Interview with Joe Sims (guitar) and Geoff McGraw (vocals) of Axemaster, Power metal band from USA.
Hello guys, how are you?
Joe: Things are great for both me personally and with Axemaster! We are becoming so much better known than we have ever been, even more so than back in the 80’s, that the amount of promo work I do has probably doubled in the past couple of months. Makes it tough to ever take a night off!!! I’m riding and enjoying this wave of so many positive things happening with Axemaster and working my ass off to keep it going and even increase it.
Geoff: Hello to you!
When was Axemaster founded?
Joe: I started the band with original drummer Brian Henderson in around 1985 as a project designed to play my original material. The band was around until 95, and other than for a very short time in 2006, it was inactive until I decided to bring it back to stay in 2010.
Tell me a few words about the debut album released in 1987, ”Blessing In The Skies” and also about the second release from 1990 ”Death Before Dishonor”.
Joe: “Blessing in the Skies” was our first full length album and our first release as a signed band, it came out on Azra International Records. We had done a 5 song demo a year before which got us our deal with Azra. I still really like the album for the most part, but to be honest, there are a couple songs that I don’t really care for. We were young and were still trying to totally figure out what the band’s identity was going to be, so we tried a couple different things that I now don’t like much. But that was only with 2 songs, I do like the rest. After that, we recorded a tune live and included it with a song from “Blessing” on a shaped picture disc single we did with Azra called “The Vision”. Although I will always be happy that we did those releases with Azra because the records got us into the international scene for the first time and put the band on the map worldwide, we split from the company after “The Vision” for a number of reasons and started looking for a different company to put out “Death Before Dishonor”. That never happened because we did not have the money to professionally record the album and ended up doing the whole thing on my friend’s 4 track cassette deck. No way a label would put out an album recorded that way so it was released on cassette by a managament company in France and a promo company in Belgium. It totally sucked because there is some killer stuff on “DBD” and deserved to have a pro sound. What’s crazy and amazing is that, even with a totally crappy recording, it got GREAT reviews worldwide and really increased our fan base. Hell, 15 years later the main guy at Unisound Records almost begged me to let him re-release it on CD! I have always wondered what would have happened with us if we had been able to give that material a proper recording, it may have taken us a long way!!!!!
This year you have released the third album entitled ”Overture To Madness”. Tell me about it.
Joe: Well, there were actually a number of Axemaster releases after “DBD” came out in 1989. In ‘91 we did an independent 5 song cassette called “5 Demons”, in around 99 Unisound Records from Greece re-released a bunch of Axemaster material and a few tunes by the band Axemaster actually turned into (The Awakening) on a CD titled “1985-1995”, then they re-released “DBD” on disc in around 2002, and in 2006 Burning Star Records also from Greece re-released “Blessing”. Anyway, “Overture” was really a labor of love on my part. I knew right from the start how important the album was (and is) to the future of the band. Especially after not having put out new material for over 20 years, it would define us as an active/current band, so I spent an insane, ungodly amount of time on it. I knew this was basically a do or die thing for Axemaster and HAD to be the best work I could possibly produce. I spent longer writing the music than I ever had before; and since I engineered, produced, and mastered the album at my studio, I was able to put what seemed like an endless number of hours into working on every TINY detail of the studio work. We signed with Pure Steel Records from Germany when I was still in the middle of mixing the album, and they put a lot of faith in me to get the job done right. So I pushed it to the limit, worked my ass off and then some to give “Overture” the best sound I could. I was not going to let anyone down, including myself! I believe all the work shows because with the equipment I had to work with, I honestly had no business producing anything with as great of a sound as “Overture” has, not to mention how good the songwriting and arrangements came out overall. I’m more proud of this album than anything I have ever done in my life and honestly believe that it’s the best release I have ever been a part of by a long shot!!!!
Geoff: He’s not kidding when he says he spent and ungodly amount of time in the studio. I would get a text from him at 5 in the morning asking a question about something he was working on, and I would yell at him for not going to bed. I was always afraid he’d make himself sick by working so much and not taking care of himself. He actually did get sick a couple of times.
Who mainly writes the lyrics?
Joe: I wrote a lot of them on the older releases, I would say I probably wrote at least 60% of those words. But on “Overture” I wanted Geoff to do at least most of them, he ended up writing all the lyrics for the album and also for all the stuff we have written since it came out. I think I do a pretty good job with lyrics, but I don’t like writing them anywhere near as much as I like writing music and Geoff is a hell of a songwriter, so it all worked out perfectly!
Geoff: I am very appreciative that Joe was into having me write, I have always written the things I sang previously and I very much enjoy writing both lyrics and music. I look forward to continuing to do it.
What are the band’s influences?
Joe: I think the band for the most part (especially the current version) is mainly a cross between thrash and doom metal. A lot of our stuff has the aggression of non speed thrash with a lot of double picking crunchy rhythm guitar, and almost every tune has the mega dark sounding and feeling guitar riffs you find in doom. When you listen to our stuff, especially “Overture”, you can hear quite a bit of Black Sabbath influence (especially Dio, Black Sabbath) as Geoff and I are both big disciples of Tony Iommi’s riff writing style, some early Metallica, a little Slayer, and even some Iron Maiden and early Savatage. But everyone has their own personal influences that is reflected in their playing and come through in some of the songs. The guitarists who have influenced my playing the most would mainly be Tony Iommi (of course!!!), David T. Chastain, Michael Schenker, Criss Oliva, George Lynch, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Kirk Hammett.
Geoff: Iommi is possibly our biggest meeting ground as far as influences go with Joe and I, we joke about it a bit…lol. I also am a huge fan of the rhythm work of Scott Ian, and the haunting stuff from Lenny Rutledge, lyrically my biggest influences are Ronnie Jame Dio and Warrel Dane.
Any lyrical themes?
Joe: In the past there were some. At the beginning I wrote a lot of words that had kind of an anti-evil theme, quite a few having to do with some historical events. Then I started writing more about things that had to do with society in general. The last older Axemaster release which was actually called “5 Demons (Imperative is their Demise)” is a concept album. Each song is about a different demon to society that needs to be destroyed. As far as themes for our current stuff go, I will turn that over to Geoff.
Geoff: Overture is lyrically, a very personal album to me. There is a lot of genuine anger on it, as I had quite a lot of things I was working out. The album itself is not a concept album, but as the title suggests I touch on various forms of “madness” within it. That includes actual insanity, permanent and temporary, as well as the kinds you find in government and society. I tend to write in metaphor, so the things you may hear me talking about are actually not the things I am refering to. Growing up I was always a big fan of songs that made you think about what they meant, and I try to do a lot of that.
Are there any shows confirmed for this year?
Joe: We have a couple shows scheduled right now, but I’m sure we will be getting more. This lineup is now comfortable playing together onstage and we have developed awesome chemistry (as much chemistry as any band I have ever been in and more than most). It especially showed in our last gig which TOTALLY kicked ass; the band put on a hell of a show and sounded great even though the circumstances onstage were not very good BY ANY MEANS. But even though it’s usually not worth the time to play tiny BS gigs in front of the same people all the time, we do need to get some more shows to stay sharp. Since that last gig I have been really looking forward to the next one!!!!!
Geoff: As Joe said we do intend to play quite a lot more, there are some things on the business side of things that we are working on that will hopefully pan out, and add some tools to the toolbox that will enable us to move faster on bringing the music to the masses.
Do you have a message for Axemaster fans?
Joe: Three words come to mind: “YOU KICK ASS!!!”. No matter how big Axemaster ever gets, we will NEVER forget that any success we have had or will have is because of the fans, I would like to thank each and every one for giving me/us the opportunity to be able to live and chase our dreams in music!!!! If you want to know more about us, the main place to go is our website at www.axemasterofficial.com. From there you can get to our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I always personally recommend our YouTube channel because there are some VERY cool vintage stuff on there, DEFINITELY worth checking out!. Also, feel free to contact us anytime. It might take me/us a little time to return your letter, but we always will!!!!!!.
Geoff: If you haven’t had the chance to hear the new album, you can hear a couple of the tunes on youtube. Sanitys Requiem and Chylde are on there as well as on our website. You can also order the album through most online sources as well as your local store, it’s available on Pure Steel Records. Thank you so very much to everyone who takes the time to listen, or visit us online or at a show. Hails and Horns brothers and sisters of metal!
Thank you both for your time,cheers!
Joe: Thanks a lot for wanting to do the interview with us, and I give an extra special thanks to the fans who took the time to read the interview and check out what we had to say! KEEP UP THE MADNESS!!!!!
Geoff: No, thank you! It’s the people like you who keep the metal scene going! For that I will be eternally grateful.
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