Heavy Metal! An Interview with Scott Travis, Drummer for
Stand By For Exciter!
David Lee Beowülf
I have three words for Judas Priest:Heavy Metal Excellence. My first introduction to Judas Priest was way the heck back around 1978. My cousin Rick was a huge Priest fan, and you know what? I didn’t get with the program until 1986. But better late than never. Judas Priest hails from the initial wave of heavy metal, just coming in a tad (like a year or so) later than their older siblings, Black Sabbath, and is arguably just as responsible for a distinct heavy metal sound, mainly, the double-lead guitar onslaught. And the screeching vocals. And the pounding drums. That is: they are the Patriarchs of Power Metal.
And they’re no strangers to controversy, band member changes, fame, fortune… everything. They’ve been immortalized by Beavis and Butthead. They’ve been accused of leading minors astray. (They’ve even got a photo in Tipper Gore’s book!) How many times did they grace the covers of Hit Parader? Of Circus? Of Creem? They’ve survived former singer Rob Halford announcing his gayness. And they even weathered pulling out of an awful movie about his replacement! This is a mighty band! They’ve recorded some of the greatest heavy metal songs ever, like “Victim Of Changes,” “Turbo Lover,” “Metal Gods,” “Solar Angels,” “Electric Eye,” “Freewheel Burnin’,” “Breaking The Law,” “Parental Guidance,” “Troubleshooter,” the list goes on… Slayer even covered “Dissident Aggressor.” Why, Judas Priest themselves turned a half-decent Fleetwood Mac song into one of the heaviest of metal tunes ever (“Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown).” They even did it with a Joan Baez song! Not only that, but Pat Boone covered them! Dude, bang your heads!
Whoa, I’ve got “Stained Glass” cranking out of my stereo right now…
OK, man, this is exciting, pun intended. Judas Priest was scheduled to tour the US with Anthrax in the fall of 2001, but a bunch of terrorists screwed things up. But that didn’t stop Operation Enduring Metal, and Judas Priest’s fall tour, supporting their new album Demolition, is now the winter 2001/2002 tour. I spoke to twelve-year veteran drummer Scott Travis, also of metal band Racer X, who was relaxing in Orlando, FL, while I suffered in miserable New York. It won’t be so miserable when I see them in a week, so…
Scott, how are you?
For some reason I thought you were English.
[In what turns out to be a fake English accent] Owe, Oi, am!
No, just kidding.
You were with Racer X for how long.
I joined Racer X in 1987, and actually, I’m still with them. We were together for a few years, then we disbanded, I joined Priest, Paul Gilbert did Mr. Big, then we re-grouped two years ago and have recorded two new records since then, one’s called Technical Difficulties, and the second one, the newest one, is called Superheroes, which just came out.
I wanted to follow up on that: On the Racer X Web site, it seems that you’re still active and touring.
We just did a tour of Japan and Taipei in January, and I get confused… Because I was just in Japan with Judas Priest in December, then I came home for barely a week and basically went back over with Racer X, that was kind of unique, but other than that, we don’t have any immediate plans. Obviously I’m out on the road with Priest, but it was great to get back together. We created the Web site with two fans, the Web guys were interested in the band and offered to help us out, so we felt the need to put together a cool Web site.
It really is an informative, well-put together site.
Considering how inactive we were, I think it’s a great Web site. It’s not like we’re signed to a label, like we’re Creed or something like that…
I’m glad you’re not. Um, I’m glad you’re not Creed, that is.
I hear what you’re saying, thanks…
How long were you the “new guy” with Judas Priest?
I joined Priest in 1990, and I guess Ripper joined in 1996, so six years.
Are you the longest drummer to be with Judas Priest?
I think so, now. I’m working on my twelfth year, and I think Dave Holland, my predecessor on the drum kit, I think he was there for about ten years.
So you have set the record. OK, which Judas Priest songs do you kick the most ass on drums?
I would have to say “Painkiller.” Not just because that was my first recording on the album and then that also was the first track on that album itself. It’s got a cool drum intro and at the time I didn’t think much of it. But I’ve done a lot of interviews since then in drum-oriented magazines and others and that particular drum intro is always mentioned as the “classic” drum intro, something like “Rock And Roll” by Led Zeppelin. It’s an immediately recognizable intro. And of course, drummers all over the world emulate “Rock And Roll,” and I’m sure a lot have tried “Painkiller.” So I’d have to say I’m most proud of that; we still play it every night and it’s fun to play.
How much input in the songwriting do you have, as the drummer or lyric writer?
Well, nobody else in the band plays drums, so…
I mean, there are some metal bands where people are multi-talented, like S.O.D. or others and while they play a lot of guitar or drums or keyboards or whatever on a particular album, they always show up live on the instrument they’re known for.
What I meant, was that nobody else plays drums, I mean, some bands, for instance Steven Tyler is a pretty good drummer from what I’ve heard, so he probably is very influential in what he tells Joey Kramer what to play or instructs him or something like that. But nobody else in this band plays the drums, so I create all the drum parts. As far as playing guitar, no I don’t play guitar or another instrument like that. But you know, these guys, they’ve been around for a long time so they pretty much keep the songwriting to themselves, they know that’s were the money is.
Henh-henh… Well, do you have an input like “hey, I’d like to put a crunching drum solo in here or a thrashing part in this or…”?
They’re not dictatorial or anything like that. Everybody’s open to ideas. Even on “Painkiller,” going back to that, the song was basically there first, before that intro and I was just messing around in the studio and they said, “what was that you were playing?” and I said, “I didn’t really know, what? This and this and this!” and I ended up putting that so-called “fill” at the front of the song! So, again, they’re open for anything. So a lot of times people will have ideas for song structures.
Nothing really fundamentally. They’re both charismatic, they’re both great singers, they both do their thing up front, but I would probably say since I’ve done more touring with Ripper, I first joined with Rob, but he left a year and a half later, with Ripper we’ve done several tours around the world, Europe, Japan, Australia, a couple in America, so I’ve certainly done more live shows with Ripper, but there’s no fundamental difference.
I didn’t mean it as a negative or positive…
No, no, I didn’t take it like that. I’m trying to come up with something clever that your could hang your hat on… Other than the fact that Ripper’s an American and Rob’s English, he and I have more things in common, that’s probably the biggest difference.
To be honest with you, to me, Judas Priest is more of a “team” than a frontman with a “band” as one unit, rather than what I’ve seen of Rob Halford’s band. It’s centered around him, not that it’s a bad thing as it works great for him. But the only time I’ve seen you with Ripper was after Jugulator came out, and I was blown away. His voice is fantastic and it was damned exciting. Now, just out of curiosity, what’s the age difference between you and the rest of the band? Who’ve been in the band for all this time?
About ten years. One guy’s a little older than that. Generally, ten years.
Do you find yourself every kicking back and saying, “hey, what was it like in 1974?,” or something like that?
Sometimes, just because I was a Judas Priest fan before I was a band member. I’d seen the band with their old drummer and with Rob and I just grew up listening to their music and playing their songs in various cover bands back in the 1980s, so I had a genuine curiosity about how things were. And of course it was different for everyone. Just in general, the 1980s was a more prolific rock scene all the way around, whether you were in a club band in the middle of Ohio or you were on the big stages of the world, it’s definitely different now. Sometimes I get the feeling that they don’t want to recollect those memories, because those were the good old days! Sometimes people don’t want to remember the good times.
I think there are good times now! You’re putting out great albums.
Oh, absolutely, all I’m saying is that it was different. Obviously the band was playing bigger places, there was more backstage activity, they were selling more records, you get what I’m saying… It was probably just a much younger, just a lot of fun to be a young, single, heterosexual man back in those days. That’s the only way I can look at it!
Now, regarding covers, your playlist for the Racer X Japan tour lists “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult as one of the songs you played on one of the three encores.
I guess we’re stealing from the Van Halen era! Every time we would do a record we would include a cover tune, we wouldn’t even do it consciously! The first record I ever did with the band, called Second Heat, we did David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” And not one of his more known songs. I think on Technical Difficulties we did kind of cover a song for an Ozzy/Black Sabbath tribute, they asked us to contribute and we did “Children of the Grave,” and I think it made it on the Japanese version of the album. Anyway, we did the song and it appears on the Ozzy tribute album, Bat Head Soup, basically a Black Sabbath tribute record. Anyways, Paul is one of those guys who knows thousands of cover tunes, like myself, he grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and learned all sorts of Van Halen and Dokken, and you name any metal tune and he can pretty much play most of it, if not all of it.
“Music,” by Witchfinder General.
What was that?
I just named any metal song by any metal band.
No, that’s too obscure! More commercially known, I guess… We knew the “Godzilla” thing would be great for a Japanese audience, so we did that really heavy; it’s on Superheroes, the newest record.
You had mentioned that “back in the day,” Judas Priest had played larger venues, what do you think about that compared to the venues today? You can and have played some pretty big places recently.
And I didn’t mean it as a negative, that’s just the reality of it. If anything, it’s a major complement this band’s success, to be around today and for a metal band to have this sort of longevity, and to be honest I can’t think of another metal band, I would suppose maybe The Scorpions about as long, and I’m excluding Aerosmith, they’re not a metal band, but they’ve had a long and wonderful career with many radio hits. Which, for metal bands, are few and far between. But other than The Scorpions, I don’t know. Put it this way, you can think of hundreds of bands that aren’t around that were around in the 1980s and supposedly had a bright future. But anyway, to even be around today and to still play decent sized places, it’s just that they’re not twelve thousand seaters, nonetheless we’re still playing every night and the audience loves us. And I think people want to go see good rock and roll bands. Almost in a good way, it’s a dying breed; the good live metal acts are few and far between, for sure. And I think people still appreciate it and want to come see it. That’s one thing you can’t get on the Internet, you can’t download a live heavy metal show; you can’t rent it at Blockbuster, you can’t get it on cable, over the years, it put a hurt on live performances, back in the 1970s and 1980s, that was before the Web and movie rentals and the proliferation of cable TV, but the world wanted entertainment, you had to go out and get it.
I just want to see the band play all the great tunes you have as much as I can.
Well, it’s difficult…
Yeah, because you have something like 500 songs! I’ll be walking down the street and “Exciter” comes to mind…
I’ve been trying to get them to do that for years!
You got to play it, that and “Heavy Metal.” And play “Desert Plains” and play “Rocka Rolla.” What songs off the new album, Demolition, will you play?
We’re playing “One On One,” “Hell Is Home,” and that’s it, I think. No, we’re playing “Feed On Me,” “Machine Man,” but it depends what territory we’re in, how we feel during a tour. Even the set list is different every night. I still have to look down at the set list to know what I’m playing next!
One thing for sure, you don’t want to miss Judas Priest live, ever. But in any case, they have about a thousand albums released, so indulge yourself.