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Interview: Agent Steel (Juan Garcia)

Pure metal...interviews

Those of you who know how the music industry works are quite aware that things never go according to plan when interviews are concerned - still, I have to admit that the six month period that I spent anxiously waiting for an interview with Agent Steel will be almost certainly considered for the ultimate delay prize.

Well, even though some of my questions may now sound somewhat out of date to you, this interview is still important in the sense that it provides a clear insight into the lives of one of the most cult Thrash/Speed Metal outfits of the 80s and also enables you to learn more about the band's latest effort "Alienigma".

Agent Steel

Guys, thank you for doing this interview with "Pure Metal". How are you enjoying the process of promoting your latest album "Alienigma" and what does it involve?

Juan: A lot of the work was done already months ago, but it is always interesting and we enjoy answering questions about Agent Steel and specially questions about our new album. Our interviews are usually conducted either by telephone, or via email, sometimes after shows or before shows on the tour bus or backstage.

The whole UFO imagery has been following the band since 1984, yet I would like to know what is the connection between that very concept and the title of your latest effort.

Juan: As a band we've always been into the obscure, the strange, the unknown and UFO's have always mystified me, and when Bruce Hall joined the band in 1999 as the new vocalist; we continued on this path concept wise. I think it makes for interesting perceptions lyrically speaking; very inspiring.

Also not every song is about UFO's and conspiracies either, we do not paint ourselves into a corner on every song, but it's true that we like the mystery of the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and what if these beings were our Creators? On the new album "Alienigma", the basic concept is based our Zacharia Sitchins' works of books like the 12th Planet, The War of Gods and Men, Stairway to Heaven, and Lost Realms.

The majority of the music journalists back in the 80s felt that the term Speed Metal was the most appropriate in order to describe the music of Agent Steel. Do you believe that this title provides an accurate description of the band's music in the year 2007?

Juan: Not really, I feel that we are more than a Speed Metal band, I mean when we first started off yes, we were straight out speed metal; Kerrang Magazine labelled us "Iron Maiden on Speed" and the term stuck. Nowadays, I believe that we've kept to our roots but also have created a wider range and scope as far as the elements and style of song writing, we've incorporate Speed, Heavy metal, Rock, a bit of everything. We do not like to limit ourselves.

There are quite a few projects/bands that have been associated with the music of Agent Steel. Would it be fair to say that the member's involvement in other projects has helped the band acquire a more varied approach to music in general?

Juan: That's a good question, and I really don't know the answer to that. When we approach the song writing for Agent Steel we keep a very open mind and try to come up with the best songs we can write, it is possible subliminally that other projects might have influenced us a bit but not much.

The period between the release of your previous effort "Order Of The Illuminati" and that of "Alienigma" is four years, which is quite a long time for any band that wants to stay in touch with what is happening on the scene. Is there any specific reason for that delay or did you feel the need to spend more time in the studio so as to ensure that "Alienigma" would reach certain levels of quality prior to its release?

Juan: The songs were completed within the first two years, but then Bernie moved away to another town a bit far away, and we also noticed that about half of the songs were not as heavy as the other half of the album, so we went back in and scratch half the album and wrote new material to be consistent with the rest of the album, then Bernie came back in and help finalize the last few songs.

Then there was an issue on what label was gonna release "Alienigma" because we changed record companies, so that took sometime to sort out. We did not want to take four years in between albums and to be honest, it doesn't even seem like that much time passed, but I think four years is a too long of time in between records for sure, hopefully next time we will not take another four years.

How would you describe "Alienigma", especially in comparison with "Order Of The Illuminati"? Which are the similarities and differences between those two releases?

Juan: Musically speaking it's totally different, "Alienigma" in my opinion is way heavier sounding and the songs are much heavier and intense as well, not to take anything away from "Order Of The Illuminati"; which in my opinion is a fantastic classic album.

When we started to write "Alienigma" we wanted to come up with a totally different album, we like to not write the same album twice, we took a different approach to the tuning and also Rigo, our drummer, took more time with the selection of drum beats, and as far as the song arrangements we were more selective than ever before, also vocally Bruce wanted to sound more powerful and original.

"Alienigma" is the band's first release that I came in contact with after the classic "Unstoppable Force" and I am happy to say that, even though Agent Steel are a different 'monster' nowadays, the music sounds as fresh and powerful as ever. What is the secret behind this success?

Juan: There's no real secret, I would say the important thing is that we ARE heavy metal fans and we wanted to come up with material that a heavy metal fan would think or say, is that Agent Steel? Wow? What the hell? They sound heavier than ever? We really just wanted to write a kick ass album, we were just very motivated and inspired to create Metal Music more than ever.

What was the main idea behind the creation of "Alienigma" and how close did you manage to get in relation to the original vision for this release?

Juan: When we first started writing the album we wanted diversity in the songs; then we scratched half of the album and started writing more material, at this point I became a bit confused because we did gain better, heavier songs, but we also lost some real cool song parts (but those parts were a bit weaker but still good though), perhaps its something that we will revisit in the future and see if we can develop those old ideas, or perhaps not. I think the original vision was good and the outcome to "Alienigma" was surprisingly even better than I imagined.

Is there any specific formula that you guys use in order to create a composition? Can you please describe to us how "Wash The Planet Clean", for instance, came to life?

Juan: Well it started with a riff, I was trying to come up with something cool like "Illuminati Is Machine" intro off "Omega Conspiracy" and from there Bruce suggested the chugging verse riff and then Bernie added the Bridge and chorus. Karlos, the bassist, came up with the cool Cliff Burton wah bass part; "Wash the Planet Clean" was our first song we wrote for "Alienigma" it kind of set the path for the rest of the album.

Which are these compositions from "Alienigma" that you feel they best represent the spirit of the band and which are these elements that every composition needs to have in order to meet your criteria?

Juan: It really depends on the song, but I would say "Fashioned From Dust" is a good example of the spirit of heavy metal for me. Another great song is "Wormwood".

How much time did you end up spending in the studio for the recordings of the album? Were all the compositions ready prior to entering or is Agent Steel on of these bands whose members like to work on their compositions till the very last minute?

Juan: We were well prepared before we went into the studio and started work on "Alienigma" with Producer Bill Metoyer. I remember Bruce wanting to keep working on the vocals and reworking them trying new things, but overall we were confident before we went in to track. What really took the longest was the mix, and I remember Bill wanting to keep remixing and also Bernie wanting to keep remixing, and this made me a bit frustrated but at the same time I was impressed that everyone cared so much about the songs and sound.

Do you normally enjoy being in the studio? Any funny/weird moments that you would like to describe which were associated with the recordings of "Alienigma"?

Juan: I enjoy performing live much more than the studio. Funny/weird moments I would say it would have to be Bill Metoyer's dog "Cow" a small dog that will terrify anyone who walks into the studio until he gets to know you.

Is the band in any way involved in the recording process or do you feel happy to allow a professional producer to handle such duties? Is there anything that in retrospect you would like to have done different in terms of the recording/mixing process of the album?

Juan: We were real involved in the recording process, the past two albums "Omega Conspiracy", and "Order of the Illuminati" were produced by Bernie Versailles and Co-Produced by us as a band, on "Alienigma" we brought in Bill Metoyer because we wanted an outside source to give us a different vibe, we all worked well together until the last possible day until we had to finally turn in the masters.

Music videos may be expensive to make but many bands tend to use them as an extra method of promoting their music to a wider audience. Have you guys considered making a video for "Alienigma" and if yes, which is the chosen song for that purpose?

Juan: I think nowadays Music videos are very important specially with the Internet and We have talked about making a video, just having gotten around to it just yet but I think we will release a video to one of the songs for sure this year, not sure what song though.

Do you guys have any plans for touring, and if yes, which parts of the world do you plan on visiting? Any chance of visiting the United Kingdom?

Juan: We toured Europe in September, 2007 and visited countries like Serbia, Greece, Germany, Holland, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia, we just didn't get the opportunity to tour in the U.K.,

We are planning on doing some shows in the U.K. in 2008 for sure. We are also confirmed to play at the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany at the end of June 2008 with two of my favourite bands Judas Priest and Saxon. My dream would be to support Iron Maiden in England.

I have never had the pleasure of attending an Agent Steel gig before, so I will leave it up to you to describe what one should expect to get from a live performance.

Juan: We like to deliver a pummelling diverse set of songs from our past and present catalogue live, lots of energy, sweat, and pounding metal into your head at an Agent Steel show!!!!

What are the band's plans for the future? Is your collaboration with Mascot Records limited to the release of "Alienigma" or is it going to extend to more albums in the future?

Juan: We are planning another studio release and also an official live album sometime in the future.

If you were offered the opportunity to use an unlimited amount of money for the band, which would be the first thing that you would try to improve/invest in?

Juan: I would purchase a building and convert it into a heavy metal compound with rehearsal rooms, recording rooms, showcase rooms, and a rock bar on the top floor!

Do you feel pleased by the fact that Agent Steel is a respected band amongst the metal circles? Which are those goals that you would like to achieve as an artist in the years to come?

Juan: It's nice to be respected that's for sure, but at the same time I think there's much more that we can achieve as a band, for me performing at the Download Festival or Bloodstock in England would be killer, also I've always wanted to tour Japan.

We just had the opportunity to perform live in Bogota, Colombia for the first time, and the crowd was amazing there was over 50,000 people in attendance, can't wait to return there.

Once again, thank you for doing this interview with "Pure Metal". I hope that "Alienigma" gets loads of good reviews because that's what it truly deserves!

Juan: Thank you for the support, it really means a lot to us. We hope to see you and all the U.K. rivet heads, when we return on tour.


Interview © January 2008 John Stefanis

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