Vocalist Al Ravage of Ravage Interviewed

Ravage formed back in 1996 on a mission to bring traditional, rockin’, kick-ass heavy metal and thrash excitement back to the masses. Though the band has endured endless line-up changes throughout it’s storied history, the core group of singer

Al Ravage, his brother lead guitarist Eli Firicano, and second lead guitarist Nick Izzo has been together since the year 2000. The current line-up is rounded out by bassist Tommy Grimaldi and drummer Derek Jay (SEAX, Motorhead Tribute band BOMBER).

2016 finds Ravage hard at work in the studio and on the live circuit playing local shows in the New England area and writing and recording songs for their follow-up to the band’s “The End Of Tomorrow” album which was released on Metal Blade Records in late 2009.

Ravage’s latest offering “Return Of The Spectral Rider” is a complete re-recording of the band’s limited 2005 release “Spectral Rider” and is now available worldwide on CD, Vinyl and digital download formats independently on the band’s own label – Society For World Wide Ravage Recordings. The record features 12 tracks of original blazing metal as well as all new art by Tim Jacobus (famous for his work on the GOOSEBUMPS novels).

How did you first get in to music? Who turned you onto rock/metal?

My parents always played music in the house when I was growing up and sent me and my brothers to music lessons at an early age. hey mostly listened to classical music so I didn’t get to hear a lot of rock music until I discovered MTV in the late 80’s.My brothers and I would record videos from Skid Row, Alice Cooper, Tom Petty etc from the TV onto cassettes using our little Fisher Price tape recorder. The first albums I remember getting were the California Raisins soundtrack and the Labamba sountrack when I was about five years old. That was the beginning of getting into guitar-oriented music. I remember wanting to learn the guitar so I could be as cool as Alice Cooper, so I asked my parents to get me one and they got me a low-level starter electric guitar, but that never panned out. I never made it past the first few Mel Bay guitar chords and the thing just collected dust. Later on when I was eleven or twelve, I traded the guitar to my older brother when he was trying to join a punk band and in exchange he gave me a copy of Metallica’s self-titled album which we used to listen to while playing Dungeons and Dragons..Real nerd stuff! From that point on the metal album collecting began to snowball and I got into more bands.

How did you become a vocalist? Are you proficient in any other instruments?

After giving up the guitar, I always wanted to be the drummer of a metal band and be cool like Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden (who Nick our guitarist occaisionally refers to as Neeko McBrian. I think his brain must find it hard to believe that McBRAIN is an actual name, and come to think of it, I find it kind of weird myself. Anyway, we could never find a competent singer who was into singing melodies but also liked metal, and so I sort of fell into the singing part of it. I really wasn’t a great drummer either and I wasn’t very good at singing and playing drums, but I had to do that for a long time because we had a terrible time finding a drummer too. That held back the band’s development for a long time.

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What was the local scene in Massachusetts like in the beginning, was there a particular band you aspired to be like, favorite local bands back then, favorite local bands now?

Well Extreme, the funk metal hair band is from Malden our home town. They are the biggest hard rock act to come from the area, but they never really inspired us. We liked that one song they had “Come Out and Play” but it was way before our time. When we were starting out, there not only was no local metal scene, there was no national scene. Metal was not played on the radio or MTV. It was the mid 90’s and metal was looked down upon by the mainstream. Only a few midnight radio shows were still playing metal and more extreme metal was dominating the underground so almost no one was playing traditional or power metal in the USA, just Twisted Tower Dire and a handful of other bands and they weren’t anywhere close to us. So we played with Ska bands, Punk bands…Alternative bands…whoever we could, wherever we could… house parties, backyards, schools and eventually clubs. In the early to mid 2000’s we got to play some shows with local metal legends Meliah Rage and Steel Assassin, but they didn’t play all that regularly and if they did, they left on tours, so there still wasn’t much of a scene until local promoters started putting things together like the ones who run the Metal Thursdays series at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester MA – the longest running all metal show series in the country. Things have changed a lot since then. There are a lot more trad metal bands and thrash bands out there and even some that are touring regularly.

Has there been times when drugs and alcohol were beneficial to the band?

We’ve never been much of a drug band. We’ve had a lot of band members come through, and a few that were into some chemicals of the more mind-expanding variety, but never anything too hardcore thankfully. I do believe in the decriminalization of all drugs because I don’t think imprisoning people for using drugs makes any sense, but I don’t think hardcore drugs like heroin or crack are good for anyone either. I’ve known a few people whose lives have been destroyed by drugs and alcohol and heroin in particular is becoming a big problem in our country. As far as alcohol goes, a couple of the guys in the band are into home brewing and we have some good times with it but it’s important not to let things get out of hand.

How would you best describe your sound?

We try to stay within the bounds of traditional heavy metal but we have influences from a lot of the sub-genres within it. We have influences from thrash, speed metal, NWOBHM, power metal, doom metal, and even some death and black metal influence. I would say the closest thing we sound to musically is a mixture of Metal Church, Iron Maiden and early Metallica. Vocally I sing more in a mid-range with some occassional high parts, low parts and power screams. We really just try to make things “not-boring” that’s the goal musically – to have different levels of meaning, layers and nuances in the music so you can get something new out of the music with repeated listens.

Do you think having to do ticket pre-sales is the same thing as pay to play?

If the promoter forces you to buy tickets in order to play the show then you are, in essence, “paying to play”. If the promoter asks you to sell advance tickets and lets you play the show, you should try to sell the tickets as a courtesy to the promoter. The band does have some responsibility to help promote and get people to the show.

What was the first music you bought and what have you bought more than once?

The first album I ever actually paid for myself with money was Iron Maiden’s “The Number of The Beast”. That was on cassette. I probably bought the CD of that twice and then downloaded it off itunes because I was too lazy to find the cd to make a rip of it or I lent it to someone or scratched it up irreparably… There are plenty of albums that I have purchased remasters of, or the vinyl version or cassette etc. Too many to name.

DIY forever or signing with a label at first opportunity?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A label is just someone with money who is willing to help you in exchange for being paid back a percentage…how much can they help? How much money/influence do they have, and how much do they want in exchange for their help?

Whats the biggest show you have played so far and do you still get nervous before a gig?

I’ve never gotten nervous before shows – not in the sense of having a fear of making mistakes etc. I know things will go wrong…some things will go right. None of it matters as long as the audience is having a good time. I just get very excited before shows and try to focus on what I have to do to put on an entertaining show for people. When you hit the stage it is a trance-like experience, a kind of demonic possession. You’re possessed by the spirit of metal and it’s all a good time from there. The “biggest” show we’ve played was The Swordbrother’s Festival in Germany. It was a small festival – a few hundred people, but all true metalheads and a great time. We also played the small stage at The Magic Circle Festival in Germany, but I think we probably played to less people at that.

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Is commercial rock radio dead?

I hope so. I don’t really care. Most of the mainstream rock music they have played on the radio…going back to the early 90’s when I got into metal has been uninspired crap. So who cares if they stop playing it.

Favorite songs on the new album and why?

My favorite songs to listen to are “Turn The Screw”, “Wake The Dead” and “Bring Down The Hellhammer”… I just like the tunes and the guitar solos are awesome. My favorite songs to play live are “The Wicked Way” and “The King Forgotten” because they have low vocals and a lot of instrumental passages so they are a break for me ha ha.

Out of all your songs which one touches you the most when you perform it?

“The Wicked Way” gets me going because it not only has very rockin’ exciting music, but it has some quieter parts, some sort of mood changes, and the lyrics are a warning about the evils of the world.

Are there any political or social issues hidden in Ravage songs ?

Ya, there are a lot of them. Almost every lyric – even the more fantasy based one is dealing with some kind of inequity in the real world, some sort of evil or injustice and hopefully a way or rectifying that.

What was the process of putting the songs in order?

Hmmm, well “this sounds good next to that… fade out ending should be followed by something that jumps out at you… faster song follows a slower song…best songs early and late…” it’s not an exact science, but there is some formula to it.

What endorsements do you have and what endorsements do you still want?

We have never had an official endorsement. There are products and instruments we’ve always liked and used but they’ve never reached out to us and we’ve never reached out to them. So it’s nice not to be beholden to anyone and have to play some particular instrument. It would be nice if some company paid us a million bucks to use their stuff, but I don’t see it happening. I’d like a Sam Adams beer endorsement maybe… we’ve given them enough money over the years.

Bands you would love to tour with and musician or artist you would like to meet and interrogate?

It would have been nice to meet Ronnie James Dio before he died. I’m sure he had a lot of cool stories having been in rock since… basically the beginning of rock. Obviously opening for Iron Maiden or Metallica would be the ultimate tour, but we’d take a tour with anyone really. As long as there are people to play to, we’ll play. We’ve played plenty of empty gigs over the years – especially in the earliest days, so I feel privileged whenever we have an audience to play to.

Song to be played at your funeral and 3 albums to take to your grave?

Life’s for the living and deaths for the dead, so they can play whatever the crowd wants to hear at my funeral, I won’t be able to hear it so who cares? I’m more concerned with the music I can listen to while I’m still above ground. In the case that there are some musically inclined gravediggers though, I’ll take Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”, Iron Maiden’s “Fear of The Dark” and Running Wild’s “Rogues En Vogue”… that list changes hour to hour though.

Final thoughts, shout outs, dirty jokes?

Check out our new release “Return Of The Spectral Rider” on CD, vinyl and digital wherever music is sold these days. Come out to our shows if you are in the New England area or in Germany next year we are playing at the Headbangers Open Air fest, and stay tuned at our website www.RavageTheEarth.com we are working on a new double album.

Thanks for the interview.

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