Animetal USA - Rudy Sarzo

Animetal USA - Rudy Sarzo

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Anyone who knows the name Rudy Sarzo then also knows what a musician he is and with whom he has collaborated during his ongoing career that already counts three decades. So, METAL KAOZ was honored to have a nice discussion with Mr. Sarzo in the context of the new ANIMETAL USA album and upcoming tour. Apart from all the musical related matters, Mr. Sarzo had some words of wisdom to share and personally I was glad to hear them right from the source.

Hello Mr Sarzo! Can I call you Rudy?
Yes, please.

So, you did some live dates in Japan, right? How was the experience with ANIMETAL USA there?
About two months ago we were touring in Japan with another animation-themed band called JAM PROJECT and it was fantastic, you know playing for the anime fans and the Metal fans. It was a very rewarding and unique experience and in the end of the show both bands got together and performed.

I know that you are into computer animation; so did you work something out for this show, like in the backdrop or in the projection screens?
No, the tour wasn’t set up with that type with jumbotron screens or something like that. What I have done in the past with ANIMETAL USA visuals is working on the special effects for the “The Spaceship Yamato” video.

I think with ANIMETAL USA it’s the first time you are performing with full-face makeup, right?
Yeah, it’s the first time wearing Kabuki makeup but, you know, back in the 70s it was very common for all of us to wear makeup, and if you look to any photos from early QUIET RIOT, you’ll notice we were wearing some kind of stage makeup to work with the lights. In this anime centric band we are playing the roles of super heroes, so we have to conform to the art of anime and embrace it.

So, who had the idea of forming ANIMETAL USA?
Mike Vescera, our singer, used to be in the band called LOUDNESS in Japan and he lived there for about 3 years and he became a fan of anime after watching this every day. So, about a year ago he was having a conversation with Sony Music about the idea of resurrecting the concept of ANIMETAL because, as you probably know, there was a Japanese band about 15-20 years ago. So, Mike got the idea of making this a global thing with already known musicians outside Japan. So, I got the call to join this and since I consider anime as the most inspiring and cutting edge animation form, I said yes. Chris Impellitteri, who is famous in Japan with IMPELLITTERI, joined in and for the first album we had Scott Travis from JUDAS PRIEST but he had to pull out when we had some live shows booked since he was already busy with PRIEST. So, we got Jon Dette in his place who has played with SLAYER and TESTAMENT.

Should we consider ANIMETAL USA a project or a full time band?
It is definitely a full time band and in the last two years we had two albums released in Japan via Sony Music and in the rest of the world via Century Media. In Japan we have released a special edition like a compilation from the first and the second album and also “W” features one bonus track called “Give Lee Give Lee ROCK Lee” that is the theme song of the “Naruto” spin off of “Rock Lee 7 His Ninja Pals” anime series. At this moment we are very selective of our live performances because as I said the band is very anime-centric, so our fanbase comes from anime. Although anime is based in Japan, it has a wide fanbase and there are many anime-expos just like the one we performed in Los Angeles that had an attendance of 75,000 people in the entire conference.

To tell you the truth I was surprised to see famous musicians joining in such a band like ANIMETAL USA.
I have been a recording/touring artist for over 30 years now and whenever an opportunity to do something different and something that I like comes up, I always say yes. This adds to your pleasure as an artist and it is also very challenging. I get to play Speed Metal and I love playing fast… you have to keep in mind that I grew up during an era when the role of the bassist was more demanding as compared to the 80s, so when I started recording in the 80s, the role of the bassist was minimized with root bass parts and I was like “wait a minute” (laughs). I’d say the last band that I was really playing my ass off onstage was with Ozzy because it was that type of music. The “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman” albums were recorded with a 70s mentality, so by the time I got to record “Metal Health” with QUIET RIOT (where I did the entire album except from “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” and “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” that Chuck Wright did), the role of bassist had become something like AC/DC. This was fine, but it had nothing to do with what I had grown up playing. And this did not change up until Grunge came on the scene when bands like SOUNDGARDEN and STONE TEMPLE PILOTS got the rhythm section back to the 70s. The role of the bassist became more musical and more creative again. So, for me being in ANIMETAL USA and playing Speed Metal feels very rewarding and I love it.

How was the experience of working on anime tunes and making Heavy Metal songs out of them?
It is a matter of arrangements; in the first album Marty Friedman who lives in Japan and understands the market there, was able to communicate with the label and keep in mind that every arrangement has to be approved by the label and also by the publishers of the original anime theme songs who had to listen to the demos first. So, this was the procedure to get a clearance and go on recording the album. It was not like getting in the studio and record the versions that we wanted. Also there was a tradition that the Japanese version of ANIMETAL had started and that was to include riffs from iconic bands within the songs, so the record company wanted us to continue doing this one, and so we had to get more clearance from all this bands to use some of their riffs.

That sounds like a time consuming process, right?
Yeah, it is and if we had done all the communications with Japan from the US with one day time delay would have taken even longer. So, we were very fortunate to have Marty helping us and getting the process faster because you cannot start recording without having their approval of publishers and the other bands.

Did you have to do the same thing with the second album?
For the second album the bulk of the arrangements were done by Chris Impellitteri and so we had more time to prepare. We were given 20 to 25 songs to choose from and sometimes we did not get clearance for some of them or even clearance to release outside Japan. So, we had to pick the songs and then wait for the entire process. But despite these time-consuming procedures, I think the album is fantastic.

Listening to you describing all this process and how you had to follow all these guidelines, makes me ask you if this kind of kills your artistic freedom?
No, if you listen to the album you will see that we had all the artistic freedom I wanted. We were not constrained to any parameters but we had a vision of what the songs should sound like. These are our versions of those theme songs and if you listen to the originals you’ll see the differences. We only had to follow the melody of the song and that’s the only thing we could not change. Also, the English translations of the lyrics had to follow the message of the Japanese ones. Taking those two parameters into consideration the rest is total artistic freedom.

You said that you are choosing carefully the live dates, so are there any plans to do more US shows?
There are some anime expos in the US coming up for autumn and winter of this year and we are thinking of playing there. Doing those shows is part of our strategy but we are already looking on doing the third album.

Are you already working on this?
Well, we are not actually working but, you know, the first album was to make the statement and it was based on the Japanese culture and taste. As we progressed and reached out to many countries, we expanded from being Japan-centric to global-centric still keeping the fanbase we have built. So, we have to get all these things under consideration as we move forward with ANIMETAL USA.

ANIMETAL USA seems like a young band trying to take one step at a time…
You are absolutely right, Dimitris. All of us have been doing this for a long time, have made mistakes in the past and we won’t do the same again with ANIMETAL USA. So, we are very selective and careful with our choices.

Some think that in ‘supergroups’ there is a lot of friction between the band members with all those egos clashing each other, so what is your experience on this?
You know, I have played with so many already established musicians and I have never had such problems. In fact, it’s very rewarding playing with such musicians like I did with Ozzy who was already and established singer with BLACK SABBATH of course. I played with Tommy Aldridge who had been with BLACK OAK ARKANSA and PAT TRAVERS BAND, I played with WHITESNAKE and of course with Dio, so there is a lot to earn and learn from these artists. When I got to play with Ronnie, I had already been doing this from about 25 years and I thought “I have experienced and I known everything” as far as it goes being in a band. And then, I joined DIO and learned a whole new information. When I face a tough situation, and this is what every one who has worked with Dio does, I am asking myself “What would Ronnie do” and that’s it. Because we learned so much from him who lived by example and I am trying to follow that. You have to be creative and I have been doing this during the last year; I played in five full length albums and I am not talking about contributing to a couple of songs. Two with ANIMETAL USA, one with Dee Snider, one with my new band called TRED and another one with a solo Scandinavian artist but it’s not about how many records you’re going to sell. It’s all about the music you are going to leave behind, your musical contribution. All the generations of musicians must make music regardless of the consequences we get from piracy or anything like that, this is not the issue. The issue here is to be a creative entity. It’s our responsibility to keep music alive because if we stop doing writing music, it will die. Every musician should be always inspired.

I totally agree with you, even though I am not a musician. Since you mentioned Dio, are there any plans to get on the road with DIO DISCIPLES again?
Yes, there will be an upcoming US tour this fall and I am committed to this.

Are you going to use the same lineup with the same singers?
As far as I know, yes, we’re going to tour with the same lineup with the DIO band, Tim Owens and Toby Jepson. To be honest with you, this is the only information I have right now.

Rudy, I have to congratulate you for the great reading "Off The Rails (A Tribute To Randy Rhoads)" and tell you that you have a strong writing hand.
Oh, thank you so much, Dimitris.

So, my question is have you ever thought of writing your biography and tell the stories of your three decades career?
I am not done yet, I am still working with my life. I wrote the story about Randy because unfortunately there is an ending. So, it was a story I could write about and tell how it was working with him in QUIET RIOT and Ozzy. In fact, the only reason I wrote that book is to answer to question “what was like to play with Randy Rhoads and since I was the guy who played with him in two bands, it felt most appropriate. I also have a strong belief that Randy saved our lives during the accident, so writing a book about him was the least I could do. In addition to that, he was responsible for me getting in the Ozzy band. So, writing this book was my way to honor him and that was my only motivation. Plus, there was a lot of misinformation in the internet about the crash and the stories before and after, so I told the story exactly the way it happened.

How was the experience of re-living everything while writing the book? Was it difficult for you?
No and as matter of fact it was very enjoyable to have Randy alive in my imagination. It took me about a month to write the last chapter (chapter 18) when he was still alive since I didn’t want to say ‘goodbye’. Then, I got a call from my publisher who told me that I had to move on and finish the story since there is a deadline. So, I did and to my surprise the chapter about the accident was done the fastest than the other because I have been telling this for over 20 years and it’s just poured out of me. Then, it was a matter of finishing the book with a couple of chapters and then it was done. My biggest reward on writing this book was getting a closure and rediscovering myself; looking back at my life and everything that I have accomplished and all the experiences I lived with all my friends. It was not just rewarding but also comforting. I am telling you everything was fantastic up to the day that Randy died. There is a year of great experiences before that.

I have one more question for you, Rudy; during the last 10 years the Metal scene has lost great musicians and what I like to consider important personas (like Dio for example), so do you think there are musicians out there who can reach that quality level?
Yeah, I am sure there are some really significant human beings. You know, people are only talking about the great singer that Ronnie was and forget that 30 years ago he started charities; he did “We Are Stars” the Heavy Metal version of USA for Africa and then he started Children Of The Night and did benefits for runaway children in the Los Angeles area. And before he passed away, he started the Stand Up And Shout foundation. So, yes, he was one of the greatest singer/composer in Heavy Metal but also he was a great humanitarian and that is so important. I had this conversation so many times with friends and also with my wife about how in the old days Rock ‘N’ Roll musicians, like let’s say in my case, left my home moved to LA, slept on floors, starved and then I became famous. So, it gets to the point where you say “Now what?” At that point there are two choices; you can become a Rock casualty by partying your ass off and doing what you think a Rock star does or you can take the route of significant musicians that also inspired me like Sting, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and so on. They have become a voice for people that don’t have one of their own; they do charities, benefits and they stand for something. And to me, that is the most significant thing you can do once you have achieved a certain status, so yes, there is always the opportunity for the young generation of Metal to produce such important personas that you talked about. Musicians who will stand up and say “Now I am gonna give back”. This is the ultimate reward; the moment you have everything you wanted, it’s time to give back to those who made it possible for you to get everything you wanted.

I hope your words Rudy will reach out all the young musicians and bands who sometimes forget how and where they started. And this is the best way to end this discussion that I have to admit was a genuine honor.
Thank you very much for this interview, Dimitris and hopefully will meet in Chicago.