Before the budget started wheezing like Keith Richards, I was making good money as a regular contributor to online hard rock/heavy metal website KNAC.com. The year was 2000-2001 and under the free reign of Managing Editor Frank Meyer (Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs), I interviewed a lot of my favorite rockers and spent untold hours transcribing cassette tapes. I also — for better or worse — reported the WHOLE conversation with my subjects with little-to-no regard for editing and economy. In the interest of preserving the original articles, I suffer some cringing and refrain from editing … and don’t blame you, dear reader, for jumping ahead as you see fit.
By David Glessner
KNAC.com – July 28, 2000
S.O.D.’s Danny Lilker: The Brutal Truth About This Stormtrooper for Life
Much like Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Danny Lilker had to sink or swim when his original band mates tossed him overboard just before their ship came in. While Mustaine watched his former Metallica mates emerge as millionaire successors to the heavy metal crown, Lilker watched his estranged Anthrax buddies become formidable challengers to Metallica’s reign. As Metallica and Anthrax redefined the sound of heavy metal, both bands earned the fame and fortune that came with such a conquest. While Metallica and Anthrax basked in the heavy metal hall of fame spotlight, Mustaine and Lilker quietly went to work in the darkest corners of the underground.
But enough about Mustaine. With due respect, this is Lilker’s story and it’s one worth telling since the man’s unwavering perseverance has kept him firmly planted behind his bass guitar instead of a deep fryer. Resurfacing as the driving force behind Nuclear Assault, Lilker and his new mates toured the world gaining fans in their own right. When Nuclear Assault imploded, Lilker unleashed Brutal Truth and picked up where he left off, playing uncompromising metal with f**k-all regard for mainstream success. Now leading Hemlock, Lilker continues to follow his black-metal heart, record sales be damned.
He may have missed the Anthrax rocket ride, but not before he left the Lilker stamp on the band’s debut album. Perhaps more importantly, though, Lilker had the last laugh when Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante invited their banished brother to play on the landmark Stormtroopers of Death album, “Speak English or Die” some 15 years ago. Further proof that Lilker wasn’t the problem in Anthrax is that the ongoing friendship with Ian and Benante produced last year’s S.O.D. follow-up, “Bigger Than the Devil.” A much–anticipated tour ensued and the mighty S.O.D. went stomping across the globe kicking ass and taking names.
Recently, Lilker was kind enough to let us pester him for an interview and follow-up questions.
KNAC.COM: How have you been spending your time since coming off the S.O.D. tour?
LILKER: Jamming with my other band, Hemlock, messing with Photoshop, going out drinking, etc …
KNAC.COM: Tell us about Hemlock. Who’s in the band? Describe the sound and tell us when we might see and album and tour.
LILKER: In Hemlock, we play good ol’ “unholy black metal” in the spirit of bands like Hellhammer and Bathory. We do not use keyboards, we don’t wear leather pants and corpse paint, it’s all about the essence of black metal, not the trappings. That’s not to say that I’m putting down other modern black metal bands that look or sound a certain way, but this is the path we have chosen. Regarding who’s in the band, we use pseudonyms, again in the spirit of the older bands, but most metalheads would probably only know me. The other guys haven’t been in lots of “popular” metal bands. The sound is extremely raw and basic. It’s hard to find our old stuff (look on black metal distribution lists like Necropolis’s) but now we’re on Full Moon Productions and the new one, “Lust for Fire,” will be out this month. By the way, no, I’m not a Satanist, just an extremely contemptuous atheist, OK?
KNAC.COM: After 15 years of inactivity, re-grouping S.O.D. and going on tour must have been like summer camp for you guys. Any insane shows or memories onstage or off?
LILKER: Well, let’s see, there’s (vocalist) Billy smashing my bass on stage at the end of the ’99 U.S. tour, there’s the Dynamo Festival, our first Japanese tour, our killer show in San Francisco on the U.S. tour … way too much for me to think about at 3 a.m. stoned on G-13.
KNAC.COM: I know you played some large-scale metal festivals with zillions of bands on the bill. Did you “discover” anyone that you bonded with or gained respect for?
LILKER: Being me, I just partied with my friends in black metal bands like Immortal and Marduk. The beer was flowing!
KNAC.COM: “Speak English or Die” was a milestone album in that it successfully melded hardcore and metal. Add the politically incorrect lyrics and it was a pretty daring album for its time. Did it ever cross your mind during its recording that you were crossing into unchartered territory and possibly creating a landmark, genre-blending album or was it simply a goof-off release to satisfy your collective sense of humor?
LILKER: I think that when the mixing began we realized we had something pretty special on our hands. The tracks were recorded in three days, so we didn’t have time to sit around and analyze it or anything, so when the mixes were coming together, we were like, “Holy sh*t, this stuff’s pretty intense!”
KNAC.COM: Your bio says “Speak English or Die” was recently released with four new studio tracks. Where did they come from? New or from the vaults?
LILKER: Actually it’s just two new tracks, “Identity” and “Go,” but there’s also “Seasoning the Obese” and “Raise Your Sword,” which are our “tributes” to Slayer and Manowar, respectively. These last two were written at the same time as the other new ones, but came out on 7”s and CD singles. All that stuff was written last August, hot off the presses …
KNAC.COM: The artwork for “Bigger than the Devil” is hilarious. I laughed my ass off and showed it to everyone. Whose idea was it to spoof Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast?” Did you catch any grief from Maiden?
LILKER: It was actually Twiggy (Ramirez) from Marilyn Manson who came up with that. He’s friends with Scott and Charlie, and came to rehearsal back in ’98 when we were tossing around ideas. He threw that at us. We thought it was killer. When we spoof Maiden, it’s just out of respect. We all love their old stuff. Their manager was pissed, but apparently you can’t copyright a pose!
KNAC.COM: Besides a bigger budget, updated technology and fewer time constraints, what was different in the approach to recording “Bigger” vs. “Speak” after 15 years?
LILKER: I’d say the main difference was the fact that we were obviously a lot more known when we did the second one, so there was a certain air of expectancy. Naturally, there’s an unspoken pressure to write sh*t that was as good or better than “Speak” … but at the end of the day, we just got together, wrote what came naturally and produced it good with no further ado. Just like the first one. The other difference was that we made a conscious decision to put some “blast beats” on the record so we didn’t sound like dinosaurs, keeping in mind that we were always looked upon as being somewhat extreme.
KNAC.COM: Is it safe to assume that, to some small degree, the time was right for regrouping S.O.D. because Anthrax wasn’t getting a big enough push for “Vol. 8” and John Bush was doing the Armored Saint reunion, so this was a way for Scott and Benante to change gears and have some fun rather than diving right into another under-promoted Anthrax album?
LILKER: The time was right for various reasons. Brutal Truth had just broken up, freeing up my schedule. There had been plans for an S.O.D. tribute record, which didn’t pan out, but that also sparked interest in doing another one. It’s not for me to comment on Scott and Charlie’s feelings about how much support Anthrax get from their label or whatever.
KNAC.COM: What was it about Nuclear Blast that made you guys sign with them over other labels in the bidding war?
LILKER: I, for one, had been familiar with N.B. pretty much since they came out in ’88 or whenever. They showed a lot of enthusiasm, they had obviously been fans since day one and we felt they were the right label to bring us back to the “limelight.”
KNAC.COM: What inspires the band’s humor and how in the world do you keep a straight face when you bring a song like “Celtic Frosted Flakes” to the table? How much beer drinking and arm twisting goes on before an insane/hilarious idea like that ultimately lands on the album?
LILKER: Insane or hilarious as stuff like that might sound, you just have to realize that everyone in the band has an extremely off-the-wall sense of humor, so that kind of wackiness is just typical. No arm twisting necessary.
KNAC.COM: What is your opinion of the whole Metallica vs. Napster lawsuit?
LILKER: I don’t see what those guys are so worried about. If anything, these services help promote bands. Guess those guys figure they don’t need any more promotion.
KNAC.COM: As a purveyor of what I consider “real” metal, how do you feel about what’s being labeled “metal” in 1999-2000?
LILKER: If you’re referring to Korn, etc. I gotta say I think I’m over it. Just don’t care anymore. If people wanna say that’s metal, let ’em. There are those of us that know different.
KNAC.COM: You’re obviously a metal head, but surely there are other types of music that move you. What would we be surprised to find in Danny Lilker’s record collection?
LILKER: Oh, lots of classical music (the metal of the Middle Ages!), really melodic, ambient stuff like Dead Can Dance and Love is Colder Than Death, industrial stuff like Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept., oddball indie stuff like Radiohead, some extreme Jap noise…
KNAC.COM: You’ve seen all three incarnations of Anthrax firsthand and from the sidelines. What is your opinion of each Anthrax singer?
LILKER: Um, er, Neil Turbin had a good metal voice, but he was a prick. Joey technically has a great voice, but perhaps a little clean for my personal taste. Great guy, though. Bush has a really good voice as well, and is quite fun to have a few with. Hope that’s cool.
KNAC.COM: Describe the events leading up to your departure from Anthrax.
LILKER: Ha! Well, the aforementioned Neil Turbin forced me out. He didn’t like me for whatever reasons – well, one was he was super high-strung and couldn’t take a joke, so he was fun to bust on! He told the other guys, “It’s him or me,” and they kept him, thinking he was the recognizable frontman. They threw him out eight months later, which I think vindicates me. And, of course, we’ve all gotten along for years, S.O.D. being absolute proof.
KNAC.COM: You managed to hang on long enough to record the debut album with Anthrax, though.
LILKER: Right. “Fistful of Metal” was released in January ’84. Ironically enough, I was tossed out about three days before it came out, due to those guys listening to Neil Turbin. So, it kinda sucked at the time, holding the first album I was ever on and not being in the band anymore! But I went on to form Nuclear Assault and Neil fell by the wayside seven months later. And I got to play with Scott and Charlie in S.O.D., so everything worked out and obviously any “hard feelings” I had dissipated swiftly.
KNAC.COM: Was there ever any second-guessing your departure when Anthrax started to hit big?
LILKER: I know Scott was firmly against it and I’m sure he and Charlie were glad that we got to play together again in S.O.D.
KNAC.COM: Why has it worked out that you’ve made a career out of playing in multiple bands as opposed to staying put in just one?
LILKER: I have a short attention span!
KNAC.COM: Of all the bands you’ve been a part of, which one brings you the most satisfaction and why?
LILKER: That’s impossible to answer ‘cos every band I’ve done was very satisfying for different reasons. Anthrax was great ‘cos it was so cool to be on the leading edge of thrash metal. Nuclear was the first band I saw the world with; Brutal Truth was known for pushing music to its limits, see what I mean?
KNAC.COM: Why did Brutal Truth and Nuclear Assault dissolve?
LILKER: B.T. broke up ‘cos a couple of guys weren’t getting along, to the point where the whole vibe was shot. We never thought about replacing anybody, we were too far out there musically to try to introduce a new member to our insanity. I left Nuclear in ’92 due to the fact that I was bored doing thrash. I’m not gonna do something if I’m not into it anymore, plain and simple. Yeah, I’m doing it again with S.O.D. now, but seven or eight years later, it’s fun again.
KNAC.COM: When will we see S.O.D. back in the studio or on tour? Will it be another 15 years?
LILKER: I can tell you definitely it will not be another 15 years! It might even be sooner than you think! Do you really want to hear 50-year-olds play fast metal?