|Photo by Robert Escue|
For years I had never considered it, really didn't think anyone was interested in hearing from Viking again. Then a series of things happened that led to Matt Jordan and I talking about the reality of doing it again. Although we tried numerous times and various methods, we were never able to get Brett or James to respond at all.
Now, Justin Zych (Formerly of Argonaut, Valhalla, Vindicator, etc.), and Mike Gonzalez (Dark Angel) are the members of the band that joined upon the reuniting of Viking, how did they come to be in the band?
I usually don't like it when bands continue on without the original members. To me, Kiss was always Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter, and Slayer was always Tom, Kerry, Jeff, and Dave. But when it became apparent that Brett and James weren't going to participate, we didn't want that to stop the momentum of the new material coming out, because it was clearly very Viking. So we tried to "keep it in the family," by recruiting Glenn Rogers (Deliverance, Hirax) who had been our stage manager through the 80s and had always been a great friend of Brett's. We didn't know what to do about bass, and originally had a local guy filling the spot. Then, by sheer coincidence, Gonzo (Mike Gonzalez of Dark Angel) texted Gene out of the blue and Gene was all, "You'll never guess where I am right now... I'm in the studio recording the new Viking album!" Gonz immediately asked if they had a bass player. The next day, we were on the phone and working out the details of him being in the band full-time. This was great, because he was as close in the family as we could imagine. Our second Viking show (Nov 21, 1986 at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood) was opening for Dark Angel on their Darkness Descends album release show, which was Gonzo's first show. And the bands had been friends ever since that night. Then Glenn had to back out because he had joined the re-formed Heretic. I met Justin through a mutual friend and he was already a Viking fan and a MONSTER player. He showed up to the first rehearsal fully prepared and we've never had to look back. And as anyone who's seen us live knows, he has made Viking shows even more insane.
|Photo by Robert Escue|
Your first band, Tracer, had one demo entitled "Sudden Death", that included three songs that were never really used again, to my knowledge. Thoughts on that demo?
First thought: It was terrible! But at the time, we were pretty happy with it. It's so dated now, but we did get "Militia of Death" resurrected when Viking first got together. That song is really the only reason we have the demo for sale in the Viking Merch Store (shop.vikingthrashmetal.com). It's great for fans to see the major influence that Brett had in directing our sound and our speed from where we were in Tracer into the early days of Viking.
The transition of guitarist, to singer/guitarist happened after Tony Vargas (or Tony Spider at the time in Tracer) left Tracer, and Viking was in formation, how was that for you?
They really were two different entities. Tony was only there for the demo - we never did any live shows because we couldn't find a decent vocalist who wanted to stick around. And at some point, we broke up. I definitely wasn't a transition from one to the other. Specifically, the change from guitarist to singer/guitarist was initially fairly difficult. Fortunately, the music I was listening to at the time were the first albums from Slayer and Metallica. So I took cues from those singer/players as to how to fit vocals in with riffs. Sometimes it's a piece of cake, other times (like with pretty much every song on the new album), it takes a LOT of work to be able to play and sing together.
What stage name Ronnie Devious from the Tracer days... What was up with that?
That stage name actually started in the band before, which was the Hags. When I was asked to join that pretty popular band in the Orange County punk scene, I needed a stage name. And there was a kid at school who absolutely hated me, always saying things like, "That Ron Daniel is so devious!" At the time, I was seeing the band Witch quite a bit in the clubs, and their guitar player was "Ronny Too", and I thought "Ronny Devious" had good assonance.
Your last name, Eriksen, was also used by Brett, but he wasn't, and isn't your blood relative, reason for that? And do you go by Ron Daniel, for that reason?
Eriksen was another stage name. Brett and I both decided to use it and do the "brothers in a band" thing, since there were a million bands that had no story, nothing for the magazines to write about. So it was just two unrelated guys - Ron Daniel and Brett Sarachek - who took on stage names.
|Photo by Robert Escue|
What brought about the name Viking for the band? Who did the logo design, and are you still fond of it to this day?
I don't remember exactly how far into songwriting we were at that point. I know we'd done "Hellbound" and resurrected "Militia of Death". I do remember having an epiphany of simplicity one day and calling Brett on the phone and excitedly telling him, "Let's just call it 'Viking' and we'll be the Erickson brothers!" He immediately agreed, but specified that we spell Erickson the Danish way, as "Eriksen". Matt Jordan drew up a logo out of stone and horns and we all liked it immediately. Our first stickers were made from that first drawing. You can see it on the cover of our 1986 "Do or Die" demo on our website's music page (vikingthrashmetal.com/music). I wasn't at all happy with the interpretation of it that the painter did on the first album, so I drew a new "official" penciled version of it before "Man of Straw" came out and James airbrushed the horns. Unfortunately, that one got pretty well ruined on the "Man of Straw" cover. But we've salvaged it for the re-released, the stickers, and of course for the new album "No Child Left Behind". As a graphic designer, I really don't like the logo, only because it creates a giant blank space at the top between the horns. We've slightly shortened the horns from the original, but it still can be a pain to design around.
What are the memories that stick out the most to you while you recorded your first album "Do or Die", and where did you record it?
We recorded the first album at Adamo's Recording in Westminster, California. Gerry (Adamo, owner/engineer) didn't do rock music, much less thrash metal, but I was stupidly concerned about proximity to my house. (When we'd recorded the demo, I'd slept on Brett's floor in Redondo Beach so we would get to the studio first thing in the morning. I woke up with a sinus infection, and the demo's vocals suffered for it.) So the choice of studio was ONLY based on it being close to my house. We'd recorded the Tracer demo there, and that should have clued me in. But I was a teenager who couldn't be convinced I wasn't always right, so that was that. The difference was obvious. When you listen to Chuck Rosa's engineering of drums (he did Abbatoir, Laaz Rockit, etc.), they sound a million times better on the demo than the drum sound we got on the album. Since he wasn't a metal guy, when we would tell Gerry "make it heavier," to him that meant "turn up the bass frequencies." The album was a disaster, top to bottom. The only reason it has survived as one of the classic thrash albums is because the songs are so strong.
You guys were on Metal Blade records after "Do Or Die". How was that? Did they give you good treatment, and did they promote the band well?
They must have done their job right, since people all over the world got ahold of our album. As far as treatment, everyone was always friendly. We were clueless about almost everything, so it would have been nice to have someone hand-holding and explaining everything and what we should be doing, but that really is the job of a manager, and we never had one.
Any notable tours that had lots of great crowds and memories from the tour following that album?
We had no idea what we were doing. No one told us to tour on the record, so we just kept playing all over Southern California the way we had been. Crowds were getting bigger, but like I said, we had no manager, so we wouldn't have known how to book a tour or anything. We didn't even know how to get t-shirts made. We were 100% clueless at that point.
What were you heavily influenced by in the 80s, and do they still hold true to how you shape your sound today?
I spent all of high school listening to AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, and just about every local L.A. band out there. Steeler, Ratt, Witch, Armored Saint, Ruthless, etc. When I got ahold of the Metallica demo, and later Slayer's "Show No Mercy" and Venom's "Black Metal", those are what mostly shaped how I thought music should be played. Sure, I can sit down with an acoustic guitar and write a song, but as a guitar player and lyricist, the Viking thing is really all I know how to do.
Being a thrash band from the Los Angeles area, you had a lot of surrounding bands, Dark Angel, being the one Viking seemed to be the most involved with, how did that happen?
We made friends that first Whiskey show. By coincidence, I had also bugged Goldenvoice enough that we got the opening slot on the Megadeth show that was at Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach two weeks later. Dark Angel was on that bill as well, along with Sentinel Beast. So we had two shows together in two weeks. After that, Jim (Durkin), Gene (Hoglan), Brett and I, were always hanging out in some combination. Any other thrash band we knew usually happened by making friends with them at the parties that were always happening at Jim Durkin's apartment.
Did the progression of metal and the scene itself intrigue you while Viking evolved(ie, death metal, grindcore, crossover, speed metal), or were you immersed in your music?
I was never really exposed to a lot of music in the scene. I remember liking Testament's "The Legacy", Forbidden's "Forbidden Evil" and Artillery's "Terror Squad". But I was never a collector of music, and was busy with Viking. When I left Viking and moved away to Oregon, I totally lost track of the metal scene. I missed the rise of Pantera and of all the genre splits that happened. To this day, I can't tell you the difference between Death Metal, Doom Metal, Grindcore, Industrial, etc. I just know what I like and what I don't. I don't like Cookie Monster vocals, and I don't like stuff that's so technical I can't follow it or headbang to it. I don't like blast beats that are so fast I can't even tell what's going on. I don't like opera-sounding show tunes. I love heavy riffs, great vocalists, and lyrics that aren't banal and stupid. I'm just an oldschool metalhead who likes good metal, whatever that may mean to me.
The second studio album Viking had, "Man of Straw", was recorded in 1989. Did it take long to come up with that material, or did you already have it ready at that point?
Before "Do or Die" came out, we had already played enough live shows to realize what fans responded to and how to arrange songs to orchestrate that. Plus, Gene had been challenging me to go deeper with my lyric writing. He never gave me words, but he challenged me in ways like, "You're an eloquent guy, so instead of just saying you're splitting a skull with an axe, why don't you describe how it feels to rip the jawbone from a man?" So the lyrics got less "demons and battles" and more topical and descriptive. So we were writing a ton of new material, and really wanting to get the second album out there, especially because we knew the first one was getting such bad reviews for the sound quality of it.
What was the idea behind Man Of Straw, and was it reflected heavily in the album art? Whose idea was it, or was it collective?
The Man of Straw is an unstable schizophrenic. He looks into the mirror and sees someone completely different. Something angry, something horrifying, something destructive. We had the artist incorporate some of the other song themes into it as well. So it's snowing outside for "Winter", the guy has a wedding ring on the wrong finger for "Creative Divorce" and there's a helicopter crashing for "Twilight Fate". Incidentally, a lot of fans thought we somehow prophesied the 9-11 disaster on that album cover. But that is a helicopter, not a plane . I think most of the album cover idea came from me and Matt Jordan. Ultimately, it was John Zeleznik who put it all together in such an awesome way. He was fresh out of art school at the time, but then went on to become a very famous artist, doing high-profile work like calendars for Heavy Metal magazine and cards for Magic: The Gathering.
|Photo by Robert Escue|
How did the recording of that album go? Did you have better gear this time, did it take long in the studio, you know, things like that.
"Man of Straw" was so incredibly different. We had the legendary Bill Metoyer () engineering for us, and Gene Hoglan was our drum tech. We recorded it in multiple studios, each chosen for their strengths. We weren't pressed for time, and we wanted to do it right this time around. The band agreed that I would produce, which basically meant we let Bill do his thing, and whenever there was a choice he wanted us to make, I would make it. Other than a few minor mistakes, notes out of pitch, etc., I'm still very happy with that record.
Was Man Of Straw well received to your fans at the time, and how do you feel it holds up today?
I don't remember the exact timing, but I left the band shortly after "Man of Straw" hit the streets, and moved out of state. So I never heard from anyone what the response was. Years later, I've heard so much great response that I imagine it was well-received. However, the most common adjective used to describe the album is still "underrated." As far as I'm concerned, it's a great record and I still like listening to it.
What eventually lead to your departure of Viking, and what did you do in your absence?
That would be a long and philosophical answer. The short version is that the life I was trying to live as a new Christian wasn't going to be compatible with the Helstar tour we were about to go on. I looked for a replacement for me so that the band didn't have to disintegrate, but couldn't find anyone.
In my absence, I didn't pick up a guitar for over a year. I started studying the Bible at a high-college level and eventually became a teacher.
What were your thoughts on the track released after you left Viking called "Abortuary", and the general idea of how they sounded?
"Abortuary" was the only song we had completed for the third Viking record. I had written it while Brett was on the Dark Angel "Leave Scars" tour using an Alesis HR16 drum machine. We would have no doubt refined it once Brett returned - Brett and I always tweaked each others' songs in rehearsals for various reasons, and they were almost always better for it. (I think I made the song "Man of Straw" worse by changing the intro from a chromatic progression into an actual musical key, but other than that they were always better). Anyway, "Abortuary" was a snapshot of an early, unrefined tune. When Lost & Found Records said they were re-releasing "Man of Straw" and asked for bonus material, that was all I had to offer them in terms of "new" music. It sounded just like I expected it to sound - a cheap four-track cassette recording with a cheesy 80's drum machine.
After the years of being gone from Viking, and seeming to break away from the band itself, what made you want to start the band up again?
For years, Glenn Rogers had been telling me I should resurrect Viking. But neither Matt nor I had really given it much thought. Then a record company contacted me, asking for anything at all they could release. I had already given "Abortuary" to Lost & Found Records, and had nothing else to give them. That started my brain down a path of what new Viking material would sound like, and what it would be about. Things just sort of snowballed from there.
|Photo by Robert Escue|
When all the members you got together met up, did you all hang out first, then find a practice space and get to writing a new album, or did it all just happen while playing old tunes or something?
I actually just started writing, and talking a lot with Matt. We're on opposite sides of the country, so an early rehearsal wasn't going to be practical.
Where was/is your practice space?
I'm based in Fort Wayne, Indiana now, so we practice in a warehouse that our guitar player Justin has. He's in a number of bands, and needs that much space for everything he does.
Was the response to Viking coming back a shock to you, and were you happy with how things were going, and did you feel comfortable with the situation at first?
I was frankly astounded at the reaction. I really didn't think almost anybody cared about Viking. But when we put up a Facebook page and immediately started getting hundreds, then thousands, of followers, I saw that people were interested in what we had done all those years ago, and in what we were planning on doing.
The recording of No Child Left Behind started in 2011, if I recall correctly, and it was released in March of this year (2015). Was the length of time all recording, and mixing, and all, or were there technical issues or something that you had to work around in that time before release?
The writing didn't take long at all. I initially wanted to get this out very quickly, and once Matt's schedule made it apparent that I could delay or have Gene step in, I thought it was important to keep the momentum going. Gene's collaboration provided that springboard that I no longer had without Brett, so that turned out to be a very good thing. We couldn't get bass recorded until about 4 months later, but then the real delays started happening. I won't go into all the details, but it was a string of really difficult obstacles. The two biggest ones were my mom unexpectedly dying, and several computer issues and Pro Tools issues that hamstrung us for months at a time.
The title of the album "No Child Left Behind", to what was it referring, and was this topic thought up and important to all the band members?
Ever since "Man of Straw," the band has always left lyrical content totally up to me. In this case, "No Child Left Behind" actually has multiple interpretations. On the surface, it is a play on words between the controversial law that the US Congress enacted to somehow "fix" our education system, with Viking invaders storming a village and leaving no survivors. But there are deeper interpretations for it, including what our prison system does to underage criminals.
Now that brings me to the recent tour you just finished up a few days ago. What started that tour, and how did you recruit Possessor to go on the tour with you guys? Did you hear them somewhere and think they were awesome and really cool guys?
Our tours start with events we get invited to, and we build road trips around them. In this case, we were asked to play the NYDM Spring Bash in Milwaukee, so we had Signature Riff book us a two-week tour leading up to it. We didn't know Possessor at all, and never met them until the night of the first show in Cleveland. Within a few days, we were becoming friends, and by the end of the tour we were all genuinely sad to be going our separate ways. We'd gladly tour with them again anytime - to a man, they are fantastic people to be around.
Did you have good turn outs to the shows, and were the responses as good as you had hoped?
Turnout to shows mostly depended on the night of the week. As we expected, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays had fantastic attendance, whereas Sundays and Mondays generally stunk. The response to the band is consistently great. Although it is interesting to see the personality of the metal scene in various cities. Some crowds wouldn't start a pit even if you paid them, and others you can barely get them to stop between songs!
Any moments you feel stand out among others during the the shows you played and afterwards?
For me, the most impacting times of the tour are the interactions with fans who we've had influence on over the years. I remember being 13/14 and building my musical foundation with certain albums, and when I hear from guys that they did the same thing with Viking records, I am deeply impacted in my heart. Especially when it's guys who went on to create their own music. That just blows me away every time.
Was this the first full length tour you had done after reforming Viking?
This was the longest run we've done so far. I think the ones we've done before have been about five shows each.
What was your favorite place to play, and why?
That's an impossible question. Some venues treat bands great, some cities have amazing, rabid fans, and sometimes it's just a magical combination of things. There were a couple cities that really stood out, but I wouldn't want to discount the others.
The last fews weeks of the tour seemed pretty hectic with the sudden leave of Justin, and replacing him on tour with Shaun Cothron (Acheron), along with suddenly getting bronchitis. That must have been rough, but how did you find Shaun so quickly, and how did you cope with the bronchitis (which didn't seem to affect your vocals in my opinion)?
I appreciate the fans who complimented the vocals on the tour, when I was operating at 10-20% of my ability. But I think they were probably just caught in the adrenaline of the intensity of the show. In reality, I was pretty devastated to not be able to deliver vocally the way I know I can night after night. I learned new and interesting ways to deliver the songs and it seemed to satisfy. As for Shaun, he is an amazing player and a fast study. We had been keeping in mind that with Justin's baby due just a couple weeks after the tour ended, we might find ourselves up a creek. Which we did, and we had a tentative plan. We did miss a show, but Shaun flew in to Atlanta and we picked him up and started going over things immediately.
Any favorite bands you have from the metal scene nowadays, and what are your thoughts in general on the metal scene now?
I really don't follow the scene closely at all. First, I'm afraid of my brain picking up other bands' sounds and riffs, and I really want to keep myself on the Viking path as purely as I can keep it. So I really don't hear much in the way of bands. However, the other night I caught a lot of Deceased's set and those guys have some monstrous riffs and such a fantastic frontman. I met King Fowley afterwards, and he gave me his favorite CD from the band's discography. I'm really looking forward to devouring that. I promise to try not to steal any of their riffs! As for the scene in general, it's difficult to see live concerts not getting the attendance they did in the 80s. I'm thankful for all the clubs in Southern California that didn't have over 18 or over 21 rules - I was able to go to shows four or five nights a week. But fans need to step up. Seeing your favorite band on YouTube a few days later isn't the same for you, and sure isn't the same for the band. We do this for the fans, and we really need you to show us that we're not doing it for nothing.
In closing, what would you like to do next with Viking, and are you happy with where you are right now with your life and the band?
I'm rarely happy with where I am in life, but that's my own mental issue. As far as what's next for Viking, we're hoping that some larger festivals take notice of what is happening with us and see the kind of show we give crowds. Regardless, we will keep playing live for fans as often as we can, whether there's 30 of them or 30 thousand.