Latest release: Pounder (Sidipus)
This month, American thrash metal legends Nuclear Assault will finally be touring Australia. As the band has decided to call it a day, it will also be their final tour anywhere. While bassist and founding member Dan Lilker has visited our shores before with Brutal Truth, the first and final tour to Australia for Nuclear Assault will be something to cherish for thrash metal fans aware of the band’s long tenure and strong back catalogue. Prior to the tour, Loud Online caught with Dan to discuss a wide array of topics including the legacy of the band, the social climate that generates such a band and the upcoming tour.
Nuclear Assault will finally be coming to Australia.
Yeah, I know and I have to apologise as it has been thirty years. It is better late than never.
You’ve been here with Brutal Truth though.
Well, I mean, there are people who like both Brutal Truth and Nuclear Assault but there are some people where Nuclear Assault is kind of on the heavy side of their taste and they might prefer stuff like Overkill and Megadeth. In that case, then it is probably the first time that they will see me.
Given some of your lyrics can be seen as political commentary, would the current state of affairs in the United States ever encourage new material?
Oh well, certainly in one aspect yeah but for one thing we’re not going to be doing any new material. We’re winding things up in Australia, which is on the band’s bucket list. We did release that Pounder EP recently but that will be the extent of it. However, in general, if we are talking conceptually then yes and there will be plenty of bands in America that will have a lot of fuel to write music about recent developments in our political landscape. I’ll leave that up to the young ‘uns. I’m not sure if I’m joking but we’ll try to figure out how that happens as it will have an impact on protest music whether it is folk or grindcore.
Going back thirty years to the when early Nuclear Assault material was written, it was during the Reagan era. That would have created a motivation to be annoyed.
Yeah, good point. Reagan looks like a fuking saint next to this dude [Trump] but you had an adversarial relationship to people making underground music and a conservative Republican President. Hey dude, Reagan did get the Berlin Wall knocked down and I’ll give him credit for that or at least he initiated that. Maybe since we’ve had Obama for eight years then things were going too well meaning that people weren’t really inspired. But there are all sorts of nasty people in government no matter who is in power.
Now with hindsight, would you say that classic songs such as ‘Hang the Pope’ and ‘Critical Mass’ were perfect Nuclear Assault songs, lyrically and musically?
Well, ‘Hang the Pope’ wasn’t the most serious song. It was more of an experiment to play really fast and just have very brutal and vicious lyrics that were just more funny than anything. The big joke is that I’ve had a lot of interviews about that lately and the most recent Pope seems a little bit cooler than other ones. So that’s okay, I don’t want to hang him but maybe just rough him up a little bit, you know, a couple of shots to the head [said in jest]. ‘Critical Mass’ is unfortunately still relevant as there is constantly stuff going on with big corporations such as with horribly damaging oil spills. If you want to have lyrics that talk about what is going on in the world and what you feel is negative, there is never going to be any lack of that. When you talk about religious stuff, it used to be the moral majority but now you’ve got crazy fuckheads like the Westboro Baptist Church and all these family focus type groups we have in America and I am sure you’ve got equivalent groups in Australia, you know, nut bag conservatives that are against various things. There is always somebody to talk about, I guess.
In the early days, the band’s formation was an offshoot from Anthrax. At the time, you also had Slayer coming up who initially had a black metal vibe whereas Nuclear Assault was more influenced by the hardcore scene, at least lyrically. Was that the driving factor to make aggressive, thrashy music?
Well actually, when I was no longer Anthrax, we were just starting out without a band name. I had told John [Connelly – guitars and vocals] that I wanted to play black metal because I was into Venom and Hellhammer, stuff like that. While he enjoyed the music of it, he said, ‘I really cannot do that dude, I’m a fucking Irish Roman Catholic.’ Not to say that he was an extremely religious person but he just didn’t want to go in that direction even though it’s not like they were Satanists. I don’t know, the majority of people playing that stuff are not Satanists, they just are very aggressive atheists. I play in a black metal band now and our drummer is more of a libertarian but I’m digressing.
Did Nuclear Assault have a crossover with the punk crowd?
We definitely didn’t have that because whilst we played L’Amour in Brooklyn with the metal club, we also played CBGBs with the hardcore bands because John and I had been going to those shows for a while checking out these bands. So when we actually played CBGBs it wasn’t people knew it was just ‘Danny and John’s band’. I mean, we were kind of in the middle there because we would play with bands like Slayer or even back then let’s say Carnivore, Whiplash and Overkill; bands that were in the New York, New Jersey area. Or we could play at CBGBs with Adrenaline Overdose and Agnostic Front because our music was talking about realistic issues which had rubbed off on us from the hard core scene. So that tended to appeal to the hard core people more than say Megadeth or something like that, for instance.
When ‘Bring the Noise’ happened with Public Enemy and Anthrax joining forces, in a sense, did that crossover surprise you at all?
Well, obviously Public Enemy are pretty cool and open minded about that stuff. In general, it is always interesting to experiment. It just depends on whether it is inspired or not and I guess that was inspired.
Speaking of inspiration, did touring with Testament and Death Angel in 2002 after Nuclear Assault’s hiatus get you up and running again?
Brutal Truth stopped in 1998 and then started again in 2006. Before that, around the beginning of that decade did some touring in Europe with bands you mentioned. We did some big seven band tours in Europe and it is cool when you see people from back in the day still doing it. That is inspiring to know you’re not the only idiot out there still doing it.
What were your thoughts on all the thrash bands that appeared comparatively recently such as Gama Bomb and Municipal Waste?
I thought that was great because it showed that people still cared about the genre in general. It proved it had validity and that for thrash metal, years later, people are still doing it, listening to it and young people are creating it when I doubt if they were alive at all when Game Over came out [in 1986]. It shows that you could take thrash metal and put in the history books along with jazz, folk or classical as a legitimate genre in that the interest in it wasn’t a flash in the pan. It is flattering to know that there are people who are influenced by stuff that we did a long time ago. I’m not using it as an ego boost but I know that I was in some bands that have inspired people and still do so I can kind of proud of that.
You mentioned an interest in black metal back in the early days but now you’ve got Nicholas Barker from Cradle of Filth on drums.
Yeah that is funny, I never thought about that. I had forgotten about the black metal thing as that was so long ago when we were trying to pick the direction that Nuclear Assault should go in. We picked hardcore because it was something that we could get our teeth into a little bit more. Then sometimes I fill in for bass duties on Lock Up which is a very dark, evil grind core. So yeah, we’re all into that stuff.
Can you talk about the band you’re bringing to Australia?
It is going to be a four piece with Nick Barker on drums because Glenn [Evans – drums] had problems with his forearm that has held him up a for a long time. We’re going to have Eric Burke on guitars who was also in Brutal Truth when we came back; he is kind of like my right hand man. Eric has been doing stuff for Nuclear Assault almost since when we came back around 2003, except for a brief period. So you’ve still got me and John from the original days but I’m sorry you’re not getting all the original members. People move on or have to recover from muscular issues that make it impossible to play. Everybody will be doing all the parts that sound familiar to you guys so it’ll sound fine.
If looking over the back catalogue, is there any thing you’d want to improve production wise?
I thought that the guitar sounds on Game Over sounded a little tinny and that was a sore point then because when we were recording that record, at Pyramid Sound Studios in Ithaca, New York, we finished the bass and then John had to do all the rhythms. So Glen, Anthony [Bramante – guitars] and myself went out to hit some baseballs for whilst they got sounds. When we came back, the guitar sound was a little under-distorted and they got defensive saying it was the sound we had earlier so we left it. John agrees that it sounds a little tinny now though. Other people will tell you that is what makes it classic. I spoke to Fenriz from Dark Throne and he said he wouldn’t have that album any other way as it is the perfect sound for it that makes it distinctive. Besides that minor complaint, I’m pretty happy with the production we had on our records.
How do you feel about the Live at the Hammersmith Odeon album in hindsight?
That was really just the audio from a video we had released already so that album always bothered me a tiny bit because I thought it was a rip off for anyone who already had the video. That was a business decision at the time which I disagreed with but that was the time when things started to unravel for various reasons and that was one of them. Of course the material on there was good and for a live band we sounded good but it was a question of releasing the soundtrack to a video we’d already released.
At least it was Hammersmith, the Mecca of metal.
Well yeah and everybody had that Motörhead album No Sleep ’til Hammersmith. It was awesome to play that same stage as a headliner. We’d played as a support band there before but it was a big prestigious moment to headline. In that aspect, yeah, it is a cool album in that it references a point in time that was a really cool, big step for the band.
Overall, which album would you say realised your vision from start to finish?
I would say Handle With Care because we were at the top of our game. After that, we had the Out of Order record which wasn’t as inspired. I was already getting into grind and death metal by then so part of that is my fault. Survive is really good but I thought that the big studio production made it sound a tiny bit too polished and was one of those things where people were spending four hours trying to get a really good sound for the snare. But for Handle with Care, we had been touring for a while and we’d been writing together for a while and jamming. So, I am really proud of that record from start to finish because the production and song writing all came together showing that the band was really tight and you could really tell.
The obvious question of course is why is this the final tour for Nuclear Assault?
It is just getting to a point now on our lives were it is difficult to tour like we did. For example, our front man John is a high school teacher and in order for him to keep that job he has to stay around New York for ten months out of the year with the exception of a few little vacations and he has also got a family. It is just those kind of realistic things. If we had the success of say Metallica then obviously people wouldn’t have to work regular jobs but that was never realistic with our music and how things were handled so you have to accept certain domestic and financial realities as you get older. When I was in my mid-twenties I was carefree, living with my parents so I didn’t have to pay rent and I could just go out but you have to wind things down eventually because you just don’t have time to do it right.
It makes perfect sense. The changing of music formats and how people listen to it keeps changing but vinyl is still around. What are your thoughts?
I guess that is one of those things of what is old is new again. I remember being old enough that when the technology of CDs came out it was like, ‘wow, this is great, this is digital technology’ and it brought conveniences including not having to get up to flip the record over. Now we’ve ended up with people having music on their phone in mp3 format. They’ve lost the warmth and quality of vinyl and in parallel to that, when bands recorded, they did so in analogue. Now everything is digital so you can do it on your computer at home. I think that with vinyl, people are simply craving the nice warm, thick sound that you get from a record being cut as opposed to the all-digital way. Digital is certainly easier and convenient but you can lose that warmth and low end and also just the format. Vinyl is cool because there are people who are not old enough to remember being able to go to a record store so it might be a novelty for them. I don’t know but I think it is cool because I like how it sounds although I don’t have a turntable either.
Finally, Anthrax’s Fistful of Metal needs a mention, given you were briefly in the band. Now that many years have passed by, do you now have fond memories about the experience?
Oh yeah, sure. I mean, it was a bit awkward when it came out because that was three days after I had been thrown out of the band without going into detail about Neil Turbin but that is a whole other story. So it was bittersweet when the record came out because it was like, ‘I’m finally on a record’ but I was not in the band anymore. Obviously, you cannot stay bitter forever so I did something constructive and said, ‘screw it, I’m going to form another band’ and that was Nuclear Assault. But, the point being is that yeah, looking back on it now I am definitely proud of that record and I wrote most of it musically. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that is their favourite Anthrax record and I’ll stop them and say, ‘you’re just saying that because I’m standing here’ and they’ll say, ‘no, man, it was never the same after that’. So, yeah I am definitely proud of it.