After an unfortunate big delay in the release of their second album, "Journey Into Oblivion" Florida’s EQUINOX are finally back in action again. And judging the band just by these new songs (which are actually already quite dated again), it’s pretty obvious that they not only have grown immensely as a band but also developed their unique form of dark and brutal Death Metal alot! Reasons enough for us to hook up with guitarist and founding member Pete Slate for a brandnew interview. Here’s the result…
Pete, when you left ACHERON after the recordings of the "Rites Of The Black Mass" album, was it already clear from you right from the start that you would start up a band on your own or did you also consider joining another act at the time as well?
"I actually knew that I would start my own band after Acheron moved to Tampa FL. I wanted to put a band together that would keep to the old style Black / Death bands. I needed the freedom to write my own music. I had the Equinox name and concept in my mind right before I left Acheron."
What actually lead to the split-up between you and ACHERON exactly? How long have you been part of the band and what have you been doing before playing with them? Any other bands you’ve been involved in?
"I was in Acheron with Vincent Crowley probably about a year. We actually had a project called Mythos before Acheron. We started to write songs and did a few gigs. But the demand for Vincent to use the Acheron name was huge. So he decided to reform Acheron with myself on guitar. We did the "Rites…" album and played many gigs. The band finally moved to Tampa to be closer to drummer Mike Browning. I drove back and forth many times and then finally decided to leave the band. I was also going through many personal changes at that time as well. Before Acheron I had a brief stint with Nuclear Blast band Incubus and before that I had a band with Massacre’s vocalist Kam Lee."
The first musician that you hooked up with at the time, in order to start up EQUINOX, was drummer Stephen Spillers, who used to be part of RITUAL and BLOODLET previously… What motivated him to join forces with you? Were his former bands not active anymore or was he simply in search of a new musical outlet? How did you get together with him?
"I had meet Stephen at a Acheron gig I was playing at. Steve approached me and said he was really into the band. As we were talking we noticed we had a lot of the same infulences such as Celtic Frost, Dream Death, old Obituary, Bathory, and old Mayhem. At this point Stephen was done with his previous bands. So when I did finally leave Acheron, I contacted him because we live so close and we started writing material. I was so pleased at that time to really meet someone who had the same ideas and concepts as myself. We worked great together. I thought his drumming was excellent. He really fit was I was looking for, someone who was not too technical but could play great."
Who came up with the name EQUINOX then? Did you have any other possibilities in mind as well (if so, which ones?) and what would you say, when exactly was the origin of the band under the name EQUINOX?
"It was a name that I had in my head for years. I’ve always been into the seasons, the spring and fall Equinox. The idea that light and darkness are the same. The ideals that evil and good are of equal strength. When I put this band together I’d already decided on the name Equinox. I really didn’t have any other choices."
How long did you practice as a two-piece (if you did) and were you able to write any material during the very early days already or was it mainly just jamming covertunes?
"We started to jam originals right from the start. We covered a few tunes later for live purposes like Possessed’s ‘Swing Of The Axe’ and Celtic Frost ‘Babylon Fell’. We were only a two-piece for about a month, then Mark Lavenia joined on bass and Darkness was just doing vocals. So yes, in the very beginning is was all original."
You claim to be influenced by classic acts such as POSSESSED, CELTIC FROST, DESTRUCTION, SLAYER, BATHORY, SODOM, VENOM, NECROVORE and other bands of that period… So, was it your aim right from the start, that EQUINOX should musically evolve into something similar?
"Yes, these were bands I was totally into. I’m still into these bands. No one in my opinion will ever capture the feeling these bands did when they first came out. I wanted Equinox to take the listener back to those glory days when Speed, Thrash, Death, Black Metal was all united. So it was my intention for us to evolve along those same lines. We never set out to be another Cannibal Corpse or some band who just blasts a million miles per hour all the time. Don’t get me wrong I love all types of Metal it’s just the old style was for Equinox."
How about the lyrical side of things? Did you already make up your minds, to create a concept before Darkness joined you on vocals or was he responsible for that? Where did you draw your main influences from in this department?
"Darkness and I actually split the writing of lyrics. I’ve always been influenced by mysticism, mythology, ancient cultures and legends, and the dark side of life, where Darkness has more of the Horror and Occult aspect. I really feel that our lyrics and music fit perfect together. Yes, It was in our minds to write about these topics right from the start."
When and how did you get together with former INCUBUS bassplayer Mark Lavenia? I mean, ok – you both had been playing together with Kam Lee in the rather shortlived outfit ABHORRENT EXISTENCE in the late 80s, but have you constantly been in touch with each other? Did you offer him the job to join EQUINOX or how did he become a part of the band exactly?
"Yes I’ve known Mark for ever, we actually had a Speed Metal band in the late 80’s called Black Rose. Of course it was not very good so as we got older we formed the DeathThrash band Abhorrent Existence with Kam Lee. From there Mark joined Incubus with me. I actually quit Incubus but Mark stayed and went on the road for the "Beyone The Unknown" tour I think it was 1990. After the tour Mark was not doing anything so I asked him to be a part of Equinox since I had just left Acheron. He agree and we were a three piece. Since we had worked together in the past it was very natural to write songs together. I felt Equinox was really coming together."
And last but not least Darkness came into the picture… tell us a bit more about him and his previous activities… What qualified him for the job to become the EQUINOX frontman?
"He was a vocalist for a band called Mortem A.D. At that time he had that Death / Pestilence style. I was really into it so I gave Darkness a call and he was totally into in. He fit in perfectly, I wanted someone who could sing low but also rip out those early style Black Metal vocals. Remember at this time everyone was singing very,very low in Death Metal and I was so tired of that style. It worked out perfect for us."
How much time did you spend on writing songs until you were able to enter the studio for your debut demo "Anthem To The Moon" in July of 1993? I mean, how many tunes were finished to choose from at the time?
"It took us about 6 months to really get established. We had about nine songs. Three of which made the demo. Right after the demo we actually dropped four of our songs from out set. ‘Battle Tide’, ‘Beyond’, ‘Projections From The Astral Plain’ and one other. We did put out a rehersal demo before "Anthem" with these old songs, but only a few of them. Don’t be suprised if one or two of these songs is released later."
The demo overall got very positive reactions and you even got offered a deal from JL America Records, didn’t you? Any other companies that already showed interest in the band at the time?
"That was the main one at that time. As we all know JL America was very short lived and I had reservations about working with them. There were other offers but mainly from very small labels. The demo "Anthem To The Moon" sold very, very well and it seemed that we got a huge following just from that one recording."
But JL America went under before you were even able to record an album for them, right? What made you enter Morrisound Studios at the time to record another self-titled promotional demo in 1994, as opposed to shopping around "Anthem To The Moon" to other labels a bit more?
"Yes, JL America went under. I had the feeling that they were because everything they did was garbage. Their cd’s were cheap and booklets and layouts of their bands were terrible. They were a very poor company that didn’t want to spend much on their bands. We took it upon ourselves to record our Promo ’94 demo. We wanted a superior quality sounding demo because we knew that this would get us a better record deal. We wanted to get the best possible deal for ourselves so we turned down many smaller label offers."
You played out live very often at the time, so would you like to mention a couple of standout gigs from back then and what made them really special to you?
"We played out a lot back then but two shows that stand out was a gig with Brutality. Man, we were really on that night, we had our leather, spikes, fog machines, candles, everything. We also opened for Overkill and that was a fucking blast. Their fans did not know what to make of us. But we sold a lot of shirts that night. We also did a gig with an old FL band Killing Addiction in Ocala FL. Very, very cool guys a lot of fans at that gig."
When and why did Mark leave EQUINOX again? Was it basically out of frustration or did he have other reasons? I noticed that he took a couple of pictures for you in the meantime, so is he still around?
"End of ’94 Mark decided to go back to school to a University. He’s now a teacher. For awhile he was still hanging out with us at our gigs taking photos of us. He had a killer camera and we were all still getting along great. Mark basically was burned out playing in a band he wanted to settle down and finish his education. He’s still a good friend and I always wish him the best of luck."
First of all you continued on as a three piece, with Darkness taking over the bass duties as well, but by the end of ’94 ex-ACHERON and APOSTASY member Tony Blakk took over this position. What made you recruite him? Were Darkness’ playing abilities too limited or was he more into being the vocalist rather than being a bassplaying vocalist?
"Well, actually when Tony Blakk joined he was playing second guitar. So Darkness was and is still now playing bass for us. Darkness enjoys both and he’s a killer bass player. Tony joined back in ’94 as a rhythm guitar player."
In February 1995 you once again went into Morrisound Studios to record the "Upon The Throne Of Eternity" 7"… A fact which I honestly didn’t really understand, cause you still had no record deal nor a company to release this EP… Plus you still had enough older recordings to shop around… And the fact that financial problems prevented its release until the summer of 1997 somehow prove me right, don’t you think? So what exactly made you record this 7"?
"I didn’t want the band to just sit around and grow stale. We were busting our asses to find a label and we had no real success. So my feeling were to do a new recording and push that. Plus our style was changing. The newer songs were becoming more agressive and faster and I wanted people to hear this. Originally "Upon The Throne…" was just put out as a two song demo. I shopped that around and sold many copies. I was hoping someone would finally put it out on a 7"ep and Silencelike Death Records finally did. It took two years but I was happy with the final results. We still have copies left that we sell."
When and how did you finally get together with Greek Unisound Records and how did things develop for you from the day you signed the contract until you parted ways again?
"Unisound got ahold of our demos and wanted us to sign with them. They made some good deals and paid for "Return To Mystery" to be recorded. Things were going great at first, they put out major adds in the magazines and our name really spread fast. But then things started to go downhill from there. They wanted us to do a second album but they didn’t want to pay for it. We never got a dime for that first album and they got everything. See that’s how labels rip off bands. Unisound knew we didn’t have the means to take legal action from here in the USA. We didn’t have a lot of money back then. But now we are smarter and learned from years of mistakes. Plus we have professional day jobs that also helps."
How do you judge your debut album "Return To Mystery" in retrospect?
"I still feel it’s a great album. Very moody with fast and slow songs. It was a bit rushed in the studio but overall I still appreciate that album. Even diehard Equinox fans still ask about that recording. That album reflected what Equinox was all about during that time period."
After the split with Unisound you took one and a half years off, but if I understood things correctly you were still writing new material nevertheless… So, what was the intention of the break? Was it mainly to avoid business activities and live shows?
"Yes, our focus was to concentrate on writing new material. We were getting burned out fast and we all had personal issues to deal with. My family life was suffering, Darkness was dealing with his issues, Stephen had a mental breakdown and was dealing with certain addictions. We needed some time for ourselves and not worry about shows and contracts. But once these things passed we were able to focus on writing material which basically was early forms of our current album "Journey Into Oblivion"."
But in 1998 things finally started rolling for you again as you got the opportunity to contribute ‘Gypsy’ to the MERCYFUL FATE tribute "The Unholy Sounds Of The Demon Bells" on Still Dead Productions… Was this compilation responsible for all the other EQUINOX tribute songs that followed later on (Judas Priest, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Kiss and Iron Maiden)? Did you get paid for the recordings or did you invest your own money in all these projects in order to promote the band more effectively to different audiences maybe?
"Yes Stilldead put us in contact with Dwell Records and they liked us enough to have us on some tributes. I only agreed to play songs of bands that I was influenced by. Dwell paid for all the recordings except the Mercyful Fate and that was handled by Still Dead. Since we didn’t have any new album out I felt this was a way for us to still have songs out there for the people to listen to and hopefully gain some new fans as well. Out of all the tributes, I felt our version of Slayers ‘Haunting The Chapel’ was incredible as well as ‘Gypsy’ by MERCYFUL FATE."
There’s talk that all of those covertunes along with your EP and demo stuff will be re-released via Still Dead Productions on a single CD later this year… Would you like to tell us more about this?
"Yes we are planning on releasing all our old demos, the 7"ep, plus a couple of old live tracks, and the tribute songs for Still Dead. We are working on titles now for the CD and talking with Craig Simpson about some ideas for artwork. It may be called "As The Moon Swollows The Sun" or "Come Forth The Haunting"(after one of our old songs). This is just a way for some of our new listerners or die hard fans to hear better recordings of these old tracks."
How much time did you spent on writing and recording your new full length "Journey Into Oblivion" and why did it take you so long to get it released? As far as I know the recordings were already finished about a year ago…
"Well, Still Dead had some issues to deal with. They had already paid for most of the recording, so we were waiting for them to get the business going again and this took some time. Plus after recording and mixing the album with Tom Morris, we listened to the album and realized we hated the mix. Still Dead sent us more $ and we remixed it with Jim Morris and it came out killer. So from beginning to end it took "Journey…" about three years from the writing stages for finally being released. It was definitely a learning experience for us. As far as working in the studio our next album will be incredible and done in half the time."
Tell us a bit more about the album and its songs… Where’s the main differences to "Return To Mystery" from your point of you?
"The songs are longer, the guitar solo’s are more haunting and melodic, this album captures more of that old style pure Black / Death. We had total freedom to do whatever with this album. From art, layout, and recording. I wanted this album to be something that I would by if I was a fan of METAL. With "Return…" we had no control. So we hated the photos and artwork. Lyrically it’s about the same but musically we have almost an hour of music on "Journey…"."
What actually made you record another covertune for the album (POSSESSED’s ‘Seance’)?
"Possessed and Necrovore, Celtic Frost are my all time favorite bands. I’ve always believed that Possessed were underrated. I miss them to this day. No one will ever capture Jeff Beccara’s vocals. I knew other Possessed songs had been covered, so I went throuth my albums and found ‘Seance’. I always loved that song. I presented it to the band and we all agreed it had to be covered."
The album not only comes up with an impressive booklet, but also features excellent artwork by Craig Simpson (USURPER, BURNING INSIDE, SATHANAS…). How did you hook up with him for this and was he your number one choice?
"Yes, I believe Julius from Still Dead gave me his contact number. After seeing his portfolio, I knew this was the artist for us. He really worked hard with us, sending us sketches of ideas for the album until we got it right. He did a killer job on the layout as well. Craig has awesome ideas and he’s very easy to work with. He’s become a good friend of mine and we will continue to work with him."
What is the band currently up to? I suppose you have already written a whole bunch of new songs ever since "Journey Into Oblivion" was recorded, so tell us a bit about the new stuff, ok?
"The new material is amazing. We already have about five new songs. Very fast, agressive, but still heavy in that old style. Our new drummer is Gabriel Lewandowske. He played in Hellwitch, Acheron, and Naphobia. Tony Blakk is no longer in the band so we are currently looking for a second guitar player. Our goal is to be back into the studio at the end of the year. We now are working on our set, planning to play out again and assult the work with TOTAL MAYHEM."
Any particular promotion activities planned in support of the album? Any tours, gigs or whatever?
"Right now we are taking it one step at a time since the album just came out. We are hoping for some festivals and many mini gigs here in the States. Still Dead is doing a great job getting us out there. My goal has always been to play in Europe so hopefully soon we will be there."
Ok Pete, if you survived our questions up to this point, you certainly have spent enough time on this interview, so I’ll better let you go now. All the best – the last words are yours.
"First let me say thanks Frank for the hellish interview. It feels good to be back in full force. Thanks to all who support our style of Metal and VOICES FROM THE DARKSIDE. For contact or merchandise info write Equinox, P.O Box 683, Mt. Plymouth, FL 32776 USA, or email PS4Muzic@aol.com. Website www.geocities.com/equinoxmetal/."