By Jeb Wright
Mikey Vujasin sat down with Classic Rock Revisited to discuss his band Chains Over Razors, and their new release Crown the Villain. The band is a three-piece Metal assault with no low end. Just like the Doors there is no four-string thumping… that’s where the analogy stops. This recording has got a TON of guitars… and they are very loud!
The band is made of Mikey, his drummer / brother Andy and singer Franco “V” Rock. They are based out of Chicago… and Canada… yet still manage to gig, write and record! Their latest album was produced by none other than rock icon Carmine Appice.
Chains Over Razors will likely never cover a song by Chicago or Air Supply. Nope, these boys are noisy, powerful and so full of Metal they can never get on an airplane! Still, there is something different in their take on the genre. Sure, they are powerful. For old rockers, it may be pushing the limits of what we prefer… yet, when you least expect it… the band throws in some pretty cool traditional stuff that makes one sit up and pay attention.
Read on to learn about what makes this band tick, what it was like to record with Carmine and who Mikey is voting for in the upcoming Presidential election.
Jeb: You guys are heavy rock which you accent with a metal assault! What is your approach to songwriting?
Mikey: We’ve never really had an approach to writing this record. Letting the moment just happen and building off of that naturally created our album. The big sound doesn’t have to always be a Chains Over Razors sound, it was the combination of my custom guitars, custom amps and open drums that create the wall of sound that became our signature.
Jeb: What I have noticed in your music is a unique mix of metal styles. Take your song “Damnation” as an example. That has a whiplash metal pound your head style… but then, out of nowhere it goes pretty much traditional old school metal. Do you like switching it up?
Mikey: We definitely do like switching it up but we also keep an open mind when writing various styles in a song. You’ll never know stylistically what to expect.
Jeb: Metal to me was Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions… I later loved stuff like BLS. I hear all of that in your music, along with a more modern influence. Who are your metal gods and how do they influence your writing?
Mikey: I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Beatles, Elvis Presley and even Motown. But in my later years I got into bands such as Testament, Megadeth, Pantera, Metallica, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden etc. Lately I’ve been listening to country music such as Zac Brown Band. My list of artists I listen to is very long and diverse, but I like to listen to the stories they write about and I listen to how they musically combine the emotion.
Jeb: Before going into some of the songs and the new album in general… you had Carmine Appice produce this album. I know Carmine. He’s a true musician. How did you meet up the mustached man?
Mikey: He still has that ‘stache, but I have my beard [Laughter].
We met Carmine when we approached our agent and said that we were interested in having a producer… even though the songs were not written yet. Carmine called me weeks after the idea was being talked; he heard a couple of demos and said he’s all in. Our singer Franco v Roc met him in Manhattan to discuss further what we were looking to achieve with our future unwritten record.
Jeb: What did Carmine bring to the table in terms of song selection, or song layout?
Mikey: Carmine brought an open mind to try all ideas and being spontaneous with arrangements, riffs and even the vocals. He was very easy to work with and made being in the studio a fun creative process and experience. He also pushed us passed our comfort zone, which resulted in us becoming better songwriters and musicians.
Jeb: How did you keep him from picking up the sticks and jamming it out in the studio?
Mikey: [Laughter] We couldn’t. My brother and Carmine would trade licks and tips on drum fills and patterns or technique. But when it came time to record, we got to work.
Jeb: This is a serious question. The current metal scene worldwide is thriving. In the USA we are struggling. It seems to be an underground culture. Do you think the USA will once again embrace metal in a more commercial way? Does that even matter to you?
Mikey: It does matter. We find that corporate radio and major labels have made it more difficult for up and coming artists to be heard because they don’t provide access to the resources that can help us reach out and major labels have been reluctant in signing new artists. Music does come in waves, and since it is underground it gives the fans a closer connection with the artists since they were there from beginning before the genre pops again.
Jeb: Let’s talk “Devil’s Eyes” as this is a strong song. I hear some Megadeth influence in this sucker. Maybe early Megadeth meets Rob Zombie meets Satan himself.
Mikey: I swear we didn’t go to the crossroads! But it was late when we traveled, so I’m not too sure [Laughter]. ‘Devil’s Eyes’ is a face ripper! It’s very fun to play live and to watch the damage happen from the stage. The song came about due to civil rights and the violence surrounding it. It also addresses giving our elected officials too much power.
Jeb: How do you balance such a loud guitar sound with such a loud drum sound? Is that an engineer’s nightmare?
Mikey: Very much so. But since we’re a 3-piece with no bass there is only one way to experience us, which is turn the drums and guitars up and let vocals sit on top of that. Usually the engineers dial it up right once they understand what we do. I usually discuss this with whoever is engineering our shows.
Jeb: With this band I am guessing when you get around the mixing board you are like the famous Lemmy from Motorhead quote, “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”
Mikey: Too funny. We usually do reverse psychology and get on the venues good side so they do turn us up. Louder is better and if it’s too loud you’re too old! In the studio it was very difficult to get the right balance since my guitars occupy the full frequency range.
Jeb: Metal seems to be in danger of -at times- being a parody of itself. I’m not saying that to downgrade your efforts. I mean that it must be tough to be original and to standout when there is a LOT of guys who are content to just be a metal stereotype. Does that make sense? Back in the day, Sabbath didn’t sound like Priest… Priest didn’t sound like Maiden. Too many bands sound like to many other bands.
Mikey: I agree. Sometimes I can’t tell who is who on the radio. The problem is that nobody really records the drums, it’s programmed and they all use the same sounds/drum samples even with processed guitar tones.
When you listen to bands who actually record in a studio with their instruments, they actually have their own unique tonality that gives their voice to their music. Example? All the classic bands could record in the same studio with the same equipment, yet they sound completely different from each other. Also bands today really like to stick with the newest and hottest metal or rock style and not really explore who they are as an artist/songwriter. We on the other hand record the traditional way and want to sound and play metal music the way we understand it.
Jeb: You recently played three gigs with the Appice Brothers, Carmine and Vinny. How was that?
Mikey: It was a hot, humid, and a sweaty mess [Laughter]. We had to work around storms rolling throughout the day. But as soon as that cleared up it was an evening of pure metal and the occasional behind the scenes goofing around. Carmine and Vinny headlined the night and took the show home leaving the crowd with an epic memory.
Jeb: You have band members from different countries… how are you going to make that work? Is that a challenge, or do you utilize modern technology to close the physical space gap?
Mikey: We definitely use technology to our advantage and we talk amongst each other often. It never feels distant. Also, we know how we work and write together so it just falls into place. Our singer will fly in whenever its time to work.
Jeb: Metal Allegiance. What was that experience like for the band? Any good stories?
Mikey: Metal Allegiance was an amazing experience and they are the nicest group of guys we’ve met. We developed a brotherhood with them and they definitely watched over us and made sure we were OK in every situation. We’ve grown so close to everyone that busting each other’s chops is normal and absolutely hilarious. But when it comes to show time, we definitely work together to bring an amazing show!
Jeb: I have to ask about the title to the debut album. It is pretty cool and makes me think there is a tale behind it. Crown the Villain. Explain!
Mikey: Crown the Villain came about due to our current country’s situation of giving up our power. It seemed so fitting with the times we’re in.
Jeb: We have to talk about bands who are in bands with brothers…. Black Crowes… the Kinks… they all seem to have stories of beating the hell out of each other. How do you and your brother survive being in the same band?
Mikey: We beat the hell out of each other! Just kidding… Only on Friday evenings [Laughter]. In actuality, we’re so busy handling so much stuff we don’t get on each other’s nerves, but we both welcome it!
Jeb: Back to Carmine… He likes to tell tales of his rock history, which is amazing. Did he have you on the edge of your seat talking about Ozzy, Jeff Beck, Led Zep… He always does that to me and I cannot stop listening to him!
Mikey: Aahhhhhh… finally someone I’ve met that understands the pain!
The first time I met Carmine in person was day one in the recording studio in New Jersey. He unloaded Zeppelin stories, Jeff Beck stories et cetera. It was so overwhelming I had to stop him and tell him I need to go outside and get air. He said “What for?” and I said “You’re tripping me out talking about all my guitar heroes!” He thought that was hysterical.
I immediately called my friend who was on the road with Anthrax as a drum tech. I told him what just happened and how I was overwhelmed and he busted my chops and told me to “chill and get it together” ha ha ha.
Jeb: Are you guys a lyrically political band? If so, what do you hope to accomplish?
Mikey: We’re not always a lyrically political band, but, when issues need to be addressed, we have to speak out about this. Such as the song “Damnation”, which talks about American soldiers with mental health issues or injuries and being neglected by our own country when they return.
Jeb: Are you voting for Trump?
Mikey: Hell no, Trump is a crock of shit and Hillary is a crook. I’m going 3rd party for the first time. The government needs to be shaken up. But if you were running Jeb, I’d vote for you.
Jeb: One different song from the rest is “Subtle Words.” This feels like it is very personal.
Mikey: “Subtle Words” addresses depression, isolation and bullying. It also speaks about equality.
Jeb: What is the next step in your career? What will the rest of 2016 and 2017 hold for you?
Mikey: We are looking to definitely tour some more in the near future and all of 2017 in support of our record. In the downtime we’ll continue writing so we can kick some more ass in the future.
Jeb: Last one: For us old school rockers at www.classicrockrevisted.com what are the five influential hard rock or classic metal albums that you still love listening to?
Mikey: Black Sabbath- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Led Zeppelin-Led Zeppelin I
Aerosmith- Toys in the Attic
Metallica-Ride the Lightening
Pantera-Far Beyond Driven
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