|As details are revealed of a third full-length assault, MPire Of Evil has taken possession of its own life. The band was formed around 2010 by musicians who had previously passed through the ranks of Venom and who have doubtlessly had their say in shaping the Metal landscape.This interview contains a conversation I had with Tony ‘The Demolition Man’ Dolan, bassist and vocalist with MPire Of Evil, where, amongst other things, he discussed recent developments within the band while taking time to reminisce on times past. A few days later I also had a chat with guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn where I tried to uncover more of the man behind the myth.So without further ado, here is the complete interview with MPire Of Evil. Hope you have a good read!I heard that drummer Marc Jackson isn’t in the picture any more…can you give me more information on this? Who is currently playing drums with MPire Of Evil?|
Tony: Yes, last month we did the European tour with Obituary and next month, in March, we go to Russia. [In 2013] we finished our European tour with Onslaught, Master and Tantara. At the end of that we had a couple of festival shows. When we returned home from that tour we had a discussion with Marc…basically we just came down to a situation where we felt that the whole idea behind MPire Of Evil was predominantly based on myself and Mantas. We do all the management work, we do all the artwork, all the production and all the writing. Marc wanted to do more than play drums. He wanted to be more involved, but of course the way that we work is pretty much centred around myself and Mantas. And we couldn’t balance it out in a way that Marc would feel completely happy with his role.
So because I had some shows coming up and we were still in a little state of indecision I called a friend of mine, Peso, who drums for the Italian band Necrodeath and asked him if he could step in should I need him for a couple of shows. And he said that he was a bit old now [laughs] and that it would take him quite a while to learn everything…..probably longer than we could wait. So he suggested another Italian drummer who’s like a young [Dave] Lombardo. His name is Francesco La Rosa…they actually call him Francesco ‘Frullo’ La Rosa because ‘frullo’ in Italian means ‘to mix’ and he mixes well with his feet, he’s very fast with his feet. So I got in touch with Francesco and I said “Look, we may not have a drummer for a couple of shows. Would you be able to come and step in for us if that happens?” He said “Yes” and I sent him the material and we’ve been together ever since. Francesco plays for a band called Extrema and also plays in another band called Mastercastle, he’s a drum teacher and he’s played with a lot of different people.
We found that that was the perfect solution for us. Plus we didn’t need to expand beyond 3 members and risk all that ‘band politics’…..you know, like every band has. We decided to keep it nice and clean, no arguments, just fun to do and always exciting and creative. We found that this was the best way to do it. It means we have a superb drummer who comes to play with us and when he’s with us he’s as much part of MPire Of Evil as we [Tony and Mantas] are ourselves. But it also means that he can then go back to Italy and carry on with everything else he’s doing while we can focus on writing and recording and dealing with all the management stuff. And when it’s time to put the drums down, we can call him up and he goes into a studio and he can put the drums down. Also when we go to play live, we tell him what the dates are, he arranges it, and then he comes on tour with us. Actually it turns out to be a great solution to the issues we were having. Initially this was how I wanted to use Marc Jackson, in a very similar role after we had parted ways with Antton. So yes, for the foreseeable future we will have Francesco playing for the MPire.
Antton [drummer Anthony ‘Antton’ Lant] was involved in the songwriting of “Hell To The Holy”, the first MPIRE OF EVIL album. How much did his departure influence your decision to do second album “Crucified”, basically a re-interpretation of Venom numbers?
Tony: Well, kind of. I mean bringing us all together was partly Antton’s idea. They [Antton and Mantas] were playing together in Dryll – the project Mantas had prior to MPire Of Evil – and then they got in touch with me inviting me to join and I thought it was a brilliant idea. We all had a relationship through Venom: of course Mantas is Mantas, I was there for a period of time and Antton was also with Venom for a period of time, besides being Cronos’ brother. So we felt we had something in common even though, until then, we had never played together as musicians.
We did “Creatures Of The Black”, our first EP. Then we recorded “Hell To The Holy”. We all had an input in that and I thought it turned out pretty well. Antton, however, just wasn’t quite happy at how it turned out or how he wanted the thing to move forward. He wanted to push it in another direction that I wasn’t particularly happy with. And one thing I said when we began the project was that this time we have to do everything correctly. We don’t need and politics, we don’t need any arguments and it should be fun. I didn’t want to go ahead with the band for just a year or two or three years. I wanted to do it so it will be our legacy.
Over the years there have been so many times when we said “Oh, let’s do an album, let’s do some shows”. And then you do it and two or 3 years later the band has broken up again. I just didn’t want to waste that sort of time because I know how much energy I put into projects and how much time it consumes. So if we were going to do it, we’d have to all be happy, all agree and we need to put everything into it.
Right before the American tour, when we had just finished “Hell To The Holy” it was quite clear to me that all things with Antton were not particularly well and that we may be creating some sort of issue with ourselves that in a few years’ time might break us up. I didn’t want that to happen so I thought that before we do the first shows we have to make a decision. That decision was Antton’s departure. But he also had his Def Con One band and it was what he liked doing so it was perfect. He’s been getting albums out with that band and he’s doing really well. He got to do what he wants and we moved on.
We drafted in Marc Jackson after that and, a bit like Francesco, he was recommended to us. We saw him play and we thought this is brilliant and asked him if he would like to join us for the tour. At that point we should have explained to him how it was going to work. We though we’ll just keep our drummer and not convene our band to clarify things but with hindsight that was probably the wrong way to go about it. After that tour, because he’s such a great drummer, we wanted to record with Marc. So we had written two songs for a single: ‘Demone’ and ‘Taking It All’ and then we looked into doing the next album.
What we were finding was that when we went out and played, a lot of the die-hard Venom fans were asking us to play ‘Prime Evil’ and ‘Parasite’ and ‘Skool Days’ and ‘Harder Than Ever’ and other Venom songs that I had done with Venom. And then of course because Mantas was with MPire Of Evil, they also said: “Why don’t you do ‘Welcome To Hell’?” “Why don’t you do ‘Black Metal’?” They’re not really MPire songs but then we said, hang on, we are doing ‘Blackened Are The Priests’, we are doing ‘Carnivorous’, we are doing our old material and although they were recorded under the name of Venom, they were actually our songs. We did write them. And we thought you’re not going to hear Cronos play those songs live with Venom so if Mantas is here and I am here, why should we deny fans hearing the songs? So we decided to play them live as part of our set. Bear in mind that in the beginning we didn’t have enough material to do a 2-hour set of MPire Of Evil songs anyway so we went to the fans to ask them what other songs they’d like to hear us play and they told us to play songs like ‘Die Hard’, ‘Black Metal’, ‘Hellspawn’, ‘Metal Messiah’. Basically our live set was put together by the fans.
So if people criticise us for playing songs such as ‘Don’t burn the Witch’, it’s actually a song that was written by Mantas and me. So we’re not distinguishing between Venom songs and MPire Of Evil songs – they’re just songs…great songs…written by the people who are on stage playing them for the fans who want to hear them.
When we talked about recording our second studio album, we thought that in order to include the Venom songs in our live set, why don’t we make them legitimately MPire Of Evil songs by first asking fans what their favourite songs are and then re-recording them as MPire with Marc Jackson. So we weren’t trying to give them a 21st century sound or re-doing them because we didn’t thing the originals were as good. Most of the people who’ve heard the “Crucified” album consider it to be an MPire Of Evil album. We’ve even had reviews which said there were one or two Venom songs with the rest being MPire Of Evil songs. It was only the die-hard fans that recognised the album as having older Venom songs. So now, when we play those songs live…..songs like ‘Black Legions’, ‘Temples Of Ice’…..people don’t distinguish between Venom or Mpire Of Evil. They just think they’re MPire songs. And that was the idea behind “Crucified”.
Trailer of “Crucified” album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pODGKahjuzc&t=19
When you started MPire Of Evil, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to sound like or did you say, let’s just jam together and we’ll see what emerges?
Tony: Well, it’s a good question….when we initially started as the three of us with Antton, Mantas and myself discussing it, it was quite clear that they wanted to aim towards Venom. I didn’t feel that we needed to do that because we were Venom so we didn’t even need to try to get there. We could play Venom songs if they wanted to but we didn’t need to. So my take was that this was an opportunity for us to be able to play any style we want and any type of songs we want. Whatever we create could be totally our own. We don’t have to put ourselves in a category, we don’t have to be Death Metal or Deathcore or, you know, Thrash. We don’t have to be anything. We could just be whatever we were feeling. And so we looked and though “What do we love about the music?” And we concluded that what we love is the heaviness and that ranged from Cryptic Slaughter to Napalm Death to Pantera to Kiss. What we loved was the very idea of Heavy Metal….classic Heavy Metal…..stuff that sounds good, that makes the audience move along to. That’s why we did “Creatures Of The Black” – we looked into ourselves and said “Which were the songs that shaped us?” Which were the songs that I, personally, first heard that made me say “Shit, that’s what I want to do for a career”. For me it was Motörhead, for Mantas it was Judas Priest’s ‘Exciter’ and for Antton it was AC/DC. We also did ‘God of Thunder’ [Kiss cover] because you could do ‘God of Thunder’ in Venom’s early sets and also to mess around. And then we added two of our own songs.
People were asking why we did that EP as our first release and the reason we did that was because we hoped they’ll understand why we were doing MPire Of Evil. We wanted to say, look, we love Heavy Metal, we love the classic bands and if you want to call that ‘old school’ you could but it’s just about the genre, the Heavy Metal genre. And that covers everyone from Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, all the way to, I don’t know….Accept and AC/DC. Just the heavy, groovy style of everybody. And when we came to do “Hell To The Holy” we did our own songs but the imprint of the classic Metal sound is still there. All of our influences are on there.
You know, this morning I was reading a review of one of the shows we did with Obituary and the reviewer said that he couldn’t quite categorise us. He felt that it was brilliant, very professional and that we certainly had our old school heads on and yet he couldn’t categorise us.
Tony, while playing with bands such as Atomkraft, Venom and MPire Of Evil, your role varied from bassist, guitarist and lead vocalist, often adopting more than one of these roles concurrently. Clearly you’re quite a versatile musician but in which of these positions do you feel most comfortable?
Tony: When I had accepted Mantas’ invitation to play bass guitar in his band [around 2004] I didn’t think about roles too much because there already was a guitarist and vocalist. But I loved the material so I still enjoyed recording and playing live with that band. There’s a certain freedom on stage at playing bass and not having to sing. With Atomkraft I sometimes played bass, sometimes I played guitar and sometimes I sang. Of course with Venom and MPire I played bass and sang. To be honest I don’t really distinguish between not singing and playing or singing and playing
So you’re happy either way?
Tony: Yeah, it always feels quite natural whatever I do or play. Besides, I’ve played bass and done lead vocals for so many years now that it doesn’t feel like I’m doing two things. It only feels like I’m doing one thing.
You mentioned Atomkraft…..what is the situation with that band? I read the band had got together again and were thinking of doing another album.
[Note: Formed in 1979, Atomkraft spearheaded what became known as the NWOBHM movement. Like Venom, the band came from the North English city of Newcastle and only ever released 1 full-length, “Future Warriors”, besides a few EPs.]
Tony: Well, I often get approached by people wishing to put on Atomkraft shows or asking if I’d be prepared to record something with Atomkraft. I’ve done it once or twice over the last 2 or 3 years. I released an EP on vinyl and CD through W.A.R. Productions in 2011. It was called “Cold Sweat” which included a cover of the Thin Lizzy classic. That came after Jaap [Waagemaker], of Nuclear Blast, suggested that I should do something on the anniversary of Phil Lynott’s death. So I did that and then I was asked to do some shows in Holland, which I did, with bands such as Girlschool and Agent Steel. But it wasn’t the original band. As a drummer I had Steve Mason – he was with a band called Blinded By Fear. The guitarist was Pär Hulkoff, from Copenhagen. Yes, Atomkraft were originally a 3-piece before we progressed to a 5-piece band but at the end of those shows, I didn’t feel it was right. I wasn’t happy with the performance and I didn’t feel it was the real Atomkraft. So I decided not to do any more shows.
Then, a couple of years ago, Minotauro Records approached me and asked me if I had any demos and things that I’d like to put together and give them a release. So last year….or maybe it was the year before…we released what was basically a compilation of live recordings and demos that I had lying around. It was released as a double-vinyl set and a 3-CD set. The recordings were very rough – I didn’t produce it or mix it, it was exactly as they sounded in their original recordings. What I quite liked about the reaction to that box-set was that unless you’re a hardcore fan, you hated it. And I liked that because Atomkraft was never about being perfect, it was always about the energy of the whole thing.
As a result of that release I was contacted by Brofest, a festival in Newcastle, and asked if I wanted to play with Atomkraft. And I said that the guys I have with me at the moment were a drummer called Paul Caffrey, who drums for the Thrash band Gama Bomb, and a guitarist called Kræn Meier, who was with a Danish band called Sacrificial. So I told [Brofest] that those were the guys I could use to do the show but I don’t know if I’m comfortable playing Atomkraft. And they said that they thought we could do a special set featuring the entire “Future Warriors” album. Eventually I agreed and after we rehearsed the album, we played it from beginning to end but what I did was to invite Mantas, who was living in Newcastle at the time, to come down and maybe join the band for a song. He ended up joining the band for two songs. They were recorded and when I looked back at it, I realised I absolutely enjoyed it. It was fantastic playing the Atomkraft material with those guys. Maybe that was the problem before – I was forgetting the band’s roots.
Thrash Metal did have its roots in Punk but Atomkraft were always a bit more Punk than Metal. We were more Motörhead and Venom than, say, Exodus and Metallica. Anyway, now I’m working on songs for the next Atomkraft album. It will be myself, Paul and Kræn…with some help from Mantas. Hopefully we’ll complete the Atomkraft album this year and then either towards the end of the year or in 2016 I’ll be taking Atomkraft out to play in a few selected shows.
‘Devil’s Reign’ by Atomkraft: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAqLo8B5hHI
Will it be out this year?
Tony: The idea is yes. We wanted it to be out at the beginning of this year, then towards the end of last year we were off on that tour with Obituary. So we put off finishing the album to do the tour. Only now that we’ve got a short break from touring are we finishing it. Right now, in fact, we’re having the drums recorded and then we’ll do the vocals and put the finishing touches to the album. I was hoping to have it all done by March but now it seems it’ll be out either this summer or towards the end of the year. It’ll be out a lot later than I would have wanted but nevertheless that’s the situation.
And there will be Francesco on drums, right?
Tony: Yes, Francesco, should be drumming on it.
MPire Of Evil also have some festivals confirmed for this summer, right?
Tony: Yes, that’s right, we’ve got a full set of dates confirmed. We’ve got the Keep It True Festival in Germany…..the Titanfest in London…..Beermageddon in August…..the British Steel festival this October in France…..we go to Russia for 8 or so dates…..we play a couple of dates in Italy…..
You’ve got a very busy year ahead!
Tony: Very busy, yes. Also, the Keep It True festival [in April 2015] is going to be a special one. I think that’s sold out now but it’s going to be a special performance. We’ll play an MPire set and we’ll have a guest coming along and…..well, I think that’s going to be a very special show. We may be making an announcement on that as well.
Keep It True brings together a lot of old-school Metal fans so will you include songs by Atomkraft and Venom in the set?
Tony: Well, that’s what we’re looking at at the moment. While we’ll have a special guest with us, we’ll be introducing people to the MPire songs but we do understand it’s a retro-fest so we’ve got a few classic songs to play and then we’ll end it with something ultra-classic.
I’m sure the crowd will love it. By the way, how did your stage name ‘The Demolition Man’ come about?
Tony: I think it was sometime in 1981 with Atomkraft when there was original guitarist Steve White and the original Atomkraft drummer Paul Spillet. We were asked to play an opening slot with a band called Warrior. In order for me not to pull my lead out from my bass guitar, the technician decided to wrap the lead round my amplifier. Well, in those days everyone played solos so we got to the part of the set when I was introduced on bass. So I went to a bit of stuff on the bass…..a sort of bass solo. And I jumped up on a table to do it but I didn’t realise that my lead had been wrapped round everything. As I jumped off the table I felt a tug and basically I pulled all my equipment over. I turned round and it was all sparks and flames and people running around and I was like “Oh, shit. I’ve really made a mess!” And as I tried to help put everything back up, the guitarist went to the microphone and said “Ladies and gentlemen, the demolition man!” And that was it. The name stuck. Basically I think it’s because I tend to break everything.
Tony: I’m a bit heavy-handed with stuff! If it works, I’ll find a way to break it…..not on purpose of course.
Tony, both yourself and Mantas have been involved with many bands in the past. But what sets MPire Of Evil apart from them all?
Tony: We’ve got a long legacy behind us of course but the thing with MPire is that we’re not trying to fit into any particular box. We’re Heavy Metal and some of it is Thrashy, some of it is fast, some of it is slow, some of it is sing-along, some of it is not, some of it is dark, some of it funny. Basically we take all of the elements that we’ve enjoyed over the years and put them into MPire Of Evil. So we’re not one thing. We’re not stuck in one genre, we’re not stuck in one hole. We pride ourselves as being musicians.
The best analogy I can use is that now, at my age, I distinguish between somebody who’s in a band and a musician. A musician would do many different things musically, have different styles of playing. So whether it’s Mantas on stage with Venom, Mantas on stage with MPire or Mantas on stage with Scooter, he will still be Mantas playing lead guitar his own way. Some people need to be in bands and some people can just be musicians. And I think we just happen to be musicians who are in a band together. That’s the difference with MPire.
We’re not trying to play songs in a particular way to get anybody to like us and of course we’re not trying to get anybody to hate us either. We’re just not forcing anything on anyone, we’re just letting it happen naturally, enjoying what we’re doing as musicians while connecting with the fans. And I don’t think we’ve had that type of freedom before.
Only today I was reading of a band charging $175 to meet the band at one of their shows. Ridiculous! As recent as the last Obituary tour I’ve been meeting fans all the time, having photos taken with them and giving autographs. And not once did I expect to be paid. That’s another difference with MPire, the industry has changed but we’re still here for the fans. Without the fans there is no band. After they buy our shirts, buy our albums, come to our shows, the least we can do is to interact with them.
Tony Dolan, it’s been a real pleasure speaking to you. I look forward to seeing you play live soon.
Tony: Thank you. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
As explained in the interview’s introduction, a couple of days after the above conversation took place, I also had an opportunity to talk to Mantas. The interview with Mantas can be read here below and you can also listen to it via the link at the end of the text.
I start by asking for Mantas’ own impressions on the new material MPire Of Evil is writing…..
Mantas: Ah the new stuff…..so far there are around 14 or 15 songs written for the new album “Unleashed” and I know every bands says this and it’s a stock answer but I honestly believe that this is easily the finest material that myself and Tony have collaborated on. I’m really proud of this stuff. At the moment we’re busy getting the lyrics together and Tony’s going to be coming over here to get his basslines done. We’ve got Francesco who’d going to be putting the drums down in Italy and then all files are going to be coming back to my studio for mixing. For me it’s just going to be a damn good Heavy Metal album. It’s got no genre specifics to it. It’s just good straight down-the-line Metal as far as I’m concerned.
You know, MPire was always going to be that…..just a Heavy Metal band, while keeping away from all this Black Metal, Death Metal, this Metal or that Metal. I think the genre categorisation thing has gone far too far now.
Both Tony and yourself seem eager to emphasize that MPire Of Evil doesn’t belong to a specific Metal genre…at the most it’s just Metal. Right?
Mantas: Absolutely, yes. That’s one thing we said when we put this band together, that we write whatever we feel is good. Tony and myself have a good working relationship. [If necessary] we can criticise each other, no problem. But so far there’s been no criticisms between us with anything either of us has come up with. We decided we don’t want people to think of Venom or Black Metal straight away. The Black Metal scene has evolved and moved on so much from what Venom first created. It’s a completely different animal now. Which is a good thing…because that’s evolution…and it’s what’s kept the music alive for the last 37 years.
But we said that if we want to write a song which is in a Black Metal vein, or in a Thrash Metal vein or Doom Metal or whatever, we’ll do it. You’ve got to remember that in the early days, when we first started, none of these terminologies existed. So I suppose in a way we might be partly to blame for all these genre categorisations. But it seems that every new band that comes out these days have got to be part of one genre or another. Or else they’ll create their own [genre].
You know, I’m still old-school at the end of the day and I still go back to classic Metal. The thing people forget is that I’m now 54 years old so obviously I’ve got a long history of music behind me. And that stretches way back into the 70s…..into the early 70s. I was always into guitar-driven music and I suppose my first favourite band as a kid was Slade. They were a good Rock band, a really good Rock band. T-Rex was another, although obviously a little bit on the softer side, compared to Slade. Everything just progressed and evolved from there for me but it always had to be guitar-driven. Sonically I just found that that appealed to me.
And I thing that that’s what we’re going back to now…..just loud guitar-driven music. Whether it’s heavy, whether it’s groovy…..whatever it is…..if it fits in the MPire frame then it fits. If it doesn’t, well then we’ll work on something else.
You cite Slade as an influence…how much of that influence was directly responsible for your first solo album, “Winds Of Change” of 1988?
[“Winds Of Change” was Mantas’ first release after his first departure from Venom. Musically, it had a distinctly different mindset from his ex-band. While Venom were sonically much more abrasive and the attitude way more unorthodox, “Winds Of Change” was more of a keyboards-infused AOR/Melodic Rock affair with a greater emphasis on strong songwriting.]
Official video of ‘Deceiver’ from the “Winds Of Change” album by Mantas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0CeSiV-t2c
Mantas: To be perfectly honest with you, “Winds Of Change” was just a breath of fresh air. It was a chance to have some fun. I mean, you know, all the personality clashes within Venom are well-documented now and it had just become an increasingly difficult band to be in. And the events of 1985 had very little to do with musical differences. It was things that happened during the course of that year that shocked and disgusted from certain quarters. After announcing that I was leaving in 1986, I thought that that was it for me with music. I thought that if this was what being in a band becomes like, well then I don’t want to be any part of that. It wasn’t the music that was the enemy, it was the personalities within the band.
Then after I got a phone call from Neat Records asking what I was doing and asking if I had considered doing a solo album, which at that point I hadn’t, I went down to speak with Dave Wood, of Neat Records. And we agreed that I’d do a solo album.
So it was at the instigation of Neat Records that you decided to do a solo record….
Mantas: Yeah, absolutely. So, anyway, I proceeded to write it and I thought that if I’ve just left a band then I might as well do something completely different. And I’m always like that. I’ve got that side to me that I do things that people won’t expect. I’m not some narrow-minded tunnel-visioned one-trick phoney that needs to be under a banner. So I thought that if you’ve got a white wall and you want to make a change to that wall, well it’s pointless to paint it a different shade of white. Let’s make a complete change. So that’s how the whole “Winds Of Change” thing came around. I’ve always been a fan of 80s Rock music so I though why don’t I just have some fun with this and in fact it was a very enjoyable time. Just bloody good fun. And it got a lot of good press….we did the Tommy Vance show for the BBC…we went down for the Headbanger’s Ball….we did a video which was on MTV rotation…and, you know, some of the reviews that were coming out were great, saying things like “My God, this guy can play guitar!” [laughs]
You mentioned the personality clashes within Venom…..obviously it wasn’t always like that. So I’d like to ask you what you remember of your first meeting with Cronos and how Venom had first got together.
Mantas: Right, I’ll give you the condensed version of what happened. I am writing a book about it at the moment…I’ve been asked for a long time to write a book but I’ve always avoided it. But a couple of years ago I was in Japan and I was speaking to some people who told me I should really write a book to, you know, tell the truth about what happened. What’s being said in the press today and what I read on the internet is complete horseshit.
In fact I’ve read different versions of how Venom came together. So what is your version of those events?
Mantas: How myself and Cronos met was…..I was seeing this girl…..well it must have been way back in 1978 or 1979. She was from Wallsend, which is just outside Newcastle. A friend of mine lived in Walker, which is a little suburb just outside Wallsend and we used to go to this local Rock club. It was more like a church hall…..it was like a youth centre on a Friday evening and it was called the ‘Meth’, which was short for ‘the Methodist church’. Anyway, I met this girl there and we started seeing each other. Her best friend used to live in Wallsend as well and once a week, when her parents used to go out for the evening, all of us young metalheads would go over to this girl’s house and just hang out, listen to Metal music.
One night when we went round, my girlfriend’s best friend had a new boyfriend and he was sitting on the couch as I walked in and I was introduced to him. It was Conrad, who eventually became Cronos. And we just started talking…..it was the first time I ever met the guy, I had never seen him before in my life. We had a mutual interest in music and I said that I had a band. At that point the guy that I had actually started Venom with, a guy called Dave Rutherford, was in the process of leaving the band because he wasn’t really into what we were doing. So I was on the lookout for another rhythm guitarist. Conrad mentioned that he played guitar but the thing that clinched it for me was that he mentioned that he was working on a scheme. Back in those days, the UK government used to put people into these work schemes called ‘Youth Opportunity Schemes’ and he got a chance to work in a recording studio, which was Impulse Recording Studio in Wallsend…..which obviously was of Neat Records. So for me that was a double-edged sword. It was a chance to get a rhythm guitarist into the band and he works in a recording studio so maybe we can get some studio time. We couldn’t afford a recording studio then.
So I invited him to come along to a rehearsal on a Saturday afternoon which was in a church hall in the West end of Newcastle. He came along and the offer to join the band was made. It was shortly after that that our bass player we had at the time left the band. Again he wasn’t really into what we were doing or what we wanted to do. So Conrad took over bass and that left the original Venom as a 4-piece: myself, Abaddon, Cronos and a vocalist called Clive Archer. That was the first line-up that went into Impulse Recording Studios to do the first demo.
The way that Cronos became vocalist was: I had written the song ‘Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil’ and I asked him to sing it at a rehearsal one time. The idea was that Clive Archer was going to go off stage to do a costume change…even then we were already thinking very theatrically…before coming back on stage to do a song ‘Schizo’. And, you know, they say everything happens for a reason. Conrad’s vocals were good and Clive was a little bit uneasy in the band at that point as well. So then it became the 3-piece that everybody knows. There is a rehearsal tape from 1979 from this church hall with Clive Archer singing ‘Angeldust’, ‘Raise the Dead’, ‘Red Light Fever’ and ‘Buried Alive’ so that’s how early songs such as ‘Buried Alive’ are. A lot of the early material was written before Conrad joined the band but obviously the book goes into more detail.
So will this book be published later this year?
Mantas: Yes. I’m talking to an Italian publisher and there a couple of other publishers who are interested. I don’t yet know whether it’s going to be released by one publisher or whether it’s going to be licensed in different countries. Currently I’m roughly half-way through writing the book. For me it’s more complicated than putting an album together because besides writing it you’ve got to check dates and lots of other stuff. There’s so much writing involved, one thing leads to another and your memory gets jogged about certain incidents. You know, there’s a lot to go into there and it doesn’t just concentrate on the Venom thing. I’m taking it from day 1, from when I was born and all the way through my early childhood, influences…..it’s basically my life story, with the Venom thing in it as well. It’s from the beginning to where we are today.
Was there anything that surprised you while researching and remembering past events for your book?
Mantas: Yeah, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and there were a lot of contributors to the book as well. I was speaking to people like Eric Cook, who was the Venom manager, and to my longtime friend who I’m still in touch with, Gordon Atkinson, who was also the first Venom drum roadie in the early days. He was there in Venom’s heydays, he was there when Metallica were supporting us, he was there at the early shows in America right to the Seven Dates of Hell tour…..and he can recall things that I can’t remember and I can recall things that he can’t remember. So when we got together we started talking about things and started bouncing things off each other and, well…..fuckin ‘ell there are a lot of things you tend to forget. And there were a lot of photographs that Gordon had taken with disposable cameras which he never developed. So we got a digital converter and we converted all these photographs and looked at some of the shots and…wow…they brought back so many memories. When you look at early photographs you get reminded of a lot of things that had happened, photographs of locations, concerts, who you were with at the time and stuff like that. It’s gonna be interesting for anybody who’s into the true history of the band and I’m looking forward to see it come out.
Plus I suppose it also provides an insight into a nascent Metal scene….
Mantas: Yes, of course. There were a lot of great bands around in the North East at that point.
When you returned to Venom, around 1989, you had invited another guitarist to play alongside you. And that wasn’t the only time you shared guitar duties. How do you feel about being the band’s only guitarist compared with sharing guitar work?
Mantas: The person you’re talking about is Al Barnes. He was part of the “Winds Of Change” project and when the album was released and we were due to do some shows together I got the call to go back to the band. And at first I refused but Eric and Abaddon were quite persistent about it so eventually I agreed. I said what about having another guitarist in, so Al came along. For Venom I don’t think it works with another guitarist to be perfectly honest. I mean Al did a great job but personally I think the [ideal] band line-up is a 3-piece.
Having said that, with Dryll, the other project that I had, there was another guitarist in there, a guy called Andy Metcalfe. And I thoroughly enjoyed being with another guitarist. It gives you more scope to do things. When I did the Mantas project, I also had Simon Mars as my second guitarist and again, it was great, it gives you a fuller sound obviously.
I don’t mind either way to be perfectly honest but with MPire it definitely works best with the three of us. We’ve had offers from other guitarists who wanted to join us and we had considered bringing in another guitarist for the future…..it’s still an option I suppose…..but at the end of the day, when we look at footage of recent tours and concerts that we’ve done we think “Nah, we don’t really need another guitarist. MPire is the three of us and that’s it.” For me personally it doesn’t bother me whether I’m on my own or if there’s somebody else there. It’s good either way.
Do you find the demands of fans who want to hear you play old Venom material at odds with your urge to be creative as a musician?
Mantas: No, absolutely not. With the MPire thing we have it all the time: we have some fans saying “Why do you play so much Venom stuff? You should leave more room for MPire songs in the sets”. On the other hand we have fans that are totally happy to see us play the old Venom classics. But at the end of the day, I wrote those songs. So if I want to play them, I’ll fucking play them! I enjoy playing them and I think we play them well so, you know, we’ve got the best of both worlds. It’s the same like Ace Frehley from Kiss – it doesn’t matter how many solo albums that guy releases, he will always have to play ‘Cold Gin’, he will always have to play some Kiss numbers. You’ve got two guys in MPire who were part of Venom, one was the founding member and one was the vocalist for 3 albums. So yeah, people wanna hear Venom songs, so yeah we’re gonna play them. Simple as that.
You’ve been involved in a wide variety of music genres but is there any other musical activity outside of Metal you’d be interested in doing, given the opportunity?
Mantas: That’s a good question…..I’ve had that question asked quite a few times. To be perfectly honest I really want to do a Blues album. A good heavy Blues album. It was one of the reasons I wrote ‘Devil’ for the first MPire album. Everything comes from the Blues and if you analyse the early Venom songs like “Welcome To Hell” and “Black Metal”, it’s all Rock ‘N’ Roll and Blues licks. Whatever I did different to them, I don’t know. It’s just the way that they came out. But I’m a big fan of the Blues and I love the Blues, I love Classic Rock, I love Southern Rock. Again, it’s that guitar-driven thing that does it for me. The guy I was talking about before, Gordon Atkinson, he’s got an amazing Blues voice and we’ve actually recorded ten songs and we might try to do some more. But yeah, I would love to do a good heavy Blues album. Metal will always be my first love but like I said, I’m not tunnel-visioned. I think Tony [Dolan] put it perfectly when he said there are people who are in a band and need to be in a band. Then there are musicians and songwriters. I would love to think, at the age that I am, that I’m more of a musician and a song-writer than to have an absolute necessity to be part of one particular thing. At the end of the day I love all genres of music. Music is my life.
Where I’m living at the moment there’s a dog-rescue centre and I had so many instrumental guitar songs sitting on the hard-drive of my computer. And I thought why not do something with them. So I’ve been releasing one song per month from my website and 50% of the proceeds are going to go to the dog centre. They’re self-funded but they do an amazing job. We’ve got a rescued dog ourselves, me and my girlfriend. So it’s music that I do whenever I have the time. In fact I’ve got another one that I’m going to release shortly. So yes, you pay in Euros and 50% of that will go to the dog centre.
Jeff Dunn, or should I say ‘Mantas’, thank you for your time in answering my questions and best of luck for all your musical endeavours.
Mantas: Thanks very much. Good interview. Thank you so much.
© March, 2015 (Chris Galea)
Hear Part 1 of the interview with Mantas : http://youtu.be/-XdDojx20QA
Hear Part 2 of the interview with Mantas : http://youtu.be/IYAbdodt5KY