Interview with vocalist Kyriakos "Charlie" Tsiolis
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 11, 2015
Aftermath from Chicago, Illinois, was one of the most promising and unique Thrash Metal forces during the heyday of Thrash Metal in the late eighties and would have made it big if not for many frustrating setbacks (label issues, trademark issues, Grunge killing Metal, etc.). Aftermath received flattering attention from some major Metal publications, like Metal Forces and Kerrang!, back in the day, so the table was set for success, but it avoided the band like the plague.
Aftermath's debut (and only) album, Eyes of Tomorrow, was eventually released on the band's own label, Zoid Recordings, in 1994, and received warm reviews everywhere. In spite of that, things never went as planned and Aftermath came to the end of the road in 1996.
On June 5th,2014 Aftermath completed their first rehearsal session since they broke up in 1996. The band was resurrected from the dead and a new era had begun. One of Aftermath's primary goals since reuniting is to write and release new music within 2016. Vocalist Charlie Tsiiolis tells us more about these plans and sets some facts straight as far as the band's past is concerned...
Luxi: First off, welcome back to Aftermath. How does it feel to be back with the band again?
Chralie: Thanks Luxi. It feels great to be back. I never thought we would get back together. To be back on our 30th anniversary makes it even more surreal. It actually feels right.
Luxi: Aftermath played the band's first gig in 20 years at Ragnarökkr Metal Apocalypse festival at Reggies in Chicago, on May 2nd, 2015. How did it feel to play in front of so many people after so many years? Were you nervous?
Charlie: It felt great to play on stage together again. In some ways, it felt better than it did back in the day. We were asked to do fests over the years but never really considered doing any of them. I wasn't into it for years. We all went on to live our lives, then we were approached by several labels, starting in 2010, asking to reissue our material. This made me listen to the music again and I was blown away. I felt like a fan listening to a band you've loved for years for the first time. It is strange to say and it may sound a little egotistical, but I loved our music. When we were approached to play Ragnarökkr and Headbangers Open Air, I called the guys and they wanted to do it. I wasn't sure if they would be into it or not. We agreed to rehearse and if it felt right. If it didn't feel natural and if the quality wasn't up to the old days, we wouldn't be together again. Playing with Aftermath again for the first time in 20 years was a great feeling. We had the energy and actually enjoyed playing together on stage. The crowd at Ragnarökkr was mainly a Power Metal crowd, so it was cool to see them get into it despite not being a Power Metal band. What made it even better was that it was in Chicago, so we played our first show after all those years in our hometown.
What was actually the coolest part of the show was playing both our Crossover and progressive/technical Thrash material. We never did that back in the day. We stopped playing the Killing the Future stuff early on and the songs from the first demo we hadn't played in almost 30 years. Mixing the different styles made the show fun.
Luxi: Did performing at this festival give you the initial impetus to give Aftermath another shot or did that happen earlier?
Charlie: Like I started to say, the real impetus came when we started getting ready to release 25 Years of Chaos, our box set on Area Death Productions. During the process of getting that release ready, I listened to Killing the Future for the first time in almost 20 years. It blew me away. I loved it. For years I didn't want to hear those songs. I remember leaving the studio and thinking we could have made them better. Right after releasing that demo we added John Lovette to the band and we totally changed styles. We became way more progressive, heavy and slow. I felt Killing... wasn't as good as the new stuff and I never listened to it and never wanted play it live again. When I put it on 20 years later, I couldn't believe how cool and cutting edge it was, especially for when we wrote it. Listening to the lyrics on Killing... again I realized they are talking about all the fucked up shit going on in the world today. I spent the last three years listening to talk radio and reading about politics. The shit going on today was really making me angry and pissed. The people in power, I mean really in power not the talking heads that are the elected clowns, have fucked this world up. I was singing about that 30 years ago and it's worse now. If my lyrics were different, I wouldn't have been into doing this. The content of the lyrics was a major reason we are here today. It made me want to play those songs in a live setting and was the reason behind the reunion. Trust me, if I hadn't felt that way when I heard Killing...again there would be no reunion today. The first rehearsal was great and we all knew we could play those songs as good as we did back then and in some ways even better. The first shows continued the momentum.
Luxi: How was it playing as a part of such an old school Metal line-up? Bands like Nuclear Assault, Liege Lord, Ostrogoth, Attacker etc., were part of the bill this year, representing old school Metal, and sharing the stage with them must have been pretty cool, right?
Charlie: It was cool to play with Nuclear Assault because they are a Thrash band. Dan Lilker has been there from the beginning. They were so loud and had a ton of energy that night. Playing with the older bands was great.
Luxi: Making new contacts with people in the music business is also important. Did you use this opportunity while at Ragnarökkr?
Charlie: Actually I didn't hang or socialize much at the show in that way. I was more interested in playing a great show and watching some of the bands. I have been around a long time in the scene and the band has a cult following which always presents opportunities from the business side.
Luxi: As you mentioned you also played at Headbangers Open Air XVIII in Germany on July 25th of this year. Were you surprised at the band's popularity here in Europe? My understanding is that Aftermath has always enjoyed a cult reputation in Europe starting back in the tape-trading times?
Charlie: Playing in Europe has always been something the entire band has wanted to do, so playing HOB in July was special for all of us. To play there for the first time after forming 30 years ago is amazing. We always had a following in Europe because of the coverage we received in the major magazine in over there. We were in Kerrang!, Metal Forces, Metal Hammer, Raw, Terrorizer, etc. That coverage along with tape trading created a buzz for us overseas. Black Lotus (Greece) reissued Eyes of Tomorrow in 1998 and F.O.A.D. released our demos on vinyl in 2011 which also helped. Europe has always been a great place for Metal and the fans are pretty loyal. It was great to see people in the audience wearing Aftermath shirts from 1988; that was cool.
Luxi: Indeed. Italy's F.O.A.D. Records did a great job releasing Aftermath's four demos in 2011 as a limited vinyl edition and China's Area Death Productions took care of putting all of your stuff on three discs plus a DVD in the package 25 Years of Chaos, as you mentioned earlier. How much work was it to get all of this material together for these releases and how much influence did you have on them?
Charlie: As I said earlier, without the box set this reunion wouldn't be happening. It was cool to have a label invest the money and effort to create a box set. When you think of box sets you think huge bands with tons of material. For us to have a label in China release a box set while the band was broken up for years was an honor. It was a great project and a long process. Putting together the DVD was the hardest part of the entire process. We went through hours of tapes. The editing was pretty boring after a while. The interview on the steps of Ray's house was a cool feature. The title sums up the band's experience pretty well; it had been chaos. The cover art is my brother's blood and a CT Scan of his skull from a fight we got into in Greece with some locals. What was hard to believe is how much footage we had of band rehearsals. It was cool to show the band from the beginning, prior to a bass player, all the way to the last show in 1995 and the formation of Mother God Moviestar. We are all really proud of that release. The F.O.A.D. vinyl release is cool. I need to get a turntable to listen to it.
Luxi: Some 25 years ago Aftermath's demos received flattering reviews in magazines like Metal Forces, RAW, RIP, Kerrang, etc. If you think back do you believe that Aftermath's constant desire to sound original and unique and move your sound toward the progressive edge of Thrash Metal were the main reasons Aftermath differed from the masses resulting in these very good articles?
Charlie: Back in 1985 we started as a four-piece that began writing songs that mixed Hardcore and Thrash or proto-Crossover as it is often referred to today. The four of us had different backgrounds in musical terms. Steve was actually a guitar teacher that played all different styles of music from pop to jazz. He brought the melody and hook to the music. Ray was into heavy shit and Hardcore. Adam was into Punk and I was into Thrash and Hardcore. Our different tastes combined to create a unique sound. Steve had real musical training and wanted to follow structure whereas I didn't. I would write the lyrics and Steve would add music to my lyrics and I think this had something to do with our original sound. Usually, the lyrics follow the music. I didn't write in a conventional way. I mentioned this earlier but right after the release of Killing... I was into slower and heavier music that was way more experimental than our earlier music. When John joined the band he became a major contributor to the new direction. He came with riffs and I wrote lyrics around them. He was into slow, dark, complex and heavy music and the band changed. His timing was unusual and my lyrics fit. We never planned on being original it just turned out that way. We just wrote what we wanted to hear as listeners.
Luxi: Metal Forces magazine compiled a compilation album in 1988 titled Metal Forces Presents... Demolition - Scream Your Brains Out, which featured a couple of Aftermath's demo songs, "War for Freedom" and "When Will You Die". What kind of stepping stone was this for Aftermath, hearing your stuff on vinyl for the first time?
Charlie: Metal Forces was the bible for Thrash fans. It was in my opinion the best magazine at the time. When we got the call (from the editor Bernard Doe) telling us that we were one of only five bands they picked for their record, it was a huge honor. There were thousands of bands at that time playing Thrash, Death, Crossover, etc. and to be selected as one of only five to make the record was incredible. It helped spread the name. We were getting a lot of attention during that time with Killing... and this really got the word out. We received several offers from labels, but none that we wanted to sign with. Scream Your Brains Out put the band in a different kind of spotlight for sure. But we changed styles during that time and I believe we lost some of those early fans that were pissed that we lost the speed. We did gain a lot of new fans with the technical songs we wrote post 1987.
Luxi: Eyes of Tomorrow saw the light of day in 1994, originally on Zoid Recordings, which was your own label. When you listen to that album now 21 years later, what kind of thoughts and feelings does it raise? Are you proud of it and how well do you believe it has stood the test of time?
Charlie: Eyes... was basically written in 1988 and should have been released by 1990 at the latest. Unfortunately, we didn't sign with Big Chief Records out of New York until '90. They were a new label with major label distribution. The owner was a rich kid whose father invested in the label. During the recording of Eyes... the father stopped financing the label and it went bankrupt. This left us with a studio bill that took four years to pay. The studio wouldn't release the masters until the bill was paid. None of us had good paying jobs so it took years to pay it off. If it had come out in 1990 or earlier the record would have found a bigger audience. Instead, it was released on our own label during the worst year for Thrash Metal. Even the big bands were dead in 1994, so the year of its release and the circumstances around the release sucked. However, I feel the record is great and I'm proud to be part of it. I feel the musicianship is as good as any Thrash record ever released. If the record was released on a proper label back in the late 1980's it would have competed with the greats. Despite the turmoil surrounding the release the record has found a strong, loyal cult following through the years. Its reissue on Shadow Kingdom will introduce new fans to it. It just entered number 37 this week on the CMJ Loud chart in the US. That's crazy for a record that was originally released 21 years and is now on its fourth reissue. I have to think that no other record has had so many reissues on so many different labels. The remastering of the record this year really makes a huge difference.
Luxi: You recorded and mixed Eyes of Tomorrow at Solid Sound Studios, Hoffman Estates, IL. Can you remember the recording sessions and if the process was smooth or was the pressure from others really high at that time?
Charlie: As I was saying the label went bankrupt during the recording of the record, which sucked, but we still were able to finish it. The label situation could have completely ruined the experience but it didn't; we still recorded a great record. The music part was great and we loved working with Phil Bonnet, the engineer on the record. He did a great job. We knew the material was strong so that wasn't the problem. Paying the bill and then releasing the record was going to be the challenge. That's how we decided to create Zoid, our own label.
Luxi: How much touring for this album did you do after it was released in 1994?
Charlie: We did no touring after the release. We played a few shows and that was it. I think the entire situation burned us out. Between 1985 and 1995 we only played 33 shows. We never properly promoted the band with tours. We started working on new material. Looking back on it now, we should have jumped in a van and played more.
Luxi: When Aftermath came into existence in 1985 there was already a band from Arizona using that name as well as a Crossover/Thrash Metal act from New Jersey that used the name from 1988-1989, before they called it quits after releasing just one demo. Did you ever have any problems with who would have had the right to use the Aftermath name?
Charlie: You know, it was different back then. We weren't aware of the Arizona Aftermath or any other ones when we picked the name. There was no Google. If I had known of the Arizona Aftermath I would have picked a different name. I had no idea who they were in 1985. We got a federal trademark to protect our name so we did care if someone else was going to use it. I find it crazy that bands today have the same name as other bands. Why would you ever share a name today? Fucking Google it! I see a few bands today using Aftermath and think how fucking stupid and unoriginal are you? Why wouldn't you use another name? We were so serious about it that we sued Dr. Dre.
Luxi: Speaking of this Dr. Dre case what was it about? This widely known rapper Dr. Dre, as has been reported, offered a remarkable amount of money for the rights to use the Aftermath name. What's the true story?
Charlie: Dr. Dre had left Death Row Records and was forming his own label. His lawyers did a trademark search and found our registered federal trademark. They tried to con me into thinking they represented a small R&B label at first. We eventually found out it was Dre and sued them to stop them from calling the label Aftermath Entertainment. A judge in federal court ruled that Dre could use the name for his label because there would be no likelihood of any confusion between his label and our band. He wrote a bullshit opinion that found fans of Rap music didn't buy Metal so we could coexist. That case is now studied in law schools across the country and most professors believe the judge was wrong. Dre did make an offer before the hearing to have us drop the lawsuit and we declined.
Luxi: That was the right thing to do in my opinion. No mercy for rappers, ha ha!! Sorry, that slipped out. Anyway, you guys recorded a 4-song demo in 1996 which shifted the band away from the progressive Thrash Metal of the Eyes of Tomorrow album to a mix of Pink Floyd, later era Voivod and Crimson Glory, to my ears at least. Was this an intentional move to challenge yourselves as musicians and to try to find new ways to express yourselves musically or was it all purely unintentional because the more you evolved as musicians, the more complicated and complex your stuff became?
Charlie: The answer is a combination of both of your points. We were always looking in different directions, especially me. I'm a huge fan of music and I was getting bored playing the same old stuff. Remember the Eyes... record was written mainly in 1988 and the 1996 demo was written years later. Naturally, it would sound somewhat different, we aren't AC/DC after all. So it was us growing as a band and a result of the years that went by between the two recordings and my influence that made that demo sound different. It's funny you mention Pink Floyd; we actually wrote certain parts to sound like a heavier Floyd. Voivod is a band I am still into.
Luxi: Did you try to find a record label with that demo?
Charlie: We recorded those songs in a day, I think. I can't even remember doing it since it was so fast. We didn't have a plan to try and get a deal. Thrash was dead in 1996 then the Dre case came up and we never really tried to do anything with the 1996 demo.
Luxi: Did it ever occur to you that you could have released your second album on your own, paying for everything from your own pockets back in 1995-96?
Charlie: We never wanted to release the first record on our own, we were forced into it. I don't think we ever really thought about doing another record that way back in 1996. It's so much easier to do that today. Recording in your basement and sending out your music on the internet is so quick and inexpensive now. Back then, you needed a studio, you needed to press CDs, pay for artwork and distribute the product. It took money and a lot of time. If the tools you have today were around in 1996, then I'm sure we would have released a follow-up to Eyes...
Luxi: How much do you blame Grunge for killing a good many Metal bands during the early nineties? Did Grunge kill the future of Aftermath, partly at least?
Charlie: Grunge did kill Metal in the 1990's. Like I said earlier even the big bands were hurt by it. I don't think grunge played a major part in our breakup. The experience with the label bankruptcy and the Dre lawsuit played a way bigger role in our history than grunge.
Luxi: In 1997 Aftermath changed names to Mother God Moviestar and augmented its sound, adding DJ Delta 9 and female vocalist Roxanne to the line-up. Looking back at that decision do you think it was the right one or was it a mistake? The music of M.G.M. represented some sort of samples-oozing, dark-sounding prog-Rock. You even released an 11-song self-titled debut album in 1998. How much satisfaction do you still get from that record and are you happy with the completely different musical direction you took almost 20 years ago?
Charlie: As I began to say, by 1996 all the chaos around Aftermath, especially the lawsuit, made it harder to stay motivated. I'm not sure what would have happened if the Dre case never occurred. I know that the music on the M.G.M. record would have never been released as an Aftermath record, at least not in the way it was released on the M.G.M. record. We had written the 1996 demo as a follow up to the Eyes... record and those four songs eventually made it onto the M.G.M. record, but they are pretty different versions. The ones on the 1996 demo were heavier, more Thrash. The versions on the M.G.M. record were different, less heavy. I was going through a period where I was listening to a ton of different music and it did have an influence on M.G.M. The other guys in the band wanted to continue writing material in the old vein. I just wasn't feeling it that at the time. And when the lawsuit happened, in a strange way it was the right time to end Aftermath and M.G.M. allowed us (or me specifically) to work on music that I felt at the time was natural. Looking at it now, I would say we should have written a real follow-up to Eyes of Tomorrow and had that record released on Interscope. Aftermath already had a following and a major label release would have given Aftermath the push we never had before. That is easy to say now. When I was going through it back in 1996/97 I felt Aftermath was over.
Luxi: Back to Aftermath for the last couple of questions. If we talk about Aftermath in 2015 are you tempted to write your next album with the current line-up? Only your bassist Eric Alvarez is a new gun, the rest of you have been in the band since day one...
Charlie: I always felt that the three critical parts of Aftermath were Steve, Ray and me because we formed the band. John was instrumental in the writing of most everything post Killing the Future but it was Killing that got me excited about being in Aftermath again. We plan on writing new songs in the style and spirit of Killing..., which Steve and I wrote. We are also going to include some of the Eyes... style of songs, so John needs to part of that. The focus of our new music will be the aggressive and speed elements that we started out playing 30 years ago.
We reformed with the idea of having Adam back in the band and we did give that a shot for months. Unfortunately, he has issues he needs to deal with in his life so it didn't work out. As for Eric, the dude feels like he has been part of the band forever.
The thing is that we have gone through more bass players than any band I know so you never know what will happen. We look forward to keeping him around for a while but when it comes to bass players we are the real life Spinal Tap.
Luxi: Summer festival season is less than one year away. Does Aftermath have plans in the works regarding some of them?
Charlie: It was great playing HOA and Ragnarökkr and we are obviously interested in playing more fests in the future. We don't know what the plans will ultimately be for the summer of 2016, but we would love to play some of the big European fests. I leave that stuff to management.
Luxi: What do you expect from 2016 as far as Aftermath's future plans are concerned?
Charlie: We are ending 2015 with the reissues of Eyes of Tomorrow and Killing the Future. Having those CDs come out and reintroducing the band to old thrashers and new thrashers alike sets up 2016. The exact goal for 2016 isn't figured out, but our main thing will be to write and release some new music.
Luxi: Is there anything else that you'd like to reveal about Aftermath to the fans of the band as well as the readers of The Metal Crypt?
Charlie: I think your questions nailed it. Nothing more to say, really.
Luxi: Thank you for your precious time and getting this interview done, Charlie. I want to wish you all the best with Aftermath and I wish you happy life also. And the famous "last words" are yours, so go ahead!
Charlie: I want to say thanks to you for the interview and your support. It has always been the zines and now the sites that make the underground survive and keep Metal alive. Thrash 'til death! To your readers, feel free to check out the music on www.facebook.com/aftermathchicago
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