NUCLEAR ASSAULT – Danny Lilker
Eternal Terror Helle Stenkløv had the pleasure of meeting Danny Lilker of Nuclear Assault at this year’s Metal Merchants at John Dee in Oslo. It was talked about everything from when he was fired from Anthrax to the start of Nuclear Assault, the size of his dick and the weather in Rochester. The upcoming book about his life, some fun facts about two creatures who goes by the names of Brama and Ola and the Autopsy concert in Bergen in August last year were also topics Helle and Danny talked about in this very informative interview.
I’m sitting here with Danny Lilker from Nuclear Assault.
Hello to you! How are you?
Eeh, doing well, I’m glad that we’re here because when we left the New York City area there’s a big snowstorm that’s really screwing up a lot of the flights coming out of New Jersey. We were supposed to fly out of Rochester. Those of us that live in Rochester were supposed to fly from there to New York and had to go to Buffalo instead, wait six hours at the airport… And the flight was delayed like four hours as well, so… We’re just glad we made it!
You and John Connelly were the founders of the band.
Because you were kicked out of Anthrax?
Aha. Oh yeah, I’m not ashamed to say that.
No, haha, could you tell us about the formation of Nuclear Assault?
Well, ah, it was January 1984. I was actually thrown out of Anthrax like four days before "Fistful of Metal" came out. It was kind of disappointing since it was the first record I was ever on. The first vocalist didn’t like me, but it’s old news. You know, it’s the only band I’ve ever been kicked out of. So anyway, John was actually an early member of Anthrax, very embryonic stage when we were just like 17 years old, kids, 16 year old kids, so I knew John. And when I’ve been thrown out I just said well, you know I can sit here and feel sorry for myself or I could take advantage of the fact that I can start another band by the fact that I want to play faster, more intense stuff anyway, so… I called up John and said hey, I was thrown out of Anthrax, do you want to form a band? And he said yes, sure. And so that happens. You know, we made a conscious decision of playing more intense music that was more hardcore influenced. And that’s what happened.
Early Nuclear Assault
How was the New York metal scene looking like when you started with Nuclear Assault? What was the difference between the west and the east coast?
The west coast was more known as far as having more bands, because, but that was also because they had Los Angeles and San Francisco, they had two different cities in California. In L.A. you had Slayer, Dark Angel, the Bay Area, you know, fucking got all those bands you know, and Exodus, Testament, Forbidden etc. Whereas the east coast was concentrated in one. It was called the tri-state area with New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, although Connecticut never really had anything. But Whiplash for instance were from New Jersey, but just 20 minutes into it there was still considered the New York area, so you had Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Whiplash, Carnivore, hardcore bands like Crumbsuckers and Ludachrist that were metalish sounding of course, you know, and did I say Overkill? They were a little more on the power metal side… And… I don’t know, am I forgetting anybody?
I guess you mentioned the most important ones.
Just the ones I remember as far as you know back then everybody sounded different, you know how it is. So every band had an identity, so. Yep.
What was your inspiration at that time? You were kind of fresh and aggressive, one of the first and most aggressive bands at the time. How did you come to be that?
I think it was maybe the hardcore influences that made us play faster, and of course the speed is an actual aggressive factor. And besides that – just our approach. You know, I cannot really think about those things, it’s, I don’t want to sound artistic, but it’s not a conscious thing. You just write songs and that’s what comes out. And if you think about it too much, then you’re manufacturing it instead of just creating it. You know what I mean? I’m not trying to give you the answer, though, aah, I don’t know? We just smoke weed and go at it! That works for Brutal Truth, but yeah. That’s another story.
But there has to be some plan behind your band, because your lyrics are often socially engaged. They’ve been from the beginning. Why is this important?
Well, that was another influence from hardcore. You know, we grew up on metal and fictional lyrics that were just about random stuff. And you know like, maybe horror movies or whatever, but then, one of the influences from hardcore was that you could actually have lyrics that were meaningful, and that was like cool, you know. You didn’t just have to make up shit that doesn’t really mean much. So when we decided, we realized that the lyrics could have a message, not only you have this really intense music, but also with it – meaningful lyrics that are also kind of aggressive – still aggressive because you are talking about nuclear war and all sorts of heavy shit, so it’s not like just because we’re not singing about Satan we’re not singing about flowers either, you know. So it’s still realistic lyrics, but with a kind of grim overtone. I don’t know if it was important to do that, you’re asking the wrong person, I’m mostly just a musician. You know I’m fine with whatever lyrics they’re writing unless there’s some nazi shit or something then… I trust whoever’s in the band with me to take care of the lyrics.
So you’re not in on the lyrics? You’re mostly writing riffs?
No. Yes, music, that’s my job.
I was going to ask, when we’re talking about environment and all this in the lyrics… This is a "hot topic" these days. Do you believe global warming comes from human action or is it Mother Nature that’s responsible to the weather changes we’re experiencing`?
Uh, I’m not smart enough to answer that right. There’s been apparently even documented scientific proof that, you know, certain pollutes are making holes in the ozone layer, that the ozone layer is designed to keep harmful rains out, that will, and also you know… it grows too hot, but then there’s other scientists "Come on, that’s a bunch of bullshit," but I would have been surprised if Man did not have an impact. But I also respect what George Carlin said once, which was, you know what I mean? He said like: "The Earth could shake off Man like a case of fleas,". The Earth has been around for millions and millions of years, and nothing we do is going to affect that. So… I don’t know. But… It’s pretty cold where I live, so. Doesn’t really get too hot. In the summer, yeah, but.
It’s ice cold here.
Yeah, it’s ice cold in Rochester New York where I live.
Nuclear Assault have parted ways and re-united several times. Why all these pauses?
It’s really more like we just do a show once in a while. I wouldn’t call this re-uniting just coming to Oslo for the weekends. It’s more a thing like – John can’t do too much because John is a history teacher. Due to his schedule from September to June we can only get away in the weekends unless it’s like Easter vacation or Christmas vacation or stuff in the summer. So we would limited in anything we can do anyway. And it’s also because Eric and I both play in Brutal Truth – we’re more active. We’re going to the studio next month. "Oh, God. Here we are. Okay, we’ve got 20 songs, we’re good."
You left Nuclear Assault to form Brutal Truth in 1990. Why was this?
1992, actually. Brutal Truth formed in 1990. I played in both bands for two years.
So then you left when Brutal Truth became more active than Nuclear Assault?
Well, it was getting to the point where Brutal Truth had started off as kind of like as a project. But then it started to have a life of its own, and as it gathered speed, all of a sudden we had a record deal and then we we’re going on a tour with Napalm Death and Carcass and Cathedral. And that was the point where something that had just started as something to occupy my time was turning into something that I realized I wanted to do more. I was just getting bored playing thrash by then and I just followed what I wanted to do.
So Nuclear Assault doesn’t have any plans for new albums in the future?
No, just doing the occasional show. I mean, let’s face it: people just want to hear the old shit anyway. It’s easier like that. We can play an hour of that stuff. We did one comeback album in 2005, but it really wasn’t that good, because those guys didn’t want to play fast enough!
You’re one of the few bands that admit that you’re just doing the old songs and don’t like your new album?
Well, I don’t know how the other guys feel about that record, but I don’t, it’s not that it’s horrible, but just not up to the standard of the old stuff. So we don’t play anything from it.
But you made six albums. What’s your personal Nuclear Assault favorite album?
My favorite? That’s hard to say. I like "Game Over" the first one because it’s so raw, but I think the guitar sound is too weak on it. I think that the guitarist had just started. But I think "Handle with Care" has the best production. Like really raw, but at the same time still like kind of professional sounding or whatever, so… I like both of those for different reasons. If "Game Over" had had the "Handle with Care" production, then it would be my fucking favorite album.
Nuclear Assault made some albums while you were playing with Brutal Truth. What have you done with these songs? Have you ever played them after you came back to the band?
I think there is one song, "Behind Glass Walls", that was on that record I wasn’t on, that we did a few times more back, the last decade or whatever. But for shows like this we know that people just want to hear the good old school stuff, and we have like four or five whole albums of that stuff we can play. And that’s totally cool. Because even though I’ve been here a million times, Nuclear Assault has never ever played here, so. Brutal Truth only first time in 2007. Tried to play there before, but the stupid… In the middle of the black metal terror days, Brutal Truth was, we wanted to play here because we were playing with Pungent Stench and Macabre across Europe, and the Scandinavian days were booked by Dismember’s manager. And we say that we want to play in Norway, and he goes: "I don’t that’s a good idea, man. If you go there you’re going to have a problem with those people." And we’re like really? But we were powerless, like okay? And the next year I met Enslaved in New York, and I said "Yeah, we wanted to play there, we wanted to go to Oslo at least, but they said we might have had a problem with the black metal people," and they started laughing. They went: "Yeah, you’d have a problem because they would probably buy you too many beers and you wouldn’t be able to get on stage or something."
Haha, everyone outside the black metal crowd thought every black metal person we’re burning churches and killing people.
Yeah, but then when you come here, then you realize it’s like… Some of that stuff is just, you know, just kids having a little fun. You know, and very young, I mean. I’m waiting for one of my good friends to show up. Baard Faust, you know? He’s a murderer, you know, like. Just fucking did stupid shit when he was young.
You mentioned that you like punk and hardcore music. Do you have influences from any other genres than metal and rock music?
For which band are you talking about that I do?
Mostly for Nuclear Assault, but also for you personally. You have played in so many bands that…
Yeah, you don’t want to make the answer too long. For Nuclear Assault it was just mostly you know, just thrash metal and hardcore and regular metal. But then again with Brutal Truth, you know, we were taking from industrial stuff and from like Japanese hardcore which is a special, beautiful trebly sound. You know, it’s funny if you listen to"Transilvanian Hunger" and then you put on an old SOB record it’s got the same "kshhhh", I don’t know how you write this word, haha. You know, hiss. Hisssss. Is there a Norwegian word to that?
Why do you think thrash metal lost its popularity? It was gone for a couple of years, and then it came back, it rose up again.
Around the late 80s, early 90s, certain records like "Darkness Descends" and "Reign in Blood" became this bridge to death metal, where it was still thrash metal if you should categorize it, but it was faster and the riffs were darker. Then you have "Seven Churches" and… Interesting thing is that early black metal, you know like Venom and Bathory and stuff like that, what are you going to call it, came from thrash metal. But then death metal, when it got kind of technical and brutal – I think that was a different offshoot. But anyway, the intensity of that,and then grindcore of course. When grind you know, you heard "Scum" by Napalm Death, thrash metal started sounding not as intense anymore. And when you’re looking for and trying to play the most intense stuff – for me – I’ve always followed just… Unconsciously following and just trying to do the most intense shit possible. So by around 1990 thrash metal just, kind of just seemed almost like tame to me. And maybe for other people, too.
What do you think of the new wave of thrash metal with bands like Municipal Waste and such? Do you appreciate them?
Yeah, yeah, I think, I think… No, I think what’s cool with those bands is when you hear a band like Municipal Waste you can tell that it’s genuine, that they really grew up on that stuff. And ironically enough they’re so popular with teenage kids just too young to know about Nuclear Assault back in the day, and I think that’s the whole reason there’s a lot of thrash revival with the older band. We always came back once in a while anyway, but then you see bands coming out because… Municipal Waste in interviews you know, when people say to them just like you’re asking me: What are your influences? And then they will be like "Nuclear Assault, DRI, blablabla," and then these 17 year old kids go "Nuclear who? Oh, I’m going to check that out," you know. See where this shit came from. And because we put out "Game Over", that was fucking 1986, so it’s absolutely, you know… People now that are 16 year old Municipal Waste fans weren’t even born yet. So it’s interesting they go back and hear music that was around before they were born. So I think, to the credit of bands like that, you know, Toxic Holocaust is another US band that does that type of stuff, they’ve been very free about talking about where they got their influences from.
Festivals as this, Metal Merchants, Keep it True and British Steel are bringing back old bands… Eh. Do you think it’s important to remember the history of metal? Like we know the roots of classical music and jazz?
Yeah, because it’s the roots of it. Face it, you know, without sounding like it’s an ego trip you know I was in a lot of bands that was at the creation of thrash metal. You know with S.O.D and Anthrax and blablabla. You know, like I said, don’t misinterpret that like "I’m cool, I’m cool," haha. What I mean is that, you know, it was a very important time because we didn’t know what we were doing, we were just fucking making it up when we went along. For cutting the leaves out of the fucking woods, you know, placing a trail, I don’t know. So it’s… Sure you had stuff before like Motörhead and blablabla, but there was a line in the sand. You know like when "Kill ‘em All" came out it was metal kids playing as fast as harcore bands, chugging along, so. Yeah, I think it’s important that people know the roots of a movement. So just like som guy who’s a 17 year old Darkthrone fan, you know you should go back and listen to the first Bathory record or… You know, some of these people who like Hammerfall should at least go back and listen to Accept. Right? So. I didn’t mean anything with that, hehe.
I can read between the lines, haha!
Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.
I heard that a Chicago journalist is writing a biography of your life. That’s something! You have to be special to be written about?
Well, he was a friend of ours. He didn’t contact me out of the blue. It was more like we’re sitting around, drinking and smoking weed at a party, and I would say back in 1987 people always go "Dude, you should write a book!" and I would always go "Naah, I can’t remember any of that stuff." And one day some of these said "Dude, you should write a book!" and Dave was there. He goes: "I’m going to do it." So. Yeah, I mean I can say without sounding like an ego tripping bastard that I’ve done a lot of stuff that people would find interesting in the history of making metal and everything, and that people have said "Oh yeah, dude! I’d read that book, you’ve done tons of shit!" But of course, you know, I feel funny thinking about it, because it seems like an ego trip. But I understand that I’ve done enough shit that would make it interesting, so. But yeah, it’s cool. I’ve spoken to some people from your lovely country.
What’s the proudest moment in your career? You’ve had a long career and played with many bands. I saw you with Autopsy in Bergen (…)
Oh, yeah. That was a fun show, yeah.
But what’s the top moment in your career?
Oh, that’s fucking difficult. Maybe the first time I went to Japan with Nuclear Assault. I mean Japan is like Disney land. You know, it’s just like a cartoon. God, it’s hard to say. I’m praying that moment for the future, when I get Ted (Skjellum) and Fenriz to do a Darkthrone U.S. tour with me playing bass. Fenriz won’t leave his backyard, but.
You’ve probably heard all these questions a million times before. And yesterday I was sitting with some friends of mine at Unholy. One of them was really drunk and I told him that I was going to do an interview with you. And he said: "Don’t ask him about the records. We don’t care what he thinks and feels about his records. Can’t you just ask him some really unconventional questions? Please – ask Danny Lilker what size condoms he uses!"
What size condoms? Maybe this guy is a little gay because he wants to know how big my dick is. That’s a little funny.
I think people often want to know like "freaky" things about the stars. But i really do understand why you won’t answer these types of questions.
No, I understand why people want unconventional questions, because it’s true. You know, "What was your favorite album when you were growing up, and what are your influences and what are you going to do on your next record?" It’s good to make it interesting, but there’s some stuff that’s just not nobody else’s business. But you know.
Do you have some secrets you could tell? Just a stupid story so that the fans can get a smile on their face?
I have two cats, and their names are Brama and, actually in Swedish it would be Ula The other cats name is what we call Ola, that’s how we pronounce it, O-L-A. Because it was from the guy from Grave.That’s where I got his name from. And when I’m home and I’m hanging out with my cats, and I talk to my cats in a little high pitched voice just like everybody else does. "Hello there, my little charmie, gootchie-gootchie look at that faaace!" and you know when you scratch the ears from behind and they’re pushing their face out. Is that shocking enough? That I pet my cats like normal people? That I don’t like fucking hold them up and scream or something?
I think that does the whole interview. People will think that this is something new and groundbreaking.
Actually, wait, wait, wait! I have a big spike gauntlet and I put it on one of my cats back. So it looks like a giant piece of armor. And I… (showing me pictures of his cats) The cat’s just giving me a dirty look. Which makes her look black metal because she’s like "What the fuck are you at!?" Yeah, but, that’s a black metal atmosphere (showing me pictures from Rochester, Newark).
(The interview is just fading out into fun pictures and chatting about cats and bunnies) Thank you so much for this fabulous interview. Good answers, fun fact with the cats… I’ll just stop this now if you don’t have any last words?
Ah, okay, last words. Just the usual shit. I fucking appreciate, I always like to tell everybody thank you for being supportive, because if it wasn’t for all these fuckers, then I would have to have a normal job all the time.