Interview with guitarist and vocalist Tony Portaro
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 1, 2013
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
New Jersey's Speed merchants bangers Whiplash made their comeback in 2009, with Tony Portaro on vocals/guitar, Joe Cangelosi on drums and Rick Day taking care of the bass duties. The band's 7th full-length studio album, Unborn Again, was released the same year via Singapore's Pulverised Records, and it was relatively well received.
Since then, both Joe Cangelosi and Rick Day parted ways with Whiplash, leaving Tony to find new musicians to continue the band's campaign to let both new and old fans taste Whiplash's Thrash Metal again. Luckily, Whiplash was soon back in form when New Yorker Dank DeLong was found for bass and Dan "Looord" Foord from London, England, jumped behind the drums (a guy who's recognized as one of the UK's finest technical drummers). With this line-up, Whiplash's torch for old school Thrash Metal is set to burn tighter and brighter than it has for many years and the band's new 5-track EP, Old School American Way, is currently in the works.
Tony Portaro talked to The Metal Crypt about the band's plans for 2013, what happened between him and ex-band mates Joe and Rick and how well his new band mates have fit in the Whiplash line-up since they joined in 2011...
Luxi: Hey Tony, how's it going?
Tony: It's going great here. Thanks. I hope all is fine back in Finland (yes, indeed it is; I start a 2-week vacation in the Dominican Republic soon, so I cannot complain too much - Luxi).
Luxi: You recently told me that you have like 10 new Whiplash songs in the making, and 5 of them will end up on an EP. Can you shed some light on this EP; which songs it will contain, who's going to release it and when?
Tony: We just finished mixing a single, titled "Sword Meet Skull, Skull Meet Sword," and we're ready to shop it around to labels. The title of the EP will be Old School American Way. I was planning on releasing it before the end of the year, but we decided to squeeze in a 5-show tour in South America, so it looks like it won't be released until early 2013. The other 4 songs are titled "Sonic Asylum," "Red Tape Riot," "Who Stole My Whiskey" and "Mommy's Kill Club."
Luxi: How would you compare this new material to the songs on Unborn Again, which was known as Whiplash's "comeback album?"
Tony: I'm in a much more positive time of my life right now and I believe that is reflected into the recordings of the new material. Also, we are utilizing digital AND analog to 2-inch master tape on this recording.
Luxi: Which studio are you thinking of using to record the EP? Are you going to produce it by yourself or are you going to ask an outsider to take care of this process?
Tony: We are working in my project studio, Concrete Island, and Mozart Studio in Clifton, NJ, where the majority of Unborn Again was recorded. We are still discussing the idea of bringing in an outside name producer, but until we sign a new deal we cannot make that decision.
Luxi: Some people complained that there wasn't enough speed and Thrash on Unborn Again. Has this affected the new stuff in any way, maybe just to shut some of the critics' mouths for good?
Tony: That wouldn't be the first time that I heard that. Whiplash has always experimented and ventured off the path. I appreciate dynamics and believe that one slower song makes the next fast song sound even faster. However, with an EP of only 5 songs, there will be no room for anything but pure Thrash!
Luxi: Have you written all the new material by yourself or have the two new Whiplash fellows, Dank DeLong on bass and Dan Foord on drums, contributed to the songwriting process?
Tony: Unfortunately, because Dan only comes to the States when we have shows scheduled, he hasn't had as much input as I would like. However, Dank has had input to some degree. Two of the ten songs we have written began with a riff that Dank had come up with.
Luxi: Have you run into any obstacles during the creative process for these new songs? Have you ever felt like you cannot get anything out of yourself or felt frustrated due to not being able to create as much as you wanted to?
Tony: Not exactly. If I am having difficulty getting started, I resort to different techniques to get the creative juices flowing. For example, if a melody or riff doesn't come to me naturally, I can set up a drumbeat in Pro Tools to play along with.
Luxi: What do you do when you feel uninspired or are just in an uncreative mood?
Tony: I usually won't pick up the guitar to write if I'm not feeling it, but there are times when I have to. It's like going to work at a job that you really like. Sometimes you have to force yourself to sit down, record, and riff away until you come across something that you like. Then, run with it.
Luxi: How did you find Dank DeLong? Do you believe he fits to the Whiplash line-up perfectly, just being his own, powerful character?
Tony: Dank was recommended by Rob Moschetti of Generation Kill and ProPain. Rob and I toured Europe together when we were in M.O.D. with Billy Milano and Tony Scaglione. I had spoken to Scaglione and we decided to begin working together again at the end of 2010. Rob Moschetti was willing to join us on a short Euro tour being put together, but his priority was Generation Kill. I really wanted more of a long-term obligation. When I saw videos of Dank live, I was very impressed with his stage presence. Dank has done everything that I could possibly ask from him.
Luxi: What about Dan Foord, how did he end up joining Whiplash? The guy still lives in his home country, England, even though his other band, SikTh, broke up in 2008. He has kept busy doing session drums and giving drum lessons. Is it easy to work with him due to the distance between London and New Jersey?
Tony: That was right at the same time Dank joined Whiplash. Unfortunately, after only about two weeks, Tony Scaglione had realized he would not be able to be 100% committed to the band. That's when I contacted Orange Goblin's singer Ben Ward, in the UK, for help in securing a temporary drummer for those Euro gigs. Through Ben, I was led to Nathan Perrier, and he suggested Dan Foord. Dan taught at the Academy of Contemporary Music in London. His timing is impeccable. I am very comfortable performing live with him setting the pace. It's almost like playing along with the record. When I am this relaxed live, I can concentrate mainly on my vocals and stage presence, which takes the Whiplash live show to another level. As you know, our strongest markets are South America and Europe. When we perform at the European festivals, it's easier for Dan. We only perform in the U.S.A. when we have shows in South America. Dan flies into Newark Airport in New Jersey and stays here for a show or two before or after the South American gigs. This month we have 5 shows in South America. Then we come back for one local show and we are in the recording studio. We'll keep him here for about 3 weeks and get everything done before he flies home.
Luxi: Dare I ask what happened between you and ex-Whiplash members Joe Cangelosi and Rich Day, who both played on Unborn Again? What kind of things resulted in their departure from Whiplash?
Tony: I really wanted to work with Scaglione again. When I spoke to him on the phone one morning, we were both VERY excited and started discussing who would be best to fill the bass position. I immediately called Joe and Rich and told them my plan. It wasn't something that I liked doing, but I knew I would have to sacrifice my feelings for the benefit of the music.
Luxi: Are you still friends with both of them?
Tony: Let's just say that my friendship with Joe will never be the same.
Luxi: Both Joe and Rich play in Brooklyn Militia, which is basically a raw and straightforward Hardcore band. Do you dig the type of stuff they do?
Tony: My favorite music to listen to is Stoner Metal like Down, Corrosion of Conformity, Orange Goblin, ElectroBaby and Trouble. I listen to some classic Rock like Deep Purple. I just listened to the entire Physical Graffiti album this past weekend. I'm not a huge fan of Hardcore, but I appreciate when it is done right live. I recently had the chance to reunite with Vinny and Roger of Agnostic Front. That was a great night!
Luxi: Since you reformed the band, you guys have done quite a lot of shows around the world, including Mexico, Italy, Finland, Portugal, Germany, and so on. I would think one of the most memorable events out of all those shows would be the Slaughter by the Water festival in San Francisco, CA on June 25th in 2011. The venue was located in a pretty special place, so would you kindly share some of your memories and thoughts about this event with us, if you don't mind?
Tony: That was a great show. The crowd was fantastic. In fact, we hope to play there again soon. I had the pleasure of meeting John Connelly and Dan Lilker of Nuclear Assault after not seeing them for over 20 years. It was a great mix of old school and new generation thrashers, both on stage and in the audience. The Bay Area still has an awesome Thrash atmosphere, and we sold out of merchandise. I remember a cool dude that kept buying my woman and me glasses of Cognac. He wouldn't even let me give him money back for the Whiplash shirt that he bought!
Luxi: Whiplash also did the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise in January 2012, with many other great bands. Were you stoked about it and about the fact that you were there with Whiplash playing for hundreds of crazy Metal maniacs while cruising the sea?
Tony: Oh man, that was the highlight of the year. I would never go on a cruise that wasn't a Metal cruise after that. We are spoiled. I allowed the band to bring their girlfriends, so we had a great time. Although most of the time, I was hanging with Clammy from Exciter. Again I was able to reunite with bands that I had not seen in years like Channel Zero and Riot. We drank with George from Cannibal Corpse and met Kirk Windstein and Pat Bruders of Down and Crowbar. Also an amazing Metal violinist, David Rivera, was on the cruise and we eventually flew him to NJ from his home in Colombia to record on some new Whiplash tracks.
Luxi: Do you have any Whiplash shows to finish out 2012?
Tony: We leave for South America in less than a week. We have shows in La Paz and Cochabamba, Bolivia, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Arequipa and Lima, Peru the 9th-17th of November. Then we're in the recording studio to capture drum tracks on the 20th, a hometown local show on the 21st, and back in the studio on the 23rd and 24th. Then Dan flies back to the U.K. on the 26th.
Luxi: The working title for Whiplash's 8th studio album is Old School American Way. Has that been set in stone and could you give us some insight in that choice of album title?
Tony: I've been striving to get back to my roots while maintaining a modern quality. Old School American Way was written with a riffing style similar to Power and Pain and Ticket to Mayhem. Most of the people that have followed Whiplash throughout my career have appreciated the power trio approach of the first two albums, so that's what I am attempting to serve up, hence the title, Old School American Way. Incidentally, I am recording this album on 2" analog tape!
Luxi: If everything goes as planned, are you hoping to get it released by mid-2013 or, perhaps, even earlier?
Tony: I actually wanted it released before the end of the year, but that is out of the question. So you are correct. It is more reasonable to assume it will be released around March of 2013.
Luxi: Are there any realistic plans to get a Whiplash DVD out some day? I think there's a demand for that.
Tony: We did have plans for a DVD a while ago, but that has been put on hold. 2014 would be ideal for a 30 Years of Thrash DVD!!!
Luxi: You used to have 3 different kinds of Whiplash hot sauces available through the band's official webpage and 2 of them are still there but only for the US citizens. When will the rest of the world have a chance to purchase these delicious Whiplash sauces through your homepage?
Tony: Those hot sauces were manufactured in Canada. The shipping just to get them to us was very expensive. We are not allowed to ship liquids to many countries from the U.S. Plus, the shipping fees did not make it very cost effective. We have decided to put this on hold and may look at some domestic companies for manufacturing and distribution.
Luxi: Do you have any plans to extend your offerings to include other liquids, like beer, wine or whiskey, as that seems to be the current trend among many bands these days? Wait a sec... "Whiplash Power & Pain" Whiskey... this will 100% knock you off your feet. Feel the power and pain by sharing some with your friends..." How does that sound to you?
Tony: I like the idea. In fact, I was approached with the idea recently, but haven't followed up on it. However, a hearty, Whiplash bourbon would be nice to have around the house!
Luxi: I noticed there's a section called "Unlocking the Secrets" on the official Whiplash homepage, in which you show how to play the riffs and rhythms from some Whiplash songs. What motivated to add that kind of tutorial to Whiplash's homepage? Did the fans demand it?
Tony: Actually, I had some requests for more song tutorials after posting the first one. I have seen YouTube videos of bands covering Whiplash songs. In fact, a few bands have released recorded cover versions of "Power Thrashing Death!" BUT, I see that they are not playing them correctly. My songs are challenging and I thought that it would be more rewarding for the young guitarist to be playing the songs correctly. One band that recorded "Power Thrashing Death" was Released Anger from Greece. We had the opportunity to perform live with them in Greece not long ago. I invited them on stage and they sang the song with us live. The crowd went absolutely wild. It was a great time!
Luxi: How do you choose the songs for this "Unlocking the Secrets" section?
Tony: Some people have sent requests in online. But, as I said, it was disconcerting to see people playing them incorrectly. Also, I like to choose songs that include the more difficult riffs like "The Burning of Atlanta," for instance.
Luxi: How do you keep on challenging yourself with your guitar? Do you watch videos from YouTube to see how other musicians practice?
Tony: I don't really use YouTube for inspiration, but I have seen some incredible young shredders. And some of these young girls are amazing, too. Lately I have been trying different gauge strings. I endorse GHS strings and they have a very wide selection to choose from. I've even tried using an .18 gauge wound G string and drop tune a whole step to D.
Luxi: Have you come across any talented young guitarists over the past few years that have made a big impression on you with their skills? Someone who really knows how to handle the guitar and might become the next Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen or Marty Friedman?
Tony: YES! We have an excellent local Metal venue in my hometown called Dingbatz. I am friends with the owner and although they do not serve Absolut to the public, he does carry it just for me! We support the Metal scene there and see many bands. Recently we had the honor of seeing a band that we had seen several years ago when they were very young. I could see the potential they had back then and now they are one of the best guitar duos that I have ever seen. True shredders. The band is called Sanitarius. Very intense leads played in harmony, sweeping arpeggios, the works. I'm talking like Marty Friedman and his clone. These kids are amazing.
Luxi: What plans do you have for Whiplash in the next 2-3 years and what do you personally hope to achieve in 2013 with this legendary Speed/Thrash Metal combo?
Tony: We've really seemed to capture the South American market. Now it is time to make a strong resurgence in Europe. We continue to perform in countries that we've never been to before and that is key. But, we always love playing the huge festival crowds. We are thinking of re-recording some songs from the first two albums with the new line-up. You should expect that in 2013 as well.
Luxi: Okay Tony, I think that was all for now, so thank you for your time and willingness to do this interview with me. I wish you and the band all the best with your future endeavors. And the last words, naturally, they belong to you, so go ahead Tony...
Tony: Anyone interested in Whiplash can contact me, Tony Portaro, on Facebook. We also have a band page at www.facebook.com/WhiplashPage or you can visit our web site at www.officialwhiplash.com, where you can listen to every Whiplash song. Thank you for your support, Luxi. I hope to see you at Jalometalli again soon!
|Other information about Whiplash on this site|
|Review: Ticket to Mayhem|
|Review: Unborn Again|
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