Sometimes you just need to have the right person in your corner at a pivotal time in one’s career to mean the difference between burgeoning big time success and years of frustrated ambitions.
Already accomplished and gifted songwriters and hard rock musicians, the Chicago-based brother combination of guitarist Mike and drummer Andy Vujasin were seeking a producer to help guide their debut release as a power trio alongside Canadian vocalist Franco VB. Roc under the banner of Chains Over Razors.
They got that and so much more: a champion of their project and one with incredibly impressive credentials as a musician, songwriter and producer – drum legend Carmine Appice.
“Before we were even talking about going into the studio and doing a whole record and before we even had the band name we were going through this transition from our former band and were talking to our agent and said we wanted a producer for when we do start the record. We had a couple of rough cut demos and our agent got those to Carmine and he took a listen to them. And it was kind of going back and forth for a while and we were wondering if it might happen,” said Mike Vujasin, who goes by Mikey V professionally.
“And then out of the blue I got a call from Carmine and he said, ‘listen, I love this stuff. I am in.’ Our singer then flew out to Manhattan to meet him and sat down for three or four hours to discuss what we were looking for with a producer. And it all worked out great.”
All three band members were obviously awestruck working in the studio alongside someone of Appice’s calibre, with his pedigree of collaborations including the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Rod Stewart, Vanilla Fudge, King Kobra and so much more.
“When we all got there for the initial session and the first thing he comes right out of the box with is telling stories about Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and when he was playing with Jeff Beck. And my jaw hit the floor. I was looking at him and at one point had to leave the room to go outside and get some air. He thought it was funny, but I told him I was overwhelmed because he was talking about knowing all these people who are my favourite rockers, the ones who inspired me to be an artist,” said Mikey.
“It actually took us a good four months of working with him to really get over the mystique and the hero worship. There were moments when you are cool and working away in the studio and you don’t think about it. But every so often you look over and think, ‘this is Carmine Appice! This guy has nearly 50 years of rock history under his belt and with such success.’ And it did make us a little bit nervous at times, because he is this great musician and played with all these other great musicians, so we were all saying, ‘we’d better not suck.’”
But what Appice’s enthusiasm did for the three young musicians was fill them with confidence and validate that the hard-driving, aggressive yet melodic metal they were concocting was both good but also marketable.
“Sometimes we would scratch our heads wondering why he wanted to work with us, but at the same time we realized that, wow, he really does see something in this. And it reassured us that we were on the right track in our career of being professional musicians. It was fantastic to have that feeling with such support,” Mikey said.
The result is the album Crown The Villain, a tour de force of power metal that shades the bands heavy vibe with nuanced emotions, energy and a diverse array of melodic tones.
“I always tell people we’re heavy rock or melodic metal and I try to keep it general because I know a lot of times when you say heavy metal people get the wrong impression. Heavy metal can mean a lot of things; even Soundgarden can be considered metal. We keep the description pretty general so people can’t really pinpoint and pigeonhole us. And that’s knowing that we like to be very diverse in what we’re listening to and what’s influencing us when we write. I mean, right now, I have been listening to country music more than anything even though I am playing heavy metal,” he said, adding that when people look at the composition of the band they note that Chains Not Razors doesn’t feature a bass player.
“Originally we weren’t going to be a three piece. It wasn’t until we began recording out in New Jersey for a couple of weeks with Carmine before we brought him to Chicago, and as we were tracking there wasn’t any bass yet. And I said, ‘let me figure out this bass situation later.’ Carmine said ‘you know what you don’t need a bass.’ And we thought he was crazy. He said it sounded so huge, where were we going to fit the bass? And with the tuning we were in and the keys to the songs were in were so low that it turns out he was right, there was no room for bass. It would just make everything muddy. He said to get an octave pedal and that we were going to be two piece with a singer. He was right, and it’s been rocking ever since.”
One of the stand-out tracks is Damnation, and vitriolic and powerful indictment of the way many American servicemen and women with lingering injuries or mental health issues are all too often neglected by the country that they serve.
“We all have friends or family who have been in the military. And as I was writing songs one day I remembered back to when I was working in a music store quite a few years ago, and this soldier came in the store and he had just returned from Afghanistan. He had shrapnel in his head, in his side by his ribs in his leg and a chunk of his leg was missing. He was also having chronic migraines. And I asked him why he wasn’t getting treatment and he said he was denied. He said he tried everything and couldn’t seem to get any help. And that angered me because here’s a guy who was putting his life on the line for us and he can’t get anyone to help him,” Mikey said.
“And as I met other soldiers I started to hear this pattern of anger towards our government for not backing them and how we were in this war that we shouldn’t have been in in the first place. When Damnation was being recorded these words were repeating in my head. It seemed that these people were just disposable to the government. But in our eyes these soldiers are our heroes and I felt that righteous anger. I never really heard anybody want to talk about their anger and I told the guys and Carmine that I wanted to write a song to address how soldiers are really feeling and to get the message out there. I wanted the servicemen and women to know that we’re here to support them and haven’t forgotten about them and will help them out any way we possibly can.”
The song Devil’s Eyes is a somewhat anarchic and contrarian take on the rising crime rate in Chicago, taken from the point of view of an outsider.
“The crime rate was going through the roof and our singer called from Quebec asking what the hell was going on down here because it was making headline news. He wanted to use our music to address this issue which he interpreted and perhaps being the devil’s plan. Maybe the devil wants society torn apart, because of how much power we have given over to these corrupt elected officials,” he said.
“We were already working on the music part of this song and we all just dug the title Devil’s Eyes and thinking how he is watching everything and the title combined with Franco’s observations really brought the theme and tone of that song together in a really cool way.”
Subtle Words is a song with a more compassionate tone that examines the power that words can have for good or for ill.
“It was sparked with the idea of people battling depression and feeling alone and not getting any help with it. It’s also kind of about people who are being persecuted for who they are, like how there’s a real backlash towards gay people trying to get their rights. So this song is asking, ‘hey, is anybody listening?’ Like the soldiers in the other song, we’re trying to give voice for all sorts of people who are battling something and feeling powerless. But, like I said, the spark came from knowing all these people battling depression for one reason or another, and many of them who ended up committing suicide,” said Mikey.
“And the issue of cyberbullying really inspired the tone of the song too. That’s where the idea really took off; people were killing themselves because of bullying and profiling people. We felt we needed to write a song about this and take a stand against it because we’re all one people. Why are we pushing each other out of the picture because we’re different? It shouldn’t happen.”
When the album came out earlier this year, Chains Over Razors was able to land some dates opening for shows highlighted by Carmine and his brother Vinny (Black Sabbath, Dio), as well as for the metal supergroup Metal Allegiance and will be hitting the road again later this fall.
For more information on Chains Over Razors and the Crown the Villain album, visit http://chainsoverrazors.com.
* Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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