-- Vital Remains get shredded --

Stijn Daneels
Vital Remains’ performance in Deinze (July 18, 2015) is easily the most intense concert I’ve had in months. Despite the place being no bigger than a closet the band, me, and the other people in attendance had an awesome and memorable time.

I asked Tony Lazaro, the Vital Remains’ guitarist and its last remaining founding member, for a shredding chat after the show. And man, was it an awesome shred! Religion, Vital Remains’ upcoming album, smashed beer bottles, and Tony’s meet and greet with Rob Halford (yes, THE Rob Halford) are some of the things on the menu today! So sit back, take a beer and enjoy!

All pictures except for the band picture made 
by Karina Wijckhuyse during the Vital Remains gig in Deinze.

BMS: Let me guess, Tony. The Elpee bar in Deinze must have been the smallest venue you’ve ever played in.
Tony: Well, it certainly was the smallest bar on this tour, but it was awesome. Despite the place being so small, it was an intimate, crazy energy show and we absolutely loved it.
BMS: Well, I love visiting this place because of all those great underrated bands performing here like yours. You guys truly deserve more recognition than what you’re getting right now.
Tony: In any case, we don’t care where we play, no matter if it’s in a small bar like here in Deinze or on the main stage at Wacken. We go out, give it our all, brutalize and destroy the fucking place!
BMS: You definitely destroyed this place. Especially all those beer bottles! Now, where do you personally prefer to play, larger venues or smaller ones?
Tony: Actually, I like both types, for different reasons. Smaller places are much more intimate, so we can feed off the energy of the fans and we can make them headbang, mosh, crowd surf and tear the place apart like lunatics. I really love such an outrageous, wild, up close and personal atmosphere. At festivals there’s always a certain distance between you and the fans, but it does, however, give more people the chance to encounter your band. But if I really need to make a choice, I’d go with the smaller locations. After all, we’re an underground, old-school death metal band. We feel at home playing in a small, sweaty, beer stenched room. Places like this where your feet stick to the floor, where the bartender allows you to go all out or even joining the party as he did tonight, where everyone’s going fucking nuts. Yeah, that’s where I love to be.
BMS: I totally agree with that, Tony. At festivals you always have security guys or other stage personnel watching you all the time and banning you from the gig if you break their rules.
Tony: Indeed, not only does the festival staff hold the crowd back from going all out, but as a band you always have a strict time limit so you cannot play all the songs you wish to play unlike in clubs where you can extent the gig. And let’s face it! The heavy metal genre as a whole began in bars like this one. Festivals came much later. Every single metal band started off at their local clubs, working their asses off and learning their craft. It’s important to remember as a metal band that your roots are in the underground, no matter how successful you have or will become. Once you start believing that you’re too good to play in the underground, than I think it’s time to consider not playing this kind of music anymore because it always should be about the reason why you play. It’s important to keep that mindset. Remember your roots!

Vital Remains’ current lineup from left to right: Dean Arnold (guitars), James Payne (drums), Brain Werner (vocals), Tony Lazaro (guitars) and Gator Collier (bass).
BMS: A lot of your work deals with religion. Tell me, Tony, what are your true views about religion?
Tony: I’ve been the main songwriter for Vital Remains since the band began in 1988. And many of our lyrics feature anti-religious themes. It’s no secret, our fans know we have a real beef against the hypocrisy within organized religion. In the last few years there has been a serious increase in religious extremism and overall radicalization. Instead of being about open-mindedness and mutual respect we now get more and more situations wherein one man says to another “oh, you don’t share my beliefs, then I will kill you!” You know, more and more people are taking the concept of faith and religion WAY, WAY, WAY too seriously and they start to distort such bible messages like turning the phrase “love thy neighbor” to “kill the neighbor, rape his wife and slaughter his children.” It deeply disturbs me what some people are capable of doing to others in the name of God and religion.

BMS: I’d say that your songs are like some kind of protest songs. You expressing your disgust with this kind of disturbing practices.

Tony: Yeah, we try to give our listeners the message of believing in yourself. Go out and do what makes you happy. We’re not trying to convert anyone into anything. We just do what we want to do and if you like it, fine, and if you don’t like it, fine. Just turn the page and move on. I think it’s very morally wrong to force-feed your beliefs to someone else.

BMS: I consider myself to be a supporter of free religion. People should be allowed to interpret books like the Bible in their own ways. If you really believe there to be heaven and a hell then ok, it might be true, it might be not. If you believe Jesus Christ was more than just an ordinary man and who did get resurrected after being crucified, then ok. I’m not going to dispute any of these beliefs.
Tony: Not only that, but those religious folks preach about living your life in the most perfect way possible! But on the other hand, the Bible says that God created us in his image. And since we, as human beings, are imperfect, that must mean that God himself is imperfect as well. And that's only one of many elements in which religion contradicts itself. That’s why we, as metal fans, get along so well. We just believe in our own things and just want to be left alone.
BMS: Let’s get back to Vital Remains. You’ve been the only consistent member of Vital Remains since the early days. How hard is it to constantly having to adapt to new talent?
Tony: It is hard. When you stick with a band or a job for a long time people come and go. I always tell myself that I’ll never quit Vital Remains. I’ll keep playing with the band for as long as I physically can. It’s virtually impossible for a band that has been around for this long to actually keep the entire line-up intact. I’m just adaptive. If someone quits the band, I just tell to myself “ok, that sucks, but I’m going to find myself another musician.” In particular the moment Dave Suzuki decided to quit the band was a dark period for me as we had been playing together in Vital Remains for twelve years. But I remembered the promise Dave and I made in the beginning and that was if either one of us were to quit the band the other one will continue with Vital Remains. Over the years, several people have joined Vital Remains, they worked hard but eventually get into some bad habits or they started a family.
BMS: You could say those former band members got “civilized.”
Tony: Yeah and stuff like that happens. But I still am a maniac, I love the music and I’m still here. Musically I always keep myself focused on making great tracks and finding good musicians. In the end, it’s not about one person but about the band as a whole. One member leaving the band does not mean that the band has lost their brutal edge. The people still involved can still kick serious ass with newcomers.

BMS: I’ve got say that Vital Remains’ current line-up kicks A LOT of ass. Tonight’s gig has been one of the most intense performances I’ve experienced in months. I actually did not know of your band until I received the invitation for the gig on Facebook.
Tony: Well, that’s pretty much our game plan. To have people who’ve never heard of us before come over and then have them leave the venue with that feeling of “holy shit, that was brutal” and hopefully, they’ll become a fan. Of course, we don’t force anyone to like our stuff. It’s all up to the people individually to decide whether they like our music or not. You can only get fans by working hard and giving it your 110% percent. It’s a cliché but it’s true, you can’t buy a fan’s respect, you have to earn it! Starting in the underground, in clubs like this, in front of like fifty people or less.
BMS: Tonight’s show certainly was brutal, you guys play with such an intensity and aggressiveness that I think non-metal fans would probably shit their pants.
Tony: One thing I always say to the other guys just before we start playing is that we should play like it’s our last fucking show. And I’d rather not see anyone in the crowd just standing around like they’re bored or something. Tonight, everyone was banging their heads off and demolishing the place.
BMS: What are your other activities aside from playing with Vital Remains?
Tony: You know, a lot of my life is dedicated to listening to and playing music. I go to a lot of shows either as part of the crowd or as Vital Remains. But aside from that, I love doing outside activities like walking through the woods with my girlfriend or riding my mountain bike. Just enjoying good old mother nature. Sometimes you need some time off from music so you can clear your mind. That often helps in making me come up with new riffs.
BMS: Tell me a few bands you love to see.
Tony: Whoa, there’s just so much that I won’t even start listing them all up. The gigs I visit range from classic rock and metal stuff like Iron Maiden and Deep Purple to underground extreme death metal gigs. This year, for instance, I went to a King Diamond concert and I had a fucking amazing time there. In addition, this year we went to the Force Fest festival in Mexico (May 9, 2015) with Judas Priest as the headliner. It was one of the most unforgettable nights of my life. I even got to meet Rob Halford.
BMS: (jealousy level overloads) You met Rob Halford?! The fucking metal god?! Tell me how that happened!
Tony: After Judas Priest finished their show, me and the other members of Vital Remains were in the backstage area, watching and filming them like pretty much everyone else who was there. Then we noticed Rob with his signature motorcycle. Moments later, several big-ass SUVs arrived so we knew that they were leaving the place so I got a little closer and waved at Rob. He smiled at me and then went inside the SUV.

Tony: So I thought that was it, but no, a minute or so later, Brain Werner, our vocalist, called me and said, “hey, you want to meet Rob Halford? Then get your ass to the backstage immediately!” I said, “but I just saw him leave in that jeep.” He then told me that Rob’s SUV just drove a few hundred meters away from where I was standing and that he now was in the backstage tent. So I ran as fast as I could and there he was. Me and my drummer, James Payne, talked to him, shook his hand and took a picture with him. I remember him being very fragile, a bit shy and reserved. Totally different compared to how much energy and raw power he has when on stage. But overall, he’s a very nice guy.
BMS: What’s your personal crowning achievement with Vital Remains?
Tony: The positive feedback we received when we released Dechristianize back in 2003 certainly stands out as one of my proudest moments with Vital Remains. I worked on that album for over a year and getting all that great response from our fans made all that hard work pay off.
BMS: And what would be your personal darkest hour with Vital Remains?
Tony: Around 1995 our original line-up started to completely fall apart. It started when Jeff Gruslin, our original vocalist and a guy I grew up with, decided to quit the band to focus on his family. Shortly after Jeff had left, our original guitar player, Paul Flynn, also left our band and if that wasn’t enough, our original drummer was tired of playing drums with Vital Remains and wanted to just play drums as a sort of casual time killer. Me and these guys had been through a lot together, working our asses off to get good songs, getting our tours arranged. Hell, we even were one of the first death metal bands to tour through the whole of Mexico. In the end, only I and Gator Collier remained. Those were dark times, but eventually we met Dave Suzuki and the ball got rolling again.
BMS: You’ve really earned my respect for keeping Vital Remains alive despite all those line-up changes and grueling tours. Tell me something about the new album you’ve been working on.
Tony: During our current summer tour, we've played In a World without God, one of the songs that will be featured on the album. I can honestly say that the new stuff is going to be very brutal. Fans expect that from Vital Remains, they want ruthless brutality combined with melodic stuff, some thrash metal and shredding solos. And trust me, the new songs will have all those aspects. I, for one, really like them, but you can also expect some new stuff. Not too many new things, however. It’s like you going to your favorite restaurant. You may wish to try out some new dishes but you still expect your favorite steak to be on the menu. And we follow that same philosophy, pleasantly surprising people with new material but still maintaining the basic elements that made our fans fall in love with the band in the first place.

BMS: This has to be said, but you look really damn great for your age. I know you’re in your late-forties, but you look at least ten years younger. Tell me your secret?
Tony: I try to stay healthy most of the time. I don’t drink much, neither do I eat a lot of junk food. I love playing football and go cycling with my wife. That aside, it’s also the music that keeps people young. Playing at and going to concerts, meeting other metalheads. You know, that’s the beauty of the heavy metal world. You may not know the person standing next to you (not yet at least), but both you and him/her know that you share a mutual love for metal and very likely the two of you have even more things in common. You basically already share a connection even when you’re from two totally different countries!
BMS: Just one final question, do you have any advice for the fans or for other metal musicians?
Tony: Many younger bands approach me for advice regarding the basic tools of trade for being in a metal band. My advice would be to just play what you want to play, don’t let other people discourage you or decide for you what to play. Just play the music you love and have fun doing it. I also believe that this isn’t the industry wherein you can make fortune. If you want to get rich, you should stay in school, get a college degree and pursue a career as a manager or something.

Tony: What’s also important to succeed as a band is to work hard and work along with other likeminded people. As for the fans, remember that you showing up at concerts and buying albums is essential to the band’s survival, especially if they’re an underground band. We don’t make even slightly as much cash as bands like Metallica or Iron Maiden make so every album sold and every fan that shows up for the gig fucking counts! You have no idea how much it costs to produce an album or to put a tour together. People just see us perform and think that’s it. No, it isn’t! There’s a ton of hard work, money and preparation necessary to make all of this happen. The record labels also don’t give as much financial support as they used to. They just take care of your album’s distribution and that’s it. They expect bands to get more and more things done on their own, in other words, DIY (do it yourself), like we, as Vital Remains do.

Tony: Also use the internet as much as you can to promote your music and your gigs and don't let your band’s success get over your head. Always respect the show or festival you play at, respect the headliner as well as the other bands that come before and after you. Arrive on time and stay at the venue to support the other bands and to talk to your fans. Being in a metal band isn’t easy, but if you work hard enough and show your respect to your fans and other bands, it can be very rewarding.
BMS: It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll. Tony, thank you very fucking much for spending your time with me. I can’t wait to see you again in the future and to get a hold of your upcoming album.
Tony: All the best to you as well, Stijn. And I also want to say, my sincere thanks to everyone who supports our band and for showing up here in Deinze!
BMS side note: Originally I've made a picture with me and Tony but unfortunately the photo got lost. Therefore, he's a pic of Tony at the end of the gig posing alongside my leather spiked left arm!

Vital Remains live at Obscene Extreme 2015