Interview with Juan Garcia & Bruce Hall By Mike Exley

Agent Steel have always been the band to conjure up thoughts of the extra-terrestrial and the generally ‘out there’, but, as Mike Exley finds out from guitarist Juan Garcia and vocalist Bruce Hall, there’s much more reason for this band’s longevity than just a few spells and a bit of hocus-pocus.

If you were Juan Garcia, guitarist with Agent Steel, you may well have thought you’d blown it in the UK. ? Sure, there’ll be a few people still buying the material and older readers will remember their last visit to these shores in the late 80’s when the band were promoting the classic triumvirate of ‘Mad Locust Rising’, ‘Skeptics Apocalypse’ and ‘Unstoppable Force’, but few people noticed the album ‘Omega Conspiracy’ in ’99 despite a deal with Candlelight and even fewer would have possibly joined us in a romp through their latest opus ‘Order Of The Illuminati’, coming out as it does in a collaboration between Garcia’s own label, Artillery, King Records (Japan) and Italian label Scarlet, were it not for a tour with Exodus through Europe, which hit the UK. full in the mush and brought Agent Steel right back, to put the situation bang to rights. Of course, this isn’t the same band we saw all those years ago – vocalist John Cyriis has been out of the band almost as long as Bruce Hall has been in, Juan spent years doing Evil Dead which never really filled the gap, and the band has a new drummer in Rigo Amezcua who replaced Juan’s long time Agent cohort Chuck Profus, but the set that night was full of the old drive and desire, and, as Juan explains, he feels the UK. understood just what the band were getting at despite not having them on the doorstep for quite a while.

‘I feel we made a really good impact, you know? It’s all part of a learning process again; them about us and us about them again, because it’s been a long time. It’s kinda like the whole deal behind the album ‘Order Of The Illuminati’ too. Why that came out on our own label, why we were on that tour with Exodus and Nuclear Assault rather than headlining etc….’

  OK, you brought us straight on to the new album there. Why the complex release situation?

‘It’s all about wanting control. I’ve been working for several years at a record company called World War Three. We’d done some black and death metal, some progressive stuff like Cage and stuff and had picked up a lot of ideas. WW3 lost their distribution deal, and we decided that Agent should come under our own wing, so I just kinda started to research how to licence stuff and keep it in house at the same time. I got a deal with a friend of mine at a company called The End and we just started moving this stuff to journalists we wanted and to companies around the world we knew would work it. We’re seeing money back from it already and that’s a first, I can tell you! Scarlet came first for Europe, then King Records for Japan.’

Had you learnt further from the experience of the ‘Omega Conspiracy’ record in ‘99 that had seen both Candlelight and Metal Blade work on the band?

‘Yes, to a certain extent because we really felt that that album deserved more. As the first album without John Cyriis, it was a vital time for the band, and really, those guys didn’t exploit it too well. It was a strange time for the band back then actually and I’m glad we’ve stuck at it because now there’s so much more interest and people are being very positive about the outcome. John and the band now get on really well actually. We spoke at length about the whole thing and I really think it’s fine now.’

People reading your website could make more than unhealthy comments about the sentiments towards John and Chuck Profus still being very close to the band; it doesn’t seem to give the green light to the new guys?

‘No, that’s really not right. Bruce and Rigo are here now and the band is great, but you can’t deny the presence and the friendship John and Chuck brought to this band and continue to bring to this band. They were a very important part of the progression of the band and no one forgets that. Chuck broke his hand before a very important tour and we were very disappointed that he felt he had to retire from playing, but that’s the way it has to be when you get older and you learn about people more. It hurts for a while but in the timeless process of Agent Steel, it doesn’t really matter. We had the songs, we had to record them – and, in fact, Chuck called me just before we left for the Exodus tour to wish us the best……!’

That tour contained many bands who’s careers had ‘restarted’ – line up’s that had reformed as you yourselves had in ‘99 (Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Grave etc.). What are some of the most obvious differences now?

‘Musically, we’re tighter than we’ve ever been, it’s like a second chapter for the band, and we’re learning a whole new set of rules……; we’ve progressed musically a bit more; I loved the old stuff, the thrashier stuff we used to write, but it’s a little more expansive now…., and everyone seems more comfortable with the direction of the music. Take Bruce. When he first joined – on ‘Omega….’- he felt he had a big gap to fill, to fill John’s shoes if you like; a lot of the lyrics he had to sing were about aliens and concepts of X Files stuff and conspiracy theories, but he’s more comfortable now because he’s been able to express his own ideas a lot more. There’s more human emotion there and, of course, there’s still ‘conspiracy’, but it’s on a whole different level.’

Ah, yes. Those ‘Illuminati’. Just what the heck is an illuminati?

‘Well, this is way deep but I guess it’s just exploring the idea of total control. A bunch of very high up people who control all Government, the banks, you know, everything around us. We freely admit not having evidence for this per se but it’s a great idea for an album and lyrical concept. Bruce will talk about people like David Icke, the English guy who goes on about all the conspiracy stuff – he’s a bit out there (AUTHORS FOOTNOTE; Just a bit! Shows what presenting children’s TV. can do for you, folks at home!!), but there’s a lot of people who speculate that there might be some truth to it and you never know? You could write a movie on that stuff and it kinda fits the Agent Steel fun ethic too……. Fundamentally, it’s more in tune with the whole vibe of Agent now. The music is more mature, more balanced. The songs are more mature, hell; even the writing process is more mature because we all work in the same place at the same time, which didn’t always happen….. It’s just a big step forward.’

And, as if by magic, Bruce Hall appears…………

‘Hey, I really want to add a bit to Juan’s stuff there. ‘Illuminati’ is really only half a concept album if you like. The first six tracks explore the whole concept in a running theme, the rest kinda go off on different tangents, but it comes down to a few basic ideas that grew out of books and conversations Chuck, myself and Juan had had even before the songs. I read a lot. I mean, I’ll have my head in a book all the time and if I trust the person I’m reading I often take a lot from the text, my own personal slant on it. The Illuminati kinda grew from people like David Icke as Juan mentioned. I don’t share his bottom line agenda as such – he definitely has a confrontational agenda I would say, but I observe his thoughts and I’m drawn to agree with them a lot. The world is undeniably run by banks and big corporations – they certainly place people in positions of power through financial backing and such like, so that’s where the idea started. You have it in Europe with the EU. The amalgamation of power into large bodies, like the United States Of Europe run by ghostly committees and people in the background….. people losing their identity to the big corporations – the illuminati. Big Brother is here! And the worst thing is that it works, you know? When people realise, their privacy is going to be history.’

How different is this from your input on ‘Omega…’ say?

‘It’s more political and less of the extraterrestrial, I’d say. There’s a sci-fi theme of course; the idea of turning Jupiter into a second sun for the Earth by igniting it’s gaseous layers with nuclear weapons and hence cutting out darkness so that the people running the Earth can have total control is unlikely, I’ll admit, but in theory, it’s fascinating. I’m also completely down on the religious zeal in the world. It doesn’t matter which; Christianity, Satanism, Judaism, Buddhism, whatever – I’m not interested because everything they do which is bad, and there’s even some really zealous people out there who would advocate Armageddon if they could get away with it – is justified by their religion. Not good! See the light – religion has caused so many problems, man!’

‘Seriously though, when we came up with the ideas for this, Juan and I knew that you had to keep to the feel of Agent Steel first and foremost, but also move the band forward because obviously the past is the past in the long run. I’ve read that I’m being compared to Halford or Dickinson, and all that’s nice; I mean, I could do a wicked Kansas, I could step right into that band, but it’s very important to better myself both lyrically and musically and take Agent Steel forward by doing that.’

Carrying on the reference to light as you did, do you think you’ve ‘seen the light’ so to speak, in how the band works as a unit? Juan’s back into the flow….

‘I think you’ve just got to be more realistic. Unless you’re Metallica or Slipknot it’s hard to make money and survive in the business now. You’ve got to release records, especially with all the downloads and MP3 possibilities, you’ve got to tour and sell merchandise and you’ve got to work harder and be more truthful, in a way! I know critics talk about bands reforming and cashing in on the resurgence of metal, or whatever, but if we wanted to cash in we’d have been exposed long ago. You live by each record and you’ve gotta keep it fun too. I love getting the lyrics from Bruce, putting the artwork together, the whole thing. If you keep it close to the band, it’s way more enjoyable, for us, at least.’

That’s your secret then?

‘Sure. Bernie produced the record, I co-produced it. The budget wasn’t as big as we’ve had in the past, but that’s the way we keep it fun and it’s why we’ve started to see something tangible from it. In the past, on ‘Omega…’ for example, we experimented more, dropped some of the tuning and tried some different ideas, but, I don’t know, it didn’t seem appropriate for this one. ‘Illuminati’ was all about our roots, standard tuning, no bullshit, and it’s more of an Agent Steel album for me……… We just released a single before Christmas – ‘Earth Under Lucifer’ – Lucifer not Satan, by the way – the planet Jupiter renamed Lucifer exploding and being like the second sun in the sky, having no darkness on earth – it’s one of the parts of the ‘illuminati’ conspiracy. That included some bonus material, live versions of some of the old stuff, ‘Unstoppable Force’, ‘Mad Locust Rising’… Then we start writing again and we’ll see how it goes. We have an idea for a DVD too, which was supposed to happen on the Exodus tour at the Polish show in Warsaw; but that got moved and became unworkable so it’s still to be finished when we go back there this year.’

Let’s briefly talk about guitarist Bernie Versailles. He, of course, still has the Engine project with Ray Alder?

‘Of course and that’s very important. I have the record company, Bernie does Engine when he can and it’s vital because Agent is such a strong entity for us that you need to keep refreshed. Agent is a band that lives for the spirit of Heavy Metal – ‘Order Of The Illuminati’ is, to me, a true Heavy Metal record and you need to express other stuff to keep you refreshed. Take the solo for example. Is it a dying breed or what? Not there in Europe but in the States it only seems to be us, Exodus and the real Heavy Metal bands that keep that part of the song. Take Metallica for example. No solos! I like some of the songs on the record, but they spent a million dollars on it? I don’t hear a million dollars, sorry!!’

On your website there’s a quote from you which goes, ‘This album will fall short if it aims to expand the fan base.’ Does this mean that you’ve now decided who are your true fans and you’re going to really only, give them what they want instead of trying to diversify? Bruce, discuss….

‘Hmmm? No, I think that it’s now really silly to specifically target anyone particularly. I for one have advocated changing the name of Agent Steel and Chuck kinda agreed with this too. By doing that it would allow me more room vocally because I have more of a range that could be explored but fundamentally the music would not change because it’s what the whole band likes as a band. I prefer some of the lower stuff vocally and I blend it with Juan’s ideas but really you play what makes you happy and I’m totally happy with it as it is at the moment. I just hope everyone who listens to it gets the point and enjoys what we do.’

Juan chips in. ‘I see Bruce’s point on this one but for me I’d prefer to have no name at all really so there’s no preconditions. Have a symbol or something, add the great music we all love as a band and see what happens. Who knows? When we do the next album, you’ll all see the results………. If somebody did that it would be cool, break the whole cycle thing of image that dominates metal now. Would it be us? Well, we’ll write another twenty songs and we’ll put out an Agent Steel album or a ‘symbol’ record, whatever. What is important is the quality of the songs – call us whatever you like!’

Indeed, bring it on and keep those conspiracy theories fresh. For more information on the availability of ‘Order Of The Illuminati’ in the UK. write to

Band Pic by Mike Exley  © 2003

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