Monday, April 2, 2012
More Trouble Than Trouble - Heavy Planet Interviews The Skull
I recently had an opportunity to chat with former Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner, drummer Jeff 'Oly' Olson and bassist Ron Holzner. We got caught up on the band's history, their relationships with former bandmates Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell as well as their other endeavors both musical and otherwise. But what the guys were mostly anxious to discuss is their new project…a modern take on the Trouble classics that they've appropriately dubbed The Skull. Whether you're a long time fan or you're new to them altogether, I can guarantee this is a band you do not want to miss. But don't take my word for it, check out the interview and see for yourself what these doom legends had on their mind.
Heavy Planet: Well to begin with, whose idea was it for the three of you to reunite as The Skull? How did this whole thing come about?
Jeff 'Oly' Olson: The best answer for that would probably be Days of the Doomed Festival in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. Retro Grave, Blackfinger and Earthen Grave played there…all three of our side bands.
Ron Holzner: I was kind of like, "hey why don't we get together and play some songs". I've joined Eric onstage with Blackfinger a couple of times and he's sung with my band Earthen Grave, you know whether we do a Trouble song or whatever. The three of us hadn't been together in a long time and we knew we were gonna be out there [at Days of the Doomed Fest] that weekend and it was like "hey let's think about this and do a few songs."
Eric Wagner: [Jeff and Ron] came up with Blackfinger and we did like four or five Trouble tunes and it was just a lot of fun, especially when we were doing "At the End of My Daze" the whole crowd was singing…it was awesome. And we were like "why not…let's do it."
RH: We just figured it was a one time thing and after we played "At the End of my Daze" we just looked at each other onstage and we were like "damn…this is badass." I mean people were singing…it was just a great feeling. And when it ended, I walked up to the microphone and said "this is just the beginning" without even thinking, it just came out.
EW: So I don't know, maybe about a month or so later I messaged each one of them and I'm like "I want to start a tribute band and I was wondering if you guys would be interested?" I said "a tribute to Trouble…because I look and sound exactly like the singer and you guys look just like the bass player and the drummer…it's fuckin' scary."
RH: We were all laughing about it and then the word got out and we started getting show offers. We started talking about it seriously and it has just snowballed so fast that we're still kind of shaking our heads about it that there are that many people who really want to hear the old Trouble stuff with Eric singing and us playing it. It's very flattering and it's nice. With the big doom movement now, we're like "damn it let's do it."
HP: Prior to the Days of the Doomed Fest, when was the last time the three of you had played together?
EW: Wow…um…it'd have to be…I'm not sure to tell you the truth. I think…'95?
HP: Going back to the Plastic Green Head days, which I believe is the only album that the three of you actually all played on at the same time, isn't that correct?
JO: Exactly. And the only time I played with Ron in Trouble other than that Plastic Green Head tour was at a get together in Chicago…really our first reunion. It was a blast man, we blew the PA out at the end of the night. **Laughs**
RH: Well actually Oly played keyboards on the [first] Def American record as well, but he didn't play drums because Barry Stern was on drums. But he was a part of every record I think except for this new one. [Editor's Note: The "new one" Ron is referring to is the as yet unreleased album that is being recorded by the current Trouble lineup with original guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell]
HP: Jeff, going back to the original Trouble lineup and your days in the band, you were obviously one of the founding members…you and Eric…and then after the release of The Skull, you left. For those who may not already know, can you explain why you originally decided to leave the band?
JO: There was a spiritual experience. I became a born again Christian. And a lot of rumors came about that I was gonna be a preacher. I mean I thought about that, but that didn’t happen. **Laughs** I kept studying music and got prepared for Berkley. I went into Berkley and studied film scoring. I wound up getting deeper in thought…philosophy and ideology and religion and all that and I kept that more private. I pretty much left to really study. I think it might have upset Bruce [Franklin] back in the day, but I think we all understood maybe why I wanted to leave. But after all these years, I’ve never really been resentful of leaving whenever I left. It was usually, maybe economics, you know getting my finances together, or it was getting my head together and studying to be a sharper musician and to get in better shape as a musician. Coming back after Barry [Stern] was fun because I had to play Barry’s parts and it was…what a learning experience that was.
HP: It was challenging?
JO: Yeah, very challenging. He’s a lefty, he does some very cool things that drummers don’t usually do, you know the way that he plays his cymbals while the groove is going, he doesn’t stop the groove to hit a crash, it kind of goes as its…uh, it’s just incredible. It just made me a better drummer. And the last time I left Trouble , this last final time after the west coast swerve that we did, I kind of had to leave because it was getting too hard to fly out all the time. We weren’t able to pay for the flights anymore and just kind of the economics were getting pretty rough. **Laughs**
HP: Eric, I think back when you left Trouble in 2008 it was more or less that you were tired of the touring life, is that correct?
EW: Well at that point…I was a little sick of it. I was sick of doing the same old songs every night. And I just wanted to write. I had a bunch of songs I’d been working on, on my own and I just kind of wanted to chill and work on those and put together my own thing, just to grow. Making records and writing songs is really my favorite part about being in a band and at that point I really didn’t see that that was gonna happen and I just wanted to do my own thing for awhile. And I did that [with Blackfinger] and now it’s over and [that record] is coming out and it’s time to do something else. And I’m having a blast with The Skull. It’s been a lot of fun putting this together and the response we’ve been getting…people are excited about it and so am I.
RH: Yeah there's no incentive. It gets…I don't want to say boring, but I guess it did. It's almost like working on an assembly line and you just kind of do other things to bide your time and your mind and I think that's where partying creeps in a little more because there's no new stimulation from playing different songs. It's just kind of like "eh." We're trying to avoid all of the mistakes we made and do it differently and to actually make new mistakes. That's life and progress, you have to take chances and a lot of times you make mistakes but you just try not to make the same ones…you make new or better ones. **Laughs**
HP: Ron, you left Trouble in 2002, why did you leave?
RH: Rick [Wartell] and I were in a box at the House of Blues watching Michael Schenker Group and I said "why don't we just get Eric back and do the original band…do a reunion?" And we did and we made it happen, but by the fifth or sixth reunion show it was just going drastically in a weird, chaotic direction. And different individuals were influenced by outside stuff that really made it difficult to be around them…without really getting explicit. The direction [of the band] and basically [I was] getting pushed into the background and I thought "at this point I would like to have a say in my life." And I thought I needed to step away and get away from music for a little bit. I kind of took a break. And then my house burned down and the whole next year was kind of…well I guess I left at a good time. It would have happened anyway, but when such a traumatic thing happens like that, you need to get away from whatever you're doing and focus. So it was meant to be for me to get away at that time.
HP: Obviously two of you [Eric and Jeff] were original members of Trouble and Ron played with the band for 16 years, so this lineup for The Skull almost feels more like Trouble than the band who is actually now called Trouble.
HP: So my question to all of you is…what are your relationships like with Bruce and Rick today?
EW: We’re cool. I talk to Bruce a little bit more than Rick probably. I grew up with Bruce in Aurora here. We played in a band before we joined Trouble. So I know him well…I mean I know both of them real well…but I do speak to Bruce more often. And you know we talk about what’s going on with each other’s lives here and there. But we’re friendly, it’s not like we hate each other or anything like that.
JO: I did some interviews with them when Trouble did "70,000 Tons of Metal" and I had asked questions like “are we still a family?” And I think Rick wanted to do something that was his version [of Trouble] and I think a lot of us weren’t ready to do that. But it’s just the way history goes. I think that this [new] version is something that Bruce kind of wanted to work on with Rick as well and then what you get is a type of Trouble that the guitar players wrote. Remember the KISS solo records that were kind of cool? Like Ace’s album was fucking awesome. I think it’s sort of like that in a way. I think there’s band drama behind the scenes a little bit, but I don’t think its as radical as bands that really fight each other and embarrass each other in public, in magazines and interviews. I don’t think it’s that bad. And I just think it’s creativity, people wanting to do things their own way and differently. And our fingers are all crossed at a huge reunion…almost like the Jethro Tull reunion or the Yes reunion. You know on those DVDs where there’s like 20 people at a banquet and they’re all talking about the different albums? **Laughs**
RH: Bruce has jammed with my band Earthen Grave a bunch of times. He's best friends with our guitar player. And he's jammed with Eric [in Blackfinger] and he and I have jammed with Eric. So we're all still really close, we're still family. Trouble is still a family and we're just kind of like the other brother who is going off and starting his own thing. **Laughs** So we're all good that way and I understand what they're doing. It's still Trouble and they want to do a record and they've got one of my best friends singing for them now…Kyle Thomas. They just want to continue what they're doing, so as far as the relationship goes, I still talk to Bruce and have no problem. The other guy…it's whatever. **Laughs** That's all I can say about that.
HP: Was there ever any thought of you guys trying to reunite with Bruce and Rick?
EW: No not really. They’re doing their thing. They’re working on a new record and that’s what they want to do and that’s cool…and I’m cool with that and we just wanted to do our thing and get a couple of guys that fit in nice and just go out and do those old songs. It’s been a long time and I think the doom thing is kind of happening right now and it’s just been a lot of fun. I can’t wait until we start rehearsing those songs again, it’s been a long time since we got to do those.
JO: They [Bruce and Rick] have a project...Trouble has a project that they need to finish and show the fans. So they’re still honing that project. They want it to be the quality and level that they want and we want to get on with a 30 year anniversary here and get the ball rolling and start getting ourselves in shape for the celebration of 30 years of Trouble’s music and Eric’s lyrics. The different types of drumming, the different types of bass playing and parts and double leads and those things. And then our project...The Skull’s new Trouble sound…will be coming out. And then there should hopefully be a giant collision of all the guys again...I hope. That’s my hope…a bygones will be bygones collision some day for fans, for people that like Trouble. I don’t know how many there actually are out there, but we have a lot of friends and fans that love our history and the different types of Trouble...the rock n roll Trouble, the super heavy, old metal Trouble...you know almost Iron Maiden/Merciful Fate like…and then the slow, doomy, grungy Trouble. The progression of Trouble...there were so many variations.
RH: I had a reunion set up, two different shows with the original band. [One at] Kuma's [Corner], a good burger joint here in Chicago, it's a metal burger joint that was gonna pay us good money to reform and [another at] Roadburn. And basically, those guys [Bruce and Rick] pulled out. So like I said, I tried twice already and Rick pulled the plug on both of them. I can understand his reasonings, no ill will towards him about that at all. It's just that, we're not getting any younger...and the thing is, we really are more in tune with what the fans want...and they want to hear the old stuff. And why not, you know, we all have our other bands...and we're doing well. My record is coming out April 28 as a matter of fact…the Earthen Grave record. So this is kind of like…let's just do this for fun, no other weird reasons or anything. Let's go out and play some of the old tunes and have fun. But the door is open. We asked Bruce, right before we started this…"would you like to be a part of it?" And he'd like to finish the [Trouble] record and I can totally understand that. Whenever those two guys want to join up with the three of us, we're ready. Actually we're gonna be more ready because we're gonna know all the songs. **Laughs** If they want to do it, it's gonna be an easy transition.
HP: Can you talk a little bit about the guitar players for The Skull, Lothar Keller and Michael Carpenter from the band Sacred Dawn? How did you guys make the decision to bring them onboard?
JO: I always wanted to play with Glenn Drover (Megadeth) and Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper) [because I] thought that those two were very session oriented and that it might be a quick learn for them to be able to get songs together. And as we kept talking about it we found that it might be more difficult for them, even though they have the talent and it would have been awesome having those two up there. We felt that maybe the look and feel of [Keller and Carpenter] who have played together for 20 years, [would] solve [the problem of] two guys trying to hone themselves together, [because] these guys are already honed together...almost like just adding one person, but you’re getting two. Lothar and Michael call each other all excited. They’re digging this, so it’s made the whole thing very fun.
RH: Lothar has actually run sound for Earthen Grave and plus Tony [Spillman] from Earthen Grave is really good friends with him. I've always been around him, he doesn't work that far from my house. We'd meet and have lunch at this bikini bar that we go to. **Laughs** He's a really cool guy, great guitar player and somebody I know and get along with. And Eric knew him through his people so it makes it real easy.
EW: I personally wanted to be a band. I never really wanted just to hire people. I like being in a band with the possibility of maybe even doing a record. I talked to [Lothar] and I told him if there’s anybody he knows that he'd like to play with to let us know because we need another guy. I didn’t even really think of Michael at first, but then when he brought his name up and said that they’d been playing together for 20 years and known each other for 25 I thought, ”well that’s perfect.” And when I talked to Michael about it, he said “yeah Lothar and I know each other so well that we answer each other’s sentences when we play together.” And I’m thinking that’s just perfect. My expectations have now exceeded my hopes, because it’s twin guitar, just like we had. That’s a lot of what made Rick and Bruce good is that they’ve been playing together for so long and they played off each other well. So I think that was a perfect thing to do for us, to get a team like that.
HP: You're calling the band "The Skull", which is obviously a reference to Trouble's classic second album. Does that mean that's what you guys are going to focus on in terms of material when you play live or will you expand and play from the entire catalogue?
RH: At first we were thinking about doing choice songs off of all the records. Then I did kind of an informal survey of about 20 big time Trouble fans that I've known over the years and that I really trust. I sent out an email [saying] "I want to hear the 13 songs that you would like to hear us play on the first tour and the 5 songs that you don't want to hear us play." And basically I got all the lists within an hour…it was amazing. We made a setlist from that and predominantly it's from Psalm 9 and The Skull. So we decided to do the majority of those songs and there's a couple of later songs from Plastic Green Head. We want to do a couple off of that because that's the only record all three of us actually played on together. Which is pretty trippy. I just scratch my head [when I] think about that. So we're gonna concentrate on the first two records and maybe pull out "Last Judgement", the song that the band got signed to Metal Blade with…it was on Metal Massacre [IV]. We're just gonna add a little bit here and there each time, just to change it up. That's one of the complaints we always got was that Trouble played the same songs all the time, so we want to change that aspect of it.
JO: And then all of the heavy doom side of any of the other albums. Maybe the unusual songs that haven’t been heard for a long while from Manic and mainly Plastic Green Head. Some super heavy songs that we just didn’t do live that are on that…”Opium - Eater”, “Another Day”, things like that maybe. What’s fun is Eric’s got freedom to really enjoy this [and] to create the setlists. I like giving him that part of it. He’s real creative and it makes it fun to change it. It used to drive us kind of [crazy]…”aw, we’re changing it again?” **Laughs** I kind of like that now. It’s a whole new way of looking at Trouble. Let’s change it up for people so they can hear songs that they maybe have never heard before.
EW: At first it was kind of like…let's just do the old shit. And then we were like, well [the fans] probably want to hear a little bit of everything. But you know, [Trouble] does that stuff so I think we're back to concentrating on the first two records and probably a couple off of Plastic Green Head. Some of the guys [in Trouble] never really wanted to do that old stuff anymore…with seven records, we had a lot of material. But it's been kind of fun listening to those songs again and learning them. There's a couple that we're doing that we probably haven't done in 25 years. We just thought maybe people would like to hear that again and that would set us apart from Trouble because they don't do that stuff. We wanted to be our own [thing]. Even though we're using the old Trouble songs as a spring board and everything, I wanted The Skull to have its own identity, separate from [Trouble]. So I think we're doing it, I think that's what's going on right now and we've been getting a lot of good response from it and a lot of exciting things are happening.
HP: Any chance we'll get to hear The Skull played in it's entirety?
EW: We've been talking about that. That’s something I always wanted to do. Even a long time ago I said "man that would be so cool to play that record in its entirety"…like 20 years ago. We never really did it, but we’ve been knocking that around. At first we’re just gonna do stuff from both records [Psalm 9 and The Skull], but eventually I think, at least once, I’d like to do that. Especially “The Wish”. In its entirety? I’ve been dying to do that! I know people would love it. I’d even freak out about it.
HP: Eric, you mentioned possibly doing a record. Is that in the works? Do you think The Skull will record or write music together?
EW: Well we’re kind of talking about it. I mean obviously it is a progression and it would be good to do that. [Again], that’s my favorite part about being in a band anyway is writing music and making a record. I love starting from nothing and creating something like that. So we’ve been talking about it and everybody has been writing on their own. We’ll see what happens. We’re taking this one step at a time, making sure that we’re making all the right decisions. But I would love to and hopefully that’ll all work out.
JO: Another thing that’s making this really a blast is Eric likes to focus more on creating new music, it's one of his favorite things to do. I mean he’s a producer in the Chicago area. It’s just what he loves to do. Him and [long time Trouble producer] Vinny Wojno, those two love creating music and laying down tracks. And we love to write music, so it’s great. I’d say we might like the studio thing a little more [than playing live]. We need that. We need to do something fresh for people that have always liked Trouble's music. We want to make sure that it’s still heavy and exciting and that it has quality.
RH: [Recording] came into play recently too when we were going to have guest guitar players join us. We started to think about the long term of this and executing together and doing a record. We [decided to] get two guys that we are gonna have throughout the whole thing. That's another reason we wanted to get Michael [Carpenter]. But yeah, Eric called me at 6:30 this morning and he's like "dude, dude let's start writing" and I'm like "dude…let me get my coffee man." He's ready to write a record right now. He said he's got four or five songs close and I'm like "okay, slow down." But yeah, as you can see the enthusiasm for doing a record is there and its gonna happen. **Laughs**
HP: I'm excited to hear new music from you guys.
RH: It's gonna be good because we're playing the first two records [live] and we'll have that style integrated into what we're doing and in our minds. So writing new stuff, it's just naturally gonna come out sounding like those two records. Each section of the Trouble years that we picked to concentrate and play music from, it's gonna affect the writing. So this record might be kind of like a mish mash of the whole Trouble career. So it should make everybody happy. And who knows what guests we're gonna have play with us on the record, which we're definitely gonna make happen. Maybe Bruce will want to jam with us by then. Who knows what's gonna happen down the road. We're open and ready to rock.
HP: You’ve announced a handful of dates that you’re going to be playing, mostly festivals here in the US and in Germany. Are there plans for a full scale tour?
EW: We’re probably going to fill in a couple of things around those dates. I don’t see us going out on tour for the next year or anything like that. The one in Germany in July is a one off and we’re gonna do a Chicago date before that.
RH: There's two in Germany actually, two different festivals. The Hammer of Doom Fest and the Hell's Pleasure Fest…which sounds interesting. I think one is with Angel Witch and the other one I think we're playing with Pentagram, which I'm ecstatic. I have two Chicago area shows that we haven't listed yet that will probably be going up within the next week.
EW: The Days of the Doomed Fest in June is more like a one off, but in September when we do SHoD [Stoner Hands of Doom] Fest, there will be some other dates around that and the same in November with Hammer of Doom in Germany. We were a little late for a lot of the festivals this year, so next year we’re planning on doing a lot of stuff too.
JO: For us, “full” [tours] are ten date kind of jaunts. [We'll do] a couple warm ups before we fly over to Germany in July. It gets us practicing together with the new guitar players. It’s gonna be cool.
HP: I'm local to the DC/Maryland area so I'm hoping you guys come my way.
RH: That's one of them. I'm checking into the Sonar [Baltimore]. What I suggested was to have The Skull, Iron Man, Earthen Grave and Earthride. To me that would be a fun show at the Sonar, don't you think?
HP: That would be fantastic.
RH: Well we'll see if that happens. That's what I'm working on. I don't know if its gonna happen, but that's the show I'd like to have. But we definitely want to play what we call the doom capitol of the world and that's the Washington DC area. Everybody knows what DC stands for. **Laughs**
EW: It’s really ironic, I remember going there…I don’t know if it was Baltimore or DC where we actually played in '85 with The Skull album. And we were kind of freaking out when we got there because it was definitely the doom capitol of the United States right then. So when the SHoD Fest came about, I kept telling the guys we have to book a show down there. Definitely…so that’s one of them we’re working on. Cleveland would be another one since that was one of our best cities too.
JO: When we went down there [to DC], we were surprised…boy were we surprised. We played with The Obsessed…man…a lot of people were at that show. What a great place. It's just a very powerful heavy metal place, punk place…you know Bad Brains…Fugazi…even Grohl coming out of there…and just…what a place that part of the U.S. is.
HP: One of the things that I think is cool is that you guys are scheduling shows that feature The Skull in addition to your other bands. At the Days of the Doomed Fest, Blackfinger is gonna be there as well as Earthen Grave. And up in Connecticut at SHoD, Retro Grave is gonna play. Can you talk a little about your other projects?
EW: Yeah, I’m hoping to have [the Blackfinger album available] for download in April. It’s just about finished being mixed, so I’m hoping that it’s out in April. I’d like to get it out. I’ve been working on it for a little over four years now from starting to write to putting the guys together. The album's coming out next month and we’ll probably do some shows. I don’t know if we’ll tour with it.
HP: Was there ever any talk about having the two guitar players from Blackfinger join you in The Skull?
EW: No, not really, they’re different. And I’m not so sure with their work and family situations if they can tour. At first [Blackfinger] just started out being an album, a project, but we have done a few shows with it and so far we’ve gotten a good response so I’m hoping by Days of the Doomed Fest it’ll be out and people will know the songs.
HP: I heard the one song ”All the Leaves are Brown” and I like it a lot.
EW: Yeah, cool…thank you.
RH: Well Earthen Grave is my priority like Blackfinger is Eric's priority and Retro Grave is Jeff's priority. And we're just doing The Skull as added fun. So yeah all those bands, we all have records coming out. Blackfinger's record is coming out. Earthen Grave, I'm putting out on my own label as a matter of fact. We're releasing it next month, so I'll send you all kinds of details for your website. Do you do reviews?
RH: I'll send you a cd, you'll dig it. We have Rachel Barton Pine, the classical violinist playing with us, playing metal [on an] electric violin…it's crazy. So we're trying to keep the bands inter-joined. When we start distancing them, it becomes a problem, but when we keep it together it makes it a smooth, nice working environment. When you start to separate it, you feel like you're cheating on your girlfriend and you feel guilty for playing with your band. Like the other day, Jason (the guitar player from Earthen Grave) and I were doing artwork for the record that we're doing and the guitar player from my other band, My Cold Dead Hand, walked in. Then I got a conference call from Eric and Oly at the same time. So I'm talking to Eric and Oly and my two guitar players from other bands are there…man, I felt really dirty at that moment. **Laughs** I'm gonna see if I can get Earthen Grave to play a couple of the shows going up to the SHoD Fest and then we can ride out with Retro Grave at the end of it. We're [also] gonna jam with Blackfinger. And we're doing a show with Sacred Dawn as a matter of fact...in Chicago. I guess we are including all of the bands.
HP: Other than Earthen Grave, you have another band called My Cold Dead Hand?
RH: Yeah its a darker kind of a thing. I jam with a guy from a band called Wicker Man, the singer/guitar player. It's like a Nick Cave meets…not Bauhaus…man, it's just dark. Its doomy but its more musical. We have that record done and I'll probably put that out on my record label as well as soon as I get done with the Earthen Grave one.
HP: Jeff, you have another band, or duo to be exact called Retro Grave.
JO: Yeah Retro Grave is fun. I started it with a wine maker guy [Paull Goodchild] when I was making champagne down in Massachusetts. I started it a long time ago, writing lyrics that were kind of witty and funny and doomy. And then I just started writing music over the top of that, just by myself, so the first EP is all me except for one guest on there, a guy from [the band] Planet Gemini called H from New Bedford, Mass...a really nice guy. Great, doomy band. And he helped me kind of finish my project rather than it sitting around all the time. But the lyric writer [Goodchild] is almost like the silent third member of the band. He helps make decisions lyrically and he’s really funny. We tried to do it with a full band but it just didn’t have the feel that was unique and different. So we made it a duo, with just Michael Leonard Maiewski [on guitar]…who we call Onion. **Laughs** He just has that way of moving around the pedal board and all these different amps…one thing hooked to another, and it sounds like a bass player, a lead guitar player, a rhythm guitar...and its one dude doing it! Man it’s tight and the sound that we have...people haven’t heard it yet because it has a live sound that is so much heavier than what I tried to do by myself using a direct amp. I tuned low and I had heavy implications, but a lot of my progressive, classical and jazz sides came out a little bit. **Laughs** People thought the albums were a little too experimental and maybe too mellow, but I kind of like dynamics. I like things to get mellow and weird and I like obscure things. This album we’re working on is called Skullduggery and right now there’s over 25 songs we’ve gotta hone down into an LP...we have to cut a lot.
HP: It sounds really cool, so in a live setting it’s just the two of you?
JO: Yes. It’s loud...it’s screaming. It’s like if you go see Sunn O))) or Jucifer or those kinds of duos. It’s similar in lineup that way, as far as power goes. It’s easy, I sing and drum and I do a little guitar work with feedback...sort of the Type O Negative kind of thing. I do a little creative work with the sustainer [on my guitar] and so we actually have a cool, two guitar, spacey sound during parts of the show. And Onion’s band Stasis will also be performing [at SHoD]...you get to see the two versions of that. You get to see Retro Grave, Stasis and you get to see The Skull. It’s too bad Blackfinger and Earthen Grave couldn’t be at those [shows] too, because then you’d get to see [them all]. They are different bands too, all the styles are completely different from each other.
HP: Speaking of different styles, in my mind Trouble went through three different eras so to speak. You had those first few albums with Psalm 9, The Skull and Run to the Light and then there was the 90’s with the self-titled record, Manic Frustration and Plastic Green Head and then finally there was the most recent era with Simple Mind Condition. Within that scope, what is your favorite era or album by Trouble?
JO: **Laughs** I love that question. I really love Run to the Light and I wasn’t on it. But you have to understand, we used to play a lot of those songs [during] The Skull era. You know, not "Piece of Mind" and not Tuesday, but the beginning ["The Misery Shows"], I played that live and I loved playing that as a drummer. I used to have keyboards behind the drums…kind of a thing we would do for sound effects in between. Yeah, the answer to that is probably not what you would think. I really would love to have been in a solid production of Run to the Light. I wish I wouldn’t have missed that. It’s kind of my regretted missed album.
RH: We're probably gonna tackle [Run to the Light] down the road also because a lot of people want to hear those songs.
EW: Each era was good. I don’t know if I really have a favorite. Probably the biggest era of it was the two on Def American [self-titled and Manic Frustration]. We toured with Pantera and all kinds of people. So that was probably the biggest stage of it. And I always wanted to grow too. People always ask me, are you gonna make another album like The Skull? And how can I? We can’t. At least for me, writing lyrics, that time in my life is over and this is now. [The time] between Plastic Green Head in '95 and Simple Mind Condition was what, 12 years? There’s a lot that happened in those 12 years. I can’t speak for everybody, but at least for me, I never wrote a certain way or sat down and said I’m gonna write like this, it’s just what came out and what was going on in my life at that particular time. So obviously it’s gonna make them all different.
RH: It's hard because of my positioning, being in the background but working for them on the first two records. But the whole part of The Skull was just incredible. Just watching them put that record together and record it, they didn't even realize what they were doing [at the time]. I'm [thinking] "this is incredible" and these guys are just going "eh" like all nonchalant. They're just regular dudes rocking out. So that record is really special to me. The Def American ones…I was on them, but that whole part of our lives was just…you know…touring so much, videos, the whole thing, it was just incredible. And Green Head was a weird time but as I've been listening to it lately I [think] "man it was a lot better than I remembered."
HP: It aged really well didn't it?
RH: Yeah it holds up really well and I'm like "God this was pretty damn good."
HP: Ron, you kind of answered my next question. I believe you joined Trouble back in 1986 right after The Skull was released and I was gonna ask how you knew Eric and Jeff?
RH: It was around that time because I was actually working for them. I was with them on the whole Skull tour and the recording sessions. Sean [McAllister] actually used my bass on that record which is pretty funny. **Laughs** So I was kind of part of the family for years. I think it was '86, I think you're right. I met Oly first, years ago. I went to high school with their number one roadie and he told me "man you gotta check out this band, because you love Sabbath, I know you'd like them." And he turned me onto [Trouble], but I didn't meet them until a concert [when] he introduced me to Oly. We hit it off right away, because how can you not like Oly? He's the funniest, nicest person in the world. It might have been at a Mountain concert I do believe, but my memory is for shit. **Laughs** But then I got brought in and I went to see them and met everybody and just started working for them.
HP: During your time in the band, you played with four different drummers, so as the bass player and part of the rhythm section, was it difficult to adjust to each of them?
RH: Not so much, to me it seemed pretty natural and easy. My brother was a drummer growing up and he was really into progressive drummers like King Crimson and Yes and stuff like that which was really complex. I'd hear him playing that stuff all the time and pretty much it was in my head, all these weird ways of playing. So to me, it didn't seem like that drastic of a difference. My knowledge and just inner playing ability kind of meshed with whatever drummer, so it was never a problem. Barry [Stern] was really hyper, we always had to try to slow him down a little bit because he'd get excited. **Laughs** Which is okay. But Jeff and Barry, I'm so happy to have been able to play with two drummers like that in my career. [They are] two of the best metal drummers there ever was, so I'm pretty damn lucky. They were the shit.
JO: Barry is an extraordinary drummer…like talented. Me…I have to plot it out and rehearse like crazy and then finally I’m tight and then strong. I’m a different type of drummer. [With] Barry, it just comes right out unbelievable, it just flies out of him. Great drummer.
HP: Jeff you live in Maine. How did you come to be in a band from Chicago?
JO: I lived [in Chicago] from 1967 through the 80’s. I went to high school with Bruce, so I would go see their band Wise Crack and I played hockey with Bruce and rode dirt bikes and goofed around and hung out with their band. Eric sang for them and then they followed an ad and joined Trouble. I was in a [different] band and they asked me to come and fill in and I’ve been there ever since. And the history goes on. **Laughs** But I moved back to New England [because] I was born out here. And this is where I work with Retro Grave and my little show, Heady Metal and I work at a brewery, Allagash Brewing Company.
HP: That's good beer…what do you do with Allagash?
JO: I ship all the beer to all of our distribution [sites] throughout the U.S. They’re only located in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and then the whole Eastern seaboard. That job is just awesome, it’s a career for me other than teaching music. Once I got out of Berkley I was always with either wine or beer companies. I’ve never been ashamed of work other than music. Some people felt they didn’t really make it as a musician because they have to work, but you have to sometimes. [There are] people you wouldn’t believe have jobs out there…the guys from Paradise Lost...they have regular working jobs and then they go and do all those tours and their music never wanes because of it.
HP: Tell me about Heady Metal.
JO: We [Jeff and his wife Leigh] created that to try and keep in the lime [light] so that we don’t just disintegrate. It’s hard to promote yourself these days. There’s tons and tons and tons of music out there.
HP: You’re so right, it’s unbelievable.
JO: There’s a fast pace, you almost have to make news everyday. Leigh manages and does everything for me and keeps me in line. It just makes it so much easier that I can focus on the music or I can focus on the interviews and do all my editing in Pro Tools and stuff. We started out thinking we needed to be on a radio station, so we went on Metal Messiah radio, which was awesome...it was really cool. And then we decided that maybe we should be a little more pro and create a blog. I get to interview some of my favorite musicians. I can’t tell you...I’m sure this feels the same with you in a way, but isn’t it exciting to talk to people who…you’ve loved their albums your whole life? It’s kind of freaky isn’t it? **Laughs**
HP: Yeah it’s unbelievable. In fact at the end of last year when the Kyuss Lives! thing had just kicked off, I got to talk to Brant Bjork who..well…I love Kyuss so when I called him up I got all nervous because I can’t believe I’m about to talk to Brant Bjork, you know? But you have to be able to hold it together and ask the questions.
JO: **Laughs** I love that. That’s one of the most fun parts of this whole thing. I get so nervous. I run around waiting. Especially like today I had to call you.
HP: I’ll give it to you, Eric and Ron though, you were all right on time, which makes it a lot less nerve racking. **Laughs**
RH: I guess we're doing better then. Turned over a new leaf and we're starting to do everything the right way. **Laughs**
HP: Well listen, we're real excited to hear new music from The Skull and definitely to see the shows when you guys start this tour.
EW: Cool, we’ll have a beer. Good talking to you dude.
JO: It's great talking to you. Call or write anytime, its fine with us.
RH: Toby thanks and you take care man.
The Skull will be appearing at the following locations, but be sure to keep an eye on their website and Facebook page for more shows to be announced soon. Also, don't forget to check out the music of Earthen Grave, Blackfinger and Retro Grave and if you want to hear some killer interviews and all sorts of other cool stuff, head on over to Heady Metal with Jeff Olson.
June 16 - Days of the Doomed Festival - Cudahy, Wisconsin
July 14 - Reggie's Rock Club - Chicago, Illinois
July 21 - Hell's Pleasure Festival - Pößneck, Germany
September 1 - Stoner Hands of Doom Festival - New London, Connecticut
November 10 - Hammer of Doom Festival - Würzburg, Germany
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