Interview was ansered by Erik Meade (bass), who was member of DEATH at the time of „Back from the dead” demo.
Erik, do you still remember, how and when did you turn into metal?
I've listened to metal my whole life. only when it started there simply wasnt that much of it. But me and my friends were listening to stuff like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer when we were 12 years old.
What were the stuffs that you listened to before you became a metal head?
Everything. I dont really consider myself a metalhead. I like every style of music equally. as long as its creative
At which point did you decide becoming a musician and what were your inluences to become musician?
I was about 14 and my influences were Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin , Frank Zappa and Greg Ginn of Black Flag.
Being based a San Francisco musician, how did you view the Bay Area scene, that started at the late ’70s/early ’80s with bands, such as METAL CHURCH, ANVIL CHORUS, EXODUS, BLIND ILLUSION etc.? Were you deeply involved in the underground scene?
I think I already basically answered that in a different question. San Francisco was a small city so even though I wasn't a diehard metal fan I used to go to the clubs and see a lot of the bands. and you would just see a lot of the musicians at keg partys or at the record vault. for instance, I was friends with a girl named Gere Fennelly who played keyboards for Anvil Chorus. or one time I was with some girls and we ran into James Hetfield from Metallica and Jim Martin from Faith No More and they came back to the girls apartment and we all jammed on Metallica songs. I'm not saying this to namedrop but just to give you an idea of how small and intertwined the whole bay area scene was. it wasn't nearly as genre segmented as the music world seems to be these days. maybe thats why it was such a fertile scene that created all those great bands.
How do you view, that as different thrash metal scenes began to develop starting around the early/mid-80's each had their own distinct sound that differentiated the bands from other bands on the scene?
I think that over the years metal fans have put a lot more thought into defining and segmenting what each band was trying to create then the bands themselves ever did at the time. when there are no rules to define what makes one band Deathmetal or speedmetal or Blackmetal you dont think about those things. and since there was no such thing as death metal back then nobody thought about what genre they were playing. they just played and made up songs.
Do you agree with, that Bay Area thrash borrowed from the NWOBHM scene and this was obvious in its melodic and powerful vocal style and dual lead guitar systems?
I think a lot of that had to do with Ron Quintana and his radio show. as well as a record store on polk street called the Record Vault that specialized in underground metal and european imports. because Ron was always playing really cool british metal on his show everybody close to the scene was quickly introduced to music they woudnt otherwise have heard of. like VENOM or DIAMONDHEAD or HAWKWIND or even MOTORHEAD for that matter.
Have you ever taken part in Bay Area bands back then?
only punk bands.
Would you say, that it wasn’t until METALLICA’s relocation to the East Bay area in 1983 that Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett joined as bassist and lead guitarist, sealing the band's first, formative line-up? Did they stir up the stagnant water if you understand what I mean?
Its hard to say. you see one thing that makes it dificult to pinpoint is that the bay area already had a thriving punk rock scene at that time. so there was already a lot of LOUD, FAST, AGGRESSIVE bands playing all over san francisco for years before Metallica came along. and most of the people into punk thought that metal meant bands in satin pants and jackets like Y&T. but suddenly this whole group of bands exploded on to the scene like Metallica and Exodus and suddenly metal was as violent and fun as punk was. by the way, while I'm on the subject i would like to talk about a band called CRUCIFIX from san francisco. a lot has been said thru out the years about what album was the first punk/metal crossover album. and it is generally agreed that the album ANIMOSITY by CORROSION OF CONFORMITY that came out in 1985 was first. but I think that the album DEHUMANIZATION by CRUCIFIX that came out in 1983 is the first. its the first album I can think of that had the raging guitars and production of a metal album with the intense speed and aggression of hardcore punk.
I only bring this up to give you some idea of why I didn't realize that what we were doing in DEATH was considered so innovative. there was a lot of similar stuff going on at the time. we just took it to a slightly heavier extreme.
Which clubs did start opening their doors for metal at this point? Did it evolve a great and healthy underground club scene?
Ruthies inn in berkley was probably the club that gave the most support to the bay area metal scene. it was owned by a guy named Wes Robinson. it was the coolest place because he was really supportive of metal as a musical genre or style. the first couple of shows that DEATH played in the bay area were at Ruthies.
Still, the Metal scene in the bay area really got started at a couple of clubs in san francisco. the Old Waldorf, the Stone and Mabuhay gardens ( the Mab) in north beach. the stone and the mab were right across the street from each other. the Mab was more punk oriented but would have occasional metal show, as was the On Broadway which was upstairs above the Mab.
the Stone was more metal oriented but it was mostly mainstream metal like Nightranger or Y&T but thats where early bands like Anvil Chorus would mostly play. I remember trying to get into the mabuhay one night to see a punk band band called the big boys but they wouldn't let me in so I walked across the street to the Stone and when I walked inside Motley Crue was just going onstage. that was how I first heard about them. walking in by accident (lol).
Do you think, that the Bay Area scene helped to form the US thrash scene? I mean, do you consider the Bay Area as one of the biggest and most important US thrash scenes?
Yeah, I would say so. although at the time nobody was thinking that. everybody was just having a good time.
I just noticed that amongst your lists of favorite albums you had listed the UltraViolence by Death Angel. to give you an idea of how small the san francisco scene was, I should use this as an example.
Mark Osegueda of Death Angel was a friend of mine. but not thru Death angel. he was a friend of mine because he worked at a used clothing shop called wasteland that I used to shop at. the Ultra Violence was also produced by davy Vain of the band VAIN. DEATH ANGEL and VAIN were both managed by a woman named Kat Sirdofsky who also managed a band called 4 NON BLONDES. Linda Perry from 4 non blondes was also my best friend. I also knew kat because she owned a metal record store that I used to frequent called Rebel Records (we used to call her Rebel Kat). at one point me and my wife started a folk rock band and our drummer was Tommy Rickard of VAIN. also Davy Vain produced some of our recordings. at one point I was living at Linda Perrys house and so was Kirk Hammetts girlfriend sara. Kirk was always stopping by the house to see Sara. I only bring all of this up to give you an example of how intertwined the whole bay area music scene was back then. it wasn't just metal. it was everything mixed together. and everyone knew each other and supported each other. I think it would be hard for a scene to ever evolve again the way that one did. it was such a case of being in the right place at the right time. I'm thankful I was able to be there.
In 1985, after the „Infernal Death” demo tape was recorded and released, Chuck Schuldiner fired Kam Lee and Rick Rozz in favour of REPULSION’s bassist and guitarist, Scott Carlson and Matt Olivio, however, a drummer could not be found; so the band dissolved again and Chuck Schuldiner moved to San Franciscoand recruited DRI drummer Eric Brecht and you on guitars, how did you get in the picture exactly? How happened that Chuck moved to San Francisco?
Chuck wrote to Eric and asked if he was interested in playing Drums. he also asked Eric if he knew of any Bass players who might be interested. since me and eric had been in the process of trying to start our own band Eric asked me. I wasn't really a bass player but it sounded like it might be fun so I said yes. To be honest, I had never heard of Chuck or DEATH. I just wanted to play with Eric Brecht because he had been in D.R.I. I assume the same goes for Chuck. he must have been into the first D.R.I. album since thats the only way he would have heard of Eric. Eric was really excited about it and played me some cassettes of DEATH demos.
Was he aware of the existence of the Bay Area scene?
he must have been, because he moved there.
By the way, were you and Eric Brecht his first choices or did he audition other musicians too?
No, it was just us. the funny thing is that we didn't even audition. we were already chosen before he even arrived in town. i guess he was just taking a huge leap of faith.
Were you familiar with DEATH’s early demos, such as „Infernal Death”, „Rigor Mortis” etc. and rehearsal tapes?
Yeah, those were the tapes that eric played for me. but i only heard them for the first time after i had already said yes to joining the band.
What do you recall of the rehearsals? Were you writing new songs on end or did you practice mostly early DEATH tunes?
We used to rehearse in a rehearsal space owned by a guy named franco from the punk band M.D.C. (Millions of Dead Cops ). we obviously spent a while learning the old songs but later we worked on new stuff. I know that when we had the fight that broke up the band we were working on a new song. I think it was Evil Dead.
With this line up (Chuck, Eric and you) the band recorded its new demo called „Back From The Dead”, were the songs written only by Chuck or did you also take part in the songwriting? Was he interested in your opinion and ideas at all considering the songs?
I would say we took part in the songwriting as far as the new stuff was concerned (although Im sure thats a matter of opinion) in as much as chuck would come in with the parts but then we would all discuss how the parts should fit together and what worked and what didnt work. I actually bought Scream Bloody Gore when it came out because I wanted to see whether chuck would give us songwriting credit and was amused to find that he had gotten around that question by simply not putting any composer credits at all (lol). I thought that was fair. I certainly think they were chucks songs, I just think we helped out a bit on a song or two.
What about the recording sessions? How much time did you have to record the material?
Everything on back from the dead was recorded on a cassette deck that was in our rehearsal room. except for some stuff that was recorded thru the board at a show at Ruthies. i didnt realize at first that chuck was taping our rehearsals and then duping them and sending them out to fans all over the country.
The demo begins with an intro that is the theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, who came up with the idea using this intro?
that may have been someone else's idea much later. although it does kind of sound like Chucks sense of humor.
The demo contained seven songs plus an intro, but it seems, that on the tape made up only three new ones „Back From The Dead”, „Mutilation” and „Skill To Kill”, correct?
Yeah that sounds about right. although my memory is kind of hazy. remember,we're talking about things that happened 23 years ago. another thing is that I gave away all of my copies of the tapes. I literally didn't have any tapes of me with DEATH for almost 20 years. then one day I was talking to Scott Carlson and he told me that he still had all of the old tapes that chuck had sent him. so he made me copies of them.
In your opinion, is the music on „Back From The Dead” well improved from „Reign Of Terror”?
This time all the instruments are balanced out, one can hear the bass guitar, the solo's are strong, the riffs are great, and Chuck’s vocals are well improved, how do you see it?
if your talking about the instruments being balanced out that must all be the stuff from ruthies because the rehearsal room tapes certainly aren't balanced.
Did Chuck definitely find his groove on this demo?
No, I think he found his groove on the first album. in fact I think that the reason that he broke up this version of the band was that it probably wasn't coming out the way he had envisioned in his mind. when the band broke up it was over a petty argument about the lyrics but I think he really just wasnt happy with the way it was sounding.
What about the cover of the demo? Did it have any cover at all?
just the original Death logo.
Do you still remember how many copies did you manage to sell from the demo?
Chuck didn't sell them. He just gave them away to fans.
Would you say, that DEATH had already a name at this point or did this demo help to expand more DEATH’s popularity in the underground and to draw more fans attention to the band?
I didn't realize that DEATH was popular until we played our first show at ruthies. all these guys were outside with our logo painted across the backs of their leather jackets. I was amazed. and the opening act was a band called Black Death fronted by a black kid who said we were his favorite band and they sounded just like us.
Have you ever gigged in the San Francisco area? If yes, how did those shows go?
All the shows were great. we played at ruthies a bunch of times and at a place called the Farm that was more of a punk rock venue. I remember that at that show the headliner was Mordred and the opening act was a punk band called the Rhythm Pigs who were friends of ours. the singer from Mordred had a Broadsword and at one point during the show he showed a film of himself swordfighting on a beach. the funny thing is that I remember that awful film even clearer then I remember our own performance (lol).
Chuck was not happy with this incarnation of DEATH and moved back to Florida without a band, does it mean that he was dissatisfied with your skills and attitude or you couldn’t get on well with him? Were there any personal or musical differences, problems among you?
I think he was probably dissatisfied with the way the music was coming out. It was just crazy fast and didnt have much groove to it. I dont think that was any one persons fault though. any conglomeration of musicians has its own chemistry and ends up sounding a certain way. and we just wound up sounding like we did. as for our attitude, I will freely admit that I was never right for the band. as I've already said, I was more of a punk rocker then a diehard Metalhead. Chuck really needed people who loved his vision as much as he did. and that just wasn't me. I think Eric Brecht was more into it then I was. In fact, my girlfriend, Janis Tanaka, was more into it then I was. I kept coming home and saying " I don't get where Chuck is coming from" and she would say " No, this music is great, you've got to keep doing it". Just recently she was telling me that she tells everybody that she was a DEATH groupie. when I said that she really wasn't a groupie, she was my girlfriend, she said " yeah, well I don't tell them that part" (lol). (she has since gone on to be the bass player for Hammers of Misfortune and Fireball Ministry as well as the bass player for PINK.)
Was it easy to learn and to perform the DEATH songs by the way?
I suppose it was fairly easy, although not as easy as with other bands since the songs were so atonal. it wasn't like learning an ordinary song where it's simply Verse/Chorus/Verse. you had to constantly think about where you were within the song. not to long ago I was at a party and overheard a kid telling someone that all the members of Death were clasically trained musicians and that they all read sheet music. I told him that I had been in death and that chuck just showed us all the parts with his fingers and we memorized what he showed us. the kid didn't believe me (lol).
How would you charakterize him personally and how would you sum up your period in DEATH?
Chuck was a good guy. pretty mellow. not at all like most people would expect him to be. kind of like a surfer dude actually. I mostly remember him playing with kittens at Eric Brechts house.
Did you remain in touch with Chuck after he went back to Florida? Did you follow DEATH’s carreer at all?
No, I never saw him again after he walked out of studio that day. we exchanged a few angry words thru mutual friends, but that was it. in fact, i think the last message I ever sent to him was that I was gonna beat him up if I ever saw him again, although I wasn't serious. I was just angry.
What do you think about that DEATH have had some dramatic changes in their sound; in the beginning, before even releasing a demo and under the name Mantas, the band wanted to play Venom, Celtic Frost influenced metal, but upon hearing bands like Possessed, Mantas wanted to play and expand death metal?
I don't know. you would have had to ask Chuck. or maybe Scott Carlson. He would probably know.
Do you consider Chuck as the godfather and founder of death metal?
I suppose so. thats what everyone says.
As far his voice, is/was it reminiscent of Jeff Beccera from POSSESSED…
Yeah, its very reminiscent of Jeff Beccera. but it was also reminiscent of a few punk bands like Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity and the singer of a band called Die Kruezen, to name a few. but thats just my opinion.
He decided to change the band’s name to DEATH to sum up what his music and lyrics are about, right?
Right, I vividly remember asking him why he named the band Death. He said
" I wanted my to have the heaviest band name possible,..and then it just came to me. DEATH ! I mean what's heavier the DEATH and the answer is...Nothing, Nothings heavier the Death". I just started to crack up because it reminded me of that scene in Spinal Tap where they say "how much blacker can it get. None. None more Black".
So DEATH started off as death metal with gore related lyrics („Scream Bloody Gore”), but up to the „Human” (or rather up to the „Spiritual Healing”) album, one start seeing the transformation of DEATH, with lyrics not relating to gore but more to the human mind and Up to „Individual Thought Patterns”, the band has brought in progressive elements, thus on the last of the studio albums („The Sound Of Perseverance”) has a sound no where near death metal but more progressive metal?
Its funny that you should bring up the lyrics, because thats what we were fighting about the day this incarnation of the band broke up. when we first started playing with chuck he had said that he had wanted the lyrics to go in a deeper direction then the horror themes of the earlier material. but every new song that he brought in seemed to be about ripping peoples lungs out or torture. finally he brought in a new song, I think it was Evil Dead ( his favorite movie at the time) that was just more horror movie stuff and I got on his case about it. this escalated into a full blown argument about the direction of the music, blah,blah,blah and Chuck just suddenly said "Fuck you, I don't need you guys" and started dragging his gear out the door. the sad thing was that he had to wait for two hours on the sidewalk for his ride to arrive ( he didn't have a car ) and we would occasionally look out the window to see if he was still there. he was. I suppose if we had just gone outside and apologized to him that the band might have stayed together. but instead we just jammed with the guys from M.D.C. for a few hours. you've got to remember that at this point we didn't think that we were leaving a "Legendary Band that would change metal forever". we were just a bunch of guys playing in a garage. anyhow, I suppose it was all for the best. Chuck and Death are legends now so everything worked out fine. My one regret is that I would have liked to have stayed in the band long enough to have played Bass on Scream Bloody Gore.
Getting back to the lyrics though, I think that its interesting that he got around to the more humanist lyrics a few years later. too be honest, i think i would have enjoyed playing the material off of Spiritual Healing more then the stuff we were doing at the time.
The funny thing about all of this is that YOU probably have more knowledge about Death then I do since you are more of a fan. as I've tried to make clear, I was just there at the right time, but since Death Metal hadn't been invented yet I wasn't necessarily a fan. I was just playing music with friends.
Was he influential on the metal scene as a whole? Would you say, that wouldn't have been any death metal scene without him?
I didn't think so at the time because in my mind we weren't doing anything that amazingly different from what a lot of bands were doing. I was personally kind of surprised to see that DEATH was singled out as being so important. but I guess when your immersed in a local music scene its hard to step back and see which bands history will deem important. I didn't think Nirvana were that important either (lol).
What’s your opinion about that DEATH was Chuck himself and the others were session musicians?
I dont know enough about the later bands to have an opinion about that.
What did you feel, when he passed away on the 13th December 2001? Is his death a big loss for us metal fans?
I was actually really sad. I had known that he was struggling with cancer for awhile but when I read that he had died I was bummed out. even though we had been fighting the last time I had seen him, he had still been a good friend of mine for about a year, so I was still sad that he had died. obviously my memories of him are almost all good ones. playing with him was a fun experience and a fun memory.
How would you sum up your period in Death? Does it help you becoming a good musician? What kind of experiences did you gain to work Chuck with?
It was fun. but it wasn't life changing or anything. just a couple of friends in a garage making music. I didn't really learn anything.
Any closing words for our readers...
If someone had told me what we were doing back then would still be emulated by other bands almost a quarter of a century later I would have told them they were crazy. but I guess you really cant tell whats gonna have a lasting effect and what isn't. occasionally I will walk into a club and see a band that sounds exactly like Death and I think "Wow, there it is again". well. Anyhow thanks for copying and trading the bootlegs for all these years. it's nice to know that the music is still out there in some form. and thanks to Chuck for having the vision and sticking to it. may he Rest in Peace.