Illinois has always been a special place for me when it comes to Metal because in my youth I grew up collecting demos and other material from newer bands and this state was like heaven considering the number of newer interesting thrashing acts from that place. As time went on, my excitement towards those bands kind of fall down realising that most of them were just delivering generic Thrash Metal but one particular band managed to simply put all those bands to shame with the help of their two demos and couple of live tapes, the mighty SINDROME. During the last year or so that material has been issued on CD and vinyl (all bootlegs) so it was time to discuss their legacy with the help of former bass player Shaun Glass and later guitarist, Ken Savich. It would have been ridiculous not to discuss the story of Shaun’s previous band TERMINAL DEATH also, who were at one time quite famous in the underground circuit…
Did you ever think that you would answer questions related to TERMINAL DEATH, a band who managed to issue only one obscure demo in their career?
"I think it’s cool that music makes an impact and that is why underground Metal always lives on for those who really enjoy it. It is a bit odd to think of that band making any name but that’s cool too."
So the band really started mid ’85 with Ricky Aguayo (guitar), you (bass) and John Piotrowski (vocals) as former members joined by Nick (guitar) and Adan (drums), so do you remember exactly how you all teamed up together to form TERMINAL DEATH?
"Yeah it was John Piotrowski, Ricky Aguayo, Adan and maggot Nick and myself as the only line up. Well we all were young kids going to underground Metal shows in the city and just knew of each other but Ricky and me lived close to each other and I knew he played guitar so I would hang with him alot and we got really into SLAYER and VENOM as kids and by going to shows I met John because his old denim had many cool band logos on it (HELLHAMMER, VOI VOD, DEATH STRIKE) so we talked and began to trade demos of underground Metal bands which led for him to become our singer for this new band we wanted to form."
Was it your first band experience or…? Who came up with that explicit / Metallic bandname?
"Yes it was my very first band and John named it and if I remember it well he also drew the original logo that was very FROST like."
I remember that the band’s influences were quite eclectic since you were naming outfits as diverse as HENDRIX, CREAM, CIRITH UNGOL, MASTER, VOI VOD, RUSH, SEX PISTOLS, RAW POWER, or even Chicago’s MAYHEM, but would you say that this large extent of influences could be heard in your brand of Thrash Metal?
"Not all of them but some of those bands were our faves at the time like HENDRIX was John’s stuff and CIRITH UNGOL too, Ricky and me were all into VOI VOD and I loved the SEX PISTOLS, Adan loved RUSH alot and Nick was way into RAW POWER and more Punk."
Your first and only demo was recorded in December ’85 featuring six fast thrashing tunes very reminiscent of SLAYER, CELTIC FROST for the most part, and despite the rough conditions of recording as it was done with a 2 track recorder, the result was impressive and managed to put TERMINAL DEATH as the hottest band on the Chicago Thrash scene along with MASTER, what do you remember of that effort and the reception it got from the underground scene?
"It was cool that we made a demo that was REAL and it was damn good for the era. Alot in Chicago knew us from hanging out but we were fucking kids so c’mon but then all the Metal bands heard our demo and were like ‘those kids fucking rage!". We made impact with it on the Chicago scene and began to play shows."
Talking about the underground, from what I remember you were involved quite heavily into it as it seems you were the one who recorded at least a MASTER rehearsal, traded heavily alot of live / rehearsal recordings from Chicago bands etc, so was it mainly because you had understood – following the growing success of METALLICA or SLAYER – the importance to have a fan base coming from the underground tape trading / fanzine network?
"Yeah I was and I still loved Metal. I mean c’mon it’s my bloodline. As for that infamous MASTER practice, that was a fucking killer day and it was Troy (Dixler) who taped it actually and it was spread around by alot from our whole group of friends. Oh definitively I knew you had to mail out your music to get a name out to a die hard Metal scene. If anything it helped build their popularity in the underground."
Even if TERMINAL DEATH were a Thrash / Death band (Death Metal of course didn’t have the meaning back then that it has nowadays), were you influenced to form a Metal band by Illinois Heavy / Power Metal outfits as influential as WAR CRY, TROUBLE, DEATH STRIKE or even WITCH SLAYER, HAMMERON, PARADOXX, SLAUTER XSTROYES etc etc? Were you familiar with those outfits by the way?
"Only DEATH STRIKE / MASTER was the band that we liked locally but later on TROUBLE became a fucking fave, also ZOETROPE was a fave of all of our’s but we were more into POSSESSED, DEATH (demos) and I worshipped VOI VOD."
When TERMINAL DEATH were around there was tons of Thrash acts popping up from everywhere in the States and Illinois were definitively on the map with outfits such as DEVASTATION, MUTILATION, MACABRE, MAYHEM, NATAS (later known as NOT-US), ORSIS or SOLEMN (well it still remains to be seen if that particular band even rehearsed one time), would you say in was a strong local scene back then? Was it also friendly between bands or was it more like competition?
"TERMINAL DEATH was so new and young that we knew most the bands. Some you mentioned didn’t exist to us at least. AFTERMATH and MAYHEM were our bro’s."
Did you gig alot as TERMINAL DEATH as I never saw any live tapes floating around (except one video from a show with ORSIS)? I think you opened for D.R.I. one time right?
"TERMINAL DEATH only did a few shows as well as some old school Metal parties in like ’85 I think or 86. We did alot of those and my parents basement was our practice spot at the end so alot hung there and watched us jam. Yes we did metro with D.R.I. on their "Dealing With It" tour era."
It seems you had a bunch of material written for a possible first album, the demo tracks plus newer stuff like ‘The Insane God’, ‘Darkening Man’, ‘Bloody Retribution’, ‘Sorrow Wed’ etc. Would you say that this later material was in the same vein as the earlier stuff or was it more technical / progressive?
"Alot of the later material was damn cool and very POSSESSED influenced as Ricky was way into them and he really wrote alot, fuck some of those titles were not songs yet BUT ‘Bloody Retribution’ was fucking massive. God I forgot about that song maybe it’s floating around on some old ass practice tape."
It was announced mid ’86 that you had signed a deal with King Klassic Records (NATAS also) – a tiny Chicago label – and you were ready to enter the studio to record your first album but it never was finalized, so what happened?
"No way we never signed a deal with any label. The band disbanded shortly after the last bunch of shows."
So how did the whole TERMINAL DEATH story end up exactly?
"To tell you the truth I don’t really remember why or how… we were fucking kids and it just ended. I think Adan was really getting out of heavy stuff and Troy (Dixler) was having problems with DEVASTATION early on and we were close so I knew it was time for something new and it sure was time to move onto something fresh."
So it didn’t take long for you to be part into what was the new underground "supergroup" at the time, SINDROME; featuring Troy Dixler (vocals, ex-DEVASTATION), Chris Mittelbrun (guitars, ex-MASTER), Tony Ochoa (ex-SOLEMN) and you on bass…
"All our old bands were done. Troy and I called Chris and I knew Tony from going to Metal and Hardcore shows in the city so we all got together talked about what we wanted to do and what our former bands didn’t do right etc etc and we formed SINDROME in 1986. I think the first real song we wrote was ‘Aortic Expulsion’."
How do you explain that all those bands (TERMINAL DEATH, DEVASTATION, MASTER) weren’t able to go further (like working out personal differences) despite the potential they all had and the rave reviews they were getting?
"I don’t know why or how but we all had our dumb young egos and that may have hurt us but you have to remember our bands were loved by alot of people worldwide so as young as we all were it probably affected us of the reality of what we really were and some had bad habits like Chris was older than the rest of us so he was like already grown up and into partying etc."
Do you remember how you met Troy in the first place as the two of you seemed to be real close?
"Troy and I met in 5th grade at school and we talked about Rock because I had on a KISS shirt we hit it off as he was wearing a LED ZEPPELIN shirt."
Who came up exactly with that unusual type of moniker? I mean this type of name really filled the concept the band went for, originality and professionalism right from the beginning.
"Troy came up with the band name. We all were trying to come up with band names and that one just stuck out."
Did it click all together between you right away when you started to write the newer material?
"Yeah we did get on pretty good but when Erv (Brauntigan) was brought into the original line up. Erv was more into guitar virtuoso music and didn’t like too much heavy shit unless it was so technical that nobody could play it. He kind of didn’t fit in the band ever but his leads were so crushing and new classical Metal solos were in and we liked that other side as Chris was a lot heavier of a lead player."
From the beginning and despite the pressure coming from the undergrounds fans, the band refused to let rehearsal tapes of SINDROME floating around in the tape trading network and preferred to release only official studio recordings, did you share that approach personally and would you say that it worked out for the best that way?
"I agreed. Alot of these decisions were made by Troy and me as we wanted the band to be looked at on a higher level than most generic underground bands who would sell practice tapes. We always wanted to be a bit more classy and pro at it."
It wasn’t long before your first demo ("Into The Halls Of Extermination") was recorded in September ’87 and issued by January ’88 as a top professional product packaging wise, and musicwise it was a rather impressive first effort, a powerful mixture of DESTRUCTION, SLAYER, POSSESSED elements mixed with your own approach, looking back how do you feel about that first cult demo tape?
"Well it is a cool demo for the time although to this day and it was a good overall sound of the band. The songs were strong enough to live on their own and most thought it sounded album quality back in that era. I like ‘Rapture In Blood’ the most to this day of the five songs."
Do you remember how much money was spent to come up with such a product? Was it the reason why it took a bit of time before it was made available to the public?
"We did it with some unknown local engineer who did work on a great Punk band called OUT OF ORDER and we liked that record alot so we knew he could record hard music. As for the amount I don’t remember how much was spent but we did all throw in the money for the "Halls" demo to be manufactured and recorded."
One of the aspects I always found like a setback for that tape was the drum sound which wasn’t enough in front on the mix, do you share that view?
"Yes I agree it wasn’t the best but Tony’s old drum set kinda sucked too. Oh well he was a killer drummer and even got better on "Vault…"."
Did you meet controversy towards the lyrics of "Into The Halls…" which could be interpretated the wrong way especially from German people?
"Yeah some fools heard it that way but it was meant to talk about the atrocities of World War II and it is simply a fact of history."
Erv Brautingan (ex-DEVASTATION) was added as second guitarist after the demo was recorded, just in time for your first live appearances…
"Like I said Erv was brought in to fill up our live band and Troy knew him and since DEVASTATION was done he asked Erv to join. Erv never wrote any songs that the band recorded and was only involved in a few old songs that we used in the "Halls" era of shows like ‘Surround The Prisoner’ was one I remember. Also we did add a new solo section in the intro of the song ‘Into The Halls…’, Erv and Chris wrote that entire harmony part over the original riff."
So as far as I remember your first shows as SINDROME took place in the Midwest as support for AT WAR and WHIPLASH for a couple of dates, was it cool touring with those other bands?
"We had a blast. Our first shows were with WHIPLASH and we did a mini tour with them and then did a few shows with DEATH on the "Scream Bloody Gore" Midwest tour. Yeah we had so much fun. Chuck was a very good bud of mine as he knew me from TERMINAL DEATH and we used to call each other alot as well as he would stay at my parents house with me. My basement was the Metal zone in the day. I had alot of bands crash there or come hang. WHIPLASH and us did some drunk jams there."
Your first contact with the Chicago crowd took place on 12/20/87 during that first tour and surprisingly you played the longest set that night (50min), any memories why it happened and how that went because obviously local fans were dying to see if that new "supergroup" was for real, right?!
"Damn I hardly remember it but I think for the first real show, the club had some technical problems either with the P.A. system so it wasn’t the smoothest of shows and it was with WHIPLASH I think on their "Ticket To Mayhem" tour."
Did your second Midwest tour supporting DEATH a month later (January ’88) went as good or even better considering that this time people were more familiar with your material as your demo had just been released at that point?
"Yes more people knew of SINDROME and we were happy as fuck to be doing shows with DEATH as they were one of my faves. I think we made alot of true fans from those shows and it made the demo get more out there and have an impact in the underground."
Would you say WHIPLASH and AT WAR were a better bill for you than DEATH considering the nature of SINDROME’s material?
"No it didn’t matter, SINDROME was heavy so it worked and with WHIPLASH, they were just as heavy in their own way. AT WAR was a decent band, their debut was good."
Was it envisaged at one point to include some numbers in your set from your previous bands or was it totally out of question?
"SINDROME only did SINDROME songs live. Our old bands were quite over with and we didn’t feel the need to re do anything of our pasts."
At that point (early ’88), a second wave of Chicago Thrash / Death Metal acts had seen the light with the likes of ABOMINATION, FUNERAL BITCH, CIANIDE, GENERATION WASTE, AFTERMATH,, SCARED FOR LIFE, BURNT OFFERING etc etc. Did you feel like you were part of that movement or somewhat out of this since your approach to the scene was different?
"We were in the same era cause SINDROME were leaders in the Metal scene but AFTERMATH was around since 85 so we knew them very well and GENERATION WASTE were our buds as Nick / maggot joined GENERATION WASTE after TERMINAL DEATH was done, as well as playing bass for IMPULSE MANSLAUGHTER."
I remember that Troy was saying at the time (’88) that there was talks to see SINDROME going on tour with different acts such as BLESSED DEATH, SACRED REICH, DEATH ANGEL (even playing with SLAYER in Milwaukee) etc or appearing at festivals such as the Aardschock (Holland), or at the Canadian Metal fest but nothing ever concretized, how do you explain that?
"We had a lot of opportunities, but none of them ever really panned out."
So by mid ’88 there was a huge buzz on SINDROME and I’m pretty certain there was labels interested (like a subsidiary of CBS for example), so why nothing happened exactly?
"We really never had any GOOD offers as the band was kinda going thru a major change after the "Halls" era. We lost both guitar players and we knew we had to do a new demo and get new players. Tony, Troy and I stuck it out and began to look for new guys, a label wasn’t our focus."
Staying on that subject, the band was ready to release an album by themselves according to Troy if nothing would happen labelwise and instead came up with a second demo, so why nothing happened on that side either?
"We never would have put out a record on our own label. The demos were kind of like doing that in a short EP like manner."
A major line up change happened during the summer of ’89 when Chris and Erv were replaced by Rob Welsh and Mick Vega, what happened here? I understand Chris got married but it doesn’t explain everything…
"Yeah Chris got older and removed from the music scene and Erv grew out of the Metal scene and started listening to Jazz trying to re-learn his style of playing."
What was the musical background from those newer members and how did you recruit them?
"I knew Mick from seeing him around as he was in the local Metal / Rock band HAMMERON but I knew he could shred and had a good image and was into METALLICA, ANTHRAX, EXODUS and stuff like that. Rob was from Louisville, KY so he relocated and moved here to join SINDROME. He was more into the instrumental type of Metal and he likes KING DIAMOND alot too."
So by late ’89 a second demo was announced in the SINDROME camp but nothing was finalized until one year later (early ’91) when the band finally entered the Morrisound studio in Florida with Tom Morris at the knobs. So first, why did it take so long for the band to record that second demo?
"It was difficult to get two new guitar players and grow our style yet work with Troy’s vocals. In a sense it was a rebirth of the band with a lot more mature music."
Secondly, why did you choose (as a demo band) to use Morisound and Tom Morris as producer for that second effort? I guess the wave of Death Metal acts who were recording there had an obvious effect on your choice here right?!
"Well we knew it was a great studio and we like alot of records from there but I think also we wanted a name on the recording for a professional feel and to make a name with it. I loved CRIMSON GLORY’s "Transcendence" record which Tom did so that kinda sold us on him and his talents. As most went to Scott Burns and his assembly line sound."
So once again this new effort, "Vault Of Inner Conscience" which was issued late ’91 / early ’92 was extremely professional once again and musicwise it was another strong affair, how do you compare this second and last effort to the first one?
"Yes I love "Vault…" and to this day it kills for the era and genre. It smoked "Halls" and still does. That was the best SINDROME recording and songs. We were more into CORONER, FORBIDDEN and SLAYER and it shows on the later era of the band. We became proud that we could play more than just a HELLHAMMER riff."
The most instant thing on that tape would be in my opinion the guitar harmonies executed by Rob and Mick as those guys really smoked, something that wasn’t as present on "Into…"
"Yes, but like you said they were killer players all round and the soloing shows it on "Vault". Chris had a cool unique style too. Actually he had alot to do with the original SINDROME / "Halls" era musical sound."
Would you say that at this point and with the long delay it took to the band to come up with something new kind of killed the possible label interest from record labels?
"At the time the labels that were offering SINDROME deals were not giving the most artist friendly contracts. As you can imagine in those days the labels had the upper hand over the bands and so in order to get a really good deal you had to have a bidding war. SINDROME was still a pretty extreme sounding Metal band so it wasn’t as if we had multiple major labels looking to give us large offers."
Before this demo was released, a new line up change took place in the Autumn of ’91 with Rob being replaced by ex-LÄÄZ ROCKIT axeman, Ken Savich, a surprising move since he was based in S.F. What went wrong with Rob and how did you get in touch with Ken?
"The story goes like this, Rob was living off of us and was staying in Troy’s parents house and Troy was getting sick of him not working or whatever to do so for living out by us, so I called friends asking around for a new player and Craig’s (Locicero – FORBIDDEN) room mate was in LÄÄZ ROCKIT and wasn’t happy with the band so we kinda persuaded him into moving and joining the band."
As far as I know your last live appearance as SINDROME took place in Chicago on April 6th ’88 at the Iron Rail, so why did you never play any live shows after that?! It sounded unreal to be honest not to see any live appearance anymore from SINDROME?
"We wanted the band to come back with a full production for the show as "Vault" was selling alot of demos from local stores and the name was quite huge in Chicago but we dropped out of the live scene. The plan was to come out and do a great production to back up the hype that we had behind "Vault…"."
Talking about that last SINDROME gig from April 6th 1988, it was supposed to be with NASTY SAVAGE as headliners, but did they really play that night? I’m not certain from what I remember…
“They were scheduled to play and pulled out a week before the gig and SINDROME headlined the show with METAL ONSLAUGHT added in support. A sold out show too.”
With that newly issued demo, you made sure to have a bunch of merchandising done to the point that it looked absolutely surreal for a demo band having all those different shirts etc. Honestly don’t you think it was a little over the top especially since the Metal scene had changed quite drastically at that point and Thrash Metal wasn’t the "in" thing anymore?
"No because any band should have merchandise but it was a bit extreme for a underground Metal band to have so much to offer. Remember we had been putting SINDROME out with a professional image in all aspects since the beginning of the band."
I almost forgot to discuss that also but while you were in Florida to record "Vault…", you had Tom Morris and Mike Fuller remastering the "Into…." tape which was reissued with a new layout…
"Just to try and make it sound a bit better and update the demo a bit as it’s funny now with all the labels doing just that with old records."
Did you still get a lot of response from the fans and press for that second tape? Was it as strong (in terms of sales and press) as for the previous demo?
"They both sold so well. I don’t really remember but yes the zines gave "Vault…" amazing reviews and it was spreading around the world."
So the obvious next question is: what happened in the SINDROME camp after this demo was released in ’92 as the last thing I heard from the band came in mid ’94 when you left SINDROME to join the quite popular Death Metal act, BROKEN HOPE?
"I was getting way more into bands like MORBID ANGEL and knew Jeremy Wagner from the Metal scene and knew their bassist was on his way out after the recording of "Bowels Of Repugnance" so we talked I went out to hang a few times then they asked me to learn some songs on bass and I did go to jam with them and they asked me if I would join."
To close the story of a very hopeful band, honestly where do you think SINDROME failed to become the band it should have been exactly?
"There were so many times we were ready to do it. After "Vault…", Roadrunner called up and said ‘let’s do a deal but the offer wasn’t even as much money as we had spent recording and promoting the band ourselves."
What were the best and worst times with SINDROME considering that the band were around for seven years?
"Hard to say but we did some cool things in the underground and kind of raised the level for a band to make an impact for that scene. It was a unique band and had many different personalities in and out of the band."
Do you know what all the ex-SINDROME members have done after that sad end?
"I know Mick lives in Florida and I see him alot on the road he works for a flight case company and plays for some band in Florida. Tony… I know still plays drums and is in a few bands, Chris, I have no clue, Erv… I don’t know what became of that guy and Troy has a very well paying job in technology and makes a good living."
As you maybe know the SINDROME material has been bootlegged on CD (featuring both demos) and on vinyl (a Brazilian picture disc featuring the "Into…" demo), how do you feel about that? I mean don’t you think some fans give that material the treatment it should have got in the first place?
"I know those companies put the material out because they were fans of the band, but it’s not right that they would profit off the band when they had nothing to do with the creation of the music. I can’t imagine they pressed a lot of them. The music has been available for free in MP3 format on the Internet for quite a long time at www.sindrome.net."
I talked to Troy a while ago to see if he would be interested to see that material properly released by a record company but he wasn’t into the idea, how do you feel about this idea personally?
"I think the main issue was the amount of time and effort it would have taken to put it out and with everyone trading music on the Internet it would have been a money losing venture for any label that wanted to release it. Troy decided just to release the music for free and put it out on the Internet for the die hard fans instead."
Have you already envisaged the possibility to reunite the members for a reunion gig or something or do you all consider it as something from the past and closed?
"I’d fucking do a SINDROME show one and only once with the right real members but I know most of them have probably stopped playing, but I know Troy would never do it but I wouldn’t do it without him as it was our band we formed."
You stayed with BROKEN HOPE for a couple of years, finally appeared on albums and at one point left them to join SOIL whose musical nature is even more different than BROKEN HOPE was from TERMINAL DEATH or SINDROME, a surprising move from my view?
"Well SOIL is a Rock band and I play guitar but I was always into KISS, U.F.O., MOTÖRHEAD and always loved METALLICA from day one till now so it wasn’t unnatural for me to end up playing this kind of music. I mean I didn’t come out of the womb with "Haunting The Chapel" in my hand (laughs)."
As a person who have followed from the inside (as a musician) and the outside (as a Metal fan who traded tapes and saw a bunch of shows in Chicago), how do you feel about the way the Speed / Thrash Metal scene (or the Metal scene in general) has evolved since the early ’80s until now? Don’t you think the old spirit is kind of gone?
"Yeah it is gone, sad to say but I see a lot of that playing in newer Power Metal bands (NEVERMORE who I truly love) that have alot of shredding in their music and obviously that genre is around today."
What are your five fave records and five best shows you have ever witnessed?
"Damn that’s fucking hard. Shows: KISS and JUDAS PRIEST ’79, my first show ever with my dad, RUSH "Moving Pictures" tour, SLAYER "Reign In Blood" tour at the Aragon Ballroom, World War Three festival (VOI VOD, CELTIC FROST, POSSESSED, DESTRUCTION and NASTY SAVAGE), I stayed with VOI VOD for four days at their house, that was Metal as fuck! SOIL with OZZY at the All State Arena in Chicago, that was like a big fuck you to any who doubted me or my music. Records: KISS "Alive", U.F.O. "Strangers In The Night", "METALLICA "Master Of Puppets", SLAYER "Reign In Blood" and U2 "Achtung Baby"."
Anything to add to end that feature?
"I hope this helps anyone to understand why and what became of the bands I was involved in from that era and be open minded to music it is the key."
What’s better to end up that long awaited SINDROME feature than having the latest addition in that Chicago act, Ken Savich, who was previously involved with the Bay Area based act, LÄÄZ ROCKIT so I covered his story in both bands. When and how did you get interested in playing guitar? Was it the first instrument you’ve picked up?
"I actually started out playing the trumpet at around ten years of age. I played like mad and was really into it until it was stolen from me at school. The guitar came to my life in the form of a Christmas gift from my parents… a very hard to play acoustic with action you could drive a truck under. I picked it up here and there and finally sort of got into it in around 12 years old. After my parents were divorced, my stepfather gave a 12 gauge shotgun as some sort of twisted parting gift. Being a pacifist, I wrapped the gun in a blanket and sold it at a pawnshop. I used the money I had earned to buy my first electric, a Memphis Stratocaster copy. It was a really crappy guitar that I carried to school every day without a case. I played it as much as I could and finally went on to buy a better model."
What were the first bands you played with and did you record something with ’em?
"I played with some Rock bands in Las Vegas as a kid. None of them ever recorded. Most of the stuff I did was just playing in clubs and parties. For the most part, it was just Hard Rock. In my early guitar days, I was really influenced by BLACK SABBATH, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth. I eventually stopped playing Rock as my abilities on the instrument surpassed the people I was playing with. I was getting more in to people like Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin. As I matured as a player, I found that I needed to challenge myself more. Rock was boring the crap out of me and I needed a change. I eventually decided to go to college and played in some Jazz-Fusion groups from there. I was also majoring in composition, as I was heavily into modern art music like Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Messiaen, Varese, Ravel and so forth."
Did you play at one point in a band with your brother Scott as a twin guitar team? Did you follow what your brother accomplished in the late ’80s / early ’90s with PESTILENCE / THE HORDE OF TORMENT?
"Scott and I never actually played in a band together. I know it sounds strange, but we just were in two different places most of the time. While I was getting out of the band thing, Scott was getting more into it and our paths never really converged. I guess we played together at home when we were younger, but never really in a band situation. We were just a two different ends of the spectrum at the time that the PESTILENCE / HORDE stuff was happening. I did really dig the stuff they were doing though, especially THE HORDE… they were excellent. I didn’t really follow anything he was doing regarding band stuff because I was just in a different headspace at the time."
Since you were originally based in Las Vegas, at which point did you move to S.F. and was it LÄÄZ ROCKIT that you joined directly there? How did you exactly get the opportunity to join ’em?
"I was actually going to school in southern California and just decided to move up to the Bay Area for a change of pace. I wasn’t finding many opportunities to play in southern California so I moved. I had visited Scott and seen THE HORDE play in San Francisco and Oakland, and the Bay Area just seemed to have a way more happening scene… the opportunities just looked better there. I finally moved there and started school again with the idea that I would get my degree and see what happens from there. Once I moved, I became good friends, and eventually roommates with Craig Loccicero from FORBIDDEN. As far as I remember, Craig gave Jeff Weller, the manager of LÄÄZ ROCKIT, my phone number and told him something about my playing. Once I was in contact with Jeff, I auditioned for them and got the job."
Were you familiar with the LÄÄZ ROCKIT material previously?
"To tell you the truth, I had never heard of them before I got the phone call to audition. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have liked them anyway. Their style of Thrash Metal was a bit too unpolished for me at the time. I was really into the Fusion stuff and just didn’t listen to much Metal or Rock. Essentially, I tried out for them and was enticed into joining the band by the fact that they were signed and had a tour coming up for the single “Leatherface” from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3”. I knew that playing with them would afford me the opportunity record an album and tour as well. They were on Enigma at the time, which was being bought by Capitol Records, so joining them seemed like a really good decision. Additionally, they gave me a good amount of freedom as far as writing and playing. Aaron (Jellum) and Mike (Coons) were also very nice guys, which helped a lot."
You joined the band at the same time Dave Chavarri did as the new drummer, was it somebody you knew before? Also Jon Torres was in the band at that time as a relatively new member, how was it like playing with those guys?
"Actually, I joined the band way before Dave Chavarri. Dave was the drummer for GOTHIC SLAM, the band that opened for us on half of the "Leatherface" tour. The drummer we had when I joined really sucked and we ended up getting rid of him mid-tour. Dave learned all of our set, ended up finishing the tour and finally joining the band thereafter. Dave was a raging drummer… an absolute joy to play with. Nothing makes a band more than a good drummer. I really wasn’t familiar with anything that Jon Torres had done previous to LÄÄZ. He was a solid player and also contributed some cool riffs here and there. On a personal level, he wasn’t a very together guy at the time so we ended up firing him after we recorded "Nothing $acred" and hiring my friend Scott Dominguez. Soon after Scott joined, I left to join SINDROME."
"Nothing Sacred" was issued in early ’92, so it took the band two years to have this album issued, an album which features Jon Torres and you playing despite the fact both of you weren’t credited for that in favor of new members Scott Dominguez and Scott Sargeant respectively. It seems it happened because you weren’t interesting in staying with ’em and prefered to go with SINDROME…
"Let me set the record straight on this issue. First off, "Nothing $acred" came to fruition mostly because of me, with regard to the playing and writing on it. I wrote a lot of it and also played most all of the rhythm guitar on it. It’s pretty obvious, once you listen to the record, that it doesn’t sound like the typical LÄÄZ stuff. Well, that’s because I was doing a lot of the writing and playing on it. I was actually coming into the studio with full songs recorded on my four track with a drum machine. The only thing I didn’t write was lyrics. As far as the solos, you can kind of tell which are mine and which are Aaron’s. Aaron has the Bluesy Rock type style while all of my stuff is the fast arpeggio and speed picking stuff. I even ended up playing some bass parts as well, just because I was the only one that could actually pull them off cleanly. Aaron and Jon did write some of the material, don’t get me wrong. Even the stuff that they did write, was tweaked by me to fit the overall style that I was trying to get across. When I told Jeff Weller and the guys I was leaving the band, they weren’t exactly happy about it, which is understandable. I was actually credited in the liner notes of the disc with just “K. Savich”. I’m sure this was done out of spite, as they were very pissed about me leaving. It’s unfortunate because I did expend a great deal of time and energy into that project, something that they didn’t seem to have any respect for. There were many issues about that band that I just couldn’t see myself flourishing around. The alcohol / drug stuff was out of hand for one. Jeff and the rest of the band were really into rap, something I cannot stand, and I saw that whole self-promoting misogynist type ethic creeping into our image. I was interested in making music, not being part of a wrestling / metal freak show. Many of the issues regarding our image and so forth were completely under the control of Weller as well. I didn’t dig the stupid cartoon mascot crap that they just loved. I sought to expand and grow beyond that old stuff and into new territories, while they just wanted to remain the same. I just wasn’t into being in a band with a manager that had such complete control. I needed to have some sort of control over my own career and as such, opted to leave LÄÄZ and join SINDROME. I’m not saying that Weller didn’t do a good job for the band, I just didn’t personally appreciate his style of management so I moved on."
"Nothing Sacred" featured more kinda Thrashy material but unlike on the previous albums the songs – at least to me – seemed interchangeable as there wasn’t that many catchy tracks as before, what’s your views on that?
"Sure, that’s because I was writing the stuff. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t write catchy songs. Additionally, I was a Jazz-Fusion player for the most part. I was writing in the style of Thrash, but I didn’t live that style as many much better Thrash writers like FORBIDDEN or EXODUS did. I was merely playing a part and doing the best I could to come up with what I thought was interesting music. The idea of writing catchy music never occurred to me. I simply wrote for the joy of it. I think that some of the songs are a bit too technical at certain points to be labeled catchy anyway. I do think, however, that there are some damn fine moments on the disc. All in all, you have to realize that by virtue of the fact that I was so involved, it really was a sophomore effort, even though the band had been around for a while."
Did you play live with LÄÄZ ROCKIT during the time you’ve stayed with ’em, but how long did you stay with ’em all in all?
"Yes, I did the “Saw Is The Law” tour for the "Leatherface" single as I mentioned previously. I think all in all, I was with LÄÄZ for a couple of years… not sure on that one. I do know there are a few bootleg videos out there of me playing with them. I’d love to get one if anyone knows where to find them. I know for sure that there’s one of a show we did in Detroit. That tour lasted a couple of months and we covered a lot of ground."
So it seems the SINDROME members got in touch with you while you were in LÄÄZ ROCKIT, how did that happen exactly as you hadn’t appear on any albums at that point so how did they know about you and your playing?
"Well, SINDROME were all friends with my roommate Craig Lociccero. They came out to visit and stayed at our house. It just happened that they were looking for a guitar player at the time and I kind of fit the bill. They played me the "Vault…" demo and I knew that they were much more along the lines of what I wanted to be involved with. Mickey (Vegas) actually just checked me out playing in my room and immediately went out to Troy (Dixler) and told him to recruit me right away. Troy came in and gave me the hard sell, and I decided to just do it. At the time, I was very unhappy with the whole LÄÄZ scene and it just felt right for me to make a move. I knew that they had their shit together in a way that LÄÄZ just didn’t. I think LÄÄZ had just had its day by then and I was there on the downside of it. SINDROME was on the way up… a much more pleasurable situation for a band member to be in. I hadn’t been around as long as the LÄÄZ guys, so I had a certain level of enthusiasm that they lacked because they were just kind of burned out by then. I needed like-minded people to play with, so I moved to Chicago and froze my ass off for SINDROME."
Were you familiar with both SINDROME demos at that point?
"I wasn’t familiar with them at all. I just wasn’t part of the “scene” at that time. The first demo just wasn’t my cup of tea. I thought it was cool but just way too rough for my tastes. The "Vault" demo was great, minus the sloppy guitar stuff. Troy’s voice was sick on that demo. I just imagined what "Vault" would have sounded like with a good guitar player and it was a no-brainer. They had tons of potential and the leap in quality between the two demos showed me that they were open to change and improve."
Wasn’t a bit of a risky move for you to go with an unsigned band instead of staying with LÄÄZ who were somewhat established especially in Europe?
"Sure it was, but I felt it was a wise career move at the time. I didn’t care how established LÄÄZ was at the time. Nothing would have made up for how poor the conditions were for me working in that band. SINDROME was a breath of fresh air and they actually had some momentum going. LÄÄZ was running out of gas in a big way, and I wasn’t about to go down with the ship… which did go down in a big way after I left. Sure, I could have stayed with LÄÄZ and played with goofy cartoon characters on my records, but I saw a much more creative way through SINDROME."
So the SINDROME line up change took place in the Autumn of ’91 with Rob Welsh being replaced by you, and with the newly demo "Vault…" on the verge to be issued, the band made sure to have a bunch of merchandising done to the point that it looked absolutely surreal for a demo band with all those different shirts etc. Honestly don’t you think it was a little over the top especially since the Metal scene has changed quite drastically at that point and Thrash Metal wasn’t the "in" thing anymore?
"Sure, but I really wasn’t into that aspect of it. Troy was the mastermind behind all of that and I just let him do what he was good at. At least we didn’t have shirts with cartoon mascots and stupid assed sayings about drugs and women…(laughs). I know it was over the top, but you have to know Troy to understand that. Troy “is” over the top. He was just doing the best he could to promote the band and just get our name out there."
Did you still get a lot of response from the fans and press for that second tape?
"We did get a lot of response on "Vault". People loved it. I don’t think it was viewed so much as a classic in the way the first one was. I think it was way ahead of its time though. I don’t think a lot of people “got it” like they should have, but the one’s that did really did. As for the sales end of it, I wouldn’t know… not my department."
So the obvious question is what happened in the SINDROME camp after this demo was released in ’92 as the last thing I heard from the band came in mid ’94 when Shaun had left SINDROME to join the quite popular Death Metal act, BROKEN HOPE…
"Okay, I’ll set the record straight on this one as well. Once I joined SINDROME, Troy and I sort of came up with a mutual vision for the band. We thought the band was cool, but we had just decided to take it to another level, so to speak. Our idea was to bring the technology aspect of the band to the forefront and really work on that level of it. I was heavily into computers at the time and decided to work that into the band. Troy and I pretty much transformed the band into a techno-wiz type of thing over the period of time I was in the band. We had the whole show being run by a computer, with Tony (Ochoa)’s drums actually being just samples and all sorts of crazy stuff. All of the guitar effects would automatically come in at the right spots along with backup vocal effects and everything. We had it down to a science and spent many hours transforming the sound and effect of the band into what we thought "Vault" really represented. We would turn people onto it in our practice space and they would just sit there with their mouths wide open in awe… it was truly unreal. In the midst of all of this, I was writing new material as well. This stuff was more closely related to the sort of Industrial style that was popular at the time because Troy and I were really into that stuff. We wanted the sound to be more “technological” as opposed to “technical”. Also, I was really burnt out on the fast arpeggio type playing that I was kind of known for at that time. Playing in a Metal situation allows you to do a good deal of acrobatics on the guitar, but harmonically, it’s pretty boring. I was just sick of being the shred monkey and needed to really develop my writing skills within the context of a Metal band. So, as I’m writing and getting more into writing, I start getting in to more melodic music. The actual turning point for me was with one particular disc, “Spilt Milk” by JELLYFISH. I heard that disc and was just completely transformed. It was as though it was the answer to all of my questions. I was having a hard time writing in the style I was in because the more melodic I became, the less dark or “Metal” I sounded. Stylistically, Metal has a very particular sort of sound. It’s dark and very harmonically sparse and simple. Just try to throw and altered dominant chord into that style, it just sounds stupid. The JELLYFISH album really represented to me the ability to have writing chops within a commercial context that I had just never heard before. You can hear Jazz, Classical, Rock, ethnic and everything else on that disc. The more I became influenced by that idea, the more I knew that I couldn’t stay in SINDROME. You see, it was sort of a backlash for me. I needed to correct my steering and center myself musically. I needed to grow and knew I couldn’t do it within the Metal scene any longer, so I left SINDROME. Well, needless to say, I put them in a very odd spot, as not only were many of the guitar parts nearly impossible to play for most people, but I had left all of this other technical garbage behind as well. After I left, Troy picked up the ball on it and even improved it, but he really needed someone else to do it with him. They searched for a guitar player that could fill my shoes and just couldn’t find one. That’s all it was. By then, Troy realized the futility of continuing on with the band and just decided to move on… the smart thing to do."
To close the story of a very hopeful band, honestly where do you think SINDROME failed to become the band it should have been exactly?
"I don’t really know the answer to that question. I only know what was right for me at that time. If I had to speculate on why SINDROME never really “made” it, I would just have to say that the individual visions of its members was really just too different on the whole. SINDROME just fell in on itself collectively because we were never really on the same page. I know it’s popular for people to blame Troy, but he wasn’t responsible for it. It was all of us, we were never really together as a band. SINDROME, as of the time I was in it, was really just Troy and myself. Kind of like an evil version of STEELY DAN (laughs). Shaun, Mick and Tony were cast to the role of session players in this scenario. Once the partnership of Troy and I was gone, there wasn’t much left to keep the band afloat… there was no more SINDROME. I don’t think that the fact that we waited for a better record deal had anything to do with it. I assure you, had I stayed with the band, we would have been signed to a major label and probably would still be around to this day. The material and playing was that good. Troy and I simply had more faith in ourselves than the rest of the guys did. They didn’t have the faith we had because they were really in the dark about what we were doing… it was way over their heads anyway."
What were the best and worst times with SINDROME during the three years you’ve been with ’em?
"I can’t say there were any really bad times. The best times had to be the friendship that I forged with Troy that still exists to this day. In direct contrast to the LÄÄZ situation, Troy and I remained friends even after I left the band. Troy handled my leaving professionally, because that’s the kind of guy he is. We left on good terms, the way it should be. In the LÄÄZ situation, they took my leaving personal and became bitter because they never really were my friends. They were only interested in maintaining the LÄÄZ story, even though it was totally tired and used up by then. To them, I was an infusion of new talent that could possibly keep them away from just calling it quits for good."
How did you feel to not have been able to perform live with ’em the entire time you were in the band?
"On one hand, I wish that people would have been able to see what we were doing. I think that it would have been shockingly effective, far ahead of what any Metal band was doing at the time. On the other hand, I don’t mind, as I play and write for myself and no one else. In a Jazz context, I do care about playing live because it’s really about the improvisational aspect of it. In Rock, no big deal for me. Look at XTC, they never play live but continue to put out quality material. It’s really just a way to sell more records so that you can somehow pay back the record company for all the money they’re ripping you off for."
Even if you didn’t record any material with ’em, you are maybe aware that the SINDROME material has been bootlegged on CD and on vinyl (a Brazilian picture disc featuring the "Into.."demo), have you seen them already and how do you feel about that? I mean don’t you think the fans give that material the treatment it should have got in the first plac, meaning being released on those supports?
"I’m so far removed from the whole scene that I just don’t care. In one way I think it’s cool, but I really just don’t care either way. I didn’t play on either of them, which is another point to consider."
I talked to Troy a while ago to see if he would be interested to see that material properly released by a record company but he wasn’t into the idea, how do you feel about this idea personally? Don’t you think it’s quite sad to see that this material never received the treatment it should have got even if it got the cult status as demos?
"Nah. I think Troy’s attitude is pretty much like mine. He’s just too far removed from the whole thing to really care either way. It was a part of our lives that is long gone and it’s best that it stays that way. While the demo was good, I don’t think it was really more than a demo. Yes, it was better than most but it did have its raw spots. If we had ever released a CD of it, I would have insisted on remixing it, as well as probably re-recording some of the guitar stuff. To me, that would have been the proper treatment for it."
As a whole, do you feel you somewhat washed all your hopes by joining this band?
"No, not at all. At no time was I ever not in control of my own destiny. You have to understand that it was never my hope to really make it in the sense that most bands really want to. I was only ever concerned with doing what I love to do… what I have to do. That is to write and play music. All the other concerns are merely peripheral, and as such meaningless. I have yet to make it in a commercial sense and I just don’t care. If I were indigent and homeless, I would still find a way to scrawl little black dots onto paper because that’s what I do… that’s what I am… that’s all that makes me happy. I’ve never had false hopes of stardom, money or fame. They just never occurred to me because it was only ever about music for me. The only reason I was able to leave both of these situations so easily is because I didn’t have those hopes that you speak of. My only concern was how can I be a productive musician and composer within any given situation."
So what have you done next to that? Have you stayed in the music business or is it something you’ve left for good?
"In the time since I left SINDROME, I’ve become a computer programmer as well. I have authored two computer books, “Peter Norton’s Complete Guide To Linux” in which I was Peter Norton’s ghost writer, and “Special Edition: Using Windows 2000 Professional” in which I was a co-author. I now live Austin, Texas (the live music capital of the world) with my wife. The music scene is amazing here. I am still in the music business 100% and am busy building a recording studio behind my house at the moment. I’m going to be recording my own Jazz stuff and some independent film music as well. I’ve been in a few Jazz situations here and there and continue to hone my skills as a composer. I’m doing a lot of work right now with DVD-Audio and 5.1 surround technology based compositions. You will be able to hear my latest stuff soon at my new website."
Anything to add to end that feature?
"Thanks for giving me the opportunity to get my story out. I sincerely hope that I was able to shed some light on these various dramas that played out with these bands. I really do wish all the guys in both bands the best of luck and hope that they continue to be productive musically and in life in general. Good luck to you and all your readers. Stop by my website, www.daydream.net, and drop me a line if you get a chance."