Another band whom Iron Cross resemble is the „Knights of Old Bridge”, New Jersey, themselves - Blessed Death and although, Jon Wiegand does not have that staccato shrill, or mordent mirror shattering cadence of Larry Portelli; but he does reach some high octane wails; especially, on „Under Attack”, „Home Sweet Hell”, „M.I.A.”, and „Minutes To Pray”, what’s your comment?
ROB: Again, I can’t comment on the bands mentioned. I never listened to them. But, we did put Jon through the wringer in the studio to get him to sing some of that stuff the way he did!
As far as the title, how would you expound it? Did you want to analyze perhaps the relation between the Church and the State or…?
ROB: The name IRON CROSS was with the band when I joined. I think it was chosen to reflect the heavy nature of the music and some of the evil undertones that go with it. The album name was chosen because of the content of our songs. They reflect a religious and political undertone to them. Plus there was a lot of bullshit going on here in the States with the PMRC and the religious right trying to regulate and censor the content of Metal music in particular. What bullshit! I guess we were trying to make a statement about keeping the views of religion out of politics.
Did you think about the Catholic Church or about religion as a whole?
ROB: I was raised a Catholic but have come to realize that the Bible is nothing but a bunch of stories put together by people who didn’t have a better understanding of the world around them.
Does religion and Church play an important role in your life?
What do you think about the religious sects and about the organized religion?
ROB: If people want to believe in an all powerful being that controls or guides their life, that’s up to them. I like to think I control my own fate. I think there are some sects out there that are wayyyy out there in their beliefs, though. Some people are way too gullible. But, to each his own. Just don’t come to me trying to shove that crap down my throat!
How do you feel when you hear that some metal musicians, such as Ron Daniel or Matt Jordan from Viking became born again Christians they converted to god and they deny their past considering the metal music?
ROB: If they want to have a God to believe in, that’s fine for them. I don’t see why they should deny their past. Its part of what made them who they are.
In your opinion does God or Devil exist? Are there heaven, hell and purgatory?
ROB: I don’t think so. If i’m wrong, then I guess I’ll go to Hell for my lack of belief.
Not wanting to wait around for a label to pick you up, Iron Cross took things into their own hands; you started their own record company (Turmoil Records) to release their album under, how did it happen exactly?
ROB: There really wasn’t much to it. We decided on a name, opened a bank account, had business cards made up, etc.
Does it mea, that the demos weren’t shopped around and no labels were interested in signing the band or…?
ROB: I think we tried to shop demos around some but it was hard. Most labels don’t want unsolicited material sent to them and we didn’t have any type of management or promotion company to work on our behalf.
Did you release only the „Church and state” record or did you sign other bands as well?
ROB: Are you kidding me? We could Barely afford to put out our own album, let alone anyone elses!
In addition to funding the album themselves, Iron Cross (with the help of Producer/Seagrape co-owner Mike Konopka) decided to try and seek investors to help fund the project, can you tell us more about it?
ROB: That was actually the idea of our producer, Mike Konopka. He felt we had good potential and we wanted to record. The only thing holding us back was the lack of money at the time. You have to remember, we were only around 21-23 years old and didn’t exactly have high paying jobs then. Money was a big issue.
You had set out to write a 22 page investment prospectus/contract and shop it around to anyone who would listen, is that correct?
ROB: Yeah, that was my first time working on a computer. What a pain in the ass that was. I spent a lot of time typing that damn thing up. We tried to sell our idea to just about anyone we knew that had some money laying around. We even sold raffle tickets for a CD player to raise money!
In February of 1987, you were working on the prospectus when a reporter for a local neighborhood newspaper had come in for a scheduled interview with the owners of Seagrape Studios. You explained to her the project and the idea of trying to secure investors and it ended up being in the article for the paper, how did it happen exactly?
ROB: The reporter was there, like you stated, for an interview with the owners of the studio. While she was waiting for them in the office, i was working on the prospectus. She asked if worked for the studio and I explained to her what I was doing and our whole project. It came to be that the first paragraph or two of her article for the paper was about what I had told her.
Shortly after that initial article was published, Iron Cross was contacted by the Chicago Tribune for an interview on your interesting way to fund an album, shortly after that article was published, Iron Cross was contacted by the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) for additional interviews on the project and again, shortly after those articles ran in newspapers nationwide, Iron Cross was contacted by CNN for an interview which ended up being seen by people all over the world who had access to cable/satellite t.v., do you think that is was the biggest support for the band that ever could been?
ROB: Yeah, it was pretty cool. We had started getting letters and faxes from people from all over who had read the articles and had seen the CNN interview. I even had a friends brother call to say he had seen the CNN peice in Germany while he was stationed there in the Army. We had a lot of people asking about the project. After all, not too many Metal bands out there were doing what we were.
With all the recent attention, the band was able to secure funding for the album with the help of several investors, right?
ROB: After all the attention, we did get a couple of investors. Many that initially inquired, backed out. It was a risky venture.
On November 8th (election day in the U.S.) Iron Cross’ debut album „Church and State” was released, but because of still somewhat limited funding, only about 2,500 vinyl albums and 1,000 cassettes were released to various „key” markets, was the album quickly sold out?
ROB: I believe all the albums and cassettes sold eventually. I don’ t recall how long it took. I think all of us had kept a few copies for ourselves. Just about everything we made went to pay off studio debt.
Do you still remember, what kind of reviews did you get for the record?
ROB: Actually, I don’t recall any reviews to be honest. I do know that the re-mastered cd version has gotten very good reviews so far.
As far as the band, were you satisfied with the endresult? Were you satisfied with the music, lyrics, cover, sound etc. as a whole?
ROB: I originally had some issues with some of the mixes and mastering but, I have gotten over them. I liked the album cover except for the logo.
What were the shows, tours in support of the record?
ROB: We had done local shows in addition to some out of state shows as well.
The albums sold well and things were looking good for the band, but in the summer of 1988, Mike Antablian had decided to leave the band, what were the reasons of his departure?
ROB: I think he said he wanted to start playing drums! WTF!
He was replaced by guitarist Dave Szyszko, was he the first choice of the band or were there auditioned other guitarists as well? What about his musical background?
ROB: Dave was actually a friend of a friend. He had played in other bands at the time. We had a show coming up and Dave was the first guy we got ahold of. So he was in. We didn’t have time to audition guitarists.
Several months after the album release, Jon Wiegand had decided to leave the band due to personal reasons, followed shortly thereafter by Dennis Green, what went wrong with them?
ROB: They were just that... personal reasons. I don’t want to speak for them of their reasons for bailing out.
Because adequate replacement members were not found and the band played their last live show (with a different singer and drummer) July 1st of 1989, what do you recall of this show?
ROB: It reminded me of something from Spinal Tap. It was an outdoor show for a private party. Not a lot of people showed up. It was very depresssing in my opinion. That’s when I knew I had enough.
Would you say, that the departure of Jon and Dennis led to the band’s demise?
ROB: Without a doubt.
Over the last 20 years, all of the members had remained friends and in contact and on rare occasions, have gotten together to jam the old tunes, does it mean that you kept an eye what’s going on in the underground?
ROB: I payed little attention to the music scene in Chicago after that. I had just gotten married and had a child. I had little time or money for going to clubs to check out the scene. We got together every few years for the hell of it to jam. Nothing serious.
In which bands were you and the other guys involved in the last more than 20 years?
ROB: I think I was the only one who played in bands relatively consistently over the years. It was pretty much as a hobby at that point for me. It kept me busy and out of trouble! I had played from late 1989 to 1995 with a band called Krisis. This was some of the guys from Explorer as mentioned earlier. Then from 1997-1998, I played in a Savatage tribute band with some of the guys from Krisis and Chris Mittelbrun. I didn’t play in a band again until 2006 when I co-founded a Judas Priest tribute called Judas Rising, which I am still a part of in addition to IRON CROSS.
How did you view the status of metal at the late ’80s and during the ’90s?
ROB: In my opinion, the late 80’s were bad for Metal. It had become a parody of itself, too overblown with all the hair bands and sappy ballads. To me, it had lost its edge. I absolutley couldn’t stand the whole grunge movement.
Do you agree with, that the scene became oversaturated and metal in general was in a quagmire?
ROB: Yes! See above.
Trends and bands followed each other, I mean came the grunge, the pop/punk etc. and they killed the traditional metal, metal became more underground, right?
ROB: I think Metal was always meant to be an underground genre. The more known or popular it or bands in general become, the more they lose their edge and their rawness. Perfect example.....Metallica!
How do you view the labels? Did they become trend-oriented, such as Earache, Roadrunner, Nuclear Blast etc. while a lot of underground ones, such as Combat, New Renaissance vanished from sight or went to bankrupt?
ROB: I think labels absolutely become trend oriented. They see whats hot at the moment and bleed it for all it’s worth, whether there is talent involved or not. I can’t blame them, they are a business trying to make money, but in the long run it is the music and talented bands out there that suffer.
Do you think that metal was a lifeform during the ’80s, but it slowly became a business? For example the case of Metallica or Megadeth…
ROB: You got it! Read above.
Upon realizing that the 19th anniversary release date was at hand, you thought it might be a good idea to somehow commemorate the 20th anniversary date, how did it come in to your mind?
ROB: It kinda just did. Everything ended so abruptly before. To me it just never felt finalized. I thought it would be kinda cool to do something whether ten people or 1,000 people showed up didn’t matter. I just wanted to somehow commemorate what we did.
As I as know all of the band members were into the idea, weren’t they?
ROB: Everyone was into it, except Mike. He didn’t want to play. He did show up the gig though. We had gotten Dave into it originally, but that didn’t work out.
In December of ’07 you had set-up their myspace page and everything took a dramatic turn from there, because suddenly, people were coming out from all over the globe to say how much they loved the original release on LP, were you surprised about it?
ROB: I was VERY surprised by it. As I said earlier, I didn’t think anyone out there remembered us or the album. People from all over the world. Amazing! I wish we had the power of the internet 20 years ago!
It mean, Iron Cross was buried, but not forgotten, right?
ROB: I guess you could say that! But we are crawling out of that grave as we speak!
In February of ’08, the original album was remastered to CD as well as three bonus tracks (originally recorded as live-2 track demos in 1986) that were added to the CD, didn’t you think about to add more demo songs and/or rehearsal or live tunes as well?
ROB: The three songs that were added were the best of what we had recorded from that era. Plus, we wanted to save some older material for a potential new release. The only live recordings we have are from real shitty video tapes.
As far as the bonus tacks, „Tooth and Nail” is a very galloping mid-tempo number with hymn characteristics, „Fallen Angel” is extremely arrogant and explicit to show more evil, „Children Must Play” is a groovier number that brings enjoyment, what do you think about it?
ROB: All good songs in my opinion. Especially „Children Must Play”. One of my favorites. Those were a few of the songs we were saving at the time for a second album.
Are the bonus tracks legitimate thrash-grenade songs and are not just b-side or no names material that you added to the album?
ROB: Like I said, they are good tunes. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have put them on the CD!
Is it true, that some of the original artwork was redone, including the logo and a CD booklet was designed?
ROB: Yeah. The basic artwork was kept the same. The logo was changed, however. It was something that our cover artist had conceived. I never liked it. I put one on that more closely resembled what we used to have on our stage banner. Plus, I thought that this release should stand out a little different from the original release. A booklet was added with the lyrics to the original 10 songs and pictures of the band members from that era. I wanted it to be as professional as possible, not some second rate bullshit!
Also in February, IRON CROSS added a new guitarist to the line-up; former Master and Sindrome guitarist, Chris Mittelbrun, who being a close friend of you, was looking forward to the new challenge, but Chris didn’t play on the CD, does he?
ROB: Chris was definately into the challenge. He wanted to get back to playing the heavier stuff. He didn’t play on the album. That was Mike Antablian.
How did he get in the picture exactly? What about the Mötley Crüe tribute band, that he was involved before?
ROB: It was simple really. Dave wasn’t working out. I asked Chris and he said no problem! Chris’ last show with the Motley band was in March of 2008 I believe. I think he got tired of playing Motley Crue songs. When that band was first forming, he had asked me to play bass. I told him to go fuck himself! No way was I going to play Motley Crue!
On April 5th, IRON CROSS played there 1st live show in 19 years, how did the whole show go?
ROB: The show went very well. I think Rick, Jon and Dennis were pretty nervous. This was the first time in many years for them playing on a stage. For Chris and I it was no big deal since we have been performing live in other bands. We had a lot of support from friends and fans alike. A lot of people that we haven’t seen in nearly 20 years had come out to show their support!
Iron Cross is now beginning to work on new material, perhaps for a new, upcoming CD, did you already have some new penned tunes?
ROB: We have a couple right now down musically. We are waiting for Jon to write lyrics. Since he lives In California, it is going to be a bit of a challenge for us but, we are hoping to make it work.
What about the current line up of the band?
The current line-up is the same as the album with the exception of Mike Antablian. Myself, Rob Wilhelm – Bass, Rick Stang – Guitar, Chris Mittelbrun – Guitar, Jon Wiegand – Vocals, Dennis Green – Drums.
When do you plan to enter the studio to record album and when do you plan to release it?
ROB: That is hard to say at this time. It has been a little difficult for us to get together as often as we would like due to jobs and family commitments. But we are working on new material and hope to do something before too long.
Thanks a lot for the interview Rob, anything what I forgot to cover or to mention?
ROB: You covered a lot of ground here and my fingers hurt from typing! I would like to thank all of our fans and friends, both old and new for supporting and encouraging us. We hope to play for all of you soon, wherever you may be. Also, (shameless plug) be sure to check us out on-line at myspace.com/ironcrosschicago. Our CD, „CHURCH AND STATE-20th Anniversary Remaster is available at CDBABY.COM and available for digital download at iTunes.com. I must also thank you for conducting this interview and giving us the support and exposure. THANKS and METAL ON!!