Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Flashback Interview: Get Thrashed - The Story of Thrash Metal

A week or so ago I posted the Slayer segment from 'Get Thrashed,' and as soon as I did I HAD to go and watch the movie.  While watching I remembered I interviewed Rick way before the movie actually came out.  This interview was done in January 2005, and I think the DVD ended up coming out in 2008.  This originally ran on the Midwest Metal website and is being re-run for the hell of it.  With all the new DVD's and documentaries coming out, this one remains one of the best.   

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so you’ve no doubt heard about the Thrash Metal documentary ‘Get Thrashed’. It’s the creation of one man with a vision and a passion for Metal music and that man is Rick Ernst. An employee of the corporate giant (and semi destroyer of music) MTV, Rick set out to create the definitive film showcasing the sub-genre of Thrash Metal. 

I was intrigued to speak to the guy about everything surrounding the film and that’s exactly what I got. The second I got on the horn with Rick it was like we knew each other for years and years so after several minutes of talking about Metal and the current state of things I started the tape rolling… 

So let’s start at the beginning, the who, what, where and why ‘Get Thrashed?

Rick Ernst: I’ve been a fan of Thrash for a long time, probably since 85 or 86 is when I first started getting into Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Exodus all that stuff and gradually got there from the Sabbath’s, Priest’s, AC/DC’s like most Metal Heads back then did. That was the music I loved and grew up on and throughout the 90’s when I started working at MTV, as we all know it was kind of a dark period for Metal in general, and it was sad. 

Even though I was an intern on Headbanger’s Ball and worked on a few specials that were Metal orientated there was nothing for Metal here (MTV) and it just kind of went away. It was depressing and finally the opportunity came around where I had met enough people and been here long enough so that the contacts and the skills I’d acquired by being at MTV lent itself to doing an outside project and forming a production company where I can do shows on my own. And basically when I sat down and thought “what’s the show if I put it together this is a show that I’d have fun doing and if nobody ever saw this except for me in my room, I would want to do it."

I would want to spend three or four years working on a Thrash Metal documentary showing how these bands were important. By showing how bands like Shadow’s Fall and Lamb Of God, who are great because they do give props to the old-school bands, but showing why a lot of these new bands are here. The masters paved the way for them and I think a lot of people seem to forget that, but there are a lot of newer bands who do recognize the old school, but I’m sure a lot of their fans may not. My goal was to do something that I feel real strongly about and hopefully it will get some of the names out there. 

For instance the recently completed Megadeth/Exodus tour, I hope some kid who maybe liked Exodus a bit will see the documentary and realize how important Exodus were/are to the whole scene and then goes out and gets ‘Bonded By Blood’ or ‘Pleasures Of The Flesh’. So that’s what I’m trying to do and I’m having a blast doing it, I wish I didn’t have the full-time job so I could do this full-time. But that’s not the reality…

I think that’s the dream for everyone who does something they love.

Exactly! But when it comes down to it, working not only pays my bills, but it funds this documentary. My background of working at MTV, MTV2, VH1 helps pay for this thing, it’s not like MTV gave me a budget and said “here, go make this show”. This is all done outside of MTV which is why I formed my own company and like I said it’s the show I’ve wanted to do for years and years but no one has ever green lit. 

I think once people see the footage, the interviews, the pictures all tied together then they’ll get it, it’ll make sense. It makes sense to us, as fans, but outside a packaged show is a cool, amazing scene that influenced a whole generation of bands so to those who are not familiar with it, it takes a little more, hard evidence. So I’ve embarked on this journey.

Sort of a “influences” type of question, but I wanted to know what do you think of the following music related films/videos…

I hope I’ve seen them…

I personally love the movie. Totally different from what we’re doing but there’s a strange side, I don’t think many Thrash fans have it, but I’m very interested in that whole sunset strip scene. And even back in the day when I hated all that stuff, the Warrant's, the Poison's I can at least appreciate it a little more. We go into this a little in our film and Sean Killian of Vio-Lence says “Without glam, Thrash wouldn’t have a target!” 

And that’s true, to a sense but today it’s a little bit more benign when you look back at what they were doing as compared to today. But I think ‘The Decline of…’ does justice to the decadence of that scene. And even though Dave Mustaine and Megadeth were in it, having nothing to do with the sunset strip, I enjoyed it.

The Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.) scene is priceless! 

Only a fan could enjoy this movie because you can, on many different levels appreciate it. Sure there’s a lot of people making fools of themselves, but it’s still a great movie. 

Metallica’s ‘Some Kind Of Monster

I loved it as well. However when the opening scene rolled out of the helicopter shot over the golden gate bridge (laughing) I thought to myself, oh my god this one scene cost more than my entire movie! But I really enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to the DVD with all the bonus footage. My favorite thing in it was the Mustaine/Lars scene and I loved the access they gave you. 

I dug the bass player auditions and even when they showed Lars almost flaunting all this money with his paintings, I mean it was insane, brave, sort of cool you know? But it was beautifully done and ‘Get Thrashed’ is the total opposite. And I guess it was a weird feeling of Metallica almost broke up and if they had, we’d have a world with no Metallica, now no Pantera and sooner or later no Megadeth, seems strange.

Okay, let’s get to ‘Get Thrashed’. Is the film in chronological order? I’ve read it begins in the Bay Area but I wanted to know a little bit of the flow.
We’re still piecing a lot of it together but yeah, the idea is to do it chronologically. The first segment is pretty much laid out and it starts in the early 80’s with a nod to bands like Venom and Motorhead and the NWOBHM acknowledging where all this came from. Some call Motorhead the first thrash band, some say Metallica and Exodus, either way you’ve got to start somewhere or else you'll end up going back to Elvis (laughing)! 

So we picked the point of Metallica’s beginnings and the beginning of the scene in general, the beginnings being how Motorhead and Venom kicked off this new wave of heavy, heavy music that didn’t exactly have a name yet. And in Los Angeles Metallica was starting up and in San Francisco Exodus was starting up and in New York you had Anthrax and OverKill

Connecting all these places was tape trading and that’s how the scene went from nothing to this underground phenomenon. So that’s the start and from there we tie things in like Metallica’s move to SF, Megadeth’s start, Slayer as well as the European bands like Kreator, Celtic Frost, Destruction, Sodom and we’re trying to do justice to all the main scenes. 
Another segment is the whole crossover movement with albums from D.R.I., Cro-Mags, Cryptic Slaughter where they were melding Metal with Hardcore and at this point were currently working on the Clash Of The Titans which was kind of the epitome of where Thrash hit it’s heights. In that segment there’s a line from Charlie Benante which say’s it best, “After that tour the door just closed, Nirvana moved in and if you weren’t inside you were out, and if you were outside you were done”. To some that was the end of Thrash for the intent purpose of it growing and reaching it’s peak, of course we know it didn’t die, it just went far underground. 

From there we do pick up where Pantera takes off and carries the flag for the 90’s and of course where some of today’s bands get their influence and some of the older bands reflect back on why it was so important.

It’s funny Charlie Benante, the whinemaster general would have that opinion when I feel the Clash of the Titans bands sort of did themselves in. You had Charlie’s band sacking their singer and then two years later coming out with ‘Sound Of White Noise’ a very different album. 

Megadeth never topped ‘Rust In Peace’ and just got worse and worse, Slayer kicked out fan favorite Dave Lombardo and then took another three years to come up with a slightly disappointing album. 

I agree, even a band like Testament, right around that time, putting out an album like ‘Souls Of Black’, hopefully they would admit it, it wasn’t a very good album…

That’s a shit album! That and the follow up ‘The Ritual’ are just piss-poor albums. 
(laughs) and then Death Angel who were signed to Geffen at the time get into the RV accident that basically ended their career at that point. One of the things in the documentary that I never knew, was Death Angel were the first choice for the Clash of the Titans US tour, they were offered the tour before Alice In Chains but because of the accident they had to say no. So not only do they not get the huge tour, they disbanded.

They had the potential to blow up, it was all down to timing…
That album at the time, ‘Act III’ was and is one of my favorite Thrash albums, they had a big label behind them, they had the push and then it was over. 

Up to this point in filming, editing and all that, what’s been the biggest creative obstacle so far in doing ‘Get Thrashed’?
Unfortunately the biggest one has been the issue of money, it’s not funded by anyone it’s just done by a fan. I book the bands myself, I shoot them myself and edit everything myself and one other person helping me. I haven’t sold the rights to it or anything like that as I want to keep control of it. I mean if I sold the rights and someone didn’t want to do a segment on German Thrash, it’d be gone. 

I love those bands and know they need to be in here, at the end of the day if this thing is two and a half or three hours, great! It’ll be a great DVD, if someone wants to pear it down to an hour for TV great. But I guess the biggest obstacle has been time, working all day I don’t have eight to ten hours to devote to this, it’s a side project right now. When the question first came up “when will it be done” I think I said Fall 2004 and as things have progressed I felt if I held off we could get Dave Mustaine, if we hold off a little longer we could get Death Angel, a little more this other footage will be available to us as well as clear the rights to some of these songs we want in the movie. 

So it went from doing this quick thing because MTV2 was interested and we may be able to get it on the air right away to this thing I’m treating like a child. I want to make sure it’s done and then I start feeling like Axl Rose “when is it going to be out, when is it going to be out?!! But I think every step of the way has been an opportunity to make it better as well as an opportunity to use the music from the bands.

Here’s a question for you, you work at MTV…obviously you know the infamous ‘Cliff ‘Em All’ clip of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” lrom the 1985 Day On The Green.


Well does the whole show exist? Have you ever seen it? 

They must have it, but in my ten years of being here I’ve never seen it. I’ve never seen it in the library, in the screening room, it’s a tape that exists in the thousands and thousands of tapes MTV has, a true needle in the haystack.

I must say, I love a good ol’ Metallica bashing as much as the next guy as a lot of it is deserved. But if they really wanted to ca$h in they could easily release DVD after DVD of classic never-before-seen killer stuff from their “golden era”. And they don’t. 

I agree, and I will say this for all their albums from the Black album on, they’re not heavy enough or fast or whatever when it comes to seeing them live, you’ll always get a “Fight Fire With Fire” or something that makes you think ‘I can’t believe they’re playing this!’ They did “Dyer’s Eve,” they opened with “Blackened,” one of my favorite songs of all-time and it felt like 1988 all over again. 

So as much as people rag on them, to me yeah the new album ('St. Anger') isn’t that great but as long as there’s a heavy riff or two it’ll sound good live and their set lists are great. And I’ll be totally honest, I’ve seen current shows by Exodus, Megadeth, Slayer…I’ve seen the "Big Four" all within the past year and my neck hurt the day after the Metallica show more than any other show. Me and 20,000 other people watched em kick ass.

Now obviously when the documentary is finished and released that will be the ultimate reward. But has there been an instance or two you’ve experienced while making the film that have kept you going? Highlights or what not?

The first thing I shot was an interview with Danny Lilker and just the fact that I was getting a call back from Danny Lilker as amazing! I mean I’d never met any of these guys before. That alone was unbelievable! I’d walk into a club and see Danny watching the opening band, I’d introduce myself and he was just so cool, thanking me for doing this and I was like “Yeah, well thanks for all the great shows back in the day!” 

Bobby from Overkill was like “thank you for thinking of us, I’d love to do an interview, here’s directions to my house. Come by, I’ll make lunch we’ll hang out I’ll give ya whatever you need.” I mean he spent three hours with me, just shooting the shit, doing the interview, him showing me around the house, it was unheard of. But those were the moments, when the bands were just so thankful for shining a light on their music, it made me feel better. But those two stand out and they were actually the first few that I did. 

On the opposite end, were there any bands that came up short as far as your expectations?

I would say Sepultura was a difficult booking, let’s put it that way. And I don’t think it was necessarily the band’s fault. The band were very cool, they were very kind the time I was with them and this was when they were touring with Voi-Vod. So I traveled about 60 miles to meet up with them and their tour manager to do the interview. So I had to wait around for four or five hours and didn’t end up getting an interview. 

I was fortunate enough to film the first couple songs of the show, but no interview. I was bummed out about that. Again there’s no interaction with the band at this point, just their tour manager who I blame for this. Two days later they’re playing at L’Amour here in New York and I’m told I’ll have another opportunity to shoot with the band. 

Same situation, I get there at 5:00 during sound-check and the tour manager walks by several times not even acknowledging I’m there, so finally I get Andreas outside of the club for ten minutes and it happens to be the last ten minutes before they’re set to go on. So the shooting ratio on this documentary is not great, if you shoot an hour and use two minutes of it, that’s a lot. So a ten minute interview with Andreas turns out to be like ten seconds of a two hour movie. So it was a bummer.

Was there a band that surprised you as far as their enthusiasm for “our” music? Maybe one of the newer bands that you feature? Which, I have to say I may not care for a lot of them, but if it gets some kid to watch the film and learn about the greatness before them, cool. 

I agree, totally. If we’re going to say this music is important, not just in 1985 but also in 2005 you have to look at some of the bands that are a bit more popular with some of the kids who like this music. A band like Disturbed or Sevendust sell more records than Exodus so there’s a fan base out there that’s rooted in Heavy Music/Hard Rock, the roots are sort of the same. 

Sure these bands have taken a different path to get to where they are but a guy like Chris Jerrico from the band like Fozzy…you don’t expect that he’s going to be a huge Thrash fan. He can go on and go deep enough, he’d be going into things that I never even thought he’d know of. Chris, from being in Fozzy and being a wrestler people have question why he’s in the movie. He’s a huge Metal head that loves the stuff and I defy anyone to try and stump him, he’s a Metal encyclopedia! So he’s one example. Another one would be the girls from Kittie, I kind of knew they were fans of Slayer

But who isn’t, right?

Exactly, but you know of Anthrax, Metallica but when I sat down to interview them they started in on Venom’s second album or the bass line on OverKill’s “Hello From The Gutter” so that’s when I knew they, that it was not a put on, I mean if they sat there and just talked about Metallica the whole time, then maybe. But they were a lot deeper on songs and riffs and even if you weren’t born when those albums came out it shouldn’t disqualify you from being a fan or it’s influence.

I call it the “big brother syndrome” or lack there of. Some people get into things at such an early age and usually turned on to great music from older siblings. But if there’s no one to steer you in the right direction and it takes a little longer, who cares. As long as you’re here, now.

And you know there certainly were a few bands that I was surprised at they didn’t know much. To be honest Killswitch Engage and Sevendust, I thought these bands would have some deeper roots and knowledge in Thrash Metal and they didn’t. And subsequently you don’t see them that often in the film. There’s some people you’ll see over and over again and there’s some you won’t even see at all. In the beginning we interviewed everybody, I mean everybody and from there we sort out the story.

Was there a visual you had in mind when you began working on the film? Did you sort of visualize something, be it a stage dive or a row of denim vested headbangers? Was there something you strived for on a strictly visual level?

Well when I look down the list [of bands interviewed] we’ve been fortunate to get every band in just about every scenario. When you think of Anthrax and you need someone stage diving whether it’s something we shot recently or got a hold of an old video that shows that we’ve been able to get just about everything we tried to. 

I think the only thing we weren’t able to get was to be able to shoot Metallica in a small club somewhere, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon (laughing) so we’ll have to rely on stock footage or old photos! We did get a lot of bootleg videos from fans that are simply amazing, just the vibe on them are so different to what we see today. 

The only thing that seems to come close is the Exodus footage we shot in New Jersey back in April 2004 and the club was a dive in a horrible neighborhood where everyone’s lucky to get out alive and there’s no bouncers in the place. So it was like 1987/88 all over again as there were always more fans on stage than band members and they were diving all over the place and the footage is great. And while it was a tough tour for the band, they were out solo playing on a Wednesday night in the rain, it’s not easy to get a crowd…

The ‘Tempo…’ record was also just released a month or so too.

Yes and I’m not too sure it get the push it deserved right off the bat so when they got to Jersey they were blown away by the crowd and the diving as it’s just not allowed anywhere anymore. The show was just a free-for-all!

Will the DVD be the definitive version of the film?

Yeah, it will be the definitive version. What we’d like to do is get this on air, on MTV2 and Fuse here in the States and of course in Europe, in Germany, South America there’s just huge markets for this all over the World. And what ends up being aired will almost seem like a teaser as it may only be an hour long, but the DVD will have the whole thing. 

The DVD will go in-depth with the bands, the scenes, tape trading and trying to document twenty years of history. One thing we’d like to do with the package that we feel is important, is to have a pull down A-Z menu, right? Where you can go to "S" and then click on say, Sacred Reich and you’ll be able to see the segment we did with them that may or may not have made it to the film. I have pieces with Flotsam and Jetsam, Forbidden etc. but It’d be impossible to have each and every band in there, yes I’m a huge fan of these bands but I can’t fit everyone in as it’d be eight hours long! 

Once the film is out, what do you think the impact of it will be? I’m sure you have high hopes for it…as do we, the fans. But what’s your personal goal for it? 

Well I’m not saying it’s going to win some Sundance award or be some big international sensation, what’d I like more than anything is to make a film that I enjoy. And from the finished scenes we have already we’ve shown it to quite a few Metal fans and they’ve given the thumbs up. 

I think the trailer is a good indicator of what’s to come only now we’ve got the time to explain things a lot better. But the hope is that the film represents and does justice to the bands, the fans and to the whole scene and if it does huge numbers at the box office or on DVD or it doesn’t it’s something for Thrash Metal fans to call their own. 

I hope it’s the definitive documentary, I hope twenty years from now we can hand them ‘Get Thrashed’ and say this is Thrash Metal.

While the film is still a work in progress thing, I did want to ask is there one particular segment (be it live or interview footage) that sums the whole thing up for you, like a defining scene? 

I mean if you had to grab Joe Schmo off the street and sit him in front of the screen and say “here’s what I’ve been bleeding for the past few years.” Is there something like that?

I’m not sure if there’s a defining scene in the movie but I think there’s defining line. Frank Bello (Anthrax/Helmet) says “those were fun times, it was all about the music not about the money. Because there was no money.” That’s the last line of the trailer and I think that not only sums up the Thrash scene from back in the day but it sums up the documentary! 

I mean it’s been a blast to going back and meeting these bands and seeing more shows than usual, I’m married and have a kid and before the documentary started it’s not like I was able to go out every weekend and see Testament or Kreator and all these different bands. It was the documentary that lit the fire under me to get back out there on a daily basis and see these shows. 

So in a sense Frank’s line sums it up because this rekindled my love of Thrash and it reminds me that if you’re in a band or the writer of a fanzine or the director of a documentary…there is no money involved, you do it because you love it! So that is the defining quote, at least for now.

Rick, let’s end this with the most important question of the evening! When’s ‘Get Thrashed’ coming out.

Well first off, I have to say how much I appreciate getting emails from people, every day, asking the same question especially since the trailer say’s ‘Coming Fall 2004’. But I think I can honestly say I believe this will come out towards the end of 2005. 

The main reason is because it’s two people working on this on the side, not for money but out of love. Sure it could’ve been done a year ago, but I don’t think any of the core audience would’ve cared for it. There would’ve been no “bootleg” footage, no music by any of the big bands and the extra time we’ve taken has done wonders. 

From the additional photos to the Dave Mustaine interview and as long as people understand that while I’d love to have it done next month, hell, next week this is a self financed, produced and directed. But it will be done, like I said by the end of the year and you will know when it comes out!