Interview with Pandemic's Andy Giardina
Pandemic is a Sonoma County, California based metal band that I stumbled upon while covering a show for HOSTILITY last year. Their style is a combination of the more traditional Iron Maiden heavy metal, mixed up with some of the thrash and melodic death metal. One of the things that I love the most about the work I do is getting to meet so many different types of metal musicians from all walks of life, and let me just say that this band Pandemic may not even register on a restaurant napkin right now with most of you, but this band, to me at least, is what heavy metal is all about: brotherhood, having a damn good time while you're alive and kicking, yet still being able to throw down some music that revitalizes the scene by any means necessary and not just going the copycat route. This is a band that really could care less what anyone outside of them thinks. Yeah, they want to try and make it somewhere, who the hell doesn't? But they will not sacrifice eachother or their music to make that happen. And that's the kind of metal band I want to be around. I am real happy to bring this Q&A to all of my readers here with Pandemic's colorful and out spoken lead vocalist, Andy Giardina.
Rocket: Now I know from hanging out with you that you can't be originally from Northern California with that Italian accent of yours. Ha! Were you actually born in Italy though?
Andy: Yes indeed, I am a first generation Italian born in Rome, Italy. I've only lived in the States for about 10 years, but I have had an international education although many people I meet seem to think I'm from Brooklyn.
Rocket: You clearly have a unique singing style that I hear, bro. It's not totally death metal nor is it really all that conventional of a metal vocal approach. But it's definitely raw and gets the job done. To be straight up, with all the metal bands that I scout in America, that's what pretty much made you so compelling to me. Can you tell me when you first got bitten to start singing?
Andy: Thanks very much for the compliment. I completely agree that it's hard to find vocalists with an original stamp out there, but I believe that everyone has the ability to "find their own voice," literally, while at the same time incorporating one or more particular styles without having to become a total clone. The main problem, I think, is that noone takes singing as seriously as a guitarist or drummer take their instrument, and maybe that is because singers are usually more volatile. I find that a good way to stick outside convention is to learn as many different styles of singing as possible, and then using these elements, once your vocal muscles has been strengthened through tedious but necessary training and exercise, to "pepper" your individual voice and sound so that these styles stand out but the stamp remains the same. It is imperative, in any case, to undergo proper schooling and musical coaching from day one. When I first started out, I was originally a guitar player and had absolutely no strength in my vocal chords. I had some tonality, but not much. I really started singing seriously in 1996, when I first started taking folk rock lessons with John Ford, believe it or nor, the guy who taught Linda Perry of the 4 Non Blondes. Then I switched to opera with a professional instructor, Mrs. Maeve Udell Fry, while supplementing these exercises with my tapes and CDs. Over time and through intense training one will find that the throat muscles will become more and more accustomed to remembering how to operate each style, and you won't have to train them as much anymore. But essentially the foundations -the muscles - must be built first.
Rocket: Who are some of the other metal vocalists that you draw from? Past or present.
Andy: My number one influence of all time is Bruce Dickinson, in his early days. His unique blend of pop/rock and operatic vocals is unparalleled and there is noone who can imitate his style of the early years. Everybody else is pretty much easier to copy if you are a singer because their styles and techniques are more or less defined, from Halford/Tate/Kiske/Schepers who use falsetto to mid-high chest voice, to Dio' s operatic heavy blues melodies. Then we have Phil Anselmo, who started a whole new genre of hardcore thrash. And of course the new generation of European power thundergods influenced by the styles of Helloween and Priest- like Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius, and Fabio Lione of early Rhapsody.
Rocket: I love all those names. Now you guys are just about the coolest bunch of dudes to hang out with. I want to thank Julian and all of you again for letting me crash out in that Beverly Hills hotel room after that last Whisky A Go Go gig you all did with I.R.A.T.E. and Hostility earlier this year, bro. And it's really cool to see a band that is just into being around each other for the sake of that... you know? You guys really had the time of your life that night when most bands playing that venue do nothing but complain about having to 'pay to play'. What do you attribute all the members in this band getting along so well to? Does it just boil down to the fact that you're a buncha old schoolers that just totally love the metal? Ha!
Andy: I remember very well, we still have some pics of us in the hotel room's closet smoking that serious ganja!
Rocket: Haha. That was pretty fucking cool. Then the boys from Hostility showed up to pass a bottle of The Crown around. Getcha pull!
Andy: Yeah, how can you forget that experience... well maybe the titty bar of the night before and meeting Ronnie James Dio outside the bathroom stalls at the House of Blues. Holy crap.
Rocket: Yeah, Ronnie James Dio is a straight up living legend. I saw him with Rowan Robertson at Guitar Center a few years back when I was working there and I totally dropped the ball and didn't hit him up to tell him how much his music has meant to me over the years. Same thing happened with Paul Stanley of KISS... like in a span of the same damn week. Paul was there to buy a mic stand.. of all things, right? Haha. And my dickhead co-worker was totally stand-offish with him when Paul asked for assistance, right? Cause we were at the guitar desk and not accessories... and so he sent Paul fucking Stanley off to the accessories guy. I was like, "Bro, why didn't you just go grab the mic stand for him? I mean, that's Paul fucking Stanley!" And the idiot looks at me and goes: "I don't give a shit who he is, man. If he ain't buying a guitar, I could care less." True story.
Andy: Well, man, we all love each other and understand that the band is something that goes beyond individual petty ego trips and that we're a part of something bigger than ourselves. Of course we can be assholes to each other like brothers do, but that's human nature. Julian is pretty much the fulcrum of the band, the main brain and revolving sun and obviously none of this would have been possible without him.
Rocket: Let's talk about Pandemic's debut album that's just been self-released here at the start of '07, brother. What's the title and where was it produced?
Andy: The title is "Infecting the World" and it was recorded and mixed by Jason D'Ottavio at Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati, and mastered by Juan Ortega at Trident Recording Studio in Pacheco, CA. It might very well be a concept album, though I'm not sure since most of my lyrics are channeled and often I don't know what a song is about until after it is finished. If anything they are songs of inspiration, and present a message of justice and retribution.
Rocket: Will you guys do more touring on the Los Angeles scene after the album drops and what other clubs are you looking at besides The Whisky?
Andy: We'd love to! That's what we're living for, to play in Hollywood again. Julian books the gigs but we haven't really expanded very much beyond Sonoma County yet; we sent out a few copies of the demo but we are waiting until the album is ready and then we'll send it out to the world. We wanted to have a good product to promote first but Julian wasn't completely happy with the demo so we decided to wait until we recorded the album. I remember meeting Mario, the guy that owns the Whisky, the Rainbow and the Roxy when I was in L.A. in 1993 and he said he'd let my band at the time play there whenever we wanted. When I get a chance to talk to him about Pandemic I'll make him an offer he can't refuse...hah hah!
Rocket: What's the songwriting process like for this band? It seems like Julian pretty much is the dude that fires it all up on guitar and then everyone just layers over that, right?
Andy: Actually both Julian and Pat are the main riffmasters and collaborate together when one has a song in mind. Erik the drummer also wrote a few of the songs and believe me, aside from being God's very own personal rhythm section - the hammer of God - he is also a killer guitar player and songwriter. They then give me the finished product -sometimes with a tentative title - and I add all the lyrics and melodies. If there's one thing you have to say about this band is that we all understand what groove is and try to put it to good use.
Rocket: What the hell is the story behind this wicked tune about Odin that you guys do, man? That shit is classic!
It's totally Spinal Tap, yet it's a pretty damn cool song. How did that one come about?
Andy: Spinal Tap?!? Goddamn no. I've tried to stay away from writing cheesy lyrics and I know there is a fine line between cheesy and cool. We like to think of it more as an epic metal song in the vein of Iron Maiden's "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" or Rainbow's "Stargazer".
Rocket: Well, you know what I mean though, bro. Ever since that damn movie when someone sings about that kind of mythical stuff, it quickly gets lumped into that hilarious scene with the two midgets dancing around that small scale version model of Stonehedge. Haha. But please don't get me wrong, I really dug that song live. It was your best one, hands down.
Andy: Julian gave me the song with the title as a joke -"Ode to Odin" - but I decided to write lyrics around it because the theme fit perfectly. It is actually more of a magical invocation than an ode, though. Essentially Odin was constantly making sacrifices to acquire new knowledge - thus he gave his right eye away, and hung himself on the tree of knowledge, Yggdrasil, before resuscitating. His mission was to gather all the slain heroes through the ages to the halls of his palace in Valhalla to prepare for the final battle-Ragnarok, or armageddon - against the dreaded archenemy, the Frost Giants. His powers grew so vast that he had a vision of his own death during the battle of Ragnarok at the hands of a giant wolf created by the evil god Loki. He nevertheless prepared for the final battle, resuscitating fallen heroes and gathering them in his halls, and died as predicted in the midst of the battle.
Rocket: Okay, everyone knows I like to have fun with this next one. What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you while performing on stage?
Andy: Well, there have been so many, but one night at this club with my old band I kept getting electrocuted repeatedly by the sound system throughout the whole set. They kept trying to fix the problem by using me as a guinea pig. I think I almost lost consciousness at one point but the crowd thought it was pretty funny, so it was worth it.
Rocket: Haha! Now that is Spinal Tap shit right there. Oh shit, classic stuff!! Man, it was a great year for metal in 2006. What album was your personal favorite?
Andy: I hadn't listened to much new stuff last year but I like Iron Maiden's new effort. I was also pretty impressed with Behemoth's "Demigod," that was a pleasant surprise. But I didn't think Slayer's album was anything too exceptional, especially after waiting five years for it.
Rocket: A lot of people have said that to me about Slayer. Man, between beng featured at Hot Topic stores and going on Jimmy Kimmel's show, tons of devoted metalers are throwing around the 'sell out' term with them now. I dunno, I tend to think those dudes did it on their own all the way up to this point and pretty much deserve whatever the hell they get now. Plus, it's kind of groundbreaking that an underground metal act of their magnitude and horrifying imagery and content made it onto American national broadcast TV. I think it's pretty damn cool what they've been able to accomplish all in all. So tell me, what are some of the upcoming shows for Pandemic that we need to watchout for?
Andy: Our website is constantly updated. We have a CD release party at the Forestville Club in Forestville on January 26th, so that should be a lot of fun, they've always been really good to us up there and it's actually where we played our first show, so it seems appropriate. What goes around comes around.
Rocket: Bro, thanks so much for taking the time on this with me, man. I had some good shits and giggles. Go ahead and give a shoutout to your biggest supporters.
Andy: Rocket, I will see you soon in L.A. when we get another gig and, thank you for the opportunity to introduce Pandemic to the world and gigantic hello to all the true metalheads, riverdogs and headthrashers in Cali who never gave up believing in the true spirit of metal. Watch out, cause Pandemic is coming for you.
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