Monday, June 1, 2015

INTERVIEW - Hostage to History: Dave Lombardo Remembers Grip Inc.

Left to right: Waldemar Sorychta, Gus Chambers and Dave Lombardo of Grip Inc. (photo by  Alex Solca)

As made clear in my previous interview with him last year, former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo is an ever-busy, ever-evolving musician with his mind on the present and future. But alongside fascinating current activities including his regular band PHILM and projects with a host of other players (Fantômas, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, etc.), Lombardo's past discography will forever stand as one of the most groundbreaking in Metal history. In addition to undisputed classics like Slayer's Reign In Blood and Seasons In The Abyss, Lombardo's contributions to the genre include his 11 years with the experimental Groove Metal project Grip Inc.

Formed by Lombardo in 1993 following his second departure from Slayer, Grip Inc. introduced the Metal world to remarkable singer Gus Chambers, whose tattooed head and imposing stage presence matched the power of his voice. Prior to hooking up with Lombardo, Chambers spent time in the late '70s UK Punk band Squad (whose blistering 1978 single, “Red Alert/”£8-A-Week,” is worth seeking out) and Sons Of Domination with the late Paul Raven of Killing Joke. The core of Grip Inc. was rounded out by German guitarist/producer Waldemar Sorychta (Despair/Enemy of the Sun/Voodoocult), while bass duties in the studio were handled by Jason Viebrooks (on the first two albums) and Stuart Carruthers (on Solidify and Incorporated.)

With Chambers contributing vocal and visual might, Grip Inc. released four albums: 1995's extraordinary Power of Inner Strength, 1997's Nemesis, 1999's Solidify and – after a hiatus that saw Lombardo return to Slayer in 2001 – Incorporated in 2004. With Lombardo firmly back behind the drums in Slayer (a position he would hold until parting company with the group for a third time in 2013), Incorporated ended up being Grip Inc.'s final full-length release. Tragically, any chance of Grip Inc. returning to the stage or studio were forever dashed when Chambers died unexpectedly in October 2008 at the age of 52.

Although Grip Inc. no longer exists, last month saw Lombardo and Sorychta announce the June 9 release of Hostage To Heaven, a special digital EP of previously unheard Grip Inc. material. In addition to an alternative version of the Power of Inner Strength track “Hostage To Heaven,” the new release features the unreleased songs “Dragging Me Down,” “Bittersweet” and “Crawl.” The EP serves as a tribute to Gus Chambers, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Power of Inner Strength and an intriguing reminder of how innovative Grip Inc. truly was.

In this exclusive interview, Lombardo looks back on his years with Grip Inc. and his relationship with his sorely missed friend and collaborator.

Was the new EP something you had been planning on for a while, or was this something that came about when you realized that the 20th anniversary of the first album was around the corner?

We were all aware of this material that was available. It just seemed that the 20th anniversary was a good time to release it and share with the fans what we've uncovered. I think these songs are a good view into the diversity of this band and how much fun we had creating this music.

The lead-in track to the EP is an alternate version of “Hostage To Heaven.” How does it compare to the version we're obviously familiar with from the first record?

With this one, everything is in half-time; it's slower. Although the tempo is probably the same, the drum beat that I play is obviously half-time. It's a groovier version; it's not a Thrash Metal version. It's quite different to the other one, but then at the end of the song, we of course throw in the fast double bass like in the original. It's an exciting piece; I really like the way we got we creative with it. It was a fun song.

In addition to the EP, the Grip Inc. back catalog was recently made available digitally. How has the response been from newer fans of yours who might not have been around when Grip Inc. was an active band?

You see the typical posts: 'Wow, I never heard this band before! Where have I been?' or 'Man, these guys are heavy. Why didn't I hear these guys when they first came out?' We've had a lot of positive responses. A lot of people said we were ahead of our time. It seems to be the issue with everything I do – people aren't ready for it because it comes out of left field. When Grip Inc. started, who were the big bands at the time? This was the mid '90s; Metal went underground, Grunge was forming and bands like Korn and a lot of local bands here in California were springing up with this kind of Hip Hop/Hardcore blend. That wasn't who we were, so a lot of people are quite surprised at how heavy this band was.

What really struck me when I first heard the band was the fact that Gus was such a different kind of frontman compared to a lot of other singers in Metal at the time. When you were getting this band together, what ultimately made you think Gus was the guy as opposed to going for a more traditional Metal or Thrash singer?

He was unique and he had a powerful voice. There are singers who have voices that are very thin and they rely on cupping the microphone to give them the typical growl or whatever it is they do today – that Cookie Monster voice. Gus not only had a range, but he had an attack in his voice and this aggression that was actually Punk. It came out of his gut; it came from his soul. It wasn't something that he was faking. He was the real deal. When I first met him and considered him, I was like, 'Man, this is the guy!' His posture, his attitude...It was exactly what I wanted in a singer... He lived the part; he was a singer. He was real Punk Rocker. The guy was a bad ass.

In the earliest stages of Grip Inc., you had former Overkill member Bobby Gustafson on guitar. What was the extent of his involvement in the project, and why didn't that ultimately carry into the first album and the proper lineup?

Personalities conflicted, and playing capabilities conflicted as well. There was a certain style and sound I was looking for, and it just seemed that Waldemar was perfectly capable of covering the rhythm guitar playing as well as the leads. He didn’t need that extra guitar player to fill in the lack of the one guitar player's performance. He was able to cover both sides. It was kind of the triple form – bass, guitar and drums - which is classic to the Zeppelins and the Creams and even the Panteras and bands like that, where the guitar player is able to cover both the rhythm and the lead.

You changed bass players halfway through the band's existence. How did bringing Stuart in at that point in time impact the band moving forward through the second half?

Stu was awesome. He was a great contributor to the band, and he's a great person. Him bringing in his side was essential to taking the band to the next level. Although we did have a clear picture of what we wanted to do and go musically, he was there to support those decisions. He definitely knew what we expected from him, and he delivered. He never let us down.

The last full-length Grip Inc. album was Incorporated in 2004. There were a few years between that album and the previous one, Solidify, and you had been back in Slayer for a bit by that time. Did being back in Slayer have an impact on Grip Inc.?

Oh, yeah. My time was limited, and things were a little difficult because obviously my mind and my heart were somewhere else. I didn't focus much on Grip Inc. It was just really difficult; that probably led to the end of Grip Inc. It was my inability to give the time necessary for that band to grow.

Sadly, Gus is no longer with us. Looking back, what remain some of the best memories you have of your time with him?

Gus was a positive, funny guy. He was always full of jokes; he was always doing some kind of crazy antic that would make you laugh. He was a very warm, kind and gentle person, but there was this aggressive Punk side to him that I equally loved. It was part of his character and nature, and you just had to love that as well as his other side to really understand who Gus was. He's definitely missed; there are a lot of times where I reflect and think, 'Damn, I wish he was still around. We could have done something together again.' It's unfortunate and it really sucks that this happened.

What sucks about when musicians pass on is that not only do people who were close to them know they're not there – and that hurts – but it's compounded because there's this magic and feeling you have when you play music together with other musicians. When they're gone, you realize you'll never experience those sounds or that voice again. It bums you out.

We recorded all the albums in Germany. He had lived in Germany for a while and he picked up on some of the German language. I'd say to Gus, 'Hey's, let's go get a doner kebob or a bratwurst or currywurst.' He loved currywurst with 'extra sosse,' as he used to say. We'd go, and he'd crack jokes on the way there and on the way back. He was just a character; he was just great.

A couple of years ago, there were all these news reports that there was going to be a return of Grip Inc., there was a tour happening and that Casey Chaos of Amen was going to be singing. Was there any real truth to that? If so, why didn't it come to fruition?

I guess I just have to blame it on my enthusiasm. It got in the way instead of just really sitting back and thinking about it. One of the thoughts was that Gus was so unique that he would be irreplaceable. His voice was so strong and so powerful. You know Bruce Dickinson, right? When he sings, it comes from the inside. That guy can sing. There are a lot of singers out there who really know how to project their voice, and Gus was one of them, and he had this very unique sound. After really thinking about it, I just felt that he couldn't be replaced. There are a lot of great singers out there, and there's a lot of possibilities, but there was something about going on after one of the main members – especially the singer – passes on... It's a difficult thing to do. So that's why I didn't do it – out of respect to him and the music we created. I didn't want the band to move on in any way that was not what they were known as.

Now that Grip Inc. is very much in the rearview mirror for you, what would you say was ultimately the band's greatest accomplishment?

I don't really look at things as being accomplishments...What I am most proud of was the fact that during a time when music was changing, we were still Thrash Metal, Punk, whatever we were and pushing forward. We were going against the grain where everyone around us in LA was wearing baggy pants and singing 'Jump! Jump! Jump!' and crossing that Hop Hop line with heavy music – which is all good, because it's fine and awesome – but we were going against the grain and were like, 'No, we're not going to fall into that.' So I think being unique was something that I was really proud of. We didn't change the course of what we set out to do, which was making music as heavy as possible.


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