From Dallas Texas, USA, BELLICOSE is a band that have
delivered one of the best Melodic Metal albums out there, any doubts on
this statement can go away simply if you give a listen to their "Love On
Ice" debut CD (Warped Records - 1989). Apart from the music the band carries a very interesting
story since the early 80s, although many of the facts that actually
shaped their saga were not known, as their is actually not much written
information about the band. Back on March 2014 as I was hardly working
for their debut re release on Arkeyn Steel Records I did this interview
with singer Joey Darcangelo and bassist Zak Johnson who were kind enough
to answer to all my questions and share with me (and you) lots of
interesting info about Bellicose. Enjoy.
Hello guys, thanks
for taking some time to answer those questions! So lets take a flash
back in time. Where, when and under what circumstances
the band was created?
JD: The band was
created in Dallas in 1983 when members of 2 local bands joined forces. I
myself (Joey) was lead vocals for a band Sabotage when Ru Spearman and
Michael Laurence were the guitar players for the band Rokker.
Who were the founding members of the band?
JD: Joey Darcangelo, Ru Spearman and Michael Laurence were the founding members of Bellicose.
Bellicose sounds like an inspired name can you please tell how exactly did you come up with this name for the band?
Did you focus on this Melodic Metal style from the very beginning and
as your main musical goal or it was a musical style that was built
inside the band through jamming?
Bellicose was one of the few names (Morte Bellum being one of the
others) I had thrown around when trying to find a name... I was wanting
something that represented an aggressive and powerful sound and a
warlike attitude, kinda where our music was at that time. You ever want
to drive 100 mph when you hear a certain song? I wanted our songs to
make you feel like you could kick anyone’s ass when you heard them.
Bellicose began with the idea of powerful metal tunes with very
intricate guitar progressions and harmonies with very twisty time
signature changes to make the songs more interesting. The melodic
element to our sound was a very slow process and transition and mostly
existed in the vocal parts early on.
Can you mention any bands that have influenced Bellicose?
I would have to say Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, Black
Sabbath, UFO, Riot (Guy Speranza) were some of my biggest influences
which in turn lent to my part in the writing.
ZJ: Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy.
Can you remember which was the very first track you composed?
The first track I co-wrote with Ru and Michael was “Run for Cover”. In
the beginning we lived and breathed Bellicose. We would spend endless
hours just sitting around playin’ guitars and humming melodies and
scratching down lyric ideas and drinking lots of beer!! It was a lot of
fun back then. There was so much creative energy and music pouring out
of each of us, it was sometimes hard to keep up. It didn’t take long to
recognize the magic that was the sound of Bellicose that came from this
Your debut album "Love On Ice" was
released on CD on 1989. Right? Before we reach that part of your musical
saga, I want to ask about your previous recordings. I know that the
band have recorded various demos on different seasons. Those demos were
not released to the public. Some of them, were used only to approach
record labels. Am I right into this?
You are absolutely right. The sole purpose of any track other than what
was on “Love on Ice” was to shop to the major labels. We stayed very
busy in both writing and recording so that we could keep pitching new
material to the labels every three months.
So can you refer to the demos you have recorded before the official album release?
our whole recording career we consider to be a demo as every track that
made it to 24 track recording was pitched as a demo to the major
labels. Before tracking to 24 tracks we would do pre-production
recordings, tracking everything to 16 tracks. After listening to them
for a while we would then decide which ones would make to the 24 track
recording for the label pitch. The official album release was something
our new management team at the time pushed for. The idea was to give the
band a more professional polished presence (editor's note: some
unreleased material together with a complete demo recording from 1984
are included on the debut album's re-release on Arkeyn Steel Records).
Many of the songs that finally made it to the debut album were on
existence even from your very early days and were re presented in
various recordings / versions until their official release. However are
there any songs in existence that finally were not included on the "Love
On Ice" release?
JD: Yes, we still have
some unreleased material (another 16 tracks) that we are currently
wrapping up the re-mastering process on. These too are songs that were
pitched to various labels anywhere from 1987 to 1990.
fact that you have basically composed many of the songs that finally
appeared on the debut, mainly on the beginning of your career and not
only you have not left them behind but you completed them and presented
them on your album, proves that you were believing very much on those
JD: Absolutely! The idea
of releasing a CD without some of the earlier material was never a
question. Those were the songs that a lot of our fans were familiar with
and sang along to at our shows. To think of the CD without them was
crazy. If anything, to the band, the CD was a gift to our fans.
Bellicose fans were true and very loyal… We fed off their love and
energy many nights for many years!
So, before the
release of the album that was basically a private release, have you
tried to reach any record label? Have you came close to a deal? What
went wrong and you finally decided to release the album yourselves (editor's note: the band is actually behind Warped Records that did the release)?
Upon signing with MKM management our promos were landing into the hands
of some very notable AR reps for some very high profile labels.
Polygram, Warner Brothers, Epic, MCA and A&M were a few of the
labels that expressed interest in the band. Battling the never-ending
revolving door of AR reps and label roster openings was exhausting I’m
sure. In the 80’s everybody wanted to be a Rockstar, you could only
imagine how many other bands were working their asses off to secure a
spot on any of those rosters. Reflecting on that today? I like to
believe that maybe we just needed to wait for the music world to catch
So please give all the spicy details about this
MAGNIFICENT debut. First of all when and where it was recorded? In how
many days / weeks / months have you completed it?
“Love on Ice” CD was recorded at Sound Logic Studio in Dallas, TX. It
took about 6 months to put all the tracks together for the CD. It was a
matter of track selection and mixing and or re-recording some of the
songs to 24 track to keep the sound of the mixes consistent. Tim
“Chopper” Grugle our drummer deserves a lot of the credit for the end
result of the tracks and the sonic sounds that made it to the CD. He
spent countless nights mixing and re-mixing the songs on that CD to
ensure that when it was ready to be packaged, it was the best that it
could be. Way to go CHOP!!
Back in 1989 the CD format was
something new, although it was clear that the CD would overtake the
market as the format it was still something new. However you decided to
release your debut on CD and NOT on vinyl. How and why did you came on
JD: Again, this was a
decision made by our management team as they had the foresight to see
that vinyl was phasing out and digital media was the future, so we let
them do what they were contracted to do.
In how many copies was it pressed?
JD: We had 5000 CD’s pressed.
Was it released also on tape or only on CD?
JD: We also had 5000 cassette tapes produced.
the recording line up of the album the same as the initial line up of
the band? Can you refer into lineup changes of the band during the 80s?
No, just to be clear the “Love on Ice” recording lineup consisted of
(myself, Michael Laurence, Ru Spearman, Tim “Chopper” Grugle and Steven
Grillo). Starting from the beginning the original lineup consisted of
myself, Michael Laurence, Ru Spearman, Staley Rogers and Mike Gage.
Staley left the band just after our first demo was recorded. The band
recruited Rick Rivera upon Staley’s departure. Rick was with the band
for a short stint before Steven Grillo was recruited for the bass slot.
It was shortly after that, that Mike Gage left the band. Upon Mike
leaving we auditioned tons of drummers before finally finding the right
guy for the job Tim “Chopper” Grugle. About a year after Tim joined the
band Steve Grillo left and Staley Rogers returned to the Bellicose fold.
Staley was like a brother and it was a good thing to see him back.
Another year went by and Staley departed yet again leaving the spot open
for Zak Johnson to fill. The very last personnel change was Chris
Vasquez in the guitar spot upon Michael Laurence’s departure…. That’s
pretty much how it rolled out.
The album is a perfect
mixture of Melodic Metal with many Hard Rock touches. Even the fans of
the explosive Melodic Hard Rock / Poser musical movement -that was
getting bigger and bigger in the USA on the late 80s- could have loved
it and I am sure they did. Have you look into such an audience? That
could probably be the reason for selecting this catchy cover and this
catchy album title… or not?
JD: Yes, I
believe that the idea of the band mixing some more commercial sounding
track with our other heavier tracks was to cast a wider net and reach a
wider audience. To this day I’m not sure if that was the best idea? I do
know that I still love all the songs on the CD. The songs where we
collaborated on were always my favorite.
After the album
release what the band did to promote it? Have you started to send it to
labels, magazines or zones, what was the feedback?
Our management team did in fact launch a promotional campaign soon
after the album release. They sent the CD to all of the afore mentioned,
Record labels, college radio stations, local and national magazines.
I want to ask this: After the album release as part of its promotion: Did you get on the road?
Here in Texas (considering the size) getting on the road is like
driving around the corner, so to answer your question, yes, we did do
some traveling to promote the new release. For the most part we kept it
regional. We would do the Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma
City, Shreveport circuits on a regular basis. This was more than enough
ground to cover what we wanted to accomplish. We weren’t sold on that
notion that the only way to make it was to move to LA or NYC. We saw
that the Southwest region of the country was growing by leaps and bounds
in the world of audio and video media.
Speaking about the road: How active was the band on stage in general?
When Bellicose was at the top of their game we found ourselves
performing every weekend for a good three to four years. I would say
from 1986 through 1989 was a pretty good hot streak!
Can you remember the band's first live show?
I sure can. Our very first show ever was on March 15th 1985, just after
we finished up our very first 1984 demo recording. We were graciously
offered a slot at the 1985 Zoo World show at the Dallas Convention
Center in Dallas, TX. It was hard to believe that right out of the gate
we would be sharing the stage with many of the area’s top bands of many
genres. I believe Golden Earring headlined that show.
ZJ: Well actually yes. My first live show with Bellicose was at The Basement in Dallas TX in the Summer of 1988.
I guess that you made lots of shows even before the CD release. Am I right into this?
Yes I am speaking abut the first years and in general until 1989 Was it
difficult for an unknown band to book some space to play back on the
80s? 1985 was our break out year. We pitched our demo to the newest top
live rock music venues in our hometown and waited for the callbacks.
Once we were booked and did the first gig, the dates just started rollin
in… My coolest memory of those first shows was the faces in the crowd
after the first couple of songs. There was a tightness to the band that I
really didn’t hear in many of the other bands on that scene at that
time. We really didn’t get out much to see what the competition was
doing. All we knew is what we wanted to do. For many of the first time
Bellicose rockers it was a jaw-dropper. As the band began to make its
mark and play on a very regular basis we started to notice a lot of band
members from other bands in the circuit were showing up to our gigs.
I’m going to guess to see what the buzz was all about. While this was
flattering it was also a clear indicator that we were doing the right
I am setting 1989 as a key year for the band
due to the album release. Ok the album was released and then what
happened? There is not enough information about the band after 1989….
1989 was the beginning of the end, not from a band standpoint but more
from a musical landscape perspective, bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana,
Alice in Chains & Hole had already been out and generating a new
buzz. It was only when Pearl Jam came along and kicked in the doors that
the rest just poured in to become the new “grunge” scene. When this
happened, if you weren’t already signed, you probably weren’t going to
be. In short, you missed the boat.
I know that there
were some demo recordings done during the 90s. Again you recorded the
musical stuff but keeping it unreleased to the public. I guess you were
still looking for a label contract and new music was the only way.
JD: Yes, by the 90’s we were
still writing new material and our management was diligently still
pitching the new material to the labels for a recording contract.
Were there any new songs recorded after the album or you were again working with the album material in newer versions?
After the release of the CD we continued to write and catalog material
for what we had hoped would eventually become our sophomore release. As
it stands, the band still has an extensive catalog of songs that were
ZJ: Yes a second album project was recorded but never released.
During the 90s did you still tried to play live and remain on the road or not? Any shows for remember?
Bellicose played a handful of shows into 1990, but with the scene
changing and most of the rock clubs closing their doors there was little
left for any heavy metal band to do.
ZJ: Yes. The band reformed with past members under the name of Bombay.
Was the band under the same line up during the 90s?
JD: It was not, by 1990 Chris Vasquez had filled the vacancy left by Michael Laurence’s departure. The rest of the band was intact.
When and under what circumstances the band split?
After the grunge invasion we pretty much had to re-evaluate our
efforts. Michael Laurence and the band parted ways, leaving a pretty big
void in the “creative nucleus” and the rest of us scrambling to find a
replacement. We recruited Chris Vasquez, another local player who was
very familiar with the band only to do a wrap scene about 6 months
later. For the most part it just didn’t feel the same and with Michael
leaving it just didn’t sound the same either. All the years together
working creatively with both Michael and Ru forged a chemistry that was
sadly non-existent with the new line up. It wasn’t long before one by
one we decided to hang it up and find our own ways again.
After the split were the members of the band got involved into any other musical projects and bands?
Yes, after the split I took some time off to clear my head and find
myself again. After about six months I decided to make some calls and
reach out to a few of the guys to talk about putting together a new
project. The project was to be called “Dr. Bombay” which was later
changed to just Bombay. It was really a revolving door of players for
the first three or four months until we settled with a lineup that
consisted of myself, Mike Gage (original Bellicose drummer), Ru
Spearman, Zak Johnson and Eric Keathley. This band made some noise and
enjoyed some regular stage time. The clubs always seemed to book the
band with the “former Bellicose members” tag… (That was pretty funny).
I still wonder how the hell a band that have composed such high
quality, inspired, Melodic Metal music, almost radio friendly, never
made it for something bigger. Even your demo recordings kick some
serious ass, not to mention your album. What went wrong with Bellicose?
I still wonder that myself sometimes. I always felt we had strong
material, a sonic lineup and a pretty solid management team. It’s
possible that we may have not known that there was a whole new world of
Metal lovers beyond our borders and we just failed to recognize the
opportunities in other markets? We were young and for the most part
care-free back in those days. The internet wasn’t commercialized until
1990, so the world had yet to be connected… Running all this down,
timing was just a killer for us.
How the band came back on shape?
Well most of the band members remained friends and still kept in touch.
It wasn’t until one of our dearest friends “Big Ron Brignon” who was
the first club owner to book the band and was instrumental in getting us
our start passed away and one of the local promoters in town decided to
put together a reunion show in remembrance of our friend. They didn’t
have to ask us twice. I made some calls, we did some homework and the
beautiful sounds just came together. It was like we had never stopped
playing. It was truly magical.
Can you describe your first re union show? Feelings?
There was a feeling of disbelief at first. I had to pinch myself a few
times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. While we were getting ready to go
onstage we could hear the crowd behind the stage curtain start chanting
“BELLICOSE”!!, BELLICOSE”!! It was so awesome that 25 years later I
would have the privilege to finally pay my debt of gratitude to the true
“Die Hard” Bellicose fan who 25 years later made their way to visit an
ZJ: I was feeling a little rough
around the edges but excited and relieved that we could finally get back
together. It was great to see all the old gang and play the music
What are the plans for the future? Are you working on a new album?
We are!! We are currently working on some new material for a new album,
however before that we will be working on the idea of actually getting
around to releasing that sophomore album and sharing it with the world….
ZJ: Currently we working on some new material.
Is this a second chance for Bellicose?
Our 16th president Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and some
day my chance will come”. This could very well be that day for
ZJ: Nothing would make me happier!!!!
(April 2015 extra question). Well what is actually the current line up of the band now?
JD: Our current lineup is the following:
Joey Gutierrez (aka Joey Darcangelo) - Vocals
Ru Spearman - Lead Guitar/Vocals
Mark Akin - Lead Guitar/Vocals (of Dragonball Z Guitar Fame)
Zak Johnson - Bass Guitar/Vocals
Mike Gage - Drums/Vocals (Bellicose' original drummer from 1983)
Thanks for all the info and your time. Close the interview as you like.
Chris, I personally would like to thank you for everything you have
done. I hope this goes well for all parties involved. You have been a
true professional thus far and for that I am very appreciative.