Enter The Metal Again: An Exclusive Interview With Joe Varga Of VARGA
By Larry Petro, News Monkey
On Splitting Up The New Release Into Two Parts: “The length was over 80 minutes, and we thought, “Well, you know what? Let’s split it up and do six and six.” So, that’s what we did.”
Interview By Cary Gordon
After a hiatus of almost 15 years, Canada’s VARGA have returned with a vengeance, and this time are doing it themselves. VARGA had some popularity in the mid-90’s with their album, Prototype, and then followed it up with another release in 2005, Oxygen. The band went dark after that last album, and it wasn’t until 2013’s Enter The Metal and the upcoming 2014 release, Return Of The Metal, where the band went back to their original Progressive metal roots, that reignited the flame of metal for these Canadians.
KNAC.COM: It’s been 18 years since the last release. What will fans that remember the band from the 90’s have to look forward to?
VARGA: Well, It’s a little different. Its very edgy and progressive metal than before. Which funny enough, is the stuff we were doing previous to the 90’s. Basically, the ‘89 – 91 era of music. That’s basically where we are now. Kinda went back to our roots. More towards the Progressive metal style.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, when I listen to it, I definitely get that progressive, early 90’s, VOIVOD era style.
VARGA: Yeah, kinda Thrash, progressive insanity.
KNAC.COM: I read that this is going to be a two part comeback release.
VARGA: Yeah, we actually recorded twelve songs and basically decided to release it in two parts. Reason being is that it wouldn’t all fit on one CD. The length was over 80 minutes, and we thought, “Well, you know what? Let’s split it up and do six and six.” So, that’s what we did. We released Enter The Metal in October, and the second part, which is going to be called Return Of The Metal, will be out probably in May.
KNAC.COM: What brought upon the reformation of the band a few years ago?
VARGA: Oh yeah! Yeah, a couple of years back, I just called up the guys and said, “Let’s jam!”. And then, from there, we were actually doing, before we actually went back into the VARGA vault, we started doing some cover gigs in Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) here where we live. It was basically a thing called classic Metal night where we would cover full albums, you know, classic Metal albums from the 80’s or 70’s, like JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN or BLACK SABBATH, and stuff like that. So, all how it sort of came to be. We started doing those gigs, and we were like, “Hey man. Let’s go back to square one here”, and get back in the basement and began jamming again and start jamming some of our older material. Basically, from there we had decided to just rework a lot of our older material and record it properly, you know, with good sound and a big studio and all that stuff.
KNAC.COM: Was it a natural flow to get right back into the studio after all those years?
VARGA: Yeah, yeah, I think so. I mean, we definitely prepared for it. We were well rehearsed when we went in the studio. Yeah, it was great. Great to jam out with the fellas again, and crank it up. All original four guys, and it couldn’t be better. I couldn’t be happier. We’re all happy. (Laughs)
KNAC.COM: That’s a pretty rare thing right there.
VARGA: Yeah, it’s great to hang out with those guys again, because we had kinda parted ways for a while. We did, you know, the whole life thing. Basically, life got in the way and we got jobs and all that sort of thing. This is our first love and we are kind of striving towards making this happen again. So, that’s where we are at right now.
KNAC.COM: What has been the reaction to the album so far?
VARGA: Yeah, the reaction has been awesome. Most people are really digging it, and our old fans are really digging it. We’re getting a lot of new fans coming out to see us. Yeah, man. It’s been a really good response, a lot of great reviews in magazines. We’re pumped.
KNAC.COM: What is the writing process for the album? How long does it take for you guys to go from concept to completion?
VARGA: All of these songs that were on Enter The Metal and Return Of The Metal coming, were all basically songs that we wrote from ‘89-’91, and some of the songs were partially written, and some of them were just recorded as demos on cassettes. It was just a matter of us going through all the material and sorting it out and figuring out what songs we wanted to do. Getting them polished again, basically. Clearing out the cobwebs and making them good songs.
KNAC.COM: Tell us a little about the production on the album and where it was recorded.
VARGA: We recorded it in Canada here. Just outside Hamilton at a place called Caledonia. Actually, it was on an Indian reserve area at a place called Jukasa Studios. Fabulous place. We had our longtime friend, Julius Butty. He was the producer. He produced PROTEST THE HERO and ALEXISONFIRE. Amazing place. We actually got to record through an SSL board that was brought in from Abbey Road studios. It was really good. It really made a difference I believe in the sound of the whole production.
KNAC.COM: It has a very full sound to the album.
VARGA: Yeah, thick, but still very modern sounding. We’re quite happy with the sound of it.
KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about some of the songs from Enter The Metal. It’s so rare when bands write the lyrics in such a narrative style, and I definitely get the feeling that each song is a story set to the music.
VARGA: Yeah, I mean, for the most part, we try not to take our lyrics too seriously. Like you said, we are quite into the storytelling aspect of music. like the old school days, like with DIO. Not so much with wizards and dragons; stuff like that. “Mad Scientist”. I guess there are a couple of songs on there that are kinda political to a short extent. For the most part, it is pretty laid back, and intense at the same time. No rules! (Laughs)
KNAC.COM: Let’s go through some of the tracks. “Beginning Of The End” has a great change a few minutes into it. What is the story on this track?
VARGA: That is basically a story, actually Adam Alex – our guitar player, wrote the lyrics to that one. It’s a story about basic war. I think it was a concept from a war back in the 80’s or something, and he kind of took elements of a Far East war sort of thing and kinda inputted it into the lyrics.
KNAC.COM: “Gamera” is a little self explanatory.
VARGA: Well, yeah (Laughs). The ‘ol flying turtle man. Yeah, we are big fans of the old school Japanese movies, and monster movies. We thought, “You know what? Let’s go there”. And we did.
KNAC.COM: I’m sure people have talked to you about “Plane Crash”. Do you have a fear of flying? Is that what inspired the song?
VARGA: Yeah. Pretty much. Well, back then I did. Since the late 80’s, I always had a fear of flying. I’ve done a lot of flying up to this day, so I am kinda over it, somewhat. But there is always still that fear. I mean, just flying in general is crazy.
KNAC.COM: How does the VARGA from 2014 differ from the VARGA that last put out an album in 1995?
VARGA: Well, like I said, it is more focused on Progressive metal. Basically, no rules. I believe that the two albums we did in the 90’s, we were kinda, you know, we were just kinda following the times. It was the 90’s. It was a strange time for metal. We kinda straightened out a bit and went for that straight ahead metal. We sorta had a little bit of an Industrial edge to some of our stuff in the 90’s. I guess that is how it differs. Now, it is more straight ahead, raw, Progressive metal.
KNAC.COM: Do you feel that the albums in the 90’s had anything to do with the record labels, and being forced into doing something you didn’t really want to do?
VARGA: Oh, of course. There was definitely some pressure from the record company to write some hits. It’s a record company. They need to make money just as much as we do. You know, there was that pressure. We were younger back then, and we were like, “Yeah, sure, we will give it a shot”. We kinda just went with the times. We did have some success with those albums, but obviously not as much as we wanted to, but that is fine. It was a great learning process. Some of those songs on those albums are great songs, and we still like playing some of those tunes as well.
KNAC.COM: I am looking at my copy of Prototype right now, and it is one of my favorite albums from that era. What songs do you still play live? Do you change them around a little bit?
VARGA: Cool. Like I said, we basically started playing again not too long ago. I think we are going to incorporate “Greed”, and maybe “The Unconscious” into the mix. Try to incorporate some of the best of material from both of those albums and then some of our newer stuff. Make it interesting.
KNAC.COM: Now going back to the albums from the 90’s, what is the availability on these?
VARGA: I think they are available on iTunes only. I’m not sure about hard copies but I know for sure that digital copies are available on iTunes.They are hard to come by in normal CD stores. Sometimes, you might be able to find one in a second hand store or something like that.
KNAC.COM: I think all CD’s are pretty hard to find in a store now.
VARGA: (Laughs) Yeah, pretty much.
KNAC.COM: What’s the status on the Multiple Wargasms album?
VARGA: Like I said before, most of the songs on that were redone and put on these two new albums we have now. But better. Multiple Wargasms was basically, well, I don’t know if it was even 8 track back in the old days, on half inch tape or something. Pretty low grade production. It was OK, but they have definitely come a long way since then. (Laughs)
KNAC.COM: Now you mentioned the music that are on these last two albums. Have you guys started looking into writing new music for the future?
VARGA: Yeah. We’ve already been kinda shooting around some ideas but for the most part, this year will be concentrating on these albums, Enter The Metal and Return Of The Metal because like I said, we have Return Of The Metal coming out in May and then we are going to try to get out in the Summer and play some shows and concentrate on that. Probably for the most of this year. I’m guessing, when December of 2014 starts rolling around, we will start going into that writing process again.
KNAC.COM: So the band is full steam ahead right now?
VARGA: Yeah, we’re excited. It’s been great. We couldn’t be happier.
KNAC.COM: What was your most memorable concert with the band?
VARGA: I would say, back in the mid-90’s. There were a couple actually. There was one in Phoenix where we played a gig. We were on tour with a band from New Orleans, called CROWBAR and we did a gig in Phoenix, and I remember that Rob Halford came out to check us out. He was standing side stage for our whole set, which was amazing. We got to meet him later, and gave him some of our shirts, and stuff like that, which was really cool. But as far as other gigs go, we did a thing in Canada here, in Toronto one year. It was called Molson Canadian Blind Date which means, basically it was in a nutshell, all the fans wouldn’t know the band they were going to see until they got to the venue, and just so happened to be METALLICA, and we got asked to open up for those guys. That was phenomenal. (Laughs) To say the least. That was a great one. There was one other one, where we actually did two shows, one in Toronto, and one in Montreal, was playing with WHITE ZOMBIE as well, and PRONG. It was a triple bill. That was awesome as well.
KNAC.COM: What is your opinion on digital music services like Spotify, where people can actually hear your new album?
VARGA: You know, it’s going to happen anyways, eventually. That’s great. If more people hear it then…fabulous. My theory is if they like it, they will buy it. Hopefully that is the case. I still buy CD’s. A couple of weeks ago, I just bought the latest DEATH ANGEL CD. I got the digipak, and that is just phenomenal, man. I’ve always been into those guys.
KNAC.COM: What influenced you as a musician? What first got you into music?
VARGA: Well, I was playing music ever since I was five years old. That is when my dad basically got me my first drum set. I started hammering away when I was a young lad, and then shortly thereafter, I started getting into KISS, RUSH and BLACK SABBATH as a young teenager. My drummer, Dan Fila, we basically grew up together as young kids, playing in bands together, and then it kind of developed through public school bands in high school, and from there it was created.
KNAC.COM: What are some new bands that you listen to now?
VARGA: New bands? Not too many new bands. I kind of stick to the classics. Like I just mentioned, DEATH ANGEL. TESTAMENT, and ANTHRAX and MEGADETH and stuff like that. But, obviously, I always go back to the IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST and BLACK SABBATH. MERCYFUL FATE and KING DIAMOND. That’s my kinda cup of tea. And of course, RUSH. We still love listening to old school RUSH.
KNAC.COM: If you had a chance to go back and do something different in your career, what would that be?
VARGA: What would that be? Not do something different? Not cut my hair. (Laughs). I don’t know. I kind of like how my life has gone. It’s been a learning experience, as everybody’s lives are. I couldn’t be happier than where I am right now. Yeah, it’s going well.
KNAC.COM: Is there anything else you would like to say about the new albums, and to your fans?
VARGA: Yeah, just get ready for all out insanity. It’s very heavy, very Progressive and look forward to hearing us live. We’re going to be playing live soon. A lot. And writing more stuff in this vein of music.