BRUCE SWIFT (SACRED WARRIOR) INTERVIEW PART ONE:
December 16, 2013
With a 22 year gap between studio albums, Sacred Warrior, one of the top Christian based metal bands from the late ’80s/early ’90s, are back with a vengeance and their heaviest CD to date, ‘Waiting In Darkness’. Sleaze Roxx caught up with founding member and lead guitarist Bruce Swift who was very open, candid and frank in discussing everything from the band’s beginning, the departure of original lead vocalist Rey Parra, what led to the band breaking up in the 1990s, new lead vocalist Eli Prinsen, the new CD ‘Waiting In Darkness’ and even the next upcoming studio album.
Sleaze Roxx: I came across your new CD ‘Waiting In Darkness’ from a friend of mine named Rob that I met at a Stryper concert recently. I think a lot of the Sleaze Roxx readers might not know about your band either so this is a great opportunity for you to get your band’s name out there.
Bruce Swift: Well, we appreciate that and we were just talking about that last night because we’re actually recording. We have started recording for the next CD and I was talking to Steve Watkins, our bass player, who does a lot of the public stuff, where he deals with the people who want to do a show or stuff like that. But I was telling him, “We need help man.” We need help in distribution — nobody knows the CD is there and it is a good CD. If we are going to reach people, we need to get it in their hands — and that is where we are struggling right now because we all work and so we need some help. It was cool because he recognized it as well last night and I said, “You know what, it is getting to a place where we have just got to reach out to some people and say ‘hey, we need help with this thing’ and distribution and whatever it takes to get it in people’s hands”. It is a good place to be, but we have got to get this thing out there and hopefully be prepared for the next CD too so that people can hear it. Just don’t want it sitting there, you know? We have got a bunch of them sitting in our studio and we want these things in people’s hands.
Sleaze Roxx: Absolutely, because your new CD is really good! I understand the album took about three years to make. Why did it take so long?
Bruce Swift: Well, it was quite an interesting process because when we started this CD three and a half years ago we had just decided that we had been on a 15 year break really that we had split apart but — and we just came together — it was the right time and we decided let’s do a CD. At that point, I was still writing more hard rock kind of music — and hard rock and heavy metal are two different breeds. If you put hard rock out into a heavy metal fan base they are going to shoot you, and so at that point we started writing some songs and realized they are too “rock”. So at that point we began to rewrite all the music and then, about a year and a half into it, we had some health complications. I ended up getting a hip infection, because I have a prosthetic hip from cancer, and I had to go through two different surgeries. Then our keyboard player Joe Petit had a heart transplant — if you can imagine — all in the same time. When we got back from Switzerland, we did a show there, his heart began to fail, my hip got infected and our drummer Tony Velasquez’ heart started failing and we were like, “Oh my God, what happened?” But the bottom line is that Tony had a triple bypass and Joe had to have a heart transplant because his heart was beginning to fail.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow!
Bruce Swift: That held the CD up for a bit but for me it was in incredible opportunity to write music — to write lyrics. I mean most of the lyrics to that CD came out of that incredible time of adversity. So I guess it created a great opportunity to finish the CD but in the midst of all that, our singer Rey Parra pretty much came to us and announced that he, after the CD, could no longer continue with the band. At that point, I began to just think, you know what, if we are going to continue on we have got to move on and find a new singer. So, that began the whole process in the midst of this recording of auditioning vocalists and that is how we found Eli Prinsen. And to which I tell you — I can’t even be more grateful — the guy is awesome. He is an awesome person first and foremost, but second he is an incredible singer. We have been blessed on high so we are pretty grateful — but that is, in a nutshell, why it took us three and a half years to get it done. Right now, we are flying and we have already got probably seven songs ready for the new CD and then we are going to record two more from the old Sacred Warrior tunes. We are going to do two more as we did on this new CD — although Lord knows, it should not take more than three years! We will hopefully have it ready for spring or summer of this next year.
Sleaze Roxx: That is great! Now, I read an interview with Eli that he actually never auditioned in person with the band. How did that process work out?
Bruce Swift: Oh man, thank God for computers! Eli has been a fan of Sacred Warrior for 20 something years so — number one — so he knew all of our music and he was very well prepared to do the audition. But really what happened is — I mean I had to twist our bass player Steve Watkins’ arm to even consider moving on, because obviously Rey was the voice of Sacred Warrior and it is hard to replace that kind of voice obviously. But I just knew — it is like if we are moving on, we have got to do it. So he finally caved in and we put it on Facebook that we were going to audition singers. Within a day, we had like six, seven guys send us stuff but Eli’s name came up and we saw his audition with DragonForce.
And we saw that audition because he sent it to us. I was very impressed with it although it was not what we were looking for as far as that kind of speed metal. Although we are metal, we have a different kind of vibe, but you know the guy can sing. What we did was sent him “Waiting In Darkness” which is the title track of the new CD. We sent him that song and then we sent him “Temples On Fire” which is one of our re-records from back in the day and he nailed it. I mean it was unbelievable! I was just floored when I heard it and I said, ‘if the person is an awesome guy…’ — obviously you have got to meet people and talk to them. So we did a couple nights of Skype talking and just getting to know him, his family, a little bit about his family, his background and stuff — and we just determined, this is our guy, there is no question. This is our guy and so thanks to Skype, thanks to computers, it just made that possible. We flew him out eventually and did some rehearsing with him but initially that is all it took.
Sleaze Roxx: Eli obviously had some big shoes to fill replacing Rey. How do you think he has fared and what has been the fans’ reaction in general?
Bruce Swift: It is funny. I think he has far exceeded most people’s expectations. You still have your diehard fans that are never going to move on — they are going to hold you to what you were and what they expected you to be and it is impossible to fulfill that. So I think the fan base is very pleased. As we talked last night, the new stuff we are writing right now, it is funny because we are just really finding a new groove now. It is still going to be very similar to ‘Waiting In Darkness’ but I am hearing a lot more Iron Maiden all of a sudden and I am thinking where is this Maiden coming from? It is obviously in my blood deep because I used to listen to Maiden quite a bit back in my early days. I just feel like if people are receiving it well it is because it is good and you know, good music is good music.
Rey was awesome but Eli is awesome in a different vibe. So for us it worked out perfect. I just don’t think Rey was prepared to sing at this level of this heavy of metal and we are heavier than we used to be. I don’t know if you have heard our old stuff but it was not as heavy as what we are doing right now. Eli’s voice caters more to the heavy than Rey’s voice did and it is a really good fit. I think we are going to have to find a new fan base as well that will kind of dig on the new stuff. The old guys — the old fans that were with us — many of them are hanging on. Obviously, you are going to have your few diehards that will not let go but I think it is going well.
Sleaze Roxx: What about Rey? Did he give you his reasons why he didn’t want to continue after the album?
Bruce Swift: He did and it is ironic now because he is now in a band called Worldview. I am not sure if people are familiar — you can look them up and they are actually really good — we are very happy for him because it is a perfect fit for Rey. But what was happening with Rey at the time was he was in school studying to be a nurse and he took on a new job and the boss at that time was really giving him a hard time about… like we would fly him here for three days and he would sing vocal tracks and stuff. At that point, he took the new job. Rey was like, “You know what Bruce — I can’t take off. This guy is not letting me go.” So he was adapting to his new job, his new environment, and now that has been a couple of years so I think the boss is giving him more flexibility now. I think he is taking a break from school from my understanding right now. He is taking a break and he is focusing right now on the Worldview project. So, the reasoning at the time was that he just was overwhelmed with life — you know, busy with work and school — but obviously the seasons have changed and he is back to doing music. They are about ready to release their new CD and I recommend it to you — it is going to be really good.
Sleaze Roxx: I have heard one track and it sounds good! Now, what is the idea behind the cover for ‘Waiting In Darkness’?
Bruce Swift: Evil! Evil! Evil! Most people are like ‘it is a really scary cover’, but I don’t get it. Well, it is ‘Waiting In Darkness’. We always tell people read the lyrics. I believe there is a battle between good and evil — and the enemy — our adversary as the Scripture says “seeks to whom he may destroy” and he uses people. He uses whatever he can to corrupt people and that is the personification of evil in the flesh. Satan is a corrupter and he has the force and presence to see behind him with spirits. He is evil and he is waiting in darkness to deceive and to corrupt human beings and take as many as he can. It is our call — it is our honor so to speak — to represent Christ and his Kingdom and rescue as many people from darkness as possible. That is our mission — that is why we do this.
Sleaze Roxx: When I first heard ‘Waiting In Darkness’ a lot of the tracks reminded me of early Queensryche. Do you agree, and what are some of the band’s other musical influences that can be found on ‘Waiting In Darkness’?
Bruce Swift: Always Queensryche because we were big Queensryche fans back in the day — yeah, big fans. Huge Stryper fans — not so much the pop but their message — and I am pretty impressed with their new CD. I just love Stryper for their purpose and who they are — I just love those guys. We had a lot of influences from Stryper back in the day because that is all we listened to but most of all, it was Queensryche, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth. But I would definitely compare it to Queensryche… and I hear a lot of Maiden.
You know, it is a great thing for us because in the making of this CD when we started — dude, it was rough man. The three and a half years that we grew into that ‘Waiting in Darkness’ sound — that is what it took for us to grow into that sound. It took sickness, it took changing the vocalist — it just took a lot and I can’t even tell you how grueling the process was to get to where that CD was done. But when it was done, it was so overwhelming that we made it. Our prayer for this entire CD was God help us to achieve a sound that is fresh but still Sacred Warrior and I think we did it. And I want to thank you dear Lord — you answered our prayers. I am very grateful and now that is what we are building on, that sound — that vibe is where we are going because I think it is fresh. I hear a lot of bands and I go, okay, they didn’t do a CD for 20 years but it sounds like it just came right out the ’80s. I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be that band. Not that it is bad, it’s just that we wanted to somehow be fresh but still have our sound and not compromise and do new metal. So I think we did it man and I am very excited by it.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of Stryper, it seems that they are the only Christian hard rock or metal band that really entered the mainstream. What are your thoughts in that regard?
Bruce Swift: Well, they deserve it — they are fantastic and they are unbelievable. I love Stryper and I think they have obviously had the right people working on their team to get them where they are. But along with being great musicians and great songwriters, they have a great team of people that are helping them get out there. Sacred Warrior, back in the early days, had some really incredible opportunities — lots of records and a bunch of things and we just never stayed together long enough to get it done. We broke up and so it never allowed us to get to the next level. I am not sure why it is because right now I think — and I will just speak for Sacred Warrior — I feel like the Sacred Warrior CD that we just put out could be received well in mainstream if people could hear it.
Sleaze Roxx: I definitely agree there.
Bruce Swift: So now we need to find a team of people that can help us get it there. Our prayer is God your will be done because we are not going to force ourselves on people — but the other side is help draw people to us that can help us put this CD out there and do more. I tell you we are not opposed to eventually doing it full-time again if things work out the way they are supposed to and that is going to be an interesting scenario. It is not impossible — it is just going to have to be the perfect storm so to speak for that to happen. The other side is we are happy to do it part time — you know, to do some shows part time and occasional dates and stuff like that. But at a full-time level, I think you are a finer oiled machine as they say so it would be nice to get some people around us that can help push this thing. I am telling you dude — we are working on the new CD and I am so stinking excited. It is going to rip. It is going be — I don’t say this boasting and bragging, I say it excitingly — that I am so excited for people to hear the new stuff. It is right off of ‘Waiting In Darkness’ but I am doing more riffing. I am just excited about it. I mean, we are ready to go man. It is just getting a lot of people around us to help get it there.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems odd to be talking about your new CD because ‘Waiting In Darkness’ just came out really a couple of months ago — but what is the timing for the newer album?
Bruce Swift: I would expect and hope the summer — don’t hold me to this but the bottom line is I am thinking probably mid to end of the summer is where we would be. We determined last night that we are going to just put 10 songs on it again. There is going to be eight new originals and two redos — so yeah, I would say it should hopefully be no later than mid to end of the summer.
Sleaze Roxx: I think it is great that you are recording a couple of past tracks again. Why did the band elect to record “Day Of The Lord” and “Temples On Fire” for ‘Waiting in Darkness’?
Bruce Swift: Well, the reason being is number one — Eli really liked “Day Of The Lord”. That was one of his favorite tunes back in the day so we wanted to bless him and honor him and said, “Hey man, what song do you want to do?” He picked that one and then we picked “Temples On Fire” because that was one of the songs we did as an audition for him. If he could sing that, we felt like this guy can sing anything because that is one of the toughest songs. That was one of the more aggressive and high ones. We felt like that was a good song to see if this guy can do it and he nailed it! He did such a great job on the song. So that was an audition song and so that was a no brainer. It was like he knew it — he was ready to go. Now, we are going to do two — we may do four, but my suspicions are that we are going to do two more on the new one. I am not sure what those will be yet. My suspicions are one of them will be a song called “Remember Me” off of ‘Obsessions’. I am not sure what the other one is yet but “Remember Me” for us, everybody likes it very much. Lyrically, it is just musically a great song and that’s probably going to be one of the songs on the new one.