From the very first moment of acquaintance with New Jersey thrashers WHIPLASH my soul was not with me anymore, it was sold for that devilishly pure energy outbursts that their music turned out to be. So long ago this significant event took place, so many unforgettable memories are associated with those times… I’m really happy to be honoured to share the same period of time with WHIPLASH. That’s why I may sound too one-sided, but I believe those times, early and mid-eighties, when the new genre called Thrash was just emerging, were the most exciting times for Metal. You may enjoy as many music genres as you like, but for each of us there’s just one single kind of music where our hearts really belong to, and for me such one is early Thrash the way it was played in mid-eighties — straight from the hearts of its musicians and straight into the hearts of its fans, one of those I’m proud of being. Even up to this day, when I get the chance to listen to some piece of Thrash / Speed from those years for the first time, I often can’t help feeling like I have been listening to that music for years, as if it was exactly what I had been growing up with. Now WHIPLASH are back. To be more exact, they are thrashback, as the title of their latest offering suggests. Thrashback is a great name for sure and the album itself is quite cool too, but were I the one to make such global decisions, I would definitely keep the process of mass thrashback underfoot. I mean it’s not really the second coming of Thrash that the modern self-proclaimed thrashers usually deliver. No, it’s just a forgery. Only those, who have Thrash flowing through their veins since the very first days of this genre’s arise are able to make it real. They had completely different musical background and being the pioneers they had no exemplars to copy and rip-off. Instead, it was a virgin-blank field laying ahead of them to build their own monuments on it. The monuments like “Power & Pain” and “Ticket To Mayhem” — rock solid milestones on the path of Metal. Were I a music record, I’d be happy and proud to be any of them, for they unite in themselves literally everything I love about Metal. Feel the power. Feel the pain. Get your ticket to mayhem. But remember — that’s a one way ticket
It’s possible to emulate the sound of old records, the song structures and manners of playing, but do you really believe it’s possible to capture the spirit itself, the inner essence, to bring back the old magic once again? Do you think you’ve succeeded in it with “Thrashback” for 100%?
Tony Portaro: “Well, 5 of the songs on “Thrashback” were written back in ’85. Not much was changed. There were some lyrics that I wasn’t proud of, and altered them in there entirety, but 95% of the guitar leads were recaptured note for note from early demo recordings. I re-recorded the leads from my raw texture days when I played more of a free-form style without concentrating on targeting primary notes in the scales the song was written in”.
Tony Scaglione: “I am very proud of the way “Thrashback” turned out. When we first spoke to the record company about doing this reunion album, I mentioned that we had a few old songs that we wanted to re-record and they loved the idea. We never got the chance to record them the way we would have liked, so this was our opportunity. Tony Portaro and I have a great songwriting chemistry together and when we got together to write for this album, everything came very naturally. I feel that we did a good job in recapturing the vibe of the early Thrash type of music, after all as Tony explained 5 of the songs were written all the way back in 1985, when the scene was just beginning”.
You were bold enough to remove perhaps the most distinctive element from the classic sound of WHIPLASH — the harsh and raw vocal performance which might not be that professional or anything, but it fitted your music just perfectly. How come that on “Thrashback” it got so decorated with evident Hetfield and Mustaine overtones, which resulted in far less extreme vocal performance? The power in music is here, ok, but where the hell got lost the pain in vocals?
Tony Portaro: “Hehe… the Hetfield vocal sound was there from Day 1. I never meant that. I never even wanted to sing. I don’t even call myself a singer. I am a guitarist / songwriter / producer. I always hated my vocals and never wanted to sing, but we never could find a vocalist that could sing what I heard in my mind, so I did it. Then, we received great reviews, so I ended up doing the vocals on the first two CD’s. If you look back to our early demos, you can hear the cleaner sound in my voice. Personally, I prefer the vocal style on “Thrashback” more than the vocals on the first two WHIPLASH CD’s”.(I don’t – Frank)
Tony Scaglione: “I really love the vocals on “Thrashback”. They definitely are not as raw as “Power And Pain”, but you must remember this is 13 years later! I think Tony sounds great on both of the records, they are just different. Many people seem to mention the comparison to Mustaine’s vocals but I personally don’t hear it. Hetfield definitely, Mustaine not really”.
Only one of four Thrash strikes from the “Thunderstruck” demo has found its way to your albums previously to “Thrashback” (not counting “Messages In Blood”), so I wonder if there were any specific reasons to keep neglecting all the rest for such a long time? And why did you change ‘Chained Up, Strapped Down’ into ‘Nails In Me Deep’, what was wrong with its original version?
Tony Portaro: “I never really paid much attention to lyrics when I started writing. I was always concentrating on my guitar, whether it be rhythms, leads, or the actual form of the song as I was constructing and arranging the ideas I had in my mind and conveying them to my fingers and the fretboard of my guitar. Even to this day when I listen to some of my favorite bands, it is the music and the vocal lines that I listen to more than the lyrics themselves”.
Tony Scaglione: “As I previously mentioned, I had always wanted to re record these songs and do them correctly. Tony Portaro agreed to all except ‘King With The Axe’ (which is one of the first WHIPLASH songs we wrote together and one of my favorites). I kept pushing and eventually he agreed. I love the version of this song on “Thrashback” and since it was one of the first we wrote, I feel it has much historical value, even if it isn’t as thrashy as the other material”.
As your first real re-union album sounds totally in the vein of “Power & Pain”, may I hope that the second one will follow the traditions of “Ticket To Mayhem”? Or the style of “Power & Pain” and now “Thrashback” is the ultimate manner and matter for WHIPLASH?
Tony Portaro: “That is a very hard question for me to answer. Only because we have only begun to write new material and it is very difficult to judge what a CD will sound like from only three songs. I can tell you, I intend on singing 90% of this new CD and it will be titled “Unborn Again” if it ever does see the darkness of night”.
By the way, how come that your two first albums sound so much different from one another, while at least three of “Ticket To Mayhem” tracks you were playing live already in 1985 (in other words, they were as old as the ones from “Power & Pain”)?
Tony Portaro: “That probably has much to do with the production, including the producer and a change in recording studios (not to mention about $20,000 more of a recording budget)”.
To meet the European band on the quite huge thankslist of your “Power & Pain” / “Ticket To Mayhem” CD re-release is not an easy task, at least there are no famous German thrashers mentioned there. That’s why I’m going to confront you with the following funny question: Was there any kind of competition or something like that between the American Thrashers and the German ones, presented by such picturesque names as LIVING DEATH, KREATOR, DESTRUCTION, POISON, SODOM and others back in the eighties?
Tony Portaro: “I’m not sure I understand that question correctly, but if you are assuming that there was a rivalry between WHIPLASH and any European bands you are completely mistaken. Every Thrash or Metal or “whatever” band from Europe that we encountered always treated us with great respect and generosity. I hope we treated them with such great respect. There was always a comradary between the bands that WHIPLASH was ever on tour with. The SODOM / WHIPLASH tour of the mid-eighties may have set the precedent for that. I am truly sorry I have lost contact with many of my fellow brothers of Metal and I hope that they read this in your magazine and contact me through my email address”.
Tony Scaglione: “Back then I was always checking out new bands and getting the newest records. I never saw it as a competition. I loved hearing it all. I’d have to say that my favorite band of that period was EXODUS. In my opinion “Bonded By Blood” is without a doubt the greatest Thrash album of all time. I was also very into Hardcore at that point as well. Bands like AGNOSTIC FRONT, CRO MAGS and BAD BRAINS were incredibly powerful and sometimes ignored by Metalheads for some reason. “The Age Of Quarrel” by the CRO MAGS is to me the defining Hardcore album of the time”.
You were one of the first to play Thrash Metal and I believe for a musician there’s nothing to compare to the excitement of taking part in creation of new musical genre, isn’t it? Though I guess you didn’t think too much about it back then, just playing what you enjoyed the most and having as much fun as possible. Wouldn’t you mind replacing my groundless speculations with any interesting facts and recollections from the era of Thrash arise? Did you feel you were creating anything as special as this Metal subgenre turned out to be?
Tony Portaro: “First of all, thank you very much. You know, I am a very down to earth – mellow person. I have day-to-day contact with many people who have no idea that I’ve toured Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the US with my band. Actually, I am a Network Technician for a Major Telecom Company here in the States and own a Web Site Design, Development & Administration Company (that explains why the WHIPLASH site hasn’t been updated in weeks, but I intend on re-vamping the entire site as soon as business slows up). Most people I have contact with don’t even know I play the guitar. It’s nice to keep that in the back of my mind sometimes. Anyway, we were always just writing music that came from our hearts. It’s you and the masses who called it Thrash, labelled it, and made it popular, not us. I thank all of you for that. Maybe we were looking for attention. We knew we were doing something different, but didn’t expect to be a part of a launching of an entire new venue. Even today after not picking up the guitar for three weeks, I can grab it and write a song that is true from my heart and it will lean heavily towards the fast, Thrash, grinding Power Metal that will be with me in my heart for eternity. I hope that answered your question, excuse my drunkeness!!!!”
Tony Scaglione: “As Tony says we just wrote what came naturally for us. I don’t think we ever took into consideration that we were “taking part in creation of a new musical genre”. That is a high compliment .We just had a great time playing concerts and getting to meet new people and bands. To this day when I am on different tours people will talk about “Power And Pain” or maybe bring a copy for me to sign. This is the greatest compliment any musician can have. I am incredibly proud of the fact that we could create some music that had such an effect on many people. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you Tim and all of the fans who are reading this for all of the support over the years. It really means the world to me!”
Can you remember any great bands from those years which delivered excellent music but were just too unlucky to carry it up to the listeners, having left the traces of their existence and gleams of their talents in some obscure demo collections only?
Tony Portaro: “No. Sorry!”
Tony Scaglione: “I would like to mention the guitarist Gregg from the band ZNÖWHITE (later CYCLONE TEMPLE). Man, this guy is an amazing musician and one of the nicest human beings I have ever had the chance to meet. It never seemed like he (and the bands he had) got as much exposure or popularity that they deserved. He is a true unsung hero in heavy music”.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of certain Norwegian Black Metal loosers’ “old-school-Thrash” project called INFERNO or not, though, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter either. What drives me mad about them is that not only their “music” is total rip-off of real Thrash kings, but also that in the thankslist these suckers dared to call all the musicians of classic Thrash bands just by names, thus you were referred there as “Tony, Tony & Tony”. Doesn’t it irritate you that some poor fuckers, which were still shitting their pants while you were already thrashing around, try to climb on your bandwagon like the equals?
Tony Portaro: “That doesn’t bother me at all, but I am not familiar with the band, INFERNO. As far as I know, they have never tried to contact me and I have no connection with them whatsoever. Could it be they are thanking WHIPLASH for being an influence? We never intended on being role models for anyone. In fact, we frown upon youngsters doing the things we grew up doing”.
There are definitely many things you might teach the modern bands, but do you think there’s anything you should learn from them?
Tony Portaro: “Good question, Timothy. Truthfully, I don’t listen to much music. When I do get a chance, I listen to bands that have very talented musicians and great production. In most cases, it’s bands that I have grown up with. That is, bands that many young listeners may have never heard of. My favorite band of all time is DEEP PURPLE. Nothing against the bands of today, but listening to the radio is long gone for me. Right now, STONE TEMPLE PILOTS is in my CD player. Of course this is the perfect time to mention my friends, SYMPHONY X”.
Tony Scaglione: “I think that music (and life for that matter) should always be a constant learning experience. I hate to say this but I think many Metal fans truly limit themselves and only listen to Metal. There is a world of fantastic music out there! I love all kinds of music like MILES DAVIS , JOHN COLTRANE, FRANK ZAPPA, GOV’T MULE, THE ALLMANN BROTHERS, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, KING CRIMSON, JOURNEY, REO SPEEDWAGON, BILLY JOEL and tons of other stuff. One thing I absolutely do not like however is the Hip Hop style Metal kind of sound that is very popular today in the U.S”.
Was it the “Kill ‘Em All” album of METALLICA where you had picked up the name WHIPLASH from?
Tony Portaro: “Yes.”
Judging you by your names, all of you must be of Italian origin, aren’t you? An interesting fact is that most of the other musicians, which were playing in WHIPLASH over the years, had their names sounding Italian as well. So I wonder if it’s imperative for WHIPLASH to have Italian blood in its veins? Looks like Italian Thrash Coza Nostra in America ; -)
Tony Portaro: “Truthfully, I am adopted by Italians. I am German, English & Irish, yet I cook great Italian dinners! It’s strange how that happened with all of the members of WHIPLASH having Italian names. I truly respect Italians, but that was never required to become a member of WHIPLASH”.
Then you, Pan Scaglione, must cook great Polish dinners, I assume… ; -)
Tony Scaglione: “Ha Ha! I love to eat the Polish dinners but it is my grandmother who is the great Polish cook! Everything she makes is excellent”.
Are you willing to share the reminiscences of your touring as SLAYER’s drummer in 1987? Was it the huge difference between managing the drum-kit in WHIPLASH and SLAYER? I guess it was not that easy to substitute the drummer as fantastic as Dave Lombardo, was it? Have you heard the album of Vivaldi’s music performed by Lombardo and his friends, by the way?
Tony Scaglione: “Well, as I mentioned above, I feel that music should be a learning experience and the tour I filled in on with SLAYER was just that. I was only 18 years old at the time so it was a bit overwhelming. We played many larger venues which was very nice and the guys in the band were cool. It was different than WHIPLASH in the respect that it was a lot faster so I had to build up stamina. I only had a couple of weeks to learn all of the songs from their catalogue and do the tour, but it was fun. I have great respect for Dave Lombardo. He is a great drummer and a very nice guy. I have not heard the Vivaldi album but am curious to hear it”.
What were you doing after that, in between 1987 and 1996? Were you playing with any bands, are there any names and records worth to be mentioned? And why the hell you are not going to take part in the recording of upcoming WHIPLASH album?
Tony Scaglione: “As far as WHIPLASH goes, I currently live with my wife in Phoenix, Arizona which is a very long way from New Jersey! So it really makes things difficult when it comes to doing any WHIPLASH activities. I don’t know if you are aware but WHIPLASH is not a full time band and they don’t play too many concerts anymore. Tony P. and Tony B. both work at full time day jobs so WHIPLASH is basically a hobby for them now. Unfortunately there is not always enough money to be able to fly back and forth for me to play one show now and then and my schedule is often very tight, so even though I would love to do it I often cannot. After recording “Thrashback”, the last show I played with them was at the March Metal Meltdown in 1999. So if I can’t do it, Joe does it. It’s much more convenient for Joe to play since he lives very close to the other 2 Tony’s. I am the only one left who continues to do music for a living. This is very difficult so I must divide my time between a bunch of different projects. I have done this for a long time now and this is the only way for me to be able to do it as a career. Over the years I have been very fortunate to play in many different situations. In addition to playing with WHIPLASH and temporarily filling in for Dave Lombardo when he left SLAYER for a brief time, I have also performed with M.O.D. (you might want to add that Tony P. was the guitarist on the 1993 European tour that I did with M.O.D.), southern rockers RAGING SLAB and Hardcore bands CAUSE FOR ALARM and SHEER TERROR. So I try to keep busy! Currently I am playing in a few different bands. The main one is a new band called MANTRA with my good friend guitarist Peter Iterbeke (formerly of Belgian act CHANNEL ZERO) and Jimmy Preziosa on bass (who played on the WHIPLASH “Cult Of One” and “Sit, Stand, Kneel, Prey” albums). The music is not Thrash but it is heavy. It has a lot of melody and we experiment with different sounds. If I had to describe it, I would say it is kind of like a cross between METALLICA and ALICE IN CHAINS, but that’s not entirely accurate. I think the music is fantastic and we are trying to hook up with a label now. I have also finished up a new album with NORTH SIDE KINGS, a new Hardcore band with Dan Marianino (formerly of CAUSE FOR ALARM). This album is fast, raw and heavy old school Hardcore / Metal. I have also been playing around Phoenix with a killer local Blues guitarist and we just had the good fortune to open for 70’s rockers REO SPEEDWAGON which was awesome! So as you can tell I like to do all kinds of different things but throughout the years WHIPLASH will always remain close to my heart. We had many good times and I am very proud of all of the music we created together. I love playing with Tony and Tony and we will always be friends even if we aren’t doing WHIPLASH”.
Do you drive more carefully these days, eh? It seems your bad luck with the car accidents was mentioned in every feature on WHIPLASH in Metal magazines back in mid-eighties… Generally speaking, did your attitude to life change considerably during these years? Is there much of Thrash-infected blood still flowing through your veins?
Tony Scaglione: “I try to drive VERY carefully these days. I guess I’m getting old!”
Tony Portaro: “Now, I have a kick-ass Harley and an awesome new Firebird, but I enjoy riding in formation rather than speeding. I almost get as much enjoyment from riding my ’87 Softail Custom with a dozen other screamin’ bikes and waking up neighborhoods, as playing a live show (an it doesn’t take any rehearsing!)!!!”
Is it true that you never got paid by Roadrunner? Were it here in Russia, I would not be surprised, as the laws here seem to be written just for fun, but to imagine the same happening in the West, hmm… Wasn’t there any opportunity to drag them to the court, to get your money back in any legal way?
Tony Portaro: “Yeah, those scumbags. I don’t even want to talk about it. They got rich quick on “Power & Pain”. Bastards. I feel sorry for any band that signs with that label. I couldn’t believe TYPE O signed with them. They had to have offered a pretty penny up front for that deal, because Peter knew what they were all about. They could offer me millions, and I would never want to put a grain of rice in that mother f**kers mouth ever again”.
Tony Scaglione: “I know so many bands besides WHIPLASH who have had problems with that label. It is just a VERY sad thing how young bands are taken advantage of. They never paid us a penny for all of the albums we sold!”
Anyway, I guess WHIPLASH never was a very successful band on the commercial terms, neither with your old classic records nor with the 90’s albums. And now you’ve come back to the old style which did not bring you any money back then and is not going to bring it in vast quantities these days either, I’m afraid. So, does it mean that everything you do with WHIPLASH is being done just for the sake of pure fun of it only?
Tony Portaro: “I guess you could say that. Speaking only for myself, my heart will always be with Metal. I am getting older now and with that comes knowledge. Knowledge that I wish I had when I was at the ripe age when “Power & Pain” came out in, what, ’85? Although, I am ashamed to say… now I am getting rich, and Metal has absolutely nothing to do with that. Therefore, writing and performing has once again turned back into the joy of playing for fun and not being the business of getting ripped off by recording labels, clubs, and managers. I wonder if that will reflect on the songwriting. In the beginning, WHIPLASH was a great release of creativity, then came the glory… that was what the labels seemed to capitalize on. That is what turned the fun into a business. A business in which everyone but the band was making the money. That was very discouraging which led to the break-up of WHIPLASH in ’91. With “Thrashback”, we had the chance to renew that release of creativity, have fun, and make some money at the same time. Who knows what that could lead to?”
Tony Scaglione: “I definitely am not a musician to make a million dollars. I think anyone who gets into music for that reason is very naive. It is an incredibly difficult business and you must be very strong to persevere. I play to satisfy my creativity and above all because I love it and it is a lot of fun! Many people I have met or played with over the years seem to forget these things and it really is a shame. They get so wrapped up in their egos and making money that they turn into disgusting human beings. This was never the case with WHIPLASH and that is why it is always fun for us to get together. I have personally been fortunate to be able to live off of music for sometime now, but it is VERY difficult. I certainly don’t lead a glamorous lifestyle but I am happy doing this and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! I have had many incredible experiences playing music and I hope to have many more. Tim I would like to thank you once again for everything. I am honored that you enjoyed our music enough to contact us for an interview. Please keep in touch and always THRASH ‘TIL DEATH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This interview is a part of the “Metal we have lost” epitaph by Timothy Dovgy published in Ad Arma! Magazine # 1.