Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Interview with Bitter End
Recently I was given an opportunity to review the album of unreleased material from obscure thrash metal band Bitter End. I decided to take the chance to submit some questions to the band about themselves and their interesting history. Read on:
1. Who is Bitter End and what are you all about?
MF: Bitter End was formed in 1985 by me (Matt) and my brother Chris Fox along with our neighbor and badass drummer Harry Dearinger. We were all influenced by the NWOBHM groups, as well as the speed metal bands that were becoming popular at the time, as well as the heavy rock and progressive rock of the late 1960's and early/mid 1970's. Chris and I had lived in Southern California for a couple of years, and had seen the original lineup of Metallica in 1982, Slayer in 1983, and other bands such as Armored Saint and Malice, too. We moved back to Seattle in late 1983, and brought those influences with us.
After a couple of years of woodshedding and writing, Bitter End began playing live shows in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to find a lead signer, I took on vocal duties later that year. I became very active in the DIY self-promotion/tape trading scene at the time, and this eventually led to a small international following, which in turn led to a record deal with Metal Blade Records in 1989. Russ Stefanovich joined shortly before the Harsh Realities record was produced in February of 1990, and the group continued playing until 1992, when we broke up. The band members all moved on to other interests, though most of us continued on with other groups/projects.
2. There has not been a Bitter End album in over 20 years. What made you decide to release this record now as opposed to a few years earlier?
MF: Russ was in a band called the Midnight Idols who were on Metal on Metal Records, and mentioned to them that there was some unreleased Bitter End material. They were interested in putting it out, and given that there is a whole lot of interest right now in older bands from that era it just seemed like the time was right to put it out for those people who wanted to hear it.
3. As I understand, most of this material is left over from the last album. Is there any new music coming? How does it compare to your earlier work?
MF: A lot of this material was actually written after Harsh Realities was done, and would have comprised our second album. At this point, since Chris lives halfway across the country and all of the former members of the group have kids/jobs/etc, we are not writing new Bitter End material at this time. Russ is forming a new project that will likely continue on with the sort of classic metal/speedy guitar oriented stuff he is known for. I am currently in a band called Zero Down that also has a NWOBHM-influenced sound and is in the middle of recording a new record that will be available later this year.
4. Your music sounds a bit like Heathen-meets-Anthrax, sort of a technical party-thrash, if you will. What were your influences in deciding to create music?
MF: Me and Chris grew up on 1960's and 1970's classic guitar rock such as Cream, Zeppelin, Hendrix, etc, and later got into other later groups like Thin Lizzy, UFO, Judas Priest, and all of the NWOBHM stuff before the new wave of American speed metal groups came out in the early/mid 1980's. Harry and Russ had similar influences, and Bitter End hired Russ when he came in to audition and nailed a ton of Randy Rhoads and Yngwie stuff note-for-note, but what really sealed the deal was that he also shared our progressive influences and could also shred "Hocus Pocus" by Focus and "Race With Devil On Spanish Highway" by Al DiMeola - which showed that he was no generic shredder and had a style and set of influences that were all his own.
With regard to the band's influences, we definitely were a lot less punk and/or thrash oriented than a lot of other groups then or now, and I definitely liked guys who could sing a lot more than I did grunters and/or total screamers.
5. Your band is originally from Seattle in the 1980's, so you kind of had a front-row seat to witness the rise of grunge. Was there any fair warning that grunge would soon take over hard music radio and television?
MF: This is an interesting question. We actually played a lot of shows with bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, The Derelicts, Coffin Break, etc and it was pretty common for different groups to mix things up like that in Seattle at that time. We always knew that Bitter End was more of a metal band than other more hard rock and/or punk groups, and that this would sort of limit the amount of mainstream radio play we'd get. That said, I think that Soundgarden and Alice were straight up hard rock bands, and that the "grunge" label really didn't apply to them in the way that it did to groups like Mudhoney or the Fluid.
Here's a funny story - I was at the Foundation Forum metal industry convention in LA in 1990 or 1991, and someone commented at one of the panels that the future of hard rock was going to be a fusion with dance music like Janet Jackson's single "Black Cat" which was out at the time. Everyone laughed her off, but boy was she right and were we wrong (unfortunately!).
6. Matt, I understand that you were friends with Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and were once offered to join his band. What can you tell us about that?
MF: I was good friends with all of the Alice guys, and was actually the first writer in Seattle to cover them when I was writing for Backlash (Susan Silver once told me that she heard about them from that article and that's what led her to manage them). There was a point when Alice was considering getting a second guitar player, and I was one of the leading candidates along with Tom McMullen/Gunn (later of War Babies and now with Gunn and the Damage Done) and Jimmy Paulson (later with the Lemons and New American Shame). As it turned out, Jerry decided that he could do it himself, which I think worked out pretty well for them. Every so often, I'll still see Sean K. and he'll ask if I remember that I almost joined the band. Um, yeah, I do!
7. I have once argued that Metallica's Black Album was equally responsible as the rise of grunge in pushing metal, particularly thrash metal, back into the underground. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I wouldn't necessarily go that far - I think that metal tends to be popular in cycles, and that it usually fades in and out of the popular consciousness. Truth to tell, though, most of the speed/thrash metal stuff was sort of self-limiting in terms of how widely popular it could get - Slayer are a great band, but you're never going to hear them on most rock radio stations, so they rely on the classic metal business model of building their following through touring and direct contact with the fans, and fly under the mainstream radar for the most part.
Another story - I went to a special pre release party for the Black Album when it came out, and I couldn't stand it! I wanted the old fast Metallica, and thought it was way to mainstream and mid-paced for my liking. I've since come around somewhat, and think that "Sad But True" in particular is a great song, but it'll never be my favorite Metallica record.
8. Thanks for the interview. Please take this opportunity to promote your album.
Thanks so much for your interest in Bitter End and our music, and for giving us this opportunity to connect with your readers!