January 17, 2013
For every metal band that breaks through, such as a Metallica or an Iron Maiden, there are thousands of talented bands that never ‘make it’ for whatever reasons. One of the best metal bands that never released an album has to be Canadian based power-metal outfit Shock, who are back after a more than 20 year hiatus. Armed with their first video for what many consider the band’s ‘hit’ single, “Slashing To Live”, and a soon to be released album, the aptly named ‘Once Denied’, Shock is back… ready to unleash their revamped songs to the world! Sleaze Roxx met up with lead vocalist/guitarist Tony V and bassist Steve Monette to discuss everything from why Shock never ‘made it’ back in the late ’80s to their upcoming new CD, ‘Once Denied’. Time to discover — and in many cases rediscover — one of the best metal bands to ever emerge from Canada’s capital.
Sleaze Roxx: It has been a long time since Shock was in existence. What has brought the band back from the dead?
Tony V: I was going through our tapes one day and decided to call up the guys and see if they wanted to re-record some of the older songs because they’re great songs. We did it for a lark and then it started turning out really good and we started playing tight. Now, we’re going to see what comes of it.
Sleaze Roxx: You say that you called the old guys up, but there’s really three quarters of an old Shock line-up — and you have a new drummer as well (laughs).
Steve Monette: The history of the band is that it was started by John Tennant and Tony, and they brought in my brother Kevin Monette as the bass player and then they had successive drummers come in over the years. Spinal Tappish I guess (laughs) as is always the case with the drummers. Then, in the later years of the band — well, probably the last year of the band — John left and I had been playing bass in several other local metal bands at the time. But, I also played guitar so they said, ‘you know, if you have any interest in taking John’s place in the band?’ So I did, we played one show, lasted about six, seven months and realized, you know, things weren’t just going to work out so that’s when the band packed it in.
Fast forward to today — Tony contacted John, and he contacted my brother and the last drummer that we had, and said ‘you guys have any interest in getting back together, just hammering out the songs, having fun and enjoying playing them again?’ My brother had no interest at that point — I mean, he loved the music but it had been that many years since he played. I had still sort of played guitar a bit — I hadn’t really played too much in bands at all in that time period but I had kept up my playing ability enough that I felt that I could pick it up quickly. So, I came back as the bass player in Shock even though I was originally a guitarist in Shock but not THE guitarist (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: How did Chad Walls, your new drummer, get involved?
Tony V: Chad plays in a lot of local bands and he’s played for a few international bands too. He’s played with Paul Di’Anno, did a couple of shows with Exciter, Earthen Grave — that’s a really good band too — and he also teaches here at the music school and I said, ‘do you want to try doing some Shock stuff?’ He fell down on his knees and (laughs) worshipped me and he said yes (lots more laughs) and that’s basically it. Chad is a very good tight drummer and he helped a lot with the arrangements too.
Sleaze Roxx: So, let’s go back to the early days. Tony, you formed Shock with John at the beginning — I think it was in 1985. What were you guys thinking when you first started the band?
Tony V: We wanted to be part of that other new scene of metal that was coming out. It had power and it was fast and it was considered heavy metal. It didn’t have all these different things that metal music has today — just fast and aggressive and heavy.
Sleaze Roxx: Whether unfairly or fairly, Shock seemed to have been lumped into the thrash metal genre once you started playing. Do you agree with that?
Tony V: Thrash, thrash — a combination of power metal. A lot of people lumped us into an early power-metal band too — if you check out some of the earlier fanzines.
Steve Monette: I think that if you’re going to say what we were back then — yeah, we probably were closer to a thrash band. But are we closer to what is considered a thrash band now? Probably not. But back in the day we kind of aligned ourselves with the Megadeths and the Anthraxs and the Metallicas of the world. I suppose today, we probably still would be, but those guys would be considered old school now, so that’s where we are (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: When I think back to Shock in the ’80s when you were playing, certainly in the Ottawa Valley area, everybody seemed to know you in the metal community but somehow the band never released an album. However, it seemed that you were very close on a number of occasions, what happened?
Tony V: I guess a lot of things were going on at that time as far as it was an exciting new time for a different type of metal. Probably what hurt us the most was our recording quality. But, I guess during those days, we were really persistent but we never took time to spend the money on a good demo.
Steve Monette: To add to that, back in those days, in terms of the music business, it really was about getting a demo that was decent quality, shopping that around to labels and then having the label sign you. The label would pay you money — more like spend your money to record — for you to record the album properly in a proper studio. The recording quality of the stuff that we had back in those days — we paid for everything ourselves and so we were always limited with the budget. We recorded in some really nice studios but everything was always rushed because it always came down to money and we were all working the typical long haired part time jobs — dishwashers, warehouse workers, all that sort of stuff and paying for rehearsal space and equipment and everything else and so, everything always came down to budget. But I think what sort of did the band in was that we had given it our best shot at the time. The band had signed with a very big Canadian management company — we didn’t see anything out of that contract with them — we played some shows but nothing really materialized out of it.
So, at the same time, 1990 came and our style of music was starting to fall out of favor with people and grunge was just starting to sort of make its headway into the market. Labels now weren’t interested in bands playing our kind of music unless we were already established and already had an audience out there, so the likelihood of us getting signed was fading away quickly and we sort of saw the handwriting on the wall. We’d been bashing our heads against that same wall for six years at that point and we just decided that we had sort of had enough. You know, you can deal with rejection for only so long and so that was it for us. But now we’re just doing this for the love of it and we have no illusions of grandeur — we know we’re not going to be rockstars. There’s still a level of popularity that there was back then, but the Megadeths and the Metallicas, those guys are still playing and they’re still selling records and that’s great. But it is because they’re established and they’re able to maintain that audience — we’re not. We’re still playing the same songs we had back then — we’ve pumped them up and changed arrangements and made them better for what we want to do out of it, but we’re certainly not compromising anything that we’re doing.
Sleaze Roxx: Take me back to 1987. At that time you had a demo out called ‘Burning A Hole Through The Heavens’. That seemed to be the time where, at least from some fans’ perspective, that you were going to break through — you were going to have the album. What happened with that one?
Tony V: Once again, there were several visits to record labels and they were — very fickle — you know? One day it would be very close for you to be signed and you’d be waiting and waiting and then nothing would come of it. And once again I go back to probably recording quality — you’re about four or five years past when Metallica and Megadeth came out with those really crappy recordings and now I think at this point the companies are looking for a decent sound, you know? They probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time listening to it — you know, the first 15 seconds, if it didn’t sound good, not giving it a chance — like if you’re listening to Metallica’s ‘No Life ’til Leather’ demo or any of the early Megadeth stuff. Yeah, that was probably the main problem.
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s fast forward to 2012. You had your comeback show in March at the Brass Monkey in Ottawa opening for Helix. How did that come about and how did it feel, playing that show?
Steve Monette: That came about because we had gotten back together for a few rehearsals in the summer of 2011 purely for fun. The first song of the first rehearsal we all sort of stopped after it was done and looked at each other and said, ‘that sounded really, really good!’ From the rest of that rehearsal, we just put our heads down and just kept playing. We had a great time and each rehearsal sounded better and better and then it was sort of a case of, okay, well what are we going to do with these rehearsals? And, so we, at that point, by the end of 2011/the start of 2012, decided we were going to record three to four songs. It was end of January/start of February when Helix was booked to play the show at the Brass Monkey and we were contacted and asked if Shock wanted to open. We thought why not? It is a perfect opportunity for us. We had 40 minutes of material. We already had eight old songs down pat with a drummer who had never played any of them live before. It was a great opportunity for us to have a reason to rehearse. At the same time, as we were sort of contemplating getting ready to go into the studio, it really made us buckle down and have set rehearsal times and come in and we did that. Nothing gets you tighter than playing live, right? So, we did that — we played the show and then within a month of playing the show we were in the studio starting to record the album. When I say album, our original intention was really to record three or four songs but we thought we had the 40 minute set — it was eight songs and everything sounded great and tight and we were like, ‘well we’re going to be in the studio, it’s not going to be that much more, why don’t we just record all eight songs’ (laughs). So, everything just sort of came about — it just sort of laid out in front of us and was the right place at the right time and it just felt right.
Sleaze Roxx: You already have the name for your new album. How did that come about?
Steve Monette: The name of the new album is ‘Once Denied’ and that is taken from one of the lines in the song “Fighting Chance” which is also the lead off song on the album. We kind of wanted to sort of have a nod to the fact that we were around back in the day but we also didn’t want this to come across as some kind of nostalgia project or a bunch of dinosaurs trying to relive the past. So ‘Once Denied’ kind of sets the tone for where we are now and the fact that these songs were, at the time, denied — and this time we’re not taking no for an answer.
Sleaze Roxx: What songs can be expected on the upcoming CD?
Tony V: We got “Slashing To Live”, “Flaming Towards Earth”, “Driven To Kill”, “I’m Dangerous”, “Paths Of Glory”, “Splitting The Atom”, “Fighting Chance” and “Full Speed Ahead”.
Sleaze Roxx: Was it a hard choice picking those songs? Because, you have at least 20 really good originals from what I remember.
Tony V: No it wasn’t, because I think we just winged it — you know, let’s go with these and they turned out good. We’re planning to maybe do some more.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you choose the songs for the new CD?
Tony V: Some of the songs that we looked at we tried to make sure that they had a little bit of variance in them, that they didn’t have a little bit too much of a monotonous feel to it. In the early days, we would just write, write, write and you know, some songs would have variances to them and some would be kind of the same. So, we went back to some of those songs — we just needed to be a little bit more creative — but we wouldn’t change it up too much, you know.
Steve Monette: All of the songs that we did record — we did still play a bit with the arrangements and a bit with the lyrics and sometimes with tempo changes or intros or just something to kind of freshen them up for our own purposes more than anything else. But we had enough songs already written from back in those days that we could easily do three albums and then have songs left over. So, the plan is definitely to record more of those songs because we enjoyed the process very much this time and financially it didn’t kill us to do it, so we definitely want to have those other songs recorded. It was hard to pick just eight songs out of the back catalogue of all the material that we had but, like anything, you have to pick and then you have to go with it. We’re looking forward to playing other songs in the future — we’re already getting ready to start rehearsing and changing, punching up the arrangements of a few songs to play because we need to have more material for our live shows.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems that right now, you’re working a lot of the older classics that you had. Is there any writing of new songs, or just strictly right now a reworking of the old material that you had?
Steve Monette: Well, it is kind of funny — when we first started kicking around the idea of an album and the name for an album one of the ideas we kicked around was ‘Previously Unreleased’. We were going to call the album ‘Previously Unreleased’ because every greatest hits album always has a line on it that says ‘includes previously unreleased tracks’. In our minds, all of our songs were previously unreleased so we were going to call it a greatest hits album but all the songs were previously unreleased. We have so many songs that we love and enjoy playing that we want to play again that writing new material — I think the time will come when we get there, but right now, we’re still mining the gold from back in the day (laughs).
Tony V: I was really hyped on trying to write new songs but then they kind of convinced me. We do have a big song catalogue and I think we’re kind of doing something different — songs that are written 20 to 25 years ago and laying dormant like this and then we decide to revamp them, and that’s basically what we were going to do. I think now instead of writing new songs, I just find it a challenge to improve on some of them without overdoing it — improve on maybe the lyrics, vocal phrasing, dynamics — stuff that you don’t really think of other than when you’re a musician.
Sleaze Roxx: What are the plans for the band in terms of an album release and stuff like that?
Steve Monette: Our plans right now are that we’ve just completed a video for “Slashing To Live” and we released it on January 1, 2013 (editor’s note: check out www.youtube.com/user/ShockMetalCanada). The album is recorded — it’s ready to go. We’re just deciding now how it is that we are going to release it — whether we’re going to pursue a distribution deal with a company or if we’re just going to do it ourselves. The industry has changed so much in the last 20 some years in terms of how bands get their music out there that we sort of needed to get ourselves out of that mindset of needing to have a company to release it. We can do it ourselves. We’re not quite sure yet exactly how it’s going to play out, but definitely in the first quarter of 2013 the album will be released for sale and the next stage is going to be obviously more live shows.
Sleaze Roxx: Although you have plans to release ‘Once Denied’ in 2013, you said you’re not sure yet how you’re going to go about it — is there one way that you are leaning towards?
Steve Monette: At this point we’re experienced enough that we never say never about anything — well, there’s probably a couple of things (laughs) — but, if the right deal came along and we found a company that wanted to distribute it and they were happy with everything, then we would definitely pursue that. But at this point, it seems like the majority of bands in our style of music are releasing things themselves. Metallica just started their own label to release their own music. Megadeth just left Roadrunner and they’re going to be doing the same thing. Not to put ourselves in the same group as them but it’s the same style of music and the reality is it’s probably just going to be easier for us, and we’re probably going to reach more people, by doing it ourselves. But, that being said, you never know.
Sleaze Roxx: You have a first video with “Slashing To Live”, but I understand that might not be the end of it. How did the idea for the video come together and what is the trilogy about?
Tony V: I’ll start first. It’s just a basic idea I had — a lot of people may think the lyrics are kind of corny or dated or just not with the times so I thought we’d put a twist on it and the song “Slashing The Live” is (now) about a girl. I had this artist friend who could draw really well and I gave him the idea for the storyboard and he gave us some pictures and Steve put them together.
Steve Monette: Exactly what Tony said. He had the concept, he spoke with his friend who was the illustrator of children’s books and he was looking for sort of an outlet to draw something different and it was the perfect opportunity once again for us. He came up with probably seven or eight scenes based on the lyrics of the song and we edited those together and along with the music. We wanted to make sort of a graphic novel idea out of it and the lyrics of the song really play into that sort of concept. We started editing those seven or eight frames together. I showed that to the guys in the band and they really liked it. Then I showed it to the illustrator who said, ‘you know what, I’ve got a bunch more ideas that are going to go along well with that’, so we said, ‘give us what you got’. So he kept feeding me new frames and I kept editing into the existing video that we had until we came up with something that I think is pretty cool and I think people are going to like. We talked about the potential of a trilogy coming out of that — if what happens with the video like we think it is going to happen, how much people respond to it, and if they like it. Our illustrator has already committed to carrying on the theme and we’re going to see the character from the “Slashing To Live” video transforming through two more songs and the second song in the trilogy would be “I’m Dangerous” and then the final would be “Driven To Kill”.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of reaction, obviously you had a fan base when you were playing. What has been the reaction of the people that knew Shock now they have heard that you’re back?
Steve Monette: That’s the one thing with the internet now that didn’t exist — that’s right children, the internet didn’t exist (laughs) when we started out. We’re able to get more direct feedback from people — we put a small 25 second promotional video on our Facebook page which has gotten a lot of positive feedback. And the people that came out to the live show were, it sounds corny to say, but they were blown away. I think everybody was surprised at what they heard that night and just in the overall sound of the band and how tight we were and how powerful everything sounded. Definitely the new drummer has a different style of playing than some of our past drummers, so that’s really going to change the overall sound. Certain songs are heavier now because we’re playing faster or there’s more of a double bass or whatever. I mean, we’re talking about everybody’s playing ability 20 some years down the road. Tony took singing lessons and he’s been teaching guitar for that amount of time too. I mean, God, he had to get better, right (laughs). And the fact of the matter is he has — like his playing, his solos, and the people that have heard the recording have all commented on it. It’s a big progression. It’s somebody that has taken the last 20 some years of his life and improved his abilities in both singing and playing. I think that that’s the big thing that strikes everybody, it’s not just young kids screaming and trying to play as fast as they can. It is guys who have a certain command of their instruments now after all these years and are playing to the best of their abilities.
Sleaze Roxx: If you can give a comparison, you have recorded between 1985 and 1989 and now fast forward to 2012 — things must have changed tremendously technology wise.
Steve Monette: Yeah, absolutely. The studios that we recorded in back in the day were great studios for back then. The fact of the matter is your average 15 year old with a laptop has better quality equipment available to them than what we recorded on back in those days at $200 an hour or whatever insane amount we were paying. Now, we recorded at Pebbles Studios — the technology they have is world class and it is a world class studio. And we have a producer-engineer by the name of Mike Bond working with us who was amazing. He’s a musician himself and he understands what we’re trying to do even though he’s just a young guy. He knows where we were coming from — he’s known Tony for years so he was able to really guide us and he was our technology guru in the studio. When we weren’t sure if things were capable of being done he would be ‘yeah, sure’ — and three clicks later, they were done. So, the quality of the recording that we’ve done is album quality — it’s far and away above anything we’ve ever done. So, we’re really excited for people that have heard our old recordings to hear the way it should have been recorded and we’re excited for people who have never heard us before to hear it as well because I think they’re going to be blown away by just the overall quality of it.
Sleaze Roxx: What can we expect from Shock in the future in terms of live shows?
Tony V: Basically, you can see what the trend is now. A lot of the bands are doing festivals and we thought it would be kind of neat to get on a couple of festivals, so we’re looking into that. Maybe more high profile gigs in town if some of the bigger name bands come into town, that’s how we used to do it — we tried to associate ourselves with more high profiles bands and get our name out there too.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of high profile bands, you have opened for Megadeth, Anthrax, Metal Church, Saxon, and Motorhead. What do you remember from touring with those bands?
Tony V: What do I remember? They were all great bands to open for and it was, I don’t want to sound like an old fogie here, but it was a great time. We played with THE bands, you know? Megadeth, Motorhead — who else can say that?
Sleaze Roxx: Do you think there’s still a market for power metal or the brand of metal that you play?
Tony V: I don’t know if there is a super big market for it, but music sort of goes through cycles so we’re going to get people our age (laughs) who like that stuff still, you know? I’m hearing through the grapevine that there are a lot of young guys coming out now who want to play that kind of style — it is like ’70s bands who want to play ’50s music (laughs).
Steve Monette: We talked to people that are still in the industry now and they keep telling us there is a resurgence of this kind of music right now. I think that when they talk about things like that, that they’re really referring to North America because this music has never stopped being popular in Europe. You just look at the number of festivals they have all through the summer and in places like Japan as well and South America — they’re still rabid for this kind of music down there. I think the resurgence that people are talking about is in North America and how much of a resurgence that is, I don’t know — we’ll find out. But we’re just going to be happy to get it out to as many people as we possibly can this year and just see what happens with it.
Sleaze Roxx: So, what have you been doing the last 20 years (laughs)?
Tony V: I am still playing in various cover bands just to entertain myself. I got into teaching. Educating myself a little bit more with music so I do a lot of instrumentals — Shrapnel label style, the Tony McAlpines and the Jason Beckers and the Marty Friedmans kind of stuff. I try to be like that anyways, and that’s basically it. Had a family (laughs).
Steve Monette: We all had families except for Chad. But for me, when the band broke up it was a pretty difficult time. You put your heart and soul into something for as long as we did and it is a difficult thing to just walk away from. We all sort of tried to do our own thing, maybe our one last shot at it in terms of that kind of music. And when things didn’t work out for me, I sort of left music with a bit of bitterness at that time. I just cut my hair off and sold all my gear and I didn’t want to hear it — I didn’t want to play it, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it for quite a few years. I went probably about seven or eight years without even touching an instrument. Once that time went by I realized that I had missed it so I was just playing on my own and just sort of re establishing my ability to play again. And, as Tony said, started a family. I became a firefighter and so it was another thing that involved adrenaline (laughs) — a different kind of adrenaline. But I always sort of had music in the back of my mind so when Tony contacted us it was — the timing was right for everybody I think.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your best memories of back in the ’80s when you were playing?
Tony V: Just opening up for those wicked bands. I guess there was one time — yeah, there was a band called Sword who is also coming back with a comeback album too (laughs) and we played with them in Montreal at the Spectrum in front of 1,500 people there for the night. That was a good night too.
Sleaze Roxx: What would you say are your top three albums of all time?
Steve Monette: It’s hard to say top three albums of all time, but in terms of albums that I still would listen to and probably shaped or influenced me as a player — I’m a big Armored Saint fan, so I would definitely say Armored Saint’s ‘Delirious Nomad’ album is a big one for me. Definitely Iron Maiden’s ‘Number Of The Beast’. That album had a lot of songs on it that were classic and once again, as with Armored Saint, I’m a bass player so I look at bass players, right? So Joey Vera of Armored Saint is a big influence on my playing. Steve Harris (of Iron Maiden), obviously if you’re a metal bass player from that era he had to have some kind of influence on you — had to. And then definitely a Megadeth album in there as well, it has to be ‘Rust In Peace’. Those three albums I could definitely say would be in my top five albums. And the order probably changes based on whatever it is that week but I still listen to those albums today. So, let’s see what Tony has to say.
Tony V: Three favorites. I like Rush’s ‘Hemispheres’, I like Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’, and first Metallica ‘Kill ‘Em All’ — you can’t beat that, it kind of changed my way of thinking about music.
Sleaze Roxx: Have you played any other shows aside from the March 2012 date? Because it seems to me that you would have played more or that would have whet your appetite to play more.
Tony V: No, we haven’t — not because we didn’t want to (laughs), but the album and doing the recording was the main focus. And because we still have our busy day to day lives, we could only cram in so much.
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you guys. It has been an absolute pleasure to chat with you and get an advance listen of a few songs from your upcoming CD. I look forward to your new CD, ‘Once Denied’, and seeing you play live once again.