Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Interview with Johnny C of THREE SIXES by Dave Wolff

Interview with Johnny C of THREE SIXES

Tell the readers how you came into contact with Damien LaVey and joining Three Sixes as a full time member.
Let’s start by saying I have known Damien since the mid 80's. We have both been in bands that were familiar with each other but also shared the same stages and venues. We have always talked about somehow working together but schedules and such stopped us from doing so. Their ex bass player (Aleister Shiva) was my bass player for years, so there has always been “the usual suspects” around in the musical circle. So when the time came that they needed a bass player, well, it just kinda fell into place. Now, here I am ready to get up on that stage and do what needs to be done.

Where were you based originally? What bands were you and Damien involved in and how often would you see one another?

I'm originally from the Inland Empire but I often played in Orange County (where Damien is from) and Hollywood. We would see each other at gigs and parties and whatnot, trade tapes and support other bands. At the time I was in a band named Preacher and Damien was in Subjugator. Preacher was signed to a record store by the name of Wild Rags at the time that was the metal shop to go to get albums, tapes, shirts and whatever prior to me joining the band Rise. After Rise I needed to start my own band and made Decay of Salvation which had Aleister Shiva (who left and joined Three Sixes) on bass. The ironic thing is Preacher, Rise and Decay of Salvation rehearsed at a studio that was partially owned by Konnyaku, who would end up playing drums for Three Sixes. As you may or may not know his son (John Cross) is the one now sitting on the Three Sixes drum throne. So you see, the ties run deep and have for quite some time. Everything happens for a reason. There was a time that Damien, Shiva and I were ready to start a project that was to be named Hurtt before Three Sixes was formed; great song ideas, musicianship and good friends, what more could you ask for in a band? But it just never came to be. In a way, we're still all here, friends and doing what we love in Three Sixes. Now the time has come to push this band to the limits and it will happen soon.

Why did Hurtt not come to fruition? How many ideas did this band have for song material in its planning stages?
The concept only had some riffs and ideas. While the musicianship was there, unfortunately the timing was not. We just couldn't get all the cats in the same room at the same time. It could have been some great stuff. Listen to "Bleed for Me" from the first Three Sixes "Possession" CD. It's also on the Three Sixes self-titled CD. Damien took the "Hurtt" concept, used it on that song with a new idea, different guys and wrote something with the same intent Hurtt had with them. Aleister and I just didn't have the time back then. While Aleister and I had nothing to do with it, that song best describes what Hurtt probably would have been like.

How actively were you trading tapes with Damien and others you knew from the scene in those days? How many bands did you get to hear about? Do you still have the materials you were trading today?
To be honest, I went and bought what I could on CDs. There were a lot of good bands that went unnoticed, but to this day finally are. Those were the days of first hearing Forbidden, Vio-lence, Atrophy, Cyanide and then of course Death, Obituary, Cynic, Atheist & Pestilence, not to mention Subjugator, Attaxe & Comatose which like I said, I all have on CD now. I really miss the unity of those times.

How many local mom and pop record stores were in existence in your area at the time? Did you have many opportunities to find rare imported albums by visiting such stores?
Well, there was obviously Wild Rags, Rhino Records and Thrash Records. There was also this one place that was super weird with a really creepy thing there that actually had a glass faced coffin with a (supposedly) real skeleton in it. There was no normal, florescent light, just hundreds of candles going at all times. The name of the shop was Private Eye Records. That's where you went for your Venom, Destruction, Hellhammer and Sodom tapes and vinyl.

I was familiar with Wild Rags in the 80s and 90s, but it disappeared into thin air. I did a search for them on the net because I wanted to find out what happened, then I heard it folded after its owner screwed over some of his customers.
Well, Rich was always a kool cat with me, but I have heard some horror stories of what you speak of. He may have done some shady shit but was great with both Preacher and Rise so I can only say what I dealt with and he was kool with us.

How much did Wild Rags help Preacher and Rise when the label/distro was active? What are some of the horror stories you heard involving Rich?

Back in those days, the Metal scene was tight. There was no backstabbing or hating. It was like a giant mob. Richard did his job; he got bands recognized. Preacher was already signed by the time I joined, so I came in late. With Rise on the other hand, I was there from the get go. Two of the Rise guys had already dealt with him, as they were members of the band Evil Dead and all went smoothly, but some bands were saying they weren’t getting their money or he was making shirts the band didn’t know of, things like that.

What kind of a band was Preacher? When were they active and is any of their merchandise still available?
Preacher was very inspired by Venom. You can hear it in the singer’s voice. It was black metal when it first came out in about '88-'89. Yes you can still buy merch but they are on hiatus as they all are family men now. Something I personally chose not to be because I need to play music 24/7.

Tell the readers how active Rhino Records and Thrash Records were? How many scenes worldwide did they support?

Rhino Records was and still is a strong supporter of all scenes around the world. They have a website at www.rhinorecords.cc and I like the fact that 90% of their inventory is used. They also have stations to where you can listen to music before you buy it, that way you're digging the music before you put out the coin. Thrash Records was the spot for import mags, patches & shirts, but they're not around anymore.

Is it a good idea to allow fans to preview full lengths through the site? Should more local stores do that?
Well around back in around 1982-83, I was buying cassettes mainly because of the cover artwork. While they say never judge a book by its cover, I never did. If I did, I may have missed out on a lot of great music simply because the cover didn't catch my eye. Back then, I could buy a Saxon, Venom or Destruction tape and there would be no filler music on it at all. I'd listen to that shit from beginning to end. So a friend of mine turned me on to the band Riot and that blew my mind, but it had the silliest artwork I'd ever seen. So now I look with my ear and not my eyes. To answer your question, I would like to hear what a band sounds like before I plunk down the coin.

How often did you visit Private Eye Records while it was open? Was it a well-known outlet for rare imports?

I would visit Private Eye at least once a week. It was dark, like a Halloween store that sold great imported records, tapes, 45s and rare demos, not to mention shirts, patches and great videos... on VHS, of course.

Do you still have the assorted gear you acquired at Private Eye? What merchandise do you still own from there?
Actually, all my vinyl collection (about ten years’ worth) is hanging at my friend’s house. She decorated her whole house with my records when I started switching everything over to CD's. When I visit her, I realize my record collection is now also art.

Vinyl albums still sell even if social media makes new and unsigned bands more easily accessible to scenes in different countries. How do you feel about whether or not there is still value in owning vinyl?
To me, vinyl is the best. I just love to buy some, take the plastic off- like when I was a kid, open the gate fold sleeves and read the lyrics that you don't need a microscope to see. Records always remind me of when I was younger. As a bassist, the bass is just so much warmer on vinyl than that of a cassette or CD, but hey, that's just me.

What nightclubs were major zones of activity when you and Damien were in Preacher and Subjugator respectively?

The main spots in Orange County were Jezebels, The Marquee and Goodies, which would later become Club 369. The IE had Spanky's and The Green Door, while LA had The Whisky, The Roxy, Gazzarri's, The Coconut Teaser and The Anti-Club to name a few. There were a lot of them back then.

Any particularly interesting tales you remember from playing those clubs you mentioned?
Just that it what always fun. I can pretty much get along with anybody, sip a brew and ask questions. I like to find out about other people's bands and history. We all have stories to tell. Somebody would have to be a major asshole for me not to like them. I prefer to stay away from toxic people. Despite the name of the band I play in now, negatives should know I only have happiness in my life- believe it or not. There is no middle ground with me and angry people. There were a couple of bands that did rub me the wrong way back in the day and I left for those reasons, but I'm still here doing what I love and they are not.

What do you miss of the unity you saw? Does it still exist these days, or is most of it gone in your perception?
I miss a lot of it mainly because at the time, when bands supported each other, the support was real. Now with some younger bands today, they "support" certain bands only to go to their gigs and later talk shit behind their backs. A lot of friends that I honestly thought were gonna go somewhere with their talent wound up with a family and that was the end of their story. Don't get me wrong, I believe family is very important, but to me, family must also support what you do. Luckily for me, my whole family is very musically inclined and supportive. There is still a scene today, but some younger bands now consider themselves a threat to guys our age. I actually think they have that backwards. We do it because we love and want to. The days of "making it" just playing music no longer exist. Even the bigger bands struggle, but it never seems like work if you play for the love of playing.

There are musicians who succeeded on their own terms, and many of them have families. Can both lifestyles coexist?
I'm sure if you have a spouse or partner into it as much as you, then yes. But you still have to work at it harder than most people do. For me personally, I'm fine just the way I am. Being a band member is in a way is like being married too. Everybody has to be respectable to the other members and have an open mind. It only takes one person bitching or nagging to ruin a good band chemistry. So again, I'm happy the way I am.

What made you decide to continue pursuing a musical career as opposed to marrying and starting a family?
I started playing bass at the age of twelve. I didn’t choose music, it actually chose me. There have been many times I thought about having a family, but realizing some of these women wanted me to stop my music is when I realized my music comes before anything else. It may sound selfish, but that’s the bottom line. Deal with me and my dream or don’t deal with me at all.

Back to Preacher, did they release demos and full lengths while they were active? Where can it be heard today?
Preacher released "Trapped in Hell" through Wild Rags and it sold great at that time. It was the shit. Raw, nasty and aggressive. Its release was perfectly timed. You can still hear it on YouTube or grab a vinyl copy off eBay. It's good shit. Check it out.

How much exposure did your bands receive through Wild Rags? Did people outside the U.S. hear of them?
Wild Rags helped Rise a lot. He had bands like Recipients of Death, Bloodcum and he had just snagged Internal Bleeding, so he hooked us up with them for some shows that went extremely well. We were getting mail from all over the world. It was a great time. It feels like it was yesterday.

Were Preacher and Rise in contact with other distros in the U.S. that helped support those bands? Did either of them receive any overseas distribution?

Rise did. Istvan (our singer) was from Hungary and into Black Metal (Mayhem, Burzum, Bathory, Marduk). After he did a tour filling in on bass for Behemoth, the band just took off, but by that time I was in Decay of Salvation which on its own did great. After that, it was on to Infamy which also went well. If you listen to either, both bands speak for themselves.

How active was Rise when it came to releasing music and merchandise? What can be said about Decay of Salvation?

Rise put out many promising releases. All were well recorded stuff. Eventually, it changed more from an old school Death Metal to more of a Black Metal band. We recently had a reunion with the original members and it was raw as hell. The crowd loved it. I was asked to play all the songs I played on and I did. It was a great time. As for Decay of Salvation, we put out the CD "A New Way To Kill"- meaning if Jesus would have been alive in these times, we would have killed him in a different way. Hence Jesus in the electric chair as the artwork. We also did a cover of the song "Motorhead" by Motorhead and a cover of "Troops of Doom" by Sepultura for Dwell Records. Both can still be heard on YouTube as well.

Did Decay Of Salvation exclusively write sacrilegious lyrics? What was the inspiration for writing them?
The whole concept of Decay of Salvation was to show that evils that exited back in the day are still alive and well today. If Jesus were actually alive today, the world would kill him a different way- hence the title of our CD "A New Way To Kill" with Jesus on the cover in an electric chair. The song "Sinners & Gods" was written one night when I was up late watching TV. I flipped over to some religious channel and saw a guy in a very expensive suit with a Rolex, gold cuff links, and perfect hair in a million dollar glass church begging the TV audience for money. My thoughts were "Sell your shit, asshole and you donate something". Then there was "She Had To Die" because all men have that one ex! As for the covers, they were done for Dwell Records as part of their tribute series of CDs which they requested to do.

Why did the band decide to cover Motorhead and Sepultura? How did you go about choosing the songs to cover?
If you look up the Dwell Records catalog, about once every two months they would get bands from all over the metal world to contribute a song to a whole CD dedicated to a band from the metal scene. So for the Motorhead Tribute CD, we did the song "Motorhead" because we liked it. It was the name of the band and all the other bands were fighting over who was doing "Ace of Spades". I think it came out pretty good. The same thing happened when the Sepultura tribute CD came out. We ended up choosing "Troops of Doom" because it's a great song and lots of fun to play. I personally think it came out pretty good too.

Did Decay Of Salvation ever want to cover songs by more obscure bands?

We got approached to do a Deep Purple cover which is by no means an obscure band, but I tried to hammer it out during practice and it just wasn't coming together, so we bowed out. Decay of Salvation does have one more recorded cover by a big band, but it's very, very obscure. I'd prefer to keep to myself for now because it isn't completely finished and I'm not sure if it ever will be. One day if it is, I will send you a copy so you can wrap your ears around it.

Was A New Way To Kill Decay Of Salvation’s only release or were there others? Did the band receive zine exposure?

We did "A New Way To Kill" with our good friend Bernie Versailles of Agent Steel at the controls, but that's it as for now. It was released and did very well in our local scene, but we didn't go outside of it, so I didn't hear of any zine exposure. I still talk to the older members. One which happens to be Aleister Shiva, the former Three Sixes bass player (because I played guitar in Decay, he played bass) so the circle is still pretty tight. There is another Decay of Salvation CD that is 80% done that is titled "The Heaven Below Us" but I put on the back burner because now, my only concern is being in Three Sixes.

How did Decay Of Salvation hook up with Bernie Versailles to record the album? How well did his work represent the band?
We had all known Bernie for a while as a longtime friend. He had just done a side project with some of the cats from Fates Warning. The project was titled "Engine". After hearing his tones and dynamics from his new studio with Engine, we decided to go for it. I think it came out great.

Tell the readers about the time you were involved in Infamy. How soon after DOS did you get involved with them?
I have been friends with the members of Infamy since back in the days when they were known as Ententy, Preacher played with Ententy many times, as did Rise. When Ententy split into two parts, one half became Coffin Texts and the other half became Infamy. So when Infamy needed a bassist after some lineup changes, I was asked and that's how it went down. They are all still great friends, but like I mentioned earlier, I'm in Three Sixes now. I know my past band members will support us as we do them.

How many full lengths were released by Infamy while you were working with them?
Infamy did a cover of Morbid Angel's "Fall From Grace" and I was asked to join right after. So I am not on any of their recordings. While I was in the band, there was always a compilation or reissue being done, but they are currently working on a new CD with a different bass player. So I'm sure you'll hear something new from them soon.

How many independent labels distributed material from your previous bands while they were active?
It's a strange thing. Some of the bigger of the smaller labels did nothing, while the smaller ones supported, showed love and probably got us heard more. So with that said, I'll say this once- "Your music is out in the world. It will be heard, but you lose control of it." I've heard bootlegs from labels in Italy, that if I heard them not hearing the "real thing" would think my band was shit, but that does come with the territory.

How did you and Damien manage to remain in touch from the 80s to the time you became a member of Three Sixes?
It was just a natural thing. We never lost touch, I have always supported his bands and he has always supported mine. It was just bound to happen when the time was right. Now the time is right, so here I am.

How much input do you have in songwriting and song arrangements as a member of Three Sixes?
"Know God, No Peace" was written and recorded long before I joined, so no input yet. The next show and first show for me is November 19th. So for now, I'm just working on hammering out the set list and getting things tip-top. When the time is right to start writing new material, my two cents will be in there.

When joining the band how much a process was it to learn the songs on Know God, No Peace?
In learning the set, there are two different tunings in Drop C and Drop A#. So I have two basses at practice, which means I'll have four onstage, a backup for each tuning. Because there is no time to put a new string on in case I break one, I just turn around and within seconds, I'm handed another bass. There were small things I changed bass part wise, within the songs, but nothing drastic. Now I'm just playing the shit out of the tunes so we can kill on the debut gig. That's pretty much it.

Were Drop C and Drop A# the keys you usually played in when you were involved in your previous bands? Was there a transitional process to play in those keys for Three Sixes?

Rise was in C standard and most of all the other bands- Decay of Salvation, Infamy, Divine Sickness and Nema, were in B standard. In fact, only Preacher & Evil Fantasy were in E standard tuning. When I was barely starting out on bass, I was twelve years old. There was an old Kramer bass with an aluminum neck laying around the house, so my Dad actually set that bass up a whole step higher just for me so I could build up my hand strength, which was a good idea. Because of that, I can adapt to any sort of tuning.

How did you get the idea to perform onstage with four basses to alternate between? Do you have a regular bass tech to assist you with that or do you plan to do that with a band roadie?
I have my personal roadie who is a bassist so that helps. The band has roadies. When I go see another band, I personally do not want to watch them onstage while they tune up their instruments. So I'll have one to play and another as a spare for each tuning just in case of a string breaking or something acting up. Nobody wants to pay money to see me change a string onstage.

Who is your bass roadie and how much experience does he have with the instrument? How well does he handle your equipment? Who roadie for the other band members?

My bass roadie is Robert Marks. He's the bassist for a Thrash band named Cause For Blood. If he starts hearing one of my strings going south, I get the "head nod".  So in between songs when Damien speaks to the crowd, I have about eight seconds to tune her up. If she isn't working by the time Damien is done talking to the crowd, I'll have a new bass on and ready to go. As for the other roadies, the main one is Headbang, who works for all of us. The rest are just a bonus.

What bass equipment have you worked with in your career? Which of those do you most prefer working with?
When I was starting out I, grabbed whatever I could get my hands on. I wanted every pedal, every bass, every amp I saw and played them all. For a while I became a real gear whore and I also noticed that metal bands had amps everywhere. Then, I would go check out a jazz gig and noticed that the bass player would usually only have just a small amp, one or two basses and they were still up there killing it with their tone. So as time when on, I started to whittle down my rig. Now, I only have what I need onstage and a few nice spares for everything else, just in case. As for brands, my first good amp was a Gallien-Krueger. I still use a G.K. preamp to this day. That and an 8-10 SWR cabinet and either a 750 power amp or a 2,000 watt power amp, depending on the size of the gig.

What brand name bass and bass strings do you usually work with in Three Sixes? Were these also used in your previous bands or did you work with other brands?

Since the beginning, I have always used Ernie Ball 45-105 gauged strings. Then around 1986, I got wind of Billy Sheehan and he was using Dean Markley Blue Steel. Then he switched over to Rotosounds with a signature model. After that, I said "I'm not Billy" and went back to Ernie Ball, which I still use today.

When Three Sixes begin work on the next full length, how do you expect to contribute to their sound?
Some past Three Sixes bassists are great at adapting to metal, funk, rock even combing them all together, but I'm more of a Metal groover. So I'll add my parts accordingly.... heavy and groovy... and then add some more heavy.

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