Most people think of Elvis, early R&B and rock ‘n’ roll when they think of Memphis, Tennessee—and more recently, garage rock and punk. However, one of the best original thrash bands to emerge in the last decade also hails from the land that exists in Graceland’s shadow. Evil Army is a band in the vein of Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica or early D.R.I. They are the archetype of ‘80s thrash/hardcore punk crossover in the modern scene, taking the most aggressive elements of both genres to the extreme, and they do it all as a three-piece. However, it’s truly been a battle for the band in the last few years, fighting through the death of their bassist, Bones, and a couple of stints in jail for the remaining members, guitarist/vocalist Rob Evil and his twin brother and drummer, Michael Murder. They return to the front lines this year with a tour to support their seven-inch EP I, Commander, unrelentingly battling their way back on top.
Tell me a little bit about how the band came together. Who were the original members? How did you get into thrash and what inspired you most to form Evil Army and take it in that direction?
Rob Evil: We started around 2003 when we released our Conquer Human Life seven inch. Me and Michael Murder have always been in the band, but our bass player at that time was a dude named Sergeant Death. I’ve been listening to metal since grade school so it just came naturally to start a band when I got better at playing guitar. I decided to play the style of music we play because bands like Metallica and Slayer were a big influence on me when I was growing up. I didn’t plan on taking the spot on vocals, but we couldn’t find anyone else to do it and there isn’t much of a choice for a metal band in a town like Memphis.
Wasn’t Jay Reatard a founding member under a different stage name?
Jay Reatard wasn’t a founding member of Evil Army. He played bass with us for a while. He went by Jimmy Blitzkrieg when he was in the band. Up until our last two seven-inches, he recorded everything we’ve released. He was about to start recording our new full length until his unfortunate passing a few years ago.
Who is currently playing bass? How difficult was it for you to start looking for someone else after losing Bones?
We got a dude named Steve playing bass on this tour we’re about to do. It took a few months til I started looking for another bass player after we lost Bones. It really put our plans on hold. I got someone to fill in for a few shows, but I didn’t want anyone permanently in the band. I don’t want the band to have a revolving door for bass players, but it’s gonna be hard to find someone to fill his shoes.
People have always speculated that after the death of Cliff Burton, Metallica didn’t always exactly treat Jason Newsted with the respect he deserved, due to some of the bitterness that comes with mourning a loved one. Most fans have also contended that Newsted just didn’t match up. The songwriting style changed and the music definitely went in another direction. Do you have any fear of these types of situations arising for Evil Army?
I know exactly how Metallica felt trying to find a new member after losing someone who fit in with the band so good. Not just Bones’ bass playing style, but his attitude was exactly what this band needed. I’m sure I could find plenty of people that could play our shit, but I can’t be in a band with just anyone. Bones was like a brother to me and Michael and you can’t just go out and find someone like that.
Tell me about the struggles to get it together again to write and record a new EP. What can we expect on the new album as far as sound and style? Are you still on Housecore Records? If not, who are you with now or who produced the album?
We’ve been trying to get a new album recorded, but it’s just been one thing after another holding us back. I, Commander is our new seven-inch, but it was actually the last recording we did with Bones, so it was recorded a few years ago. We’re still on Housecore Records, but Hell’s Headbangers Records released this EP. It’s definitely going to be a progression from our last album. I think people into our full length will be into our new songs. We plan to start recording again when we get back from tour next month.
How did you get hooked up with Hell’s Headbangers Records? Are they strictly handling distribution of I, Commander or are they contributing further to your comeback and tour? Whose idea was it to sell the seven-inch for $6.66 on their website? Why has it taken so long to get this record out if you’ve been on a label all this time?
This new seven-inch isn’t the only thing Hell’s Headbangers Records has done for us. I hooked up with them after our [self-titled] full length sold out of the first pressing on vinyl and they said they’d do it. They’ve actually repressed it a few times on CD and vinyl. They released our Under Attack seven-inch a few years ago, too. I plan on working with them more in the future. It was their idea tosell it for $6.66. They actually charge that price for other seven-inches too. We would’ve released a record sooner if me and Michael didn’t end up doing so much time locked up in jail. It’s hard to put out a record when you’re sitting in a cell for 23 hours a day.
Yeah, I can see how that would be an obstacle! So let’s talk about that for a minute. Your band’s trouble with drugs and the law have been widely-rumored. How do you think it has set you back most and what, if anything, have you guys taken from your experiences?
Well, we lost Bones to an overdose and that was a real big set-back for us. We like to party just like the next band does, but we’re not a drug-fueled band or no shit like that. It is true that we’ve had some legal problems in the past and I’ve done some jail time, but it’s over with. I’m not on probation anymore so I’m just focusing on moving forward. I personally don’t have an addiction problem. The problem I have with drugs is that it’s taken the life from close friends of mine such as Bones and it really pisses me off.
It’s good to have you back on track. Evil Army has really pioneered a return to that old-school style of thrash, while remaining distinctly one-of-a-kind. How do you feel about the state of thrash these days? Who are some bands you’re currently listening to?
I’m glad to see there are underground thrash bands keeping this shit alive. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bathory lately.
What kind of gear are you using most these days? What’s been some of your favorite equipment over the years?
I’ve been playing a Gibson Explorer since I was 14. It’s a 1985 custom shop Explorer so you don’t see too many of them. I got a Gibson Gothic Explorer, but I don’t play it onstage because it doesn’t have a tremolo. Gibson is really the only guitars I like to play, but I have a Jackson King V that I play sometimes that actually plays and sounds good as hell. The amp I use is a Peavey Triple X. I’m not big on effects or shit like that. My amp gets the sound I’m looking for. I just like to plug in and turn it up. In my opinion no amp can stand up to it.
You can catch Evil Army on Saturday, April 13th at Siberia with Classhole, Demonic Destruction and Ossacrux. For more info check out facebook.com/EvilArmyofficial