October 2, 2008
Metal Thrashing Regards
Interview with Neil Turbin
Photos by justice Howard
Neil Turbin - for the metal dilettante- a little backdrop here- You were the original lead singer of Anthrax, no need to reheat the past, but can you tell our readers about your rather impressive writing talents? You wrote all the lyrics/titles/song arrangements and provided the main concepts to such songs as "Metal Thrashing Mad", "Armed and Dangerous", "Deathrider" and "Gung Ho" which were on Anthrax's first three releases and many subsequent live and greatest hits albums. What is your creative process for penning and arranging a song?
I draw inspiration from thoughts and ideas that have deep impact or personal meaning to me. I usually compose from knowledge of life experience and by delving in and further researching the idea and nurturing its growth by seeking the deeper truth, meaning and understanding about the subject and lyrics. While this is happening I also work through the musical composition of the song, instrumentation, structure, orchestration, transitions, straight to preproduction, which can lead to singing the main vocals of the song a few times and further evolving it. I know by then what we’re going for vocally with the song and just need to nail it. Some songs are much more difficult than others. Usually they’re all challenging, because I don’t play by any rules or formula. I do tend to write with a neo-classical influence so there is a melodic direction for the vocals to forge ahead. I do like a number of the great bands that are part of the LA Thrash Metal resurgence. But I have no desire to try to emulate a thrash band from the 80’s with similar sounding riffs, pissed off vocs that are more shouting than singing. I am also not into wearing white hi-tops with 80’s tight jeans and the whole look that was 80’s thrash which was around the same time as the glam scene. I think the 80’s scene was influenced by what was selling at the time and what the look was. It was a lot of Bon Jovi, Poison, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Guns and Roses (not a glam band) and that’s probably why even the heavier bands and even some Thrash bands used hair spray and even makeup in the 80’s because of the music videos era of the 80’s. I think it’s great that these young thrash bands today look up to and pay tribute to what has come before them, but I think that being an original is about doing your own thing and having your own style and sound. I am anything but cookie cutter. I am a very intense person that’s very passionate about my music, composition and performance.
There are sometimes song pieces that you have sitting on a shelf so to speak that fit right into the puzzle and lock right in. This is not always the case and it always is exciting to start on a new idea(s) from scratch. Some folks have lots of unfinished song ideas and put them out anyway. I’d rather be more thorough and complete them knowing I gave it my absolute best. Some songs will rack your brain for months. Others will come together in a few hours or days.
With DEATHRIDERS I have both, collaborated and have written my own song ideas. I like to work with people who have a natural strength in songwriting, which usually goes hand in hand with experience. Not every musician is a strong songwriter. I like to work with peoples strengths and I believe I can recognize what those are pretty well. I write and collaborate both inside and outside the band. I have drum patterns, guitar parts, guitar solos, lyrics all inside my head, so I just have to articulate it either on guitar or vocally. I have what I call a burn test: If a new song can’t stand up to the old standards of mine, then it’s obvious and we know it real fast. Only the strongest ones survive and are keepers. I only try to write strong keepers and that’s why I move on to the ideas that compel me and work on those first. Anything less than those parameters are tossed aside. I have to be inspired by each and every song if I’m going to write to it and if I’m going to share it with others. I just found what happens to work best for me. I believe that you have to put the effort in to get the kind of results that will stand out. In past bands, I have cherry picked the riffs that moved me and wrote specifically to the ones that I felt inspired by. So yes, I had a very big hand and raised the bar and the metal fist in leading the creation process of those songs.
Your band Deathriders was formed in 2003 to support your solo album "Threatcon Delta". How has the band evolved over the past five years? Tell us about your sound, performances, upcoming releases…
The band started out as a band supporting my solo album at an awards show here in LA and quickly took on a life of its own. We’ve played in Japan, Europe, United States and Mexico and had Major Festival appearances while still remaining unsigned. We are a DIY band. Do It Yourself!!!! We’re not afraid to. We’re also recording a good part of our new album “BACK WITH A VENGEANCE” with co-producer Ken Orth in Phoenix, AZ at Alpine Sound and tracking in our own studio here in Los Angeles. We have the know how, the best tools and the capability, so why rely on others. A couple of ROUGH MIXES for the entire songs “Crimson Warrior” and “Riders Of The Apocalypse” are posted on our myspace.com/deathriders and reverbnation.com/deathriders We have been collaborating with the Swedish Power Master Guitarist Jonas Hornqvist of the band Treasure Land. We have live dates with Agent Steel in Phoenix, AZ and Into Eternity in San Diego, CA in October. We also have a date on January 17, 2008 during the NAMM 2009 Show with Michael Angelo Batio where he will perform an entire set with DEATHRIDERS. We will also have our brothers of steel EXMORTUS on the bill. This will be at Safari Sams in Los Angeles. We are currently working on a European Tour and Japan Tour for 2009!!!!
DEATHRIDERS has evolved in many ways and have gotten better, stronger, more intense and more focused. We have all heavy metal guys now. Sandy K. Vasquez – Bass, Chris Moore – Drums, Dave Watson – Guitar, Mike Guerrero – Guitar and myself on vocs.
With Deathriders, you’ve been touring in Japan- how are the fans different there besides the anime and sake? And what can American fans expect from the live performance?
The beautiful people of Japan have the highest degree of respect for artists and for each other. They are very accommodating and considerate people with great honor, culture and traditions. People who are sick in Japan wear a mask to let other people know and prevent the spreading of germs. When we got off the plane at Narita, we saw this and thought these folks didn’t want to get sick, but it was totally the other way around. The Japanese fans love metal and are extremely knowledgeable about it. Just stay away from the dangerous speeding truckers on the highway there and you’ll be alright! We had an amazing time touring in Japan and the great fans there are a lot of fun and were extremely supportive and into the music. What a blast! You just have to realize that they have a great respect for their polite culture and it is very important to be aware of. For example when we were on the train or bus in Tokyo, nobody speaks to each other because they don’t want to disturb their neighbor. When you exit the subway in Tokyo there are many crowds of people hurriedly walking, but no-one bumps into one another. Japan is a country where the people have a much greater control of themselves because most were raised in a culture that taught respect and honor at an early age. We can learn a lot from them.
Deathriders Live performance is an intense all out no holds barred old school thrash assault. We deliver the songs like we mean it! There’s volume, there’s metal, riffing, wailing, action, lots of melody, precision, high intensity, high energy, rip-roaring guitars and double bass excitement and every song is one I wrote. Deathriders is a force to be reckoned with! and we stand on our own.
As a Thrash vocalist, you know that songs typically use fast, percussive and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead work- how is Deathriders keeping true to the Thrash genre and how are they enhancing or changing it?
That is a misperception about Thrash. Thrash is a style of heavy metal music that does stay true to certain fundamentals like guitar chugging and rhythmic percussive double bass drumming. It has also been perceived as an all out play as fast as you can style of metal. I believe it is more Thrash to have a singer who can belt it out with the best of them and combine that with driving, intense powerful music. I feel people have heard too many Thrash bands where the vocals were very limited at best. I mean the other great thrash bands that had come on the scene when I was out there with Anthrax: Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. All were and still are great Thrash bands but I haven’t heard a Halford, Dio, Dickenson, Udo or Ozzy in any of em. They all kick ass as we all know, but none of them have ripping tearing vocals. I feel great vocals is whats missing in Thrash Metal! I’d rather hear a Mark Boals or a Ralf Scheepers on top of the thrashing rhythms than a mumbling, gargling cookie monster! Or just flat go nowhere vocals. If that’s what fans have come to except from Thrash, then so be it. There is no rule that says Thrash vocals have to be one-dimensional. I for one have my own metal thrashing mad style!!!!
You were (in the early 80’s) a part of the four core bands that created the genre in the first place- How does it feel to know you helped start an entire style of music?
I did what I was compelled to do. It was an aggressive time back in NYC and in history. The early 1980’s saw the next wave of heavy metal which was more powerful, aggressive, raw and dangerous than ever before. I was happy to make it that way. The interesting thing is back then I wrote all those lyrics completely on my own while locked in my room. The rest of the band did not contribute any lyrics or song titles whatsoever to the songs you mentioned since we didn’t socialize at all, other than rehearsals. It was usually loud volume at rehearsals, not conducive to songwriting, just jamming (usually the band would play iron maiden covers) or rehearse over and over the eight or so songs we had from our live set then. I was very self reliant and in my own time I took the initiative to take those riffs to the next level and complimented them with great lyrics and vocal melodies. I believe these songs still stand the test of time!!!!
Thrash usually deals with social issues- with today’s world landscape you must have a plethora to write about! Do you believe Thrash needs to remain true to that assumption?
Again, another misperception. It just sounds heavier to have songs that protest something or are angry at something. I think that’s jumping on the Angst Bandwagon.
Metal Thrashing Mad is a song that related to a Street Machine of Steel as a metaphor to describe a feeling of total power. I would get that feeling driving with the stereo blaring! With the windows down on my then 1971 Buick playing Riot and Saxon in the streets of NYC. The only words to describe it is Metal Thrashing Mad!!!!
Deathrider is a song that relates Mythology as a methaphor again to describe a feeling of total power. This time an unrestrained power of the Mythological Gods Zeus, Thor and of course Pegasus! And others. These Myths were the framework that the song Deathrider was founded upon!!!!
So no, I don’t buy into the assumption that makes it necessary to write about social issues in order for it to be Thrash. Musical Artists have been writing about social issues in their lyrics before Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Punk Rock. So I believe it’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon and do that, so you can sound angry, aggro and pissed off. I choose to write about what’s relevant to me. I have always remained true to that.
What is turning you on musically now?
King’s Evil (Japan)
Nocturnal Rites The 8th Sin and anything w/Nils Norberg and Johnny Lindqvist
Treasure Land (Sweden)
Primal Fear Metal Is Forever and anything w/Stefan Leibing
Symphony X Paradise Lost
Edguy Hellfire Club
Into Eternity The Incurable Tragedy
John Sykes Live in Japan
Jimmy Barnes Love and Fear
And old shit that still kicks your ass!!!!
So, what is the dynamic of Deathriders as a group? What makes you guys tick?
Collectively and individually everyone in the band loves and actually listens to heavy metal, plays their instrument with a great passion and thrives on playing live.
The “business” chews up and spits out performers every day- what are your top five pieces of advice to the guy in NY who wants to follow in your footsteps?
#1 Always have plan-b ready to go.
#2 Be ready for opportunities. When the window of opportunity opens up. Be ready to jump through it. When the promoter calls from a big festival, don’t tell them you and your band don’t have money for airline tickets, that you have to take your kids to the hockey game or that you're going to a Judas Priest concert instead.
#3 Practice does NOT make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
#4 Study, read and learn about contract law, entertainment law and intellectual property law as it will come in very handy when you least expect it. Or be prepared to pay attorneys lots and lots of money. ALWAYS have promoters, record companies or anyone PUT IT IN WRITING, signed and dated.
#5 Be persistent.
#6 Always include BONUS TRACKS!!!!
Bonus Track #1 I’d rather be consistent every day, than a superstar on any one day.
Bonus Track #2 Make music your priority and your commitment if you are serious, Not a hobby. We are not a hobby band. I am not in this for a hobby. I live for metal. It is my passion!!!!
When not on stage, what is Neil Turbin like and what does he like to do?
Breathe Fire, Spit Venom, Bleed Metal and Scream like a Demon from Hell!!!!
Any final thoughts for our readers?
Keep it Kick Ass!!!! Stay Metal Thrashing Mad Forever!!!!