Guitarist Phil Williams about his one-time band Wargod – Part I
Back in the 80’s Los Angeles had an incredible underground scene. Besides the established and later well-known bands, such as Slayer, Dark Angel, Abattoir, Megadeth and Savage Grace there were a lot of other cool acts, that didn’t/couldn’t manage to record a full length, but recorded some demos and gave some gigs. One of them was Wargod, so ladies and gentleman, enjoy what former Wargod guitarist Phil Williams told me!
Phil, Wargod was formed in 1984 by you and Michelle Meldrum (R.I.P.) on guitars, Gene Hoglan on drums, Greg Gunthner on bass, and Rob Perkins on vocals. Do you still remember, how did you get together?
Greg and I were not original members of Wargod. It was Michelle, Rob, Gene and a guitar player named Blake Edwards. It were not working out with Blake so they were looking to replace him. Gene had heard some rehearsal tapes of my band Decapitator and recommended me to Michelle. I received a call from Michelle in early March 1985 and she asked me to join. In April of 1985, we met Greg and he joined the band. He was a Dark Angel roadie at the time and was introduced to us by Gene as well. I think he was Wargod’s first bass player.
Did you play in other outfits prior to Wargod? What about your musical past, experiences as a whole?
I played in a couple of bands including Decapitator prior to Wargod but Wargod was my first serious band. The first time I recorded in a studio, played live, had t-shirts and stickers and stuff like that. I started playing guitar in 1982 and was raised on classic rock and metal. I then got into the NWOBHM and then into thrash metal and some punk rock. A bit later I started getting into progressive rock and jazz fusion as well. I had some older friends and got exposed to some great bands early on which was really cool. Living in the Los Angeles area I was lucky to see a ton of great bands like Sabbath/Maiden/Priest/Ozzy/Scorpions etc. Later I saw a lot of great LA bands early on in Hollywood and in the surrounding areas.
Being based in Los Angeles, what do you recall of the early 80’s L. A. scene when a lot of bands started popping up, such as Metallica, Slayer, Savage Grace, Shellshock (later known as Dark Angel), Malice (after they moved from Portland to L. A.), Medusa, Vermin, Abattoir, Sceptre etc.? Can you speak detailed about it?
I pretty much got to see all of those bands early on. Whether it was Medusa, Savage Grace and Abattoir at the Troubadour in one night. Or Vermin at a local community center. It was a great time for metal! There were a lot of crappy bands in LA at that time but the ones you mention were the exception. I am very impressed you know of Medusa and Vermin! The guitar player for Medusa used to wear a mask on stage. Around ’83 when I started going to clubs there were a lot of great bands coming up and I went to a lot of shows. Being new to going to clubs to see these bands that were changing the scene in LA was inspring and a great thing to witness live. I loved bands like Abattoir, Tyrant, Lizzy Borden, Malice, and Savage Grace to name a few.
Would you say that the musical direction of Metallica and Slayer was energic, raw, fresh and new at that time? Did they have a kind of revolutionary approach and influenced a lot of bands later on?
Absolutely! Some of the bands you mentioned before were playing a more agressive style of metal too so I think that it was more than just Slayer and Metallica influencing the scene. But their influence was HUGE. No doubt about it. Especially after Metallica and Slayer started to get international exposure.
Do you consider them as the pioneers of thrash metal?
Yes! They really produced something unique. You have Metallica with their Motörhead and NWOBHM influences and Slayer with their Metallica/Venom influence. These bands created a unique sound which in turn influenced most thrash bands that came after them.
What about the club scene and fanzines? Which clubs did start opening their doors for metalheads?
When I started going to clubs, a lot of clubs like the The Troubadour began to book metal bands more freely. Most of these clubs started to book these bands more and more. I think they saw that the LA scene was changing and they adapted a bit. Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach was key to the thrash metal and punk scene back then and they had some legendary shows. The first local fanzine I read was Brain Damage out of Long Beach by Vadim Rubin. Gene Hoglan was part of that too and it was a really cool fanzine. There were a few others in the area at the time but my memory is not so good.
Do you remember of Bob Nalbandian’s Headbanger fanzine?
Yes I do remember it. It was well known for sure.
Were you deeply involved in the underground, in the tapetrading scene?
I was a latecomer to tape trading in 1985 but I had a few people I traded with. The reason I wasn’t into it as heavy as others was because a few of my friends were big tape traders and I would just get stuff from them. Postage was expensive you know!
Do you agree with that the L. A. scene was divided into two parts? There were the glam/hair outfits, such as W.A.S.P., Dokken, Ratt, Mötley Crüe etc. and the brutal thrash ones. Would you say that the thrash outfits were shadowed by the mainstream, hair ones and they got less attention from the fans, press etc.?
It definitely was two scenes but that became more apparent later on. The first time I saw Slayer was at The Troubadour with Abattoir and W.A.S.P. as the headliner so some of these bands played gigs with each other earlier on and then the scenes became more defined later and you would not see that as much. It was either a thrash metal gig or a glam/hair band gig. There were bands that had elements of both that were pretty damn good, too.
Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you jamming mostly on covers?
No it was all about playing covers at first. The first couple of bands I played in had a mix of both but it was 90% cover songs. Wargod never played covers and they already had 5-6 songs by the time I joined so that was a welcome change. Michelle and I hit it off musically from the get go too so that was really fun for me.
In 1985 you recorded your demo. Can you give us any details regarding on this tape?
We recorded it at Michelle’s house at that time in June of 1985. It was a giant converted loft/studio in Lawndale, CA. It had a stage and a sound booth and a kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms. This is also where we rehearsed until we got a space later. We rented mics to record the drums and guitars and Michelle’s dad Bob recorded us on his 8-track reel to reel recorder. The rhythm guitar tracks and the drums were recorded live.
The three of us were mic’ed up on the stage. The bass, vocals and guitar solos were overdubbed later. We had it recorded and finished within two weeks but the basic tracks were done in a few hours after we did a few takes. I recall going to Bill Ford’s (Decapitation/Necropolis) dad’s office in Laguna Beach, CA to print all of our cassette artwork and flyers for the demo.
Shortly after it Gene left the band to join Dark Angel. Was it a kind of venesection for you? Did it somehow decide the band’s future fate?
Gene joined Dark Angel late 1984 I believe and he stayed on in Wargod until Lee joined the band in September 1985. Gene played our first gig with us in July 1985 as well. He was very cool about rehearsing with us and helping us out. If Gene had stayed in Wargod then our future would have been much different indeed!
Gene was replaced by Lee Rauch. How did he get in the picture exactly? Was he your first choice or did you audition other drummers as well?
We threw a couple of names around of known drummers in the LA scene but they were in other bands and not an option for us. We had heard that Lee was in LA looking for a band and we were big fans of Megadeth so we invited him over to jam and he joined the band. We did not audition any other drummers since Gene was still playing with us and we were working on new songs at that time. Gene helped us out tremendously then and after he left the band.
In your opinion, was he an experienced drummer, since he earlier played in Megadeth and Dark Angel?
Definitely! Lee is an amazing drummer and we were well aware of him before he joined Wargod. I was and still am blown away by his drumming.
Your second demo came out in 1986. Did Lee also take part in the song composing?
No. Michelle and I wrote most of the songs with Greg contributing some riffs as well. Lee did help with arrangements but was not involved in the writing process.
What do you recall of this demo?
We recorded it at a recording studio in Gardena, CA in January 1986. The demo was recorded very quickly over the course of two days. Unfortunately when we released the demo it suffered from poor sound quality. The master sounded great but we somehow put a defective version of it out. The tape machine we duped them on was damaged and we didn’t realize it until it was too late. The copy I have of it is awful. We were just kids at the time so we made some mistakes.
It was a two track affair, does it mean, that you didn’t have more material written?
We wanted to do another 3 song demo but we were not happy with the other songs we had at that point. They were not ready yet. We had another 3-4 songs in progress at the time.
(to be continued)