LIFE AND THRASH
An Interview with Steve DiGiorgio of SADUS
Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - December 2006
Out of the famed Bay Area thrash scene came a few huge names of the day like Exodus, Testament, Megadeth and of course a little band called Metallica. A number of others bands like Heathen, Death Angel, Vio-lence, Possessed, Hirax, Forbidden, Epidemic, Blind Illusion (which was one of Les Claypool’s earliest bands, for you trivia buffs), Laaz Rockit and of course Sadus may not have attained the spotlight as broadly as their forerunners, but the sound was exciting, fast and brutal when it broke through in the mid-to-late eighties. In the case of Sadus, it is the story of high school friends who grabbed their small hunk of the thrash pie and out of the original four that put together their debut Illusions album, three still remain, not only as a band but as longtime pals. That alone is worth hearing about, much less the details their dexterous bassist Steve DiGiorgio shared with me…
RoughEdge.com: I find it interesting that Sadus got rolling back in its infancy stages when you guys were in high school. I’m 36 and feel pretty certain we’re close to the same age and went to high school at about the same
Steve DiGiorgio: You were probably a sophomore when we were seniors.
RoughEdge.com: Right on. What always comes to mind when I think of the metal scene back then is the metalheads and punks versus the preppies and princesses. In my school you can add rednecks to the mix, and it was always an adventure holding to the metal convictions back then, much less starting a band when you’re in high school. What kind of shit, if any, did you guys have to put up with?
Steve DiGiorgio: A lot, pretty much, because in high school, if you were playing any kind of music that wasn’t dance, or just something that was really different—you know, rock, metal or hard rock, anything like that—then you needed to look like it. You needed to look like a bad dude, and we just looked like normal dudes. We didn’t do anything different; we didn’t walk around saying ‘Hey, look, we’re in a band!’ We just knew that after school we were going to hook up and jam and smoke a fattie, and that’s all that mattered. It wasn’t about trying to impress everybody, because we looked at those types of people as weenies trying to do that stuff. That ain’t for us! For us, it wasn’t so much that we thought about our perception; it’s just that we were so into doing it, man. We were so much into the new band experience, because me and Jon (Allen), the drummer, we had already hooked up quite a ways before that, and we had met all the king daddy guitar players in school, everybody who was somebody, you know, ‘This guy can play Priest!’ or ‘This guy can play Maiden!’ We hooked up with those guys and played all our cover songs and did them with respect to our idols. We wanted to add our own stuff, but we didn’t want to mangle our favorite songs, so I think me and Jon realized that we needed our own band. We needed to make our own band to make our own songs. We didn’t want to worry about playing the next dance or whatever. (laughs)
Steve DiGiorgio: That’s when we met the other Sadus guys. I don’t really know where they came from very much. There were two guitar players back then and they were buddies. I don’t really think they’d played in any bands before. They weren’t doing the kind of jump around, play in a cover band thing. They were a little bit more private kind of guys. When we met them, they just basically said ‘Hey, we both play guitar, we both sing, we both write songs,’ so from that day at the first practice we wrote our first song and have since kept it going! We were really into it, man, and that’s what I mean; we were really excited to just get done with school, go home and work on the next song. It was exciting! We didn’t really know exactly what the whole eventual catalog of music was going to build up to make us be like, and like I said, we weren’t really into an image of any kind. We just wore our normal stuff and we didn’t really think about it. It just kind of happened that way and I think because we were searching for an extreme style, coupled with this no image, who-cares-what-we-look-like thing, then I think we fit in to that new movement that we discovered a little ways later, the whole Bay Area thrash scene. We came up with it on our own, but once we opened our eyes and realized there was a whole world of people doing exactly what we did, that’s when we got out of the small town mentality and started playing bigger cities around here, which got us to start shipping our tape around and get us known around the whole world.
RoughEdge.com: All that’s missing from the original core of Sadus is Rob (Moore), who left in the mid-nineties. I laugh about how many of the friends you forge in high school seldom last, though I’d say a few of my friends from back then—including a couple of metal comrades—we’ve remained good friends to this day. Sadus went on hiatus a couple of times, but here in 2006, there’s still the core three members from the high school days. How surreal does it seem now, looking back?
Steve DiGiorgio: You know what’s weird? The way you kind of drew that out is a lot more profound than we think about it. Rob was one of our friends and we were a tight unit, but he went through some changes and it was better for him to leave the whole group, not just the band, but the whole group of friends that we had. I mean, nobody’s friends with him that I know of anymore, not only the Sadus guys, but the guys who kind of gravitated towards the whole thing we had going back then that are still around too. There’s people that have moved away, but we haven’t. We’re here and it’s just natural. You look back from this point to over twenty years ago, we were in high school and it doesn’t always feel like a big deal to me a lot of the time in a way. It’s just what we know, man. (laughs) We’ve been buddies ever since and sometimes time does get by and we kind of let the time fly by, band-wise. One of the biggest questions that I’m asked is what took you so long? What were you doing during this time?
Steve DiGiorgio: There’s nothing really exciting to talk about, just normal life shit, but the fact is, during that time off, we remained friends. Me and Jon live next door to each other and Darren (Travis, guitars, vocals), my kids ride can a bike down to his house without worrying about the distance; he’s very, very close. Then our manager Rob—a different Rob, King Louis, if you’ve ever seen any of our album credits—he’s in the other direction just a couple of miles. We’re almost in the same neighborhood, man, twenty years later, hanging out! So it’s no big deal… I guess it is cool when you can say hey, a lot of people don’t have friends from high school; twenty years changes people immensely, and when I look at it that way, yeah, but from my point-of-view, for every one of those twenty years, we’ve had twenty barbecue-filled summers, twenty crazy New Year’s Eve parties. I think I would be devastated if that pattern was interrupted, if someone was to move away or whatever. It’s a way of life, you know?
RoughEdge.com: For sure. In the early days, Sadus had the guiding hand of Metal Church’s John Marshall, culminating in the "Illusions" album, which Roadrunner re-released as "Chemical Exposure." Obviously, the talent was there in Sadus, but what do you feel Marshall brought out of you guys at such an early stage?
Steve DiGiorgio: I think John was really interested in running the studio, learning all the equipment and what it does. We had no clue, especially on that album; we were like eighteen or nineteen then. It was a real mystery, the whole studio process, and the cool thing about John…first of all, he came highly recommended from buddies of ours in a band called Hexx. It was like ‘We went to this studio with this guy,’ and we went ‘Okay, that’s good enough.’ It was true to form. Back in those days, Autopsy was our other kind of brother band and I ended up doing an album with them and we went back to the same studio with the same guy! John Marshall went and did three albums in a row in the same studio in a short amount of time, boom boom boom! He was getting recommended; I think the Hexx guys knew him through Metallica. What did he bring out of us? I would say not very much. I think he was just interested in running the gear and making it sound as good as possible and just letting us do our thing. That’s what we always were for ourselves, you know? We checked each other, we listened to the whole thing. Of course, it’s good to get outside ears and outside opinions, but we’ve always tried to bring someone in the studio that can give us influence and stuff. For the main part, 90% of our stuff is already completely envisioned by us and sometimes it gets annoying when people want to recommend crap. We’re a fucking underground extreme, kick-you-in-the-face band. We don’t need somebody telling us how to get on the radio. Fuck the radio! They don’t play us on there and we don’t need it, you know? (laughs)
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Right on, man.
Steve DiGiorgio: We never really needed a producer; we just needed someone very proficient in the studio that can listen to our Neanderthal layman gibberish…we sound like chug! chug! chug! instead of pow! pow! Real stupid language like that, someone who can translate that into sense, and make it come out nice. That’s all John really was. He kind of had a buddy vibe; he was a dude like us, but years ahead of us. He had experience; he toured a lot and recorded before with Metal Church. He was a guy we looked up to, you know? Many many stories…fuck, you know he was in the bus when Metallica crashed (which Cliff Burton died in)!
Steve DiGiorgio: It was really fun hanging with him; he had tons of stories and tons of experiences, so I think him and everybody else we’ve used down the line for our albums, we’ve just really looked for someone that’s into the style of music and knows how to get good tones and encourage what you’re doing and not really try to step all over it with their unwanted opinions.
RoughEdge.com: Referring to the Bay Area thrash scene, we can talk about Sadus’ attack—pun intended—on that scene… "Illusions" came out in ’88 and then "Swallowed in Black" in ’90, and at this time, the Def Leppards, the Warrants and the Firehouses kind of set metal on its death course, which may or may not have hurt Sadus’ chances at further recognition. Perhaps earlier in ’87 when Exodus, Overkill and Testament broke through for thrash, Sadus might’ve been right there with them, especially with your guys’ technical proficiency. Do you feel Sadus missed the boat, so to speak?
Steve DiGiorgio: Oh, boy… (laughs) No, I don’t think we missed the boat. I think we really weren’t meant to be on that boat. The thrash bands you just talked about, they created the boat and sailed off on their mission. We weren’t at the pier when that boat left. We weren’t ready. We were too young, we were still developing our sound. It’s true that we had a demo in ’86, which stands for a demonstration of your material which is meant to be solicited for future recording endeavors! (laughs) We were hoping for a record deal back then, but we ended up doing a second demo in ’87 to try and update some of these record companies that weren’t really willing to help us out, but because I think we had such adversity in trying to get noticed, I think it helped us develop our sound better. If we were offered something easier earlier on, I don’t know what it would’ve turned out to be, because when you’re four guys—well, we’re three now, but we were four back then—we would go into our dungeon and lock the door and create the new songs. We didn’t care about anything except for making each other laugh! It was like ‘Holy shit, that was the sickest drum roll!’ We were tripping by jamming on our new shit, but once people come in, like record companies and management, booking agents, and you start meeting other bands, you go on the road and really get to talk to a lot of bands in-person, it really influences everybody in the band a little bit differently, and I think if we had got on that boat a little earlier, I think it would’ve changed all that we had. Maybe it would’ve been for the better, but I’m kinda happy about our story. It doesn’t have a lot of success, but it has everything else! Sometimes these bands that have the success lack everything else. All those bands sailed away in that boat, but they left a huge wake behind them and we were riding right on that wave, and because of them, it made it possible for bands like us that were just a couple of years behind and a little bit younger, to come out and do what we do and have it a little bit more accessible, and I think that’s why we’re able to get away with being a little more extreme.
RoughEdge.com: I agree with that, too.
Steve DiGiorgio: Yeah, that was the main thing. You’ve got to have some kind of appeal, and we went for anti-appeal. We were ugly and brutal and we’d just fucking blow people’s minds! We didn’t care about how enjoyable our songs were, because we just wanted it to be an experience. (laughs) And you’re old enough to know! We could talk about the mid-eighties; it was fucking full of posers, man!
RoughEdge.com: True, man, true!
Steve DiGiorgio: These guys that you would know one day that were normal would just suddenly look like a freaking faggot the next day and they’re like, ‘Dude, this is what it’s all about now!’ No, man, that looks stupid!
Steve DiGiorgio: It was a total epidemic and we were surrounded by it! Now you can say ‘Death to posers!’ and it sounds pretty silly, but when you’re seventeen years old and you really believe in this new kind of metal…I’m not into looking a different way. I’m not into writing songs just for chicks or just for the radio thinking ‘I’m here doing something totally honest that’s fucking over-the-top!’ ‘Death to posers’ stood for something a little bit more back then and it wasn’t so silly.
RoughEdge.com: We bought into it, though, that’s the thing! (laughs) We’re like ‘Look at these fucking douche bags everywhere!’ and I remember I was like ‘Fuck, these guys are ruining everything!’
Steve DiGiorgio: When we hit the stage, it was like an attack! It was like ‘All right, you fuckers, here we come!’ It wasn’t like ‘Alright, everybody get your back up off the wall now!’ It was serious! It was like ‘We’re going to fucking blow you away and show you that music can be fucking intense!’ “Sadus Attack” was just like that assault on the music that was around back then. We still have that attitude, but the posers are all dead and gone. I mean, you still find them here and there, but the scene’s not dominated by it! There’s still stuff that makes people sick. There always will be; it just comes in new forms, and I think that’s why we continue playing the way we do and have the attitude that we do.
RoughEdge.com: I want to dabble real quick in other bands you’ve been in while Sadus was on hiatus; you’ve been in Autopsy as you mentioned, Testament, Dragonlord, Iced Earth, Control Denied and of course, Death. Having playing on influential albums like "Human" and "Individual Thought Patterns," I don’t think it can go understated that Chuck Schuldiner did more for thrash and death metal than most people realize. Having recorded and played onstage with Death, what impressions might you have that possibly supports this proposition?
Steve DiGiorgio: I agree with what you’re saying now, but back then when I was doing it, it was hard for me to grasp it. It just seemed like the thing to do. Chuck had moved Death to California for awhile, and that’s when I met him. Above all we were friends, he was buddies with all of the Sadus guys. It just so happened he needed a bass player in the band and that ended up being me, so we got a little bit closer, because of how much I would work with him musically. Sometimes I didn’t really put a lot of thought into what was being played. I recognized the style, I knew what kind of sound it was, I knew how to play it, you know, I fit in, but it didn’t seem like we were on the same plane. It was just a different band with a different style, and Chuck had a little bit more international flair. He had the ability to write the very formula-magic songs, but let the musicians around him as a personality within his structure kind of present the Death way, but within that, there was a lot of individual playing, a lot of musicianship that was being shown off. It was a good combination, the catchiness and the brutality that anyone can identify with, and then there was those little things to grab onto, anybody that didn’t want to dig in deeper. I think that’s what put him head and shoulders above everybody, because there’s obviously bands that never got past one album or got out of the hard-to-find catalog by playing too much, and then there’s the catchy bands that don’t get the respect because they’re being really boring and catchy all the time. Chuck had a good—I don’t want to say commercial—but in some sense of that word, he had a good knack for making his stuff accessible to a lot of people and that gave him success. Chuck was a killer guy and a musician in a totally different way than I was used to, but the bottom line is he had the music inside of him and he knew how to describe it, and he had this cool way of bringing out the player in me. It was always there, but he knew how to dig for it and that’s one thing I’ll always keep with me from those experiences.
RoughEdge.com: It’s been eight years since "Elements of Anger" and "Out for Blood" came out earlier this year, which I think might be Sadus’ most progressive album. A complicated song like “Freedom,” for instance, particularly on the instrumental break, it might be said that a further degree of musical maturity might be the new common denominator that led to this album. Do you agree with that?
Steve DiGiorgio: A little bit. First of all, that’s a pretty good compliment! (laughs) I think we’ve always thought we’ve had a certain level of musicality in our band and we’re always making sure to challenge each other, and each album has had a certain amount of self-indulgent musicianship going on all the time, but I think we’re learning album by album that we can make that a little more apparent and a little more evident to people by slowing it down and showing it off in a more presentable manner. In other words, you can tell how nice the engine is if the car’s going really slow, but if it just flies by, you can’t tell what the hell you just saw!
RoughEdge.com: Great analogy!
Steve DiGiorgio: I think that was our problem in the old days. We packed those songs with a lot of complex stuff to challenge our own brains while we’re playing. We thought people would get it the way we did, but we were going over their heads because it was probably just too fast! It was too much in too short of a time, so we opened up a little bit and slowed it down a little bit, found ways to keep it sounding brutal, but slow it down and show off better. Album-by-album we’ve been doing that and I think we finally just hit a speed where people can still feel like it’s fast, but they have time to see what’s going on in the inner workings. I think the biggest maturity for the band came in the songwriting, and that’s because of that whole process getting here. In the old days, we were bored playing repeating stuff too much, and that’s kind of where we lost people! (laughs) We realized that repeating parts is pretty much a normal thing in music and now that we’re doing that stuff, there’s a huge catchiness that comes with the technique. I think it’s blending better than ever now that we’re writing and arranging things where people can tell what’s going on finally!
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Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:08 -0400.