Fischel's Beast is a new branch from Sentinel Beast, a band that made a name with their 1986 album release 'Depths Of Death'. But before we talk about the new beast, can you tell us fist what role Sentinel Beast played in the metal scene back in the day?
I don't know how much of a 'role' we played back then - but I'm always grateful and a bit humbled at how there are still many people that remember and speak highly about the 'Depths Of Death' album. I suppose if there was something 'influential' or unique about the group at that time was that we were one of the first thrash bands to feature a FEMALE vocalist (Debbie Gunn). True, there was Dawn Crosby from Detente - but her voice was a bit more harsh sounding than Debbie's. As I was answering this question I actually did some research and I had forgotten that Detente was on the Metal Blade Metal Massacre VII compilation album.
Barry, after the split with Sentinel Beast, you did many things that had nothing to do with metal, including spending three years in The Netherlands smoking in a coffee shop according to some. Is that correct? The info about that period seems to be kept a bit secret.
Actually - you're not the first to ask about my hiatus from music. It's true, I did leave metal and in fact, the entire music scene altogether and had some interesting 'diversions' when I left Sentinel Beast. My first diversion was becoming a devotee a Gurumayi Chidvilasananda - a teacher of Indian Philosphy and Yoga.
I had become aware of her through my Father who was a devotee of hers all through my teenage years. There was a time when I had all of Sentinel Beast over my Dad's house - we were hanging out by the pool - eating marijuana brownies - and writing down our goals for the future. My Dad asked if we'd be interested in watching a Gurumayi video and we all watched. Scott Awes got angry that I made him watch such thing - Debbie said she didn't understand anything that Gurumayi was talking about and Manny (the bassist who had replaced Mike Spencer) thought that she may have actually been an alien from another planet and Mark Koyasako said he actually found it interesting and said he might like meeting her. I found it very interesting, and felt a real connection to her and that's when I started wanting to know more. Shortly after that she came to an Ashram in Oakland, CA for three weeks. During the week she ran an open to the public program, which consisted of meditation, chanting and 'darshan' (a chance to meet her interact with her on a one to one basis). On the weekends she would run 'intensive' program - which you could only take by signing up and paying. I went to ALL of the open programs and attended one of the intensive programs as well. After that - I sold allof my my metal music gear - guitars, Marshall amps, etc and bought an acoustic guitar. I guess I figured I'd become the next Cat Stevens. I ended up spending quite a bit of time following her and that summer I spent six weeks at her Ashram in the Catskill Mountains of New York, and shortly after that followed her to India for three months. After this, Gurumayi suggested that I return to 'the real world' so I moved back to California, bought a little house, got a job as a manager of a furniture rental company and even got engaged (to a girl that I had been dating since Sentinel Beast days). One day a customer walks into the store and says like 'hey - didn't you used to be in Sentinel Beast? Man, what happened to you?' This solidified how miserable I was trying to live this 'normal' life and I got back into drugs. Oh - I suppose I should have mentioned that I (along with many members of Sentinel Beast) was heavily into crystal meth back in the day.
I guess once the owner of the store realized I was on drugs he fired me - and I figured why not break up with my girlfriend too! So - since I now had no ties - I decided to drive to Los Angeles and give things a shot there. I was actually becoming quite good at, and it looked like a could have a successful future as a 'squatter'! I fell in love with a little red-headed prostitute, who happened to be a crack addict - and we 'shacked up' together. I decided to give 'pimping' a shot as a career and many a Saturday morning I could be seen walking The Strip 'selling'. I even developed a good report with the police - they'd even tell me when they arrested her. We were living large... doing crystal meth AND heroine! Now that's living!! OK - no it's not -- KIDS... DON'T DO DRUGS!! I lived this way for about two years - financing myself and my girl through some unsavory financial manipulations. Obviously - you need people to HELP YOU learn how to live this way - and I was making loads of 'friends'.
One of my friends, we will call 'Johnny', had an uncle named 'Mr O'. I didn't ask for I.D. I just accepted that these were their names. Johnny offered me a job working for his uncle who was in the 'import / export' business. Most of his transactions involved me making regular trips from the US to such exotic places as Bangkok to pick up the 'product', so you can do the math to figure out what 'product' he was transporting. From Bangkok, I would deliver the product to Holland and then return home. I did three of these trips and on the third one things didn't go so well. I was working with two 'colleagues' on this trip; one a school teacher and the other an award winning journalist. We make our trip to Bangkok and pick up our merchandise. The plan is for us to each leave separately. Stephen (the journalist) is the first to leave. I escort him to the airport and tried to calm him because he was looking VERY nervous. He should have taken my advice and relaxed because he never made it through customs. He told the authorities that he was 'just trying to do a story' and says that 'we made him try to smuggle' drugs out of the country. He even tried calling his friend who was an executive producer of the TV show 'Baywatch' (which was a huge show in Bangkok at the time), but apparently - even a 'Baywatch' producer can't make the Thailand government excuse the five kilos of heroine. Next out is Arlene (the school teacher). She makes it out of Bangkok and makes it to Holland, no problem. Next - it's my turn - and as an experienced pro I make it to Holland as well. Arlene, being a good school teacher decides she wants to do EXTRA CREDIT, and says she'll carry her parcel all the way back to New York. In retrospect... NOT A GOOD IDEA ARLENE!! She gets busted in new York... and she has NO CELEBRITY FRIENDS to try to help her out! I hear about these incidents and decide that heading back to New York might not be a good idea at the time. So, begins my 'lovely time in Holland'. I should mention that of all the places I did get to travel to and of all the people I have gotten to meet I must say that I always loved the Dutch people and society. I feel they are some of the most friendly people and they have the most 'live and let live' culture that I have come across.
Actually after that story - my time in Holland as a 'pot house keeper' seems quite tame. I spent almost three years doing this new vocation. Since I wanted to 'lay low' for a while some of the people I had worked with in Holland gave me a job 'house sitting' for the house where they grew their marijuana. I didn't handle the care of the plants - they had someone coming in daily to do that, and had others that did the harvesting. They just wanted to make sure there was always someone at the house. Go figure, I can't understand why they wouldn't want to keep a house full of marijuana empty. The marijuana would get sold to local coffee houses - and I could often be found in those coffeehouses enjoying the fruits of my labor. My bosses liked me and would do lots of things to lure me to stay... throw parties - send call girls, etc. But I suppose you can get tired of anything, and after three years I decided it was time to leave. I then set my sites on coming back to the USA - and I take my last $1,000 and head for New York. I am determined to make it there on my own.
Then came the day that you discovered his love for metal again. But why did you record old Sentinel Beast songs instead of making a complete new album?
My re-entry to the music scene didn't lead me right back to metal. I had been totally out of the music scene for about five years. When I did start getting the itch to play again - I didn't have any equipment - no amp - not even a guitar. A boss I was working for at the time loaned me the money to buy a guitar, a Schecter guitar that I still have to this day. I started out just playing on my own at first, because I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with my playing before I was willing to play with other people. It was probably about three years before I felt I was ready to be heard by others. When I was ready to play with others - I decided I would find a bassist first and answered an ad in a local NY Arts Paper (The Village Voice) for a bassist that said BASSIST AVAILABLE - PROFESSIONAL, VERSATILE , RELIABLE. I guess the add was right, because that bassist, Eric Mauriello is still with me today and is the bassist in Fischel's Beast. I felt it would be a little easier to ease back into things by playing blues - so we found a drummer and a singer and formed a blues band doing covers of artists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Johnny Winter. I took care in trying to recreate the guitar solos note for note. Another interesting thing I'll mention was that the singer in that band was Albert Howe, brother of Shrapnell Records shred guitarist Greg Howe.
Here is the 'classic' part of the story... One day Eric comes over before our blues rehearsal and hears me listening to an old cassette tape of Sentinel Beast rehearsals that had been sent to me by a friend. He asks what it is and I tell him. He then asks... "man, if you can play like that, why are we playing blues?" The question I had to ask myself was... 'could I STILL play like that?' I knew that I wanted to, and I knew I couldn't right then, I knew it would take some more hard work, but I was up for the challenge. So, the plan now shifts to Heavy Metal, which I suppose deep down I knew I wanted to be playing again when I returned to playing. Eric and I started jamming on some of the old Sentinel Beast material just to help me get some of my metal chops back. Once we feel comfortable taking things to the next level, we find a drummer (after many interesting auditions) than can play METAL, Ed Klinger who is on the 'Commencement' CD. All the while I had been listening to some of the Sentinel Beast rehearsal tapes of us playing some of the material that we were working on for the second album (which we never got to make). That material had kind of always stuck with me and as I listened I felt the need to give these songs life. So, we started working on them musically, just drums, bass and guitar and I really liked what I was hearing. So that's when I knew that although it was over twenty years ago that these songs were written, that I NEEDED to get them recorded.
So Fischel's Beast is a band with one founding member of Sentinel Beast in it and they have now released some songs on CD that were meant to be the second Sentinel Beast album. But to make things more confusing: there is also another 2010 version of Sentinel Beast active with original singer Debbie Gunn in it, and they will probably release a new album as well. So, wouldn't it be easier for you to team up with her again?
Actually, although Fischel's Beast was founded by me - and while the 'Commencement' CD is made up of material that would have been the second Sentinel Beast album, I don't think of this group as a continuation of or a NEW version of Sentinel Beast. I think of it as the next chapter in my musical adventures. From the beginning I knew that I wanted to work on new material and have a band with it's own sound once the Sentinel Beast material was recorded. That is one of the main reasons I felt comfortable in choosing Anthony Cross as a singer. If I was looking to do Sentinel Beast - PART II, I would have looked for a female singer. Truth be told - we did originally consider that but we couldn't find anyone that had the sound and emotion that she had. To me she was a major part of 'the sound' of Sentinel Beast, so I'm comfortable with her choosing to use that name for her new project. We were real pleased with Anthony as a choice for our project and he in fact wrote his own lyrics and melodies for three of the songs on 'Commencement' ('Fate Of King's', 'Forbidden Territories' and 'The Phoenix').
Without knowing it, Debbie and I had both started our projects around the same time. She had contacted all the members of the original Sentinel Beast when she was starting her project. Well, she contacted all of the members except me. At first I was a bit 'bothered' by this but then I had to realize, that at the time everyone else was living in California and I was living in New York so logistically it wouldn't have worked out, but I suppose I felt I should have been asked.
For Sentinel Beast fans - the fact that Debbie and I ended up doing different projects could be really good for them - because it will mean a lot more music - new and old for them. I should mention that when we originally released 'Commencement' we did it on our own as a self-released CD as many bands do these days. Shortly after it's release we were able to get a deal to re-release it through Stormspell Records. The new version they put out is the same musically but there was new custom artwork done for the CD, and the book which was a four page booklet is now a full-colour twelve page booklet. Jordan from Stormspell has been great to work with, and in addition to liking the Fischel's Beast material he was also a fan of the original Sentinel Beast. So, in the works for 2010 are a CD called 'Up From The Ashes' that will contain all of the Sentinel Beast DEMO recordings. The versions on this CD will not be things that have been heard anywhere before. Some of the recordings even have different line-ups then people would have ever heard, some including Greg Williams on guitar. I feel some of these versions are BETTER than the versions that were on the 'Depths Of Death' album. The album is scheduled to be released in March. Later in 2010 Stormspell will be releasing 'Risen' the debut CD from Debbie Gunn's new line-up of Sentinel Beast. She will actually be recordng versions of 'Forbidden Territories' and The Phoenix', but these will be with the lyrics and melodies that sehe had originally written for these songs.
I heard that Fischel's Beast is also working on new songs. When can we expect this new one? And will the songs be in the same style of 'Commencement'?
We started working on material as soon as the CD was recorded. We had to find a new drummer to work with as Ed Klinger decided that now that he and his wife had their 2nd child that he wanted to take some time to focus on family. We were fortunate to rather quickly find Lev Weinstein who some may know from his work with Krallice. We also knew we wanetd to add a 2nd guitarist as well since the material requires that. The material on the CD should have had two guitarists, but with the exception of a couple of guest solos by Mr. Chris Caffery (of Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) all the guitars were played by me. We added Jose Cardoso as second guitarist and he's fitting in real well and getting up to speed very quickly. We'll be updating our page soon with some new info, new pics and some gig announcements as well. We plan to start recording the new CD by early summer. The material on 'Commencement' was twenty years old, so this material will be a bit more 'current' sounding, but I think the feel and energy will be similar. I know that the 'cookie monster' and 'screamo' vocal sounds have become popular but we're going to stick with having our singer actually SING!. Since people always want to put labels on music, we like to refer to our sound as 'progressive speed metal - with a splash of thrash'.
You were, as said before already active in the metal scene from 1986, and you have returned to it some twenty years later. What is the big difference between releasing an album back then and now?
I suppose the biggest difference was that we had to release 'Commencement' on our own - without any label support. I think that's the case for many bands these days, and not just in the world of metal. The days of the 'big label deals' just don't seem to exist anymore. If they do, and there's a label that wants to offer us that BIG deal for our new CD, please give us a call! On the flipside - getting the word out and promoting a release is much easier these days thanks to the wonder of the Internet. 'Back in the day' the only way bands really got known was word of mouth, and maybe people would pass around copies of your cassette tape. You would then hope you could post enough signs on lamp posts and telephone poles to get people to your gigs. The Internet has truly given artists and fans a great way to connect. Take for example the number of reviews, and interviews we have done for 'Commencement' internationally. Many of those contacts and leads came directly (or some indirectly) through MySpace.
The lack of support has caused many bands to take a DIY (do it yourself) approach to record, release and promote their bands. We had contacted a couple of PR firms when we were starting to promote the CD, but most weren't willing to tell us exactly what they were going to be doing. They wouldn't tell us every person they were contacting, nor could they guarantee any reviews or interviews which we knew we were interested in. So, we decided to pound the cyber-pavement on our own, and the results have been pretty good. The CD has gotten reviews from many different websites, fanzines, e-zines, and magazines - and we've done interviews in many countries as well. It's not easy talking time that we could be writing and rehearsing to do this, but we feel no one will work as hard for us as we will for ourselves. We know we're not the only ones doing this. Look at the Internet and see how many bands have 'street teams'; these basically fans and friends that they have recruited to help them.
And what can be said about the scene back then and now?
For one thing, the 'sound' of 'metal' and thrash has changed with things like the 'cookie monster' and 'scremo' vocals. There have also been several new genres of 'METAL' popping up: death metal, black metal, grindcore, goth, NU-metal and doom metal. I feel the 'scene' for metal (whichever genre) had dwindled a bit - especially here in the U.S. I have always felt that the fans of metal Overseas, and especially in Europe have always been more passionate and dedicated in their love for metal. Most of the biggest metal festivals have been and continue to be in Europe. We're hoping to start playing as many of these as possible. Recording a CD that you feel proud of and one that gets good reviews is rewarding, but there is nothing like the feeling of playing the material LIVE while hundreds, maybe even thousands of fans are pumping their firsts in the air, or rocking their heads, or moshing, or just having a good old heavy metal time in general!
Did the fans and metal heads change through the years? (Apart form getting older faces of course!)
As I just said, one of the things I've always felt about metal fans, and I still feel is that they are probably some of the most 'passionate' fans of almost any genre of music. Once they are a fan of a band they usually stay fairly loyal to them. They will often travel further than other fans of other styles of music to see a favorite act or attend a 'Metal Festival'. I know classical music fans are pretty dedicated and passionate about their music as well, but I've never seen a MOSH PIT at a symphony concert!
Okay, that's it for me so far. I wish you all the best with Fischel's Beast and do you perhaps have some famous last words for us?
Thanks for the good wishes, and more importantly thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. As mentioned, the music scene has changed quite a bit and especially the metal scene is not what it used to be. Thanks to people like you, fans still have a way to get info on what's happening on the scene and maybe get a heads up to a new act they should checkout. Thanks again and HORNS UP!