MILITIA has always been one of those bands, that I was dying to see live once. After all the hundreds of metal bands I’ve seen in my life, they were top priority on my list. When they came to Germany, I was extremely curious and very excited about the moment, that they would take possession of the stage. Their live show, despite a few small technical problems, was one to remember and to cherish for a very long time. Meeting the band members was another dream come true. And things got even better, when they gladly agreed in doing an interview with me for my personal website http://www.trumetalfan.org. All band members have participated, but the main spokesman is Robert Willingham. Now we’ve witnessed them live and talked to the people behind the music, it is time to read the story by this remarkable band from Texas, who became cult metal heroes by releasing three songs on an EP. I want to take the opportunity here to thank Phil Achee (drums), Jesse Villegas (guitar), Tony Smith (guitar), Mike Soliz (vocals) and Robert Willingham (bass). Not only for coping with this enormous pile of questions, but also for making such awesome music. I can’t wait to hear the new material, my friends and I am very much looking forward to meeting you all again soon!
Who can we point at as the founder member of MILITIA?
Robert: “Phil & I formed the band in January of 1984. We had a similar vision for the type of music we wanted to do, but we had one problem – I had never played in a band before, nor did I know how to play. I remember Phil telling me, “too bad you don’t play, it would be great to be in a band with you.” I had recently purchased a bass and was trying to teach myself how to play when Phil decided to start recruiting guitar players.”
When did MILITIA get together as a band and who was in this very first line up?
Robert: “After Phil recruited Jesse and Tony, the three of them had a few rehearsals and started writing the earliest MILITIA songs. In April, they had about 5 tunes completed. They were “Onslaught”, “Regiments Of Death”, “Salem Square”, “Metal Axe” and “Thrash To Destroy”. Phil called me at this time and asked if I felt comfortable enough to rehearse with them. I had no idea how it would go. I was worried they would all laugh me out of the practice place. But Jesse and Tony were both very helpful and I watched their fret positioning very carefully and did my best to play along. I’m sure it was really rough, because I had no ear for notes, but the guys thought it was going to work out fine. So it was me, Phil, Tony and Jesse, with a couple of Tony’s friends helping out with vocals.”
How did you actually meet up with each other?
Robert: “I actually had a class in high school with Phil’s sister. I knew, he was a drummer in a band, and since I was very interested in bands, I was always asking his sister about Phil. She finally told me to meet him myself. So we got together and hung out and talked about our favourite bands and our frustration with the lack of intensity in music. We found that we had a lot in common and got along really well.”
Jesse: “I answered their ad at a music store. Another guitarist auditioned, but he wasn’t in to our style. He did recommend another guitarist, and that was Tony. And Mike was recommended by Jason McMaster (WATCH TOWER/DANGEROUS TOYS/BROKEN TEETH/IGNITOR).”
Did any of the band members play in other bands before they joined MILITIA, besides GROUND ZERO and FALLEN ANGEL?
Robert: “MILITIA was my first and only band to ever play in.”
Jesse: “I played for AWAKE after MILITIA.”
What kind of music did GROUND ZERO and FALLEN ANGEL play?
Phil: “GROUND ZERO was a straightforward rock band. It might have been considered hard rock, but not metal.”
Mike: “FALLEN ANGEL” played a lot of hard rock and metal covers – JUDAS PRIEST, SCORPIONS, etc., but no originals.”
How would you describe the sound of MILITIA yourself?
Jesse: “I would use the word “original” to describe our sound. I don’t listen to many records. I do my best to keep my mind free of outside influence. Of course, nothing is truly original or that hasn’t been done before.”
Robert: “That’s an interesting question. I had always perceived our music as pretty straightforward, energetic power/speed/thrash metal. I didn’t think we were anything special, especially compared to other bands. What I find interesting is when I started to discover reviews of our music, many of the reviewers described us as being progressive and having complex parts in our songs. When I first saw some of these reviews, I wondered if they were reviewing WATCH TOWER by mistake. Because we played in the shadows of bands like WATCH TOWER, SA SLAYER and KARIAN, I never felt like we were very progressive at all. I’ve had to step back and re-evaluate our music to understand that we actually do incorporate a lot of progressive and not-so-easy parts in our songs.”
Who set out the adventurous musical direction of the band?
Robert: “The flyers Phil & I made to recruit guitar players read “Looking for two guitar players for metal band with the speed of METALLICA, the power of IRON MAIDEN and the melodic influences of QUEENSRYCHE. So we must have envisioned some sort of combination of influences from these bands. But ultimately, the song writing of Tony & Jesse is what set the direction. It turned out way better than I ever expected, because both Tony & Jesse came up with rhythms and ideas I’ve never heard before, and they were killer!”
Which bands can we see as the musical influences of MILITIA, and maybe you can mention some of the influences of each individual member here too?
Robert: “My influences were WATCH TOWER, SA & LA SLAYER and KARIAN. Personally, I am try to avoid being too heavily influenced by other bands or musicians, mostly because of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the MILITIA sound. Obviously, we can expect some degree of progression from what we did in the 1980s, but we want it to be a very natural progression. If we get caught up in what other bands are doing, we’ll quickly compromise our musical identity. Some of us listen to music that’s quite different from MILITIA, music that is hardly capable of influencing MILITIA’s music. For me, it’s all about knowing the distinction between what I play and what I listen to, and not allowing the line to be crossed.”
Jesse: Motown Greatest Hits, seventies radio music, KISS, BLACK SABBATH and VAN HALEN.”
Can you tell us a bit more about the line up changes that occurred over the years within the band?
Robert: “We were young kids and didn’t have a clue about conflict management. Phil and I assumed a sort of leadership role in the band, but we didn’t have a lot of patience for disruptions. We got upset with Jesse because he didn’t seem to be taking the band seriously, and we eventually gave him the boot. Tony, on the other hand, seemed to become less and less happy, and we couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Eventually, he agreed it was time to leave the band. Looking back, it was clear, at least according to my observations, that Phil and I were more like uptight & paranoid parents, and were entirely too rigid. We’ve had conversations about this since we’ve reformed that seem to confirm this, and I was compelled to apologize to both Jesse and Tony for being such a tyrant.”
What happened to Philip Patterson after he left MILITIA and is he still active in the music scene, as far as you know?
Robert: “Actually, when Mike left the band, MILITIA was, for all practical purposes, done. So Philip never really left the band.”
Why did he actually leave the band? Was it the well-known musical differences or is there a better story to tell?
Robert: “It was the musical differences that led Mike, not Philip, to leave the band. Mike mentioned on many occasions that he was growing more uncomfortable with the musical direction, but he was ignored by me and Phil. Both of us were rather defiant about our desire to continue in this new direction.”
Let’s also have a look at the musical sidesteps of the band members in this line up. Jesse had a career with AWAKE, if I’m right and we know that Mike Soliz was a member of OBLIVION KNIGHT, ASSALANT and WATCHTOWER for a while. Is there anything more to mention here maybe?
Mike & Tony: “There were a couple of projects we all were in, but nothing worth mentioning really.”
Mike, can you point at the biggest differences between MILITIA and working with these other bands?
Mike: “I think, since it was my first real moderately successful band. it really felt like a brotherhood with these guys. Don't get me wrong - the other relationships formed with the other musicians were great.”
Did you learn anything from these other bands?
Mike: “They helped me mature as a vocalist and my writing skills.”
We know, there was a demo released by OBLIVION KNIGHT, recently out on CD (Steel Legacy Records 2009), but did you also record anything with WATCHTOWER and/or ASSALANT?
Mike: “I did a four track recording with WATCH TOWER and also a song, called "Dangerous Toy", that was put on a noise compilation. As well as a three song demo with ASSALANT”
Who created the beautiful MILITIA logo, that is on “The Sybling” cover and the white t-shirts?
What were the reactions of the press like towards the first demo you released, which contained some classic material like “Search For Steel”, “Metal Axe” and “Regiments Of Death”?
Robert: “I don’t recall seeing any actual reviews of the demo. There really wasn’t a ‘press’ for metal back in the day. There were a few small publications, like ‘The Unholy Book’, that did reviews of some of our shows, but no reviews of any recordings.”
A year after the formation of the band, you laid down the recordings of what would become the ‘most wanted’ EP in the whole galaxy; “The Sybling”, released on Scythe Records as a limited version of only a one hundred copies. How did you actually get in touch with Scythe Records?
Robert: “Actually, Scythe Records is our own creation, our own label. We were completely independent. The label was really nothing more than a name. The address on the demos & the EP is Phil’s mom’s house. Sometimes we added “Suite A” to the address, which was Phil’s bedroom!”
Did Scythe release any other interesting stuff (from the Texas metal scene ofcourse) back in those days, that you know of?
Robert: “Since Scythe wasn’t a legitimate label, there were no releases other than our own stuff.”
How come, that you only pressed hundred copies of this magnificent piece of art?
Robert: “This has been the most asked question since our reunion! We very much wanted to press more copies, but the package deal we worked out with the company that pressed the records gave us only two options – 100 copies or 10,000 copies. There was a significant discount for 10,000 copies, but it was still more than we could afford. So our strategy was to just do 100, and send the EP as part of a promotional pack to as many record labels as possible. We figured since we already had a release, we might be more attractive to a label because their initial investment would only be for more copies of the EP, rather than sending us to the studio and starting from scratch. But it didn’t work out that way – no labels expressed any interest. Then, when Mike left the band, the EP became obsolete. Even if we had managed to replace Mike, we knew we wouldn’t sound the same, and we would have had to start over anyway.”
How were the reactions on this EP? I guess, that at that point you didn’t really realise that you had created a true milestone in the history of heavy metal ?
Robert: “The only reactions came from people who purchased the EP at local record stores, and they seemed to really like it. Again, there wasn’t any sort of “press” that reviewed releases. Of course we had no idea what this EP would become. I personally didn’t think it was a very strong release, maybe because I was a bit of a perfectionist. I had a hard time listening to it for many years.”
When did you actually find out, that the EP was such a hype and have you ever thought about printing some more copies of the EP?
Robert: “Probably around 1997. I heard from Phil, that someone in Europe paid over 1000 Euros for an original. It was at this time that I first learned about the bootlegs. It didn’t make much sense to me, and frankly, I believed these accounts were nothing more than rumours. By this time, we had lost contact with the company that pressed the EP and we also misplaced the master tapes, so even if we wanted to, we could not have pressed more copies. In 2003, I discovered the Ebay auction where an original went for 1136 USD, and that’s when I finally believed it, although I didn’t understand it!”
Jesse: “I found out after we were invited to play Keep It True 12. Robert contacted me and told me about everything.”
Is it true, that the band had plans to print more copies of the EP, but this plan was actually dropped, because Mike (at that time) decided to leave the band?
Robert: “Yes, as the album became an obsolete product after Mike left. We never expected to find a singer who would sound anything like Mike. If we did manage to find a replacement for Mike, we would have had to do new recordings.”
What do you think of the fact, that fans are still willing to pay ten thousands of dollars (or Euros) for this piece of vinyl, if they could only find an original copy somewhere?
Robert: “It hits me in several different ways. First, I’m very humbled that something we did so long ago and poured ourselves into has developed a life of its own. I don’t feel worthy of such a response. Another part of me is still puzzled by the whole thing – I think it has to do with the fact I am not a collector. It seems there is a different mentality in being a collector that I don’t fully understand. I wouldn’t be a very good collector, because I like to sell things that have value, rather than hold on to them.”
Jesse: “We are always grateful for anyone who has an interest in what we are doing musically.”
Do all the band members of MILITIA own their own copy of the EP, by the way?
Robert: “I still have my copy. I didn’t take very good care of it, not knowing it would be a highly sought-after record. When my children were younger, they ‘autographed’ it with markers in about three places on the cover. I didn’t even get upset about it, because I didn’t realize at the time it was a ‘holy grail’. I have considered selling it, but my wife doesn’t like the idea. In fact, nobody I know thinks I should sell it! The marks on the cover would probably keep it from fetching a crazy price anyway. Mike and Tony still have their copies, which are in mint condition. Mike’s is autographed.”
Let’s have a closer look at the writing process and the recording process, if we may. Who writes the lyrics for MILITIA and what are they about?
Robert: “Phil, Jesse & Tony wrote lyrics for the earliest songs. Once Mike joined, he participated more heavily in the writing of lyrics. The lyrics cover a lot of subjects – swords, metal, witches, the atrocities of the Holocaust, wars, etc.”
Jesse: “In the past, we all participated in the writing of lyrics. We work very well together as a band and we’re always open to what the others are presenting.”
Can you tell us a bit more about the whole writing process maybe? How do you create a new MILITIA song? Do you start with the lyrics first or with the music, or do you just start rehearsing and jamming together and invent ideas and riffs, while playing along?
Robert: “Back in the eighties, when we Jesse first joined the band, he had some ideas already written, with titles in some cases. When Tony joined, he and Jesse collaborated on some music and the first five songs were written. Since our reformation, the writing process is a little different. Tony and Jesse are still the primary writers of the music (which ensures that MILITIA will keep its signature sound). They share song segments and most often, a complete song will consist of segments contributed by both Tony & Jesse. I contribute more to the overall song structure and with transitions between rhythms. Mike is the primary writer of lyrics.”
Jesse: Usually, Tony and I will work out guitar riffs before any lyrics are written. It’s not uncommon for us to be inspired by what the other is playing.”
Maybe you can tell us a bit more about how “The Sybling” EP finally got together?
Robert: “Of course, “The Sybling” EP was completely self-financed. We put on our own headline show at The Ritz in Austin, Texas. We sold a bunch of “Regiments of Death” demos and T-shirts, and with around 500 metal heads in attendance, we were able to pay the three opening bands nicely and cover all the other expenses for the show. Our net profit paid for the entire process of recording and pressing “The Sybling”.”
Are there any leftovers from “The ‘Sybling” recording sessions, that did not get on the EP?
Robert: “No, we went into the studio with a very specific agenda, just those three songs.”
Let’s take the song "The Sybling" for example. Could you try to explain how this song actually came together? Who came up with the idea(s) and can we point at someone in particular, who invented the title for this instrumental track? Or who came up with the names of the different sequels in the song? (A sort of song analysis, where I want to cut the puzzle (The song "The Sybling") into smaller pieces, and name them, so we can identify who came with which idea. Difficult maybe, but please see what you still remember from the writing process of this song....
Tony: "I came up with the title and concept of the song "The Sybling". It was sort of a demonic sounding song, so the concept of a normal family (mother, father and two children) with one of the children happens to be the Antichrist. You know, kind of like you love your brother, but you also know that he will grow up to destroy all mankind... What would you do? A contradiction, sort of a ‘war within’. Thus the sibling and we changed the spelling to make it more unique. Mike came up with the chapter titles, to tell the story in a bit more detail. It is about the rise of the Antichrist. The different rhythms are changing with the chapters. The song's rhythms were a collaboration of all the members' ideas and input.”
My next topic would be the live shows of MILITIA in the eighties, if I may. With whom (please name the bands) did you share the stage back in those early days?
Robert: “We played with many Texas legends – WATCH TOWER, SA SLAYER, KARION, WYZARD, SYRUS, MATRIX, ROTTING CORPSE and JUGGERNAUT. We were also fortunate to have shows with MEGADETH, NASTY SAVAGE, EXCITER, SLAYER, METAL CHURCH and KING DIAMOND.”
Did you play any covers during your set, and if yes which covers did you play, or did you always stick to your own penned material?
Robert: “No, we never played cover songs back then. We were all original from the beginning. After re-forming in 2008, we chose to only do songs from when Tony & Jesse were with the band, which was only eight songs. For this reason, we did add a cover song, “Lights Out” by UFO for our first three shows since. Since we’ve written a bunch of new songs, we probably won’t play any more covers.”
Jesse: “We have always strived for originality in our style.”
You didn’t have too many songs to chose from or did we miss some songs, that we haven’t heard about yet, simply because they were never released in any shape or form?
Robert: There were several songs, that were written when Phil Patterson joined the band. Only three of these songs were released, appearing on the “No Submission” demo.”
Did you ever use any show elements during your live shows, and what can people expect when they come to see a MILITIA live show?
Robert: “For our first few shows, we used to utilize flash pots that would create large flame explosions. I got a little too close to one of them at our first show and believe me, I could feel the heat! We were lucky not to have suffered any catastrophic problems. These days, we don’t mess with anything like that. But we would like to come up with some cool visual effects someday. One can expect a very energetic and fun performance from a MILITIA show today. We want the audience to enjoy the show as much as we do, and the transfer of energy to and from the stage is an important part of the experience. If you didn’t have a great time at one of our shows, we haven’t done our job.”
Jesse: “I am looking forward to using pyrotechnics, fog machines, lasers – it all adds something to the show.”
Is there any live footage around from complete MILITIA gigs? (video and audio material)
Robert: “The only 1980’s footage we are aware of is from the Unholy Book show in San Antonio. It was in September of 1985. WATCH TOWER was also filmed at this show. Any old footage found on You Tube is from this recording. The sound quality is very poor. This show took place when we were a four piece. There is plenty of current-day footage from shows we’ve done in Texas and in Europe.”
What was the biggest MILITIA gig so far (besides playing at the Keep It True Festival in Germany in April 2009)?
Robert & Jesse: “Clearly, it was the L.A. SLAYER/S.A. SLAYER show in November, 1984.”
Are there any shows, that you have very fond memories about and if yes, why was that particular show so special for you?
Robert: Certainly the first show was very memorable. I had only been playing bass for about 6 months, and was pretty much clueless. But we practiced very heavily for this show, and we even visited the Ritz a few days before and stood up on the stage, still in disbelief that we would be playing in front of a theatre full of metalheads. I didn’t think I was nervous, but when we came on stage and started playing “Onslaught”, I could feel my knees trembling quite severely!! I was afraid I might lose my balance and fall. But after a couple of songs, the trembling stopped and all was good."
Jesse: "Definitely that first show at the Ritz! Man, when those lights came on, I felt like I was in a dream! And I haven’t stopped dreaming!"
You also played at the well-known L.A. SLAYER / S.A. SLAYER show in Texas, together with SYRUS. This must have been an amazing experience. What can you remember of this particular gig, and how did you manage to play there?
Robert: “You’re correct! This show was completely amazing in every way. I remember it like it was yesterday. We had only been a band for about ten months, and we knew it was a very big deal.We had been fans of both SLAYER’s, and we were honoured to get to play this show. We actually got to play with L.A. SLAYER in Austin the previous day. The thing I remember most was during our sound check. Back then, we used to get fifteen minute sound check a few hours before the start of the show. We had been setting up inside the Villa Fontana for a while, and it was about 5:00 in the afternoon. When it was time for sound check, Jesse cranked up his guitar and the sound man pumped the sound through the system. When Jesse was stopped playing, we heard this thunderous roar outside. We then learned there was a large gathering crowd standing in line outside, waiting to get in to the venue! We knew this was going to be a huge show! The Villa Fontana was rated by the Fire Department as having a capacity of 1500, but there were over 2000 people crammed in there. They were forced to stop allowing people inside. Good thing there was no fire!!”
Jesse: “The people are what I remember the most. There were even some wearing custom-made jackets with MILITIA logos!”
Were there many clubs around during the eighties in Texas, where you could play live?
Robert: “It’s really amazing the way everything fell into place back then. Because of our intense style, we were not welcome at any of the so-called ‘rock clubs’. None of the metal bands could play at these clubs. But the owner of an old theatre, called The Ritz, on Austin’s famous Sixth Street, rented the theatre out for shows of all kinds. San Antonio had a couple of similar venues – a former Discotheque called the Villa Fontana and The Cameo Theatre. These venues were nothing like bars or clubs. They had large stages and stadium seating and had a feel more like a small arena. These shows were more like concerts. It was common to have crowds of between 300-500 people, and they were there for the music. I think there was a more desperate and hungry fan base for metal back then than today. Back in 1985, you could advertise a metal show of any kind and a few hundred people would show up.”
Jesse: “There were a few clubs, and we’re grateful that we didn’t play many of them. We preferred playing in theatres like The Ritz and The Cameo. They were much bigger that the clubs.”
And what’s the situation right now?
Robert: “This is my opinion, but I think the scene is very sad. There are several clubs and bars, but most are quite small and the bands seem to be nothing more than background music. The crowds are small. Only about 20-50 people are really getting into the show. And a lot of promoters make bands sell tickets or pay to play, which was unthinkable back in the 1980s. There isn’t really the best win-win situation for bands, promoters, venues and most importantly, the fans. It seems like there should be a way to have quality shows that produce a good experience for the bands and the fans, which would then be good for the promoters and venues. As far as the scene today, I can’t really say there is one. I don’t know if anyone is to blame, but I wish it was better. It’s nothing like Europe!”
I guess, there must have been some funny, hilarious moments while being on the road, or while being on stage. Maybe you want to share some of these funny moments with us here?
Robert: “At a Ritz show in Austin, I was standing close to Tony and I was headbanging quite intensely, and my hair got stuck in tuners of Tony’s Dean “V” guitar. He pulled away and nearly jerked my head off! It was very painful. Eventually our friend Lou got me unstuck and we continued the show, but Tony wasn’t too happy to look up at his tuners and see several of my long dark hairs flowing off his headstock!”
Which other bands came from the Austin area in the eighties?
Robert: “WATCH TOWER, of course, SYRANAX, MATRIX, FIRST STRIKE (which later became ASSAILANT).”
Do you feel, that there was a strong cohesion between the different bands in the Texas area?
Robert: “There was definitely a brotherhood between bands. When we first started MILITIA, I anticipated a competitive environment between other bands, but it was very obvious when I met Jason McMaster and WATCH TOWER, that we would all be great friends and big supporters of each other’s bands.”
Jesse: “We all supported each other’s bands and would always go to their shows.”
Who were your closest friends in the Texas metal scene in these days, and maybe you can also add some of your close friends in the Texas metal scene of today here, too?
Robert: “Of course we were good friends with the guys in WATCH TOWER. We also got along well with the guys in SYRUS. We’re still friends with Jason, and we’ve met a few young bands that have adopted what they call the ‘old-school thrash’ sound. It’s great to see another generation of younger kids embracing true metal! We’re also good friends with WARBEAST from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Bruce Corbitt from RIGOR MORTIS is their vocalist and he’s a true metal brother.”
Back to the recordings of MILITIA now. The next demo showed a rather radical change of styles. Mike Soliz decided to leave the band pretty soon after the demo “No Submission” was released. In which way did the songs differ from the earlier material in your opinion?
Robert: “The “No Submission” demo was our attempt to be a little more “mature”. We were afraid of sounding like “just another metal band”. We were all listening to more progressive and melodic music. The reality is that by losing Tony & Jesse, we had lost our musical foundation. In my opinion, we ended up sounding like a “poor-man’s” FATE’S WARNING or QUEENSRYCHE.”
Jesse: “Honestly speaking, I really like the songs on the “No Submission” demo.”
Did the band split up after the release of this demo?
Robert: “It took a few months, but Mike did end up leaving the band, effectively putting MILITIA to an end. (Until now!!)”
Can you please update us on what happened between the release of “No Submision” and the reformation of MILITIA? We run blank with information about that period of time actually. What did the different band members do in those years?
Robert: “Once MILITIA was done, I had no desire to start another band and keep struggling as a musician, so I left the music scene and moved to Colorado. I took some classes, got a decent job, got married and became a family man. I moved back to Texas in 1990. My wife & I went to work at my parents’ business and purchased the business in 2002.”
Jesse: “Other than playing guitar, I did a lot of growing up!”
Mike, how did you keep your voice in such a perfect shape all those years?
Mike: “I sold my soul to Satan! Haha! I really haven't a clue.”
Did you take any singing lessons, and how did you find out that you had such an amazing voice?
Mike: “I have never taken any singing lessons. I don't really think I have such an amazing voice. As a matter of fact, I don't really like my tone that much. But everyone seems to like it, so I just go along with it.”
We also know, that Mike has been a drummer in the past. Do you still play the drums every now and then?
Mike: “I actually rehearse with the band on drums, when Phil is not available.”
Jesse: “We are so fortunate for Mike’s drum ability. Since Phil lives eleven hours away, Mike fills in perfectly when we rehearse.”
Maybe the different band members can tell us something more about their instruments and the gear that they use?
Robert: “I switched to 5-string bass and currently play an Ibanez SR-905. It’s a neck-through with a maple body, a 3-band active EQ with Bartolini pickups. The neck is thin and plays fast. Back in the eighties I played the Rickenbacker 4001, which is a legendary bass. But it doesn’t have an active system, only has a 2-band EQ, and is short scale, so it really doesn’t meet my needs anymore. Plus, they’re too expensive now!!”
Jesse: “I recently acquired a custom-made guitar with a strat neck & Charvel body. It has an 18-volt pickup that has a really heavy sound. The guitar belonged to a long time friend who passed away while we were in Germany.”
Robert: “Tony didn’t cover this question himself, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he still plays the white Dean Flying V guitar that he played back when he was first in MILITIA. He also has a custom Guild guitar, which is what he played at Keep It True.”
Early 2008, you reactivated MILITIA again. What was the main reasons for this ressurrection?
Robert: “The main catalyst for MILITIA re-forming was Phil’s sale of his “The Sybling” EP in December 2007. The fact he sold it for 3000 USD really got my attention. From that point, I was committed to determining the extent of the demand for MILITIA. I had been interested in creating a My Space page for the band, but I didn’t know how to set it up and I wasn’t very comfortable using a social networking site! Eventually, I asked my daughter to help me create the My Space page and we got it set up in January, 2008.”
It’s also in 2008 when we, over here in The Netherlands, were positively shocked by a flyer of the 12th Keep It True festival in April 2009, that has MILITIA on the bill. Can you tell us how this all got together?
Robert: “Honestly, we were shocked, too! Our My Space page had only been up for ten days when we were contacted by Oliver, who invited us to play at K.I.T. 12. I couldn’t even accept his offer, because I hadn’t talked to Tony & Jesse for over four years and I had no idea, if they would even want to do it.”
Did you have any idea how popular the band really is in Europe?
Robert: “Not at all! I was still in denial.It was difficult to imagine that a band who only existed for a couple of years and played a total of twenty-five shows without ever leaving Texas would be known in another continent.”
Jesse: “I had no idea!”
What did you expect from the K.I.T. show and what was this experience like for you all to finally play in Europe?
Robert: "I checked out video on You Tube from previous K.I.T. shows and it was obvious there was a completely different environment there compared to anything we’ve seen at home. Even knowing this ahead of time, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and almost felt out of place – I hadn’t been around this many metal heads since 1986!”
Jesse: “It was a complete honour – I am very grateful that we were invited to participate.”
Can you point at the main difference between American metal fans and European metal fans?
Robert: “The European metal fans have a hunger and thirst for this music that does not exist in the USA. Here, we have a few die-hards, but the passion of the European fans is on a completely different level. It’s truly special for us as a band that has a passion for playing this brand of metal to be appreciated by fans who are there to hear it. Too often, that perfect connection is never made. We were also amazed at how peaceful it was there – no fights or brawls like you see here in the USA. There would have to be several police patrolling an event like this in the USA, yet at K.I.T. I saw none!”
Jesse: “I don’t see too much of a difference. They are both passionate about the music and about the bands.”
Which other bands did you get to see at the festival and were there any bands, that you particially liked a lot?
Robert: “There were a few, but for me, the fans got my attention the most. I spent a lot of time just watching everyone. They were even singing along to SAXON’s “Heavy Metal Thunder” over the P.A. between bands. I missed many of the bands as I spent quite a while outside visiting with people from all over the world. Everyone was very friendly.”
Jesse: “I had never heard of ASKA until we found out they were joining us at the Frankfurt show. I really like their music and they’re great guys.”
Your fellow Texas metalheads of ASKA and RIGOR MORTIS played at the festival as well. Did you have the chance to be in touch with them backstage, and how was their experience about playing in Europe?
Robert: “We did visit with the guys in RIGOR MORTIS before the show. We’re good friends with Bruce, and it was our first time meeting the rest of the guys. They were very cool. ASKA played the day before, so we didn’t meet them until Sunday when we travelled together to the Frankfurt show. We all visited a castle and had lunch together. We had a great time, and the show was killer!”
I hope, that the forty minutes show and the show thereafter with ASKA in Frankfurt was only just the beginning of the European invasion for MILITIA and that we don’t have to wait another twenty-five years to see you return on the European continent. What’s your opinion and do you already have plans to come back to Europe again?
Robert: “Oh, we wanted to come back the day we got home! We WILL come back to Europe! At this time, there is nothing in the works. We hope that once the new album is out sometime in 2010, we’ll have some opportunities to do some shows or festivals there. We’d like to do more than two shows this time!”
Jesse: “God forbid we would have to wait another twenty-five years to go back! We already miss Germany! We are looking forward to coming back to Europe and hopefully for a longer stay.”
What was the most interesting and/or funny experience from your days in Europe?
Robert: “For me, it was driving on the Autobahns! I’m usually a slow driver, but that doesn’t work in Germany! I got honked at a lot.”
At first we heard that you would also play a complete new song in Lauda, but due to time limitations and technical problems, you were forced to leave this song out of your set. You played the song in Frankfurt though, but unfortunately we missed it, because we had to go back to work again. What can we expect of this new material, if we compare this new song to the old material that we know so well?
Robert: “The first new MILITIA song in twenty-three years is called “And The Gods Made War”. It contains many of the elements that the classic material has. All of our new songs will pick up right where we left off in 1985. We have realized that our songs incorporate many elements, which makes it difficult to pin us down to a sub-genre of metal. Our songs feature elements of thrash, progressive, melodic and power metal. Sometimes all of these elements are featured in a single song.”
Jesse: “It was truly unfortunate that we didn’t get to play the new song. And we also were unable to play one of our anthem songs, “Thrash To Destroy”. As far as the new material, our style of play has not changed much! The years away from MILITIA did not, thank God, change my style. If anything, my playing style matured and made me a better player. When you put your heart and passion into what you create musically, and when all band members are working together for the same goal with equal heart and passion, that is truly a gift. The material can stand on its own.”
How many new songs have you already written and when can the fans expect a whole new MILITIA album?
Robert: “At this time, we have around eight new songs, and we can only say the new album will be out in 2010.”
Will songs like “The Nights Of Sarai” and “Bangathon” ever see the light of day? (Maybe as a bonus with the new material??)
Robert: “Probably not, as those songs were written after the Tony/Jesse era. These just don’t sound like true MILITIA songs. There is one song from the Tony/Jesse era that we never recorded in the studio, called “Onslaught”, that we will record and include on the new album.”
How many more songs from the earlier days are there, that we have never heard about?
Robert: “There are around five or six songs, that were written after Tony & Jesse were no longer in the band. They also don’t sound like true MILITIA songs.”
Before you came over to Europe, you released a great album, called “Released”(chosen as the # 1 album of 2008, by yours truly). How come it took you so long to finally put the recordings together on one CD, and did you never have plans to do this before in all these years?
Robert: “We had discussed the possibility of doing a compilation CD for years, and in 2004, we were contacted by Rockadrome Records, who had done a similar project with Watch Tower. At that time, we agreed to do it, but we had a very difficult time locating master tapes. The project was delayed for quite a long time, and I began to think Rockadrome was no longer interested in doing the project. But after Phil’s EP sold, and we got the invitation to play at Keep It True, Rockadrome said they were still interested, but needed our master tapes. Eventually, we had to come to terms with the fact the master tapes were either lost or destroyed. The CD had to be produced from recordings of the vinyl (in the case of “The Sybling”) or the actual demo cassettes. The production was already bad on the demos to begin with, but I suppose it was slightly better than the bootlegs that have been circulating for many years. We can’t wait to put out an album that has decent recording quality! And we are so honoured to have our album chosen as #1! Thank you!!”
The Texas metal scene is still quite active these days and the quality of the music coming from this area is still very high. Bands like MILITIA, WATCH TOWER, RIPPER, IGNITOR, ASKA, HEATHER LEATHER and WOLFEBLITZER can be counted among my personal faves. Can we still talk about a tight bound between the different Texas metal bands nowadays? And what is it that makes all these bands so outstanding, comparing to the other metal bands in America? Is there something in the Texas water or the food, that makes all these bands so much better than the rest?
Robert: “Of course, all the bands get along very well with one another. We’re all brothers. We don’t play very many shows, so we don’t always see some of these bands as often as we would like. And you know, I have always wondered about what makes the Texas metal bands so unique. I remember a conversation with Jason McMaster late one night in 1985, talking about the similarities of the Texas bands – how most tend to have a more progressive style, the singers usually sing high, etc. I don’t know what it is, but you might be on to something with the food! Texas has some very killer food, so that might just be what does it!”
What are the future plans of MILITIA, please mention the short and the long term plans for us here?
Robert: “First and foremost is the new album. We want to put together a solid collection of songs that envelop everything that MILITIA has been about. We want it to be intense, powerful and energetic. And we want the sound quality to do the songs justice. We are working very diligently in the writing/recording/production processes to make sure these standards are met. This is our short-term plan, and I suppose the long-term plan has everything to do with the response to the new album. We would hope to have some opportunities to do more shows in Europe, for sure. It’s difficult to think long-term, because this whole experience has been so difficult to predict. It’s already exceeded our expectations, yet we want to get as much from this experience as we can. Today, our lives are certainly different, with jobs and careers making it difficult to go on the road for very long. So we really have to see what happens and try to be flexible.”
Jesse: “Short term – new album! Long term – US-UK-European tour, festivals, etc.”
Are there any important gigs on the agenda for MILITIA?
Robert: “As of January 10, 2010, we don’t have any shows scheduled. We’re not focusing too much on gigs, as we still have a lot of work to do on the new album. We did play with IGNITOR on January 8, 2010, in Austin and we had a great time. It was at a newly-opened club called Encore, and they did a great job with the sound. We introduced a new song, called “The Judas Dream”. The show was filmed by a guy from Houston, so hopefully we’ll have some footage to share.”
Do you have any other hobbies or interests besides playing music in an heavy metal band?
Robert: “Outside of my business and MILITIA, there’s not much time left. Our children are all grown up and now we have grandkids. We try to see them weekly – they keep me feeling young, which is a strange thing for a grandfather to say!”
Who is responsible for the website and the MySpace site of MILITIA?
Robert: “All of us can access the site and send messages, but I’m the only one who will touch HTML. The rest of the guys provide ideas for the design and I handle the implementation. Jesse gets on just about every day and introduces MILITIA to thousands of new people on My Space. It’s hard work, one person at a time!”
How important is a tool such as the internet, websites and MySpace sites for a band like MILITIA?
Robert: “It’s something we could have used in 1985! With so many of our followers being from Europe, the internet & My Space makes everything happen so much faster. We probably would have never reformed if not for this technology. If nothing else, it enabled us to see for ourselves the fact there were people in Europe with interest in the band.”
We have talked about the Texas metal scene a lot already, but maybe you can impress us with some names from that scene from the early days, that we may not know about already? Think more underground than HEATHER LEATHER, WINTERKAT or WYZARD here!
Robert: “What has amazed me about European fans is their knowledge of the Texas metal scene! Some of the writers remember things I had long forgotten! This reunion challenged me not only to remember our songs, but so many events, people and bands that hadn’t crossed my mind in many years. In fact, I’m not sure I can come up with a single obscure Texas metal band, that hasn’t already been discovered in Europe.”
We noticed, that Jesse had a BEHERIT t-shirt on in Germany and Mike a MISFITS t-shirt. These are quite different bands, than we would expect you to listen to. Robert made up for that with his WATCHTOWER t-shirt. To what kind of music do all the different band members listen to nowadays?
Mike: “I will listen to just about anything except new country music. My musical tastes are very wide.”
Robert: “I’m probably the most particular music listener on the planet. I dislike far more music than I like. But what I like, I’m passionate about. I really enjoy listening to very technical stuff (that everyone around me else hates) like SPIRAL ARCHITECT, BLOTTED SCIENCE and SPASTIC INK (anything with Ron Jarzombek) and SCALE THE SUMMIT. I also like other forms of music that features great bass playing, like fusion. Bunny Brunel is one of my favourites – he and guitarist Tony MacAlpine have a band called CAB, that is phenomenal. And there’s also a lot of metal stuff that I missed out on during my days as a family man that I’m just now discovering. There are also subgenres of metal I never knew to exist, such as jazz metal. So much to discover...”
Jesse: “The BEHERIT shirt was worn simply for image. I am fascinated with images of demons, witches, devils, skulls, etc.”
Many metal fans are still devoted vinyl freaks as well. Can you tell us a bit more about your personal record collection, and maybe you can also tell us a bit more about the most expensive and rare items in your collection here as well?
Mike: “I have a decent collection of early metal. Many are autographed, even “The Sybling”.”
What's your favorite MILITIA song?
Tony: “My favorite song to play is probably "Metal Axe".”
Mike: “I like them all.”
Jesse: “I like playing "Search For Steel" live.”
Robert: “ "Salem Square".”
Phil: “ "Regiments Of Death".”
What's the most difficult song to play live, and why is that? (What's the most difficult piece in the song, etc.)
Mike: “ "The Sybling" (haha).”
Tony & Jesse: “They're all about the same to me as far as difficulty.”
Robert & Phil: “The new stuff, yet to be released, is the hardest to play.”
Do you have any hobbies or interests, besides playing music?
Phil, Jesse & Mike: “No hobbies.”
Robert: “Home projects (tile, painting, trim work, repairs, etc.)”
Tony: “I also study the martial arts and read a lot.”
Do you have any personal messages to the readers of this interview and the MILITIA fans in particular?
Robert: “What an amazing experience it has been to revive MILITIA. What was nothing more than a distant memory has been given life by some great people an ocean away. We are eternally grateful to those who have found favour with our little band and are profoundly humbled by your enthusiasm and support. We truly mean it when we say “we couldn’t have done this without you!” All we can do is maintain our humble appreciation of you, and honour you by giving you our best on stage and in the studio. We can’t wait to present our new album to you!”
Jesse: “We are very grateful for your support and look forward to seeing and meeting all. We can’t wait to see what you think of our new material.”
Do you want to add something to this interview. Maybe there is something that we need to mention here that is essential for the whole story of MILITIA so far?
Robert: “If we managed to miss something, send us a message and ask us what you want to know. We respond to every question. Find us at: http://www.myspace.com/militiatexas.”
Jesse: “It’s a crazyand wonderful blessing, that we are all able to pick up where we left off twenty years ago! MILITIA has always been one of the best things that has happened to me. It’s good to be back!”
Maybe you can give us a final update on the new album, touring plans, upcoming gigs or whatever comes to mind?
Robert: “Right now, we're not playing many gigs. We're ready to turn a new chapter. There is lots of work to be done on the new album, which is tentatively titled "A Call To Arms". Besides recording and mixing, we still have a few more songs to write, arrange and learn. Playing gigs could take our focus away from all this, and we to complete and release the album this year. Therefore, we need to work hard and keep making progress. We believe this new album will be the catalyst for the future of MILITIA. We believe these new songs have the potential to make a big impact in today's metal world. In our opinion, a lot of newer metal lacks some of the things that makes metal so cool - things like energetic and memorable riffs/rhythms, discernible instrumentation, tough yet melodic vocals, and quality musicianship. So while our style is often called "old-school", we believe this style of metal was abandoned too quickly, almost like there was a rush to progress to the next logical level. The tempos got faster and faster and there wasn't much room for creativity. It's like falling into a trap. Today, we're not concerned with chasing a direction. We know what we want to incorporate into our songs, and our style will be defined by these elements. This combination of elements gives us a vast source of variety, while still allowing everything to flow together. We hope that "A Call To Arms" is welcomed heartily by the metal world as a breath of fresh air, even though it contains so many elements found in older metal. At the very least, we will be satisfied that by creating and releasing this album, we are able to redeem ourselves for decisions that resulted in the premature halt of MILITIA's potential. We can't wait to get "A Call To Arms" into the hands of the waiting metal community!”
The last words in this interview are for Tony, Mike, Phil, Robert and Jesse....
Robert: “Thank you, Toine and Rita! It is an honour to have met you and I look forward to crossing paths again very soon. The van Poortens are a treasure to all things METAL! e wish you the very best!”
Interview by: Toine van Poorten, exclusively for http://www.truemetal.org / Winter 2009-Spring 2010.
Visit the band on My Space: www.myspace.com/militiatexas
or FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/pages/Militia/207886886157?v=info