WARGASM - interview with Bob Mayo, May 2008
2008 marks 20 years of Wargasm's oft-delayed and unfortunately underplayed killer debut, Why Play Around? A veritable cult classic, largely due to record label issues plus the fact that it's been out of print virtually no sooner than it was officially released, Why Play Around? is a killer slab of Thrash that still sounds as fresh as ever, particularly in light of this "Thrash Revival" of the current era. Wargasm's bassist and lead throat, the latter not necessarily by choice, took the time to shed some light into all things Wargasm with Tartarean Desire's American Editor, Tony Belcher, for a worldwide exclusive interview.
Hey, hey, Bob. How are things in Boston, anno 2008? I trust you are doing well.
Everything's great, it's going to be a busy year. Barry's got a few bands happening, Gozu and Mob Hit; I've got a recording project that should be releasing something in the fall, and Rich is busy with production work, most notably Meliah Rage's upcoming album. But with this year being the 20th anniversary of Wargasm's debut Why Play Around?, we're all working together on a bunch of Wargasm things to celebrate.
To the uninitiated, share some insight into who Wargasm was, what made you tick, what you were all about, etc.
Long story short: Wargasm was a 3-piece metal band from Boston who released 3 albums and 1 live EP between 1985 and 1995. We toured Europe twice, once with Biohazard, once with Tankard; and the U.S. twice, once with the Cro-mags and once with Nuclear Assault. People tend to think of us as a thrash metal band, and we did have a few pure thrash songs, [but] I think we were [more] a combination of thrash and NWOBHM styles. We were really about performing live and writing good songs. We were screwed over by certain aspects of the business, but we stuck it out for a decade and had a lot of great times, met great people, and I think we also made great music and played great shows.
Was the name change from Maniac to Overkill to Wargasm due to other bands already having those names?
Overkill was first, actually.... Yes, we found out about the New Jersey Overkill pretty early on, and after we started shopping demos, we were told by industry people that there were 5 other Maniac's in North America alone.
Besides Tank, Motorhead, and classic '70s Hard Rock acts, what other influences were there on Wargasm?
Listening to the thrashier stuff now, I would have to say Anthrax's Among the Living, Megadeth's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying, definitely Metallica, and Barry brought a somewhat punk rock/hardcore element to the band, too. The Tank and Motorhead influence was mine, I guess. But we formed when the NWOBHM was peaking, and we were heavily influenced by that as well; we wrote most of WPA? before we ever heard Metallica or any thrash at all.
So what happened back in the late '80s to make you sign with Profile Records, a label undoubtedly too busy with Run D.M.C., fresh from reviving the career of fellow Beantown act Aerosmith?
Of the 3 interested labels, Rock Hotel/Profile were the only label that promised tour support. We wanted to tour.
They released Why Play Around? with obviously minimal push and as a result to little fanfare.
Well, it actually did really well initially, even without any real support from the label. There was a 2 or 3 week period where it was the #4 most played LP on the U.S. metal radio charts in CMJ Magazine, right under Metallica, Ozzy, and Anthrax. And all the print reviews were great -- 4 K's from Kerrang! -- really great reviews in the press. But the distribution was limited and the whole Profile deal went south after they parted ways with Chris Williamson, the guy who signed us. Chris and his label Rock Hotel were an affiliate of Profile's. Profile decided not to renew Chris's deal, and cut him and Rock Hotel loose, but kept all the bands Chris had signed: Cro-mags, Leeway, Murphy's Law, Wargasm, Mucky Pup. They gave Chris time to land with another label, but he came up with nothing. Our record came out 8 months late because Profile was waiting to see if Chris could buy it from them and release it with his new deal. That never happened so Profile put it out themselves. They just had a #1 record with Run D.M.C. and they hadn't spent a dime to promote it, so they thought that bands didn't need any promo. They didn't understand that metal bands have to go out and tour. With Chris gone, when they finally put the record out, they had no idea what to do with it. I think if we had a label that was on the ball enough to see the radio play we were generating, and the good press, and they tried to capitalize on that, we might have had long and successful careers. Instead, I think we had ten years of artistic success, but never made a dime!
What do you have to say about the cult classic status of WPA? and its place in Thrash history?
All I can say is that any metalhead who's ever heard the album has loved it. It's just that, due to circumstances out of our control, it didn't reach as wide an audience as it could have. And we see vinyl copies now and then selling on eBay for $50, $75, $100... so it's an important record to some, and anyone interested in the history of early thrash would probably be interested in checking it out. So 'cult classic' is a term I am fine with; we're all happy that after 20 years there's still interest out there.
What took so long between the release of WPA? and Ugly? What kind of record label wrangling occurred to help/hinder that process?
We refused to record another record for Profile. We worked for almost 3 years to get out of their contract and lost a lot of momentum with 3 years between albums. But that was how determined we were to not give another record to them. We decided it was better to release nothing, and keep fighting to get off [the label], than to hand them another record to bury.
Wargasm was essentially a "victim" of the music industry. What would you recommend to younger bands so that they might avoid the pitfalls that seemed to work against you?
Well it looks like the music biz is evolving in such a way so that bands no longer even need record labels... a dream come true!! You don't need a label... you can now really do it all yourself!!
How did the Fireball EP come about, replete with cover art emulating Deep Purple's original, as well as a cover of the titular track? I know you're a big Deep Purple fan.
While we were in the studio for Ugly we had a little more time and wanted to record something to put away for later, and we had been playing that song live for a while. [Years later] we went to see Deep Purple in Hartford in 1996; a friend of ours worked for CMC, their U.S. label at the time. We hung out with them after the show and gave them copies; they signed copies for us too. That was a real thrill!
Suicide Notes is your favorite Wargasm album, right? It undoubtedly represents the peak of the band's creative output and as the swan song, served as a fine testament to what was the Wargasm sound.
Yeah, Suicide Notes is my favorite. It was written and recorded in 6 weeks, and I'm really proud of what we came up with. We had 3 years to write Ugly, due to the label issues, but only 6 weeks to deliver Suicide Notes. I'm still amazed that we did it and how well it came out.
Since you were also once in a project called DCon with other New England musicians, including someone from Stompbox, whatever happened to that band? They had a great record.
Stompbox was great, and DCon could have been great, but the same thing sunk both bands: drugs. We were at the stage [with DCon] where we were going to record a demo, but things got stupid pretty quickly, and we split.
Back to the front, what do you think of the recent "Thrash Revival" and are there any acts in particular that you dig?
I love the Evile record. It cracks me up how perfectly these bands can recreate the sounds of that era. Is it original? No. But it's fun, and that's worth a lot, I think.
Knowing your disdain for Nu-Metal, do you have any strong feelings on this whole Metalcore scene? And what about this so-called New Wave of American Heavy Metal, some bands of which are considered Metalcore?
It's not my thing. I mean I listen to current stuff, but not Metalcore. Mostly the current metal that I listen to has its roots way back where ours started. Mastodon, Entombed, High On Fire, Dismember, SAHG… I also love Behemoth, Hate Eternal, Fu Manchu, The Sword, Vader, Meshuggah, Enslaved, Skeletonwitch.
Also, are there any veteran Thrash acts that interest or intrigue you? Slayer has been relatively hot as of late winning a Grammy or two, not that it matters much; Exodus is more aggressive and focused than ever; Megadeth has a new lease on life with another line-up change; Overkill is still cranking out material; Anthrax has yet another new vocalist; while Testament has reformed and is set to kick ass with a new record in 2008; and Metallica is teasing everyone once again with the promise of something real, just to name check a few of the big ones....
Exodus is the most impressive, I think. I think the rest of them are struggling to hold on to what they had 20 years ago, but Exodus just blasts away on the sidelines, making it seem so easy. I think the secret probably is that they know they're not going to be 'rock stars' or millionaires, or don't have expensive lifestyles to maintain, like the other guys do, so they're just focused on the underground and probably define success in purely artistic terms. Just a theory!
Since Thrash is back in a big way are the planets perhaps aligned for a more than casual reunion of Wargasm? Never say never, right?
We'll never be a band again in the same way we were from '85 to '95, but as long as we're all still breathing, and we feel that there's something cool to do, we'll 're-activate' for this or that project. We will always exist that way, I suppose. The 20th anniversary of Why Play Around? is a no-brainer -- we knew we couldn't let that go by without celebrating it somehow. So there's a bunch of Wargasm stuff happening this year.
What about the band's long-in-the-making live DVD? What surprises are in store for both the long time fan and those new to Wargasm?
The tentative release date for the DVD is July 6th. I actually just saw some raw footage from it today and it looks great. Beyond the reunion show footage, we're including tons of live video from the European/U.S. tours we did, and even stuff from way back to the Maniac days. There's homemade video of us in the studio recording Ugly -- just tons of archival stuff added on as extras.
What about any previously unreleased recordings? Surely there are some such skeletons in the closet....
We have 6 or 7 unfinished recordings that have been sitting around for years, and it actually looks as though we'll be finishing them up sometime soon, as part of the 20th anniversary stuff we're putting together.
What are the band's plans in terms of finally putting those tracks out for others to hear?
I can guarantee that when they're finished, and we make them available to the fans, there will NOT be a record label involved! Our 2 web sites, Wargasm.org and our mySpace page, are being reworked, so those are the best places to stay in touch with everything that's going on with us this year. Eventually you will be able to get those songs, as well as other merchandise type stuff, through those sites.
Are there additional plans to perhaps have the out of print, hard to find, and rare -- the holy eBay triumvirate -- Wargasm back catalog reissued, too? Surely a true Metal label somewhere out there has shown some interest....
We are researching the possibilities there, but we're not waiting around for the answers. For the anniversary of WPA?, we've decided to re-release that particular album in a different way: we're going to do a 20th anniversary show, play the songs from the record in sequence, record the show, and release a live version of the Why Play Around? album. The show is scheduled for Saturday, September 13th at the Middle East Club in Cambridge, MA. You can go to our web pages for regular info and a link to buy tickets. That's the same venue where we filmed the reunion show for the DVD, and in fact we're once again doing the show in conjunction with Rawkstars, the non-profit music based charity that we partnered with for the reunion show in '04, so it's a benefit show again as well. So if you weren't part of audience for the reunion show DVD, come down to this show and be on the Why Play Alive! CD.
In wrapping this up, do you have any closing remarks for your friends and fans?
Part of the reason that the reunion show in '04 was such a blast was that we got to see so many people that we hadn't seen in almost ten years; I can't wait for the WPA? 20th [anniversary] show so we can see them all again. And to those who can't be there, we dedicate both the live DVD and the upcoming live CD....
Alright, thanks for the time Bob.
And with that, the interview was over. Check out Wargasm in the current era if you never had the chance to before or if you're a long time fan. Either way, the September 13th show in Cambridge will go down in history -- if for no other reason it'll be captured live. For more information check out Wargasm on the internet.
- Tony Belcher