Vio-Lence interview with Phil Demmel: From the Vault

Vio-Lence is a classic Bay Area thrash band that originally broke up in the ’90s after recording three albums. The band did a few reunions over the years, but since there’s been so much Vio-Lence activity lately, including more reunion shows starting in 2019 and the news of new material, we thought it’d be fun to dust off an interview with the band your editor contributed to Curious Goods zine #4, way back in 1991.

When Vio-Lence played Washington, DC while touring in support of their latest Megaforce/Atlantic Records release Oppressing the Masses, I was supposed to talk with vocalist Sean Killian, but he was nowhere to be found. When I checked out the band’s tour bus in search of Killian, guitarist Phil Demmel opened the door; I explained that I was there for an interview. “I’ll do it,” he said, and away we went.

Curious Goods: I read somewhere that Sean had no vocal training or band experience before Vio-Lence.

Demmel: Yeah. He was a friend of Deen [Dell, bass]’s who would always come to our practices with his bottle of vodka and orange juice. We had actually tried him out once before, and, y’know, it was real obvious that he’d never sang before, but we were in dire need of a singer. And our singer [who] had returned from Minnesota decided he wanted back in the band, so we took him back, because he knew all the lyrics already. [laughs] Then he took off again and Sean was there, and we basically didn’t have anybody else. And it wasn’t that we were so sold on him, but we were just in need of a singer. So he wrote all my cheesy lyrics, and he just developed a style over the years. He’s really changed; it’s a lot different from the last album [Eternal Nightmare], too.

Usually if somebody doesn’t like Vio-Lence, it’s because of the singer.

Yeah. You either love him or hate him, and most people hate him. [laughs]

He used a lot of delay on the first album, didn’t he?

Yeah, he doubled his vocals on the first album. On the first demos, he did two tracks of vocals on top of each other. You sorta get the Poltergeist feel to it. It’s like, “mooameee!” [laughs]

You mean the demos you gave out in the mail?

Yeah, the free Mechanic giveaway. It was their idea just to put the full page ads in Hit Parader and stuff like that. We felt so confident in our material that we passed out 7,000 of ‘em.

How come you never recorded “Paraplegic” [from the demo] on album?

Because of the lyrical content. It’s pretty controversial, something that we don’t want to subject ourselves to. “Paraplegic” was before Sean started being objective in his lyrics, and this is pretty much a slag right at the handicapped, so it’s something we don’t need. I mean, there’s so much controversy on this band right now as it is that we don’t need another thing hanging over our heads.

What are your feelings on the explicit lyrics parental advisory stickers?

The stickers are fine, because, y’know, [if] the kid’s gonna see the sticker, he’s gonna wanna buy it even more. But when they start to pull it off the shelves or just don’t let store owners sell them because of the stickers, that’s when I have a problem with it. Because if parents can’t teach their kids right from wrong, then that’s where it starts at, is in the home. It shouldn’t be up to somebody in Washington, DC sayin’ you can’t listen to this album. It should be up to the parents.

How about that whole Tipper Gore/PMRC thing going on. Do you have an opinion about that?

I think it’s a sham. I think it’s stupid that people would take an interest in it or anything. If more people would just open their eyes and pay attention, like what Frank Zappa and Dee Snider are doing, instead of just sitting there, we could fight this thing.

A lot of people and a lot of bands aren’t worried about it or think that Tipper Gore doesn’t have any clout.

That’s what it’s all about, man. People are just too passive.

How come you changed the band logo from the first album version to the version on the second album?

That was Megaforce Records fucking up. We hate the new logo. On the second pressing, it’s going to be different. We can’t stand it. [Edward J. Repka] kinda redesigned [the original logo for Eternal Nightmare]. I mean, he made it chrome or look like a fork or whatever. But that’s basically the way record companies are. If they don’t wanna do something, they’ll find some way to subtly keep it their way.

Do you guys use pedals or do you have rack systems?

I got rid of my rack mount. I just got a cordless and a noise gate. I use a Boss foot pedal, Super OverDrive.

What did you listen to when you were little? Did you have KISS concerts in your backyard?

Oh, you already know that; you saw the [Hard ‘n’ Heavy] video! That’s cheating, man! [laughs] Yeah, I was a huge KISS fan, and, like, on Halloween and Fourth of July, me and my friends would always get a bunch of smoke bombs and put the makeup on and put KISS concerts on in the backyard for the family picnics and stuff like that.

“Mentally Afflicted” off the new record reminds me of “Fatal if Swallowed” by Overkill a little.

I don’t listen to Overkill, so… [laughs]

It’s got the same structure: the drums fade in, then the bass, then the guitars.

Oh really? Oh well. None of us listen to Overkill, so we didn’t copy it. Fuck no.

“We are a thrash band. We’re Vio-Lence, man.”

Oppressing the Masses has some more socially conscious songs on it than Eternal Nightmare.

Well, the first one, Sean was dealing with a couple of my titles, and “Eternal Nightmare” was my concept. It was right after A Nightmare on Elm Street came out. I wasn’t writing about Freddy; I just liked the concept of, like, a nightmare that you can’t escape from, and so he sorta took off on that. Like the “Phobophobia” thing; he saw it off some Jeopardy! thing. Y’know, everybody’s writing about the fantasy stuff, and we just wanna keep things to where the kids might be able to learn something from the lyrics. ‘Cause he takes it from three sides. Like in “Officer Nice”: he takes it from the corrupt cop to the person that’s getting beat upon. We don’t get to the point where we’re telling people what to think, either. We just state the facts. This is the way it is, and you can look at it this way or this way.

Why did you put the lyrics on the back of the first record LP?

That was [Steve] Sinclair [of Mechanic]’s idea: put ‘em on the back so we wouldn’t get a sticker on the album, so then the stores would carry it. But then the stores wouldn’t carry it because the lyrics were on the back. So it was like a double standard. We couldn’t win.

How would you put yourself in a category?

We are a thrash band. We play fast, but we don’t play fast all the time. We’re Vio-Lence, man.

What was the deal about Vio-Lence leaving Mechanic to join Megaforce?

We basically did not want to go in the direction that Steve Sinclair and Mechanic Records wanted to take us: wearing silver tuxedos and shaving our eyebrows and wearing makeup and putting my hair up. Y’know, he needed a Guns N’ Roses to save his label. Sinclair was just rewriting our lyrics himself, sitting at his office. It was just not happening, so we were just pissed off at the guy for a long time. It was a good thing that we didn’t see him for a long time, too. [laughs] We had a friend, Maria, from Megaforce, that had made us an offer. We were very fortunate that Megaforce wanted us so bad, or else we might not be signed right now.

Why did you tag that “Take It As You Will” on “T.D.S.”?

Y’know, either you could take it as we’re saying that drugs are bad, don’t do ‘em, they’ll kill you, or that we’re saying drugs are good, whatever. You decide.

You don’t have any of those groove mosh riffs on the new record, like the chorus to “Eternal Nightmare” or the end of “Kill On Command.”

You don’t think there’s any on there, huh? Sorry, man. [laughs] See, what happened was, I wrote all the music on Eternal; all of it was entirely done by me. Actually, Robb [Flynn, guitar] wrote “Calling in the Coroner.” It was his [uncredited] music but I structured it. He got dogged. Now everybody’s writing.

Well, I guess that’s it. Is there anything you want to toss in at the end?

Yeah: buy the album! Request the [“World In A World”] video off MTV! ■

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