MELIAH RAGE - Idol Hands: Inside The Devil's Workshop
July 19, 2018, 5 months ago
No doubt that if you asked any of the Meliah Rage members if they thought they’d be toiling in the metal world for over 30 years, they’d give you an evil look. But let’s get one thing straight. And you can ask any of the countless metal bands that were formed way back in the late ‘60s and beyond, that this club is permanent. At least for the ones that have a sense of credibility and commitment. It’s that tattoo on your body and lifelong love that never fades. And for many bands, their star is shining brighter than ever, as the scene sees no borders since the world wide web helped open up the flood gates.
And Idol Hands is such a powerful statement. Akin to that ultimate prize fighter who keeps emerging, even if his/her body is torn and tattered. It’s called strength. The power of inner strength to quote the fine Grip Inc. album from 1995.
BraveWords was honored to be asked to witness the Bostonians put the final touches on Idol Hands during a fittingly stormy weekend in Massachusetts a few months back. Fitting? To call the eight perfectly structured tracks on the album stormy is an understatement. It is an album about overcoming intense adversity, both mental and physical. Human beings conquering physical limitations and being boldly open about depression and suicidal thoughts. Both realizations that many people/families face daily. And unlike past eras where such “challenges” were just simply brushed under the rug, society finally realized that this “disease” is so common, it must be shared openly. It’s the only way to solve the ailment, to get to the root of the problem and try to fix it. Which is far, far, far from an easy task.
So today, the five members of Meliah Rage - leader/guitarist Anthony Nichols, singer Paul Souza, shredder Jim Koury and the backbone of bassist Darren Lourie and drummer Stuart Dowie - are role models of the highest order. And they’ve unleashed one of the most powerful statements of their career, and a sure win to be one of the top heavy metal releases in 2018 (check out my glowing review here).
So let us find out ‘where the darkness lies’:
BraveWords: The creative forces of Meliah Rage meet again. How did that happen? Who made the first phone call? Who reached out?
Souza: "Man, that’s a good question. Tony did, I think.”
Nichols: "We’re always in touch.”
Souza: "Yeah, exactly.”
Nichols: "Paul and I are gonna be friends till death, you know, we’ll bicker about this and that, because singer-guitar players that’s what you do. Like I said Joe Perry and Steven Tyler will die in the same coffin, but you know, they’ll spat with each other, that’s what you do!”
Souza: "That’s what brothers do.”
BraveWords: So water’s thicker than blood in your case.
Souza: "Yeah, exactly...or beer!”
Nichols: "But Tony doesn’t drink.”
Souza: "Tony’s right, we’re always texting about the Celtics or the Patriots, or how are your kids doing?”
Nichols: "We’re sports junkies.”
Souza: "Yeah, big time. So that’s fun, we go back and forth all the time about different stuff, just away from Meliah Rage.”
Nichols: "I was at his wedding.”
Souza: "Absolutely. So we’re going to be friends forever.”
Nichols: "This started with the band Cactus Land. After we got dropped by Epic - he (Paul) was in a band in the same rehearsal space across the hall that was more of an ’80’s - don’t know what kind of band - but they weren’t metal.”
BraveWords: Flock Of Seagulls? A different flock?
Nichols: "Yeah, whatever - something I wouldn’t listen to, a record I wouldn’t buy. But he was this big, intimidating singer, he had a great voice. I remember talking to him in the foyer of the rehearsal studio. So we put a band together, Cactus Land, and we got signed by Lenny Petze of Epic records new label and did a half a record - pretty big budget stuff.”
Souza: "Pretty funny story - Lenny Petze signed Michael Jackson, and in the song ‘Rock And Roll Band’ by Boston, there’s a line in the song - ‘Man came to the stage one night, smoked a big cigar and drove a Cadillac car, and said ‘Boys I think this band’s out of sight’ - that was Lenny Petze.”
BraveWords: Really? Wow!
Souza: "Yup! So he signed us to what was at the time his own label, Aureus, and they were a subsidiary of Warner Bros. So we did a record with them.”
Nichols: "Well we did a five record (deal) - and a video - that he was going to shop it to the higher ups. It was a startup label with him, and he took a female disco singer, and he had a grindcore metal band, and he had this type of music - and he shopped them all and what didn’t get picked up - and we didn’t get picked up - got shelved. So even though we signed to them it never got the distribution, so it never got released.”
Souza: "And then eventually Warner Bros. downsized and cut all their subsidiary labels, and he was one of the casualties.”
BraveWords: Welcome to the music business.
Nichols: "I’ve been in with him (Paul) since then. When Barely Human came around and this guy Tim from Screaming Ferret who you know, came to my house and said ‘metal’s coming back, put out a record.’ So I asked Mike Munro and he wasn’t into it at the time, but I thought to myself I know a guy who’s got the same tone and voice and fits the Meliah Rage mystique of a big singer - you know, it wouldn’t be Meliah Rage with a 5’ 5” singer.”
Souza: "It was funny; Tony gave me a disc of the songs and it just sat on my dining room table for months. I was just coming off a project that I was doing and I didn’t have anything happening and I started just jonesing, wanting to get out and play again - so I threw the disc in and I listened to it one afternoon at home by myself. Tony’s always been a great song writer, the music that he writes is intelligent, it’s well crafted, and I’m listening to this disc and thinking to myself ‘Shit, this is good.’ So I started coming up with some lyric and melody ideas and Tony was working with, rest his soul, Joe Moody at the time, who’s since passed…”
Nichols: "He’s a local studio owner, audio engineer…”
Souza: "He had great ears, he was a great engineer. So they invited me down to Rhode Island and I went into the studio and threw some of these ideas down, and during one of the breaks Joe came up to me and he was like, ‘Dude, you gotta do this.’ Because I was sceptical at first, I had some reservations about it, I wasn’t quite sure if it was my thing. But after we did the record it was great, and it was fun going around with these guys and playing.”
BraveWords: How would you describe the magic between you two?
Nichols: "Well that wasn’t the first time.”
Souza: "Tony and I we had a band called Lacklustre and the stuff that he writes just kind of speaks to me. The thing I love about it is, it’s heavy but it also screams for a lot of melody. Some of the best songs I’ve ever written and I’ve ever heard aren’t Meliah Rage songs. We wrote a song called ‘The Man Who Raised God’ which is, I think, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. It should be on a movie soundtrack.”
Nichols: "How that came out was in 1999 - that’s when metal was completely dead, Meliah Rage was completely in the rear view mirror - I just had all this stuff that wasn’t really metal, so I thought ‘what if I just put all this stuff on a record, you know? Just make a record.’ I recorded everything, and Paul was the guy to do it, but it wasn’t really metal. There was some hard stuff but then there was like, Tangerine. So that morphed into The Velveteen Playboys which was as un-metal as you can get.”
Souza: "Tony is an original member of the Velveteen Playboys.”
Souza: "It’s been a long musical journey with he and I, we’ve done a ton of stuff together, and it’s been fun. I enjoy writing with him, and I enjoy the music that he writes.”
BraveWords: I find Meliah Rage really sticks out from the whole metal community, because its more about the rhythms instead of the leads. Those harmonious rhythms and those big chorus lines that just fucking tear at your heart and take your head places.
Souza: "I love getting into the groove of the music. I grew up listening to R&B, and Motown, and stuff like that, and all that stuff is groove oriented. I hear grooves in Tony’s music that a lot of metal bands don’t have, so I try to sing to that groove, whether it be 1/8 or 1/16 of whatever, to me it just doesn’t sound like any other metal I’ve heard.”
BraveWords: And it takes a strong musical personality to admit that you like Marvin Gaye, but at the same time you can devour Reign In Blood.
Souza: "Absolutely. Anybody who does anything with conviction, I love. That’s the key for me. If I hear passion in what you’re doing and conviction, I’m in. Sold. It doesn’t matter what style it is. I always joke, I tell people, I like anything as long as it’s good.”
BraveWords: When I first heard the album title, Idol Hands, I thought it might have been a play on words with the fact that you had idle hands for a long time.
Souza: "I was going through a big depression at the time, and I was coming out of it. There’s an old saying, ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ and I have been in that workshop. I switched idle to idol, the idol being Satan…”
BraveWords: Not Billy?
Souza: "Him too (laughing).”
Nichols: "He’s a motorcycle rider; I stand up for all motorcycle riders.”
Souza: "Given the circumstances that were going on in my life, I just thought that that little play on words and that saying was apropos to what we were about to do.”
BraveWords: How did it relate to the art work?
Souza: "I started looking for stock photos of things dealing with Satan, and I found this photo and Tony loved it. It’s going to look great on a t-shirt.”
BraveWords: Talk about the standout tracks on the record.
Nichols: "I would say short, quick, punchy, ‘Idol Hands’ is in your face, and ‘Crushed Beneath My Heel’ just brutal. Finding out what they were about last night, gives a whole new meaning to the song, and makes it even better. Those are my two favourites.”
Souza: "I will make the bold statement and say there isn’t a bad song on this record. I don’t hear any filler or any of that crap. These songs are all well crafted and there’s a lot of passion and conviction in the lyrics and the melodies, and kudos to Rich Spielberg who was instrumental in pushing me and getting me to a completely different level with this stuff. He did an unbelievable job. He was the third writer.”
Nichols: "Me, putting this thing together, I didn’t want anything that wasn’t good, and Rich Spielberg is the best. He produced vocals on Masquerade and I’ve seen him in action, he takes the singer to the next level. And we gotta give props to Pete Rucho - because you hear all the little ins and outs that he does that you don’t get with anybody else. The beauty with Pete is it’s the first time I’ve never been in on a mix and I’d say ‘Pete, give me something’ and he’d say ‘Fuck you, no. Bands fuck up mixes, I know what I’m doing. You know what you’re doing putting the song together, the video guys know what they’re doing, get out of my hair and when it’s ready, it’s ready.’ That’s what he does.”
Souza: "This was the dream team.”
Nichols: "Every producer hates the band being there because the guitar player says ‘I can’t hear myself.’ The singer says ‘I can’t hear myself.’ The drummer, ‘my cymbal isn’t loud enough’ - so he said get out of my way.”
Souza: "We gave him the keys and he killed it. It was great. But getting back to favourite tracks - my favourite track on the record is Sentenced To Life, without a doubt. The verses are just so brutal, and then there’s the melodic chorus, I think these are the best choruses I’ve ever written, on any record I’ve ever done. Period.”
BraveWords: What’s the forecast in terms of getting on the road?
Nichols: "Slow, and see what happens. No more unkept promises. When you’re 25 you can get out and go do it. Long past 25, everybody’s busy. But we’ll see what happens. We’d love to do some festivals, but us going out for 3 months straight, I don’t see that happening.”
BraveWords: What would be your dream tour?
Nichols: "Reality dream tour?”
BraveWords: Not reality.
Nichols: "Well, obviously Metallica. You know, you want to be on the biggest stage. Iron maiden, too. Those are the two biggest stages.”
Souza: "Love it.”
Check out a series of videos that BraveWords shot with the band here.
(Photo of "Metal" Tim with Anthony Nichols and Paul Souza in downtown Boston by Sephora Hosein)