[published]: 1986, August
[in]: Faces Rocks, Vol. 3, No. 9, p. 16
[article]: Kick Axe: Canadian Class
[by]: Lisa Lampugnale

It's already well past 5 p.m., but George Criston is still raring to go. The long-haired lead singer has been through a full day of interviews, including a few with the age 10-to-15 set for a young people's newspaper. But the day of PR hasn't even begun to dent Criston's enthusiasm. He flew in special from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to talk about his favourite subject: Kick Axe. And he's loving every minute of it.

Just what is Kick Axe? If you're from Canada or saw Judas Priest their last time 'round, you know the answer. Kick Axe is a group of five rockers - four hailing from the Great White North, one from the U.S. - who were the hottest unsigned band in Vancouver until two years ago when they inked an agreement with a major record label. Their brand of Canuck rock is hard and fast, but melodic and thick with harmonies. And, as Criston, the only Yankee in the bunch, will gladly tell you, Kick Axe's music is metal with a difference.

"We've got a lot of different stuff flying around, harmonywise. It's classier music than a lot of what's out now," he says of the band's new LP, Welcome to the Club. "We took a long time to record it after the first album because we were waiting for the right songs and the right people to get involved. If you go about it like that, even if you gotta starve, you're gonna come out with quality."

Criston didn't necessarily starve, but his career wasn't exactly booming three years ago. Playing in local bands in Milwaukee, "on weekends, you know," the singer was nearly at a dead-end when he heard Kick Axe was looking for a lead singer. Not that he had even heard of Kick Axe.

"My father heard through a club owner in Milwaukee, through a guy in Toronto, and all the way down the line, that Kick Axe needed a singer," Criston relates speedily. "I didn't know who Kick Axe was. I thought Canada was snowshoes and igloos from the border up. Trust me, it's not."

Criston soon found out what Kick Axe was. The band had been formed in 1976 by guitarist Larry Gillstrom and bassist Victor Langen, who were united by their fondness for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Who. After picking up second guitarist Ray Harvey, the band from their hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan, to Vancouver, where they proceeded to become the most popular local act. Drummer Brian Gillstrom, Larry's brother, signed up, but still a record deal was nowhere in sight. Then came Criston. "I sent 'em a tape of live stuff," he recalls, "and Brian said, 'Get up here.' From the first day, we fit like a glove.

That was three years ago. Since then, Kick Axe has landed that record deal and released their first LP, Vices. Produced and written in part by Spencer Proffer, the LP got Kick Axe noticed outside Canada's borders, and landed them the opening slot on Judas Priest's last tour.

"Oh, yeah, isn't that a dream come true?" says Criston, still dizzy from the memory. "You think about it, but you don't get to do something like that. But all of a sudden, we get this call." He continues in his best Midwestern drawl. "'In four days, you gotta be in Greensboro, North Carolina.' And it's like, 'Let's go, boys!' Shit!"

After four months on the road, it was off to record Welcome to the Club, the most difficult part of which was choosing from the 75 songs Kick Axe had written exclusively for the LP. Criston & the Boys are happy with the album and they're confident it'll blow the roof off the American market.

"I think the songs on Welcome to the Club are much better than those of Vices," Criston offers. "I feel closer to the vinyl. Well, we got our foot in the door with the first album. Now we're gonna kick it down."