Old is New Again

feature image

One of many thrash bands of the 80s firing up the engine again in the 21st century, New Jersey’s Whiplash have released an album in Unborn Again that is outstanding on numerous levels. In large part it is due to the dynamic and varied songwriting, which includes not only neck snapping thrash, but also groove based heavy metal and hard rock. Most surprisingly is how well it works as a complete listening experience. Although the band followed up 80s classics Power and Pain and Ticket to Mayhem with a handful of 90s albums, 1998’s Thrashback was the last we’d heard from Whiplash until the release of this year’s Unborn Again. Certainly the passing of original member and bassist Tony Bono in 2002 put a damper on things, to say the least, but the Jersey boys are back and without a doubt better than ever. Guitarist/vocalist Tony Portaro and drummer Joe Cangelosi check in with TOTD to bring us up to date.

How has the reaction been to Unborn Again?

Joe: It was a lot of mixed stuff I think. I don’t know how to explain it, but people think you can just keep writing the same record over and over again. There have been so many stages of the band and growth and new members and I think this is a good representation for us and we’re happy with it. Some fans thought it was going to be a straight ahead thrash record and that every single song was going to be down their throats.

Tony: We wanted to take it where we left off with Power and Pain and Ticket to Mayhem, but it seems like we mixed a little modern stuff in there without even realizing it.

Joe: And I think that Ticket to Mayhem was totally different than Power and Pain. So this is just an extension of what we do, man. There are a lot of different kinds of songs on there, but it’s still metal, man. Live we fucking thrash our heads off.

Actually, what I like about this album is that it is so varied. I was pleasantly surprised by that. It is more like this is a heavy metal album with a thrash emphasis rather than just a thrash album.

Joe: Right, that’s a good way to put it. Definitely

Tony: I think with the Berklee background that I have with theory and everything it makes a wider range of styles come through with our songwriting. Without that theory I’m a firm believer that a lot of bands have every song sounding the same. If you know the theory, then you know how to mix it up and you can come across well with making every song sound different.

Joe: None of that was conscious either. It was just what we wrote at the time. We didn’t try to write another Power and Pain and we didn’t try to write another Ticket to Mayhem.

You’ve got the thrashers like “Feeding Frenzy,” “Float Face Down, and “Pit Bulls in the Playground.” The main riff on “Pitbulls in the Daycare” has a Kill ‘em All quality to it.

Joe. Cool! It’s cool because it’s raw and it is not technical for the sake of being technical. It’s thrash and it shouldn’t be that complicated.

Tony: When we were writing this album we kind of put that theory behind and let each song write itself. We would come up with a riff and Joe would put a beat to it or he’d come up with a beat and I’d throw a riff on it and we’d just let the song unfold by itself. It was one of the fastest albums that we ever threw together. In 17 weeks we had about 1q songs I think and we dropped two. It was surprising that it was that easy to write these songs. It did seem like there was somebody looking down on us and pointing us in the right direction. Any time we ran into a roadblock or something we would just plow right through it.

Joe: When we write our songs we do it as we go, so we don’t waste anything. Like we won’t have a bunch of material left. On the spot we’re creating it. We don’t do this big thing and go back and cut parts.

Tony: That always makes it much easier when it comes down to producing. You don’t have to worry about arranging. There are a lot of bands that go into the studio and try to arrange the songs themselves and they hate it and they need a producer to help them do that. In our case it’s pretty much 95 percent there.

You mentioned dropping two songs. Are those just gone forever or will they show up later in one form or another.

Joe: We had one called “Madman at the Helm” that we didn’t fully develop. Then we had “Unborn Again.” I think the next record is going to be 10 times better. We just got back together after being away for so long, so we weren’t playing out like we are now. Right now we’re a live band and it’s explosive live now. It’s really gelling.

Tony: Where that comes into play is we went so straight forward right into writing and I was singing in more of a stereo type voice and I didn’t really have my voice back to the live show routine where I really knew my limits and really could hone in on what I could do. I pretty much forgot from not doing it for so long. But now that we’re back in the swing of playing live again I’m back on top of it and it will reflect more on the next album, especially with the vocals I would think.

How much are you playing out now?

Tony: We’re playing out as often as we can. This year we did the Wacken Festival and then we played Italy, Norway, Finland, Mexico… Where else Joe?

Joe: We came back from Columbia two weeks ago. We did a bunch of local stuff too.

Tony: On December 19th we’re doing a show for the missing girl in Virginia from the Metallica concert. Morgan Harrington is her name. We’re going to drive down there to Virginia and do that show.

How was Wacken?

Tony: Oh it was great. Even just playing with all the bands that we like and bands that we haven’t seen in so long. Our first European tour was with Sodom and we shared a bus with them and became like family. I hadn’t seen them since 1988 I think it was. And the first person I see when we pulled up into Wacken is Tom Angelripper. I was looking him in the face and he looked over and he was like “Tony!”

Joe: It was incredible! Frank Blackfire [Gosdzik] (Sodom) does a couple of leads on our new record and I was in Kreator with him in the 90s. He’s been a great friend of the band since the 80s and we’re really tight with that guy. He was out there with us playing those songs we have on the record.

Tony: He did “Pitbulls in the Playground” and “Parade of Two Legs” with us at Wacken.

Are you using a second guitarist at all beyond that?

Tony: We also have Paul [Bento] from Carnivore jump in with us on the local shows.

Joe: Yeah, Paul plays “I Got the Fire.”

Tony: But another thing about Wacken was one of my all-time favorite bands is Trouble and we got to hang out with them for two days and it was awesome.

Looking at some of these other songs you’ve got “Swallow the Slaughter,” which is a dynamic and catchy song and “Snuff” is excellent as well and there are so many little things that stick with you on this album, like the backing shouts on “Snuff.” And “Firewater” is a nice change up with that bluesy hard rock strut going on.

Joe: Yeah, and Tony is coming straight from that school. Tony is really a big lover of bands like Deep Purple and I love all the old stuff too. Thrash metal didn’t come from nowhere. Rock, metal and the blues base is all coming from a source. It was cool to actually be able to play some blues and some feels and riffs that are close to that source.

Tony: I love that grooving sound like Corrosion of Conformity. And there is another band that I found online from Germany called Electro Baby and they’re awesome. They have that same driving groove like Corrosion of Conformity or even like Clutch, so I always love to incorporate a little bit of that.

Joe: Yeah, that Sabbath-y doomy Trouble stuff; I love that stuff, man. It was fun to play a tune like “Firewater” for example. It is a tune that sounds like a normal metal type of tune, but it’s pretty tricky actually.

Tony: Even when we do a thrash song like “Pitbulls in the Playground” we’ll get to that middle section of the song and we’d want to turn it into a mosh thing, which works really well live. All of those mosh parts that we come up with have that groove feel to it and it gets them going.

How did the Native American chanting part on “Firewater” at the beginning come into play?

Joe: That’s Harris Johns, the producer. He is Native American and he’s also German, so he’s qualified for the job. Those are real chants; that’s no joke. He was a part of Indian troupe stuff and he’s done stuff like that.

Tony: What is that, 11/4 time, Joe? It was very cool that the music was written in a strange time signature and he chanted with that time signature.

Joe: We weren’t there when he did it, so when he sent it to us we were like “Whoa!” It’s really cool. It’s definitely different for Whiplash, man.

I was stoked to hear the cover of “I Got the Fire” because I’m an old school Montrose fan and that riff is a monster.

Joe: Awesome. To tell you the truth I really loved the Iron Maiden version because I grew up on that one. Until we started doing it I never heard the original Montrose version. Unbelievable. It’s a great song and a fun song to play too.

Tony: We had a choice of doing a Cheap Trick song we thought about doing, there was a Who song, and this one and when Joe brought it on his I-Pod and played it for me we all agreed that it was the one and we had to do it.

Joe: That’s the first cover ever for Whiplash.

What was going on in the interim between Thrashback in 1998 and the writing/recording of the new album?

Joe: I just came back from playing in Kreator and I was playing jazz at that point. I’ve got a hard rock band also called Moondog, which was with Rich [Day] from Whiplash and Glen [Hansen] who used to be in Whiplash.

Tony: I actually went to NYU for audio production with Pro Tools and music marketing. I opened up my own studio, but I was still writing on my own on the side. Then I changed locations and I had the studio back up and running again. But now that Whiplash is up and running again it is really closed to the public. I doubled my rates to keep people out of the place. Now we’re busy than I think we ever were.

Joe: Oh without a doubt. It’s unbelievable what’s happening now. The demand for the band is bigger than ever.

For one reason or another I missed out on Whiplash the first time around, so Unborn Again got me excited and had me going back to check out the old stuff.

Joe: We’re the best kept secret in metal, man.

Tony: We were always in the underground and now with the help of the Internet it seems like we’ve spanned ages from 15 to 45.

Joe: At some of these shows you see the parent with their child and it’s unbelievable.

A lot of the young thrash bands now have been spreading the word about the original thrashers and renewing interest, so the time is right for a band like Whiplash.

Joe: I’m glad to be back in the band and I’m glad it’s happening again and it’s great to see people into it again. Whatever it is we’re not stopping. I think it’s even getting bigger than a flash in the pan type of thing. It seems like it’s spreading now.

There was no question about whether you were going to write a follow up to Thrashback, right? It was just a question of when.

Tony: There was talk about doing it when Tony Bono was still alive.

Joe: But he’s with us wherever we go. His spirit lives on. A great part about having Rich in the band is that Rich was a good friend of his and they mutually respected each other’s playing and he’s part of the family. He brings the spirit of what Bono played, especially the old stuff.

Were you looking at many labels before settling on Pulverised?

Tony: No, actually we got our management and they came back to us one day and said they had a deal with Pulverised if we want it. With the amount of money they offered us we just looked at each other and said “Wow, let’s not even shop this around.” We didn’t even have a note of music written yet. They didn’t even hear anything and they gave us a great offer. So we said let’s not even look any further and jump on this, get the contact down to our lawyers, doctor it up, and send it back.

Joe: We were just playing so we were glad we didn’t have to go through the entire process of making a demo and all that stuff.

Tony: We’ll see when we get our first royalty statement.

As far as being a little more underground than maybe you would have liked back in the day were there things you felt about Whiplash that set you apart from your peers at the time?

Joe: From my point of view as a fan before I was in the band, it was a three-piece band, which was unusual, so the playing has to be top notch. The rhythm section had to really kick butt with no rhythm guitar. Tony was great, man. I was up in the front row at L’Amour and I thought that Tony’s voice was really unique, which was the first thing I noticed about Power and Pain. Love it! For me Whiplash was always original.

Tony: I think musically when thrash started in the San Francisco Bay Area we knew that was the direction that we wanted to go and we love Exodus, Metallica, Possessed, that whole style. We recorded Power and Pain and released it before we did our first show and our first show was at Ruthie’s Inn in the Bay Area. We loved that style, but we were an East Coast band and our style wasn’t a West Coast style, even though West Coast thrash was a big influence on us. But it also had the background from Berklee and again I’ve got to bring up the theory and I think along with the theory and being on the East Coast it helped give us a more original style, something different than what was going on in the beginning. We were just doing what we wanted to do and were lucky that we had a chance to do it back then. And we’re lucky that we can do it now and with all the people that are following Whiplash, not only from years ago, but the people now that are just becoming aware of us. Like you said, maybe they’ll be inspired to look at what we did back in ’85 and the late 80s.

With renewed interest in the band have you gotten any sense of whether those old albums are selling again?

Tony: There is talk about them re-releasing the older albums. I’m not sure how that is going to work, but our management is on top of it. Back then we were young and naïve. We thought we had good lawyers at the time, but I think we could have gotten a better deal. We may have screwed ourselves; I can’t blame it all on the label and point the fingers at them or any label that we had back then.

Joe: There were a lot of things. Management wasn’t so hot. We didn’t have the opportunities because we didn’t have the people to give us the opportunities. A lot of times we went out there just playing and doing it and absolutely not making any money. That’s what we loved to do, but at some point we wanted to see some money.

Tony: It did turn into a business and the record companies were the only ones making the money. Once that happened it just really sucked the wind right out of our sails. At one point we thought “Why are we doing this?” We had all the glory we could ever want, but when we found out what they were making and not sharing any of it with us it was like “Why are we doing this for them?”

Joe: I always say to people that it became a business, but it wasn’t our business; it was theirs.

What do you have coming up in the way of touring?

Joe: We’ve got a string of shows coming up, hopefully in South America again.

Tony: It looks like we’re going to be doing Argentina, Peru, Brazil, and Chile and I think while we’re down there we’ll probably go back to Columbia again because we had such a fantastic time down there.

So South America is liking Whiplash.

Joe: Oh man! It was incredible. Columbia was unbelievable! They’d been waiting a long time to see the band. Young and old. That country has just started probably in the last seven or eight years to come alive where people can actually go there and play. It’s a rough place.

Tony: After that show you should have seen the response on the Internet from all the Columbian people that follow Whiplash. We just got bombarded with more friends on Myspace and Facebook.

Joe: You can go my YouTube channel and I just post videos from all the places we played. It’s called Animalosi.

What about the States?

Tony: Let me just jump backwards a little, but it’ll tie into this question too. Years ago when we did our shows and touring in Europe it was 28 shows in 30 days I remember and we did that like three times and we were probably playing in front of anywhere from 300 to 500 people and maybe on occasion 1,000 or 1,200. Nowadays with all these festivals we’ve been flying out to other countries and doing one show and flying back the next day and hitting just as many if not more people at that one show than it would take us a month to do. It really wouldn’t make sense for us to do a bunch of small local shows and I’m not even sure if we would break even. I mean we’d probably make a little money, but it’s so much easier and wiser to play shows when you’re playing like Wacken with 70-80,000 people.

Joe: Unless we could get on a bill with a really big band. A lot of the offers we’re getting now are just for overseas gigs because the demand for us out there is really high. It’s good to play the States too. We played some local stuff here in Brooklyn and it was fun. We played Jersey.

Tony: And we’re doing that thing in Virginia in December and we’re looking at breaking into Pennsylvania more to do a few shows there in the near future. We do want to make it out to California too. We travelled so far this year over 30,000 miles, so we already have enough for a free flight anywhere in the United States. And I think we’ll have enough for a free trip to Europe and back for the Keep it True festival.

Joe: That’s cool. I can’t wait to see what the Keep it True festival is like because I’m hearing from some insiders that it is the festival. Wacken was ridiculous it was so large. I played there in 1995 with Kreator and it was nothing close to this.

When might we see the follow up to Unborn Again?

Joe: We’re actually going to start writing new material real soon. We’re really close. The second time around it’s going to be real good because now we’ve played so much live that we’re there now. Tony’s vocals are going to be 20 times better. Hopefully, we just keep getting better.

Tony: We started writing this one and it took us about three months to do the songwriting and then recording took us another four months I would say. Then it was another two or three months of rehearsals for the live shows. So it was a little more than a year, maybe even 15 months from the start of songwriting, but I don’t expect it to take that long this time because we had some problems in the recording process for this one too.

Joe: We flew to Berlin to mix the record, so it is two different situations.

Tony: There were a couple of instances where there was like three or four stagnant weeks where we couldn’t get anything done because of scheduling conflicts. Then once it was done I sent it away to the label and the pressing was being done in England.

It sounds like you guys are having fun and that came across on the record, so I hope you’re able to keep it that way.

Joe. Thank you. That’s what it’s all about for us. We’re having a lot of fun. I’m having more fun than I ever did.

Tony: We love interacting with the fans too. We’re always on line talking to everyone and even after the shows mingling with people.

Joe. Yeah man. It’s one community.



Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.