I skip the traditional intro and begin with the words from Rick Baez, the singer of the fantastic 80's Speed Metal band AMULANCE- a band that was totally underrated: "Damn dude! I don't know how long it takes other people to do these interviews, but I've been fucking typing for hours! I really appreciate the opportunity to express my opinions. Great questions! I think this is the best interview I've ever done. Usually, someone would always edit my words and cut shit out that they didn't feel should be meant for the public. It feels good to know that the only editing done will be after you receive the full story. Take care dude, and thanks again. Rick" |
Rick, your demo "The Rage Within" got raving reviews in the press in 1987, like in Metal Forces or in Powerline. Was this something special for you at that time and what do you think of this peculiar recording so many years later?
"Yes, of course it was special! I don't think that any of us expected that kind of response to our music. At best, I thought that we would have to record at least three or four more demos before we got any kind of attention at all. At the time that the songs on "The Rage Within" were written, we really didn't know each other or our influences. I thought the songs on "The Rage..." were strong, but that was because I helped write them. I really didn't think anyone else would think they were strong. I felt that our writing would get stronger once we got to know each other's strong and weak points. I know I felt lucky as hell to be with such kick-ass musicians though and I didn't want to fuck things up by saying anything that may have been construed as negative about any of the tunes until I felt secure in speaking my peace. I have a second generation copy of the demo that I like to listen to every once in a while and I still get chills from the rawness of the sound."
How many copies did you sell, I heard you sold some thousands(!)?
"Man… I really don't remember. I know it was roughly in the area of about 5000 though. I don't know if anyone considers that a lot or a little, but compared to another band I was in… it was a lot. Keep in mind though that a lot of those sales were made after we began appearing in the 'zines."
Coming from the Illinois area, was it a disadvantage and with which bands from that area did you play live in your beginning, like TROUBLE, WRATH or even ZOETROPE?
"AMULANCE had opened for TROUBLE a few times, but that was before I joined the band. Other than that, WRATH and us opened for each other a couple of times and we did gigs with TYRANT'S REIGN, REALM and a couple of other heavy-hitters in the area. I think that we all thought that Illinois was a shitty area for music, but we were always gigging, so it couldn't have been that bad."
How was the scene there, were there many Metal clubs, concerts, fans?
"In retrospect, I have to say that the Metal scene was pretty decent in the Midwest. There wasn't a multitude of clubs to play in but there was enough to keep a lot of bands relatively busy if they wanted to be. I know that when the big boys (like PRIEST or MAIDEN) came into town, they didn't play the biggest clubs… they played (and packed) the arenas. The fans were definitely here, so I guess it wasn't as bad as I used to think it was."
How was the beginning story of AMULANCE? Was it a friendship band or how did musicians- Tom Braddish and Bob Luman come together?
"This is kind of a long story, but here it goes, I don't know the names of the other people in the band before me and I don't know much about the history of AMULANCE except that Bob Luman founded the band and that Tom Braddish (bass) had answered an ad in a music zine and had officially joined about two weeks before I auditioned. While I was in between bands, I would hang out at WRATH's rehearsal spot- I met them through their guitarist, Scott Nyquist, when we were in a band together. I met their manager once and jokingly asked him if he could help me find a band. I didn't have much of a name at the time and although there were a lot of musicians in the area, there weren't a lot of good ones, and the ones that were good were already in bands. Well, I guess after I had left WRATH's place, a couple of the guys put in a good word for me and a couple of days later their manager called me with an audition for AMULANCE. I had never heard of them and wasn't too crazy about making the journey to audition since they rehearsed about 70 miles (112 km) away from me. However, I felt an obligation to WRATH to at least check it out. I figured I could always say that AMULANCE sucked and wasn't worth the drive. In the meantime, the manager had told AMULANCE to kick their singer out because he had found them someone better. I later found out that he had made up a story and told the guys in AMULANCE that I had pulled him aside in the bathroom at a TROUBLE show and started singing "Heaven And Hell" for him! By-the-way, "Heaven And Hell" (BLACK SABBATH) was one of the songs that I auditioned with as well as "Hallowed Be Thy Name" (IRON MAIDEN). Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by the talent they displayed and luckily for me, they liked my vocals. I remember being shocked at how great those guys were individually at their instruments, and then worrying about being the weak link of the band if I were to join. Then I thought, that if I do join, its just going to force me to get better… real fast. That night, they told me that if I was interested, that I had the gig and handed me a tape of some songs to write lyrics to. I was a little hesitant about the long drive, but when Nyquist heard the tape, he told me that I would be crazy not to join. I think that I just needed to hear a friend confirm what I already thought of the band. So I joined AMULANCE in March of '85. About three months later, my girlfriend told me that she was pregnant! As much as I didn't want to, I decided that I should quit the band and prepare to provide for my family, which is what I did. At that point, our then drummer, Mike Fron, went on to join WRATH, and the other guitarist, Eddie Bronguil, went on to join TEMPTER. About six months later, after the initial shock of sudden fatherhood had worn off a bit, I ran into Luman at a WRATH/ ZOETROPE concert and started to bullshit with him. He asked if I was ready to start jamming again, and I said "Fuck Yeah!". He said that he had gotten a kick-ass drummer (Eric Wedow) from an ad and could probably get Tom again. We got together to jam three days later and everything felt and sounded great except for the other guitarist- I can't remember his name. I convinced the guys to let me bring in my friend, Vince (Varriale), to the next rehearsal and promised them that they would not be disappointed. We had jammed together in a previous band with Nyquist, but we had shitty luck with bassists and drummers, so nothing ever came of it. Vince was a fucking monster! He ate, slept, and shit guitars! He showed up at our next rehearsal and knew every single song to perfection from the tape I had given him earlier that week. Vince had proven himself and AMULANCE was reborn that day."
The music on "The Rage Within" was classy US Metal with an European touch, neither Thrash nor traditional Metal, I would call it Speed Metal, how would you describe your sound?
"I don't know… Speed Metal sounds cool to me. I think a big reason for the sound we had was due to how our individual diversities in musical upbringing complemented each other's writing. I was raised on THE BEATLES and will always be a BEATLES fan, but I love my Metal too. I don't know what style of music the other guys were raised on but I know Tom has always been a PINK FLOYD fan, and Vince was turned on to SABBATH when he was just a little kid. Bob was into JOURNEY and we always gave him shit for it- Bob, if your reading this, sorry for making fun of you back then dude! The irony with Bob was that he always bitched about our music being too fast or too heavy, but then he would show up to rehearsal and blow our minds with these really heavy or fast riffs! Eric, on the other hand, was the oldest of us all, and was really into GRAND FUNK RAILROAD. On top of this, Tom and me were into old Motown R&B and Funk. Our one common ground though was our love of Hard Driving Rock and Heavy Fucking Metal."
What astonishes me most of all is the great production of the demo, how long did the recordings last and was it expensive?
"You'll laugh at this Heinz! The total cost was less than $400 and it was recorded in an 8-track studio. It took us three days. One day to record the songs live, the second day to dub in vocals, backups, and lead guitars, and the third day to mix. Except for Eric, that was the first time we had ever been in a studio. The poor guy behind the board, Al Purvey, probably wanted to kill all of us by the end of the sessions. Instead of putting all of our ideas down on paper for one of us to go over with Al, all of us were in the room trying to tell him what we wanted at the same time. Other than that, I think we acted very professionally. We went in with a mindset that we only had a very limited amount of money to spend and if we goofed around even once, we were fucked. We busted our asses preparing for the studio and it paid off because the majority of the songs and overdubs were done in day to two takes. Even though the cost doesn't seem too high split between five guys, keep in mind that most of us didn't really work a lot outside of the band, so to us it was very expensive."
Your high-pitched voice gave the music the extra touch, did you train to sing in this kind or was it a natural thing?
"It was natural, although I did take one lesson once while in a previous band. It cost so much though, that I never went again. But in that one lesson, the vocal instructor taught me a breathing technique that made a significant difference in my singing for the better."
Did you record any other demos and do you have non-released AMULANCE stuff or shirts?
"We recorded quite a few demos, unfortunately, the copies that are in my possession are really worn out. I do have a number of reels that I would like to one day take into an 8-track studio and find out what is on them. Of course, it is all AMULANCE, but I don't know exactly what songs are on them. We had one professionally done video of a live show- probably our best performance ever- that we had planned to sell, but as our luck would have it, the night it was being edited, the studio was broken into and the editor was shot, killed, and the place was destroyed- with our tape somewhere in there. Go fucking figure! Other than that, any T-shirts or other paraphernalia that we may have had are gone."
You got several label offers after the demo. Which were those? And why the hell did you sign with New Renaissance Records who were infamous for their non-promotion and killing good bands with bad distribution?
"I really don't remember all the labels except for two that come to mind, of which one was Island Records and the other being RoadRacer Records. There was one label that had offered to sign us if we got rid of Tom because of his weight (What???- Heinz). If Tom was a shitty bassist and didn't contribute, we probably would have done it, but he was an integral part of the band. Shit! The fucker wrote the majority of one of my favorite tunes, "Black Moon Rising"! Who the fuck would dump a kick-ass songwriter because of the way they look? That's a dumb question because I suppose that shit happens every day. There are some days that I regret it- when I'm broke, but for the most part, I'm glad we stuck to our guns. Tom found out about this a few years ago and was pissed at us. He told Vince and me that we should have just gotten someone to play the live shows and that he still could have written. It all sounds great in hindsight, but I know Tom. If we had even come to him with that plan in mind, he either would have killed himself or he would have killed us. As for New Renaissance, the most honest answer that I can give is that we were dumb-ass Punks that didn't know any better. When we had talked to Jeannie (?) or Jill (?), she gave us names of some of the bands that they had released, and we saw them in the stores. We had absolutely no clue as to the bad reputation that they held. They sure the fuck weren't offering anything but to release our music. We were worried because it seemed that all the other labels wanted to do was to keep negotiating. Every other week it seemed that our attorney was asking for money that we didn't have for one thing or another. We talked ourselves into believing that this was going to be our only chance ever to get signed and if the other labels decided not to sign us after all, that we were going to end up with no contract at all. At the time, we figured that even if we got nothing from New Renaissance, that at least our music would be out in the public and that we would stand a better chance of getting picked up by a better label. As for the contract specifics, I really don't remember, but a friend of mine that is an attorney once read it and said that it was a one-way contract and we weren't the way it was going."
Did you met Ann Boleyn and which influence had this good looking female on you?
"No, we never met her and that should have been a big red flag."
Then you recorded "Feel The Pain" in 1989, taking four songs from "The Rage Within" demo and five new songs. A great piece of music, only the production on the demo was way better, why?
"Because it was done at the same 8-track studio that the demo was recorded at. We didn't have the money to put into the recording that we needed to put into it. We lost money at one studio because even though they had the proper equipment to do everything the right way, the guy behind the board was a jackass. For instance, he insisted that vocals on Heavy Metal music are supposed to be buried in the mix. He kept saying that you're not supposed to know what the vocalist is saying, you're just supposed to know that he is there. We figured that with that mentality, that the rest of the project would be doomed if we stayed there. Bottom line is that we didn't have the funds nor did we have the adequate resources for getting them loaned to us. So when we ended up back at Al's studio, we crammed way more than we should have into 8 tracks that barely took what we put into it the first time. I'm sure that people were very impressed with the quality of the demo, because they probably weren't used to hearing demos of that standard. I'm sure that when those same people went to listen to the album, that they were expecting to hear a much higher quality and that's where we failed them."
Why did drummer Eric Widow left the band and how did you find Kent Wagner and then the constant one Tony Divozzo?
"The reason he left was because we had given him an ultimatum, either go on the road with us or quit the band. He wanted to go but he owned a home, had a family, and held a good job. Eric didn't want to go on the road unless he could still take care of his responsibilities. You can't blame the guy, but try telling that to four teenagers that had nothing to lose. He did the right thing… he quit the band. At the time, we were all shocked, because we never really thought that he would quit. So out of desperation, we snagged drummer Kent Wagner from another band and started rehearsing with him. He was a really good drummer in his own right, but he just couldn't play any of Eric's parts. So we dropped him after a couple of weeks. No offense to Kent, but his name NEVER should have appeared on the album. It was ALL Eric's playing. We soon found that a lot of drummers couldn't play Eric's parts. Weeks turned into months and shitty drummers recommended other shitty drummers. After nine months and having auditioned over 40 drummers, Tony (T-Bone) Divozzo walked into our pit. He brought in his kit and told us that he had charted the songs that we had sent him. We kind of laughed behind his back because we had heard other drummers say the same thing and when it came time to play, they would play completely different shit than was on the recordings. However, this time the fucking guy was on, and I mean completely on! The man was fucking unbelievable! To this very day, I cannot make up my mind as for who the better drummer is, Eric or T-Bone. The band had promised not to jump the gun and ask any drummer to join on the spot until we had talked it over, but we all broke that promise and told him that the gig was his right after the audition. Some of the WRATH guys didn't believe that he was as good as we said he was until they saw him rehearse with us. They immediately asked if we thought he could be ready in a week to do a show with them."
What did you expect after the album was recorded and licensed in Europe by SPV? Did you get some money from NRR?
"We were dumbass Punks man! New Renaissance was so cheap that they had only given us four copies (two albums and two cds) of our music when they knew that there were five members in the band. They kept telling us that the release date was being pushed back because of lack of funds and finally after months of this, they told us that they had gone bankrupt and couldn't release it after all. We had absolutely no clue whatsoever that our music had been released anywhere! Scott Nyquist had called me after getting back from some gigs in New York months later and told me that he had seen our CD in the import section at some store. Our attorney told us that SPV had lived up to their bargain and had paid their licensing fees and that it was up to New Renaissance to pay us. To answer your second question, no, we never saw one dime from New Renaissance. That's why Ann Boleyn will never amount to anything more than a local hero. She's got too much bad karma against her. I don't have anything bad to say about SPV, but it would be nice to know why they couldn't sell me my own CD after I had gone through the trouble of contacting them by telephone."
Did you tour then as I never heard of that and if so, with which bands?
"Our tour was not much of a tour as we were paying for everything ourselves. We worked with half-ass promoters that would book out-of -state gigs for us on the weekends, which was cool. Except that some of the places never expected us and would refuse to pay us. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the gigs went great, but you can only go so far when you are being billed as "New Renaissance Recording Artists: AMULANCE" and there is no product for the people to buy. Eventually they start to believe that it is a lie. We headlined all of the shows, so all of the opening bands were locals."
Do you think it was bit too late for a Speed Metal band at that time as the Thrash wave went over and AMULANCE was a bit in between?
"It might have been, but we'll never know because nobody really got to hear "Feel The Pain" let alone they never got a chance to hear the newer material which was much more intense."
What was your strongest point, the live shows or the studio recordings?
"Personally, I feel that is a toss-up, because in the studio, everything can be "fixed". Of course I sounded much better vocally in the studio than live, because in the studio I would stand still and wait for my cues to begin singing. Whereas at a live show, I- as well as the other members, were always half out of breathe from running from stage left to stage right and occasionally stage diving into the audience."
There was never a re-release of the album or the demo, are you interested and who owns the rights of the master tapes, NRR maybe?
"Although I think it would be great to see "Feel The Pain" in the bins, I don't think there is a point to it. No amount of re-mixing is going to make it sound any better, so why put out a product that will be as sonically ineffective now as it was 12 years ago? I think that NRR still owns the rights, but according to our attorney, they left so many loopholes in the contract, that we could easily do it if we really wanted to ($$$). The demo probably has more of a potential of being re-released, but if that were to happen, I would personally want to see some tracks added from other demos that were superior as far as song structure goes."
Then it went fast, the album did not sell that good- without promotion and good distro it was logical- but you had a loyal fan following that loved your music. So, why did it end so fast after only one album? If you look back, do you think the band with the lack of holding together in difficult time or the label was the reason to split?
"First off, the inaction of NRR- although frustrating at times- was never the reason for our split. I truly believe that if we had stayed together, that they would have eventually been kissing our ass. The break-up of AMULANCE virtually happened overnight. As I had mentioned earlier in the interview, AMULANCE rehearsed about 112 km from where Vince and I lived, so out of fairness, after two years of us driving the distance, we moved the practice place closer to us. Everything was still cool, nobody complained. Unfortunately, when it came time for us to move back to the original spot (an airplane hangar in Sugar Grove, Illinois), T-Bone got pissed off that he wasn't told of our arrangement to move every couple of years before he joined the band. The last time that I saw T-Bone was a couple of nights earlier and he seemed OK with it. As far as I am concerned, it was going to be a normal practice night, except at a different location. When Vince and I got there, Bob told us that T-Bone had called and said there was no fucking way that he was going to drive that distance just to practice and quit. Apparently, after Tom heard the news, he decided that there was no way that he was going to go another nine months without a drummer, so he quit. He had already left by the time Vince and I had gotten there, so I didn't even have a chance to talk to him about it. By that time, Bob had decided that he didn't want the hassle of looking for both a drummer and a bassist, so he told us he was quitting too- I think that Bob having a side-band with Eric made it a little easier for him to say fuck it, otherwise, he probably wouldn't have quit. So on the way back home I asked Vince if he wanted to keep the name AMULANCE and look for new guys or if he just wanted to start a new band altogether, and by this time he was so pissed at everyone else quitting that he said "Fuck it, I'm going to go back to school". I don't know if talking would have resolved anything or not, but it would have been nice to at least have tried. I think that maybe if we had taken a month off away from each other that maybe we would have been thinking differently. We were around each other all the time, we never took any breaks, and we never saw a dime from any money that we made- we would always re-invest it back into the band for T-shirts, tapes, studio time, and gear. I just feel that it was the final straw for the guys and they felt that betrayal was too much to deal with at the time. I suppose that I should have felt betrayed too (and sometimes I do if I think about it too hard), but I don't think that I really thought the band was going to break up at the time."
What did you do after the decay of AMULANCE, were you aware of the other band BLACKLYST Bob Luman and Eric Wedow founded?
"Yeah, we knew about BLACKLYST. I only saw them once and they were pretty good live. As for me, I became a deadbeat. I worked and took care of my family, but I was so used to spending the majority of my time with the band, that I didn't know what else to do with my time, so I spent it at bars. I quickly gained a bad reputation because musicians would come up to me and ask me to jam with their bands, and most of the time I was drunk off my ass and feeling great, so I would say yes. The next day, I would find phone numbers in my pocket from these people and throw them away. I felt that I had a chemistry with the guys in AMULANCE, and I really didn't think that I was going to find it with anyone else. I did check out a couple of bands, but they were not at the level of musicianship that I had grown accustomed to and I didn't want to be one of those musicians that joins a band and begins to take over. I never liked those types of guys and I wasn't about to become one. So I just decided to wait. About four months later, Tom called and asked if I wanted to just get together and work on some music. We did but he kind of felt the same as me as far as not playing with other musicians so we never attempted to take it further until a few years later, when we realized that we just weren't going to have the same band that we had in AMULANCE."
In 1996 you came up with SOULPATH, that was no Metal at all, so what were your interests and what can you say about the album "Where To Now"?
"With the exception of a couple of songs that I believe still have potential, I can truly say that the whole project sucked ass! SOULPATH is a prime example of what happens when two lifelong musicians/ friends begin to feel the pressures of age and the pressures of not having lived up to their former reputations as musicians. We were so desperate to hear the roar of an audience again that we gave up on writing and playing what we liked and succumbed to writing and playing what we thought people wanted to hear. When we were in AMULANCE, we would rather have been dead than to play some of the shit that we played in SOULPATH. I have a variety of musical interests, but I don't think that I could ever feel comfortable playing any of them onstage, and I think that SOULPATH is a testament to that. My vocals were strictly made for Metal. If I were ever to do anything like SOULPATH again, it would be behind a guitar or keyboard, no vocals, and I would do that for only one person… my kid sister (Jeannie Ruiz). She has an awesome voice but doesn't know it."
Rick, as a helluva singer, which singers did influence you?
"Thank-you, I have to say that there are a lot of singers that I have found myself influenced by. But I would have to say the most prominent ones that come to mind right off are: THE BEATLES and QUEEN- collectively, for their outstanding harmonies- Freddie Mercury, Ronnie James Dio (early SABBATH and RAINBOW), Bruce Dickinson (early MAIDEN), Rob Halford, Geoff Tate (early QUEENSRYCHE), and Jeff Scott Soto's work with Malmsteen. There are definitely more, but these were my major influences."
What were the best moments with AMULANCE and what would you change if you could do?
"Wow dude! That's a whole other interview! I'll condense it best as I can though. We were like brothers, a real family. We got drunk together, got high together, shared women with each other, and women shared us. We lived the Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle in an area that nobody believed one even existed in. Most importantly, we shared a stage together. These were all my best moments with AMULANCE. Other than wishing that I had thrown away Ann Boleyn's letter, I would change nothing at all. Everything we did, we did together, as I think a brotherhood should."
Is there a comeback possible, and are you still in the music business?
"I'm sorry to say that there will never be an AMULANCE reunion. There are too many negative factors involved. One being that we all live too far apart from each other to even consider scheduling a rehearsal. Another is that there are conflicting ideas of what AMULANCE should sound like. I believe that if we would do this, that we should sound like AMULANCE or call it something else. I am not personally in the music business at the moment. When my wife announced to me that she was pregnant, I decided that I was going to be the father to my daughter that I should have been to my son. My son and I have a good relationship, but not the relationship that I believe we should have. I have sacrificed many relationships (most importantly- my son) and I had quit college for my belief and my love of music. Unfortunately, things didn't work out. I was fortunate, however, that I was able to experience a taste of what most bands will never experience. So, for that, I am grateful. I hate the word has-been, but the reality is that at this point of my life, I'm a has-been. Right now, my goal in life is to finish college and give my family the life that they deserve. I'll always be there for music, and when I'm ready, hopefully, music will still be there for me. If I were to ever do this again (and I just might), I think that I would take a cue from Ozzy and get a band of young guys that are hungry, willing to learn from me, and take it from there."
What about the other members, are you in contact with them and do they still play music?
"The last time that I saw Bob was over a year ago. He doesn't like the commitment of being in a band and prefers to record in his studio. Tom and I still hang out occasionally, but not to do anything musically. I think that he finally realized that I was serious about my education and is letting me do my thing. After getting his Master's Degree in South Carolina, Vince began teaching music at some colleges in North Carolina. Among his teaching credentials, he currently owns and operates a classical guitar studio in the same area. We talk to each other on a monthly basis and he visits about once a year. I last saw Eric about the same time that I last saw Bob. As a matter of fact, we had gotten together to party since Vince was in town. He seemed to be doing all right. I didn't recall him talking about doing anything musically though. I last saw T-Bone about a year and a half ago at the studio, when we tried to get together to redo some AMULANCE tunes. For some reason, he was under the impression that I broke the band up. I got pissed and haven't heard from him since. The word is that he jams with about three different bands of different styles of music- Blues, Jazz and classic Rock."
Rick, thanks a lot, any last words for our readers?
"Yes, a sincere thank-you to yourself and the Snakepit staff for allowing me to express my views. I consider it an honor! Snakepit brings back a lot of great memories and it is good to know that there is still a love for true Metal in the world. Hopefully, this will not be the last that the world hears from me. Thanks again for remembering AMULANCE."