It is without a doubt a great time to be a fan of the classic hard rock bands Zion and X-Sinner. X-Sinner, as I am sure most of you are aware, recently put out a re-tracked version of its sophomore effort Peace Treaty under the new title Fire It Up while it will soon be re-issuing Loud & Proud + 2, a compilation of various outtakes and demo tracks from the bands earlier history. Zion, in addition, is also going to be releasing a compilation album: Thrillseeker is going to be made up of previously never heard before live tracks and material from the demo tapes the band recorded back in the eighties. One common denominator shored by both bands was vocalist Rex Scott. Angelic Warlord recently had the opportunity to conduct an online interview with Rex who discusses the background of Zion and X-Sinner in addition to going into detail in regards to Thrillseeker and Back In Red, a new X-Sinner album scheduled for release later this year.
What are some of the bands/musicians that you grew up with or currently listen to that have inspired your music?
When I was real young it was the Beatles. They changed the face of rock forever. Then it was Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Three Dog Night which really inspired me vocal wise. At the end of the seventies and early eighties it was AC/DC and Kiss. I saw AC/DC twice with the first singer Bon Scott before he died. I like Def Leppard very much. Once Nirvana hit the scene the music started changing a lot. Technical prowess of being a great guitar player didn't matter anymore. Grunge drove metal underground and took over as the dominant trend and portrayed an "anti-skilled" sound. No more guitar solos in songs unless they were simple and with lots of feedback. There was a lot of anger and passion in that sound and it was very anti-corporate. It is slowly coming full circle again as young people are starting to realize just how good some of these older bands were. I like the Foo Fighters a lot. I saw Jet last summer at the Hollywood Bowl and they were awesome. I like Depeche Mode. I hear AC/DC is working on a new one which I'm sure I'll own.
When did you start singing and when did you know that you wanted to front a rock band?
I enjoyed singing as long as I can remember. As a kid I was in choir at school. When I saw the Beatles on TV, I and a lot of young American boys at that time decided we wanted to play rock n roll! As a youngster I took drum lessons and played drums for years before I was actually in a band. Once I got into bands I always sang from behind the kit including the early years of Zion. I learned guitar while still playing drums because I wanted to write my own songs. Once I got decent playing guitar I wanted to be out front from behind the drums. I wasn't afforded the opportunity until the later years in Zion after one of the original guitar players took a job in another state and had to move. The band was going to call it quits but I wanted to keep it going so I moved to the guitar spot and my drum tech Tommy Bozung took over drumming.
Were you in any bands prior to Zion?
Yes, the first was Live Spirit out of Canton South Dakota which was a variety cover band playing everything from Led Zeppelin to Doobie Bros to the Stones. That was a great experience because I got to travel all over the area performing for proms, homecomings, clubs and concerts. I did that for about 2 or 3 years and eventually the guys in that band wanted to go more mellower and I was starting to get into Kiss and I wanted to go heavier so I quit the band. It wasn't long and I joined a hard rock group that was forming in Sioux Falls called Rox Band. We played all the same type of venues but we were much louder and played a lot of Kiss, Ted Nugent and AC/DC to name a few. I loved it. Unfortunately that is when my life started to go downhill personally. I got into drinking and lots of drugs. The whole sex, drugs and rock n roll stereotype was indeed my life. It got old after awhile. I was searching but I didn't know for what. I ended up converting to Christianity after about 3 years in that band.
Tell us about the history of Zion. Specifically, when did the band form and how did it's members meet?
Zion formed in 1980/81. I had been playing drums in a softer Christian band that did covers in 1980 after I left Rox. Then two other local musicians at the time Dave Moore and Bruce Fischer had heard that I had quit Rox which was a pretty well known band locally. Dave played guitar in another secular local band that was more of a southern rock flavor called Southwind. He too was sick of the lifestyle and looking for a change and was intrigued by my conversion. Bruce was another guitar player but wasn't in a band at the time. He was the program manager of the most popular secular fm rock radio station in town but he was also a pastors kid. He was looking for a change as well and had grown up with Dave. They got together and called me. We then met up to discuss the possibility of getting together to form a more rock style Christian orientated original band. Tommy the drummer came a few years later and helped out as a sound and light man and also a drum tech at first. When Bruce finally moved away in 1986 that is when I stepped out from behind the drums and Tommy became the drummer.
How often did Zion perform live? And did Zion gig much outside of South Dakota?
Zion performed quite a bit - usually a few times a month. It was slow at first. As the years went by we played more and more. In 1984 we got booked for a major festival called Sonshine in Wilmar, Minnesota, we got a lot more calls for shows after that gig. Being in Sioux Falls which logistically speaking is almost in the direct center of not only the Midwest but the whole country, made it easy for us to travel to all the surrounding states to perform. As word spread about us we were able to go further out from home. We played Minneapolis a few times, Des Moines Iowa, Omaha Nebraska, Minot, North Dakota and a lot of smaller towns in between. Once we were signed we traveled a lot further out. On the Thunder tour we played Metal Fest 90 in Decatur, Illinois and went all the way to just outside Philadelphia to do a show with Whitecross. We did shows with Bloodgood, Rez, Gaurdian to name a few.
What led to Zion signing with Image records?
Image was a new upstart label ran by Dorn Reppert who was an east coast concert promoter of Christian concerts. I had first met him while out on the road with Bloodgood. He really took good care of the bands he booked and I thought he was a good guy. He really seemed to care and wasn't in it for the money. Zion had come up with an idea to do a 4 song demo and have David Zaffiro of Bloodgood produce it. He was just starting to get into producing and really wanted to go in that direction. David and I became good friends and we worked it out to come to Seattle where he (David) lived and we recorded a good demo. Dorn eventually heard it after he called David for something and David brought Zion up in the conversation. Dorn told him he was interested and wanted to hear it. David sent him a tape. Upon hearing it he was blown away and called me offering us a recording deal for his new label. I already knew him a little and we discussed things at length. He wasn't promising us the world but did promise to work it as hard as he could. We agreed and then went back out to Seattle on Images tab to record an entire album for them.
Why was Thunder From The Mountain chosen as the title for the bands debut? Does the title have any special meaning?
The original 4 song demo was titled Thunder From The Mount and once we finished the record we just stuck with that but changed mount to mountain. It's a biblical term"mount Zion" the place where God and his people reside. God's holy mountain etc. It was an obvious tie in since the band's name was Zion.
Why did you choose David Zaffiro to produced TFTM? What did Zion learn as a result of working with him and what did he bring out in the band?
David was chosen because of the friendship and understanding that him and I had. We worked well together and he is a good melody writer. It was an opportunity for both of us. He was looking to start a producing career and we needed a producer. We learned a lot about song writing with David. He brought out the melody in us and our songs. He pushed us to new levels we had not experienced before as players and writers. The only drawback on the whole thing looking back is that he did take a lot of the more raw edge the band had live out of the mix. We became a lot slicker sounding. More polished sounding. Zion was actually a lot harder hitting live than our album portrayed. We accepted it as kind of a trade off of sorts for getting great songs out of the deal and we knew we could eventually get everything sound wise we wanted in future recordings if this record went over well and it did.
I understand that following the release of TFTM there was the chance of Zion signing with Myrrh Records. What additional details can you provide in regards to this matter? How did things transpire?
At the time none of the "big" labels had any metal bands. It was all the smaller street hip labels like Frontline, R.E.X, and Pakaderm that were signing all the bands. Myrrh Records which is part of Word was going to sign one metal band-and one only to really get behind and push big time. Mark Maxwell the A&R guy at Myrrh had contacted Dorn at Image Records and asked if he could use one of our songs to put on a new album called Twelve New Faces that Myrrh was going to put out of new and unsigned artists. He had heard “Is It A Crime” from our album and wanted to use it. We were the only metal band on it. To Word's surprise the song began out charting everything else on the record on the radio and also began to out chart the heavies of the day including Phil Keaggy, Petra and the like. Mark wanted to get Zion and producer David Zaffiro to re-record Thunder with a couple more songs added for Myrrh. Image and Myrrh could not come to an agreement however and so a little while later Myrrh instead signed a much younger band (meaning in time together) Holy Soldier and had David Z. produce them. We were actually picked first but couldn't get the deal done to do it. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened to Zion had all that promotional money been put behind us to help make us appear to be the best next thing since sliced bread like Myrrh did for Holy Soldier. One wonders......I was never a big fan of the band and I liked what David did with us more than the results he got with Holy Soldier. The Soldier guys were good guys though. They really liked Thunder when David played it for them. They eventually grew into a pretty good band I thought.
Zion broke up just as it was getting ready to record its follow up to TFTM. What led to the band falling apart?
Half of the band didn't really want to record the next album with Zaffiro because of the lack of balls Thunder had. I wanted to record with David for one more album and work towards capturing the "balls". That and the fact that two of the members were getting married and we were dealing with new wives and their opinions I'm sure contributed some. Ego's contributed some and X-sinner had called me to see if I'd be interested in singing for them. So it was a lot of things all taking place at once. We should have sought counseling and got it straight but it was and always is easier to leave than deal with things. That was wrong. We have become friends again though and have worked through all of that stuff. We've forgiven each other and that's important. After all, we've spent years together making music (1980 to 1991) and that should mean something and it does to each of us!
A new Zion compilation entitled Thrillseeker is set for release in the near future. When and where were the live tracks recorded? And from which of the bands earlier recordings was the demo material taken? Also, what are the details behind the track “Backstage Humor”?
The live tracks are samples from shows on the Thunder From The Mountain Tour in 1990. The opener “Who Pulls The Strings” was from Metal Fest 90' in Illinois. The demo stuff starts with our very first demo tape we made in the very early eighties and then some of the material is from our first full length self produced album Rock For Eternity which was released without a label in 1984/85 on cassette only. The rest of the material is from the demo we made to get signed to Image except for “Thrillseeker” which is off of the Image Records album. The backstage humor track on the new album has to do with Tommy taking over the drumming chores. At first he and the band struggled a bit with the drumming change and it seemed we just couldn't pull off a mistake free show once he started drumming. There would always seem to be a drumming flub or mistake somewhere in the show and we humorously started referring to it as the "Tommy curse". Eventually we started blaming ANY problem we had on the Tommy curse. All in good fun you see. Tommy was a good sport about the teasing and when we finally had that breakthough show where there was no mistakes we were back stage and Dave Moore was talking about how good the show had been and that we finally had broken the Tommy curse. Of course we all laughed and Tommy while laughing himself, said to Dave "get behind me satan!" and then we laughed all the more. A video camera was rolling at the time and that's how we got the sound bite.
What led to you joining X-Sinner?
My love for the music. I was and always will be a huge fan of AC/DC and that style of music. When I saw X-Sinner live at Cornerstone in 1989 little did I know that they were already trying to get a hold of me to sing for them. I was allowed side stage because of who I was and stood about 5 feet from Greg Bishop while they played and didn't even know that they were seeking me. I didn't stick around to meet the band after they were done and only found all this out almost a year later when Greg called me. I was frustrated with the whole Zion second album debate and everybody’s ego's were out of control in my opinion. I had been in Zion for about 11 years and was tired of this latest struggle from within the band. I saw a door an took it.
What did you take from your days in Zion that has helped contribute to the success of X-Sinner?
How to write songs and perform. How to not be afraid of being pushed passed what you perceive is your limit.
How often has X-Sinner performed live? What bands has X-Sinner performed with?
After we finished recording Peace Treaty we went out on tour in support of the record. We've played all over the country from east to west on relatively short tours. Go out for a few weeks and come home sort of thing. The band also toured the Get It album before I was in the group. Now we do mostly one night shows as opposed to tours. We fly in, perform and fly home. We've just started performing again lately after taking a Millennium off - ha ha! We've played with almost every band out there you could name.
What are your feelings about X-Sinner’s sophomore release Peace Treaty? Are you happy with the way the album turned out?
No. Particularly in the guitar tone area. Pakaderm with John and Dino Elefante had their style of production and we really didn't care much for it. That's why we re-tracked it and re-released the songs on Fire It Up in 2006.
What was it like working with producers John and Dino Elefante during the recording process of Peace Treaty?
Working with them as people was fine. They are funny and talented in their own right. We wanted to re-track the guitars at the end of the sessions because we weren't happy with how they had turned out and they refused. That was the beginning of the end with Pakaderm as far as we were concerned.
Why did Pakaderm Records reject the original album artwork the band submitted for Peace Treaty?
It wasn't so much that Pakaderm rejected it as it was the guy they had put in charge of stuff like that - Dave Del Sesto. He was not hip and was much older than everybody else and I think he had put in a lot of his money into Pakaderm too. He was too conservative in his thinking on rock in general. He thought it would offend people in the Christian world. Well, we weren't really concerned with that world as much as he was and instead of taking a street hip approach he played everything safe. So we used it on all the merchandise like t-shirts and such for the tour anyway because they couldn't control that. That's when we told them we wanted off the label.
X-Sinner recently re-recorded Peace Treaty and released it under the new title Fire It Up. Why did the band re-record the album and are you happy with the results? How does it compare to Peace Treaty?
We are very pleased because in many ways that's how it was supposed to sound like when it was first recorded. It cost's too much and the red tape involved in getting the rights to Peace Treaty from Word is a big barrier. We wanted to get the songs in the hands of a whole new generation of young people who had never heard of X-Sinner and also get it in the hands of old fans who always loved us. It is much more gutsy than the original.
What has the reaction to Fire It Up been so far?
It's been wonderful. Everything has been positive which has really blessed us. Greg Bishop worked so hard on this record and it paid off. We put the new song on there as a preview of what we are working on now - an album of all new songs to be called Back In Red to be completed sometime in 2007.
How is work progressing on Back In Red? How is the writing and recording process going? Will it be in the same style as previous X-Sinner albums?
It will be by far the best sounding record we've done. The guitars are turning out to be exactly what we want and they will even out perform Fire It Up tracks. This thing will be a full on wall of Marshall stacks on ten sounding record. We are about half way thru the recording and hope to have it done by late summer 2007. The songs are very powerful anthems much more in the vein of Get It but with great guitar tones. I scream a lot more on this record than on Fire It Up/Peace Treaty. These are by far the best songs we've written. I guess like a fine wine you get better with age! Ha ha!
Can you share with us one or two of your favorite moments with both Zion and X-Sinner?
There are too many with Zion to pick just one or two. I think when we played our first big outdoor festival was a highlight and was very exciting....My very first show with X-sinner was in Ontario, California and Guardian opened the show for us. Oz Fox showed up that night and I met him for the first time. That was pretty fun. I liked touring in X-sinner because we usually ate really good food! Hee hee!
Anything you would like to add?
Just a thanks to you and all our fans who have enjoyed our style of music for such a long time. It means a lot to us and hopefully we can meet up when we drop into your town for a show someday.
Interview by Andrew Rockwell