Shock — Tales from the ’80s — Anthrax disappoints + the plan on how to “make it”
This is the fifth instalment of Sleaze Roxx’s series entitled Shock — Tales from the ’80s. The first four articles in this series were Opening for Megadeth in July 1986; “Opening” for Motörhead on November 13, 1986; The Saxon tour rider on February 4, 1986; Killer Dwarfs look-alike and early musical influences; and, Shopping for Metal Church + putting the band together. The series details Shock‘s fascinating rise and struggle to land that elusive record contract back in the ’80s.
For the Sleaze Roxx readers who don’t know Shock‘s story, they were the premier unsigned heavy metal band in Canada’s nation capital city of Ottawa back in the mid to late 1980s. After five years of opening for some of the biggest heavy metal bands that would make their way to town and shopping around six different demos including the unreleased album Burning A Hole Through The Heavens, Shock called it quits frustrated with not obtaining what they thought was a proper recording deal. Fast forward 21 years and the power metal band’s co-founders Tony V and John Tennant reconnected and before long, the band was resurrected from the dead with the new line-up including guitarist Steve Monette switching to bass. Shock‘s first interview after their 21 year hiatus was with Sleaze Roxx who dubbed the group “one of the best metal bands that never released an album.” That all changed when Shock released their critically acclaimed debut album Once Denied in May 2013 twenty seven years after first forming and sophomore album Forewarned in November 2015.
Disappointing encounters with Anthrax (John Tennant and Tony V)
John Tennant: We got to open for Anthrax at the Chaudière in Hull [Quebec, Canada] on July 31, 1987. I remember it was really hot outside. They were touring for Among The Living and were getting pretty big. There was a huge local buzz for this show. That’s when Anthrax were heavy into the colourful bermuda shorts look. When we got to the club, [Anthrax singer] Joey Belladonna was just coming in having played a round of golf at the club next door. As a young kid, I thought a metal musician playing golf was kind of weird. I thought he looked funny, dressed in preppy golf clothes with his long hair.
I also remember approaching [Anthrax guitarist] Dan Spitz, who was changing strings on a guitar. I offered him one of our demos, which actually had a live version of us playing Anthrax‘s “Howling Furies.” I thought he’d find that kind of cool. He literally looked at the cover of the tape and let it drop to the floor. I guess he didn’t find it cool at all. Scott Ian and Charlie Benante were friendly and let people onto their bus.
We put on a really good show that night. The crowd was crazy! Anthrax struck me as very much a big band — like they pulled into town, did their show and they were gone. There was no kind of hanging out and stuff like that. They were signed to Island Records at the time and it was a pretty big tour. I don’t know how it ended up that they played at the Chaudière but you got the sense that this was kind of a big machine, a real big tour.
Tony V: Compared to bands like Motörhead, Megadeth and Metal Church and all those other groups we opened for — they were pleasant to their opening bands — I found that Anthrax were kind of short and kind of rude. They were not what all the other fans would paint them to be, you know? When you welcome somebody to your town and they are just very rude, it’s disappointing. I greeted [Anthrax guitarist] Scotty [Ian] and said “Hi. We’re the opening band and we really like your stuff.” Basically, he didn’t say much. He just basically kind of nodded, turned around and went back to talking to his roadie or whoever else was in the crew there at the time. I just thought “Wow!” I felt so uncool. I felt like I violated his space or something. It wasn’t like I was one of those autograph hounds or anything like that. I just wanted to tell him your music is cool and it’s influencing us. It didn’t bother me as much later on when they started to appear on stage in their beach shorts and shit like that.
The plan on how to “make it” (John Tennant)
John Tennant: When Tony and I first started out, our ambitions were very very modest. It was only later that our ambitions started to get bigger and we started getting delusions about big record contracts, tours and stuff like that.
We were really hoping to land that elusive recording contract, which in our minds would open all the necessary doors. We felt that once we landed a big record contract, then all of a sudden, we would be sitting on a bus and be gone. Although we gave a strong effort for the gigs, we put much much more effort into recording our songs and mailing out demos and stuff anywhere and everywhere. That was where the focus of our energy went. We would still do gigs because being in a band, you have to be able to play on stage and what not. The gigs for us were not that frequent and it was just to keep us fresh and ready for when the “big” moment happened. Most of our time, energy and money were spent on shopping around our recorded demos in search of that elusive magical recording contract. We felt that it would happen and that was the best way to proceed given that Exciter, another metal band originating from Ottawa, had gotten signed and took off from there.
We never really thought of doing it on our own or piling into a van to go play clubs across Canada or even other countries. Back then, a band with Shock’s type of music would get signed to a record label and that is when things would start to happen including international tours. Although we were always conscious that maybe we were putting ourselves at a disadvantage being in Ottawa since it was not a huge music town, we never ever gave it any real thought. Another thing was that we were not willing to make that level of sacrifice of leaving our families, moving to some foreign city and eating Kraft dinner for a year with no guarantee of any success.
We worked really really hard doing and promoting the band. We had a rehearsal schedule three nights a week. We rented a warehouse to practice. Only Tony had a vehicle so we would usually meet up somewhere for Tony to pick us up, grab something to eat and commute to the warehouse. We spent so much time working on the band. It was like a full-time job. We all worked on the side but that was just money to pay for the recordings and keep the band going.