Paul Speckmann has a long lasting history in the Metal underground. Ever since he started out with WAR CRY in the early 80s, he already released over 25 studio albums with several bands and projects, but the interest in his early works with MASTER, DEATH STRIKE and FUNERAL BITCH is still going strong these days. The “Fuckin’ Death” demo from DEATH STRIKE, as well as both FUNERAL BITCH demos (with him in the line-up) have been re-released a couple of times already. Reasons enough for us to give these early works a special feature. The additional answers from ex – DEATH STRIKE / MASTER guitarist Chris Mittlebrun have been taken from a Laurent Ramadier interview that originally appeared in Snakepit Magazine # 16 (used with kind permission).

MASTER

The 1985 MASTER demo originally featured five songs (‘Unknown Soldier’, ‘Master’, ‘Mangled Dehumanization’, ‘Funeral Bitch’ and ‘Terrorizer’), but at the same session you also recorded ‘Re-Entry and Destruction’ and ‘Pledge Of Allegiance’. Those songs (plus ‘Funeral Bitch’ in a different mix) now ended up on the recently released limited vinyl 10″ of the demo via Xtreem Music. Why didn’t you release them all together back then already?
Paul: “We felt at the time that five tracks were plenty for a demo, and this demo certainly got attention in the underground scene and several smaller labels showed interest. The two bonus tracks were originally only available on an acetate record with only one copy existing! As for the bonus mix of ‘Funeral Bitch’, the fact of the matter is that drummer Bill Schmidt and I didn’t always see eye to eye on many things. I would go in the studio with engineer Mike Konopka and do my own mixes! In the end I had a few of these different mixes on a Dat tape, as well as the bonus tracks and I had them converted to wave files some years ago. I thought it might be cool to share another mix. The label manager actually took it upon himself to add the bonus mix. Xtreem Music did a phenomenal job on the re-releases of this material on vinyl!”

That demo got you the deal with Combat Records back then, right? Did you shop that around to a bunch of labels at the time or did Combat hear about MASTER and then got in touch with you guys themselves?
Paul: “Don Kaye, from Brooklyn College Radio, was friends with the then fledgling label at the time and they basically sent us a shit deal! I realize a couple of other soon to be heavyweights of the genre signed the crappy deal!”

Metal Archives has also listed a rehearsal demo from August 1985 with the songs ‘Pay To Die’, ‘Master’, ‘Funeral Bitch’, ‘Mangled Dehumanization’, ‘Live For Free’, ‘Terrorizer’ and ‘Rabid Anger’. Was that really an official release or just one of a few rehearsal recordings that got spread through tape trading back then?
Paul: “This was basically a cassette recording from a boom box courtesy of the future rock stars of SINDROME and TERMINAL DEATH fame! It was never an official demo!”

How active was MASTER when it comes to live shows back in those days? Did you play a lot of gigs already or even full tours?
Paul: “The original line-up would play only three times together!”

With which bands did you share the stage with?
Paul: “Cannot remember, I think there may be some flyers somewhere!”

The original album for Combat was recorded in October 1985, but due to conflicts with the label it was shelved… Can you tell us a bit more about this, what really happened? Didn’t they like what you had recorded?
Paul: “It was shelved because the deal was for pennies, and after Kim Fowley (RUNAWAYS, ALICE COOPER, KISS etc) changed the silly contract into a multi-million-dollar deal, obviously the contract was thrown in the garbage! Obviously, this genre would make a fortune for many labels, but at the time this was unheard of, never tried and tested etc!”

You just mentioned Kim Fowley… what did you have to do with him?
Paul: “Kim Fowley was a friend of Mike and Tom at Seagrape studios in Chicago, where many of the early recordings were done from all my bands. Kim Fowley read the MASTER contract for 1 USD per hour and then afterwards, after Schmidt and his mother made a few more changes, we were good to go!”

The album was finally released on CD in 2003 via From Beyond Productions with the title “Unreleased Album” and in 2013 via Doomentia Records (CD and vinyl), entitled “Funeral Bitch”, as well as via Vic Records (CD) / Terror From Hell (cassette) as “Unknown Soldier (Unreleased 1985 Album)”. Three of the bonus tracks on the 2013 re-releases (‘Constant Quarrel’, ‘Judgment Of Will’ and ‘Submerged In Sin’) are supposed to be from a 1991 MASTER demo, but the tracklist which can be found at Metal Archives features ‘Walk Away’ instead of ‘Constant Quarrel’, so is it just a listing error or has there been another 1991 demo that featured a different tracklist?
Paul: “Metal Archives makes many mistakes when it comes to the realities of my bands.”

DEATH STRIKE

In the liner-notes of the Dark Descent Records re-release of the “Fuckin’ Death” demo you can read that DEATH STRIKE was “…born out of the ex – WARCRY bass player’s frustration with his failed attempt to keep together a proper line-up with MASTER after a year.” So, what really happened to MASTER after the recordings of the album that Combat didn’t wanna release and what lead to the origin of DEATH STRIKE instead? Who was the driving force in this?
Paul: “Drummer Bill Schmidt left the fold and joined a band called MAYHEM in Chicago with the soon to be famous Louis Svitek (ZOETROPE, M.O.D., MINDFUNK), I searched the local music trade papers, and found one of the fellas that tried out for MASTER back in the day before MASTER ever recorded, called Chris Mittelbrun!”
Chris: “DEATH STRIKE was me and Speckmann without Schmidt. We couldn’t use the name MASTER because Schmidt came up with it. So we decided on the name DEATH STRIKE. The songs were actually MASTER songs.”
Paul: “First of all, the first band to record was DEATH STRIKE and these songs had nothing to do with MASTER at this point. The first song recorded was the track I penned called ‘The Truth’, Chris came in with a fully written track called ‘Re-Entry And Destruction’, I wrote ‘Pay To Die’ and Chris and I wrote ‘Mangled Dehumanization’ together! This demo had nothing to do with MASTER at this time!”

Why did it work this second time, while it didn’t work the first time? Was it mainly because your musical tastes had changed in favour of heavier stuff?
Chris: “It did work the first time. It’s just that Schmidt bailed on us. As far as musical taste goes, I was always looking for something darker and heavier.“

What can you tell us about Kirk Miller and John Leprich who both had joined DEATH STRIKE on guitar and drums respectively? How did you get together with them? Have they been involved in any local bands before DEATH STRIKE already and what happened to them after DEATH STRIKE was history again? Have they been involved in any bands after that?
Paul: “Kirk was the little brother of my then girlfriend, and this was his first band. He was a talented young man for sure. As for Leprich, Mittelbrun brought in the alcoholic and we began rehearsals! Honestly, I have no idea what happened to them, nothing serious, I guess. Like many musicians, marriage, kids etc!”
Chris: “Kirk Miller was the brother of Speckman’s girlfriend. He played guitar and was good, so he was in. John Leprich I met at a party. At the time, he was the singer of a band called ASSASSIN. I later found out that he was a drummer and signed him up. So the four of us got together a few times to get the shit down, then went to the studio and recorded it. The DEATH STRIKE demo “Fuckin’ Death” is the only DEATH STRIKE tape ever recorded by the original members.”

What do you recall from the recording session? How did that go?
Chris: “It was done very quickly. The whole thing was done in about five hours. We didn’t have any words for ‘Re-Entry…’, so we went out to the parking lot, had a few beers, and wrote them on the spot.”

Is that correct that drummer John Leprich did have huge problems playing the stuff the right way and as a result Bill Schmidt was contacted and was brought in to record ‘Pay To Die’?
Chris: “Fuck no… Schmidt had nothing to do with the DEATH STRIKE project. It was all Leprich!”

Do you recall how many songs originally had been written by DEATH STRIKE during the time the band existed?
Chris: “Like I said, those songs were actually written for MASTER. There were a couple that were never recorded by DEATH STRIKE called ‘Rabid Anger’ and ‘Live For Free’ (both later ended up on the SPECKMANN PROJECT album – Frank). Anything else said to be written by DEATH STRIKE is not fuckin’ true.”

Were you rehearsing a lot during the eight months that DEATH STRIKE existed?
Chris: “We rehearsed a lot. As a matter of fact, there were always lots of people at every rehearsal.”

Were you all aware at that time about that underground Metal scene which was growing quickly with fanzines, tape trading etc.? Did you understand right away the importance it had to have material out and spread around to build a fan base?
Chris: “We just wanted to get our shit out there as quickly as possible any way that we could. Bands would hear our stuff, try to sound like it, and get it out there before we could get signed.”

Was there never an option to continue on as MASTER?
Paul: “At the time I wanted nothing to do with MASTER or the drummer Bill Schmidt. I had proved once and for all that he was not needed to be in a band with me. I took over the helm and still run things today of course. The best thing that ever happened was leaving this fool in the dust. But first things first, shortly after the demo was released on cassette to the underground, the fool came crawling back into the fold and on July 4th, 1985 we were MASTER again. This was certainly one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, because things never changed and we but heads on everything! After the short-lived reconciliation we eventually split for good after recording the infamous demo and playing one show.”

Considering the time that the DEATH STRIKE demo got released the cover already looked extremely professional. What made you use a full colored one instead of the typical b/w xeroxed covers?
Paul: “This was Chris Mittelbruns’s idea to make the black and gold cover, like a leather cover!”

At the end of 1991 Nuclear Blast released the “Fuckin’ Death” demo as an album, but it also featured the four additional tracks ‘The Final Conflict’, ‘Man Killed America / Embryonic Misconceptions’, ‘Pervert’ and ‘Remorseless Poison’. What can you tell us about these songs? When had they been written and was it still the Speckmann, Mittlebrun, Miller and Leprich line-up?
Paul: “Of course not, it was Speckmann, Nickeas and Kylloe! I wrote songs again like always, they dealt with themes of what was happening in 1991. I had the idea of going to the same studio, but due to a missed phone call this was not to be, and we recorded in another studio, unfortunately we could not reproduce the same sound, but life goes on of course. The songs are actually quite killer, but I preferred the original sound of course.”

Aaron Nickeas used to be the drummer in ABOMINATION and he later also played with you in MASTER on the “On The Seventh Day God Created… Master”, “Collection Of Souls” and “Speckmann Project” albums as well as on the 1991 demo. What about Jeff Kylloe? Tell us a bit about him?
Paul: “Jeff was a friend of a friend we brought in to record, and he did a decent enough job on the demo at the time, but he was also called in to record on the second MASTER recordings in Florida, but Scott Burns didn’t like his playing and Masvidal was brought in to complete the record. Jeff plays guitar still and actually was playing bass with the MANOWAR legend, David Lee Shankle for several years! He continues to play in various local band and also works on guitars and basses in a shop!”

Was it a printing error or was it planned from the beginning that the cover of the DEATH STRIKE records on Nuclear Blast Records would have this yellow color? Later re-releases luckily changed that for the better.
Paul: “This was a Nuclear Blast decision! I hated it for sure, what a joke that was.”

What made you perform with DEATH STRIKE again in 2012? Did you try to get the old line-up back together again? Have you all stayed in contact over the years?
Paul: “Obviously I put a band out on shows to share the more realistic and original versions live! It was MASTER plays DEATH STRIKE! Honestly, I spoke with Chris on several occasions and even invited him to get on stage in Chicago over the years! But unfortunately, it never came to pass as he would leave the venue before the song ‘Pay To Die’, claiming to have an asthma attack! Sad for me really as it was like a dream for me to see him every time!”

The Dark Descent Records 2010 re-release of that album (as well as the 2 CD edition “Fuckin’ Death & Fuckin’ Live” from Mierdas Productions from 2020) also features four additional rehearsal tracks. The latter edition also has an additional live CD, “Fuckin’ Live”, included. When and where did you record those rehearsal tracks and what can you tell us about the live recordings?
Paul: “These were the tracks from a boom box from the SINDROME idiots! The live CD was recorded at the Obscene Extreme concert in Japan with the former MASTER members!”

The next obvious question is, have you played live as DEATH STRIKE? I mean there was some local clubs so…
Paul: “Never!”
Chris: “There were clubs, but none of them were ready for DEATH STRIKE. Most people didn’t understand it. So, no…”

What happened around July 1985 when Schmidt replaced Leprich?
Chris: “Schmidt never replaced Leprich in DEATH STRIKE. DEATH STRIKE was over and MASTER was back. Pissed off, and on a songwriting frenzy.”

What happened to Kirk as he wasn’t part of the band that now was renamed MASTER again? This sounds surprising considering the possibilities a twin guitar team can bring in terms of leads and stuff especially in a live situation for a Death / Thrash Metal act…
Chris: “MASTER was always a three piece power death trio. We didn’t need another guitar player.”

FUNERAL BITCH

In 1986 you started to work together with guitarist Alex Olvera in his project ASSAULT. Was DEATH STRIKE already history by then? What happened, why was that band so shortlived?
Paul: “DEATH STRIKE disappeared after Schmidt joined again and MASTER was revived”

Who decided that it would be better to re-name the band FUNERAL BITCH?
Paul: “Actually, Alex and I met at a pub in Chicago and hit it off immediately, I joined the band ASSAULT as a bassist, and after some time, the singer Dave quit! Alex then suggested we change the name to FUNERAL BITCH!”

Musically FUNERAL BITCH was pretty different to MASTER / DEATH STRIKE, way faster and more extreme in general. Did you enjoy that direction more at the time or did you feel musically more comfortable when you reformed MASTER years later?
Paul: “I always enjoy a challenge and the riffs that Alex wrote were challenging! He wrote some cool tracks and I also did the same. We went on to record two demos and played several live gigs together! Alex also tried out for MASTER and he was a killer addition, but after he and Schmidt had a discussion early on at a party, the joint venture was short lived, and MASTER was laid to rest for some time!”

Is it true that guitarist Louis Svitek (who would later become better known in bands like M.O.D., ZOETROPE, MINDFUNK and MINISTRY) was also a member of ASSAULT at that time? Why did he leave?
Paul: “This was before my time. Why did he leave? No idea! But what a killer person he always was. He was a big supporter of whatever Alex and I recorded at that time.”

Was Pete Thomson already the band’s drummer when you were still named ASSAULT? What can you tell us about him? How did you get to know him?
Paul: “Yes, Pete was in the band when I joined, he was a drunken sailor and was repeatedly hammered by Alex for being too drunk. But I always have and still love the poor guy. He regularly visits me if he is in town when MASTER plays!”

With FUNERAL BITCH you then recorded two demos in 1986 and 1987. How big was the band in the local area at the time? Did you get to play a lot of shows? There was talk of support slots for DEATH and the CRO-MAGS…
Paul: “We were underground like all my bands have always been, brother. We played with these shows you speak of. We had some good times, but the band was short-lived, as I began playing with ABOMINATION drummer Aaron Nickeas!”

In 2011 Black Mass Records re-released both FUNERAL BITCH demos on a vinyl 7″ EP entitled “The Demos”, followed by a CD edition in 2013 via Nuctemeron Records. Most recently another version saw the light of day via Vic Records, which was entitled “The 80’s Demos” and additionally features a live show from Chicago 1987. Apart from the nine demo tracks the setlist of that show also includes ‘Tunnel Of Damnation’, the MASTER / DEATH STRIKE song ‘Pay To Die’ and two untitled songs… Had those songs really still been untitled or was it just lack of memory that they aren’t featured with their real titles in the setlist? And what can you tell us about the non demo track ‘Tunnel Of Damnation’? Was that a brandnew one at that point?
Paul: “Nothing to do with memory, the recording is so shitty I could not figure what the songs were! The label wanted to add something special, so be it! ‘Tunnel Of Damnation’ would end up on the ABOMINATION debut!”

What happened to the band after the second demo… the line-up had changed quite drastically with Alex Olvera being the only original member left on the third demo “Nuke ‘Em” from 1988. Why did Dave Chiarella (drums), Chaz Baker (guitars) and Ron Holstein (bass) come on board?
Paul: “Obviously, Alex thought he could continue without me! I lost interest and began writing and recording with ABOMINATION, featuring Nickeas, Shafer and myself!”

Had any of the original members still been involved in the songwriting of the four demo songs ‘Nuke ‘Em’, ‘Grim Reality’, ‘Most Wanted’ and ‘Loser’, or were they all written with the new members?
Paul: “All Alex Olvera tracks!”

In the ABOMINATION “Demos” CD there’s a flyer of a show at Rock-N-Chicago from September 27 with BURNT OFFERING and FUNERAL BITCH… Do you recall which year it was? Had you been out of FUNERAL BITCH at that time already or did you play shows with both bands, like you did on the European tour with MASTER / ABOMINATION / PUNGENT STENCH?
Paul: “I must have played in both bands, honestly this is a long time ago brother. 1987 would have been the time, I guess!”

Do you know why FUNERAL BITCH morphed into FUNERAL NATION shortly after? Did it have anything to do with Alex joining ZNÖWHITE for their “Act Of God” album?
Paul: “Yes of course, since I stole the drummer and name from the original ABOMINATION band on Nickeas’s suggestion of course, the guys were pissed, so they combined the names and formed a new entity, good for them! It worked and still does I guess.”

What had you been doing after FUNERAL BITCH until you were contacted by Nuclear Blast Records? Were you active with ABOMINATION at that time?
Paul: “Joe Caper from RIGHTEOUS PIGS introduced the ABOMINATION demo to Nuclear Blast Records and the rest is history. In 1989 MASTER was signed, a week after ABOMINATION, by Slatko (RIP).”

When and why did you decide to leave the USA for the Czech Republic and do you miss your home country from time to time or do you feel a lot better where you live now?
Paul: “I joined a band called KRABATHOR for four years and decided to stay here. I miss nothing about the USA, what is there to miss? Corruption? Idiocy? I have lived in Uherské Hradiště for 21 years my friend, there is no turning back!”

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Frank Stöver / Laurent Ramadier

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