So Joe, "Crawling Chaos" was out a few months back. Has the response from fans been as you had expected it to be or maybe better or worse?
I had really high hopes for the album right from the very start, especially once I got a good idea of what the final mix would sound like; and the feedback from fans hasn't disappointed at all. The responses from metalheads all the way around has been as good or better than I had hoped. I talk to a lot of metal fans who I've never talked to before while I'm doing promo, and I honestly can't remember hearing any negative comment from any fan!
Your previous album "Overture to Madness" was a bit thrashier, while on the new one you seem to have gone back a little bit, to the earlier Axemaster style. Was it a conscious decision or did the songs just turn out this way?
I totally agree about the feel of those albums. We never planned to make "Chaos" sound any different than "Overture", it just ended up that way. We just wrote stuff we liked and never thought about the style other than that it was all metal! Hell, even though I knew the tunes from the 2 albums felt different, I didn't realize exactly what the difference was until I listened to the first mixes of "Chaos". I dig the feel of both albums, but given how well the old Axemaster stuff is still going over, it's not surprising that the fans have been into "Chaos" the way they have.
I think you were the sole songwriter on some of the previous releases. Was it the case this time around as well? Were the other guys involved in the song-writing in any capacity?
For the older releases, I wrote like 90% of the music and over half the lyrics. But since he joined in 2014, our singer Geoff McGraw has written all the lyrics. He's better than I am at phrasing and creating hooks, probably with words too, so it works out great. I wrote all the music and arranged all the tunes on "Overture", but everyone was involved in writing the music for "Chaos". I wrote most of the riffs, but Geoff, our bass player Jim Curtis, and drummer Denny Archer, were all part of choosing which riffs to use, writing bridges, doing arrangements, beginnings, and endings, and even how I played a couple of the riffs timing-wise. Unfortunately, our other lead player, Damin Bennett, didn't join the band until after all the songs for "Chaos" were basically written. But he still contributed by writing some different guitar parts to go with mine, some killer leads, and wrote and played everything on the instrumental on the album.
The album was produced by Rick Fuller, who's worked with such names as Type O Negative, Prong or Kiss. So, how was it to work in studio with such an experienced guy?
It was fucking awesome! I'm kind of a producer myself; I produced, recorded, mixed and mastered everything on "Overture" in my home studio. That made it even more kick ass to work with Rick because he's a hell of a guy and taught me a lot about studio production. What was very cool is that he never talked down to me or acted like he was better than me because he has so much more experience and has worked with bigger name bands (even though he is better than me, by a lot ha-ha!). And what was mega cool is that he was always willing to try any idea I had, and most of my ideas actually worked out well. The album came out sounding better than any I have ever been a part of, so it was a great experience all the way around!
Based on the title of the album and the cover art I assume you're a fan of the master of dark literature H. P. Lovecraft?
Like all the newer tunes, Geoff wrote the words to the song "Crawling Chaos" which is about the H.P. Lovecraft character Cthulhu. When we made it the title track, the theme of the cover art was a no-brainer. Honestly, I only know the basics about Lovecraft's work, but Geoff is a big fan; "Chaos" isn't the first Axemaster song he's written that's influenced or based on Lovecraft's work.
The album is quite varied, but if you had to pick one song that would be representative for this release, which one would it be?
You're right, for the most part all the songs on the album have slightly different "feels". We tried to make the tunes sound as different as possible while still being basically the same overall style. Keeping that in mind, to me, the title track "Crawling Chaos" is the most representative tune. There's a lot going on in that, some clean guitar, different speeds, mostly a traditional metal sound but also a little thrashy/chunky guitar, both me and Damin have solos plus there's a dual lead, great melodic vocals, a cool bass line, sound effects, and is kinda complex. Outside of Damin's killer instrumental which kind of stands alone and breaks up the album really well, all the songs have some of the elements that are in "CC".
When you first got into music as a kid you played bass. Why did you switch to guitar?
From when I first started playing bass, even though I didn't know what the hell I was doing, I wrote my own songs. I actually didn't even learn a cover song until I'd been playing guitar for a few years. Anyway, later on I realized how many different things you can do on a guitar and thought I could do a lot more with my songwriting if I switched. So I started playing guitar, loved it, and never looked back!
There's always been a lot of Black Sabbath echoes to be heard in your songs. Were the Birmingham gods the reason you started to create your own music?
Believe it or not, when I first started writing tunes I had never even heard Sabbath. I actually hadn't heard much, I was a major Kiss fan and that was pretty much all the hard rock/metal I knew about for the first couple years I played bass. Sabbath came a few years later, a year or 2 before I started Axemaster. I heard the "Heaven and Hell" album and was hooked! From then on I started writing more and more in the Tony Iommi inspired dark style that my tunes have become known for.
You've had a couple of other bands with various Axemaster musicians, including The Awakening and Inner Terror. Why didn't you just keep going as Axemaster?
I was a stupid-ass to agree to the change to The Awakening, that was a lot worse than the later change to Inner Terror. The Awakening came about because none of the other guys wanted us to be called Axemaster for a number of reasons. After they bitched a while, I chose to go ahead and change the name rather than deal with the internal band problems. What was just as bad was that I let the guys also talk me into playing covers and making our songs lighter and more commercial. I was so damned stupid! The Inner Terror thing was far different. In 2006 the original line-up got back together and I promoted Axemaster being back, but we didn't do any shows or record any new releases, really didn't do much of anything outside of my promo. After a little while, for reasons I won't get into here, we got a new singer and bass player. We were originally gonna stay Axemaster, but the singer really wanted it to be a brand new project, so after a while I agreed to change the name. Probably was for the best anyway because that "band" was really just a studio project for one CD. Hell, there was only one time that all the guys who played on that album were all together in one place!
In the current line-up there are no guys who started the band with you or played on the early releases. Are you still in touch with any of them? Are they still doing music?
Actually, the original Axemaster drummer played on "Overture", but Denny replaced him in 2014. Brian and I are cool, but we don't really talk. I'm cooler with the original singer/bassist, and the guy who replaced him on bass; we talk every once in a while. The last I knew, all 3 of those guys are still involved in music to different degrees, but none are doing anything major. The singer from like 1988-90 actually died last summer. Even though I hadn't talked to him for a long time, I still felt really bad and was sad about it. I haven't talked to the other 2 ex-members for an awfully long time either. From what I've heard, they aren't doing music anymore.
Your debut album was re-issued on double-LP last year, 30 years after its original release. Was it your or your label's idea?
Actually we both had the same idea! A guy from a small label wrote me and asked if I was interested in his label re-releasing our old stuff on vinyl. I was really into doing it, but being under contract to Pure Steel, I had to get their permission first. So, I contacted one of the main people at PS and asked him about it, and he said that PS was planning to do the exact same thing! Of course I wanted to go with our label, so it worked out perfect! It was my idea to make it a 2 record set though. I kept requesting they do that and include the tunes from "5 Demons", so cool that they did all I asked! Everything about the release is fucking awesome, from the graphics to the re-mastering of the songs, totally top of the line work!
Any chance to see Axemaster live in Europe anytime soon? It's about time I would say?
You're right, it's surely about time! The only reason Axemaster hasn't played Europe has been cash. We've had offers for both Europe and South America, but the deals didn't make sense for a number of reasons, mainly financial. Hopefully we can get something together to play there soon, it's something I've really wanted to do for a long time!