I suppose I don’t really have to introduce mister Paul Speckmann to the VOICES readers anymore, do I? Even though he never managed to make it real big (commercially speaking), his activities with MASTER, ABOMINATION, DEATHSTRIKE or FUNERAL BITCH turned him into a living underground legend nevertheless. Most recently the awesome original "Master" album from 1985 (which was supposed to come out on Combat Records back in the 80s) finally saw the light of day via Dutch From Beyond Productions / Displeased Records, so we considered this a pretty good reason to get in touch with Paul for an in-depth interview about his entire musical history thus far, kicking things off with the band WARCRY…
Back in 1983 you were in a band called WAR CRY… Was that your first band ever or have there been any other projects before that already? I read about a highschool band called White Cross… was that already serious in any way?
"In the band White Cross I was just a singer. This was my first real experience with Rock’n’Roll. I had dreamed of playing music since I was a child. I always dreamed of playing bass. Shortly after playing in this all cover band, I bought a cheap Epiphone bass for about thirty dollars and began to practice. It’s funny because the bassist for the future band Trouble, Sean McCallister was upset because I beat him to the punch and bought the bass immediatly. It wasn’t very serious, but it lead me along the path to Metal."
How long did WARCRY exist and who else used to be in the line-up?
"Warcry lasted a few years. Original drummer Joe Iaccino left midway through to be replaced by future Master drummer Bill Schmidt. Steve Ahlers and Marty Fitzgerald played guitars and Rich Rozek was the vocalist. We recorded a killer early Chicago demo called "Trilogy Of Terror" and also appeared on the Metal Massacre 4 along with the likes of Trouble, Zoetrope and Lizzy Borden. There was a great comradery among the Chicago scene in the early days and later egos got in the way. I miss those early days. I found out in the last few years that Warcry was offered a deal with Slagel and Metal Blade back then, but I was never informed and quit the band to jam with Schmidt full time."
Was the "Trilogy Of Terror“ demo the band’s only release? Which songs appeared on it and how many copies of it got approximately spread around?
"’The Executioner’s March’, ‘The Executioner’, ‘Wicked Warlock’ and ‘Forbidden Evil’, which Forbidden the band subsequently got their name from. A few copies somehow made it through the underground, but I had nothing to do with this."
How did you get the opportunity to contribute the song ‘Forbidden Evil‘ to the "Metal Massacre IV" compilation on Metal Blade Records?
"Anyone could be on the Massacre at that time, if he payed 500 US dollars."
Was that an exclusive recording for that album or taken from the demo?
"This was an exclusive recording at Pierced Arrow studios in Evansten a suburb of Chicago."
How was the response? Did you ever get any label offers?
You only played bass at the time – what made you start singing later on as well?
"As I said earlier, singing was my beginning. I learned the bass to become more involved in the writing process."
I suppose your biggest show with WAR CRY was when you opened up for TWISTED SISTER and QUEENSRYCHE… How did you get the opportunity and how was the response from the audience on you guys?
"We became the local band for a while. We played all the cool shows. Joe Perry Project, Mountain and many others. The response for Warcry was always pretty good. For more on this story, you can read my autobiography entitled "Speckmann surviving the underground" due out 2004."
At which point of time did you move on to form DEATHSTRIKE and what actually caused the split up of WARCRY? What happened to the other members?
"Schmidt played on concert and was fired due to an altercation with Marty Fitzgerald. In late 1983 Schmidt and I started jamming regularly in a storage unit in Mt:Prospect a small suburb outside of Chicago. We searched for a guitarist for well over a year with no luck. My father passed away in Nov of 1984. Schmidt was offered a position in a local outfit called Mayhem with guitarest Louie Svitek (Mod, Zoetrope, Ministry). I became frustrated and started looking through the Illinois Entertainer, a publication still in existence today. I discovered that Mittelbrun was running an add searching for an aggressive Metal outfit. We had auditioned Mittlebrun the year before and he was still stuck in the Judas Priest twin guitar attack mode with Hawk from the legendary Chicago outfit Transgressor."
How did you get together with Chris Mittelbrun and was it difficult to complete the line-up at that time?
"I called the add and Chris came over and jammed. I had just finished writing the song ‘The Truth’ and I showed it to him and he liked it. He brought in John Leprich and I brought in Kirk Miller, an old girfriend’s brother. In January of 1985 after about six weeks of rehearsals we went to Open Reel Studios Lynwood Ill and recorded the "Fuckin’ Death" demo. I remember I had to call Schmidt, because Leprich couldn’t get ‘Pay To Die’ down at the first session. The demo was supposed to be recorded in one day, like Warcry did in the past. We tried Leprich one more time and he just barely pulled it off."
You only recorded one demo, which throughout the years became a real underground classic… So what went wrong with DEATHSTRIKE that the band didn’t really last too long either?
"In July of 1985 Chris and I took Bill into our fold and we all agreed upon the name Master and Deathstrike was put to rest. This was July 4th independence day."
Did MASTER evolve directly out of the ashes of DEATHSTRIKE or was it a completely new band? When did you start up MASTER?
"Schmidt had written the tracks ‘Terrorizer’, ‘Pledge Of Allegiance’ and ‘Master’ in mid 1983. In 1984 I wrote ‘The Truth’, ‘Pay To Die’ and the lyrics for many of the future classics. Mittlebrun wrote ‘Re-entry And Destruction’ by himself and he and I co-wrote ‘Unknown Soldier’, ‘Funeral Bitch’ and ‘Mangled Dehumanization’. As I said Deathstrike recorded first, but Master with just Schmidt and I, was formed first."
The band name was inspired by the BLACK SABBATH album "Master Of Reality" and actually the idea of Rick Manson, who used to be in the band WITCHSLAYER at the time…
"Actually by thew song ‘Lord Of This World’…"
Any other names that you had in mind or was it MASTER right from the first time he suggested it?
"He and Schmidt agreed on the name while I was employed elsewhere. Schmidt was jamming with others, just as I did in the beginning on numerous occasions. We were young and trying to carve out our own identities, but the path always lead us back to one another."
In the beginning it was only Bill Schmidt on drums and yourself on bass and vocals…?!
"Actually Schmidt wanted to be the vocalist for Master. I began singing, because I was forced into the situation with Deathstrike, little did I know this would be a blessing in disguise."
Why was it so difficult to find a guitar player and when did you finally hook up with Chris Mittlebrun?
"Everyone was just cloning Maiden and Priest. It was hard to find an individual and thankfully I gave Mittlebrun a second chance. When Bill and i began together, it was just a long drum and bass solo. We didn’t really begin to work on the actual songs until Mittlebrun came along."
There’s been a lot of recordings circulating in the underground, but I never really found out how many official releases MASTER put out? I mean, were there any demos before the recordings you did for Combat?
"No, only some rehearsals of Deathstrike, which Sean Glass (Broken Hope and Soil) leaked to the underground. Kids will be kids. The underground was the fastest way to exploit yourself in those days."
When and how did you hook up with Combat and what can you tell us about the recordings of the album?
"Don Kaye had a radio program on WBCR Brooklyn College radio, and he invited us down for an interview. A friend Wally Hall had some family in Long Island New York, and so went along for the ride… Don Kaye hooked us up with Combat shortly after the radio interview in which we were escorted from the building for using four letter words on the air. Actually Dec 31st 1985 we received the contract. The recordings were recorded throughout the summer of 1985. I payed for the recording from an inheritence fom my father with the promise from Schmidt we would sign the first decent deal. When the deal came the legendary Kim Fowley read the contracts for 1.00 US dollar a minute, and after Schmidt added changes the contract was simply thrown in the garbage."
What caused the problems with the label and why was that album put on ice in the end?
"I answered this I think…"
What about FUNERAL BITCH…? At which point of time did that band exist, who else was in the line-up and what kind of releases were available?
"In 1987 I got tired of sitting around and hooked up with Alex Olvera from the band Assault and we changed the name to Funeral Bitch. Peter Thompsen on drums and Dave ? on vocals. Dave left after a few practices. He didn’t want to share vocal duties with me. Two demos."
What was the reason to start up ABOMINATION in 1987 and did you also consider that as a real band or was it just meant to be some kind of side project?
"I started cheating on Alex and Funeral Bitch after meeting Abomination drummer Aaron Nickeas. He and I hit it off right away and began late night rehearsals after our official members went home. This went on for a few months and we joined forces. We recorded two demos, one with guitarist Shaffer and then the second with guitarist Chioles. RIP Dean!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Without this so-called side project Master never would have been signed by Nuclear Blast."
When did Nuclear Blast get into the picture exactly and was it planned to do albums with MASTER and ABOMINATION right from the start?
"Yes, Slatko from NBR signed Abomination first and then asked me about Master. It’s funny, because with the contracts came bootleg NBR Master and Abomination shirts. So they were already selling products of mine, just as they still do today and never pay any money to me."
How do you judge the self-titled MASTER album in retrospect… Don’t you think it was heavily lacking in a proper packaging to compliment all the classic songs even more?
"Of course this was a rush job from NBR to get the quick money to invest in other groups. This is how NBR got so big, by ripping off the early artists, doing cheap packaging and making more to re-invest and rip off others. Let’s face it it worked. Germans have always been great business men!!!!!!!!!!!! Everytime I went to the newer bigger NBR office Marcus would say sit down in my chair and check out the comfort, YOU BOUGHT IT, THANKS PAUL!!!!!!!!!!!"
There’s no real information about where the recordings took place, when you recorded the material, who produced it etc., so would you mind telling us a little more info here? Who actually wrote ‘Fallen From Grace’ and ‘Junkyard’?
"Jim Martinelli the music, myself the lyrics. This was recorded at Morrissound with Scott Burns. Hear the shitty triggered drum sound?"
Most people probably know that the SPECKMANN album originally was supposed to be the MASTER debut full length on Nuclear Blast, and that the label refused to release it under the MASTER moniker because they considered it not heavy enough… How do you judge this personally?
"As Borivoj Krgin said the CD was a bit more mature."
Do you think that what ended up becoming the self-titled MASTER album is actually a better representation of what MASTER always stood for?
"No I think the new Displeased speaks for itself. The recording are in their truest form on the new release."
The SPECKMANN recordings didn’t even feature the original MASTER line-up, so do you think that it helped the material in any way to get Schmidt and Mittlebrun back together afterwards and re-record it?
"NBR sent us to record again because they didn’t like the recording with original members Schmidt and Mittelbrun. So they suggested I record it with Nickeas and Martinelli again. In the end they didn’t like either recordings and had Scott Burns re-mix the Schmidt / Mittelbrun recordings. So much for a professional record company. After spending 5000 dollars of NBR and 5000 dollars of Nickeas money I had to also release the other recording as the Speckmann Project. I had no choice."
In 1991 Nuclear Blast also re-released the 1985 DEATHSTRIKE demo on vinyl / CD, which featured the four demo tracks as well as four additional tunes… Tell us more about those songs, their origin and what made you include them?
"The four additional tunes came out like shit…"
After you toured Europe with PUNGENT STENCH, their drummer Alex Wank was complaining alot about the guy who played drums for you (I suppose it was Aaron Nickeas, right?), calling him an asshole etc. So, what was the problem with him?
"Nothin’, Aaron is and always will be a hard hitter and he just beat the shit out of Alex’s drums. Sorry Alex, if I am not mistaken, I think Master and Abomination bought Pungent Stenches complete backline on that tour courtesy of Muskub, one of Marcus Steigers male lovers I think. I sang and played bass for 26 concerts and made about 500 US dollars, but let’s face it – even today if it was about the money, I would have given up long ago."
You played that tour with a stand in guitar player, didn’t you? What caused this situation and why weren’t you able to hit the road in your original line-up?
"Guitar player Martinelli and drummer Nickeas played the tour. Schmidt and Mittelbrun were too interested in Coke and other drugs to tour at that time."
There was talk about another European tour in support of "On The Seventh Day…“ with DISMEMBER… did that really happen? How many shows did you play and in which countries?
There’s also been the announcement of a second guitar player for those shows – could you tell us more about who he actually was and what he had done previously?
Paul Masvidal (who used to be in CYNIC at the time) was hired at the last minute to play guitar on that album ("On The Seventh Day…“), so what happened to the original guitar player and did it cause any delays / additional costs in the recording process?
"Martinelli was too drunk in the morning to play, and he and the drivers were warned about this, before we left Chicago. Masvidal did an excellent job and all for the price of a flight ticket, from Florida to Florida. Thanks Paul."
You mentioned to me once that you originally had flown in another guitar player from Chicago to do the guitar work, but that he didn’t work out… Who was he and what was the problem with him?
"Jeff Kyloe and Scott Burns didn’t like him. It’s funny, because Paul heard a solo from Jeff and said it was great."
OBITUARY’s John Tardy contributed backing vocals to ‘Submerged In Sin‘ and ‘Catituditarian‘… Was this a label decision, in order to have another, good selling point, making the album more attractive to the Death Metal scene, which was exploding right around the time?
"’Latitudinarian’, on the test pressings NBR the professionals they were misspelled a few song titles. Thanks Marcus!!!!!!!! No again a Scott Burns idea and John was really cool, but critics said you could barely tell us apart."
I suppose using Scott Burns, THE Death Metal producer at the time and recording at Morrisound was also an idea courtesy of the label, wasn’t it? In retrospect – do you think his production really fitted the MASTER style?
"No of course not, but Scott and I had some interesting conversations about other groups recording there. It seems Morbid Angel were trying to find out how Mittlebrun always had such a heavy sound. And does Speckmann use effects or other tricks to get such heavy vocals, Sorry Scott. Scott also mentioned other groups that were very interested in the recording techniques of the previous Master recordings etc. I suppose this was a compliment."
You had moved to Phoenix, Arizona around that time… what was the reason for that and did it hurt the career of MASTER, as you had to find new members to complete the line-up again?
"Change is good. Nothing was happening in Chicago anymore when I left. What hurt Master the most was mis-management and NBR. They released too much too soon. Our way out of tune ‘No Class’ Motörhead. Actually Phoenix gave me a new lease on life and I ended up on tour again through Pavement and System Shock with Malevolent Creation and Krabathor. I am playing today sucessfully due to these changes. Master just played a blistering set at Fuck The Commerce two weeks ago to a responsive audience. So it begins again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
What can you tell us about Jeff Kobie (gt.), Brian Brady (gt.) and Steve Baily (dr.) who played with you on the 1993 demo? Were they from Phoenix? How did you hook up with them?
"Alcoholic Jeff, Bryan I spent quite a few good years touring with him. Baily’s a school teacher working with religion. Yes, from Phoenix."
What was next? Did you record the "Collection Of Souls" albums with that line-up? How do you judge that album nowadays?
"Nickeas, Kobie and Brady played on the CD. I like every record I record. Every CD has its good and bad points. "Collection…" was an experimental record and the experiment failed, yet I still autogragh the CD and vinyl everywhere from Japan to Columbia."
Would you agree that the release overkill, courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records hurted your career a lot more than it helped?
"Of course Marcus is rich and I am broke. These early overkill releases helped build Nuclear Blast Records. Period. This was a big mistake for me."
In 1995 you had moved to Hollywood, California… what made you do so?
"Again, change is good. I thought if you could find good musicians, it would be in Hollyweird. All I found was Heroine addict and other junkies. It was cool to see Lemmy. Also a strung out Jimmie Bain and a wasted Chris Holmes. Those were the highlights. Oh and a strung out Philthy Animal Taylor. I asked him to jam. Every time I mentioned Motörhead, he ran out of the building."
You were already without a record contract at the time, weren’t you? When did you start writing what was to become "The Final Word" demo?
"1996, with some amateurs who would actually become decent players after a lot of patiance and hard work."
Brian Brady was still playing guitar for MASTER at the time, so did he move to California with you? What can you tell us about Sage Johnson, the drummer on that demo?
"Bryan stayed in Arizona. He was a Master roadie for Aaron on the US and Canadian leg of touring. What better to get a fan and ex-roadie to learn the tunes.This took a lot of work."
In 1998 you were signed by Pavement Music and got the opportunity to go on the road in Europe with Malevolent Creation and Krabathor… Did you already have a new album out at the time? Tell us about the response from the crowds? Did they appreciate the return of MASTER or was it difficult for you to convince a die hard Death Metal crowd?
"Faith Is In Season" was just released prior to the tour. I never found it difficult to convince the crowd who the real Master is. Just watch the FTC video due out in a few weeks."
Around the time I basically lost track with your activities… So, tell us a bit more about how you ended up in the Czech Republic, how MARTYR came to live and what actually is SOLUTIONS?
"I recorded the Punk project Solutions after the 1998 tour in Tilburg Holland. Skull from Krabathor and I were jamming at soundchecks and Christopher and I discussed a possible project. I moved to Czech for six weeks to record Martyr and Bruno left Krabathor. I was offered the position and took it. I have been living in Czech and recording Krabathor and Master albums sucessfully for years now. I play nearly 100 concerts every year and this is great for me."
Are you still a member of KRABATHOR these days? What is your main priority – MASTER or KRABATHOR? Tell us a bit about the latest MASTER releases here as well…
"Master’s "Let’s Start A War" was released last year and "Dissuade Truth" with Krabathor just recently. I am working with both bands every year and I will continue to do so."
What kind of release is SPECKMANN – "The Collection", which came out on Metal Age Records in 2001?
"This guy Ollie is a friend of Marcus and NBR and this is yet another illegal release, no contract etc., just like the new Brazilian release of the first Master. Thanks Steiger."
What kind of material is on the SPECKMANN release from Metal Age? And what about the Brazilian version of the MASTER debut, that you just mentioned… Any additional or other songs on there?
"The Brazilian release is an illegal NBR release, same songs… and Speckmann is just the Abomination demo, "Solutions" and the Abomination MCD from a few years ago titled "The Final War"… All illegal crap."
The most recent MASTER release is the 1985 album, which finally came out through From Beyond Productions… How come that it took so long to get this material out and what can you tell us about the demos that are also featured on there?
"It’s Master in the rawest form and captured when we were young and full of hope dreams and life itself. No one was ever interested. People
What is going on with you at the moment? Any new bands / projects or albums in the making? Anything else you’d like to add here?
"I appreciate the time and effort it took to dig up all this information. The questions were great, but too god damn many. Thanks brother. See you on tour soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"