[published]: 2004, December
[in]: Fireworks, No. 18, p. 57-58
[article]: Kick Axe Interview
[by]: Phil Ashcroft, Bruce Mee

Canadian quintet Kick Axe were originally formed in the late 70's in Reginam Saskatchewan, and after playing around the local clubs for a few years eventually decided to move to Vancouver in search of better things, all but drummer/singer Gary Langen who decided to stay put. While in Vancouver they went through several line-up changes, and in 1981 when they consisted of Larry and Brian Gillstrom - guitar and drums respectively, Victor Langen - bass, Ray Arthur Harvey - guitar, and singer Charles McNary, they were finalists in a talent contest organised by Playboy magazine. Sadly, appearances on an LP of finalists and a couple of other local compilations didn't do much to raise the bands profile, and McNary quit.

Things began to pick up later when the band discovered Milwaukee singer George Criston after wading through a ridiculous number of audition tapes, and after being signed-up by renowned manager Gary Stratychuk things began to move in earnest. The band went on to create a bit of a stir in the 80's with their first two albums 'Vices', and 'Welcome to the Club', two amazingly original releases that mixed the quirkiness of 70's and 80's Canadian music with the commercial metal bombast of Quiet Riot. Signed by legendary QR producer Spencer Profferto his Pasha label (through EMI/Sony). Proffer added his hi-tech expertise to what was already a formidable hard-rock band, and with their label putting them on Judas Priest's 'Defenders of the Faith' tour, and The Scorpions 'Love at First Sting' tour, it was hoped they'd repeat the success Proffer had with Quiet Riot. At around the same time their songwriting prowess was beginning to get them noticed, and they were commissioned to write songs for Black Sabbath, King Kobra and W.A.S.P., and also made a couple of soundtrack appearances on 'Up the Creek', and 'Transformers - The Movie', on the latter as Spectre General due to contractual reasons.

Unfortunatelly things didn't happen as hoped, and despite further tours with Triumph, Whitesnake, and Quiet Riot themselves, Proffder and Pasha Records lost interest, as did guitarist Harvey who quit the band. Deciding to continue as a four-piece, and with a little support still forthcoming from EMI/Sony, Kick Axe recorded their self-produced 'Rock the World' album, which despite still retaining the band's unique character, lacked in production and enough strong songs. The band eventually became unable to continue after going bankrupt and debts were settled by sheriffs turning up at gigs and impounding anything of value. Kick Axe went their separate ways in 1987.

Since then they've had various day jobs both in and out of music. Larry is a successful software developer and has promoted metal gigs in Vancouver with his brother Brian. Victor and Brian also own Vancouver's biggest limousine rental company. Ray has been a successful producer and musician in the Country scene, and George works for a company called Nettwerk who see to the needs of artists like Sarah McLachlan, Dido and Avril Lavigne, and and he also works as vocal coach to the latter. Having reformed the band in 2002 (sadly without Criston who was too busy - his replacement being original singer Gary Langen), and with a new CD out on MTM (imaginatively called 'IV'), Larry Gillstrom brought Bruce Mee up to date with the current situation.

Q: The first question, obviously, has to be 'Why now? Why after 15 years have you decided to make a comeback?'

A: Back in the 80's, a few nasty things happened to Kick Axe behind the scenes. I guess these things were the result of us being young and naive. We actually trusted the music business... big mistake. So we ended up being forced off the road and out of the business by overwhelming financial and legal problems. We all stayed in touch, but went our own separate ways. A few years ago, our first two albums were re-issued and this sort of wouke us up to the fact that it was probably safe to get back together and make music as a group again. So here we are.

Q: The music world has moved on during those last 15 years, and not really for the better as far as commercial hard rock is concerned. Do you feel better prepared this time around? Don't you feel the lack of potential media exposure for our kind of music in 2004 will be working very much against the band? What do you feel you can do this time around to raise awareness of the band's reformation?

A: You are right about the state of commercial hard rock in 2004. We would like to see the new have some commercial success, but that's not why we made it. Kick Axe IV was primarily a project done just for the fun of doing it, so we wrote and played exactly what we felt like playing, without any consideration of whether it would be more or less successful. Now that we are back into it we may start to think more about the music industry and what we can do to make Kick Axe more successful as time goes by.

Q: The first review I've read of 'IV', just today ironically enough, bemoans the fact that "lynch pin" George Criston is not part of the reformation. Despite the fact that your brother Gary was actually the original vocalist, did you foresee some reluctance amongst the fans to embrace this line-up of the band?

A: Gary is actually Victor's brother and the three of us were the original Kick Axe power trio. Practically all of our original fan following in Canada remembers Gary from the pre-Vices Kick Axe era and they are glad to see him back, not that they weren't also big fands of George. There are going to be lots of fans who will have a hard time hearing Kick Axe without George, but that's just the way things worked out for this project.

Q: What is George's work at Nettwerk that prevented him becoming part of the reunion? It says in the bio that he's got commitments to artists such as Dido and Avril Lavigne. That sounds like big bucks! Did you actually broach the subject of the reunion with George, and if so, what was his reaction?

A: Yes, we spoke with George about it. I don't know what kind of bucks are involved with his situation at Nettwerk, but I'm almost certain it's more than he would see from Kick Axe revenues this year...

Q: You had some really bad luck back in the early days, what with your crooked manager and such. Is it really true that when you were trying to tour, sheriffs would be waiting to seize your gear and money? Is there a statute of limitations on those bad debts run up by 3rd parties?

A: Yes. Sheriffs did actually show up at severeal different shows and seize our gear and anything else we had of value. Eventually we had nothing left to take. I certainly hope the statute of limitations is up, cause if not... there's going to be a whole lotta trouble.

Q: So what was it like when you all got together to start writing for the new album? Was the magic still there?

A: It was great to get back together. We were always like a family and got along really well. When we did our first rehearsal, there was huge grins on everyone's faces. It all came together really easy. Our first live show in August was so enjoyable for us and our fans, that we can't wait for the full tour to start next month.

Q: How would you compare the songs on the new album to those on the classics, like 'Vices'? What would you say to the fans to convince them to get behind the band again?

A: Well obviously we are 17 years older than the last time we did an album. Back then we were on the road all the time partying and raising hell. And that's what came out in the music. Now we are a little more grown up and serious, so naturally the music is going to reflect that. But for anyone who really understood where Kick Axe came from and what we are all about, they will still hear the same Kick Axe in this album. The songs are culled from a decade and a half of life experiences that were not part of being a rock band on the road. We may get back out on the road and start raising hell again. If that happens, then that's probably what will come of us in the next album.

Q: Back in the day, you toured/played with some very successful and well respected bands: Judas Priest, Scorpions, Metallica, Rush, Triumph, Whitesnake... What are your fondest memories of those times, and do you have any plans for touring/playing live in the future?

A: All of those bands were great to tour with, but without a doubt we had the most fun while touring with Judas Priest. The Vices album had just been released and the band was really cooking live. We got great responses night after night from the fans that were coming out to see Judas Priest. We had several hotel trashing parties involving both bands and crews, We got a bit out of control near the end, but it was worth it. Whitesnake and Scorpions were also two of our favorite bands when we toured with them, so we felt honored to be on the same stage with those guys and they treated us really well.

Q: Tell us a bit more about Laurel Aura. They seem to be more than just a 'back-ground vocalist' having had a hand it writing 5 of the songs on the album.

A: Laurel is one of my songwriting partners. She's really good with concepts and melody. She's involved in several other projects and has her own metal band called Wasted Widow. I believe that band will have a debut album coming out in 2005.

Q: How has the reaction been so far for 'IV' and what does the future hold for Kick Axe?

A: The reaction to 'IV' has been about what we expected. We knew that our hardcore metal fans would initially find it to be a departure from our previous style. We hope they give it more than one spin, because there is a lot there to hear and it is not a one-spin album. We have gained a lot of new fans with 'IV' and our true fans have not wavered, they love the new album. Kicik Axe will be out on the road starting next month and we intend to record a majority of our shows for an upcoming live album in 2005. We will also be reissuing 'Rock the World' in 2005, hopefully with some added bonus tracks.

Q: Finally, an oportunity to say anything you want to our readers and hard rock fans in Europe...

A: I'd like to thank those fans that have supported Kick Axe and helped to bring us back together. We still have a lot of unfinished business to take care of and there's still a lot more music to come from Kick Axe. We really hope we get to tour in Europe this time around.