It’s really great to have a word with the mastermind, Mike Scalzi, of one of the most promising power metal bands around. Grande Rock has been deeply surprised by the raw power of Slough Feg’s new album and in a rapid eye movement tried to book an interview. Here are some brutally true confessions of a talented musician concerning the music industry, pure heavy metal and a promising future. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t own a car and a cellphone!!
Hello Mike! As you might know, Slough Feg’s “Atavism” has been put in our “Gem” category on Grande Rock! From what I read the album must have gained glorious support from the press, right???
M: Well, I didn’t know we were on your “Gem” category... but I’m happy that it is. So far, it has seemed to be doing very well with the press, which is strange because the last album was more commercial sounding and usually the press likes that... but I’m glad that they like the fact that “Atavism” is more pure and raw. I wonder where this will all lead? Hopefully back to Greece for us.
Before we go down to the details of the album, I always wanted to know how your original name “The Lord Weird Slough Feg” occurred, what it meant, and why did you change it into simply “Slough Feg”.
M: Well, we didn’t really change anything, the way we see it. It never changed and is very unimportant how it reads. We are still the same band with the same name... “The Lord Weird” is unimportant, we were always known as “Slough Feg” by our fans. I guess, we just got sick of it... and it always confused people when they were looking for our albums in stores and distros cause they’d look under S sometimes and sometimes under L.
Let’s get down to “Atavism”. Taking into consideration the biological point of view of the word, is there something in particular you want to declare?
M: Not really, just the definition of atavism and how it pertains to my musical approach. We sound Atavistic as a band because we are bringing back old styles, and feel atavistic as people. I started to learn more about evolution, and found it interesting, and tried to explain everything about myself, and mankind in general this way. I don’t know if this is a good way to explain everything or not, but it’s my way. I live rather primitively, I have no car, no cell phone. But I do have a computer.
Don’t you think that your musical turn from the magnificent but “shiny” “Traveller” to the rougher and a bit darker new album was a risk?
M: I did when we made “Atavism”, but I didn’t want to make another album like “Traveller”, that would have been very boring. I thought maybe it would not be well received since the metal press seems to favor such slick-sounding power metal, but luckily it didn’t happen that way, and almost everyone likes “Atavism” better and thinks it’s our best album.
I personally think that you gave a good injection to the tired power metal genre with both your latest albums. What are your influences, or the magic stick that helped you distinguish yourselves from the crowd?
M: There’s no “magic stick”, other than the guitar neck, for me. The influences should be obvious to see... early Maiden, early Priest, Sabbath, Lizzy, Vitus, Queen, Beatles, American hardcore like Black Flag and Dr. Know. I think you can hear all of these in our albums. People always don’t understand the hardcore influences but I think it’s obvious in the rawness of our sound, that we grew up listening to some of this stuff. Power metal is mostly boring I agree, and sounds mostly like 80s pop music, so I don’t want to go down that road. Death metal bores me too... so really I feel like I don’t have a choice, I just play what I play... it just comes out a certain way and I don’t have as much control over it as one might think. It comes out of the guitar neck... that’s the magic stick.
I could distinguish many folk elements within the songs. Where did they come from?
M: I don’t know. They just have acoustic guitars... but I don’t listen to or like folk music. I never listen to it. Really those songs are just metal guitar riffs done on acoustic guitars. Some of the Irish sounding songs are folky, but it’s not really influenced by folk because I don’t know anything about that kind of music. I just write what I write and it comes out that way, the acoustic songs are more based on the Beatles songs than anything. I always wanted to write songs like “Blackbird” and “Mother Nature’s Son” from the “White Album”, so that’s sort of what I was trying to do with those “folky” songs.
The production here seems more solid. Could you elaborate on that a bit, as I don’t have any information about who embarked on it?
M: Justin Phelps, who played bass for us from ‘91-‘96, he’s on the first album. He’s a studio engineer now. It’s just a little more low-fi I think, not as produced as “Traveller”, and more compact sounding. There’s a lot going on the album, and it’s all pushed together into one solid sound. I don’t know how we really did that, we just spent a lot of time on the guitars and tried to make them raw yet big and symphonic. We use a lot of different kinds of amps (Marshalls, Oranges, Ampegs) and didn’t use any distortion pedals at all, except for on a few of the leads.
Do you agree that this time the band reveals the common roots with Hammers of Misfortune?
M: Somewhat, but the two bands still sound quite different. Maybe this is our most Hammers-like album. But the concept of both bands is entirely different.
How does normally the writing-process of one of your records evolve?? Did you follow the same recipe here?
M: I come up with guitar riffs or chord progressions in my room, on my guitar and then record them on a box. Then I come up with a vocal melody to go over the ones I want to sing over... all of this is very instinctual and primitive. I just find something I like, maybe a couple of notes, and then follow the natural course of what feels right to come next. It’s like a pattern that’s already there; I just have to find it. Then later, when I put it together with the other instruments, I try to put several parts together and make a song. I think this is how most bands do it. Then comes the part when you have to think a lot and it’s not as much instinctual. You have to try to put parts together than sound right. That takes the most time and is the most frustrating, but any songwriter knows that that’s the most important part; you have to be very patient with it. Sometimes things evolve over months, and I think it’s best when several people are collaborating ideas. You get the most interesting songs that way, like a story told from different perspectives. That doesn’t happen as much as I’d like it to in our band actually, I write almost everything.
What are the expectations from this album? Although for some you are a cult band, I think that you have already created a large fan base, is that right?
M: I don’t know, really. We’ve managed to tour and all that, but I think we are still pretty underground. I don’t have much expectation because those tend to turn into disappointments. I don’t really understand how the music business works, other than its all money. But I do know that to really make it you must make it in America, unfortunately. It’s the biggest market. We haven’t done much of that, but we’re gaining a little bit of ground with the new album. I never really know how much we are selling or how big our fan base is. I know that we don’t sell big and the record company can never seem to tell me how much we are exactly selling, for some reason. I know I’m not making any money though, that’s for sure. It’s very hard to make money as a metal musician, as I’m sure you know, and you end up throwing a lot of your life into it, so you can see why a lot of people quite, because they have to concentrate on making money once they get a little older, especially if they have kids. I don’t have any though. It’s tough though because as you get older you realize you may never make money at it, and you have to shift some of your priorities, I mean, you should, I never have actually, so I’m really poor. Oh well...
What’s on the horizon for Slough Feg?
M: A tour of the entire USA in July, which will be our first. A lot of metal bands never get to do this because of the small scene here, but we’ve hooked up with a good booking agent and will be able to support the tour, we’ve got contracts and guarantees for all the shows, so it’s cool. That’s coming in a month, and then in November we go over to Germany for KIT festival, England, Belgium and Greece. Rich Walker form Miskatonic foundation and our label are really helping us out on this one, along with other underground promoters. The scene in Europe is really amazing that way, they really support bands in every way, way more than a big label would probably do. It’s not all about money to them, it’s about the music, which what Slough Feg is all about.
How far do you think that you can go with Feg?
M: Till I’m dead. That’s about all I can say, how far it will go in the material sense I can’t say. Most people would say we don’t have a chance to get really big playing such weird music, and maybe they’re right, but I’m not going to stop until I’m dead, so we’ll see I guess. I think if more people heard it they would like it, because the more it spreads, the more people seem to like it. I don’t know what it would take, or why labels support the bands they do and make them big, because most of them sound really boring to me, but for some reason that’s how it works. It’s weird, you’d think there would be more of a demand for interesting songs, but it seems like only underground fans are really listening to the music, and everyone else just buys records to part of some kind of scene or something. I don’t quite understands how these people think, it seems like they don’t really listen to music, they just put something on bang their heads without really listening to what’s being played, if they did they might get bored quickly.
Let’s go to some weird questions now!!! Which kind of rock music do you prefer the most?
M: 70’s metal and hard rock and progressive music. I also like early 80s hardcore, but mostly early metal. I like stuff where the guitars are doing something interesting, musically, and the singer sounds like they are really into it, like they have something to say... I like lyrics that tell a story, or have a lot of attitude... like in the case of Thin Lizzy... you have some cool, raw guitar parts going on, and the vocals are simple but they have attitude and say something unique. I like singers that don’t sound like anyone else, and most importantly that they sound like they mean what they’re saying. That’s what metal’s supposed to do to you, give you an attitude you can carry into the world and live with. Something that gives you strength to overcome the obstacles of your life. I think it mostly starts with self confidence, just like anything else. You have to believe in what you’re doing and not to be scared of looking or sounding stupid. Just say what you want to say.
If Sloug Feg’s carrier was a movie, which movie would it be?
M: I suppose a movie about Celtic Battles. Or maybe a sci-fi movie with a space pirate, han solo type character. Something that is focused on a dark anti-hero who has attitude. A one man against the universe’s type character.
Do you believe that internet has helped the bands to become more popular or has caused many problems?
M: Yes it has helped. I suppose it caused problems too though. But mostly I think it’s done good. One thing I don’t like though is that anyone can just make an album and put it out now, so the supply of music is so much larger than the demand. There’s so much crap out there now, because anyone can make an album in their bedroom and sell it on the internet, and most of it is crap, but it makes it harder for real musicians to be recognized. There really is a lot of awful stuff out there right now that passes as heavy metal, I can’t believe it sometimes when I hear it, it scares me. Makes me wonder what people who buy it are thinking. The internet definitely helps us as far as touring and communicating with people in other countries goes, and doing interviews!! It’s way cheap this way!!
Which band do you consider that can take a leading part in metal music in the future?
M: Well of course, I’d like it to be myself... but I’ll leave that out. I don’t really know to be honest. All the old “reunion” bands are mostly washed up. Maiden and Priest were the big ones for me in 80s, but they seem pretty dried up these days musically and they don’t seem to come up with much that’s interesting. Maybe Brocas Helm, they’re not young either, but they’re still hungry because they never made it big, but they’re still really really good and really really metal. They personify metal to me, they have that attitude, and they don’t care if they are playing in front of 800 people or 8 people, they still rock out with the same intensity. Basically, they understand that heavy metal is a form of rock and roll, and you have to rock out to play metal right. A lot of people don’t want to face that, but all the great ones do... to understand metal you must first understand rock and roll, right from the beginning, from Elvis and Chuck Berry the whole way through The Beatles and Hendrix until you reach Dio and Ozzy. It’s all one big evolution, but carries the same vibe if you’re doing it right.
Which are the things that piss you off from today’s music industry?
M: Do I even have to tell you!?!?! Isn’t it obvious? Just turn on the radio or the TV and you’ll have your answer, it’s the most obvious thing in the world. The big stuff is all shit and that’s all there is to it. Too many people with no talent and business people who can’t tell the difference writing the checks out. The blind leading the blind. The part I don’t understand it that the public just eats it up, all that shit.
Which is the most overrated band today?
M: I don’t know. But there’s a lot of black metal & power metal that’s overrated. And bad hardcore too. All that Limp Biscuit, Korn stuff is complete dribble, but people like it. A lot of those eighties bands that have “re-unions” are pretty bad. All you have to do is have a small name in the eighties and suddenly you get back together in 2004 and you are “a legend”. Like all these shitty bands like Grim Reaper or Company of Snakes, or even worse, smaller bands get back together because they get offered free plane tickets to play to Waken and get their dicks sucked by the German labels because they had an album in 1985 that sold a few copies and people remember the name. So, you get all these bands at the festivals with names like “Nuclear Fate” that vaguely ring a bell in your mind from when you were 15 and they sound like shit and are all fat and haven’t played guitar in 20 years, but they get the good slots at Waken and Bang Your Head, while some good, new bands have to buy plane tickets and bust their balls to get on the 10 A.M. slot and get treated like shit by the arrogant metal promoters. It’s really shitty and over-rated. Some of them that never broke up are good though... like Raven!!!
Imagine that your girlfriend is selling your whole album-collection just to buy for herself an expensive ring. How would you react?
M: That’s pretty funny!!!I don’t think it would be a very good ring if it was bought with my record collection, nobody would really pay much for a bunch of old Yes and Genesis vinyl, or my old Krokus albums. I got them all for $1 each, or found them on the street or something. The CDs wouldn’t be worth much either. Most of the stuff I buy I get on vinyl for next to nothing, ‘cause it’s stuff nobody wants.
Well, Mike. those were my questions. Thx for your response... and keep the good work up!
M: Thanks!!!! See you soon, hopefully, Mike.