Interview with: Ballistic's Tom Gattis

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Tom GattisHey Tom! First, the latest news posted in your site is about Tim O'connor going into surgery, how's he doing now?
Great as far as I know. The thing about Tim is that he is the best bass player I have ever played with and one of the best I have ever seen. He got that way by playing every day for hours a day, and it has taken it toll. He had to get both hands operated on to fix years of use. The guy is simply amazing though, and even better than his ability is his attitude, 100% into music, no crap. All he wants to do is play and he is as fed up as I am with people who get easily distracted from the main focus of being in a band.

What is the current status of the band, what are you currently doing?
I am currently a father for the first time. You hear the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl say: "this is the greatest thing that ever happened to me next to the birth of my child." Up until now I thought they were saying it in order to appease their family watching at home, but in fact they are serious. There is nothing that can compare with the birth of your child, not even in the same league. It really is like watching a miracle happen, i.e. life from lifelessness.

Is there new material to be released following 2003's debut album?
Yea there is but it simply is not the priority now. Once Tim's hand heals we'll start up, but that probably wont be until well into Feb. 2006. We have all the gigs we could ever want, and with some national acts too. I'd give them all to play for our troops overseas though. The negative media coverage doesn't give them a realistic assessment of just how much they are appreciated back here.

What do you do when not active with Ballistic?
Work…allot! I have a KILLER job. I have been lucky as hell for the past 6 years or so.

Why did you step down as the vocalist for the band?
I started getting really bad headaches during the recording of the Ballistic CD. It was so bad that I got sick on several occasions, and it was at that point that I was just standing in the control room and shouted out "I'm done singing"…just like that. And with that I was done as a singer. (Minor stroke in Oct. 2004)

Now to the history lesson, you started out with Deuce, back in 1978, how did that start out, and how did come in contact with Marty Freidman who played with you?
I put an ad in the local paper that I was starting up a band, I think I was 15 at the time. Marty answered so I went to his parent's house to jam with him. He really had a noticeable amount of talent even back then. We started practicing in a barn that my mom had constructed for us. I also was lucky enough to have the best drummer in the area in the band as well, Billy Giddings. We were the only band in the DC area that played high energy metal and borderline punk. We loved kicking the snott out of the lightweight bands of the day, (like today's nu-metal). We were about 5 years ahead of our time and in the wrong spot to really do much though.

Why did you change Deuce's name to Tension?
We were out in Hollywood in 1985 recording our debut album when an employee of Capitol Records came down to their basement recording studio and told us that there was another Deuce, so we had to change it. Tension was the perfect name for what we were going through.

Tension is considered one of the forefathers of thrash, what influenced your music back then?
A lot of stuff really, but by far the NWOBHM (note: Deuce formed in the summer of 1978, a bit before the NWOBHM hit in the states). It remains today the only real modern music I listen to. Other than that I just listen to classical music. The other guys in Tension had various influences, Tim had Yes, and Billy had Rush and both of those guys were HEAVILY into jazz music. I never cared as much for jazz as I did for classical.

Why did the band eventually break up?
It got to a point where we had to leave Maryland and go play everywhere and anywhere, play every night no matter what it takes. Unfortunately the guys in the band did not want it bad enough to do that. We just weren't meant to make it big, we all had too many other things going for us.

I understand you went for an engineering degree after that, why did you choose to study that?
Well first off if I went back to college I wanted to do something difficult, not easy like Sociology or Journalism….and it was pretty hard. I think I started out with about 300 kids in my class, and by the time I graduated there were about 40. I enjoyed the hell out of it though, lots of math and tons of work, just what I like.

How did you create Wardog after that?
I actually joined that band, didn't really start it. We were all in school and it was a good outlet for me. I was content to do the covers thing, but the more the guys got to know about my past the more they were interested in joining me to go for something interesting.

I heard that during 1998's Bang Your Head festival you had a guest appearance from Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, what can you tell us about that?
I can't really remember how that exactly came about, but I think we got a call from our record company that we would be doing a song with Bruce. They set it up. It went over real well too. Wardog was a killer live band, despite our cd's. If we each practiced harder at our instruments I think we would have eventually gotten to be as good as Tension live, but that didn't happen. In Tension, we used to fucking destroy headlining bands, like totally wear the audience out to the point they were laying outside covered in sweat in their cars when we were done. Wardog was not quite that commanding, but we were pretty good live.

Why did Wardog break up?
We broke up for the exact same reason that Tension did. I wanted to play everywhere and anywhere just to get us to break out. In addition to that I thought Wardog had a most disturbing trend where making good music was not the primary goal. Also I think they wanted to narrow their music styles to a more commercial sound, which I wasn't into. Now they are rid of me I think they should be on their third world tour by now. Oddly enough, after I left I was the most optimistic about their chances of anyone I knew, and I honestly thought they really had what it took to make it (take that anyway you choose). They had that sound that is so popular (I guess) on the radio. It's one thing to sell your soul, but how much would it suck to find out it isn't worth anything. In looking back I think it was basically that they wanted something I wasn't really interested in, and visa-versa. At this point in my life I'd rather live well and release music on my schedule, than bop around the country in a 100-degree tour bus for months on end. But they want that rock star thing and I honestly hope they get it. Better them than me at this point.

Tom Gattis

How did you form Ballistic?
When I left Wardog I really wanted to get with a bunch of musicians that could not only play what I wanted to write cleanly, but also had the same focus as I did where the music came first. This naturally led me to Tim from the Tension days, and I was greatly relieved to hear he was still playing….and was even better than he was then…a scary thought. Also our producer John Herrera led us to Rikard, who played for the mighty Jag Panzer. Not only did I like the cd's Jag Panzer had done, but I knew I was getting a seasoned musician. John Herrera has been a huge help for us and I doubt if there would be a Ballistic without John. Anyway, I went to Rikard's place and he played about for about 60 seconds and I was blown away….a clear pro in every aspect. Petio was a local guitarist who had a name through other bands for being the best shredder in the area. Some friends led me to him and we got together and it worked amazingly great! For As John our producer put it: "Dude, those guys are major players..." I'd never seen him react to studio "takes" like that before. He used to draw stars on pieces of paper and put it on their chairs. Then I'd get in there and he'd start giving me the business…."why cant you be more like Tim…etc.." It was hysterical! For a while I (we) tried to get Tim into doing some bigger things, but he is really turned off by the music business, thereby isn't into becoming a blowjob-hack.

Why did you originally recruit Harry Conklin as the vocalist, and why didn't he stay with the band?
Harry was brought in after I stopped singing. We played one gig with him and from where I was it sounded great!!! The band was REALLY on and tight, and he was hitting killer notes and all, but admittedly I couldn't hear everything he sang that clearly. Then I get this call from Tim and he says, "hey man you probably should hear the recording of the gig. So, upon further review, I made a mistake with Harry. Unlike Rikard who came in and dominated from the start, Harry just wasn't keeping up with the pace, syncopation, and the emotion of the music. I was terrified but I couldn't lead on; not something you want to do…stay positive. Then about a month later he said his mom fell ill and he claimed he could not fly to Balingen for the two days necessary, which put us in a bad, bad position since we had tickets for him…but we got real lucky with Tony stepping in. Later on he emailed me and said that the reason was he couldn't get off work. Harry is the coolest, nicest guy when you meet him, but unfortunately he has major, major issues. At least God gave him a great (understatement) voice for certain types of metal - so it all equals out in the end I guess. On our flight to the gig he was telling me how he wanted to see Celine Dion in Vegas, and I could really see him doing that type of thing later in life, like a metal Celine Dion or something. Don't laugh! That would be a killer $$$ gig,. Beats baking bagels at Safeway; "Hey aren't you that famous singer?....yea?....I'll take a dozen croissants."

Hmmm… I think copies of that live demo are floating around somewhere….let me see…

Why did you choose Tony Taylor to replace him as vocalist?
I was checking out a bunch of singers and I was listening to tons of cd's over the phone from my friend Jim Powell in Maryland. He was playing cd's at random and we went through a bunch, and one made me say "stop there... who is that?" He said it was Twisted Tower dire and they even lived in the Maryland area. He had the voice and most of all had the aggressive style we needed. Tony is an ex-college football player/wrestler/military ball of muscle, and he came through great. Put it this way, at BYH 2004 when I got off stage, some of the harshest music critics I know were saying "keep that guy" to me. I know he was all over the stage from one end to the other, fucking maniac!!

Your debut received great reviews, how would you describe the album's music?
As a purging and purifying of my soul. It was the record I have been waiting for my whole life to do, and (please excuse me Tension fans, and with much respect) the only record I have ever done that I liked. But that is just me. Some people don't like it. I don't like Danzig, but some people would give their life for that band. It's just personal taste.

What has the band been doing since its release?
Really sealing other aspects of our lives. Music will always be there but we all have many other things we are doing.

What made you stick to your guns and continuing doing this kind of music for so many years?
It goes back to why I'm playing music. I don't have to worry about money and work, so I have the advantage of never being held under anyone's control when it comes to music. Therefore I can do what I want with no fear of anything. I know I get a lot of resentment from people who are at the mercy of other people, but that is too bad. There is always more than one way to get what you want out of life. You just have to be smart and think creatively. In my case it also helps that the old Wardog stuff has paid off recently, nice supplement there. I think I have to state at this point that I know I have been lucky as hell. How many people have done what I have done and still made it to where I am today?? At the same time, when I go to meetings with a bunch of high price colleagues I can honestly say that I have also done more than they have. Not only that, but I can keep doing what I do for as long as I want. This country is fucking great, its like living like a king but really only being an average person! Unbelievable!

Another reason of why I have stayed with the type of music I've been doing since the 70's is that I have established a loyal cult following that I'm not into disappointing. But again I am fortunate enough to be able to make that decision. Some people cannot because they are stuck to HAVING to do something. I can't imagine living like that.

Metal to me has always been horrifying and violent, and at the same time beautiful and trance-like. I can sit and listen to Reign In Blood and practically meditate to it, it is so relaxing and exquisite in its imagery. But if I listen to something like Nickelback nothing happens, its like staring at a sidewalk….absolutely nothing…. emotionless. I'd rather have a great job and play the music that sets my blood on fire than spend 100% of my time doing something mundane. Life is too short to put up with that crap.

Ballistic - band members

What is your take on the current state of metal music?
I don't know at all about the state of anything having to do with popular culture these days, nor do I care to learn.

Any last words, vows or messages?
Just thanks for the interview and a big hello to the fans that have been so damn loyal and great for all these years. I really cherish them and share their love for sincere metal. We'll be back on track soon!!

Thank you
Alon Miasnikov
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