SAVAGE GRACE – Into The Fire
Metal Forces, Issue 12 (1985)
Europe’s newest independent record label on the heavy metal scene is Black Dragon Records from Paris, France. Black Dragon restrict their releases to quality product rather than quantity. To date they have signed up four bands – all incidentally American – namely Liege Lord, Exxplorer, Manilla Road and Savage Grace, whose Master Of Disguise album was the company’s first release.
Based in Los Angeles, Savage Grace’s first vinyl offerings were for Metal Blade. They appeared on the Metal Massacre II compilation with a track entitled ‘Scepters Of Deceit’, and this followed up with the Dominatress EP. Since those releases, and indeed the last time the band appeared in Metal Forces (issue #3), Savage Grace have undergone some changes in personnel, and the reasons for these changes was the first question I put to band leader and guitarist Chris Logue when I spoke to him recently.
“John Birk (vocals) left because he really wasn’t happy doing heavy metal music. He wanted to be more of a pop entertainer like Wayne Newton, a Las Vegas type of thing. So during a tour to San Francisco with Slayer and Exodus he just fell apart onstage and we just fired him during a radio interview on KUSF-FM. Brian East (bass) and I were doing an interview and we made an announcement that he was fired, while John was back listening on the radio in his hotel room! Not a nice way to do it, but he wasn’t really happy in the band.
“Kenny Powell, our other guitarist, wanted to leave because he felt he wasn’t in control, and not really the main person in the band. He was kind of living in my shadow really, so he wanted to prove himself and do his own project, so he formed Omen.
“We replaced John Birk with Mike Smith, and the guy who replaced Kenny Powell was Mark Marshall, formerly of Agent Steel.”
Mark Marshall didn’t play on the album though did he? “No, we didn’t have another guitarist at the time so I done all the guitar tracks and we hired Mark two months after the album was completed.”
How did the switch in record labels, from Metal Blade to Important come about? “At the time we completed the album we had already terminated our contract with Metal Blade due to the fact that they didn’t really pay any money. Nobody has ever made any money on that label, no matter how many records they sell, and the contracts that Metal Blade use are very poor for the artists. The attitude of Brian Slagel (Metal Blade boss) is: ‘If you don’t like it then that’s tough because I have a hundred other bands who are ready to release albums’.
“We wanted to get another deal in the States and the best distribution deal we could find was with Important. They were better than what Metal Blade had at the time, which was going through Greenworld, and they were looking to sign acts strictly for pressing and distribution deals. They would press the album and distribute it, but the bands would have to be their own label, take care of promotion and touring, things like that. Which was a very good deal for us, as we’re a very independent band and don’t like to be subject to anyone’s authority really.
“The album is selling really well in the States. It hasn’t had any sort of promotion because we haven’t got much money; so it’s been selling on its own merits, through word of mouth, fanzines and basically underground support. And now we’ve just entered into the European market with Black Dragon.”
How did you get involved with Black Dragon? “Well, they heard that once our album was done that we needed European licensing. I’d already talked to Roadrunner and a couple of other companies and none of them really impressed me with their attitude. Everyone treated it as just another release for their machine and nobody seemed to care. But when I talked to Black Dragon, they really seem to want to do something with a lot of integrity and really believed in what they wanted. So I signed the deal with them, not really knowing what to expect as they were a new company. But we’ve been really happy with Black Dragon, the promotion for us in Europe has been excellent and the sales have reflected this. The reviews and write-ups we’ve had we’ve been very happy with, and right now Black Dragon are working on getting a European tour for us.”
How long is your deal with Black Dragon? “We have an album to album deal, we’re not bounded up for any options. But I’ve been very happy with them so far, and if we don’t do anything on a bigger level we’ll probably stay with them for our next album for Europe.”
And in the States? “Well, we’re always talking to the major labels, but at the moment a lot of bands are being dropped because they’ve been signing the wrong bands. They’ve been signing commercial metal, Judas Priest-style bands, which is old and the kids don’t want that anymore. They want the speed metal, something more aggressive and something more offensive. The bands they’ve been signing are very safe, they don’t offend anybody and so they don’t sell many records. I think you will see in the next two years, major record companies starting to sign thrash bands, like Elektra who have signed Metallica which was a very bold step.”
Although Master Of Disguise is undoubtedly an excellent album – one of the year’s best – I did find the production a little weak. Does Chris agree? “Yeah, we could have done a little better in the production department with a little more time and money – also it was the first time anybody had used that studio – but I felt the essence of the music, the songs themselves, come over exactly the way I wanted them to.”
Would you put yourself under any tag, like power metal or thrash metal, to describe your music? “We’re not fairly represented by the term heavy metal. We’re really trying to do something where the future of heavy metal is or what it will progress to. On our next album we will be a lot more politically orientated as far as the lyrical theme, and leaning away from the themes that are fantasies or escapist. The music itself will be more melodic, but at the same time we’re getting a lot faster, more intricate, and we’re trying to blend two forces, just like the name Savage Grace.
“We’re trying to take metal beyond where it is right now, which is played as fast as possible and hope for the best attitude, like Slayer and Exodus, which is good but I think you can only get so fast and so mindless before you have to go somewhere. So I guess we are more of an experimental band at this point.”
What is the LA metal scene like at the moment? “Right now the big thing is glam rock, but it’s the metal bands who all have albums out (Slayer, Abattoir, Megadeth, Dark Angel, Agent Steel etc.). The glam bands don’t have any records, they just play the clubs. Metal bands though are getting out on the road and their records are selling well worldwide.
“There’s not that many new metal bands, but the ones that are here are starting to prove themselves and get serious, and the metal fans are getting behind them heavily.”
But isn’t it true that many LA bands, Slayer and Metallica for instance, have had to go up to San Francisco to make their name first? “That was true for a while, but there really isn’t the kind of support for any band because there are not that many people. When we played up there with Exodus, who are their biggest band, they only drew 200-300 people which isn’t really many. But here in LA, the average metal bands on an average night get 400-500 people. San Francisco is just not a very big market. I think if people want to talk about people being hardcore then yes, for a while San Franciscan fans were a lot more wild than LA fans, but now LA is the wildest; the people here are just getting so insane to these thrash metal bands. The level of violence and wildness is just beyond what San Francisco ever did. Even the bands from San Francisco will tell you that.”
But aren’t LA gigs full of posers? “Well it really was for a long time, but it’s not now, because of Slayer getting so huge. When Slayer play here now it’s a major riot with many injuries!”
Have you played any gigs in areas outside of LA or San Francisco? “Yeah, we’ve played Phoenix, Arizona and basically all over Southern California. We’re hoping to get into Texas and the East Coast and will probably be touring with Abattoir. We would also like to come to Europe, because our record is doing so much better there than in the USA in terms of sales, because we are getting the right kind of promotion. When we get to Europe, I’m hoping it will be with Liege Lord who have also signed to Black Dragon.”
You were responsible for getting Liege Lord that deal wasn’t you? “Yeah, they were looking for a deal and there wasn’t much interest in them here. I don t know why, because it’s a great album. So, I suggested that if they were interested in a European label, then Black Dragon were looking for new acts. I got them to send a tape and I believe their record (Freedom’s Rise) will be released this week.”
What other plans have Savage Grace got for the remainder of this year? “We would like to spend the rest of the summer and early fall on the road, and set up as many tours as possible. We probably won’t be in the studio again until November or December.
“Right now, we need a lot more exposure in the States. The problem here is that a lot of magazines like Circus, Creem and Hit Parader aren’t serious… they’re just a joke. They’re like record companies’ promotion papers, and to get exposure in these magazines you have to pay for it, just like advertising. There are no magazines with any integrity here like Metal Forces, Enfer, Metal Hammer or Burrn!, and people are just interested in making money than doing anything with journalistic integrities. Nobody cares to really review the substance of the music, they just look at what your hair looks like or kind of spikes you wear. They’re not interested in the substance, just the packaging.”
But there’s still a big underground following and a helluva lot of good fanzines in the States. “Oh yeah, many and the kids try hard, but they’re not very well distributed.” But surely every bit helps? “Yes it does and I support all of these fanzines.”
Too right. Along with tape traders, fanzines are the backbone of the underground metal movement and should be supported to the max. Okay, there’s a few dodgy publications about, but many a good metal band have secured a record deal thanks to the initial exposure from fanzines. Anyway, back to Savage Grace. Anyone who’s not grabbed hold of a copy of Master Of Disguise yet (which has also just been released in the States as a picture disc) are strongly advised to do so now for an orgy of speed and class metal. I for one am certainly looking forward to Savage Grace’s visit to these shores.
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 12 (1985)