Friday, January 18, 2008

Rat Skates interview part two

More with former Over Kill drummer Rat Skates. If you missed part one yesterday then just scroll down and read that first.


MM-You mentioned learning some things through watching Twisted Sister, the Dead boys and other bands perform. Once Over Kill started to get more popular were there smaller local bands being influenced by what you were doing?

RS-Yes, but not right away…that didn’t really happen until the first record and the L’Amour scene started opening up to more aggressive and heavier stuff. BUT, we were really a local representation and interpretation of what I was scoring from the Import Section…that’s were it all came from. I was turned on to it by the tape traders, and so I turned on whoever DD and I had in the band at the time. Aside from the core NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) bands that had inspired us, like Priest, Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead, etc. we had stepped it up to pulling some influences from they “gray area” time period of metal (as I like to call it). This means the bands from like ’81-’83 that were not traditional metal, but had definitely stepped things up quite a bit as far as tempos, aggressiveness and lyricism, bands like Anvil, Riot, Accept, Mercyful Fate (musically) and even Manowar (listen to “Fear His Name” from “Taking Over” and tell me there’s no Manowar influence).
So really what happened is that we had SUCH a devoted but VERY specific group of fans, who were 99% the same guys I would always see at the flea Market, around Rock n Roll Heaven, and at the Import section of the few record stores where I got my goods….that was my ‘connection”…our fans were very hardcore because of our obscurity in the early days, and I think other bands wanted that, so yeah, they mimicked certain aspects of what we were doing to try to get that devotional following…a loud crowd with fists in the air was straight-up “success”.

MM-It sounds you spent several years wearing the ghoul make-up and Blitz wearing the cape and the other horror type props you used. When did you drop all of that? Was it because most thrash bands were going for the plain jeans and t-shirt look or did you have a label or someone that asked you to change your image?

RS-That whole theatrical thing wasn’t just suddenly “dropped”, but it did dissolve over a short period of time…it was pretty much gone by I guess 1985 because it wasn’t understood. When you have a band like Exodus who was kicking the shit out of everyone (musically), the “denim and leather” mindset of the headbangers at the time really are the people who persuaded us and Slayer to take it off…it was like “why are you wearing all that shit, Exodus doesn’t have all that crap on”. And of course, that was what was Motley Crue was being recognized for, so we CERTAINLY didn’t want THAT comparison. So they were correct in the sense that Exodus had the MUSIC as their building block, we (Overkill) grew up in the New Jersey/ New York club scene era from 1978- 1983 that was totally dominated by Twisted Sister, so that was all that we knew in a way, it was the standard…just like long hair and spandex pants, you go with what you know. I think we (us and Slayer) should have continued on and stuck to what we believed in…that’s why we did it in the first place…for a little longer, because to me anyway, the theatrical aspect of the show just was just a visual extension of the music. I enjoyed using that part of my brain to be imaginative like that, and DD was REALLY into it and really good at it.

MM-Which album do you prefer "Feel the fire" or "Taking Over" and why?

RS-“Feel The Fire”, without a doubt. A band’s first record is usually their best, and that’s the case here. I think it’s blatantly clear that “Taking Over” was being attracted by that Metallica-magnet that consumed a lot of bands in that time period, and Gustafson was no exception…which was too bad, he had is own style early on, very Priest/ Sabbath/ Maiden-ish. That record was recorded at the start of the period where everything became a comparative to the peers; lets A/B ours to Master of Puppets or Slayer or they even tried Pantera…You can fool the people for a little while, but not forever. Eventually the copying or ripping off even could put such a big bruise in your credibility that you’ll never be able to get out of. How about doing what’s best for YOU and YOUR music, instead of just hoping you’ve changed some things enough where no one will peg your influences, or even who you are directly ripping-off?
In “Born in The Basement”, I freely talk about some things that I ripped off, like Maiden’s letter “O”, and there’s even more that didn’t made the final cut. There are two things about that thinking; first, it clearly shows how strong our influences were, and how those influences directly dictated our directions going forward. Second, the competitiveness. There’s a very fine line between what fuels you to push something up to the next level, and just complacently existing as a wanna-bee.
“Feel The Fire” was honest; there was very little influence from the fans, media, or all the other things that cause most bands to swing the pendulum in whatever direction the fans want, or whatever band they have a hard-on for. The production on “Feel The Fire” was pretty rough, but at least you could hear the drums. On “Taking Over” we tried to make the guitar so fat and layered it a billion times that it devoured any bandwidth where things like snare drums should reside. I’ll never forget having this ‘argument’, as I kept explaining that the clarity of an instrument should be a GIVEN…I mean you could hear the drums very clearly on those Slayer and Metallica records, right? And they’re still heavier than hell. I thought the first Metal Church record was produced very well and that we should have used that for guidance, if anything. They took my advice, amongst other things, immediately after I left…the drums were heard!
On “Feel The Fire”, I think that Carl (Canedy) really did do a heck of a job, considering that everyone was still figuring out how to record music this heavy and fast in 1985…and if nothing else, at least it didn’t sound like everyone else, and when everyone else just kept gauging themselves to Metallica, in songwriting AND production, when that became the STANDARD in metal, which Priest had up until then been the benchmark, all the groups subsequently had their best sales in like 1988-1991-ish. As long as you had the Metallica crunch-thump, the black stretch pants and Reeboks, you did well in the game…the SOUND was the priority, not the songwriting, and that’s what caused the collapse of the “Thrash” bands.


MM-What was the most difficult aspect of making your film?

RS-Well, it was kind of weird in the way that I approached the “interview” parts, because I wanted to keep the audience that I invited (which was really just a dozen select old school people of that era) interested in the whole story. Some were primarily Overkill fans and wanted to know that history, but some couldn’t care less either. I had to try to keep everything consolidated and to the point; painting the timeline in which all this happened, and relating it to the culture as a whole, and my obsessive/compulsive behavior that drove me everyday. Quite honestly, I was conscious about how much I wanted…or needed…to talk about Overkill. There weren’t Cliff Burton-type tragic deaths or anything really so unique about how everything came to be, so all the references are just that…references. I also reference Twisted, The Dead Boys, on and on to make everything relative, but my focus was just to tell my story of the struggles I experienced, relative to the time period and within the culture of the Northeast. It was Lori (Director) that really kept everything in perfect perspective; not too much, but not too little, make the point and move on. There are quite a few really interesting bites that didn’t end up in the final cut; more honest, straight-up stuff, but Lori really kept the whole story in mind, beginning, middle, end. There is also a cut/ fade that everyone’s been asking about what I was saying (the part is towards the end where I think the words I used was “making a mistake by turning my back and walking away”)…this was actually a GREAT piece about MONEY, where I got pretty detailed. It may not be super-clear, but Lori thought we should fade out and back like that so it would be understood that talking about financial matters in any detail is in poor taste, it’s finger-pointing that is supposed to be a private concern, so it could be mentioned as an issue of discussion but not elaborated on, and I totally agree. I mean you’re watching this whole story and at the very end it turns into this propaganda thing about money?…I don’t think so…Fans are interested in us as musicians, not as businessmen. That “Wrecking” DVD was a great example of what NOT to do, so we didn’t. In another recent project that David Ellefson and I just did, we had some Grammy- award winners with us in it who reaffirmed it…MONEY has single-handedly RUINED the art of music…I wasn’t going to let the subject of money ruin our film as well, that’s not what this was about. Another thing that we considered, since I am a writer, and as a songwriter I was noted for writing Thrash music, but NO WAY did I want another label to box me in as a filmmaker, that’s why I didn’t use the words “Overkill” or even “Thrash” in the title of the project, those labels could help in some aspects, but for the long haul they could hurt even more…if Overkill was a REALLY popular band, I guess using the name MIGHT help on an awareness level, but again the friggin’ label…I write what I feel, regardless of whatever “genre” the public decides to tag my work with, same with playing music.
So, back to your original question. It was a challenge to keep it interesting and understandable for EVERYONE to understand EVERYTHING I was talking about while shooting it live and trying not to shoot re-takes. The other thing that was hard (but fun) was rounding up all our materials, hooking up with some people that helped that I hadn’t talked to in years…I actually came across some more UNBELIEVABLE audio and video material that I could have used in it, but we’ll use it in an upcoming project….and we’ll have to put more of the cut about that money part on YouTube so everyone sees where it was going.

MM-What were you doing in the 1990's?

RS-My main focus was to raise…correctly raise…a family, by my standards and values, which meant staying off the road, and re-assessing some real-world issues like financial portfolios and so on…I really needed a break from the music business. Music is, and always will be the absolute BEST thing in someone’s life and also the absolute WORST. Love to play, hate the business, but one needs the other. It’s an act that can never be perfectly balanced. After Bomb Squad (my band post-Overkill) broke up in ’93, I continued as a full-time percussion instructor, both public and private, did a little stint teaching at Rutgers University in NJ, did audio engineering in and out of the television business, and generally I just tried to have fun with music again. I did some hired/ studio work (not using my professional name) in all kinds of music from electric jazz-fusion to rhythm and blues to everything else in-between. It was actually a lot of fun to PLAY drums again, to enjoy my instrument for all the reasons I am a drummer. I don’t care what anyone says, there is no possible way that your creativity will ever expand if you only listen to ONE type of music and nothing else. Period. Even if you play Thrash or whatever…the narrow-minded thinking of some people amaze me. And some people admit to this too! “No, no…all I listen to is Thrash”…and they call themselves musicians. Those are the guys who will asking you if you want more coffee at Denny’s when everyone else is retired.

MM-How did you things have changed for up and coming bands from the early 1980's compared to what it's like for bands today?

RS-It is drastically different today, some for better, some for worse. Fortunately, the traditional record industry as I know it is self-destructing. I for one, am happy to finally see this. As you saw in the film, when the industry became involved, things changed. I did everything by myself because I didn’t have a choice, but that wasn’t how I wanted it either, I was always striving for that plateau of being a Recording Artist that was signed to a Record Label, and when I got there, things never really got better, they just got different. Here’s a quick example: did you ever notice how many BIG variations of the color GREEN my Overkill logo has been through over the years? This wasn’t rocket science, I picked a simple fluorescent lime-green, I even used to give the record company people actual COLOR samples, saying “here, do this…not darker, not lighter, just do THIS”…and see what happened? To them, this was apparently no big deal, but to me it was my entire WORLD. It got screwed up all the time, everywhere. But on the flipside, I could never have sold more than a few thousand “Power in Black” without a record company behind me at some point. (There was no such thing as The Internet). So, We able to sell a LOT more of the WRONG colored albums!
The thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that every successful band always has one guy (usually one guy) who is the pragmatic guy with the initiative to keep forging ahead onward, and completely ignore the odds. When I was out there fighting the world for the cause of Metal and getting my band on the map, in retrospect I was pretty blessed to have instinctively acquired enough business skills that HAD to be implemented along with the creative element to ultimately reach my goals…Today If a particular individual within a band can also merge these two elements together, the rest is SO MUCH easier…As I said before there was no internet…and there was no CD burning, digital cameras, home recording, on and on…the resources that I had available SUCKED compared to today, no comparison. With all these great tools, a band can obviously be known around the world literally OVERNIGHT! Get a Pro-Tools recording system or Cakewalk or one of the countless other software recording packages, record something that may not be GREAT, but it just has to be ON PAR with the other guys who are also recording in their bedrooms, shoot it out to the ‘net via MySpace, YouTube, etc. and BINGO! You’re in the game. Look at what Radiohead did?…brilliant. But of course they had prior success via traditional recording industry protocol, and of course have the music to back up their marketing moves. So the playing field is pretty even now, but if your music can’t carry you, all the MySpace friends in the world won’t get you past playing Bar mitzvah’s.

MM-What plans do you have for the future?

RS-Well being that you see that I have a real-world assessment of the BUSINESS of MUSIC, I can’t say too much here, but David (Ellefson) and I just put together something TOTALLY unrivaled about this subject and then some…I’m not saying anything more right now due to the “shit-happens” factor, but, it is a COMPLETED project we did, only the delivery end of it is the process that we’re just now working on. I’m also sorting through my own scripts for an actual feature-length movie that I can’t WAIT to start filming….wait ‘til you see this…
I’ve also got projects with Kick Ass Magazine and The Old Bridge Militia on the boards…just deciding on which comes first tends to be my difficulty sometimes.

MM-Anything else you want to say?

RS-Yep…I would like to say ‘thanks” to everyone who has supported this film, the contributors, the fans, the reviewers, and I would like to thank YOU Mark for giving me this opportunity to share some thoughts with your readers. Keep up the great work.

Thanks to Rat Skates for doing this interview.


Blogger Jeff said...

I like that Radiohead's move came up, I'm always curious to see what artists think about that.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rat was overkill
as soon as he split......
those guys fell deeper and deeper into mediocrity with each successive release

8:14 AM  

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