MALEVOLENT CREATION will release their new album "The 13th Beast" a little bit later this month via Century Media Records. Since we’ve always wanted to do a bigger feature on these guys, we just combined two seperate interviews into one for you here to enjoy. The first part, with original guitar player Jon Rubin (conducted by László Dávid), deals with the early days of the band, while the second part is a small chat with the band’s brand new vocalist / guitarist Lee Wollenschlaeger, who called Steven Willems from South Africa…
Part I: The Early Days…
So Jon, do you still remember how you got in touch with music and particularly with Hardrock / Heavy Metal? What did you find so exciting, interesting in that music?
Jon: "I remember being very young and listening to KISS. Watching them for the first time, loving their whole get-up and idolizing Ace Frehely was the early beginning of my attraction to the music scene, particularly this genre of music. Ace was incredibly cool with his smoking guitar! I actually had all of their records and 8-track tapes, as well as collections for LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, OZZY, AC/DC and VAN HALEN. Every time I listened to a band, I was immediately drawn to the guitars. The beats and rhythm of the music made me feel a unique bond that I always had a desire to recreate. I learned by playing along with the songs of my biggest influencers."
When did you decide that you wanted to become a musician? Did you pick up guitars right from the start or…?
Jon: "Once I heard many of my biggest influences, such as Ace Frehley, Randy Rhoads, Van Halen, Tony Iommi, Angus Young, and so many others, I knew I wanted to play music as well. I also felt that if I was going to be a musician, those would be the guys to drive me to play guitar."
Which guitarists did have the biggest effect on you? Were you self-taught by the way?
Jon: "My number one influence (hands down) was Randy Rhoads, but I had great respect for Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi as other mainstream influencers for me. My musical taste even delved into the styles of Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, Glen Tipton, KK Downing, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (and the list goes on)! I began playing guitar by taking lessons for roughly 5 years, after which I continued playing by way of self-taught. I did not continue with any formal lessons after that initial handful of years."
Do you perhaps play other instruments as well?
Jon: "No, I always wanted to learn drums and piano but I really had no time to explore them." Being based in Florida, what kind of memories do you have from that period? How much, how deeply were you involved in the underground scene?
Jon: "Before MALEVOLENT CREATION, I was in two other bands – PARAMOURE and ELYSIUM. Those bands were my starting point in the Florida music scene. Along with MALEVOLENT CREATION, everyone knew about the underground scene and how intensely it was evolving to more extreme music at that time. Back then, I was not as heavily involved in writing articles or album reviews, or even sending out demos for fanzines. That was mostly left up to my bandmates. My involvement was strictly focused on writing, collaborating and performing music."
Did you perhaps take part in the tape trading / fanzine network? Did you have pen-pals, whom you traded tapes with?
Jon: "I personally did not take part in tape trading around the fanzine network, as I had mentioned, nor did I have pen-pals that I was in contact with. I remember getting different fanzines and reading up on the underground scene, as that was my main interest back then. No pen-pals or business-end networking; I was mostly focused on my collaborations with music."
Leading the way throughout the ’80s there were Metal bands, such as STRANGER (formerly known as LYNYNXX, and later ROMEO), SAVATAGE (formerly known as AVATAR), SIREN, POWERSURGE, PURGATORY (later known as ICED EARTH) etc., some of them would eventually sign major label deals during the ’80s, STRANGER signing with Epic / CBS Records in 1981, and SAVATAGE signing with Atlantic Records in 1985, did they open the doors for other bands, both locally and nationally?
Jon: "Absolutely, yes. These bands opened doors for others, such as NASTY SAVAGE, SAVATAGE and ICED EARTH. Bands that got signed definitely had an influence on paving the way for other bands to get signed, such as CRIMSON GLORY and others in the Florida scene and other parts of the country. The music scene in the 80s, both mainstream and underground, was exploding both locally and nationally during that time."
What were the venues, clubs in Tampa for Metal those times?
Jon: "(Laughing)…. The names escape my mind because too much time he passed by but they were memorable venues and clubs for their time. There was never a shortage of places to play music and nothing too special to note; just typical small, dark clubs. Places like “The Ritz” in Yborcity (just outside of Tampa). Those clubs were a dime a dozen."
How about other Florida scenes, such as Brandon, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa etc.?
Jon:“The Treehouse” in Ft. Lauderdale; “Rosebuds”, “The Button South” and “The Brass Mug” were Florida scenes I was familiar with in the Lauderdale/Tampa areas.
During the period of the ’80s and ’90s a new genre of Heavy Metal music took shape and became hugely popular in the Tampa Bay area as well, called Death Metal, what were your views on that new style of Metal?
Jon: "When that genre took shape back in the 80s and 90s, everyone wanted to take it up a notch by playing faster, heavier and more brutal music. Sicker, more extreme sounds and lyrics became the ideal. Back when the underground scene was evolving, I loved all of these newer, more brutal styles. Bands like DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, OBITUARY and DEICIDE, all local Tampa-Florida based bands, were coming into their own and it was a great time for music. Actually, I would have to say it was a great time to be a part of the Florida music scene back then."
Do you agree, that the Death Metal bands were becoming extremely popular on the local music scene as well?
Jon: "Yes, of course. Bands like DEATH. The whole genre of Death Metal truly originated from the local music level out of Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando areas."
An important role played Morrisound Studios – owned and operated by brothers Jim and Tom Morris – in the Tampa Metal scene, would you say, that since its opening in 1981, Morrisound has been responsible for the popularization of genres such as Heavy Metal and Death Metal, but caters to every genre of audio expression?
Jon: "Definitely. Morrisound Studios was the place to go for everyone in Florida. Their studio had a great reputation for quality of production and served a wide variety of musical tastes. SEPULTURA recorded “Beneath The Remains” there among other of their albums, CYNIC, ICED EARTH, MORBID ANGEL, SUFFOCATION, MONSTROSITY, MALEVOLENT CREATION, NOCTURNUS, ATHEIST and many more!"
It seems PARAMOURE and ELYSIUM were the first acts, that you were involved in, correct?
Jon: "Yes, those were two bands that I collaborated with before MALEVOLENT CREATION, and I was also a founding member of MONSTROSITY. PARAMOURE was a complete band until half of the members split off, due to personal and musical differences, and formed ELYSIUM. I decided to leave PARAMOURE, which were heavily influenced by MERCYFUL FATE and had a more Thrash Metal style, and join up with ELYSIUM because of their intense influence in KING DIAMOND and were looking for a more Power Metal sound."
Can you speak detailed about these outfits? I mean, what kind of style did you play, have you recorded any demos, rehearsals with them, have you gigged a lot with them etc.?
Jon: "I never recorded anything with either band (PARAMOURE or ELYSIUM). PARAMOURE already had a demo out and ELYSIUM put one out after I left to join MALEVOLENT CREATION. As far as I know to date, the demos of those two bands are hard to find! There were a lot of rehearsals performances at places such as Cameo Theater in Miami around ‘88 or ’89. Not a great deal of gigging with either band back then, just a small handful of shows."
Would you say that these experiences helped you to join MALEVOLENT CREATION later on and that MALEVOLENT CREATION was more serious than both of those bands?
Jon: "I would say that I was at the right place right time, starting me on the path to meeting different musicians. Being in those bands back then and rehearsing at the warehouse led me to ultimately meeting members of MALEVOLENT CREATION, who were also at the same warehouse. I would have to say that all of the bands I was affiliated with (PARAMOURE, ELYSIUM, MALEVOLENT CREATION and MONSTROSITY) were different, but equally serious. MALEVOLENT CREATION had a heavier Death / Thrash style and a greater popularity and fast-growing following due to the style and evolving intensity of the underground scene at that time."
Your next outfit became MALEVOLENT CREATION (originally formed as RESTHAVEN), that were hailing from Buffalo, New York, what did make them move to Florida?
Jon: "The whole band moved to Florida around 1987 or 1988 – from their home-state of Buffalo, New York down to Fort Lauderdale because of the growing music scene in Florida as well as much of their family had already moved to Florida."
They were an established outfit when you joined them, weren’t they?
Jon: "Yes they were. The band started out as Phil Fasciana, Bret Hoffmann, Jay Black, Jim Nickles (in 87) and Dennis Kubas (also in 87). After that original line-up broke off, Lee Harrison joined on drums and another unknown guitarist briefly came into the band (I don’t know his name at this moment) until I joined on guitars."
Were you perhaps familiar with their first demo, that was recorded in 1987?
Jon: "Yes I was familiar with it. While jamming with my other bands at the time, MALEVOLENT CREATION was recruiting and they handed me their 87 demo tape. I never saw a live show of their music, but I knew of them from being at the same practice warehouse."
Before we start speaking about the MALEVOLENT CREATION period, please make things clearer for us. The nucleus of the band were guitarist Phil Fasciana and vocalist Bret Hoffmann and they were joined by you on guitars, Scott O’Dell on bass and Lee Harrison on drums and this line-up recorded a Live Demo in 1989, correct?
Jon: "Yes, except at that time, Scott O’Dell was not on bass, and he only played a few live shows with MALEVOLENT CREATION. Mark Van Erp was the original bass player on the 1989 demo. Shortly after that, Jay rejoined the band again."
Was it easy for you to get on well with them? What type of personalities were they?
Jon: "Yeah, they were all real cool guys and we were all determined to make it on to the Death Metal scene. Together, we had such a creative outlet and since we were just starting out, we were all hungry. Phil was the leader / manager always; he was the most outgoing and he handled the business-end of the band. His motto was always “if you’re too slow, you’ve gotta go.” Bret was laid back, loved writing lyrics about real life dark events. Mark Van Erp was a really great bass player, funny, witty, a total jokester and always fun to be around. Lee Harrison was a very serious and talented drummer, always seeking to perfect his craft. I was the quietest one who loved to play solos even more than rhythm, but I loved all things guitar."
Could you easily fit in the band? Were all of you on the same musical wave length?
Jon: "Yes, for sure. We all had the same musical tastes and styles, both in writing and in listening."
You recorded another demo in 1989 with the title "Demo 1", but the rhythm section had changed: Jason Blachowicz returned and took over the bass duties, while the new drummer became Mark Simpson. What kind of reasons were behind these line-up changes?
Jon: "Phil decided to let Lee go because of musical / personal differences to some degree. The band ended up recruiting Mark Simpson through word-of-mouth from the practicing warehouse scene. Mark had exited the band due to personality differences but all former members remained friends with the band (at the end of the day, it was just business that got in the way, not the friendship). Everyone in the band had continually stayed in touch with Jason and he wanted back in and was available to rejoin at that time."
Did MALEVOLENT CREATION definitely start out more thrashy in their early days? Can you give us any details regarding this material?
Jon: "Definitely. The band was more thrashy in the early days – we all were huge fans of KREATOR, DESTRUCTION, SLAYER, PESTILENCE, DARK ANGEL, DEATH and many more. These bands were what helped us cultivate and create our early MALEVOLENT CREATION material because we were heavily influenced by the format of these bands in the Thrash scene."
Was it a promising demo?
Jon: "Yes, compared to other death metal bands coming out at that time. MC definitely had a more death-thrash sound, both musically and vocally. Plus, considering there were only 1,000 copies of that demo made at Morrisound Studios, our material was circulating well within the underground."
The second demo came out in 1990 with Mark Van Erp on bass in your ranks, how did he get in the picture exactly? What about his musical background?
Jon: "When things weren’t working out with Scott O’Dell, Phil was in constant contact with the underground scene and of course we knew Mark Van Erp. Mark was very stern and basically worked his way right into the band, saying “I’m your new bass player.” After that, there he was, in the band. I didn’t know too much about Mark’s musical background other than he was the bass player in CYNIC for a brief time. That is the extent of what I knew about him."
Do you agree that this second demo is far better in many ways than its 1989 counterpart and the songwriting capability had increased?
Jon: "Oh definitely, yeah. The ’80 demo was more classic Thrash and the new demo was more technical in nature, more guitar parts, more musical changes, more leads."
Is this essentially a demo of the band that is maturing both as a unit and as individual musicians?
Jon: "Yes. When we had the new line-up with Simpson and Van Erp, we wrote some good songs and had the experience to record with Scott Burns, we knew we had seized the opportunity for something greater experientially."
Were all of the demos spread in the underground? Were they also used to attract any label interests?
Jon: "Yes. Phil was an avid underground tape collector, circulator and deep into networking via fanzines, etc. Of course we immediately had Roadrunner expressing interest in us through underground word-of-mouth. At that time, we were about to do the 90."
Did these demos help a lot to make a name for MALEVOLENT CREATION?
Jon: "The demos definitely helped us in aggressively getting our name out in the ranks as an up-and-coming band in the South Florida Death Metal scene. I will say that while the demos helped us make a name, our music always stood on its own as what kept us there."
Do you still remember how you were picked up by Roadrunner? Did any other labels also show interest in signing the band?
Jon: "Actually, Monte Conner, who was A&R for Roadrunner, already showed interest in our previous demo, so with our 90 demo (Scott Burns / Morrisound Studios), we knew we would be signed. I’m sure other labels were interested, but I just can’t recall. We just knew that Roadrunner would sign us."
You entered the Morrisound Studios to cut your first album titled “The Ten Commandments”, were you prepared to record the material?
Jon: "Yes, we were prepared, determined and had the whole album material ready to record. Actually, we were putting the finishing touches on ‘Memorial Arrangements’ while we were in the studio, but everything else was ready. Me personally, I was definitely prepared and had all of my material and solos ready to go."
How did the recording sessions go?
Jon: "Very smooth. We were getting our first experience with Scott Burns on making our first album. He taught us a great deal and it helped that we were prepared when we went in to record."
Six songs were known from the demos, did you simply re-record them or did you diversify anything on them?
Jon: "No, we simply recorded them the way they were previously done. Nothing really changed."
When did you pen the other four songs? Were they ready when you entered the studio or were they written during the recording sessions?
Jon: "We wrote the 4 songs (riffs and ideas) while recording the 90 demo and our writing never stopped along the way. Everything was already written except for ‘Memorial Arrangements’, which we put finishing touches on in the studio."
How about songs such as ‘Violent Offspring’, ‘Epileptic Seizure’ or ‘Darkness Within The Human Corporation’, why didn’t they make it on the album?
Jon: "Oh yeah… that’s a good question! (Laughing) The songs we selected for the album were a better fit for “Ten Commandments” at that time, and since we had material written already, previously written music did not make it on the album."
You were a part of the recording session, recording your rhythm tracks along with all lead tracks, but after you were ejected from the band, Jeff Juszkiewicz re-recorded his own solos which were basically his best at mimicking your already tracked leads. What exactly did happen? Can you speak to us in detail about it?
Jon: "To be perfectly honest… (long, contemplative pause)… Jeff Juszkiewicz moved from Buffalo to Florida and roomed with Jay Black. For some reason, whether it be distance in the band at that time or stress towards the end of the recording sessions, Jeff had been trying to ween his way into the band and aligned himself with the band to do just that. He robbed me of ALL of my material. I was really proud of my solos that I had written, but due to the tension in the band at that time and the fact that I personally was not from Buffalo as were the other members, were the catalysts that seem to have set in motion my being kicked out of the band and the band asking Jeff to join. Jeff copied my phrasing but was incapable of having my style and technicality to do my work any justice. He tried to copy my solos and material, but in my opinion he failed to do as good of a job as I did on the original tracks recorded. Just compare my talent on the 90 demo to what he recorded on "Ten Commandments", and you be the judge."
How did you find / like the record when it came out in April 1991?
Jon: "I think my previous answer speaks for itself on how I feel the record came out. Overall though, I would say it’s a good, solid album. I think my previous guitar contributions helped make it a great first album that sadly I was not given any credit for."
Part II: "The 13th Beast"
“The 13th Beast” is the thirteenth album of MALEVOLENT CREATION and is recorded with an almost completely new line-up. A year ago, Phil put a message on the Facebook website of MALEVOLENT CREATION in which he said he was looking for new musicians. Did you have to think for a long time about it before you sent in your candidacy?
Lee: “No. As soon as I saw that Phil was looking for a new singer, I went to work. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I just knew I wanted to do this. Phil wanted every candidate to send a video in which they sang a few old songs from MALEVOLENT CREATION. I live in South Africa and I thought I wouldn’t have a chance. I therefore also added some of my own material to my videos. Less than 6 hours passed and Phil already answered my e-mail. And I was on board (laughs). He apparently liked the things I did because he made a decision very quickly."
Despite the new line-up, “The 13th Beast” sounds like a very classic MALEVOLENT CREATION album.
Lee: “I agree. That was our goal too. But in my opinion, there are also some small and subtle changes here and there. But the typical MALEVOLENT CREATION sound has certainly remained intact. It’s a very intense album, even in the somewhat slower parts. There is a lot of anger in it."
All the newcomers in the band were also involved in the songwriting. Was it easy for you to find your way in that field?
Lee: “Not really. It took me about three months before it all felt right. In the beginning, it was a bit of seeking, searching and just trying out all sorts of things until you finally find the secret formula. I have mainly tried to view things in perspective and see the whole picture instead of simply trying to copy a particular album. And to start from there. I listened to their whole discography again very carefully to really be able to hear exactly what’s going on, especially in terms of melodies. I have written music every evening for more than 9 months. I will also take care of the guitar in addition to the vocals. I have been doing this combination for many years, it’s very natural for me. There will be some more sessions in the rehearsal room before we go on tour. But I don’t expect major problems in that area.”
Brett Hoffmann, your predecessor, who sang on many albums of MALEVOLENT CREATION, died of cancer on the 7th of July 2018. How far were you with the preparations for “The 13th Beast” when you heard the news?
Lee: "We were already quite far. The sad thing is that Brett would have normally joined us in the studio to record some vocal parts. But he passed away before that. I never really met Brett. Up till now, I only saw MALEVOLENT CREATION live once in my life. I lived in London for a while a few years ago and I saw a show of them there. But unfortunately I didn’t speak to Brett that evening. I am aware that people have high expectations. This is either going to be a total desaster or something really successful. I can only do my very best and hope that the fans will accept me."
You live – as you just said – in South Africa. How are you going to deal with that as the rest of the band lives in the US?
Lee: "I am planning to move to Florida just before we go on tour. I am now putting everything in order in terms of visas and all that. That is going to be the simplest solution. That way, we will be more able to play at festivals. Because that’s otherwise almost impossible if I keep living here. It also costs a lot of money to fly from South Africa to the US. I’m not going to mind leaving South Africa behind me. This country is completely falling apart and is almost consumed by corruption. I have been working as a tattoo-artist for about 11 years and I am self-employed. And that will make things a little easier for me when I will arrive in the US. I am going to have an income and I won’t have to answer to an employer if I have to go on tour. And I can close my tattoo-business for a while if that’s necessary."
Hammerheart Records was going to re-release several older MALEVOLENT CREATION albums. The reissue of the debut “The Ten Commandments” looked very interesting with many demos as bonus material. I wanted to order it a while ago but that seems impossible.
Lee: "Yes, that’s right. I am not fully aware of all the details, but there is a dispute with Warner who claims that they have the rights to those albums. And that must first be clarified. But I am sure that these reissues will be released sooner or later.”
It has been a remarkably good year for the old Florida veterans. DEICIDE and especially MONSTROSITY have released very good albums. A tour with the three of you together would be great.
Lee: "There was talk of something like that for a while. But that didn’t work out in the end as “The 13th Beast” is going to be released in January. And that’s too late. We are working on a kind of ‘old school’ tour together with a few other bands. But I can’t really confirm anything yet at the moment. We will first come to Europe and South America but – as I just said – I can’t give you any dates yet. One thing’s for sure: we are going to tour a lot this year and will play a lot of concerts. So you will definitely be able to see us somewhere in Europe this year.”
Interviews: László Dávid / Steven Willems