Metal maniac Athenar goes off on NWOBHM covers, vinyl hunting, and the band's new compilation, 'Shox Of Violence'
Cleveland metal maniacs Midnight have never been known for subtlety. Led by masked bassist/vocalist Jamie "Athenar" Walters—who plays all the instruments on their mile-long discography, but enlists a guitarist and drummer for live gigs—the band create a magnificent racket in the leathery style of Motörhead doing Venom. In fact, sexually charged tracks are a minor specialty of Midnight's: Witness past incursions like "Lust, Filth and Sleaze," "Endless Slut" and "Sadist Sodomystic Seducer." Their new EP, Shox Of Violence, continues in this glorious and greasy tradition.
On vinyl, Shox Of Violence features four righteous speed metal bangers with titles like "Death Scream," "Who Gives A Fuck?" and "Groin Gripper." But the CD and tape versions—out February 20th—feature 21 bonus tracks (!) from the notorious cult metal heroes, including a slew of B-sides, live cuts and covers only previously available on older, out-of-print vinyl releases. The covers vary from tracks by widely known metal entities (Venom, Quiet Riot, Girlschool) and Midwest punk squads (The Pagans, The Spits) to NWOBHM rarities (Scarab, Crucifixion) and a band so obscure that their only recordings were rehearsal tapes made in a basement five doors down from Walters' house in Cleveland.
We recently caught up with our man while he was preparing for Midnight's upcoming tour with Kreator, Obituary and Horrendous to rattle some crates and chew the fat.
Noisey: Are you playing all the instruments on the new songs?
Jamie "Athenar" Walters: It's still just me on everything. That's the way it's always been. It's somewhat of a hobby, I guess. It's fun. I don't necessarily need the best drummer. I don't necessarily need the best guitar player, either. [Laughs] So it's just something to keep me somewhat sane. I just work out the songs in my head and then go record them at a cheap studio around here.
Do you practice much beforehand?
Practicing to record? No. [Laughs] I don't have anybody to practice with, so I just have to know how the song goes and then play it. It's like anything—I start with the drums, and hopefully that goes well. With this record, it took a day to do the drums. I usually get it by the second or third take, and then I put all the guitars and the bass and the bullshit on there.
So the songs are all in your head?
Yeah. Well, I write the lyrics beforehand.
Was the song "Groin Gripper" inspired by Donald Trump?
[Laughs] No, it's just about people gripping groins. Instead of coming right out and saying it, I'm trying to find a unique way to talk about erogenous zones. I just think "Groin Gripper" rolls off the tongue nicely. But I should have done it the Masters Of The Universe way and called it "Groin Grippor," with an –or at the end.
Well, there's always the reissue.
Yeah, the remix. Good idea.
What was the inspiration behind "Who Gives A Fuck?"
I know Metallica did their ode to Lemmy on their new album, but this was my ode to Lemmy—but before I knew Metallica did an ode to Lemmy. I mean, everybody dies and the world keeps going on. Who gives a fuck? That's a pretty deep piece. [Laughs]
But you gave enough of a fuck to write the song, obviously.
Well, Motörhead is one of my favorite bands. If it wasn't for Lemmy, we wouldn't have half the music that's around. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe that's a bad thing. Last year, a lot of people really close to me died. So the song is to them; it's to Lemmy; it's to a lot of people. It was just a bad year in general for me as far as people taking off. The song is just me getting on with it. But it's not like I actually don't give a fuck.
There's a ton of bonus tracks on the CD and tape versions—stuff that was previously released on splits and singles and whatnot. Why did you want to include that material?
That was Hells Headbangers. This release has been put out as more of a compilation than anything. All those extra tracks were meant to be bonus tracks to the four-song EP. All that stuff was on splits and throwaways, but it's kinda funny because now there's like 20 bonus tracks. [ Laughs] They're just meant to be on there for completists because they never came out on CD before, but now they're all out of context. [Laughs]
What's the criteria for a Midnight cover, other than you just liking the song?
Well, I like Rush's "2112," but it wouldn't necessarily make a good cover. It has to be something in the style of Midnight, and it has to be something I can play. It seems weird doing covers, but those were things that were asked of me, like, "Do you wanna do a song for a Venom tribute album?" But honestly Venom wouldn't be the first band I'd pick to do a cover of just because most Midnight songs are essentially Venom covers anyway. [Laughs]
There are two Venom covers included on the extended version of Shox Of Violence : "Too Loud For The Crowd" and "In League With Satan." What does Venom mean to you in the grand scheme of things?
They're a band I've been a fan of since I was a young kid in the mid-80s. When I was getting into more underground stuff around '86, everyone wanted to be fast as hell, like DRI or Slayer. Venom wasn't really the fastest thing in the world, and you could still understand the lyrics. And they were still scary enough. To me, they weren't trying too hard. It was just them being them.
They also had a sense of humor about what they were doing, which seems important to Midnight as well.
If you watch the Venom interview footage on The Ultimate Revenge—which I watched twice a day when I was in sixth and seventh grade—they weren't carving inverted crosses into their stomachs. They were hanging out backstage talking about fucking Madonna, and basically doing nothing. [Laughs] They have that British sense of humor, too. You gotta have a sense of humor. You can't be a grown-ass man wearing the shit that Cronos wears and not have a sense of humor. If you don't, you're kinda fucked. It's not to say that Venom were a joke band or a goof—they definitely weren't—but it's like KISS, you know? I think Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons know that they're funny as hell.
You did two Pagans covers as well. They're from your hometown of Cleveland. Is that how you got into them?
Yeah, they're from the same town so you'd hear about them. So of course I had to check them out. They're awesome. I'm sure if they came from Colorado, I still would've liked them, but it's even cooler that they're from Cleveland. It's that Midwest punk thing: They didn't have spiky hair or put safety pins through their noses or anything. They were just bums wearing Cleveland Indians shirts, jeans and whatever shoes they happened to be wearing when they got off work. They played shitty punk, but they probably thought they were playing something way above punk, like Alice Cooper or something. I don't think they went out of their way to be punk is what I'm saying. That's what they could afford, so that's what they played. That's the mentality that they had.
Mistreater is a pretty obscure metal band from Cleveland that you covered. Do you know those guys personally?
I've met the guys before and talked to them, but I never saw them live. They haven't played since '83 or '84 or something like that. They're from the outskirts of Cleveland, in the Northeast Ohio area. They were even obscure back then, but being a record collector dork in the 90s, that album was really sought after. It's still sought after. But they were from Cleveland and the album is called Hell's Fire, so it was like, "Oh, man. I gotta check this out!" And it's awesome. It's a perfect mix of late 70s hard rock and early 80s metal.
What about the Spits? You did four Spits covers.
When their first LP came out, a friend of mine that worked at a record store was playing it. I thought it was a pretty good combination of the Ramones and Devo. It's catchy and still really raw. I just did those covers for something to do on a Saturday afternoon. I figured I'd do a Vanilla Fudge approach and do a cover of a current song, you know? These days, people do covers of old songs—they don't record current songs. But Vanilla Fudge would record songs by other current bands and make them their own. So that was the intent. I played them for the same friend who turned me onto the Spits, and he put them out on record.
The Quiet Riot cover you did—"Slick Black Cadillac"—is especially cool because it's from the pre-MTV, Randy Rhoads era of Quiet Riot. And the record the original appears on only came out in Japan.
Right, yeah. That was somewhat of a throwaway, too, because we recorded it to fund a Japanese tour. We made the record so the promoter could make back the money he paid for our plane tickets and stuff. So instead of recording a Japanese band for fun, I thought it would be cool to record something off the second Quiet Riot album, which was a Japanese-only release. [Laughs] Which is funny only to me.
You also did a bunch of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal covers—Girlschool, Scarab, Crucifixion. Girlschool are well known, but Scarab and Crucifixion are pretty obscure. How did you stumble on those bands?
Just digging. Again, in the 90s I was just looking for anything that was described as New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Before the Internet, these record dealers would have lists and you'd see a Scarab "Wicked Women" single on there and you'd go, "That might be cool. It probably doesn't have keyboards on it." Sometimes you'd win and sometimes you'd lose, but that was a winner, I thought. Crucifixion was the same thing. They put out records that were on bigger labels, like Neat, but the song I covered, "Death Sentence," was on an independent. That's the raw shit. It's one of my favorites.
Taipan's "Breakout" is another 80s gem that you covered. They played in the NWOBHM style, but they were from Australia.
Right. A record dealer turned me onto that one. Record dealers are just like drug dealers, you know? They're pushers. "Oh, you like heroin? You'll love morphine!" This guy knew I was into NWOBHM, so he was like, "You gotta check these guys out." So he put it on real loud and of course it sounded great because it was so loud. But it was great anyway. I think that record came out in '81, and it's awesome. Metallica ripped off a tune from that record.
Did you find a lot of this stuff in Cleveland?
In the 90s, records were basically being given away. Me and my friend would go all around—Michigan, Pennsylvania, Canada—and just gobble up whatever we could find. They were giving away Celtic Frost records for a dollar just to make room for CDs. Metal was kinda looked down upon then. To them, it was all hair metal. Hallows Eve and Poison were seen as the same thing. People who worked in record stores at that time didn't seem to differentiate between Cinderella and Fates Warning. So we'd just go around digging. And then there'd be the record dealers who'd send out their lists. You'd keep your eyes peeled and check the back of Goldmine magazine and things like that. We were always digging, scrounging and trading.
It sounds like you really scored in the 90s. Some of that stuff would cost you a fortune now.
Oh, yeah. I'll see stuff now and be like, "That's a $30 record now? Shit, you could buy that everywhere 15 or 20 years ago for like 50 cents."
Have you ever sold off any of your collection to make some extra scratch?
Not really. Sometimes I'll get doubles and trade, but as far as selling, I haven't been that destitute yet. [Laughs] I don't have much, but I think I'd probably sell my body for low cost before I sold certain records.
What's the story behind the song "T.A.P." that you covered? I know it was initially included as a bonus track on the vinyl version of Satanic Royalty , but I can't find any information about it.
That's probably the most obscure tune ever because it was written and only ever performed about five houses down from where I live right now. [Laughs] It was these neighborhood kids—they were the older kids when I was in middle school. They were in high school and had a band called Black Ax. They'd have these after-school heavy metal parties in their basement when their mom and dad were still at work. They'd literally be sniffing glue and doing cheap drugs and bashing out tunes. So Black Ax was a favorite of mine. I wish they had some kind of official recording, but they never did. I have basement recordings, though, and they have tons of great shit. "T.A.P." was the obvious hit, but they had other songs called "Fist Fuck" and "Ride The White Horse Of Death." They were the heroes of my neighborhood. Just imagine 16-year old boys singing about tits, ass and pussy—that's "T.A.P."—stuff that they'd only heard about. [Laughs] Because I know the singer from Black Ax, and I know he wasn't getting any tail in ninth grade.
Catch Midnight on tour with Kreator, Obituary, and Horrendous:
March 17 - Charlotte, NC @ Underground
March 18 - Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
March 19 - Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum
March 20 - New Orleans, LA @ House of Blues
March 21 - Houston, TX @ House of Blues
March 22 - Dallas, TX @ House of Blues
March 24 - Phoenix, AZ @ Club Red
March 25 - Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory
March 26 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
March 27 - Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
March 28 - Seattle, WA @ Neptune
March 29 - Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw
March 31 - Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Ballroom
April 01 - Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall
April 04 - Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
April 06 - Minneapolis, MN @ Cabooze
April 07 - Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
April 08 - Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
April 09 - Cleveland, OH @ House Of Blues
April 11 - Toronto, ON @ Opera House
April 12 - Montreal, QC @ Club Soda
April 13 - Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
April 14 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
April 15 - Philadelphia, PA @ TLA