Chicago’s Aftermath is one of the pioneering crossover thrash bands of the 1980s; a band that transformed into one of the most technical Thrash Metal bands of its time on its critically-acclaimed debut album, “Eyes of Tomorrow”.
Its new album “There is Something Wrong” is an 11-song opus. A concept record in the truest sense of the word, the album features a mix of old-school crossover thrash and technical/progressive metal, and is a commentary on what is wrong with the world today. A calling out of the masses to wake up and know the real enemy. The music is urgent, and the lyrics challenge the listener to seek the truth. In a world of monotonous uniformity, Aftermath stands out alone.
The current line-up of Aftermath consists of: Kyriakos “Charlie” Tsiolis (vocals), Steve Sacco (guitar), Ray Schmidt (drums), George Nektarios Lagis (bass).
As always, a huge *Thank You* to the band for their time, openness and availability!
MAtW – Hello Charlie and welcome to MAtW! I am truly stoked to be able to talk to you, so, thank you for taking the time to do this!
Charlie – Ioana it is my pleasure to be chatting with you. Thanks for the interview.
MAtW – Icebreaker… Is answering interview questions still fun for you? Or… :))
Charlie – They have never been fun – more like a homework assignment. Lol. Actually answering questions from people that really know the band or love music is always interesting and still fun. The generic questions get a little old, but I understand the need for those as well. Doing interviews beats working.
MAtW – Now, straight to the point… I am not going to go into the trademark feud and that particular part in the history of Aftermath, I know it still gets to you. I want to put an emphasis on the positive side of things and your comeback. How does it feel to (rightfully) have your identity restored, and be yourself again, publicly?
Charlie – Actually the entire Dr. Dre lawsuit thing is just another example what is wrong with the world and fits into the concept of the new record. For those that don’t know, we got a federal trademark for the name Aftermath in the category of music back in the 1980s. No bands did that back then, but we did. Then Dre decides to name his new label Aftermath Entertainment in 1995. We sued him and asked the court for a permanent injunction that would stop him from violating our trademark. Sounds pretty clear cut right? Not to the idiot judge that decided to ignore the trademark and wrote an opinion that said we needed to go to trial to prove that there would be confusion. And if we proved it, then we could stop Dre. Problem was that he would still be the judge and the cost of trial was impossible to pay. That is an example of the elite taking care of the elite. You got me to talk about the case by telling me not to now that is some deep Freudian shit lol.
We ended Aftermath in 1996 and thought that we would never get back together. We released a record as Mother God Moviestar in 1998 and basically lost contact with Steve after the tour we did to support that record. Getting back together in 2015 was a great experience because it felt so natural and I swear it was like we never broke up. It was even better because we are friends. Steve, Ray and myself started the band and it would never be Aftermath without any of us. George joined the band 2 years ago and he fit right in like he has been there from the start. What is special this time around is that we wrote a record that blends both of our styles.
MAtW – Aftermath got reunited almost 10 years ago, how did it all happen?
Charlie – In 2010, we released a box set called 25 Years of Chaos on a Chinese label called Area Death Productions. We did an interview with me, Ray and John Lovette for that release and we talked about getting together to play, but that never happened.
We actually reunited in late 2014/ early 2015 to play a festival in Hamburg Germany called Headbanger’s Open Air and Ragnarok Metalocalypse in Chicago. Like I said, we had not spoken to Steve since 1998. We booked the two fests before we even knew if everyone was into doing these gigs. I found Steve on Facebook and he was into it. Ray was in and John Lovette was down for it as well. Chris our bass player on our debut Eyes of Tomorrow wasn’t playing music anymore, so we decided to ask our original bassist Adam to do the shows. We rehearsed with him a few times and it didn’t work. We had Eric Alveraz do the two shows. Playing the fests after all those years was unbelievable especially Germany. We never played overseas before so to do it 20 years after we broke up was special. During rehearsal we decided to write a new track and that song led to the next and ultimately the record. None of this was planned.
MAtW – You kept in touch with most of the former band members throughout the years. Did you also keep in touch with many of your previous connections and other artists? How did they react to the news?
Charlie – I kept in touch with a lot of other bands and people in the scene for years. I was in a band called Stripping the Pistol between 2000 and 2005. After that band broke up, I kinda got out of the scene. The reaction from the Aftermath fans that wanted to hear new music and see us live again were thrilled to hear the news.
MAtW – Does the current lineup feel comfortable and stable?
Charlie – The current lineup feels perfect. Like I said it is the three of us that started this band back in 1985 and it wouldn’t work if we weren’t all back. George is the perfect fit for us. He has also added some killer backing vocals that we never had before. It brings a new dimension to the sound.
MAtW – You are a livewire and were quite active after Aftermath was put on hold. Did it feel like you had really left the scene for a while?
Charlie – Stripping the Pistol had this huge buzz and a lot of major labels were into the band’s songs. We had some really bad showcases in the very begging of the band and it was hard to get over those. But, when we really got it going Matt Pinfield at Columbia Records fell in love with the band. Just our luck he got fired before he could sign the band. After we broke up, I felt like it was over for me and music. I wasn’t going to start a new band like some other guys that have been in 20 bands hoping to make it. I was good with being out of music during that time.
MAtW – Does the metal scene feel just as united as before? Some fans and musicians alike are re-living the 80’s and have that millennial “regret”. Do you fully embrace all that “the future” has to offer and are open to any modern challenges and opportunities?
Charlie – The scene back in the early and mid 80s was amazing. It was a scene that we were part of creating. Nothing is better than being there from the beginning. It felt like it was us against the world. I don’t think that exists today. There are too many subgenres today. Back in the day record stores were meeting places for fans and bands. That isn’t there today. I am sure that there is a sense of a scene with the younger bands today, but I don’t think it’s the same. The advantages today really help get your music out there in a way that wasn’t possible back then. Recording today is so much easier. Marketing is easier. Not embracing this stuff is crazy if you want to be in a band now.
MAtW – I was reading an interview with you and one of your replies made me think on how recording an idea or song was back in the 80’s and how now, to quote you, you can use your iPhone for that, at any moment.
Charlie – I used my iPhone to record my ideas for the lyrics and even some of the artwork. I recorded and edited all the intros and interludes on the record on my iPhone. Think about how hard that would be back in the old days. This record would have cost more than Def Leppard records.
MAtW – Another aspect is how everyone can shoot, direct and promote a video. Do you think back then they were more of a statement and promo tool?
Charlie – Making a great looking video today is so much cheaper and easier than it was back in the day. Unless you were on a major label with a huge budget you really couldn’t make a great video on a scale to compete with other great videos. That isn’t the case now. I think that videos in the beginning are like they are now. What I mean is some are just used for promotion of the song and others are actual statements. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that lyric videos today allow bands to get a visual out there that wasn’t possible back then.
MAtW – Same goes for lyrics. Metal and Thrash fans are a bit more aware I think and pay more attention to lyrics. But today, everyone can express themselves whichever way and set a trend. Back in the 80’s you sae the censorship, the PMRC.
Charlie – Metal lyrics are written by metal fans generally and metalheads are generally smarter than fans of other genres. Pop fans aren’t really into politics and social issues. By the 1980s when metal and punk merged into crossover you see really smart lyrics coming into metal. The PMRC didn’t really impact our scene. We never felt censorship. I think that we are headed towards a time of censorship that will really limit our freedoms.
MAtW – You have been onstage and witnessed fans both before and nowadays. What are some common aspects and differences that you noticed?
Charlie – The mosh pits and slam dancing in the beginning was way cooler. There was a total difference in how that happened. Then, Pantera came around and their fans kinda ruined the pit. Today, you see pits to music that would never have a pit back then.
MAtW – What is next for Aftermath? Any lined up shows?
Charlie – We just recorded our very first cover song. This song is from a real legend and it fits with the message of our record. We plan on doing a video for the track and hopefully release it before the end of the year. Our next gig is with Warbringer and Enforcer. We hope to do the fests next year.
MAtW – What still fuels you and how do you keep reinventing yourself?
Charlie – The music fuels me to want to still play music. Lyrically the fucked up world we live in makes me want to keep going. Music allows me to get the word out and try and get people to wake up and question everything. I want them to know their real enemy. To understand that we are being lied to from our governments to our teachers to our religious leaders constantly. That it’s a battle of good v evil. Being in a band lets me get this message out there in a way I couldn’t without it.
MAtW – If your musical style, vocal lines and lyrics were described with a single word, that would be…
Charlie – Aggression
MAtW – Any updates on Striping The Pistol or Mother God Moviestar?
Charlie – We may remix the Stripping the Pistol tracks in the future, but no plans beyond that. Mother God Moviestar was a one-off project.
MAtW – What is your take on pigeonholing a band to a specific genre or style. Is it limiting or helpful to some extent?
Charlie – For some bands like Motorhead or AC/DC it worked. You wanted those bands to remain the same. No need for some bands to experiment. Then there are bands that are great because they mix styles and have no limits of one genre. So it depends on the band.
MAtW – To many fans you are a new band. Do you also get this sense of a fresh start?
Charlie- Totally. Being gone this long makes it feel like the beginning all over again.
MAtW – What is the writing songs process like for Aftermath?
Charlie – It all depends on what era we are talking about. In the very beginning Steve and I would get together and write the songs. I would have a lyric that he wrote the music around or vice versa. Later when John joined the band, he wrote a lot of the tracks on our debut record Eyes of Tomorrow. He would bring a track to rehearsal, I would write the lyrics for the track. Usually his track would be complete musically, but some songs Steve would add part to them. On this record we kinda returned to the very beginning and Steve wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics. Ray is such an amazing drummer that his beats are part of the songwriting process. He adds so much to a track.
MAtW – Can you, please, share some technical details behind recording / producing your latest conceptual album, “There Is Something Wrong” released at the beginning of 2019?
Charlie – We wrote this record relatively fast. The songs came quickly. We were going to go and record at Chicago Recording Company where we did the MGMS record, but we decided instead to work with Chuck Macak, who owns Electrowerks Recording. Chuck is a metal fan and it is great to work with someone that understands the genre. It was really easy and comfortable to work with Chuck, it felt like we had worked together forever. He did an amazing job on the tracking and mixing of the record. The hardest part was to edit all the interludes. What I mean is that I had hours and hours of them on my iPhone and I needed to decide what parts were going to be on the record. Before going in to record I was freaking on about how this part would work. I thought we would need to redo them all in the studio or they would not sound right. Chuck said don’t worry we will take them right from your phone and make them seamless from an audio perspective. They turned out perfect. We basically recorded the songs by tracking the drums first, then the bass tracks and guitar and finally the vocals. We didn’t block out 10 days in a row. Instead we broke up the time between sessions, which made the final product better in my opinion. It gave us more time to live with each track. We had the legend Ted Jensen master the album. My brother and I produced the record.
MAtW – You are also both the (powerful) image and the voice of the band. What are some hidden responsibilities as a frontman?
Charlie – Well thank you for that. In most bands the frontman is the spokesperson. In only a few bands are the other members doing interviews. You can probably count them on one hand. In Aftermath, I have that role. In particular with this album, I have a message to deliver that I am really passionate about and I feel a need to get it out there. It’s a concept album and I wrote the concept so it makes sense that I would handle all the interviews. Obviously if this was a guitar magazine you would be talking to Steve. In the old days before email, I would respond to all the mail we received from around the world. It was thousands of letters. Every band needs a face of the band especially today with all the social media. The other guys aren’t as interested in that part of the band. They’d rather read the interviews than do them I guess.
MAtW – To what extent do you agree that voice can be seen as an instrument or a tool, even?
Charlie – I grew up wanting to be a guitarist. I was an Ace fan and Eddie Van Halen fan. But, a voice can be like an instrument. It’s all about the right tone. You can have a great voice and still have a bad tone. In thrash, the voice is more like an instrument than other genres.
MAtW – What would you say your main strength as a vocalist are – from your perspective?
Charlie – I think it’s my aggression and speed. We write some incredibly fast music and being able to sing as fast as I do, I believe makes our music really original.
MAtW – What was the first show after the reunion like?
Charlie – It felt great playing live again. Having people singing our songs after all those years was something that I won’t forget.
MAtW – What are some + and – aspects of being a musician?
Charlie – In the beginning you don’t appreciate the ride. You are always looking to get signed and that pressure takes away the fun of it sometimes. That is a negative with this industry. The positive is having people enjoy something you create. Creating music you love is a great high. That is the ultimate positive for me. Doing this now after all these years without the pressure of wanting to sign a million dollar major label deal makes it way more enjoyable. We always kinda played by our own rules, but now we really control everything we do. We aren’t trying to please any corporate dude, we have complete creative control, which is amazing. Meeting fans and writers is a positive as well.
MAtW – In retrospect how do you feel about your musical journey altogether?
Charlie – This has been one hell of a crazy ride. When it ended in 1996, I never thought we would get back together. There were some regrets on all the lost opportunities from not signing with some labels that offered us deals in the beginning to finally signing a deal with a label that went bankrupt during the recording of our debut, which delayed its release for 4 years, to the Dre bullshit. But, despite all of that, we wrote some killer music and left a mark on the genre even if it was at a cult level. Coming back now and not being burnt out from too many albums and just doing it as a job like a lot of bands that formed when we did makes our journey great. What I mean is, to be here now and having released a record that I personally love listening to makes it all perfect.
MAtW – Time for the last question: the RANDOM question. What is your favorite conspiracy that you actually believe in?
Charlie – You know the word conspiracy has been tarnished by adding the word theory after it. The CIA wanted to make those that question the “official story” seem like crazy people so they have worked a campaign to make the general public think that conspiracy “theories” are things that crazy people believe in. I don’t have a favorite conspiracy because there is nothing good about them. On the record I list off 33 “conspiracy theories” that everyone thought were crazy theories that only crazy people believed in at the time of those events and later as the years went by those crazy conspiracy theories were true and the “official stories” were all lies. If you listen to the album on the track Pseudocide you will hear me rattle off those 33. There are more, but I picked 33. Some you should know. The biggest recent one is 9/11.
MAtW – Thank you, once again for taking the time to talk to us and if there is anything / anyone else that you would like to mention, please do!
Charlie – I want to thank you again for the great questions. I also want to thank anyone that reads this interview. Finally, KNOW YOUR ENEMY.