This time ex-Overkill drummer Sid Falck shares us his thoughts about the Under the Influence record.
Sid, I would like curious to know that which extent were you familiar with Overkill, when you joined them?
I was not really too familiar with the band, to be honest. Obviously, I knew the name, but besides that, I only really knew of them from what Battlezone’s Tour manager, Rick Lathrop (who also worked for Overkill) told me, and from my drum tech, Ralph, was a big fan of the band.
Were you into thrash/speed, power or any brutal style of metal, by the way?
No, at that point in time, Mötorhead was as far as I went, haha!
How did you get in the picture exactly? Why did previous drummer Rat Skates (aka Lee Kundrat) leave the band?
Well, as far as why Rat left, that’s not for me to discuss. When Overkill starting looking for a permanent replacement for Rat, my name was suggested by Rick Lathrop (see first question). I met up with Blitz at the Limelight venue in NYC in November or early December of ’87, at a…. I think it was a Savoy Brown show. And we just hung out, chatted and drank beer, haha.
Do you have any memories of the audition? Did go everything very well right from the start?
Well… I think they auditioned 5 drummers total, and they had scheduled me as the last guy. I think it was during the second week of December of ’86. At the time of the audition, my drums were still in England (and as I found out later, they’d been stolen) so I actually learned the songs by listening while playing „air drums”. I only got to go through the 4 or 5 songs once on a real drum kit, coincidentally, whith Rob Cannavino playing the guitar parts, as he was Gustafson’s tech at that point in time. I wouldn’t say everything went blazingly good, haha, but I think we played through two of the songs. Maybe three, and then they said they wanted to hear what I’d do with some of the new material. So they showed me some of the parts (for what turned out to be „Shred”), and we played around with that for maybe an hour or so.
Did the chemistry form immediately among you? Were you on the same musical wavelength so to speak?
Well, I’d already met Blitz as mentioned earlier, but I’d not met DD or Gustafson until the day of the audition. Besides the fact that Blitz can make anyone feel like they’ve known him for yeaspeak. I don’t know if you can say that there was „chemistry”… I mean, an audition is by default, a situation where you’re put on the spot, everyone is watching, judging… so it took a while post audition, for the chemistry to become evident.
Which songs did you, respectively did have to perform you?
I can only remember Rotten to the Core, and In Union We Stand… I know it was 4-5 songs I’d been asked to learn, but at this point, I can’t remember what they were.
When did you start working on the new material? What about the songwriting process?
I started working on the new material with them somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd week of January of ’88. Most of the songs had already been writing, so it was a matter of figuring out what drum parts to come up with. In most instances, DD & Gus already had specific things in mind, so I just had to try and interpret what they were trying to explain, haha. A couple of the songs were not completely done yet, so I got a chance to put in suggestions on those. But overall, as far as songwriting, I had just about nothing to do with that on UTI.
Did you also have a hand in the songwriting? Were they interested in your ideas, suggestions?
Besides drum parts, I pretty much nothing to do with the writing. I’m sure I had suggestions as far as some of the arrangements, but that’s about it.
Were you as talented and experienced as the other guys?
I was much more talented… JOKING!!! Hahahaha! I might have had a little more experience, especially with the different genres I’ve been involved with prior to Overkill. But, as thrash metal or power metal has very very different song structures, I’m not sure that my experience was much of a help, as I pretty much had to try to figure everything out in 8 weeks between when I joined till when we began the actual recording.
During March-April 1988 you entered the Pyramid Sound Studios with the helm of Alex Perialas, Jon Zazula, Marsha Zazula to record the new album Under the Influence. How did the recording sessions go? Were you prepared to record the material?
Although I’d never worked with Alex, we actually knew each other a little bit, as we both lived in Ithaca, NY. Alex was, at the time, the East Coast guy for heavy music. I have heard people say that they found Alex difficult to work with. I had no such problems working with him. It was very straight forward really. But did I feel that I was prepared to record? No, absolutely not. By the time we started recording drums, I still only barely had a working grasp of what that type of music was about really. I have stated in probably every interview I’ve ever done, that out of everything I have ever recorded, UTI is my least favorite. Not because of the material, but because of my performance.
Was it easy to work Alex Perialas with, who had a name in the scene at this point?
As I stated above, I had no problems working with Alex. I think he knew my performance could have been much better, had I had more time to prepare, but he also could tell that I gave it everything I had, for better or worse; that I listened to critique, and that I was beating myself up far more than he or the band ever could.
Did you seem to be going for a more commercial sound here, without really leaving the sound of the earlier works? Is this a tight album musically.
Well, I obviously had nothing to do with the vision for the album or any of the decisions about who was involved. I do know that, at the time, Alex was such a hot engineer and producer/co-producer, that everyone who played heavy music, wanted to use him. Inevitably, that resulted in a lot of albums having that very distinct „Pyramid” sound. So it was really a conscious decision, I believe, by Overkill, to use Michael Wagner to mix the album. More in order to sound a little bit different than everyone else, than to sound „commercial” per sé. And, yes, despite my playing, haha, I think it’s a very tight album.
Do you agree with that Feel the Fire and Taking Over were both have some very distinct speed and NWOBHM influences, but Under the Influence develops the somewhat groovy sound more known as Overkill?
Yes and no… while there’s no doubt that Feel the Fire & Taking Over had that distinct early thrash feel… to some extent, I think that Under the Influence have a much more NWOBHM feel than the previous albums. To me, FTF & TO have more of a punk feel, whereas UTI combines more of the traditional NWOBHM with thrash.
Under the Influence marks a huge evolutionary step from the speedy heavy metal of their two previous albums to the thrash metal band we know now?
I think that UTI was the first album where Overkill established themselves as… and I’m not sure what the proper term is… their own visionaries if you will. The change in material from Taking Over to UTI was very gutsy. Probably a huge gamble in a way, although I don’t necessarily think it was a calculated decision. Just the songwriting alone had been upped… The songs on UTI while still powerful and still Overkill, to my ear, are so much more evolved. Much more accessible to someone who had never been into the thrashier music before… Of course, I’d like to think that my more „Mundane” style of playing had something to do with that. Making that possible, while still maintaining the power of the first two albums, in my opinion, is why Overkill all of the sudden, was taken serious by an industry that had, at times, been less than honest about the bands place in the genre.
The fact that Overkill’s fans embraced the album much more than they rejected it for being „too commercial” and the fact that so many new fans got turned on to the band with that album, I think is why you see Overkill is still around to this day, not just because of that album in particular, but because with that album, they proved they had the ability to switch things up, while still maintaining their identity.
Would you say that the band focused on catchy and accessible thrash with Hello from the Gutter, End of the Line or Never Say Never being a prime examples?
Again, I really wasn’t around when most of those songs were written, but I never got the feeling that the band sat down and said: „Let’s write catchy commercial songs for the next album!” I think it was simply where the band was at, at that particular point in time, and the fact that they had evolved enough as writers, where they COULD write catchy songs while maintaining power and aggression.
How do you explain that the album is full of energy right from the start, with fiery guitar riffs and pounding drums and the band remains very aggressive and intense?
I explain that by the fact that it’s an Overkill album, haha! It was just a combination of a bunch of well written songs, new hunger, new options, that all converged at the right time.
In your opinion are there song wise a ton of neck-breaking moments to be found and the compositions are far more unified and focused?
I’m not sure I understand the question… Are the songs on the album more „uniformed”? If that’s the question, then no. I don’t think so. I think that UTI is very varied and diverse. You have extremes such as Shred, you have borderline progressive such as Mad Gone World, you have grinding such as Drunken Wisdom, and you have catchy such as Hello from the Gutter. While everything is heavy, it’s also very diverse.
D. D. Verni’s bassparts are very dominant, they played a seeded role in the songs. Was it a conscious decision?
No, that’s just how DD plays. It’s his style and sound. The fact that he is, in my opinion, one of the best bassists in metal, had everything to do with it.
It’s certainly better than the band’s later works, the songs are much more melodic and first-rate than their following albums, such as Horrorscope or I Hear Black, how do you view this?
I disagree, hahahaha!
Did this album and others like it really help the thrash scene peak in the late 80’s?
Well, I think there were many reasons for why thrash/power metal became so popular, or rather, so accepted as a legitimate style. Definitely, as much as it seems that some people doesn’t want to acknowledge it, Overkill, since their formation, absolutely was pivotal in helping make the style popular, especially on the East Coast.
But I also wonder why so many thrash metal musicians and fans, find it so hard to acknowledge that, had it not been for Metallica getting so successful and big, bringing this style of music to the ears of radio listeners in such numbers (especially during ’87-’91). I seriously doubt very many people would care or that we’d be having this conversation in 2018. I’m not sure when, how or why, giving Metallica credit, became taboo and so difficult. Maybe by acknowledging them, I’m now less metal??? Fuck that bro.. credit where credit is due.
This is also regarded as the album that broke Overkill into the mainstream, as the band received heavy rotation on MTV’s Headbangers Ball with Hello from the Gutter, correct?
Again, it was the right album at the right time, as it turned out. At the time, MTV only played thrash metal on Saturday evenings, during Headbangers Ball. If a metal video was especially popular, MTV would pick it, and play it during the primetime afternoon slot, during a segment called „Smash or Trash”. Hello from the Gutter was one of the most requested videos during Headbangers Ball, so MTV picked it and ran it on „Smash or Thrash”. The premise was: if a video had more people calling in „Smash” than „Trash”, it would get put into regular daily rotation on MTV during primetime.
As it turns out (and by MTV’s own admission at the time), Hello from the Gutter was overwhelmingly a „Smash” by a margin of probably 5-1. It also had the highest overall call volume of ANY video during that segment up until that point. However, the video was never put into regular rotation because the band’s name was too violent for primetime… because it had the word „Kill” in it… Go figure.
The album peaked at #142 on the Billboard 200. Did you count on such a success?
No. I really didn’t pay much attention to that… I just sat in the corner, counted to 4 and hit shit, haha! I think everyone were pleasantly surprised it did as well as it did.
Would you name Under the Influence a classic record or does it often seem to be overshadowed?
Well… I think it has a right to it’s place in the history books of metal, but for some reason, I also think it’s one of those albums that often gets overlooked. I’m constantly amazed at how many people mention it as one of their favorite Overkill albums.
As I mentioned above, around this time thrash metal reached its peak and 1988 was a very great year for thrash with albums, such as South of Heaven, So Far, So Good…So What!, Socialized Hate (Atrophy), The New Order, Forbidden Evil, Eternal Nightmare etc. What were your views on the scene? Did the thrash market become oversaturated?
Well, at the time, at least I didn’t really pay that much attention to stuff like that. We were constantly touring the world, so all I remember is that the other three guys mentioning (since they obviously could compare to previous album/tour cycles), that all of the sudden, the venues got nicer and bigger, the band played more shows etc. But yes, as with everything that becomes popular, it tend to self destruct with oversaturation and sometimes also lack of quality control, labels sign up anything and everything of whatever is the „flavor of the day”, looking more at quantity than quality at times, in order to not lose out on the potential for milking the market.
Overkill toured for six months to promote Under the Influence, touring alongside thrash acts like Nuclear Assault, M.O.D., Destruction and Testament. From October to December 1988 the band toured the United States with Slayer and Motörhead, followed by a European tour with Slayer and Nuclear Assault, which took place in January 1989. Can you give us any details regarding on these tours?
Actually, I think the tour was from June/July ’88 until around March ’89. I really can’t give many details… I mean, sounds like a cliche, but we played so many shows, both headlining, and as you mentioned, opening for Slayer/Mötorhead in North America and Slayer in Europe. All those shows really just become a blurry memory. Overkill was what you could consider a „working man’s band”, in as so far as, when doing headlining tours, our booking agencies were instructed to book 6 on/1 off (6 shows in 6 days, followed by 1 day off) whenever possible, so it quickly adds up to a shit load of shows, haha!
How would you sum up the period, that you spent in the ranks of Overkill?
It was great. It was a honor to be part of. While there was a time we didn’t talk afterwards, we’re now close again. It really is like a family. There might be periods where you don’t talk or agree or whatever, but at the end of the day, you’re still family.
Sid, thanks a lot for your answers! Any final, closing words for our readers?
Thank you! Final words?… Support the band and bands like Overkill, who, when this style of music stopped getting coverage, didn’t give up and „retire” because the checks got smaller, but kept making albums for their fans. Support THOSE bands, not the ones who only decided to come out of retirement again, once there was money to be made once more…