Long-standing metal warriors Vicious Rumors have just released their first album since 'Sadistic Symphony' in 2001. I was delighted to get the chance to speak with Geoff Thorpe not only about the past, but what brought the band to where they are at present and their future plans, including recording the latest album 'Warball', the worldwide tours and further plans for touring in 2007.
Vicious Rumors have been around for over 25 years now. Is it as much fun as when you first started out?
Geoff: It's a different kind of fun. I still certainly enjoy it just as much. Really it's a very exciting time right now because we've had some down-time for the last few years, and coming back out with a new album so far the response has been great. Everybody seems to be responding really well to 'Warball'. So it's fun, and we're really looking forward to coming back on tour in Europe. Unfortunately we're not coming over to the UK again, but one of these times we'll make it over there.
I notice that 'Warball' is a very energetic album. Do you still get as enthusiastic and fired-up as you used to when you record?
Geoff: Definitely for this album. For me personally I was injured three years ago and broke my back, I had to have surgery and it was a really dark chapter in my life and I wasn't even sure if I was going to continue with my career. So the fact that I have been able to, the album really gave me something to live for. All my focus on rehabilitating myself and getting ready to be back with the band again was very good for me. I'm very thankful for it. We had a great time making the record, and this was the first time I'd done all the rhythm guitars and all the orchestration of the guitar parts myself. I've always kind of split that up with the guitarists. But Thaen Rasmussen wasn't in the band at that point so I just did it myself. It was a challenge and it was a lot of fun to do, and actually I like the way it came out really tight.
You've obviously been quite busy doing all the guitars, backing vocals, harmony and leads, and you've done some co-producing on this album as well. Was that fun?
Geoff: Yes. This thing has been you know 'my baby' for a long time and I do wear a lot of different hats with the band. But I do it from the heart, with a lot of passion, so it's very rewarding for me.
James and Larry are credited with some of the song-writing. I just wondered how much of a contribution to the song-writing process they have? Like you said it's 'your baby' but how much of a contribution do they make?
Geoff: Well for the 'Warball' album I pretty much put these songs together and then there's a couple of songs I completed almost completely on my own. And then I bring it to the studio and we kind of hash it around. So Larry got some writing credit because he's a very musical guy and we collaborated on some of the stuff. Basically I presented most of the songs already and then they would make some contributions. And then James Rivera and I got together and had some really positive writing sessions, and put a mind-melt together, and we were really on the same page with each other.
So I was a little bit apprehensive, thinking 'wow, what's it going to be like, writing with a new guy?' and just trying to make the cohesiveness of the style work. But it was a real natural, very easy process. We weren't forcing stuff at all, we had a good time doing it and we were just bouncing ideas off of each other. It was very cool. It's kind of the same thing - I wrote a lot of the lyrics and a lot of the melodies, and then also collaborated a lot with James Rivera too.
I think between the three of us we've established the writing sound of Vicious Rumors.
And what about the current line-up? How did you decide who was going to be in the band?
Geoff: We went through a lot of changes. My thing was that Vicious Rumors definitely has a style of its own. The first five albums really set that style in motion, and after the death of Carl Albert I started veering away a little bit from that style, maybe searching for something else. And after doing that it feels really good to return back to the real, natural song-writing style of the band. Of course it's gotten a little darker and a little heavier over the years, and I think that's the magic of 'Warball' in that it has all the classic elements of Vicious Rumors but it's also a modern, and a very dark and heavy record.
You've also got guest guitarist Brad Gillis on five of the tracks. What made you decide to take him on?
Geoff: Yeah, it was cool, because as I mentioned before when we started the record I hadn't had the second guitar player confirmed yet. So I wanted to just invite a couple of guys that I knew were just monster shredder guitar players to come in and play. Brad and I have been friends for years, we did a couple of gigs together, and I ran into him - it was really great, things have to line up in the right order and on a big recording project with new people coming in it's a real roll of the dice whether it's all going to work or not.
Everything just lined up very nicely for 'Warball' and everybody who played on it stepped up. You know, Brad came in and did some great solos and brought a lot of good energy to the sessions. It was a lot of fun working with him and doing some guitar harmonies together and stuff, you know, I've always admired his work with Ozzy and the stuff he did with Night Ranger. So it was very cool, it was a very good experience and the combination of everybody on the record stepping up and working with Juan Urteaga was a great experience. The guy is just an incredible, edgy producer and an expert at metal and hard rock tones, and really knows how to push the envelope and him and I got along well. He knew what I wanted and it was very easy for me to communicate with him.
I feel like we got a really slamming heavy metal record there with 'Warball'. I think if you like heavy metal you're going to like 'Warball' whether you know or even like Vicious Rumors. I think it's just a real classic metal album that people can sink their teeth into.
I have to say I agree with you actually!
Geoff: Hey, thanks a lot. Cool, I'm glad.
A lot of the lyrics are based around the theme of war and conflict. I wondered what made you choose that theme?
Geoff: Well there's little double meanings to everything really. We've been in a personal war just building the band again. Re-building the band again you know? Between that and my personal struggle to recover from my injury there were a lot of obstacles and we felt like we were at war. Not to mention the current state of the world today. So it just seemed to all make sense to go with the 'Warball', plus it all kind of tied in to go with the 'Welcome To The Ball' and just the whole ball concept of Vicious Rumors, and not to mention I think it's just a pretty bad-ass heavy metal name: 'Warball'.
So it's the classic metal theme of struggling against your enemies as well as the more obvious meaning of war?
Geoff: Exactly. It's more like it's been a personal struggle, it's a world struggle, and it's a dark time in life right now for everybody. And this record reflects that dark sort of power.
Did you have an idea as to the direction in which you were going when you started recording?
Geoff: I definitely did as far as I wanted to return to the classic sound of the band, like some really good speed metal and some good, real hard-hitting song-oriented - I've always been very song-oriented with the band, you know, that's been the most important thing to me. It's like, 'Is this a good song?' you know? 'Is this tune going to move you in some way?' and we just set out to make a very powerful, exciting record.
We really had no plans of putting any kinds of ballads or anything on it. There was a stretch in California when we were recording the record out here when it rained for 41 days straight which was really not usual for California, it was really depressing everybody. We were sitting in my kitchen, James Rivera and I, in the middle of making the record, and I was just playing an acoustic guitar, just playing some chords and some pieces that I was just messing around with.
And he just came up to me and he's just like 'Hey, I really like what you were just playing - in fact I have a little melody for it. Can you play that again?' So I played it again, and he started singing the verses of 'Windows Of Memory' and I was just like 'Oh man, that's really nice'. And it was raining, and it was just me and him on acoustic guitar, and we sat down and wrote that song in 35 minutes. It's a sort of a tribute to his father who had passed away, last Thanksgiving. Which is when we first started working together, so I felt like I was really in touch with him, the way he was feeling things, I remember when he went through that. So we felt that that was a really powerful piece, and even though it's a ballad we just felt it had a lot of power so we put it on the record with everything else.
Talking about 'Windows Of Memory', I find it mind-blowing that you play a fast track like 'Wheels Of Madness' followed straight after by 'Windows Of Memory'. Is the track-listing something you put much thought into?
Geoff: Oh god yes! It was funny, it was almost pathetic. I just had so many different lists, and I made CDs, and I listened to it back and forth, and I thought I had it right but I feel that the order is perfect right now. Of course everybody has their own way of looking at it but I agonised over it. Whether to put the ballad last or earlier, but I think it just sounds great where it is. Right after all the craziness of 'Wheels Of Madness', and then as soon as the ballad's done you go right back to hell with 'A Ghost Within'.
And what about the cover art, is that something you chose yourself?
Geoff: Yeah, we got a guy Paul Lackey who does that out in Baltimore. And we worked with him on our last studio record and he submitted that to us. We also worked with Spike and Rayner, these two dudes out in Germany that are both really good artists. We just came down to a real time-crunch. I waited a bit long to get the cover going so I was really stuck with the deadline and luckily Paul submitted this green 'Warball' thing and we really liked it and we thought the green was really cool. Also because all the albums have this sort of blue and red and orange feel and so it was nice to go with the eeriness, we felt like that green was sort of eerie-looking. So yeah, that's where that came from.
You have a reputation as a band that puts on an interesting live show - are you still going to be quite theatrical on-stage - dressing up and all that kind of thing?
Geoff: Well Vicious Rumors is definitely going to put on a clinic of heavy metal, there's no doubt about it. We don't really so much have costumes and things like that. It's pretty street, it's pretty hard street kind of a thing, but with definitely the animal kind of delivery. And we're going to give you 1000% of what we've got every night. That's just the way it goes in this band.
As well as playing dates in the US at the end of this month, you've got a European tour in November and you're going out to Tokyo next month so I guess you're looking forward to promoting your new material?
Geoff: Absolutely. Especially as it's been so quiet for so long for us. So it's very exciting again. Everything happens for a reason, I like to believe that. And through all that down-time and the struggle, as difficult as it was to have the down-time and re-build the band and sort of get things going again, sometimes maybe you have to go through a process like that to shed some old skin and grow some new skin and evolve into something else. If all that had to happen then at least we got 'Warball' as a product of it. So yeah we're looking forward to it. All of us are just ready to hit the road, you know, we're excited about it and I'm really looking forward to it personally.
In a sense, you've been everywhere and done everything, but are there any more ambitions you've yet to fulfill?
Geoff: Yeah I believe there is. I believe there's more action, more success and more adventure ahead, and I look forward to chartering through it. Leading the troops down the valley, man, I'm ready to go.
What makes you want to keep on doing what you're doing?
Geoff: I tell you, it's very rewarding for me to create music and I really enjoy all the processes, from the writing to the excitement of that, just that no-one really knows it yet, to the actual recording process which at times can be frustrating but for the most part I really enjoy recording. And then the best part is going out and playing and having people connect with what we're doing. That's just like the ultimate pay-off. And I love the action of travelling and meeting people in different cities and different cultures. I tell you it sure beats joining the army.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans?
Geoff: I'd like to apologise for not coming to England in so long, and we really miss playing there and we've had some great experiences there and met some terrific people. And I know we have a lot of fans over there and so all I can say is that we're doing this tour now with Ripper in November but we're going to come back and do a headlining tour next year and I'm going to do everything I can to get the band over there for at least a couple of shows. And I want to thank you and all the fans for sticking with VR.
Interview © October 2006 Amanda Hyne