Right from the moment that I got their self titled double album “IRON CROSS” on my doormat through O. P. M. Records, I knew that this band was very interesting to introduce to our readers. I got in contact with their guitarplayer Rex Alan, who is a devoted metalhead. I found out that this band was existing for a long time already. They breath heavy metal, they play heavy metal. And they play it in the way, I like it best. Their album even deserved a place in my personal top ten of the year 2000. Reason enough to provide you with all the details about this band, I think. A band that now exists of Mike Skelton on guitar and vocals, Tony Blair on drums and vocals (no, he’s not the English prime minister, too!!!), Dan Bippes on bass and vocals and their spokesman for this interview, Rex Alan, on guitar and vocals. They’re already preparing themselves for a big Heavy Metal Festival in Kalamazoo this year, where they play together with a lot of legendary cult names from the American heavy metal scene. Names like HALLOWEEN, SKULLVIEW, OCTOBER 31, OMEN, TWISTED TOWER DIRE, DAMIEN THORNE, CAULDRON BORN, MANILLA ROAD, EXCITER and the recently reformed ABATOIR play there too, amongst other interesting names. Rex starts his story by telling us how the band actually got together. Here’s what he had to say.
When did IRON CROSS get together and who were in the band back then?
Interview by: Toine van Poorten
“The band formed back in the late 70’s and the first real show was on New Years Eve 1979. The band at this time was Tony Blair on drums, Mike Skelton on guitar and Max Chuites on bass.”
Who came up with the name IRON CROSS?
“Actually, Tony and Mike did.”
Didn't you ever get mixed up with the other IRON CROSS, from Finland for example?
“No, we were not even aware there was another IRON CROSS at the time. We found out about them when we talked with John at O.P.M. Records.”
Please tell us a bit more about the history of the band, cause I think that almost none of our readers will know you!
“Tony, Max and Mike moved from Pensacola to Orlando in the early 80’s and started making rounds in the music scene, Max left and was replaced by Jody Cole and this line up was around to ‘85 or ‘86. Then Rex (Alan) joined and then we started working on our first album simply titled “Iron Cross”. It was completely an independent effort and only about 500 were pressed. It was for promotional use so we did not even put any contact info on it because we always sent a promo along with it or sold it at shows. We then did a four-song EP, called “Die Like That”. Soon after Jody left the band and was replaced with Kris Tarr on bass and then we released a have live, half studio tape called “Pieces”. Soon after Kris had some personal problems and had to step down. Dan (Bipp) Bippes joined on bass and this line up is the one we still have today.”
Who are your musical influences?
“I would have to say BLACK SABBATH, ALICE COOPER and KISS.”
How did you guys get in touch with O.P.M. records and how come that other companies said 'no' to IRON CROSS, and releasing such an outstanding US Metal record? What took you so long to get the people interested in these great Metal tracks?
“O.P.M actually tracked us down after hearing our first release and when we were playing back in the late 80’s we just did not have the contacts or the management with the ability to get us anywhere. We were not even aware of the interest in Europe until O.P.M. contacted us in 98.”
Most of the pics in the gatefold sleeve of your album were taken at the Halloween bash '89, where you played with MACHINA. Was this your biggest and most important gig ever? Please tell our readers a bit more about this gig.
“No, it wasn’t. At the time they were laying out the new album, these were the pictures we had access to. It was a great gig, until we started playing. Then somebody tried to steal the tip jar and our friend Mike Tromble tackled the guy. The jar shattered and cut the guy up. Then the police and paramedics showed up and we had to shut down the show. The only good thing was we got US$2500.00 at the door and only had to play three songs.”
Maybe there are any other nice or spectacular stories from being 'on the road' that you'd like to share with us?
“One good story is from when we were playing with Death in Tampa and we were partying hard and heavy and about 2 in the morning the guys from Death knock at the door and asked us to keep it down. We have always said since then we could wake up death.”
You also played with DEATH, NOCTURNUS and FESTER at the Sunset Club. How the hell did you get to play as support to DEATH, who are definitely playing another music style than IRON CROSS?
“We were friends with Ric Rozz, who was the guitarist at the time for DEATH and we got the gig through him.”
What does a show of IRON CROSS look like? Do you use any show elements? On a few pix, I saw that you decorated the drum kit a bit with bleeding skulls and spider rags, but I reckon that this might have been for the Halloween party only.
“Every IRON CROSS show is like Halloween. We use smoke machines, flash pods and many props to give it that creepy element.”
Do you also play covers during a live show and if yes, which ones do you play?
“We usually do “War Pigs” by BLACK SABBATH, “Victim Of Changes” by JUDAS PRIEST, “Killed By Death” by MOTORHEAD and “Black Diamond” by KISS.”
You also recorded the ANGELWITCH song "Angel Of Death"- why this song?
“It was a favorite of Mike and Tony’s. It has been in the set as long as I can remember.”
Before you released your album, you released a tape, which was half live, half studio. Where did you record the live part and which songs are on it?
“The tape was released after our first album and it was recorded at the Central Florida Fair. As far as the song order goes none of us at the time even has a copy of this and all we can tell you is on the live side we did “South Of Heaven” by SLAYER, “Demons” and “Demons Disciple” other than that we are pulling a blank."
And which songs are on the studio part of this tape?
“The only we are sure of is “Dark Dreams”.”
How many tapes were distributed and how were the reactions of the media?
“Only about 300 and the reaction was very positive.”
What's the (Metal) scene like in Florida? Are there any other (new) interesting bands around that you know of? And is it possible to play gigs easily in your neighbourhood?
“The metal scene is quite o.k. PAIN PRINCIPLE, FLO AND GRUMPY are a few of the good metal bands on the scene today, but our selection of places to play is very thin.”
How are the press reactions on the double album, you released only recently?
“All of them have been great. One good review after another and this completely caught us of guard.”
Are there any negative reactions, too and how do you handle these in general? Do you take any notice at all?
“Thankfully, there has not been any negative reactions so far and if there was, our attitude is F#*k’em!!”
What do you think about all the interest coming from Europe for IRON CROSS?
“We think it is great. We are looking forward to playing for all our fans there.”
What's the profession of each band member next to being a member of IRON CROSS?
“Mike and Rex are just musicians at this time, Bipp installs engines in boats and Tony drives a truck.”
You told me that IRON CROSS exists again at this moment. Are you playing live too already? And will the band sound the same as on the double album, or will the sound differ a lot from this old style heavy metal that you played then?
“Yes, we are playing live again. We played Halloween to a full house at Headlights and also did the same on New Years Eve. As far as our sound goes, we recorded “R.I.P” and “Halloween” for the double album. John was amazed at how close we sound to the original recordings. He even thought we took old and vintage amps in to get the sound, but that is just how we sound. No matter what we play, it sounds like IRON CROSS.”
Are there any line-up changes compared to the line up on this double LP?
“No, were are all still here.”
There's also a rumour that you're willing to play on the Wacken Open Air Festival next year. True or false, and how far are these plans at this moment?
“Yes, we definitely want to play the Wacken Festival. It would be a great honor to be invited to play .We are trying very hard to get on the bill but one person is causing a lot of problems for us. Supposedly Jürgen Hegewald from Hellion Records has a lot to do with the booking and he is dead set against us playing. He had approached O.P.M. about distributing their albums in Germany but they already had made a deal with Soul Stripper Records and could not do this. Now he is taking this out on us. We do not think this is fair at all. We had no knowledge of this disagreement and feel he is unjust trying to punish us. Hopefully all of this can be resolved.”
What do you expect from this festival? I can imagine that you all have certain thoughts about this festival through the stories that are told to you from the people who've actually been there.
“Just a chance for our fans and the fans of metal in general to see us in our favorite element, on stage and kicking ass. We really have not talked to anyone much about the festival and are going on what we have heard from the media.”
What are your plans for the future?
“We are planning to release a new cd on Iron Glory and then try to tour as much as possible to get maximum exposure. Beyond that it all depends on the fans.”
With whom would you like to play in the future?
“We are willing to play with anyone as long as they are in the same music vein we are from. As far as American bands go PANTERA, ALICE COOPER, MEGADETH and many others. We would also like to play some European bands like ANGELWITCH, SACRED STEEL and CARPE DIEM, to name just a few.”
“It is very important. It has taken down all the walls that distance had put between. It gives metal fans from all over the world to get info and listen to thousands of bands otherwise they would never have heard of. You can find us at www.ironcrossonline.com and you find info on the band pictures and links to our favorite sites like Snakepit Magazine.”
Do you sell any merchandising of the band, like t-shirts etc, and where can the fans order this stuff?
“Right know we have sold out of t-shirts but we do have a few videos and cds that were made just for Halloween left. Email us at email@example.com for more info.”
Was the drawing on the right part of the inner gatefold sleeve of your album, that is right under the band photo, used for your demo recordings or the half studio/half live tape. Or is it just a drawing from one of your fans or even one of the bandmembers?
“That is the artwork for our first album drawn by Mike our guitarist. It will also be on the CD re-release of that album that is due out in March on Iron Glory.”
What do you think of the madness that's been going on for weeks now during the elections. And who's the best man in your opinion?
“We are all politically pretty neutral but the attempt by Gore to change the election was sad. It pretty much split the country along party lines and just made a mockery of the election system that we have in place. Rex and Dan voted for Bush of course and Mike and Tony are nonvoters.”
A statement of me about heavy metal is that it's not a music style, but heavy metal is a way of life. Can you agree with this and what's your opinion? Are you playing the music for fun or is heavy metal like a way of life for you?
“It is most definitely a way of life. Our band mate Mike is living proof of that. He does not leave the house hardly ever without his leathers. He lives and breathes IRON CROSS and heavy metal and so does the rest of us. We do this for the love of the music. If it was for the money, we would have quit fifteen years ago. We have put thousands of hours into this and we are not about to give it up now.”
Now you are on a desert island and you only have room for ten of your all time favorite albums there. Which albums would you choose to have there?
“We would have to say “Black Sabbath”, “Uriah Heep Live”, “Billion Dollar Babies” (ALICE COOPER), “Destroyer”(KISS), “The Alice Cooper Show”, “Abigail”(KING DIAMOND), the self titled release by TROUBLE and after that, it is to hard to say.”
Are there any rare records or demos you have in your collection that you are very fond of having them?
“The only rare records we have are copies of our first release. Other than that Rex is the only one that still collects vinyl.”
Let's have some fun too at the end of this interview. What's the best joke you've heard since ages?
“Ok, a Japanese lady gets married and has been taught to always service the man first, so on her honeymoon they do it all nightlong and the next morning she is picking and folding his clothes when she lets a loud fart. Startled she say so, so, sorry, front hole so happy back hole laugh out loud.”
Do you have any messages for our readers or something you'd like to add to this interview. Now's your chance to say what's on your mind.
“We just want to thank Iron Glory for their support and all our fans for all the great response we have gotten so far and a special thanks to you, Toine, for giving us this opportunity to speak with the fans. With your help, we will get to play over there and get a chance to meet all of you. And last but not least, a special thanks to our brother at arms, Sascha, who is setting up our fan club in Germany. There are too many to list, so thanks to everyone who has helped us getting this far.”
(originally appeared in SNAKEPIT, issue #9, 2001)
Interview by: Toine van Poorten