This interview was made with Dave Read, guitarist of DEATH MILITIA.
So Dave, how and when did you metal discover back then and what were the records what you worshipped so much? What were some of the bands that you truly enjoyed immensely?
DR: I guess I started out as a Beatles fan back in the ’70’s, and from there I got into some heavier stuff like Rush, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and AC/DC. I was 11 or 12 when I first heard Black Sabbath and that was it, I was hooked. That must have been around ’78 or ’79. The following year I discovered Iron Maiden and Motorhead, then the NWOBHM bands. By 1983 I was 16 and right there and ready for all the new thrash bands - Metallica, Slayer, Antrax etc. It was very exciting and I felt that the small crew of us who liked those bands had a secret that, say, Quiet Riot fans didn’t quite get.
What and when made you to turn from listener to musician?
DR: I’d always wanted to be a musician and started playing guitar in 1979 when I was 12. I attemped Rush and Zeppelin tunes with some friends, I just loved the whole band thing, rehearsing in basements, going out and playing the occasional party.
What were your influences to become metal musician? Do you recall in which conditions you picked up guitar?
DR: My influences back then were Tony Iommi, Alex Lifeson, and especially Angus Young! Later my main influences were James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, Hanneman/King and Hank Sherman/Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate. I originally wanted to be a bass player (!) and my Dad took me to Long & McQuade (Toronto music store) to look at a bass, but at 12 years old a bass was just too big for my hands...it looked huge on me! The salesman said I should try a guitar instead so I did. I ended up getting a hand me down Saturn electric guitar from a cousin shortly thereafter, and a school friend let me borrow a 6 watt Kay amplifier.
What kind of guitars, amplifiers, strings, equipments etc. did/do you play?
DR: When I was 14 I got my first ’real’ guitar...a 1969 Gibson SG thanks to my Mum who helped me pay for it, it was awesome (and it looked just like Angus Young’s), I used it for many Death Militia recordings and live gigs. Initially I had a Traynor 25 watt amp, soon replaced by a 50 watt one. By the time we did the ’To Serve & Protect’ tape I had upgraded my amp to a 200 watt HiWatt head with 2x Marshall 4x12’s. ’Big’ Dave Bracewell (Death Militia vocalist from 1986-88) told me his brother had a 200 watt HiWatt and that if I ever saw one I should pick it up. I was so broke when I first saw the 200 but I knew I had to have it so I sold a bunch of albums to pay it off over a year. It was a beast. Sadly I sold it to a friend in 2000. Back in the Death Militia days I also played a Japanese BC Rich Bich and also an American BC Rich Eagle, but the SG was my #1 until I fucked it up by putting a whammy bar on it. In the late ’80s/early ’90’s after Death Militia I played a Fender Strat, and in 1992 I bought a Les Paul Standard which I still have today. For strings I have always used XL’s, no specific brand. Effect pedals used in Death Militia were a Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal pedal and an MXR Flanger.
What kind of instruments do you still play?
DR: I still have my Les Paul, and I also have an Epiphone Sheraton, although I’m thinking of selling that to help pay for a Rickenbacker 4001 bass. My current amp is an Ampeg Reverberocket.
In which bands did you play before you joined DEATH MILITIA? Could you tell us more about your early experiences as musician?
DR: Early bands pre-Death Militia included Stonehenge and Krypt. We played covers by Motorhead, Priest, Def Leppard as well as a few originals. Stonehenge included vocalsit Buzz Druzeta who was my next door neighbour and who went on to form Witchfawn. Krypt played one gig at my high school Battle of the Bands but nothing after that. Krypt drummer Brian Fogle and I reunited with Buzz Druzeta for a new, un-named band but they were looking to go down a much more commercial path than I wanted to go so we parted ways after a few months in 1984. I knew Evan Wilson from high school and he liked the heavier stuff too so we talked about forming a band but nothing came of it until the next year.
DEATH MILITIA came from Toronto, how do you remember about the underground scene of those times? Were you familiar with bands, such as SACRIFICE, SLAUGHTER, EXCITER, INFERNAL MAJESTY or ANVIL?
DR: Of course I remember all those bands! Metallica played in Toronto for the first time in January 1985, and before concerts I used to go and hang out at the Record Peddlar downtown, checking out records and meeting up with friends. Before the Metallica show that day my friend Harris Rosen and I met some new friends, Joe Rico and Rob Urbinati from Sacrifice who had just formed the year before. Scott Watts may have been with them, and their late manager Ray Wallace too. We got to talking and we were getting along really well.
Would you say that Toronto was a big metal center in Canada? Did you have a healthy club and underground scene?
DR: It was a great scene back in those days, but it wasn’t really big or anything. Everyone knew each other and we all went to each others shows and traded tapes. The main club was a total dive bar called Larry’s Hideaway, and other gigs happened at The DMZ, the Silver Dollar and the Quoc-Te (located in the basement of a Vietnamese restaraunt, site of the first ever Death Militia concert with Holocaust and D.O.G.).
Do you remember some SLAUGHTER rehearsal with Chuck Schuldiner?
DR: I remember when Chuck was in Toronto for a few weeks and I had one of the homemade Death shirts he brought up to give out (I wish I still had that!), but I don’t recall any rehearsals or anything. He was only in Toronto for a couple weeks I think, he had no idea about the cold!!
Were you in touch with other bands as well, such as RAZOR, VOIVOD, DEAF DEALER, AGGRESSION, SOOTHSAYER, SAVAGE STEEL or DBC?
DR: I was actually penpals with both Snake from VoiVod and Dave Carlo from Razor. I knew of the other bands but I didn’t know anyone in them at all. DBC was pretty awesome.
In your opinion, was the underground metal scene in Quebec bigger, than in Toronto?
DR: Hard to say really, I’m not sure how big the Quebec scene was in 84-85. They were both probably smaller than most people these days imagine. Metal is huge now, but back then the new stuff was kind of a secret of our small scene, everyone else was listening to Priest, Maiden, Twisted Sister etc. You’d see the same 30-50 people at every show. Slayer played at Larry’s Hideaway in November 1984 (with Razor) and there were probably 70 people there total, including all the guys in Death Militia, Sacrifice and Slaughter. I stood 10 feet away from Slayer the whole show, and the stage was only 3 feet off the ground!!
So tell us please how and when did DEATH MILITIA form? How did you hook up with each other? Did you know each other earlier?
DR: When I met Joe Rico and Rob Urbinati before the Metallica concert I mentioned that I was looking to get into a band and they said their friends in Slaughter were looking for a 2nd guitarist. I called Terry Sadler and went out to jam with them at Ron Sumners’ house 3 times. We didn’t really gel musically but we remain friends to this day. After those jams I decided to get my own band together, so I got Evan Wilson in on vocals and we knew drummer Robb McVean from the TO scene. Robb brought in guitarist Bruce Taylor. That was the first official Death Militia line-up from Spring 1985. Bruce wasn’t always around and I don’t think his heart was fully in it. Mark Faria, ex-Massacre/Dark Legion joined us on bass later on in 1985 and with that line-up we recorded the ’Onslaught of Death’ demo tape and played a handful of live gigs.
What were the musical backgrounds of the other DEATH MILITIA guys?
DR: I know Evan was more into Motorhead and Priest; I was more into Metallica, Slayer and Mercyful Fate, as well as Discharge and GBH, the same probably for Mark Faria. Robb like the classic metal, and I think Bruce was probably more into Van Halen hahahaha!
What about the early rehearsals of DEATH MILITIA? Were you jamming mostly on covers or did you start writing originals right from the start?
DR: We started writing originals right away, I think the song ’Death Militia’ was the first one we wrote. We also did a couple covers, like ’State Violence, State Control’ by Discharge but we didn’t rely on covers like some bands did.
As I as know, you had your first gig without putting out/having a demo tape, how did it happen? What do you recall of that show?
DR: I’m pretty sure we had something out when we did the first gig at the Quoc Te, possibly the ’Onslaught of Death’ demo, I can’t remember now! Glen Salter and Terry from D.O.G. came to one of our rehearsals beforehand and they took a copy of the rehearsal with them on tape, I think that’s how we got the gig. I remember we were supposed to get paid $50.00 but Dave Hewson pulled the bathroom sink out of the wall so we didn’t get paid. The response from the audience was good though.
You recorded your first demo „Onslaught of death” in 1985, how do you remember about the recording sessions? Was it your first studio experience?
DR: That demo is just a rehearsal, recorded live to a ghetto blaster at Evan Wilson’s parent’s house in Willowdale (suburb of Toronto)!! We whipped together a quick cover and made a handful of copies, but really it got out there because of tape trading. There were no sessions per se, it was just another rehearsal as far as we were concerned.
Did you have a decent budget to record the demo?
DR: The budget was about $2.00 for a blank Maxell tape, maybe a little more for some snacks!!!
What kind of responses did you get? Would you say, that this demo (and DEATH MILITIA) was a kind of Canada’s answer to EXODUS, POSSESSED, SLAYER and stuff?
DR: Well, we certainly liked those bands! The response was great considering people are still asking me about it 23 years later!!!
In your opinion, why was thrash metal so popular in the mid ’80s? Would you say that thrash was a trendy music at that point or was it rather an underground one?
DR: Thrash was raw, new and exciting back then, there was nothing like it. It was the perfect mix of the metal riffs and the punk energy. Thrash was definitely underground in the mid-80’s and it was hard for bands like us to get gigs. All the clubs were booking were shitty ’tribute’ bands. We were a reaction against that.
What happened after the releasing of the demo? Did you gig a lot in Toronto and around Toronto?
DR: At that point all of our gigs were in Toronto. We didn’t gig all that often with the first line-up, we did more once the 2nd line-up was solidified.
Why and when did bassist Mike Faria leave the band, who was involved with DARK LEGION later? Were there any musical and personal differences among you?
DR: No real differences, musical or personal, between Mark and us, I just think he wanted to go back and do something with his friends in Dark Legion. I’m still in touch with him. Robb left shortly thereafter leaving only Evan and I in early 1986. We placed a Musicians Wanted ad in the Record Peddlar and met bassist Steve Mills through that ad, we also knew Ken Pynn through his brother and so the 4 of us were briefly Death Militia MK 1.5. That line-up never played any gigs and to my recollection we never had any tapes either. We worked on some old Death Militia tracks and started writing a few new ones as well. Ken didn’t have his own drumset which was limiting for us, and Evan was losing interest in being a vocalist as well. I gelled really well with Steve and he and I decided to build an all new Death Militia. Steve knew lunatic guitarist Dale Kennedy from when he lived in Peterborough, and he had jammed with drummer Corey Stoll a few times as well. Steve, Dale, Corey and myself worked up a bunch of all new material (we didn’t play any old Death Militia songs), and although we decided to keep the Death Militia name it was really an all new band. We needed a singer and so back to the Musicians Wanted wall at the Record Peddlar we went!
What do you think about DARK LEGION? How do/did you view their 1986 demo „Psychosis”?
DR: I’ve always like Dark Legion, and Mark Watts is one of the coolest guys from the whole scene. In fact I approached him last year about putting out a Dark Legion 7” but he wasn’t so into it (I’m still working on it). ’Psychosis’ is a great demo!
What kind of problems did you have with singer Evan Wilson? In my opinion, he did a cool achievement on the demo…
DR: Like I say, Evan was cool and we didn’t have any personal problems with him, but he was losing interest in being a vocalist. He started to get really into pyrotechnics which I believe he is still involved with to this day. He never played in any other bands after Death Militia.
At which point did Dave „Big Dave” Bracewell get in the picture? What about his musical past? Were there other singers audtioned back then beside Dave?
DR: Big Dave joined us in Spring 1986, he was a total maniac. He was the only singer we auditioned. We’d been jamming as just the musicians for a few months (myself, Steve Mills, Dale Kennedy and Corey Stoll) at Corey’s folks’ place, which is where we wrote the bulk of the ’To Serve...’ tape. I can’t remember if it was us or him who put up the ad in the Record Peddler, either way we got in touch and we scheduled a rehearsal where we played a few covers, mostly Maiden, Metallica and Sabbath. We then showed him some of the orginals we had and he pulled out some lyrics he had, and voila! That was the final pice to the puzzle.
As second guitarist joined Jason Marsden the band, who played earlier in BEYOND did you know this band? Were you familiar with their demos „Paradox” and „Inner world”?
DR: Actually, Jason played with us first and THEN he played with Beyond. He only played with them a few times too as I recall. He also jammed with Dyoxen after he left Death Militia. Jason cane on board to replace Dale Kennedy. It was a sad day when Dale left, he was such a good guitarist and songwriter, and more importantly he was a cool dude. I’m hoping to see him for the 1st time in over 20 years when I go back to Toronto for a visit in March 2008, 2002.
Beyond were great, and Paul Garvey was one of my closest friends from back in those days.
Ken Pynn, the younger brother of Gus Pynn of SACRIFICE played with you for a short time, what about this period? Is it a tradition in the Pynn family being drummer?
DR: I was so psyched to play with Ken, he was a great drummer and we got along quite well as friends as well. Ken shared his brother Gus’s drums, and we would rehearse after Sacrifice. It was great, I got to see Sacrifice several times a week...private show!
Were you always a great SACRIFICE fan? Do you like their records?
DR: I’ve always been a big Sacrifice fan. I bought their CD reissues on Marquee a couple years ago. Yes, I am a huge fan of Sacrifice.
Would you say that the whole Toronto thrash movement started with SACRIFICE or rather with EXCITER?
DR: Exciter is actually from Ottawa. I think the whole TO thrash scene started with Razor. I have to give credit to Anvil too, they were awesome.
Why do you think so many metal or crossover bands were popping up from everywhere in the Ontario area and mainly in Toronto during 1984/1985?
DR: A bunch of smart kids starting thinking for themselves and listening to great music!
The second demo was „To serve and protect”, what about the recording sessions of this demo?
DR: We recorded that demo at our rehearsal space, located next to the freezer underneath a health food store called ’The Big Carrot’, on the Danforth in Toronto. Big Dave knew this guy Brian Renaud who had a 4-track cassette recorder, and he came over one day and we did the recording. We truly multi-tracked, I remember doing guitar overdubs in the hallway. The demo was mixed by Steve Mills, Big Dave and probably Brian Renaud. Steve and I put the cover together. The logo was done by a guy who had sent it to a fanzine, I don’t think we ever actually got in touch with the guy to get permission to use it. We sold a fair amount of those demos at gigs and through the mail. The address included in the cover was the house I grew up in, my parents lived there until just a few years ago.
What about the songcomposing compared to the first demo?
DR: The first demos were great, I love them, they are so completely raw and thrash. I’d only been writing for a few months at that point, and I’m sure Evan lyric’s were pretty recent too. Bruce Taylor wrote a couple riffs as well. It was all pretty rudimentary. But with Steve, Dale, myself and Big Dave, we now had 4 songwriters in the band, all with different styles and all willing to work with the others. Songs like ’The Family’ contained elements from all 4 of us, and Corey Stoll’s drumming was superb as well.
As far as the track „Killing time”, was it an original tune or a cover vesrion of the SWEET SAVAGE’s one?
DR: Our ’Killing Time’ is an original with lyrics by ’Big’ Dave Bracewell and music by me, Dave Read.
The demo was recorded in a cellar where you rehearsed and the recording session is famous for the moment, when Dale Kennedy inadvertently flung himself out one of the doors while he was laying down one of his solos, how did it happen?
DR: Dale was overdubbing a solo for ’Beneath The Crosses’ and the freezing hallway under the Big Carrot, and he got so into his performance that he rock and rolled right out of the room!
Musicwise was this tape a power metal oriented one, in my oppinion, it differed from the first demo, what made you to turn into that direction? Did you discover bands, such as TESTAMENT, ONSLAUGHT, ANNIHILATOR etc.?
DR: I think by that point, metal musicians who had been playing for a few years started to get better at their instruments and started to think of more complex ideas in terms of their songs and arrangements. There was no conscious decision to change styles with Death Militia, we just evolved onto a new entity around the current musicians in the band at that time.