Intruder Drummer John Pieroni Talks 1980s, Self-Management, Beginnings, and Future Plans.
The bands from “the old days” of metal are growing increasingly rare and falling out one by one as the years pass. Intruder is a true hayday classic metal act, with their first album, “Live to Die,” being put out in the year between Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” albums. Hailing from Nashville, Intruder sports a blend of classic thrash with progressive tendencies, making them an interesting beast. Speaking to their drummer John Pieroni was an opportunity for me to connect with the mysterious “old days” of metal that I never got the chance to experience, having been born a year after that album was released.
The week after Intruder's reunion show, skinsman Pieroni and I dove into fish & chips and metal at an Irish pub in Nashville on November 17th. Pieoni shared the details on how the band came to be, gave some advice on band management, the inception of Intruder, and the band’s reunion. He also confirmed the band’s appearance in the upcoming 2012 Headbangers Open Air festival in Germany and an upcoming record.
John Pieroni: So, anyway, “A Higher Form of Killing” had just came out. Robert K. Ormond, who is a big writer for The Tennesseean, and a huge country writer, (he still writes,) but he was very influential back in the day. He got us, and he loved the lyrics. The Tennesseean used to have a paper on Sunday they called “The Showcase.” It’s kind of what they do on Friday to notify you about the weekend. We had a two-page spread interview with Robert K. Ormond, and it was all about this preacher who decided we were evil.
We were going to have our first tour for that album on Metal Blade, and we were going to do a show here in Nashville, and I can’t remember the preacher’s name, but we were like, “Look, we’re doing an all-ages show for our first show for our tour. He’s welcome to come down. We’ve got free tickets for him. He can come down and see what it’s all about.” Of course, he never showed up. It turned out that he was trying to start a church, so we were really good PR for him to try and start his church. He didn’t even look at the lyrics, which come from a quote from a physicist who won the Nobel Prize.
He won the Nobel Prize because he invented gas warfare. He called gas warfare a “higher form of killing.” So the title is really irony, you know? The guy totally… We had that song, and we had “The Martyr,” which was ahead of its time. “Genetic Genocide” was all about DNA manipulation and how it could go wrong, you know? Frankenfood? Nobody was thinking about that. There are a lot of songs we did that turned out to be ahead of their time. This is pre-internet. I might see something in TV or read about it in the paper.
I would go to the library, if you remember those places, and I would research 3 weeks at a time and write the song, which always had a million lyrics. Jimmy [Hamilton, singer] would go, “Damn, dude, you’re writing MORE lyrics? I don’t have enough to sing in this song!” Yeah, we had a good time writing that stuff. I grew up to where, if I bought an album and it didn’t have a lyrics sheet, I was pissed off. I was really upset. I really wanted to see what these people had to say. Of course, Neil Peart was my hero because, not only did he play drums, but he wrote all the lyrics.
I’m like “Ahh, I could try my hand at that,” which, in the band, at the time, none of them were lyric writers. “Yeah, you write it, man!” Apparently, I did a good enough job and it kept going. Towards the end, they wrote a song here and there because I was handling all managerial duties, as well as trying to write lyrics for songs.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): You guys were booking all of your own shows?
JP: Yeah, I was the liaison between the label and us. When we got on Metal Blade, we didn’t really have management per se. By the time “Psycho Savant” came out, I was burnt out. We were like “Okay, let’s just get some management,” which turned out to be our downfall, really.
FS: In today’s climate, would you recommend bands go for their own management?
JP: It depends. I think good management is a positive thing. If you’ve got somebody who’s really there to take care of you and wants to see the best, doesn’t give a shit about themselves per se, it’s a great thing. But like anything else, you’ve got to watch them because they’re handling your money. They’re handling your livelihood. A good example was Led Zeppelin’s manager.
That guy was a monster. He was a beast, but he made them more money than they ever saw in their life because he took care of the band. Then you read about other managers that destroy bands and stole money from them! They hid shit! I wouldn’t say no just because people have had a bad experience. I’ve been divorced before, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get married again.
I would say yeah, but you’ve gotta be careful. Do your research. Vet the person. Make sure they’re what you want and you’re on the same page.
FS: Catching up with the history of the band, what was the event that started it all and brought you together?
JP: Well, it basically started where I was playing with two other guys. None of the guys that are in the band now were in this band. The singer, David, we were just jamming. We were just playing Black Sabbath covers. I always played drums since I was six years old. I had a vision. I knew I wanted to make it. I knew I wanted to be a rock star. Basically, what happened was we had a three-piece and the singer was like “I don’t wanna play guitar anymore. I just want to sing.”
He goes, “I think I know this guy from back in the day,” so he brought Arthur [Vinett, guitarist] in. Arthur came in the band, and even then, Arthur was doing Eddie Van Halen stuff like Eddie Van Halen, and he was nineteen. Arthur and I instantly had this connection, and that was the genesis of the band. We got it going along, and we changed members. We had for a long while, just me and Arthur and a bunch of other guys, when we played as Transgresser.
The singer quit, and there was no Craigslist yet, so you had to go the record store and look at the wall. Jimmy was really good back then, even though he was 19 when he came into the band. I’m kind of the elder statesman because I’m 5 years older than the other guys. When he came into the band, that’s really when the band came to be, because we all had the drive, the ambition, and we knew what we wanted to do.
I used to go to the record store and go to the import bins. I’d buy five or six albums a week or a month, of European bands, which nobody around here had ever heard of. We would do our songs and then cover these songs and not tell anybody they were their songs. So everybody was like “You have an amazing repertoire,” and we were like “Hell yeah, we do!” Because they never heard this shit before. We were learning songs along the vein of what we liked to do, which helped hone our writing skills.
I was working at Billboard magazine in the mailroom, and there was a guy there that basically worked in their version of licensing, but he heard of a label in California called “Iron Works.” This guy was a country guy. He says, “maybe you guys should talk to this guy (at the label,)” so we called him. He was interested. He had put out Jag Panzer and he had a few bands like that. He was the one guy in his garage that had this label, but he did more for us than Metal Blade did, which was hilarious.
Anyway, so that was the nucleus of the band. He said “Send me some tapes,” so we did this 8-track demo, so he said “Cool, I like it, I’ll do a one-album deal with you guys.” Time went on, and he forgot about us, basically. Then we went into Treasure Isle studios in Nashville, and we recorded digitally. So we were one of the first metal bands to record a digital album. This was in ’87. [Editor’s note: This is correct. Manowar is credited as the first band to record a digital album – “Fighting the World” in 1987.]
We sent them back to him and it blew his mind because it was nothing compared to what we did when we sent him the 8-track. That was the start of it. We changed our name to “Intruder” because people kept thinking we were a black metal band or Satanist because of the word “Transgresser.” The album was more power metal. I guess what they really called Speed Metal back then.
Our style was starting to change because we were getting influenced by a lot of bands that came out. I was in the record store and I saw Slayer’s “Reign In Blood,” and I brought the record home. We were in the living room, and you can remember it like it happened yesterday. We put it on, and “Angel of Death,” when it comes on, the scream hits, and we just looked at each other like “Holy shit. This is what we want to do.” That just changed our style of writing instantly. You can pinpoint we were a totally different band that day.
“Martyr,” “Mister Death,” those songs are all Slayer homages. It was funny how much they influenced our writing. So much so, that with “Live to Die,” the first album, Metal Blade got interested because they loved that record. On that record alone, they signed us. They’ve never even seen us play live, so they had no clue if we were great on stage, but they signed us. When we delivered “A Higher Form of Killing,” it blew their mind. They were expecting “Live to Die” part II. They did not have any idea this was coming. I don’t know if they were disappointed, but they were just kind of in shock.
It was really funny. They really influenced us, and it was a key change for the band. As we were writing material for the album, we realized we needed another guitar player. When the one did his leads, the bottom dropped out, and it wasn’t heavy, so we did a lot of tryouts and it was nightmarish process. No one got what we were doing. In Nashville? Nobody got it. You were either a poser hair metal band or you were in hard rock. Nobody was doing thrash like we were at all. It was kind of a new thing.
We finally found Greg [Messick, guitarist] and his persona fit in and he seemed capable. There was a certain point to where he wasn’t going to cut it and Arthur said to me, “He’s out. He’s done. I don’t want him in the band anymore,” so I went to Greg. Basically, Greg admitted he was riding, like “I’m in Intruder now.” It doesn’t matter. Dude, just as easily as you got in the band, you can get out of the band. This is where the fat hits the floor. He boned up and he became the killer guitar player that he is now and he was getting endorsement deals everywhere. It’s funny. He likes telling that story.
Don’t slack. Just because you’re in a band and you’ve made it or think you’re going to make it, don’t slack. There’s always somebody better than you, so you’d better keep it up. That’s been the core of the band. Bass players? That’s a whole other story. (laughs) I don’t know what it is with bass players. I think those sub-frequencies damage their brains or something like that! (jokingly)
FS: What was the reason you decided to reunite?
JP: Even though it was the 20th anniversary of “Psycho Savant,” we’re doing this new CD of re-recorded songs picked by the fans. It’s really part of the impetus why. We did this show, but we were already working on the record. “Hey, it’s the 20th anniversary of Psycho Savant. We’re now legally Classic Rock!” (laughs)
The record also has a brand new track on it – “Under the Ether.” I like it, because it kind of has some of our old sound, but some new. Obviously, we’re not the same dudes we were twenty years ago. We still have our style. That never goes away. I’m sure this new Black Sabbath record is going to sound like Black Sabbath, you know?
We’re already amassing ideas. Arthur wants to write new stuff and maybe put an EP out. If we can stay together long enough! (laughs) We have this love-hate thing that all bands do.
FS: It’s a family thing.
JP: It’s a marriage with five people. I’ve been married three times. Two people is hard enough, so try to be married with five people! I love them all, but there’s times you want to kill ‘em. Arthur and I have always had this Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry thing, where they hate each other and love each other. That’s what’s made us good as a songwriting team. Right now, we’re in our love phase. We’re going to write some new stuff and go to Headbangers Open Air.
FS: So you’re going to be playing Headbangers Open Air in Germany?
JP: In July, yes. With the plan of playing seven or eight other dates, to be determined. It’s nice to go on vacation, but we didn’t want to go over there and just do one show. We’re definitely going. Headbangers Open Air is awesome. They purposely keep it small even though it’s pretty big – 1,500 or 2,000 people. Jurgen and Tomas are the ones who put it on and they call it “The World’s Largest Beer Garden Party” or something like that. They love the music, and the German audience is the best metal audience ever.
Jurgen is like family to us, too. We’re on his label, Hellion, over there, and they treat us right. Who knows what else?
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