I really admire Steve Ramsey, I love his work in Satan as well as Pariah and Skyclad, and was really happy to finally get a chance to speak to him. The main reason is the release of the band’s comeback album “Life Sentence” of course, but I also got a chance to cover a few other aspects. So Steve, the first preview of the new album is out today. Have you gotten any interesting feedback yet?
– We seen a few reviews of the new album. They’ve all been fantastic. I received one yesterday from English Metal Hammer. It looks really positive.
Metal Hammer? So they’re covering traditional metal again?
– Yeah, they’re doing a big feature about the history of the band. We get a lot more press on the new album than we got in the eighties.
I have to say I absolutely love the album myself. In your opinion, what’s the most important thing you have done right?
– We had a few little rules when we sat down. We’re obviously a lot more experienced musicians now than back then on the first album. We didn’t wanna make an album that sounded modern, or was influenced by the last 30 years. We wanted to make something we think we might have created if we stayed together for that second album.
I was a little surprised to discover you had signed for Listenable Records, as I believe there must have been interest from other parties as well?
– To be honest, it was mainly because there wasn’t a great deal of interest. Haha! We would have liked it to be more, but obviously nobody had heard the material we were gonna do. We sent a demo to Listenable Records, and the guy that runs the company is a big fan. We met him at a show in Belgium last year. He was so positive, and everything he said was like almost having another member in the band. Everything he’s done has been perfect as well. It was his idea to use Eliran Kantor for the artwork. We said “Isn’t this guy very expensive?” He told us not to worry about it. He’s really worked hard in making everything perfect for us. So far we got no complaints at all. I know it’s a small label, but sometimes it’ better to be on a small label than to be forgotten about as soon as the label puts out another release.
While I was doing some research for this interview, I read parts of the massive feature in Snakepit some years ago, where Russ Tippins spoke about the one off gig you did back in 2004. He was asked about the possibility of Satan releasing an album back then, but said he thought it would be difficult for Satan to find a label willing to release the album, so at least the situation is a bit better now?
– Yeah. There were a few small labels which showed interest. The bigger labels all turned us down. We sent a demo to Nuclear Blast, and kind of hoped they would be interested as they had just signed Hell. We had a representative from Nuclear Blast who came down to the show in Germany (I guess this must have been Keep It True), and he was going crazy, telling us he wanted to sign us. But apparently the boss said “no more old bands”. We also had a guy from SPV telling us he wanted to sign us, but we didn’t get anything back from them when we sent the demo.
Which songs did you put on this demo that was shopped around?
– I think it was “Time To Die”, “Twenty-Twenty Five”, because those were the first two we wrote for the album. The others? Hmm…”Testimony” and “Cenotaph”. Those four, it must have been those four.
What kind of discussions did you have when you outlined the musical direction for “Life Sentence”?
– It had to sound like it was gonna be the second album. We said: If we start writing songs and it doesn’t sound like that, we’re not gonna release it. We wrote under no pressure, remember we didn’t have a record deal that said we had to make an album. The album was finished before we signed the deal. Normally bands are under pressure to do things. If we didn’t like the finished package, that we created, it would never had been released. About half way through, we realized that it was going to work out.
So you paid for the recording out of your own pockets then?
– Yeah, in a way. We paid for it ourselves, but as soon as we got the advance, it paid for the studio time we already had spent and then the mix of the album.
Steve says it was drummer Sean Taylors idea to use the studio in Newcastle.
– It’s actually the place where we rehearsed. It’s a tiny, little studio above the rehearsal room. The engineer there is great, and Sean knew the guy and said let’ give it a go. We thought that even if we end up only recording a couple of songs, we can use them as a demo. We were so happy with what he did, so ended up doing the whole album. The album wasn’t recorded as one whole thing, it was recorded in parts. We did different drum session, and went in one by one and put our parts done. It was done piece by piece.
The engineer you worked with, did he have an extensive knowledge of Satan (the band that is) from before?
– None at all. Haha! He’s just a guy that works in a little studio, you know.
So did you force him to listen to “Court In The Act” then?
– I presume he would have given that one a listen. The thing is, in the past, especially in the eighties when we used new studios, people tried to push their idea of how they thought we should on us. This guy however, said: “How do you want your guitars to sound?” “Like they sound when I listen to them”, I replied. That’s the problem we had in the past. Things didn’t sound the way Satan sounds. I think this was captured on this album. He’s recorded it all dry, didn’t put any special effect on it or anything, the album has come out the way we sound when we rehearse as a band. The recording was then sent over to Italy, to Dario Mollo, who produced the last two Skyclad-albums. He basically polished it up.
Were you never tempted to implement something modern?
– No! Haha! We know “Caught In The Act” established us and is considered a groundbreaking album, but nobody can say they like the production on it. It’s not good. We were very disappointed with the production when we made the album. The main thing when we recorded the new album, is that it sounded to us like we think the band sounds. Nothing too produced, nothing that doesn’t sound like us. I think that’s what we achieved. When we play live, it’s got some extra energy about it, but I think the album sounds like us?
Was it the invitation to perform at Keep It True in 2011 that got the ball rolling again for you?
– Yeah! What happened was, when we got back together to the Wacken Show, but Sean wasn’t able to contribute, since he had a problem with his knee and couldn’t do the material. So we ended up using Phil Brewis, the guy that was in Blitzkrieg with Brian. We agreed to do Keep It True the year after, but Graeme was injured while on tour with Skyclad. He had a fall and split his head open, and we had to cancel the KIT-show that we had booked. Since that day, Oliver Weinsheimer just hassled me. Haha! He kept calling me and met me at Skyclad-shows saying: #Please, please do Satan. Do it for yourselves and the fans. There is a big following for Satan and a big interest in Europe now”. We weren’t aware of anything like that happening, but he just kept asking and insisting, and finally I spoke to Russ and asked what he thought of it. Russ then told me that Sean thought he might be able to play. Before we committed to the show, we went down and had a little run through of the songs, like a rehearsal. It sounded fine with Sean. That was the reason why we did it, had Sean still been unable to play, then it wouldn’t have happened.
I was really amazed by your performance at KIT, especially the guitar work was killer. What do you remember about that night?
– The main thing I remember about the whole show, was we had to do a signing session before the concert. It was like a half hour slot to sing some CDs or whatever. It took over an hour. It was so many people, young people wanting a signature. It was suprising for us, we expected a lot of guys at our age, in the forties. When we were on stage it was like being back in a time warp, because the crowd was enjoying it and knew every word. So yeah, that show really was the catalyst, there was no mention of us doing a recording or writing any material until after that festival.
The interaction and chemistry between you and Russ seems very special. Where does it come from?
– Russ and I formed the band when we were 15 years old and still at school. The way it happened is very strange. Russ got a guitar, and we were this little group of friends at school that liked heavy metal. We used to go to concerts, Judas Priest, Scorpions and Black Sabbath. Russ got a guitar, he’s had it for three or four months, and I was over with a couple of friends to see the guitar and hear him play. I think he did something by Motörhead and Ramones, some old punk stuff, just easy stuff. As soon as I heard him play, I said: We’re gonna form a band. I didn’t have an instrument, neither did any of the other guys. We found out who’s gonna be in the band, then we went out and bought instruments. Before I had the instrument, I had come up with the name of the band and the logo. Me and Russ have this chemistry, because we basically learned to play together. We never had any lessons on the guitar, we just sat down with our record collections and listened and learnt that way. I think that camaraderie has been there right from when we were 15 years old. Since then, we’ve always been friends, it was a bit different when Pariah split up in 1990, then I started working with Skyclad. Musically we didn’t do anything together, but we were still good friends and hang around with each other. In the end it was really great to get back on stage together.
Steve is in no doubt that Russ is by far the most talented guy he’s worked with.
– He is one of my favourite guitarist ever. If you asked me about my top five guitarist, he’d be one of them. He is a really creative musician, I love working with him. In Skyclad I am like the leader of the band and write most of the material. I love being in Satan and Pariah where it’s not totally my responsibility, where I have someone else to feed from. Some of the songs on the album are written together, and sometimes I get a little precious about music I write. Any piece of music, and riff or idea I give to Russ, I know he’s gonna create something fantastic out of it. He loves working with me for the same reasons. We feed from each other, and to do this album together has been great.
– We played Keep It True and had a couple of other shows, we played in London. Russ then came up with a song, the first song we wrote is the first song on the album, “Time To Die”. “What do you think”, he said. It didn’t have any lyrics, then. “Do you think this is good?” “ Yeah, it sounds like a song we might have written back then”, I said. We then rehearsed that one and played it a couple of shows, at the festival we did in Germany (Metal Assault) and the London show the year after. It went down okay, so we thought we had done the right thing.
The fact that both the title as well as the artwork bear strong references to the milestone “Court In The Act”, could be brushed off as marketing strategy, especially by those who haven’t heard the album.
– It was so important…For thhe second album we did for Satan, “Suspended Sentence”, we used the same artist. We still used the judge, the judge was always be part of it, the judge and the the devil. That’s the basic theme of the whole band, you know. Satan isn’t occult or anything like that, the whole idea of the band is injustice. It’s all about injustice. It couldn’t really be anything else, it had to be the judge.
But by tying the new album so closely to the classic, you risked failing big time, if you didn’t come up with the goods?
– Haha, the album was finished before we did the artwork, so we kind of knew that we’ve already come up with the goods.
Steve still agrees that as a band, you need a bit of confidence to go all the way with it.
– Yeah, I think the strange thing was that none of us was under any pressure to produce anything. That helped so much in the making of the album and everything. Everyone were relaxed about it, it wasn’t like what if that doesn’t work, what if that doesn’t look good and what if people think this? We don’t care. We re not trying to make money, or to forge a career. It was purely for the fun of doing this, you know.
Is it satisfying for you as a musician to go back and do the stuff you were doing in the eighties?
– Absolutely! It’s fantastic, and we’re so stoked to go and performing the songs. The Satan-shows we’ve done so far, have all been about one album, the one we did with Brian, and then we added a couple of songs from the demos from before the album. Now we’re able to add some new songs to the set.
Did you sit down and listen to “Court In The Act” extensively before you made this album, or is that one in your blood forever?
– We had to sit down and listen a lot to it to be able to do the shows, so it was already back in our blood. I remember the first rehearsal that we had with Sean back in the band. The band was great with Phil Brewis behind the drums, I thought he did a good job, but it wasn’t the same vibe as we had in the early days. I can remember all the faces immediately after we finished the first song. We got this thing going between us all, and it’s still there. The any way this reunion would happen is if it was back to the beginning. Not any change. One of my favourite bands is Black Sabbath, and I am so disappointed that they’re back together without Bill Ward on the drums. Apparently it’s about financials, which is unbelievable. Like any of them need any money! I was so looking forward to hear what they could do together again, but now I don’t know. Every member of a good band is equally important.
Have you registered the rise in interest for NWOBHM-related acts the last few years?
– Not really. We didn’t see it happening, although I saw a little bit of it by being in Skyclad. We don’t follow the new bands. I just did an interview with a guy from Decibel Magazine, and he asked me about the bands that are playing the Live Evil-festival we’re doing this year. I told him that I hadn’t heard any of them. I haven’t got a clue, but I will go and listen to them, since we’re performing with them. The two bands that supported us at the London-show were great. It was so refreshing to be able to enjoy the support bands. Because, there’s been so many times, especially in the nineties, when I couldn’t. I am not a big fan of grunting and the really hard stuff, and it seemed like every band was doing that back then. Death metal and stuff is not my thing. I like to hear some melody. It’s really refreshing that young musicians and young fans have gone back to that.
Even though you might not have heard of them, you can be pretty sure that all the bands performing at Live Evil have heard of Satan.
– Yeah, that’s good.
We won’t go into the story about the band name, here, but if you had a new band today, and call it Satan, it would be perfect. Every new heavy metal-band would kill for that name.
– It’s strange you know, cause that’s what we thought at the time, when we choose the name. My favourite band was Black Sabbath, and nobody thought about them being occultist and writing songs about burning churches down. But for us it seemed to coincide with the change in directions of bands and the themes of bands and we happened to be called Satan when everyone were doing that kind of stuff. I didn’t want to be part of that and that’s why the shit happening in the eighties with us changing the name and stuff like that.
According to Steve all the songs on “Life Sentence” are brand new and not based on ideas from back then.
– Also there was no spares, no scrap, no outtakes. Every note that we’ve written, that’s the album. There was no songs written that were not good enough. We’re good at knowing what is good and what is bad before we start, so we didn’t waste our time writing songs we didn’t think were good enough.
We’ve already covered your close relationship with Russ, and of course you’ve been playing with Graeme iEnglish n Skyclad, but what kind of relationship have you had with the other guys of the band for the past 15 years?
– Occasionally I would see Brian, we never lost our friendship. I also saw Sean at different gigs, we didn’t really hang out together, but saw each other alone now and then and cared about what each other were doing. Sean also lived in America for a long time in the nineties, so he was away for few years. It was easy coming back together again.
When you get older, time is often precious. What have you forsaken to do Satan as much as you do right now?
– Just like the rest of my life. Haha! We have normal jobs you know, and didn’t expect anything like this, to do so many interviews. I think we do more press now than we did on the first album, that’s for sure. We do the same amount of press I was used to in Skyclad. It’s a lot of interviews and a lot of stuff going on all the time.
Steve works full time as a music teacher. He teaches guitar, but does a lot of other things as well, helps bands and also does samba drumming!
– It’s great to be able to do this as a job. Graeme and myself made a living out of Skyclad for a long time, then Martin basically left the band because the finances weren’t there anymore. We wanted to keep Skyclad going, so went out and got ourselves jobs.
Do you still have fun doing Skyclad?
– Yeah, it’s great. We’ve already written a new album. All the music is ready to go, we’ve rehearsed most of it, but I am not sure when it’s gonna be recorded cause Kevin (Ridley, vocals) is getting married this year.
But the profile of the band is clearly a bit lower now than when Martin sung in the band?
– We knew that would happen, but we didn’t want to let it go, because we enjoyed it so much. We really enjoyed the two last albums we did with Kev, especially the last one. We were so proud of that one. It’s not about how money we will make or how popular we are, and it’s about doing what we love doing. It’s exactly the same with Satan.
You’ve had a long and rich career. What would you name as the highlight?
– There are so many. Making the first album of course, and I still remember the first shows we played in the Dynamo Club in Holland. It’s unforgettable, cause it’s like the start of your career. There are so many highlights throughout the eighties, but with Skyclad we did some really big shows. A lot of that is still in my mind. People sometimes ask me if something really special has happened, and I remember one show, it must have been on the “Prince Of The Poverty Line”-tour. We played Marquee in London. It was sold out, 800 people and absolutely packed. A guy came in a wheel chair, and was placed in front of the stage. He was getting pushed by the fans, and we gestured for the fans to pick him up. It was total mayhem, with people stagediving off the top of the PA’s and stuff like that. And while all this was happening, some fans picked him up and threw him on the stage. He couldn’t walk, so he was lying on the stage, then they threw his chair up and we put him in his chair, and he spent the whole gig in his chair on the stage while we were running around him headbanging in his face. It was just crazy. Remember, this was at the time when people was burning churches down and stuff, which is bullshit to me. These people liked each other and loved the music, it was a happy heavy metal crowd. To have that kind of fans, was great.
FOUR ALBUMS WITH STEVE RAMSEY:
“Out Of Reach”
Blind Fury was the name of a band formed by Kevin Heybourne of Angel Witch, with Lou Taylor singing. Heybourne then quit the band and Taylor got an offer of replacing Brian Ross in Satan. The members of Satan was not satisfied with the name, and Taylor convinced them that Blind Fury was a good choice. “Out Of Reach” is by no means a bad album, and Taylor is a gifted singer, but the whole thing sounds pretty slick and a bit “Americanized” compared to the Satan-stuff.
– You know, out of all the albums I’ve recorded, it’s the only one I don’t listen to now and then. I don’t think it’s because I don’t like the album, it reminds me of mistakes that we made. We let Lou taylor take control of the band, and I think that was a huge mistake. At the time we were happy about it, I think there’s some good music on it, but the band became a backing band for Lou Taylor, Lou Taylor-band. That’s what I remember about that album. “Out Of Reach” is a great song, and “Evil Eyes” is one of the best too.
“Blaze Of Obscurity”
After being back with their old monicker for a while, the guys changed their name again in 1988, first to The Kindred, and then later into Pariah. An album called the “The Kindred”, was released later the same year, before this melodic powerthrash-grenade was detonated the following year. It’s an outstanding album with killer songs like “Missonary Of Mercy”, “Canary” as well as “Puppet Regime”. It’s a shame that Pariah is probably best known for the singer’s name: Michael Jackson.
– Of all the albums we did, the two I was happiest with are “Suspended Sentence” and in second place “Blaze Of Obscurity”. There is some really good work on it. I can still listen to it and enjoy it. I love the title track but have a hard time remembering anything else on it. Haha!
“Prince Of The Poverty Line”
Around 1990, Steve introduced Martin Walkyier of Sabbat for some of his ideas, which involved incorporating untraditional instruments like violin and mandolin in thrash metal and he convinced Martin to sing on a demo, which reached Karl U. Walterbach at Noise. “Prince Of The Poverty Line” is Skyclad’s fourth album, and definitely one of the best.
– I think that’s probably the best we made. I also think it’s the one that sold the second best, the best seller is the first one on Massacre, “Irrational Anthems”. That was a really good album, we still play songs off it. “Land Of The Rising Slum” is a great song, we still play the ballad as well, “The One Piece Puzzle”. There’ s no one better than Martin at doing lyrics. It was fantastic to be able to add my music to his lyrics. We don’t have contact anymore, it all went sour when he left the band. He said some bad things about us in the press, which was unnecessary. So now we don’t have anything to do with him, apart from sending him money. Haha!
Self financed (1997)
I 1997, the news broke of a Pariah-reunion, this time with singer Alan Hunter, best known from Tysondog and former Satan-drummer Ian McCormack as replacement for Sean Taylor, who lived int the States. It was really hard for the band to find a label, so Steve, Graeme and Russ scraped together some money and released this album themselves.
– It’s a funny album. Most of the material for that album was written when we were together as Pariah before SPV dropped us after “Blaze Of Obscurity”. Even though “Blaze Of Obscurity” did sell quite well, they had like a clearout of bands. We had signed a good record deal and I think we were costing them too much, so they got rid of us. “Unity” was sort of put together with Alan singing. I still like it and still play it occasionally.