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Interviews Trauma (USA)

Interview with drummer Kris Gustofson

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: November 15, 2022

Live pics by Frankie James (Culture Rock Media)

Thanks to Chip from Chipster PR & Consulting, Inc. for setting up the interview

Trauma is a heavy/thrash band from San Francisco, California, formed in 1981. The band released their well-received debut album, Scratch and Scream, in 1984, and then sadly disbanded in 1985. Nobody expected to see them come back, but we were all proved wrong in 2013 when they announced they had started the process for making new music again.

In February 2015, we got the band's follow-up album, Rapture and Wrath (on Germany's Pure Steel Records), which had two original members from the band's eighties lineup, Donny Hillier on vocals and Kris Gustofson on drums. In 2018, they threw us their third album, As the World Dies, which they decided to release independently, and which was also well received by fans of the band.

On September 28, 2020, tragedy struck when the band lost their Donny Hillier, their original vocalist and an integral part of the band's existence. At that point, the band's future was uncertain, but things tend to get sorted out no matter how hard and difficult they can be. Brian Allen (Dark Opera, Dark Sky Choir, etc.) was the answer, allowing the band to finish their fourth album, Awakening, which came out on German label Massacre Records on September 9, 2022.

The Metal Crypt was contacted recently by the band's PR company for an interview, and we just couldn't refuse the opportunity to interview the band's only remaining original member, drummer Kris Gustofson...

Good day, Kris! How's life in sunny and warm San Francisco, CA?

Kris: Hey there, long time man. Hope all is good with you!


Since we last talked at the 70K Tons of Metal cruise, over five years ago, lots of things have happened in the Trauma camp and, unfortunately, not all of them are positive. Donny Hiller's passing in September 2020 has to be chief among these experiences. Did his untimely passing make you think about whether the band could continue?

Kris: Yes, Donny was a dear friend I had known for many years, so the decision was very difficult to make. This new album almost did not happen. He did want the band to continue, however, at the time we were not certain if we would be able to fill such large shoes.


How did you find Brian Allen to take the vocalist's role in the band?

Kris: Our producer knew of Brian Allen. We had him come out to a jam and everything just clicked which was a miracle since this process could have really dragged on for a very long time. We got really lucky with Brian.

Brian has a whole different voice compared to Donny, reminding me of Chuck Billy from Testament at times, and even Sean Peck occasionally (Cage, Death Dealer, etc.) with his high-pitched screams. You weren't looking for the kind of vocalist who could exactly sound like Donny, correct?

Kris: That's cool to hear. Donny had his own approach and there will never be anyone like him. To find someone who sang like him would have been impossible. We realized seeking a new vocalist would mean a different sound for the band. Brian brings many elements to the table.

To me it looks like Brian brought a lot more aggression and energy to the band as his vocal range is amazingly wide, allowing the band to write a variety of different music, from softer songs to harder bangers, which undoubtedly is a great asset. What else has he brought into Trauma?

Kris: Yes, that is true. Brian has incredible range and power. The new album was written during 2020-21 and, as you know, it was a fucked-up time for everyone around the planet. It seemed like a good time to come up with heavier darker music. The passing of Donny took us into a different space at that time.

Apparently, he's involved with two other bands, Dark Sky Choir and Two Headed Beast. How does he share his time between Trauma and his two other active bands?

Kris: As of now, I don't believe he is still doing those projects.


Up next, could you tell us about the process of recording the band's fourth studio album, Awakening? Would you say the songs came together smoothly and easily, considering what you guys had been going through, especially in the last two years or so...?

Kris: Actually, since it was the time of COVID, we didn't get together a whole lot. Many files went back and forth until we felt good about what we had. We just kept working it this way until we were ready. It was a long process.

In my opinion, you guys have adopted a bigger influence from the typical Bay Area thrash metal sound on Awakening, than on your previous releases. Do you believe it has much to do with Brian's involvement in the band?

Kris: On the new album, we all pushed for a heavier batch of songs. I also pushed hard to go back to the roots of what the band is about, which is Bay area thrash metal. I think we achieved that. This was already in motion before Brian stepped in. Donny wrote most of the lyrics on the album before he got sick.

What can you reveal about the dark and mysterious album cover on Awakening? Does it have a deeper meaning?

Kris: Ha!! The album cover was designed by Ioannis from Dangerous Age. He is the best! I will leave this there.

The order of the songs on an album is always something bands consider so that the whole palette of songs flow in the best and most balanced way. How hard was this task for this new album?

Kris: Well, when you finally have all the tracks, everyone in the band listens to them in different orders until everyone agrees on which ones should go where. It does take some thinking. We always hope they flow.

I have seen many really positive and even raving reviews on the Internet, which I'm sure makes you happy and pleased. Obviously, you have done many things right on the new album. Did you approach your songwriting process from a different angle this time around?

Kris: That is great to hear!! As I stated, we wanted to go back to the roots of the Bay Area thrash metal days as much as possible, so we had this in mind when coming up with the material. I think for the most part we did pretty well. The next album will blow this one away.

Awakening is the band's first album released by Germany's Massacre Records, and the band's fourth studio album overall. How did you end up on Massacre Records and are you pleased with your cooperation so far?

Kris: Our management were the ones that worked out the deal with them. So far so good. Good label.


As the only original member left in the band, how have you seen the band's journey up to this very day? Has it been a smooth ride so far, or have you had quite a few bumps in the road that have made you wonder if Trauma would be worth another try or not?

Kris: It has been a long haul. Some good, some bad. We were gone for many years. I did play with many other musicians over the years, and I never stood still. As far as Trauma is concerned, picking up where we left off really doesn't make much sense. It was more like starting over again in a different climate. The business has changed so much over the years and honestly, has gotten bad for younger bands starting out. There aren't any big budgets, no tour support, etc. I have been in bands where all this was taken care of, which is not like it is now. We are just happy with being able to do what we do and hope the fans like our music. We aren't expecting anything big to happen at all. As all musicians are, it is the music that counts and trying to have some fun along the way. That is it.

How was the period of 1982-1985 different compared to when the band made its comeback in 2013 as far as the music scene is concerned? Many things have changed, but what's your personal perception of all this? Do you feel like you are an analog man in a digital world, eh?

Kris: That was a completely different time that will never be repeated because it doesn't exist. The '80s was the time when it was all going on. I played in many different bands after Trauma that were signed and got big advance dollars. That is what made everything tick. That is also why there was a huge scene around the world. It was a chance to make $$. Trust me, the labels back then did. Now it is a whole different scene. You have to take the good with the bad and remember why you ever wanted to do this in the first place. It is your love for the instrument you play. Nothing else.

What are some of your personal highlights (gig experiences, conquered venues, etc.) from 1982 to 1985 that have stuck in your mind, for one reason or another?

Kris: Well, that was long ago, but I do have a few memories that are cool to think of. I would have to say one would be is when I saw Metallica play at The Old Waldorf the first time. That was amazing. They were just starting out. Trauma played gigs with Slayer, Exodus, Laaz Rockit, Vicious Rumors, Saxon, Mötley Crüe, and many other bands. It was all good shit.


Now that you have another strong album out and the band seems to be going stronger than ever, it's pretty obvious that you'd like to come to Europe in 2023 and get some festival shows played for bigger crowds on the Old Continent. Could you possibly reveal something about those plans and where Trauma could be possibly seen in Europe in 2023?

Kris: This is very correct. We are working on plans to tour over there in 2023. I will have to let you know when something is concrete. I do hope very soon! We would love for the fans to hear us play.

OK, it's time for the last question and for that we'll need some of your salesman skills. Would you give people a couple of good reasons why they should check Awakening out, and your past works as well for that matter?

Kris: OK, here goes. Trauma's new album Awakening is out. Ten ripping tracks. We worked very hard to bring this album about for fans of thrash/power/speed metal. We hope you will like it and become fans of the band. We thank you in advance for taking the time to check the music out. Without you, the fans, none of this is possible which we wholeheartedly appreciate more than you can possibly imagine. Thank YOU!! This is TRUE!!!!

I sincerely want to thank you, Kris, for your time in making this interview happen, and in the very same breath wish you all the best with your future comings and goings with Trauma. May the force be with you. Any fitting (and better) closing comments perhaps?

Kris: Luxi, I remember the interview you did on 70,000 Tons of Metal with us. You're a true fan! It was great meeting you then and an awesome pleasure now answering your great questions! I hope our paths will cross soon, my friend! Thank you very much for your interest in the band, we also wish you all the best!

Best wishes always,

Other information about Trauma (USA) on this site
Review: As the World Dies
Review: As the World Dies
Review: Awakening
Interview with drummer Kris Gustofson, vocalist Donny Hiller, guitarists Steve Robello and Joe Fraulob and bassist Marcel Eaton on April 8, 2017 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)

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