FORMICIDE (USA) was a short-career-Thrash Metal-band, which came back in to the ken of the audience, as all of their recordings (three demos between 1987-1989) were re-released in October of 2006 by Due Process on CD. Their music was tradtional Bay Area-styled metal, the songs were fast but sometimes also with technicially riffs. After their disbanding some members went to thrash/HC band Only Living Witness (OLW) from Boston, which made some albums for Century Media in the 90’s. Our questions were answered by Eric Stevenson (drums).
So Eric Formicide officially began with Kevin Stevenson on guitar and Roy Costa on bass during the spring of 1987, is Kevin your brother or…? Do you perhaps know, how did they hook up with each other exactly?
Kevin is my brother. He met Roy during high school, sometime around 1985 I believe, and then introduced him to me. The three of us played together in many different bands, in different combinations, until I joined them in Formicide in 1987.
After writing several songs together, they found a drummer, and then met Steve Reppucci - whom they knew about from being the bass player in a popular local band - and began rehearsing with him for the next few months, what about this period?
Steve had been in a local band called The Connection, and was their bassist who also shared vocal duties. Kev and Roy were rehearsing with a drummer named Rob Rothberg, and then contacted Steve to see if he was interested in singing for them. They were not happy with their drummer and asked if I'd like to play, so I joined in July of 1987 and we began intense rehearsals.
In July you replaced the original drummer, how did you get in the picture exactly? What went wrong with the drummer and were you the first choice to replace him?
Rob was a nice enough guy, but his style wasn't suited for speed metal. I became friendly with Steve when he would come to meet Roy and Kev at our mother's house, and after several conversations we decided that I would fit the band far better than Rob.
Do you still remember how did you get in touch with the metal scene at all and what was so exciting in this music for you?
Yes, the music was very exciting to me and it was such a special time in my life. In 1984 my old friend Steve Fahy introduced me and some other friends to LPs by indie metal bands like Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Exciter, Manowar, Metallica, and many others. After taking a little time to get used to it - I was into more polished metal by bands like Iron Maiden, Priest, Sabbath - I got completely hooked on it and started investigating many other bands, going to shows, etc. It was such a great time.
When did you decide to play an instrument and how did your choice fall on the drums? What were your influences to become drummer?
I started playing guitar when I was 9-years-old, but then got into drums when I was 10, and it became my main instrument. My influences started with Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Peter Criss, Mick Fleetwood, and Kenny Jones when he played with Rod Stewart. But I listened to every single drummer that I heard and tried to pick up everything that I could from whomever I could. Once I turned 12-years-old I discovered John Bonham and that changed my whole approach to playing. He is my favorite drummer and my biggest influence by far. But I also love so many other drummers of all different styles.
You came from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, how was the local metal scene at this point in your home town? Was there a great underground buzz and/or a healthy club scene, like in L. A., New York, Cleveland, Bay Area or Texas?
There was no metal scene in Tewksbury other than us. But our town was only a 30 minute drive into Boston, and there were many other great bands we met at shows and became friends with, like Wargasm, Meliah Rage, and Temporary Insanity, among others.
You began rehearsing several songs, four of which were recorded for „Demo I” in September 1987, does it mean, that you aspired to write originals and you weren’t toying with any covers?
We always aspired to be a band that wrote originals. We didn't learn covers to play at shows, other than a few just for fun at rehearsals.
What about the recording sessions of the first demo? Was it your first studio experience or…?
We'd all been in the studio a few times before with other bands, but this was the first "big" project for Kevin, Roy, and myself. We recorded it with some old friends who owned a studio at their house (Mike, Bob and Jim West). We were very excited to be recording those songs had a great time recording that demo.
Can you give us all of the details regarding the demo?
We wanted to get a tape out ASAP and so we picked the 4 songs we liked best, rehearsed them until they were as tight as we could get them, and then went into the studio and had an amazing time during the sessions. Kev & I already knew the West brothers and had recorded with them in the past, so our relationship with them was very good. We were at ease during these sessions, which lasted about a week or so, and we were very excited to be putting out our first demo.
Did you shop it around to attract label interests? Did you heavily promote it in the underground scene?
We sent the demo all over the world to many radio stations, fanzines, and record labels. We were well-received by radio & press, but could not get many record labels to be seriously interested in us. Roadrunner had shown interest right after Demo I, but our manager had convinced them that we weren't ready yet (pretty poor managing right there I would say). And at the very end we did have some interest from somebody at Enigma records, but that fizzled out, and we split up shortly afterwards.
You began playing around the Boston area, sold hundreds of tapes, and received many positive reviews in fanzines all over the world, what about these early shows and your setlists?
The shows were great, and the thrash scene in Boston was thriving during the late 1980s. Played some great shows at some of the big clubs in town. As far as setlists are concerned, I believe we played the songs from both demos, with an occasional new one here and there.
You entered the studio again in May 1988 and recorded „Demo II”, were you more prepared then with the first demo?
We were less prepared, and the only reason we went in to record was because our new manager wanted us to. We didn't feel that we needed to enter the studio again so soon, and we wanted to work on more material so that we could have more choices as to what to record. But our management team decided we should go into the studio, and so we did.
On this second release, Formicide came out all guns blazing; the guitars are like a machine gun with some of the fastest picking ever heard, the solos pulled off were nothing short of brilliant, -Kevin Stevenson was/is truly a guitar god-, Steve Repucci's vocals are some of the most distinct ever to be heard in the genre, from a gruff low to a surprising high wail that helped Formicide and their distinctive sound, Roy Costa was/is an extremely astute bassist who’s counterpoint riffs alongside Kevin’s licks made for some very memorable song parts and you were also a machine on the drums with great dexterity, how do you explain this?
Thank you for these compliments. As kids we all just practiced as much as we could on our individual instruments, and then rehearsed all of the time when in Formicide. Steve sang in a rock-n-roll band and had no metal experience prior to joining Formicide. He ended-up being a total natural at singing metal, and has an amazingly powerful voice and great range.
Do you think, that always very controlled in keeping the tempo yet able to pull off fills that were nothing short of jaw dropping?
If this is directed towards my drumming, then thanks again, but I can't compliment my own drumming. I will just say that I practiced a lot and worked at building speed & stamina. And I was young & thin, so I had a lot of energy!
Would you say, that you developed very much compared to the first effort?
Yes, I'd say we were tighter from playing so many shows prior to Demo II. But Frozen Death and No Escape are older songs that we were already playing before recording the first tape, so as far as being more developed, we were already playing those faster more technical songs early on.
While only clocking in at about 13 minutes, this demo is one that can be played over and over and never gets old, boring or tired…
You could be confused with no one else and it was a tragedy that you never got signed and truly one of the best thrash bands ever, even if on a local level, how do you view this?
At that time I honestly thought we were at least worthy to be on some small indie label or something, but we just were not what a lot of people were looking to sign I guess. It's tough to get somewhere in the music industry, as everyone knows. We just made some poor decisions, and we also had a management team that didn't have a clue as to what we were about, and they weren't very interested in moving us in the right direction. I never understood why they wanted to represent us in the first place.
Do you agree with, that the demo showed a definitive improvement as the band had adopted a somewhat Bay Area sound, trying very hard to come up with sharp razor riffing a la Exodus, Vio-lence and the likes and you did succeed to a certain level?
I don't completely agree, but Roy was a fan of Vio-lence (no disrespect to them, but Kev & I were not), and we loved Testament. But were only casual Exodus fans. We were far more into bands like Zoetrope, Mercyful Fate, Megadeth, Metal Church and Anthrax, along with several others. I thought that the Bay Area scene was a great thing, from what I would read about it in mags, but I can't say that it was a huge influence on our sound.
Do you think that this tape sounded closer to what you wanted to achieve with Formicide and it was the best representation of the band?
No, because I am not a fan of the sound on Demo II. I like the sounds of the guitars, bass, and vocals far better on Demo I. Although the snare drum sounds absolutely terrible on the first tape (I always had more of a tighter "gunshot" snare sound, unlike that lousy snare sound I ended-up getting on our first demo). But overall, the feel, the performances, and most of the sounds on Demo I are what represents Formicide best to me.
The band remained busy opening for friends Wargasm and Meliah Rage, as well as national acts such as Testament and Armored Saint, how did these shows go? Did they help to expand the band’s popularity in the underground?
The shows went well, especially the big local shows, but I would not say it helped us in any way nationally. We played some great shows in Boston and we had a loyal following, but nothing much happened for us outside of the city.
After selling hundreds of the second demo, and writing for a third, tensions began to surface, what happened exactly?
Kevin and I never get along when playing together, and I had different ideas for our songwriting than he did. Plus, we were young and stubborn and not willing to be reasonable with each other. And so, like with most bands, the constant fighting resulted in unhappiness within the band, and then Kevin decided to leave right after we recorded Demo III.
The band quickly recorded a very raw third demo in February 1989, how did the recording sessions go with this demo?
We just wanted to quickly record some new ideas. Sessions weren't going so well, as Kevin was noticeably unenthused and quit shortly afterwards. We went back with Craig and he quickly re-recorded the guitars, but there wasn't too much enjoyment in the band at that point if I remember correctly. I mean, we were getting along and we were excited to be playing and writing new material, but we had a feeling that our "glory days" were behind us.
Can you tell us more about this tape?
Not much to say about it. Just did it quickly in my friend's 8-track basement studio, didn't spend much time on it. I thought that we should record some new ideas, and we didn't like the overly-produced sound of Demo II, so we decided to record new songs as quickly as possible. Looking back now, it really wasn't a great idea; we should have spent more time on it.
Kevin left the band shortly afterwards, and was replaced by Craig Silverman, why did Kevin leave the band? Were there auditioned other musicians as well besides Craig?
Kev left for reasons I mentioned earlier; we just couldn't get along together and argued constantly. We already knew Craig for a few years and he was a good friend of ours. I had played in several bands with him (we also briefly tried Formicide as a 5-piece with Craig in 1988), so he was the only logical choice to replace Kevin. There was no need to look around for anyone else.
What about his musical background?
He was into indie thrash just like we were. He moved to Tewksbury from New York sometime around 1986 when he was about 16-years-old I think, and Kev had met him at a party. I got his number, called him, and then we had a band together for a short time in 1987 before I went to join the guys in Formicide.
Craig re-recorded the guitar tracks (his playing is featured here on „Prey to Pieces”), what was the goal of it? Why did he re-record these guitar lines at all?
We thought that we'd shop these new songs around to some labels, since we had no success getting a record deal from our previous two demos. Besides, Craig was now the new guitarist, and so there was no point in having Kevin's guitar tracks on our newest recording after he had left. It made sense to just have Craig come into the studio and record his own guitar tracks.
The riffs and highly-active drum work are among the catchiest of all Formicide’s material, right?
I would have to say no to this. My favorite demo by far is Demo I. That tape is Formicide to me.
This demo remained unreleased, correct?
Yes. We did not plan on releasing it at the time, and then split up 3 months later anyway, so it didn't matter at that point. It really didn't do us much good to record it because we didn't really do anything with it, it had weak production, and we were just losing steam as a band by that point anyway.
The band continued forward, playing several shows, but things weren’t the same anymore, and you split-up in June 1989, what kind of reasons did lead to the band’s break?
We lost the excitement that we once had. Things were no longer the same and our interest in the band had fizzled-out.
Would you say, that the thrash scene was oversaturated at this point and it started going out of fashion?
For me it was definitely going out of fashion. Three months after splitting up I started Only Living Witness, which was pretty far removed from what Formicide was all about. I just was not into the whole thrash thing any longer. I wasn't into the subject matter, the imagery of thrash bands in general, and I also wanted to take a step back and get into some slower material. The thrash scene had run it's course for me and I was ready for a new approach. Nowadays I listen to indie thrash when I am in the mood for the good old heavy music. My 22-month-old son loves when I put Zoetrope's "A Life of Crime" in the stereo...
You, Roy, and Kevin got back together that September and formed the first line-up of Only Living Witness with Jonah Jenkins and you released two singles and two records, can you tell us more about this period?
This is when things got exciting for us again. Jonah Jenkins was our new singer, who was primarily from a hardcore scene, and we were introduced to an entirely different audience, and we were very enthused to be playing in a new band. Things started moving fairly quickly for us after just a few shows, and things started to happen for OLW. We released a demo and single, but then Kevin and Roy left in 1991. Kev was replaced once again by Craig Silverman, and Roy was replaced by Chris Crowley on bass. We recorded another demo, and then signed to Century Media in 1992, and released two LPs before splitting up in 1995. The real lineup of OLW is this one. Kev & Roy were great, but we moved into a whole new sound and a whole new style once they left. Early OLW was a cool time, but things really happened for us after they quit and we had to re-group with Craig & Chris.
Then you and Craig Silverman were reported to be working together in a band called Two Sun System, what about this act?
After OLW I switched to playing guitar & singing. Craig actually played bass with me in Hank Crane, which I started during the summer of 1996. He plays on our first unreleased demo as well. After that session we got my cousin Adam Kelley on bass, and Craig went to guitar. He then left and joined my brother Kevin's band The Shods for a while, playing bass for them. Two Sun System was a hard rock band we had from 2001-2002. Played a handful of shows, recorded some songs, then it fizzled out. Nothing big there. But Craig & I have played together on-and-off since 1987 (and we are again right now).
Also, in 1996, you formed an alternative-country band called Hank Crane and recorded a self-released 5-song EP in 1997, but they broke up a year later, does it mean, that you turned back on metal or…?
I got more into country music after Hank Crane broke up, and recorded a solo LP in 1999 called Dead Horse Town. But I have always loved many styles of music, from Sinatra to Hank Williams to Slayer, and many many others. Still do...
In 1999, you released your debut full-length, entitled „Dead Horse Town”, having performed all of the vocals and instruments himself and you formed a new band and has played several shows in the Boston area, what about this act as a whole?
I had a blast recording that album with my friend John Bean at his home studio. I had wanted to record a whole album by myself ever since I'd heard as a kid that Paul Mc Cartney had played all the instruments on his "Mc Cartney" solo LPs. And I loved doing that myself; John and I had a blast together. As far as having the East Coast Cowboys band, it was a really fun time, and I was lucky to get some cool shows in Lowell and the Boston area. But I just couldn't keep that band together. Too many things going on in other members lives - and my own - and so by the summer of 2000 we called it quits. But we were old friends, we still are, and we had a lot of fun playing that music together. (By the way, Steve Reppucci played bass in this band.)
The Formicide demos are now all available on one disc, which was released in October 2006 by Due Process, what made you to release all of the demos on a CD? Was it a big demand into them from the part of the fans or…?
No, a guy named Andrew at Due Process just really liked the demos and wanted to release them.
Didn’t you think about to reunite and give some shows to promote the record?
Not at all.
How do you view all of the comebacks or reformation/reunion gigs of ’80s outfits, such as Hallow’s Eve, Heathen, Sacred Reich, Chemikill, Agent Steel, Metal Church and list goes on?
Well, all I can say is that Only Living Witness just reunited and played two shows in June: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0xzeCjH2qI, so I must say that reunions are a good idea, if the band is reuniting for the right reasons: Their love of the music, and wanting to give their fans a great show. If that's why a band is thinking about reuniting, then by all means do it.
As far as the CD, you receive a long overdue reissue treatment courtesy of Due Process, a new label helmed by the proprietor of the great Aversionline webzine/blog (www.aversionline.com), can you tell us more about it? Who came up with the idea of the release at all?
Honestly, I am not in contact much with them at all. But Andrew is a super-nice guy, and it was a pleasure dealing with him. As I said, he contacted me and said that he wanted to release the demos, and so we worked together to get the CD out. But I haven't talked with him about it very often and barely communicate with him at this point. I am glad that he released it, but there is nothing going on between Due Process and Formicide. I wish them luck with all of their releases.
What is compiled here are the complete recorded works of the short-lived quartet, all originally captured in the late 80’s and appearing on this comp in remastered forms (which sound great considering the source material were cassettes in lieu of the original masters), does it mean that all of your songs are on this CD and you used all of the tunes you had written back then?
We had a few other songs, as well as ideas, but these are all of the studio recordings; there is nothing else.
Anyone with a love of aggressive classic thrash with a crossover feel would be wise to track this down immediately, do you agree with it?
I don't know - I can't answer that one.
When it comes to ’80s American thrash, the San Francisco Bay Area, Texas and New York are the first places that come to mind, however, Boston had a thriving, though smaller, scene of its own with bands like Wargasm, Meliah Rage, Temporary Insanity, and Formicide, what do you think about it?
I thought our scene in Boston was amazing. The bands worked hard and tried to help each other as much as possible. It was a "brotherhood". We were playing shows together, partying together, and I am proud to call all of those bands my friends. The late 1980s was a very special time for Boston thrash music, and I am so glad that we were able to be a part of it, make a bunch of new friends, and I have nothing but great memories of that whole era.
How do you view, that one of the most skilled and schooled underground thrash bands at the time was Formicide, a four-piece of young metalheads flaunting long hair, high-strapped guitars, and most notably, alcohol-fueled, raging thrash anthems?
We were young, full of energy, and rehearsed alot. A LOT. And I drank more beer than the other 3 guys combined, so I guess I was the most "alcohol-fueled" member back then. (Not anymore, though. Approaching 9 years of sobriety.)
It’s inconceivable that a band of this caliber never got signed, while many bands of lesser talent did, how do you explain this?
Shit happens I guess. Or doesn't happen for some...
Would you say, that these demos frankly smoke actual albums by some of thrash’s supposed elite; the first two demos (tracks 1-8) sound the best, and the mastering job gives them modern beefiness, while the rest of the tracks vary in sound quality, but the songs themselves are unimpeachable?
Thanks again for the kind words. I like The Omen, Perfect Race, and Them the best of all. I believe that there are good performances on Demo II & III, but I do not feel that the material is as strong as the three songs I just mentioned.
The band is amazingly tight, crunching out riff after awesome riff with fluid transitions and plenty of tempo switch-ups and gang vocals, the solos aren’t frequent, but when they happen, they’re ripping, the bass particularly stands out, with lots of cool fills and runs and the vocals are in the part growl/part singing/part talking style so prevalent in that time - think Tom Araya meets Steve „Zetro” Souza, with a touch of Chuck Billy, what do you think about it?
As I say, we rehearsed a lot and worked very hard to maintain a level of performing, and constantly worked at trying to stay as tight as we possibly could on all of those stops & switch-ups, etc. We loved Chuck Billy and Tom Araya, but did not like Zetro's voice at all (he is a better singer nowadays than he was back then). We also loved Barry Stern from Zoetrope, Stacy Andersen from Hallows Eve, David Wayne, and many others.
What’s your opinion, that the intricate guitar solo in „Perfect Race”, the pounding thrash riffs of „Awaiting the Awakening” and „Frozen Death”, the bass introduction in „Them” and the overall sound of the band - it all harkens back to that era when thrash was strong?
It was a different time back then. We were very much into the whole thrash movement, and besides it being a way of life for us, we also at least tried to write stuff that was comparable to all of the other bands that were around at that time. And we also tried to bring in our older influences when possible, like the bass chords at the beginning of Them which are very influenced by Black Sabbath's "Zero the Hero".
Hints of early Metallica as well as a number of other American (mostly) thrash bands are evident, yet Formicide do not sound like a simple copycat, is that correct?
We were not interested at all in copying anybody else, so I do hope we succeeded with that.
All instruments are competently handled and the musicianship displayed is good enough to carry the songs and let the listener focus on the rhythms and the aggressiveness, what are your views on it?
That's what we always strived for. We always tried to be at the top of our game, and always tried to perform at our best. But that is totally up to the individual listener to decide on whether we did a good job or if we didn't.
Unfortunately the album suffers from bad production and sound quality, especially so on „Prey to Pieces” and the rest of the tracks until the album’s conclusion, which was not uncommon in those years, more so with a collection of demo material like the last few tracks, why didn’t you digitally remaster or remix the stuff?
We did digitally remaster the stuff. Unfortunately all we had for the Demo III songs with Kevin were some mp3s that were sent to Andrew from someone in Europe - none of us have a cassette of those sessions. i mentioned earlier that we should've spent more time on Demo III - the production is definitely lacking - but the original recordings sound much better than what's on this re-released CD. The sound quality of these Demo III songs on the disc is absolutely terrible, but Andrew felt that is was better to release everything from the band, than to not release some of what we did. (I don't know how I feel about it now, but it doesn't matter.) We could not remix anything anyway, because we do not have any of the reels. I sent the reels to a label some time ago who planned on releasing the stuff. The label folded, and the guy asked if he could hold the tapes for when he gets his new label rolling. After about 6 months Andrew contacted me, so I emailed the original guy about sending my reels back to me. He never replied and has never sent the reels either. Nice guy...
Would you say, that the enjoyment ne will get out of Formicide is probably directly proportional to its age and nevertheless, it will certainly be an enjoyable ride for those nostalgic of the era?
Personally, I believe that you had to have been around and involved in the indie metal scene of the 1980s to really appreciate any demos by a band like ours.
The Stevenson brothers and Roy Costa wrote tightly wound, wildly technical riffs that blazed ahead over your regimented yet identifiable drum work, throwing the listener tempo shift curveballs at every corner, spitefully breaking things down into half-time parts before ending up in some of the most accomplished metal solos Boston had ever heard, how do you view it?
I have the same responses: Thank you, and we rehearsed our asses off. I can only hope that some people will appreciate the work we put into our performances.
Do you agree with, that pugnacious and thickset frontman Steve Reppucci gave the bone-slicing metal of Formicide his voice and burly image, shouting precisely and commendably verse after verse, and displaying a natural flair at fronting a thrash band, a skill most often associated these days with Municipal Waste’s popular Tony Foresta?
I don't know who this singer & band is, but I believe that Steve was a very unique frontman - due to his size and to his great personality - and his voice is just totally amazing. He is such a natural. And he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, so I believe that his personality really came through to the audience during live performances. He has a great sense of humor and a lot of people really liked him as a person, and they knew that he was sincere as a singer; he loved being in the band and it really showed. He made us a very special band to many folks who liked our music.
By the way, how do you view the present thrash scene with bands such as Municipal Waste, Armored Assassin, Merciless Death, Toxic Holocaust etc.? Do you still keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground these days?
I don't keep an eye on what's going on these days at all. As I mentioned earlier, when I want to hear thrash metal, I listen to the stuff that I was into back then: Zoetrope, as well as Manowar, Slayer, Anvil, Exciter, and other early indie bands. I am not familiar with anybody nowadays, other than Shadows Fall, since they covered an Only Living Witness song a few years ago. (Thanks, guys!)
As the recent resurrection of retro-thrash is proving, honest and skilled thrash metal is a timeless form and in that regard, Formicide’s exhaustive but never tiresome discography CD on Due Process is essential listening for fans of the style both old and true, or new and hungry, right?
All I can say here is that fans of today should go back and listen to any band that was doing something back in the day. You can't really be a true fan of any particular style of music without knowing your history as far as I am concerned.
Eric, thanks a lot for the feature, how do you want to end this feature? Anything what I forgot to cover or to mention?
Thank you so much for your interest in Formicide and for this interview. As I'd mentioned earlier, we had our two Only Living Witness reunion shows in June - both were sold out – and the whole thing was an amazing time for us all. Formicide really was a great experience, and it was fantastic for a short amount of time (1987-1988), but I do consider it somewhat of a "training ground" for what we ended-up doing in OLW. That band got much bigger than Formicide and it really was where I was at, as far as a musical style and a sound was concerned. Anyway, now that the reunion is over I am now playing guitar with Craig again (he's playing bass) and ex-Hank Crane Craig Thomas drummer in a project called Hell & Jesus. This is heavy moodier music with some mellow parts as well. We're all excited to be playing and look forward to a few gigs in the future. Good luck to you, and thanks again for this interview.