Kerrang Uk 2 - 1982
Interview taken by Steve Gett
While the airwaves of American radio are dominated by the clean, polished sounds of such acts as Foreigner, Journey, and REO Speedwagon (and countless others!), it's interesting to observe the emergence of a band like Manowar, whose musical approach adheres to a far more basic Heavy Metal format. There are plenty of good hard-rocking combos on the bar and club circuits in the States, but few actually manage to break higher ground. The bottom line though is that record companies are loathe to sign groups whom they feel may have limited attraction to the radio networks. Manowar have struck lucky and secured a major recording deal, however guitarist Ross the Boss is clearly dissatisfied with the state of the US music business.
"Everyone's scared!" he proclaims with a heavy tone of disgust. "The record companies are scared and so are the radio stations. But at the top of the list are the bands themselves. They're the ones who are doing all the damage and I don't think today's generation has enough chance to find out the great buzz of rock n' roll. We're not scared- we just don't give a shit! It's a cockiness for sure but we feel that we're taking more of a stern direction. It's our mission! The original buzz I got from music, when I listened to bands like Cream and the Yardbirds was incredible. And somehow those moments have to be related to today's generation. But the problem is that so many musicians have got lazy and are prepared to play safe. If your sound is smooth, inoffensive, and runs into all the other songs played on the radio every day, then you're safe. The end result is this 'faceless' music played by all of these 'faceless' bands who've got no identity and no balls!"
Strong words, indeed. But then again, Ross the Boss is a campaigner who's fought hard over the years to fulfil his musical ambitions. During the seventies he played with New York rockers The Dictators and by the end of the decade he'd joined French group Shakin' Street. Some of you may well have seen the latter outfit when they supported Black Sabbath in the UK. However, like The Dictators, they never enjoyed wide scale success and no doubt Ross soon became frustrated. It was during that British tour that the axeman began to formulate the ideas for Manowar with bassist Joey Demaio. At the time, the bass player was working as a pyrotechnic operator.
"He was the only New Yorker around and we got on well straight away," recalls Ross. "I then found out that he played bass. I heard him in the dressing room one day, and thought Holy F---in Shit! This guy's unbelievable. And so eventually we made a plan that I was gonna leave Shakin' Street and work with Joey. I'd always wanted to put together the ultimate power trio-a musician's band. Let's face it, my other groups weren't like that and I always thought I stuck out a little, especially live."
The pair were soon hard at work on their new project and before long they settled on the moniker Manowar. "We felt we had to make a statement with our name," Ross explains. "If we didn't it just wouldn't be right. Once we heard Manowar we knew it- it was us. It describes the way we are."
The next step was to find a singer for the band and eventually the vacancy was filled by former butcher and meat cutter (!!!) Eric Adams. According to Ross:
"We just felt his voice was so incredible that he was the right man for the job. His voice is really a tool, just like our playing, and so we felt it was on a par. He could carry such a strong musical band because he knew how to sing. Eric's from Joey's home town and they'd worked together in a few bands in the past."
Having settled on Donnie Hamzik as the skinbeater, Manowar then set about recording a demo tape. Once completed, this caught the attention of EMI-America.
"It was a crude tape. We did it for 250 dollars but it was enough to show the songs and create a bit of interest. Finally we got a demo budget from EMI and went back into the studios. And then they agreed to sign us."
Our conversation, by the way, is taking place high above street-level in the plush offices of Aucoin Management. This company was (until recently) responsible for handling the affairs of the mighty Kiss.
How did they come to be looking after Manowar?
Ross: "Well, Bill (Aucoin) was given our demo tape and liked it a lot. We had offers from other managers but in the end we chose him because he's really into Heavy Metal and he knows about it. He has the knowledge of how a band should be marketed and I respect him for his business expertise. I think he was attracted to us because of our originality and our statement. The overall concept we had."
At what stage did Bill become involved with the group?
"He came in during the recording and did a lot for the cover and graphics. What's happening now is he's taking care of our whole production, the way we'll be approaching things, and of course all the business matters."
Bill Aucoin's track record is highly impressive. The way he built Kiss into a megaband was a brilliantly masterminded operation. People have often scoffed at the masked wonders, but regardless of how you feel about their music, it's hard not to admire the manner in which they were marketed. Indeed, within less than half a decade they became one of the richest outfits in the world. Aucoin is doubtless keen to give Manowar the necessary direction and it would seem his intention is to herald the act as HEAVY METAL with absolutely no frills. A swift glance at the cover artwork on the debut 'Battle Hymn' LP is the irrefutable proof of this. While the cover depicts an awesome condor, with wings spread majestically, the reverse shows a macho multi-veined arm holding a solid sword. You know exactly what's in store - this is hardly likely to be the latest Bucks Fizz album! But what about the music? Well, as mentioned earlier, Manowar's style is straightforward Heavy Metal. With titles like 'Death Tone', 'Shell Shock', and 'Dark Avenger' one would expect nothing less. If comparisons have to be made then early Sabbath and hints of Iron Maiden spring to mind. There's no doubt about it, Manowar do what they do very well. Adams has a powerful range of vocals and Ross' guitar playing is commendable. However, where the band suffer slightly is with the production, which they handled themselves.
What made them decide to twiddle their own knobs?
"Well, after all this time of making albums and being a victim of producers I figured we should do it ourselves," states the axeman, "And I think it worked out fine."
I'm afraid I can't agree on this point. Not wishing to create a bad feeling I shan't provoke Ross, but next time around Manowar should use an outsider. A Martin Birch or even an Eddie Kramer could do wonders for the group. While 'Battle Hymns' has only just been released, Manowar have already started thinking about the next album.
Ross: "We've got level two all planned for the band. There's music that makes this album look like Mary Poppins! We're supposedly coming to Britain in October, or earlier if we get the chance to do Reading, and after that we'll be going in to record."
Back to 'Battle Hymns', movie buffs may well be interested to note the appearance of the legendary Orson Welles on the song 'Dark Avenger'. How did they manage to persuade the 'King of Sherry' to help out?
"We needed an awesome voice," explains Ross, "and we figured there was only one man in the world who could do it. So we got in touch with his manager and sent over a copy of the lyrics. Orson really liked them and agreed. He came in and did his part in 20 minutes (you can't beat a true professional). He also did another track."
At this juncture Manowar's live activity has been limited to a few club dates during the recording of the album down in Florida. Shortly though, they'll be off on the road with Ted Nugent. Ross claims that his band is the loudest in the world (yawn) and it'll be interesting to see what the Nuge has to say about that.
"Well, we'll see.....we're prepared though. We're prepared for the hardship in the beginning. All that matters is that the band plays - that's all we care to do. To Manowar, being on stage is the ultimate honour for a musician that plays Heavy Metal. It's your sacred ground! You see a lot of musicians who take it all too lightly nowadays. They think they're doing people a favour and are more concerned about how many T-Shirts they'll sell. Let me tell you, when we were doing those gigs in Florida, we were dropping plaster off the roofs in all the clubs. It was truly awesome... we also did great business with the ladies."
Oh no, not another Rods, I hear you mutter. Mentioning Rock Feinstein's penchant for 'wimmin' to Ross, a strange look spreads across his face.
"The Rods claim women? Well let me tell you something (here we go!) if they claim women, we'll claim the "Harems of Allah", if you can get behind that one. Because the fact is Manowar is a 'mannish' band founded on 'mannishness' - believe me!"
Such curious terminology. What the hell is 'mannishness'?
"Mannishness is something that's gone in this country and it's basically the spirit we have. To me, a lot of the great ethics of Heavy Metal have just been negated. Heavy Metal is the most powerful music in the world - it's the most glorious next to classical. Great metal will never die!"