March 4, 2013

Razor … The Axis Of Metal Interview – Part One


Before we get into this interview, I want to let you all know that this interview is, um, well … very lengthy to say the least. With that said, I’ve decided to break it down into two medium length parts which will hopefully make it easier for you to consume. [Part two will be released tomorrow, March 5th, 2013]

So, to spare you further introductory rhetoric, ONWARD!

… I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I did.

First off, I’d like to thank you for doing this interview with Axis Of Metal. First thing, Razor is a band that needs no introduction, but for our younger readers who may not be familiar can we get some history on the band and how it all started.

The first place I would send people who are interested in learning about Razor is Google.  Type in “Razor (band)” and if they do that the link to Razor on Wikipedia is there and it tells a very good overview of the band.  Having said that I will give you a quick history here: the band formed in 1983, we finalized our line up around April 1984, we recorded an EP called Armed & Dangerous in April of 1984 that led us to Attic Records who signed us in December 84 to a multi-album deal.

We then released 3 albums with Attic Records: first one was called Executioner’s Song in 85, then came Evil Invaders in April of 85. Executioner’s song was recorded March 85 so there was only 6 months between the first two releases. And then Malicious Intent in April of 86. So very aggressively we had 3 albums out within a year’s plus time. That’s more than we’d like and it’s really not our pace these days, but that’s what we did at that time.

Following that we did an album called Custom Killing in July 87, following that we did an album called Violent Restitution that was recorded in December 87 because we wanted to follow up Custom Killing fairly aggressively. Then we did an album called Shotgun Justice in the summer of 1989 that did not get released until early 1990. Then we recorded an album in May of 1991 an album called Open Hostility which got released in the summer of 1991 and the band toured in support of these over the years and we ended our touring in October 1992 in Toronto, for a final show.

From there a released called Exhumed came out, which was an anthology-type CD retrospective from all the albums that were made before and then we became silent. Then out of nowhere we decided to do an album called Decibels even though Razor wasn’t an ongoing concern at the time. We made it and released it and then spent the last 16 years now performing occasional shows. And drawing material from all of those releases.

We toured back in our heyday with some pretty big bands: Motorhead, Slayer, venom.  We hung out with these bands early in their careers, especially Slayer. We were right there at the beginning with Slayer and Anvil is another band that we did a lot of touring with back when Anvil was a more major player in the metal scene.  We played with Voivod quite a bit, Sacrifice is another band that is very closely related to Razor as far as coming up through the ranks. So that would be some of the people we worked with. I’m sure there are others but I can’t think of them all right now.

Getting right into the heart of it, Razor is a band that has an immensely strong cult following. What do you guys attribute this to?

The cult following is probably attributable to the style of music that we play. We stayed on the very extreme side of metal, nothing really pedestrian about Razor. The music is extreme, the lyrics are extreme and the style is very unique. I think those things, it’s for people that get it, they understand and they know what it’s about. They relate to it. So our music is out there. Some people, it moves them, other people aren’t moved by it.  People that are moved by it are the cult following.

Sometimes people hear our music and say ‘where did that come from? If I had known this had been out all along I would have loved to have gotten my hands on these CDs.’ it’s a story we hear over and over. Razor I think has been woefully underexposed for our career but we get that cult status because people that have learned of our band know about our history and they respect it.

Even though your last full length CD was 1997 the band has been active since then, recently headlining the 2011 True Trash Fest in Osaka. How did this all come to fruition? 

Basically anything we did after I announced our retirement in 1992 came to us through offers to us that we weren’t really looking for. And that is how it has been. Even the Decibels album, I was completely retired from Razor and not even thinking about it and Bob Reid asked me to record it, so we did it. The music had already been written; it was supposed to be the follow up album to Open Hostility, but there was no lyrics yet written. So Bob spent 3 or 4 years putting lyrics over the music I had written and then we turned it into Decibels, and then with Bob’s involvement we got an arrangement made for a record company to release it for us and Decibels ended up coming out.

Again, same thing with gigs. We ended up playing some festivals. We were in a prime slot on the Wacken Open Air Festival in 1999 in Germany, we were playing there and that again was by invitation. They came to us. Over the years we have received a lot of invitations to festivals. We did eventually play the Headbangers Open Air, which was 2009, in Germany as well. We played the Japanese True Thrash Fest in 2011. Again, offers come, we do some negotiating, if it looks like it’s a good looking promoter who knows how to promote a show and has a genuine love of the band and make an offer that is reasonable to us then we do a show. If we have people make us offers that are not reasonable to us we politely decline.

The 2011 True Thrash Fest encompassed some new wave thrash metal bands and some older thrash metal bands from Japan such as Sabbat, Abigail, Raging Fury, among others and representing the new wave Fastkill, Fueled By Fire and Lobotomy. How was playing with some legendary Japanese bands and what bands really stood out from the pack at that festival? 

I am going to be brutally honest: the trip to Japan and the way that I do a lot of my traveling is pretty tight so we were there for a couple of shows and we were in and out in about four days. Going to Japan and back in 4 days is a pretty aggressive trip. It is a 17 hour flight. So the reason I tell you that – when I get to Japan I am just exhausted. What I needed to do was rest and recuperate and get ready to perform. There is some ritual around that for me at this age, to deliver a performance that I think is going to be acceptable, so I mostly focused on what I had to do. I don’t have the ability like I might have when I was 21 or 22 to say ‘hey, this is a big party and we’re going to go out and hang out with the other bands and have a great time’. That doesn’t work for me anymore.

I have to just look within myself and get my mental energy ready to deliver a good performance. And I can’t really be spending a lot of time looking at what’s going on around me.  I have to focus on my own performance and my own effort. I know there is some other guys in Razor that look at it the same way, but there are other guys that like to watch the bands and take note of the bands. Now I after the festival was given copies of many CDs and videos of these bands and I watched them and I enjoyed them but I couldn’t give you feedback on which band takes which place in the scene. I don’t know which bands are legendary and which are not. I think I wore a Raging Fury shirt at the second show because I met them and they gave me a CD and offered me a t-shirt and I think I wore a shirt from another band on the first show as well and was happy to do that.

I just found all of these guys really delightful to be around. I really enjoyed being with these other musicians because they really had a lot of respect for Razor and I think it was nice to share time with these guys. They are part of that scene. They appreciate and love that kind of music and I think that they felt that being around bands that were back there back in the 80s was something that was special for them too and they made us feel that way. So it was a fantastic experience over there and we met the people from Fueled By Fire and made some friendships there. I also formed a friendship with their manager, so that was a nice thing we took out of the festival as well. But genuinely it was just a wonderful experience for me to be part of a well run festival. That promoter Micky did a fantastic job. I remain in close contact with these people and I feel that I will remain to in the future.

Razor is, in my mind, one of the most angsty thrash bands I have ever heard. The lyrics, the guitar work and the overall sound are one of a very dark look on humanity. What is this attributed to? Is this something affected by personal experience? What are the inspirations for this sort of sound? 

This is a good question because it gives me some insight as to what aspect of Razor you are most into, or at least what period of Razor is most appealing to you. I’m guessing that you probably like the Violent restitution, Shotgun Justice, Open Hostility Razor, maybe even more than the original stuff, typically because the type of song you are referring to is that period. [Bingo! - Paul] The period from 1988 through 1991. That’s where we get really dark. A lot of that has to do with Dave Carlo writing lyrics I think because I took the lyrics in that direction. I think that I had the opportunity with the lyrics to make some observations about the world that were maybe a little bit unique or at least putting them into my own words was going to be unique and that is what I decided to do.

In the early days of Razor, if you look at the first few albums, we have lyrics that are sometimes party driven, like “Hot Metal” or “Fast and Loud” from Executioner’s Song. We also have lyrics that are about violence, without question, things like “March of Death”, “City of Damnation”; we have those over the top party lyrics like “Gate Crasher”. We have, on Evil Invaders, we have that biker-type image thing going with songs like “Cross me Fool”, “Legacy of Doom”, “Evil Invaders”…  Again, that seems to be the theme there, it is more about celebrating the extremeness of the music, the extremeness of the attitude.  It is more of an up thing than a down thing.

I think we continued that with Malicious Intent. Stace got a little spacey with some of his lyrics, started exploring some more abstract stuff, more of that tortured soul kind of lyrics he wrote. On Custom Killing we started to get epic in some areas, which was not really my thing – you will notice I didn’t write the lyrics to the epic songs. I was being given feedback by guys in the band at that time that they wanted to work with this kind of format, but going into your question specifically about the kind of lyrics – you are saying the dark outlook on humanity – that started with Violent Restitution and came from a number of reasons.

Reason number one – it had to do with the fact that when Custom Killing was released, our fourth album, we were getting some very, very negative reviews.  People were proclaiming the death of the band. They were doing that in print because they didn’t see the things they liked about early Razor being evident on Custom Killing. They weren’t ready for an experiment from us.  So it kind of pissed me off when I saw that people said I had lost the ability to write songs. Which that was never the case it was just a deliberate attempt to do something different, which didn’t go over well, so we went to what I wanted to with Razor. Where  I decided from that moment forward if Razor was going to fail to appeal to people it was going to be because I gave them what I felt was my best effort, so I took control of the band and the songwriting more stringently. I took control of the lyrics for the most part and said this is what is I’m going to do, and you know I wasn’t trying to be a bully or anything like that, I had new members and Stace McLaren was saying on Violent Restitution he wasn’t overly engaged in the creation of that record. I think Stace still thinks to this day that, the material is more extreme than what he wanted anyway; but it was a very, very popular album with our fans, so I just continued along those lines. I did the same thing with shotgun justice and took it in an even more angry direction because Bob Reid is an angrier singer, and I felt like I had an opportunity to exploit that to some degree, so that’s what we did. I just looked at the worst experiences I had in my life, and I incorporated those feelings into my lyrics. When I sat down to write my lyrics I really tried to take myself to a place where I could access the most biting words, the most extreme way of putting things across. That’s what I was trying to do, really regress into a real negative place. I liked that. I liked being able to do that. I may do that again at some point. I’m not sure if we are done with kind of stuff. Shotgun justice really is the epitome of that, in terms of the darkness. Open hostility was a little bit less dark. Sometimes we Canadians can’t resist getting a little humour in our records and there are some songs where that comes through. It’s a little tongue in cheek in places – but it’s also extreme in some places. It’s a Canadian thing to be a little tongue in cheek with the humour, but it happens and even in our extreme moments we get like that. This is what probably differentiates us from a band like Slayer. We can be as extreme as Slayer but when we get into a situation where we are being artistic we can’t resist the urge to go for a laugh here and there. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about specifically you can look at lyrics like “Bad Vibrations”, from Open Hostility, which is basically a song about people wrecking your house because they are having a drunken party. So that one is humourous, and that song “Free Lunch”; which is about your best friend, but he’s actually a freeloader. There are a few songs on there that are a kind of funny. I can’t think of a single funny song on Shotgun Justice.

Switching gears, Razor went through a vocalist change, usually this spells disaster for a band; but in this case it seemed like Razor became stronger, and even tighter. Was Bob Reid a better overall fit for Razor or do you feel Sheepdog was better suited for Razor?

A good question. Realistically, Bob Reid is a better fit for the Razor I was preparing, no question about it. I moved Razor into a certain direction because of my singer. Bob, and his vocal ability put me in that mindset to write for him, and that’s what I did. As far as when we had to make the singer change, and to do this day, Stace and I have different opinions on how that went down. Stace feels that he quit Razor; I feel that stace was given a little nudge, but you know it doesn’t really matter. I don’t think we have the same recollection of the events that took place. It’s really not that complicated though, and it’s really not that important. But, what I would say happened was when it became apparent that Stace and I would not be working together again, I had in the back of my mind, for several months that Bob Reid would be the person I would approach to sing for Razor. So I kind of had a plan building up before Stace was out of the band, that if this went down a certain way I’m going to have Bob Reid as the singer. That made me start to think about the possibilities of what I would do with the material if Bob became the singer. Then I started writing and I think, Shotgun Justice was an album that I wrote for Bob to sing, and I really do think that. That was a real critical reason that the album came out that way, because of who my singer was.

I also knew that if I was going to replace Stace, it would have to be a good singer. I would’ve never let Razor become one of those bands that had a weak singer, because I really feel like there are a lot of good, talented bands that had bad singers and it just ruined the whole thing. It’s almost like if they just get anybody to sing, they’d let them sing, and I always thought that selecting the right vocalist was super important for a band to be good, among other things but the vocalist can’t be half baked. You got to have a guy that has a real powerful voice, good range and something unique about him and that was something that I felt that we had with Bob. People can say “oh you know, I prefer sheepdog” but that doesn’t mean that Bob Reid isn’t an awesome, powerful vocalist, because he is. I would have to say that my selection of people be part of the band are the reasons why people still want to see the band. I can book a Razor show with Bob Reid singing and people do not leave that show disappointed. I can book a Razor show with Stace singing and if I was to do that, I’m sure they would love that show too. The only difference I think would be now; that if I  played with Stace, I could draw from the first five albums with Bob I can do the entire back catalog.

Open Hostility in my mind is one of Razor’s strongest efforts, and what a lot of people who first listen to it don’t realize is that, the drums are programmed. Why wasn’t a human drummer used, and secondly how was such a perfect drum sound achieved on that album, that goes as far to fool listeners who don’t know the drums were programmed?

Well I’ll take that as a compliment. [It is – Paul] What happened there was I wasn’t sure what was happening with the personnel of Razor. Again, we were coming to the point where I was getting ready to end Razor, when we did Open Hostility. I kind of knew that the ending was coming. There were a few issues within the band in terms of working with people that had made me feel like it was coming to an end. Plus I was 28 by the time I ended Razor, and I started thinking that it was time; I had done what I could with it. Plus, if things weren’t going up at that point, it wasn’t going to be my ultimate career choice. I had to do something else. But, what happened there was that Rob Mills did have a minor accident that affected his ability to play drums to some degree. That isn’t to say that, if he had been rehabilitated in a certain period of time, then we could have used him to do it. We could have waited to rehabilite him. My feeling was that, I wasn’t sure where I was headed with Rob, long term, whether Rob was going to continue to be in Razor or not, I wasn’t even sure of that so at that point I just decided that I was going to use the drum programming. I stared to do some four track demos with it and I started to feel like I was getting a good handle on the programming. Although I think in some places on the record you can hear that it’s programmed, but I also think that it’s very, very heavy and powerful. I thought that, you know what? I had to start focusing on making good music. Period. If I can make good music, whether it’s programmed or not, people will respect that and maybe like that. I mean, there were other bands using programmed drums as well at that time. It seemed like that was something that people were accepting, so I thought we’d give that a try.

I appreciate the compliment that it doesn’t sound that detectable. I did feel like I could up the tempo a little bit on the playing too because I had a drum machine. These songs were being played at some very, very high tempos. The drum machine that I had set to on the highest song was 230 beats per minute, “Free Lunch”, and I think the slowest song on the album was 212 beats per minute.   So there are different tempos, but bottom-line is – I was able to make it extreme. Nice thing about the drum machine was, you know, in all honesty, he was never late for practice, never argued with me about the way I wanted to arrange the song, and never got tired. Those were kind of bonuses in the studio, it was quite helpful.

Moving on to the touring side of things, simply how was it back in the glory days? Did Razor ever tour outside of Canada, or hit Europe [barring the one off shows / festival appearances]? How many tours were completed, and what was the most memorable tour? Also, this may be tough, but what was Razor’s most memorable show?

OK, we’ll work our way backwards on this question. Our most memorable show, from my viewpoint would’ve been, a very early show, it would’ve been October 1984. If I remember correctly, the date was actually October 27th, 1984. This was a show we played in Toronto at a place called, Larry’s Hideaway. We opened for, Slayer. Slayer was on tour supporting the Haunting The Chapel EP which had just come out, after the Show No Mercy album. So, they were very, very early in their career. They were staying at Larry’s Hideaway, which was basically a roach infested hotel, and in the basement was where they would book very extreme bands and people would go nuts. It was a great place for these types of shows. We, living in Guelph, which is not far from Toronto, would just drive in for the shows. We didn’t have to stay in the hotel, but we went in there and we met Slayer. During the day, they did sound-check, we did sound-check too and we hung around talking to them and forming a bit of a friendship with them back in those early days. It was a lot of fun. It led to several more shows with Slayer over the next three years. Going through Canada with them and doing some shows in the USA as well. The main thing with Slayer was that, they were a big influence on Razor. Not just to hang out with them, just musically. They became a big influence on us. I think that’s part of how Razor started to move into that more extreme sound. It was just hanging out with Slayer a lot. So that was my most memorable show also because the Toronto audience was just really, really excited to see us. It was our first “real” Toronto show, we had done a couple with Anvil, but this show was the first “real” show where we were being lined up with a band that was more our style, and the maniacs were just nuts at that show.

The biggest problem that we had in our career was, not doing enough touring. There are several reasons why this happened. The number one reason would have to be, the fact that we never had management. We never had management. There was no management company behind us. We had a record company with a worldwide deal, but we didn’t have management. We couldn’t get Canadian management interested in Razor. They didn’t think we were commercial enough. They thought the band was too heavy. The managers of the Canadian band, Helix, came to see us, and thinking about having Razor as part of their roster, and they just thought when they saw us, we were just too extreme. Then the manager of another band, Killer Dwarves, not that they were doing much, but their manager also came to us a couple of times, and was thinking about managing us, and he also said “it’s just too over the top, we can’t do anything with you guys”. Meanwhile, bands that were similar to us, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax found companies in the states that understood which way the metal scene was heading, and so they got hooked up with good management which led them to break out.

Being here in Canada we really couldn’t find any management that was worthwhile, and that was really understanding t he scene. I would say that was a critical problem for all Canadian bands. I mean, the only band that came close to amounting to something was, Voivod, and they had management out of Quebec, but at the end of the day, even Voivod didn’t materialize into what they wanted. Without management touring opportunities are nowhere near as prevalent as they should be. We didn’t get hooked up with a lot of these other bands, but what Razor probably should’ve done was headed for the states. We should of started trying to hang out with the Slayer’s, the exodus’s, the Metallica’s and get out there and tour as much as possible, but we didn’t and we didn’t get enough gigs. We did go across Canada a bunch of times but that was about it, and some US dates. We didn’t get to Europe until 1999, sad as it is for me to say. We should’ve been touring Europe in the 80’s.  We had a lot of fans there. Our record company, and our lack of management, and our record company failed to get us management, and I don’t know how hard they really tried. I don’t know, maybe that’s a just one of those things thats a regret, not having the right people behind us. Having said that, our most successful tour(s), took place in 1990, and 1988, we did some very good cross Canada tours during those years, and the northern United States too.

Click HERE for part two …

About the Author

I started this project back in September of 2011. It was born out of an obsession for all things riffy and heavy. I figured, I wanted my opinions heard, so why not create my own soapbox? Thus, Axis Of Metal was born.

My beginnings as a metalhead, sprouted from a love of classic rock, and punk. Well, being 11 years old, Offspring and Blink-182 were as hardcore as they came, right? Anyway, after enjoying stuff like Zeppelin, Rush, Cream and pop-punk, I was introduced to grunge music, and that really paved the way for my insatiable taste for music. From there, I became totally obsessed with music. My love of punk evolved into bands like Black Flag, The Casualties (early), and eventually becoming enamored with discharge. As my need for speed and ugliness intensified, I was introduced to Slayer in high-school, and thus ... the metalhead was born.

Cool story, eh? I thought so too. Anyway, Axis Of Metal is created for you, yea you. Without all the support we've received over the past few years this zine would be nothing. So, enjoy, and stick around, will ya?