Alec "Al Ravage" Firicano - Ravage "What We Are Doing is a Little Less Conventional"
Interview with vocalist Alec Firicano as he talks about rerecording the band's 2005 full-length debut, their DIY approach to producing and recording and how "Goosebumps" impacts their new record.
By: Eric Compton | Published: Friday, August 4, 2017
Boston traditionalists Ravage have been pushing that heavy load for over 20 years now. In many ways, they are symbolic of 2017's American worker--laboring their way through a decimated blue-collar environment while watching industries thrive overseas. It's unfair, yet a by-product of years of neglect from an audience that simply either didn't know or was too alienated from the traditional sound. Thus 2005's 'Spectral Rider' record came and went faster than the torch-bearing motorist adorning the album's cover. It's a damn shame...time, money and effort spent on a full-length debut that was plagued with poor production, mastering and label promotion. Thus 'Spectral Rider' was gone with the wind.
Ravage revisits the failures of 'Spectral Rider' with 'Return of the Spectral Rider', released independently by the band in May of 2017. After a one-off release on Metal Blade Records, 'The End of Tomorrow', the band have re-recorded the 'Spectral Rider' album, troubleshooting and resolving the prior problems with a successful facelift. The band built a new studio, invited all hands-on deck and recreated 'Spectral Rider' for the 2017 audience, one that is now firmly embracing this New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal.
Maximum Metal scribe Eric Compton spoke to singer Al Ravage about the band's rerecording, the Metal Blade contract, upcoming plans and...a kids horror book series called "Goosebumps".
MM: Hey Al, thanks for calling. You know in preparing for this interview I was listening to your interviews and reading a lot of your press stuff around the 2009 era of the band. It's kind of funny to hear you back then talking about playing to the bartender, broken vehicles, sleeping in pet parks *laughing* and playing with goregrind bands that are lighting themselves on fire. Listening to those interviews around that time you guys were disheartened to say the least, but now, reading your press stuff in the last half-year or so, a lot more positive attitude it seems like. Partly because you guys might see a little light at the end of the tunnel with more traditional metal in the US. Fill me in on the change of attitude from 2009 until here recently.
Well, you know it has been a strange trip we've had. So, I guess going back to 2009, you know when we signed with Metal Blade for our second album ('The End of Tomorrow'), it was really the first album that we released in the US in any meaningful way. It was totally unexpected that we would be signed. I think at the time I was fully expecting to just put the album out ourselves because we didn't have any label interest at that time. And then Metal Blade came out of the blue so we were faced with the choice of either going out there and trying to promote it in the best way we could or just letting it just be put out there and just letting it linger. So, we decided to try and tour on it. We knew up front the chance of success was not good and it was kind of a suicide mission. So, in some ways, today, I wish we were ten years younger and freshly signed to a label. That we had the opportunity to try and promote it in this environment. But younger bands today have their own challenges just like we did when we tried it. We had our advantages and disadvantages but we still have the same band outlook now and playing music for the enjoyment of it. These days we have a little more help though.
MM: I had talked to the lead singer for Iced Earth a few weeks ago, Stu Block, and he was talking about being this completely independent band and they see the writing on the wall in terms of labels. They feel it is more of a DIY environment now. They built their own studio, ultimately a basement studio, with today's technology and they are recording all of their own albums in Indiana and they seem like "hey we are going to pave new ground and do this independent thing". But look, you guys have been an independent band for 20 years. I'm sure it is disheartening at times doing the annual grind but at the same time that has to make you feel pretty proud of that fact. You guys are forging your own way and paving your own path with a tremendous amount of independence.
"If there was success there it would have been great but we went in and out on our own terms so that was a great thing." --Al Ravage
The great thing about the Metal Blade deal that we got, being a nothing deal from an industry standard, was that we were totally free to do whatever we wanted. No pressure from the label to change our sound or look, they just ran with it because we were the small fish. We didn't have anyone chirping in our ear because there wasn't a huge investment in it. If there was success there it would have been great but we went in and out on our own terms so that was a great thing. Yeah, everyone is going the independent route. It's interesting how things have changed even since 2009. The way records are promoted. We came in and we happened to get that deal at the very tail end of the label machine. I thought at that point things had slowed down a bit. Even when we were signed for instance we had a rep that was doing radio promotion, a rep doing promotion for magazines and by the time we came to an end our radio rep was laid off. We had the label experience for only a short period of time.
MM: Right now, you are pushing sort of a new album, 'Return of the Spectral Rider'. For some of new fans this is a re-recording of your 2005 full length debut simply called 'Spectral Rider'. Aside from the better production, what can the fans expect to hear differently this time around?
What we are doing is a little bit less conventional. I'm not sure how many bands take their first album and release it as number three. The main differences from this release and the original is that we took the things we found problematic and we tried to correct it. The issues we had with the original recording was that it was produced in kind of a hurried, no budget, low budget way. What that led to was a poor recording quality and a fast mixing of the album. We didn't really know what we were doing with mastering the original album. We took it to someone who hadn't had experience with mastering a rock or metal album. Then the label took that and remastered the master. So, it came out with a muddy production. The artwork that was done for it we thought was pretty good. But it wasn't accepted by the press or the fans very well *laughs*.
While we were reexamining all of this and putting together our studio we wanted to take the album as more of a template as what we should do, how we should test our new capabilities and try to right the wrongs of the past. Represent the songs we had been playing for years in the best way possible. We took our time with the production, we were able to get a different performance. We used five different drummers on the recording, so each song has a little different flavor than the original recording, which was just one drummer.
Also, the artwork. We brought in a professional artist. He is well known for his work with the "Goosebumps" series of books. That adds a different look to it. A couple of things that were compromised on the track listing of the original album we corrected to the order we wanted. Originally, "Spectral Rider" was supposed to be the first song on the recording but at the time the record label thought "Turn the Screw" was the strongest song on the album and should lead off the record. On the new recording, we put "Spectral Rider" as the first actual song. Overall, a lot of it was changing the mood from that earlier time. It was one of those really down times for the band. One of those times where I thought the band would break up for sure immediately after the album's release. That didn't happen but we were stuck with a record that we didn't really approve of. But with this rerecording we brought in some big players and did it in our studio at our leisure. It was all fun and no stress at all and it was a great experience. I think that reflects in the recording.
MM: We used to get recordings from Karthago, the album's original label. I think they were Greek or German, I can't remember which. But they were sending us promos back then and we had a very small CD business at the time and we had a box of the "Spectral Rider" discs. But I loved it then and now to hear it with the newer production, I have to say I like the sound of this album more than any of the prior EPs or albums, including 'The End of Tomorrow'. I think it just sounds more polished, and like you said earlier, having a different drummer on the songs helps give it a little flavor. You did a really good job with it, I'm very impressed.
Happy to hear that you like the production. That was one of the things that was a challenge because we did use multiple drummers. Eli, who did the production and did all the recording really, he had recorded some local bands and his own other band, Seax, a speed metal band from the Boston area. This is the first album of this length that he tried. Obviously never tried five separate drummers on the same recording so that added some challenges. But yeah, I think it did add some flavor to the songs.
We brought in George who had played on 'The End of Tomorrow' to do a couple of songs. He has his own distinct style. We used Derrick from Seax, who's now full time on some of the songs and he has his own style. It was a neat experience bringing in different guys and their personalities and hanging with them. I guess going back to Karthago, back then as far as I knew they did mostly reissues at the time. They were kind of like a legacy kind of label that dredged up old stuff that wasn't recognized at its time and try to represent that on vinyl or CD. That they had contacted us based on our demo at the time is very strange, but now we are reissuing the album that was put out by the reissue label. *laughs*
MM: Looking at the track listing changes, you took out "Incantation of the Necromancer" and replaced it with "Dies Arie", a Gregorian chant. Am I right on that?
Yes, it is actually part of the Requiem Mass. If you ever get a chance to listen to Mozart's "Requiem", which is one of the most famous Requiem Masses...the mass of the dead..."Dies Arie" is normally the opening to the mass. So, the whole spectral rider, ghost rider type of spirit of vengeance back from the dead...that's kind of his intro. "Dies Arie" translates to "Day of Anger" in Latin so it's kind of that part of grieving. Why did we get rid of "Incantation of the Necromancer"? I don't know. I think the original plan was to put more of an intro on the song "Wake the Dead". Its original form goes back to our very first show in 1996, it was one of the first songs we played. Probably the first riff that Eli wrote, I think on bass before he even picked up a guitar. Then it had an even longer intro and later the organ and spoken passage necromancer thing and now we were just like...let's just let the song speak for itself. George, the drummer on it, just loves the drum solos so if he could just add some extra seconds of snare drum or something we let him get away with it.
MM: You were talking about your new studio and the plans to record the future albums this way. I understand this rerecording was sort of an experiment, right? Testing out the in-house production and recording process. What did you take away from that in terms of things to do and not to do in the future?
Well, not to use five drummers again *laughs*. Editing wise, we tried to keep things as live as possible to give everything a more live feel. I think a lot of albums have gotten very stale with a sort of fake drum sound. For me I like a lot of traditional and melodic metal and we wanted to keep the drums unsampled. There is EQ and compression and stuff but the drums have some life. It carries the music and sounds modern but doesn't sound like the Beatles or something. The plan was that we can do it, there's always room for improvement but hopefully on the next recording we'll have worked out more of the bugs. We were hoping to concurrently, at the same time, record a whole album of new material and then this new re-recording would be bonus tracks. Afterwards, we thought it would be better to get this out and go to work recording some new stuff.
MM: You had mentioned earlier in the interview the word "Goosebumps". My daughter would have lifted her eyebrows if she were in the room. Tell me, how does a kid's horror book artist get involved with a heavy metal band?
Well, it was interesting, as we were getting the music together and things were starting to roll with the recording. We used Ed Repka, a well-known heavy metal cover artist who has done Megadeth and other late 80s and 90s thrash bands and some recent ones too. I had contacted Repka and was all set to use him again. He had done the 'The End of Tomorrow' album with some cool artwork with a robotic spider on there. It was everything I could have ever wanted with an album cover. But in talking to Eli he had said some of the criticism for the last album was using Ed Repka. A lot of these bands were using him. Not wanting to be another Ed Repka band and using his look all the time, I asked Eli who he wanted to use. We couldn't go back to the guy who did the original 'Spectral Rider' because that wasn't well received.
We were looking at not releasing an album after all these years and thinking we needed some sort of name that we could contact...Derek Riggs or something. But Riggs recent stuff...he doesn't' seem like he paints anymore. He does digital art. I was looking to contact him and then Eli handed me this book he had been reading. I was a little too old for the whole "Goosebumps" thing but Eli was totally immersed in it and was a total fan of "Goosebumps" growing up. Around the time it had reached a fever pitch popularity was when Eli was a kid. He's a few years younger than me. So basically, he handed me this book and said check this guy out (artist Tim Jacobus). Why don't we contact him? So out of the blue I looked him up online, emailed him and surprisingly he was accessible and willing to do it. I think it was the first metal album cover he ever did but he did a really great job and everyone was really happy with the cool stuff he came up with.
MM: It looks really good. Looking at the cover, you can see little pieces of the album thrown in there. It's a neat addition. Without looking at it right now, is every song represented in the album cover artwork?
Pretty close. Pretty close. You can stretch in certain places. When we were discussing the concept with Tim I kept saying can you throw this in and throw this in and I wasn't sure if he was going to be able to do it but he found a way of inputting everything. The whole album cover is Easter eggs, sort of "Where's Waldo" of "Goosebumps".
MM: It's really neat, I like it a lot. I was looking at it and maybe saw something on Twitter and you were talking about the album there. The first thing that caught my eye was the castle on there and I was thinking it was something to do with "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" or something. The artwork is so visual and it really catches your eye. It's a good compliment to the album I think.
Yeah that whole album cover is just a big nerd fest. If you really look into it...there's a river of slime which was maybe taken from "Ghostbusters 2". *laughs* Our cat we used to have in an apartment years ago...he was a kitten at the time and we were coming up with a name for him and we came up with Vigo, the Carpathian from "Ghostbusters 2". 'The End of Tomorrow'...one of the songs on there was called "Shredder" and it was partly inspired by that cat. So, to add to the new album you have the river of slime. *laughs*
MM: Going back to the 2009 record 'The End of Tomorrow', do you own the rights to that album? Can you do what you want with it now?
No, we signed over the full rights to that. If they ever want to release it again in the future is up to them. We can buy the rights to the album as part of the contract, they let you buy it back, but it's not in the budget at this point. I don't think anyone is really interested in re-releasing it. I'm sure there are plenty of copies out there. If you are interested, buy it from Metal Blade. They are the ones that have it. I think at this point it still stands up as well as we would have liked. There was actually a bonus track we gave to them that was called "Right of the Night", which was one of the earliest Ravage songs going back to 1996. We had rerecorded during those sessions and they have it in their archives. If they want to re-release it again for an anniversary or something then they have the rights to it.
"I felt it had some lyrics that were historically influenced and I thought, at the time, it was one of my better vocal performances. But it was totally destroyed by fans *laughing*"
MM: Ravage released a two song EP, or single, called 'Enter the Outbreak' which featured that song and another called "The Demon Core" (2012). Are we going to get those songs again in the future, maybe on a new album?
That's interesting, it's almost like the totally forgotten thing we released. It didn't get a lot of play anywhere. It didn't get a lot of notice. It was actually released in 2010 and the Metal Blade thing had just happened, the disastrous tour. But things got back together and we were able to release some music to keep the fire still going. There is a whole bunch of stuff from that session, maybe six to seven songs and the plan was to get some label to notice us again and we could release the whole thing as an EP or continue to record an album. It never really came together and then that version of the band broke up. But, as far as that single goes, those songs will likely appear on the new recording. "Enter the Outbreak", that song, but "The Demon Core" was not well received by the fans so no plans to re-record that. I felt it had some lyrics that were historically influenced and I thought, at the time, it was one of my better vocal performances. But it was totally destroyed by fans *laughing* as far as the quality of the performance and no one really liked the song.
MM: I like both of those songs. I don't know of any other way to play those other than YouTube. No physical release, right?
Right, no physical format release. It was released to YouTube at the time and we had them up on CD Baby. The MP3s are still on there for .99 cents or you can go to YouTube and listen for free. It's the world we live in now. Stream it.
MM: A couple other things real fast. You and your brother were also in a band called Iron Will. The one record for Iron Will. You play both drums and sing in that band. Was there any inclination to do that with Ravage as well?
Actually, when I started out with Ravage, at the very beginning in 1996 or so, I was supposed to be the drummer of the band. I had gotten into the singing just because we couldn't find someone into traditional kinds of music. Early on I was singing and drumming, maybe for a year or two. I think through 1997 or 1998 I was singing and playing drums. When we finally found drummers then I became the regular singer and started working on the vocals and making them something that was acceptable. That is still a work in progress but that's just another thing. As far as Iron Will goes, I had recorded some demo tracks in 2001 but had never released it or anything. Only three years ago or so we finally recorded a full-length album but we haven't released it. It's been a mastering, remastering, rerecording phase for a few years. Eli recently rerecorded all the guitars on it and it should be ready very soon. That will actually be the debut of Iron Will.
MM: On a side note, your other projects. You had mentioned a solo album at some point, you did some vocals for Steel Maid...any progress on more stuff with those two ventures.
Oh, I should also clarify as far as Iron Will goes I am just the drummer. We have a singer named Tony "The Metal Duke" Canillas. I don't write lyrics for Iron Will and don't sing for Iron Will. I do some backing vocals for Iron Will but not the singer. As far as my other projects, yes, I do have a full solo album written, which hopefully I'll be recording. Another one of our projects, maybe in the next year or so that should come together. My solo stuff is more simplistic, a little more-goofy...not as serious as the Ravage music. A little more Alice Cooper inspired, maybe more dramatic and more rock and roll. Hopefully that sees the light of day in the next year or two.
As far as Steel Maid, we made one album with them. That was a project put together by Martin from Ritual Steel, an underground German metal band who have been around for a long time. His old guitarist Dirk had put together some songs and asked if I would sing on it. It was a really cool experience. Unfortunately, no plans to follow that up with anything. Those guys are really busy doing their own thing but if they were to contact me again I'd be happy to help them with another recording.
MM: Where do you think Ravage would be in terms of name recognition, success, popularity...if Ravage was German?
Hmmm. That's a good question. There is a German Ravage *laughs* and it didn't change anything for them with the name in terms of major name recognition. I don't think it's a matter of being from anywhere necessarily. It's great to have an established metal scene you can walk into that likes your music but I have always thought if you make good music and get it out there and keep plugging away...and that's what we have been doing for 20 years...I don't want to speculate if we had been from Germany or South Africa or Japan where we would be. That's for an alternate reality to be a part of. I couldn't be happier being from the United States and being from the Boston area. We are probably in the best place I'd ever want to live. Hopefully, the music will make it to Germany. That's the important part. Germans finding it.
MM: In terms of Germany, it seems like you guys would be very successful on the summer circuit there, traveling with a smaller budget and so many festivals there. A lot of great traditional and power metal that play there...from that standpoint I think things might have been a little different. But you're right, we live in the US, the greatest country in the world.
There are some fantastic metal fests even over here. "Frost and Fire" was put on the West Coast recently. Iron Will and Ravage have played to some really cool shows in Ohio, nothing like the German and European fests' size. There's some cool stuff going on here too. If you book it, we will come. We've always wanted to try and get over there to play those festivals. We just haven't had the opportunity. If anybody wants to bring us over, we are listening.
MM: Perfect. We'll spread the world. Last question...Society of Worldwide Ravage. I want one of those official ID cards that you have on the website. They look so dang cool. I want one! How do I get it?
Well just give me your mailing address and I will mail it tomorrow.
MM: Awesome. Does it have the robotic spider on it?
Yeah, yes, the first round of them has the robotic spider and on the back it has the skull of the new album.
MM: I have to have it man! How did you come up with that ID card thing?
It goes way back. Back in the mid-90s somebody came up with it, someone not in the band. They came up with this...I think it was our old bass player's neighbor designed this really cool thing that ended up on our first t-shirt. It was done by this youth group called Artists of Humanity that made free t-shirts for us. I just gave them a drawing to put on the front side and on the back, he made this logo SWWR and it was dripping blood. I asked what it was and he said, "oh it's the Society of Worldwide Ravage". So, it's sort of just stuck ever since. It dates back to like 1997 and we never ran with it or organized in anyway until the last couple of years where we have just tried stuff with the fans. A lot of people from the old scene have sort of split off or moved across the country...people move. So, it's a way to keep in touch with people so if we ever do get to play out again and do a real tour then we can see all the members of the society and they will have discounted merchandise and the first to hear songs and stuff like that.
MM: Al, I really appreciate your time tonight. I'm really excited about this album. I wish you guys the best success. Looking forward to great things.
We really appreciate the opportunity and your time. Thanks.