The following interview is with Joe Sims and the band's new vocalist Tony Webster. Here they speak about the long history of Axemaster as well as the recording of Axemaster's latest album and recording with a new singer.
Hi Joe and Tony. Thanks for granting this interview. For Joe, can we go back to 1985-87 for a brief history of Axemaster? When did you sign to Azra Records and what was it like recording the first LP as a new band?
JS > It's cool, always dig doing interviews! I think we first signed a contract with Azra in something like late 85 and recorded "Blessing in the Skies" in 86. It was the second time we had been in the studio (earlier that year we recorded our demo "Slave to the Blade") so we basically knew how it was gonna go and what we wanted to do. Overall it was a good time, there were no serious problems, arguements, or anything like that. Of course there was the little added pressure of knowing how important that release would be for the future of the band, but I was pretty confident in what we were doing and had a good gameplan going in so I felt pretty good about things. Also, we were lucky to get hooked up with the guy who produced the record. Not only was he was really cool and helped set everyone at ease, but I think he did a great job. Taking into consideration the year it was done and the VERY limited budget we had for the recording by professional standards I think the album sounds really good.
How did you promote the band in the early days?
JS > I always knew that fans wouldn't come to us, we had to go to them. So after we finished the demo I decided the only way we were gonna get anywhere would be for me to get the recordings out there. The scene here pretty much sucked for original bands, unless you had major contacts the only bands who got decent gigs for the most part were cover (especially tribute) bands, and since we didn't have the cash to travel much to play gigs, the only way we were gonna become known was to have people hear the recording. So I took it on myself to try to do as much as I could to get people to check out what we were doing. Of course I did the local flier thing, but I knew we had to reach outside this area. I bought a book of record label addresses and sent tapes out to the ones that did metal, that's how I found Azra. Then I discovered this underground record store in Cleveland that sold a bunch of different metal fanzines. I had never seen underground fanzines before, didn't know they existed. So I sat in the store and wrote down every address I could find of people who might be interested and contacted them. I got a lot of responses, sent out a bunch of tapes and fliers, and started networking. Every time I saw a new possible contact I got in touch with them. So by the time "Blessing" came out I had quite a few people to send it to for promo. But things really opened up for us a short time after the album was released because it got us into the European market which I really didn't know anything about before. I started getting mail from fans over there who were really into the record and I made a lot of contacts, ever since then our main fan base has come from Europe. It took a lot of work, time, and effort to send out as many records, tapes, and press kits as I could, but it was all well worth it. It sure did a lot to get the name around!!!!!!!!
When did Axemaster reform - Could you tell us how this happened?
JS > I hadn't talked to the other original Axemaster members for a lot of years until one day out of nowhere Christopher Michael (vocalist/bassist) got in touch with me. For the hell of it he had Googled Axemaster and found out about the Unisound Records' re-releases and wanted to know how he could get copies. We kept in touch and after a little while decided to jam and maybe record some old Axemaster tunes as a side project (my main thing at the time was a band called Dream or Nightmare). It didn't start out as anything serious, just a cool extra thing to do in my spare time. I wasn't planning on making it a full-time thing until I officially announced that we were gonna do some new recordings as Axemaster and I couldn't believe how many letters I got from fans who were freaking out that the band was active again. A record label even wrote and offered to sign the band on the spot! Things had went sour with DorN so I decided to quit that band and make Axemaster my only project. At that time we were planning to jam with a drummer I'd met online. I had talked to Brian a few months earlier but he said he was totally busy with the band he was in so I didn't think he had the time to do Axemaster and didn't ask him about possibly joining at first. But after the other drummer announced on Blabbermouth.com that he was quitting (a real messed up story there) Brian heard about it and called me. He said he wanted to join and actually sounded a little annoyed that I didn't ask him right away. Adding him was a no-brainer so we had the original lineup back together.
For Tony: Please tell us something about your beginnings - you came to love metal music through listening to tapes of Metallica, and other bands later began promoting bands over the internet.
TW > Well I grew up on the Thrash metal scene of the 80s. Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament, Exodus, Forbidden, Slayer, Death Angel, Annihilator, OverKill, etc. That was the stuff I started out with when I was younger. I then moved on to some of the more classic stuff like Maiden, Priest and Sabbath later on in the early 90s when this type of music wasn't "cool". In fact I really got into metal during it's dark ages. There was just something about the music that really grabbed me. I then moved on to the eurometal scene as well with bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Running Wild, Rage and other euro bands and of course some of the prog stuff like Ayreon or anything Arjen Lucassen does. There are actually too many bands to list but I am a huge fan and collector of metal CDs and metal memorabilia. I also named my radio show "The Metal Command" in tribute to my favorite Exodus album "Bonded By Blood". So this is the typical story of how one becomes a metalhead. It does then get interesting from here....
I only really promoted one band through the internet. It wasn't a career of mine per say but one kid's dream of promoting a band that I really liked. Around 1997 I was at this time a huge Helloween fan (and still am). For a college class project we had to create a website so I created a website about Helloween. Looking back on what it looked like back then it was really bad especially compared to the website work I have done now. Anyway I don't know how it happened exactly but I had been in contact with Michael Weikath quite a bit through the internet back in those days and flew up to see them in New York City. I had also just started my radio show. This was the first show the band had even played in the USA in like 10 years. They played at this small and dingy hole in the wall club that probably should have been condemned by the building department, it was called Coney Island High. This place held like 200 people and was packed with so many people they probably exceeded their occupancy limit. I had met the band there and met Weiki at that point in time and the next day went to the office of Vel Vel Records (their record company of the time) and interviewed and met the entire band. Shortly after Weiki asked if I wanted to do their website and that was the start of me promoting Helloween on the internet. Over the years I became pretty good friends with the band and learned a lot from them about life, music, and the music biz and we have remained friends to this day.
I did this until roughly 2005/2006 when I didn't have the time to do it anymore and since passed the torch to David Bredebach who now not only runs their website but runs their online merch store. Another great guy that has worked out well for the band.
I also have done a radio show which I have hosted since 1998 called "The Metal Command" it airs Friday nights 10pm-1am EST on 88.3 WBWC. You can listen online at http://www.wbwc.com and check out the show's Official Website at: http://www.metalcommand.net.. I am in the process of redesigning the website. I have been fortunate over the years to be able to interview a lot of bands both big and small.
Tony: How did you meet Joe Sims and Brian Henderson. Had you been a fan of Axemaster from the early days of the band?
TW > Honestly I had never even heard of them. I had an ad up basically stating I was looking for a band. Joe emailed me, I checked out Axemaster's history then we met up at Ripper Owens' Taphouse and Joe gave me a CD of the rough ideas for the new Axemaster album. I liked all of them then I went back and checked out the older stuff by the band. There are about 2 or 3 songs which would fit my voice that I'd love to play live from the old stuff like Death Before Dishonor for example.
Tony, what bands have you played in before joining Axemaster? For Joe: How does it feel to begin again with a new singer, recording your new album?
TW > Well I got my start in a metal band called Mo Rage. Played with them for about 2-3 years then I joined Archetype. I am actually still in Archetype but now it's really not a full time band for all of us as we have other stuff going on. However our new album will be out in 2012. You can check out some of our music at www.reverbnation.com/archetypemetal.
JS > Well, number one it's totally great to be back doing work under the Axemaster name again. That band was always extra special for me and seemed to have a little extra magic with the fans that the other projects I've been in just never had. I'd get interviewed when I was in other bands and almost every one asked some questions about Axemaster! I'm really excited to be working with Tony and doing a new record. Tony's not only a great singer with outstanding pitch, key, and melody, but he's also an excellent songwriter. It seems like this material fits him perfectly because the vocal phrashing and melody he's come up with for the tunes he's done so far are perfect, I don't see how they could be done any better. Plus he's come up with a few excellent suggestions for the music and pushes me to keep improving the songs. Couple all that with the fact that this is WITHOUT A DOUBT the best material I've ever written and you've got an outstanding combination! It really helps with motivation when you're 100% totally confident that what you're doing is gonna turn out to be the best thing you've ever done!
Joe: Who writes the band's lyrics? What inspires your writing?
JS > Tony's writitng the lyrics for the new material. I wrote the words for a lot of the old Axemaster tunes but I'm more than happy that Tony's taken over and I can mainly concentrate on the music and production. I think I've come up with some pretty good lyrics in the past, but I enjoy working on the music a lot more so it works out good. As far as inspiration goes, it usually comes from the overall feel of a tune I think kicks ass rather than a specific part or riff. Of course every once in a while I'll hear an idea or chord/note progression I like that inspires me to go in a certain direction with my writing, but for the most part it's the general mood of something I hear that I'm really into and I want to capture the same sort of feel in my own way.
Will the band be going on tour in support of the new album?
JS > To be honest I haven't totally thought that far ahead or started making any real plans, I'm 100% concentrating on this new CD. I know eventually I would like to play some cool festivals and do some touring but to have a decent shot at doing either we would have to have some support because there's no way we could pull it off financially without some help. It's really tough in todays music world for a mid-level band to be able to do any major touring because of money. We will just have to see what happens. The most important thing right now is to make sure the new CD kicks as much ass as possible, that's our best chance of being able to get some support to play outside our area. This release is incredibly important for us all the way around, it will be the first new material Axemaster has put out since the early 90's and will define us as a current band. So we're gonna totally focus on doing this album and not really worry about anything else for the time being. We need to take things one step at a time and the recording is by far the main thing right now.
What lies in the future for the band and are there any band side projects that you can inform us of?
TW > Well for me right now this is going to be my full time band although I am still In Archetype. I am hoping to make more than one record with Axemaster as I feel we can make some great stuff together.
JS > Not doing any side projects. Believe me, between writing, recording, producing, and promoting I've got my hands full as hell the way things are! As far as the future goes, all I can say for sure is that I'm definitely gonna keep going with Axemaster and see where things lead. There are way too many things that can go down in the future to predict anything specific except I'm sure we will put out more releases down the road. It could end up being a crazy ride, but I'm in this for the long haul!
Thanks Joe and Tony!