Canada's Kick Axe got a raw deal, plain and simple. Plucked from bar band status and molded into an image that personified them as the hair band du jour by 80s uber-producer, Spencer Proffer, the Regina-based five-piece took the fast road to success with 1984's VICES album (featuring "Heavy Metal Shuffle" and "On The Road To Rock"), its quickie follow-up, 1985's WELCOME TO THE CLUB and finally 1986's ROCK THE WORLD. As quickly as they rose to success, the band went down in flames amongst a sea of lawsuits brought on by bad management in 1987. Forced into hiatus until the numerous legalities were ironed out, Kick Axe returned in 2004 with the simply titled, IV. Along the way, the "classic" lineup lost vocalist George Criston, but was replaced with original vocalist/drummer, Gary Langen. That album's success was fueled not only by its mix of straight-ahead rockers and AOR-ready ballads but by the cult status that Kick Axe has achieved over the years. Original copies of the ROCK THE WORLD CD fetch nearly $200 US on eBay, a Czech fan site has every imaginable detail about the band's history and a devoted fanbase still exists for Kick Axe's crunching riffs, soothing vocal melodies and fist-pumping anthems.
Being a long-time fan - Kick Axe/Helix in 1984 was one of my very first concerts - I spoke with bassist Victor Langen back in October 2004 just 11 days before the band was to play a CD release party for IV at a small, out-of-the-way Vancouver club. The interview (which has undergone nearly as many trials and tribulations as the band itself!!) deals with the new lineup and CD but also the countless obstacles the band faced along the way during our 90-minute chat. Most surprisingly, Langen speaks in detail of how Rob Halford of Judas Priest personally picked Kick Axe to open their DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH tour, how Criston was almost chosen as the vocalist for Black Sabbath, the band's encounters with W.A.S.P., King Kobra and Quiet Riot, as well as numerous other eye-opening tales of life on the road with Kick Axe!!!
Metal Rules: Kick Axe's release party for your new CD, IV, is being held at Mesa Luna here in Vancouver, which seems like an interesting choice. Why did you choose Mesa Luna?
Victor Langen: I don't know, it is just something out of the ordinary. We were looking for something a little different as opposed to the traditional venues, something a little more intimate. It's just different. It's got a really cool atmosphere with a nice view. It's on West Broadway, just off Burrard Street. I've been there to see a few shows. I caught The Casualties from New York, punk rock. They had the house rocking, real extreme hardcore but I like that sort of thing too, anything with a lot of energy and aggression.
Metal Rules: Do you guys have a setlist put together yet for the show?
Victor Langen: We do, in fact, that's what I've been doing all day today, rehearsing at home and just playing along. We're gonna do six tracks off the new disc and about ten or eleven off VICES, WELCOME TO THE CLUB, ROCK THE WORLD and "The Transformers" movie soundtrack.
Metal Rules: So a little bit of everything?
Victor Langen: Yeah, we're gonna touch on all of the past and about a third of the show will be new songs but I think we will be expected to do a little bit of everything.
Metal Rules: Who will be the "special guests" mentioned on the website?
Victor Langen: I guess that could mean a lot of things. There's gonna be a local band that Mesa Luna has arranged themselves to open the night, they're called Catapult. I don't know anything about them, I'm afraid, but they're supposed to be hard-hitting and original and I'm always into original music. Then we're expecting a lot of old friends from the music community in and around Vancouver. A lot of invitations have gone out and a lot of the responses have come back positively.
Metal Rules: Will there be a certain former vocalist showing up for a special treat, perhaps (laughs)?
Victor Langen: (Laughs) You know, that's the number one question! We're working on that one. It's a situation where we're all great friends. George [Criston, vocalist] just had some commitments that were very long term and because we decided to do this in the long term and also needed a very long commitment, he had to decline for those reasons. He's a very busy man and he's always stayed in the circus, even after the demise of Kick Axe.
Metal Rules: He's working with Avril Lavigne and artists like that now, isn't he?
Victor Langen: Yeah, he's been around the world a few times with Dido and Sarah MacLachlan. I'm not really sure what his involvement with Avril is. I know he was involved with her before Nettwerk Records discovered her and the multi-million selling endeavor there. He has given her vocals lessons, how to sing in harmonies and such. But as far as what his duties are nowadays, I don't know.
Metal Rules: He's still on the road with her band?
Victor Langen: He's all over the world. Last time I talked to him he was in Sydney, Australia. I was trying to track him down for his birthday. We're trying to coordinate something. It might be that he's here for that date, we'll find out.
Metal Rules: It would be a very cool surprise.
Victor Langen: Yeah, it would be for all of us! If he doesn't make it to that show I guess we'll see him at the Avril Lavigne show on the 24th (laughs).
Metal Rules: You've been living in Germany for awhile, but I guess you're back in Canada now?
Victor Langen: Yeah, I had to return home. The commuting back and forth was getting a little ridiculous. I got a lot of Air Canada Aeroplan miles (laughs)! I can do a "round the world" trip now with those.
Metal Rules: What were you doing over there? Was it just your choice to live there or did you work over there?
Victor Langen: I was there because my wife is from Germany. It was a family matter. She was the sole heir to the estate and her grandmother was 90 years old and didn't want to die alone. We went over there and took care of her for a couple of years until she basically succumbed to old age at 92. We made friends and I made musician friends, people to jam with, and there was a young metal band there that I was coaching. It was a great time for just over three years living in Germany. I got to see what goes on over there as opposed to what's forced down people's throats over here. It turned out there was a lot of good stuff over there. I heard Nightwish three years ago. There are a lot of great bands there, Within Temptation from Holland. I wish they were big here! I've been pumping it to everyone I know.
Metal Rules: Nightwish are signed to Roadrunner Records now, so they're set to break in North America hopefully.
Victor Langen: Their new album, ONCE, I think is gonna do it for them. There's a whole different scene going on over there, that's something I can attest to. What Kick Axe does, some people will tag it as heavy metal and that's it. I like to think that we're heavy progressive metal. I would say that we have a lot of progressive influences and a lot of the old North American boogie style as well, in the way to Ted Nugent, ZZ Top, AC/DC, even. They're Australian, but... good blues grooves!
Metal Rules: A song on the new record like "Rock 'n' Roll Dog" I think has a Southern feel to it, like ZZ Top almost.
Victor Langen: Oh yeah, a lot of swagger!
Metal Rules: And "Consolation" has a bit of blues-rock/Whitesnake feel to it, I guess.
Victor Langen: It just ends up that way as a subconscious thing. Everybody has the same influences. We all grew up together as children in Regina, Saskatchewan. Being that there are two sets of brothers, you can imagine that we're pretty tight. We were exposed to the same things growing up. You had Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, that sort of thing.
Metal Rules: I thought "Slip Inside My Dream" had a great early '70s Deep Purple vibe to it. It has a great bassline in it, too.
Victor Langen: Thanks! It needed something (laughs)! My brother cooked up some melodies but it sounded a little too Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel to my ears so we had to put some stomp to it so Brian [Gillstrom, drums] and I went to work laying down a hard beat to it.
Metal Rules: The guitar intro to "Rockin' Daze"-the feedback-is that a nod to Jimi Hendrix? "Purple Daze"... "Rockin' Daze"?!?
Victor Langen: Hmmm... (laughs) If it is, it's an unconscious one. That's an interesting observation, in fact. I would have to say that Hendrix was the first thing I ever heard in my life other than The Beatles. My babysitter played "Foxey Lady" when I was like seven years old. That set me off and here I am! "Purple Haze", "Foxey Lady" and "Manic Depression", I remember listening to them when my babysitter blasted them with her boyfriend when they were looking after me. And the rest is history! But yeah, Hendrix would be a big influence on all of us. It could be one of those subliminal things. Now that I think of it, that's Larry [Gillstrom, guitar] starting that guitar thing and he's a really big Hendrix student. I'll have to point that out to everyone. I find that a good observation, it's great if that's how it rings out. Better than reminding anyone of Eminem or Kid Rock!
Metal Rules: It's got some really good lyrics to it. I guess it has a bad vibe for you guys with what happened, but it's a really interesting way to tell that story.
Victor Langen: Brian wrote all the lyrics because he was the first one to spot the sheriffs coming on the stage. We were actually doing a concert and they were coming on the stage behind his drum riser. We were playing in a theater in Winnipeg called the Centennial Theater, it's still there. It was a sold-out show there with Helix and we were closing out the show and there were all these uniform guys. I saw them and thought maybe they're crowd control, it wasn't anything to be alarmed about. We had seen that before in our heyday, security people coming out on the stage at the end. Anyhow, we finished the night and we didn't even get to do an encore because the sheriff goes "Gimme that guitar, boy!" just like Brian quoted it. That was it, they took everything and loaded it into a semi trailer and we had a show to do the next night in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We had to share the equipment with the other boys. We had no guitars, nothing.
Metal Rules: That's one of the better rock and roll stories I've ever heard!
Victor Langen: As it turned out, we had a really shady manager. Hindsight and all that...
Metal Rules: That was what eventually led to the end of the band as well, right?
Victor Langen: Oh yes, indeed! He was a really bad character, he didn't just rip us off, he was doing it to everybody. You must remember a Canadian band called Streetheart?
Metal Rules: Oh yeah, with Kenny Shields.
Victor Langen: Right, we had the same manager. And another band from the Prairies, The Queen City Kids, they had everything stolen too. Everything was wiped out. We had the RCMP on him and they tracked him to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where we couldn't touch him.
Metal Rules: Has there ever been any retribution since then?
Victor Langen: Well, no. A lot of people say, "I wanna kill the guy!" and I go, "No, no, he's already killed himself". He can never come back, he can never show his face and sooner or later we all pass on to the next world and he'll have to account for his sins at the other end.
Metal Rules: Back to the new record. On "Do You Know" there's the dueling drums I guess you could say. Was that song written with two drum tracks in mind or was that added after the fact?
Victor Langen: We have two great drummers, so we had Brian do the bulk of whacking away at the drums and then it got to the point where we said, "How would this sound if we got two kits going?" So we brought in my brother's big kit as well and set it up and it was really cool. I remember seeing the Doobie Brothers back in the late '70s and they had dueling drummers. Especially when you're right there in the room live, it really adds something to it.
Metal Rules: So they actually recorded live together as well?
Victor Langen: Yes, they were both smashing away, it was a pretty cool thing. I hope we will be able to do it live one of these days with both kits on stage. A lot of the other songs as well would lend themselves well to dual drummers, a lot of the old songs on VICES even, like "Maneater" and... Heck I could go on! "Alive & Kickin'" would be smashing with two drummers. If you play it real loud, it gets inside your brain! It was a long drawn out process.
Metal Rules: How many songs did you guys actually have for this record? You settled on fourteen, but how many were up to making it to the record?
Victor Langen: I think there's at least six more that got put aside. We started whittling them down as it got more cohesive start to finish. But we had all kinds of ideas because we had been away for so long.
Metal Rules: You started recording in April of 2003, but what took so long for the record to actually come out?
Victor Langen: Well, I think we actually started in June of 2002. We started the writing process and getting together and we all had songs and leads that we wanted to run by one another. But I don't think the five of us were in the same room until last April. I was still in Germany until last Christmas. We did all the final stuff then, the mixing and mastering and everything. I wanted to be here for all of that, which turned out to be a much longer process than anticipated. It just took forever for everyone's schedules to coincide. We've been talking about this for the last ten years but the thing was, there were so many legal obstacles from the past. To be honest, we thought the sheriff would jump back on stage (laughs)! If he does, we'll make sure the cameras are rolling just for the hilarity of it.
Metal Rules: You'll be ready for him this time?
Victor Langen: Sure, we'll be doing the video for "Rockin' Daze" (laughs)!
Metal Rules: Two tracks on the new CD, "City Lights" and "Turn To Stone", feature some of the same lyrics. Are those two songs connected?
Victor Langen: Yes, I know which part you mean. There is a vocal piece right at the beginning of "City Lights" that's a reprise from "Turn To Stone". I'm sure we all have our own interpretations about why we did that, but I'll give you mine. Basically, "Turn To Stone" is about having to harden up when you're facing the world all on your own, the big "City Lights", you know. We've all had our encounters with being stranded in New York or L.A. or anywhere all alone, just you and the big city lights. I was never mugged in New York and I don't think anyone was harmed in a drive-by in L.A. or anything, but still there is that overwhelming feeling of "Yeah, it's just me, man!" So we tucked that in, but in a slightly nicer way and with a different harmony stack on it to reprise it before "City Lights". It just added a bit of a dynamic twist to it at that point of the album. It was one of those things where ideas get thrown around real fast and everybody voted and said "Yeah, that fits!"
Metal Rules: One thing I noticed was that you guys didn't do a cover song on this record, which you've done on the other three. Was that planned or something that just happened?
Victor Langen: I would have to say it was a real conscious decision not to, just because after all these years we had so many songs. We had all kinds of stuff and that was just something in our past when we were just young punks in our early 20s having played a thousand cover tunes to get to where we were at that point. You had all these songs that people were always pushing on you. I think a lot of why we did them the first time was the pressure put on us by our old manager, Spencer Proffer, to pick one out of our old catalogue when we were doing high school dances and bar gigs. God knows we could have pulled one out of our hats. There's probably one that we'll lay out in a live setting just because we have so much fun playing it and it's the epitome of a heavy riff song of all time and that's "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. We did that one when we played a song in Regina back in August and we laid it down good.
Metal Rules: What was it like playing live together in front of your hometown of Regina after so many years?
Victor Langen: It was a real warm feeling, like a sense of relief actually, something we had wanted to do for a long time and the cops didn't show up or anything. We had fun, got a lot of positive reactions and spent an hour doing hospitality. We had a tent set out in the middle of the park and we went out there and signed all kinds of stuff that people brought out there like old VICES vinyl album covers and "The Transformers" VHS cases. That's another story, something that we had no say in at all.
Metal Rules: We'll get to that later, Victor, don't worry (laughs)! I know the band recorded some demos, "Who Knows Ya", "Rockin' Daze" and "City Lights". How much did those songs change from the demo versions to the final versions that we hear on IV?
Victor Langen: "Who Knows Ya" is pretty much exact, from start to finish that one has stayed intact. "Rockin' Daze," as well. "City Lights" just started as a jam really. An old songwriter friend named Floyd Ray, who kind of looks like Bob Seger, wrote some melodies around a riff that Larry came up with.
Metal Rules: These demos were released on MP3.com in late 2003, I believe, and generated a lot of excitement for the new material. How important is the Internet for a band like Kick Axe?
Victor Langen: Oh God, I wish we had the Internet in the 80s (laughs)! It gives anything and everything a forum. It finds a way to all the weirdest places. I think it was very important for pushing us to get this thing done. We were thinking, "Oh, let's just put out a few songs, shop it to a label that puts us on a compilation and then see what happens". But at that point, MTM over in Munich, Germany contacted us - we didn't even contact them - and started pushing like "Come on, do a whole album! We'll do all of Europe for you!"
Metal Rules: So it was MTM that got the ball rolling in terms of getting the band back together?
Victor Langen: Yeah, it was because of the MP3.com thing. They got wind of it and contacted us. It was funny because they were just down the road from me. I was just north of Munich.
Metal Rules: So were they fans of the band?
Victor Langen: Yes. They were fully familiar with the VICES and WELCOME TO THE CLUB version of the band. We did okay over in Europe back then, even so far as we were number one on Radio Warsaw with "Heavy Metal Shuffle"! What the hell was it, AC/DC were number two and then Iron Maiden, I've still got the chart somewhere. It was before the fall of the wall, too, so it was still iron curtain stuff in Warsaw. Poland is one of the very few places in the world where we went to number one on anyone's chart.
Metal Rules: So how is the European market for Kick Axe now? Has the new CD been released there yet?
Victor Langen: Yeah, it simultaneously came out in 28 countries. I can't list all of them but France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, United Kingdom... Russia is one of them. I like that one! I hope to one day go see Russia. The press response has been really good and MTM has kept us busy doing European interviews. I think the Scandinavian markets seem to be the strongest-Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I don't know why but from my own experience the bands that come out of those countries tend to be heavier like The Rasmus and Nightwish. There's another band in Germany that I really got to know, Blind Guardian. They have a new DVD out that was made in the city I lived in, Coburg. I went to the second night. They're a great band and they sell like a million records in Europe. Nobody knows about them here, nobody.
Metal Rules: I know the band has a distribution deal in South America, as well, so how did you end up with that one?
Victor Langen: Again, they contacted us. When we did VICES and WELCOME TO THE CLUB, they were released everywhere, we got fan mail from Israel, Portugal, Chile and Argentina and stuff. The owner of the label down there happens to know about our past and feels that there's something there. So he's gonna do the whole catalogue - VICES, WELCOME TO THE CLUB, ROCK THE WORLD and IV in one big push. I'm not exactly sure what the release date is there, Larry deals more with that.
Metal Rules: In the U.S., I know you guys are on Song Haus, so did that deal come about from them re-releasing VICES and WELCOME TO THE CLUB?
Victor Langen: Exactly.
Metal Rules: Why was ROCK THE WORLD not released as well? People are paying an arm and a leg for it on eBay.
Victor Langen: We're doing that, but we were adamant that it had to have new artwork and we're thinking of putting a hidden track on it as well. We don't know what yet, but it might be a live song or a couple. It will be in the New Year, probably February or March.
Metal Rules: Is that going to be world wide or just North America?
Victor Langen: No, MTM wants it, as well. They're waiting and so is the man in Brazil. We will do it simultaneously in all the territories.
Metal Rules: Then the rest of us who can't spend $200 can complete the Kick Axe CD library (laughs).
Victor Langen: It's too bad, ROCK THE WORLD, I stand by it 100 percent, but the money dried up and we had to finish it before it was ready. I was just listening to the remasters yesterday. Raymond [Harvey, guitar] is a studio engineer by day and he put himself in charge of remastering it, so I went out to the studio he works at and let it rip.
Metal Rules: How does it sound?
Victor Langen: Bigger and better! A little closer to what we first envisioned. I really stand by the material on there.
Metal Rules: Speaking of Raymond, I guess he has been the closest to the music scene since the band broke up with his production work and all but did any one of you guys act as the catalyst to get back together again or was it a group effort?
Victor Langen: I don't want to take full credit, but I've always been the one who takes it up first if a few of us went out for dinner or drinks or just were in the same place. I started bringing it up when Dane Spence at Song Haus was pushing to re-release this stuff back in late '98 and early '99. I started ringing everyone's bell and no one was too interested, other than perhaps Larry, but I got it rolling and once the two discs came out and we started getting fan mail directed to us and seeing comments on the Internet, then everyone started going, "What the heck! Let's put some effort into this and see what we come up with."
Metal Rules: So when you did get together again and found out that George couldn't be a part of it, was there ever anyone besides your brother, Gary, who was considered for the vocalist position?
Victor Langen: No, we wanted to keep it Kick Axe. My brother was a founding member and was in the band for seven years while we were kicking down the door. When we had A&R people starting to pay attention to the band, he had to leave for his own personal family reasons. He was starting a young family and he had to make a choice, so we scouted and George was the guy who got to be in the band. Once George told us, "I can't do it guys, I'm too deep into what I do now", I told Larry and Brian and Raymond "I'm gonna call my brother." "What a good idea!" As you can hear, he can sing pretty good (laughs).
Metal Rules: From what I've heard on IV, he fills George's boots very well.
Victor Langen: Yeah, and live he sings George's songs so if George will be there, he'll look into the heavens thinking "Oh my goodness! I'll never get my job back!" (laughs) But of course the door is always open and Gary is the first one to say that. He'd be just as happy banging away on a second set of drums, he'd still be on board, too. Then there'd be six of us...
Metal Rules: I know Larry is involved now with Amber Interactive. How does he split his time between his business and the band?
Victor Langen: You know, he's amazing. He's the busiest guy I've ever known. He always has been a natural born multi-tasker. But he's a busy guy doing his programming stuff and how he finds the time to fit everything in... he's more or less the executive producer of everything that we've done and he handles a lot of the administration with the label and with Chipster, he's the point man on that. It's a lot of stuff. I don't know how he keeps track of it all.
Metal Rules: You recorded the new CD at his studio, Elfin Sound. Is that studio available to other bands as well or is it just something that he does for himself?
Victor Langen: It's his own setup but I know that he's had some other artists in there.
Metal Rules: There's another singer on the album, Laurel Aura.
Victor Langen: Laurel Aura, she's a singer and songwriter. We're actually helping her out with some things as well, Larry, Gary and I, that was some side project when we started getting all this together. She was working on her stuff there, so we were pitching in a few ideas there that are forthcoming. There will be more stuff coming out of there.
Metal Rules: So where do you think Kick Axe fits into the music scene today, since you have been off the radar for 18 years?
Victor Langen: I think we're pretty hard to pigeon-hole. People that are hardcore metal go "Kick Axe aren't metal" and then prog people go, "They're not progressive, they're metal". It's hard to find now but I think time will tell. If you put Rush and Bad Company in a blender you end up with us. We're just doing what feels honest, what comes naturally. There's no preconceived notion that it has to sound like this or like that or that it has to remind people of Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park. I don't really give a damn! We're just doing what comes from our hearts and souls and if it fits in, that will be great.
Metal Rules: Do you think Kick Axe ever suffered from being a Canadian band rather than down South in the U.S. market?
Victor Langen: I think that could be a major part of why we didn't make the breakthrough like the whole L.A. scene. There seems to be some impartiality to the fact that we weren't American seemed to rub wrong with the U.S. press, at least. They were just "Oh, you're Canadian!" Pretty hard to break through when you have twenty American bands running up and down Sunset Strip handing out their flyers. So I'd say that there was some negative ramifications or whatever the word is.
Metal Rules: Did you guys ever consider moving to the U.S. to expand in that market more than with the label and the distribution?Metal Rules: Kick Axe certainly have a world wide fanbase, even after all these years. I saw the Kick Axe fansite out of Czechoslovakia. I was looking through that and I could not believe the information and the time that guy has put into that website!
Victor Langen: We were very strong Canadians. We didn't want to be Americanized. We were just stubborn punks from way up North who parked our dog sleds at the border to go into God's country (laughs). We did run with it for a while after we started feeling some backlash, we started deleting from a lot of statements that we were from Canada. But once that cat is out of the bag, you're branded (laughs).
Victor Langen: Oh, I shouldn't forget about Vlado! He was another strong force to get our butts in gear. Once we found out about him and made contact with him, we noticed just how fanatical he was. He was half the world away, but had never seen us live and he knew everything about us. I was shocked!
Metal Rules: You probably learned some stuff about yourselves that you had forgotten!
Victor Langen: Oh, certainly! He had stuff that I hadn't seen!
Metal Rules: He has concert posters and ticket stubs from 1983...
Victor Langen: Yeah, where did he get that? I think he's getting help from other fanatical people as well that are supplying him with all that material. He acknowledges all kinds of contributions on there. Some of them must be Canadian. There are pictures from the strangest gigs that are just a blur to me, just another stop on the high road to nowhere.
Metal Rules: There was quite a bit on the fansite that I learned and I wanted to ask you about as well from when the band was known as Hobbit.
Victor Langen: Way back!
Metal Rules: When you guys were playing in biker bars, what do you remember the most about those days?
Victor Langen: It was an eye-opening adventure (laughs). I don't think half of us were old enough to be in the bars, and I'm talking about bars in Alberta! Larry and I were the only ones who were 18. My brother Gary would have been all of 16 or becoming 16 or something like that. It didn't seem to matter. Of course, that was in the mid to late 70s, '75 to '77 when we were Hobbit-ized and even back then we were playing original songs. We were playing all kinds of places like some shady place on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton where people were putting needles in their arms. We didn't have a clue then, we were just some kids from Regina who saw twelve-story buildings!
Metal Rules: So how did a bunch of prairie guys hook up with a vocalist from Wisconsin?
Victor Langen: There's a bit of a tale to tell! We went for broke when we needed a singer. We did have a local guy here [Charles McNary], I shouldn't forget about him, singing after Gary left but he was content just to be the Tom Jones of Vancouver, which didn't sit too well with us. The breaking point came when we moved more in the lines of what we really wanted to do which at the time was like the Judas Priest of "Heading Out To The Highway" and "Living After Midnight", pre-"You've Got Another Thing Coming". And other stuff that was making some noise like the first Motley Crue album, I actually had that as an import on the Leathur records release.
Metal Rules: Wow, that's worth some money now!
Victor Langen: Yeah, I wish I still had the goddamn thing! I had it for ages and then it just disappeared. But we decided we would go for broke. We had played the scene out here, the club scene, with all the top party bands at the time and you get tired of that. While we were writing songs, if we ever played them live so the agents heard it there would be scolding involved. Club owners wouldn't know the difference as long as the cash register is ringing and the bartender is slinging drinks they don't care. You could be killing chickens or something and they wouldn't care as long as they were selling booze. So we wanted to get out of that scene and the only way to do that was to draw a line in the sand. We said that we were gonna find the best vocalist even if it took us a year to do it. So we put ads in Rolling Stone magazine, anything we could find, putting calls out to agencies in the United States and Toronto. A lot of people would go "Who ARE these punks? What do you think you're doing wasting my time?" But the persistence and the bulldoggedness paid off. There was a chain reaction starting with someone in Toronto, then someone in Chicago who knew someone in Milwaukee. We got through and he sent us a tape. It arrived all broken, so I had to re-fit it into a new case since it was all smashed courtesy of whoever. Actually, Brian and I did this and went through a lot of effort and when we heard it we said, "THAT is the guy!" It was George. He hitched rides with truckers to Seattle and we went down and got him and brought him up here. He was like 18 or 19, just a kid, and didn't care if he was going to make a dime doing it, he just wanted to go for it.
Metal Rules: I read a rumor that he was actually considered as the singer for Black Sabbath. Is that true?
Victor Langen: Yes, it's quite true, in fact! It all comes down to a situation that involves Spencer Proffer, again. We're doing the first album in Hollywood and Spencer was gonna be the producer for the next Black Sabbath record at that time. They had Ian Gillan, Bev Bevan on drums, Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi. Ian Gillan went back to the Deep Purple guys and they came out with PERFECT STRANGERS - which is great - that left a big hole there and they were hitting on a few people around Hollywood. Then we had a strange request from Spencer... he wanted us to spend a weekend in the studio just writing songs that Black Sabbath could maybe use.
Metal Rules: Was that the BORN AGAIN album or the one after that?
Victor Langen: I'm not even sure what the hell album it was because I wasn't really following them after Ozzy left. I was aware of Ronnie James Dio but he had left quite some time before that, so I had lost interest in anything they were doing. But they pulled up in the back alley outside the Pasha Studios in this Chrysler station wagon, this rusty heap with the wood paneling on the sides and the rusty chrome rack, it was like a Cheech and Chong movie. Geezer was driving with Tony Iommi sitting up front and they were smoking hash - in the back alley off Melrose and Gower! Apparently they wanted George. "No, we're putting all this into this, you can't just kill it!" He was up for consideration. I've actually seen something in writing about it as well, an actual document about it. But they did talk to him and it didn't turn out that way.
Metal Rules: So it all came about because of songwriting?
Victor Langen: Yeah, because they heard his voice on the demos and the songs were actually pretty strange. It was "Hunger" and "Piece of The Rock" and another song on there, "Running Wild In The Streets", which Blackie Lawless took for W.A.S.P. since they came in and did an album instead of Black Sabbath. All this stuff got picked over and we wanted to use it for our second album but Spencer went "Oh, no, no, guys. I'm using those songs." He was the emperor, so... All hail Caesar! Stupid young punks that we were, we didn't know how to protect ourselves left, right and center. We just had all these songs. There's a bunch more of them, I can't remember the names, but when Geezer and Tony heard George singing the songs, they wanted him to do it with them. They thought he could bring them back to Dio status, I guess. It's one of those what-might-have-beens.
Metal Rules: You mentioned that Kick Axe wrote a song for W.A.S.P. called "Running Wild In The Streets." I looked that up in the liner notes of THE LAST COMMAND and it doesn't have any credit to Kick Axe. It's just credited to Blackie Lawless.
Victor Langen: (Laughs) That's right, because he made us sign it over to him. I've got the contract still here, it's an interesting document. His real name is Steve (laughs). We got a signed document and it was just straight away that for cash, we walked away from the song. He doesn't want to share songwriting credits with anyone, not even the guys in W.A.S.P.. We met up with him a few years after that when we did the re-opening of the Whiskey A-Go-Go after it burned down. All kinds of people came out there and I thought he was Kevin DuBrow with a hair transplant (laughs)! We were going to kick him off the bus, because we didn't get along with that guy. But I've been listening to THE NEON GOD PART 1 and 2 and I must say it's a pretty decent concept. I was really shocked at the artistic quality. When we met him, he said, "Aw, we didn't do that song justice, you guys should have just kept it". We do have a live version of it that was broadcast on one of the big rock stations in L.A. back then, so we actually have it on tape.
Metal Rules: The other two songs you mentioned, "Hunger" and "Piece of The Rock," King Kobra took those songs.
Victor Langen: Yeah. Carmine Appice and the King Kobra guys came in and I guess they were a little short on ideas. They got them from Spencer's vaults of songs. We were out on the road supporting VICES and you don't think about nothing except how many people you're playing for tonight. "Oh, I think it's 17,000!" So you're just happy to be alive, especially at that age. But I think King Kobra were pretty faithful, basically copycatted them. The guitar solos sound almost note for note the same.
Metal Rules: Their singer is a woman now.
Victor Langen: WHAT?
Metal Rules: Yeah, Mark Free! He's gone and done the gender surgery and he's known as Marcia Free or something. He's still doing music but as a woman.
Victor Langen: Wow... only in L.A. would that happen. Now he's been set free! (laughs)
Metal Rules: There's also the legend about Rob Halford coming into the Body Shop in Calgary where you guys played and the next day you were on the Judas Priest tour!
Victor Langen: Yeah, we all thought they do some serious drugs these big-timers (laughs). It was the day that VICES was released and we were doing a live broadcast from a place called the Body Shop in Calgary. George and Larry went down to the rock station with our A&R guy in Calgary to yak about it and they played "Heavy Metal Shuffle." Rob Halford was on his way to the station because they were playing the Saddledome that night. On the way there, he had the radio set to the station and he heard "Heavy Metal Shuffle." Just one of those weird things. So he's yakking on the radio and they take calls from listeners and we're listening at the hotel because we're fans of Judas Priest. I have a tape of it somewhere. This guy calls up-and honest to God we didn't set it up or anything, just happened on its own - and says "I'm coming to the show but after that I'm going out to see Kick Axe, you guys should see them, they play a lot of Judas Priest songs." So he says, "I just heard 'Heavy Metal Shuffle' and it's a demon of a tune. We really should come down and see this Kick Axe". Our jaws are dropping and we're going "Aw, fuck, no!" (laughs) Sure enough, the whole entourage comes marching in and the bouncers bring them right up to the table up front, they just chucked out the people who were sitting there, still in their stage gear with the black leather and spikes. Oh my goodness! We did do some cover tunes of Priest back then, we did "The Green Manalishi" and more obscure things. That's what we were playing when Halford walked through the crowd with three inch spikes on his arms, chugging to it! The synchronicity of it, we only did two Priest songs. We had to do two sets and VICES was good for one and a half so we had to fill it up. We did some Zeppelin songs then, too, but he came in during "The Green Manalishi" and the rest was crazy. After the show, he came to the dressing room. Our A&R guy had all kinds of radio people there to do meet and greets and record store people and Halford came in saying, "Everybody out!" (laughs). They were with CBS/Sony, too, so Halford said to the A&R representative, "Please make everybody leave now, I need to speak to the band". So he stuck his head out, called the waitress in and said, "OK, bring two bottles of champagne." He brought that in and it was just the five of us with Halford, he kept our road crew out, the road manager, everybody. He said, "Hey, you guys do Priest better than Priest! So I can't think of anyone better to replace those pansy-ass makeup wearing fruitcakes from L.A.." I probably shouldn't say who he was referring to because it might cause a stir... but it was Great White. They did not care for them, the agent was ramming them down their throats, so they said, "Enough is enough, we gotta have a real band opening for the mighty Priest!" We were just looking around the room thinking "This guy has been doing heroin since birth! Does he think we believe this?" But he said, "You'll get the contract signed tomorrow, we're shipping out Great White tonight, that's it, they're heading home." He was dead serious. There was hell to pay though. Great White didn't go down without a fight. They relinquished the tour after Madison Square Garden, Priest came to Edmonton and then to Winnipeg and we were there, as well. So he came down to see us again and this time he had paperwork in his hand. Halford brought it himself, he hand-delivered the contract. We started in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the hometown of Poison, by the way. They were at that gig. I talked to them when they were here doing... I forget which album they recorded here with Bruce Fairbairn...
Metal Rules: FLESH AND BLOOD.
Victor Langen: FLESH AND BLOOD, that's it! Funny thing was that I was running a jam night at Club Soda when we were in legal disputes with everything and couldn't play, but we could do a jam night. So they came there and they started freaking out that they were meeting me. The club manager at the time couldn't figure that out. "This is Poison, man! They're huge and you're just a twerp!" They were going "Man, we saw you with Priest in our home town!" So I had a lot of new instant friends after that moment (laughs). Mostly strippers! Don't tell my wife, this was just before I met her (laughs). Yeah, strange tales can be told!
Metal Rules: Besides Judas Priest you guys toured with some big names, Scorpions, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Rush and Metallica... the list goes on and on!
Victor Langen: Whitesnake was my favorite. Well, Judas Priest and Whitesnake, the British guys were the finest folks to be around.
Metal Rules: Well, as a Deep Purple fan growing up in the '70s you must've been pretty psyched to play on the same stage as David Coverdale?
Victor Langen: Oh yeah! He'd come into our dressing room every night - we played first, then Whitesnake and last Quiet Riot - and he'd be just making buffoonery comments about Kevin DuBrow. We all did, it was fun! Rudy [Sarzo] ended up joining Whitesnake because he was not having any fun in Quiet Riot, he hated it but contractual obligations...
Metal Rules: From what you can believe online, Quiet Riot is just one legal issue after another. Was it always like that?
Victor Langen: Well... you'd see things and in hindsight you understand what some of the things meant. Back then we were just rookies, virgins. But you'd see the weirdest things. Like DuBrow would get upset if the black electrical tape wrapped around his mike stand went the wrong way. "It's supposed to go clockwise, not counter-clockwise, you silly ass! You're fired!" We're going, wow, this is worse than Spinal Tap!
Metal Rules: When bands that you've played with come to Vancouver, do you still go down and check them out?
Victor Langen: Oh yeah, I just went to see Queensryche. That was great, I can't wait to see it in a stadium. We crossed paths with those guys. They came on late and I didn't have time to do backstage stuff, but they're swell guys. They were fully aware that I was coming to the show, left me tickets at the door, but everything was running late and I didn't have time to hang around. But they're aware that Kick Axe is back up and running and fully aware of our history. I'm happy for the guys, they're back and doing a really decent production with VH1 underwriting the whole thing, that's nice.
Metal Rules: Geoff Tate still sounds unbelievable, doesn't he?!
Victor Langen: He's better than ever! He's a master now.
Metal Rules: I was a little disappointed at the way they changed the chorus in "The Lady Wore Black".
Victor Langen: That's a difficult one to reach, I think he did it once, but he didn't go for that total shriek. I'm gonna let him off on that one (laughs). I was really happy that I was able to go and see that. They're with Chipster, too, so they're part of the family. We have talked with them about possibilities for next year when they're doing OPERATION:MINDCRIME II, that could be an interesting double bill. Now we just gotta earn it!
Metal Rules: I was listening to WELCOME TO THE CLUB and that brought back memories of the video for "With A Little Help From My Friends," seeing all those familiar faces like Andy Curran, Lee Aaron and Rik Emmett. How did you end up getting them all on record?
Victor Langen: Free booze (laughs). Actually, we were in Toronto at Triumph's studio, so we had that locked up okay that way. At the time, you must remember Live Aid was going on. We were doing our basic tracks and there was a situation with Much Music at the Royal Oak Hotel was doing some kind of telethon thing. Brian and I had finished our tracks and said "Let's go down there and see if we can help out!" (laughs). So we went up and volunteered. No one asked us to come down and help out, we just went there and ended up talking to all kinds of people like Erica Ehm. Of course, we didn't invite Honeymoon Suite or Platinum Blonde (laughs), but the Coney Hatch guys were there and Andy said he could make it. "Hey, we got somebody!" We asked the Red Rider man, Tommy Cochrane, but he had to go to Africa and do something high level for Live Aid or something. He did say "Wanna join my baseball team? We're taking on the mayor's office." "Sure, when is it?" "Tomorrow!" So we were networking at the Royal Oak there and then we went to the ball game. I'm not much of a ball player but Brian is pretty good at catching and throwing, I'm OK at swinging. Anyway, we go to the game and there were all kinds of people there. Lee Aaron was there, that's how we got her. It just kept happening. Bob Segarini [Klaatu] was there, Rik Emmett was all game for it, it went from there. It wasn't supposed to be a video or anything, the record company taped it just to use it as a news item or something and it ended up being edited into a complete video. Once that happened, Rik Emmett's record company goes "Uh uh, no way, can't have him!", so we had to do a double image of George in the video. I actually have the original footage of him and Emmett singing together. I was thinking of releasing it (laughs). The original footage is much more comical, it was a huge party and I've got footage of John Albani carrying Lee Aaron out over his shoulder at about seven in the morning (laughs).
Metal Rules: Did she imbibe a little too much?
Victor Langen: Oh, everybody did. There were people sleeping there, it's a huge studio and they have a big rehearsal sound stage built in the back as well with stage lighting, a PA and everything. It was a fun experience... all because we went to help out at Much Music uninvited.
Metal Rules: You were talking about "The Transformers" movie earlier. I know the whole story why you guys weren't known as Kick Axe on the record, but who came up with the name Spectre General?
Victor Langen: (Laughs) I think that was supposed to be Spencer General! General Spencer we always called him after that. We don't know why, we heard stories afterwards that he was trying to come up with a name that sounded like Bon Jovi. One was John Dory, really stupid. Sure, it's not the best name in the world but it's the name we got! (laughs) You can't go changing our name!
Metal Rules: If they thought Kick Axe was such an offensive name for a kid's movie, why did they ask you guys to be on it in the first place?
Victor Langen: I don't really understand that. My own personal theory was that Spencer Proffer was testing the waters and see if that name was the magic one. I must give him full credit, he had a hundred percent belief in us. He flew up from L.A. to Edmonton in the winter to see us. It was like minus 27 and blowing snow everywhere. We picked him up at the airport and here's this Hollywood tanned guy. He listened to like three songs live wherever we were playing at some dive bar in Edmonton, Beverly Crest or something it was called. Horrible place but it was packed! At every third table, there was a brawl going on (laughs). Real Canadian stuff! (laughs) He watched three songs, left and said, "Okay, you're in." He talked to our manager and told him to bring us down to Hollywood the next week. It was another one of those situations where you don't believe it's even happening! (laughs) But he meant it and the next thing you know, we're missing the Grey Cup (laughs). We were supposed to be playing The Metro and the next day was The Grey Cup but we just kept on driving south. We just kept driving and got to L.A. that night and of course there is no news coverage down there on who won the Canadian football championship (laughs).
Metal Rules: I saw a little movie called FUBAR a couple of years ago that kind of made fun of the whole heavy metal lifestyle. The Vancouver band, Gob, covered "Heavy Metal Shuffle" on the soundtrack to FUBAR. Now I know George Criston also sang some background vocals on Gob's version of the song, but were the rest of you guys involved in it at all?
Victor Langen: No, we weren't even approached like "Hey, what do you think of this?" The silly part is that everyone involved there knew how to talk to any of us. Some people who used to work with us are in with the Nettwerk Records monster there, people who got their start with us in the 80s and stayed in the game. It's not like we're strangers to them. They could have asked me to come and show the kid how to do the bass licks for it...
Metal Rules: So you're not pleased with their version is what you're saying?
Victor Langen: Ohhh... it's an interesting interpretation, sure.
Metal Rules: What do you think of the videos for "Heavy Metal Shuffle" and "On The Road To Rock" now?
Victor Langen: (Laughs) I look at that and just wow! We were shaped and formed into what you see there. We were too normal according to them, you know. I don't know, it kind of works for AC/DC just to be normal.
Metal Rules: There's not much spandex and hair spray in Regina either.
Victor Langen: No, and that's not our deal for sure!
Metal Rules: Are there any plans to do a video from IV?
Victor Langen: Well, we're talking about doing "Rockin' Daze", but we want to get some kind of census before we jump into the expenses and the time and trouble of doing all that if no one wants to play it. I don't know if the whole video scene carries as much weight as it once did, say even ten years ago. We're going to do something, but we're talking more about a live concert.
Metal Rules: For DVD?
Victor Langen: Yeah, so the present lineup of the band can actually be seen performing the new songs and the old songs. I think that would have more value to anyone who cares about Kick Axe.
Metal Rules: Are there going to be cameras at the CD release party?
Victor Langen: Yes. We're recording every show, audio every night and wherever we can with professional film crews. We got that all set up, that's the benefit of being a little older, you got a lot of allies.
Metal Rules: So what can we expect from Kick Axe in 2005 then?
Victor Langen: Just a lot more live dates, that will be our focus. We're gearing up to get on a prominent tour. We have to see what big acts are on the road. Chipster is a big help in that area. He's another guy who contacted us, just like "Hi, I'm a fan of the band and I'd like to help." I mean, we gotta pay him (laughs) but he felt there was a definite future for the band and that we never got a fair shot the first time around. But we're focusing right now on Canada and then Chip wants us to go to the U.S. and do showcases in New York and Los Angeles. I don't know the timeline for that but I guess we have to wait until after the festive season.
Metal Rules: Nobody wants to tour on Christmas!
Victor Langen: No, it's a little tougher, airports are more congested and all the other threats after 9-11. What better than to take a swing at Christ? Who knows the mind of a terrorist, but I wouldn't be game for flying at that time of year to New York of all places.
Metal Rules: When the band was off, there seems to be documentation of what the other guys were up to but what were you doing?
Victor Langen: We all invented things to do. I started an enterprise called Peeler Wheeler (laughs). Actually, it became a monster. I hired a bunch of guys and had some vans running strippers between clubs. A simple idea, but it wasn't just the band being sued, we were being sued left, right and center by all the people that our manager left stranded. So I had to come up with something and everything music related was just a no go, they would jump on you. So I had that running for a couple of years and then Brian called me saying "Hey, I'm running this limousine thing, wanna think about joining up?" I took a look at it and kept doing what I was doing until one day I'd seen enough of cracked-out strippers. "Where is she? Oh, hiding in the locker upstairs at the Number 5 Orange." Since then I've been doing the limousine thing [Paramount Limousine] with Brian for the last ten years.
Metal Rules: Do you ever get recognized, like anyone saying "Didn't you used to be in Kick Axe?"
Victor Langen: A lot of people said that. "I know you from somewhere..." I had slicked my hair back like Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas". "I know you from somewhere..." "Yeah, everybody says I look like Joe Pesci" (laughs). That would be the end of it. But I would be driving a lot of people in the music business and chatted with them and they'd go "How do you know that?" I had Jim Steinman one time, I took care of him for a week. He was writing songs for Celine Dion and staying at The Sylvia Hotel in English Bay. He used a different name, Dr. Charles Young, and I was like "What's a doctor doing with an electric piano, let alone a prototype model from Roland that's not even available in North America?" He was looking at me like, "Who are you?" (laughs) "Just curious why a doctor is carrying a piano around for." I met him at the airport when he flew in and I started figuring him out. "Would you be better known as Jim Steinman, the creator of BAT OUT OF HELL? He goes, "Oh my God! Just who are you?" So I had to tell him and he knew all about Kick Axe. We started a thing at that point. There was Larry, Brian and myself and we launched ourselves into a discussion with Mr. Steinman and he wanted to do some collaboration, but then he took a really bad turn with his health. That was the end of that and I lost track of him. He had nothing good to say about Mr. Meatloaf, though (laughs). Seemed like they were at odds at that time... this would be around '96.
Metal Rules: Well, Meatloaf has left BAT OUT OF HELL behind him and gone on to movies.
Victor Langen: Oh yeah! He was great in FIGHT CLUB (laughs)!
***Thanks to Al at Chipster PR for setting up the interview.
**Read my review of the IV CD release party here.
Be sure to visit Kick Axe's official website or The Official Kick Axe Fan Site