Tuesday 31 January 2017

An Interview with Ron Holzner from THE SKULL and TROUBLE

How could I introduce Ron Holzner for those rare folks who don’t know him? His debut was on Trouble’s album “Run to the Light” (1987), he started Debris Inc. with Saint Vitus’s man Dave Chandler (2001), he played in doom / thrash band Earthen Grave (2008-2014), and also in Place of Skulls and Novembers Doom.

Since 2012 his main passion is The Skull, the band that featured 3 ex-Trouble members at the start – Ron himself, singer Eric Wagner and drummer Jeff Olson. The Skull released their last record, the self-titled EP about a year ago, and as I heard that they've worked on new stuff, I’ve used this chance to ask a few questions about these rumors to Ron.

Hello Ron! Thank you very much for the time and energy you found for this interview. How is it in Chicago? Christmas and the cold come hand in hand, aren’t they?

Yes, Its very cold here in Chicago…You’d feel Right at home!! HaHa. Christmas usually is not too bad… Its goes downhill fast afterwards.

I can’t avoid this question, and it’s pretty straight. There were rumors few months ago that The Skull will write material for a new album, but you spent a really lot of time playing gigs here and there this year. What is your progress with new release?

Lothar and I have started the riff writing part months ago, we have a lot of stuff to go through…. We start up the song writing part next week. Its like doing a puzzle... going through the pieces and see what fits together. Once we get a couple songs rollin, we will listen to stuff Eric, and Rob sent to us to work on. We will send our stuff to them and see what they can add. Then Eric can start writing words and melodies. We hope to record late Summer, early Autumn.

For Those Which Are Asleep” is brilliant album, but almost 3 years passed since its release, and The Skull’s lineup changed a bit. So what can we expect from new The Skull?

The New Skull?? Ha, the same but different!! Lothar, Eric, and I have been the heart and soul of the Skull… always have been and always will. We will just do what we do and have always done. The members may have changed, but the vision has not. We want to rock, and have fun doing it with people we want to jam with and want to jam with us. The new record will definitely be a “Skull” record!

Jeff Olson left The Skull a couple of years ago. What were the reasons of his departure?

Oh Jeffy boy….Ha. Jeff works at a brewery in Maine called Allagash… he’s got a dream job, making and drinking beer all day AND getting paid to do it!! The Skull was gonna start touring more and become more of a working band then we were and then Jeff got a promotion at work…. So, Jeff chose wisely to stay with the dream job.

Ex-Cathedral drummer Brian Dixon did accompany The Skull on the European tour in 2016 and Steve Hanford of Mayhem helped you on the USA tour. How did you solve all these problems when is the time to hit the road?

What problems?? Ha, you chose the right people for the job and they prepare like the professionals that they are… We rehearse a couple times and away we go… easy! Steve was from Poison Idea by the way…

By the way, didn't you ever think how much of Trouble did you take with you into The Skull? I guess that most of Trouble's features were already transferred into “For Those Which Are Asleep” and then in The Skull EP, but how do you see these differences?

Well…. “For Those Which Are Asleep” had 3/5 Trouble and the EP had 2/5 of Trouble. We are who we are and are the same people (only older and hopefully wiser), with the same musical background… it is what it is. You always carry your past into the Future…. you can only change what influence it will have, but sometimes you cannot!! Ha-ha.

The Skull – The Longing

How does your work in studio nowadays differ from the way you recorded songs in ‘80s? Do you have some personal equipment which you keep for years? And how often do you update your equipment?

Personally, I am more involved with all aspects of the music. Eric and I produce the records. I over see the whole recording process. In Trouble, I was told to shut up and play the bass.
Musically, I still play the B.C. Rich Mockingbird I bought in 1980. I have changed speakers in my amp a couple times….

Some old bands have a lot of followers today which copy their sound and the very conception preferring dark topics for their lyrics with texts of occult, drug abusing or horror movies. I guess that it is right to say that the lyrics in Trouble and The Skull usually tell about person having hard times with inner struggle and some spiritual growing. Why do you think it’s difficult to find such message in modern doom metal as it seems natural to this music? And what are your favorite topics in rock / metal songs? Fiction ones or something more realistic?

Eric writes the lyrics for the Skull and Trouble…. I personally do not really listen to lyrics much, never really did…I am a music kinda guy. Most lyrics are hippy dippy mumble jumble bullshit anyway. I like good melodies over dark music. Geezer did write some good lyrics in Sabbath.

This year The Skull played a lot both in States and Europe, how does it feel today to be in such demanded band?

We were busy, weren’t we.. Ha-ha. The Hard work and dedication really paid off. It feels great!! Really rewarding!

Don't you think that the real recognition came a bit late for the genre and it's bands?

I don’t know…. I just am very happy that this kid from Chicago is still writing music and playing around the world to people digging what I am doing1! I truly am blessed!

How could you compare your work on your first album with Trouble “Run to the Light” and for example The Skull's “For Those Which Are Asleep”?

Wow,.. uh. I know a hell of a lot more now then I did back then. I know the value of well placed notes , and holding back and not over playing ha-ha.

So was it difficult to go into the studio for the first time with Trouble when you worked over “Run to the Light”?

Absolutely! I was in the band for like a week... we had to break into the rehearsal place (they locked it because we didn’t have the cash to pay that month). I jammed with Dennis (the drummer) 2 times. Never jammed with the whole band prior to recording the record… It was a trip.

Trouble’s self-titled album which you recorded in 1990 seems to be a kind of core album in band’s discography. How do you value this material today?

It’s a masterpiece! I really enjoy playing the songs from this record. We prefer to play the older songs in The Skull because they fit better in what we are doing…, but we always throw a couple off this record in the set. We are talking about doing a couple different ones on the next tour.

You recorded “Trouble” with Ric Rubin, how do you think – how much of his part in the success of the album?

His part was HUGE! He tore the shit out of all our songs and we had (Bruce actually) had to rewrite the whole fuckin record. We learned how to arrange songs better and how to write a heavy good song. We learned Producing and new recording techniques.…

What do you remember the most from that record-session?

Ha, going to San Francisco and seeing Angle Witch and partying with Metallica… Ha, actually, that was before we recorded. We recorded the basic tracks in the famous Sun City studios in LA…. A wonderful religious experience!!

Ron, I'd like to ask you about “Manic Frustration” and “Plastic Green Head” albums. The band recorded both in times when grunge and modern metal stuff slowly started to bury the traditional metal scene. How did you work over these albums? Did you take in account the situation in music underground on that moment?

Trouble and The Skull never really paid much attention to what was the latest trend of music going on out there…. We listened to Priest, Sabbath, Scorpions, Alice Cooper… stuff like that going up….They are and always will be our influences… Maybe like, 20% of our stuff inadvertently gets affected by what’s going on around us.

You’re saying about influences of environment on 20% of material you wrote as the band. Did the energy, the feelings you put in Trouble differed from album to album?

Life changes year to year and so do people and their experiences…Well people really don’t change. Everyone is effected by what’s going on around them….More bullshit that you have to deal with in life.

What do you see as Trouble’s biggest attainment on the“Manic Frustration” album?

We didn’t break up doing the record, ha-ha…. ugh, well. The pressure from the label and management was getting greater to write a radio song… Its hard to get the right mix of heaviness ( witch this record did not have) and radio friendly. It was starting to get more psychedelic hippy fuckin heavy rock. We rocked it as best as we could. Most of the songs are really good.

Plastic Green Head” was the last album you recorded with Trouble; do you have some special memories about it? What are most memorable facts about this record you could share?

I fuckin hated it. I really did not like the direction the band was going in… I’m glad all the lighter fluffy songs did not make it to the record. There are a few good ones on it. It was a bad time really…..

What was most difficult part of being in Trouble? And what was most rewarding experience of being in the band?

I’ll put it like this…. Being from the band Trouble was much better than being in the band Trouble. That’s all I can say.

12 years ago you had Debris Inc. project with Dave Chandler himself, did you ever think to return to this collaboration?

Oh hell No!! Ha-ha! The whole idea was to get Dave out of retirement and playing the guitar again and doing St. Vitus like he should. Job done!

Look, there are three big influential doom bands in States: Trouble, Vitus and Pentagram. You spent a damned lot of time in the first one, you did record the album with Dave of Vitus. And you were in Victor Griffin's Place of Skulls for a brief period. What do inspire you to put your efforts and time so actively in developing this form of music?

Ha, I also played on Victor’s En-Graved record…. The Doom Metal community is a family and the musicians are brothers. We all know each other and frequently interact.

Ron, why did you disband Earthen Grave? The band was pretty fresh and successful, it would be cool to have few more records under this name.

Our guitar player, my partner, and the heart and soul of Eathern Grave, Jason Muxlow quit and up and moved to Texas…. end of band. We have talked about doing another record recently…, so lets see what happens.

You did sing in Earthen Grave and Debris Inc., don’t you want to return to vocalist’s duties in another project or your occupation with bass in The Skull is enough for today?

Ha, What I did really wasn’t singing….I’ll stick to my day job!! Backup vocals once in awhile is all I really need to do.

Ron, you're in business since 1986, how does it make you feel? How does your vision of this music... how does the concept of doom change from your point of view?

The thing is… In Trouble, we did not call what we were doing “Doom”, neither did Pentagram or Vitus. We played heavy rock, or in Vitus case… Slow Punk… Ha-ha. What we were doing eventually was called “Doom”. We have always wanted to play the Heaviest music that we can, and we will continue to do that. If it is Doom that we are playing, then we will play it heavier, nastier, and better than anyone else!!!

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Ron Holzner