By Dave Schwartz
Photos Courtesy www.nuclearassault.us, http://mistur.klaki.net/
It almost seems unfair to use a phrase like "back from the dead" to describe Nuclear Assault, but in a business where fortunes can be made or lost in minutes, it may be appropriate. For a number of years, Nuclear Assault ruled the realm of underground music, inspiring bands and recruiting a legion of fans. But then, suddenly the music ended. Now, 10 years later, Danny Lilker has reformed Nuclear Assault and found time to sit down to explain where they went and why they're back.
Lilker was in good spirits, although somewhat nervous. But a slight case of nerves wasn't too surprising given that this was the opening night of the tour. Nonetheless he was quick to make a joke and was very accommodating. It seemed necessary to get the most obvious question out of the way. After all, it had been 10 years and certainly the lives of everyone in the band had continued. So, I wondered, what, after 10 years, has brought about the Nuclear Assault reunion?
"I would have to say, actually, although this will sound egotistical, it had everything to do with me," Lilker began. "It was about how much time I had. Let me give you a time line. I've done about 10 interviews in the last 10 days so I have this shit down to a science. I originally left the band in 1992 to pursue Brutal Truth. That continued until 1998 when the band fizzled out. We weren't getting along and we said, 'fuck this.' Right when that fizzled out, SOD started up doing stuff again. We did our second record out of nowhere and ended up doing more shows than we had ever done. We toured all over the place. That lasted until March 2000. "During one of the last SOD shows, I had the great luck of meeting the woman that I am going to spend the rest of my life with-- I met my future wife at one of the shows. Then, I didn't want to go run around and tour while I'm courting this woman and getting to know her and stuff. So, it wasn't until about last year at this time that I felt comfortable doing this again. And as far as what brought it about, there's a band called Candy Striper Death Orgy, they're from New Hampshire I think, the guitar player, Eric, is the biggest Nuclear Assault fan. He kept in touch with everybody, you know, constantly checking up and calling me every two years asking if I felt like doing a show. I always said, 'no I'm too busy' or not into it. Finally I had time where I was comfortable and after ten years or so, Thrash was fun again. I was in Brutal Truth playing as fast as I can, got that out of my system. And, ah, there you go."
What started out as an opportunity to play a couple of local shows has blossomed into a live album and eventually a full tour. But given the cult following of Nuclear Assault, that couldn't have been too big of a surprise. I wondered if the reunion had grown even bigger than Lilker had first expected.
"Well, now it's kind of stabilized and we know it's going to be big. The thing is, yeah, when we started this it was just going to be a show or two," Lilker agreed. "But when people found out we were active again, they were all over it. And also, friends of mine-- have you ever heard of Slayer magazine from Norway? Okay, well, the editor is my friend. And I've been e-mailing him and he's like, 'Dude, if you guys are active again, you should do Wacken. Here's the e-mail for the guy from Rock Hard magazine, they work with Wacken.' It turns out I knew that guy too. The next thing you know we're playing Wacken. Then the floodgates really opened. The people who put on the Wacken Festival started booking us in Europe, so ah, it defiantly blossomed, snowballed, even mushroomed if you want to use the pun."
With a few notable exceptions, festivals in America have traditionally struggled. This, unfortunately, makes it difficult for bands like Nuclear Assault to break into the mainstream. But Europe is more into the festival format, isn't it? You know, bringing a dozen bands together and kicking your ass for the day.
"Yeah, Europe overall seems to have their shit together more with the big festivals and the traveling festivals and all that shit. So it's defiantly good," Lilker explained.
Has Europe been a better home for metal? America hasn't supported metal and thrash the same way the Europeans embrace the genres.
"That's true," Lilker agreed. "Americans are spoon-fed a lot of stuff. Americans are much more apt to be into Mall Metal and stuff like that. Americans are lazy compared to the Europeans. They take whatever is on the radio and that's it. I'm not talking about the underground people that come see us. I'm talking about your status quo."
I see that Anthony Bramante has left the tour to fulfill previous commitments. Is there any possibility that he will be rejoining the band at some point?
"No, we made a clear split with him." Lilker clarified, "It was a mutual thing. When we first started doing the band thing again he said, 'Look dude, I can do weekends here and there locally, but I can't do touring.' I was like, 'Don't worry dude, we won't be touring. It's just a few shows.' And then of course, all of this happened. So we decided that rather than having all kinds of tension and having to cancel shows, we decided that the best thing to do was to go separate ways. We did and there are no hard feelings. The last show he did was Wacken. By the next month we were playing Brazil with our new guitar player, Eric Burk."
How has Eric fit into the band?
"Oh, he's great." Lilker continued, "He's very good at learning stuff. He's looks good, if that's really that important. And he's a cool guy. You got to have all that stuff. It's not having somebody who can play the songs, they have to fit in as a person. You could do all of that and be a jerk and it just wouldn't work. He's cool, he's talented and he has the same wacky sense of humor that we all have."
You've been active in the metal scene for many years and certainly much has changed. The genre has suffered the ebbs and tides of popularity. Are there any modern bands that you think have a chance a rekindling metal in America?
"I'm sure there are, but I can't think right now. It's one of those things where you hear a song and you think, 'Wow I'm glad bands like this are around.' I don't really listen to the commercial side of things. There's always going to be bands like Morbid Angel that are still doing it. I would have to say something like that, just bands that are keeping the underground stuff alive. But as far as bigger bands, I don't know at the moment. Sorry, I'm a bit distracted, this is the first day of our tour and I have a lot on my mind," Lilker admitted.
You've had the good fortune of being a founding member of some very influential bands. From Brutal Truth to SOD and of course Nuclear Assault, these bands have inspired many followers. Do you feel you have a "magic touch"?
Clearly embarrassed by the question Lilker replied, "Well, thanks. I think it's more like the fact that is you do something with conviction and don't have any weird priorities like 'I'm just doing this to make money.' Then people can tell that it's honest and it's real. It's more just something like. well, you have surround yourself with good musicians and take pride in what you're doing and I think people can tell. Some of it might be, 'Oh it's Danny Lilker and he's done some good stuff in the past.' Maybe your reputation precedes you. If you just do something with the proper dedication and a little bit of talent, then people will like it. If I do it and people know it and like what I've done in the past then it might get into the door a little quicker."
You've long held a reputation for being outspoken. As a result, you have used music to offer personal commentary on the day's issues, often making your statement with a smile and a sense of humor. Is music the best forum to call for social accountability?
"I don't know if it's the best. It's the medium we use because we are not politicians," Lilker explained. "If you're going to have music you have to have lyrics to it. When we got into hard core in the mid-eighties we realized that we could have music with a message and not just like, 'Okay, now we have to write the words.' As far as social activism and people in the political spectrum, they might effect more change, but I think people can relate more to music. Some people may not be interested in reading the paper and seeing what's going on. So I say yes and no. Music may not be the best one, but it's the one that may come across to more people than the regular hard-core political activism that may not interest an 18 year old kid."
Once again, Danny Lilker is proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Time didn't wait for Nuclear Assault and Lilker certainly didn't sit at home either. Instead, he followed his heart and it has lead him back to the band he left 10 years ago. Now, because of a little luck and perseverance, he's back on the road supporting a new live CD and lighting up stages worldwide.
For more information check out www.screamingferret.com and www.nuclearassault.us/
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