Hal Dunn and Ed Aborn about the early days and second life of Siren – Part II
Leading the way throughout the 80’s, there were metal bands like Stranger (formerly known as Lynxx, and later Romeo), Savatage (formerly known as Avatar), Siren, Powersurge, Purgatory (later known as Iced Earth) etc. Some of them would eventually sign major label deals during the 80’s: Stranger signing with Epic/CBS Records in 1981, and Savatage signing with Atlantic Records in 1985. Did they open the doors for other bands, both locally and nationally?
Hal Dunn: I didn’t even know Stranger was ever called Lynxx. But I saw Romeo and Stranger play in clubs many times. Getting signed with a major label was the Holy Grail, the ultimate prize. Many of the metal bands in our area were happy to get signed by an independent label. For example, Nasty Savage signed with Metal Blade Records. I don’t know if Stranger and Savatage getting major label deals really opened any doors. I would say no. But all the Heavy Metal and Death Metal bands getting signed to indie labels probably did open a lot of doors.
Ed Aborn: I agree with Hal that other Florida bands getting signed didn’t really open any doors for anyone else. It seemed to be on an individual basis. If you had good music and had created a solid buzz or following, that’s what would eventually get you on the radar. In the bigger sense, having so many Florida bands getting attention did validate that it was possible to find solid metal in the area, so that was a good thing for everyone. I think that it was the strength of the scene in general that helped to attract the spotlight. For bands like Siren, it took building a buzz internationally as we had been doing since the first demos to lead to the first record deal.
Morrisound Studios (owned and operated by brothers Jim and Tom Morris) played an important role in the Tampa metal scene. Would you say that since its opening in 1981, Morrisound has been responsible for the popularization of genres such as Heavy Metal and Death Metal, but caters to every genre of audio expression?
Ed Aborn: Yes, Morrisound Studios was an important part of the metal scene in Tampa. Jim Morris, Tom Morris, and Scott Burns engineered and produced a ton of great music during that time period – much of which was metal. They were – and still are – the premiere recording studio in the area and Jim and Tom are straight-up recording and producing geniuses. Just listen to the latest Demons and Wizards album and you’ll hear what I mean. We have been fortunate enough to have been friends with the Morris brothers for over 30 years and also to have been able to record there on occasion. Unfortunately, our budget never allowed us to do a full album at Morrisound, but it would still be awesome to do. Jim Morris did master our new album, Back from the Dead, however, and did a fantastic job of course. The bottom line is that Morrisound is a Tampa Bay area legend.
Without recording any demos, you left the band in 1983. Why?
Hal Dunn: Yeah, unfortunately I was not in the band when the demos were recorded. Siren was mostly a cover band back when we first started, when I was in the band. I was kicked out of the band at one point since I had a day job that got started super early, around 5 or 6 a.m. We had already played a weekend gig at local bottle club in Tampa, the Upstairs/Downstairs Club, and we had the opportunity to play a full week-long gig. But I wasn’t in a position to quit my day job just for this one gig. So I was out! The bands play until 7:00 a.m. There was no way for me to play the gig unless I quit my job. In my absence Siren was able to get a really good and experienced guitarist, Curt Smith, to play guitar for this gig. But soon after this rather disastrous show, the band fell apart. There were a lot of things that went terribly wrong at this club during the week Siren played there.
The Upstairs/Downstairs Club was an after-hours bottle club. The club would open at 3:00 a.m. when the other clubs would close. Since it was illegal to serve alcohol after 3 a.m., people would bring their own bottles of liquor and pay to get in. This club was a total shithole, and it attracted all kinds of crazy nocturnal creatures. It was kinda nuts and included some slightly deranged and dangerous characters… ha ha.
At some point, over the next year, around 1983 I think, the band had completely broken up. I don’t think anyone actually remembers the reason why.
You came back to the ranks of the band in 2016…
Hal Dunn: Yes, after a long hiatus, Siren was re-formed in 2016. I had actually not even been playing guitar for a long time. For the better part of two decades throughout the 1990s and 2000s my guitar was sitting in a closet somewhere. I had just started playing again around 2015 or so, and Ed helped me get set up with a DIY home recording studio with Pro Tools. Sometime over the next year or so, Ed was telling me all about how Siren was going to get back together with himself on drums, Doug on vocals, and Faxon on guitar, and the main purpose was to play at the Keep It True festival in Germany. Wow, I was so happy for them! Seemed very exciting.
Around the same time frame I had written and recorded a song, and I made sure everyone I knew had heard it; I wanted Ed and Todd to at least know that I can still play a little bit, even after all these years. Something in the back of my mind told me I was going to be part of this Siren reunion, but I had no idea how it could possibly happen. The line-up was already set and it includes Faxon on guitar, which would recreate the same musicians that appeared on the Dead of Night demo. But, as it turned out, since Faxon lived in California, that plan never materialized. Everyone else in the band was in Florida. Anyway, the logistics didn’t pan out, so Ed ended up asking Todd Grubbs to join, and I was asked to join the band as well. Todd and I had already worked together in a band named Atomic Opera, a long time ago. Todd is a very accomplished musician and guitar teacher. With Todd in the band we knew everything was going to work out very well since Todd is the real deal, musically.
Ed Aborn: Iron Coffins bassist Ed Hauser was originally going to perform with us at Keep It True, but physical problems from injuries he had sustained in the military necessitated that he leave the band only a couple of months before the festival. Thankfully, Dead of Night and No Place like Home bassist Gregg Culbertson had reached out to the band a month or so prior to Hauser’s departure and he thankfully accepted our offer to rejoin the band and perform at the festival.
This year you released a brand new full length titled Back from the Dead. I think everything speaks for itself…
Hal Dunn: Yes, we are very proud of the new album. We worked hard for over a year, but we’re happy with how it turned out.
Ed Aborn: We recorded and produced the album ourselves, so it was definitely a lot of work. We also designed all of the packaging for the CD and vinyl packages. As Hal mentioned, we are very happy with the results and thrilled that it has been getting such a great reception from listeners and critics around the world. We can’t ask for more than that!
When did you start working on the material and how did it materialize?
Hal Dunn: As soon as we got back from Germany, playing the Keep It True festival in the spring of 2018, we started thinking about writing some songs for an album. By the summer we were tossing out ideas for new songs. Since most of us have recording studios at home, we’re able to lay down some riffs and then easily share the ideas with each other. Todd and I came up with a ton of guitar riffs. But Todd was like a machine. He created vocal melodies, lyrics, full song structures, rhythms, lead solos, etc. Ed wrote a killer tune, the music and lyrics, in the vein of European Power Metal, called S-Blade Serenade. Todd wrote most of the songs on the album, music and lyrics. It all came together really well.
Could you tell us any details regarding the album?
Hal Dunn: The Back from the Dead album was released in April 2020. This is Siren’s first full-length studio album in 30 years. The album features 15 brand new songs in the tradition of our influences such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept, Saxon and others.
The album is available on CD from GOM Records/Battle Cry Records and on vinyl from Underground Power Records. Each vinyl also includes a download code that allows the owner to obtain high-quality audio files for all 15 songs. Back from the Dead is also available digitally from the band at SirenBandUS.bandcamp.com and on all major streaming platforms.
One of the cool things we did was to offer a blue/white/black splatter edition for the new album on Underground Power Records. The splatter editions look really great. This is a very limited edition of only 150 copies in splatter and 200 in black vinyl. To order a copy, anyone can go to the Underground Power Records site (www.underground-power.de).
We packed the album with a lot of songs, but no filler. S-Blade Serenade continues the story of the metro mercenary who is still on a killing spree, but now with the international elite in his crosshairs. This was our first music video from the album. We are currently planning two or three more videos. I contributed some riff ideas for the song, Fuel Injected Suicide, which is about an adrenaline junkie who tears up the road. Science Fiction Movie is a fun sci-fi concept tune. Lydia the Lunatic is another fun one, about a girlfriend who is wicked, crazy, and not exactly easy to get along with, yet she is worshipped anyway. The Devil May Care blasts out some straight-forward metal riffs, and it tells of what will happen if you sell your soul.
Insomnia is an atmospheric song about the torture and mortal curse of a never-ending series of sleepless nights. The title track Back from the Dead is a super high-energy song that features a driving gallop beat. We felt this was appropriate to sum up our band’s return. I Am Clairvoyant is a bit of a stylistic departure, which features some acoustic guitar and haunting vocals. Watch Us Fly is a very fast one that involves alien aircraft. Treason is a song that includes real-world details about the well-known Scientology cult that has its headquarters near Tampa, in Clearwater, Florida.
How would you correlate this album to its predecessors, No Place like Home (1986) and Financial Suicide (1988)?
Hal Dunn: All three albums are unique, but they all share one strong feature in the distinctive voice of Doug Lee. No Place like Home demonstrates the original, raw sound of early Siren. This is our true roots. When we reunited the band, we were surprised to find out that we had so many dedicated fans, and they really like the first album, which is cool. Financial Suicide is a slight departure from the original Siren sound. With the early Siren songs, Rob Phillips and later Faxon Kotz cranked out original sounding guitar work that was unique and unusual in their own way. On Financial Suicide, Siren’s guitarist was Brian Hendrickson, and he was more of a late 1980s shredder. While not as eccentric and far out there, his style was very technical and meticulous.
With Back from the Dead, I think we’ve advanced in many ways. For one thing the sound production, even though self-recorded, is beyond what Siren had on the 1980s recordings. We didn’t depart very far from our roots, but the songs on the new album are a bit more modern. After all, 30 years have passed. I think we successfully crafted together heavy and melodic songs that represent the true Siren sound, while also pushing the boundaries a bit outward, and of course letting our main influences shine through, such as our traditional Heavy Metal heroes, Priest, Maiden, and Accept.
What kind of feedbacks did you get on the material?
Ed Aborn: So far, it has all been universally positive feedback. We are incredibly happy (and a little relieved to be honest) to hear that everyone seems to like it a lot. As each day passes, we are thrilled to see more listener comments, magazine reviews, radio plays and other pieces of praise and feedback on the new songs. After being away for over three decades, we honestly didn’t know what kind of reception we, or our music, would receive. To say that we are humbled and pleased with the response is an understatement. As you know, there is a new generation of metal bands out there that fall under the label of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. We like to think of ourselves as the Old Wave of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. 🙂 We were there for the first wave and are back for the next!
In your opinion, did it satisfy the fans’ demands?
Ed Aborn: We think that it has satisfied the demands of the fans. As Hal has said previously, we made a conscious effort to stay true to the music that united Siren back in 1981. There is something magical and pure about the classic albums from Priest, Maiden, Saxon, Accept, etc. We all still listen to those songs to this day. So, after preparing to perform at Keep It True and getting our vibe back as a band, that love for traditional metal was strong in us and the songwriting came easy. We’ve always tried to be a touch progressive with the music here and there, but nothing too crazy. That’s not who we are. When you combine the music that is built on that classic foundation with the unique sound and style of Doug’s vocals, the result is a sound that is distinctive as Siren. So far, everything we’ve heard back from the fans and listeners has been very positive.
How about your future plans?
Ed Aborn: We were supposed to be returning to perform in Germany at the end of July for the Headbangers Open Air Festival. Unfortunately, as with almost all music, those plans had to be cancelled. Our hope is that we can return to Germany in 2021 and maybe even play some more shows. We would also love to visit some of the other countries where fans have expressed an interest like France and Greece. If we are invited and travel is provided, we will play! Other than live shows, our immediate plans are to continue to promote the new album as well as the documentary film about our Keep It True journey once it finally is released.
Hal Dunn: We were super excited about playing at the Headbangers Open Air Festival this summer, but due to everything being canceled, we’ll have to wait and see what 2021 brings. We are hoping to play more shows and festivals in the future. And, who knows, we very well could get the itch to write more songs for a potential future recording. As Ed mentioned, there is a documentary film that we were involved in. This movie was produced by entertainer, professional wrestler, and metal fan, Chris Jericho. He commissioned a film crew to capture the story of how five guys got back together after three decades to perform before a festival audience in a distant land and travel with the band to the festival. The resulting, feature-length documentary I’m Too Old for This Sh*t!: A Heavy Metal Fairy Tale is due to be released sometime later this year.
Hal, Ed, thanks a lot for your answers! What are your closing words for our readers?
Ed Aborn: Thank you so much for supporting Siren and giving us a chance to visit with your readers! We would love to hear from everyone and anyone who enjoys the band. You can keep up with our latest happenings at www.SirenBand.us and can reach us directly at SirenBandUS@gmail.com. Also, our social media handle is @SirenBandUS. We are a very hands-on and do-it-yourself kind of band, so reach out to us at any time. Thank you all, again, for your time and we hope that you enjoy the music and that our paths will cross sometime so that we can say hello in person!
Hal Dunn: Thank you very much! We really appreciate it. And thanks to all our fans. We hope to get back to playing live shows and festivals as soon as possible.