SAVAGE GRACE – speed metal band from USA
Interview answered by Chris Louge (guitars, vocals)
So Chris, being based in Los Angeles, what do you recall of the first footsteps of the L.A scene at the late ’70s/early ’80s? How did that great scene in L.A. start at all?
The late 70's and early 80's were dominated by the New Wave and Punk Bands. There was a very tiny hard rock scene. A few bands like Mammoth (Van Halen) were playing at backyard party's and Hollywood clubs. It was considered very unhip and uncool to be into hard rock and long hair at the time. Very gauche. I lived in Hollywood so I was very close to all the clubs. I could see all the bands I wanted, but there were not that many I wanted to see. In 1981 I would see Ratt playing all the time. I always thought they were terrible. I don't think anybody thought they would ever make it. I did see some people that I did think were very good. There was a fellow named Greg Leon. He was a great songwriter, lead guitarist and singer. He had been in DuBrow, Sweet 19, Dokken, Greg Leon Invasion. This guy played great hard rock in a style similar to Dokken. I never could figure out why he did not become a superstar. He had everything going for him. Greg was in the lineup with Dokken when they toured Germany the first time in 1981, I believe. I saw a gig Dokken played at the Starwood, a notorious club in Hollywood, when they came back from Germany. They had long hair, they were wearing bullet belts and spikes and they looked “Metal”. Nobody looked like that in L.A. at that time. At this same time, George Lynch had short hair and was playing in a female fronted new wave group called Exciter. I saw them a few times, I don't remember being that impressed. During this show at the Starwood, Don Dokken said hard rock was huge in Germany and England. I knew that it would soon be big in L.A. My ideas for my band were taking shape. Saxon, Priest, Schenker, Scorpions, UFO, Maiden, Accept were all influences. I always hated punk and new wave music. I liked Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet and Euro Hard Rock like UFO. I had just left university at U.C.L.A in 1980. I immediately set out to form a band. I found a drummer named Ron Albo and we started to look for other musicians. We were called Tite Squeeze and we played a couple of gigs as a cover band. I remember we did “Armed and Ready” by MSG, “Rock Bottom” by UFO and maybe a Scorpions cover.
At which point did you get involved in the underground scene? How and when did you discover Hard Rock/Heavy Metal exactly?
I was a fan of hard rock since the mid-70's but I really got serious in 79 and 80. The roots of the metal renaissance in L.A. started about 1981. The guys from Metallica, Armored, Saint, Abattoir, and SG all started about the same time. There were really just a few bands at this time. There were also some hair/glam bands with heavy sounds at this time, London/Motley Crue. Although the hair/glam bands are not considered real metal, they were not new wave or punk, so they were actually on our side so to speak.
Were you aware of the existence of the NWOBHM scene, that seemed to influence the majority of the L.A.’s bands?
Oh yes, when I heard Saxon's “Wheels Of Steel” and “Strong Arm Of The law” albums, I was hooked.
That is what I wanted, two guitars, lot of harmonies, melodic powerful vocals, fast tempos and big drums. Now I just had to find the right people. Easier said than done.
Savage Grace, started as Marquis De Sade back in 1981, what was the line up of the band and how did you get together? Was it the really first band for all of you or have you had musical experiences yet? I mean, what were the previous acts, that you’ve played with before you being involved in Marquis De Sade?
I had my little cover group Tite Squeeze for a few months, but then I decided no more covers. All originals. That's when we started Marquis DeSade. Nobody liked that name except me so we were advised to change it for legal reasons.
Who came up with the moniker and to what did it refer?
I think I came up with it. I liked the dark s/m connotations.
Were you familiar with bands, such as Bitch, Metallica, Armored Saint, Shellshock (later Dark Angel), Lizzy Borden, Sceptre, Vermin, Slayer, Malice (after they went from Portland to L. A.), Abattoir etc. that started at the same time as you? Did you strive to build up a friendship with them?
I think we played with all of those groups. Armored Saint, Abattoir, Bitch and Slayer many times. We had a lot of parties and fun times together. As for the music, I liked Malice the best. James Neal was probably the best metal singer I ever heard. “Gods Of Thunder”, “Tarot Dealer”, “Sinister Double” are some of my all time favorite metal tracks. Malice like SG was a highly under rated band.
Would you say, that in L. A. was great underground buzz?
Musicians from all over the world would come to L.A. to seek their fortune in metal. It was really a very dynamic and exciting time to be involved.
Which clubs did start opening their doors for metal? Were all of the club owners devoted to the (underground) metal scene?
The main clubs for Metal were the Troubadour, Starwood, Whiskey, Roxy, Country Club. They were doing metal shows almost every night from 1982-87. They were very receptive and they provided an opportunity for new original acts to be heard.
There were a lot of commercial, hair/glam bands, such as Mötley Crüe, Dokken, Ratt, Sister/W.A.S.P. etc., do you agree with, that the L. A. scene was divided into two different parts and the underground thrash/speed/power outfits were overshadowed by the glam ones?
The more commercial rock groups that you mentioned were playing the same venues as the more hardcore metal groups. We played with Ratt once or twice. Really thrash metal started to happen with Slayer. Motley Crue or Dokken did not have mosh pits. Mosh pits were a carry over from punk. Slayer and later speed/thrash/death groups had rough mosh pits and stage divers. A crowd for WASP might have 50% girls. As Slayer and more aggressive metal bands became popular the shows became more violent and less girls would venture to them.
How about your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals or were you jamming on covers?
I started writing original material in 1981. I never really wanted to be a cover group. I really never understood why anyone would want to be in a cover group really.
Was the power/speed style opted right from the start or did you turn into that direction step by step? How was the musical world of Marquis De Sade/Savage Grace evolved?
Marquis De Sade really only existed in name. I don't think we ever played a live gig under that name. The Savage Grace sound really was really evolved from my major musical influences I mentioned before.
Have you ever recorded any stuff under the moniker of Marquis De Sade?
I think we did one demo with Kelly Rhoads singing but I don't remember it.
Your first demo was a two tracker affair featuring „Curse the night” and „Eagles come”, but it came out under the name of Savage Grace, correct?
Yes, we recorded that in Arizona with Dwight Cliff singing.
How was it recorded? What about the demo as a whole?
I think we recorded that on 8 track. It was a good first experience for us. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Did your musical goals/purposes this demo really represent? Was this demo good enough to make a name for the band respectively to spread the band’s name around?
As I said, It was a start. Nothing spectacular, but an entry into the game.
At which point and why did you change your name to Savage Grace?
Early in 1982 I believe we changed the name.
Then later on but still in the same year (1982) you recorded your second demo including „Curse the night”, „Genghis Khan” and „Sceptre of deceit”, can you give us details regarding this demo? Why did you „Curse the night re-record?
My memory is cloudy on this point.
Who were the main song composers at this point? How were the Savage Grace songs written at all?
I would write most of the songs and lyrics on guitar by myself. I would then bring it into the band to add drum and bass parts. We worked like this thru the whole life of the band. Brian East wrote a couple songs and Mark Marshall wrote a couple songs.
The song „Sceptre of Deceit” was chosen for the „Metal Massacre II” compilation, how did you get the opportunity being featured on the record? Was the song choosen by the band or by Brian Slagel?
I am sure the band chose the track. I am sure Brian would have left that decision to us. I can't remember how we met Brian Slagel to be honest.
He was a very great supporter of the early ’80s underground, wasn’t he?
He was at first a fan. He worked at a record store that carried a lot of imports. He knew that metal was going to be huge and he was going to capitalize on this and he did. He was the kind of guy who knew he would never be in a band, but he wanted to be a part of this “scene”. Owning a record company was his way of being involved. He was really in the right place at the right time with the right idea.
Do you agree with, that without his help and without the „Metal Massacre” series couldn’t have made a name for themselves bands, such as Trouble, Metallica, Savage Grace and tons of others?
If you are asking me what would the world of metal have looked like without Brian Slagel? Who knows. Those with drive and determination would have found other outlets for their talents.
Was it the best and the most perfect way to introduce unknown bands for the fans back in the day?
It certainly helped. I know I was glad to have something on vinyl at that time.
Was this compilation a good opportunity to draw more fans attention to the band? Did it open some doors for Savage Grace?
Yes, I think it did. One step to another to another.
In February 1983 joined guitarist Kenny Powell the band, how did he get in the picture exactly? What about his musical past?
I wanted to have two lead guitars in th band. We had worked with a drummer named Steve Wittig who was in Kenny's band Rapid Fire in Oklahoma. When Kenny moved to L.A., Steve introduced us. Kenny had a good attitude and he was a hard worker. I enjoyed working with him.
At which point did you enter the studio to record the EP „The Dominatress”? How did the recording sessions go with the EP?
In 1983 we went into Track record with Bill Metoyer. Everyone did a good job. The production was low budget and self produced, but a worthy first effort. Bill was very laid back and not a tough engineer, but a nice guy.
Wishing to augment your sound the band pulled in vocalist John Birk, did he come right before the recording sessions of the EP? How did you find him at all? From what kind of musical world did he arrive?
He was a young kid (18) with a lot of energy, he had an incredible scream that destroyed a lot of P.A. Equipment. He was tough to control and this became a real problem later. He had no real credits before us. I don't remember how we found him actually.
Besides „Curse the night” made up four new tracks on the EP, did you write them right after the demos? Did you steadily write new songs?
I was always writing new material. Those tracks except, “Curse the Night”, were ready shortly before the recording of “The Dominatress”.
What can you tell us about this effort?
I think it was a good first effort. It gave us studio experience and it showed that we had potential to become contenders.
In your opinion, was John Birke a competitor to the soaring soprano of Abattoir’s Steve Gaines, Helstar’s James Rivera and Agent Steel’s John Cyriis?
John Birk had one of the most piercing screams I ever heard. The problem was he did not have anything else. A man can not live by scream alone. I would have liked to have a scream with great melody and phrasing like Halford or James Neal, but they were already taken.
It was released by Metal Blade, so it seems, it was one of their first releases, wasn’t it?
It was catalogue number 001, I believe. It think it was the first non-compilation release for Metal Blade.
Did they offer you a deal right after the „Metal Massacre” appearance? For how much record did you sign them by the way?
Yes, I liked Brian and he liked me back then. I can not remember how much we signed for. I can assure you it was not much though. We were virtually unknown, we were not expecting to make much money at that time.
Were there other labels interests in the band besides Metal Blade by the way?
I never heard from any other labels at the time.
How about the early Savage Grace shows? What do you recall of the San Francisco shows with Slayer and Exodus? At which venues and when did it take place exactly?
I think we had a lot of raw energy that you have to have with this style of music. John Birk was OK, but not really as focused as should have been. Sometime in 1983 after the release of the “Dominatress” we did a couple of dates in San Francisco with Slayer and Exodus. I think Mabuhay gardens was one of the Venues and Ruthies Inn another. I remember John Birk was becoming more unstable and had some personal issues. We had to let him go after those shows.
Would you say that in San Francisco started a great metal boom at this point? Was it owing to Metallica’s relocation to San Francisco? I mean, did they open the doors for bands, such as Exodus, Death Angel etc.?
San Francisco was a very small scene compared to L.A. There were only a few metal bands there. Maybe Metallica being there inspired some of the local groups and created a healthy competitive spirit among them. They wanted to “OUTHARDCORE” each other.
Did you become good friends with those bands?
Slayer we played with many times and they were good guys. John Birk used to lift them up and I think they thought he was quite insane, which he might have been. They were good sports about it. Exodus we played with three times. We had no problems with them. I remember Paul Baloff was the singer at this time. He had one of the most extreme voices I ever heard. He really sounded like he was in pain when was singing.
Shortly after the EP was released, both singer John Birke and Kenny Powell left the band, how did it happen exactly? What kind of reasons did lead to their departure?
John became quite unstable for reasons that I do not know. Kenny left to start his own band “Omen”.
Did you take part ways with them on a friendly term at the end?
John Birk I think was relieved to be let go. I was surprised Kenny left, but I am sure he just wanted to do his own thing. He wanted to be the boss of his own project. I could not blame him and I would certainly not want to hold someone back. He created a good band with “Omen”. I am glad for him.
You were soon back up to full strength bringing in vocalist Mike Smith and former Agent Steel guitarist Mike Marshall, how long did it take to find the suitable musicians for the band?
It took several months to find Mike Smith. As soon as I heard him I knew he was the right man. He sounded like Gary Barden. He had a great melodic style with lots of hard edge and a great scream. Mark Marshall we found as we were recording “Master Of Disguise”.
Is it true, that the guitar parts on the „Master Of Disguise” record were performed by you, because Mike Marshall was added some two months after the recording?
Yes, we originally went into the studio with Kurt Phillips, but Kurt's playing just did not cut it in the studio. I cut all the tracks and we added Mark Marshall to the lineup after the session.
What do you recall of the recording sessions? Did you have a decent budget to record the material?
We had very little money. We decided to produce the record ourselves. The tracking went very well. Mike's vocals were incredible. I really enjoyed working with him. The mix was rather raw and lacked the bottom end it should have had. It was my fault. I wanted the vocals and guitars way out front, so the bass and drums got buried. Dan and Brian both did great jobs on the record. It was and still is a classic metal recording. In my opinion one of the best metal records ever made.
What kind of goals did the „Demo 1984” including „Betrayer” and „No One Left To Blame” serve? Was it done to attract labels interests or was it a kind of advance recording prior to the first full length?
I think we wanted to get an idea of how the new material would sound with Mike Smith singing. I think we sent it to a few major labels also.
By the way, was your goal originally to make the band’s debut with an EP? Would you have had enough material for a record to start with?
I believe Metal Blade offered us an E.P. deal because it would be cheaper to produce. I had an albums worth of material ready. I would have rather done s full L.P. But looking back, I am glad we did it this way.
How do you view, that the speed, the intensity, the mastery are in every aspect of the songwriting and this stuff is blazing fast for its time, completely off the charts and groundbreaking?
I am glad it has been recognized and appreciated for it's true greatness. I think very few fans of metal would dispute that “Master Of Disguise” is one of the best metal albums ever recorded. The only thing lacking was sound quality, but that will be fixed in the very near future. A completely remixed version of “MOD” is coming soon. I wanted a speed and power metal album that would stand the test of time and it has. The key to it's power are the great songs. Without a great song, there is nothing.
Aside from the wicked speed throughout here, completely ahead of its time, this album deluges one into some masterfully crafted metal here, right?
I would agree with you completely.
Is everything here extraordinary and incredible?
I agree with you here as well. I wish I had known you at the time. I would have let you write all our press releases and liner notes.
The songs are downright catchy, and there’s crazy hooks and leads to be heard throughout all of them, the riffs are pretty out of this world at times and original, and then the solo's are just lightning fast and extremely technical, what do you think about it?
I think you are 100% right. The songs are very memorable and catchy with great choruses and very dark and provocative lyrics. I love the guitar solos especially on “Bound to be free”, “Master of Disguise”, “Betrayer”.
Do you agree with, that Mike Smith sounds extremely similar to James Rivera at times he’s extremely aggressive, executes his vocals perfectly with the music and also, the comparison with James Rivera just goes to show Smith has an incredible range as well?
I think that is a reasonable comparison. Although I think Mike Smith sounds closer to Gary Barden. Very melodic, great harmony singer with a nice raspy metal edge.
Did you make a mix of power metal and speed metal? In your opinion, did Mike Smith make the band sound really different from „The Dominatress”?
Oh yes, no comparison.'The Dominatress” was a good start from a decent band, but “MOD” was a classic recording from a truly great band with tremendous talent.
I for one would say, that the material is very reminiscent of Agent Steel’s classic „Skeptics Apocalypse” –both singing and musicwise-, was it because Mark Marshall joined the band and he brought his influences and style with hisself?
No, Mark Marshall was not yet in the band at the time of the recording of MOD. I remember seeing Agent Steel a couple of times. I liked the song “Screams from the grave” (it was Abattoir – Leslie), but I would not consider them an influence. We were in the same location and we were both doing speed metal but I think the similarities end there.
What were the shows or/and tours in support of the record? How did the shows go as a whole?
In 1984 and 85 we were playing club gigs in L.A. and Orange county at places like the Troubadour, Whiskey, Roxy, Woodstock, Radio City, Country Club. We were playing with all the other local metal groups, Armored saint,Lizzy Borden, Abattoir, Slayer, Witch. Once we had Mike Smith in the band I think we were probably the strongest live show in town. We had a large following and not many bands would want to play after us. We had a very intense live presentation with very had hitting up tempo music. Very hard to top live. Many times I would see the local rock stars in the crowd, guys from Dokken, WASP, Quiet Riot, Black and Blue Motley Crue, Ratt, etc. They would just stand there with their mouths open listening to Mike and the rest of us knock out “Master Of Disguise” “Sins Of The Damned”, “Into the Fire”. Those guys could not play those songs if their lives depended on it. Could you see Motley Crue or Ratt trying to play “Sins Of the Damned”? Could you imagine Vince Neil or Steve Pearcy trying to sing “Master Of Disguise”? Those bands had the fame and money and we had the REAL thing.
What about the „Time for Hard 'N' Heavy” Vinyl 1985?
1985 was a great year for metal. It was getting to be a massive movement.
You had two songs on an album called „Speed Metal Hell”, how did you end up performing on that record and how much did it help the band? I mean, did it make you more known or…?
My friend Ann Boleyn asked us to be on that record. I don't think it did much for us one way or another.
How happened, that while the EP was released by Metal Blade, the first record came out through French label Black Dragon, does it mean that Metal Blade sacked you?
We got a much better deal with Black Dragon. They were good people who for the most part did what they said they were going to do. They got us the European tour and they kept their word to me.
In 1985, there weren’t all the labels of genres and sub genres that now exist for different type sof metal or at least they were not used as often, so in 1985 a band like Savage Grace were considered speed metal yet so were Metallica, Slayer and Possessed despite the differences between these bands, how do you explain this?
It was a natural progression, the first wave of L.A. Metal lead to the second wave and on and on.
Do you think, that along with Savage Grace, like Exciter, Abattoir and Agent Steel also fall into the same category?
Yes, power metal/speed metal, but not death metal.
You were considered speed metal yet, but you were different from Exodus, Possessed, Slayer or Metallica…
Of course, that's what made us great. We did not sound like any of those groups. I always liked melodic groups no matter how heavy or fast they were. Metallica never did it for me. I always thought they needed a melodic vocalist. What do you think Metallica would have sounded like with Gary Barden or maybe Graham Bonnett singing? I bet it would have been damn interesting. What do you think Savage Grace would have sounded like with those gentlemen? Metallica had great energy and conviction. I think their first album was their best. “Hit The Lights' and “Metal Militia” are great tracks but do they have choruses like “Master Of Disguise”, “Sins Of the Damned” or “Bound to Be free”? I think James Hetfield got tired of dealing with flaky L.A. singers and decided to do it himself out of necessity. I had to do the same thing myself. Great singers don't grow on trees. Slayer and Exodus had great energy but vocally? If great powerful, melodic vocals are old fashioned, than I'm old fashioned. I like to listen to singers like Gary Barden, Graham Bonnett, Mickey Thomas (Even though he would never add me to his myspace friends for some reason?) Rob Halford, James Neal, even Don Dokken. Guys who just yell and scream or grunt and groan, I'm not into it. My dream band would be Michael Schenker (1983)lead guitar, Gary Barden or James Neal (1983) vocals, Les Binks (1977) drums, Chrisitian Logue (1986) songwriter, lyrics and lead guitar.
How do you view, that Savage Grace and Agent Steel sound a bit more like speeded up Iron Maiden and Judas Priest?
Yes, we do. Anytime you hear somebody play fast syncopated guitar harmonies they say “Iron Maiden”, In the 70's they would have said Wishbone Ash. As for Priest, I have always loved Priest, but I don't think Savage Grace sounds much like them. I had a guy in Holland tell me after a show that I sounded like Rob Halford, everybody around had a big laugh, maybe the guy was trying to make fun of me, I said “Thank you I appreciate it”.
In 1985 there were bands like Savage Grace and Exciter still playing their kind of speed metal, but there bands like Exodus, Kreator and Artillery who popped up and started putting the heavy riffs in with the speed, were you familiar with the European scene at all? Did you keep an eye on what’s going on in Europe at this point?
Oh sure, I would listen to bands all the time. I am very picky about what I like. I did not care for the death metal type groups with really extreme singers. When we were driving in the bus or van or whatever, I would listen to Malice, MSG, Scorpions, Saxon, Priest, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Sabbath, Dio, I would listen to the Mentors some times, I thought they were funny.
Would you say, that 1984/1985 was the birth of the extreme metal scene and a lot of subgenres, such as thrash, death, black etc. evolved from this?
Yes, it was very natural. Everyone wants to be heavier and faster than the last band.
Around this time you had another member change, instead of Dan Finch joined Mark Marcum the band, what need was for this? Why did he take leave of the band?
I think Dan finch wanted to settle down with his girlfriend. It happens all the time
You remained without singer too, because Mike Smith also left the band, so you were in a very strange situation, weren’t you?
I begged Mike to stay in the band. I would have done anything for him. I offered to pay my own money to put him in rehab. He would not get it together and he did not want to go on our European tour. What could I do, cancel the tour? I did the tour and I did my best. I know I can not sing like Mike Smith and I apologize to all the people that wanted Mike Smith, but I learned an important lesson in life about depending on other people.
How did you approach the songwriting for the second album „After The Fall From Grace”? Was your goal to continue the musical path of the first record or did you perhaps develop compared to it?
I wrote all the songs on “MOD” and I was excited to write “After the Fall” knowing that I could make the vocal parts exactly for me. I would not have to speak through another person. It was a very liberating and exciting experience.