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Indulás: 2007-01-11
 
Sceptre

 

SCEPTRE is today a not too much known one-demo-band from Los Angeles, which played around 1983. Why are they so interesting now, that we made an interview with them? Becuase John Cyriis, the first singer of ANGENT STEEL played here guitars, before he founded AGENT STEEL.

Now we found Phil Sardo, the ex-drumer of SCEPTRE (and guitarist/vocalist of THRUSTOR) to ask him about his first metal band and some related topics. Enjoy! (*Now we distribute the debut-CD of THRUSTOR, it conmtains some re-recorded SCEPTRE songs + two songs from their original 1983-demo. Check out our distro/mailorder for it!)

 

Rooted in the Speed/Thrash Metal wave of the early/mid ‘80’s, visionaries Phil and Tony Sardo set out to create a new and blistering form of metal which would combine the power elements of Thrash, the fury of Speed, and an uncompromising dedication to technicality in musicianship and with these principles in place, SCEPTRE was created, at which point did you decide to form a band? Was it your first outfit by the way?

We were jamming with some school mates and decided to get with some better musicians. We placed ads in the local L.A. musicians classifieds, „The Recycler” and found some very good talent. We put together SCEPTRE as our first outfit, however it was with another guitarist and vocalist. We played a few shows and began to create a small buzz around.

 

Do you still remember how and when did you start showing interest in music and especially in metal?

Tony and I were exposed to music at a very young age... I remember us listening to The Beatles, practicallly from birth; still one of our favorite bands! What drove us to Metal was the technicality of it. We were listening to Black Sabbath and hearing Geezer’s riffs... it was something amazing for us. We also could not get enough of Uli Jon Roth, ex-Scorpions guitarist; absolutely incredible!

 

Were you the fans of the British NWOBHM movement or were you rather into bands, such as KISS, VAN HALEN etc.?

We were fans of everything that was interesting, technical, and heavy! Kiss and Van Halen were both bands that we loved, but equally so, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Scorpions were always on our play lists.

 

You became the rhythm section of SCEPTRE, how did your choice fall on bass and drums? Were these the first instruments that you started playing with?

We started playing our instruments at a very young age as well. I started playing drums at age 6, and Tony on bass at around 10... I think. They were our first instruments. I also started playing guitar at around age 12. We put together SCEPTRE at around the ages of 14, and Tony was 15.

 

Were you self taught or did you take some lessons?

We were self taught and learned from listening to music. We would be in there practicing for hours at a time. We would figure out a part by listening, and then go play it over and over again.

 

What were your influences to become musicians?

Our infulences touch almost every span of music; The Beatles were hughe for us, Uli Jon Roth, Edward Van Halen, Keith Moon, Geezer Butler, Allan Holdsworth, Neil Pert, Gene Simmons, Al DiMeola, Jimi Hendrix... to name a few.

 

You soon met up with guitarist John Camps, (Cyriis), and vocalist Butch Say, how do you recall the first meeting with them? Was it hard to find the musicians that were sharing the same musical taste and interest as you?

L.A., at that time, was a hot bed full of Metal musicians; but mostly glam and pretty type Metal musicians. The trouble we had was finding musicians who wanted to explore the heavy and inovative side of Metal. Getting together with John was great... we shared the same passion for both, very heavy music and quality in musicianship. It was a perfect match for creating something new and ultra heavy. Butch was a different story... he joined as our vocalist but eventually turned to more mainstream music.

 

What about the musical background of them? Were they the first choices for the band or…?

Working with John was great in the begining because we did have very similar musical backgrounds and tastes. He also was an exceptional guitarist... the three of us really strived to push the envelope and be as good as we could possibly be, as musicians.

 

How can you charakterize John Cyriis personally?

John was a dedicated band mate and he was committed to the band 100%. We got along well in the beginning. We all had the same goals, and carried them out. He had his personal beliefs, but they never interfered with the band or our music. Like all bands, we had some great times and some bad times. In the end, there were some very bad times!!!

 

Is it true that John was/is called originally Joan Campos and he is a Brazil borned dude?

I have no knowledge of that. We were all guys from the valley.

 

When did he move to L.A.?

I don’t know.

 

Did he also have that unique vocals that he performed on the AGENT STEEL albums? Would you say, that he is one of the most unique vocalists of all time?

He did not have any interest in singing until near the very end. We always knew him as an exellent guitarist, so we were not to open to the idea of him switching to vocalist. He was very into Halford at the time. I think a lot of his vocal ability came from that Halford style.

 

Was he already an UFO/alien „gay” back in the day?

Yes, he told us about it, but SCEPTRE, different than Agent Steel, did not have a theme like that. Those were his personal beliefs and they did not interfere with the band.

 

What about the L. A. scene at this point? How about the first generation of the US thrash, such as SLAYER, METALLICA, MEGADETH, ABATTOIR, SAVAGE GRACE, ARMORED SAINT, OMEN, BITCH etc.?

Those were all bands that were on the Metal Massacre albums. During that time, it absolutely was the inception of a newer and heavier form of Metal. Heavier riffing guitars, Drumming played with fury. It was the creation of Speed/Thrash.

 

Were you famliar with those acts? Did you build up a strong friendship with them?

We were well familiar with those bands, especially Metallica. In those days, we did not socialize too much with the other bands. We were aware of them and stayed focused on our cause.

 

As far as the LA scene, in my opinion, it existed two different ones: there were the speed/thrash acts and the glam/hair ones, such as W.A.S.P., DOKKEN, MÖTLEY CRÜE, RATT, do you agree with me? Were these commercial acts more popular and known than the speed/thrash ones?

I do agree with you. The glam/hair bands were, of course, more popular and their sound appealed to a larger crowd. We were not trying to be the most popular band out there... we were dedicated to the heavier side of things with a major focus on songwriting and quality musicianship played in a unique style.

 

Which clubs did start opening their doors at this point?

All the clubs in L.A. were hungry for Metal; it was gaining ground and the scene was great.

 

Would you say, that in L.A. was a great underground buzz and a healthy club scene? Absolutely yes! If you were a decent musician, writing decent songs, in a decent band... you had a real chance of making a splash! L.A., at the time, was the pure hot-bed of Metal musicians, and Metal bands!!! It was great!!!

 

Though heavy metal did of course exist in the seventies, it really came of age in the eighties, both as a popular form of music in the mainstream as well as a booming underground movement, what’s your opinion about it?

In my opinion, the eighties were the time that really defined Metal... and Metal’s sub-genre’s. Black Metal was born, Speed/Thrash Metal was born, Technical Metal, Hair Metal, etc. It was a burgoening scene for Metal and it was healthy. A great contributor to the scene was Brian Slagel and his new label, Metal Blade Records. Brian continues to be a major force in Metal and we own a debt of gratitude to him!

 

Do you think, that some of metal’s genres didn’t really come into being until the mid-late eighties or later, but a basic style of metal (sometimes referred to in the press as Priest/Maiden, named obviously for two of 80's metal's biggest influences) began to take hold during this period?

Well, the early ’80’s did bring the Priest/Maiden sound; and back then we did not consider that „basic”... it was all new, fresh, and heavy! It is true though, that the sub-genres of Metal did form in the mid-late ’80’s.

 

A new genre –thrash metal- came into being which rooted in the NWOBHM, how do you view it?

Thrash was formed not by a spcific formula, but by a new attitude in Metal. You are correct in saying that Thrash was rooted in the NWOBHM, but most of Metal’s sub-genre’s were rooted there too. The thing that set Thrash apart from the other genres was it’s absolute aggressivness and it’s harsh attitude.

 

Thrash metal is generally characterized by a fast pace, a staccato, chunky guitar riffing style, and aggressive vocals, is that correct?

Yes, that is correct; but Thrash has another element... technicality. All of these elements go hand in hand; but Thrash has an attitude that comes from the gut. Without that attitude, it cannot exist.

 

How do you view, that Metallica’s „Kill 'Em All”, released in 1983, is arguably the first true thrash album, with healthy thrash scenes sprouting in the USA (particularly the San Francisco area), Germany, and elsewhere by the late eighties?

„Kill ’em All” was a ground-breaking album for Thrash. Metallica was a ground-breaking band. We, (as were all Thrash bands), were paying close attention to them. „Ride the Lightning” was another completely awesome album that contributed to Thrash Metal.

 

Were you aware of that great thrash metal boom, what happened in the other parts of the States, such as Bay Area, New York or Texas for example? Were you aware of the existence of bands, such as OVER KILL, ANTHRAX, DEATH ANGEL, EXODUS, CONTROL, SINISTER SAVAGE, POSSESSED, WATCHTOWER etc.?

Yes, we were... if fact we played the „Blood Drive” with OverKill at the Troubadour. Exodus and Anthrax, of course, were great bands and really part of the Thrash Metal movement.

 

Who came up with the name of the band and who designed the logo?

I came up with the name SCEPTRE and we were using it from early on, in our career. The logo was designed by a friend who did graphics for surfboards in the valley. We gave him the concept and he took it from there.

 

Did you take the band seriously right from the start?

Yes, very seriously! We learned very early to take every aspect of music seriously. Our musicianship, songwriting, collaborating with other musicians, rehearsals, shows and promotion... all were taken very seriously and we did „eat, sleep, and drink” our career in music; we still do!

 

What about your rehearsals? How often did you rehearse?

5 or 6 nights a week! 3 hours each. We were pushing ourselves as much as we could.

 

Did you start writing originals or were you jamming on covers?

Always our own songs. Very early on, before SCEPTRE, we jammed on covers... Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, etc. But we started very early to write and conceive our own style and our own material.

 

Sceptre was a band that recorded a three-track demo tape in 1983, of which one song was later featured on Metal Massacre IV, would you say, that this compilation opened some doors for you and draw more fans attention to the band?

Absolutely yes! Even to this day, that first demo is a very important part of our career and in a way, we feel that there is a bit of magic in those three songs!

 

The one name that connects Sceptre with Agent Steel was the alleged John Campos guitarist in Sceptre, who wrote tracks like „Taken by Force” and „144,000 Gone”, two tracks that later re-appeared on the Agent Steel debut „Skeptics Apocalypse”, what do you think about it?

I actually would not like to comment of this... but I will quote an article I read... in saying that „the later versions are pale in comparison”. Can I ask you, (and the readers),... What do you think about it?

 

Do you still remember how was the demo recorded which was probably your first experience as musicians?

Yes, I do... It was recorded in a city just outside of L.A. called „Walnut”. It was a long way to go but it was a good studio for the time. We recorded through the midhight hours... the graveyard shift. The whole process took only a few nights to complete. Things went very smoothly and we were happy with the final product.

 

What about the songcomposing as a whole? I mean, how were the songs penned? Was a main songwriter or did you work in a team-work?

John and I were the main songwriters and mostly wrote separately. We did colaborate as a band on a few of the songs, but for the most part... we, (Jonh and I) brought in finished songs and then let the band put the finishing touches on them.

 

The demo tape opens with „Taken by Force” and people who know this track from the Agent Steel debut will be surprised to find that this earlier version is even better, do you agree with it?

Yes, I do.

 

The crunchy guitar sound is audible despite the (lack of) production, the notes played seem somewhat higher than the version as featured on the „Skeptics Apocalypse”, how do you view this?

As I remember it, John tunned a half step down. It could be possible that the guitars on the later versions were tunned down further.

 

The titletrack of the tape is a power-laden combination between early Thrash metal and NWOBHM-style music, an up-tempo track with some frenzied guitarlicks and shredding, right?

Yes, Sceptre is a song that written before John entered the picture. We finished it as a guitar-shredding pure Thrash song with a vocal line that touches on NWOBHM. It was also set for inclusion on Metal Massacre 4 and would have been the first for a single band to have two songs on the Metal Massacre compilations. In the end it was left off, and „Taken by Force” was chosen; I believe due to the length of the song, in comparison to „Taken”.

 

„144,000 Gone” is of course well known among Agent Steel fans everywhere, this version being much more eerie however, with an additional intro, whispered vocals at the beginning and the overall tempo higher than the later versions and a drive that is -again- better than later versions, how do you explain this?

It is the absence of the rhythm section, (Tony and I), on the later versions, that truly set our versions apart. There was an overall drive and attack that we all had on the SCEPTRE demo, including the guitars and vocals, that is absent on the Agent Steel versions.

 

The biggest mystery about this tape however is the identity of the vocalist, whose very high pitched vocals are just brilliant and it’s easy to link these vocals to assuming it was Cyriis himself who did them, but, as it was said elsewhere, Cyriis definetely sounds different later on, what’s the truth considering the vocals?

The vocals were done by Butch Say, our voclalist in SCEPTRE. You can read on Metal Massacre 4 the four of us there... „Taken by Force” came from that same demo in which Butch was on vocals, John on guitar, Tony on bass and me on drums. I have read some comments questioning this but it really is not too hard to understand that the vocals are not John, but it is Butch.

 

The sound on the demo is not good but nor is it bad for the 80’s underground standards, the guitars are prettymuch audible, perhaps the sound has to many bass, same goes for the drums and surprisingly the bass itself, the vocals are, of course, the most audible, were you satisfied with the result back then?

We actually wanted to produce it ourselves... our manager at the time gave us a shot at mixing the songs and later decided to mix it with the studio manager as engineer. In the end, we were very satisfied with the sound. You have to remember that the location of the master tapes are unknown. The demo that everyone has heard has come from bootlegs or 2nd generation tapes that have been played over and over. Until the master tapes are located, we will have to deal with this quality.

 

Capturing the interest of Metal Blade Records founder, Brian Slagel, you landed a featured spot on „Metal Massacre 4” with „Taken by Force”, how did it happen exactly? How did you feel being featured on the record?

It was absolutely great! Brian loved our material, we were receiving fan mail from all over the world, and our shows were bone crushing as we were, at the time, known as the loudest band to play the Hollywood club circuit. The future was looking bright!

 

You received tremendous, critical acclaim throughout the Metal world, does it mean, that you heavily promoted the demo and you tried to make a name for SCEPTRE?

Yes... that is why we have no copies of the demo left. I only heard the demo just last year, for the first time in over 24 years! We tried to promote it as heavily as possible!

 

Would you say, that the demo has gone down in Metal history as being one of the best Metal demos ever made and also, as being a major contributing factor to „The Roots of Speed”?

Through the Metal underground, that is what I know to be true. It has been said more than once, and we feel very proud to have made this small contribution to Thrash and Speed!

 

Do you think, that the guitars are actualy just an easier version compared to the „Skeptic Apocalypse” recordings and it is really great to compare guitars from this demo to guitars on the Agent Steel's debut?

If I understand correctly, the guitars on our demo are the more intense and played better... I do agree with this and feel that John was a very gifted guitarist. We, as musicians, clicked very well with him!

 

The bass is very hard to hear, but the whole bass track on the demo is played very diverse, which is a great pleasure to listen to, is that correct?

Yes... Tony has always been a bassist to push the limits in his playing. In the circuit, he was always known as a top notch bassist and we stayed a four piece largely due to his awesome riffing which filled in for the part of a 2nd guitarist. We also never wanted or needed a 2nd guitarist because we felt that it would take away from the reputation that we had, as a musically gifted band. Tony’s playing was/is perfect because of his technique and style.

 

How do you view, that the drums are played better than on most of the demos that John Cyriis was being part of?

Since I was the drummer at the time, it may be better for Tony to comment on this; however, I do feel that we all were, (and are), musicians who take quality in musicianship, very seriously!

 

„Sceptre” is the best song on the demo, a great power/speed song, with a nice „sing-along” chorus, right?

Sceptre is a great song and we continue to play it to this day. It is definitely part of our roots and it will go with us to the grave!

 

How did happen that the aforementioned tracks appeared on Agent Steel’s debut? Why didn’t they put „Sceptre” on the record?

As mention before, Sceptre was written before John joined the band. I wrote Sceptre and presented to the band as a finished comosition. John did not have anything to do with the writing of the song, (except, of course, for the awesome shredding).

 

Have you ever gigged with SCEPTRE?

Yes, we played only a few shows, but those shows really were successful and helped to lock in our small place in Thrash history!

 

Do you recall the famous „Metal Mondays” that took place at the Troubadour?

I believe so, although we played there usually on other nights. The Metal scene was as hot as can be back then! I think it is coming back in full circle!

 

How and when did the SCEPTRE story come to an end?

Musically, and as a band, we were all in accord and moving forward in a very positive way... it seemed that the future was ours with little difficulty. The end is long and difficult to explain. It also dives deep into other territory in which I do not wish to elaborate on. I will say that the break-up of SCEPTRE did not come from the band internally, but that it was external forces that destroyed SCEPTRE; and in a very bad, negative, and brutal way! The break-up happened around the release of Metal Massacre 4. John had joined Abbatoir, and Butch had just dissapeared into the mainstream. Tony and I continued on to try to keep SCEPTRE going with other musicians. We soon realized that it was time for something new and more brutal... that is when we started SARDO... as an epitaph to SCEPTRE. SARDO was a continuation of SCEPTRE, with the same princples and ideals, but with a newer sound and a more brutal attack! THRUSTOR was formed later but all three names are related... always will be!!!

Check us out at: www.myspace.com/sceptresardothrustor and contact us at: ptsmetal@yahoo.com . For purchase information of THRUSTOR, „Night of Fire”, visit EmanesMetal Records at: www.myspace.com/emanesmetalrecords .

 

 
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