This band called Chemikill (Cleveland, Ohio) was a two-demo-band in the end of the ’80s and beginning of the ’90s. Now we found their guitarist Tim Piispanen to talk with him about the career of the band. Btw. the orininal bandmembers got together in 2007 to record their debut album after these long years.
So Tim, do you still remember at which point did you start interesting in music and in metal in general? What did you find so exciting in this music?
I have been into music forever! Especially metal and music with attitude. I was one of those kids whose favorite color was black and purple and was a fan of old horror movies. I had wanted to play the guitar for as long as I can remember only because I realized I couldn’t sing. To me ,metal just fired me up and made me feel supercharged.
Were you into small, still underground bands or rather into bigger, known ones, such as Black Sabbath, UFO, Deep Purple etc.?
Back in the 70’s the best music around was Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, UFO, those were my first and most influential favorite bands. You can still hear these bands in my playing and songwriting. When the 80’s rolled in there were many more choices as far as underground and new metal bands. Metallica was still underground when I first heard them in like’81 and they blew me away. Still one of my favorite albums is ”Heaven and Hell” by Black Sabbath with Dio on vocals. Then Megadeath, Iron Maiden, early Scorpions. Later came MetalChurch, Savatage, Sword. These were my main influences... and I almost forgot Rush. I was way into”All the Worlds a Stage”
When did you decide to be guitarist and was it the first instrument, that you chose? Do you play perhaps other instruments as well?
I had always wanted to play the guitar but fortunately my Mother made me take piano lessons at age 10. At the time I hated it. I had to learn”Greensleeves” and other ridiculous songs. I was listening to Kiss, and Sabbath and then having to learn Greensleeves...yuck! I also had to pick an instrument to play in the school band so I picked the coolest instrument I could think of besides the tympanni. I wound up playing the saxophone for like six years. Along the way I finally got a guitar and in between playing marching band songs and Greensleeves I started learning AC/DC riffs and Iron Man by Sabbath. Looking back the piano lessons and saxophone training really strengthened my overall musicianship and made me a much better guitar player...Thanks Mom!
Were you self taught or…?
I was primarily self taught on the guitar. While having the music training in piano and saxophone taught me to read music and theory and phrasing. AC/DC’s Highway to Hell” taught me the first three chords that any guitarist needs. Those were the days before tablature and internet so you had to develop learning by your ear and what made it feel right. I think that was a blessing.
As far as your name, you came from Finnland, when did your parents relocate from Finnland to the States?
Well I was born in the States but my Great-Grandparents were born in Finlad. They were still alive when I was young and my Grandparents had a farm in Ohio when I was young and I still remember the Sauna in the backyard. I lived in an area 30 miles east of Cleveland where there were many Finn and Hungarian immigrants who moved here to work in the shipping yards of the Great Lakes. I grew up eating nissu with coffee and korpsua for breakfast. I wasn’t much into the raw fish soaked in lye that my grandmother loved and I had an uncle named Eppu. My mom had a Sisu bumper sticker on her car .And my favorite was a sign my dad hung on the front door that said ”You can always tell a Finn, but you can’t tell him much” ..he was pretty stubborn.
Have you ever heard about the Finn-Ugri language? In this term we are neighbours or friends…
I believe this is the similarity in the Finn and Hunarian languages. I also know the Finnish language is very difficult to learn. I read that the Finnish word for cigarette lighter is ”savukkeensytyttimen”. Probably why many Finns carry matches. I even read that to say ”93” in Finnish is ”yhdeksankymmentakolme”. Now I don’t speak Finn but I am always correcting people on the pronounciation of ”Piispanen”. Funny thing many Americans think my name is Italian.
Before you being involved in Chemikill, what were the acts, that you’ve played with? Can you tell us more about your very first experiences as musician?
Believe it or not but Chemikill was my first real band. I had played in a few cover acts and some bar bands since I was 17. Right before Chemikill I played in a band that covered Aerosmith songs that got somewhat popular. I played a lot of dive and biker bars in those days. I remeber a biker bar where some guy tipped us a few bucks to play Born to be Wild, but he said to wait about 10 minutes. In that time he and a few friends went outside and fired up their bikes and rode them into the bar so they could do circles and rev the engines on the dancefloor while we played Born to be Wild.
Do you still remember, how did you hook up with the other guys? What about their musical background?
Actually Mike and Fred (Drummer and Vocalist) recruited me from the Aerosmith band I was in. I had known Mike for a while and we had jammed several times before. He was the best drummer in town and the only guy who could play Rush. As I said I was into Rush and we would play 2112 for hours. So really this was Mikes vision to start this band. He had hand picked each member and fought to get them to commit to a band. He and Fred were playing with some musicians when he called me to audition. I showed up with two songs I had just written and it was an instant hit. Mike had already played these riffs with me and Fred just jumped in and hit the notes. Screamin’ and the Warrior were these first two songs. We soon got Calvin Lee Burgess to come down to play his Bass and that was it.
Were they known underground persons?
Mike, Fred and Calvin were pretty well known in the Cleveland underground already. Mike was the best new drummer in town, Calvin knew the Purgatory and Destructor guys and Fred was the hot new vocalist on the scene. I was the unknown one with no prior bands or contacts in the scene besides Mike.
Was it hard to find the suitable members for the band? I mean, members that were sharing the same musical taste or interest as you?
Mike and Fred played with a few other guitarists and bass players before I came in but it came together rather quickly. The fact that me and Mike jammed several times brought the chemistry right away. We did try to find a second guitarist for the first year and no one could mesh with the band. So we just started playing gigs as a four piece.
Can you tell us more about the Cleveland scene? Were you familiar with the underground Cleveland scene, such as Breaker, Purgatory, Destructor etc.?
The Cleveland scene at that time was amazing. There were a lot of talented bands and good venues and a loyal following to support them. I think it takes all 3 to make it happen. You need the good bands first like Breaker, Purgatory, Destructor but you need club owners who get it and lastly fans who know how to support their local scene. Bill Peters (Auburn Records) was the glue that held it all together. He organized and maanged these bands and worked with the clubs to make a really exciting music scene. It was great time to be in Cleveland. Nine Inch Nails and Filter also came from this same era in Cleveland and were playing some of the same clubs as us. People ignored them at first because they didn’t initially fit into the metal category.
Which clubs did start opening their doors? Would you say, that in Cleveland was a healthy club scene and a great underground buzz?
Our first gigs were at the Phantasy Nite Club and were set up by Bill Peters. He had gotten a copy of one of our reheasal tapes and immediately played it on his radio show. That right there started a buzz as to who were the new kids on the block. We opened for Breaker or Purgatory for one of our first shows and we were headlining our own shows soon after that. Local magazines gave us killer reviews and live tapes from these first shows began to circulate (probably the same tape you have today) and the buzz was on.
Do you think, that Cleveland played an important role in the forming of the American metal movement? I mean, LA, NY/NJ or Bay Area were the most famous, known and popular metal centers, weren’t they?
Cleveland was one of the most underated music scenes of the 80’s. It wasn’t truly recognized, I believe untill many years after it had faded. The fact that people are still talking about this music 20 years later is a testament to this fact. New York and L.A. bread all the hair bands that were popular on the radio and MTV. But where are they now? They are looked upon as a fad and a blemish of the 80’s. That may be the fault of the big record companies selling them too hard as I did like alot of these bands. Cleveland I believe is playing a role of the Modern Metal movement as it is still alive and thriving even 20 years later.
Who came up with the band name?
I believe it was Fred and Calvin who came up with the name. I opposed it at first because it was the name of an Exodus song. But the fanzines started to print it and we needed a name to start gigging so it just stuck. The fact that we reheasrsed only one mile from a nuclearpower plant and had the cooling towers in view everyday may have added to the appeal. But really the band made the name, not the other way around. The magazines really liked it and started running stories with it. At the time we searched for other bands with the name and nothing came up so we went with it.
How do you think, was it a good decision to choose the moniker Chemikill? Were you aware of the existence of the Baltimore, Maryland Thrash band Chemikill?
At that time there was no Google searches or extensive internet outreach like there is today. I have only recently become aware of the Baltimore Chemikill and that is only because of the internet. At that time they didn’t know about us either and it appears we started around the same era in the late 80’s. I have also found a Chemikill in the U.K. that also started in the late 80’s. No one can be faulted for this. Exodus has the initial credit for the name. We all obviously share a passion for the kind of metal that this name conjures up. Wouldn’t it be cool to tour with the three Chemikills...I can see it now....The Three Headed Monster Tour with three cooling towers as the logo.
Didn’t you think about that the fans confused the band with each other?
We never thought we would ever be talking about this 20 years later.
What about the rehearsals of Chemikill? Did you start writing originalls or were you jamming on covers?
We started with originals right away. The first 5 or 6 came very quickly and it was good times.” Screamin” was the first and that was a riff I had played with Mike before. „The Warrior” was next followed by” Hell to Pay”. From there we wrote Deadline and some more epic tunes with more changes that required several rehearsals to finish.”Edge of Wasteland” and „Wake before the Dawn” came from those sessions.
Would you say, that all of you guys were talented and experienced musicians?
Most definately. I was the least experienced so we thought we needed a lead guitar player. Playing with these guys made me a much better musician and I grew into the spot.
Was a main man who wrote all of the lyrics and music or did you work in a team work? How did the songcomposing go at all?
The first batch of songs were songs that I presented to the band with lyrics and music already completed. Screamin , Hell to Pay, The Warrior, Deadline. This kick started the process and defined the sound for the band and gave it a direction. From there I would present partial songs or riffs and the band would finish them. Edge of Wasteland for instance was a partial song I had with several riffs that went really well together. Fred and Calvin finished the lyrics. Other songs went like that too like WakeBefore the Dawn was another guitar riff that inspired Fred to write some lyrics and Calvin to write a middle section. Of course no song can come alive without a drummer who understands the structure of song building like Mike did and most songs began with me and him just jamming untill something felt right.
In 1989 the band recorded a 5 song demo „Guilty as charged” at TKO Studios, do you still remember how was it recorded?
That demo was never really finished. We started it right when Bill Peters was putting together Heavy Artillery. He originally wanted one of the cuts for his record but with too many people mixing these tracks they came out kinda mushy. He pulled us out of there and brought us to Beachwood Studios to start from scratch recording two songs to include on Heavy Artillery. Deadline was the strongest cut of that session and wound up on the disc.
Can you give us details regarding this demo? Did you shop around the demo to attract label interests? Did you also spread it through the fanzine, tapetrading network?
What we had left of that demo did not measure up to our live recordings as that is what circulated as our demos. The same live tapes that survive today have outlived that unfinished demo.
What was the line up of the band at this point, becauseI read, that Metal Pete played only one gig for Chemikill in 1989, does it mean, that you hadn’t any permanent bassplayer or…?
The original lineup was still intact at this point. Mike, Fred, Calvin, and Me. I don’t beliieve it was 1989 when Metal Pete played this gig. It was more like middle ’90 that he played a gig, I think it was one of our last ever shows. Calvin was the original and permanent bassist.
When did Mike Whaeatley on guitars and Calvin Lee Burgess on bass join the band? How did you find them and what did go wrong with the previous members?
Mike Wheatley was the result of us looking for a second guitarist for over a year. After not finding one we just gigged and recorded as a four piece. When things started to heat up and a tour was on the horizon we auditioned Mike Wheatley to fill out the guitar sound for touring. He was the first guitarist that I had played with who just seemed to get it. He was already a fan of the band and knew most of the songs to a tee. Calvin was there from the begining so there were no previous members at this point. This would be late ’89 to early ’90 at this point.
Then you went on to record a 2 song demo at Beechwood Studios in 1990, which included the songs „Deadline”, „Fate worse than death”, how did the recording sessions go?
This recording session was the result of us not having a worthy mix from our TKO sessions for Auburns’ Heavy Artillery. We set out to record Fate Worse than Death to be included on Auburns Heavy Artillery. Fate came out relly good but Bill Peters thought we could do better. We then recorded Deadline and was a great performance. That was the song that wound up on the record.
Why did your choice fall on Beechwood instead of TKO? Who paid the studio costs?
Beechwood is where Bill Peters was working with a lot of his bands. It was a little more of a proffesional studio with better mic’s and tape machines and sound rooms. Bill had recorded most of Heavy Artillery here and had a good repoire with the engineer.
How did end up being only two tracks on this tape? Didn’t you have more material or you didn’t find the other songs on the same level or quality?
These sessions were for Bill Peters and Heavy Artillery. We had an entire album full of songs that were ready to record but we only needed one for the Heavy Artillery Record. The second song was just a bonus that didn’t make the final cut. Either one could have been on the record but Deadline just had that special quality in that session.
What can you say us about this new effort compared to the first demo? Was it a better representation of the band?
This effort was just a better studio. As you know good studios cost money and that was just one thing Chemikill never had much of. We had plenty of material, plenty of talent...but no money. Our live tapes existed in place of demos and recordings. These live tapes are what the radio stations would play and is what every one had in their tape decks. The live tapes were our demos. These other attempts at recording were just warm-ups for us to get into a record deal situation.
Did it sound closer to what you wanted to achieve with Chemikill?
Deadline had the time and attention it deserved in the studio. Beechwood studios was a great place for us to record and the song came out great. So what we wanted to acheive was a recording that captured the same energy as those live tapes.
„Deadline” would appear on Auburn Record’s infamous „Heavy Artillery” compilation in the same year, did it also mean, that Auburn offered a deal for you? Were there any label interests in the band at all?
I do believe there were several labels intereted in us after the release of Heavy Artillery. Unfortunately the group disbanded shortly after this time and the end of the Cleveland metal scene began to crumble and no full length records every materialized.
What about this compilation as a whole?
I thought that it was one of the best compilations I had ever heard and was proud to be a part of it.
Do you think that this compilation helped the band to expand its popularity in the underground scene and draw more fans attention to the band?
People who had never heard of Chemikill or could get the live tapes now had access to us. With the release and success in Europe of Heavy Artillery we gained fans from all over the world. Deadline was on e of the best received cuts on the record.
Did both the demos and the compilation open some doors for the band?
If nothing else it secured our future as a member of one of the best underground metal scenes of the era.
You played lots of shows in the Cleveland area, how did these shows go? How can we imagine a Chemikill gig and what about your setlist as a whole?
There was always a feeling of excitement before our shows. We weren’t flashy or use a big stage show. We just cranked it up and let it fly. We would start every show with Screamin. It was one of the fastest, and loudest songs we had. Fred would hit these notes in the first few seconds of the song and Mike would really crank up the double bass drum line and it was like we hit the ground running. Nobody opened a show like we did and it set the pace for the rest of the night. We would usually follow up with either Deadline or Hell to Pay and segue into Edge of Wasteland. By this time the fans were mesmerized and hungry for more. Wake before the Dawn and Fate Worse than Death always anchored the middle of the show while The Warrior would follow with an incredible drum solo at the close of the song. We would close every show with City Nite to Roam and Blackened Void. By now the fans were exhausted and drained and so were we. It was a very high energy show that took a lot of stamina to pull off.
In my collection is a fourtrack bootleg which was recorded at the Fantasy, including „Deadline”, „Edge of wasteland”, „Fate worse than death” and „City night”, do you remember that particular gig?
Sounds like the one I just talked about in the last paragraph. Those tapes that still survive were all recorded in the first year of Chemikill (1988) and were from our first few shows.
Were „Edge of wasteland” and „City night” on the first demo?
I think we tried to record those but they didn’t get passed the tracking phase. The only ones we completed were Blackened Void, Hell to Pay, Wake before the Dawn and even those didn’t get much circulation. Heavy Artillery became the focus after that.
Which song was written for Dave Holocaust of Destrcutor? Why and when was he murdered?
I didn’t know this but after talking to Calvin, City Nite to Roam was the song written in memory of Dave Holocaust. See I had just written the gutar parts and Fred had taken the song and wrote lyrics using this trajic event as his inspiration. If you listen to the lyrics it makes sense. The line..”..death tolls it bells on me” was written by Fred honoring his friend Dave Holocaust. He would always introduce the song dedicating it to a ..”very special friend” but would never elaborate on who that was.
Did the shows help getting new fans for the band?
We would see more fans at every show. The crowd would grow exponentialy with each gig.
Were you always an headlining act or were you an opening act for more known bands who played in the Cleveland area back then?
Our first two or three gigs were openers for Breaker and Purgatory. After that we headlined every show.
Did you already start recording your first full length at this point or…? Did you have some tracks recorded for a full length?
The only tracks we had officially recorded at this point were Deadline and Fate Worse than Death. There was the unfinished demo and the live tapes but no full length was in the works at this time. We figured a deal was in the near future and we continued writing new material right up till the end. Songs like Guilty as Charged and Not to Blame were some that were written late in the bands career and were only played out once or twice. We had upwards of 15 songs ready to record at this stage.
At which point and why did Chemikill break up?
The actual breakup is hard to pinpoint because of the way things were happening in Cleveland at that point. Mid 1990 to 91 other Cleveland mainstays were begining to disband like Purgatory. Most of the best musicians who made up some of these bands began to look into the cover band route as the lucritive record deals just weren’t materializing. Bills had to be paid and grunge was begining to take over and the fans who supported these bands were growing up and having children. Suddenly Cleveland was a thriving cover band scene as we finally lost Fred to a cover band with Frank Romano of Purgatory called Captured. Captured did go on to be a very popular local cover band but this was the official end of Chemikill. Enter Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and record labels were shifting their focus from metal to the new sound. The market had been flooded with metal and we were just another casualty of the 90’s.
After Chemikill disbanded Mike Seleman became a train engineer, Fred Flory moved to Pheonix, Arizona, where he formed a rock cover band called Rizon, which is still active, but what about the other guys? Did you remain in touch with each other?
I continued on with several more original projects after Chemikill. I had played covers before and was hooked on the new drug called metal. Calvin did too, he played with Kenny Easterly, drummer for Purgatory, in a band called Mystic that did pretty well. In 2002 I got into a band called Seven that started to take off. Some people called it New Metal and seemed to sputter out in 2005. We did a full length CD working with Ernie C. of Ice-T and Body Count, but never made it to circulation. There are some tracks on my website at www.mediasharkstudios.com
Did you take part with each other on a friendly term back then?
There was more disappointment than resentment. We all wanted it very badly but it was just a matter of timing. We are all still good friends to this day.
Did all of you remain in the music business and play in several bands or…?
Every one continued playing. Fred and Mike went on to some killer cover bands. Me and Calvin continued trying to revive the original scene in our own bands.
How did you view the scene of the ’90s? Do you agree with, that metal was almost dead on a large scale being killed by grunge?
The passage of time and natural selection had as much to do with that as grunge. Grunge music was just another form of metal really. Record companies had just flooded the market with old school metal bands in the 80’s and the next generation of kids were deciding the market. They needed their own identity and long hair, thrash metal bands just weren’t it for them. Rap was taking over the market too as large inner city populations were defining the urban, hip-hop sound. What about the internet? In the 80’s the record companies dictated what bands you heard. The 90’s gave you much more choices of what music to hear and downlod. But is metal really dead? Seems to me that it is resurging and gaining new fans again with younger and younger kids rediscovering it. There is still hope!
It has just been decided that in April of ’07 all the original members of Chemikill will be getting back together in Cleveland to record a 10 song debut full-length, that will be released on Auburn in 2008, how did it happen exactly? Whose idea was to record the full length at all?
This was not a quick decision at all. Over the past ten years or so I have been contacted on and off by various underground labels wanting any Chemikill material I could dig up. Finally in 2006 I was contacted by Laurent Ramedier of Snakepit Magazine to do an interview. That lead to a few other labels wanting to know if I had any material that we could release. I was digging up old live tapes and old videos to piece together a collection of songs. I even had the original un-finished TKO sessions on a tape reel which I tried to finish to anchor a release. Finally in late 2006 Bill Peters of Auburn Records caught wind of this activity and realized an oppourtunity to get us back in the studio. He didn’t want to see us release any of this un-finished or pieced together history of the band. He decided if we were going to make a release, we were going to do it right! Every one agreed and we booked a studio to begin recording tracks in April of 2007.
Does it mean that Chemikill reformed and you go on tour to support the record or at least do some club gigs or…?
I would say it was more of a reunion than a reformation. We all still live all over the country with only Mike still in Cleveland. But that doesn’t mean that some gigs or a short tour are out of the question. Once the record comes out any thing is possible.
By the way, how do find or see the reformations, that happened in the last 3-4 years, such as Death Angel, Heathen, Agent Steel etc.?
Just another example of the reurgance of metal. Who ever said metal is dead didn’t realize that it was only hiding, waiting for the right time to strike!
How did the recording sessions go?
The sessions were amazing. We only had one night to rehearse before cutting the first tracks. Everyone did their homework and it came together quickly. None of us had played this music in a very long time and we were astonished at what we had done. It was almost like playing the songs for the first time again. We only had one week to track as much as we could. On top of that I landed in Cleveland to one of the worst April snowstorms in history. This slowed us very little as Mike pounded out all the drum tracks in the first three days allowing me to go next to try to wrap up all the guitar for the next three days. I know my fingers were raw on the last day as I just finished the last guitar solo only hours before my flight home. Unfortunately I wasn’t there in Jan. 2008 for the bass and vocals sessions but was told that there wasn’t a weak cut in the whole record.
What about the songcomposing of the new record? Are there only brandnew tunes on the record or did you use some old material as well?
This whole record is songs from the original Chemikill set lists. Now most of these songs, fans outside of Cleveland have never heard. Aside from Deadline many fans have never heard anything. Boy will they be suprised. While some cuts sounded like classic 80’s metal some of them sounded like they were written yesterday. Yet they all have that distinctive Chemikill sound that Deadline introduced to the world. Its not that we didn’t want to write new material. We just felt that these songs needed to be released as they never had the chance before.
Do you still have some „previously unreleased” material?
There are some long lost cuts that didn’t make it to the studio this time around. This would be a good time to announce the release of the Edge of Wasteland Live DVD. I have collected several live video tapes including the Heavy Artillery Release show in Cleveland and compiled them to DVD. It is fan shot video tape of the entire Heavy Artillery show and a collection of other early shows. It features some unreleased songs and some that didn’t make it onto the record. I have put them together into an interactive DVD that relives the early days of Chemikill. I have some samples on our website that you can preview at www.chemikill.net
In your opinion, is Chemikill’s name still big and it is in people’s minds?
I never thought I would be talking about it in 2008. Those who have heard of it and know a song or two might think so. Ask me again when the record has been out for a year.
Tim, thanks a lot for your answers, anything to add, what I forgot to cover?
I would just like to mention the website. www.chemikill.net. I launched the site in March of 2008 after the record was officially tracked so people could get information on the official release date. The site has video samples from the DVD and Edge of Wasteland T-shirts. Check out our earliest press photo side by side with our current photo taken in 2007 at the recording sessions. Stop by and sign our guestbook and let us know that metal still reigns no matter how much time goes by.