Interview With Dan Lilker
Mike Exley journeys in to the future with Nuclear Assault bass player Dan Lilker as the rejuvenated New Yorkers threaten to release a new studio album and come back screaming into the business.
As 2004 grinds into gear with an unstoppable certainty, there’s a trend building that literally threatens to throw the rock music industry into a frenzy, even more powerful than on its initial crushing breakout. Like it or not, some of the old boys are standing up and, pushing youngsters and nu-metal fans out of the way, demanding their right to put away the oldclichés about ‘old rockers just fading away’ and rip up the studios and venues of the world again with fresh vigour. Some may have got to the studios earlier than most; Anthrax had a superb year in 2003 on the back of ‘We’ve Come For You All’ and Exodus are talking up a strong come back with ‘Tempo Of The Damned’, but in a dank and often dimly lit London venue, those primeval bruisers from New York, Nuclear Assault, are pacing the boards breathing fire and brimstone and chomping at the bit to get back into thefray yet again. They’ve not taken the conventional route. A live album ‘Alive Again’ on the Screaming Ferret label is already in the racks when some thought that new studio material would have been better and the band has had two unfortunate knock backs in the loss of their original six stringer Anthony Bramante and an equally unfortunate and well criticised appearance across town last year with Testament where a heavy attack of asthma ruined their initial planned comeback. But, as Dan Lilker makes clear, this is soon about to change. In, oh, about forty minutes, after our little chat in fact, as the four piece (completed by drummer Glenn Evans, vocalist / guitarist John Connelly, and six stringer Erik Burke) take an already upbeat audience and trash them, flat.
‘You know, I can’t wait to set the record straight,’ says the four stringer with a big smile. ‘Although it wasn’t me that initially got the ball rolling with this, I know that a lot of people are still out there for this band……they may be the old farts who have missed us since 1992 and still look for the classic stuff like ‘Hang The Pope’ or whatever, or it may be new kids who’ve never seen the band before, but it’s exciting again and we have control over the pace of it all, which is a nice change!’ The band’s rejuvenation has been well documented. An old friend from New Hampshire, one Eric (band; Candy Striper Death Orgy) ultimately takes all the credit for writing all the letters and generally hassling all the members, including Dan whilst he was grinding out other jobs with Brutal Truth and S.O.D. (and ultimately losing them), but how does Dan justify giving it another shot, now that he’s, by his own admission, happily married and thirty eight?
‘We’ve never really lost the need, you know? I understand Anthony’s position. He couldn’t commit to this and he was very honest about that. He’s why we had the opportunity to bring Erik Burke in, by the way? It’s just been there all along. Sure, I agree that I’d got bored of the thrash stuff. I left because I wanted to do the grind thing and that lead onto S.O.D. which was a lot of fun, but ultimately doomed. But John kept writing songs and when Eric started talking about shows and doing this again, John and I took a long hard look at it and said why not? Thrash felt fresh again, Glenn was into the idea and it just seemed natural. We didn’t need to chase it, it was just good fun.’
Had ‘The Business’ strangled the band, then?
‘Maybe, but in reality it’s more about the fun you have doing this. I know you’ve heard this a million times, but if it’s no fun I, for one, can’t do this type of music. Now we’re not having to worry about contracts and stuff like that, it’s just way more fun. Sure, I’m happily married. My wife and I moved, I was doing a project thing called The Ravenous and just having fun and Nuclear fits in with that…. It’s not about making money; it’s just about having the ball in your own court. We have recorded some new stuff, with Tim Koukos in August – Screaming Ferret’s his own label and his own studio– but there’s no rush to fulfil a contract or be at anyone’s beck and call apart from our own. That’s a really good situation to be in. We’re mixing right now and when we’re finished we’ll look at getting it out and seeing how it goes. As I said, we’re really happy that there’s still people out there that want to hear this band, but we’ll take our time.’
Let’s go back briefly. S.O.D.’s demise was well documented, as was the unprecedented criticism you received for that London show with Testament.Can you give us your slant on those events?
‘Well, I don’t wanna go on about the S.O.D. thing too much but I think, really, that it was just a really unfortunate finish to a band that, truthfully, had pretty much got me and the guys back into the whole thrash thing. Playing that kind of speed thing has given me the push to do Nuclear again, but, really, some people need to learn to give credit where it’s due. Billy stood up for me a lot, he had other issues with the rest of the guys too, but maybe it was just fated like that. It made me grow up a bit, put some issues behind me and realise that I really didn’t have to spend all that time trying to make my bass as distorted as possible which was the essence of grind core, I guess….. ?
Did you and John have any issues to resolve before you jumped back in?
‘No, not at all. I guess we’d had that time to relax when we were outside the band and we just jumped right back into it, fresh. As I said before, Anthony really couldn’t commit to it, but Glenn, John and myself just picked up from where we left off because we’ve all got our own very distinct sounds within the band. Erik came in – he’s from Rochester where I live now – and it just seemed to click. I feel that the new material really comes from the stomach, you know? It’s kinda like the album that should have come after‘ Handle With Care’ (1989). I think, if you like the Nuclear of old, you’re gonna like this. There’s no nu-metal riffs in there; possibly a couple of Black Metal ones and some blast beat stuff, but that stuff grew out of thrash in the first place and the fast blast stuff was part of this band right from the beginning!’
Yes, who can remember with fondness some of the power that the old band used to deliver in a set – ‘Butt Fuck’ etc.?
‘If people say it’s dated – fuck ‘em!! Ha! Ha! No, you have to tread a fine line, but I definitely think people can read into it what they want. It’s Nuclear Assault – the pounding drums Glenn always brought to the band, John’s vocal, and my bass lines. In the studio Tim took charge and we’re letting him mix it but, it’s basically us with a little bit of the new recording techniques you can use and the old, warm analogue sound we had with the old Nuclear…..’
And the Testament thing?
‘That was awful! We just really want to continue to make up for that. I don’t want to side step the criticism – all four people have to be on form and because John had the asthma attack on stage that night, obviously, it was very difficult and very painful for him, but after our last tour with Exodus where I’ve heard some very good reports and with the new album when it’s titled and released, I don’t think you’ll see that kind of skepticism again. Every show and every tour is a step up for this band. We haven’t really discussed how to take it further forward yet. I know there’s a new vein of ideas in America where MTV. could become useful again and there’s a much bigger audience because of the bands that have brought metal back to the younger generation, but we’re just going to keep playing live and hopefully pulling people in to Nuclear in the same way as before - through the integrity of the songs. It certainly feels the same as before and I hope it’s got the same kind of life as it had then; just as long as we keep the feelings that are there now, it’ll happen. Japan want a new album before we go over there, the US. and Europe just seem happy to see us out there doing it again, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t.’
How much stuff was already written for the album? John had continued writing long after the band had dissolved, right?
‘That’s right. John had three songs from the old Nuclear days that had never been used – he had some stuff that he’d written afterwards too. I wrote three more with him and put forward three that I’d written, so it’s a good spread. I guess its John mainly but there’s a bit of everything too. Glenn’s there with his strong rhythms – he hasn’t written much this time but you can’t keep that kit down, right? And there’s Erik’s sound too which is excellent…… It feels very much like the old creative days actually! I can write in one of two ways. Before I moved to Rochester, John and I used to meet up once a week and sit down and jam, but I can also use one of those portable hard disc recording machines now with the built in drum tracks and guitar parts, so we have the best of both worlds.’ And, indeed they do, but I’m still a little skeptical. In this day and age, despite the rise of the Internet and the swapping of MP3’s, it simply isn’t enough to release the odd track on the Net and play live constantly. As Death Angel, Exodus and now Nuclear Assault will find out, the music listening audience is even more fickle than before and Dan and Co. really need that new album out there if only to prove that they have the drive topull an audience along with them. I hope it works out. For more on Nuclear Assault check out their website and get saving for that album.'
Dan Lilker pic by Mike Exley © 2003
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