Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rat Skates interview part one


Rat Skates was the original drummer for Over Kill and he left them in 1987. He recently released his documentary "Born in the basement" which is about his time in Over Kill and the whole "do it yourself" approach they had to go through while trying to get their name out there.
This was a long, but very informative interview so it will be posted in two parts with part two coming on Friday. So enjoy!

MM-I just finished watching "Born in the basement" last week. When did you come up with the idea to do this documentary?

RS-I had thought about it for quite a while…but only very recently, I guess it was late 2005…that we decided to give it the green light. Over the years, I still kept getting mail from fans who have been wondering how (and what) I’ve been doing. It’s actually pretty amazing, kind of a hardcore following that I never knew existed. It was then, I guess late ’05, that someone brought me over this Wrecked Everything DVD that apparently had been out for a while, and it didn’t hit me right away, but when it did, I realized that it wasn’t about a weak effort, or uninteresting or anything, it was just that it was just plain WRONG to claim to tell the bands history, and talk about only the things that best fit into the current personal business agendas of the storytellers and NOT tell the actual story, just a myopic, totally self-oriented overview. As with every group, there is a line-up and a time period that THE FANS decide to be the CLASSIC line-up, classic album, etc. Now, EVERY artist from EVERY genre has the same situation, and being that their “golden era” might be that of 20 years past, nonetheless, the fans are the ones who make that choice. As these post-heyday members continue on, they’ll always try to tell themselves that people really DO care about their new material. Since this is proven otherwise by the all the reunions and horrible sales numbers of their newer releases, whether they want to come to terms with it or not, its just a simple fact in the entertainment business, it’s the same with actors and the movies they are acting in, same with athletes, etc.
So, there’s 7 years of history…the important stuff…the stuff from the beginning that determines if there is a middle and an end that was entirely ignored, it was obviously completely unfair to the fans, who are my fans as well, to get something so shallow. So after my dismay at that effort that still bears the logo of my work, and seeing what “Get Thrashed” was going to cover on the subject, I basically just filled in the blanks, combining all these things together, and there you go…

MM-What has been the response to your film so far?

RS-I’m absolutely blown away by how well it’s been received… all the old school crowd (especially the musicians) have been saying “FINALLY!…there it is…that’s how it WAS and that’s how we all FELT”. I’ve been told that the honesty and sincerity is what has made it so unique…that’s exactly how I was hoping this would come across…someone just said in another review that for the Old School, Born in The Basement is “A declaration of how we all felt”…I thought that was right on the money. Since we covered all the factual end in Get Thrashed, I HAD to “open up the hood” on what we were all about…So, I guess it’s cool because Get Thrashed sets up the Wikipedia-type stuff so the “New School” crowd has somewhat of a stat sheet, and Born in The Basement goes “under the hood” and tells the “WHY” and the “FEEL” part. All the musicians from the day have commented on the opinions I expressed, they’re really just me speaking for all of us, as we were all cut from the same mold…

MM-How long did the film take to make?

RS-Start to finish, about a year…it could have really been completed in 6 months, but I am (and was) usually working on multiple projects.

MM-Over Kill worked several years before getting signed to a label. What was the most shocking thing to you about being on a record label?

RS-I was shocked as to the amazing incompetence displayed by many of the companies and individuals working in it. Even though, at that time, Thrash Metal was just breaking out into somewhat of a “mass’ acceptance, some of the fundamental things in the business, Thrash or not, things like travel arrangements, album artwork, merchandising…were handled on a clueless kindergarten level. It took a while for things to get straightened out, not that they ever were totally right. Things in some aspects got a lot worse before they got better. It was shocking at how many records you could sell, how many t-shirts you could sell, how big your crowds were, and the tour manager hands you 15 bucks to live on. Even that 15 bucks was borrowed from the bank, the bank that is your Record Company. Everyone made money but me. The repeated term was “Such-and-such (meaning your album) hasn’t recouped yet”. Well, when your that young and supposedly on your way to living the rock-star dream, your response is “Wow dude, that sucks” in a full-on Jeff Spiccoli voice…I don’t think I even knew what the words “accounting” or “audit” meant, I just new that it was boring to me and I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to it. Unfortunately, musicians don’t pay attention to the business side of music until they’ve been burned by it, and mistakes have been made.

MM-In "Decline of western civilization 2: The metal years" there was a part about bands having flier battles where one band would replace another band's flier with their own. Did you run into any of that in the New Jersey/New York area in your club days?

RS-Yeah absolutely…there were some “high-visibility” areas like around the clubs in NYC, like the utility poles, sometimes around record stores and music stores too, but the toll-booths were a big one. You could see how many bands were putting there stickers on there at any given time because no one ever had the time to worry about perfectly overlapping or covering the band before you; you had to do it as fast as possible so you wouldn’t get caught….we would actually get it down to a science…man that was a lot of fun, especially when you drove through a different toll a few weeks later and no one covered you up yet…it always me feel like I was the headlining act of the Garden State Parkway.

MM-Before getting signed, about how many hours a week did you spend doing things towards promoting your band?

RS-WAY too many…Overkill was ALL I did. Seriously, I had spent WAY more time in marketing and promotion than I did playing the drums…it took me a while to realize this, but I had made the mistake of trying to delegate out some of my responsibilities, but that failed…big time. Hey, everyone has certain abilities, you know… Where a person might not be cut out for some things, they may excel in others…like Blitz’s lyrics were very imaginative, I thought. Gustafson learned to silk-screen in High School and DD used to book the shows and a couple other things, but I was consumed with the rest, and that was also because I DID NOT have a choice. Lori even had to do all the mail-orders and promo packages while I was on the road, and she didn’t really even know my parents that well…it was ridiculous when I think about it now.
When I had to drive somewhere, I would really only listen to our rehearsal tapes, a lot of which just had basic guitar parts or basic jams…I used to assemble most of our songs while driving. It’s referred to as the songs “arrangement”. I vividly remember who, what, where and when EVERYTHING was written, I think because it was kind of like things on my “to-do” list. Bunch of cool parts, but no songs, yeah, I did a lot of those song arrangements in the car, sometimes on the way to or from practice…I guess that was my first real experience in ‘multi-tasking”, and it wasn’t by choice, but I HAD to get it done.

MM-In "Born in the basement" you talked about your frustration with local cover bands of the time getting the best slots at clubs. How did Over Kill manage to break in and get better slots? Was it hard work over time or was their a few gigs that broke you through?

RS-It was a combination of both, but mostly just slowly….and I mean SLOWLY building up a fan base. I tried to do as much advertising (legal advertising, not “street” advertising) as we could afford. It was pretty much a matter of peoples’ curiosity getting the best of them when they saw an ad with us looking like five Alice Cooper wanna-bees and the vampire cape thing and my tagline on our ads was always “BEWARE…” People would never forget those ads, or the green logo, because they had never seen anything like that before, it was SO much different than everything else that was out there at the time. And on the music front, our fans…the same people who occupied the first ten rows of the early shows at The Palladium…Priest, Maiden, Motorhead, The Blizzard of Ozz…these were the guys that came to see us, and bang with us, because we were doing covers by all those bands. So, when you couple all these things together, we were doing something that was REALLY unique and just couldn’t be ignored.
But the hardest part initially was getting booked at all, because as I explained in the movie, we were playing covers, but not Zeppelin or Billy Squier or The Who…it was all from bands that the club-owners never heard of. I think that one of our biggest strengths was as an opening act. It really pushed us (like any opening act) to perform that much better. It wasn’t about pleasing the crowd, it was about stomping the crap out of the headline act, and that ranged from opening up for other cover bands to bands like The Plasmatics, Anvil, Venom, WASP…shows like that would always re-define our own energy level.


MM-Do you still have all or par of the cobblestone prop that went in front of your drum riser?

RS-Yeah, I have some of that stuff that wasn’t being used anymore, but I left most of it behind so they could use it. Actually, I left pretty much everything back there that I made, even the songs that were on the next record after I left was all stuff we had been working on, and a bunch of other ideas I had too…I don’t want to get into listing things, all you got to do is look and listen to the before and after, everything changed, very noticeably.

***Check back on Friday for part two.


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