Interview by Jym Harris
Hey Headbangers!!! Ballbuster recently caught up with Barry Fischel, original guitarist for SENTINEL BEAST who (if you didn't already know) has a great new band called FISCHEL'S BEAST that is certainly worth checking out!
Jym Harris: Hi Barry, thanks for talking with us. Most people would know you from the band Sentinel Beast of which you were a founding member. Was that the first band for all of the original members?
Barry Fischel: No, not at all. When the original line-up of Sentinel Beast first came together everyone in the band was in their late teens / early 20’s, so we had all been playing in various other cover and original bands, but nobody in the group had done anything that was ’released’. Greg Williams was in a band called Redrum before Sentinel Beast and a couple of the songs that he had written for them (’Tonite’) did find their way into the Sentinel Beast repertiore and even ended up on the ’Kill The Witch’ demo.
JH: As a guitarist and a songwriter both, who are your main influences?
BF: I was first influenced by the music my sister used to listen to in the late 70’s; groups like Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Foreigner and songwriters such as Cat Stevens and even John Denver. As the 80’s rolled around and I became a teenager myself I started to discover metal and was into bands such as Iron Maiden, Slayer, Metallica, Merciful Fate and Megadeth. Looking back now it’s quite cool that as a member of Sentinel Beast that I got to share the stage with some of these acts. As the times progressed I never found myself really into some of the newer types of metal such as ’screamo’ or the ’cookie monster’ bands. I try to check out new material when ever I can to see what’s going on. One of new bands I really like are Suicide Silence. I‘ve also discovered some new cool Bay Area Thrash from some of the ’Thrash Clash’ CD’s I’ve gotten from Stromspell Records.
As for guitar players, there are always MANY influences. Being influenced doesn’t necessarily mean I want to play like any of them but you try to take elements of things you like, add a bit of ’yourself’ to try to come up with your own sound. A few guitar greats that would make my influences list are; Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Walsh, Gary Holt, Paul Gilbert, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and the ’king of them all to me’ is Uli Roth. And I don’t know how it fits in to the answer of this question, but I also really like the rapper Nas!
JH: I still have cassettes of some of the early demos ("Kill The Witch" being one of my favorites). I first heard Sentinel Beast on KYDS 91.5 FM in Sacramento when Mike Parisi from Redrum had a radio show. Did you guys know that band pretty well? I'm sure you did plenty of shows together!
BF: I really like the "Kill The Witch" demo a lot too, ’Full Treatment’ being one of my favorite songs. However, I must admit - that I am not on that demo! I had left Sentinel Beast shortly after the forming of the band to attend G.I.T (Guitar Institute of Technology) and was replaced by Greg Williams and Jerry Frazier. Within four months of the line-up change, they recorded the demo. It was actually that demo that did spark my desire to LEAVE G.I.T before completing my studies to rejoin the group.
-- We became aware of Redrum because Greg Williams came to us after leaving Redrum (on good terms). I’m not 100% sure but I believe that Greg actually left before Mike Parisi was in the band. We were both Sacramento based bands and were playing similar music so yes, we ended up playing lots of shows together.
-- Actually, there was a show ’way back in the day’ that Scott Awes and I were doing before Sentinel Beast formed. It was as a ‘keg party’ during our high school years. Our singer couldn’t make it and we were approached by a guy at the party named Carlos who said he could sing. The show went very well. Scott and I went on to form Sentinel Beast and Carlos Yniguez went on to become the lead singer of Redrum, so I guess the answer is YES we did know them very well. I saw Carlos this past summer on a visit home. He still looks like Carlos but his white hair, which is now much shorter makes him look a bit more ’distinguished’! I guess that look works well since he’s now a high school principal. There are pics of him on the Fischel’s Beast myspace site for anyone that wants to see a heavy metal principal looks like.
JH: Who else do you remember gigging with back then? Are there any fond memories you'd like to share?
BF: There were some bands that I think may sound a little familiar to some readers; Megadeth, Exodus, Slayer, Omen, Merciful Fate (with King Diamond), Exciter and Motorhead.
-- One of the ‘fond memories’ was a show we did in L.A where the bill featured Sentinel Beast, Megadeth, Slayer and Exodus. Man, I’d say we should look into an ’Anniversary Show’ with that line-up and add Fischel’s Beast to it! By the time we had done this show we had already played with Exodus a number of times and had become good friends with them. While I have fond memories of the show, I think I have fonder memories of the ’hang’ afterwards. Sentinel Beast and Exodus were staying at the same hotel. Somewhere in the course of the night it had become a ’stereotypical rock party’; 50-60 people all crammed into a hotel suite. There were musicians, roadies, groupies, strangers and random other people. We had a great time hanging, drinking beer, jamming (even some on nylon guitars!) and doing crystal meth (hey, it was the 80‘s and it was California).
JH: Did you guys make a conscious effort to play Speed Metal/Thrash or were you just a Heavy Metal band whose sound evolved?
BF: If you listen to the "Kill The Witch" demo (which I think you’re familiar with) you’ll notice that there’s really not any thrash or speed metal on there at all. It was good old fashioned Heavy Metal (but still catchy).
-- Around that era there were demos that started circulating around that featured Metallica (still with Dave Mustaine). Most of the music on there featured the faster tempos and rhythms that started to influence the sound of other groups. There were some European groups like Sodom and Destruction that were also heading this direction. Détente was also up and coming and were doing this style of music and they had a female singer, which Debbie Gunn found very intriguing. Debbie Gunn and Mike Spencer were living together at the time so Mike became exposed to this music as well. Mike was originally influenced by bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and then started getting into this ’new style and sound’. He then blended these influences his writing did progress into a more speed / thrash sound.
JH: There were a few line-up changes in Sentinel Beast, including a time when you left and then came back, please clarify!
BF: I did mention earlier that soon after the band was formed that I left to attend G.I.T. Greg Williams and Jerry Frazier were brought in as guitar players and the ’Kill The Witch’ demo (3 songs only) was recorded. After 6 months at G.I.T, I returned home for a visit while on break from school. I went to visit the band and check out a rehearsal and was quite impressed with what I heard. They also gave me a copy of the demo which I was also very impressed. A couple of days later I get a call from Scott and he tells me that after I left the rehearsal Jerry Frazier announced that he was leaving the band. Scott asks me if I would be interested in coming back but I told him that I can’t because I was returning to G.I.T to complete my studies. On the trip back to school (an 8 hour drive) I listened to the ’Kill The Witch’ demo again and again and again an again, only stopping long enough to rewind the tape after each play. About three hours into the drive I had made a decision. I ’did’ return to G.I.T but it wasn’t to complete my studies. I collected my guitars, my Marshall (which I bought with my student loan money - then lived on Cream of Wheat and granola), my clothes and I returned to Sacramento to rejoin the band. To ‘summarize’ the rest of the line up changes… Greg Williams leaves the band just before the Metal Massacre VII album was released. Greg had actually already played on the recording that was supposed to be used for the album but Mike Spencer felt that Greg shouldn’t be on the album if he was leaving the group, so Mark Koyasako joined us and re-recorded Greg’s guitar parts (adding his own solos) and that‘s what was released.
The next line-up change comes when Mike Spencer leaves to join Flotsam & Jetsam. He is joining them to replace Jason Newstead who was leaving to join Metallica. Bassist Manny Bravo is brought in to replace Mike Spencer. I’m the next one to leave (again), this time to follow a ’spiritual calling’ and I replace myself with a local guitar player named J.J (I can’t recall his last name). The next and final line-up change comes when Debbie Gunn leaves to join Znowhite.
JH: How did the Metal Blade deal come about? You guys were on a Metal Massacre compilation, right?
BF: I forgot exactly how the 'contact' came about, but it was Mike Spencer who originally got us involved with Metal Blade. We had sent two different demos to them and Brian Slagel liked and wanted to use the song for 'Fight For Your Life' for one of the compilations. No one in the band liked this choice. We all wanted him to use something heavier. So, we recorded two of the newest songs we were working on that we felt strongest about, 'Sentinel Beast' and 'Dogs Of War'. Brian heard those and said that he would use 'Sentinel Beast' on Metal Massacre VII. But the story doesn't end there. Right after we get the news, Greg Williams announces that he is leaving the band. Mike Spencer did not want to put the version of the song with Greg Williams on it on the compilation since Greg was leaving the group. So, he had new guitarist Mark Koyasako go into the studio and rerecord the guitar parts and that's the version that made it to the Metal Massacre VII album. I've said more than one that I think the version that we did with Greg Williams was the best version of that song. Fortunately, Stormspell Records is releasing a CD that contains all of Sentinel Beast's demo recordings and that version of the song will be on it.
-- A few months after the release of Metal Massacre VII, we were doing a show at The Oasis in Scarmento, CA. Vonni of Redrum came to the gig with his 'friend' Kerry King of Slayer. The next morning Kerry King calls Brian Slagel from Vonni's kitchen (actually it was Vonni's MOM's kitchen since Vonni was still in High School) and tells Brian Slagel... 'you have to sign these guys!'
JH: Tell us about the re-issue of "Depths Of Death". There was one on Old Metal Records, but I understand there will be another on Shadow Kingdom Records with more tracks & perhaps an entire CD made up of demos. Please explain!
BF: I'm guessing you got some of your information from the Sentinel Beast NYC site that we had set up as we were starting the Fischel's Beast project. That site needs some updating and it's on our 'TO DO' list. In the meantime let's try to clear things up. Old Metal Records did release 'Depths Of Death' on CD and included two extra songs 'Tonite' and 'Full Treatment'. We were told by King Fowley that he had Brian Slagel's approval to release this. Shadow Kingdom had approached us and said they wanted to do an 'OFFICIAL' CD release of the album, but they were unable to get the rights from Brian Slagel.
-- Since the release of the Fischel's Beast 'Commencement' CD, Iordan has become very active in trying to help us get as much of the Sentinel Beast material out as possible. So, as I mentioned earlier, in spring of 2010 he will be releasing 'Up From The Ashes' a CD that will contain ALL of the studio demo recordings that Sentinel Beast recorded. He's also going to be releasing the debut EP of Debbie Gunn's NEW LINE-UP of Sentinel Beast. She will be doing 'her own' version of 'Forbidden Territories' and 'The Phoenix' which musically is the same as the version we recorded, but with her own lyrics and vocal melody.
JH: So, the second Sentinel Beast album never came out back then. What happened and why did the band break up?
BF: I think the band 'started' to break up when Greg Williams left. We were writing material and we were preparing to do a second album, but little by little things were falling apart. Mike Spencer was the next one to leave, when he departed to join Flotsam & Jetsam. Mike had always been an integral part of our sound and writing style, and as we got further along in our sucess, I feel he bacame a bit controlling. So, I actually felt a bit of freedom when he left, in that everyone else in the group was now able to express their ideas. We did continue to write, and I feel some of the material was quite good, which is why even 20+ years later I felt the need to FINALLY record it. We've been getting lots of postive feedback on the CD, so I take that as an affirmation of my thinking that people would like the music.
JH: After that, did you do any other projects before forming Fischel's Beast?
BF: When I left Sentinel Beast I took an 8 year hiatus from playing music. I didn't even own a guitar during this time. I travelled around quite a bit, had some interesting adventures, and I suppose I was searching for myself. I ended up in NYC and the itch to play music had hit me again. I didn't even have a guitar at the time, so a boss I was working for loaned me the money to buy a guitar. It was my first of two Schecters, a guitar I still have and play to this day.
-- Once I started playing again, I spent lots of time just practicing on my own before I felt I was good enough to play with others. Once I was ready, I decided that I would form a blues band. I found a bassist thru an ad in NY's Village Voice newspaper. The bassist in that band was Eric Mauriello, who has played with me since then, in various other projects and is the bassist in Fischel's Beast. We put a full band together doing blues covers from artists like Steveie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter. I always did my best to play those solos note for note. An interesting thing we'll mention is that the singer of that band was Albert Howe, brother of Shrapnell Records shred guitarist Greg Howe. This next bit has been told many times, and is a 'classic' in the history of Fischel's Beast. One day, as I was getting ready for our blues rehearsal I was listening to an old cassette of a Sentinel Beast reahearsal that was sent to me by an old friend. Eric arrived and asked what it was. When I told him what it was he said... 'man if you can play like that, why are we playing the blues?' That set the heavy metal wheels in motion and we haven't looked back. Actually, as I write this I just stumbled accross a cassette tape of one of our blues gigs!
JH: So when you reformed, did you deliberately get a male singer to change up the vocals?
BF: Since we were recording material that would have been Sentinel Beast material, and we had rehearsal versions of Debbie singing most of the songs, we originally did want a female singer. We were looking for a girl that had the power, emotion and edge that Debbie Gunn had. We did find a lot of really good singers but none of them had all that we were looking for. At that point we also started thinking PAST our initial task of recording the vintage Sentinel Beast material and realised that when we started working on 'new original' material that a male vocalist would fit our needs better, so we began our quest for that. We tried many screamers and cookie monsters but that was definitely not what we were looking for. We found Anthony Cross on in internet musician referral site. When he came over to audition he heard one of the girls we had been trying to work with and was really impressed with her. He came in and asked why were auditioning him. We explained that we wanted a male singer and convinced him to stay and sing. He did, and as they say, the rest is heavy metal history.
JH: Was there any other band names you considered other than Fischel's Beast? Weren't you going to call it Sentinel Beast New York?
BF: We had set up a myspace page called Sentinel Beast NYC that was done more to commemorate the 'history' of the band as I formed the new project. Around the same time I was forming my project, Debbie Gunn was putting her new line-up of Sentinel Beast together and she wanted to use the name, so she had actually started to call my page the page of the FALSE BEAST. I even considered using that as a name for a brief moment. It was actually Mike Spencer, who was trying to make peace amongst us that sugegsted the name Fischel's Beast. He pointed out that using 'Beast' would ring a note of familiarity to the Sentinel Beast fans, and he also pointed out that there were seven letters in Sentinel and seven letters in Fischel's. I'm not sure why, but for some reason that seemed cool and seemed to make sense to me. Debbie and I came to the agreement that she could use the Sentinel Beast name and I could use her lyrics and melodies on a few of the songs I was going to be recording.
JH: How did you hook up with Stormspell Records?
BF: We had originally self-released the CD. We were looking for a label that could help us, and were in talks with a couple of small labels when we found Iordan and Stormspell. He convinced us that we should be working with him, and he was right. I really respect the hard work and dedication he seems to give to all of the releases he puts out. He seems to really have a passion for the music, and I feel that's part of what makes him often go that extra mile. The self-released version of the 'Commencement' CD had a 4 page booklet. When Iordan released it on Stormspell he had custom art work done for us, and did a full color 12 page booklet.
JH: Since the Fischel's Beast EP "Commencement" is made up of old Sentinel Beast songs, will you be recording or playing any more of them live?
BF: We of course plan to play the material from 'Commencement' live and who knows, we might do a cover version of a classic tune like 'Sentinel Beast', but we don't plan to record any of the other 'Sentinel Beast' material. Actually, Micheal Spencer had sent me an email recently asking me if I'd be interested in recording a couple of tunes he had written 'back in the day', so there may be some more 'unreleased Sentinel Beast-like material' in our future after all.
JH: What about further plans? Can we expect a video release, a tour or any festival dates?
BF: Hopefully, yes, yes, and yes are the answers to those questions. We have talked about doing a video and are making some plans to get one done soon. Now that we have added a second guitarist to the group (after searching around quite a bit) we are ready for live shows as well. We are networking, sending out packages (one to you!), contacting promoters and agents, doing interviews and anything else we can do to help get the word out and generate interest in the band. Any help you and / or your readers can offer is greatly appreciated. The music scene has changed quite a bit, especially in the genre of heavy metal, and many bands are now left to handle a lot of the 'business' part of the music business themselves. We're also excited to be working on NEW, ALL ORIGINAL material and hope to have a full length CD released by the end of the year.
JH: Well, thanks for catching us up! Hope everything goes well with Fischel's Beast! Any last comments?
BF: We must thank YOU for giving us the opportunity to get the word out. As I mentioned the music scene has changed quite a bit, and you have to really work hard to get the word out these days, so we are thankful to people like you that give us the chance to do so.