I don’t get up at the ass crack of dawn for just anyone, but when I was given the opportunity to chat with Sean Killian of VIO-LENCE ahead of their Australian tour, and within twenty four hours of guitarist Phil Demmel breaking the internet with his self-proclaimed ‘State of the VIO-LENCE address’ video on Instagram, I knew I had to take it.
Linking up via zoom from his family home complete with an impressive array of indoor plants, Sean appears as normal looking as any other middle aged family man, clean cut with glasses on and plain clothes. It’s hard to picture him as the founder of one of the pioneers of the Bay Area Thrash Metal scene, VIO-LENCE being hailed one of the most prominent of the genre with the likes of Exodus, Testament and Death Angel. Having formed in 1985 and recording their first album “Eternal Nightmare’ in 1988, there have naturally been a few hiatuses and line-up changes in the past some 38 years, most notably Rob Flynn’s departure in 1992 to form Machine Head, and long-time drummer Perry Strickland parting ways just last month. The departure of Strickland and announcement of Demmel not touring with the band overseas has created a buzz online and a lot of speculation, considering Demmel’s paramount role in VIO-LENCE and his close partnership with Killian. Despite the fact that only one original member is touring with the band for their first time ever in Australia, Sean seemed positive albeit a little down hearted about the whole ordeal, but for him it’s still locked and loaded and all systems go.
“If you watched Phil’s video you can see he’s got his hands full with little Magnus there and he’s also got Wolf, and Mark (Hernandez) is out touring with Bleeding through so it’s kinda tough for him to do these trips. He will play the festivals and select dates but going out on the road is kind of tough for him.
As far as the drummer (Perry Strickland) is concerned- there was some conflict here and there and it just created tension for a few people in the band so we made the move to go with a different drummer, and we picked out Adrian (Aguilar) we talked to a few people, but Adrian Aguilar was a good choice for us, he’s in LA. So basically we’ve got the whole band in LA minus myself, and we had the show at the Whiskey, I’m not sure if you saw on the video but it was a sold out show packed house, and he did great.”
“also we have filling in for Phil, Miles Dimitri Baker, he’s done a bunch of stuff, he’s a shredder he picks up the songs really quick. Then we have Christian (Olde Wolbers) and Ira (Black) and they’re two pros you know, I mean Christian barely asked to practice with us, every time he does it’s so tight and perfect but we have been practising a lot, the band has, and- without me but I only practice typically a couple days before the shows.”
Killian is clearly confident in the new line up and for good reason- the prestige of these new guys is impressive. I asked him how they were all gelling together and how he felt about the dynamic- after all it is important to find that perfect groove with new musicians, especially when it’s your life’s work being performed.
“when you’re on the road and doing stuff it’s nice to not have any tension because you’re already dealing with travelling and everything else and so this group, we feel pretty good together and Phil’s not part of that tension (laughs) so you know, it just seems like a good fit and there are a couple younger guys and we’ve always been going after guys more our own age but I figured this time put some younger guys on the stage and see what we can do to help them out because Adrian is from Exmortus so this is a really good opportunity for him to get out and really see what touring is… I think they’ve done some stuff in the States but this is a whole different animal when you go to a foreign country (laughs).”
The current tour kicked off in Vietnam over the weekend and is being double headed with fellow thrash metal royalty Sacred Reich- a tour that has been annoyingly postponed over the last few years as another casualty of the pandemic. While the bill is the perfect marriage of two legendary bands finally hitting the southern hemisphere, it’s new territory for them sharing the stage on such a massive haul, although they have been friends and colleagues a long time.
“We did a couple shows with them back in 2019 May 31st in LA and June 1st in Mesa Arizona, but you know, we’ve known each other for a long time from back in the day, playing shows then and playing at the Mason Jar in Phoenix they’d come out and hang out so, it’s a good combination, the package I think.”
The demand for these veteran Thrashers has become more obvious in the last few years, Australia having recently seen the likes of Heathen and prior to the COVID shit storm, Dark Angel and Metal Church, along with the ‘Big Four’ on the move again, most notably Megadeth in Australia this month. There have been countless documentaries and a fresh focus on the genre, alongside a sense of nostalgia for the OG Bay area scene and subsequent subcultures influenced by it around the world. VIO-LENCE is very much an integral part of that history regardless of their periods of dormancy, and their re-emergence proves that they still hold their weight in the genre.
“Well I think what is happening with this resurrection of Thrash Metal and not just Bay area bands, but other bands too like Overkill and I know Nuclear Assault was out there for a little while, I think they retired from it but, I left the band probably a year after we recorded ‘Nothing to Gain’ and I hadn’t done anything since and then in 2001 we came back for Chuck Billy’s ‘Thrash of the Titans’ show to help support him and Chuck Schuldiner at the time, and then we did a few shows with Testament and Rob Halford, Overkill and Excel, some cool stuff, and then that’s when Phil joined Machine Head. At that time my kids were pretty young so I kinda said ‘yeah I’m alright, I’m a general contractor, I don’t do this for money.’
”It seems that now there’s a whole new generation- probably two generations of kids and people that want to see this music live because when we came back together in 2019 that’s all I would ever hear is these young kids like “I thought we would never see you live“ and so that’s kinda cool, and that kinda is a driving force for me you know? And to bring Vio-lence’s music to places it’s never been before.”
Speaking of VIO-LENCE’s music going places it’s never been before, I queried the release of a new album which was rumoured to happen this year after the release of their 2022 EP Let the World Burn.
“it was [going to happen] and then Phil got really busy going out with Lamb of God and doing some other stuff so it kind of got put on the back burner but we’ll write some music and get some stuff out- little more diverse writing crew because before [with] ‘Let the World Burn’ was just Phil and I and we’re a good combination and so, but we have some seriously talented musicians, Christian with his time in Fear Factory and he’s written a lot of stuff himself. Miles actually writes, he’s constantly writing he’s always posting some new stuff he’s writing. So it will be interesting, I definitely want to do another recording for sure.”
Despite speculation over line-up changes, Demmel’s absence from this tour and the never-ending pandemic roadblocks to get the tour over here, new music appears to be on the cards and possibly even something a little different considering the fresh new talent on hand. Aside from impending time in the studio, VIO-LENCE are keeping busy and have a lot to look forward to this year.
“We go to New Zealand for a couple shows then we go to Indonesia for the Hammersonic Festival, then we fly home and we go to Houston for the… Phil is joining us there…Hells Heroes Festival so we’re doing the opening party show with us and Tom G Warrior’s on that bill doing some of his music, yeah it will be fun! Possessed is the next day… you know… another band with one original member (chuckles) out on the road.”
The future looks bright for Sean Killian and he’s sounding positive about it. It’s good to see him on the road and bringing their music to Australia, even if he is missing his buddy Demmel, who is most definitely in the throes of parenthood going by his Insta video. I asked Sean about his family, considering he’s reached that stage of life and earnt the ‘Dad Metal’ badge having raised two kids of his own, and more importantly, if they like his music.
“my daughter is fifteen, she dances she had a convention not last weekend the weekend before, and my son plays Ice Hockey he’s nineteen, he’s out in Michigan right now playing junior hockey.”
“my daughter hates [my music], she says it rots your brain, and my son loves Thrash Metal, he’s at the shows in the pit, stage diving and everything, but he still refrains from giving me the big ups you know (laughs) my son’s good at fighting all the haters that talk crap [on the internet].”
Well, it’s good to have your kids in your corner. Especially when there is a lot of chatter going on about the band’s line-up and future, but for now VIO-LENCE is onwards and upwards with a killer line up featuring Sacred Reich and some outstanding local support acts blasting the country with their influential genre defining music.
Interview By Bec Scheucher
Catch VIO-LENCE on the following dates, tickets from Hardline Media…