Blackfinger - Eric Wagner

Blackfinger - Eric Wagner

Mr. Eric Wagner had been really busy with BLACKFINGER adding another impressive album in his backcatalogue, and without stopping lately, has shifted his music creation energy towards THE SKULL. During the last days of 2017, METAL KAOZ had the pleasure to have Eric on the phone and discussed the BLACKFINGER activities and - of course - his THE SKULL plans that involved playing the entire fourth TROUBLE album live. Read below how this most interesting conversation went down.

Blackfinger - Eric Wagner

Hello Eric, this is Dimitris and Maria calling for the interview.
Hey guys, how’s it going?

We’re good, how are you?
Good. Nothing to complain about at the moment. Maybe I will tomorrow morning or something, but not at the moment (laughs).

Ok, let’s dig deep into our 100 questions (laughs).
Uh-oh (laughs).

So, BLACKFINGER released a great album – we have to start with that.
Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

How long did you work on it?
A couple of years; I mean, when I first moved to Pittsburgh, Dave Snyder, the drummer, came to me and said “hey man, as long as you’re here, let’s do something” because I wasn’t really planning on it. Dave was actually the drummer on TROUBLE’s ‘Plastic Green Head’ tour - and he’s from there - so I was like “ok” and we put it together and since Matt’s from there too, so probably I worked the whole time. I mean, I started to working on some songs and it’s just how progressed from there. Actually a year ago I think it was December 02nd when we went to the studio to record it. So, last year was a bit busy between THE SKULL on tour and then when I was home I was writing for the BLACKFINGER album. I don’t know if I actually remember 2016 so much, you know.

Is this good or bad?
Probably good, I don’t know. I had fun, obviously, but there are times in the past I don’t remember either. Like the ‘90s or the ‘00s, I don’t remember much of that either when we were on tour with TROUBLE all the time, I don’t remember much of that.

Yeah, when you’re traveling like you said, it can be a blur, I guess.
My short-term memory is gone but I do remember shows or if we were in a certain country and things like that. But I won't remember someone who came to me to just say 'hi', so yes, it is a blur... I mean, everyone wants to have a beer with you before and after the show.

Well, no matter if the memories are good or bad, these are the things that brought you here today.
Absolutely. I used to feel bad about things, but you are right, now that I am older it is like everything that I did is who I am actually today and how I think now at this particular moment and time.

So, speaking of memories and mood, is it our idea that we sensed and heard a darker sound on this BLACKFINGER album? It’s a bit on the heavier side, right?
Yeah, it is. I think this actually started with the first BLACKFINGER album. My records, as far as lyrics go – because obviously musically they’re all different because there are different people involved – lyrically, it has been all me since the beginning. You know, even the first song, “The Tempter”, if you listen to every song in a row 'till the last BLACKFINGER song, it’s all one life. So, it kinda started with the first BLACKFINGER album – all these and I’m working on a new THE SKULL right now, so all four of these are actually kind of connected in life as it is now, and I’m reaching a point - and it’s really a reflection on life and how you see things. I’m getting to the point, I think, where some of the lessons you learned in life and maybe sometimes you don’t feel good about those things but they are the things that make you who you are. And if you learned from those mistakes and all those lessons like you supposed to, then eventually I think you do get to the point where you feel a peace or contentment or maybe dare I say a happiness, you know. There is a song at the end [of the album] where it says “from an old and bitter sage” which is kind of true and this is how I felt in living at this period of time where I felt I was there alone sometimes and I think the album reflects that – it is a little bit darker. And THE SKULL record is just a continuation of all that and I’m hearing it, you know. Even though it’s written already, it’s cool when I’m going over the songs because they’re in the studio right now laying down guitars today again. And I’ll go and do vocals on the December 28th, so I was looking over at the lyrics and I’m like “man”! So, after I was done doing that yesterday I said to myself, "I know I have at least one more to do", because I can’t just drop everybody who has been listening to me over the years, including myself because I’ve become with everyone, you know. I can’t leave them at that door. I have to take them all the way including myself. The name of the new THE SKULL record is “The Endless Road Turns Dark” and I think this is the first time I’ve said it actually.

Can we publish that?
Yes, you can. You can put 'tentatively', just in case. So, like I said, I have led myself to that point and that’s why I said at least I’ve got to do one more – I can’t just leave it hanging there, I’ve got to take all this to the end.

[interrupting] …but wait a minute, are you talking about one more album? You keep repeating “doing one more”.
I don’t know, you never know. I’m getting older now and I don’t know how much longer I actually get to do this or people give a shit to what I have to say anymore. For me, personally speaking, I know I have to do one more because I cannot leave everybody hanging here like this.

Or maybe you cannot leave yourself hanging at this point; you need to see the end – at least, whatever that end may be in your mind.
Exactly, and I feel like I was sitting in a waiting area waiting for my new life to begin. You know, you come out on the other side, and I’ve been sitting here just being still, and it’s been a long tumultuous time, the last decade maybe even, and I’m looking forward for what happens from here and on. And even I’m excited about it, I don’t know what record it’s gonna be – is it gonna be a SKULL record, a BLACKFINGER record, or just my own – I don’t know yet. But I’m actually looking forward to it because I know, like I mentioned before the words “peace of mind”, “contentment”, “spirituality”, to finally get to a point where you feel good about yourself and about life.

Well, if you get there, let me know how you did it (laughs).
Well, all you have to do, I guess, is listen to the records because I don’t know (laughs)... I’m just traveling. The only thing I know is that when I’ll get to the end of the road, I think, I’ve reach a point where I’ve done enough bullshit to maybe know which way to turn, left or right.

Well, you know the saying “all that matters is the journey and not reaching the destination”.
Right, the journey is the important part.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t see you stopping. Changing courses, yes, but I don’t think you’ll stop.
You know, some people said that to me too. I think I’ve been saying "this since my last record" since the TROUBLE “The Skull” record. And where am I now? I’m working on number twelve. But like I said, everybody is getting older now, we’ll see. The touring part of it is getting a little hard, I mean, even though I still love it for a while at first but as far as making records and making new songs is the only thing on this planet that gets me high. So, that to me is what makes me do this, writing a new song. I guess I’ll be able to do that forever I guess. Even if I do the last one for myself and I’m the only one that buys it (laughs).

(laughs) Speaking of shows, you had some BLACKFINGER shows that you canceled in November, right?
Yes, I had to cancel them because one of the guitar players - I’m not going to get into all of it - we parted ways and I had no choice. It was a week before the Aurora show and it was just a bit much to find somebody to replace him that fast and do the shows. We’ll see what happens.

Can you tell us who left the band?
Yes, it was Terry Weston.

That’s ok, because when we learned the news about the cancellation, we thought it had something to do with a health issue or something like that, and we got worried.
No, he left the band and, like I said, I am not going into the details about this or the personal / whatever the reasons... But I know the label and all the people involved, so this show will be rescheduled. Now, I am busy getting THE SKULL record done, and maybe next year [2018] I will find a replacement. Right now, there is enough material to do another record, if I wanted to. I have not written the lyrics or anything, but musically there’s a lot of stuff.

Now, you got me confused; will it be the next BLACKFINGER or THE SKULL album the last one?
I am doing one at a time, so it is THE SKULL’s turn right now. After this one, I can’t really say what is going to happen.

Well, you don’t have to know what is going to happen; I mean, no one climbs a stair by jumping, it is one step at a time.
Well, sometimes I tend to look ahead a little too much and it gets a little bit overwhelming and I have to remind myself to pay attention to what I am doing at that moment.

Oh man, I am doing pretty much the same thing, and I can tell it is not good.
I can't help it; I mean, I have not finished this record with THE SKULL and I am already thinking about doing another one. I have been doing this with every record. Then I say "this will be my last one" and then I watch a movie, or read a poem or read one of the books I have on this pile, and I think that there is plenty of material for some more. We’ll see what happens. Right now, I am excited about THE SKULL record.

We’ll get to that, but first, I’d like to talk about the song “My Old Soulthat has some lyrics from the nursery song “Old King Cole”, so how did that ring the bell inside your mind?
(laughs) It wasn’t on purpose; I think, I was looking for a rhyme for a word but I cannot remember what the word was, so I was looking around the internet and that poem came up. I started singing the chorus ‘cause I was stuck a little bit; and I was like “oh my God, this is so cool, I wonder if I should do this”. And I ended up using it; I changed the lyrics a bit but finding this was accidental. At first, I was a little bit apprehensive if I should do it thinking that people may think this is stupid but to me it sounded fuckin’ great, so in the end I decided to do it.

There is a dark twist in the lyrics and you sound that you know who that King Cole is…
Yeah, it is me... (laughs)

Right, and looking at your lyrics, I noticed that you are writing on first person.
Pretty much yeah, and I can’t help it.

And then, there is “Till We Meet Again” which aside from being interesting music-wise, it is also intriguing lyric-wise; there you have some Bible references and this is something you have done with TROUBLE and also with THE SKULL. So, how did these lyrics come up?
In the earlier days, I used them more when we first started, like in the first couple of albums, because this was something everybody was doing back then, even like SLAYER and VENOM but I wasn't. I always thought that what I had to say better to be real or true, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for it, no pun intended... I did not want to get in trouble for what I said; I always thought I should put a positive twist to it because I couldn’t just say “I worship Satan” or whatever bullshit like that. I didn’t believe that way, you know, I grew up Catholic, even though I am not no more because I believe organized religion to me is man-made. So now, I do this now and then and this is one of my favorite subjects; it is intriguing and I don’t think you can take it literally in 2017 and you have to put it in a nowadays’ perspective. That song was done on purpose, to go back and say something like that, and actually in the chorus I quote something, that nobody has commented on, that is from an old TROUBLE song. But nobody has noticed this...

Now, you make me feel bad about missing that…
That’s fine, man; the lyrics go like this “remember me, I was the one standing in the rain” from the “Psychotic Reaction” song. And when I put that there, I was like “that’s cool, I wonder if anybody will catch it” but so far nobody has and I love that. That’s my goal some times. I think a good song is when the lyrics marry the music - it is awesome when this happens. I get goosebumps because that particular word on that particular note could have been better and I love when this happens.

When I was looking at the lyrics of that song, I got the impression that you were talking about how people are doing the same errors all over again, even though these have happened in the past.
It is weird and this happens to me when I am touring with THE SKULL and we are doing an old song like “Bastards Will Pay” and as I am singing it, because I have not listened to that for a long time, I am thinking “this shit is still happening today”. I wrote that one in 1984 and we are dealing with the same crap - nobody is listening and I don’t get it. Now, in social media, everything is so confusing and people think that some headlines are true and real, but they don’t read the entire article; they just read the title and post it right away. Right now, they have everyone confused with what's really going on. And if there is something stupid has happened that is monopolizing Facebook or something, then you know that there is something bad going on behind the scenes. I am trying to stay off of it, but I am addicted to it; it is like a guilty pleasure that when I am bored, I go and read stupid comments and posts... And it is kind of sad sometimes because I notice there’s a lot of lonely people and this makes me sad for them. I don’t know how to explain this; I think because of the social media, people are reaching out where otherwise they would be just sitting alone in their room and nobody would really pay attention to them.

Well, I think whoever came up with the term “social media” had a “pun intended” attached to it because it has nothing to do with being social at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite and, like you said, people just read a title and right there they form an opinion.
I don’t think this is a good thing; somebody said to me once “when did this all start” and I was like “when they put the internet on the palm of your hand”. It is not a good thing to know everything all the time. There is a lot of shit that you would not know about unless you read the newspaper or watched the news at night; but all this little stuff going on with half of it you do not knowing if they are actually true. And some of the sources... How can a stupid website from wherever knows the truth about something when nobody else does yet? This does not make sense to me.

The only thing you can do is get a pencil and a piece of paper and write lyrics.
This is what I’m doing, although after four albums in a row, I am popped (laughs)... Right now, I am taking a break.

Speaking of new albums, what is the status of the new THE SKULL record?
Right now, we are laying down the rhythm guitars and I will start working on the vocals on December 28th, 2017.

How many songs are we talking about?
There are eight songs which I like it because it reminds me the time when I was a kid; we used to ride our bikes to the record store to get an album and there were eight tunes with a great cover artwork. I hated it when during the ‘90s the CDs came out and there were like twenty songs on a record and half of them being good. They had to shrink the covers too. Ok, CDs may sound better, but I like that the vinyl is back; it is a record again and it makes sense to me. It is a story and this is why they call it an “album”, I guess.

Do you know if the mixing and the mastering will be done having the vinyl in mind?
There will be two mixings and masterings: one for vinyl and one for CD. We will be doing both and I think we are aiming for a June 2018 release. Right now, we had the brilliant idea instead of sitting without something to do, to go out and play some shows and do the self-titled TROUBLE record in its entirety. Something I am really looking forward to it because I haven’t listened to that album for a really long time and it is going to be a blast.

Should I ask why are you doing this or will it sound harsh?
Why? Like I said, we will be done recording and mixing the record and we feel like going out and do something special, while waiting for the new album to come out. We will do a couple of weeks here, and if more people want to hear more, we may do more.

Why did you choose this TROUBLE album?
Because I think the two most influential albums we did, were the two self-titled ones; the very first and the fourth one. At least, this is how I feel about them, even though like “The Skull” may be the heaviest one, “Run To The Light” is a little bit of a transition album. The fourth one I think was our best one and a lot of other people believe the same. So, we went out and did the first one in its entirety a few times; we did it in ‘Roadburn’, in Montreal and a couple of other places. At first, we talked about doing “The Skull” but I said to do the fourth one because everyone loves the record and we all agreed. This is something for us to do and have some fun instead of sitting around with nothing to do. It is like going on vacation.

Will this vacation extent to Europe?
That would be cool, I love it there. I have been going there since I was five years old and I feel like home when I am there. As long as they want me to go there and sing, I will do it.

And even though we've already said that memories tend to escape our mind as years go by, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the writing / recording sessions of that album?
Well, I don’t know, it has been a long time since then. I remember working on it; the songs were a little bit different before going to LA to sign with Def American. Someone told me behind everyone’s back, and told me not to saying anything, that Rick Rubin saw the band in Sacramento during the KING DIAMOND tour and that he loved the band and wanted to sign us. So, they gave me his personal phone number and I called him. He answered the phone and I was like “Hey man, what’s going on?” (laughs) It was so cool and it happened really fast. So, that’s really the first thing I remember. Then we went out there and did the pre-production with him and it took like two months and the whole process took four. Rick Rubin was the one who taught me how to actually arrange a song and to trust my feelings and my gut instincts. I think if we hadn’t done this at that point and time in 1989, I wouldn’t be actually sitting here and talk to you. I don’t know - that changed everything. For me, on how I look at producing a record, on how making one, how writing one, how writing lyrics to songs and stuff, and he brought out more of a poetic way to say things in me. You know, even though I started on "Run To The Light", but he sat down with me and we went through all my lyrics and he didn’t tell me what to write but he brought the best out of me. And I’ll never forget it and I always use that approach now when I’m writing and stuff, and you know, painting pictures with words, like I did with the BLACKFINGER one, the reference to the “Psychotic Reaction” song. Just to do things like that, so people to think, you know. And even me, when I’m done, people ask me what the song is about and I’m like I don’t know, I haven’t read it yet. When I am writing lyrics, I am so deep into it, so when it is done, I can sit back and actually listen to it instead of working on it.

All the things that you just said us are the reasons you chose to play this album in its entirety.
Yes (laughs). It changed everything; like I said there are the first two albums, then “Run To The Light” was kind of a transition period for us, we kind of didn’t know what direction and there is actually a tape of “Run To The Light” where it sounds like the first two albums. I hate the mix on that record but the songs are good, but then, there are the Def American ones, “Plastic Green Head” and “Simple Mind Condition”; I don’t know if a lot of people understand the “Simple Mind Condition” or what the reason is, but I like that record. You know, I thought that after the time of being apart we came back and made that record is heavy and the story on it is awesome to me. So I like it – I like it better than “Run To The Light” actually. I know that people are not gonna like that saying (laughs).

So, the next album you’ll play with THE SKULL in its entirety is “Simple Mind Condition”, right (laughs)?
No. When we first got THE SKULL together was me, Ron and Oly; so Ron didn’t play on that album, so he doesn’t really do anything, but the thing about it is that the only album that me, Ron and Oly actually played in together was “Plastic Green Head” and we didn’t even think of it that way. But here we are, THE SKULL started in 2011 and here we are, six years later, doing our second album - it’s freaky how shit happens.

And speaking of the TROUBLE albums, you have to keep also in mind the parameter that you’re growing age-wise, artistically-wise and also as you grow as part of a band, the music grows with you and you may change a little bit directions or try other things. So, every album is special, especially from that period of time.
Yeah, I mean you can tell we're older on that record that it’s a bit thought-out and grown up. It’s just different – both of those two albums; “Manic Frustration” too. Like I said, I haven’t listened to those, it’s gonna be fun doing a few of those songs like “Heaven On My Mind” and “Black Shapes Of Doom” and all that - it’s gonna be a blast. I don’t think I’ve done those songs (all of them, I mean) since that album even.

It’ll be fun for us, too.
It’ll be great. I’m actually looking forward to it, you know. Hopefully we’re gonna get to do that a little more often I think once people hear it. They’ve already asked us to come out to the West Coast and do it there too, so we’ll see; I’m up for anything. Like I said, I’m in my prime, so I might as well go out and have fun and experience all this, looking at things from a different perspective now that I’m older.

Well, Eric, again, it was a real pleasure talking to you, and we’re really looking forward to listening live both the “Trouble” album from THE SKULL, and then the “When Colors Fade Away” from BLACKFINGER. So, we’ll see you on January 25th in Chicago for the first course.
I’ll be there (laughs).

There’s a great band playing there, so you should be (laughs)!
Thanks guys, I appreciate the support through the years and everything.

EARTHEN GRAVE - RELENTLESS re-edit w/ Studio track