Shock — Tales from the ’80s — Shopping for Metal Church + putting the band together
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; and, Killer Dwarfs look-alike and early musical influences. 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.
Shopping for Metal Church:
John Tennant: Metal Church were touring for Blessing In Disguise. We were HUGE fans of that album. I remember having a long chat with the singer, Mike Howe, up on the balcony during sound checks. The other guys didn’t seem too friendly. The show wasn’t very well attended, but they put on a great performance. This was I think drummer Pete MacCormack‘s first show with us. Another notch in our opening act belt!
Steve Monette: Back in those days, I was acting as the band’s guitar and bass tech. We were all fans of Metal Church so we were really looking forward to the show. Once again, the gig was taking place at Barrymore’s in Ottawa [Ontario, Canada]. During the setup and sound check for Metal Church, they were having trouble with the drums. The hardest part of a sound check, and the longest, is always the drums and this time was no different. They had this annoying ringing coming from the bass drums that they couldn’t get rid of so they needed to get some adhesive dampening material to control it. Their drum tech came up to us and asked if there was a music store nearby where he could get some. We said the closest store was Steve’s Music, which was about a ten minute drive away. He looked at us and asked if anyone could drive him there and everyone looked at me because I was the only crew/roadie/tech guy we had… So he and I jumped in my old Camaro and set off on our adventure to track this stuff down. We made it to Steve’s but they didn’t have any. We then drove to a couple of smaller music stores and then some craft stores but again, no luck.
At this point, it was getting late and we were holding up the sound check, so we gave up and went back to the club. I parked in the back alley of the club and when we were getting out, I noticed a door open in the alley down a few doors. I could hear power tools being used so I walked in and it turned out it was a store that sold futons. They had a big stack of foam rubber pieces, which were perfect as that would do the trick! Now the problem was the employee there didn’t want to give us any. When the roadie for Metal Church asked him how much, he wouldn’t even give us a price. He just kept saying he couldn’t let us have any. After much begging and pleading, he relented and let us take some. The Metal Church roadie was very appreciative and told him he would put him on the guest list for the show. The guy had never heard of the band and said he didn’t really like metal. The show ended up being not all that well attended. The guy eventually came in, stood there with a beer and watched one song from Metal Church. He drank the beer before the end of the song and turned around and walked out. I guess he wasn’t converted but there was no ringing from those damn bass drums…
Putting the band together:
Tony V: In the fall of 1984, I was 21 and working as a cook at the Café Prima, which was on The Bay’s side of the Rideau Centre. The Bay was the flagship retail store for the Rideau Centre and occupied four floors in its section of the mall. John and I would just see each other inside The Bay since we both worked there. Just like me, John would wear a leather jacket with all of these bands’ patches on it. One day, we were standing in line getting food somewhere and we just struck up a conversation along the lines of “You know, I saw you at this show.” At that time, there were all these great bands starting to come into town like Motörhead, Queensrÿche, Twisted Sister and many more. We just started talking music and we instantly connected. At one point, John said “Have you ever heard of these guys?” and he started spouting off all these names such as Metallica and Megadeth. I already knew a lot of the British new wave of heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Saxon but it was really cool to be introduced to all this underground stuff with shitty recordings but a cool vibe. Although I prided myself on kind of being always ahead of the game, I really lucked out with people like John introducing me to that kind of stuff.
Eventually, I had John over to my parents’ farm. I showed him my gear. He basically had the same stuff that I had — a Marshall Head and 412 cabinet. I had been listening to all the tunes that John was influenced by. When he came over, we just started shooting riffs back and forth right away.
John Tennant: Tony lived on his family farm east of Ottawa at the time and the first riffs we wrote together were out on his farm. We just had a couple of amps in a room and we made cassette recordings of them. One was “Full Speed Ahead” while another was “Exocet.” At that time, they were just the riffs of the songs.
All we were doing was emulating our musical heroes, which is really the ultimate compliment that we could pay them. We were not trying to rip them off or copy them. We simply just wanted so much to be part of that scene somehow. There were no illusions about making it big or anything like that. We just wanted to be part of that underground metal scene. Our aspirations were very very modest at that time. All we wanted was to form a band, do some cool gigs, maybe open for some bands, have some Marshall amps and that was it. There were not even any thoughts of record contracts at that time.
Shock‘s song “Full Speed Ahead” from demo in 1985:
Tony V: We started to plan what we were going to do as far as getting members for a band. John knew of two guys from other people and got into contact with both of them to see if they would be interested in forming a band. John arranged for a meeting and the four of us met at the food court in the Rideau Centre. My first impression of Kevin Monette was that he was cool and laid back while Mike Turcotte looked cool. He had the look including the almost mandatory leather jacket. I am the type of person who always gives people a chance and that is what I did. There were no auditions. We simply got together and started playing. Right from the get go, I noticed that Mike was really a shitty drummer, even if he had his own drum kit. If I would have had more experience and known more back then, I would have said “This fucking drummer sucks” and just got rid of him. But Mike was a good guy so his lack of playing ability was overlooked.
One thing we felt was that the band needed good camaraderie and Kevin fit in perfectly from that standpoint. He was a really good guy and he brought a lot of other intangible assets, namely his ability to build and fix just about anything. That is not why Kevin was in the band but certainly his knack for being able to repair anything was a huge asset. We were all basically very green except that we had the hunger to do this. I had no business sense. It felt that we were just testing the waters.
We went through a couple of band names that we wanted. We did not want something too complex. John kind of convinced me that it would be best to only have one word for the band name similar to a band such as Accept. We just wanted one word that had a big stamp on it. One name that John suggested was Penetration. This actually led to one of my first disagreements that I ever had with him. I told him “Dude. People are going to think this is sexual, you know?” Funny enough, John did not see it that way at all. One day, Kevin and I were at a bookstore browsing through some horror books. All of a sudden, we just came up with Shock. It almost sounded like a cliché type name but nobody else had taken it or so we thought.
Everyone held a high degree of responsibility towards the band except for our drummer Mike. With him, it was good at the beginning. However, it is sort of like a relationship with a girlfriend. It is really good at the beginning and then later on, it is like “Holy fuck!” We were starting to take off slowly and Mike was almost like an anchor. Sometimes, Mike would not show up for practice. I would be scheduled to pick him up somewhere but he would inexplicably not show up. His drumming was pretty weak in the first place. Back then, we never mentioned any of this to Mike. We simply tolerated it until we could no longer take it. I have now realized that to make it in a band, you have to have everything from band camaderie to everyone living up to his responsibilities towards the band. With Mike, we had neither.
John Tennant: Out of the four of us, Tony was probably the only actual accomplished musician. Tony has always been and continues to be a very good guitar player including being very disciplined. I was a fairly basic rhythm guitar player but an absolute music fanatic. Kevin and Mike were good at what they did but not great. Had we had any great ambitions or anything like that, we probably would have held auditions. However, we just wanted to get together, form a band and just start playing music.
Shock‘s video for “Full Speed Ahead” from debut album Once Denied released in 2013:
The third video from SHOCK’s CD Once Denied. Purchase the mp3 or the full CD @ www.shockmetal.ca