MORDRED – Back To Life
Mordred (l-r): Danny White, Jeff Gomes, Scott Holderby, James J. Sanguinetti, Aaron ‘DJ Pause’ Vaughn and Art Liboon
In 1989 an album would be released that would literally change the face of hard rock and heavy metal as we knew it. It was an album that unexpectedly married an array of musical influences ranging from thrash metal, funk, soul, rap and pop. After years of what could be considered hair metal pomp, pout and posing and neanderthal chest-pounding denim-clad metal, Faith No More’s The Real Thing was a breath of fresh kaleidoscopic air and, bolstered by a trio of colourful singles, it became one of music’s most essential purchases for fans of varying musical taste.
Now, although we didn’t quite expect such a vibrant display of power and diversity on such a huge scale from Faith No More – these guys had been providing rather unnatural, intelligent and misunderstood rock music years before The Real Thing hit the racks – during the same year another album of equal importance, yet of less impact would emerge.
Mordred’s Fool’s Game arose from the clogging waters of the San Francisco Bay Area thrash scene and effortlessly still maintained that metallic crunch that we’d come to associate with bands such as Testament, Exodus and Death Angel, and yet somehow there was an unpredictable fusion of funk, soul and streetwise attitude too.
Considering that Mordred had begun life as a leather-clad metal band with a medieval slant, Fool’s Game was one of the bravest records of the era, featuring the soulful croons and choppy raps of vocalist Scott Holderby, the crisp guitar licks of Danny White and Jim Taffer, the funky bass slaps of Art Liboon, the robust drumming of Gannon Hall, and above all, the inclusion of – shock horror! – a DJ named Aaron ‘Pause’ Vaughn.
Long before nu-metal held its sickly grasp over the metal scene, Mordred were plying their trade by churning out some truly intriguing and, dare I say it, original tunes. ‘Every Day’s A Holiday’, was a funk-fuelled, jerking, cavorting slice of alternative metal that nonchalantly sat alongside the cover of Rick James’ classic ‘Super Freak’. Elsewhere on Fool’s Game the band showcased their knowledge of British rock bands varying from PiL to Thin Lizzy, all the while maintaining a metal edge but with a cool jerk aimed more towards the Beastie Boys style of groove.
By 1991 Mordred had cemented their place in heavy metal history as one of the genre’s most inventive acts with the release of their In This Life opus. Musically, Mordred had well and truly fled the Bay Area nest, appealing more so in sound to those in Britain and Europe than in their own backyard. Sold out tours, resulting in the 1992 release of a VHS recording (In This Live Video) of one of their legendary London Marquee shows, and Mordred were well on the way to becoming originators of a sound that six or so years later would be made even more popular, and yet sadly commercialised by acts such as Limp Bizkit.
Unfortunately, Mordred would not surf the same waves of success, despite the cosmic variations of their slower, yet more progressive EP Vision (1992) and their third full-length, The Next Room (1994) which, although bereft of Holderby’s style, would inject higher doses of grunge; the Seattle sound which would eventually destroy the metal scene for a good few years to come.
After disbanding shortly after the release of The Next Room, the members of Mordred went on to do their own thing – some musically, others not so. At the time I was eager to keep the Mordred fires burning and ran a blog devoted to every whisper that emerged from the varying members over the years. So it was with some joy that in 2001 the band, with a few line-up alterations, reunited for a gig only to then disappear off the face of the Earth for another 12 years. But now, Mordred are back, ready to record and perform for us all over again. I recently caught up with guitarist Danny White and vocalist Scott Holderby in order to keep tabs on what has become one of the most talked about reformations in metal history. I was intrigued about how this reunion came about and wondered just how serious it was?
“Well I can only speak for myself,” Danny responds. “It all started last August (2013) when I decided to finally return to San Francisco on vacation. I actually went back to hang out and play with some of my friends from high school and I was staying with my old friend Matty Jepson. We tried to get something together but one of the guys was in Japan; it just didn’t work out. While I was there I got in touch with the guys in Mordred to see if we could do some playing. My friend Bill Storkson graciously offered his practice studio for us to jam in and it ended up being myself, Jim (Sanguinetti), Art, Scott, Slade Anderson, an old bandmate from the Mercenary days on drums, and Sven Soderlund (Mercenary) on guitar as well.”
Scott interjects: “When Danny visited for the first time in a long time, we got together with drinks and friends, and someone had an idea that sounded fun. The first jam was really fun, so we decided to do another before Danny left. A good friend of ours has a mini-concert hall with stadium gear… just kidding! It was loud and sounded good, most of all it was a blast playing the Mordred songs again. Danny took a few pictures on his hand held mobile slave device, and posted them.”
It seems there’s been a lot of interest regarding people still wanting to hear Mordred again and yet the band members seemed surprised by this. “We had a lot of fun and it was great to see everyone,” says Danny. “At the time I thought that would be the end of it… you know, maybe hang out once in a while or whatever. Then I got a friend request on Facebook from a guy I had never met before. Normally I don’t accept those from people I don’t know, but I was in a good mood being on vacation, so I said sure why not. His name was Matt Denny and he asked me if I knew that we still had a following over in the UK. I said ‘No?’, and honestly I was a little disbelieving… I had had no idea.”
So, it was as simple as that then? “Yeah,” Danny replies. “He asked ‘What would it take for you guys to come back over?’, and I said jokingly, ‘Money’. And then he said ‘How much?’ and I said ‘Whoa wait a minute, are you serious?’ He said he was and I said I would have to ask the other members of the band if they were even into it? Things had changed so much, people had careers and families. I said I’ll have to find out.”
Thankfully for us Mordred fans, a majority of the band members were interested in a tour. Danny continues, “I asked each one of them, and one by one they said ‘Sure sounds like it would be fun to go back over and play for everyone’, it sounded like it would be a really good time. What’s really kind of crazy is, if it ends up that August 22nd 2014 is the first day of the tour (in Dublin), which is what it’s looking like now, that will be the one year anniversary to the day that Matt ‘friended’ me on Facebook. Everything about this reunion has been kind of steeped in serendipity and synchronicity.”
Scott adds, “We were all receptive to the idea and thanks to Matt, and Lee (Farmery), the drummer in Furyon (the support band for the upcoming UK and Ireland tour), we have a full blown tour.”
As one would expect with any band that has been around in some form since the 1980s, Mordred has had its fair share of members, but a majority of its line-up has been stable from the debut opus to The Next Room. Mordred circa 2014 is sadly bereft of drummer Gannon Hall who appeared on all of the studio releases, but due to work commitments has been unable to offer his talents this time. “The line-up now is Danny White (guitar), Jim Sanguinetti (guitar), Art Liboon (bass), D.J. Pause (turntables / keyboards), me (vocals) and Jeff Gomes (drums),” Scott reports.
Having worked with such an eclectic mixture of bands ranging from Primus, Psychefunkapuss, Limbomaniacs and Fungo Mungo to No Doubt and Deftones, it would seem that Jeff Gomes seemed the ideal candidate to fill Gannon Hall’s boots. “We’re extremely lucky to have snagged him for this tour,” beams Danny. “It’s the perfect match actually. Gannon has extended his regrets but has taken on a new job and will not be able to come with us this time out. There is some talk about him showing up at a show here and there on the tour if time and circumstances permit. The rest of us were pretty bummed he couldn’t make it, but obviously we all understand. Maybe he will join us for future tours if the stars align?”
With the new tour in the pipeline I couldn’t help enquire as to whether Mordred would be tempted to record some new material, or even breathe new life into a few older, unreleased tracks that I’d come across over the years. Danny was quick to respond, “New material is being written now to be released right after this tour, but we will also have one or two tracks to release before the tour, one of them being ‘The Baroness’, a track from the Vision era that I’m putting guitars on as we speak. The new stuff sounds like a combination of everything to me: Fool’s Game, In This Life, Vision and also an amalgamation of things I’ve been listening to recently.”
Mordred have always been a sum of many parts musically, but in a world of rehashing they remained staggeringly original throughout as if the unusual yet fluid style came naturally. “Thank you,” Scott responds. “It was natural and intentional. We practiced all the time back in those days, and went out at night with our gang of friends, listening to all sorts of different things. From Public Enemy to Dead Kennedys to Cymande to Ministry to The Cure and Joy Division to Slayer and Metallica. Whatever gig or party, wherever we were, we heard things that could work in Mordred. Some things worked, some things didn’t.”
With the musical tastes of the band naturally altering over the years, I wondered if any new influences would become apparent in the overall sound? After all, The Next Room platter had a distinctive grunge feel. “Recently I’ve been very interested in Latin and traditional Irish music,” reveals Danny. “I’ve no doubt that that mindset has and will enter into my writing.”
I wait for baited breath for a slab of Irish thrashing funk metal then!
When Mordred split up after The Next Room, as a fan I was pretty distraught, especially as Scott Holderby had fled the nest to make way for the more mainstream yet powerful vocal tones of Paul Kimball. I never dreamed that the band would’ve reformed for a tour and I imagine it was something that no-one present expected. “If you had talked to me before August of last year I never would’ve thought this would’ve been possible,” states Danny. “It just hasn’t been on my radar, I’ve been busy living my life here in my hometown, New York City. The Bay Area has always held a special place in my heart socially, creatively… everything, but when I left San Francisco to be honest I thought I was done with Mordred. That time when I left was probably one of the hardest times of my life, I saw my childhood dream die. But as people do, I moved on and healed and built a life for myself. This tour happening now just makes sense, and it’s been completely organic. I would definitely say that this is a labour of love. I wouldn’t say that it’s been easy necessarily, but I wouldn’t say that it’s been particularly hard either.”
It would seem also that despite its major faults, a social networking site such as Facebook has helped in a big way. “It’s been really amazing talking with everyone on the Mordred Facebook page and seeing all of the submissions for artwork and seeing everyone’s old Mordred music collections, and especially seeing pics and hearing all of the old stories from past tours. I’ve had people talk about what our music has meant to them, and how certain songs have gotten them through bad times etc. I can’t tell you how that makes you feel as an artist, as you always hope that your music touches someone. This time in my life has been quite magical.”
“I never imagined it would turn out like this,” interjects Scott excitedly. “This is going to be killer!”
When Mordred toured back in the late 80s and early 90s there was no such thing as nu-metal, but instead a burgeoning thrash metal scene as well as acts with an eye for the more alternative side to metal, with bands such as Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, funk metal and then eventually grunge breaking through. I was intrigued as to whether the band was concerned about whether they could attract new fans or still maintain an interest from their original fan-base? Even so, with so many older bands reforming it would seem the right time for Mordred to reform.
“Well to be honest, I’m not really worrying so much about new fans, although of course it would be great if new people came. But that’s really not what this is all about,” replies Danny. “This is about a bunch of old friends getting together that were in what we thought was a cool band trying something different. It was only after we jammed this last August that the whole idea of putting something together again came up. So I see this as anything on top of that is just icing. This tour is going to be a great vacation. There has been talk about doing things beyond this, but we really want to concentrate on having fun this time out.”
“As far as re-forming goes, it’s more like… we are playing Mordred songs again,” adds Scott. “We all still hang out together anyway… these dudes are like my brothers.”
I always wondered just what would have happened if Scott had stayed with the group and Mordred had outlived the grunge and nu-metal fads. After all, some of music’s coolest bands never seem to get the recognition they deserved.
“I think all things happen for a reason,” muses Danny. “I think we were a little ahead of our time and, again speaking for myself, I think if we had communicated to each other a little better as a band and as a band of brothers then maybe we might have been able to stick it out. But we were young and stupid when it came to communication. And we were always considered the bastard son of heavy metal back in those days! (laughs) We were a part of the San Francisco Bay Area scene but we weren’t just a thrash band and we weren’t just this or just that, we were our own entity. I think that got us into trouble sometimes as we all know metal can be closed-minded sometimes and there were plenty of examples of that in those days.”
Scott is equally reflective, but has no regrets. “The heady days of the late 80s and early 90s were a great time to be out there playing music,” states the frontman. “It was so much fun. I don’t really think about shoulda, woulda, coulda, it’s just that I’m completely stoked to be hitting it again.”
With a summer tour for the UK and Ireland on the cards, I imagined that it would be hard to resist taking the show across the world and then going into the studio to record, but Danny seemed hesitant to commit. “I’d like to say yes, and we talked about it,” admits the guitarist. “But we’ll just have to see. Everyone has careers and families and obligations, mortgages etc. We are doing some writing and recording, but like I said right now were just concentrating on this tour.”
Considering how diverse the heavy metal genre became after 1990 I still find it amazing that Mordred, despite positive reviews in the press, found it difficult to be accepted into the mainstream metal area. “We mixed in different styles with the basic metal base,” enthuses Scott. “No real problems, some liked us, some didn’t.”
And yet with bands such as Linkin Park and Rage Against The Machine combining a hip-hop edge with metal, I still find it frustrating that Mordred didn’t experience similar success. But Scott is humble, adding: “In those days things were more segregated as a scene, and since we were on a metal label the bands we were put out on tour with a lot of the time were straight metal. Now don’t get me wrong, I fucking love metal but I also love other shit too and we did play with some more alternative bands as well, which was awesome and totally fun. I think it would’ve been cool to go out on tour with Psychefunkapuss or, if we had stuck together and things progressed, Rage Against The Machine etc. It was a different time.”
And to corroborate Scott’s reflections, yet lack of regret, Danny adds, “But I don’t believe in shoulda, coulda, woulda either.”
It’s certainly fair to say that the thrash metal scene has once again become a hive of activity with numerous bands the world over, young and old, either reforming or attempting to recreate those halcyon days which gave us that Bay Area crunch and various other styles within the genre. Of course, many of the new and upcoming bands suffer from being generic, but I wondered if Mordred would ever be tempted as recording artists to inject some of that Bay Area influence back into their sound as they did with Fool’s Game?
“Well it’s not even so much a temptation in that it’s been pretty natural to go back to our roots when writing again,” responds Danny. “So yeah, I think a lot of the stuff that we are writing now is going to be rooted in that thrash sound. The new writing is definitely predominantly heavy, but we’re always going to find other sources and inspirations for writing and other styles just to keep it interesting for us! Hopefully, people like it… that’s all we can really hope for.”
Scott is as equally open-minded, stating, “We just write songs we like to play, as we have always done. Some like it, some don’t, but at the end of the day, we have to believe it. We have to feel it. I can say this. We are leaning on the heavier side of things, but it’s Mordred… how else are we gonna sound?”
It’s fair to say that there’s always been an excited air of unpredictability regarding the Mordred sound. There aren’t many bands from that era who could successfully marry funky grooves with thrash metal riffs, that in turn were laced with scratching and streetwise samples. For some unknown reason this colourful combination of styles enabled Mordred to become worshipped in the UK and Europe more so than in America, and this always confused me? “We did alright in the States,” comments Scott. “We just connected more with the people of Europe and the UK.”
Danny sheds further light, adding, “To be honest I don’t really know why we were more popular in Britain and Europe than in the US. It could be that Britain and Europe were a bit more open-minded towards a band that tried some new things and new directions in metal. There is a history of Europe and the UK embracing American artists, sometimes even more than America itself. One style comes to mind being jazz; artists like Charley Parker found Europe much more supportive. If the stars align and things do move forward in some capacity, I have no doubt that we would have more acceptance in the US this time around simply because it’s a different time and there have been so many other bands that have been experimenting with styles like we did. It’s much more accepted now.”
Metal Forces magazine supported Mordred from day one and both establishments appear to be back for another bite and working in cohorts once again. I’m curious as to whether the guys are surprised to have come full circle in appearing in these hallowed pages once again? “I am grateful, and humbled, and surprised, pleasantly of course by the response, and excited,” responds Danny.
Scott seems even more elated, adding, “Thank you Metal Forces, and thank you to all of the people who have helped and supported the olde band…. Mordred will reign!”
And so there you have it, the much anticipated return of one of metal’s most innovative bands. Mordred will be touring the UK and Ireland in the summer beginning on the 22nd August at The Voodoo Lounge in Dublin. Check the image above for the full list of dates.
Interview published in July 2014.
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