Saul Essame Interview with Cirith Ungol / France 1-02
1. Why this name? What does it mean?
GREG: All three of us (Rob, Jerry, and I) were big “Lord of the Rings” fans and we wanted to use one of the names from the trilogy. It means “Pass Of The Spider”, the lair of the giant spider Shelob.
ROB: It was in the second book and should be featured at the very end of the next movie “The Two Towers”. In the books the proper pronunciation of the word is with an English “k” sound like “Kirith” but we chose to pronounce it with a soft sound such as “Sirith”
2. Could you relate your story? What is Ventura like?
GREG: Ventura is a laid-back seaside community about 60 miles north of LA, where Rob and I met in 7th grade. He and Jerry and Pat Galligan had decided to start a band (called Titanic), and I think the only reason they got me involved was because I had an amp. Three guitars plugged into one 15 watt amp and Rob with just a snare drum and hi-hat trying to play Beatles songs. Everybody except Pat wanted to play heavier stuff like Cream and Grand Funk, so the three of us quit Titanic and formed Cirith Ungol. Almost immediately we started doing some originals (Radiation Blues, Flesh Dart) along with our versions of songs by Sabbath, Budgie, Ursa Major, etc. Mountain was really a big early influence on all of us, in the way they would do extended jams. Around 1975, Neil Beattie (a.k.a. Terry Dactyl) became our lead singer. He was a little more glam inspired than the rest of us, but he put on a really wild live show, with black widow spider fingertip extensions to go along with our six-foot wide black widow spider for “Shelob’s Lair”. Even though he was a great performer, his voice didn’t quite fit our style, and we parted ways after about a year. We spent the next couple of years writing a lot of songs and playing all the LA clubs as an instrumental power trio, playing with bands like Quiet Riot, Y & T, and Van Halen, going over amazingly well. We tried out a number of singers, but nobody clicked until 1979, when Tim Baker, our head roadie, tried singing lead on “Hype Performance”. That version is the first song on “Servants of Chaos”.
ROB: I still live in Ventura but Greg lives now in the Los Angeles area, Tim lives near Ventura, Flint lives in Las Vegas and of course Jerry passed away in 1998.
3. According to you, why is US heavy metal less media covered than “Glam Rock” (Motley Crue, Poison, etc.) or extreme metal (thrash or death metal)? Personally I only know Manowar, Riot, Iced Earth, Iron Rainbow, Cage, Manilla Road, and you!
GREG: You forgot to mention “nu metal” ala Korn, Limp Bizkit, etc. That’s really the stuff that gets the majority of press now, because that’s what the major labels are pushing.
ROB: There has always been metal in different forms, unfortunately the best and brightest do not seem to get noticed or thrive. “Servants of Chaos” was not even released in the US by Metal Blade Records and as we speak our re-releases have been discontinued over here. It is hard to find serious US metal bands but some still exist, if only in the shadows.
4. How and why did you start putting keyboards or synths (some people feel keyboards don’t fit / are not welcome in heavy metal) in your music?
GREG: Anyone who thinks keyboards don’t fit with heavy metal obviously hasn’t heard early Uriah Heep, Deep Purple. Listen to “The Tower” on the first Angel album and tell me the synth doesn’t belong in the song! Rob and I would have loved to have someone with a Hammond B3 in the band. We added the synth to add some more textures to the music.
ROB: I was always hoping we would get a key board player, like the German band Lucifer’s Friend, but the ones we tried out never seemed to fit the band. We had a violinist play with us early in our career, but we were just beginning and it never worked out. I agree with Greg on this one. Many great bands I have seen over the years using keyboard and synthesizer have practically blown my mind, especially while stoned!
5. What do you think of “progressive metal” bands (Rhapsody, Savatage, Royal Hunt, Symphony X, etc.)?
GREG: They’re all good bands, but musically not really my cup of tea. (All the guitar players are too good!) Being an old fart, all my favorite bands are either from the 70’s, or have that sound (The Quill, Hellacopters, Sea of Green).
6. Do you have news about Mr. Richard C from Wild Rags?
GREG: Don’t know the gentleman.
7. Do you know French bands?
GREG: I like to pride myself on having a cosmopolitan music collection, but the only French band I have an album by are “Les Variations”, a decent mid 70’s hard rock band that released a couple of US albums.
8. Could you tell us what your influences were when you started Cirith Ungol?
GREG: Cream, Mountain, Sabbath, Budgie, Dust, Bang, Sir Lord Baltimore, Lucifer’s Friend, Atomic Rooster, Hard Stuff, Trapeze, early Thin Lizzy, Captain Beyond, the Monkees….
ROB: Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Rush, Mournin/Night Sun, Jimi Hendrix, Blind Faith, Cactus, Three Man Army, May Blitz, Alamo, Head Over Heels, Boomerang, Bull Angus, etc.
9. Are there video clips of Cirith Ungol?
GREG: There’s an amateur concert film of us circa 81 at a club in the San Fernando Valley, and there’s a video for “Join the Legion”.
ROB: There is actually quite a bit but it was all very crude and unprofessional. The tapes that sounds good look bad and the tapes the look good sound bad. There is a video of “Join the Legion” done by one of our roadies who was taking a class in video production. The problem with this video was that it was lip synced and Jimmy Barajas who was in the process of leaving the band was replace in the outdoor shots of the video, but a friend of our then bassist Vern. It was never meant to be seen, and is kind of embarrassing considering how powerful our performances were live. I have sent it to Metal Blade in Europe to put on their web site so that people could see it. It was not really representative of the band at its peak, but it is better than nothing.
10. Why did you leave Metal Blade Records after “One Foot in Hell”? As Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost) complains about lack of support from Noise Records, do you think MB helped you enough?
GREG: Their marketing strategy seems to be kinda like making pasta: throw it against the wall and see if it sticks!
ROB: Brian Slagel worked at a record store at the time (OZ Records) and he was a big fan of ours back then. He hooked us up to the new company “Greenworld” who distributed our album until they started the company “Enigma” which signed our band. We were the first band I know of in the LA music scene at the time to try to release our own album. We were the first band signed to Enigma, the next was Motley Crue. (YUK), they wanted us at the time to wear women’s clothes and make-up (like all the bands they liked over the years, Ratt, Stryper, Poison) and we refused which I think had allot to do with them doing very little for us. I have very little respect for these bands or their music, I think them dressing like women wearing lipstick and eyeliner etc. really set them apart from C.U.
Brian was a good friend at the time and we were actually one of if not the first of the bands he picked to be on Metal Blade Records first album “Metal Massacre #1”. Strangely enough we are not even mentioned on their web site in the history of Metal Blade. I think this is because of a falling out over the lack of promotion that Metal Blade in the US was giving us at the time. We had no tour support, no print advertising, and never received any money over the years except to cover the cost of recording. I think we decided that we needed to be on a major record label, but unfortunately we ended up working with the jerks that released our first 2 albums Restless Records.
I have to tell you though Michael Trengert, who runs Metal Blade in Europe, has been great to us. If it was not for him “Servants of Chaos would never have been released, and even though our CD’s have been discontinued for some reason we have not been told, Metal Blade in Europe will continue to produce them. When our CD’s were re-released Metal Blade Europe put out numerous ads many in full color about the re-releases, and set up many interviews with major European Metal Magazines. We owe many thanks to him for bringing our music to our friends in Europe. Obviously taste in music, just as in cars and art is more advanced than in the US.
11. About current events, do you think a band like Twisted Tower Dire should find another name? How do you see the censorship rules about songs after September 11th?
GREG: It’s cool name, they should keep it. I really haven’t noticed any censorship changes, but I haven’t heard any Taliban black metal bands lately, either….
12. Do you consider watching Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” movie? Did you see the cartoon? If Peter Jackson had called you for the score, would you have done it?
GREG: I just saw the movie, and it’s great. It’s about 95% faithful to the book, the special effects and the cinematography are impressive, and the natural landscape of New Zealand is awesome. I thought all the actors did a fine job, with the exception of Kate Blanchett, who played Galadriel like she was on drugs. One big problem to the mainstream success of the movie is that at the ending, there were a lot of confused people who didn’t realize this is the first part of a trilogy. As to the cartoon, don’t waste your time. I would love to have done the score, but they obviously wanted a traditional orchestral score, and it works well in a new age sort of way.
ROB: I liked the movie, considering most books are butchered when brought to the screen. I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed all the Orcs, Goblins, fighting and special effects. I cannot understand why Metal Blade US discontinued our CD’s over here just as the movie was coming out. Greg said he sold 10 t-shirts to fans while he was standing in line for the movie!
13. Feel free to say anything you want….
GREG: My humble thanks to all of our loyal fans over the years for their support, and let us know if you want to hear more!
ROB: Yes, Thanks are in order to our many fans and friends all over the world that have stood by our music over the years. We were raised on Euro-Rock so it is fitting that the many diverse people all over the world appreciate our music. It is very sad that we have been completely ignored in our home country, but we created our music not to be commercially popular but to make music that we felt was significant. It is amazing that it has stood the test of time and new listeners are discovering it for the first time. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went in to its creation and we are grateful that it is still appreciated.
Our Motto and Mission Statement!
The being called Ungol is dead, its resurrection is doubtful. But heed it’s teachings oh faithful, for on these memoratic disks contain, the wisdom of the ages, and by your iron fists, the horror, of false metal be extinguished.
As you now join the swelling ranks of the Legions of Chaos, together we will drive before us, the cringing herd of False Metal, crush their spineless lackeys, and purge the world of their mutant plague!!!
Please visit these Cirith Ungol web sites:
INTERVIEW for: Saul ESSAME
109 rue Victor Hugo
I have pictures available, If you want I will send you a sample and if you can open the attachment let me know if the resolution is acceptable, as I have low resolution photos for the web and higher resolution photos for print. I also have color and black and white photos.