Seasons of the Wolf: Metal Gods on a Mission
When we think of Metal today, we think of bands like Disturbed, Mudvayne and Slipknot. While these are great acts, they don't follow the traditional style that the '80s and '90s perfected. Great guitar leads and crunchy E-rides have been lost to Jump Metal and less-than-technical low pitch bridges. One band, however, keeps the faith by replacing the growling vocals and 3-piece grunge matches with screaming licks and 5 pieces of sheer musical terror.
Seasons of the Wolf go where only a few dare, reviving a lost genre and bringing back the idea that Metal doesn't have to be bland, canned and marketed to be good. They are self-sufficient, controlling their own production, distribution and every other aspect of their career since 1988. I had a chance to get together with members of this longhaired Florida quintet to see what makes them tick. Why do they hold on to the "old school" Metal practice? As they tell it, it's because it's what they love.
[Garage Radio] So you guys have been doing this since 1988. Has the line-up changed much in those 15 years?
Skully Yeah, it took us a while to find the right line-up on bass and drums for recording. Dennis and I started SOTW shortly after the break-up of the band we had from '84 to early '88 called Equinox. My brother, Wes, joined up right at the onset of SOTW shortly after high school in summer '88. We then found our first bassist, Clay Yeagley, and drummer Dwayne Brier. That lasted 'til '91. We wrote about 40 songs during that time. We recorded two cassette albums and released 500 copies in the Tampa Bay area only. We didn't feel it was ready for national release, yet. Most likely we'll release some of that material again in the next couple of years after a bit of mastering.
Anyway, we got a female bassist in the band in '91, Phaedra Rubio. Drummer Aaron Winders joined shortly after. Aaron only lasted till early '94 while we were in pre-production for our first real album, with Bud Snyder co-producing. Then we found Wayne Hoefle. He learned an entire album of material in 6 weeks and we recorded the first SOTW self-titled album. That line up lasted till '98, when we were recording the second album. Phaedra quit and Chris Whitford joined on bass. Chris just recently parted after the Nocturnal Revelation album and now we have Bill Bois on bass.
[Garage Radio] Introduce the band for us.
Skully In our current line-up we have Mark Empire on drums, Bill Bois on bass, Dennis Ristow on keyboards and engineer in-studio. My brother, Wes Edward Waddell, is our main bread and butter (we call him) on lead vocals, and your main motor mouth, producing, guitar playing fellow, that would be me, Skully, or as friends and family know me ... Barry Waddell. I picked up the nickname from a song I wrote back in '85 while in the band Equinox, but that's another story.
[Garage Radio] Do you think the band's style has changed since you started?
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Skully I don't think we've really changed that much. I think we are just getting better at writing, recording and producing a SOTW song. You can hear the growth on each of the 3 albums we have out now and I think it will show even more on the next one we are working on now.
Wes Our style has not changed much. Our strength has grown however, I believe. I think you can hear that from one release to the next. I know I feel it personally, myself. I feel stronger every time we write a new song and I am looking forward to our new release and the material it will contain.
Dennis I think most bands, generally speaking, don't change styles intentionally, but they naturally mature. Some bands do of course try different things sometimes, maybe an all reggae album or all polka (ha, ha) but that's usually just as an experiment or at least then it's done intentionally. I hope the listeners can hear the same musical growth that we feel in our writing and performing.
[Garage Radio] You are playing a genre that doesn't (and never did) get much radio play. Does this discourage you at all?
Skully Man, you got that right! They sure as hell never played the best Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Blue Oyster Cult or Deep Purple stuff on the radio. Those bands did get some help from radio exposure, though. It does get under my skin a bit when I know we have something that would really take off with some mainstream radio airplay, like our song "Interstellar." Funny thing is we did two college radio-marketing campaigns. One for the first album in fall '98 and another for Lost in Hell in fall '99. Each of those times we beat out some major label signed artists in radio ads and topped them on college metal charts.
Timing had a lot to do with it for us. Radio rules had already changed in 1996 with the Telecommunications Act. Clear Channel took away local support and closed the doors on anyone that was not a part of their huge pay-for-play monopoly. Back in the older days, mainstream radio used to pick some tunes off the top of what was happening in college radio. They don't do that anymore. Anyone can get played on mainstream if you have a large enough cash bid. It's not about hits anymore. It is about what you want to pay big money for to shove down people's throat. These greedy practices have always been around, but just not as blatantly in your face as everyone can see now. Most people don't even care anymore. And really there are too many other important things going on in most peoples' lives to get overly concerned enough to do anything about it. That has become the strength of the conglomerate corporations. This is one of the top things that hurt the industry and hundreds of thousands of independent musicians.
No. I'm not discouraged. I'm an outraged, rebellious, starving musician. It's a good thing I'm not totally nuts or I would probably have done something really stupid and got medieval on some corporate asses.
Wes Not at all! Just like my brother said, outraged and rebellious is more like it. I, even as an individual, have always felt like an underdog. Misunderstood, not like the rest, not part of the in crowd. That kind of thing has been with me since I was born. It never stopped me or discouraged me before. So even in music, it's not gonna get me down. I'll just nip at the heels of the ones who pretend to walk over us and maybe one day we rise up and change some things.
Dennis It's not the genre we play that's discouraging as much as it's the whole industry. As Barry mentioned, the general music consumer has been forced to listen to what was being shoved down their throat. Listeners are tired of it and I feel that's the main reason that sales have declined. That and CD prices.
In my opinion, it seems to me that the people that were in charge of the radio game 20 or so years ago were true businessmen. They saw trends and star-power in unknown artists and capitalized on them. The music industry is now run by people who try to anticipate the latest trend or, even worse, manufacture a trend rather than actually taking the time to see what's going on. Look at the Spice Girls! Were these five friends that grew up together and always had a dream to sing in a band together? No, they were the best five that answered the audition call. Today they are just a footnote in the music business and are all but forgotten.
[Garage Radio] You consider yourselves "underground" as opposed to "indie." Do you find a difference, or is it just semantics?
Skully Actually, we refer to SOTW as both independent and underground. Independent in that we handle every aspect of our career ourselves, underground in that we don't have the cash to outbid Warner Brothers or Sony for the cover of Rolling Stone or MTV. Underground in that we will not pay to play any of the venues that Clear Channel Communications now owns across the world.
Wes I don't think those two words are the same, no. There are definitely some "underground" artists that aren't indie, and there are also some bands that are now "indie" that are not underground any more. Like artists who had enough of labels sucking them dry. Sure, they got popular, but almost starved to death for it. I think we are both underground and indie. The independence is great. I am sure at some point we could use some help, but we would still remain independent in the respect that we would be the ones making the decisions on what our assistance would carry out. The Underground part is cool. It means the only place to go is up, and we will independently strive to do so.
Dennis "Indie," as in doing things your own way, and the term "underground," as in not being played on major radio, I feel are two very different terms. Indie sounds like we want to stay underground. We would love to always remain independent. That is, do things the way we want them done. Underground is just the matter-of-fact status of metal music and it always more or less has been underground. I hope that one day, perhaps now that there is Internet radio and Satellite radio, all music will be available to everyone 24/7 and the term underground will be a thing of the past. (Wouldn't Clear Channel just hate that!)
[Garage Radio] When you're at home or in your car, what bands do you listen to? Do you listen to radio? Do you like any new stuff?
Skully Well, classic radio blows. I would rather not listen to "Stairway To Heaven" or "Hotel California" one more time in my life. Not that those are not great songs. For instance, I really love Blue Oyster Cult, and I really like the song "Don't Feel The Reaper," but I'll put my CD in and listen if I want. I can't stand hearing it over and over again every day at the same time. And modern radio. What a joke! Used to be one in every four songs something new, was pretty cool. Now it's more like one in every 20 songs you might actually hear something worth a listen. I do love tons of new stuff, though. You won't hear it on mainstream radio, though. Maybe really late at night on a local college station you can hear new bands that I like, but even that's becoming a stretch.
Wes Well, I share the same view on mainstream radio as my brother. As far as what bands I listen to in my car or at home ... I listen to a lot of what you would call underground bands as far as Metal goes ... too many to list here. Stuff that I think if other people got a chance to hear would probably like it, too. I do know a lot of people who do listen to this stuff too, but they are just like me, few and far between, and I probably only know them by sharing such interests. But I'm talking, you'll never hear these bands on mainstream radio, unless some things change. I also listen to some other things you probably would never guess, because I like a lot of different music styles, excluding hip-hop. I am a time bandit and I listen to a lot of music from the late 1800s and early 1900s. '20s, '30s, '40s, big band, jazz, swing and blues being some of my favorite. I think it's just the nostalgia of it all.
Dennis I have to say that I don't listen to radio too much. I usually listen to classical or opera music or old rock and roll albums, not just the old radio hits, some of the best stuff by the bands you hear on classic stations are the stuff they didn't play on the radio. If the radio is on in the car, it's pretty much background noise and it's just there.
[Garage Radio] What kind of stuff were you listening to in '88?
Skully I have stuck with my old time favorites all these years with new releases by bands like Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Tangerine Dream, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Ronnie Montrose, Alice Cooper, and more. I was always a huge Thin Lizzy fan all through the '70s and early '80s until Phil Lynott died in '86. Sure wish that Phil were still around releasing albums today. In '88 I was listening to Queensryche, and a few other newer acts that had built up during the '80s. Never cared for the hair spray bands like Poison. Most of those artists are still releasing decent material, so that is what I stick with. I'm a solid dedicated fan.
I liked a few things that came out in the late '80s and early '90s, such as Ministry, Sound Garden, and a few Faith No More tunes. I actually liked some Filter as well ... but it tends to get on my nerves when every song sounds the same. Still, I always find myself going back to my trusty Black Oak Arkansas collection for something really unique.
Wes If I remember correctly, at that time I was listening to a lot of what my brother mentioned above. Black Sabbath was always one of my favorites, so I looked forward to any new releases as I followed them after Ozzy left 10 years before that. I also remember at that time I was getting into a lot of New Age stuff. I was listening to Ray Lynch, Enya (which I know bores some people to death, laugh if you want), Jean Paul Jarre, Michael Olfield, Tangerine Dream, and a lot of Celtic music. These sounds did influence some of my writing of lyrics and a lot of this music was instrumental.
Dennis 15 years ago? I honestly can't remember too clearly. I was pretty drunk at the time. I remember going to concerts for Queensryche and U2. Some Golden Earring and Blue Oyster Cult. I do remember radio was pretty good back then, so you could add music from bands that they play on "classic rock" radio stations today, but back then it was still new. Judas Priest, Dokken, Aerosmith, and a lot of bands that have now been played to death on those "classic rock" stations.
[Garage Radio] I was looking over your credits and noticed you guys do everything regarding the music production process. You run the label, graphics, studio and distribution. You also help to produce other acts. How do you find the time to work on your own material and do gigs?
Skully Over the past few years the music venues in our area just fell out the bottom. There is no local radio support. It's hard to find a decent place to play because most of the good venues shut down from lack of attendance or they are owned by Clear Channel. Bands are putting on some really crappy shows these days. SOTW has never been a strip-mall venue band, although we played them a few times just to get our rocks off live. (laughs)
We only have about 3 larger stage places left and we can't play them all the time. Can't afford to tour without massive exposure and financial support, so we write, record, and film the few shows that we do play and make music videos of them. We market ourselves across the entire planet to anyone that will listen to try and create a demand that is snowballing over time. In the mean time, we help with other bands as much as possible in our studio, or just by networking with them to show them new ways to get around the traffic jam and get their music exposed. The Independent film industry has been a very good way to expose SOTW to the audience of Horror and sci-fi film productions.
[Garage Radio] Speaking of gigs, I see that you mainly play Florida venues. Do you get to step out-of-state much?
Skully We have never left the borders of Florida, yet. Although we have had lots of offers to PAY to Play outside our state (laughs). I won't go on a rant about that. All I can say is that SOTW will play anywhere on this planet for FREE. You pay to get us there, feed us, and provide us a place to lay our head, and get us back home safe, warm, and healthy. We will play for free. But, we will NOT ever Pay To Play.
Wes We haven't had the right circumstances to play outside of state as of yet. Oh, believe me the desire is there, but like my brother was saying, even FREE is fine as long as you can get us there and back and make sure the necessities are taken care of. The exposure would be wonderful. I would love for people all over the world to get a chance to see us, and I know people in other countries who want to see us as well. It would be nice to give them a taste of a live SOTW show.
Dennis Playing out of the state of Florida is something that we all want to do. All over the planet would be even better
[Garage Radio] You seem to have a huge European market. How did you shop that part of the world, or did it shop you?
Skully We started working it through the underground fanzines as far back as 1995. We have a lot of long time supporters over there helping create a demand for SOTW. The Germans, French, and Italians have given us love. Although we have not been able to go over just yet, that's where we are heading A.S.A.P. There is where we have sold the most albums. There have been a few offers and I think that soon we will be able to make it on over with their support.
Several other European countries are purchasing our music, as well. After the 4th album is released next year, we may have created the demand we need to do a proper SOTW tour over there. Got to go where the love is, ya know? (laughs)
We should have started working on Japan a long time ago, but man is it expensive to mail stuff to Japan. We do have a street team member over there, though. A Japanese model named Junko Ikehata. She made a Japanese SOTW web page. Dennis went over for a vacation and got to meet her. Ooh la la! She is a gorgeous, hard-rocking metal babe. Dennis could tell you more about that very worthwhile topic. (laughs)
Dennis I feel very fortunate to have met many of our fans from around the world. Last year, during a vacation I took in Japan, I got to meet Junko. I wouldn't argue with Barry's description. She is very nice and like most fans, it's an honor that she uses what spare time her life provides her to help bands like us out. She took me to a hard rock bar in Tokyo, sorry the name escapes me. I think it was Club Dokken, named after the band. Many major acts have visited this bar as evident by the pictures of them on the wall taken at the club. It really gives you a sense of the size of the planet. A couple years back I went to Italy and met a label rep from Adrenaline Records that released a European version of Lost In Hell, and of course there was our friend Kurt from Norway that came to visit us. He helped Wes record a version of the title track from Lost In Hellin Norwegian. We've had friends from the States come to visit us, too. As a musician, you really get to meet a lot of people and I hope we'll get to play for them someday.
[Garage Radio] Tell us what you think the band's fan appeal is. What's your main "demographic" as far as CD sales and listener ship?
Skully Versatile song writing, depth and atmosphere, but still retaining that punch in your face. The riffs. The live presence. Subject matter in the lyrics. Staying in close touch with our fans. I think those are the SOTW qualities that attract the listeners. Once they see a proper SOTW live show, we got them guaranteed for life. Teenagers at the age group of 16 and up into early 20s are starting to add up again on our mailing list in the past couple years. Then we have another age group starting at 30s to 40s that have been listening to us since 1988.
More of those people are the working class family that still listens to radio all day while at work doing whatever they do. That is where the major dilemma comes into play. That entire age group of potential listeners has been shut off by radio and TV from any new bands that play music influenced by the kind of rock music they like. So, they listen to "Don't Fear The Reaper," "Smoke On The Damned Water" and Ozzy material until they are brainwashed into thinking there have been no new bands since then. (laughs)
Wes If the CD alone hasn't caught their attention, a SOTW live show certainly will. I know people who don't like metal or hard rock at all and have been to one of our shows and fall in love. Maybe because they would never give the music alone a chance and were just nice enough to show up for a show and are very entertained, they buy a CD give a listen and realize there's something about this they like. I have heard the story many times. I'm not sure what it is in the music that just seems to reach out to a lot of different kinds of people. I'm too close to our music myself. I do, however, think it has to do with our influences, our roots, and the fact that we like to perfect a song so it's punctual in the musical end and vocal end, not all washed out, and still have that "Heavy-Metal, kick you in the ass" sound.
Dennis I think that since most of our musical roots are from bands that are universal, I think people hear that in the song writing. Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and other classic metal bands took thier cues from blues, rock, pop, soul, everything, and put there own twist on it. We're not trying to reinvent a style of music - we just write and perform what feels good to us.
[Garage Radio] Tell us what you feel have been your greatest struggles with this band, the music community, etc.
Skully Getting the money to fuel the quest, and watching out for complete imbeciles in the music business.
Wes Money to fuel the quest. Yes. We have grown a bit in the profits of selling some product. This is, however, just recycled. Put right back into building up more product and the things that keep the machine running, so to say. It grows some, the machine gets a little more fuel than the last time, and moves a little further. Right now it is semi self-sustaining to some point, it declines a bit at times and then gets a little boost again. The optimum thing would be to have a full tank and plenty of reserved fuel. That would really take us somewhere and be more than just semi self-sustaining. Oh, yeah and as for complete imbeciles, they can really clog up a system so we try to steer clear of those, but some times they are like love bugs on the windshield. You have to stop every now and then and clean them off.
Dennis Ah, the old he "who has the gold, yada, yada, yada ..."
It's true, you can't make money without spending money and all businesses need money. That's the hardest thing about being "independent." Everything we've got, we've paid w/ blood, sweat and tears, and money. We do have a lot more going for us than a lot of Independent bands. Three releases, our own DVD on the way and we do it all ourselves. In fact, the more the band gets ahead, people's perceptions of us changed from things like "who do these nobody's think they are" when you're first starting out and unproven to "you guys must live in a mansion since you have so much." The cost is not just financial, but there's no such thing as "an overnight success."
Most successful artists have a story of struggle behind them. Most people just don't think about it, though, when they hear an artist's latest CD or see their latest tour. That's when the artist is larger than life, and that's showbiz.
[Garage Radio] When did you decide to stay independent? Why did you decide to become independent?
Skully After our first deal went sour. (laughs)
I think the reason is because of too many potential rip-off-sharks swimming in circles around us, and we just seemed to be able to do so much more for ourselves with a lot less money than they deemed necessary. I got tired of hearing "blah, blah, blah, we can do this for you and we can do that" and then nothing happened as the time ticked by, while we worked our ass off. Obviously we took the harder road to success. But, I can tell you that when the sails are up and the wind is blowing strong, it is much more satisfying to know we own the whole ship ourselves.
Wes You are walking down a road in the middle of a desert trying to make it to your destination. You put your thumb out as a car approaches. They stop and say, "You need a ride, no problem, I can take you anywhere you want to go. I can take you here, I can take you there, blah, blah, blah, it's what I do for a living!" Then as they are talking the car runs out of gas because they didn't fill it up before they left the last town, the tires blow out because they were wore down and bald and a big puff of smoke rises from the engine. This happens more than once. You decide to just keep walking and forget about the thumb.
Dennis It's not a question of staying independent as it is control. If a manager could line up a tour with places to play that he as a business manager feels good about, I have no problem working with him and giving him his fair percentage. Fair being the key word. It seems that when people want to help you they want your blood (or at least money) before they have proven they CAN help you. As soon as someone approaches us that is capable AND willing to do more for us than we can for ourselves, we would be glad to "partner" up with them. Until somebody steps up and DOES what they say they CAN, we will remain independent.
[Garage Radio] I think we'd like to know more about the music you present. Is it misunderstood? Where does the passion in your recordings come from?
Skully No, I don't think it is misunderstood at all. Only maybe by those closing their mind completely.
"The Passion." Sometimes being pissed off helps on a song such as "Liar." (laughs) Mostly we tap into our love of Horror and Sci-fi films. Playing it live is one of the greatest feelings. It's a powertrip for me when the band is hitting the stage. There is a lot of passion there. When we record, we try to bring that same passion into the studio. We are jonzing for some live shows now.
Wes The people who don't like our genre of music maybe only misunderstand it. There have always been people who think metal music in general, or the dark subject matter is satanic or some kind of thing like that, if that's what you mean. Most of the dark subject matter we touch on is either just fictional, like in horror or sci-fi movies, or it is based on the reality of humans bringing doom upon themselves. And, my passion comes from this later thing. The anger of this disturbing reality does fuel the fire behind some of the songs I sing.
Dennis If I was a writer of novels, I'd write sci-fi or horror fiction. If I were a filmmaker, I'd make movies that scared people or made people think - what if? As it is, I play music in a band, so the music we make is mostly "fiction." Sometimes it's sci-fi, sometimes it's horror, sometimes it's real life influenced, but the fiction comes out when the world seems crazy, wrong or just plain stupid and annoying. I'd say the passion comes from the struggle to push forward and overcome the things that are always in our way, especially when some ass-hole puts it in the way.
[Garage Radio] I'd like to give you guys a chance to brag openly about yourselves. Tell us about Seasons of the Wolf. Who are you? Greatest triumphs? Favorite moments?
Skully "We are a lean, mean, wild, hard rocking metal machine.
Greatest triumphs -
#1 - Building our own studio, producing our own music art from the ground up and getting it into circulation around the globe.
#2 - Beating out major labels in radio ads and college radio charts. (The Syndicate Radio Marketing Company can vouch for us on that one)
#3 - Working with Independent filmmakers and having our music used in seven films so far, three of which are distributed in Hollywood Video across America.
#4 - Selling approximately 25,000 copies of our albums on our own and being featured in over 200 magazines around the globe, without ever having played outside the borders of Florida.
#5 - Keeping the faith in our music. Staying true to ourselves. Staying alive.
For me favorite moments happen when we write a new song, record songs, and perform live. Every time we get to meet and talk to the people that support SOTW.
Dennis All of the above. Although we've had to do it by ourselves, that makes the successes that much more meaningful. We can boast that we've done it on our own and to all those that got in our way, watch your backs!
[Garage Radio] Can you comment about what you have in the works? What's up-and-coming for SOTW?
Skully We are recording album #4, and producing a DVD collection of music videos and interviews. We plan to release both in mid-2004. We just got another deal working to have some SOTW tracks used in a horror film titled "The Van." In October, another horror film titled "Goregoyles" is being released across America. SOTW has a few tracks in that one, as well.
[Garage Radio] We gotta wrap this up, but I'd like to ask you who you wanna give props to supporters, personal friends or whomever?
Skully Now that would take up some space (laughs). I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity for this here Garage Radio interview! It has been a privilege for us. Also, a big HELLO! and thanks to our die-hard SOTW Bloodtree out there. You know who you are! We like to hear from people anytime, so email us. Orna Verum!!
I had a great time interviewing Seasons of the Wolf. They have balls of iron that can be heard in their music. They are very involved in their craft and I believe they'll be around for years to come. Maybe their style will be the rebirth of the Metal sound left behind by wannabe Pop stars and the "cool" gang. Whatever the consensus, SOTW will still produce a sound that's timeless in its own right. More info on SOTW and purchasing their CDs can be found by visiting the official website at www.sotwmetal.com/.