Vio-Lence’s Phil Demmel – It’s Really Galvanizing to Be Asked to Pinch Hit for Metal’s Top Bands
Vio-Lence guitarist Phil Demmel (pictured far right above) was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. The band is back in action after many years away, bringing back the thrash sounds of their heyday and even releasing new music, as they are now supporting their Let the World Burn EP.
Demmel speaks with Jackie about how the band went about defining what Vio-Lence was now 30-plus year since they first started playing. Demmel also speaks to how the musical relationship with drummer Perry Strickland has changed over the years and the impact that it had on their new EP.
Full Metal Jackie also talks with Demmel about his growing reputation as being metal's greatest pinch hitter, filling in for such top metal acts as Slayer, Overkill and Lamb of God. Check out the chat in full below.
The new EP is called Let the World Burn. It's the first new music Vio-lence has released since the early '90s. Musically, how does the musician you are now coincide with the established style of what you were doing then?
That's the thing. I wanted to incorporate all those early elements of that first record that I wrote when I was in high school and all my minor years before I turned 21 when we were recording solos for Eternal Nightmare. I wanted all that early angst and juvenile hostility and energy, but I wanted to sprinkle in all the experience that I've had since then in the 34 years or whatever it's been of musicianship and song structure that I've had. I wanted to kind of meld the two together and I think that I accomplished it and I'm really happy with the way that the songs came out and all the effort that I and all the guys put into it. I think we really did capture some lightning there.
Vio-Lence, "Let the World Burn"
Thrash metal was an upstart style of music. When you were growing up, what was gained and lost when thrash metal became commercially viable music?
Just like anything that gets hot, we saw our buddies getting signed and the market starts to become flooded and all the labels are signing bands that are kind of lesser than. Everything gets kind of diluted and then bands start writing for other reasons than what they originally wrote for. Vio-lence was a victim of that as well. And so it's you forget what you're writing for. And as it gets popular and everything becomes just this clouded mess of everything, that's when all the new Alice in Chains comes along and Nirvana and all of this charting stuff starts happening.
We can either be in the thick of everything sounding the same or be looking for something new. So I'm glad that here we are in our mid-50s and capturing some of those creative juices that we had back in the day and bringing it around full circle. We're really fortunate to be able to do so.
Perry Strickland worked very closely with you to develop the new Vio-lence tracks. Why was the integration of guitar and drums so integral to these particular songs?
When we got back together, Perry hadn't really played this heavy music consistently or for a long time. So getting him up to speed over the year of doing the reunion shows and doing the traveling shows that we did before we started seriously writing was about finding out his identity as a drummer again, especially in this genre, in this style that we were doing. It took some work man, and he really pushed himself and he really dedicated himself to becoming better.
There was points when we were recording some old stuff and he is just like, "Well, it's good enough." And maybe the old Perry would've been like, "Yeah, it's good enough, but now he's like, "No, I want it to be right. I want to be able to do this. I want to be able to consistently do this." He's taking a lot of pride in what he's doing and working really hard. Him and I put in the time on this record. It was me and Perry pretty much sorting out these pieces and learning how to communicate and figuring each other out as we were creating these songs. The other dudes had input, but it was for the most part me and Perry.
Vio-Lence, "Flesh From Bone"
Phil, you've got a reputation as a solid pinch hitter filling in for numerous bands, Overkill, Slayer, and of course, most recently, Lamb of God. What's sort of most surreal about playing with a band that inspired you to be a musician in the first place?
You know, that whole Slayer thing was just such a crazy, insane twist and turn of events and career saving in my sense and life affirming. They were the reason why I'm playing heavy music. I was in high school and the group of guys that I grew up playing with and I'm actually in a band with them still called The Merkin, it's my cover band, so it's all my high school buddies and we still get together and play covers together. But those guys back in the day, we all loved our Dokken, our Ratt and if things were leaning little heavier, they were into Metallica. But once it started going a little bit heavier, I heard Slayer for the first time. And it's like, you could either go that hair metal / corporate rock route or go the thrash route. And I chose the latter and went that way.
So when I was doing the shows with Slayer, I think it was the 35th anniversary of Show No Mercy, which is the record that I saw them on. So it was a great full circle kind of [moment]. I can't believe I'm up here with with Kerry [King] and Tom [Araya] and the "South of Heaven" intro starts rolling. It's like, "FUCK!" You're up here playing this shit. It's having to learn the songs in minimal time and it's become like this urban legend type of deal.
I actually had three or four days, but really I was ready after two, cuz I thought I was gonna have to be ready. But it's, oh he learned 35 songs in three hours or so shit. It's growing into that fish story where it's like, "It was this big."
Phil Demmel Joins Slayer on "Raining Blood" in Oslo
Then jamming with Overkill and the Lamb of God guys approaching me to come and do that thing. The Lambs are one of the biggest mental bands in the world and I've always respected them as people and as players. I love their music. And it's really galvanizing to be asked to do that and to be able to step in and have the band and the fans and the crew, especially the crew [supporting you], because they know if you're doing well or not. The band's doing their thing, but the crew, the front of house guys, I'll always go to them and go, "How'd I do? How'd it sound?" If I get the thumbs up from them or the pat of attaboy from them, you know you're doing something good. So it's really gratifying to be able to step into these positions and do a good job.
Your cousin Troy [Luccketta] plays drums in Tesla. Growing up, where did your different musical tastes overlap and maybe affect each other?
Well I didn't even meet Troy until Machine Head was out with Heaven and Hell. So that was 2007. So I didn't even meet him until way later in life. He grew up in Dublin, same town that I did, but our moms are cousins. So we just never met each other. Zet from Exodus grew up in Dublin too and they were neighbors. So, Zet and Troy and his brother and Zet's brother John actually they grew up together and know each other really well.
So after I met Troy in 2007 and we connected, we've kept the touch over over time and seen each other at a couple festivals and stuff like that. So it's really cool in that sense, but we had no musical upbringing at all. It's a pretty distant story until recently.
Thanks to Vio-Lence's Phil Demmel for the interview. You can pick up Vio-Lence's Let the World Burn EP here and find their upcoming tour dates at this location. Keep up with the group's activities via their website, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.