Bob Mitchell/Steve Ratchen interview from the bands Alchemy X and Vyndykator, 06/23/03 by Agent of Steel

Bob Mitchell

Trends come and go. People pass on as newer folks are "born" into the spirit of Heavy Metal. Some "grow up", and unfortunately some never get their chance at all due to certain circumstances. But in any case, those that remain defending the faith are what some of us like to call legends. Bob Mitchell is a without a doubt a legend in underground Metal. From the early days of Attacker, moving on to the later dark/doom laden work that came to be Sleepy Hollow. His work and unique vocal approach cannot go unappreciated by world-wide cult Metal fans. Join me as Bob and new found friend/bassist Steve Ratchen indulge us with their newest achievements-Vyndykator and Alchemy X.

Hello guys. Welcome to Maximum Metal. Once again I'd like to thank you guys very much for your cooperation and patience with me on this interview. It was a bumpy ride, but it's finally here. Let's get this ball rolling with a vocal question. Bob, you definitely have your own way of doing things vocally. Who were some of your early influences?

BM: Josh thanks for the compliment. It means a great deal to me to know that people still appreciate what I do. Well, I'll tell you, in my early days I was influenced by Italian-American singers like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Vale. My other early influences range from Tom Jones, Johnny Maestro, Jay Black and the Beatles. I must say that these entertainers were and still are a major influence to me. I learned my craft as a front man by watching these great singer/entertainers. They had such a way of holding an audience and it has made me want to be that way. As you know I love an audience and it is because of them that I learned to appreciate my audience and give them acknowledgement by performing to the best of my ability as well giving of my personal time to thank them for coming to the show. That to me is so important which would explain why I have longevity. On the Metal front, Ian Gillan made a huge impact on me along with Robert Plant, Rob Halford, Udo and Jon Oliva. They all have played a role in as far as influencing me to become the singer that I am today.

Did you ever have any "professional" vocal training? Do you do warm-ups before gigs? How can you serve 20 years in Heavy Metal and still sound more diverse (especially on 11:59:59) and better than ever?

BM: I have no training whatsoever. I am self taught. I learned from the best on my own. Yes I warm-up, believe or not, by singing Beatles songs. BM: Again, thank you. But just to reiterate, it is because of my influences that I have remained so versatile or diverse if you will. I also attribute my staying power to clean living, positive thinking and the simplicity of absolutely loving what I do. The "59" album is an album that I am most proud of because I was finally able to utilize my non-metal influences along with my metal influences. In other words I was able to cross over two styles and produce a vocal performance that you now here in the "59" album. Alchemy X allowed me the opportunity to finally show the world what I'm capable of doing as a singer and as an artist. I can simply now call myself a "singer" as a opposed to just being known as a Power Metal vocalist. Don't get me wrong, I love Power Metal with a passion but I always felt as though, because of my influences, I could give my audience more and I was able to do that with Alchemy X.

Steve, who inspired you to play bass?

SR: Hi Josh, first of all thanks very much for the great reviews on both the AX and Vyn records, we really appreciate it! Well, although I've taken influence from a wide variety of players, I'd have to say Geddy Lee with that signature Rickenbacker sound was my biggest inspiration, not only as far as playing bass guitar, but also keyboard stylings and writing, at least from a progressive point of view.

 I noticed when I caught Vyndykator in New York a couple of years ago you played a 7-string bass BACKWARDS! Was that intentional or just the way you learned the innstrument?

SR: No, not intentional at all! Back when I was teaching myself guitar and bass, around 1981, left-handed instruments were much more expensive, and since neither I nor my parents had any idea that I would become as seriously involved in music as I have, it was simply practical to buy a right-handed bass and re-string it. However, my first bass, which was a hybrid Fender/Yamaha derivative courtesy of Sears department store wouldn't lend itself to being re-strung! The slots along the neck for the various strings would only accommodate the standard widths so I had to teach myself to play upside down! I'm sure there are a lot of people who've taken the same approach due to similar circumstances, I remember reading Paul McCartney played upside down for a short time and Glen Burtnick from Styx still plays guitar and bass that way! By the time I could have reasonably afforded a left-handed model, I was actually quite comfortable playing in this freaky, truncated fashion! And now that I've summarily bored anyone reading to tears, we'll move on to the next question!

Are you endorsed by Conklin?

SR: Sure, if by endorsed you mean I'm paying for Bill Conklin's kids education's! Seriously though, yes, I do have an endorsement with Conklin. I bought my first GT-7 (Groove Tools 7 string bass) back in June 1999 and I fell in love with it! Since then I've acquired a second model. The action, feel, and of course, most importantly the sound of this instrument is beyond anything I've ever experienced. Most of the artists who use the GT-7 are jazz or fusion players, and I like to incorporate the pops and slaps on the high C & F strings into AX and Vyn's music, while still maintaining the low bottom B for our heavier excursions.

Update us on the new Vyndykator and Alchemy X albums if you will. Are they both going to be released simultaneously like last year? How are the new songs coming along? Will there be any "surprises" or will it stay the same overall style as the last 2 records?

BM: Yes that is the goal right now. The new Vyndykator album will be titled "The Chromium Underground" and the new Alchemy X, which will be a Live EP that will include two or maybe three new Studio tracks one of which will be a remake of Deep Purple's "Maybe I'm Leo". So now I get to finally thank Ian Gillan for influencing me. We haven't a title as of yet. I thought about calling it "Opening Night", just a working title for now so we'll see on that one. Right now we haven't any record deal for either band, solely because our licensing deal for both bands are about to expire. The two records did well for both UNISOUND and OUTLAW, so expectedly, we will release the new titles through those respective labels with a renewed licensing deal but things could change. I will say and you can bank on this, the new albums will be out in 2004. The new Vyndykator songs are coming along great. The music will be an extension of the diverse style of "Heaven Sent From Hell", certainly the new songs that we have thus far written, are already much heavier. Depending on how the songs come along, the subject matter will be in the same lines as the first album in as far as concept is concerned. This new album, will be a tribute to the works of horror great Lon Chaney Sr. and the German expressionist films "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and "Metropolis". As for the new Alchemy X, we currently have a new song called "Saturnalia Rising" which, ironically speaking was to have been a new VYN song but we agreed that it was more suited, stylistically, for Alchemy X. That song will be the other bonus track for the new A-X live EP.

SR: Actually, I've written several pieces that will appear on the new Vyn and AX albums, as have the other guys. As far as timing, it's still too early to speculate on release dates, but they may well both come out in 2004. Stylistically we like to progress, to transcend, and cover new ground both lyrically and musically, but we're cognizant of at least trying to maintain a signature "sound" if you will for each band. With Alchemy X, we're planning on releasing a live album sometime in either late 2003 or early 2004, which will showcase obviously live versions of material from both "11:59:59" and "A Delicate Balance", along with a surprise or two along the way. I'm not quite sure what AX's third studio album will sound like, I know we won't consciously try for another concept album, but if that's what comes out of us, then so be it! With Vyndykator, the musical personification of the horror genre is still a very central theme, but again, we certainly don't want it to be a simple regurgitation of "Heaven Sent from Hell", so I'd expect some growth while keeping the sound and feel of the first record.

How did the Alchemy X show go over at Classic Metal Fest 3? I know it was odd having a Prog/Power band playing at a festival that mainly catered to underground/cult/traditional Heavy Metal bands.

BM: We did great. The crowd was really into us. Brad really took a chance on booking us because we are a progressive rock band. I was really nervous about going on and performing Progressive rock in front of a predominantly Power Metal audience. To our surprise, the crowd response was enthusiastic and they were as loud as we were. This just establishes the fact that Alchemy X is a great cross over band. I feel comfortable in the fact that we can now perform with, for example, Jag Panzer or Fates Warning and do really well as far as audience reaction is concerned. A-X is heavy enough to be placed on a Power Metal bill and melodic enough to be placed on a Progressive bill. From a business perspective, we will do quite well when we hit the road on a full time basis because of the cross over appeal.

SR: Josh, I was amazed at how well it went for exactly the reason you bring up! I was reasonably sure that if AX played well that our musicianship would at least result in some polite applause from a power metal crowd, but I was certainly not expecting the kind of reaction we got! I think most people who hear the records recognize the playing level, but until they see us live, they're more than a little surprised by the overall heaviness and on-stage exuberance we exhibit. Quite honestly, it was the best show Alchemy X has ever played in terms of pure audience reaction, and we owe much of it to Bob, who is by far the best front-man I've ever worked with. Of course it helps that he can sing and that despite playing fairly complicated music, we all move around and show some emotion out there! So many prog bands don't do that, and I think we were a breath of fresh air to a lot of power metal fans who expected a bunch of pompous jerks to patronize them! Not that we're not pompous jerks, but as I've said many times, we take the music extremely seriously, not ourselves!

You made an announcement at CMF3 that there would be a one-shot Attacker reunion (something that you've wanted to do for some time) that is going to be filmed for distribution? With the exception of Jim Mooney (R.I.P.), will it be the original "Battle." line-up? I thought some members not wanting to continue Attacker is what originally stopped the "reunion" a few years back?

BM: OK, here is exactly what Attacker is planning for in late 2003 and into 2004. We will be going into the studio on September 13th to record the new Attacker album which will be titled "SOUL TAKER". We will be performing a homecoming show on Saturday December 13th in our hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey over at MAXWELL's. This show will be recorded and filmed for an upcoming live CD/DVD to be released sometime in 2004! The material is in the classic style that our fans have come to appreciate for all these years. We promise that no one will be disappointed! This is the Attacker line-up for "SOUL TAKER". It will be myself, Mike Benetados (ex- Jersey Dogs guitar), Pat Marinelli (guitar original member), Felix Torres (bass guitar) and Mike Sabatini (drums original member). It has been well documented as to what had happened previously but that's now all behind us. So with all due respect to you and your readers that subject needn't be discussed any longer. We are friends again and we can now put proper closure on our history and give the fans what they have been waiting for, a new ATTACKER album. I've said this before and that is because of ATTACKER that I am here today.

Will there be any songs from the second Attacker album (The Second Coming)? Oh, and how about throwing "Trapped" in there, or at least "Slayer's Blade" (crosses fingers!)?

BM: Oh you mean for the live CD/DVD? It will definitely be a Career-Spanning Collection of our best material from all three albums. "Slayer's Blade" will absolutely be one of the songs to be performed. As for "Trapped", who knows, I won't say yes or no on one that yet. The live Attacker show will more or less be an event. I can't wait for this.

Do you still talk to Denis Gulbey (Sentinel Steel Records)? Who will be putting out the new Attacker release? The new song is INCREDIBLE, I must say.

BM: I haven't spoken to him in quite some time. He was the man responsible for reviving my music career. For that I will always be grateful to him. The new ATTACKER album will be released through IRON GLORY Records. My friend Andi (Preseig) heard the new song and was immediately interested in signing us. You see Josh the first and most important thing that has happened is that our friendship was renewed. Despite our differences, we were always friends first. So when that was established, we had talked about giving ATTACKER one last shot at the moon. The music was already recorded by the band but they had no luck in finding a new singer at one point. So I had demo'd the new songs for Mike (Sabatini) in hopes that someone would be interested. We were hoping for it to have been Denis. Although he liked the new material he was not able to sign us. The long and the short of is that it was Andi who took an immediate interest and offered us the deal. So "SOUL TAKER" will now be released world-wide in January 2004. If you liked the new song, which happens to be titled 'THE END", wait until you here the rest of the album. Again, no one will be disappointed.

Select Discography
Attacker-Battle at Helms Deep (1984)
Sleepy Hollow-A Legend Retold (1989)
Sleepy Hollow (1990) Vyndykator-Heaven Sent from Hell (2002) Alchemy X-11:59:59 (2002)

Alchemy X-A Delicate Balance (1999)
Alchemy X-11:59:59 (2002)
Vyndykator-Heaven Sent from Hell (2002)

Let's say you had to pick your favorite show that you've played of all time, and your least favorite show. Are there any that stand-out as a best/worst?

BM: I can simply say that every opportunity I have to hit the stage is always a privilege for me whether it's five or five thousand people they are an audience and they are there to be entertained. It's what I do. In as far as the three bands, well, here's how the plan is mapped out, keeping in mind that this can change. The band that will actively be touring will be Alchemy X. Vyndykator and Attacker will only perform festivals and selected local facilities. So scheduling will not be a problem. When you're an entertainer, you have to be prepared to take on all situations. Besides, all three bands are quite different from each other. So it's quite easy for me because, again, I'm an entertainer so I'm always ready. Plus the fact that all of the members of my three bands support the related efforts because what I do with Attacker can only benefit Vyndykator and what I do with Vyndykator can only benefit Alchemy X. I'm in a great situation right now and with all three bands, expect releases in 2004.

SR: Well, the one I just alluded to is definitely #1, with the record release party in NYC for the first AX album a close second. As far as worst, there are certainly a lot to choose from! Playing rock or metal in the NY Metro area is one of the most thankless and depressing jobs you can have, it's right up there with rooting for the Cubs or Red Sox! One can almost take a perverse delight in trudging along hundreds of pounds of equipment in oppressive weather, then playing a full set to 5-10 disinterested drunks for door money, but I'm not that masochistic! We've had all the prototypical "Spinal Tap" scenarios, minus the exploding drummer, at least so far, but the worst AX shows had to be Hoboken NJ and NYC playing with alternative-y bands whose fans stood staring at us, kind of the way Beavis and Butthead look at the two guys from Milli Vanilli when that video comes on!!! There is almost an absurd comedic value to that kind of failure, but having a full house go nuts in the fashion they did in Chicago (Metalfest III) makes all the ridiculousness worthwhile!

What will the future hold for Vyndykator, Alchemy X, and Attacker? I'm sure it's hard to juggle 3 bands.

SR: It IS actually demanding from a writing perspective more than anything else. I'm sure Bob will tell you he wants to sound different in all 3 acts, and that's a very credible point, but we're also very aware that while we want crossover fans, it's extremely important that the writing doesn't mesh into one big gestalt! For credibility if nothing else, you don't want people saying it's all the same stuff, just with a different name slapped on it! And judging from the records, I think we've done a good job separating.

What ever happened to Martin Morin? I much prefer Bob in Alchemy X, but I'd hate to think Morin's vocals going unappreciated.

SR: Marty and his wife moved to Seattle a few years back, I know he sang with a NJ prog band called Cyrcle IX around 2000, but other than that I haven't had any contact with him. You're right though Josh, Marty did a very good job on "Balance" and we've always been grateful for his help on that record. In fact, I just came across a European review that preferred Marty's vocals to Bobs, so I think there's a diversity of opinion, which is fine.

Bob, I know you're into the old Hammer films and horror from the 30's and 40's. But did you ever get into anything later from greats (or so I say) like George Romero, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, ect.? I know horror films are pretty stagnant in this day and age.

BM: Actually, I've seen the works of Romero, Fulci and Argento and I have to say that, respectfully, I was not fond of their work, too gory for my liking. One may argue that the Hammer Films have blood scenes, which is true but they aren't a primary reason for enhancing a story line. Hammer, the idea I get, is that the blood scenes was an attempt to add realism to a story that was obviously fictional. Besides, the acting in the Hammer Films was outstanding. Horror greats like Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing were all superb actors. Much like the Giants of Horror like Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney SR, and even Chaney JR were great actors who made their characters believable and, at times, sympathetic, where as the Italian Horror films or even the Friday the 13th series and the other slasher films had poor acting and even poorer story lines. But let me make it clear, that's not to say that those films were terrible, it's just my opinion and that my preferred taste is for the Classic Horror films of the 20's, 30's and 40's. As already mentioned, I'm also a fan of the Hammer films, Godzilla and any Japanese Monster films where they're more reliant, I feel, on the entertainment value kind of like Pro Wrestling which is another passion of mine. Overall, a movie, particularly in the Horror genre has to have either a great story line or be entertaining. I don't like slasher nor do I like the Gore films. I think the reason horror films are so stagnant is because there are no true Horror actors anymore. Save for maybe Robert Englund, who else is there? No one. Sadly, it is a lost art that needs to be saved. You don't need blood and elaborate visual effects to scare people. Just a good, believable story line and creepy looking guy would be more than sufficient.

Steve, tell me about your older bands Trinity and Dominion. Were there ever any official releases? How does the music compare to Vyndykator and Alchemy X?

SR: Trinity/Dominion was really the same band just with a different guitarist in each entity. I founded the act back in 1985, playing a ton of obscure Rush covers (we started out as a Rush tribute band of sorts, before anyone called them "Tribute" bands!) along with a bunch of originals I had written. It was your classic power/prog trio with myself on bass/keyboards/vocals along with guitar and drums. The sound was Rush meets Slayer meets Mercyful Fate, it really was that eclectic! There were a few indy releases, an album called "Maledicta" back in 1989 under the Dominion moniker, and I believe a live recording back when we were still Trinity in 1988, though I don't know what's become of the masters, so those acts have more than faded into obscurity, which isn't necessarily a bad thing! A lot of the musical stylings and passages I've written for Vyn and AX songs definitely had their birth in those old bands, but lyrically, I took quite a leap when I joined Alchemy X in 1996. Prior to that, many of my songs were homage's to films, books or theories, which I'm certainly not turning my back on, but by the time I joined Alchemy X I had turned 30 and had experienced the various joys and pains one experiences from simply living, and I was able to extrapolate those emotions and write what one might term "adult contemporary rock or metal", which is much more meaningful than writing in the third person about events not directly related to yourself.

What is the link to Howard Stern and Alchemy X?

SR: Well, back in 1999 our drummer Chris Scorsese, ostensibly due to his famous uncle, guested on Sterns program. I must say Chris was treated well, and a few seconds of the song "7th Sign" was played, and to this day, we run into people fairly regularly who remember that show!

Are there any new bands that have blown you guys away? Or how about bands that you think have really stood the test of time and are as good now, even better than back in their heyday?

SR: I really admire artists who have longevity and consistently make great records, so obviously classic acts like Rush, Yes, Kansas are all big favorites of mine. But I also have pretty eclectic tastes, so bands like Concrete Blonde, The Tea Party, or even classic rock acts like Cheap Trick have been long-time listens as well. As far as today's scene, I really can't think of anyone off the top of my head, but I think there are probably plenty of bands like Alchemy X or Vyndykator, who are writing great material that not enough people know about. The worst part of new technology today is that now anyone can make a record, and while that's great in a Utopian sense, it makes it even harder for the record establishment AND the record buying public to differentiate the wheat from the chaff.

BM: There is only one band that does that to me time and again and that band is OCTOBER 31! King is a friend of mine and they are intense as hell. They are what a Metal band should be. As a matter of fact, they have been chosen to be our special guests for the filming of the Attacker show in December. They're just great. Bands that have stood the test of time? Only two come to mind. DEEP PURPLE and IRON MAIDEN.

Do you feel there is any room for improvement in the Metal "scene" in this day and age? From my experiences and beliefs, there aren't enough original sounding new acts coming out, and not as much unity as there should be. But those that do believe seem to be stronger than ever. I know the internet has really helped unite people with message boards and such.any thoughts?

BM: I do have an opinion on the current state of our business, but out of professional courtesy, I'll keep my thought to myself. That's not to say that I will never express my opinion, but now is not the time. I will say this in a matter of speaking and that is, there is some serious house cleaning that needs to be done. Let's leave it at that.

SR: Absolutely, the experience we had in Chicago bore testament that there's a place for the medium, and that when given the opportunity, there are a lot of original sounding acts and a public to support them. Sadly, MTV has been feeding lowest-common-denominator music to the masses for so long that we have entire generations who couldn't tell good singing or guitar playing from bad. To reiterate my last answer about technology, again, I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but it's beyond easy to have a fairly hip-looking website and mp3 samples. So the market is so saturated that it's almost a crap-shoot between high-caliber bands and garage bands in terms of traffic to the site and popularity! Just the other day a club in NJ had an "Original Metal Night" on a Wednesday, with absolutely NO thought to genre or ability! They had a veteran metal band, with two or three good albums playing with a few kid bands who barely knew how to tune their instruments! Back when I started, you really had to be able to play just in order to get shows, but today the club owners only concern is how many people a band can bring, which sadly, really relegates rock and metal bands in the NYC area to doing out-of-state or European festivals and the odd record release.

Where do you see yourself in say 5 to 10 years? Is it too soon to predict? What are your thoughts on the future of Heavy Metal in general?

BM: I will be retired from the music business that's for certain. I'll retire with no regrets, still on top of my game with a solid body of work and a nice bank account. I think can I sum it up this way. Understand that it is a privilege to be in this business so if you have an opportunity to be in this. Make the best of it. Do it for the love. Appreciate your fans, give them your time and be genuine about it and they will always come back. Heavy Metal will always endure and keep the business going as long as the bands have a profound respect for it. I will say in closing that, sadly, I don't see that from too many bands. But that can all change so I do have hope and allot of faith.

SR: Really too soon to say Josh, suffice it to say that I'm sure I'll still be involved in playing/writing as long as I'm physically able to do so. I'm also sure Metal will transcend a lot of the obscurity it suffers here in the U.S., if only because there are more and more older adults who've grown up with it, further perpetuating it to new generations.

So, who's up for a Heavy Metal top 10 albums of all time? Can you break it down, or is it just too hard to choose?

BM: Oh this is easy. I guess I can start from number ten right? OK here we go. 10).Volume Four- BLACK SABBATH 9). Breaker- ACCEPT 8). Unleashed In the East- JUDAS PRIEST 7). Violence and Force- EXCITER 6). Metal On Metal- ANVIL 5). Who Do You Think We Are- DEEP PURPLE 4). Fire Down Under- RIOT 3). Rising- RAINBOW 2). Dungeons Are Calling- SAVATAGE 1). Future Shock- GILLAN

SR: How about I just give you 10 albums, any genre that if I were on the deserted island scenario, ok? Rush-A Farewell to Kings, Yes-Fragile, Slayer-Reign in Blood, Beatles-Let it be, The Tea Party-Edges of Twilight, Concrete Blonde-Bloodletting, Savatage-Gutter Ballet, Iron Maiden-Killers, Dream Theatre-Alive, Skunk Anansie-Paranoid and Sunburnt

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Once again, thanks for taking the time for this interview. Any final comments?

BM: Josh I can't thank you or your readers enough! Thanks also to MAXIMUM METAL for allowing me this opportunity. You fans rule! A wise man once said 'Everybody Love Somebody and I love all of you". Ciao!!

SR: Thanks again for your interest Josh, we appreciate Maximum Metal taking the time out to showcase both our bands!

Agent of Steel

Special thanks to Anthony Deluca for some of the personal pics.

Bob Mitchell, Steve RatchenJosh Greer8/22/2003

Josh Greer7/8/2003
A Delicate Balance
Josh Greer7/8/2003

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