The Metal Crypt on Facebook  The Metal Crypt's YouTube Channel

Interviews Atrophy

Interview with vocalist Brian Zimmerman

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: March 4, 2024

Atrophy was formed in Tuscon, Arizona, in 1987, and they made themselves known in the tape-trading world with their much-loved 6-track demo, Chemical Dependency. Roadrunner Records quickly signed the band to their roster and their highly successful debut album, Socialized Hate, saw the light of day in 1988. They played several shows in the States with bands like Slayer, Sacred Reich, Gammacide, Blessed Death, Dr. Know, etc. including a great number in 1988-89, cementing their name firmly in the brains of many thrashers.

In March 1990, the band released their follow-up album, Violent by Nature, again on Roadracer Records, which turned out to be at least as successful as their debut. That album brought them opportunities to play live both in their home country and in Europe. The band was at the top of their thrash game, and nothing seemed able to stop them.

However, in 1993 the band decided to call it quits and no one knew if they would ever come back. Atrophy did reform in 2015 with a different lineup and played shows here and there, with no new music for the fans until they put the band on ice again in 2020.

What happened next? I think it's better to let the band's original vocalist Brian Zimmerman explain what's been going on in the Atrophy camp, especially now that they are about to release their third album, Asylum.

Hey, Brian! Nice to have this chat with you. How's it going?

Brian: Thanks for asking. Doing well, doing really well over here.


We are here primarily to talk about Atrophy's comeback and, of course, your comeback album, Asylum, which is the band's third album in 34 years. Before going into details, what triggered you to reform the band again in 2021?

Brian: Here's the skinny on that. When I left the band originally, we had two new members and my drummer, Tim (Kelly), and they lived out in Tucson, Arizona. They were trying to write new songs. They went into the studio in 2019 and recorded a song called "Riptide." We tried to go back into the studio and get into pre-production. I added vocals to their music, and it didn't sound like Atrophy and I didn't think it was the quality we're known for. I said, "Look, guys, I think you should find another singer. I'm going to leave." I said, "I'd appreciate it if you don't use the name or the logo." Within about a month, I started seeing stuff up on social media about a show in Phoenix and I got ahold of the guys and said, "Hey, what the hell's going on? You told me you were still going to play some of the songs, but you were going to be another band."

I was told that it was a mistake and that it wasn't true. I said, well, okay. I got a record deal and about two months later, I was writing with my new guitar player, Mark (Coglan). I told the record label I did not want to use the name or the logo. They said the other band came up with Scars of Atrophy. I asked Tim if he wanted to be in the band and continue and he said, no, he wanted to continue as Scars of Atrophy. I said, "Okay, well, I'm reforming the band. If you don't want to be in it, that's okay."

I have been carefully listening to both bands, Atrophy and Scars of Atrophy, and your band (Atrophy) sounds like the good, old Atrophy, really. I got the promo of your new album, Asylum, and was totally hooked by it. It sounds just awesome. So, my sincere congrats for making such a great album, man.

Brian: Oh, thank you so much. It was hard to do by myself with Mark, but it's just one of those things. I don't want to come back as a lot of bands do and not live up to what they did before. I want to come back and be either as good or better. That's the way you come back. It's not, "here, we have a bunch of songs, and they sound okay." Thank you very much for that. I appreciate it.

I totally agree that you need to try to make a better album each time. If you don't set high goals for yourself, then you can easily come up with an album that sounds sloppy and half-assed.

Brian: Correct. We really worked hard on the sound and the songs to reflect the band. I have to say, I think we did it. I'm very happy with it.

How many songs did you write for this new album? Do you have some leftover stuff that you could use on a future release?

Brian: Yes, we actually had more songs, and we left an extra song in the studio for the label to put just on the CD and they didn't grab it.

We have that and we have some other songs that got thrown away, but I think six or seven for the new record.


How did you find these new band members to continue the musical legacy of Atrophy where you left off in 1990?

Brian: When we originally got back, it was with James Gulotta and Tim Kelly. We got two new guitar players, and we started playing a bunch of shows. For the new version of Atrophy, I found my guitar player thanks to a good friend of mine who recommended him and he lives in Tucson, and I recommended him to Tim before I left the band. He didn't want to hear anything of it, so Mark and I wrote the entire album ourselves. We found the people to fill in the blanks as we were recording. That's Josh Gibbs from Malevolent Creation and Nathan Montalvo found me on Facebook, actually, and asked if he could have a chance to be in the band. I laughed at him. I said, "What makes you think you could play this stuff?" He sent me some videos and gave me a list of stuff he's done, and I was blown away. I'm very impressed with him.


Was this new album easy to write? Fans really dug the hell out of the band's two previous albums, Socialized Hate (1988) and Violent by Nature (1990), so I assume you wanted to respect the kind of sound that was incorporated into the songs on those two, may I say, classic Atrophy albums, right?

Brian: Yes. I worked really hard to do that because I didn't want to step too far away from what we had previously done. "The Apostle" is a continuation of "Preacher, Preacher." The song "Seeds of Sorrow" is about all the mass killings that are happening in America right now. When we wrote Violent by Nature in 1989, I never imagined that it would turn into what it has. Gun violence is out of control in our country. Yes, I wanted to stay with the actual themes of Atrophy and what we represented.

Indeed. There have been a lot of killings in the States that are related to gun violence. It's been in the headlines here in Europe for many years. That's a huge problem the politicians are dealing with in your country.

Brian: Yes. I don't know if you're familiar with our laws and what happened. When one of our Presidents had an attempt made on his life, there was a bill called the Brady Bill that went into action. Now that expired under, I think, President Obama. I remember seeing assault weapons being sold at Walmart. I don't want to get too much into this.

I believe in our rights as a country, but there's a big difference between a wartime weapon that can hold 30 rounds, and a deer hunting rifle. It's not for me to say, this is for our government to fix. It is just something that I want to bring light to and that song, "Seeds of Sorrow," is about the sorrow of our rights as Americans. We are now here, and this is what we're going to have to deal with.

Would you say that this new album kicks ass from front to back, in your opinion?

Brian: I actually listened to this album where I didn't do that with Violent by Nature, and I listened to it front to back and I think the songs are all good. We intentionally didn't want to put any filler songs in there. We wanted every song to stand on its own. It was very hard to choose a single because there were so many good songs. That's my opinion.


When you got the album back from mixing and mastering, what was your initial reaction?

Brian: I was blown away. I really was. When we were making this album, we worked with Bill Metoyer, who did the first two records and we worked with Randy Burns, who did the Megadeth album. We worked with Juan Ortega, who did the last Testament album. All the sounds were more modern. I did not want any of that. I wanted real drums, real amps, as much as we could and a modern production, but the sound of 1990. When I heard it, it was like a perfect marriage of all the sounds. I think we did a good job choosing our producer, Alex Parra (Second Sight Studio).

How much of a nostalgia aspect is there to the recording of this new Atrophy album?

Brian: I have to say that we nailed it. I don't know. I don't know what else to say, except, as far as the concept of the album, to the song choices, to the song placement, we really put a lot of thought into that and I really hope the fans appreciate it because we didn't just record a bunch of songs and say, "yes, this one should go here." We tried to place the songs to make the album crescendo at the end.

I don't know if you noticed this, but when "The Apostle" ends, he says, "Father, why have you forsaken thee?" Now the apostle finds himself in the open-air asylum, which is on the streets. He's out there waving his sign and screaming, "The end is here..." The whole album should end that way at the very end of the album. It's kind of just to sum it all up.


Doing audiovisual stuff is, of course, very important in this digital world we live in. You did a lyric video for "Seeds of Sorrow" which got around 7,000 views on YouTube in just four days. Do you have plans to release new videos to promote this new album a tad more?

Brian: We were only allowed two videos per album. We have a very tight budget. That's why we did lyric videos. We just got off tour with Vio-lence, Hirax and Exhorder. We didn't get a lot of good-quality footage. I think the next thing, if we release something, is going to incorporate all the live footage, but it probably won't be before this album is released.

Do you see doing these videos as a "necessary evil" that needs to be done because otherwise, it's hard to keep your head above the surface and let people know that you are there with your band and doing music?

Brian: Yes, I do see it as a necessary evil. YouTube and streaming platforms have become all the rage for these young kids and a lot of people who can't get to concerts. Yes, I think it is. I don't know if you do this, but I often go to YouTube and check out new music from K.K.'s Priest or Kerry King or whatever. So yes, it is what you said, a necessary evil.


How do you feel about Atrophy's first two albums? Do you think they have stood the test of time very well?

Brian: When I left the band, originally, I had to go raise my daughter and be a dad. I walked away from this music. I honestly thought that the band would just die in 1994. Nobody would listen to it anymore. In 2009 or so, we got a computer at the house and my daughter's like, "Holy shit, dad, your band's on YouTube." I said, "Wow, that's crazy." I didn't know.

I also didn't know that our label had put out, I think, 13 compilation albums with our music on it. From Stars on Thrash to Now That's What I Call Metal to a whole bunch of stuff. It has, I think it really has stood the test of time. People are still finding us and liking it.

I found it pretty cool when the Greek label Floga Records put out Atrophy's 1987 Chemical Dependency demo back in 2016 as a limited vinyl, with a couple of color variants. Seems like all the classic (demo) treasures get released nowadays, which is nice, of course.

Brian: That was amazing that he (Giorgos Filippidis) wanted to do that. I have one of those downstairs. For some reason, that demo, people went crazy over it. I think it wasn't recorded the best, but it captured the sound of the band, if that makes sense. Even when I listened to it, I'm like, damn, that's pretty good for a demo.


Moving back to current times, do you have any plans to arrange the record release party at some venue any time soon?

Brian: We talked about that. With all of us living in different spots, it costs quite a bit of money to fly in and get hotels and do that stuff. I don't know if we're going to do that. I'm still open to the idea, though.

I completely get that, but this idea is still under discussion between each of you in the band, right?

Brian: Yes, absolutely.

What kind of plans do you have regarding playing some shows for your fans?

Brian: We are booked in LA in September, and we also are trying to get a West Coast tour and an East Coast tour. I believe it's August and September, and I absolutely am trying right now to get some shows over in Europe because that's a very strong market for us. After what happened to us in '21, I'd really like to go back and fix what happened because of the coronavirus bullshit.

COVID did huge damage to everyone in the business and it was very tough for many bands to make their living because tours were canceled and because of that, no merch could be sold, which is a big part of any band's income. Of course, you can make music whenever you want, but that doesn't put much bread and butter on your table...

Brian: That is it, and that was another reason I left my other bandmates, because we really didn't know what was going to happen. I thought, if we're not going to be able to play shows and I'm not getting anywhere with them writing by themselves, I figured I would take a chance and just go out on my own and do my own thing.

In fact, the coronavirus time was a good time for me because I got a lot of time off to actually write music. It was a good thing for me.


As I understand it, you have been in a very good writing mode for a long time, correct?

Brian: Yes. We're writing right now. Thank God, I have a wonderful writing partner in Mark. He's a very prolific writer and so we're just going to keep on writing and hopefully, we'll get these albums out in about three years because that's what our contract is, three albums.

So, he really understands what Atrophy's sound should be all about, which makes him such a great bandmate to work with?

Brian: I think one of the reasons he is such a great bandmate is because we speak the same language. He is very familiar with music and how it should be written. One of the other great things about him is his guitar playing is very much like Chris'. He's got a very strong right hand, does lots of syncopated picking, drill picking, so stylistically very, very similar to what Chris was. He's just a good guy to write with. He wasn't really too hot on Atrophy when he first heard some of the stuff that I'd brought to him, but once he learned to play it, he was like, "Wow, this stuff's killer, dude."


Alright, way to go.

Brian: Yes. It's a lot because once you play it, you find out how hard it is. This is technical stuff.

Is there something special that you still would like to achieve with Atrophy in the coming years, be it a tour with one of your favorite bands or getting a gig arranged at some venue that's somehow special for you?

Brian: Oh, yes. Of course, there were always the special places. The Dynamo Fest was amazing back in the day. I think we played Rock Hard Eindhoven, those were just awesome. I'd like to get back over to Europe and do what we used to do which was run through and do the festival circuit. Absolutely. That would be fun. I'd like to go out with so many different bands. Vio-lence was an amazing experience because they are really, really good live. They're just an inspiration. There's lots of fun to be had in the music industry. Looking forward to it.

Do you believe that your festival circle in Europe will happen even this year?

Brian: Maybe, don't know yet.

Well, you just never know if things start evolving to that goal quickly...

Brian: Yes, you never know. Our album hasn't even come out yet, and we've had amazing responses from the two songs that we've released so far. Hopefully, we can get picked up and do that hopefully this year. That'd be great.

Well, I think that's all I had in mind for this chat, so thank you, Brian, for your time and, of course, all the best to you and your band in the coming months as well. Bye for now and take care, man!

Brian: Hey, thank you.

Other information about Atrophy on this site
Review: Socialized Hate
Review: Violent By Nature
Review: Chemical Dependency
Review: Asylum
Review: Asylum
Review: Asylum

The Metal Crypt - Crushing Posers Since 1999
Copyright  © 1999-2024, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt.  All Rights Reserved.