Thursday, November 22, 2012
Whiplash Interview - 11/21/2012
The always humble, always energetic and extremely popular Tony Portaro was kind enough to grant me twenty minutes after their set list to answer some questions. After I let the poor guy stop sweating and breaking down their equipment he offered his take on all kinds of stuff, from their recent South American tour, to a new album being in the works, all sorts of New Jersey Metal stuff and, of course, a few laughs. Outside, the whole thing started off with Ron Paci of Sardonica. It was awesome to hear Ron and Tony reminisce about old times and watch Tony get lots of hugs from friends and fans.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): Holy crap man...
Tony Portaro (Whiplash): That was fun.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): So good to see you guys. Once in a lifetime show right there bro.
Tony Portaro: Thanks.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): That was beautiful.
CT: Is this the first time you saw them?
Ron Paci (Sardonica): No! No! I've known them since I was fucking sixteen!
Ron Paci (Sardonica): I've seen Tony play all his life... We both played in a studio called Iron City right across the street from the Capitol Theater in Passaic when we were young. Whiplash had the fucking room here, we had the room here. Remember?
Tony Portaro: Yeah.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): That was fucking unbelievable.
Tony Portaro: A lot of people came through that studio. Yeah... even when they uhh... Gary Holt from Exodus popped in at a rehearsal.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): Exodus! Yeah he was the... bro remember!? Gary Holt from Exodus came over... He wanted to buy my guitar. I had that Randy Rhodes Jackson... it was like O311... yep Gary Holt... there were a lot of people.
CT: Anyway... everyone pretty much knows the history of Whiplash from New Jersey so... quick history for people that don't.
Tony Portaro: Ok. Well we got back together in 1984. It was Tony Scaglione and I, who met through the local radio station WSOU. That's William Paterson College (Actually Seton Hall - CTP) radio station and we were in two separate bands... he was in Jackhammer and I was in Whip... ahh... I was in Toxin... We were introduced by Gene Cory (sp?), the Metal Maniac DJ at the time. I went to Tony's rehearsal with his band Jackhammer and they didn't have anyone singing so I decided to grab the microphone even though I never sang before and... uh... two weeks later they gave me a call and said "look we want you to sing in our band." So I said, "Alright, I'll do both bands." So that... lasted a little while and then I decided - Tony and I both decided - to form a new band and just clean house and Tony and I ended up getting Tony Bono on bass so it's the three Tonys. And then we recorded the first album, Power and Pain, before we even did one live show and our first live show was in '85 in San Franscisco at Ruthies Inn where Metallica used to hang out all the time and they were there and Exodus was there in the crowd. We headlined and Possessed played with us and Death Angel and they - Possessed - let us use their whole backline so it was really cool. It was great to be a part of the scene in San Franscisco Bay Area when it just started.
CT: You're part of the Bay Area thrash scene without actually being from the Bay Area 'cause you're all from Jersey... (Tony says goodbye to some friends)... Everybody knows you because... Jersey guy right?
Tony Portaro: Yeah... I actually grew up in this town, Clifton, went to highschool here and then moved out for a... tchh... probably ten years or more and just recently ended up moving back so... it's great to be back in the scene with Dingo's and Dingbatz and, you know, it's probably the best sound system in North Jersey. You know? We love the place. We live here. We're here like twice a week so...
CT: It's a really powerfull sound. Like for a club, it hits you in the chest. It's good.
Tony Portaro: And the soundman, I mean, he knows that room inside out and not only that room he's just really good all around and we brought him to South America with us for this last tour last week.
CT: How many shows did you do in South America? Because you've played a couple... a bunch of shows this year down there.
Tony Portaro: We did five on this trip. We did two in La Paz and Cochibamba Bolivia then we flew down south to Buenos Aires , Argentina and back north to... ah... Arequipa and Lima, Peru. Five shows. Nine flights in ten days. So it's a lot of travelling.
CT: Flights are probably long too because there's a lot of space between everything.
Tony Portaro: A lot of them were. Definitely... Once in a while we got an hour and a half flight when we were in the same country but... but it is like an eight hour car ride or bus ride. You know? If you try to do that it would just be...
Tony Portaro: Yeah... It'd be rough.
CT: So comparing, after having played down there five times in this past year and then you come back into... stateside... show wise... is there... there's an unbelievable difference between the amount of fans...
Tony Portaro: There is. Yeah. You know, you go down there and your music is like on mainstream radio. You know? So... it's much more popular and it just seems like there's a lot more respect and... they just love the music and appreciate... respect is probably not the word... it's more like appreciation. They just really appreciate the Heavy Metal and Thrash stuff and everyone comes out to the show and they just go bezerk. Like in Chile I didnt... we left the stage and - at the end of the show - and we're walking - the crowd had emptied out - and we were walking through the venue and I look down and I'm like "what is that?" I'm asking the promoter and we look down and there's clumps of hair all over the place and - all over! - and they just, in the moshpit, rip each other's hair out, they go so crazy... I've got pictures of it on my cell phone.
CT: That's nuts!
Tony Portaro: It's incredible.
CT: So... you're on stage tonight... you played a slightly shorter set from what I've seen you play recently - you seemed to cut stuff out - you basically played a lot more older heavier stuff. Usually you play some clean guitar stuff and some things like that so... how do you decide what songs you're going to play?
Tony Portaro: Well this time... Dingbatz is always good to us. You know? And they let us pick the bands that we want to open for us so it's all up to us and we had taken the next to last slot because that's really like a prime slot but we got a lot of our friends bands on like Sardonica... Mindswitch... Pyramada... not just because they're friends. They're talented bands too you know? We wouldn't just pick anybody off the street or anyone that was just our friend. These are talented musicians and uh... that was a big part of it but... you know we don't want to... eat up all the time and take it away from these guys too. You know? And being that Pyramada was on last we wanted to squeeze our shit... set short so the place wasn't empty and they only got twenty minutes left to play before the place closes. You know we're pretty cool like that. We're not going to dick you around and play an hour and a half set and leave you with nothing at the end. And the guys in Sardonica will tell you. I promised the gig about a year ago...
Ron Paci (Sardonica): Yeaaaah, we talked about it a year ago
Tony Portaro: ...when I couldn't get you on... we had a full bill last year and Sal asked me to get on and we couldn't do it but I said I promise you the next time we play at DIngbatz I'll put you on the bill and I didn't forget it and...
Ron Paci (Sardonica): He kept his promise man.
Tony Portaro: Yep.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): Had an awesome night. 'Been great.
Tony Portaro: Was cool.
CT: I saw you were wearing an Old Bridge Metal Milita t-shirt on stage... I'm from Old Bridge...
Tony Portaro: Ahh nice!
CT: ...so looking back because you've been in the scene forever. What's your connection with Old Bridge Metal Militia if it's more of a direct personal thing or is it just an homage to being from New Jersey? I know a lot of people are... support Old Bridge Metal Militia just be... not so much because of the history of the group but more because they are a New Jersey based metal group.
Tony Portaro: Well you know... like... going back to the question you asked before when I said how popular metal was outside the United States... our strongest markets are in Europe and South America, but here in the states, you know, it's... we really appreciate the people that are keeping metal alive and Old Bridge Metal Militia has been doing that since the early 80's so... It's an honor for me to wear their brand on my chest and... I walked out the house today saying... my girlfriend was like "what shirt are you going to wear tonight on stage?" and I said I'm going to wear my Old Bridge Metal Militia shirt! You know, so she's like "Cool!" haha... So I know Frank White was here and he's from Old Bridge too, he's been taking... photographer that's in the scene since those days too - early 80's... and uh... and uh... that was really cool to see him too and we actually arranged a photoshoot for Sunday with him so that's gonna be pretty cool... but he did take a lot of pictures he told me of me on stage with my Old Bridge shirt so hopefully... and one of the guys was here tonight so that was pretty cool so he's gonna go back and tell Chris (Chris Homeny, current man behind OBMM - CT) and it should be pretty cool.
CT: Quickly, because you have a pretty decent cataloge of releases, I would say your most popular releases are the first two... Power and Pain and... looking back at those two releases... when you look back at them now... do you think those releases have left a, you know, somewhat of a legacy across your stuff after that you kind of feel you have to live up to them or... I know you're the kind of guy that you just do what you want (last year Whiplash played several totally clean songs when they opened for Morbid Saint - CT)...
Tony Portaro: You're right... I did for many years just keep doing what I wanted to do but those were the two most popular albums and... uh... I'm trying to give the people what they want to hear now. That's why we're back to a three peice and I'm back to singing again, you know. They really wanted me to sing so that's why I'm doing it...
Female Friend: Good night guys - I'm so sorry (to me for interrupting - CT) - Tony you were awesome...
CT: No problem!
Tony Portaro: Thank you.
Female Friend: I always leave with a memory from your show. First it was the fractured nose and black eye... tonight I have a noggin.
Tony Portaro: Oh no! Haha.
Female Friend: Yeah it was a beer bottle tonight.
Tony Portaro: Oh man...
CT: You put out an album in 2009 (Unborn Again) - a newer album - look at that compared to your older stuff... what about writing and making that. Did you put some stuff on that that you thought was more towards trying to... throwback to the older stuff that people really liked without... you're not compromising anything... it's your style.
Tony Portaro: Yeah. We did try to get back to it. I don't know if we reached as far as I really wanted to. You know. Hopefully as we move forward... we have the new music we're working on now that is a collection of songs that's going to be called Old School American Way. And I hope it gets even closer back to the Power and Pain and Ticket to Mayhem style but uh... and its... we're recording like, we started yesterday doing drum tracks and we're going back in again Friday and Saturday so I hope it pans out like that but if... and you've seen the show today, we did a lot of those older songs because the fans want to see them and because we kept the set down to like forty-five minutes or an hour we left out the mellower... picking stuff because we wanted to give a nice swift punch to the face kind of feel, you know. And when you have a short set like that we really didn't want to break it up although we could have used a couple of those songs to catch our breath cause when you do those fast ones one after the other it takes so much out of you.
CT: You went to Berklee...
Tony Portaro: Yeah...
CT: ...College of Music. Not a lot of thrash metal guitarists from that time had any real proper training I guess you could say. Did you feel that... Do you think that had an impact on the way that you wrote your stuff? Or uh... I mean, your riffs are kind of atypical on those albums compared to a lot of stuff at the time.
Tony Portaro: Yeah... That's a great question and you're definitely right. I'm a firm believe that everyone should really know theory. You know. And I noticed that a lot of people that don't know theory, everytime they write a song it sounds just like one of the other songs they wrote and that all their songs end up sounding the same but if you know theory and you can read music then you can see the music and then when you're writing you can see... like... "Oh, what if I try this instead," and you can imagine the notes on the paper and the graph and just try stuff that most people probably wouldn't even think of. But when you can see the music and you know theory it just gives you so much of an advantage to do a wider range of stuff. I'm really a strong believer that everyone should know what they're doing. You know.
CT: Do you have any plans to say, transcribe your entire... your stuff... like put out a tablature book or a music book?
Tony Portaro: I don't think I have the time to do it but... uh... it would be nice but I do occasionally record some tutorials on like... and show people how to play some of the stuff because alot of people play Power Thrashing Death the wrong way so that inspired me to start doing tutorials and teach them out to do it right. Cause some bands have recorded that song... on albums! Doing covers of it...
CT: It's all wrong?
Tony Portaro: Yeah. Haha. Not playing it right.
CT: Would you ever give guitar lessons?
Tony Portaro: I used to... years ago... but again, I don't think I have the time to do it now.
CT: So. Talk about some of the lyrical stuff on the albums. A lot of... you know you got some pretty typical like bludgeoning, you know, thrash numbers and stuff but then there's also some hidden stuff in there anecdotally with some of the songs like Killing on Monroe Street...
Tony Portaro: Well that song... I was on the way to rehearsal studio in Passaic and... back in the early days... and I seen this black dude running down the road and then all of a sudden this mob of people are chasing him... like twenty or thirty people are chasing after the guy. So uh... and it was on Monroe Street in Passaic so that's where I came up when I came up with the title "Killing on Monroe Steet," and we ended up writing that song. Yeah I have some old titles in the early days like Spit On Your Grave and stuff like that but then it twisted around to Respect the Dead so... we took like every angle and worked with it.
CT: What's your favorite song to sing... Lyrically?
Tony Portaro: To sing... ahh...
CT: The most fun to scream into the microphone.
Tony Portaro: Well I don't know if I really have one that I like to sing the most but umm... to sing and play... a real challenging song is "This," from the Thrashback album. And uh... because it's so challenging it's so much fun, you know, when you nail it live and I love the lead in that song too so... and I think it went over great tonight too... we pulled it off without a doubt. So...
Leather Jacket Dude: Hey! Great show man!
Leather Jacket's Friend: Great show, Tony.
Tony Portaro: Thanks a lot!
Leather Jacket Dude: Are you related to a Matt Luongo?
Tony Portaro: ...Yeah...
Leather Jacket Dude: You are!?
Leather Jacket's Friend: I used to drink beer with him in high school once in a while.
Tony Portaro: Ohhh. Haha. Cool... Alright.
CT: So... ah... You said you're going back into the studio. So... uh... What's the future I guess? What are you planning on doing next with Whiplash? Is there gonna be... I guess there's gonna be another album... Do you have any idea when? What's the timetable for that?
Tony Portaro: Yeah... Old School American Way. We're recording... we have about nine new songs but right now we're only gonna put five or maybe six on it and we're re-recording like five of the songs from the first two albums with the new lineup that I have. So umm... that's going to add up to about ten songs there and we include a couple live tracks from tonight cause we recorded multitrack... so
CT: Oh cool.
Tony Portaro: It's possible that if we see something or hear something that we really like from tonight we might throw that as a bonus track or something on there.
CT: One... I guess that last question... off topic... completely... what's the strangest comment you've ever gotten... about your facial hair.
Tony Portaro: Hahaha. Ohhhh... That's a tough one. Haha I'm not sure... I didn't know where you were going with that. One of my favorite comments though aside from the hair is Frank Blackfire... from Sodom... he always loved my guitar sound and the way I played and in his German accent he would always say, "So clean yet so heavy," which I thought was so cool, you know. Because I don't play with very much distortion... I like that attack... you know... so I use like an overdrive... but I don't know on the facial hair! I guess it's only been like the last two or three years that I really grew a bear this long so I probably didn't get too many comments up until now.
CT: Well I guess that's pretty much it. I'll let you go back inside because I know you got a lot of friends here and stuff and I'll let you get back to them but, thanks for taking the time.
Tony Portaro: Thanks! Thanks a lot
CT: Looking forward to seeing you again.
Tony Portaro: Some really good questions too. I appreciate that.
CT: I try and make things interesting. I don't want to, you know, get these redundant questions, you know.
Tony Portaro: That's cool.
CT: I know that's boring for you guys.
Tony Portaro: No, that's awesome. I really appreciate it. Thanks for supporting Metal!