INTERVIEW WITH SHOKKER
Date: September 30, 2015
THE HEAVY METAL GROUP SHOKKER PERSONIFIES PERSISTENCE AND DEDICATION IN THAT THE BAND HAS WITHSTOOD A REVOLVING DOOR OF LEAD VOCALISTS TO GET WHERE IT’S AT TODAY. HAVING JUST RELEASED THEIR VERY GOOD THREE SONG SELF-TITLED EP, SHOKKER CLEARLY HAVE A LOT OF POTENTIAL WITH THEIR HOT SHOT GUITARIST CASEY TREMONT AND THEIR NEW POWERHOUSE LEAD VOCALIST RACHL QUINN. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH ALL OF SHOKKER’S BAND MEMBERS TO DISCUSS EVERYTHING FROM THE GROUP’S NEW EP TO THE CHICAGO METAL SCENE TO THE REVOLVING DOOR OF SINGERS THAT THE BAND HAS ENDURED OVER THE YEARS.
Sleaze Roxx: Before Rachl [Quinn] became the lead vocalist for the band, there seemed to be a revolving door of different lead vocalists that were in the band at one time or another, and that nearly caused Shokker to fold at least one time. Just going through your Facebook page, I came across the following past singers for Shokker: Liley Lilova, Ashley Ruiz, Cherri Montgomery (or Jax), Rachel Danger Mendes and Dustin Walker. Why did Shokker have such a hard time retaining singers prior to Rachl and what led to the departure of each of those prior lead vocalists?
Jorey Guillermo: What led to the departure of all of our past singers and the band nearly breaking up was the fact that the core of the band had a vision that the other singers never shared. Though we experimented with different styles, we always knew where we wanted to be, and it was difficult to get them on the same page.
Casey Tremont: Lily Lilova was and still is a wonderful singer and friend. However, she decided to take a different career path. Ashley Ruiz is a close friend of our bassist, Jorey, and was filling in but never intended to play live.
Jorey Guiilermo: We met Cherise Jackson through odd circumstances and saw some potential that we felt we could have molded into a singer that would fit. By the time we played out with her, stylistically we were clashing a lot as she is more of a fan of indie pop than heavy metal. She fell in love and is now in a band with her boyfriend. Rachel Mendes had a unique voice and it fit for what we were doing at the time. Through the course of time, her personal problems got worse and it took its toll on the band. It grew impossible to work with her, and we parted ways thereafter.
Casey Tremont: After having so many female singers, we opted for a male singer, Dustin Walker. We met Dustin through another set of odd circumstances. Although a very talented musician, he was more into a more modern kind of style of metal, and did not share the same love we had for the older classics.
Jorey Guillermo: Although there was no animosity, nor arguments, he [Dustin] left rehearsal one day and never returned. We ran into him nearly a year later and have remained good friends.
Sleaze Roxx: What has Rachl [Quinn] brought to the band that was missing beforehand?
Casey Tremont: Around the time Dustin was around, we had decided to forego the Shokker name, because we felt as if it were cursed. We never intended to break up the band, we just thought we needed a name change and a new direction. When Dustin finally left, that’s when Rachl came into the picture. She visited Chicago as a friend during the “Dustin Debacle” as we like to call it.
Jorey Guillermo: Yeah, [while] she was sitting in on a rehearsal listening to Shokker’s newer material, we found out Dustin wouldn’t be returning. She said to us, “I feel bad for you all. You deserve to have a great singer and you’ve never really had that, and I want to audition.”
Casey Tremont: We were reluctant at first because of the bad luck we’ve had with past singers and the fact that she lived in Maryland. We spent a long weekend talking shop with her and realized her musical tastes were very much in common with our own. It felt as if she was an old friend that we had known all our lives. When we heard her voice, we realized how incredible it was.
Jorey Guillermo: It was on par with everything we brought to the table musically. By the end of that weekend, she was in the band and two months later, she had packed her entire life into two suitcases and moved here. Along with her powerhouse voice, she brings a strong sense of genuineness to the fold that no other singer had. And although she is gorgeous, her approach to heavy metal does not include the eye candy gimmick that some female singers resort to, you know? She’s tough, talented, and can proudly hold her own musically.
Casey Tremont: She auditioned as a real musician and that was a big deciding factor. I mean, what more can we say? She’s an authentic, powerhouse singer that stylistically fits like a glove. When she finally moved out here, within two months, we had nearly a record written and were playing shows. Nothing ever came that fast with any of the other singers we had.
Sleaze Roxx: We’ll definitely be talking about Shokker’s current self-titled debut three song EP but it seems that the band was on the cusp of releasing prior EPs and/or albums a number of times. While going through the band’s Facebook page, I noticed mention of a four song EP back in February 2011, an eight song album called ‘Lipstick & Bullets’ in September 2011, a new track called “Gone” in June 2012, a song entitled “Lie No More” in October 2013, a song called “Saddle Up” in August 2014 and a new album called ‘Throw The Switch’ in November 2014. Did Shokker ever release an album prior to their self-titled new EP and if not, how close were you on those various occasions from releasing an album?
Jorey Guillermo: Through the different stages of the band, we did a lot of recording. As singers came and went, the band changed with each of their departures. We are all still proud of what we’ve written, but most of it stylistically just doesn’t fit with us now.
Rachl Quinn: We shelved most older material, and haven’t had an official release other than our three track EP we put out this past summer. We are in the middle of recording our full length album ‘Throw The Switch’ right now and plan to release it within the next year.
Jorey Guillermo: The three songs we chose for the EP were what we felt showcased the band the best. They were the hardest hitting and had our best hooks at that point in time.
Casey Tremont: As with everything, money limited us and we could only afford to release three tracks, although we have many more written. Ultimately, we feel it was a great decision, because we really needed a release to introduce our new singer.
Sleaze Roxx: As can often happen in a band comprised of people of both genders, Rachl and Jorey have recently announced that they are a couple. How long has this relationship been going and how does it impact the band dynamics?
Rachl Quinn: We were together a long time before I was in the band. To date, we’ve been together a little over a year. All I really have to say on the situation is that we keep our professional and personal lives separate.
Jorey Guillermo: The band takes all of our work and concentration. We’re devoted to this project whether we’re together or not.
Rachl Quinn: Right — we’re a couple. We don’t feel the need to hide that. However, it has nothing to do with the band, and the music will always come first.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems that Shokker’s self-titled debut EP has received a lot of favourable reviews thus far including from Sleaze Roxx. One thing that I commented about in my review of the EP is that sometimes, it felt like there was too much guitar shredding from Casey. This is your chance to rake me over the coals (laughs) but do you agree or disagree, and why?
Rachl Quinn: There’s no reason to rake you over the coals (laughs)! We disagree with you to a point, so please let us explain.
Jorey Guillermo: We have a twenty-three year old guitar player that can hold his own with almost anyone, known or unknown. What has been missing from music today is the idea from the “glory days” of “the guitar hero.” The tenacity, virtuosity, and innovativeness from an up and coming guitarist in band is all but gone.
Casey Tremont: Exactly… Back in the day, a great guitar player inspired others to be great. If you play well, you should be heard and that led to the constant catch-you-pass-you mentality of guitar players within a scene or any kid listening to the records. With all due respect, I don’t like to hold anything back. At times, the lead breaks might be overdone, but I play for the songs.
Jorey Guillermo: Our songs are intense so every aspect should be intense. We don’t leave out any of the fire we show on stage when we record in the studio.
Rachl Quinn: I mean, we’re entertainers, and that’s just what we do.
Sleaze Roxx: There seems to be a number of bands that originate from the Chicago area including just to name a few, The Last Vegas, Hessler, Diamond Rexx and Shokker. It would seem that with so many good bands, the Chicago music scene should be bursting at the seams but that is often not the case. What is the Chicago hard rock / metal music scene like?
Rachl Quinn: The truth of the matter is the scene is very divided, as shows are spread out very far location wise. It’s hard to get people to travel out of their homes to see an original act, and with that, venues are afraid to take a gamble on new bands. There are some amazing original bands in Chicago, but most of the choice gigs go to cover bands — bands that venues know will make them a profit, because people identify with music they are already familiar with.
Casey Tremont: The scene is getting better, but bands like us, Diamond Rexx, Hessler, etc. have to be self-promoting animals.
Rachl Quinn: We’ve played some great shows, and attended some as well. We just have to keep our nose to the grindstone and look forward to the future.
Sleaze Roxx: From what I understand, Shokker also has a reputation as an excellent covers band. What kind of songs does Shokker like to cover and has there ever been any thought to foregoing original music and concentrating on being a cover band of one particular group?
Ben Silverman: Shokker does have a pretty big arsenal of covers, that’s for sure.
Jorey Guillermo: We love to cover songs that challenge us musically, but honestly we play them because we love them and we want to pay our respect to the original artists. We also love seeing the faces on people when we bust out songs they don’t normally hear local bands play.
Rachl Quinn: Yeah — it’s true we love the deeper cuts. We’ve covered Y&T, Judas Priest, Radakka, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Tesla, etc. because we’re fans of heavy metal. It, however, will never overshadow our own songs. It’s much more worthwhile to churn out original music we’re proud of and that people react positively to, than copy another person’s work.
Sleaze Roxx: Correct me if I am wrong but in the four plus years of Shokker’s existence, it seems that most of the gigs played by the band have been local ones. Are there any plans on playing other US cities and/or states, and if so, which places are you targeting and when?
Casey Tremont: You aren’t wrong. We have been limited to the Chicago area because of — you guessed it — money (laughs). The releasing of our EP was a tool to land better gigs for the band. We are really itching to get out of the local scene and meet more new faces.
Jorey Guillermo: Shokker wants to first branch out to neighboring states like Wisconsin and Michigan. We also have plans to go back to Rachl’s home state and do some gigs in Maryland, as we already have a decent following there.
Sleaze Roxx: What are Shokker’s other plans going forward?
Rachl Quinn: Our plans going forward are to keep writing, playing, and maturing as songwriters to become the best band we can be.
Casey Tremont: However, immediate plans include a full-length album release, ‘Throw The Switch’ as we mentioned earlier. Our overall goal however, is to be successful in personal achievements as musicians.
Jorey Guillermo: And to be a commercially successful band! Every heavy metal fan has dreamed of being in an iconic band, and we’re no different. We really want to bridge the gap between younger generations and heavy metal.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question — for each of you, what are your three favourite albums of all-time and why?
Rachl Quinn: Oh Christ, this is unfair (laughs). There are so many albums that we all love for many different reasons, but I’ll take a stab at it. In no particular order, the following are the three albums I feel have influenced me the most as a musician: Whitesnake’s ‘Lovehunter.’ Whitesnake is my biggest influence as a singer. There was always just something incredibly appealing to me about David Coverdale and the aura about him. This album however, is my very favorite era of the band. Coverdale sounds badass, smoky, and decidedly cool. It captures everything I love about this band, in more of a blues rock style, which I feel is more organic. Dokken’s ‘Under Lock And Key.’ Digging through my Dad’s records at 13 years of age, I stumbled on this gem and honestly never went back. Every track on this record is well written with big catchy choruses. George Lynch is probably what did it for me though. Thirteen year old me thought Lynch was the coolest thing, and honestly 22 year old me now still does. I had never heard anyone play guitar like that, he was uncompromising. An added bonus is that every time I listen, I’m brought back to lying on my parent’s kitchen floor and busting this one out as loud as I could when they weren’t home. Those memories, when heavy metal was still fresh and new, are some of the best to reflect on.
Airbourne’s ‘Black Dog Barking.’ At the time I first heard this album, I was going through a lot of painful life experiences. I took to the abrasiveness and energy of the record, and it helped me forget a lot of my problems. Although relatively new, this ranks just as high as the classic metal albums I love. Now, immersed in fandom and one “black dog barking” tattoo later, I regret nothing and realize the impact a great rock n’ roll record can have.
Casey Tremont: UFO’s ‘Strangers In The Night.’ Michael Schenker is my favorite guitarist of all time, period. If that’s not enough of an explanation, buy the album and you’ll understand why. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Led Zeppelin lll.’ Jimmy Page is also a huge influence on my work. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is enough of a reason. Judas Priest’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny.’ This is the record that made me want to branch out and listen to more heavy metal. It was a gateway record.
Ben Silvermount: Avenged Sevenfold’s ‘City Of Evil.’ The Rev. is a huge influence on me. He put a great level of tightness and complexity toward the music and that always appealed to me. Radakka’s ‘Malice And Tranquility.’ Great melodic metal all the way around, especially the vocals. I’m one who loves a great voice and fantastic drumming. King Diamond’s ‘Them.’ Mickey “Fucking” Dee — there’s not a lot more to say. The entire album completely grooves.
Jorey Guillermo: As with any true music lover, it’s nearly impossible to call any album your absolute favorite. All the albums i really love are my favorites for different reasons. That being said, the three that come to mind are as follows. UFO’s ‘Strangers In The Night’ to me showcases what a live band should be: extremely tight, musically competent, and chock full of memorable songs. It’s common knowledge among fans that it remains one of, if not the least edited live album in rock and metal. That kind of tenacity live is only achieved through constant practice and the constant honing of your craft which is one thing Shokker prides itself on doing.
Queensryche’s ‘The Warning.’ As the bass player in a one guitarist band, my job is to hold the pocket as a bass player should while filling the space that the rhythm guitarist normally would fill. I write my lines to be busy enough to maintain that space while making sure the pocket is never lost. This album was my first real introduction to Eddie Jackson, who to me was one of the best flashy pocket players the world’s ever seen. Even though there are two guitarists in that band, his playing always stood out and it made a huge impression on me. The way he locks in to every kick, snare hit, and tom-play that [Scott] Rockenfield executes on that album really influenced the way I write my lines. His bass lines on that album and every album up to and including ‘Empire’ for that matter makes me jealous that it wasn’t me who wrote them (laughs).
In Flames’ ‘The Jester Race.’ While ‘The Jester Race’ is not much of a bass player’s album, the soundscape that Jesper Stromblad and Glenn Ljungstrom create on that record with the melodic weaving of their Thin Lizzy-meets-Carcass twin guitar playing really strikes a chord within me emotionally. If nothing else, it always reminds me that melody and rhythm are the key to everything when it comes to writing music. It’s definitely an album I put on when I’m having the worst of days.