Vicious Rumors – Celebrate the PassionThursday, 13th August 2020
Many think metal as a genre has a lifespan that appeals to youthful aggression or needs for safe expression – but will be something you ‘grow out of’ as you mature into adulthood. However, most will assess to the lifetime treasures that heavy metal brings to the world – the fans as well as the musicians committed to the cause, ready for the ups, the downs, and the in between moments that occur. Vicious Rumors enter their 41st (!!) year as a group with the latest studio offering Celebration Decay – another outstanding mix of speed, power, and melodic metal, still crunchy and heavy but serving up the dynamic diversity that led the band to classic status through 80’s and early 90’s records like Digital Dictator, Soldiers of the Night, and Welcome to the Ball.
We reached out to guitarist Geoff Thorpe by phone from his Bay Area stomping grounds – happy to bring Dead Rhetoric up to speed on Celebration Decay, his work with Greg Christian and Juan Urteaga on this effort, thoughts on the shifts in touring and heavy metal support across North America and abroad, plus memories surrounding his love of surfing and what the future holds.
Dead Rhetoric: Celebration Decay is the thirteenth Vicious Rumors studio record. What keeps the band motivated to create, write and release new material – and where do you see this effort sitting in the catalog of records throughout your long history?
Geoff Thorpe: I got to say that I’m as proud of this album as any of our classic albums. It’s one of our best records. And it gives me a really good feeling inside. I want to have this long career and I’m really thankful for it, but I only want to do it if we can do it on a high level. And the level of where we are now. A lot of that is attributed to passion, and we are also fans of metal. We are fans of the music, and I think if you love what you do and you love your instrument then you can’t go wrong.
Dead Rhetoric: What subject matter did you want to tackle for this record – as I’d imagine there’s no shortage of despair, strife, and struggle on the social/political ends of the spectrum to draw from these days, right?
Thorpe: That’s for sure. We did not set out to write, even though the Celebration Decay seems to go hand in hand with everything that is going on right now as far as the pandemic and stuff, when we were working on the album the pandemic was something that was happening far away to us. It seemed like we got so used to things happening somewhere else and not really impacting us here. Who would have guessed that this could have turned into this worldwide pandemic?
We were just reflecting on humanity and the dark times we live in, and it just seems to be getting darker and darker. It seems like humanity volunteers for this, and in a way celebrates this. My little sarcastic play on words, instead of celebration day, it’s celebration decay.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the infusion of younger musicians motivate Larry and yourself when it comes to developing the new material? Are you conscious of keeping things balanced between where you come from musically and what they may bring to the table given their influences and outlook on the metal genre?
Thorpe: Absolutely. And our younger guys have a lot of respect for the history of the band, as well as their being very creative guys. They both bring a lot of ideas to the table, and Larry and I welcome their input. We love having serious musician types, and part of that comes from the fact that they got to do so much touring with us before they did the record. We did 108 shows together, before we made our first album together, so they had a year and a half of performing and learning the back catalog material. By the time we went in to do Celebration Decay, they had a very clear understanding of what we’ve been doing all these years and where we are going. We respect their drive, their enthusiasm, and their talent, and they respect our longevity and our experience. We have clear communication together – I hope they would say the same thing about us.
Things are good, and are as good as they’ve ever been in Vicious Rumors right now. That’s a lot when you are talking about a 41-year career. We are thankful to have these guys, and I hope they stay with us a long time.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you decide to have ex-Testament bassist Greg Christian provide the bass work for this record – as it gives songs like “Any Last Words” and “Asylum of Blood” an extra low end punch to the proceedings?
Thorpe: Thank you for noticing that, I really appreciate you listening to this so closely. Greg is someone that has been a friend of mine for years. I go way back to the beginning with Testament, even when it was Legacy they used to practice next door to us in Oakland we had a rehearsal studio there in the late 80’s. I’ve done festivals and played with Testament over the years It was Juan who brought it to my attention that he was available and able to do it. This is the first time we’ve ever worked together. It was a really easy, natural kind of thing. He came in, it was one of those things that we had to get started right away on it. I showed him the songs, and when there was a part he wasn’t sure of I had my guitar right there and we went over it together, knocking each song out one by one. Definitely it was great having him on the record, having his flair and his playing.
We also have some cool bass players live – we’ve used Cody Green on the Digital Dictator tour. He did that to help us out, he also is a great guitar player so he did a couple of rad solos on “Long Way Home” he does the first one, and “Any Last Words” he does the main solo, and I’m doing the slide solos around him. Our touring bass player now is Robin Utbult from Sweden, he was in a band called Air Raid that supported Vicious Rumors on the Digital Dictator tour in Europe. He became available. Between Robin, Cody, and Greg Christian, we’ve got the bass guitar covered! (laughs)
Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about working with Juan Urteaga when it comes to recording Vicious Rumors – and is there a comfort level where you know he’s going to help you get the best performances out of you?
Thorpe: The comfort level is off the charts. He’s a funny, creative guy. He’s smart and so talented. I love working at Trident Studios with Juan, ever since I met him and we did the Warball album there in 2006. I’ve done seven or eight album projects with him, including a couple albums that weren’t Vicious Rumors related. I produced a German band Steel Engraved and I brought that to Juan to mix. Juan is a guy that when you work with him, he’s not looking at the clock nine to five. He jumps into the project with you like he’s in the band. He cares, but not in a way where he’s trying to change your sound. He drops in with a concern level, he wants it to be as good as you want it to be. He brings a lot of great ideas with him.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been road warriors over the past few years not only in markets where you are well established like Europe and the Far East, but also North America. Have you seen a shift in terms of live support for heavy metal bands especially stateside, where maybe the younger generation isn’t as interested in the live experience as the previous generations were?
Thorpe: That could quite possibly be sad but true. I think what it is my friend, when the classic guys started, it was way before YouTube. You wanted to go to shows, you wanted to seek stuff out. When I first moved here to the Bay Area from Hawaii in 1979, there was five to seven venues in San Francisco, just in say North Beach where live music happened five nights a week and an audience that would support it. It’s a different time, and people can get anything they want on YouTube. I think the mystique is gone from your artists. When I was listening to Zeppelin… when you picked up an album at the store, you had the picture and you had the album, but there was a lot of mystery to these people as artists. That made them god-like, special. Now you have Wikipedia. You want to know about Peter Frampton? And you can find out when he had wrist surgery, divorce court, and anything else.
There’s no doubt that it’s a different experience for the fans in the whole age of information. As far as the touring goes, it’s really weird. We had a really interesting tour where we were playing six nights a week, sometimes we did runs… we did one run where we had sixteen shows in a row. You could say we had a Friday night in Chicago, and that obviously will be a good night. Some nights you wouldn’t expect a crowd and you would get one, some nights you thought there would be a crowd and it was slow due to so much competition. I was happy to do all those dates, it had been a while. The last year and a half we did eighty shows across North America. Probably too long, but you have to understand our main market is in Europe, and that’s our core where we spend most of our time, the black and white bottom line.
One thing it made me realize is I wish we had, even though it made sense to stay in Europe to just push more in North America and took the hard lumps that come with it. The only bad gig that you do is the one that you don’t play.
Dead Rhetoric: Has you outlook or perspective on the heavy metal genre changed or grown do you believe from your days of youth to today? If you had a crystal ball and the ability to modify or change things around for the health of the genre, what would you like to see develop?
Thorpe: Oh man. How much time you got? (laughs). I think for guys like me, that are just 100% lifers on this type of stuff, it comes from being a fan. If I wasn’t a fan, I don’t think… it is one of those things that you have to love it, otherwise because it requires so much sacrifice in other parts of your life. A lot of time away from your family, it requires missing special events in your families and their lives. You better love it, it has to balance out somewhere.
If I only knew then what I know now type of thing. I’d go back and write Master of Puppets myself (laughs). It’s incredible man. There are a list of things you can probably do differently, and there’s no doubt that I would say I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve put the work and the time in also, I’ve been able to survive in these shark infested waters, switching record companies and management, learning to do it myself. All the different interplays within the band, having a relationship to keep the band together. The one thing I’ve always tried to do is even though I’m the leader of the band, I’ve always structured Vicious Rumors as a band. That’s what I always wanted, and looked up to. Finding the right guys and keeping the chemistry alive. I think the first thing I would do if I could go back and change something is I’d go back and save Carl Albert’s life.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise us to learn about Geoff Thorpe the person when he spends time away from your career in heavy metal?
Thorpe: The number one would be that I’m an incredible Riverdancer! (laughs). I keep my arms really straight when I do it, and my one knee comes up. My hands are very straight, and I could go a long way in that industry. I’m just a wise guy. I’m obsessed with surfing still. I was a kid who grew up in Hawaii, I was born in Los Angeles and when I was six years old my father got the job for Hawaii Five-O as the location casting director. My family moved to Hawaii, I went to elementary school and high school in Hawaii, and for somebody that’s been as motivated and pushed the energy for 41 years in Vicious Rumors, there was a point in my life where all I wanted to do was get a job at a gas station and go surfing every day.
And sometimes when I think back on it, I wonder why the hell I didn’t. I’ve got no regrets, I have had an amazing journey. I’m obsessed with big waves, I watch all these videos of Nazarene and these guys surfing big waves. I don’t do it as much anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: Coming off two years and one hundred plus shows celebrating the 30th anniversary of Digital Dictator, were there any special insights or moments that came out surrounding that album while on tour or in quiet moments?
Thorpe: I would say that just performing those classic songs so many times, it puts you in touch with that era of the band. It’s a real honor to have any album or a song that people admired, let alone the first four albums from Soldiers of the Night, Digital Dictator, and our first two albums on Atlantic. They revere and hold these albums in such high regard. Those influences are just part of our sound. We are part of the inventors of speed and power metal – we were doing it in the 1970’s. I’m thankful that anything we’ve done has meant something to someone. We’ve had such a long career, and I think this new album is full of energy and power, I want to unleash it on the world.
Dead Rhetoric: Being a devout fan of the 49ers, how happy are you to see another future run for the team like the Montana and Young eras of the band based on the makeup of the team currently?
Thorpe: Oh man… I got to tell, I’m more of an Oakland Raiders guy. I hate that they are moving. Right when they are starting to get good again. There was 15 years of drought. In the 1970’s they were one of the best things going, but then a bad run. It’s a hard team to love, but I have to go with the silver and black.
Dead Rhetoric: When you look back at the catalog of Vicious Rumors albums – I’d be curious to know which ones you think maybe are a little underrated and the fans need to dive deeper into and investigate more?
Thorpe: A lot of people really love those classic records, and I understand why. We had a special combination then, with the legendary Mark McGee and Carl Albert. His voice was in the league of one of the top five rock voices of all time as far as I’m concerned. I stood next to him for ten years and I heard him do stuff live that was so much more unbelievable than the great stuff he did on the albums. An incredible talent, we had a cool sound and a great bunch of songs. I think the body of work on SPV the last few years, starting with Razorback Killers, Electric Punishment, Concussion Protocol, and now Celebration Decay, it’s an aggressive Vicious Rumors and a lot of variety on those albums. Some people that just tune into the classic albums, if they listened to our last four albums, they may be really surprised.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the agenda for Vicious Rumors for a year or so?
Thorpe: I got to be honest. When this happened (the pandemic) in March through May, I was like a deer in headlights. I was away from everyone in Europe, recovering from being sick, watching the news of the world. I wish I would have been more productive, but I was blindsided by all our plans getting cancelled and postponed. I understand man, it’s not just us- it’s happening to everyone. It dropped me in my tracks. That’s not the way to go, we need to take care of our health. Let’s get some work done. I’m working on a new album, getting a jump start for the next record. Get that ready, have a new record ready to record. When we can tour, tour endless because we would have the record ready to record. Keep the cycle going. I’m happy to continue and I hope we can all stay healthy, stay strong and get back to what we are doing.