Interview: Vio-Lence

It’s got to be heavy, it's got to be thrash. It's got to be Vio-Lence. The great thing about the EP is that there's a lot of separation between the songs, they don't sound similar, they're very unique in their own right.

Vio-Lence were one of the bands that helped shape the second wave of classic Bay Area thrash metal and with albums like Eternal Nightmare and Oppressing The Masses, they took the metal world by storm. After their last album, 1993s Nothing To Gain, the band split up but a series of events brought them back together in 2019 and they have recently released their comeback EP Let The World Burn on Metal Blade Records. Gavin Brown caught up with Vio-Lence vocalist Sean Killian to talk about Let The World Burn, the band’s new lineup and the events that brought them back together as well as discussing the Bay Area thrash scene, punk rock and memorable live shows.

E&D: Your new EP Let The World Burn is out now. How does it feel to be releasing new music again?        

Sean: It’s really exciting. It was fun writing it. We had a good time putting the songs together and writing lyrics and everything. After so long not writing music, it was kind of cool to just to get back in and do that and have that kind of bonding time. To have come out and have the reaction that we’re getting from people and, and being with Metal Blade Records, it’s phenomenal. It’s a great feeling.

E&D: You have new members in Bobby Gustavason and Christian Olde Wolbers. How is the new lineup working out?

Sean: Great, because you look at a guy like Bobby, and it’s not whether the guy can play or not, it’s a matter of, do these guys fit into the room with the rest of us. Both of those guys are very talented individuals. Bobby, and Perry were friends, they’ve been friends for a long time, so Perry has always wanted to jam with him, then when we were talking about the record, he felt adamant that he needed to get a down picking guitar player just to compliment him and fit into the music that he was looking to have the sound he was looking for and Bobby was a perfect fit. With Christian, he and Phil knew each other since Machine Head and Fear Factory toured together. Christian has been a fan of the band since back when he was in Belgium, listening to Oppressing The Masses as a teenager. He was just down in Venice Beach, so Phil brought him up and he could commit. We all get along great, and the thing that bonds us together is not whether or not we can play music, it’s how do we hang out together? We just did a video and there’s a lot of downtime where you just sit around, those times that are important.

E&D: What was the impetus behind the band getting back together after so long?

Sean: When I got sick with my liver disease and lost all my benefits, the guys did benefits shows to raise money for me. Phil organised a golf tournament, and just helped raise money for my family. My son plays hockey, my daughter dances so it helped none of those things get cancelled because I wasn’t able to work and and then there was a lot of medical bills that need to get paid. Once I had my surgery, I was in the hospital and I was like, Well, how do I repay these people? I can’t send out thank you letters to thousands of people, so I wanted to get back onstage. That’s all I can think about, let’s let’s do a show with the band so that was to be the two shows we did in Oakland. Then it just kind of snowballed from there, people wanting us to play this show and that show so that’s kind of what got me to get out and try to get this thing going again. Phil has left Machine Head, so he was free and it was just a thing where I wanted to repay the people that helped me during that time.

E&D: How is your health now?

Sean: Good, It took me about seven months to recover and then about a year to fully recover. I got a huge incision that goes on your ribcage. from one side all the way to the other, so they opened me up pretty good but it’s had time to heal.

E&D: How does it feel to be back in Vio-Lence again and do you feel completely reenergised as a band?

Sean: Yeah, I think so because when I departed from Vio-Lence, after Nothing To Gain, my whole attitude was like, Well, I don’t even understand why we’re doing this because we’re doing this and these labels dictate everything, they sign you and then they want to change you and then they want to have input into who you are and what you’re doing. At the time grunge was coming in and we had a lot of outside influences saying this is what we’re doing. At the end of that, the label then didn’t even put the record out. It was ridiculous, so at that time, I was disgusted with the whole industry but now with social media and the digital recording and everything it is so much easier. We’re fortunate that we’re working with Metal Blade Records because Brian’s been with thrash since the beginning. It’s a perfect fit for us. When we did Eternal Nightmare  that was on Mechanix, Oppressing The Masses was on Megaforce. Nothing To Gain, I think first came out on Bleeding Hearts Records. With Metal Blade it’s just a great relationship, and still being an independent label worldwide, the people that you work with, and that label really believe in what they’re doing and they really help us out a lot, it’s real cool vibe that you get from Metal Blade Records so I feel really energised. When we sat down, I was like, well, we just have to do Vio-Lence and that’s that uncompromised sound and the lyrics have to be aggressive. We have to go back to who we were, and with Metal Blade, we’re allowed to do that, which is awesome.

E&D: What has the reaction to the new music been like?

Sean: It’s been great, you get your haters or whatever, we don’t really care but, yeah the reaction has been awesome because, for us, it was like, Well, this is gonna be pretty well anticipated. We can’t come out and lay an egg! It’s got to be heavy, it’s got to be thrash. It’s got to be Vio-Lence. The great thing about the EP is that there’s a lot of separation between the songs, they don’t sound similar, they’re very unique in their own right. That’s definitely what we’re shooting for and it’s not like we write ten songs, and then scrap five, the five songs here are the five songs we love, we just keep moving on and chugging along.

E&D: Is the chaotic state of the world a influence on the EP and its songs?

Sean: Yeah, it’s influenced, but it’s not blatantly in your face. The goal is to have the listeners, because Vio-Lence is a band about the lyrics too and not just the sound of music, you’ve got to read the lyrics to kind of get the whole package. My intent to learn was that there’s no blatant message to people, but you read the lyrics and you come up with your conclusions and paint pictures in your mind.

 

E&D: Have you got plans for a full length album at all?

Sean: We’ve just been thinking about five songs at a time. We don’t want to get bogged down in some ten or twelve song record, when we could do five songs and put it out, move on, put five more songs out and keep fresh and try to stay ahead. Just try to keep putting music out because a full album will be looking at December of 2023 or February 2024. If we’re focused, and we’re doing good, which with this EP, the COVID thing kind of helped us because we weren’t practising for shows we were just writing so we’re totally focused on what we’re doing for the EP.

E&D: You returned last year with a cover of ‘California Uber Alles’ by the Dead Kennedys. How was it covering that song and what made you choose that in particular?

Sean: We had booked the show in Oakland, and we were gonna play the song live. Then everything shut down, so it was like we’re working on the song on the record we did. The first song we wrote was ‘Flesh From Bone’, then the second one was ‘Screaming Always’. then we were just like, well, let’s put something out now we’ve got the new guys in the band. ‘California Uber Alles’ is a great song and when we went to Brooklyn to play, we played ‘I Love Livin In The City’ by Fear, so when we cover songs, it’s always a punk song, we don’t cover metal songs. That was what drove it. We wanted to do something and get it out. The video was filmed in Phil’s bar that was shut down because of COVID and we recorded that in our rehearsal studio, then Christian took it and mixed it and so everything you hear was done on Pro Tools. Christian did all that production work, he’s really good with it.

E&D: Was punk a big influence on the band as well as metal?

Sean: For me, yeah definitely. I listened to GBH back then, Fear, Sex Pistols and I listened to metal too, and I was into the thrash scene of course, Bonded By Blood, Kill Em All, Show No Mercy. I was living in that scene, going to Ruthies Inn, The Stone and the Omni in what seemed like every weekend and I was definitely punk influenced. It wasn’t like I thought about how to write lyrics, I just wrote them the way I heard him in my head, maybe that was an influence of the punk rock that I listened to, not so much metal because those early songs were already written, and I just wrote lyrics over them. That’s when the band changed from the early stuff they were doing so when joined the band, the music didn’t change, but the lyrics and the vocals and the vocal patterns changed for the band. I think that’s the one thing that separates us from everyone. It also creates that love them or hate them kind of thing.

E&D: Do you have fond memories of the Bay Area thrash scene back in the day?

Sean: Yeah, my first thrash show was Slayer at the at the Keystone in Berkeley,  they still had their black makeup on their eyes! Then the next show was Slayer at Louisiana and hanging out with the Exodus guys. Paul Baloff and I we were hanging out often during the Bonded By Blood time, they came out and a buddy of mine, we helped them out and it was a really cool scene. Ruthies Inn had a 10 foot ceiling, with the stage, it was cool. One of the first bands coming out of that scene was Possessed, and they’re not even thrash metal but people don’t realise how much of that scene they were part of because they were playing with Exodus and everyone, it was like a show every weekend and bands weren’t making a ton of money, they were just wanting to play. I think our big first big support act was to get the on Broadway in San Francisco. The cool thing is, you’re in the San Francisco, Oakland Bay Area, so touring acts were always coming through and after we released our demo, we were able to pull in like 200 people, so then the people that own the Stone and the Omni and working with Joey Huston, our manager at the time, we were able to get a lot of those tours coming through town as an opening act. We got to open for GBH, Kreator, Suicidal Tendencies, a lot of cool bands. It was a really cool time and, you know, the scene evolved from the early 80s to the late 80s with two different sound and different bands. The second wave, I guess you could call it was us, Forbidden, Death Angel and Heathen. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure. It’s part of my life.

E&D: I first discovered Vio-Lence through the ‘World In A World’ video, which shows a crazy live show. What have some been some of the most insane shows that you’ve ever played?

Sean: I would say we always had an insane crowd, most shows like that video! That video was filmed in the Stone and that was our typical show. People flying on the stage and slam dancing and the pit was always going! There’s something about our music that just drives people crazy! The most insane show actually would probably be when we did our reunion show in April 2019. Then we played in Hollywood. That show was crazy, it was like, the bands on stage and  I had to have my peripheral vision on, my spidey sense is on full alert, because people were going back and forth, eventually I was gonna get ran over if I wasn’t paying attention. Those two shows were really cool, we used to go to LA back in the day but it was all glammed up back in the 80s, but now, you go down there and it’s just as intense!

E&D: Are you looking forward to getting back on the road and can you tell us a bit about your forthcoming live plans?

Sean: Yeah, so right now we have the five show tour with Coroner. We play in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philly and then we wind up at the Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore, also right before that we’re going to the to the Oblivion Access Festival in Austin, Texas. We have some other stuff we’re working on and we have our agent out in Europe now that things are starting to open up. He’s looking at those kinds of countries to bring us to. We’re on at Bloodstock, we’re on the Alcatraz fest.

E&D: Are you looking forward to playing your first ever live show in the UK at Bloodstock in August?

Sean: I can’t wait to play Bloodstock! It was too bad we missed it last year but yeah, we’re definitely excited about being there that’s for sure. There’s some great bands on this year too.

E&D: What have been some of the highlights with your time with Vio-Lence so far?

Sean: Yeah, for me, It’s always just such a thrill to play in front of our fans. They never let us down. They’re always stagediving, even when it says no stagediving, they’re still doing it! Definitely creating too, writing is something that I enjoy a lot, sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s difficult, but the end result I’m always like, wow, that’s pretty cool. What’s crazy about Vio-Lence is that I cannot believe how the Eternal Life record  is still relevant because I see kids at the shows and they’re like 15/16 and they’re not there because their parents were fans, they’re there because they found it on YouTube and it’s still exciting. It’s like this multi generational record we created. It’s just that part amazes me the most I think.

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