Out of all the announced reunions that have happened recently, I was probably most excited about the Kick Axe reunion. I became a big fan of the band back in the days of larger than life stage shows and music. Kick Axe really had a sound all their own which made them appeal to a large fanbase so I think there will be quite a bit of interest in the bands return. I was given the chance to have a chat with guitarist Larry Gillstrom. I had actually wanted to get with the band around the time of the reissues a few years back, but was happy to take it when it presented itself. We discussed quite a variety of things and without wasting anymore time, this is how it went....
Heavy Metal Resource: Hi Larry, great to talk to you! I wanted to start this off talking about the reunion. Give us an idea of how the reunion came about.
Larry Gillstrom: I think it had alot to do with the way Kick Axe ended in the 80's. Internally, we were always getting along good and had no intention of breaking up, but things got so screwed outside of the band by external forces that we just couldn't continue as a band. Whenever we tried to play anywhere there were always Sheriff's taking our gear and assets. We were left with very little resources to continue as a band. We just kind of faded away but never really broke up. We all stayed friends. It just wasn't safe for us to go play anywhere. We went our separate ways, but would talk about once a year and bring it up whether we could get back together and do something. When Songhaus came out with the reissues in 2001, it dawned on us that alot of time had passed and it was okay to do this now. We all got together for dinner and talked about how the time was now. We got together for a rehearsal and it just felt great. One thing just lead to another and it became it's own entity and started to grow.
HMR: You mentioned the Sheriff's taking your stuff, What was that all about?
L.G. : Well, we were pretty naive back then. Just a bunch of guys from the prairies in Canada who had a record deal and were having a great time out touring with Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Quiet Riot and The Scorpions. We were firing back all the money and thought things were being taken care of, but they weren't. We were on the road for pretty much the whole period of '84 and '85. We got back and recorded 'Welcome to the Club' and then headed back out to tour for that album when it hit us straight in the head that nothing had been paid and there were people all over the place looking to get paid everywhere we went and our manager just kind of ran out on us and left us holding the bag on it. He had borrowed money from the record companies without us knowing it. We didn't know exactly what he did with it, but there were alot of drugs going around back in those days. We just weren't paying attention and alot of bad stuff happened behind the scenes that did not allow us to continue.
HMR: That is really too bad. I have heard those stories before and it's always unfortunate how the band gets the screw job. I did want to also get another thing out about the reunion. What fans will notice pretty quick is the absence of vocalist George Criston. There is a twist about this however. I had heard about there being a different vocalist on the latest album, but never realized that Gary Langen was actually the original vocalist for the band. I wanted to have you talk about why George didn't come back and what Gary brings to the band.
L.G. : We had initially talked to George and let him know that we were gonna reunite and make another album. He said that was great, but can you sample my voice because he couldn't make it. When he said he couldn't make it, we thought that maybe we wouldn't. We were mulling it over because we were really hyped up to do it and it was kind of a disappointment. Vic had been talking to Gary and he would be interested in doing it. Victor, Gary and I go back a long ways. We were in a group called Hobbit before Kick Axe which was a 60's group. We broke off of that group and formed Kick Axe with the three of us. We were Kick Axe for a very long time, somewhere around 4, 5, or 6 years. Gary was both the drummer and the lead singer. We were playing clubs, but alot of clubs wouldn't book us when they found out that our drummer was our singer. They wanted a guy out front. We were also making very little money at the time. Gary was raising a family so he had to leave the group. We went through a bunch of other people and then George joined and my brother Brian did as well. We kind of expanded out from there. We always felt that Victor, I and Gary were the core from when we started so when we looked at it, Gary wasn't just the original singer, he was one of the founding guys from Kick Axe. We went through alot together. We felt that the core element was one of the important things that got Kick Axe started, and bringing it back together has been really rewarding both personally and musically to everybody in the band.
HMR: I was curious about something. With the majority of the earlier recorded material being recorded with George on vocals, how has the fan response been to this point at the live shows with Gary in his place? I think both of their vocals can be similar at times and different at others.
L.G. : I understand anyone who is missing George, the band misses George as well. It's just something that is the way it is and we got together with Gary and wanted to make a record. We weren't aiming at anything in particular as a goal for the record. It was almost like therapy for us all to do it. We wanted to get in and play music together and put a record together. Next we wanted to get out and play live. The live show now is only going to have 4 or 5 of the new tracks. The rest will come from 'Vices', 'Welcome to the Club' and 'Rock the World' and also from the soundtracks we did. Gary loves all of those songs and has his own take on them. Melody-wise he has been doing the same thing. Actually. I think writing-wise with the new album, it still has that melody and core quality to it. We're older guys and more mature and have different things to sing about now. We have only done one big show and some small shows. We did one big show in Regina which is where we are from and had about 5000 people at the show. It was just amazing. Everyone really liked Gary. He's a great live singer. He has a wonderful voice live , he's very powerful and did a really great job that night. I think it's gonna work it well at all the other live shows. Time will tell, but I'm pretty confident.
HMR: You kind of touched on my next point. Alot of fans may go into the album expecting 'Vices' and the such. There are familiar elements, but this album is quite different too. I mean that in a positive way too. My curiosity is when the bulk of the album was written.
L.G. : Some of the material was from the 90's. The 2 songs that Ray brought to the project were from the mid 90's. I believe that is when he wrote those. The 1 song Victor brought was from the 90's as well. There were no songs from the 80's although 'Turn to Stone' was based on a riff I was playing around with back in the 80's and 'Who Knows You' was also based on something I was jamming alot back in the 80's. There are some riff's that have bubbled up through, but most of the material was written fresh. 'Vices' was a culmination of writing for about 10 years on the road. It was a major party lifestyle that we were going through that comes through on that record. Kick Axe 'IV' is more about a decade plus experiences of guys who have gotten alot more mature and the life experiences they want to express. It's naturally gonna be different.
HMR: Looking at 'IV', where would you say this album is the same as what you have done in the past?
L.G. : Well, guitar-wise I am still playing the way I have always played. I've never been one to play long drawn out solos, I just like to play tasty stuff and I like a good crunchy guitar rhythm. Raymond is very similar in that way, he likes to play tasty guitar. We tend to have the same diversity in his type of guitar playing and mine that has always been prevalent through all Kick Axe records. We don't do alot of harmony work like 2 guitar players do in bands, we always try to showcase each other and be 2 distinct individuals and I think that is pretty much the same on 'IV' as it was on the first 2 albums. Of course Raymond wasn't on the third album. Drumming-wise, Brian's doing the same thing he has always done. He has a tendency these days to be a little more Zeppelin-like and play slow heavier beats. I think he is still playing the same style. The whole rhythm section, him and victor is very similar to what they have been. I think one of the differences may be in tempo itself. We are playing things a bit slower because we get into it a little bit more. I don't remember 'Vices' being that fast so I don't know if the remaster guy sped it up or what. It seems fast to me now. 'Vices' was bombastic. It was the culmination of all those years in writing. We recorded it down in Hollywood with that party attitude and that really came out on that record. With 'Welcome to the Club', we had finished those two long tours with major acts in our own genre of that time. We sat down and tried to think things through with each song and that's why they came out a bit more polished. Spencer didn't get involved in the production, we had a different producer, and he took a different take on the band. You know, I like the fact that Kick Axe takes a different direction with each album. I don't want to be doing Vices two and Welcome to the Club two, I want to be doing something new every time.
HMR: I would definitely go with the thought that the band has grown with each album. I think it shows.
L.G. : Yeah, 'Kick Axe IV' is sort of like the cover implies, it's like Kick Axe reawakening and discovering itself again. We're gonna do some more records. The next record is gonna be different and the one after that is gonna be different. We're just gonna let it unfold.
HMR: How has the album been doing so far. I think it has been doing pretty well. I have seen it on some bestseller lists of some online vendors.
L.G. : That's good. Just to keep my own stress down I tend to not watch that sort of thing. I know off of our own website it is selling really well. Up here in Canada the sales are very good. I haven't really checked into the reports from Europe, South America, or the United States yet. I expect those to come into me in about a month. I'll have a look at them then. It's better than we thought or expected, I'm sure of that. I just don't know exactly what. I don't want to get my expectations up too high because we really didn't go into this as a commercial venture. We did it for personal reasons and if it is successful in any way that would be a bonus.
HMR: I think when you see those numbers come in, you guys will have done just fine. When the reissues came out a few years ago, the fans went nuts. There really is interest there.
L.G. : It definitely was inspiring. Those reissues were one of the factors that caused us to get back together and rediscover ourselves.
HMR: Now you already touched on the new cover a bit. I just wanted to make sure I understood the meaning behind the artwork. The other covers are fairly straight forward I guess, but I just wanted you to talk about the album cover briefly.
L.G. : The album cover was done by two separate artists, Sean Murphy came up with the concept and a guy from Texas came up with the face that is actually on there. The face is kind of the face of Kick Axe coming back. It's coming back from stone which the song 'Turn to Stone' is all about. That's basically what Kick Axe had to do. There was nothing more that we could do, we were bruised and battered from what had happened to us, we basically had to go hard and the fact that there was not gonna be a Kick Axe was very hard on alot of the members of the band. It was quite an emotional experience when it dawned on us that this is what was going to happen. We just kind of saw ourselves turning to stone at that time. The cover is trying to depict that we're sort of coming back to life.
HMR: Makes sense. Gives you a bit of a different take when you look at the cover now. Changing gears, I was just wondering how far out you will be touring?
L.G. : We want to play everywhere that wants us to play. We could probably tour for the rest of our lives if people will come out and see us. We are initially going to do western Canada and some of the cities down in southern Ontario and Quebec. We will come back here and try to go down the west coast of the United States... Seattle, Portland, L.A. and that area and then head over to the midwest and eastern United States.
HMR: Okay, but no Las Vegas at this point? I live kind of close to Vegas?
L.G. : Well, Phoenix is one of the places we have for sure.
HMR: (Laughs) But no Vegas?
L.G. : (Laughs) Vegas is dangerous for Kick Axe, we all love Las Vegas. That's the problem, we get there and we don't want to leave. We did Vegas with both Judas Priest and Whitesnake and both times we just had an amazing time. We also drove through many times on our way to other shows and we'd always stop and get into trouble (laughs). We love Vegas but it can be dangerous especially since we aren't quite what we used to be for recovering.
HMR: So are you going to be taking someone out with you or will it be solo gigs at clubs?
L.G. : The initial western Canadian dates we are doing on our own. We have a pretty good following up here and can do several thousand on our own show. The eastern dates and the U.S. dates we are trying for a package deal. Hopefully that will come through for us.
HMR: So how long before we see you down here in the States?
L.G. : Probably after Christmas.
HMR: Okay cool. I wanted to ask you about the album 'Rock the World'. I believe we talked earlier and you mentioned it was going to be reissued.
L.G. : We only released that album in Canada when we first made that record. It was a very small shoestring budget because of what had happened. We made the record ourselves in Vancouver and put it out and then signed a deal with Mercenary in the U.S. to get it out there. They didn't do a great job with it and just kind of disappeared after selling about 25,000 copies of it. We didn't see any return on it and it just disappeared. I know there are about 25,000-30,000 cd's out there. The only albums people could have purchased were from the Canadian release. It was very short lived as were we at the time, so we have always felt that the record never really got a fair shake and we wanna reissue it with a new cover because that cover art was a mistake. It was sort of forced on us by the record company and we've always wanted to rectify that. We had come up with a cover concept that they had rejected for multiple reasons so we said what are we gonna do, It was only a month before release. They said they would come up with something and let you guys see it. When they did let us see it, it was after it was already pressed on 10,000 copies. We said 'No you can't' and they said they can't take it back because it was already done. We looked at it and said it looked like the Flintstone's stuff. It didn't work in our heads with what the record was. We would have preferred the Spinal Tap all black cover. We were stuck with that and I know George was so depressed, it took him weeks to get over that one. The rest of us were just furious about that but we couldn't do anything about it at the time but we can do something about it now so we are going to.
HMR: Try to stay in touch with me on that one. I would like to get the word out there when it's ready. I always liked that record.
L.G. : It's a great record and we are doing on our live show 'Rock the World' and 'The Chain' from that. Those are great songs.
HMR: I was curious about your take on something. I have seen the music scene doing a bit of a shift. I was curious what your thoughts were on the current scene.
L.G. : Well, it seems really diverse and almost seems like their is a split. There is an upper echelon of the music that is only concerned with marketing and less concerned with music. You see that when you see all the strange talent shows like the American Idol and that sort of thing where it seems to be more about celebrity and getting the big wheel going in marketing and less about home grown artists. At the same time there seems to be a fairly healthy independent scene below that is actually very flexible and moves with the demands of real music lovers. I think eventually that split will become more and more obvious and could become two separate industries.
HMR: Yeah, I think the major label portion of the business has really done themselves a disservice. Looking back, I would say the 90's will really show how bad music was and where this all got started. I don't want to include other markets in this however as the European, South American, and Japanese scenes seemed to thrive, but our scene here was absolutely horrible. The record companies are now hurting from those decisions and you are seeing the Indies' rise and take control of things. It is now very different. You don't need a big budget anymore to get an album done with production and studio time. I know that big bucks were spent on your first two albums.
L.G. : It could've been up to a million I think. That's one of the standing jokes we kept asking Spencer. How come the cost of a car is attributed to our album. There always seemed to be a huge mountain of debt that had you wondering where it had come from. It was ridiculous. You could sell millions of records and still be in debt. It seems the only thing you get from majors now are videos. Those things are way expensive and I don't know how they could spend that much on them. Being in a hard rock group, you don't get much exposure these days so it's not worth doing.
HMR: I did want to ask you about videos. How many did the band make back in the day?
L.G. : 'On the Road to Rock' was the only major production video that we did. We did that down in L.A. with a major video producer. That got quite a bit of play on MTV and MuchMusic and all of the other music stations. After that when we did 'Welcome to the Club' we did sort of a live footage in the studio of a big party we did while we were recording 'Welcome to the Club' and that went out on video for the song 'With a Little Help from my Friends'. On 'Rock the World' we did our own self produced video for the song 'Rock the World'. I still see that every once in a while on a video channel. It was a pretty good video for just a bunch of guys in the band getting together with some friends and setting up a hall for a live video. That's all we did for videos.
HMR: I am about out of things to ask at this point, but do wanna throw it out there for you to add anything that you would like to at this point.
L.G. : Well Dave, you got most of what was on my mind. I wanted to mention 'Rock the World' which we did talk about. I wanna mention that we are gonna be recording and video taping our live shows to hopefully put together with some historical footage and live material for a DVD in 2005.
HMR: That will be great. I absolutely love this kind of stuff on DVD. Especially if we can get those promo videos that you mentioned. Do you have good masters on those videos?
L.G. : Yeah, they are pretty good. We have great masters on about everything we are gonna use. We did manage to retain all of that from back in the 80's. Some other people have come out of the woodwork to talk to us about it. Brian Vollmer(Helix) has some footage he took of Kick Axe from when we toured with them that is really good quality. We are just trying to track down all of that stuff that we know people captured of the band in the 80's and put it together.
HMR: I always liked Helix alot too.
L.G. : Yeah, I was talking to Brian and he wanted to do some more shows together and that would be really cool if we do. Killer Dwarfs also contacted me and want to do some shows with us as well. It's fun talking to these guys again because we had a blast partying with those bands in the 80's. They are so close to us in ideology and just what they like to do for a good time.
HMR: I don't think you could go wrong with that kind of a triple bill. There are still alot of fans of all three bands out there that would allow some great crowds. You could draw from all three fanbases. That will be great. Well, that's all I have for you at the moment. Stay in touch and let me know what's going on.
L.G. : Okay Dave...Thanks!
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