You’ve been on the road with your 20 Years of Hardcore tour. How is it going? I’ve noticed that when you go on tour it’s very intense, with only a few days off. Do you have opportunities to look around in the cities before or after getting to the venues? To do a little sightseeing as tourists, that is.
Gary: The tour’s going great. And yeah, we do. Sometimes we have more time than on other days but generally there’s a bit of time for seeing some of the sights. It’s always nice to be playing inside of a city rather than outside of a city because it makes things a bit more convenient for sightseeing. Some of us are a bit more touristy than others and I guess I would fall into the prior category. I like to look around and see things outside of the venue. To see some of the touristic places.
You definitely have some kind of special connection to Germany. I think that’s one of the countries here in Europe where Pro-Pain is particularly popular and I guess that explains your Böhse Onkelz cover (Keine Amnestie für MTV) for the 20 Years of Hardcore compilation, too.
Yeah, Germany provided us ultimately with probably our biggest fan base outside of the United States. The shows in Germany certainly rival the best shows in the US. The fan base is almost the same in numbers but Germany is so much smaller so the shows are much more successful generally speaking. And German audiences have always been there for us. We have fans that come up to us and tell us that they’ve seen the band twenty-five times and things like that which is very impressive. So we try to reciprocate that loyalty back to the German audience. A lot of times, especially these days when everyone’s attention span seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate, especially in the United States for one reason or another, everyone’s always looking for the next fix, it’s almost like a drug or something with bands: you’re interested in one band, then on the next day they’re done and you want to see something else new. So you don’t have a lot of rock n’ roll loyalty as compared to, let’s say, the 70s or the 80s, the real glory days of rock music. To get that kind of support is certainly more than I can expect from a fan. But that’s what makes it all happen. It’s not only about the band, it’s more so about the fans because if the fan base disappears, the band disappears with it.
So you mean that in the USA, one trend follows the other and there’s not much loyalty unlike here in Europe where trends come and go also but people still remember the values of the previous trends and preserve them.
Yeah, I think it’s cool and I don’t know why it’s so different culturally in that regard. But the English entertainment industry is the same as in America. They coincide with one another. And the attention spans are much lower. Maybe it has to do something with the rock n’ roll media, they’re always looking to sell something new. And by always selling something new to the fans, the things that they sold before to the fans, they don’t care about it anymore, they always move to the next thing. They do it to sell records and to sell magazines and to keep things fresh but I come from an old school mentality and if I like a band, I tend to follow them throughout the course of their career.
How did you choose the four re-recorded tracks from your first three albums?
We took Foul Taste of Freedom and Make War Not Love because those are probably the two stand out tracks from those days if you have to pick two. Denial was interesting because our ex-drummer Mike Hanzel just said: “Can we play Denial?” and I said yeah, we can do that. So that was his personal favorite. Shine is the one that Rob Moschetti wanted to play on. As a band member, Rob Moschetti shined during the “Contents Under Pressure” years so I think it was the perfect track to re-introduce Rob back to the fans. I think it was a great idea to have some of the ex-members come in and play on this thing. It just shows people that Pro-Pain is more than just the current members of the band and that there’s a solidarity amongst all of the members and that they still feel very strongly about the band even though they went separate ways.
Speaking of former members, isn’t it disturbing sometimes that you’ve had so much line-up changes throughout the band’s career? You obviously know a lot of people in this business so you know who to contact when you need, let’s say, a new drummer but as far as writing a new material or touring, isn’t it problematic sometimes?
It can be problematic but for me it’s more disheartening because you want every line-up to last and you settle into a line-up but then just some things happen sometimes that are out of the band’s control. There are real life situations that take over sometimes and it hasn’t been easy to keep Pro-Pain together for twenty years. We’ve seen all of life’s changes take place within the twenty years, there have been births and deaths and extreme conditions and over three thousand concerts on the road. The lifestyle for Pro-Pain is very different from Metallica on the road and we really had to endure some not so good things over the years. But then again, we’ve played about as many concerts as a band can be expected to play throughout their career and when you put both of those things together, that can really break somebody and sometimes they just don’t want to do it anymore.
What was the reason Tom Klimchuck left again, for the second time? The first time, it was due to his illness and then the situation got back to normal more or less so he spent a long time in Pro-Pain.
Well, Tom has been battling Crohn’s disease even since I know him. That was the reason for his early departure from the band. He pretty much had it under control for a very long time but some of the symptoms started to come back about three years ago. It made touring very difficult for him. Recently, he had some major surgery that involved his spleen so they basically cut him from one side to the other. So it’s a very difficult time for him and, obviously, other things need to take precedent in his life over Pro-Pain. And it wasn’t easy making the decision, I was part of it. He wanted to continue and even to do the last tour and I said we can’t let it happen because if something happens to him I have to take responsibility.
Do you have any news of him? Do you know if he’s been doing any better these days?
Well, I heard the surgery was a success which is great but I think it’s going to be a long road for him to recovery, it’s not something you just bounce back from. There are a lot of things that are causing these sorts of severe symptoms that he’s been having for a long time. Things will ultimately get back to normal but I think it’s going to take a long time. With that type of surgery, again, it’s not something you just bounce back from overnight. The last time I saw him, he lost a lot of weight. I’m hoping that he’s well enough to get back and to play music because that’s his passion. So we’ll see. Time will tell, I suppose.
Back to the re-recorded songs, it was interesting to hear your voice without distortion effects in the tracks from The Truth Hurts album, at least in Make War Not Love (you kept some of that in Denial). Originally, when you recorded that album, where did the idea come from to try it out?
Well, it was sort of trendy to do that at that time and I think it was sort of something made popular by one of the earlier Pantera albums.
And it really did make you sound like Phil Anselmo here and there…
Yeah, it was something that everybody was sold on at that time. But in retrospect, given a couple of years time afterwards, we looked back, took another listen and said that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to add so much distortion. But I always knew that, probably because of that, that album would be a real stand out record for the band. And a real different one. And it turned out to be the biggest selling Pro-Pain album (laughs). Maybe it had something to do with that, I don’t know, but it made for a very dark and brutal Pro-Pain album.
Have you ever been criticized because of the riff in the chorus of Make War Not Love which is quite similar to the main riff of Megadeth’s Symphony of Destruction?
I’ve heard that before and I’ve compared it but it’s not a very unique riff so I don’t think it speaks too highly for either band (laughs). But to be compared to Megadeth, even in its simplest form, is a tremendous compliment.
Is it easy to find a balance between making music (records, tours) and spending some time at home with your friends and families?
It’s always difficult. I thought it would be more difficult when my son was much younger but its not the case. He’s sixteen now, quite independent, he has his own things to do, he’s even driving now.
Does he play music?
He plays drums. He plays mostly Metallica covers and he plays them very well. I think some of their early stuff like Master of Puppets or the Black Album are very good to get some good metal roots as a drummer and I think the drums are great on those albums, too. I guess aside from Pro-Pain, to which he certainly has his devotion, he loves Metallica, he really does. And I think that’s cool because a lot of new kids who are listening to more extreme music for the first time tend to go for more bands closer to their own age. I’m happy that he’s more into classic bands. I guess to him, Metallica would be almost like a classic rock band. But back to your question, it doesn’t get easier being away from home as time goes on. When you’re home, you settle into some simpler routines that are really cool and you miss them when you go away. This is just a completely different lifestyle, you find yourself being two really completely different people. For me, it hasn’t been very difficult to adapt to it because I’m a Libra (laughs). So I found a nice balance. I try to.
You just mentioned that Metallica is a classic rock band to the younger kids and I think they really reached this status. How do you think people talk about Pro-Pain? How do you think people will remember the band? How would you want them to remember the band? Maybe you would want them say Pro-Pain is definitely a classic hardcore / metal band?
Yeah, I would like ultimately that people have respect for the band and for what we’ve done, even if our music is not their cup of tea, so to speak. This is certainly a band that’s had a lot of drive and a lot of passion from the beginning and I think after doing this for so long and with the amount of dedication that we’ve given, I would like to think that it deserves a certain amount of respect if nothing else.
Yeah, twenty years of a career is a big achievement in hardcore.
I do this because I enjoy it and I try to provide for my family by doing this. And having been able to do so, I think I’ve been a success at it. But I don’t do this for any musical legacy or anything like that, its not what I really intend to do. If people still buy our records and still appreciate the band many years from now, I think that’s great – but it’s not the goal.
So are you really able to make a living out of music (tours, record sales, merchandise)?
Yeah, fortunately, I’ve done very well with this from the beginning. For me, Pro-Pain’s always been a full time job. I mean I invested some of my money very wisely but I also invested some of my money not so wisely. But I think I’ve done more wise things with my money than not and so I’ve been able to stay ahead of the game that way. I bought some houses with Pro-Pain. I own three houses in Sarasota, Florida, I rent two of them out to families and it takes some of the financial stress off of always having to go out and hustle with the band. I have plans for the future, you know. I want to make sure that when we close the doors of the band the members and their families are going to be O.K. It’s important because if you do it full time with the band and you don’t reap the financial benefits of it, then all you have left is whatever musical legacy you leave behind – and sometimes the future isn’t so kind to artists.
What about Crumbsuckers? Are you sometimes being asked about Crumbsuckers? Did you ever think of a reunion, at least for a few shows?
We did one show in 2006, it was the twenty year anniversary of the release Life of Dreams. We put together a show at the B.B. King’s Night Club in New York City and it was a big success. It’s not the biggest club, it’s a thousand capacity, but we sold out the room. I thought it was pretty remarkable because if we would play a show in New York City even in the band’s heyday, maybe there would be five hundred people there. So it was a big success, the fans loved it, it just sounded pretty close to what we sounded like in the old days. Even the mistakes were there (laughs). So it was interesting. I saw a lot of people in the crowd I even forgot they existed and a lot of old friends. It was almost like being at a high school reunion. Would I do it again? Maybe. I get asked that a lot, even on the first show of this tour somebody asked me about a Crumbsuckers reunion. I said I personally don’t want to do it but I’m not going to be the guy that says no if the rest of the band wants to do it. Our lead guitar player Chuck Lenihan sent me an e-mail just before I came on this tour, asking me what I think about doing another reunion. I told him the same thing. I’m not really into it, I got a lot of other things going on and I’m sure everybody else does, too. But if the sentiment is there, if that’s what the band wants to do, I’ll do it. I’m not going to go along kicking and screaming but I’ll do it with integrity.
On the last couple of Pro-Pain albums, there are vocal melodies in some of the songs. Do you think this tendency will continue?
For the next album? Probably not. I like that direction but I think that for the time being, we’ve satisfied our artistic desires to go in those sorts of directions. I don’t think there is a need to go to any more extreme melodic direction. I think the vibe right now is to write more of the purest Pro-Pain album, something really straight up New York Hardcore and not such a hybrid. I think it will be interesting, just straight up classic Pro-Pain hardcore stuff.
You have this song called All for King George which has been written towards the end of the Bush era. What do you think about Barack Obama? What would you say about him if you would write a song about him and his achievement?
We subliminally spoke about some of the flaws of the Obama administration on the Absolute Power album. They are bringing a lot of the fundamentals of socialism into our government which, in my opinion, has been slowly introduced over time but now it seems to be in full motion. Hence some of the symbolism on the cover of the record and even subtly spoken in some of the lyrics like Unrestrained which says “Disgusted, I abhor this abomination” which is really “Obama nation”, for those who care to dig a little deeper… I think he’s a terrible president. I thought George Bush was a terrible president, too. It’s a continuation of the Bush administration with regards to foreign policy and a complete disaster in terms of economic policy.
Do you think there’s anybody who could run the country better?
Ron Paul. He ran for president in 2008 but the media tore him to pieces because he’s anti-establishment. And the people weren’t smart enough to realize that he was the one that actually spoke for real change. I used to be a registered democrat until Ron Paul ran for president. I just saw some clips and interviews and I said “wow, finally someone I can identify with”. I changed my political party affiliation to be able to vote for him, so I’ve registered republican, I was never a registered republican in my life. I’ve kept that political affiliation this time because he’s running again and he’s causing quite a stir now. But will he win? Probably not. If I would have to guess I would say that there’s going to be a second Obama turn because the candidates are not going to offer any strong competition to Barack Obama. Not that the public believes in Barack Obama or feels very strongly about what he’s doing. It’s just that one day they’re going to look at the competition and they’re going to say “well, he’s probably better than these guys”. So when there’s nobody serious being offered on the other side, then Obama will get a second term – unless Ron Paul just explodes and then all bets are off.
Foul Taste of Freedom is definitely a classic in this genre but which are your favorite Pro-Pain albums?
I love different albums for different reasons. For nostalgic purposes I love Foul Taste of Freedom. In terms of a milestone, Act of God set a new production standard for Pro-Pain. Lyrically, I love Age of Tyranny. In terms of diversity, I love Absolute Power. So I have different feelings towards each album and I can’t really put one over the others in terms of a favorite one.