First thing’s first, bands: if you’re going to get back together and don’t want to have photos from your embarassing past dug up, the very least you could do is provide us hacks with at least one (1) recent picture. Otherwise, well…here’s a look at what New York’s prog-thrash conceptualists Toxik used to look like back in the day.
Toxik…I loved ’em – complex tunes buffered by a strong melodic sense and air-raid siren vocals. They released two albums of classy, boundary-pushing thrash metal along the lines of Watchertower, Heathen and I.N.C. in the form of 1987’s World Circus and the criminally underrated masterpiece, Think This two years later. They broke up in a hail of internal band bullshit and, on the exeterior, few people caring about them. They’ve actually been back in some form or fashion since 2007 and have released two DVDs: Think Again and a video of their appearance at 1988’s Dynamo Festival, shockingly called Dynamo Open Air 1988. However, the band has recently ramped up the focus and energy of their reunion and we caught up with guitarist Josh Christian and gave him to floor to let us in on what he’s been up to lo these many years and why Toxik’s reunion is worthy of your time.
Why did Toxik break-up in the first place?
The usual dysfunctions: the label wasn’t supporting us; we were five years into the process and stuck living home at our parents between tours. There’s a love of the game and then there’s the love of self abuse. I lack the latter.
What had you been doing in the time between the first break-up and your initially getting back together in 2007?
I went out to GIT in Hollywood, stayed there for about seven months but realized that 99% of the people there were working towards what I had just left, and it was too soon for me. So, I dropped out and started doing studio gigs and writing music for film. I met my wife through one of the studios and she, the classical pianist, and I, the defunct metal guitarist, decided to start a family and a new life together. First, I went to Florida – her home state – but hated the heat and the humidity, so we headed up to New York and honestly everything post that is an extension of what I did before. I have produced all kinds of music for artists and film. I did a few solo discs of different types of music – yes there’s a quasi-country album out there…bluegrass really. Played lots of banjo, mandolin and piano. I left guitar alone for a long time. I still played it and wrote on it, but I developed my singing and other instrument chops in the process. I also taught for years.
Why did you get back together? How easy was it tracking everyone down and getting everyone on the same page?
Actually, the 2007 get together was formed around someone wanting to do a Toxik documentary. I was the last one they contacted oddly enough. I don’t think anyone thought I’d be into it, and honestly I wasn’t at first.
You’ve been officially reunited since 2007. What has Toxik been up to since 2007?
Nothing really. Again, the get together at that point was for this film and then we started working on new stuff, but it just wasn’t clicking. That was a short six months and we went dormant again. There’s actually a lot more to it, but suffice it to say, it was brief.
While I loved the band’s original output back in the day, it’s safe to say that Toxik was never a band that set sales records or was immensely popular with the majority of metal fans back then. How have you found the reactions to you reforming? Have you found yourself wondering, “Where the hell were all you people back in 1989?”
What do you mean????? We were bigger than Slayer in Bali!!!!!! No, I will admit I am sometimes bewildered by the cult status of Toxik because you are absolutely correct, we were the most misunderstood, mis-marketed band in the history of metal. The label struggled with where to place us. We just weren’t nasty enough to fit in with the black and death metal of the day. Thrash was becoming really contrived with the success of Metallica – it became like the new glam – and progressive, heady music played quickly with socially relevant lyrics was beyond the scope apparently of most peoples attention spans or understanding. So, there was the now-classic Toxik review: “killer songs, great playing, hate the vocals, the lyrics are all over the place (are they a Christian band?).’ And so it went most of the time, at least in the states. European and Japanese audiences however seemed to have a better grasp of the effort and so, we always felt much more at home away from home.
What’s on the ledger for Toxik these days? A new album? Touring? Festivals?
Yes, yes and yes. My kids are grown, I’m still completely insane there’s no reason to not do this. In a way, it’s probably better that we waited until now, only because the music scene has done an about-face. Suddenly, the old is the new new and the new is less interesting. I have to say that for me the music scene is awesome right now. There’s so much crazy talent out there and the market itself has expanded greatly. I know the piracy issue has brought the industry to its knees but fans have more access, more choice, more diversity than ever. To me, the anti-capitalist, its heaven.
Being that you’ve been back together since 2007, what’s taken you until now to ramp up the “seriousness” with which you’re going to dedicate to the band?
Well, after the crash of ’07 (the Toxik crash, not the fiscal one), I started to work on solo ideas. I figured if Toxik wasn’t meant to be then it was time for me to do something solo/metal, so I started writing and writing and writing. Before I knew it, I had a ton of new material to choose from. Initially I was going to do an industrial/prog/thrash album with an emphasis on my vocals and guitar taking a back seat, but then I got hooked into a producer gig that had me working on someone else’s record for a whole year. During that period, Tad Leger, Toxik’s original drummer, came to me with Lucertola his doom project. I had heard him tracking the guitars and drums at Lou Calderola’s house, who happened to be his replacement in 2007. Tad was using Lou for the drum parts while he played guitar and the mix of Mercyful Fate and Sabbath just blew me away. I heard all of Tad’s influences and it just struck me really right. So, when he called me and said “Do you want to work on this with me?” I couldn’t say no. So, that was another year or so. We did some shows and I really, really am super pleased with what we did. That record will be coming out very soon I just finished the mastering last week. So, there’s; I sang, played bass and keys on that disc, some guitar too but mostly sang and produced. That takes us up until last year. All of this other stuff had taken me out of my metal and when I came back to it I had new ears. Sometimes putting something down for a year-and-a-half or two years is really great because it becomes fresh again. Well, those songs ended up being the basis of the new Toxik material. It was like, the more I worked on it and played with it, the more it seemed to me that what I had been writing all along was the Toxik record that should have been in 2007. Presto!
How much new material do you have kicking around? How long have you been working on new stuff and how would you say it compares to the World Circus and Think This stuff?
I answered this sort of with that last one, so here’s the breakdown. Five songs will be “The Hate” material, my solo thing. We are going to be recording “Wasteland” from the original demo and I am writing at least four or five new songs for the release. At least that’s the plan, but shit changes for me on the fly. I may end up writing a whole new record if I get the bug. But the new stuff and the Hate songs are clearly from the same place as World Circus and Think This. In the same way those two records are at once similar but dissimilar, this new record will follow suit. It’s very heavy, much angrier. I don’t have any concerns about what people will think other than I hope they don’t think that it’s an act or that I am trying to be so heavy. It’s really what is coming out, it’s social and technical and all in all I think very much the third Toxik disc.
When you go back and listen to those two records now, what do you hear? What, if anything, do you wish you did differently?
I have said this in the past, it’s like looking at your grown children and saying “What if I had done this and this.” It’s absolutely pointless to trouble yourself with imperfections and there are quite a few. When I listen to those records, I am reminded of the time we spent on them and what was happening in the world and my life. So they are sort of touchstones for me in that way. They tie me to that spot in time and when I talk with people on Facebook or in interviews, ultimately they are talking too or engaging with 19-year-old Josh, even though 45-year-old Josh is on the other end of the conversation. That used to bother me, but not anymore. I am getting to a place where I just am what I am musically, socially, etc. I don’t care really at all what anyone thinks about anything anymore. I know that sounds selfish but its true. The more time you waste meeting people’s expectations, the longer you prolong reaching your own ends. I’m done being something for someone else, and the new record is a strong reflection of that. Did I mention its really heavy?
It seems like every band that put out at least a demo between 1985-1989 is not only getting back together, but doing so and being welcomed warmly in doing so. Why do you think so many bands are reuniting and why do you think people are so quick to refer to every thing/one as “classic” thrash?
[Laughs] Ah, man again, the outcasts become the cool people right? Fuck man, thrash and metal in those days was so far off of the map, at least the metal we played was and now it’s “classic” and “original” and whatever. I dunno, I guess people have become tired of the cut and paste music of the last two decades. They’re thirsting for the raw and reckless energy that we had. Again, when you are bucking the trend there’s nothing to lose; you are just out there. On Think This the label had made no bones; they didn’t like it and we either would suffer through that like manly men and put out the next record and make bloody well sure that the label was pleased, or we would take off our shirts, pay for our own tours and do what it was we were doing. Obviously, we did the latter. Obviously, the label was like ‘bye-bye.’ As for every other band reuniting…here’s the difference between us and them (I think): we aren’t rolling up our sleeves to break out the oldies. This isn’t a fucking reunion tour with the Eagles where we play all of our hits. I want a record that stands on its own, surpasses the other efforts at least in some ways and reignites the fan base. When people leave Toxik shows in the next year I want the reaction to be “Holy shit, what was that!?” By the nature of our material we have the ability to do it. Our music is all at a warp speed and it just bounces off the wall so hard. This new record with its over the top angst and aggression may come as a surprise, but will ultimately I believe, be a continuation so that a Toxik show will be a cross between nostalgic time tripping and a rip your face off “right now” kind of event. Some of the older fans may not like the new stuff and I’m prepared for that because again it isn’t as innocent and wide eyed. It reeks of age worn wisdom and cynicism.
How much of a priority is Toxik these days in light of the fact that you’re all older and have umpteen years of non-Toxik life and responsibilities to consider?
Total. I am personally 110% invested in this as is [vocalist] Mike [Sanders] and [bassist] Brian [Bonini]. We have a very prominent name in the mix for a replacement for Tad, we are just waiting on the conformation. When that falls together, it’s just a matter of tracking the stuff and getting it out. It would be great if we scored a deal, but we may just opt for distribution if the right thing doesn’t present itself. So, at this stage of the game, we have a little team of folks including ourselves working this from the ground up; totally grass roots, totally legit. There is no money guy tapping his foot and ashing his cigar, saying “We’re doing this our way, for better or worse.” If it flies, we will have only ourselves to thank. If it flops we can blame everyone else…