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GRIFFIN – Semi-Thrash With A Vengeance
Kelv Hellrazer
Metal Forces, Issue 11 (1985)

Griffin (l-r): Tom Sprayberry, Billy McKay, Mike ‘Yaz’
Jastremski, Rick Wagner and Rick Cooper
Pic: Joe Martino

The Griffin in Greek mythology is known as the protector of truth and the protector of death; enter Griffin the band, masters of semi-thrash. All I know is that any heavy metal band that can turn me away from my glam / AOR roots has got to be something special.

Now a couple of months back, we had an onslaught of releases from Shrapnel Records. We had Hexx, Chastain, Trauma and Griffin. All of them were metal of the finest pedigree, but it was Griffin’s Flight Of The Griffin that really caught my attention. With such classics as ‘Hawk The Slayer’, ‘Heavy Metal Attack’ and ‘Hell Runneth Over’, it’s no wonder that the album is so popular with the death metal contingency down at Shades record store here in London.

San Francisco’s Griffin mix the speed of Iron Maiden with the slow meaty riffs of Angel Witch to produce a deadly combination. The difference between these boys and all the other bands in this current death / thrash metal wave is that you can clearly hear that the members of Griffin are all competent musicians. They don’t just get as many swear words as possible and see if they can stick them all into one song. No, Griffin’s songs are well structured and sound as if they have really put time and effort into them. This band has the power to please any metal head and stir them up into a metallic frenzy of wild stage diving.

Enter the voice of Griffin frontman Billy McKay; himself a heavy metal purist who prides himself on honesty, truth, respect and a never-ending drive for perfection. “Griffin was formed six years ago,” he reveals. “I met guitarist Rick Cooper on a tennis court, and then things just took off from there really. At first we used the name Sinister Savage, but we soon changed it to Griffin. We had different people in the band at the time though. It was basically the fact that these people started with the right ideas, but along the way they strayed from the original Griffin concept, so we had to get other people in until we reached the present line-up.

“In 1982 we recorded a demo featuring ‘Hell Runneth Over’, which is my favourite song on the LP. This demo was good for a first try, but we knew we could do it heavier. Then we did the demo which was reviewed in Metal Forces a while back. This demo was a helluva lot better. We then picked up with JM Enterprises, our present management.”

How did the deal come together with Shrapnel Records? “Well, our manager Joe Martino knew Mike Varney and got him interested in the band. He then heard what we were like and obviously liked us, hence the arrival of the LP. Our manager is a real hard working guy, I tell you. That guy is busting butt for us 24-hours a day, and it’s his hard work that makes life a little easier for us.”

Do you consider yourselves a part of the death metal movement? “Yeah, I sure do. It feels like a real part of me and it is everything that I stand for. I’m really into the music 100% you know. I buy LPs by bands like Slayer, Exodus etc. They stock all of these LPs down at my local store, and I like to keep tabs onto what is currently happening within the metal scene. The new Slayer LP (Hell Awaits) is really hot stuff. I really dig bands of this calibre. Yesterday, I went to see Venom with Exodus and Slayer supporting. Venom were really good, but Slayer got one helluva reaction for a support band. Venom may not excel or stand out as the greatest musicians in the world, but they are a great live band and their attitude is cool. Yeah, I rate them. Griffin I really believe are part of this movement. We may not always play at 100 miles per hour all of the time, but basically it’s the same idea.”

Don’t you think the band is gonna have to go more commercial to attract major record company interest? “Well, I know it’s obvious that the majors are not signing up real heavy bands by the bucket load. I know that companies have to make bands into sellable commodities. This is what stinks! But I ain’t gonna change my music; I’m into real hardcore heavy metal. Okay, so there is a place for commercial hard rock – I accept that. I mean, when you’re tired and driving down the motorway, the last thing I wanna hear is speed metal blowing my ears off. But the majors are gonna have to take Griffin as a heavy metal band and nothing else. Sure, I’ve seen other bands turn commercial, but a lot of the time it’s due to signing bad deals that they can’t get out of.”

So what do you think of this poser metal scene that’s happening down in LA at the moment? “I just think that the whole OTT thing of image and stuff has been taken to the limit now. How more outrageous can you get? Sure, an image is real important, and Griffin doesn’t go out of its way to ignore image. But I just think it detracts from the music.”

Billy McKay
Pic: Harold Oimoen

So how come your bass player Tom Sprayberry has spikey hair, ala Mötley Crüe? “He just wants to show off to all the women, I guess… and maybe the men as well (he laughs). No, Tom is a cool dude. Actually, aside from outrageous as far as image goes, our second guitarist, Yaz (aka Mike Jastremski), has outrageous onstage antics which often acts as a cue for all the ’crazies’, as he gets a variety of responses from the headbangers.”

What was the response to your demo feature in Metal Forces issue #4? “It was remarkable… we had a lot of letters from all over the world. It’s amazing what some good press can do for you. Speaking of press in a different light, I heard we got a bad LP review in Kerrang!. Well I tell you, Mike Varney is real upset and has taken it real bad. I’ve got to see it myself though before I pass final judgement.”

I read somewhere that the band were influenced by Angel Witch? “I love Angel Witch. That band did a helluva lot for me. It’s a real pity how things turned out for that band; they had so many good songs. It makes me sick what the music business does to certain bands. I’m sure if it wasn’t for dodgy record deals then that band would have been up there rocking with the rest of them. Kevin Heybourne is such a good guitar player. It’s just criminal what happened to them.”

Finally, what’s next on the agenda for Griffin? “Well, we would like to do our second LP with a major label. We need to have a big company behind us so that we can carry out the things we wanna do. We would really like to play in Europe and see what the buzz on us in places like the UK is really all about.”

I wish Griffin luck and I hope they get a major deal real soon.

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 11 (1985)

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