Derketa is a legendary death metal band within the underground scene and they are back and I had a nice long chat with founding member guitarist/vocalist Sharon Bascovsky.
Have you lived in Pittsburgh all your life? What sort of girl were you growing up? What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Yes, sir. I grew up in a suburb about 15 miles outside the city of Pittsburgh and am very content living here. Pittsburgh is very laid back and the people here are polite for the most part. Growing up I would have been considered a “tomboy”, always trying to fit in with my older brother and his friends. I remember wanting to be a vet when I was little because of my love of animals but the thought of having to put an animal down was too horrible for me.
So what sort of girl were you in middle school? Did you like trendy things to try to fit in or did you just do things that you liked yourself?
I was really shy and got the giggles in the most inappropriate times; same as now really. I got in trouble a lot for laughing when things were supposed to be serious. I went to a Catholic School called Saint Ignatius up until 8th grade and I think that helped mold me into an individual. It was a really small school; 8 boys and 8 girls in each grade. We had to wear uniforms and the girls weren’t allowed to wear makeup so we didn’t have the pressures of being trendy. All of us looked the same. It was a riot really; I remember having a lot of fun going there. A lot of the boys that went there were sent there because they had some sort of a behavioral issue, so it was truly comical with the nuns trying to keep law and order. We all listened to rock music. I remember Tom Sawyer from Rush coming out then and that was my favorite song. This was around the time when MTV was launched as well. Then in 8th grade my parents sent me and my brother to the public school because my brother wanted to graduate high school with his friends that he grew up with. It was a culture shock for me, girls were mean. They walked around with their vent brushes hanging out of their back pocket thinking they were hot shit. I was the new girl and the “tough vent brush girls” were threatening to beat me up. I met my best friend there though, we bonded over Iron Maiden and Ozzy and that is when I started going to arena rock concerts. This would have been about 1985 and also around the time that I started playing guitar.
So what were some of the 1st rock or metal bands that you heard and did you take right to the music or did it take a few listens? Are you a fan still of these bands even today?
Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jethro Tull, and Rush to name a few. Yes, I took to them right away and still love all of those bands. How can you not like Van Halen after hearing the first few notes of “And The Cradle Will Rock”? Black Sabbath “Sweet Leaf” was my jam when I was a kid; I was listening to these bands before I was 10 years old. This is the same music that my older brother and his friends listened to so it was normal to listen to this stuff and my mom is from Alabama so of course Skynyrds “Sweet Home Alabama” got cranked up when my brother would play that. She’s into the 50s and country music but Skynyrd has that country southern rock feel so we didn’t get in trouble for listening to this music.
So how did you get introduced to the heavy metal side of music and what were some the bands you heard besides Black Sabbath?
It was listening to our rock radio station here in Pittsburgh called WDVE as well as watching MTV. Both would play Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy, and Motley Crue. MTV also was playing thrash bands like Testament, Hallows Eve, Death Angel, and Metallica so I was getting exposure to what was then considered extreme music. It was actually at a Motley Crue concert in 1985 that I was given a cassette tape with a sample of thrash and doom metal bands. I still have that tape. It had Slayer and Sacrifice on it and I became a huge fan of both.
So I hope you enjoyed Crue that night ha ha. So now that started hearing these bands did you go down to say Eide’s Records and buy any of their releases? I had read about this store from Dream Death and Doomwatch just how cool was this store?
I did enjoy Crue, ha. I was a huge Motley Crue fan, loved “Shout at the Devil” when it came out but they lost me with Theater of Pain. At that Crue concert, I had met people while hanging out in the arena parking lot that were into the local underground metal scene. We exchanged phone numbers and I found that I could relate with these people. Our routine was to take the bus to downtown Pittsburgh Friday after school and head down to Eides Records. Eides was our hangout, they had everything there. It was thee record store here to find underground albums and they would host in-store appearances, which is how we met a lot of the bands. There was a sense of pride when you bought an album to show off to your friends. There were only a few albums of a band that would be in stock so it was kind of like you had bragging rights if you were able to snag up a copy of something cool. Then we would walk over to Ted Williams, the then bassist of Dream Death’s apartment and listen to underground records. He had a party pretty much every weekend and all of us would meet there and listen to music. Then we would return home on Sunday and go back to school on Monday.
I agree I also like the first 2 Motley Crue releases. So now were you also buying and/or reading fanzines do find new bands? What did you think of Dream Death?
Yes, we all started off with buying Circus and Hit Parader music magazines to worship heavy metal music so it was the natural transition to move over to the underground fan zines to discover the underground bands. It’s just how it was all done. I’ve always loved Dream Death, we called them Sludge metal. That was the term back then, sludge. The term doom came later for us. We didn’t have any other band that played that Hellhammer style of music so Dream Death was a highlight for us. I still love Dream Death. I’ve always been disappointed though that the instrumental “Journey into Mystery” didn’t make the album. They didn’t have enough room on the vinyl apparently. If you’re not familiar with that instrumental, hunt down their demo. It’s so heavy. This was 1986! I was 15 years old when this demo came out as my birthday isn’t until December.
So now your getting more involved with underground music at this time. At what point did you want to start playing an instrument, which for you ended up being the guitar. Any thoughts of ever playing bass or drums? Did you take lessons or were you self-taught?
I wanted to play a guitar since I was little. My parents had bought my brother an acoustic guitar but we were listening to rock music and wanted an electric guitar. Since nobody was playing the acoustic then nobody was getting an electric guitar. I finally whined and threw enough tantrums that they bought me an electric guitar just to shut me up. I was around 15. I took a couple of non-eventful guitar lessons at our local music store but the guy creeped me out so I stopped going. The only thing I learned was a couple of scales. I decided that I was more comfortable figuring out stuff on my own so my playing nuances are self taught bad habits. I don’t consider myself a guitarist though.
There was a time period that I wanted to play drums but that was just from listening to Rush. Neil Pearts playing is so inspiring, it’s impossible not to get captured into his drum beats. Still to this day even.
Totally agree with you about Neil Peart. So how soon after you picked up the guitar did start to actually be able to figure out guitar riffs and even solos? Who are some of your favorite guitar players and this goes for any music genre?
I had to get past that blister stage and I remember that being an unexpected surprise for me. I can’t remember how long it took for it to be comfortable to play. I had bought a tablature heavy metal book that had songs like Judas Priest “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and other heavy metal hits of that time and I was working with figuring out tablature. I remember that I became bored with doing that though. Like, it was cool to play to a song that was playing on my stereo, but then what? I was sitting in my room playing along with an album. Whoopty doo. The album always played it better. I still have a weird thing about playing a cover song, like I get guilt that I should be working on my own stuff and not somebody else’s stuff but it is a good practice tool. Playing a note pattern that was created in somebody else’s mind is neat, like a different perspective.
Solos never really happened for me. Well, a couple of times I played some notes that could be considered a solo. My solos are very remedial but it’s what makes sense to me. Remember, I am not a guitarist. My guitar is just a song writing tool for me. I wrote a solo that’s in the intro of our song “Goddess of Death”, and also wrote one for when we recorded a cover of Sepultura’s “Troop of Doom” because their solo didn’t make sense to me. I had to write one that made sense to me. (You can check them out here: https://derketa.com/music) That is where I’m at with solos, and I don’t think every song needs a solo. I think it’s a strange expected song pattern. I’m not into the guitar shredder thing. I hope not to offend anyone reading this, but the guitar shredder is a little bit of a turn off to me. I admit there is talent when people can hit a shit load of notes accurately in a few seconds, but it seems more of a show off thing than a feel thing and that is where I get turned off. Those notes don’t make sense to me as a listener. Now, a good example for me of a “shredder” with feel is Alex Lifeson from Rush. I’m on a Rush kick right now. I know he wouldn’t be considered a “shredder” but hear me out. If you listen to the song Freewill, his solo starts off very unassuming then he gradually increases the intensity which is so climactic and inspiring. That’s impressive to me, to be able to invoke a feeling of some sort to the listener with just notes.
My all time favorite guitar player is David Gilmour. He has so much feel to the notes he plays and to me that is what it’s all about. Whenever I have to write some sort of a solo I think to myself “what would Gilmour do” and I try my best to follow in his footsteps for inspiration. If you listen to my solo at the beginning of “Goddess of Death”, Gilmour was my inspiration for it and I am very proud of myself for having the guts to attempt it on a recording. It doesn’t matter to me if anyone thinks its crap or not, it’s what I heard and my head and I was able to translate it on the guitar. For me that was a huge deal, mission accomplished kind of thing. There is something about the blues playing style that is so moving. Jimi Hendrix is another guitarist that captures me with his playing. Randy Rhoads is another that I admire, “Diary of a Madman” is a such a masterpiece. I could go on and on but you get the idea.
I’m not where I want to be as a player though. I get too overwhelmed and consumed with life to the point of mental exhaustion but I’m working on that. I’ve changed some things around in my life recently and am putting myself first for once. I have the drive to practice again so that is good for me.
Now taking this one step further at what point did the idea of joining or starting your own band begin to formulate?
It would have been in 1986, but not so much in a formulated thought. You see, when I would get bored or frustrated trying to learn a song I started stumbling on notes that I thought sounded cool. The ending of our song “Time of Awakening” was, I think, the first thing that I ever wrote. “Time of Awakening” was the first song that I ever wrote in 1986 but that ending that I refer to as “the funeral march” was something that I first stumbled on and would always play. I remember thinking that sounded cool and then I wrote a song around it. I would think to myself that it would be cool to hear it with other instruments but I was too shy to really do anything about it. I kept getting these song ideas though and just wrote on my own. I didn’t think anything would really come of it. In 1988 is when I met Terri at one of Ted Williams parties, she was there with Don Crotsley from NunSlaughter. The 3 of us sat in the hallway just talking about the bands that were blowing us away at that moment and I just blurted out that I‘d like to start a band. Terri said she did too and so we swapped phone numbers. At that time she didn’t play any instruments and was interested in being the vocalist. She wasn’t able to do death metal vocals though which is what I was looking for. That’s why I got stuck doing them. I just wanted to be the guitarist but what’s done is done. I became a death metal vocalist which has haunted me throughout my life. Terri said she always wanted to play the drums and so that was that. We would go over to Jeff Chereps house, he was the guitarist of DoomWatch, and he would teach Terri the basics of playing the drums. He is also the one that came up with our band name Derketa. He came across it from reading the Conan series and suggested it to us. It seemed fitting, she was the Goddess of Death, we were females doing death metal, so we went with it. Terri finally was able to buy her own drum set in March of 1989 and that is when we had our official rehearsal room in my parent’s basement. It was only natural that we wanted to record ourselves for our friends to check out and that’s kind of how it all started.
So how did you go about trying to find a bass player? What were some of the early practices with you two?
Just through friends. Ross from Immolation knew Kim August (Ultimatum zine) and she played bass. He got us in contact and she flew in to record on our 89 rehearsal demo. It was complicated with her being in New York or New Jersey and it didn’t seem like we had chemistry. I ended up playing bass on “The Unholy Ground” demo and the “Premaure Burial” 7 inch. Don Crotsley was then going to play bass so we could start playing live but he had met Mary who was going to college for bass. All of our friends seemed to like the idea of keeping Derketa all female. Eventually Mary agreed to meet with us and give it a shot.
Our early rehearsals were Terri and I trying to learn our instruments as we were practicing the songs. Terri’s drum beats were very tribal sounding at first. My parents and our neighbors used to joke that it sounded like an Indian rain dance was happening in the basement and when it would rain after our rehearsal it was like “ta da”! I only had my little Dean Markley practice amp, no microphone or PA to do vocals, so it was just guitar and drums.
Now looking back did you like the idea of you all being female? Now obviously you knew about tape trading and fanzines did you send any of your early recordings to be reviewed? What were the reviews like?
In the beginning, I didn’t think anything of it really. I thought of it as just having friends/band mates that I could easily relate to. It’s all about chemistry and friendship in the end. I’ve had a few males in the lineup over the years but we’ll always be known as the first all female death metal band. I no longer get upset or annoyed with the “female observation”. If people want to make a big deal about it then ok. If people want to dismiss us because we are female, that’s OK too. I’m still going to do it regardless.
We did send our demos out for review. It was exciting when I would see a fanzine envelope sitting in my mailbox. We were waiting to see if people outside of our friend circle liked what we were doing, and if it was a fanzine from another country it was even more exciting. From what I remember, the reviews were positive and supportive of us. Most would make a big deal because we were girls and that did get old. But whatever, I get it. There was one review that still pisses me off a little. The reviewer said something like “Lori Bravo can accomplish more devastating vocals without using a vocal pedal”. I’ve never used a vocal pedal and I’ll never forget reading that line in the review and my mouth dropping. It was printed and “out there”, and he was calling me a fraud. All of my friends probably got a phone call from me bitching about it as it threw me in a rant. Then one of my friends said to me “that guy thinks your using a vocal pedal but your not. That’s actually impressive.” That calmed me down but here I am almost 30 years later still bitching about it. I still have my fanzines and have the one with that review in it.
So in the early days did you try and rehearse and write songs as much as you could? How much time in any given week was spent doing band related stuff? Did you do all the mail or was it divided? Did you make ads like most of the other bands and zines out there in the early days and have other bands and zines spread them out in their mail?
Yeah, once Terri bought her drum set she would spend the weekends at my parent’s house with me. The band then became our priority and we stopped going to parties like we used to. I would pick Terri up from work either Friday night or Saturday afternoon and we would practice in my parent’s basement until Sunday evening. We would rehearse as much as we could around my parents and my brother screaming down at us “enough”! My family got to hear the absolute worst of us, when we first started playing together. Well, our “best” would still be their worst but you know what I mean. Our 89 rehearsal tape can give you an idea, and that’s when we thought we were polished! I would work on writing at any time though, not really a schedule to it, just whenever I had ideas.
Back then it was all about the band and keeping up with what was going on in the scene with other bands. Like, what bands had releases coming out, which bands were touring and playing locally or in the surrounding states. It was a daily thing cause that was our interest so lots of time was spent on it all. It seemed like everybody knew everything that was going on with everyone. Not like now, too many bands and too many sub genres to keep up with it all.
Originally I did all of the mail but it became overwhelming for me. It was exciting at first, people from all over the world writing to us. It was a fun thing, going down to my local post office and shipping a bunch of mail to all over the world and the postal workers curious as to what I was up to. I started getting about 10 letters a day though, in addition to interviews, and I wasn’t getting any new material written. All I was doing was writing to people, it felt like homework after a while. Postage was getting expensive but the international folks were clever, they would put a thin coat of wax over the stamp and ask that we send their stamps back in our reply letter to them. The wax prevented the postal ink from marking the stamp so it could be reglued to the envelope and reused. These were mainly the foreign people, so we couldn’t reuse them, they had to be reused in the country it originated from obviously. Some would send us those IRC coupons to pay for return postage to them. Anyway, I finally asked Terri if she could help out with mail and gave her a stack to do and then she became in the rotation. I do remember I just stopped writing back to people. I had enough. I remember getting some nasty letters from people because I didn’t respond back to them quick enough and so I said fuck it. Stopped responding to everyone and tried to get my focus back on writing.
Yes, we made ads and participated in circulating ads from others in the mail! I still have lots of ads from back then. I used to keep them in a shoe box so when i would write someone back I’d throw a bunch of ads in to keep it all going. That’s how we all did it back then. Everyone would create little ads and include a small stack in our letters to one another. Then they would send to their friends, and just like that 80’s shampoo commerical….and so on and so on and so on! “Spread like a disease” was a common term in the letters referring to sending ads out in the mail. Those ads were almost as exciting as getting a zine in the mail because sometimes you would get real gem, like a Carnage ad and that was like WOAH! Do you remember the bright orange stickers that bands made back then?? I still have those too!
So in 1990 you released a demo called “The Unholy Ground”. How was it going into Alternative Studios for this 4 song release. I see you had covers made for this release. Does that mean you didn’t have to hand dub each copy one by one? How was the response to this release? What are your feelings on it today? Can you listen to it?
It was all cool. Bob from Alternative Studios went to high school with Jeff Cherep (DoomWatch) so he was aware of the underground punk and metal sound. He didn’t treat us weird or anything, it was a great recording experience. He was easy to work with and we had a lot of fun recording that demo. I recently found the receipt for it, it was $6/hour.
We made those covers ourselves at Kinkos (a print shop)! I had typed them up and we cut and paste everything to fit as a cassette cover. I made up a template and we were able to fit 2 cassette covers on a sheet of card stock, front and back. It was tricky lining up the front and the back but we did it. Then we cut each cover out with those paper trimmer machines that they have there. Some were cut a little crooked as we tried to do a few at a time and the paper stack would slip in that cutter. It was all handmade though. We hand dubbed each cassette too, one by one.
The response to that demo was really good! That was when we started getting a lot of mail. I actually like the vibe and the production of that recording, great memories with it. I haven’t listened to it in some time but for me I hear it differently than others would. Meaning, I’m not overly critical of our playing or the songs but it takes me back to the fun we had back then. I like what we did though, proud of us both. It was only me and Terri at that time, I played guitar and bass on that recording.
Do you even entertain the thought of sending it to record labels or you felt the band wasn’t ready yet? What was the line-up of the band at this time?
I don’t remember if we did or not. I don’t recall any rejection letters so I’m thinking we did not. We definitely weren’t ready for something on that level but I do remember somebody telling me Relapse had their eye on us and being nudged to get new songs recorded so Relapse could hear more. I’m pretty sure it was Relapse. I was extremely skeptical of labels after hearing the horror stories from other bands, it just seemed like a hassle. I’m not saying they were horror stories about Relapse, I’m talking with labels in general. Lots of my friends were screwed over in the early days.
So did you try and get other members to join the band at this time? How serious, at least to you, were you taking the band at that point?
Yeah, we wanted to start playing shows. I wanted us to be a 4 piece band so that the guitars would sound fuller live. We had mentioned to our friends that we were looking for members and to let us know if they came across anyone that
would be interested. I think we were both getting serious about the band because this was about the time Terri and I started arguing a lot with each
other. I remember I wanted us to improve in the playing of our instruments as I did not have the confidence in us at that time.
So your next release was an EP/7” on the rip off label Seraphic Decay Records. When he contacted you did he seem like a cool guy? How soon after your release came out did the horror stories about him start? Did you pay for the recording or did he? I assume you have no idea how many copies were pressed? Do you have an actual copy of it? How much does it go for these days?
Yeah, Steve seemed very cool and I was real happy that he was doing this underground label. I thought he was “one of us” and that we would be protected from the “real label bullshit”. It was exciting that somebody wanted to put out a record of our music. I know having a record pressed is common these days but back then it was rare and it meant something. Like, you’ve made it past the crappy low quality home cassette operation! Ironically people are going back to cassettes thinking it was this great old school nostalgia, that’s comical to me. Those cassettes were a fucking pain in the ass! Anyway, I don’t think people realize the magnitude of how bands have been screwed over by some labels back then. We had various friends think that they had a good deal with the well-known labels out there, told one thing but only to later find that there was twisted terminology in their contract that essentially lost all of their rights to their music and any monies due to them for that recording until the end of time. That’s fucking evil. Steve came across very straight forward and spoke against that bullshit, simple math. I think we were promised either 10% or 20% of the total pressing in product for us to sell on our own. We had paid for our recording, which by the way was $6/hour, and he was going to pay for the vinyl, advertising, and distribution side of it all. There was no “ownership” of our material or anything like that. If it did well, then he would do another pressing and we would get that same percentage. It seemed like an honest casual friend/business deal; Our efforts to “keep the underground alive”.
Shortly after it came out, maybe a month or two later, Terri received a phone call from John McEntee from Incantation. It had gotten to him that Steve was pressing more than what was originally agreed upon behind all of our backs. He also pointed out the SCAM-000 labeling which threw salt into the wounds. All of us bands had been used to get our recording and our band name so he can make money off of us. I know lots of people that don’t understand why bands get upset with bootleggers. Plain and simple, we were being used. It doesn’t matter if it was minimal sales, when someone has the INTENT to USE you, then there is a problem. That is being stabbed in the back. Who do you support, the band or the person backstabbing the band? Think about that.
Back then, Terri and I had the “good cop/bad cop” thing with us. I was the “good cop”, meaning I was the shy quiet one. Terri was the “bad cop”, meaning don’t fuck with her. Don’t get me wrong, Terri was/is sweet and nice but she had no problem getting into someone’s face and telling them off if need be. Up until this point I was the one dealing with Steve. Terri had called Steve and told him off, and told him to send our DAT tape back and he was no longer permitted to press any more of our stuff. After she called Steve is when she called me to fill me in on it all and I was speechless really. I trusted that guy on something that was very important to me. After this, I thought ‘uh oh, the shit just hit the fan, Terri is on deck now!’ I was a little upset with Terri at first that she handled it that way because I wanted to see if I could sort it out but Steve sent back that DAT tape with a nasty message addressed to me. I was even more furious. Obviously our vinyl plate still existed at that vinyl factory and it was all out of our hands anyway.
I have no idea how much was originally pressed but within the last year I learned of other color vinyl and colored covers that are out there from my friends on Facebook. They showed me that discog website and I nearly lost my mind. Yellow??? I’m very particular about the aesthetics of this band, of what I consider gloomy. Yellow is not gloomy. This is all a fucking scam for somebody to make money off of collectors. I do not recognize any of those as being “original” and I will forever consider them a bootleg. Even if it’s coming from the same original source. That original pressing contained 3 colors; black, clear purple, and he did this white with rainbow splatter which we were against but he did it anyway. Black and clear purple were the ONLY colors authorized and agreed upon by us, with the exception of that white rainbow one he did. The covers were only black with white print. Back in the early 90’s I saw red vinyl being circulated and thought that must have been from the pressing that should not have happened but apparently we have every primary color pressed. I never received any of those other colors and I’ve often wondered how many of my Cleveland friends may know the truths behind it all but have kept quiet. Maybe even financially benefited from the sales of all of those releases? Remember, this isn’t just Derketa im talking about, there are other bands. From my understanding Steve exited the scene, and I had thought the whole 7″ operation was done with him. Apparently not. I am aware the sales were probably minimal, but it is the principle behind this all. Yeah, sooo, a little bit of a rant there. I’m just tired of trusting people and being used in the end. I still do have my copies. No idea how much they are selling for now. I could do a quick Google search and maybe find something on it but its best I don’t look, ha.
So how soon did the band break up after that shitty experience with the label? Did that have a lot to do with it or was it that you all weren’t getting along or a combo of both?
This is somewhat of a tricky question because it’s going to appear as if I’m talking shit on Terri, and I’m not nor would I. Anyone that knows us knows that we had a rocky history with the band, and this is just how it is. I can only tell my perspective of it all, where I was at with it.
Terri and I parted ways shortly after but it had nothing to do with this release. We just weren’t getting along. I felt she was developing an ego and I didn’t like the way she started talking to me. Basically I wanted to work in Mary on bass and find another guitarist before we did another recording and play live. I had no confidence in us as a band. Terri developed an attitude with me as if I was holding the band back. In a sense I was, but I was at each of our rehearsals and we never had a solid and consistent rehearsal. In my mind, why would we move forward when we can’t even play our existing stuff well? It was frustrating, the drum beats were never the same and we weren’t tight with each other. I wanted to feel confident as a band because people were looking at us a little more closely than the boy bands out there. I didn’t want to give people any reason to criticize us “because we were girls.” For whatever reason, we got to a point where we couldn’t communicate well with each other about any of it. It wasn’t always like that but it became that once we became more known in the underground.