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Interview: Scott Schafer (Znöwhite, Cyclone Temple, Rebels Without Applause)

I had the honor of contributing some liner notes to the brand new reissue of one of my all-time favorite thrash albums: Cyclone Temple's I Hate Therefore I Am. At the final hour, Cyclone Temple bassist Scott Schafer combed his archives and came up with a treasure trove of extremely rare recordings, ultimately leading to the inclusion of a second disc: Land of the Greed, Home of the Depraved. This disc is comprised of recordings from Znöwhite's 1989 demo of the same name (with Brian Troch on vocals), a three-song demo from 1991 that features Troch singing over material that would later become Cyclone Temple's Building Errors in the Machine EP (a big deal for longtime Cyclone Temple fans), as well as portions of a live set from Alrosa Villa in Columbus, OH.

Schafer seemed to be a bit of a band historian, with a good amount of trivia and anecdotes to share, so I thought it might be nice to further discuss with him said rare recordings, as well as an overview of his musical career in general...

Cyclone Temple. (Photos courtesy of Scott Schafer.)

You joined up on bass with Znöwhite around 1986 and debuted on the Live Suicide EP. How did you first meet Greg Fulton, and then come to be a part of Znöwhite?

We met while we were attending a fine arts college through a mutual friend who recommended me to him for Znöwhite. He was looking for a bass player for touring and recording. My audition had him playing parts of All Hail to Thee to me and me playing them back. After about 20 minutes of this he said, "I think you'll handle this just fine." I rehearsed with the band for three weeks before we went out on the road to live in a van and live the punk rock life. It would have been 1985.

Then, for Znöwhite's final album, Act of God, you were credited as the drummer, but also recorded the bulk of the bass tracks. What led to that?

Three or four songs that appear on Act of God were included in Znöwhite's setlist when I first joined. Our setlist had 25-plus songs in it—more than is in Znöwhite's total catalog. There was a lot of never-before-released stuff, for sure. We played those Act of God tunes from the first tour up until we changed the name. Some songs were pretty close to the final tracks you hear on Act of God, some songs were completely different—different arrangements or lyrics. The original touring lineup for Znöwhite consisted of Greg Fulton (Ian Tafoya), his brother Tony Heath (Sparks Tafoya), Susan Sharp (Nicole Lee), and myself. I never used a stage name. I have incredible rehearsal/live recordings of this lineup doing Act of God material.

I used Tony as inspiration for the drum tracks I laid. His takes were far better than mine—absolutely stellar! When I first met Greg, I was playing drums with a metal band and also in my college jazz ensemble. I started playing guitar at 9 years old, and drums when I was 13. Tony was fired and—not wanting to lose momentum—Greg and I worked up the basic guitar/drum tracks that would become Act of God. I had played bass on most of the songs for quite a while, so laying the bass tracks for Act of God was easy. I had kept my drumming chops up at home, so those tracks weren't too hard to pull off. Greg played bass on "A Soldier's Creed." That song was written during pre-production while we tightened up the basic tracks. I learned that song after we recorded it for Act of God.

When Debbie Gunn left the band after the Act of God touring cycle had drawn to a close, how did you settle upon Brian Troch as her replacement? I believe, at least initially, that the band had tried to—or at least wanted to—find yet another female vocalist, is that accurate?

That is not entirely correct. We wanted to hire a female before the Act of God tour, and hoped we could make her a permanent member of Znöwhite. Debbie was one of two female singers that we auditioned before the tour for Act of God. You can't imagine how few available female metal singers existed in 1988. We exhausted every lead from everyone we knew in the music business. I think Debbie was the perfect choice, but after a grueling couple of months playing all over America we were ready for a break. Debbie stayed in Chicago but had some serious health issues and went back home to Sacramento, CA. Brian's name was brought up and we met with him. He has an impressive voice. One-of-a-kind, as far I'm concerned. He did pretty well singing Znöwhite's material, and he was perfect for Cyclone Temple.

There's a lot of mixed information online as to when the band changed names, but this new reissue from Divebomb Records confirms once and for all that the group did in fact continue as Znöwhite after securing Troch in the lineup. You've mentioned that you were the lone member who didn't want to change the name from Znöwhite to Cyclone Temple. I'd love to get your take on that. Why did you feel it would have been best to soldier on as Znöwhite?

After Troch joined, we played some Midwest dates and showcased for labels in NYC using the name Znöwhite—playing songs from Act of God and also stuff that would end up on I Hate Therefore I Am. Greg felt that this lineup needed a new identity, so after an NYC showcase he announced that he would like to change the name.  You are right that I didn't want this. To me, the name Znöwhite was a brand. John Slattery and Brian, particularly Brian, didn't like it when we'd do interviews and journalists would ask about Znöwhite history. It left the two of them out of those conversations, but our history is what made their positions possible. I never understood that.

What do you recall about the Land of the Greed, Home of the Depraved demo sessions?

There aren't many specific details that I can recall. I do remember the songs came together pretty quickly. Greg had a specific vision of how things should sound. He would sing note-for-note melodies to Brian and Brian would sing them back. There was zero room for error. Greg is a perfectionist. Lucky for him he had three perfect musicians to manifest his ideas.

You've remarked that in some ways you prefer the punk type of rawness to the demo recordings, as well as the guitar solos. Talk about that assessment, if you would. A few of the tracks' mixes definitely place an emphasis on your killer bass work!

Thanks for the kind words. I was never a fan of recordings that were too sterile or polished, you know? Some of the songs on the demos have one live guitar take, so the bass features more prominently in those mixes. The studio recordings were always about gigantic, layered guitar tracks. There isn't much room for bass in there. Me and Jason Newsted know this all too well... Remember, I was mirroring almost everything Greg did. I was doing all the fast picking and palm-muting, too. Sometimes that gets lost amongst four or five guitar tracks. But live, it was all me!

Do you recall why "Drug of the Masses" didn't make it onto I Hate Therefore I Am?

It wasn't ready. That song is a motherfucker to play live. I know we played it during the early Znöwhite tours with Tony and Sue. I have those recordings, too. Amazing!

I Hate Therefore I Am is one of my all-time favorite thrash albums, hands down, but it's also Cyclone Temple's most documented era, so I don't want to beat you up with a million questions here. You seem to be the band historian, of sorts, so what's your "CliffsNotes version" of the I Hate Therefore I Am experience—especially with regard to touring, label woes, etc.?

The I Hate Therefore I Am tours were some of the best we did. Musically, living conditions, and certainly the bands we had the honor of playing with were light years ahead of what we experienced before we signed to Combat. But there still seemed to be a pushback from the label. Not much time or money was spent on promoting the release. I think the people at the label saw the writing on the wall long before we did. You don't really put in the effort for a company if you think you're going to be unemployed. I don't blame anyone for our trouble. The thing is, I Hate Therefore I Am exists and continues to find new fans despite all of that. I'd like to think it's because it's a fine record.

As a fan, I'm truly grateful that you've cracked open your personal archives for this reissue, because it's extremely cool to be able to get a taste of Troch's vocals on some of the Building Errors in the Machine tracks. In hindsight, Brian has grown to wish he had stuck it out with the band. How much of a ding was it to have to change vocalists at that point?

Well, we had already changed vocalists twice. If we could have found a female as tough as Susan, we might have had a different career. Who's to say? I think in many ways it made us more accessible. Metal was—and in many ways is still—a boys club. It was very hard in the early days for crowds to take us seriously. A lot of people didn't support our metal band of male/female/black/white artists... until they heard us. I can honestly and proudly say that Znöwhite was a killing machine! And Cyclone Temple was right up there, too.

Marco Salinas, formerly of Interfearence, ultimately came in for the release of Building Errors in the Machine two years later. It seems like that was perhaps a rough stretch for the band. What's your abbreviated overview of that era, and what went wrong with Marco?

Greg and I made a decision during the I Hate Therefore I Am tour that we had to replace Brian. He was a great singer. I wish this wasn't true, but he was a spoiled person at the time. He was not mature enough to handle the pressure of being on the road, surrounded by people that you don't always get along with, and away from a familiar environment. I think his wife was giving him a hard time, too. That can make touring absolutely impossible. Marco's band opened for us and we liked his energy. We spoke to him about doing the next recording with us. He traveled from Texas a couple of times to rehearse and then record the Cyclone Temple disc Building Errors in the Machine. He left because he got into some trouble and put the reputation of our band in jeopardy... just a dumb move by a young guy.

Former Enchanter frontman Sonny DeLuca then joined up for Cyclone Temple's second and final full-length, My Friend Lonely. This was actually the band's second attempt to get Sonny to join, right? What's the story there?

I don't think Sonny's name came up until Marco left. If it did, I am unaware of it, and I was Greg's right-hand man. We made decisions like that together. Sonny was recommended by a friend and did a fine job. He's a hell of a good singer, and a stand-up guy.

I'd imagine that changing singers three times in as many releases must have been somewhat exhausting. I've always wondered if there was ever a point at which Greg considered just doing the vocals himself, especially since that's what he would go on to do with Rebels Without Applause?

The songs that we were doing as Cyclone Temple were impossible to play and sing anything more than a backing vocal line to. Greg has a great voice and sang all of the melodies to all of the singers—with every soulful inflection—while teaching them the melodies. The early songs were just too complicated to sing and play. When we started Rebels Without Applause, he sang because we added a second guitarist to pick up the slack. It worked, so Greg became the singer/guitarist for Rebels Without Applause.

Speaking of Rebels Without Applause, what can you share about that group? That band had existed for a couple of years by the time I found out about it, and though you performed on both releases, I believe you had exited the band by the time that the Low End Head Stomp full-length was released? Not unlike Cyclone Temple, I was surprised that Rebels Without Applause didn't catch on and make more waves...

I performed on all of the Rebels Without Applause releases. I was in the band when we showcased for labels and played Midwest dates. I left the band shortly before moving from Chicago to the East Coast. As I understand it, they stayed together for a number of years after I left, but they never released another disc. Rebels Without Applause was way ahead of its time, but I think Znöwhite and Cyclone Temple were, too.

I think I read that you've put music aside and are doing the family thing now. Do you still fiddle with music just for personal enjoyment?

I don't know where you would have seen that... that's not a statement I've ever made. Sounds like hearsay. Yes, I have a family and a job and I still play bass with a band. I still play the drums and have been recording with a few musicians for the last several years. Some of these guys you have heard of, some you have not. It will be interesting to see how it ends. No one who does this ever stops doing it. I am at a point in my life where I don't need the approval of others to do what I do, and I'm in no hurry to let anyone hear what I've been doing until it's ready. I think it's good. It's not pop music, I assure you...

Many thanks for your time, Scott. I appreciate you sharing these rare demo recordings with the fans, as well as reminiscing about your time in some excellent and highly underrated bands.

Thank you for allowing me to share my fuzzy memories with you, and thank you to all the metal fans everywhere who still care about or discover our music. It makes me proud to think that something we did so many years ago remains relevant. It makes it sweeter to think that we did it without much help from anyone but each other. I think it was Phil Lynott who said, "Not as good as I had hoped for... better than I expected." I believe that's a good way to end this. Cheers!

***

Limited to just 500 copies and selling fast, the deluxe two-CD edition of Cyclone Temple's I Hate Therefore I Am and Land of the Greed, Home of the Depraved is available now through Divebomb Records.

Comments

  1. Great article as always…......

    I came to hear CT via the internet nearly a decade ago. The reason for this is because I don’t ever recall seeing press for them in any metal magazines over here. Given that thrash wasn’t cool in the early 90s, perhaps if they had released “I hate….” in the heyday of the late 80s (and not still been Znowhite) they might have got the recognition said album deserved.

    “I hate…” is an album I still gravitate to and I think it’s the wall of pristine thrash behind Brian Troch’s hard-rock vocals. I understand now why they moved on without him but it was a unique combination (perhaps this is what Anthrax wanted from John Bush before they succumbed to the alt 90s) and it’s the reason why their other releases have really never grabbed my attention.

    1.6.2017 | By Kevshall

  2. ‘I Hate Therefore I Am’ is a pretty flawless steamroller of thrash perfection, but I will say that ‘My Friend Lonely’ is a great album that holds up quite well. Certainly worth another shot if you haven’t given it a spin in some time!

    Thanks for reading!

    1.6.2017 | By Andrew Aversionline

  3. Super stoked to see this interview. CT is insanely underrated, and it’s always good to see their history being preserved.

    Side note: My old band had the privilege of opening for RWA years ago. Scott Schafer was very much the band historian, and talked with me pretty candidly about “the old days,” including some of the stuff in this interview. Greg Fulton didn’t say much, but he had the best guitar tone I’ve ever heard in person. Dude is easily on par with Hetfield, Ian, or any other thrash guitarist you could name.

    1.6.2017 | By Dr_Fisting

  4. That’s awesome. Out of curiosity, can I ask what the name of your band was?

    1.6.2017 | By Andrew Aversionline

  5. I honestly can’t recall which band I was in at the time (this was in the early 2000’s). I’m currently playing with Black Sites, who have an album coming out soon.

    https://www.facebook.com/blacksites

    1.6.2017 | By Dr_Fisting

  6. I’ll check it out!

    1.6.2017 | By Andrew Aversionline

  7. This is a great read and nice to see Scott get those re released. When I was a kid I would see RWA every few months when they would come down and play the “Hall of Justice” which was a converted mechanics garage. Scott was always very nice and approachable every time I saw him. Nice read. Thanks.

    1.10.2017 | By Spomer

  8. Oh, yeah Cyclone Temple!  Yet another underrated thrash masterpiece that I discovered on Aversionline blog some years ago and quickly became also one of my favorite thrash albums.

    To my big shame I became familiar with Znöwhite very late. I like them a lot, but I think I Hate Therefore I Am is still the best one.

    Was never listening much My Friend Lonely or Rebels Without Applause. Now I’m a little bit sorry.

    Just on the day I received reissue CDs I found out on Youtube that Greg Fulton (what a talent!) is now playing in Sweet Diezel Jenkins, which I later read also in the booklet of the reissue. I’m not big fan of covers, but I think I will be following SDJ. It’s both sad and inspiring (if it makes any sense) that he (and the rest) continued despite all the changes and problems.To change so many singers and still continue. Wow. I mean how many bands out there would do that?

    Divebomb made really great work with reissues! Booklet of IHTIA is very thick and packed with interesting info. It’s also cool to hear some songs like Drugs of the Masses in different versions. I’m liking Land of the Greed, Home of the Depraved more and more. It’s very nice also to include thoughts from some of my favorite bands like Starkweather and Sindrome (and also Aftermath). I was expecting reissue would be already sold out, but I would be shocked if eventually won’t be.

    Btw, I noticed that Divebomb records will also reissue another album from Terminus and one from Degradation. Very cool and I’m sure, Andrew, that you are also excited!;)

    1.15.2017 | By CarlosFromAversionline

  9. VERY excited. I was lucky enough to help out by conducting retrospective interviews for the booklets of both the Terminus and the Degradation releases. Can’t wait to see and hear them! Check out the Suspiria release, too. That’s another huge winner.

    1.16.2017 | By Andrew Aversionline

  10. I’m also looking forward to both reissues! I knew I will like Suspiria immediately after I saw on Divebomb Records that their music is similar to Sindrome and Morbid Saint and when I saw that you made an interview. Thrash on!;)

    1.16.2017 | By CarlosFromAversionline