I recently had the pleasure of interviewing vocalist Johnny Duff and bassist Robert Fernandez of cult 80's heavy metal act Mox Nix. I would just like to say thank you to both of them for taking the time to talk to Heavy Metal Time Machine and for being so down to Earth!
Andy-Mox Nix have achieved cult status among hard rock and heavy metal fans. Could you give us a brief history lesson on how the band came about?
Robert-we started around late 1982...I got a call one day from a high school classmate named Bruce Tousinau...I knew him as a violinist in the orchestra and he invited me to jam with a band he was forming. Things got off to a weird start as he told me that his mom wouldn't let us jam in their garage and if we could use my house...of course my mom said no...remember we were all barely out of high school...anyway...somehow he managed to set up the audition at his house...I didn't know what to expect as I saw Tommy, Donnie,Johnny and Bruce already jamming on songs I'd never heard before but liked right away. "Armed and Ready" by the Michael Schenker Group was the song...Bruce and Johnny showed me the chords and off we went...I was the last member to join but they made me feel as if I'd been there all along. We quickly began playing game rooms(arcades), skating rinks, parties...any place that would have us. Their was a local club called Mr. B's ballroom where the only night they allowed hard rock or heavy metal was Monday nights...we slowly built up a following there and eventually they let us play there on weekends.
Johnny-Mox Nix was started in the summer of ‘82. Original lineup consisted of Bruce Tousinau and myself on guitars, Robert Fernandez on bass, Donny Bragg on drums and Thomas Rogers on vocals. We started out like most did at that time, playing covers of the bands we loved like UFO, Y&T, and The Scorpions,to name a few. We started playing out at parties, game rooms and small clubs around the area. It was an interesting time, as far as music goes , here in Texas as we were winding down from the “Urban Cowboy” craze and it just seemed like their was this explosion of New Wave and British Metal everywhere! We were excited to be a part of it and played whenever we could. Some of the clubs at that time would book you to play Monday through Saturday which was great for any band trying to hone their craft. But it also showed us who was really wanting to be a part of this. Thomas was the first to leave, on his own admission, and we auditioned a few singers before it was asked of me to try singing. I was a bit skeptical at the time because I didn’t see myself as a ‘frontman’ type. I worked really hard at developing my voice and, trust me, those first shows we did with me out front were absolutely horrible! But, as I kept practicing, I found my pitch , so to say, and found songs that worked. When Donny left, we got Joe Vernagallo. Joe was the one who convinced us to try writing our own songs. We watched in amazement as Helstar put out their first album and thought,”Wow! We want to do that,too!” So we started writing, slowly introducing our songs in our sets and then finally, doing full blown original shows.
Andy-I'm listening to your album as we speak. It's amazing how fresh and timeless it still sounds. What made Mox Nix click so well?
Robert-I think we clicked really well on a musical level because we were friends first and band mates second...we hung out a lot...listening to music, skateboarding, hanging out at the clubs...and jamming a lot...not only with ourselves but with other great local musicians...we'd go watch Helstar rehearse and they'd let us jam...or they'd come out to one of our shows...it was a great musical time in S. Houston. We enjoyed being together as people and that carried over in to our music. Also I think we were all at the same skill level...everyone in the band was able to carry their own weight.
Johnny-I think ,at that time,we were all focused on the music. It seemed like everything, and I mean everything, was secondary to the band.
Andy-If I'm not mistaken there was talk at one time about releasing another album. What ever became of that?
Robert-We recorded our 2nd album at Pyramid Studios in Ithaca,NY...Shatter records gave us a list of producers that were interested in producing our next record and we chose Alex Perialis based strictly on tracks we had heard him produce. It was a bonus to find out that Rob "Wacko" Hunter of Raven wanted to engineer in studio. We arrived in the bitter cold of November 1987 and did some really great work...in short the label had sunk a lot of money on Paul Di'Annos Battlezone and Rhett Forrester's album...by the time they got around to us the money simply wasn't there. They asked us to hold on but after being in limbo for about a year and a half, we decided to part ways and they released us from the contract. Pyramid still had possession of the masters and understandably wanted to recover their costs--we shopped the rough tracks to some labels that were interested but ultimately they wanted more control over the production. We really liked what was coming out of those sessions so we held our ground. Maybe this cost us in the long run but there's something to be said for loyalty and artistic reasons. Ultimately we disbanded before the 2nd album could be finished and released.
Johnny-Our deal with Axe Killer was for that one album, which may or may not have been a bad thing, but they never approached us for another. We did , however, sign another deal with an American label out of New York called Shattered records. We started recording in October of ‘86 in Ithica, New York with Alex Periales and Rob Hunter. Unfortunately, before much was done, the label folded and it was never finished. Alex and Rob worked really hard with us. We were over playing on everything and not really letting the music ‘breathe’ sort of speak. We learned a lot from those sessions. We tried to get interest from other labels but no one seemed interested in continuing, or should I say, ‘picking up the tab’ and finishing the album.
Andy-What are you favorite songs on the album and why?
Robert-My favorite song on the album is one that Johnny wrote called "Reckless". It was driving, very melodic and had some really cool and sophisticated chord changes. The kind that Johnny was really good at.
Johnny-I would say ‘Steal The Show’. Probably not the best song on the album, but it was our first and we all wrote it together.
Andy-Heavy metal has changed so much since the eighties and yet it seems like there are more and more bands these days who are embracing that sound. The sound of traditional heavy metal is making a strong comeback does it surprise you at all?
Robert-It doesn't surprise me at all that more traditional heavy metal is making a comeback...metal has always been about melody, pounding rhythms and bass and most of all great vocals. If you look at the great hard rock and metal bands, they all have great singers...from Deep Purple to Maiden, Dio, Metallica, you name it...I think some of the metal bands in the last few years deluded themselves into thinking they didn't need a great singer...just a great growl over a wall of sound.
Johnny-Not at all. I think that the early eighties, just like the early seventies, will always be an attraction. The music just seemed more sincere at these times and I think people sense that. It has nothing to do with musical abilities. It is all about conviction and most of us do not learn this until later in life.( pointing my finger at myself)
Andy-What would you like people to take away from your band? What would you like your legacy to be?
Robert-I would like people to take away from our band...a feeling that they just listened to and truly enjoyed some straight ahead metal from a group of musicians that did the only thing they really liked to do at the time... If they listen to our album from beginning to end and say "wow, that was pretty kick ass..." then we did our job. I think our legacy is that there's some really great music out there that you might have missed from some working class guys living in an industrial town that could have taken the easy road and played country music but instead chose to play what was right for themselves.
Johnny-These were some good ol’ boys from Texas who decided to make themselves a Metal album! Seriously ,though. I am proud to have been a part of Mox Nix, however, I don’t believe our lifespan was long enough or lengthy enough for any kind of legacy.
Andy-While you did re-release your album on CD it is now out of print and fetching high prices on sites like Ebay. Any chance it might be re-issued again down the road?
Robert-The fact that our album fetches such high prices still boggles my mind...I can only guess that it's a testament to the quality of our music...I guess at the time that we were creating the music I never gave us enough credit or realized the impact it would have. I assume Axe Killer Records is no longer in operation so there's really nothing stopping us from re-releasing the CD ourselves. I'm sure we could add some unreleased material to it. I know Joe our drummer has a fairly decent live recording of a Houston show where we were supposed to open for Warrant. (on a side note in 1989 we were booked to open for them but they never arrived for sound check at a club called The Axiom) We ended up playing anyway to a crowd of pissed off Warrant fans but it turned out to be a pretty good show despite their no show.
Johnny-Hopefully? Maybe? That’s a good question. I bought one myself off Ebay from a guy in the Czech Republic. Axe Killer did a wonderful job on CD too, by the way.
Andy-What about the unreleased album. Will that ever see the light of day?
Robert-I personally doubt that the album in it's entirety would be released but definitely some cuts off of it could make their way out there. Two of the tracks made it onto the Axe Killer CD re-release.
Johnny-I would have to say no. I don’t believe any of us are interested in that. All of our musical interest have changed too much over the years.
Andy-What became of the band after Mox Nix split up? There was hope that the band would reform and try to make another run at it.
Robert-...After Mox Nix broke up we all lost track of each other for a few years...Bruce was in Nashville, I was in LA, Joe and Johnny in Houston.Ultimately we all ended up in Houston for a short while. Joe, Johnny and I played in a band called Hip Circle for a few years. Bruce moved long enough for us to do a few reunion shows in 2007 and 2008. It was greatly. to play with them all again. As far as another run at it I think it would be difficult as we're doing other things...Johnny has a successful band called J.J. Dynomite, I live in and work in LA as a director of photography and Bruce lives near Austin. The occasional reunion gig is the best we can hope for...
Johnny- We all got involved in different music projects. We had relocated to Los Angeles at that time. Joe had quit the band and moved back to Texas. We had a new drummer , Ron Sareson, briefly before our final demise. I moved back to Texas at that point . Bruce and Robert stayed in California. We did reform briefly to record the two additional tracks for the CD. It was kind of surprising that after all that time, going back in the studio with everyone, that when it was done, it sounded like the rest of the album.
Andy-Your sound was rooted in hard rock and heavy metal of the day. And yet there is no denying that Mox Nix had their own sound. What were your influences?
Robert-We were definitely influenced by bands such as Riot, MSG, Iron Maiden, Priest, UFO, Y and T, Deep Purple...really classic bands that all knew how to write songs. These bands weren't necessarily popular at the time...but they had a huge impact on us. I think we developed our own sound because we were a close knit band that didn't set out to be derivative. We wanted a sound of our own and we were fortunate to find it. Chasing trends was never something that we wanted to do.
Johnny-I think we were drawing off of groups like Y&T and Michael Schenker Group on the one hand, and groups like Metallica and Slayer on the other.
Andy-Any bands you guys like these days as far as the new ones?
Robert-I like Avenged Sevenfold a lot but I still find myself putting on Riot's Fire Down Under or Accept's Balls To The Wall more often than not.
Johnny-I find myself going back and discovering bands from the seventies I knew nothing about more than anything new.
Andy-Again I just must say this album flat out rocks. It is criminal you guys never got your proper due.
Robert- As far as us getting our proper due, it still feels good to go back to Houston and be sitting at a bar or restaurant and someone comes up to me and says how much they enjoyed one of our shows and still listens to our album and that their kids are now fans because they heard it through them...that feels proper.
Andy-If you could go back and change anything about Mox Nix would you?
Robert-If I had to change anything it would be...having the foresight to have looked more to the future instead of focusing on the present. We got so busy touring, rehearsing, writing new material, and living life, that we didn't plan as much as we should have. We didn't take care of the business side as much as we should have. For instance to this day I don't know why we only had a one album deal with Axe Killer even though it was one of their best sellers. There was a planned tour with label mates Dark Angel that never came to fruition for reasons our management could never explain.
Andy-Any funny stories from the road?
Robert-One funny road story was this huge drum riser that Joe had built...it was made of welded steel and was strong enough to hold an 18 wheeler...it was so freaking big that for the Accept show in San Antonio it barely fit onstage. It gave the rest of the band about a foot of space before plunging 12 feet down on to the ground. We could barely move without falling. We ended up donating it to the venue...the Majestic Theater I think was.
Andy-You guys opened for some big names back in the day like Yngwie Malmsteen, Accept, Killer Dwarves and Warlock. What was that like?
Robert-It was cool opening for Yngwie and he would watch us from the side of the stage. His tour manager told us that he rarely ever showed up early to catch the opening act and that he liked our music. He even sent a case of beer to our dressing room in Austin when he found out that the promoter didn't provide any for us.
Andy-What are the band members doing these days?
Robert- I work in the film industry, I'm not really sure what Joe and Bruce are up to...I guess I should give them a call...maybe Johnny knows.
Andy-Thanks for taking the time to check in. Any last words? Want to hype any current projects?
Robert-As far as last words, I would say that it was a pleasure being part of a great scene at a time before the Internet, when fanzines and word of mouth could be used to build a following. I truly enjoyed my time in Mox Nix and the majority of my lifelong friends came from those times.