Interview with guitarist David Fesette
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 26, 2014
How can we, the old Metal farts, ever forget the heyday of the underground tape trading scene (1985-1995), when we were able to discover great and unforgettable bands nearly every week or even daily, depending on how active you were? Remember when you first discovered demos from bands like Metallica, Slayer, Kreator, Hallow's Eve, Blood Feast, Destruction, Vio-lence, Death Angel, Forbidden Evil, Sindrome, Gammacide, Num Skull, Necrophagia LA and countless other face-melting bands who were not big names at the time? And we were always hungry for more, right? Those were killer times, indeed.
Of the thousands and thousands of new Metal bands back in the day, I can still recall a couple that used the name Oblivion (and there were many others). One was from Longueuil/Montréal, Quebec, Canada (that changed names to Obliveon later on) and the other from Toms River, New Jersey, USA. Unfortunately, the latter band never got to a chance to record a full-length studio album, only demos before calling it a day in 1992, but still managed to leave a huge impression on me.
New Jersey's Oblivion was resurrected in 2011 and the band's guitarist, David Fesette, was kind enough to share some memories about the band's past and enlighten us about what is happening in the present. Read on...
Luxi: First off, how's it going Dave? Are you feeling more and more excited about the fact that Oblivion is back in the biz?
David: Everything is going well; I just moved my family back into our home after being displaced for over a year from Hurricane Sandy, so I am fucking psyched to get back into the swing of things. Initially, we were all excited about an Oblivion reunion. It's been a crazy couple of years. We had some good shows lined up which were cancelled last minute, unfruitful recording sessions, storms and our singer quit. We have all worked hard and sacrificed professional and personal time over the past two years. I am determined to complete our new EP and have something tangible to share with friends and fans.
Luxi: NJ's Oblivion was resurrected in 2011 and, since you left the Metal scene for 20 years or so, I was wondering how it felt to return with your band mates. How has the world been treating you since then?
David: It feels great and nostalgic getting together with my old band mates, playing songs I wrote as a teenager and rehearsing in some of the same studios/rooms we rehearsed at back in the day. I haven't played in a Metal band since we broke up in 1991 and I miss the raw power and the volume. Our first rehearsals reminded me of my first time shooting at an indoor range; it is so fucking thunderous and intense. We have received a lot of support from fans, friends and press over the past few years especially since releasing the old demos on CD. Since the reunion, promoters, venues and a ton of new fans and peer musicians have started following us and inquiring about booking and attending shows. It's exciting having folks reach out to us with positive comments on our 20 year old music efforts.
Luxi: When the idea to reform Oblivion took hold was it easy to talk the rest of the guys into the reunion? Was everyone feeling like there was some unfinished business with the band?
David: All members from the 1990-91 Contents Under Pressure line-up were onboard, with the exception of Chris Kelly (drummer). He was already in three working bands at that time but Dominic, our friend Tony Petrocelli's son, made himself available and has done an excellent job on drums. He has added his own style and depth to our music and enhanced our sound. Getting everyone to SAY yes is easier than getting folks to show up. We all have demanding families and careers (some of which require a lot of travel) so, easier said than done. Eventually we dusted off our instruments and got the ball rolling. Keeping each other motivated has been hard. We have all created our own little worlds and it's sometimes hard to empathize with others. I've tried to create a fresh, professional look to our promo material, merch and online presence. I also try to develop relationships with other bands and promoters through social media. Writing new material has helped keep everyone interested.
Luxi: You have been working on some new stuff since you brought the band back from the dead. Could you tell us about this new material and do you believe you have re-captured some of the old vibe and feeling that was incorporated into your old stuff during the 80's?
David: We have all matured and have expanded our palettes so, I am happy to say, the new material does not latch on to an 80's Metal sound. If it did I think it would get old fast. The new material is interesting; it's fast and heavy with intricate riffs but it also breathes. We sound like a different band but old and new Oblivion fans will appreciate the new material. We are still very much a Thrash Metal band, although I am sure some newbie would love to stick us into some new BS prog Metal-Grindcore-something category. I wrote the music for "War Trophy" and "Engine of Destruction" and both have blues and neo-classical expressions embedded into the riffs. Frank's "Simian Crease" has a lot of interesting riffs, changes and rhythms and I was a bit taken aback when he presented the song. It is very different from his old songs but we all liked it from the get go. Bob wrote the matrix of "Malthusian Prophecy" and Frank added a ton of riffs and guitar arrangements that made this song very epic (Bob likes long epic songs). I enjoy playing this song and curse Frank for wearing down my fingertips. George wrote all of the lyrics based on our titles and story suggestions except for "Engine of Destruction," which was all his idea. Bob and I have been discussing who will man the vocals since George split and we will see how it pans out. It will be interesting to see what the reviews will be like when all is said and done, especially from reviewers that are familiar with the band's old material.
Luxi: Are you aiming to release this new EP on your own or will you try to find a label that would be interested in putting it out?
David: We will be releasing the EP on our own. Our guitarist, Frank, would probably love to have a record company finance our recording to achieve a more professional sounding product, but he will just have to deal with what the rest of us non-perfectionists have to offer. We are recording all the instruments live; no drum machines, not too much editing and you will probably hear some finger slides, scratches, bumps and beeps. The quality will be better than 20 years ago but still raw and non-robotic. I personally like human imperfections and despise the trend of over-produced recordings. Once complete, I am hoping to press 1000+ copies, unless a label/distributor gets involved. We will see...
Luxi: In 2009 you put together a CD of old Oblivion material, titled Remixed. This CD contained three demos plus two unreleased live songs from 1991. You paid for this out of your own pockets so obviously you wanted to give something to the fans for all of their loyal support over the years. I am guessing it wasn't done for profit but feel free to correct me if I am wrong about the purpose of this release...
David: Yes, the Oblivion Remixed CD was a labor of love for this band. No profit was expected; just some exposure and perhaps a couple of new fans. I had kept in touch with Bob Petrosino (bass) over the years. We always talked about how much we missed playing Oblivion's music and wished we had done a bit more with it. Back in 2009, I showed him some of my design work and mentioned I could do some basic video editing and he handed me the three studio reels, VHS tapes of live performances, old flyers and band photos. I offered to transfer, mix and edit the old tape as best as I could.
Luxi: The Remixed CD contains a lot of music though you simply couldn't get all of the old demos on the release. In fact, the first four demos are not part of Remixed, so I need to ask if there are plans to release another CD, Remixed Part Two, perhaps. Undoubtedly, fans of Oblivion would piss some sweet honey to complete their Oblivion collections with such a release... ;o)
David: I joined the band back in 1988, so I wasn't involved any recordings before then. Bob and George performed on the two demos prior to 1988's War Gives Me Piece of Mind? I am sure Bob would love to put together a box set or something but, I am unsure if anyone has access to the original demo reels.
Luxi: The history of Oblivion dates back to 1984, when the band was formed. Back in those days the Metal scene was obviously very different; the Metal world operated without the Internet but with a very strong and supportive tape-trading scene. How did Oblivion fit in to the picture back then?
David: Back in the day, Bob was a tape-trading nut and handled all Oblivion correspondence with fans, labels, tape traders, venues, press and other bands. It's funny you mentioned the tape trading scene; an image of Oblivion's Back to Main demo was featured on a VH1 Metal documentary recently. Things had a charm to them back then; the flyers were hand-made and full of personality. Now, everyone steals images from Google and drops band logos on top, never giving credit to the poor bastard that illustrated or photographed the original visual. On the other hand, the internet/social media is a powerful tool for poor musicians. You can do a lot without spending a penny; no printing, buying stamps or gas money for posting flyers.
Luxi: Can you still remember how you guys met and formed Oblivion? Was it easy to find like-minded musicians back in those days?
David: In 1988, shortly after original guitarist Mike Sica quit, the original Oblivion singer, David Guiterez, who was a mutual friend, suggested that Bob and George call me to try out for the new Oblivion. I bought my gear to the seaside apartment Bob and George shared and played a couple originals and a couple of older Oblivion songs and they asked me to join. It was great meeting these guys. I had a hard time finding musicians from Jackson (about 15 miles north of Toms River, NJ – ed.) willing to write or play original Thrash Metal; most were into Hair Metal or cover music. Even Jeff Wylent (Zakk Wilde) was in the Hair Metal band Zyrus around that time. I played in a couple of Hardcore bands and tried to put Thrash bands together, but they were not many like-minded musicians around my neck of the woods.
Luxi: What kind of relationship did you have with other local bands when you started Oblivion in 1984? Did you help each other get more gigs and opening slots for more established local or national names?
David: We played mostly in the tri-state area and we never had the budget to do a national tour. Through the years, we aligned ourselves with some good bands that would set up shows and ask us to fill time slots. Venues would ask us to bring in other bands. There were lots of good shows back then. Before I was in the band, Oblivion opened for Nuclear Assault and Overkill. If you have a good relationship with promoters and venues they sometimes throw you a bone and give you an opening slot when a national/signed act comes to town.
Luxi: You played a good number of gigs with Oblivion, once the band got its wheels rolling, with local bands like Lethal Aggression, United Blood and Psychosis as well as national acts like Bio-hazard. Was playing live the driving force back then and would you have dropped your weapons earlier than 1992 if you didn't have those live opportunities?
David: Yes, playing good shows is definitely what keeps things alive. Meeting new people and watching a crowd go nuts during our set was great. We fed off that energy and it kept us going. Playing poorly promoted/attended shows gets frustrating.
Luxi: What are some of the most memorable gigs you played back in the day and were there some opportunities for you to tour outside of your home country?
David: Some shows that have stuck with me were G' Williker's with Brutal Truth, Murphy's Law with Mucky Pup and Hari Kari, Stone Pony with Cyclone Temple, Faces with Psychosis and Sadistic Intent, Fast Lane with Blood Feast and Ripping Corpse and Club Bene, which was great. I don't recall many offers outside the NY/NJ/PA area. I think a band from Canada invited us up to play. It was hard to travel with everyone's' schedules.
Luxi: You played many gigs before disbanding so I am wondering if there is any good quality video footage of Oblivion that might a DVE release possible.
David: I created a DVD from some old camcorder VHS tape footage, mostly from 1991-92 shows. The quality wasn't very good, but I created a DVD and uploaded some of those clips to YouTube, which can be accessed at our Reverbnation page www.reverbnation.com/oblivionband. The DVD has a slide show full of old school flyers and photos. I wish I could take another stab at importing the footage with better software, but we lost the original VHS tapes.
Luxi: The Oblivion moniker was, and continues to be used by many bands, including several in the late 80's and early 90's. Did you ever contact other Oblivions about the rights to use the name? I can think of five different Thrash Metal bands that used the name Oblivion back in those days, just from the United States...
David: Yes. Back in the late 80's, a band from Canada contacted Bob and changed how they spelled their name because we (Oblivion) used it first. I guess bands respected each other more back then. Recently, a band from the west coast legally bought the rights to the name Oblivion. I think Bob tried contacting them, but didn't get a response.
Luxi: What were the main things that killed Oblivion in 1992, or, should I say, put the band on hold for many years? Were the constant line-up problems were one of the reasons?
David: Back in 1992, I quit mainly because I was tired of being broke. I wanted to finish school and start my design career.Shortly after I quit, the rest of the band called it quits.
Luxi: May I ask what happened with your deal with MCA Records? You were very close to sealing the deal with them before Oblivion decided to call a day in 1992...
David: MCA had reached out to us and showed great interest in Oblivion. Unfortunately, they asked Bob to replace our singer and we weren't willing to do that to George. Shortly after Bob stated "we are not interested in changing our line-up," he answered a phone call from the manager of Hallow's Eve, who George was trying to set up an audition with. Oh well, you never know how things would have played out. I would have liked to record an album and do a European tour or maybe play a festival or two...
Luxi: You longtime vocalist, George Machuga, stepped aside in September 2013, which was obviously a huge blow for the remaining members of the band. How is the hunt for a new vocalist going? I remember reading somewhere that you preferred finding a vocalist that could sound a little bit like Phil Anselmo of Pantera, is that correct?
David: Yes, it sucked that George couldn't keep it together. He missed a lot of rehearsals and got easily frustrated with things. It was obvious his heart wasn't into the band. I thanked him for giving it a shot. A couple of folks have reached out to us. Markus Misery from Grimm Legion (who is probably our biggest fan) has recently auditioned and sounded good. As for the vocalist ads I posted, I just wanted to describe a style of singer we were looking for and Phil Anselmo popped into my head. I thought Phil would be a good starting point.
Luxi: What are some of Mr. Anselmo's best assets as a Metal vocalist from your point of view?
David: I like Phil's power, range and attitude. Ultimately, we aren't too picky with style but, of course, we want someone with power that can stay in key.
Luxi: After your hunt for a new vocalist ends, what will be the next logical step that the band will take?
David: Play a lot of shows, write more music, record and have fun with it.
Luxi: Your new drummer, Dom Petrocelli, was born when Oblivion broke up in 1992. He's the youngest gun in the band, so does he understand what being in an old school Thrash Metal band demands from him?
David: Dom has been a great addition to the band. He grew up listening to and playing old school Thrash with his dad as well as playing modern Metal so, he can handle anything we throw at him. He shows up to every practice, genuinely enjoys playing our old and new material and has added his own flavor to the mix. He's quite an accomplished 8-string guitarist and plays in a couple other bands.
Luxi: What do you think of the current Metal scene compared to the one that existed during the heydays of tape trading, from 1985-95? Do you still find the Metal scene as exciting and mesmerizing as it used to be back in the day or would you say it doesn't excite you as much as it used to?
David: I had the luxury of being born during the peak of Thrash Metal; it was fresh back then so, for me, the old scene has a nostalgic place in my heart. I think today's Metal scene is alive and kicking. I don't understand why so many bands are still using scream-o and Death Metal vocal styles; it's getting a bit homogenous, but I like the music regardless. I don't get out as much as I would like but from the Metal shows (old school and new) I've attended, I can see there are lots of kids and they are responsible for resurrecting bands like Oblivion. Once we have played a string of shows with a new singer and have an EP under our belt, I hope we can be a bigger part of the scene.
Luxi: Since we are talking about the future, what do you personally expect from 2014 for Oblivion?
David: New music, a new singer, good shows, a new recording and, hopefully, a more positive musical experience.
Luxi: I think that is all I have at this time Dave, so I want to sincerely thank you for your time and wish you all the best with all of your future endeavors with this fine and, at the very least, semi-legendary Thrash Metal band. I'll let the last words be yours...
David: Thank you for taking an interest in Oblivion. I'll send a package your way with some swag and I'll keep you posted on our new recording and shows.
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