical Thrash vibe that everybody was familiar with and now sound more mainstream (hence bringing in Stephan Galfas, who produced Stryper and Meat Loaf, to try and guide us from the traditional sound that people were used to). At the end of the day, the decision came down to the band, a fact that we have always steered away from in previous interviews to guard our morals. Why the need to cover up something that I felt was always blatantly bloody obvious? Trying to fabricate the past to protect your own reputation is crazy and is something I was very uncomfortable about.
Luxi: Have you ever considered releasing In Search of Sanity with Sy's vocal parts on it?
Steve: I don't see the point because people will only compare it to what Steve has done. Would we record The Force with Steve's vocals? No, there is no point. Each is good at what they do best.
Luxi: Also, on Onslaught's second album, The Force, the band's sound softened quite drastically, and perhaps became even more commercial sounding when Steve Grimmett jumped into Sy's boots. If that wasn't enough, the band also went through quite a change in image; from the black leather and spikes to jogging shirts and stuff. Was this also something London Records wanted as a way to sell Onslaught to the fans now with Steve Grimmett's more melodic vocals?
Steve: I think the problem is when you're part of a band and the gap between album releases is massive, you have so much time to dwell on and listen to other bands' new products. Fans tend to judge one album with the prior one and sometimes get quite a shock when new products come out. I guess if you looked at photos of us on our first demo you would again see a massive difference in the way we dressed prior to Power From Hell. Fans change the way they look and the music they listen to and this is also the case with musicians, I guess.
Luxi: Prior to the actual street date of In Search of Sanity, London Records put out three Onslaught EPs. I guess they wanted to do all the necessary promotion for Onslaught, prior to the release of In Search of Sanity, to focus their sales plans and ensure the album would start selling like those so-called "hot cakes." It did, and the rest is pretty much history.
Steve: Yes, I guess they wanted to test the water as, at that moment in time, they didn't have a clue how to market a Thrash band. They did throw and awful lot of money at promotion though, I have to admit.
Luxi: What's the story behind the cover of AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock" on In Search of Sanity? Was this a case of London Records thinking it would be a good idea to grow Onslaught's fan base with a well-known Rock song?
Steve: We played "Let There Be Rock" at the Hammy O in London as a bit of a joke for the crowd. Initially, Music for Nations released it as a 12" single and it was something that London was keen to persist with and, as I recall, it did reach the UK top 40 so they had a feel for its success. Being young, stubborn ex-punk rockers we had different ideas, I guess, but that's just one of the reasons we failed in the long run. If we had let the record company take the reigns I feel the outcome would have been a completely different one, but that's something we all had to live with when eventually London dropped us. The second album that we recorded for London was drastically different from Sanity, they hated it and it never came out. Had that album come out we would have truly hung the bands reputation for good, my opinion, of course.
Luxi: Was it a bit risky to start the In Search of Sanity record with an instrumental tune, in which nothing much is happening? Did you have to fight with London Records to open the record with this 5-minute instrumental track? At the very end of this instrumental there can clearly be heard some calls of a whale. Do you remember why you added them to this song?
Steve: Being young and naive we didn't realize, at the time, that any piece of music over a certain length of time that appeared on a record entitled the creator to a royalty credit. Stephan insisted on writing that piece and now we know why it was song monotonously long!
Luxi: How nervous and/or excited were you about getting In Search of Sanity out and how your fans would accept it since it was so different from The Force?
Steve: We, as a band, were very excited about its release. We had already been through a mild hate campaign when we said to have "abandoned our punk roots" so I guess we all knew what was coming. And, yes, we did take quite a lot of shit off of our loyal fans but in doing so made loads of new fans.
Luxi: You obviously toured quite a bit after the In Search of Sanity album came out. What are some of your recollections from those days?
Steve: We were on the brink of hitting the big time. Some of the venues we headlined were great, but it seemed that no sooner did the relative success arrive, it was gone again. The last tour we did with Tony O'Hora singing, who took over when Grimmett walked out, was a sorry sight. We played to less than 80 people some nights. Most, if not all, of the band's downfall was due to bad decision-making on one person's behalf. I guess I was caught up on the ride and not taking too much notice of the day-to-day running of the band, married to the fact I was only 20 at the time. That's still a kid and to try and think logically, even businessman-like, at that age, plus cope with being relatively successful, wasn't easy. If we had the luxury of revisiting that situation I would make sure none of this shit happened again and run it like a business, not a spoiled kid's toy!
Luxi: What are some of the most memorable things from the days of In Search of Sanity?
Steve: Those were the best days of my life. Most people only dream of doing what we did, and don't forget we were only kids. We saw the world and met some great people. Playing pool with Stuart Copeland while I was recording the drums for Sanity was a great memory for me. Chatting with Keith Richards, at 4am at the studio in New York while mixing the record, is another one. Standing at the bar in the Cat Club in New York drinking with The Ramones, on tour for 3 weeks with Motörhead, drinking through the night with Philthy Phil Taylor... I could go on and on but I did these things, mate, and I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to do so.
Luxi: You made it through to the last question, so thanks for taking some time with this interview I sincerely wish you all the best with your future endeavors with The Sanity Days. May your road be full of nice rewards. Any closing comments perhaps to wrap this chat up properly?
Steve: Mate, I thank you for giving me this opportunity to do this in interview and wish you good health for the future. Who knows, maybe we will meet at a show in the next year or so.
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