Let It Roar
By: Vinnie Apicella
If the name Animal sounds familiar in Heavy Metal circles, it should. It was first conceived of way back in the late '80s and originally associated as Randy Piper's post-W.A.S.P. project. For one reason or another, but for matters of efficiency, we'll call them organizational problems, the band never got off the ground until recently. With the release of their anticipated "900 LB Steam" at the end of last year, the album represented a near decade and a half's worth of struggle for a band that never lost sight of their goal. The record is a nine-song package of pride and perseverance and its traditional Metal firepower is a welcome relief from the low-tuned strains of Nu-Metal angst. While the circumstances surrounding the release were convoluted and anything but cover page news, the good news is all the parts are finally in place for a talented band of veteran players with a new outlook and youthful exuberance.
Having caught Animal at the popular West Village hangout, Don Hill's, in NYC on their recent club tour, I was quickly reacquainted with the inner ear numbness I so often reveled in during my late teen years, but to also bear witness to a fraternally close band on and off the stage bonded by their love for the music, the fans, and 110% work ethic. With a live set mixed with songs from their new "900 LB Steam" record and a handful of early W.A.S.P. favorites, their admittedly production-deficient studio tracks barely hint at what the band is capable of. Originally thought to feature former W.A.S.P. players Piper, Chris Holmes, and Tony Richards, Animal does still includes the Piper/Holmes guitar combo, and will be rounding out some remaining club dates before logging more studio time with some fresh material now that the lineup is set.
Basically the post-show interview was a free-for-all. I rolled the tape and anyone who had something to say, said it, in a sometimes sloppy but generally sincere manner that you couldn't help but pull for the guys in their quest for future relevance. There was no band bashing, eye gouging, ego-tripping or anything like that, just an alcohol-influenced conversational set that involved mainly Piper and vocalist Rich Lewis covering ground between then and now and what's next. So in a quickly filling downstairs room lined with loud voices, friendly barbs, and flying bottle caps, suddenly an interview breaks out.
Me: "Interview with Randy Piper, Rich Lewis, and Chris Holmes" (Wait, I swear I just heard somebody say something about Bangalore Choir in the background... Bangalore Choir?) Okay, and then there's "Burn" throwing his bass around (Everything suddenly becomes a little bit funnier in the post-show gathering and some ten or twelve bottles later) Feel free to chime in whenever you want.
Burn: Chris can't remember peoples' names so he creates nicknames like, he'll meet some chick and he'll call her "Tits," and he'll go, "Hey tits," (Laughs) and that's her name from then on out.
Me: And so that's how Brian (tour manager) became "Saddam," thanks to Chris.
Burn: Yup, now everybody calls him Saddam.
Me: Okay I want to get a quote from Burn, the bass player who looks like the singer in the press photo but he's really not. So why do they call you "Burn?"
Burn: Cause I burn things. I don't know (Laughs).
Randy: Did you see the monitor?
Me: No I didn't notice.
Randy: I pointed at you and laughed. (Laughter in background) Richie smoked it. It was fucking blazing dude! And people were trying to unplug it and shit and it was smoking man, it was on fire.
Me: I was surprised to hear ya guys playing so many old W.A.S.P. songs.
Burn: Yeah we've been playing old W.A.S.P. songs for years.
Me: How long?
Burn: We've been playing with Piper since 1987. It went on for about a year. We were back in Cincinnati and started writing songs, me and Rich, and called Piper, then the next thing you know Piper's in Cincinnati.
Me: Talk to me a little about how the band began. I remember hearing about this from way back then and nothing seemed to come of it until now really.
Burn: Yeah, I mean we tried just about everything we could and then went in other directions for a while.
Randy: And you should've heard that demo! (Laughs)
Me: Tell me about it.
Randy: We actually recorded it at Chuck Norris's wife's house.
Me: Oh yeah, I remember that, there was something about Chuck Norris being a fan of the band or something. I remember there was that connection.
Rich: Yeah, I guess she was kind of backing the band. She owns a studio and we ended up going there.
Randy: Back in California man, yeah, he came to our gig. There are pictures of me and Chuck. To tell you the truth, he didn't like it. I think he likes Country. But he acted really nice at the show. I don't know if his wife really liked us either, but... (Laughs)
Me: (Rich, the singer, makes a formal appearance after exchanging pleasant memories of smoking monitors with Randy) So how did you guys arrive here after all this time?
Rich: Well me, Randy, and Burn had our first demo together and shopped it around. But everybody wanted to screw us. Finally, Tom Mathers came along and said, "No, I'm for real, I want to put it out. I don't want all your merchandise, I don't want all your publishing" You know, so we decided to give it a shot.
Me: So all of you guys first conceived of doing Animal back in 1987? And from then until now have you guys always been playing together in some form?
Rich: Me, Randy, and Burn, yeah, yeah. But there were different versions, and different things going on. But we always knew if we got in the right situation and found the right label, then we'd do it.
(Tape pause - some noisy discourse in background)
Me: And you guys are all in Cincinnati now?
(And then something about Chris living in a coal cellar? Not sure if I heard this right but was worth getting in there anyway)
Rich: It's really not all that bad. It was actually converted into a recording studio, and now it's a bedroom.
Me: Well that kind of takes the fun out of it (Laughs).
(Burn then cuts in with something about his Dad's ghost)
Burn: Yeah ask Chris about the ghost in the cellar.
Chris: What's happening?
Me: I'm just rolling the tape so let 'er rip.
Chris: If you don't like 'em, lick 'em!
Me: (Laughs) So let's hear about the coal cellar and the ghost.
Chris: Fuck no. (Laughs) The dog, man, came down and looked at me, and looked around the corner. I looked in the corner and there was like a silhouette or something. (Suddenly Chris blurts out "Donna do you wanna?" at the departing of two well endowed females believed to be from the former Cycle Sluts From Hell group)
Donna: (Laughs) I'm keeping myself in tact for Chris Holmes!
(Various rambling dialogues and shouting goes on in the background before somebody screams about a lost beer before Donna concludes by singing the praises of Rock n' Roll and how a band like Animal is a healthy release for tension.)
Me: (To myself) I don't have a clue as to what to say next. Okay, how about the new record?
Randy: No, no, let's talk about love (Laughs). (And the ringing of voices recreating the classic VH tune begins in the background. Something also comes up about how the new Animal record's production sucks - which was thankfully accepted in a joking manner - I didn't quite put it like that, but it probably all adds up to as much anyway)
Me: It's weird, I saw the press photo and it shows a live shot of you guys and I'm thinking this must be the singer (pointing to bass player, Burn).
Randy: Burn's the "star" He likes to go up there and look like Blackie or something (Laughs).
Me: (I mention something about Blackie and the last W.A.S.P. album, to which Randy responds).
Randy: To be honest with you dude, I liked the first 2 W.A.S.P. albums and I liked "Headless Children".
Me: So let's cover a little about the new record. Where'd you come up with the name "900 LB Steam?"
Randy: Well we rented this old warehouse and it was filled with this toxic waste, like 55 gallon drums, and it says "Proceed with Caution," with these stickers on them, and one of them said, "900 LB Steam".
Rich: So the guy that owned the place who actually rented it to us, he comes in one night and he's got this sticker and he goes, "This is you guys, right?" So Randy and Burn look at me and they go, "We've got to write a song called '900 LB Steam." So these guys... Randy comes in and starts jamming on this riff, the drummer jumps in and starts pounding on it, and I went, "There it is!"
Me: So how does the song title relate to the lyrics?
Rich: The virtual meaning behind the thing you know, music to me, is about what you feel, what's coming out of you. And it was like, when I started writing the song, the song was about how you feel when you're playing in front of people and you're just digging it. And so when I started writing the rest of the lyrics, I thought, this is the one; this is "900 LB Steam," you know, and it all just fit.
Randy: Rich is a big fan of Bon Scott. And Bon wrote songs like "TNT" and "High Voltage," you know, and those are his influences in there that come through.
Chris: (Angrily) I hope somebody didn't take my burger!
Randy: (Laughs) Everything else is cool unless you try to take his food, then he'll bite your fucking hand off!
Rich: Yeah, don't fuck with Chris's shit, he's a great guy, other than that, he's evil!
Me: I want to talk more about the new record, but I'm still amazed that you guys have been kicking this around since the late '80s and how it's only now that it finally all came together.
Randy: We just didn't fall in with the right combination of people. A band's a real special thing when you all connect, you know, there's got to be an interconnection between everybody.
Chris: W.A.S.P. was never a band; it was the Blackie Lawless project from day one.
Me: So going back to "900 LB Steam," you've got nine songs on there (Chris hastily departs muttering something about heating up his food and bringing some chick back).
Rich: Most of the songs were written by myself, Randy, and Burn. We were setting around going on about getting this rolling again.
(We go off the beaten path again, briefly, but there's a lot of interesting history that preceded their all getting together.)
Randy: We were off to a real good start actually. I first heard a demo with Rich's voice on it. A friend of his was in L.A. and he said he knew this singer back in Ohio. I said okay, and I put out this ad. After playing with Alice for a short time and leaving W.A.S.P., I wanted to start my own band.
Rich: I was in L.A. playing with bands whose shit wasn't working. I'm thinking that I got to find the right guy. Then I hear Randy's out of W.A.S.P. and figured he's the guy I need to meet up with and work together. Then I hear he's in Alice Cooper. And I'm like, oh shit, what am I going to do? There was this guy from. Maiden's original singer, Paul DiAnno. Well his band calls me, they're in NY, and they go, "Dude, Paul's fucking up. But we feel like we're a good band and we want to go on".
Me: (Laughs) That's great; they were going to kick him out of his own band?
Rich: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. So they go, "We got a $200,000 publishing deal".
Me: Wild, I had no idea about that. Well I think DiAnno's past problems were pretty well documented, but actually his Battlezone stuff was pretty good.
Rich: I never really heard it, but I like Paul.
Randy: So I'm wanting to do my own thing after playing with Alice. We were auditioning players and I couldn't find the right guys. After playing with Holmes and Blackie and shit, and being in a real professional organization, I was having trouble finding the right guys. And then I got this demo. This guy says, "I know this guy in Ohio who can sing like an MF. I heard his voice and thought, that's the guy. He's the only guy I ever heard that really smoked Blackie's ass! And now a lot of people say they sound similar or something, but there's a big difference.
Rich: I went back to Cincinnati and looked for Burn and brought him back to L.A. I told him Randy and I were putting a band together.
Me: Is there the obvious connection to the name, "Animal," or where'd it come from?
Randy: We were kicking around a bunch of stuff but nothing was working.
Rich: Burn actually came up with it - one night we're all partying and he just suddenly yells out, "Animal!" And I knew exactly what he meant. I'm like, holy shit, you just named the band.
Randy: He calls me on the phone and said the new bass player, who I hadn't even met, just came up with the name of the band! (Laughs) I couldn't believe that no one had thought of it before. I knew it'd piss Blackie off. (Laughs)
Me: I think everyone must have thought there was a definite tie-in there with that.
Randy: I heard later on when Blackie found out I had a new band out and we were playing L.A. and stuff, he goes, "Who the fuck does Piper think he is?" And it's like, I didn't even name the fucking band! I didn't even know the guy yet, so how ironic is that? (Laughs)
Me: So why after all this time, a couple years ago, it all comes together?
Randy: There was always a magic between these two guys and myself. It's hard to find people like that where you can get along so well. We had actually never really used any of these songs before. There are some really good ideas there, but overall it's really '80s sounding, our original stuff. But the idea behind "900 LB Steam" was just really bizarre. We thought it was all kind of funny at the time with the toxic waste thing. Even Chris said we've got to change it or something, he's like "What does it mean?" We're like, fuck, we don't know (Laughs), does it matter? To us, it's like full steam ahead. We believed in each other and believed in the songs and we knew we were a really good band. In the past, we just didn't have all the right ingredients yet. And now having Holmes here when I heard he was out of W.A.S.P., he was the missing link. Hell, he looks like the missing link! (Laughs)
Rich: Animal to us is like about guys who've struggled over and over again. You live your whole life going after something that's what I do. It's about what you have to do to live and this is what we all believe in.
Me: Okay, so you've obviously read my review of the record - honest, maybe to a fault. I do like the record overall, the songs... what was it, six out of the nine I think I really dug. Of course no one's ever going to like an entire album! (Laughs) But I was really critical of the production quality, which I think definitely takes away from the songs? and I understand you're on a limited budget.
Randy: No, actually we didn't have a budget. We did this ourselves. It basically was a demo. We tried to re-record it. We wanted Chris and Tony (Richards) to maybe come in on it, but that didn't really work out... well it did with Chris in the end.
Me: Let's discuss that a little bit - about the band member make up involved in the record itself. I had a misconception, and maybe a lot of people did, that Randy, Chris, and Tony were all playing together on this record.
Rich: We actually already had it recorded - before any of that came up. We figured, let's just put it out like it is and see what happens. Then time goes by and Randy, Burn, and I were like, fuck it, it's not going to happen. But then Randy gets a call from the label and critical as we were, we just decided to go for it. All the label interest we had earlier... they all wanted to screw us.
Randy: When Chris came out, we wanted to re-record it and make it better. We were going to put in Protools, get a better drum sound, better guitar, everything. The masters were lost... so it was an impossibility. We thought we can either re-record it, spend all this money on it, or you know what, after being with Chris again and playing together, it's like, fuck the old shit, let's let it go the way it is and move forward.
Rich: Right, let's go do this and then we'll record new songs with Chris writing and playing on them too.
Randy: The thing now is to move forward with Chris and look forward to do the second record. It's so much fun again without having a dictator in the band, saying what you should and shouldn't do. Anyone can do whatever they want in this band as long as they do their job. It stifles your creative input when someone's always on your ass. It's like, hey, we're all grown men now, and we have a common goal here to make some really good music and put out some good albums and hopefully it all works.
Rich: When Chris first came into it, he had said, "I've never been allowed to say what I feel." We're not about that.
Randy: It's a hard combination to find too because usually guitar players are in competition or something. And there's never really been a competition between me and Chris. I play one way, he plays another. We'd give him parts of stuff from the record that I did and just to let him run wild or whatever, but to hear him play it. He cracks me up all the time man, when I see him just having fun with it!
(As an aside, while the other guys were tending to other equipment-related matters, Randy and I went a little bit into his departure from W.A.S.P. prior to the "Electric Circus" album.)
Randy: Blackie and I were good friends for a long time. But you know, Chris is such an honest guy. He's the one who originally said that Blackie was thinking about replacing me. And I went, "What!?" I mean, I wasn't happy anyway, the way things were going. I pretty much felt like I needed to do my own thing... and it's been an uphill struggle ever since! (Laughs)
Me: What year was it that you died in the car crash?
Randy: (Laughs) Yeah, I died in a car crash in Sweden or something? like ten years ago maybe?
Me: So whatever became of Tony Richards? I understood him to be a part of the group and on the record as well.
Randy: Tony's a great guy, a great drummer. We brought him and Chris out here together to re-do "900 LB Steam." But Tony just wasn't that into it. We brought all his gear out here and stuff and he actually sounded pretty damn good.
Rich: He didn't have the energy anymore. It was just wearing him out. He wants to be in a Blues band now, and just take it easy.
Randy: And he's comfortable in the life he's chosen for himself. We're still diehard, stupid Metalheads (Laughs) who still want to do this. We still have the dream. I mean, if you give up your dream, you die. It wasn't going to work and that's why we didn't do the new record over. Let's let it go and let's start on a new album with Chris. It's fun again. It's like the old days, like we never left!