Interview - Manowar Undisclosed

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Creem Canada - vol.2 n°4  1993

MACHO MACHO MAN - Real Man Play at 165 DB

Interview taken by Steve Holtje

Since being founded in 1980 by bassist Joey DeMaio and guitarist Ross the Boss (earlier of the Dictators) after they met while Joey was a pyro technician on a Black Sabbath tour, Manowar has specialized in extremes. On the groups 1982 debut album, Battle Hymns, needing a narrator for "Dark Avenger," the guys called in "the ultimate speaking voice", Orson Welles. They signed the contract for their second album with their own blood. Those albums - and constant touring - made Manowar favourites in  England and across Europe. The group trailblazer by sometimes playing at extremely fast tempos, and also set new standards in on-stage fashions (animal skins, helmets, etc.).
The next extreme was reached in 1987, when the Guinness Book of World Records certified Manowar as the loudest rock band in the world. Looking for new sonic glory on the 1988 release Kings of Metal (the last album  with Ross), a 100-voice male choir graces several tracks. And  now, topping everything for grandiosity, Manowar's current  album, The Triumph of Steel, opens with the 28-minute suite "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts," which showcases the virtuosic talents of each of the  quartet's members. On a later cut, at the end of "The Demon's Whip", the group plays at 208 beats per minute, with new drummer Rhino's bass drum pedals not lagging a bit, (The other band members are vocalist Eric Adams and guitarist David  Shankle). Leader/songwriter DeMaio is a witty, intelligent guy with definite opinions but gracious and  cooperative, a true gentleman.  And he's utterly sincere. When he sings "Every one of us has heard the call/Brothers of true metal, proud and standing tall/We know the power within us has brought us to this hall/There's magic in the metal, there's magic in us all" in the song "Metal Warriors," it's no bullshit act for the kids - he means every word.

CREEM: When you were growing up, how did you deal with the three horrible words, "turn it down"?

DEMAIO: In my formative years, I had no choice but to turn down. It was a thing that grated at me, though. For some reason, when you have a good stereo, when you turn it up, it sounds great. I could never imagine why anybody would say, "turn it down.". When you crank something up, it sounds so killer. As I got older,  I just developed a thing for loud music. My heroes were Grand Funk or Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. All these bands had walls of amps and really used them. It was loud, unlike bands today who use the stuff as stage sets. When I started playing bars, nightclubs, that's when I really discovered what a hassle it is to play loud. The jerks who own these clubs want the bands to be on a level with the jukebox, mentally and musically. It got to the point where the bands I played with got bigger and bigger, and we had more control over what we were doing. So when we'd come in and the guy'd go, "You think you're gonna play loud?" we'd say, "Yeah, we are gonna play loud, we're gonna play loud as fuck!" When you're gonna draw 50 people, the guy can say, "there's the door." But when you're gonna pack the place, and he's gonna make a fortune no matter what, they don't have any control. So now it's at the point where, though we're too big to play clubs in most parts of the world, we do it occasionally, 'cause it's nice to be close to the fans, but now it's great, 'cause we go in there and it's known, "yes, they are gonna come in; yes, they are gonna melt your face; no, you can do nothing about it, you have no choice, just die!"

CREEM: On the new record, there's that line about wimps and poseurs in metal. Wanna name some names?

JD: You don't have enough tape in the recorder. My favourite music is, of course, classical music, but there's a lot of good bands out there. Metallica has always been a good band, and I think they're doing pretty well for themselves, really kicking ass. I like a lot of classic rock. I like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. So there are bands I think have been able to maintain their integrity and still be successful, and I admire that.

CREEM: What happened that caused the band's personnel changes?

JD: Well, the first change that we had was the departure of our original drummer in 1982. He was inexperienced in terms of getting out, playing arenas and bigger places. You really have to get out there and sweat, hit the rums hard and be able to concentrate on doing that, and with this band, all hell is constantly breaking loose on stage. One person needs to hold it together when the other three are going nuts, and quite often it has to be the drummer. So, he wasn't experienced enough to do that; he sort of felt like this wasn't his thing anyway, he was more jazz-oriented. Change number two was when Ross the Boss left. That was just because he wanted to get more into blues. I think he felt that his heavy metal career had started with the Dictators and then really peaked with Manowar. I feel like he'd probably gotten it all out of his system and, having done that, he got married, had a kid, and I think that' pretty much it. I don't think he plays guitar anymore. I think after he had the baby - ha got married to a nice girl, settled down, he's happy.

CREEM: And then you got a new drummer.

JD: Right, and that was a situation where our drummer Scott Columbus, who'd been with the band for seven years, had a  personal situation. One of his children was sick, and it was an off-again, on-again thing, and he just had to make a decision what was best for himself and his family. He left on a good vibe, a  good note - same with Ross, good vibes all the way - and the replacement, Rhino ,happened to be Scott's friend. He was a guy that came from Nashville, Tennessee. People pissed on him all his life, telling him, "hey boy, you're here in Nashville, you better play country. What do you mean, heavy metal? Ain't no metal down here." It's true, he had a lot of frustration trying to start metal bands, play in metal bands - he couldn't get one happening, couldn't get one together, so he just practiced and practiced and practiced and  practiced, and you can hear the results of this in the guy's drumming. He's unquestionably the fastest drummer, and [his] goal is the same as ours: total destruction at roar volume. The guy can deliver the goods. It's cool. In the first song, which is eight sections based on the Iliad,  the section with a five-minute drum solo is called "Armour of the Gods," and that represents armour being forged and pounded. He just won number-two drummer in Germany in Rockpower magazine.

CREEM: That eight-movement Achilles piece has some classical guitar on it. I know the image that you're promoting is faster-louder, but you do have variety in there. It sets up the kill-stun power stuff better.

JD: The image of the band in terms of faster-louder has been, if you're going to play heavy metal, it should be everything. It should be louder, it should be heavier, it should be big, overbearing, over-powering. Yet, you should be able to play your instrument too. The band plays music. We don't go for the special effects to take people's attention away from the fact that we can't play. We want people's attention on the fact that we can  play. It's the songs and the diversity of the music that are really vital.

CREEM: There's actually some melodies in there and not just riffs.  

JD: Oh, absolutely. Our singer has incredible range, a very gifted voice, and the whole thing has always been melody. High- power, high-volume, high- intensity, and yet a melodic  approach. It's always been there in the music.

CREEM: After all those years on the road, you must have some good stories.  

JD: Not that I could put in your magazine, though! As we went out and did these tours over the years we always told  some of these girls, "when the day comes, you're gonna have your own tour bus." 'Cause it's a hassle, you know. You get out on these buses, and we had two buses last tour, double-decker,  so it's like having four regular buses, there still, is not enough room. You've got a bunch of people partying and yelling and screaming, and some people wanna sleep, the bus driver's gotta concentrate on driving.  So it was just easier, this year, we had a tour bus just for girls. We had them order whatever videos they want, they're out there on the road, they had their own booze, whatever they wanted. The whole deal was set up especially for them. We believe in hospitality!

CREEM: How do you deal with the onstage volume? Do you wear earplugs?

JD: Actually, recently, I've started wearing them, just because now we've built a whole new back line, louder than anything we've ever used, and the monitoring, of course, has now had to get louder to compensate for that, plus because I work in the studio on the records on the production, I can't really damage my hearing much more than I've done and be responsible in the recording studio. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't wear the plugs at all, I would just go out there samurai-style. But I owe it to the fans to produce good, high-quality sounding records. If I destroy my hearing, I can't really do that.

CREEM: I can't imagine trying to mix your concerts. By the end of the first half hour, what hearing's left?

JD: I know, it's just amazing,  but it's not loud to be noisy and  it's not loud to be loud, it's loud to be full and rich and high-quality. It's a different type of loud than most bands you'll hear, because what really hurts the ear is not volume, it's noise. That's why we like to turn up a good-sounding stereo and that's  why we turn down something on the radio when we hear "hhrkkkss." So if you're using great equipment - our stuff is custom-made to be high-quality - then you can get away with a lot more volume because you're not amplifying noise, you're amplifying tone and sound. And with us, it's a sound that's not just high-end. It's rich, full-range sound, from floor to ceiling.

CREEM: One of the things about volume, especially with stringed instruments, is that's when you start getting more overtones. Actually, if you don't turn it up, it gets sort of dead.

JD: Exactly. The strings don't vibrate right. There is a certain level you have to achieve in order to get what we call a righteous feeling. Below that feeling, we can't play, we don't dig it, and it's not happening. But when you start there and then go up from there, you can do no wrong.

CREEM: Outside of the band, what's everyday life like?

JD: To tell you the truth, my life really - have you ever seen that movie Moonstruct "I have no life." It's almost like that, only I do have a life, my life is music. It's  always been that way. Everything I do has some connection with music - not the music business, but can I better bring the music we make to the audience, whether that's on record or whether that's live. Is there a better sound company? Is there something new, some new product that will enhance the sound of what we do in the studio? Can we use less equipment in the studio to get a more pure sound on record? - which is what I've been trying to do recently: less is more in terms of just capturing the raw signal on tape. That type of stuff, that's really what fills up my day. I like to work out, do anything fun, obviously. I like movies, classic movies, old movies. Lately I've been getting into horror movies, just  because they're so completely insane I find humour in them. That type of stuff. I think once you make a commitment, once you wake up and realize, "I'm not gonna play the Holiday  Inn, I'm not gonna take any shit from these guys who run these small nightclubs, be somebody's dog" - once you realize that it's gotta be metal all the way, pedal to the metal, then there's no road back. Bringing up that samurai again, 'cause I am on a real heavy Japanese interest thing. Now that I've been to Japan, my interest has really peaked. It's that type of feeling. Once these samurais were sworn in, or born into the order, that's it - there's no left, there's no right, there's no question. There's no look over your shoulder, there's no behind, you go forward like an arrow. Pick up no dust.[Joey produces a pack of photos.] You might dig this. This is an ancient samurai tradition I've been wanting to investigate. I saw a news special on it 15 years ago. In Japan they have places called mamushi bars. This is like a sushi bar here, only snakes, turtles, spiders, all these different things can be had there. There's the chef, or the snake master. You can see all the different bottles there of snake whiskey and sakes that they have. We had to chase one of these places down, because obviously as Japan has grown more worldly, these places are less available, but they found one. The promotors sought one out for me, and we went. What they do is, you pick a snake, and they take the snake and they perform this little ceremony and hang it up by its tail and they slit it all the  way down and they drain the..  blood into a glass. Then they cut out the heart and liver, put that in  there, and you drink it down. You drink the power of the snake. It's incredible. This is the meat. You  eat it afterward, it's just like sushi. This is powdered snake. People put it in their tea. They use it for medicinal purposes. They believe it has important, extraordinary healing powers.

CREEM: What's the snake taste like?

JD: Every body asks me that, but I wasn't able to say you taste it, because you drink it down ceremonially. It's not like it hits the taste buds on your tongue like you're going to eat a regular fine dinner, you're gonna sit down and savour the taste of it. This is more like a shot type of thing.

CREEM: How about the snake meat?

JD: I hate to sound typical - it tastes like chicken. It was chewy, because snakes have a lot of nerves. Very crunchy, even though it's been chopped up, beaten with a hammer, and fried, it still has a very crunchy, hard texture.

CREEM: Like squid?

JD: Yeah, if squid were fried. They eat turtles too. Kinda neat, a different experience I've always wanted to do. It was fun.
CREEM: I assume from the title of the new record that you do not believe that the pen is mightier than the sword.

JD: Actually, I think they're both real, and I think they're both needed, and I think the world evolved because of both. One could never replace the other, and one is no good without the other. I think that's what was so great about the samurai, is that they were fierce warriors, and yet they had this exquisite, very quiet tea ceremony, and they were encouraged to learn about the arts and calligraphy and both sides - one fed the other. The calmness, the sense of repose they got from doing these things, enabled them to focus on going out there and "aaarrhhh!" So I believe in both. I love the spoken word, the written word.

CREEM: Who's the dude on the album cover?

JD: That guy represents the spirit of heavy metal that I think is present in all of us, the audience. That can be anybody, that's why the guy has no face. It's a little bit  of all of us.

CREEM: I guess the women are there for the spirit of heavy metal too.

JD: Gotta have it, gotta have  it! Yeah!

CREEM: You didn't sit down and read the Iliad just to write a song.

JD: No. I read the Iliad when I was 10 years old. Little bits and pieces of it have always been floating around in my brain. What made me re-read it was the fact that I just wanted to read something, and I'll read anything I can get my hands on. My problem is not reading, it's time. Just looking through my books, I saw the copy that I'd had sent to me as a gift, and I picked it up. As I re-read it now, all the excitement when I read it then came back to me, but in a bigger way. You're older, you absorb more of it and appreciate the wording and the nuances, the drama, this epic-type imagery, which does correlate with what  we do and how we feel about the music, this bigger-than-life view. I mean, four or five-inch black-and-white TV against a 70-millimeter Technicolor wide-screen, they're both cool, but why not have both?

CREEM: How do you feel about the way Hector's body was treated? - that's a whole specific movement of the piece.

JD: Yeah, it's great. I think that's why I chose that part to play on bass, and I describe both parts of that - 'The Desecration of Hector's Body" - two parts of that, one on piccolo bass, the other on four-string bass. The first part describes taking off his armour, which was traditional. You killed your enemy, you removed their armour, you took it.

CREEM: Shit yeah, it was valuable.

JD: Yup. Exactly. And also it was showing their soldiers, "Hey, this guy's tapped, he's dead, I killed him. He's a crumb. I'm gonna strip him of his rank and power." Achilles stripped Hector of his armour, cut holes in his ankles, then attached straps, hooked him to the chariot, rolled off, dragged the body for all to see… it's that whole epic imagery, the ceremony of the whole thing. It's awe- inspiring. I thought it was killer.

CREEM: I guess that's one of the things that makes you popular - the whole Manowar image is larger than life.

JD: Well, that's the thing. I never understood why someone would pay money to see a band that's gonna get up there and sing songs about what we could all read in the newspaper or see on the daily news. Why? I think It's ripping people off for the bands to do that; secondly,  I think it's crazy for the people to pay to go see that. If I'm gonna come out of my house, go to my car, go drive and see somebody, I wanna see something that I can't see on the news, or that I cant do myself. Half of these people could play as good as these jerks that're up there now making this so-called "music." If I'm going to go see a musician, that guy better be able to play the instrument. If it's going to be heavy metal it better be all the things heavy metal should be. It  should be loud as fuck. It should be heavy. It should be filled with drama, energy, insanity, a little bit of humour, a little bit of everything, but the focus, if it's heavy metal, should be heavy. I feel like everything, particularly at this point in the game in America, is centered away from heavy, away from music, and more on other things. It's always been the music for me, having a bigger-than-life sound and projecting that. Obviously we're not into running out and killing people just for the sake of it, but there's some things about war that, in whatever sense, are inspiring. How do you deal with that balance there of "don't go psycho, but on the other hand use this inspirational aspect'? It's not so much the attraction of going out and killing somebody, chopping somebody's head off, although there's quite a few people aid like to do it too. There's also the reflective state whereby the way the world evolved and the way men and women evolved in society in general, there was a point where you look back to the cow-boys just a couple hundred years ago, every guy carried a gun. Survival depended on it, period. That's it, you had a gun or you didn't go out of the house. I don't think we can ignore that. Yes, we don't all carry guns now, but I think the whole instinct of feeling somebody may be treading on your ground and wanting to protect it, I think that's an instinct that we all have. On the other hand, I'm glad that everybody doesn't carry a gun, because there are some people not responsible enough to do that. So that aspect of it is a reality. I don't find it attractive, but the study of it is attractive. The other thing is, as far as war goes, it's more the spirit of the warrior who's disciplined enough to commit himself to something, to study, believe in it, and when the time comes, act decisively and quickly. The  whole concentration on dedication is something that I admire. So when we sing of war, yeah, there's the triumph of battle, but there's the triumph of overcoming whatever the battle was about, and these things relate to everybody on a personal level. We've all got battles, we're all, in  a way, a warrior, and history shows that we are. We all have to be at one time. So that's what I find attractive: we're all in a way, a spiritual warrior or we should be. We should try to live our lives to the fullest and be the best we can be. A lot of people are afraid of discipline, a lot of people are afraid of commitment, a lot of people are afraid of dedication, but I think without these great, fine qualities, what are we?
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