Metal Mania Usa - june 1997
FIGHTING THE BULL
Interview taken by Teri Saccone
Manowar is just on the verge of making it, on their own terms, with power, volume, intensity and speed.
They kill with power. They excel with technical virtuosity. They stun their audiences with obliterating live performances. They are running for the Who's record as the loudest band in the world. They are Manowar, and if you haven't heard of them, you won't believe what you've been missing. The origins of these electric warriors goes back to 1982, when the mighty foursome formed the alliance that has swept over the continent of Europe and Great Britain with such fierce intensity that they have been hailed as heavy metal heroes over there since their very inception. The group's premier power-house - Battle Hymns - released that same year, gave them a reputation for excellence and supersonic volume, and evoked images of war and chants of true metal that epitomize Manowar's releases. Into Glory Ride, Hail To England and Sign of The Hammer were the following albums, each breaking new ground in decibel limits and speed playing, but most of all with innovative song-writing and brilliant musical execution. It should be noted that throughout the last five years, Manowar has been a blockbuster overseas, although on their own shores here in The States, they haven't had the backing of a major label who could sufficiently support them until now.
The signing of Manowar to Atlantic Records and the release of their newest LP called, appropriately, Fighting The World marks a new era in the band's illustrious history. The album is being cited as a landmark release, both for the quality of the music and the amount of care that went into recording. It is the very first heavy metal LP to be recorded with all the state-of-the-art technology, Manowar has utilized not only booming volume, but incredibly dynamic range, as well. The cannons, various explosives and other real sound effects used on Fighting The World give it the metal edge that has always set Manowar apart. The band itself is comprised of Eric Adams, whose voice is unbelievable both on vinyl and live; drummer Scott Columbus, whose lightning-fast double bass drum patterns and savage attack set the heavy foundations; crunching, crashing and bludgeoning leads supplied by the infamous Ross The Boss, once a member of The Dictators along with Twisted Sister bassist Mark Mendoza. Finally, bass guitarist Joey DeMaio rounds out the lineup, and with all due respect to Billy Sheehan - DeMaio makes his contemporaries sound like they have arthritis. Just take a deep breath and give a listen to "Black wind, Fire and Steel" from Fighting The World. On this number, DeMaio sets new records in speed, dexterity, and creativity on his instrument. If all of that hasn't made a believer out of you, check out the following interview with the band's spokesperson, songwriter, and bass impresario.
METAL MANIA: Let’s go back to the beginning for the readers who don't know too much about you. How did you go about putting this band together?
JOEY DEMAIO: I had done the whole upstate New York circuit tour - the small-time club scene -and I realized that was nowhere. It’s for losers on their way down, playing those shithole dumps. You're not playing in clubs where people want to hear music – I’m talking about those little bars -you're just a jukebox. Once I deduced that, I no longer played those kind of places. Sometimes, you care enough about your music not to play it to people who don't appreciate it. So I took my music and I perfected my technique on my own as a unique form of bass playing. I also went out on the road with Black Sabbath for a while as their pyrotechnic engineer. I used to shoot off fire bombs for Sabbath at their live shows. Anyway, I swore that I wouldn't put a band together until I could do it the way that I wanted to - with the people that I wanted to do it with, making it the loudest band in the world, playing heavy music with no compromise. While I was working for Black Sabbath, I met Ross The Boss in England and I told him what my ideas for a band specifically were, and his ideas fit in with mine. Ross' guitar playing went through me like a knife and he played in the style of the bands I’ve always loved and been influenced by. He sounded like all the great rock bands; Cream, Mountain, Led Zeppelin, all rolled into one, plus a little John McLaughlin thrown in. I knew he was the right guy. I’ve known Eric since we were childhood friends. It was just a question of finding the right drummer. The original guy left a few years ago, then we finally found Scott, who fits the sound perfectly. We've always had a real love for classical music and the great composers and I think a little bit of that influence comes through in Manowar. Not in the sense that we're playing classical music and calling it 'classical rock,' Manowar is classically-influenced rock. We sound classical in the sense that we have big, resounding endings and real triumphant choruses. We also use choirs, pipe organs, and a lot of great classical instruments to blend with our sound.
MM: Another parallel to classical music is the technical virtuosity in Manowar.
JD: As far as the group goes, we've always had a commitment to excellence as a whole and individually, and we've always strived to best both collectively and individually. Speaking for myself, I always wanted to be the loudest bass player in the world. I’ve always loved volume, but not noise. In order to play loud and clean, you need a lot of gear, and that’s why I went out and bought the biggest bass rig in the universe. It’s 10,000 watts -100 speakers - the biggest. I’ve always considered myself to be the loudest and fastest bass player in the world. I play the electric bass guitar, and the electric guitar is played with a pick. I want to emphasize that I’m not a bass player - I play bass guitar. There's a difference. I play with a pick because it’s the only way to play with speed in contrast with playing with your fingers, and I’m prepared to back that up anytime and anyplace. Any player who is considered fast – I’m not just talking about normal speed, I’m talking about blinding, burning, ripping, intense speed here - like Yngwie and Steve Vai, all play with a pick. I am concerned with how many notes-per-second someone can play within a given space of time. That’s my trip: speed and power. I’ve heard people say 'He doesn't play that fast. He sped the tape up but that’s just not true. In fact, if anything, I play faster live than I do in the studio because of the adrenalin which runs a lot higher on stage. So live, it’s even faster than on the records.
MM: Before Manowar signed the major deal with Atlantic Records, you were on a succession of other labels, with the band never breaking big in the U.S. market. Did you ever say to yourself, 'Screw this. I’ve got the talent and the ideas, but I’m not making enough money. I’ll just join an established band and ditch this project?'
JD: Well, I’ve had offers from other people to play, but being a sideman is really not my thing. Let’s face it, there are not many guitar players who are gonna put up with me on bass standing on the other side of the stage. Come to think of it, most singers or anyone in general would feel intimidated.
MM: Fighting The World is Manowar's fifth release. How do you think it differs from the four preceding releases?
JD: After making four records, some with an outside producer, some by ourselves, we felt that we really knew just exactly how this one should go. The label was great about that and said, 'Fine. Go ahead and do it your way.' I see so many groups who get a major label deal and then all of a sudden it’s, 'Who are we gonna get to produce?' What do you mean, who are you gonna get to produce? To bring an outsider in to produce your record - someone who doesn't know you and never met you, who isn't familiar with your music except for hearing it once or twice, and who isn't part of the blood of your organization - is a pretty strange step to take. I’m not saying that route doesn't work for some people, because if a band isn't technically knowledgeable in the studio, then they need the guidance and help of a producer. But to let somebody just come in and produce your record is like letting some stranger fuck your wife. It’s a very intimate thing, so when you involve a producer, it has to be someone that you're taking on as another member of the band. With our other albums, we didn't have the financial means to record the music to our complete satisfaction, sound-wise. With this album, we had the opportunity to achieve utter perfection in the studio.
MM: Fighting The World is only the third heavy metal album to be recorded digitally, which gives it a much cleaner, more precise sound. Wouldn't you say that this approach is the opposite of heavy metals inherent rawness?
JD: We wanted utter perfection in terms of reproducing the sound of the instruments. Yes, the rawness of distortion's part of the heavy metal sound, but distortion comes from your amp, not from the recording process. To capture that distortion perfectly, you must use digital recording. It eliminates the hiss that you hear from your average analog recordings, so all you hear is that full-blown heaviness. It’s a far superior recording process and if you buy the album and compare it to any other heavy rock album, you'll definitely hear the difference in sound quality. It’s also a much louder album because there's so much power packed onto the tape.
MM: Side one of Fighting The World is a bit more accessible musically than side two, which is more of a concept side, and the music is extremely heavy - more what one might expect from Manowar. On this LP, you've managed to increase your range without a shred of compromise.
JD: The first side opens up with the title track and it has more anthem-like songs on it, where the audience can participate and shout the choruses. One thing that really gets us off when we play live is having the audience involve themselves in the whole event. For us, that’s what it’s all about. There are times when members of the audience feel they should be on the stage, too. We get a lot of stage-invaders, especially in Europe. So there are songs on the first side that lend themselves to getting the audience involved. The title track, "Fighting The World," is similar to an earlier song like "Metal Daze" (from Battle Hymns), where a few words just hit home. Songs that are really inspiring where you say to yourself 'I can relate to that. I feel like that’s me.' These songs are geared toward getting the audience to identify, to get them to shout the chorus. It’s a great feeling to have that kind of response from an audience. Everything goes back to the audience with Manowar. The whole concept behind Fighting The World is the struggle that everyone has to face in every day living. It’s also about the loyalty of our audience, who have stuck by us throughout everything. It’s also been a struggle, in the sense that Manowar has constantly had to fight against the fakes out there who have wanted to make us something that we're not. People are always trying to cut corners, to water things down, cheapen things up, and we're not into it. We've always given a true representation of ourselves through our music and our shows. It’s all real. In contrast, I can't believe what’s happening with some of these bands and their stage sets. If fans could ever see what’s behind those stage sets of their favorite bands they'd find that their amps are no bigger than microwave ovens. What is this shit? When you take away all the shine of what’s out front and you see what’s really there, it’s pretty sad. Just look at these bands with the big light shows, the big PA systems, the elaborate stage sets, the smoke bombs and the explosions. If you take away all that what would you have? Think about it. They don't have the music to back themselves up. Manowar is back to the basics. It’s the sound, the band, the personalities, the amplifiers - the music! We don't go for all the stage sets and all the fakery. Also, in heavy metal, sound is power. Power comes from maximum amps and speakers. Any lead guitar player who plays through anything less than five Marshalls is a disgrace. Ross plays through six Marshalls, minimum. We play through the same amount of gear no matter the size of the venue. Always. The only instances where that’s impossible is when we play places where we can't actually fit the gear into the building itself. I also want to address all this synthesizer corn that’s been happening in so-called metal lately. If these people wanna use synthesizers, why don't they just go and play disco music? They really don't have much of a place in heavy metal. These people want to use the excuse that synthesizers are melodic? Give me a fucking break. Using synthesizers is really just a glorified way of wimping out. Melody comes from the music itself, not from the equipment used. Since we're on the subject of fakes, I want to mention something I read in an article the other day about someone who is considered to be a 'top' bass player in the business. This guy was talking about why he chooses not to do bass solos, and his reason was because he feels they're too indulgent. Bullshit. If that guy could stand there and play and hold the attention of the crowd himself, he would do a solo. It’s just another cheap-shod excuse. Why not just admit that he's simply not a bass soloist, that he's lucky to be getting by and making the fantastic amounts of money that he is, just faking his way through? Why try to bullshit people? Just admit that you can't play a solo and that if you attempted to, it would just be an embarrassment.
Don't say it’s indulgent, because there are people who can play great bass solos and who should indulge themselves. I’m one of them and there are lots of others out there.
MM: Manowar is an American band, but until now, you've been virtually ignored by the American press. The band has been an absolute icon in Europe, yet even the 'serious' musical rags have snubbed you on this side of the Atlantic.
JD: Ross and I are not covered in the guitar journals because we're not a pop group who sell a lot of records, and you have to sell a lot of units to be in those kinds of magazines. It’s unfortunate, but on the whole, it’s the people who are selling records who get the publicity, not necessarily the best musicians. We were approached recently by a guy from one of those guitar magazines who wanted to do a page - one page each - on Ross and myself, and we told him he could stick the page up his ass. Now that the band is getting lots of attention, these people are starting to jump on the bandwagon, but that's not our scene. We've been making technical breakthroughs on our instruments for a very long time. If somebody needs evidence of that, then they can go back and listen to those records.
MM: The members of this band don't require to be written about in those magazines to gain legitimacy. After all, those thousands of European fans can't be wrong.
JD: It would be nice to have had the exposure when we were struggling during the last five years, but let’s face it, putting us on the cover of one of those journals would not change what we've done or our accomplishments.
MM: What would you say to all the longtime followers of Manowar concerning the fact that you're now on the verge of becoming a worldwide sensation? Usually, fans who have always stayed with a band who then suddenly becomes universally popular feel a bit cheated.
JD: I don't see how true followers could feel bad if we become very successful. If we do reach that kind of success, they will have been the ones who are truly responsible for it. I mean, we will have had nothing to do with that. We're just doing what we've been doing for the last several years. We just make the best records possible and we play the best that we can. Whether we become hugely successful is. strictly up to the will of the people. If they decide that we're gonna be a huge band, then we will have deserved it and so will they for having put us there. Manowar has bee leading a real movement of true metal, and the people who believe in it and follow it do so because they are part of it. They follow the idea that we're bringing forth and that’s a unique style of music and a unique style of life. The music spells power, volume, intensity, speed. The lifestyle is the whole concept of maintaining individuality. We'll never abandon those principles. Like our followers, we've had to fight to maintain our individuality. It’s a fight that’s well worth the struggle.