Interview with guitarist Eddie Shahini
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 5, 2021
Dead Brain Cells, or just DBC, is a Canadian crossover/thrash metal band formed in Montreal in 1985 (as Final Chapter from 1985 to 1986) that was one of the leading forces in the Canadian underground metal scene and achieved a reputation as one of the country's most promising outfits during the band's heyday from 1986 to 1991.
Their self-titled album (1987) and its follow-up, Universe (1989), were well liked by metalheads around the world and they shared stages with many established metal bands from Discharge to Corrosion of Conformity to Crumbsuckers to Slayer.
DBC were at the top of their game in the latter half of the eighties. Sadly, they broke up in 1991 in the face of being unable to find a record label to release the band's third album. Some of them kept jamming and writing new music together despite lack of label interest.
The Metal Crypt decided to contact the band's original guitarist, Eddie Shahini, for more information about the band's past, present and future and he kindly took some time to answer our curious queries related to the band...
THE LOCKDOWN CONTINUES
How's life in Montreal, Quebec? Are you suffering from the coronavirus just like the majority of bigger cities around the world these days?
Eddie: Hey, Luxi, it's Eddie here from DBC. In Montreal, like the rest of the world, we're trying to get through this pandemic. We're following social distancing. We can't get together with family or friends. We have a curfew that was eight o'clock and now it's been pushed back to 9:30 until 5:00 in the morning. The numbers have been going down and things are looking good. We're slowly getting vaccinated. I haven't gotten my shot yet, but I'm just dying for this to end so we can get back to seeing some shows and most of all, playing some shows.
Dead Brain Cells have always had an important part in the Canadian crossover/thrash metal underground scene. Many people still seem to appreciate what the band achieved in the late eighties. To me, both the band's self-titled debut and its follow-up, Universe, stand out as some of the best crossover/thrash metal albums of their time that have both held up very well. How do you view those albums as a part of the legacy of Canadian crossover/thrash metal? Do you feel you were there just at the right time when you recorded both of those albums?
Eddie: Well, I'm glad to see that you consider our two albums a very important part of the Canadian crossover thrash metal underground scene, and we're very happy, of course, to have released them. We still get people coming to our site and buying our t-shirts 30 years later, which is a crazy thing to think about. If you think about it, we released that music a long, long time ago and we still get interest.
I like to think that the albums were ahead of their time. I find the first album is a very good crossover of thrash and hardcore and metal, very political. Then the second album, Universe, was a little more different, a lot more technical and lyrically more of a concept album. I find that album way ahead of its time and I still think people don't understand it. I think maybe, hopefully in 20 years people will get that album. It's a pretty crazy album. There are a lot of songs we can't even play anymore, but we had a great time writing that album. We were just practicing so much that we realized that we could remember more parts and more weirder changes. We always liked Rush, also being from Canada, so we couldn't help but explore that more technical aspect of playing. I'm glad that we released them and that we are part of Canada's thrash metal legacy.
How often have you returned to those two albums since the band broke up in 1991?
Eddie: We have returned to both those albums quite a bit because we are still together. Back in 2005-ish, we decided to get back together and do a few shows with Jeff and Daniel Mongrain, who plays guitars for Voïvod. It was on and off for a while and then we ended up getting another guitarist, Jason Quinn from Halifax, Nova Scotia. We ended up doing even more shows.
Basically, the set we do is those two albums. We don't really play anything off anything unreleased. Our third album was never released. Yes, we play them. We definitely return to those two albums over and over.
ABOUT CALLING IT QUITS
What were the main reasons behind the decision to split the band in 1991?
Eddie: It was maybe about 1991-ish and we decided to give in because we lost our record contract. We were signed to Combat Records for six albums and we were requesting money for the recording and because videos were pretty big back then, we wanted a budget for a video. I guess to them it seemed like a lot of money plus the recession came in, which wasn't a good time for a lot of bands. They dropped a lot of bands that weren't selling a certain number of CDs and it was a tough time.
At this point, we had no record contract, and then Phil moved to Toronto, which really ended things right there. With no bass player, we went our separate ways. Gerry got into another couple of bands. Jeff and I tried to get some new players and wrote some new music, but it never really went anywhere. In a nutshell, that's it. Phil moving, the recession, and getting dropped by Combat. All those things helped end the band.
The band was really at the top of their game after the mid-eighties. You opened for bands like Slayer in 1986 and Corrosion of Conformity in 1987 and you were offered a six-album contract by Combat Records. Those must be great memories. What are some of the things you remember from those days?
Eddie: Some of the best memories, yes. Probably the greatest was opening up for Slayer. We did that at the Montreal Palladium and that opened the door to a bunch of people. It was the largest show we ever played, and we got signed the next day to Combat Records. It was a very, very important show.
We played with Corrosion of Conformity, Discharge, Agnostic Front, Metal Church, Crumbsuckers, the list goes on and on. We've opened up for Bad Brains, one of our favorite hardcore bands. Those were some of the best times of my life. The thing I remember was touring the US and how great it was to drive around playing shows and meeting a lot of people and getting to see the US. We did that a couple of times.
Driving from Montreal to San Francisco took us three days and then seeing Los Angeles, and seeing the Grand Canyon, going down to Texas, and seeing the Johnson Space Center, driving to Florida. Just it's really meeting a bunch of cool, cool people who just loved their music. Those were the best times. Of course, playing in Montreal at Les Foufounes Électriques. Again, meeting a bunch of people and a really, really good time. Definitely some of the best times of our lives, for sure.
GAME CHANGER: ALBUM NO. 2
Universe, the band's second album, which was a great album (and still is for that matter), was a far more progressive outing than your debut. What happened between these two albums? Did a sort of Voïvod syndrome hit you, because you became more technical?
Eddie: What happened between the two albums, which are quite different, I alluded to before, is we started playing together. We wrote those albums and we were really into hardcore. We were into what Slayer were doing. We were into D.R.I. We really liked that fast stuff with cool riffs, the whole crossover sound. We were very political, so we wanted to keep it hardcore. At that point, we started jamming five days a week. The more you practice together as musicians, the better you get. One thing we realized is that we could start memorizing more and more notes and time changes. We would say, "Let's do that three times and let's try that five times." A little weirder around that time.
We always loved Voïvod. They were good friends and we hung out with them, especially Piggy. Snake was also a good friend. He actually sang on the last Kill of Rights album. He came down and did a song. We definitely know them, but we never really wanted to be like them. We did our own thing. DBC and Voïvod are really two different bands, musically and sound-wise.
Before going to practice, we would go to the Dow Planetarium. We would go to the free show where you could sit down, sit back and watch the stars and learn about the universe. We really got into astronomy and it was just a fun hobby that Phil and I enjoyed.
We always liked The Wall by Pink Floyd, so we said, "No thrash metal band has done a concept album". We tried to tackle that on Universe, which covers from the beginning of the universe to the formation of the planets, to humans, to civilization. Only the last song I would say is fictional, where we see the future coming. Basically, that's it. It's just practicing so much. We just learned we could remember a lot more. We just got really good at our instruments. I think that's what it is.
FROM CROSSOVER TO MADONNA TO SLAYER
Back in the eighties, crossover thrash was a huge thing in the underground metal scene with bands like D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies, Ludichrist, Corrosion of Conformity, Crumbsuckers, Sacrilege B.C., English Dogs, etc. all playing this sound. Were there any crossover bands that you looked up to back in those days?
Eddie: Back in the '80s there were a lot of crossover thrash bands and you mentioned a few that we actually played with, D.R.I., Corrosion of Conformity, and Crumbsuckers. I think we played with Ludichrist, too. We were also listening to other types of music at that time, too. Believe it or not, and I don't know why, but we were really into Madonna. That's one thing I remember. We also liked Bob Marley. We were not only listening to music that we were playing but other stuff too. We always kept our minds open to other styles of music. I always liked S.O.D. That album was really a good crossover thrash album, it's the guys from Anthrax.
One of my personal favorite bands was and is of course, Slayer. They're the ones who really started this whole journey of DBC. Gerry and I wanted to start a band and once we heard Slayer we were like, "We have to play something like that." Slayer was definitely the biggest influence. There were a lot of good bands out there at that time and we were just glad to be part of it.
You and Phil are the two original members left from the classic DBC lineup. Was it tough to return to the limelight knowing that Gerry and Jeff could not be a part of this new incarnation of the band? How shocking were the deaths of Gerry (R.I.P. 1994) and Jeff (R.I.P. 2019) for you personally?
Eddie: Yes, Phil and I are still in the lineup and we are the only original members left. It wasn't that tough getting back on stage, it was like just really, "Look, we're doing this for fun, we know we're not going to be millionaires, we're not doing it for the money. It really is just for having fun." As for the deaths of our two members, Gerry passed away a long time ago in 1994. It was one of the saddest days of my life because I'd known Gerry since grade five and we were best friends.
We grew up together, we hung out together, went through our teenage years together. We played in the high school variety show together, and that's where we knew we wanted to play music. That was in 1981. We had a few garage bands. Then in 1985, '86, once metal started taking off, that's when we knew we wanted to go down that route.
I saw Gerry on the day before he passed away. It was not a pretty sight. Gerry was a hemophiliac and he had to get blood transfusions. The government had given him some tainted blood products containing AIDS or HIV virus. Gerry ended up getting HIV, which eventually led to AIDS, and he had pneumonia several times and lost a lot of weight, and eventually, it killed him. Jeff, yes, passed away just recently, not this December, but a year ago, a year and a few months now.
We heard that he was sick, and he was going through a rough period. He had some kind of brain disease. We're not sure how he got that, but Phil and I went to see him in the hospital. He was already in palliative care at this point. It was very sad, thinking about it since it's so fresh to me, it's like walking and it's like, "Is that Jeff?" "Yes, that's Jeff." Jeff also lost a lot of weight.
It's not the way I remember him, and I like to remember him growing up and playing in DBC. At this time, he wasn't really speaking much. He was conscious a few times. I have no clue if he knew what was going on, but I'd like to think that he did know what was going on because at one point, he looked over at Phil and gave a fist bump to him, so I think he knew we were there.
This was a Saturday I think when went to see him. We wanted to go back the Monday, but his brother let me know that he had passed away. We got to see Jeff just a couple of days before he died.
GETTING BACK TOGETHER AGAIN
DBC decided to reunite in 2005. What were the main catalysts for you to start the band again? Did you feel you had some "unfinished business"?
Eddie: I'm trying to remember what made us decide to get back together. It's not really coming to me. Phil and I always kept in contact. I'm trying to think if Phil was back in town. He might've moved back to do some work. He was in Montreal and we just said, "Hey, let's get together and jam." That's what did it.
That's right. Jeff (St. Louis, drummer, R.I.P.) was playing in another band called Timetakers. They wanted to do a New Year show. He said, "Why don't we do a couple of songs?" That's how we got Dan Mongrain to come in and play a few songs. We just did a couple of songs. Again, it seemed like it was just for fun because I had lost touch with Jeff, too.
We had a fallout but decided to let bygones be bygones and just have some fun. It was, I would say, not really unfinished business, but more, "Let's just have fun and play a few songs."
How did you find Quinn for second guitar and Graham for drums?
Eddie: We knew that Dan Mongrain would not be a permanent member, so Phil, Jeff and I were wondering if we could find another guitarist to join the band. At this point Quinn sent us some tracks of, I think, two or three songs that he played guitar on, played the bass on, and recorded all the drums through a drum track. We were so impressed that this guy knew our music inside out really well, and most of all he has a DBC tattoo. We don't have a DBC tattoo, so that was a big selling point.
We said, "Hey, you know music so well, would you want to try out", again, for fun, "to play a few songs with us?" Quinn joined the band, and, yes, we did a few songs with Phil, Jeff, Quinn and me. That was fun but then Jeff was starting to have issues with his hands and arms and drumming and his whole life. We were going to Halifax to play shows and Graham was already playing with Quinn or knew Quinn.
We said, "Hey, we can use Graham from Terratomb, he's an awesome guitarist and drummer." He ended up playing a few songs with us in Halifax and then after that we got him to do a few shows in Montreal. Yes, that's how that happened. Jason learning our music really, really helped. Nice guys.
Do you feel that Quinn and Graham understood right away how to capture the (early) spirit and vibe of the band? I mean, you have to love crossover and thrash metal in order to play in DBC, right?
Eddie: Graham and Quinn both understood right away what it took to capture the spirit and vibe of the band because they were both in bands in Halifax playing the exact same type of music. You've got them playing in Terratomb and then Jason went on to play with other bands. From what I know, Graham still plays with other bands, drums and guitar, I think. Those guys are knee-deep in thrash metal. They fit in perfectly. They knew exactly the groove and the stamina and what it took to play complicated and fast music like we do.
Since the reunion, you have played a bunch of cool shows in Canada, sharing the stage with such names as E-Force, Soothsayer, Mutank, Riotor, etc. I am curious to know how did the new generation of people responded to DBC? Did they know who you are, or were they completely unaware of your band?
Eddie: Yes, we play with a lot of cool bands. Recently, as you mentioned, E-Force, Soothsayer, Mutank, and Riotor. From E-Force, we know Dan, so he definitely knew about DBC. Soothsayer we've known for years and played with them back in the day. Mutank was a new band. Canceric was a new band. We did get a few people that definitely had no clue who we were. They're much younger than us and our music was like 33 years ago. We got, "Who the hell are DBC?" to "Oh, my God, you're in DBC? Yes, for sure we'll play with you guys." You'll get a little bit of both, people who knew us and people who had no clue who we were.
Are you aiming to play at some festivals in Europe in 2021 where DBC apparently haven't ever played before, if the coronavirus situation will allow?
Eddie: Currently, we have no plans to play any festivals in Europe in 2021. You are right, we have never played Europe. We released our albums in the US, Canada and Europe under Rough Justice. We definitely had a lot of European sales and we do still sell t-shirts to Europe. We definitely have some fans in Europe, and it would be a dream to play there. We did have an offer last year, or was it the year before? Of course, corona did not help things, but let me tell you, if someone gave us a great deal to play a festival in Europe anywhere, the bigger, the better, we definitely would be interested and would love to do it. We would love, love, love to come to Europe.
NEW STUFF IN THE WORKS
The next thing many DBC fans would obviously like to know is whether you have written any new music since the reunion and if we can expect a new album any time soon (fingers crossed)?
Eddie: We have been jamming for the last, seriously, it feels like the last five years, working on new material. We were getting together once a week and then it ended up being once every two weeks, so definitely not the five days that we were doing when we were kids plus we all have jobs and families, we're all pretty busy. Everything was taking a real long time, but we wanted to write some new stuff. Look, it's not like the first album. It's not like the second album. It has tones and sounds like DBC, but we ended up writing about five songs and then we were realizing that it's just taking so long, that let's just concentrate on three songs that we really like. We had two songs completed. The third one we're just working out the ending. It's almost done, but Phil and I, or Phil got down to writing some lyrics to one of the songs. Then Phil and I were getting together to write lyrics for the other two songs. I'd say musically two songs are complete lyrics wise, the third song needs an ending, and the lyrics need to be completed, but with the coronavirus, I can't even get together with Phil to write these lyrics anymore. We're just waiting for that to end and then get back on the tracks and get those songs completed, get the lyrics done and seriously record them. The plan is to release three new songs. I have no clue when, was supposed to be last year, then it was supposed to be this year.
Maybe in 2022 those new songs will be out, but they have to be recorded. We spent so many years on it that it would be just a shame to waste all that time and not release them. Definitely some new DBC coming out.
Is there anything that didn't achieve with the band when you existed from 1985 to 1991 with the original lineup?
Eddie: Well, of course, there are things that are bugging me. Number one, we didn't play Europe, as I just mentioned. We were released in Europe, but we never got an offer to do a tour there. We know and I know that heavy metal and thrash metal is very big in Europe. It kind of started dying down in North America, but it kept on going in Europe. We know we have fans, but yes, one of the biggest regrets is not flying over to Europe and playing festivals or shows or anything to do with that.
I regret that we didn't do that third album and that fourth album, that fifth and sixth album. We had a contract and it's just horrible that it ended. I wish we kept on going. I just would love to know how those other four albums would have sounded. We had an idea of how the third album was sounding but you can't hear it. We did a cross between the first album and Universe. We wanted to keep everybody happy, so it was a little bit of both, a little technical, but not as many changes. I'll say not as technical as Universe.
I wish we went back to the US to play. I wish we played with Slayer and Metallica and Megadeth and Anthrax and all those big bands. At least we got Slayer, but we never got to play with the other ones and didn't get to tour the US again. Releasing more videos, that would have been fun. Those are the things that stand out the most to me that we didn't accomplish.
THE RETARDED ASSHOLES OR THE MENTAL PUKES?
I have one last question for you and then we are done. Who came up with the band name?
Eddie: The name Dead Brain Cells came from Phil. Gerry and I were trying to start a thrash band and we were called The Final Chapter. We had Mike Zabo, the lead singer for Genetic Control. We were looking for a drummer and a bass player. Actually, I was playing bass at the time, so we were looking for another guitar player. Things switched and I ended up moving from bass to guitar.
In the meantime, there was Dave Javex from Vomit & The Zits who hung out at some of the bars and he said, "Look, just for the hell of it, let's do a joke band just to have fun while you guys are trying to get your band together." We got together. That's how we met Jeff. He was in Vomit & The Zits with Dave. We wrote four songs that first night. We just loved finally playing with a drummer. At this point, we got Phil to play bass.
We had basically a band with Dave Javex singing. We were a five-piece and we needed a name. Dave Javex wanted The Retarded Assholes or The Mental Pukes. Phil said, "Hey, how about Dead Brain Cells?" Dave liked it, we all liked it. It was supposed to be funny. Again, since it was kind of hardcore, we can go by the acronym of DBC. That's how that all happened. It was all just for fun.
I sincerely want to thank you, Edward, for this chat and wish you all the best with your future endeavors with the band. If you have anything else on your mind you'd still like to add, words are free, so just go ahead... ;o)
Eddie: Well, Luxi, I just want to give you a big thank you for reaching out for this interview. Sorry it took so long to get back to you and I want to again apologize for taking so long—but hey, I finally did it. Great to be part of this!
Hopefully to meet you one day, too. Cheers, mate! Bye-bye...
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