|Nige Rockett - Onslaught - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Matt Phelps|
|Sunday, 28 October 2012 04:30|
1986 saw UK speed demons Onslaught cementing their position as field leaders of the then thriving British thrash scene with second album 'The Force'. A seven track classic that defined an era populated with the likes of Xentrix, Acid Reign and Sabbat. Currently on the road playing that classic album in full and in sequence on select dates through Europe 'The Full Force Tour' recently wound up in Plymouth giving me the perfect chance to corner founding member Nige Rockett to discuss that seminal album as well as the bands ups, downs and future plans.
Nige, thank you for talking to us today. Cardiff last night for you. First night of the 'Full Force Tour'. What were your initial impressions on how it went?
Excellent. Virtual sell out last night, it was just amazing. It was the first time we'd ever played the album in its entirety. Our drummer Mic has been away on holiday in Australia for a month so we've had very minimal rehearsal on it but it went absolutely amazing. The set, we played some of the newer stuff to begin with, went into the whole 'Force' album mid way and then finished up with some of the 'Power From Hell' stuff. Went really good.
How did it feel returning to all the songs? I'm guessing it's been a long time since some of them were last dusted off.
Yeah, well we have played all of the album at certain stages in bits and pieces but I think especially the two tracks 'Contract In Blood' and 'Thrash Till The Death' we probably haven't played for about four years now. But to actually play it all in order was kind of weird.
If we go back to the recording of that album. It was a long time ago now, 26 years. What memories have you got from recording at that time? Am I right in saying it was done at Matrix Studios?
Yeah that's right, yeah. Um, I can't remember a lot of the recording actually just all the kind of weird things that went on around it. We stayed in a hotel in London that was called the Columbia, which is a famous music hotel where everybody stays when they're in town. There was all sorts of people coming in there and all sorts of incidents going on with different people in the bar, all the drunkenness at night. That was kind of weird but probably shouldn't go into that too much (laughing). Then we had a break in at the studio and a lot of gear got stolen. I'd just had a brand new custom guitar made and that got stolen. It was about a grands worth at the time which was a lot of money and that was before we even started. I think it was about the second day and we were still doing drums, so that kind of put a downer on it. Then we had all these weird incidents with the technology in the studio. On the reverbs and the delays and that they kept resetting themselves to 666 constantly. If you moved it to 842 it would just go back to 666 regardless. That is no word of a lie; even the engineer was totally fucking spooked by it. And the weirdest one was one day we were either leaving or we'd just come in in the morning and there was an old speaker box that they had in the corner in the studio, in the mixing booth and the speaker was pulsating. We thought that's weird, went and looked and it wasn't even plugged in (laughing). No word of a lie but some really bizarre things went on around that album.
That was the same place that the Sex Pistols recorded in wasn't it? That must have been quite an experience for a young band, especially one like yourselves with your Punk influences?
Yeah well we weren't told this at first. It was in the years after that I found out which was a shame but still great for me in particular being a massive Pistols fan.
And that was Sy Keeler's first album with the band wasn't it? Is it right that he'd never even been in a band before he joined you for that?
No not at all, not really, not that I was aware of. He came along with a guy who used to help us out roadie-ing one night to rehearsal. We always used to do a lot of cover versions just mucking around in-between writing and stuff and he asked if we'd mind if he got up and had a blast on one of the songs. I can't remember exactly what we played, it may have been Judas Priest 'Freewheel Burning' or something like that I don't know. But he was confident in his singing and he got up and we were like "FUCK!!!" We were thinking of adding another guitarist anyway from the 'Power From Hell' album and that kind of really pushed us in the direction to do that. Once we heard Sy singing we wanted him in the band if he could sing like that. It was kind of convenient really so we just had a little shuffle around in the band and brought Sy in. It was as quick as that really.
Sounds like one of those times where it all just lines up perfectly. He comes out of nowhere, joins the band and the very first album he cut ends up being a genre defining classic...
(Laughing) Yeah it was very strange. It was within a week as well. Well it was actually a fucking day. He just came in and he was in the band by the time he left.
What about all the material though, that was already written wasn't it? Sy was the last piece so to speak.
Yeah, yeah, that was already all written ready to go.
Your lyrics then. Many a religious topic over the years. What drives you to write like that?
Um... My hatred for religion I guess. I'm from a religious kind of family, not super religious but they are religious. Some of them used to go to church a lot and would drag me along when I was a kid. Regardless of whether I wanted to go or not I got taken there, and it just made me despise the whole thing. Listening to people talk about it... I don't know it just really got to me. It's stuck with me since I was about 5 years old all the way through my life and when you see all the things that are going on in the world today in the name of religion it just does my head in.
Some of your other material then... Say a song like 'Metal Forces', was that in anyway dedicated to the magazine?
Yeah definitely, yeah. We openly declare that. Bernard (Doe, Metal Forces creator) was a massive help to the band when we first started, when 'Power From Hell' came out. They backed us as much as they could, live reviews, album reviews, and interviews. They just helped us out, name-dropped us wherever they could to help us get into this or that so it was just our kind of thank you to them really. I've been speaking to Bernard again recently actually and Metal Forces is up and running again as an online mag. http://www.metalforcesmagazine.com/
That's great to have it back since a lot of the good old magazines have long gone downhill. Kerrang's more of a comic these days...
We'll be doing something with Metal Forces soon. Bernard was always very much in touch with the underground even though they also covered a lot of the more mainstream things as well because he was connected to Shades Records which was in London. They used to get all the bands through and get word of what was going on so he would have records before everyone else. I think that's what helped Bernard a lot, he was really on the ball.
After 'Power From Hell' you moved labels to Music For Nations for 'The Force' but that was the only album you did for them before moving to yet another label for 'In Search Of Sanity'. How did the move come about from MFN and with hindsight was it a mistake to leave?
Yes! (laughing). Without a doubt, but at the time... it could've been a good thing but it didn't turn out to be a good thing. If we'd stayed where we were... The thing is we did the first one with Children Of The Revolution, which was a small indie label that did a fantastic job. Got the album sold worldwide not bad for a guy who actually started the label on a government scheme. You probably wouldn't remember but the government used to pay you like 25 quid a week to start your own business to get you off the dole basically and that's what this guy did. He started up a label with another guy who actually went on to form Earache. So they started in this little squat office in Bristol and they both done fantastic for themselves. Tim quit that after a while, I don't know why but to do that from his beginnings to what he did for us was fantastic. So then obviously Music For Nations saw what was going on and they signed us, took us to another level again. Major labels started to sniff around then, seeing the success of bands like Metallica they all wanted the British band around at the time and that happened to be us. Music For Nations reluctantly let us go, we had our contract bought out and the new label took control of the band then, changed us... If they'd allowed us to do what we wanted to do I think it would've been a different story but when they were spending the money that they'd spent I don't think that was ever likely (shrugs).
Talking of 'In Search Of Sanity' there, you did actually record some demos with Sy before switching singers? Are they still around?
I don't know. Sy have you still got those demos, the Sanity demos? (Sy is perusing the dressing room sandwiches... "Oh yes!") Yeah, there you go, from the horse's mouth.
Is there a chance they could ever come out?
Uh... Probably not. because at the end of the day they were just demos and they were only there for the purpose of letting the label hear what we were doing and ourselves to know where we were going with the songs. I mean they were very raw versions but they were more how the album should have sounded than what finally appeared on there. They were more in the feel of 'The Force' than how they ended up on '...Sanity' but what we are going to do is be re-recording the album. A lot of people wanna hear Sy do it and we wanna do it properly.
So is that your actual next step or will it be a little further down the line after a new album first?
New album is the next step so it will be further along but we may just sneak in one track as a bonus for this next album. We like to do some old stuff that people haven't heard Sy do. We did 'Power From Hell' on 'Killing Peace' as a bonus in some territories and I think we did 'Thermonuclear Devastation' and 'Angels Of Death' as bonuses for the last one so we might do one of '...Sanity' for this one.
How have you seen the crowds change over the years? I mean maybe it's just because we were younger but it just seems that crowds back in the day used to be more... I don't want to say violent...um...insane?
Depends were you go really. It's a lot calmer in England for sure. Definitely. When you go to places like South America and that maybe not (laughing).
I guess. You still play in pretty big places down in South America don't you?
Well we play big and small. It's just the same as everywhere really, some places you play big venues, and some places you play small venues.
Why do you think it is then that in England, or rather the youth of England, don't really seem to be that extreme when it comes to embracing real heavy metal. Just lapping up the type of weak shit that Kerrang push?
Yeah I don't really get all that kind of stuff really. I don't know why it's changed here. I mean you go to Europe, or anywhere else in the world probably and it's OK but it seems England's just not buying it for some reason. We know we're good for a few hundred people a night so we just keep doing the best we can.
Still, I bet 26 years ago when you were recording 'The Force' you wouldn't have imagined you'd still be performing it in 2012 and still playing in new territories. You finally made it to America?
No I certainly wouldn't have thought that, and enjoying it more than ever. Yeah, last April was the first American tour we've ever done. Kind of surprising after all these years because we have sold a lot of records in America but the right offers have never come along. We've been offered loads of tours, loads of supports but you've got to be careful with America because it costs us about 6 or 7 grand just to get there with work permits, visas and your travel. You're 7 grand down before you even start so you've gotta make sure your deals are good when you're there and make sure you're working with reliable people. We know a lot of bands that have been over there, even recently, and come back with debts of 40 or 50 grand. There's no way we're going to enter into anything like that, it's just suicide. But the tour we did do was fantastic and the next one's being booked right now, the package is put together already so we're looking at May next year for that.
Looking to the new album then. You said with 'Sounds Of Violence' that you went all out to make the ultimate Onslaught album both lyrically and musically. Do you think you'll be able to top it?
We have (laughing). I think so, well nearly, we're not completely finished yet. It's musically written now but me and Andy just sit there sometimes and think where the fuck did that come from or how did we write that...? I don't know. The gap from this one to 'Sounds Of Violence' is the gap from 'Sounds Of Violence' to 'Killing Peace', I think. The new album's more extreme, it's more aggressive, it's heavier than 'Sounds Of Violence' was.
'Sounds Of Violence' was the first time you wrote with Andy wasn't it? I listen to it and stuff like 'Godhead', which I fucking love, I just think what must that be like for you when you write something, to come up with something like that, it's just...
Yeah yeah. Thank you anyway but yeah we have sort of specific writing sessions where we go into the studio and we record everything and structure the songs as we go through and we won't listen to it when it's time to go, time to pack up. Next session we'll have a sit down and have a recap and just look at each other and be like fucking hell yeah we got that right. And I think you're right with 'Godhead' that was one of our favourites with the arrangement, there's lots of changes but it was so fluid in how it moves. That was the first song that we wrote on the album that was the first time we wrote together actually. It kind of gave us the template for the rest, sort of set the benchmark for where we had to go with everything else.
It must've been good finding a writing partner like that because before you did a lot of it yourself.
Yeah I did most of it myself before so it's nice to have somebody come in like that. Probably hardly any of the riffs was written by either one of us because we were both there playing away together. He'd come up with an idea or I'd come up with an idea and then we'd say well let's add this into it or let's change that and it just keeps rolling. It's amazing, it works so well together. He's an old school thrasher, he was a massive fan of Onslaught back in the day so it all works perfectly. Again on this new album it's all been so smooth.
I want to ask you one question about life after Onslaught the first time around because you went onto a band called Frankenstein. I saw you support Saxon at the Plymouth Pavilions on the 'Forever Free' tour...
Did we play Plymouth? I know we did that tour so we must have done... That was the only tour we ever did.
That was probably the most poorly attended gig, for venue size, that I've ever been to. It's a 4,000 capacity arena and there was about 300 people in there. It was the early nineties and grunge was sweeping away everything before it so my question would be how did it feel being a musician from a certain genre that just a year before had been very successful and then seeing the landscape change so dramatically so quickly?
It was weird because even though we'd left London Records we were looking for another deal and we were still writing. Grimmett had left and Tony O'Hora had come in and between me and Tony we actually booked a 32 date UK tour ourselves and that was our final tour but even on that we were pulling 400 to 700 people a night. But yeah I remember the Saxon tour and some of those dates were quite poorly attended. That was a gruelling tour for us and certain personalities didn't get on and it started to fracture there and all went tits up basically. But that was the time that Nirvana and the lot were coming along and Saxon probably suffered even more than the likes of us did because maybe they were being classed as old fashioned. I don't know. There was only a few really good attended gigs on that tour. I think it was 14 or 15 dates but it wasn't that great. After that it didn't last that long. It was a kind of experimental thing hence the name Frankenstein. It was just a mish mash of everything. I don't know if anybody really got it to be honest (laughs). Me and Tony went on to form another band after and that was really good and that should have happened. We were almost on the verge of being taken into Sanctuary, Rod Smallwood's management company with Maiden and stuff but something went wrong there and that was the final straw for me. It had been 3 disappointments in a row in 3 or 4 years and it was too much. I said "fuck it", put my guitar under the bed at that point, '94 or '95, and it stayed there until 2005. Didn't come out, I never picked it up once. So it was very rusty when it finally came out, as was my playing (laughing).
To end on that guitar note then, who was the first person to teach you how to play?
A guy called Dave Bateman from Vice Squad. I was a little upstart punk rocker when I was a kid and Vice Squad were from the area I was in in Bristol. Dave actually used to go to the school just across the road from the school I went to, lived like a 100 metres from where I was born. I mean I didn't know this at the time but I was into Vice Squad and ended up fanboying it up after a gig one day and got chatting to him, oh I live there... I said I'm just thinking of learning to play and he said just pop round one day, have a cup of tea and I'll show you a couple things and that was it. I became great friends with Dave, unfortunately he's passed away now, but I went around there 2 or 3 times and he showed me the basics and that was it, off I went.
Awesome, and what a journey it's been. Thank you again for your time, it's been a real privilege. Cheers.
Pleasure mate, thank you.
Keep up to date with Onslaught here http://www.facebook.com/onslaughtuk and thrash till the death!
[Recent line up photo courtesy of http://www.photographyrocks.co.uk/, archive photos courtesy of the band]