Monday, April 2, 2012 at 5:48PM
THE SKULL, the new band formed by two original members of Chicago doom legends TROUBLE — vocalist Eric Wagner and drummer Jeff "Oly" Olson — alongside the band's longtime bassist, Ron Holzner were recently interviewed by Toby Cole of HEAVY PLANET.
A few excerpts can be read below.
Heavy Planet: Well to begin with, whose idea was it for the three of you to reunite as The Skull? How did this whole thing come about?
Olson: The best answer for that would probably be Days of The Doomed Festival in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. Retro Grave, Blackfinger and Earthen Grave played there (all three of our side bands).
Holzner: I was kind of like, "Hey why don't we get together and play some songs?" I've joined Eric onstage with Blackfinger a couple of times and he's sang with my band Earthen Grave, you know whether we do a Trouble song or whatever. The three of us hadn't been together in a long time and we knew we were gonna be out there [at Days of the Doomed Fest] that weekend and it was like, "Hey let's think about this and do a few songs." We just figured it was a one time thing, but after we played "At the End of my Daze" we just looked at each other onstage and we were like "Damn… this is badass." I mean people were singing… it was just a great feeling. When it ended I walked up to the microphone and said, "This is just the beginning." Without even thinking, it just came out. We were all laughing about it and then the word got out and we started getting show offers. We started talking about it seriously and it has just snowballed so fast that we're still kind of shaking our heads about it that there are that many people who really want to hear the old Trouble stuff with Eric singing and us playing it. It's very flattering and it's nice. With the big doom movement now, we're like "Damn it let's do it."
Wagner: Jeff and Ron came up with Blackfinger (on stage) and we did like four or five Trouble tunes and it was just a lot of fun, especially when we were doing "At The End of My Daze." The whole crowd was singing… it was awesome. And, we were like "Why not… let's do it." So, I don't know, maybe about a month or so later I messaged each one of them and I'm like, "I want to start a tribute band and I was wondering if you guys would be interested?" I said, "a tribute to Trouble, because I look and sound exactly like the singer and you guys look just like the bass player and the drummer… it's fuckin' scary."
HP: Jeff, going back to the original Trouble lineup and your days in the band, you were obviously one of the founding members… you and Eric… and then after the release of The Skull, you left. For those who may not already know, can you explain why you originally decided to leave the band?
Olson: There was a spiritual experience for me. I became a born again Christian, and a lot of rumors came about that I was going to become a preacher. I thought about that, but it didn’t happen. **Laughs** I kept studying music and got prepared for Berkley. I went to Berkley and studied film scoring. I wound up getting deeper in thought… philosophy, ideology, religion and all that I kept more private. I pretty much left to really study. I think it might have upset Bruce [Franklin] back in the day, but I think we all understood maybe why I wanted to leave. But, after all these years, I’ve never really been resentful of leaving. It was usually maybe economics, (you know) getting my finances together, or it was getting my head together and studying to be a sharper musician, as well as getting in better shape as a musician.
HP: Eric, I think back when you left Trouble in 2008 it was more or less that you were tired of the touring life, is that correct?
Wagner: Well at that point… I was a little sick of it. I was sick of doing the same old songs every night and I just wanted to write. I had a bunch of songs I’d been working on, on my own, and I just kind of wanted to chill and work on those and put together my own thing, just to grow. Making records and writing songs is really my favorite part about being in a band and at that point I really didn’t see that it was going to happen and I just wanted to do my own thing for awhile. And I did that [with Blackfinger] and now it’s over and [that record] is coming out and it’s time to do something else. I’m having a blast with The Skull. It’s been a lot of fun putting this together and the response we’ve been getting… people are excited about it and so am I.
HP: Ron, you left Trouble in 2002, why did you leave?
Holzner: Rick [Wartell] and I were in a box at the House of Blues watching Michael Schenker Group and I said, "Why don't we just get Eric back and do the original band… do a reunion?" And we did and we made it happen, but by the fifth or sixth reunion show it was just going drastically in a weird, chaotic direction. Different individuals were influenced by outside stuff that really made it difficult to be around them... without really getting explicit. Basically, I was getting pushed into the background with the direction that the band was going and thought (at that point) I would like to have a say in my life. I thought I needed to step away and get away from music for a little bit. I kind of took a break. And then my house burned down and the whole next year was kind of… well I guess I left at a good time. It would have happened anyway, but when such a traumatic thing happens like that you need to get away from whatever you're doing and focus. So, it was meant to be for me to get away at that time.
HP: Obviously two of you [Eric and Jeff] were original members of Trouble and Ron played with the band for 16 years, so this lineup for The Skull almost feels more like Trouble than the band who is actually now called Trouble. So my question to all of you is… what are your relationships like with Bruce and Rick today?
Wagner: We’re cool. I talk to Bruce a little bit more than Rick probably. I grew up with Bruce in Aurora. We played in a band before we joined Trouble, so I know him well… I mean I know both of them real well, but I do speak to Bruce more often. And you know, we talk about what’s going on with each other’s lives here and there, but we’re friendly. It’s not like we hate each other or anything like that.
Olson: I did some interviews with them (on my radio show) when Trouble did "70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise" and I had asked questions like “are we still a family?” I think Rick wanted to do something that was his version (of Trouble) and I think a lot of us weren’t ready to do that. But, it’s just the way history goes. I think that this (new) version is something that Bruce kind of wanted to work on with Rick as well, and then what you get is a type of Trouble that the guitar players wrote. Remember the KISS solo records that were kind of cool? Like Ace’s album was fucking awesome. I think it’s sort of like that in a way. I think there’s band drama behind the scenes a little bit, but I don’t think its as radical as bands that really fight each other and embarrass each other in public, in magazines, and interviews. I don’t think it’s that bad. I just think it’s creativity and people wanting to do things their own way and differently. Our fingers are all crossed at a huge reunion… almost like the Jethro Tull reunion or the Yes reunion. You know on those DVDs where there’s like 20 people at a banquet and they’re all talking about the different albums? **Laughs**
Holzner: Bruce has jammed with my band Earthen Grave a bunch of times. He's best friends with our guitar player. He's jammed with Eric (in Blackfinger) and he and I have jammed with Eric. So we're all still really close. We're still family. Trouble is still a family and we're just kind of like the other brother who is going off and starting his own thing. **Laughs** So, we're all good that way and I understand what they're doing. It's still Trouble and they want to do a record and they've got one of my best friends singing for them now… Kyle Thomas. They (Trouble) just want to continue what they're doing. So, as far as the relationship goes, I still talk to Bruce and have no problem. The other guy… it's whatever. **Laughs** That's all I can say about that.
HP: Was there ever any thought of you guys trying to reunite with Bruce and Rick?
Wagner: No, not really. They’re doing their thing. They’re working on a new record and that’s what they want to do and that’s cool. I’m cool with that... we just wanted to do our thing and get a couple of guys that fit in nice and just go out and do those old songs. It’s been a long time and I think the doom thing is kind of happening right now and it’s just been a lot of fun. I can’t wait until we start rehearsing those songs again. It’s been a long time since we got to do those.
Olson: Trouble has a project that they need to finish and show the fans, so they’re still honing that project. They want it to be the quality and level that they want and we want to get the ball rolling and start getting ourselves in shape for the celebration of 30 years of Trouble’s music... The Skull’s new Trouble sound will be coming out and then there should hopefully be a giant collision of all the guys again (I hope). My hope is a "bygones will be bygones" attitude some day... for (the sake of) the fans. I don’t know how many (fans) there actually are out there, but we have a lot of friends and fans that love our history and the different types of Trouble... the rock n roll Trouble, the super heavy old metal Trouble... you know almost Iron Maiden/Merciful Fate like… and then the slow, doomy, grungy Trouble. The progression of Trouble... there were so many variations.
Holzner: I had a reunion set up with two different shows with the original band. The first one was at Kuma's Corner, a good burger joint here in Chicago. It's a metal burger joint that was gonna pay us good money to reform and [another at] Roadburn. Basically, those guys [Bruce and Rick] pulled out. So like I said, I tried twice already and Rick pulled the plug on both of them. I can understand his reasonings and have no ill will towards him about that at all. It's just that we're not getting any younger... and the thing is, we really are more in tune with what the fans want and they want to hear the old stuff. And why not, you know, we all have our other bands and we're doing well. My record is coming out April 28 as a matter of fact… the Earthen Grave record. So this is kind of like… let's just do this for fun, no other weird reasons or anything. Let's go out and play some of the old tunes and have fun, but the door is open. We asked Bruce right before we started this…"Would you like to be a part of it?" He said that he would like to finish the [Trouble] record and I can totally understand that. Whenever those two guys want to join up with the three of us, we're ready. Actually, we're gonna be more ready because we're gonna know all the songs. **Laughs** If they want to do it, it's gonna be an easy transition.
HP: Can you talk a little bit about the guitar players for The Skull, Lothar Keller and Michael Carpenter from the band Sacred Dawn? How did you guys make the decision to bring them onboard?
Olson: I wanted to play with Glen Drover (Megadeth) and Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper) because I thought that those two were very session oriented and that it might be a quick learn for them to be able to get the songs together. As we (Eric, Ron and myself) kept talking about it we found that it might be more difficult for them (Glen and Keri) travelwise, even though they have the talent and it would have been awesome having those two up there. We felt that maybe the look and feel of Michael and Lothar who have played together for 20 years would solve the problem of two guys trying to hone themselves together, because these guys are already honed together... almost like just adding one person, but you’re getting two. Lothar and Michael are calling each other all excited. They’re digging this, so it’s made the whole thing very fun.
Holzner: Lothar has actually run sound for Earthen Grave plus Tony [Spillman] from Earthen Grave is really good friends with him. I've always been around him and he doesn't work that far from my house. We'd meet and have lunch at this bikini bar that we go to. **Laughs** He's a really cool guy, great guitar player and somebody I know and get along with. Eric (also) knew him through his people so it makes it real easy.
Wagner: I personally wanted to be a band. I never really wanted just to hire people. I like being in a band with the possibility of maybe even doing a record. I talked to Lothar and I told him if there’s anybody he knows that he'd like to play with to let us know because we need another guy. I didn’t even really think of Michael at first, but then when he brought his name up and said that they’d been playing together for 20 years and known each other for 25 I thought, ”Well that’s perfect.” When I talked to Michael about it, he said, “Yeah Lothar and I know each other so well that we answer each other’s sentences when we play together.” And I’m thinking that’s just perfect. My expectations have now exceeded my hopes, because it’s twin guitar just like we had. A lot of what made Rick and Bruce good is that they’ve been playing together for so long and they played off each other well. So I think that was a perfect thing to do for us, to get a team like that.
HP: Any chance we'll get to hear The Skull played in it's entirety?
Wagner: We've been talking about that. That’s something I always wanted to do. Even a long time ago I said, "Man that would be so cool to play that record in its entirety"… like 20 years ago. We never really did it, but we’ve been knocking that around. At first we’re just gonna do stuff from both records [Psalm 9 and The Skull], but eventually I think, at least once, I’d like to do that. Especially “The Wish”. In its entirety? I’ve been dying to do that! I know people would love it. I’d even freak out about it.
HP: Eric, you mentioned possibly doing a record. Is that in the works? Do you think The Skull will record or write music together?
Wagner: Well we’re kind of talking about it. I mean obviously it is a progression and it would be good to do that. [Again], that’s my favorite part about being in a band anyway is writing music and making a record. I love starting from nothing and creating something like that. So we’ve been talking about it and everybody has been writing on their own. We’ll see what happens. We’re taking this one step at a time, making sure that we’re making all the right decisions, but I would love to and hopefully that’ll all work out.
HP: Ron, you kind of answered my next question. I believe you joined Trouble back in 1986 right after The Skull was released and I was gonna ask how you knew Eric and Jeff?
Holzner: It was around that time because I was actually working for them. I was with them on the whole Skull tour and the recording sessions. Sean [McAllister] actually used my bass on that record which is pretty funny. **Laughs** So I was kind of part of the family for years. I think it was '86, so I think you're right. I met Oly first, years ago. I went to high school with their number one roadie and he told me, "Man you gotta check out this band, because you love Sabbath, I know you'd like them." He turned me onto Trouble, but I didn't meet them until a concert when he introduced me to Oly. We hit it off right away, because how can you not like Oly? He's the funniest, nicest person in the world. It might have been at a Mountain concert, I do believe, but my memory is for shit. **Laughs** Then I got brought in and went to see them and met everybody and just started working for them.
Visit Heavy Planet to read the entire interview.