Interview

DEFIANCE

from L to R:

MIKE KAUFMANN (Bass) / JIM ADAMS (Guitar) / STEEV ESQUIVEL (Vocals) / MARK HERNANDEZ (Drums)

STEFAN had a talk with bassist MIKE KAUFMANN


Metal To Infinity


Digging into the history of US Speed / Thrash Metal always seems interesting to me. I’ve experienced those days myself – up to date still the best years of my life so far. One of my faves from back then were the guys from California named Defiance. Especially their first 2 albums “Product Of Society” and “Void Terra Firma” were incredible followed by a third assault entitled “Beyond Recognition”. Okay, let’s find out what happens in the camp of Defiance these days... 

Q: Hi, I’d like to start by saying thank you for the hospitality giving answers to my questions here. How are you brother – what can bring a day as today to the sunlight? 

A: Hey Stefan, Thanks for inviting me to do the interview. It's always good to talk about the early days of Defiance as well as the great things happening with the band right now.  

 

Q: Defiance was formed back in 1985, you are a proud member since then¼ can you give a picture of the very early days of existence? Who were the other guys that teamed up those days? 

A: That’s true, I’m the only member who’s been with the band from the very beginning until now. Back in 1985, I was looking to start a new band when I met Matt Van der Ende and Brad Bowers at a party in Oakland. They played me a couple songs they were working on and I really liked what I heard. We got together 2 or 3 days later to jam and we immediately knew it would work out. 

 

Q: After the right line up was found, I suppose that you guys started right on practicing fingers to the bone, right? 

A: After I met Matt and Brad, we did practice very hard and within a few weeks we had 5 or 6 songs written. I introduced them to some of the Bay Area bands like Legacy (now Testament) and Exodus and made it clear that this was the direction we wanted to go. I actually took them to see Legacy at Ruthies Inn and they were both blown away. So in 1985, Defiance played it’s first party as a 3 piece at a house in Oakland. The response we got was awesome and we immediately started building a fan base. 

 

Q: Notable fact is that during the early days of Defiance, several line up switches took place. How come? 

A: There were several good reasons for all the early line up changes and it’s kind of a complicated but interesting story of how we finally ended up with the right one. We started out with one guitar player but I knew we needed a second guitarist to get the sound we wanted. Doug Harrington and I were already great friends and he was an established musician who I really wanted to jam with. After playing several gigs as a 3 piece I decided it was time to play a bigger show. I was able to secure the supporting slot with Legacy (aka Testament) and I talked Doug in to doing the show with us. This was the show that would go down as the infamous “Blood Bath” gig and it was the one that put our name on map. It also convinced Doug that he should join as a permanent member. To this day, I’m still asked about that night and it may have been the most important gig we ever played.  

We played several great gigs with this line up and the band was really starting to make a a name for itself. Unfortunately, Doug and Brad did not get along and, much to my dismay, the band voted to let Doug go. We ended up getting Jim Adams as his replacement but in the back of my mind I knew we needed to get Doug back. I waited until I got to know Jim a little and after his first show in the band I took him to meet Doug. As I had hoped, the two hit it off as friends and musicians. At this point I was having serious difficulties with Brad Bowers. The local success we were having was really going to his head and I felt that his attitude would jeopardize the band’s future. Matt and Brad had been friends for a long time and I knew we needed to keep Matt as our drummer so I carefully approached him with the idea of making a change. Luckily for us Matt agreed that it was best to let Brad go and get Doug back. So in 1986, I personally fired Brad Bowers from Defiance and immediately got Doug to replace him.  

Shortly after, we got Mitch Mayes as our singer and played several shows with this line-up. I should note that up until that point, we played most of our shows as an instrumental band. Paul Bal off (Exodus) actually did one show with us as a favor to me. 

 

Q: First there was a demo that saw daylight – what about that and the answer of the outside Metal maniacs? 

A: We recorded our first four song demo with Mitch Mayes on vocals but never really distributed it because he wasn’t in the band very long. That demo can be heard on the Insomnia Box Set released in 2007. Mitch actually wrote the lyrics to 3 or 4 of the songs off our first album. He was a good singer and song writer but I think he had problems dealing with the pressures of being a lead singer and he ended up quitting after hearing some critical remarks made by Doug. He had quit on the same day we were booked to play the Rock on Broadway in San Francisco and we were forced to play two back to back shows with no lead singer. 

 

Q: So, a second demo was on its way to unleash later on, fact: new singer entered the Defiance ranks? 

A: After Mitch left Defiance, we recruited Ken Elkington and set out to record a new demo. We didn’t have any money so I had to borrow $500 from my stepfather to record. I booked us time at Dragon Studios in Redwood City and produced the demo myself along with engineer Pat Coughlin and Ace Cook. The money ran out before we could mix the demo properly so I made a few tapes with a rough mix and planned to come back and finish it later. I gave a few tapes to Ace who was leaving to Europe as a roadie for Testament. Somehow that rough mix fell into the hands of RoadRunner Records and led to our signing with them.   

 

Q: Roadrunner Records seemed to be interested in the band and offered you a deal, right?

A: Yes, Monte Connor at RoadRunner contacted me initially. He had been given a second or third generation cassette that had no contact information on it. He was contacting every band in the U.S. with the name Defiance and after weeks of looking, he finally got my phone number and called me. He immediately flew out to meet the band to make sure we were the same Defiance on the tape. After confirming that we were the right band, RoadRunner immediately offered us a contract and very aggressively worked toward signing us. We had some other interest but Monte was already working hard to promote the band as if we were already signed with them. He was in constant contact with me and we spoke every day until the band finally signed.   

 

Q: The deal was a fact and debut album “Product Of Society” was well underway. Traveling to Canada to meet Jeff Water from Annihilator who produced this debut effort. How was working alongside mighty Jeff and how went the recordings actually? 

A: Monte Connor was really pushing us to go to Canada to record our debut album and have Jeff Waters produce. Jeff was still pretty new and I had never heard of him but I was impressed with his work and RoadRunner really wanted us to use him. Unfortunately, we found Jeff very difficult to work with and we had several disagreements regarding our rhythm guitar tones and other issues. The album came out great anyway and to many people, it’s our best effort, but we had a very different idea of the guitar tones we wanted. Jeff wanted us to have a super clean guitar tone while we wanted more of a “crunch” sound. This was a big enough issue that we had to get the label involved. 

Because we were so young and new, it was decided that Jeff would have the final say on tones and as a result the guitars on Product of Society have a very “thin” sound that we had not envisioned when we wrote the songs. Jeff admitted to me that he had never bothered to listen to our demo which would have given him some idea of the sound we wanted. He made up his mind from the beginning that he was going to do it his way whether we liked it or not. Jeff was also going through some personal problems at the time and was drinking a lot while we were in the studio. 

I think this contributed to his lack of interest in how we wanted the album to sound. Like I said, many of our fans love that album but we think it could have been much better if Jeff would have worked with us to get the sound we wanted. He’s since apologized for his behavior and we actually did a short tour with Annihilator back in 1990. Jeff is a great guitar player and we have no more bad feelings about what happened. 

 

Q: Mike, can I ask how ‘big’ the success of the albums was?

A: Product of Society did quite well but it wasn’t until we got a new singer and released our second album that our music really started to make an impact. 

 

Q: A second output “Void Terra Firma” came out in 1990. What to tell us about that album Mike? To me, it was a very good plate but not that good as the debut album to me. Agree or not? 

A: It’s true, the production on Void Terra Firma is not as good as Product of Society but for many reasons it’s my favorite of our first three albums. We were really stoked because we had found the singer we wanted and we worked hard to write some great new songs. Unfortunately, we went so far over budget on Product of Society because of our issues with Jeff that they insisted we stay within the budget on our second album. Most of Void Terra Firma was recorded live in the studio and the guitar tones came out too distorted and scratchy sounding. 

They really needed to be re-recorded, and that’s what should have happened, but it would have meant going over budget and the label insisted that we finish on time. I was really happy with my bass tone, the drums sounded great, the guitar solos were really good, and I thought Steev did a great job in his debut but again, the rhythm guitar tones were not what we wanted and RoadRunner refused to let us fix it.  Regardless, Void Terra Firma was our most successful album and I think the songs are great. Our sound was so incredibly different from the first album that it doesn’t surprise me that our fans are split on which albums they like better.    

 

Q: ‘’Beyond Recognition’’ was number three in line. It differs from previous albums to me - it was a more sophisticated one to me – it seemed that Defiance wanted to give their music a new dimension. Still Thrash Metal but different than the rest, why?

A: I think we were evolving as a band and we wanted to be a little more diverse by giving our fans something different to hear. This album was by far our best production and we had finally got the guitar tones we wanted. I also think our musicianship really shines on songs like Promised Afterlife and Step Back. This was such a great album but after it was released Roadrunner did not give it the support it deserved. They had really pushed our first two albums but because of the changing music scene they didn’t give this one the same attention.   

 

Q: What about Brian Wenzel and Mike Bennett – these guys were in Defiance, unfortunately both brothers of Metal left again after all... what happened and who replaced them? 

A:First of all, Mike Bennett was never really in the band. He was a drummer we worked with on some new material but he never did any shows or recordings with us. Brian Wenzel was one of two guitar players who joined after Jim first left the band. Scott Sergeant (Laaz Rockit/MOD) was the first replacement we had and he actually did several shows including a short tour before leaving to join Laaz Rockit. 

After Scott, we recruited Brian Wenzel who was with us for a few months and played a handful of local shows. He and Steev had a disagreement which led to him getting fired from the band. Both Scott and Brian were excellent guitar players and filled in nicely while Jim was absent. Coincidently, Jim contacted me shortly after we let Brian go and told me he wanted to re-join the band. 

 

Q: Defiance seemed uncertain later on, even more – they changed their name a few times. That must be the sign it went not very well those days Mike... situation critical? 

A: Those were definitely some challenging times. Matt and Steev had left the band and we got Dave White (Heathen) to replace him on vocals. We also went through 2 or 3 drummers which was very difficult. After a while, we saw our new music sounding much different and made the decision to change the name to Inner Threshold. We would play our last show as Defiance at a festival in Santa Barbara, California in 1994. 

The music we wrote in Inner Threshold was really good but Doug and I felt that we needed a more drastic change in musical direction if we were going to survive in the now very different Bay Area music scene. Most of the other Bay Area thrash bands had broken up by then so we really had no other choice.

So in 1995 we changed the bands name to Under. After Jim left and we parted ways with Dave White, we got Chris Long as our guitar player and singer. We immediately started writing new songs and recorded a 3 song demo. We were doing well but Doug decided to take a break from music and sadly quit in early 1997. As the last original Defiance member remaining, I was determined to do well with this new line-up. We started getting great shows supporting bands like Machine Head, Sevendust and Exodus and by 1998 we were easily the top unsigned metal band in the Bay Area. 

We had built a huge local following and were drawing large numbers every local venue we played. Then came the call from Metal Blade Records and they started flying representatives up from Los Angeles to meet with the band and watch us play live. They were very interested in signing us and asked us to write a couple more songs so they could see the direction we were headed. This is when the serious problems began. Under was pretty much a “groove-metal” type of band with influences like Machine Head, Tool, and Snot, and we were doing very well playing this kind of music. 

After we got the label interest, our drummer all of a sudden wanted to change to a more commercial “Foo Fighters” type of sound and pretty much threatened to quit if we didn’t change our direction. He convinced the other band members to agree and I was outvoted in this decision. Until then, I was writing most of our music along with Chris Long but our drummer had other ideas now that we had real interest. So he and our guitar player wrote 2 or 3 new songs that sounded more like alternative rock then metal. 

I was very vocal about my dislike of the new material and I told the band that we would lose everything we worked for if we did this. Sure enough, the songs did not go over well when we played them live and Metal Blade was also not impressed by the direction we were headed. This is what led to the end of Under and the last incarnation of Defiance. Late in 1999 the band would ultimately self destruct and break up for good. 

 

Q: Sad but true, all goes down hill and the band call it quits! That was in 1999 – six years later on, Defiance rose again from death... what kept you busy during the absence Mike? Still playing Metal music in the background I suppose. 

A:I decided to take a break from playing original music for a while. I had been going non-stop for more than 15 years and decided it was a good time to take a breather. I played in a cover band with Doug for a short time in 2001-2002 and then in 2004 I got together with Steev to start a new band that would later be called Re-Ignition. I co-wrote a couple of the songs they used for their debut album but I only did one show as the band’s bass player.

Q: In 2005, Defiance worked on a 4 song EP but real sad news kept the band away from working further – guitar player Doug Harrington passed away, you guys were all in grief... do you like to say something about that period or rather not, up to you brother. 

A: Yes, we started talking about a Defiance reunion in 2005 and initially decided to write and record a 4 song EP. Shortly after, Doug was diagnosed with terminal cancer and it pretty much turned our lives upside down. He continued to participate in the writing and recording of the new material and he told us several times that he wanted us to finish no matter what happened. He never gave up fighting and was actually in the studio recording guitar parts just 3 days before he passed away. I was in shock after his death and I’m sure the other guys were to. 

I think we needed to take a little break to reflect on what happened and decide what we wanted to do. Doug was such an integral part of Defiance that it was hard for me to imagine the band moving forward without him. After a while we realized that we had to finish to honor Doug’s wishes and also to help keep his memory alive. Still, it’s been very difficult and I struggle every day to accept the loss of my best friend and brother. Doug will live on in our memory and through or music forever. 

 

Q: To honor Doug, the EP still saw the light of day? 

A: Not exactly. Jim and I had funded the recording of the first few songs and decided the music was good enough to shop for a new record deal. The plan was to try to get signed and if there was no interest, we would release an EP on our own. No matter what would happen, this entire work would be finished in Doug’s honor. 

 

Q: We almost reach the timeline of Defiance history by now – in 2008, independent label Candlelight Records showed up and offered you a deal. That must be one hell of  relief, isn’t it?

A: We did a mix of one song and I set out on a mission to get as many record labels to hear it as possible. I made a list of about 10 or 12 that might be interested and did some research to find out who I should talk to. I wrote to each label individually and attached one new song for them to hear. I was very happy when a few of the labels showed interest. We determined that Candlelight Records was our best option and ultimately signed with them after months of negotiating. 

 

Q: Now what can we expect, first of all a whole new album but I’m asking myself the questions like “can we expect the same Defiance like used to know back in the late 80s”. An answer to that should be good to know Mike.  By the way, there are a few songs up on myspace.com, right? Give an address where people can go hear these tracks. 

A: First of all, I honestly believe that this is the best album we’ve ever done. We really made an effort to keep the music in the same thrash metal style we had in the beginning. Also, Steev did an awesome job and his vocals really stand out. He’s grown as a vocalist since the last Defiance album and I believe this is his best performance. I’m sure there will be some “haters” out there but it’s impossible to please everyone. I can promise you that this is an honest thrash album beginning to end that any metal fan will enjoy. There’s also a lot of catchy verses and hooks that will leave the songs stuck in your head after the first listen. 

www.myspace.com/defiancemetal   /  http://www.defiance1.com/

Q: According to myself – Defiance still know how to thrash for sure! Agree with me when I say that the songs have early Testament influences on board?

A: Testament was definitely an influence early on and the fact that Steev had a similar vocal style as Chuck Billy just added to the comparisons. We were influenced by all the great thrash bands including Metallica, Exodus, and Megadeth to name a few, but I’d like to think that we’ve always added something a little different with our complex style of writing. Each band member has always made their own unique contribution to the songs which I believe is a result of us having our own influences outside of thrash. 

 

Q: Who’s in charge for the production? 

A: Juan Urteaga produced the new album. 

 

Q: When the album will see the crack of dawn? 

A: The album will be released on October 19th, 2009 

 

Q: What about the distribution of this fourth Defiance album. International minded or not? 

A: We have an international deal with Candlelight Records and they will be distributing the new album world wide.          

 

Q: I’ve seen a lot of great US Metal bands during the 80s era, unfortunately I never saw Defiance which is actually a shame on me. I can’t remember if you guys ever played in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe

A: We haven’t toured Europe yet but we plan to very soon. We were supposed to tour with Sepultura after the release of Beyond Recognition but because the album’s release was delayed, they had to get another band.  There were some other offers but we were having problems with our new agent. He was very hard to deal with and I think we lost a couple of touring opportunities because of it. 

 

Q: One big festival Defiance would like to play on world wide, what will it be and why? 

A: Well there’s so many and we’d love to play all of them. Off the top of my head I guess the Bang Your Head festival would be cool. I have a brother that lives in Germany so it would be great to have him there with us. 

 

Q: What is your knowledge on the Belgian Metal scene Mike? Ever heard of Belgian 80s bands like Cyclone, Killer, Crossfire, Acid, ...? 

A: I’ve actually heard of all those bands but only listened to Cyclone and Acid. I thought Cyclone was really good. I think they have a song called “Long to Hell” that I really liked. 

 

Q: What’s on the list for the next following months¼ first thing first is to finish the new album I guess, right?

A: The album is now finished and we’re currently putting together a killer live set that will have songs from every Defiance album. 

 

Q: One last question before I leave, If you could turn back the clock for at least 20 years – would you take the confrontation right away? 

A: There might be a few things I would change if I could but overall, this band has been very fortunate to have achieved what it has. There are so many really good bands out there that never had the opportunities we’ve had. 

 

Q: All the very best with the new album and Defiance Mike – I hope we at Metal To Infinity get the opportunity to review that album because we still keep our faith in US Metal real high... any last remarks?  

A: Thanks a lot for your support and for doing the interview. Defiance has such a long and interesting history and I’m proud to have been there through all of it.  

Look out for Defiance in 2009-2010. We’re putting together monster live shows to support our new album and you wont want to miss it.

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