Interview: Phil Demmel on Vio-lence Reunion, Robb Flynn and Possibility of More Shows

When thrash legends Vio-lence announced that they would reunite for one night only to play their influential Eternal Nightmare album in full at the Oakland Metro on April 13, the response was overwhelming, selling out in mere hours. Decibel spoke with guitarist Phil Demmel about the reunion, the possibility of more shows and new music, vocalist Sean Killian’s health and why former Vio-lence guitarist and current Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn isn’t involved.

Note: At the time of the interview, only one Vio-lence show had been announced. An additional show was added after reaching out to Demmel; both are sold out. Support acts are still TBA.

At the show, you’ll perform the entirety of your debut album, Eternal Nightmare. Why did you select this album to play in full?
That just seems to be the record. We’ve never done something like that, we’ve never played all the songs. We only did three tours, even when we did all the home shows, I think we maybe left a song off here or there. We weren’t playing “Bodies [on Bodies]” on the Testament or the Voivod tours, so we’re gonna try doing it back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Seven tunes and see what happens, see if we can maybe lower the BPMs for some of those old guys, see if we still got it.

When Vio-lence played in January 2018, it was a benefit for vocalist Sean Killian who had been diagnosed with liver cirrhosis. Did you expect to be back onstage with Killian so soon?
There was a charity for Sean a year ago put on by a bunch of local people. It was awesome, it was really cool …. Machine Head was getting ready to go on tour and there’s always been a little stigma attached with Vio-lence as far as my involvement with Machine Head, wasn’t allowed to talk about it in interviews and it was taboo, to say the least.

I kind of regretted abstaining from being involved, it was almost a point of trying to stay away from a stressful situation. It did happen, all four of us played. Robb sang, Sean was onstage. He was rough back then, it was a year ago January, I think. He was looking pretty ill, real gaunt and it was shocking to see. Dude was in amazing shape—before he had that “eight pack,” he wasn’t totally fit but he had these stomach muscles—so I’m really interested to see how he’s doing this weekend and get this first jam going. I didn’t think I would be playing with him ever again, so this is an awesome surprise and very timely as far as I’m concerned. Very excited.

Robb Flynn is not involved in this lineup, despite playing on Eternal Nightmare and performing last year at the benefit for Killian. Did he choose not to be involved or was that the band’s choice?
Ray Vegas will be playing on guitar. We actually didn’t even approach Robb to do this. He’s always really worked pretty hard to not talk about Vio-lence or include Vio-lence in the past and this is something that, especially fresh off the Machine Head exit—yeah, he wasn’t approached. This is something we’re doing without him; when we closed Vio-lence back in 2003 when I joined Machine Head, I was actually gonna write a Vio-lence record and shortly after I joined Machine Head, I was told that I couldn’t do that. So Robb, he played in that last show and even his involvement in that last Vio-lence show back in 2003 was kinda… there are some memories from all of us about him being involved and playing the benefit with Sean that was something special and he got to sing. We will do like we have done before, move on, without him.

There have been rumors of more shows and the possibility of new music after your performance in Oakland. Has the band considered either, or are you strictly focused on this show right now?
Future Vio-lence performances [laughs]. I’m really surprised, some other people aren’t surprised, but starting to get some offers for some Euro festivals and the rumors are abound, like, “Oh, Vio-lence is rumored to be on tour with Overkill!” and all this.

There’s no tour involved. There’s guys in the band that work and have families and need to be at home, so we’ll assess all of that and see who can do what. Euro festivals and American festivals have no formal offers, but have inquired to see what we’re doing. I think we just need to get through these first two shows and prove to ourselves that we can do it and also prove to everybody else, see if we have a product and if the quality is there and if we’re able to pull it off.

Not closing the door on anything. I really never thought that this would happen, you know? I’ve had some peers say “Hey, you should do some Vio-lence shows, we’ll get some other dudes to sing,” and first of all, I never thought anybody really cared outside the Bay Area outside the band anyways. It’s pretty awesome. The outpouring of support and everything, we’ll see. People, if they wanna see it, then we’ll see. We couldn’t do Vio-lence without Sean, there’s no Vio-lence without Sean Killian. He’s the one ingredient that needs to be there.

I am very, very happy that my friend is healthy, first and foremost, and getting to jam with him again, that’s just a plus. I am hoping that everybody will enjoy this gift of—he had a liver transplant, the dude was on death’s door and here he is, wanting to play. It’s not just, like, wanting to get up and sing “Green Manalishi” with your high school buddies. This fucking Vio-lence set, man, is not easy to fucking get through, especially to sing it.

I’m proud of him and I’m proud to be his friend and I’m proud to be in this band again.

So far, no support or other acts have been announced. Can we expect something like past Vio-lence shows that have included star-studded thrash lineups?
We haven’t announced support acts, we simply really haven’t talked about it much. We spoke with the Metro and Tom Reed who runs it there was super cooperative, it was just, everything just fit perfectly for what we were looking for. We’ve never been a band that had production, I think we tried it for a second and it just wasn’t us. We’re just jeans, t-shirts, no backdrop and probably don’t even need a lighting guy.

The first show sold out in like six-and-a-half hours and so the second show goes on sale this Saturday, which is the day after tomorrow from when I’m speaking now. We’ll see how that does and there’s a big demand for tickets right now.

Star-studded lineups? I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’ve talked about making the Sunday show different and how we could make it different, so we’ve got a couple ideas on how to do that. We’ll mix up the set and maybe bring a couple of dudes out, we don’t know what is gonna happen quite yet for Sunday.

Support acts, like I said we’re trying to remember the Ruthie’s days, and The Old Stone and Omni days, those are legendary clubs back in the Bay Area, in the day in the ’80s and we’re gonna try to keep that vibe with these shows and try not to get so far up our ass that we forget what we’re doing.

The last Vio-lence album of original music came out in 1993. 26 years later, the show sold out in less than seven hours—what was your reaction to such a strong response?
The last recorded Vio-lence studio album was in 1993, like you mentioned. It’s pretty amazing, the show selling out. I was pretty shocked. Sean was just like, “I knew it!” and a couple of dudes are like, “Oh, shit! We gotta practice!” [laughs]

And then when it sold out so fast, it was pretty exciting. The guy from the Metro kinda called me, said “This thing’s gonna go clean here real soon,” so I asked him about the night before which would be the Friday and he said no, but he saw the Sunday was open, so I remember looking at the calendar before when I was booking this and saw that Palm Sunday was the next day, so I just had this thought of the Palm Sunday Massacre or something silly like that, we could do some shirts or old-school flyer, Summerslam with Suicidal and Exodus, just coming up with a title like that. And then the Sunday, thought about just doing an early show, that way if people are coming in from out of town, they could maybe catch both shows and still make a flight that night, just kinda make it a Vio-lence weekend and make it easy.

We were all super stoked and some of us are super sweating [laughs] having to play two shows in a row. This is super exciting for us 50 year olds.