Skull Fist – There’s no benefit in basing my creativity on what other people expect out of me

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Zach Slater, the master mind of Skull Fist who have been around for 15 years already and have released 3 albums, always defending traditional metal. Given the chance with the release of their latest one, “Paid In Full”, our talk revolves around their new work, his influences (which are not metal!), the similarities someone might find in songs and more. The lockdown don’t seem to have affected him much, since all Zach is doing is writing songs and making music without leaving the house. What’s also interesting is his memories from Greece from the one and only time Skull Fist played in the country. Interview: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: “Paid In Full”… I think the songs on this one are faster than the previous one and a bit more complex I have to say after first spins of the album, was that something that you did deliberately or it was just the way the songs came out?

Zach Slaughter: It was just how it came out, yeah. Wasn’t intentional. I was just making songs in the basement. And however they come out, that’s how they come out.

Rockpages.gr: And I think it’s a bit more difficult for you to catch them. I mean, not so easy to stick on your head, but once they do, they stay there.

Zach Slaughter: Stuck there forever. Too bad there’s no brain royalties. You know, every time you hum the song, I get a nickel. Hahaha!

Rockpages.gr: Well, that’s interesting. Gene Simmons would have thought about that.

Zach Slaughter: Yeah, yeah, that’ll be when Neuralink comes out. Any time you hum, you know, “Paid In Full” (singing). “I just made a nickel right now!”

Rockpages.gr: A lot of people say that after the lockdown, the quarantine of COVID and stuff like that, they had the more time to do stuff, work on songs, work on their music. Do you think that this affected you? I mean, you had more free time than usual.

Zach Slaughter: No, “Paid In Full” was written… I wrote the record in 2019. So, there was nothing from COVID that affected the writing of the record, because it was written before COVID even started. I had the demos done and near the end of 2019 and… I don’t know, man, like I don’t go out anyway, you know, like I never went anywhere. I live in the forest and I don’t fucking leave, man. I just stay home dude. So, when all of this stuff happened, it’s like… I get it, it fucked up a lot of other people. But, it was easy for me because, like I said, I don’t I don’t go anywhere anyway. So, the only places I go is to get groceries and the skate park sometimes, so it didn’t really affect me in any way.

It was nice not touring cause I fucking hate touring. So that’s been great. And I’m just at home now playing guitar, sitting in smelly jogging pants, you know? So, hey, man, no one’s judging me. No one’s saying shit.

Rockpages.gr: I think that one’s the one thing that came up is, um, let’s say, an existential issue that people didn’t know what to do with so much time in their hands because they never had it. You know, they used to go to work every day, spend some time there. And when they had free time with themselves or with their families, they freaked out.

Zach Slaughter: Yeah. Well, I mean. People spend so much. I mean, that’s a whole other conversation, but people spend so much fucking time just working that they forget about all that shit that they enjoyed and all those ambitions that they had. So I, I would hope that I’m sure, of course, you know, some people got fucked really hard, but I think that there were some people that were like: “holy shit! All this stuff that I used to want to do is coming back to me. Because people are already obsessed with their social lives, you know? So when you fucking take it away from them, at least maybe some people had some time to reflect on it, say, “holy shit, I can actually figure out who I am right now without going to the bar every weekend”.

But, you know, you could look at it both ways, obviously. Some people couldn’t handle it.

Rockpages.gr: Usually when we have new metal bands people are always trying to find similarities or they might even say: “listen to this song. It sounds like Iron Maiden”, or “this one sounds like Metallica”. How do you feel about that? Does this annoy you? If somebody says that you know this song of yours, it sounds like Judas Priest, the Scorpions kind of copy or rip-off?

Zach Slater: Maybe it would have bugged me when I was a kid or something, but I don’t give a shit. I don’t care whether or not you like Scorpions or not like Scorpions it doesn’t affect me in any way, man. Like I said, I don’t go anywhere. I live in the bush. I just sit in the bush and make songs. So, that effect of other people I have intentionally removed from my life. Because, I don’t think there’s any benefit for me and for other people. I don’t know. There’s no benefit in basing my creativity on what other people expect out of me. That’s the whole point of creativity. It’s my creativity. It’s not somebody else’s.

So, if somebody compares us to another band… obviously that’s going to happen to some extent. You know what I mean? Like, I’m not going to tell you Skull Fist is the most unique band ever to exist. Because, we play heavy metal and there are thousands and thousands, probably tens of thousands of heavy metal bands that already existed. So, there’s no way you’re not going to have some similarities. And I always say that my little analogy is: “I don’t mind dip in my feet in the pool, but I don’t want to dive in”. And what I mean is, I don’t want to copy. I love Iron Maiden. Yeah, but I don’t want to be Iron Maiden. I have no intentions of wanting to be Iron Maiden. But, of course, there’s going to be similarities. I mean, it’s fucking heavy metal, there’s only so much you can do. I can’t put a fucking horn section in one of my songs! I mean I could… I could do it, you know, if you guys want some fucking synths or something, you know, I don’t know.

Rockpages.gr: But what if, what if, for example, JJ, when you play him a song or a riff you wrote, might tell you, “Oh, you know what? This is a song by so-and-so. What do you think? If you change it a bit so it doesn’t sound like another band”?

Zach Slater: It’s easy… Kick him out of the band. Simple. Fuck you. I’m playing the drums then. It’s never been a problem. I did this. I caught myself in this with this new record in the song “Crush Kill Destroy”.

Rockpagesgr: Which sounds like Megadeth…

Zach Slater: Yes, absolutely. So. So here, I’ll even show you the fucking riff. So. This came. This was a problem for me. I can’t remember what Megadeth song is, but it goes like this (ed gets up grabs an acoustic guitar and plays…)…It just does it over and over. I think it’s “Angry Again”, or something like that. And when I was doing “Crush Kill Destroy” after the album was done, I’m the one who was like “wait a second, I don’t want my riff to sound similar to that. So I went into the studio just to change 30 seconds of one guitar. I called the guy and I was like: “Hey, I got to go right back” and he’s like, “dude, everything’s gone. Everything’s tear down”. And I was like, “I don’t care. We got to go back because I don’t want one of my riffs to sound like somebody else’s”.

So I ended up changing it going (plays the riff faster) so I had to switch it around. I mean that was just a personal issue. You come up with a riff, sometimes it happens, you say: “Fuck, I like this riff”… I would like to catch it myself. Because, if JJ catches it, I’ll be like “Fuck! Right!”

Rockpages.gr: We’ve listened to so much music, and we will listen to some more so, something might get stuck in your brain, but it’s something that somebody else played it somewhere.

Zach Slater: Absolutely dude. That goes back to… I used to watch stuff about bands in their records talking about their music and some guys would talk about their own shit in a very not biased way. And it’s really great when they do that because – I can’t remember what it was, man-  I was watching this interview and the guy’s like, “Yeah, I totally stole the idea from these guys”. It was back in the seventies. I can’t remember who the fuck it was though. And he’s like, “so their song went like this. And I said to myself, “man, I love that fucking riff. I would like to do something like that, but something completely different”.

And so he did. And then you don’t see the connection until you pointed out. And like I’m not saying that you could find bands and then take their riffs, or something. But, I could! There’s so many old obscure eighties bands, I could just be stealing songs from those guys… they’re not going to find out bro! “Nobody knows that band!”.

Anyone who makes music knows that that’s a possibility, that you might subliminally snake something by accident, but usually you catch it, like with that Megadeth riff. It was bugging me for like two weeks . So, I started trying to figure out for two weeks where I heard something similar to this. And the engineer in the studio was like… I showed him. I was like, “I got to switch. This is too close”. And he’s like, “dude, no one’s going to even fucking know. They’re not even the same”. And I was like, “nope, gotta change it”. Which is why I call that song “Vince Neil singing a Megadeth song”.

Some guys would never want something like that attached to them, especially a writer. If you are making  music you don’t want that attached to you. “Oh, this guy’s fucking stealing songs”. Maybe, because people are fanatical as fuck. People are insane, to be honest. So there’s zero or 100 with people. So if a song from Megadeth sounded like a Diamond Head song and it’s just similar, let’s say it’s just similar, that’s not what’s going to be reported. Metal Sucks is going to go and report: “Dave Mustaine has been stealing Diamond Head songs for 20 years”. That’s what always happens with fucking everything, you know?

I remember someone telling me that the intro to “Ride On” sounded just like another intro from another band. And I heard the intro. It did sound very similar, but it was like, “man, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t care. I’m not stealing songs from other people. If it happens to sound like something, that’s because there’s only fucking 12 different or 24 or whatever it is notes in a scale, bro.

Rockpages.gr: What do you think about Thunderor? Did you like the band? The ideas? Did JJ play you some songs before releasing them or did he ask you for help or whatever?

Zach Slater: Johnny is a great player, there’s no doubt about it. Johnny’s always been a great player. And so anything that he does is going to be at least decent. Johnny at his worst is still good. So, Johnny at his best is great. His playing is great on it. I think it was cool that J.J. wanted to try to do something. He wanted to write his own songs. He wanted to try and sing. And I’d give him tons of fucking credit for that man, because it’s a whole different beast. Being a drummer, you just smash on the goddamn drums. Most drummers are just bashing away, you know? So, he wants to be a musician and I give him tons of fucking credit for that. And there’s some good stuff on that record, too.

I think it was cool that he just said, “fuck, all right, we’ll do it. And he was always showing me stuff along the way. And, obviously I wasn’t going to start trying to… “Oh, you should change this” or “put this”, you know what I mean? He’s fucking writing songs and he’s figuring himself out as a musician versus a braindead drummer. And it’s cool. And then, I’ve seen them play a little while ago, it was good seeing Johnny play, me and Johnny are still buddies and Johnny is still a great player. It’s got a lot of creativity. So, it’s good to see him doing his thing.

Rockpages.gr: One of my favorite songs on the album was “Heavier Than Metal”. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Zach Slater: No, it’s too old. I wrote it when I was like 18, 19?

Rockpages.gr: So, what is your wildest dream for Skull Fist?

Zach Slater: Well, I don’t have any. I don’t know… Take a dump on stage. Go for it.

GG ALin and stuff… It was hilarious. Honestly, I don’t have any. I’m content just making music, there’s no complaints.

Rockpages.gr: You made videos for the songs “Long Live The Fist’ and “For The Last Time”, and I guess it was fucking freezing out there. What didn’t you consider doing it in a studio, with the heating, much more comfortable. Why did you do that?

Zach Slater: (laughing) Somebody else asked me that almost exactly. They’re like, so, “why did you do it outside of it was so cold?”. Good point. Yeah. Why didn’t I think of that? We did it at my house like the shed as I’m out of here. I didn’t want to go anywhere. There’s nowhere to film anything inside my house. And we were confident for some reason that it wouldn’t be so fucking freezing. Sometimes it’s nice out!  Nope. So, both videos “Long Live The Fist” and that one, were cold as fuck. It was so cold, so why didn’t you do it inside? Well, you know, those obvious questions I could have asked myself for the last ten years. And had I done that, it would have saved me a lot of trouble.

Rockpages.gr: Of course, you remember the video from Rush for “Tom Sawyer” where it’s showing, but they’re actually in the studio. They’re not outside.

Zach Slater: Well, you know, that’s why Rush sold millions and millions of albums. And that’s why we haven’t!

Rockpages.gr: Which one is your favorite Canadian band?

Zach Slater: Oh, Neil Young, of course. Prism, April Wine, BTO. I’m more into the old rock. Black Moor. I really like them, they are a new heavy metal band. They’re really fucking cool. A band called Thunder Rider. They were really good.

Rockpages.gr: If somebody asked you, who are your heroes in music? Your biggest influences, the people you looked up and said, “Oh, I want to do this” or “I want to be like him”…

Zach Slater: Kate Bush. Kate Bush to me is… Fucking awesome in every possible way. Her entire discography is pretty much flawless. Her creativity is ridiculously good in everything. Vocal melodies, lyrics, songwriting… her shit is so good, so complex as well. It’s genius. Tom Waits as well, too. Tom Waits is one of the coolest goddamn guys worlds. Musically, I think his style was always so good to me. And I think his lyrics are just fuckin genius, man.

Tom Petty for his hooks. I’d say Tom Petty for his ease of being so wholesome in a way. Like the ease at which he… Even the lyrics, his choice of words, and how easy he can connect to people. Through how he writes and how we sing songs. Even you think of something like “Wildflowers” it’s how he wrote that song and how basic it is. But, how much It kind of pulls you in. I thought that was super fucking cool.

Rockpages.gr: I find it not exactly weird. I would say that you didn’t mention any heavy metal influences or any heavy metal bands, which might lead me to the question, why the way the music that you play with Skull Fist so heavy and closer to classic rock, or hard rock, since all the people that you mention are… softer, shall I say?

Zach Slater:  I can say fucking Kerry King wrote some of the gnarliest riffs known to man. I mean, it’s a pretty obvious, you know, it’s like saying, you watch “Game of Thrones” or something. It’s super popular, but. But there’s no doubt that Kerry King wrote some of the most vicious riffs I’ve ever heard in my fucking life. No one writes riffs like that. Same thing with Dave Mustaine. “Rust in Peace” is one of the fucking best albums ever written. If Dave Mustaine didn’t write “Rust in Peace” in a fucking… thousand years, no one else would have wrote something like that.

Metallica’s really good and “…And Justice For All” was incredibly creative. So you got to get to that too. But although “Ride The Lightning” was also incredible. I mean I could talk about heavy metal of course… Something I really appreciate is that Iron Maiden’s the only band who maintained their integrity their entire career. I think that they are the only… aside from, you could say Slayer, Kerry king has always been the same guy, regardless of what was popular and what wasn’t. But in a heavy metal sense, I think that Iron Maiden is the only band that maintained their integrity. Absolutely. That’s that’s something I massively appreciate. I think that it’s cool as fuck and so honorable that they stayed who they were despite ups and downs of the genre they played.

And so I think that with Skull Fist I just like making music. But, at the same time, I also make music by myself. Just other, you know, totally different types of music. So it’s like heavy metal is like obviously that’s the thing that gets me, you know, gives me the fucking GRRRRRRRR, you know, like, “all right, all right, fuck everything else. Fuck everything in the world. Fucking everybody”… Because, music is personal for me. And I definitely got sucked into the social aspect of it in my twenties. But, even when I was a kid and the music was fucking personal, I put my headphones on and most of the music I was hanging out with, people listened to it. So I would never want to stop making heavy metal music. Won’t think so. I doubt it. But at the same time, I like a lot of other music too. So, of course I’m going to make folk music and fucking goofy flamenco stuff too. I like melody…

Rockpages.gr: So since it’s been almost three years after you wrote “Paid In Full”, do you have any new material?

Zach Slater:  Yeah… Yeah.

Rockpages.gr: That you want to talk about?

Zach Slater:  No.

Rockpages.gr: Hahaha!

Zach Slater:  I mean, I got no fucking life, bro. I just sit at home. I said that when I made a joke about sitting in smelly jogging pants. That’s what I’m doing right now. And I just like making tunes, man. When I was a little kid, same thing. I just go to school, I go skateboarding for a while, and then I come home and make some songs…

Rockpages.gr: Do you have any touring plans for now, what about coming back to Greece?

Zach Slater: Up The Hammers was one of my favorite times, when I first played there. It was fucking hilarious, man. It was just absolutely fun as shit. And everybody that went to that… it seems like the people that go to that festival… everybody’s got a good fucking attitude and I love it.

I remember the store right beside the venue sold those little bottles of ouzo. And that was a bad thing to have. That was a bad fucking thing to have!!! They’re cheap too. They were fucking cheap and a couple of dollars or whatever. A big fucking bottle of black licorice going down your stomach.

Rockpages.gr: So, after 15 years in the band, what would you say that is different and what’s still the same?

Zach Slaughter: We make a lot less bad personal decisions nowadays… Hahaha! I think the first ten years of our lives, we were so good at making bad decisions. We were awesome in it. Hahahah. You know, drinking and partying and getting drunk before you play. Not being able to play properly half the time because you were hangover or drunk.

So, I think I’m so much more less distracted. There are no distractions anymore. The only thing that gives me any bit of a chemical reaction is music. There’s no parties, there’s no fucking people, there’s no guys trying to hang out or whatever, there’s nothing like that. Now, the only thing I can get my kicks from is making music. And I like that. So, that’s a huge difference.

Because, when you were young, you got sucked into the attention, right? I think to some extent, a lot of people can’t admit it, but they’re addicted to the attention. So, that’s not really a thing. I don’t feel like it is anymore.