In 1986, Heir Apparent released their debut-album 'Graceful Inheritance'. To me that on is still a classic metal album, though you scared me shitless with that needle-scratch thing at the end of side one....
Ha-ha!! I was envisioning people listening to the vinyl album for the first time, and freaking out when the needle scratched. We put a bit of reverb on it so people would know it wasn't a defective record when they listened the second time. It's a signal to get off the couch and play side two hehehe. Black Dragon thought it was a mistake in the master tape, they asked me if they could remove it... NO!
The record was released on Black Dragon Records, filled with progressive metal. You weren't fond of the contract with Black Dragon I suppose?
Actually, the contract with Black Dragon was fine. But, there were indications that they were not dealing in our best interests by the time we arrived in Paris for the 1986 tour. I could spend a lot of time giving you specific examples of everything, but I don't want to bore your readers with details. Suffice it to say that we wanted a good relationship with Black Dragon until they started to breach the contract. Our attorney attempted to resolve the issues, but Black Dragon refused to comply. So, after citing several contract breaches, we terminated the deal in September of 1986. Unfortunately, Black Dragon continued to manufacture, sell, and license the album illegally for several years thereafter. Metal Hammer in Greece continued the ignorance of the terminated contract when they released “Graceful Inheritance” within their magazine issue in the late 90's. It seems that anyone who feels they can get away with it is allowed to make money from our music except us. When I approached Metal Hammer-Greece with the facts and legal issues, they ignored me as well. This is just another symptom of a serious problem with the music business, when a promotional company can defraud a band they supposedly exist to promote and benefit, and there is no recourse or justice. To make a long story short, Heir Apparent has never received one dollar (our contract royalty per unit sold) from any version of 'Graceful Inheritance' that Black Dragon manufactured, sold, or licensed to others. In fact, the first time I ever saw a dime from my music was when I signed with Hellion Records to reissue the album in 1999. Sorry to start this interview off on such a negative view, but you asked…
To promote 'Graceful Inheritance', the band toured Europe with Savage Grace. I assume you will never forget this tour?
You're right, I will never forget that experience. Well, parts of it are a bit foggy after all these years. I had a great time, and I never wanted it to end. If not for the tour happening during the World Cup, we might have made a larger impact. Still, it was a very encouraging experience for us. It was great to hang out in the crowd during Savage Grace's set and meet the people. We had never played for audiences that knew our songs before. It's a great feeling to have people singing your songs to you as you play! The album was not released in the US, so it was kind of depressing to come home and look for a job with two months rent past due.
Fun fact: Is it true that on that European tour you brought along an electric drumkit that needed 110 volts, and nobody told you that in the Netherlands you only have 220 Volts? So you ended up using some old 'normal' kit that happened to be around? Some guy who saw your show in Katwijk told me that tale years ago, always wondered if it was true...
Well, this is an example of one of the many things that Black Dragon didn't take care of as part of their responsibilities for the tour. We brought all of our own equipment, so that we had the amps and effects necessary to duplicate our album accurately, including electronic drums. Black Dragon was supposed to make sure there was a 220/110 voltage converter at every show. The problem was that Agnes and Michel DesGranges favored Savage Grace. They were upset that our first album was outshining Savage Grace's second, and they were upset that we might upstage their "headliner". We showed up at Katwijk, and there was no converter. So, we played the show totally raw, like a punk band: We plugged straight into the amps with no effects, used a basic drum kit, and we wore t-shirts and levi's. It was our "thrash" night. I was disappointed that we couldn't represent our music properly to the fans. So, the following day I went to a hardware store in Amsterdam and spent $220 on a voltage converter to make sure we'd always have one available for the rest of the tour. By the end of the tour in Germany, Savage Grace was the opening act… Back in Paris, before the shows in Holland, Heir Apparent was asked to open for Black Sabbath, but Michel DesGranges told the promoter that he couldn't have us unless Savage Grace played too. They didn't want Savage Grace, so we lost a great opportunity. That is another example of Black Dragon screwing up our chances. Man, that would have been a fantastic experience! I could tell you many other things about events on that tour, but it would fill a book…
After this tour you briefly lost bass player Derek Peace to touring partners Savage Grace, but he rejoined very soon. Why was that?
Although Derek and I had been playing in several bands together since 1981, Derek was always looking out for himself, with one foot out the door. He was attracted to Savage Grace because of their touring connections, and evidently a life of debauchery in L.A. Savage Grace never showed much of a future, so Derek returned to Seattle to rejoin us at the insistence of our drummer, Ray. After we began getting interest from our new demos that we'd recorded with a different bassist.
Also vocalist Paul Davidson left the band after touring Europe. It took him thirteen years to return to Heir Apparent. Unfortunately shortly after the Wacken Open Air gig in 2000, where vocal duties were passed on to Michael Flatters...
Just so your readers understand, let me point out that Heir Apparent disbanded in 1989. I was asked to reunite the band to perform at Wacken in 2000 to support the album reissues. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate Paul prior to the Wacken show. Michael was brought into the reunion project by Ray and Derek. They knew him from their grunge band days in the mid-90's. The reunion was not what I'd hoped it would be. We'd only rehearsed a dozen times before the concert, and I couldn't even get them to play a warm-up show in Seattle beforehand. So, I knew the reunion band line-up was dead before we even got on the plane. But, considering we hadn't played a show, or seen each other for 11 years, it was OK. I finally found Paul two weeks after we returned home. He informed me that he had contacted Ray months earlier, and that he could have completed the original line-up for the concert, but Ray never told me that he knew where Paul was the whole time… Paul continued to work with me in reforming the band during 2001, but his family life and health wouldn't allow him to continue in 2002.
Black Dragon dropped the band because of the instability in the line-up?
That is not true at all. It's hilarious! The idea that anyone would even attempt to spread that falsehood is amazing. As I explained earlier, we severed the relationship with Black Dragon due to their breaches of contract. A month afterward, they released 'Graceful Inheritance' on CD in total disregard of the law.
Metal Blade Records released the second album 'One Small Voice' in 1989, but you re-released it in 2000. The album now has undergone a complete remix and remastering by you. Especially the guitars sound better than ever before. Was the lame guitar sound the reason to remix the album?
Actually, I could never locate the master tapes. Evidently they had been stolen. So, I took my only copy of the original CD (which I bought for fifteen dollars in a record store a month after it was released), and I digitally remastered the CD using “Cakewalk Pro Audio 9” in my computer. I enhanced everything that I could in terms of sound quality and fullness to the whole mix, and I re-tracked identical guitar parts to layer into the songs that needed more balls in the mix. I didn't want to make the guitars dominate, just bring them up to the volume they should have been in the first place. Considering what I had to work with, I think the results are good.
Things went wrong after 'One Small Voice'. The reviews were worse, no tours, the Seattle musical climate changed into grunge. The band was disbanded after this album?
The band was disintegrating during the recording of the album. There were personality conflicts, problems with money and commitment, and many external forces that were pulling us apart. The album was too self-indulgent, too many layers of keyboards and vocals, and the production didn't represent the real power of the music. Even so, I think the album is much more appreciated today than it was in 1989. Things can change fast in the music industry. Something to keep in perspective is that because we were independent, without money or a US record deal early on, the songs that were written in 1983-84 weren't released until 1986. And, songs written in 1987 weren't released until 1989. Removing those years of delay could have made a HUGE difference in the general reception and reaction of what we were doing at the time. We would have avoided most of the negative “Queensryche clone” garbage if we had been fortunate enough to record and release the material from both albums two years earlier. We also could have been ahead of the grunge movement far enough to establish ourselves and withstand the change, continuing forward. As it was, without management or big money, we accomplished quite a lot by ourselves. It was great while it lasted.
In 1999, Hellion Records released 'Triad'. This music was never meant to be released. Why was it released anyway?
I released 'Triad' to provide our fans with an example of what the band sounded like in a real live situation. 90% of that CD is a stereo recording of a typical day of rehearsal. The live tracks have no overdubs. The other two tracks are from the demo that we used to promote Steve Benito as our new singer in 1987. I did it for the fans who were asking for everything they could get their hands on… Also, to defeat the bootleggers who had been selling very poor sounding and mislabeled tapes and CD's for twenty dollars. Considering this era of sloppy bands and simple songs, with singers using Auto-Tune, I think that 'Triad' is a decent and honest example of what fans would have heard from us in concert at that time. There are some quirks, and some mistakes, and also some special moments where we were just jamming through unfinished songs and we pulled it off. Like you said earlier, this recording was never meant to be released and we wouldn't dream of releasing it back then. But now, compared to many bands I hear play live today, I think the performances on 'Triad' kick ass.
Hellion also re-released 'Graceful Inheritance' that year with a different cover. Was this the original cover artwork?
I couldn't locate the artist (Matt Bazemore – artist of Queensryche's 'Warning' album – and almost our drummer in 1984) to get the final painting I'd commissioned for use in 1985, but I had a very early watercolor that Matt had quickly painted from an idea of mine in 1984, so I used it. I supplied the artwork for the Hellion releases because it was a low-budget project. I didn't have $1500 to buy album art. So, in honor to Matt, I used his watercolor. Now that the Hellion reissues have sold-out, I might finally get a chance to release 'Graceful Inheritance' with its originally planned artwork at some time in the future… or if there is ever a U.S. release.
This re-release gave the opportunity to play the already mentioned Wacken festival. It must have been quite a kick to perform there?
Playing at Wacken was an honor. But, I look forward to bringing a new and better band to Wacken in the future.
You still are busy with the band every day in your life. Re-releasing albums, releasing video cd's, practicing. What can we expect in the near future?
Actually, the band has been on hiatus for about six months now. I'm building a rehearsal/recording room at my house. I hope to have the studio completed by next summer. I'll be looking for players who want to share the dream at that time. It's been very difficult to find decent players in the Seattle area for the past four years. And, finding people who are willing to make the effort to learn Heir Apparent material is even more difficult. The band as it existed in April of 2004 was as good as it's ever been. But, we all have jobs, kids, and families with divergent priorities. I will play and record something, no matter what, and I will release it. I'm just not sure if it will be called Heir Apparent unless I can find musicians and a vocalist capable of presenting the songs accurately.
What's the current Heir Apparent line-up?
Today? Only me, but that's all there was in 1983 when I started as well. I'll get busy when my studio is complete.
Any famous last words?
I'm afraid to say anything that could be remotely construed as “famous” in fear that they may truly be my last words… I'd like to say thanks to all your readers, and thanks for the support of our fans through all these years. Your patience will be rewarded if I have anything to say about it. I'm doing my best to write music and form a band to be proud of.