San Francisco's BROCAS HELM are one of the true U.S. heavy metal cult bands that are still around, having a strong fanbase in Europe primarily, Germany & Greece in special. They released two classic albums early on in their career (Into Battle in 1984 & Black Death in 1988), as well as a few 7"'s in more recent years. A third full-length CD is said to be finally on its way, as well as a CD-re-issue of Into Battle. Reason enough to discuss BROCAS HELM's history so far with vocalist/guitarist Bobbie Wright.
Bobbie, for those unaware, tell us a bit about how the band first got together? Previous bands, recordings, releases?
I was playing in a band called PRISONER and we had a really good bassplayer, but there was some problem, I can't recall. I met the Wizzard (bassist Jim Schumacher) in a low-stakes Texas hold'em poker game in the basement of Mabuhay Gardens, a rock and roll club in San Francisco, near all the strip clubs on Broadway. It's close to Chinatown. There are gambling dens underground, built during the Gold Rush and many are still in operation. There is a system of tunnels that connects many of them. The Wizzard joined PRISONER and we played clubs and pizza joints. We played hard rock, but the Wizzard and I wanted to play metal. I quit the band and started a new band with the Wizzard. We put a tiny ad on the wall at Guitar Center and found drummer Jack Hays. The original guitar player (John Grey) came from a band we played and drank with.
Who came up with the moniker BROCAS HELM? And what does it stand for?
We were feasting and toasting to our new band in the candlelit Wizzard's den. I was drunk. Old number 7. Dirty glass. Then, to my amazement, the wall starts lecturing us and BROCAS HELM was suggested. We all agreed, drank a toast to BROCAS HELM and threw our glasses at the wall. Brocas Helm is a tilting or jousting helm, the finest example of which can be found at the Tower of London Armories, in the Bernard Brocas collection.
Did you guys record any demos prior to the release of the Into Battle LP? Songtitles? How many copies made? Was that just for promotion only or were they also available to the public?
We recorded lots of demos over the years ... Into Battle, Helm's Deep, 911, Ghost Story, Black Death. We sold these, and others, at shows and to fans. We sent promo copies to radio stations, magazines and whoever wanted one. We usually made 100 copies of a demo, sometimes more, sometimes less. Most songs ended up on vinyl and CD. A couple of the songs on those demos will be on the upcoming new CD.
Into Battle was released on First Strike Records in 1984. Was this the band's own label at the time, or just a small local company? And if so, how did you end up signing with them? How many vinyl copies of Into Battle on First Strike were pressed to begin with?
We sold our Into Battle demo at a local record store that was connected to First Strike Records. That's how we got our first deal. I don't know the exact amount pressed. Several thousands.
Steamhammer Records out of Germany did release Into Battle in Europe as well. How did that deal come about? Do you have any idea as to how many copies of Into Battle (on vinyl) were sold, on a worldwide basis?
BROCAS HELM, First Strike and Steamhammer had a licensing agreement. Once again I don't know the exact number, but I can safely say thousands of copies.
While the U.S. press of Into Battle included a lyric sheet, the Steamhammer version did not. Neither release had a band picture either. Why was that, as there was plenty of space left on the backcover?
First Strike Records made some artistic decisions that we didn't agree with. Into Battle will be re-issued soon, with the original cover art and the Into Battle demo tape as a special bonus. The reason the Steamhammer release contained no lyric sheet was because we didn't submit a German translation in time for pressing.
Later on Steamhammer also issued Into Battle on CD, as part of their limited CD-mid-price series. What do you think of that release? It looks a bit cheap to me. Did they ask you for permission to do that, or did they just proceed without contacting the band?
The Steamhammer Into Battle CD was a great relief. We didn't have any records left and fans kept asking to buy them. The CD filled the void. They did it towards the end of our contract.
I know that you guys have been intending to re-release Into Battle on CD yourselves in recent years. What's the current status as far as that re-issue is concerned?
The Into Battle re-release is ready to press. Including original cover art and as a special bonus the Into Battle demo, the one that started it all. A must have for BROCAS HELM fans. To be released very soon.
Did BROCAS HELM record any demos in between Into Battle and follow-up Black Death? Songtitles?
We recorded demos for our next two CD's. These songs we keep from the public. Some may appear on the next CD. Some titles are Cold Steel - Warm Blood, The Horse's Eye, Demon Axe, Wrath Of The Reaper, To The Hilt, Ride The Beast, Mist Of Death & Spit In The Devil's Eye.
Black Death was released in 1988 on the band's own Gargoyle Records. How many copies were made? Was it ever repressed? And wasn't there any label interested in releasing it, based on the evidence of Into Battle? What about Steamhammer?
1000 copies of Black Death were released in 1988. Plus 2000 CD's so far. And 500 picture discs. If you have a copy of the vinyl, I pay instant cash! (I have one, but I'm not parting ways with it, not as long as I'm alive! - EddY)
On Black Death the line-up had expanded to a quartet once again, including additional guitarist Tom Behney. What instigated this move? Where did Tom come from, as far as previous musical experiences were concerned? Bands? Releases?
Tom came from Chicago, where he played the circuit in local bands, the names of which escape me at this time.
And when & why did Tom leave the band?
Booze, drugs and women are the best things about rock and roll, and the worst! Either too much or not enough, we could never get it right in those days.
You re-issued Black Death on CD in 1997 yourself. How many did you make of that, and is it still available these days? Why didn't you include any bonus songs on it?
No bonus songs because we wanted it to track straight through, just like the record, in order to be a true re-issue. And yes, it's still available, directly from the band.
Black Death was recorded at Caverns Of Thunder Studios, which I presume to be the band's own studio. What can you tell us about it? And who is the Chemist?
The Caverns Of Thunder are our worldwide headquarters. We are recording the new record as we speak. The Chemist plays the organ on Drink The Blood Of The Priest, a song that will be included on the new record.
Black Death was produced by the band itself, as opposed to it's predecessor, which was done by Doug Reid. Why was that? And how do you look back on both recording sessions? What do you think of the material on both releases these days? Personal fave songs?
Doug Reid was the engineer who recorded the first record. He was hired by First Strike Records. He was doing a great job until high-ups figured out what some of the knobs on the mixing board did. Then things got funny (reverb). We did Black Death ourselves because at the time every company that was interested wanted us to wear make-up and spray up our hair, and sing about crap. I remember a conference call with some company, where the A & R guy said 'I have the producer (or some big shot) from RATT on the line and they want to talk to you.' He proceeded to inform me that, if we didn't wear make-up and dress like girls, we would never make it. Well, that was the last straw; we had no money and no equipment, but we had beer and pot. So we drank a beer and smoked a joint, and thought about it. We decided that BROCAS HELM was not for sale. And we would do things ourselves until we met people who didn't care about hair, etc. And now it has paid off. We have tons of new and old fans, and people who respect us and our music. I don't have any fave songs, I like 'em all!
Black Death has been re-released as a limited vinyl picture disc on Doomed Planet Records just recently as well. What can you tell us about that release? Which bonus tracks are on there? How did you get to deal with Rob Preston? How many copies?
We met Rob Preston of Doomed Planet Records at a BROCAS HELM show a few years ago and he expressed interest in making a record. After a year or two we got to be friends, and we liked him because he liked true metal, so we decided to let him do something. And he asked about a picture disc, so we let him. A limited special edition of 500 only, including bonus tracks Wartoons and Juggernaught. All sold out in just a couple of days.
And what about the lyrical content of BROCAS HELM's music; what is it all about? Care to elaborate on (some of) the songs?
The lyrics mean what they say most of the time, but some songs are about things that have nothing to do with what they say. Kinda like when the monkey throws the bone into the sky in the movie 2001 : A Space Odyssey. It took me years to figure it out, but when I finally got it, it was a great revelation. If I explained the lyrics, that would be telling and spoil the fun for people who like puzzles. The song Black Death is about something completely different, and so far only one guy has got it right. That I know of, anyhow.
How would you compare Into Battle to Black Death, as far as the musical side of things is concerned? How would you label BROCAS HELM's music yourself?
When people ask me, I simply say it's BROCAS HELM music, or I say it's loud screaming music. It takes a long time to explain what it means to me, it's complex. Into Battle is just that. We were riding Into Battle to unleash our music on the world and Black Death is another saga in the life of BROCAS HELM. Wait till you hear the next one.
A BROCAS HELM 7" was also released by Bad Posture Records. How did this happen? Which songs are on there? Where did they originate from?
We made a demo called Ghost Story, which included the songs Ghost Story, Time Of The Dark, Wartoons and Juggernaught. It originally came in a really cool box with a small book, which we sent to some record companies. If you have one of these, I'll buy it right now! Extremely rare and very cool. We also gave some away and sold many. We printed at least a couple hundred without the box and book, and still sell them. When we run out, we print more. Bad Posture's Jeff Brown kept calling and talking about his company. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, so we said what the hell, and let him do it.
And what had the band been doing in between Black Death and this 7"? Were you still active at all? Any side-projects? Other bands? Recordings? Releases?
We played private parties for rich guys & poor friends, and a couple of shows here and there. We never stopped playing. We would build sets and film low-budget videos for a few laughs. We always seemed to be recording songs. Every once in a while I reach into the box and pull out a tape, listen to it and say 'Holy shit, did we play that!' Also, people were born and people died, people got together and people broke apart. Most of the time I spent playing guitar, drinking, smoking, gambling and fucking. The rest of the time I just wasted.
On the 7" you were back to a trio as well. Why was that?
We have a rule that there must be more people in the audience than on stage, or we don't play live. One cold and stormy night we got on stage at some shitty club and only three people showed up, so we had to get rid of the guitar player.
Another 7" (Skullfucker b/w Blood Machine) was released by the band itself in late 2000, early 2001, on blood red vinyl. Where did those songs originate from? How many copies did you press & why did you release it on your own? What kind of problems did you encounter in releasing this particular piece of vinyl?
Skullfucker is a love song I wrote about some girl that pissed me off and Blood Machine is about me when I'm pissed off. You would not believe the amount of phonecalls, letters and e-mails we get from fans, demanding new material. We just weren't ready to put out a full- length record, so we released Skullfucker/Blood Machine. We pressed 1000, but the company put the labels on the wrong side of the record, so we had to send them all back so they could re-do them. I kept at least 90 of the missprints and they will soon be collector's items. We still have a few left and will press more when we run out.
Have you guys been working on any new songs recently? Songtitles? Any change in style? And what's the current status as far as the release of a third full-length CD goes? When can we expect it to be released at last?
We have been working on the Caverns Of Thunder studio, adding some new microphones and building a new wall. We have also been working on new songs, two of which are Defender Of The Crown and Cry Of The Banshee, among others. We will not go overseas until it's done, so we have deadlines and it will be out by Halloween, at the latest. Hopefully sooner, or I will eat my Flying V!!!
Will it be a do-it-yourself release once again, or are you trying to attract a proper label's interest? Any news on this?
A proper label's interest is the key. We will record and release it ourselves. However, we will see what type of deal we can get, and if it's serious we may take it.
And what about artwork for the upcoming release, do you have anything in mind yet?
We have a lot of artwork to choose from, but we may change our mind at the last minute. We don't know exactly which songs will be on it, so it's hard to say.
On November 25th 2001 BROCAS HELM played its first ever European show, in Greece. How did this come about? Why only one show? What do you remember from that night? And from the entire trip? What do you think of Europe in general, Greece in special?
Yes, Greece and the people are fantastic. The men are men of honour and the women are beautiful. The people of Greece have always been big fans of BROCAS HELM and they just asked us to come, and we went. I never drank more (ouzo), slept less or partied with finer people than those in Greece. I personally love Europe and will be back soon.
And what did you think of support acts of the night : BATTLEROAR, RAGING STORM & DREAM WEAVER?
BATTLEROAR, RAGING STORM and DREAM WEAVER instantly became three of my favourite bands. They all kick ass!
You were planning some sort of tour of Europe for this summer as well. How are things shaping up so far? Any news? Other bands to participate? Which countries? When?
We were thinking of heading over with THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG but decided not to do it, because the most important thing for us right now is to finish the CD. Then we will go to Europe, and maybe never come back.
As the band has been around for so long, you have also played plenty of gigs over the years. Which BROCAS HELM gig would you say was the best ever? Why?
It would have to be the one in Greece. We played for more people and much better before, but the energy from the Greek fans was just unbelievable!
And what was the best show you ever attended, and why?
Living in San Francisco I was able to see DEEP PURPLE, IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, THIN LIZZY, VAN HALEN, BLACK SABBATH, OZZY OSBOURNE, AC/DC, LED ZEPPELIN, AEROSMITH, MONTROSE, ROLLING STONES, THE WHO, and on and on and on … so many I could fill an entire page, several pages even. And I have the ticket stubs to prove it. Name a band and I bet I have seen them. So many great shows … It's hard to pick the best show, but I will say my all-time favourite was CHEAP TRICK. About the fifth time I saw them. I was very depressed and had not played the guitar for quite some time. I drove three hours to see them. I was drinking large amounts of alcohol, among other things, at the time. I was a few rows back from the center of the stage when Rick Nielsen caught my eye. I poured out my drink on the floor, lifted up my cup angled at Rick and pointed to the bottom of the cup. He knew what I had in mind. He locked his eyes on the cup, adjusted his stance, all this while not missing a note in the middle of a song. He hit a power chord and, without missing a beat, proceeded to fire his guitar pick in a dead straight line right into the bottom of my cup. I carefully removed the pick and displayed it to him and the crowd. He brushed his nails on his lapel as he nodded his head … the fans went wild! After the show I went backstage and exclaimed 'Great shot!!!' He went out of his way to tell me how proud he was of that shot, signed my glass, shaked my hand and wished me luck. I keep that pick in my wallet at all times. It just might have saved my life.
How did you get involved with heavy metal to begin with? At what age? What instigated it?
I always liked music with an edge to it. I played lots of music as a kid, even in church. When I was young, a friend and I went to a hall called Winterland. We fought our way to the front of the stage. The lights dimmed. Like magic, a glowing white strat appeared to be floating towards us in the darkness. The lights went to full power and a blast of sound parted my hair. Standing five feet from me was the 'Baddest Mother Fucker' I had ever seen. I looked at my friend and his jaw was on the floor; I noticed mine was too. It was Ritchie Blackmore and I started a metal band the next day.
Which bands would you say have influenced you over the years?
Every band I have ever seen has influenced me, but FLASH CADILLAC & THE CONTINENTAL KIDS always stand out as the band that really got me in this frame of mind.
What's the local San Francisco metal scene like these days? Opportunities to play live? Media? Fans? Other bands you'd like to recommend?
The local San Francisco metal scene pretty much sucks. If it wasn't for Joann and her Black Church (a small metal club) at KIMO's and Lucifer's Hammer, there would not be a scene. There are some other shows and clubs, but too few and far between. My favourite local act is THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG. The local metal fans are great and they deserve an all metal club all of the time. If I ever get any money, the first thing I'm gonna do is open a metal club and fuck everybody else!
And how would you say the nowadays scene compares to the one from the 80's & 90's? Why? And what do you think of the worldwide state of 'heavy metal' these days?
The eighties were great. There were lots of clubs, tons of shows, tons of fans and beautiful girls with high heels and short skirts everywhere, all the time. We played a lot and had a hell of a time. We never slept. I lived on booze, drugs and sex. Metal is still number one in my book, and while the European metal scene is much better than the one in the U.S., I will not surrender!!
What are BROCAS HELM's plans for the rest of 2002?
Complete the CD. Play in Europe. Complete the CD.
Anything you'd like to add?
Rock and Roll will set you free. God bless.
I sincerely hope the new CD will be out before the end of the year, for it's been way too long a wait already. And the same goes for the re-issue of Into Battle, even though I have a copy of the Steamhammer CD already myself. A limited amount of BROCAS HELM merchandise is available from the band directly, including t-shirts, the Black Death CD, the Skullfucker 7", Ghost Story demo, … For more info, go to the BROCAS HELM website, located at http://home.pacbell.net/brocas or write the band : BROCAS HELM / c/o Jim Schumacher / 4340 San Pablo Ave., rear / Emeryville / California 94608 / U.S.A. For a copy of the Black Death picture disc, contact Doomed Planet at : email@example.com. Or check with the usual (vinyl) dealers. Happy hunting!