Singer Del Williamson about the story of Mayhem Inc.
Mayhem is a very popular name for heavy metal outfits. There were/are Mayhems all around the world. The most well-known became the Norwegian bunch for sure. This time we have the Chicago based outfit that was active during the mid 80’s and singer Del Williamson told us the history of this act.
Del, do you still remember, how and when did you discover hard rock/heavy metal?
1974, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, anything and everything that anybody was playing on a reel to reel, or on the radio.
What were your impressions? What did you find so exciting in this music?
The epic guttural sound of it, the symphony of distorted electricity, the eerie sounds from singers I had never heard before. The music sounded like the soundtrack to a movie even before they were using music like this for the movies.
At which point did you start turning into the underground?
When you couldn’t hear the good stuff on mainstream, the hardcore, the punk, the ohm stream metal, you need a source you find it.
How did you end up becoming singer? What were your influences as a whole?
Always sung along to any songs I heard, wanted to sing like them, wanted to be them.
Being based Chicago, do you think that Trouble and Zoetrope were the first original heavy metal bands who were actually really heavy and not hard rock?
They were certainly two of the pioneers in Chicago. I never got to know the guys from Trouble, but Barry Stern from Zoetrope was a close friend.
Were they the first to maybe define a sound of heaviness in the scene and maybe everyone kind of took that sound a little?
All music is an influence on your creativity. When I joined Mayhem Incorporated I had never even heard the music from Zoetrope and Trouble.
They (Zoetrope and Trouble) were the earliest bands that brought everyone together, weren’t they?
Both of them were influential. I’m sure they did bring everyone together on a certain level. Everybody knew everybody in the music scene in Chicago, it wasn’t just enjoying the music, it was enjoying the music of your friends.
Does it mean that they opened the doors for other outfits that were popping up later on?
I think the bands opened up their own doors.
Was the early Chicago metal scene a traditional heavy metal scene?
I think it was anything but traditional. The smaller venues, the more extreme compositions be addressing a political issues through their music.
Do you think that Zoetrope, Trouble, Witchslayer, Slauter Xstroyes (previously Naj, White Which), Hammeron and a little bit later Thrust, Iron Cross, War Cry (incl. Paul Speckmann), Mayhem Inc. etc. belonged to the first wave of Chicago’s metal?
Yes, I believe we roll along that first wave. Speckmann was a pretty close acquaintance of mine, Bill Schmidt from Master. There were many waves, all squeezed into a short timeline.
Were all of the bands different from each other and just sounded completely different from each other? Did everybody just have their own unique sound?
Yes, I believe everybody had their own unique sound, very different.
Was it a kind of camaraderie among the bands back then?
There was a professional decorum among bands, but there was always an inside rivalry for recognition. Everyone wanted to be differentiated from the others.
How about the club scene? What were the venues that started supporting the metal scene in Chicago?
The Rusty Nail, the Thirsty Whale, Grand Illusions, the Halsted Street Fair, The Cabaret Metro, Medusa’s, the Iron Rail, the Avalon, the Aragon…
On the Metal Massacre IV. compilation appeared five Chicago bands (Trouble, Zoetrope, War Cry, Thrust and Witchslayer). In your opinion, did it help a lot to attract the fans’ attention to the Chicago based outfits?
Definitely. Oh, the compilation albums were the shit, when you hear a song that kicks, sometimes the first thing you ask is where are they from?
Would you say that at the mid 80’s emerged the second wave of the Chicago metal scene, with a lot of talented bands such as Devastation, Sindrome, Terminal Death, Transgressor/Firestorm, Genocide/Mass Genocide, Impulse Manslaughter etc.?
The mid 80’s were the second breath for the creativity of speed metal. Genocide stood out in my eye, dedicated, with a point to their music, the monster had been born!
Mayhem was formed in 1983. Did the band feature at the beginning you on vocals, Ron Holstein on bass, Louie Svitek on guitars and Jimmy Smith on drums?
Yeah! That’s the original lineup, those three were together already and they invited me in last.
Was it the really first outfit for all of you or did you have any experiences as musicians prior to Mayhem?
Well, in the 70’s, I was in a band called Stabber. I was in a band called Hatchet, Louis was in a band named Assault, Jimmy Smith was in a band named Poltergeist, and I think Ron Holstein had been a solo artist up to then.
What can you tell us about your early rehearsals?
Early rehearsals were in the Smith residence, lower level, haha. A few weeks before I join the Mayhem Incorporated, fucking Metallica was down there partying with my other band members. Metallica was still playing small venues, unloading their equipment out of the back of station wagons. They came to the Mayhem practice space to party, saw some good black and white shots from that night, I missed it entirely.
Were there any goals that you wanted to achieve the band with? Did you take making music seriously?
I wanted to play live, I would have loved to cut an album, make a video, open for some big names. I worked full-time since 1977 and I always fit my employment around my band’s responsibilities. Not easy, so many have done it. Sorry to say I was not as serious as the other band members, always hoped for the best and expected the worst.
Did you start writing originals right away or did you focus mainly on playing covers?
Mayhem Incorporated was always all original music, honestly. When I joined the band, all the music was written and all the lyrics were written, I just had to learn everything. Ron Holstein was the primary lyric writer, he did all the work and I just screamed it well.
How were your songs written? How long did it take you to come up with your originals?
Like I said, I believe Lewis and Ron world of course the primary tunesmiths. I believe they were working for some time before I was invited into the band.
At what point did you change the moniker to Mayhem Inc.? Was it because of other bands that went by the same name?
The name change occurred almost immediately. It was because of course Louis VTech learned about the band in Norway, therefore we had to adjust change.
In 1984 Jimmy Smith was replaced by William „Bill Schmidt” Nychau (ex-War Cry, Master/Death Strike). What was the reason of it?
There were signs of instability with the teamwork capabilities Jimmy Smith. Jim is going through a lot of the time and of course the creative differences between him and the rest of the band. We moved on and Jim moved on.
Did your choice immediately fall on him (Schmidt) or were there other drummers auditioned as well?
I believe Bill was Lewis’s first choice. They may have auditioned others, but I wasn’t there.
Then you released your first demo; what do you recall of it in terms of recording, performance and songs? How would you describe it musically?
The first demo was a live recording, in the studio, one take.
Where was this demo recorded? Could you afford a studio or was it done at your rehearsal room?
It was some obscure Studio Alton Libertyville. Yeah, we can afford it, there were four of us and we all worked.
Did it sound like you imagined?
I didn’t know what to imagine. I just tried to be what the band wanted me to be. They basically said: can you do this? You’re the lyrics, okay, we like it.
Did you spread it around to attract labels’ interests, to draw the fans’ attention to the band? Did you manage to build a fanbase with the help of this recording?
Louis was pretty much the promoter of the band. He had some connections and he used them to the best of his ability.
Were you part of that new metal approach that took place during the early 80’s with the tape trading circuit, fanzine network? Were you deeply involved in the underground scene?
I think we were part of the underground scene, but never thought of it that way. We always try to do things through word-of-mouth, lots of friends, as many flyers as you could print in and handout.
What did cause this new metal movement at that time and what did it mean for you? Were you aware of the importance of it?
I mean I knew there had been a music scene long before my time. I just considered it the music scene, with the newest shit that was popular. I didn’t look at it as the underground scene, or the metal scene, it was only natural to me. I thought we were doing but people always did, try to make something. Yama how to get people to hear it, try to get people to watch you, people have been doing it for centuries.
After this first demo Bill left the band and Jimmy Smith returned. What happened?
Well, Bill had big ideas, he had come right out and told us that if the band didn’t take off, and succeed, that he would be moving on….. So he did.
A second demo was recorded in 1985. Can you tell us any details about it?
I think we were all better prepared the second time we went into the studio. We knew each other better, we knew the songs better. All I can remember is that they were late night recordings, everyone was prepared and everyone liked what we were doing.
Where do you find the similarities and the differences between those materials? How would you compare it to the first stuff?
The songs were changing for the better I believe. I don’t think I can compare them to the earlier songs, it would be difficult to do that, but I and the rest of the band definitely enjoyed what was happening.
Was it a better representation of the band?
I don’t know if it was a better representation of the band, but you could definitely feel that the creativity of the band was growing and changing.
How many songs did you have altogether written?
I believe there was a total of about 13 songs.
Did you have any songs that never appeared on the demos or you never recorded?
Oh yeah, there were a couple in the works then never got completed. A song titled 51/50 pre hard. A song titled Deathbed and a few others that had no titles.
Is it correct that a bootleg from a show you played in 1984 has circulated and contains the songs Hellfighter, When the Metal Hits the Ground and 4 tracks from the ’84 demo?
I never heard it, but I heard about it and I hear the quality wasn’t too bad. Sure would like to have heard it though.
Did you often play live, by the way? Did you perform headliner gigs or were you mostly opening acts for bigger names?
We played a few smaller venues, with good crowds, but our biggest shows we’re opening up for larger bands. We opened for Suicidal Tendencies, the criminally insane, Megadeth, Anthrax, mostly at the Cabaret Metro, biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of.
When did the band split up exactly and what did lead to it?
Well, I think the band split up immediately after the Anthrax show. I had kind of a fire breathing. Act that I would do here and there, so I brought it with when we were to open for Anthrax. I had a mannequin, it looks like an 8 year old boy, bound up hostage. Style, with a gag around the mouth and real barbed wire tied around its chest. I was going to hold it up in the air by the ankles and blow fire to its head. It was supposed to be a controlled environment. I told the band nothing about it. They saw the mannequin for the first time right when the audience did. The employee from Jam Productions took all the fire breathing apparatus away from my roadie. The last song was completing, I realized I didn’t have the stuff to blow fire, so I squirted charcoal starting fluid all over the mannequin, started it on fire, and it got so out of control. I was getting burned, so I threw it into the audience. When is hit the main floor it burst into a hundred pieces and each piece was on fire. I imagine my poor bandmates had their jaws hanging low wondering what the fuck I was doing. Anyway the last song ended, Anthrax was about to come on. The management through our equipment down the stairs, they grabbed me on stage, pulled me off and held me in the dressing room, waiting for the police to come and arrest me. The owner of the Metro Joe Shanahan swore he would have me killed. They held me in the dressing room, waiting and waiting for the police to come and take me away. The moment they turn their heads I disappeared into the night. 2nd degree burns on my face and on my hands and arms. I ran all the way home from Addison and Clark to division Ashland and Milwaukee and made it to work at 7 a.m. the next day, crispy, haha.
After the demise of Mayhem Inc. all of you joined several bands. Did you remain in touch with each other?
Oh yeah, we’ve always remained friends. I speak with Jimmy Smith every now and then. Me and Ron Holstein hung out for quite a while afterwards and me and Louis Svitek have remained the closest of friends ever since. We’ve done shows together with the beer nuts. I’ve collaborated with him on multiple projects and we still record together several times a year. Good stuff. Lewis went on to play with M.O.D., Pigface, Ministry, Mind Funk, Project 44, The Beer Nuts. The guy never stops.
You went on to join Mortar, that was formed in 1987 by guitarist Brian Foster, guitarist/vocalist Dave Dorocke, bassist Eric Armstrong and drummer Tim Pollumbo. Was it a promising act around those times?
Very promising. Brian Foster was an extremely enterprising young man, intelligent, articulate and obviously well-educated. He not only played lead guitar, he was a manager. He was the booking agent, he was the stage manager, he was security, he was a pyrotechnics specialist and he was the moral support for the rest of us dregs.
They recorded a demo in 1987 featuring this line up, but was never released to the public, wasn’t it?
I don’t know very much at all about that lineup. I only met Eric Armstrong once or twice and I don’t think I ever met Tim Palumbo.
You performed on the Conquering Armies demo on which the rhythm section changed: bassist Oscar Kornak and drummer Ed Kastrul became the new members. What can you tell us about it?
They were very dedicated individuals, the entire band. We practiced 5 days a week. Eddie Kastrul would pick me up from work at 3:30 p.m. and I would usually get home about 10:30, insane.
How about the demo as a whole? Did you sing only on this recording?
No, I can remember being in the studio multiple times with Mortar.
Was Mortar way heavier, more brutal than Mayhem Inc.? Did the band manage to make any name for themselves in the Illinois scene?
The fucking band never stopped. Mortar was always in the works, on the wall, in your ear and in your face. Ryan Foster also managed the merchandising department, which sold the music. Mortar headbands, Mortar t-shirts, Mortar sweaters, Mortar pictures, Mortar buttons, Mortar hats. He managed the p. o. box for the band, which had thousands of people on it, from all over the world, Europe, South America, Central America, the USA, you name it.
What happened with you after the Mortar period? Did you stop playing music and did you turn your back on the metal scene?
I wouldn’t say I turned my back on the metal thing. I furthered my career in manufacturing, became a perforation and laminating technician for one of the largest gasket manufacturers in the world for the last 27 years. Yet still have remains musically active with Louis from Mayhem Inc.
Do you still show an interest in what’s going on in the world of heavy metal?
Metal has never left my blood, it releases the demon in all of us, the power, the fury, and the danger, but being a human being on the edge. Music’s edge, the edge of sanity, the dark has never left me and that’s okay, because I had a lot of fucking fun doing it.
Del, thank you for your answers! How would you like to end up this feature?
I appreciate your interest in me and the bands that I’ve been in. I would just like to say that I wish I could have done more for the bands I was in. I wish I could have been more creative for the bands I was in, but I have no regret… Because with them, I shared my blood, I shared my sweat, and I burned my flesh… All in the name of metal.