Arguably one of the most enigmatic bands at the turn of the 80s, California’s Cirith Ungol remain one of the cult bands in the mists of metal history. With demand still for the band, Metal Blade will be releasing “Servants Of Chaos” and Shan Siva got a once in a life time opportunity to interview drummer Robert Garvin!
Greetings Elven ones – as a fan of Moorcock and Karl Edward Wagner I haveta say that your cover to “Frost n Fire” remains a classic to this day! I take it that you’re Tolkien fans so what did you think of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of LOTR? I must confess I sill have a place in my heart for Ralph Bakshi’s animated version….
Robert: I can’t speak for all the other members but I thought it was very well done, hoping now for a multi part Elric saga!
I haveta ask, using the name Cirith Ungol so blatantly, did u ever get into any trouble with the Tolkien people legally?
Robert: A company in the US Saul Zaentz bought the rights to make “The Hobbit” and the LOTR in animation. We asked permission to use the name for our band and it was granted. I still have the letter granting us permission to use it. In retrospect we should have used a different name as everyone thinks this was something that held us back as it was to hard to pronounce or remember.
Who came up with the idea of the kneeling praying skeletons? Dude, that is still so classic to this day….do you still have t shirts?
Robert: Gregs dad, who was a very cool guy who liked audio gear and sports cars owned a small print shop and somewhere Greg found that image. It is from a medieval etching. We did the rest and I was doing graphics arts so I came up with the font and there you go. Metal Blade is making T-shirts I think, however Greg still sells the original ones like we wore on stage etc. on ebay.
I remember your band having quite a unique sound, not in the least Tim Baker’s v high vocals so was this intentional (the sound, not his voice LOL) or did you experiment (noting that the band had been around for a few years before the debut came out)?
Robert: Like many other bands we did not plan the sound as much as it evolved. We intentionally wanted to go heavier for “King of the Dead”, because local LA stations said that our debut album “Frost & Fire” was too heavy for airplay. Although “Frost & Fire” was representative of the band at the time we had always considered us a heavy band, so for that reason we decided to pull out all the stops on “King of the Dead”.
When I first heard the band my first thought was ‘now that’s heavy’ and the next was ‘well, I don’t know how they’re gonna make it in LA’ so was the band ahead of its time being too heavy for Cally as it were?
Robert: I guess I should have read this question first as I almost answered it in the last question’s answer LOL. I think since we were raised on mostly Euro rock with some exceptions like Cactus, Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust etc. that we did not necessarily fit into the hair band or speed metal which was starting as we were reaching our peak…..
I sorta lost track with the band as the albums became difficult to get hold’ve back then so what caused the band to split?
Robert: It is a long story but with original members leaving, losing artistic control of our last album and not getting paid for over 20 years really took its toll. I think if we would have got some kind of tour support we may have had a chance.
Were there attempts to get a reunion or reformation of the band – either in one form or another over the years?
Robert: There has been many attempts to get the band back together over the years. I just read a heartfelt one from a good friend at a major festival in Europe to headline, however as much as it breaks my heart I dont think it will ever happen. Unlike other bands that fragmented and joined other groups, we were together for so long it was pretty traumatic breaking up. I never considered playing in another band after the break up and most members did not go on to join other bands (Greg is in Falcon). With Jerry dead, Tim not interested in singing, and me swearing an oath never to touch another drumstick, I can’t really see it happening as much as I would like it. I know it may upset some but I would like our fans to remember us as we were getting onstage than as old men trying to recapture something we may have lost 30 years ago does not seem that great an idea.
I ask simply cos there’s so many old bands getting back either semi permanently or just for one off special shows so is that something you guys would be up for if the offer was there?
Robert: I have no drums, we have place to practice or have not played together for 20 years, several of us live in different states, one of us is no longer alive. I can’t speak for any other members but I am one of the 99% I could not afford the time of from work. I have never been to Europe on vacation let alone to play. There is a downside for being poor…..
What’s the purpose of the “Servants Of Chaos” release which Metal Blade tell me will be a combi CD / DVD package? I’m sure there have been releases like this in the past but has he whole band consented to it (i.e. Tim)?
Robert: The whole reason for “Servants of Chaos” in the first place was to rescue and preserve some of the stuff that was slowly disintegrating. I think Tim was not fully on board at first because he was worried the project would not be up to our standards, and yes some of the stuff is very primitive, however letting it go forever was have been unthinkable for me. I am not sure why the re-release now but Armin Steiner at Metal Blade in Germany had been asking me for video for several years, I finally dug out something that was usable and found an audio cassette from the house mix off the board. Probably without his coaxing I would never have looked that hard! Brian also wanted to re-release “Servants of Chaos” but wanted something extra to make it special. I hope everyone likes the video and wish we could have had the money and resources to do something really professional.
If you could imagine yourself to be one of the fantasy characters traveling back in time what would be the one thing you would change about Cirith Ungol’s history – or would you leave it be preferring the band to be consigned to the mists of HM history?
Robert: You may find this surprising but personally (I can’t speak for the other members but they may have wished for a different drummer!) I would have never started to play drums. Even though my life was and has been absorbed with music for so long, I still dream about drums almost once a week. I wish I had gone to college and been able to have a decent job, not having to work 12 hours a day just to scrape by… My dream is that someday one of our songs is used in a movie or commercial like Iggy (I heard “Search and Destroy” the other night I swear on broadcast TV), but by then we will be to old to enjoy any money.