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Interview With AGENT STEEL

AGENT STEEL
By Luxi Lahtinen

In the previous issue of Soundscape, our partner Laurent Ramadier had a talk with Juan Garcia about his old bands, including the original incarnation of AGENT STEEL. Now, I myself have had a talk with both Juan and Bernie about the actual AGENT STEEL history! Read on and enjoy their new material! It's killer!

I'll start with the questions answered by Juan...

—>What were the main reasons behind AGENT STEEL's come back in full-force?<—
"It's the only way we know how to do things; full force ahead!! Why come back at all if you are not going to kick ass is the way I look at this reunion."

—>Why did you split up in the late '80s in the very first place? Did you kinda loose your motivation for the music itself and the music business in general at that time? I mean, wasn't it fun enough anymore to play in AGENT STEEL?<—
"The main reason that I recall why the band split up was because John Cyriis started to run the band like a tyrant and it was a real hassle to be around a negative person like Mr. Cyriis... Of course, it was fun to play in AGENT STEEL and I did not want to quit. I had no choice... My sanity was worth more than anything at that time in my life. Things started to get out of control and Cyriis wanted more control of the band. So I wanted out! And so did the other members!! I never lost motivation for the music or the business or I would not have continued at the time and formed EVILDEAD and release two albums on SPV records after the split up."

—>Thousands of metalheads saw you at Wacken Open Air festival this last August '99 and presumably the whole crowd thought this is why we're all here: AGENT STEEL in 1999/2000 really kicks some serious butt!! How did you actually feel to enter on the stage, seeing all these masses of people there just waiting for AGENT STEEL? I bet you had very much in-depth, king-like feelings altogether, wasn't it?<—
"Thank you, I thought it was a great show myself as well, considering it was our first show since the 80s. We didn't play any warm up shows prior to Wacken, although we did rehearse of course. I cannot describe the feeling hearing the crowd chant 'Masters of Metal... Agents of Steel'! This was unreal! I never get nervous before a Live performance but this time, I actually became a bit nervous. But after the first song, I was alright. Yes, it was a 'kings of steel-like feeling'! I cannot wait to tour and support the new release because this time around, now that we got the first show out of the way, it's going to be lots of fun!"

—>How has the response been so far?<—
"So far the Wacken Open Air has been the only Live performance we've done. We've been busy finishing up the new record 'Omega Conspiracy'. We plan on returning to Europe in late January 2000 and touring to support the new record. The response to the new CD is amazing! A lot of journalist really like it a lot. Rock Hard magazine gave it #2 album of the month! So we are excited to tour."

—>How do you guys come along together on gigs and particularly after gigs, travelling from one place to another? What's the chemistry actually like between each of you? You never end up fighting...(EH?) for groupies, etc?<—
"Actually, we get along real good. Bernie Versailles is the quiet one; he's usually sleeping and we pretty much don't get on each others nerves. If there's a problem, we just get some beer and forget about it. As far as fighting... We might argue... It's normal. But we never fight over groupies, hell no!! We share them all!!!!!!"   ;-))

—>Talking about things ahead of you, I'm told that you've been very busy with the recording of your forth-coming, third full-length album.<—
"Yes, we've been busy recording our third studio record! 'Omega Conspiracy' just came out in Europe recently."

—>I heard of this new track which you played at Wacken... To my ears, it sounded pretty much like you've not forgotten this trademark of the AGENT STEEL sound; razor-sharp, cutting-the-edges, very guitar-based sound with futuristic elements melted in... I was wondering whether your main intention was kind of a come back to the basic things within the band's newer material, in order to somehow remind your fans you still pretty much sound the same and aren't going to do any drastic changes as far as AGENT STEEL is concerned in the end of millennium? Please tell us more about some of the new material that we'll have on this new album...<—
"The song you are talking about, which we played Live at Wacken Open Air, is from the new CD and is called 'Know Your Master'. This is a song about extraterrestrial life form and how they spawned the human race here on Earth. The new record also includes: 'Destroy The Hush'; It's about breaking the silence and the conspiracies of extraterrestrial life on Earth, which the Governments who run the world do not want you to know about. 'Illuminati Is Machine' is about the elite secret Government which controls everything on Earth. There's also a song called 'It's Not What You Think', which was inspired by the movie 'The Matrix' (if you haven't seen this movie, check it out! It's pretty cool. The concept rules). There also is a ballad on the record called 'Bleed Forever' and there is a real old school fast song called 'Infinity' with heavy crunchy guitars and fast guitar harmonies like the song 'Agents Of Steel' off 'Skeptic Apocalypse' (1985). We tried to keep most of the songs very AGENT STEEL like... We did not want to be a modern band with groove songs and low guitar tunings. We wanted to be Metal with this album. There's also a few other tracks but I don't want to give all the song concepts away; I want people to listen to it and come up with their own ideas on what the songs are about. You are right about saying we did not want to do any drastic changes as AGENT STEEL in the end of the millennium. We want to take Metal into the new millennium!!

—>How would you see AGENT STEEL standing out from the masses of today's Metal scene? Do you honestly believe that you will do as well as you did in the very golden and glorious days of your career, when you kind of reached the peak both success-wise and with the albums' sales?<—
"I can only hope we can reach the plateau we were once at in the mid 80s. We are far in popularity with the Metal community but to be honest, the main thing here is to deliver a crushing Metal album for eternity. One that we can all look at and say 'Omega Conspiracy' kicks ass!!! and the concepts are out of this world. The Golden glorious days haven't even come yet... Metal is still growing and so is AGENT STEEL!"

—>Can you still remember how were the selling figures for both "Skeptics..." and "Unstoppable..."? What about the forth-coming album, then; how many copies should it sell in order to make you satisfied?<—
"I have no idea what 'Skeptics Apocalypse' and 'Unstoppable Force' sold, but I do know it was a lot... Let's just say we got ripped off!!! By everyone, including our record company and management!!! So with this album, the main goal was to write a great Metal record and not get ripped off in the process. You would be surprised how easy it is to get ripped off in the music business. My suggestion to all the musicians out there is to get a good lawyer to look over your contracts and don't take the first deal that comes your way... Don't be desperate, be patient... And write good songs."

—>When you work on some new stuff for an entire album, it must really take a lot of time to make it all perfect. All arrangements, laying down the drum parts, trying to figure out if this and that song needs a guitar solo here or there, always hard-to-make lyrics and all that kind of shit. How are all these things shared among the band? Who's got that role inside the band, to act like a big massive filter who says the absolute final word, whether some stuff is useful or not? Would you rather say that AGENT STEEL is a fully democratic unit, where everyone is privileged for an opinion?<—
Omega Conspiracy "AGENT STEEL now is a fully democratic unit when it comes to song writing and that is the key to our sound. We try everything possible when working on a new song and the key element again is patience. Some songs happen in twenty minutes and some take twenty days!!! It basically starts with the guitar riff and then Chuck Profus, the drummer, comes up with the classic AGENT STEEL drums beats. Then the vocals come in. The guitar solos are usually the last thing involved, same with the bass. AGENT STEEL is more guitar and vocal oriented. The lyrical concept is very important as well. It's got to be somewhat original and in the trademark AGENT STEEL vein."

—>Do you think that AGENT STEEL could be open to the kind of experimentation which could lead you more towards a side-track, out of the musical path that you've been travelling in for years... Kind of like experimenting a little bit, for your own ideas only (and not just for the sake of it). At the same time, this might break this well-known formula of the AGENT STEEL sound...<—
"I don't think we will ever brake the AGENT STEEL sound. That would be blasphemy!!!!!! If people want to experiment with things that don't fit within our sound, that is what side projects are for... Personally, I would like to keep AGENT STEEL as classic as possible and I think the rest of the band members would also agree with that. At the same time, experimenting with new sounds is not a bad thing, as long as it fits our sound."

—>You're also playing guitar in TERROR. Do you think TERROR is more or less a substitute for AGENT STEEL, where you can try out different ideas that couldn't fit in AGENT STEEL? How did you end up playing in TERROR in the very first place?<—
"Yes, it is true I play guitar in TERROR. I ended up forming TERROR out of EVILDEAD (SPV Records), a band I was in that released two albums and a single in Europe. Basically, EVILDEAD became a transformation of TERROR, with the only difference that we did the vocals in Spanish and added keyboards. I personally really enjoy MINISTRY and Al Jourgensen is one of my favorite musicians, so that is how TERROR came about. You got to remember I was doing TERROR before we reformed AGENT STEEL."

—>As for your new material, do you see it as a huge challenge to work with new stuff for AGENT STEEL? What's the most challenging part of it all so far from your point of view?<—
"Writing 'Omega Conspiracy' was a challenge indeed. First of all, we had to rediscover the AGENT STEEL magic once again. The first four songs we wrote were a bit too Progressive sounding and we dumped three of those tunes. But the more we kept writing and challenging ourselves and the more we listened to what we did in the past off 'Skeptics' and 'Mad Locust Rising' Ep and 'Unstoppable Force', the easier it became. The most challenging part is to sound modern and at the same time, not lose your original roots. I think we did a great job of that with the new record. I am very proud of everyone in this band, especially the new vocalist Bruce Hall. He has developed into something else, let me tell you! Not just vocally but conceptually as well."

—>Don't you ever get frustrated if something doesn't work out the way you'd wanted it to be? How do you survive over a 'crisis' like that?<—
"The only thing that frustrates me sometimes is the politics of the music business: It's something I wish not to discuss. Things are never always going to work out the way you intended, so you have to make the best out of certain circumstances that may arise."

—>How would you rate your forth-coming album from 1 to 10, if you should have to do so? Let's play now a little; I gave 9+ for "Skeptics..." and 9½ for "Unstoppable...". So the new album will definitely get at least a...?!<—
"The new album will definitively get at least a solid 9.375!!!!"

—>What's your opinion on the current music scene, especially the Metal scene? Which bands do you personally enjoy listening to? Have any of these bands been a true inspiration with AGENT STEEL, when you indeed decided to give it one more try?<—
"Let's see... My personal favorite bands that I enjoy listening to would be old JUDAS PRIEST and old IRON MAIDEN. As for new bands, I enjoy RAMMSTEIN, MINISTRY, FEAR FACTORY, the first MACHINE HEAD record is real cool... SEPULTURA is a great band as well. As far as inspiration, I would have to say Glenn Tipton and KK Downing of JUDAS PRIEST and the guitar players of IRON MAIDEN as well. Also Michael Schenker of UFO. We decided to give AGENT STEEL one more try because it is truly magical music to play! Honestly!!!!!"

—>It's no miracle, whatsoever, that many bands that existed and broke up in the '80s and in the very beginning of '90s, are now making their comebacks. Some of these bands succeed for a while, then they fail (like EXODUS and FORBIDDEN did), whereas some really make it through, existing there in the scene more than just one or two years after reformation and getting pretty good following, etc. Now I'm even told that NOCTURNUS and DARK ANGEL are back, which is awesome in my opinion! How do you see AGENT STEEL will be surviving in the middle of all these reincarnations? What do you believe the Metal crowd is expecting from AGENT STEEL in 2000? Do you consider AGENT STEEL as a survivor already? Is there ever such a thing as everlasting?<—
AGENT STEEL "I think AGENT STEEL will survive in 2000 because the new record is a true Metal classic and I think our fans wanted an 'old school' AGENT STEEL record, not a trendy Metal record. It's honest music from the heart and if the music doesn't have heart, how the hell are you going to convince your audience to like it? It starts within! The passion for Metal has to be there. I know we believe in Metal!! As far as EXODUS and FORBIDDEN, I have no idea what happened because these are truly great bands. Yes, I agree with you and say that AGENT STEEL are already survivors because our music is immortal, infinite and everlasting... Look at it this way; it has survived this long and we had the opportunity to make a new record. I think the Gods are paving the way for AGENT STEEL to rise above, starting in 2000!"

...And now on with the questions answered by Bernie:

—>As far as the song writing goes, on which areas would you say you've improved the most?<—
"We've been playing for so long now that we all can tell if something is good or not. We're able to combine different ideas from each member and make it sound like a real song, not just a bunch of riffs thrown together just for the sake of making a song, which is what a lot of bands seem to do."

—>How do you feel on being on a label like Candlelight, as many of its artists, as a matter of speaking, play Black Metal? Do you consider it as an advantage or disadvantage for you, as you really are one of a kind on this label?<—
"We think it's an advantage. If there were five other bands that sounded like us on our label, we might get lost in the shuffle."

—>What have you guys been doing all these years, after the split up of AGENT STEEL? I'm just curious, you know?<—
"Personally speaking, I've just been playing in different Metal projects around the Los Angeles area but not taking it too seriously. I was just keeping my chops up as a guitar player. Music is my release. If I could see the future and saw that I would never be successful in music, I'd still be playing guitar. Metal is my life. It wasn't until recently that I've been seen in the public eye. In 1998, I toured with FATES WARNING for their recording of the Live CD 'Still Life'. I've also done some guest solos for STEEL PROPHET and just this year, I co-wrote with Ray Alder (FATES WARNING) for his solo project ENGINE. Things are getting busy again."

—>Where is AGENT STEEL going to be in 2010? Now try to predict the future for the band; the crystal ball is all yours...?<—
"2010? Well, if the Earth as we know it is still around, AGENT STEEL should have about ten albums, many of them gone gold or even platinum, since the uprise of Metal has invaded the planet."

—>One smart guy once said that "...Metal is not a passing phase, it's a way of life..." and almost two decades ago, some even smarter dude brought it out in a nutshell by saying: "You have to be old to be wise... Particularly in Heavy Metal business". Agree with these two sentences?<—
"Absolutely! Look at us now. Here in the United States, Metal is not very lucrative. We all still have to work our day jobs. But we still play Metal because it is a part of us. It is a way of life. And as for wisdom, no one is born wise. It's learned through experience, trials and errors in life."

—>Many thanks for your precious time with all these stupid questions. Like Luke Skywalker once put it so nicely; May the force be unstoppable for AGENT STEEL from this day forward... Any closing comments?<—
"We're absolutely thrilled that 'Omega Conspiracy' is being so well-received in Europe. We basically reunited because our fans have kept our music alive all these years, so to thank them, we created this new album so that they can add yet another AGENT STEEL album to their collection, plus many more to come. Thanks to all of you Metalheads!"

Thanks dude!

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