I must admit that I didn’t care for Azra Axemaster back in the days. I don’t know why but I think it had
something to do with the music not being hard enough. When you’ve been going for 25+ years where do you draw inspiration from? It seems like almost everything has already been done?
Joe – Well, the stuff we put out after the Azra days was a lot heavier and more thrash influenced than most of what was on the releases we did with them and, like you, I like what we did later on more. But those early records really put Axemaster on the map and got us established in the worldwide scene so they were important. They gained the band a lot of fans, did pretty well, and there was a definite demand to re-release “Blessing”, so overall the releases were a very positive thing.
Joe – You are totally right, basically everything in music has been done before. But I’m lucky that I have been able to develop a pretty unique playing style so even though the kind of thing I do has been technically done before, I play it in my own individual way and it comes out sounding more original and different. To be honest, I thought it would probably get harder to come up with unique riffs after writing tunes for something like 10 releases with different bands over the years, but for some reason the writing for this new one has actually been easier than I ever imagined it would be. Cool ideas just kept coming to me out of nowhere and I think it’s without a doubt the best stuff I have ever written. As far as inspiration goes, I listen to different bands (mainly ones I know but sometimes ones I never heard before), and just get inspired by stuff I just think is kick ass. It’s not usually a specific riff or idea, but more of a certain overall feel that gets me thinking about something I could write. Every
once in a while I hear a chord/note progression I like and think of ways I could write something using the same basic scale, but most of the time it’s just the general feel of the music that inspires me.
I do remember your records from back in the days. I’ve tried looking for them on vinyl today but they seem to be forgotten or something because nobody lists them for sale. How does it feel that what was released back then now isn’t possible to get on its original format, and if it is you don’t make any money from it?
Joe – Well, Azra didn’t print A LOT of copies of the original records so after 25 years or so there are not many of them still in circulation. Especiallly the picture discs, I think there were only like 1,000 printed. I see especially the “Blessing” album sometimes being sold on the internet by record collectors. It actually shocked me at first because the ones I have seen were selling for between $80 and $175! That’s why the re-releases we did have been so important, they kept the material out there and kept it alive so new fans are able to check out all the tunes the band has put out. Of course it would be great if the old releases we did were still easy to find on vinyl, especially the picture discs because those things are cool as hell, but the most important thing to me is that the music be heard and luckily you can still find the material all over the place. So the releases not being totally available in their original format doesn’t really bother me.
There are a couple of CD releases out with Axemaster music that I’ve easily found but they are all old stuff. What about newer stuff readily available on CD, where do I find that?
Joe – Actually, there hasn’t been any new Axemaster stuff released since “5 Demons” came out in 1991. Of course the re-releases were basically new for the fans who didn’t know about us back when the band was first active, hell, many of them were not even born yet! But the people who have been fans for years have not heard anything new from us in quite a while which is what makes this new CD so important for us. The fans have been great over the years and always supported the band, after all this time they deserve a totally killer Axemaster release. We are taking our time with this recording and paying attention to every detail to make sure they will get that and a lot more…..
When you were offered the re-release deals for the old music was it more of a relief that people still was interested or were there a greater agenda in getting the old music out to new fans? Why go with smaller, Greek labels (some not even existing today)?
Joe – The first 2 which were on Unisound Records were supposed to be put out just to include with the print magazine they used to do. I was told they would only be used as special bonus discs people would get when they bought a copy of the magazine, a promo thing. So when the owner of the company (who I had known for several years) asked me if I would be interested I thought it would be cool to do. None of the material had ever been on CD before and I thought it would be great to have the songs out in that format, and since the band had not been active for several years it seemed like a no-lose situation. Imagine my surprise later on when I found out they were being sold all over the internet, even by record distributors!!!! As far as the re-release of “Blessing in the Skies” goes, there were a few European labels that wanted to put it out, I chose Burning Star because they seemed like an up-and-coming company that were doing things in a totally professional way. Unfortunately things didn’t end up working out for them. But even though the deals didn’t turn out 100% the way I expected, I’m still very glad the discs are out there because the publicity and new fans they got us are so important for the band moving forward. They didn’t only keep our name out there but made the band A LOT better known, especially in Europe.
I don’t sing in public, only in the shower. How does one decide to become a singer? It doesn’t sound too macho telling your football/baseball playing friends that I’m going to be a singer.
Tony – Well I guess it would depend on the person. For me I didn’t just wake up one day and “decide” to be a singer. It was just something that happened over time. I wanted to become a singer because at the time I was a very introverted person and I wanted to basically unleash my personality on stage. Singing in a metal band was the perfect way for me to do this.
How do you discover that you have a good voice and that you want to front a metal band?
Tony – I have been a fan of this music since I was a little kid. I think the first song that inspired me to become a singer was “Metal Thrashing Mad” by Anthrax. I remember riding my bike up to a locally owned music shop (sadly something that hardly exists here in the states) and buying the “Armed and Dangerous” EP and then putting the CD in and being blown away by the way Joey Belladonna sang that song and to this day I still am when I listen to it. In high school I had some buddies of mine I met on the internet back when the net was a new thing and they were looking for a singer so I thought to myself “Why not?” We started playing Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest covers. When I went down and started singing with them I realized I was able to hit all of the notes of all of the songs we were doing. I knew when this happened that I wanted to sing in a metal band.
How big an ego do you need to stand at the front of a stage, being the centre of all public responses?
Tony – Well the common misperception of singers in metal bands is that you have to have a huge ego to go on stage and perform. This is a stereotype that I think is never going to go away. You have to have confidence in yourself to perform, but an ego is not necessary. The mentality I have is to go up there and have fun and feed off of the energy of the crowd as much as they are feeding off of my energy. I could never understand why some guys will go on stage and think they are better than everyone. I guess I could never lose sight of the fact I am a music fan first. Anytime the ego exceeds the talent you will always run into problems. I remember when I was working with Helloween
(I used to run their website) Andi Deris talked about the song “Never be a Star” which appeared on their album “Rabbit Don’t Come Easy” and it talked about the fact that there is no reason for having an inflated ego. This is something that you could say inspired me early on in my music career.
Although most bands need a singer how do you become a member of a band? Is it through friends or answering an ad?
Tony – Well when first starting out obviously you look for other musicians in ads, through friends etc. Once you become established like say myself and your work is out there people also come and look to work with you. In the case with Axemaster, I put myself out there in an ad, Joe answered it, I checked out the tunes and then we started working together.
Joe – Over the years I have met other musicians to work within those ways as well as just meeting them at random at metal shows. It’s all about putting yourself or your band out there as much as possible and keeping your eyes open for different possibilities. When I was looking for a singer last winter I regularly looked at local online musicians’ classified ads for what seemed like forever just hoping to get lucky and find a good singer. I found a few who didn’t work out before I saw Tony’s ad, it was a matter of just staying patient and not giving up. It was worth the wait because Tony’s exactly the kind of singer I was looking for and I think we make an excellent team.
We are approaching 2012, the band will turn 27 and you are working on a new CD. Where do you see Axemaster fitting into today’s metal scene?
Joe – I think the scene right now is the best it’s been since the 80’s for a band like us. Thrash and metal in general has made a good comeback worldwide, fans and the media are more interested in 80’s metal bands than they have been in many years and since we already have a name and reputation I think we fit pretty well. With the success a lot of thrash bands have been having over the past year or two, I see this as a chance for us to do something really special and we are going to do all we can to make that happen. It’s a great time to put out the best material Axemaster has ever done and I’m confident that it will do well!!!
Tony – I see Axemaster coming out and surprising people and over the last few months I have had the chance to listen to all of the old material and not to say it was bad, but this new stuff is going to be by far the best work the band has ever done. Plus, it’s the first time they have ever had a singer like myself in the band. The combination of Joe and Brian’s songwriting nowadays and my voice I think will make for a nice surprise as far as the new album goes.
Something that fascinates me, beside people’s drive to continue, is the way a band becomes an entity all its own. Could you in your wildest imagination ever think that as 2012 approaches you’d still be doing Axemaster and that there would still be an interest for it?
Joe – Well, if you would have told me 15 years ago that things would end up this way I would have said you were completely insane! But then again I never imagined there would be a market and demand for Axemaster like there turned out to be. I was originally going to start the band up again as a side project when I was in the band Dream or Nightmare, just maybe record and put out some of our old stuff that was never released. Nothing really serious, just a cool project to do in my spare time. I didn’t consider going forward with it full force until I first officially announced that Axemaster was coming back and was totally shocked by the response. I got so many letters from people who were basically freaking out excited that the band was active again, it was like a damned flood! A
record label even wrote and offered to sign the band on the spot without even listening to what we were doing, I couldn’t believe it! I have been in several bands over the years but Axemaster was definitely always my favorite so if I would have had any idea that people were still interested the way they were & are I would have probably brought the band back earlier. It was so totally kick ass to find out that after all that time so many people not only remembered Axemaster, but were serious fans!
When you look into the Axemaster crystal ball what do you see and more specific what do you want to see?
Tony – Well for right now all I see is the making of the new album. It’s hard to tell where things will go from there but I can see us as a group putting out a few more records if things keep going the way they are going. What is really awesome is that the band does have a very solid fan base and I am so confident in the new music that I think it will not only attract new fans but the older fans will love it as well.
Joe – I see this new CD going over great and giving us real momentum to keep moving forward and become bigger and better known. I also see us doing more releases down the road. What I would like to see other than that would be to have the CD distributed and promoted well enough to where we get offers to play some cool festivals. But I don’t really look any further in the future than that, for the most part I like to take things one step at a time!