We here at MetalTalk Towers try and do something different from the other rock and Metal websites that are available by introducing to you to bands that you may not yet be aware of, but should certainly pique your interest if you're a lover of Thrash Metal bands.
This week, it's the turn of New York based band To The Pain who have recently released their self titled debut album, and I sat down with lead guitarist Steve Shaver to get the low down on the band.
Having discovered the band relatively recently myself, I first ask Steve about the history of the band and what they have achieved together so far: "We've been together since January 2012. Actually, Johnny (vocalist John Intagliata) and I were in a band in the late 80s, and that band was where the track 'Silent Horror' (from To The Pains self-titled debut album) was born.
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We played together for a year or two, broke up the band and stayed friends. We reconvened in late 2010 and started writing some tunes – initially for fun – but the band as you see it now, came together in 2012, though. That's when Johnny and I thought it would be fun to play some gigs, record an album, oh and have three other guys buy us beers! (laughs)."
On what the band have achieved so far, Steve tells me: "The band have gotten a lot of good reviews on the album – which is out now from online outlets – but we really had no idea what to expect. As I mentioned earlier, Johnny and I initially did this just for the fun of it, but to finally get a decent recording of 'Silent Horror' was great and it was a catalyst to do more tracks.
"It's great that a lot of people like it (the album) and I wish some of that positivity turned into more album sales, but we really can't complain. My personal goal when Johnny and I decided to do this as a band was to play some cool shows, record a solid album, and hopefully get on a bill with a well known act. We haven't gotten on the bill with a well known act yet, but hopefully that will come in time."
It's always interesting to dig a bit deeper into a band's motivations and influences so I ask Steve about the bands whose work has had a positive effect on To The Pain and their music: "As a band our musical influences are the Big 4 (of Thrash - Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax) mainly as well as bands like Testament, King Diamond, Queensryche and Iron Maiden.
"We also get influenced and energised by what some of the newer thrash bands like Shadows Fall are doing. Our two single biggest influences are probably Megadeth and Racer X (which featured ex-Mr Big axeman Paul Gilbert and current Judas Priest drummer, Scott Travis but have been on hiatus since 2009). I love the harmony guitar stuff so I throw it into our stuff whenever I can - our second album will definitely have more harmony guitars on it. On the first album, y'see, I wasn't sure if I was going to be the only guitar player, or if there would be two of us, so I didn't go too crazy!"
Talking of their debut album, I ask about the song writing process within the band to which Steve explains: "95% of the music was written by me. The only thing I didn't write was the middle section of 'Fuel Injected Nightmare'. Johnny and I tend to split the lyric writing about 50/50 though, it's all very much give and take."
And on the subjects that they choose to write about, Steve tells me that their lyrical themes cover "just about everything – from what we see going on with the terrible governments of the world, to war, to being buried alive, to everyone's favourite - the Demons rising!" he says with a wry smile.
Musical inspiration is part of the identity of every band, of course, from the smallest pub band to the worlds largest grossing stadium acts, so I move the conversation towards the things that inspire To The Pain as a band – Shaver takes a moment to consider the question before telling me: "Music-wise, I get inspiration from other guitar players and it doesn't even have to be a rock or Metal player either. To me, great playing inspires me and when that happens, I just want to pick up my guitar, and try to write something – anything, about how I feel at that particular moment.
"Sometimes I get a song, sometimes a solo, and sometimes just a total mess, but it's all about that moment to me. If you're talking lyrically, we get inspiration from the world collapsing around us, at least that's the way it seems sometimes! Like everyone else does, we get inspiration from the movies we've seen or the books that we've read. We have a track on the album called 'City Of Flames', for example, which was loosely based on the movie 'Enemy At The Gates', but generally, I try to write about what interests me, and what I hope will interest the people out there who are listening to our music."
As mentioned earlier, the band have self-released their debut album, 'To The Pain' (reviewed by MetalTalk here and I ask Steve what it's like to have a proper record out there? "Well it was definitely a labour of love for me, as I arranged the recording sessions, did all the engineering and all the mixing on it too. Recording is definitely a passion of mine – I just love sitting at the console and laying down guitars, or recording other people playing. I think the band as a whole really couldn't be happier with the way the project turned out.
"We all felt like we wrote some cool tunes, and we were able for the most part to capture what we wanted on our album. I must give a shout out to Wayne Silver at the Ice Plant Studios, as he did a phenomenal job mastering our album - next time we have to get him to throw down a solo on the album too, because he's a killer guitar player over and above being a mastering genius!" he concludes with another smile.
I ask Steve if he has any stories (good or bad) about the recording of the album, and after thinking about it for a moment, he explains that "it was probably the most rushed five and a half months in the history of recording! You would think that's plenty of time to record seven tracks, but you have to remember that three of the band have young families, and even though we were recording it at my own studio (nicknamed 'The Locker'), we were limited by circumstance on what and when we could record.
"The one thing that all this waiting around afforded me was the ability to learn new studio tricks, though. When it came to recording the drum tracks alone, I learned a ton of things – like what to do and sometimes, more importantly, what not to do! What I really liked, though, was the camaraderie of working with the other guys in the band on their parts. When I was engineering, I tried to get them to try different things, but without telling them what to play or sing. It was all part of the fun creative process that I was trying for, but sometimes it got a little stressful as we got closer to our self imposed deadline to get it recorded properly and sent off to be mastered but we got there in the end and it turned out to be, dare I say it myself, a really good album."
Most bands after completing an album, book a tour to support the album and get it "out there", so I ask Steve if To The Pain have any confirmed touring plans? "We actually played a farewell gig to our old guitar player, Mark Trojanoski, at the end of September and we've been keeping a low profile since then to try and break in our new guitar player, Craig Piano. Craig's an old friend of the band and we want to make sure he's ready, but our next scheduled gig is on Sunday 15th November at Blackthorn 51 in Queens, New York. Blackthorn is a killer Metal club with a great sound system and a great stage, so it's a great place to make new fans", Steve says with obvious enthusiasm.
"Like I said, The Blackthorn show will be Craig's live debut and we're really looking forward to hitting the ground running with him. After the Blackthorn show, we go into writing mode and in the Winter/Spring of 2014 will probably record our second album - of which about three quarters has been written by myself already."
On the subject of gigs, I ask Steve what someone coming to a To The Pain live show can expect? "A lot of sweat, high energy, and many, many, many guitar notes being played", he says with another wry smile. "In the band, we pride ourselves as being a live band. I actually think we are better on stage than on in a recording studio, and not many bands can say that, but I think with us, there is a different energy live - we feed off that, and, I think that it really shows at our gigs."
Bringing our conversation to a close, I ask him, realistically, what the band wants to achieve: "My own goal as I said earlier, was to open for a well known act. As a band, we have no delusions about being famous, or hitting the road for a two year tour or anything like that. We would love to hit the road for a week sometimes and play some shows in new places, but other than that, opening for a well known band, maybe selling a thousand copies of our album would be great – oh, and if Eddie Van Halen wanted to throw me an amp endorsement, I certainly would not say no to it!"
Finally, I ask a question that has really made some of my interviewees over the years really think – what song(s) does he wish he'd written: "Wow, that is tough", he says taking a moment to actually think of an answer. After a hesitation, Steve tells me that "(if) you're talking about a Metal tune, then I would have to say 'Holy Wars' by Megadeth from their 1990 'Rust In Peace' opus is definitely one - just for the fact that (Dave) Mustaine can play some really great guitar riffs and sing at the same time, which really is an accomplishment in itself, but then I'd also have to say 'The Trooper' by Iron Maiden, just because it is such a well written song.
"Actually, now you mention it", he continues with enthusiasm, "I also wish I'd written the Winery Dogs album featuring the talents of Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy, because as a rock album, it is just outstanding."
With these comments ringing in my ears we part, the first thing I'm going to do is something that I should have done before now: check out the new Winery Dogs album for myself!
Special thanks to Steve Shaver for taking the time to speak to me.
You can see To The Pain live on Saturday 4th January at Revolution Bar & Music Hall, Long Island, New York.
To The Pain are:
John Intagliata - Lead Vocals
Steve Shaver - Lead Guitar/Backing Vocals
Mark Trojanoski -Guitar (left Sept. 2013)
Craig Piano- Guitar (as of Sept 2013)
Jeremy Lustig - Bass/Backing Vocals
Jimmy Klimatas - Drums