Chicago thrash legends Aftermath just released their new album There is Something Wrong last month (order here). We spoke to vocalist Kyriakos “Charlie” Tsiolis on their new record, their challenging past including an update on the famous lawsuit they had with Dr. Dre, having their original moniker back, and more.
You guys had quite the journey between 1994’s Eyes of Tomorrow to your new album, There is Something Wrong, explain how it feels to finally release a new album under your original moniker?
It felt like the beginning all over again. You always read the stories whether it’s a Behind the Scenes or Behind the Music and think wow that’s a crazy story. Well we have one of those stories. We ended Aftermath in 1996. If you asked me if we would ever get back together, I would have bet you my life that we wouldn’t. In 2010, we got contacted by Area Death Production in China to do a box set. We had released two classic demos and one record and yet we had an offer for a box set, how crazy is that? We got together to do an interview for that release. We couldn’t get a hold of Steve for that interview, which was going to be part the DVD of the release, so we did it without him. In 2014, we were contacted by two labels to reissue our Killing the Future demo and our debut Eyes of Tomorrow. We were also invited to play Headbangers Open Air in Germany. We decided to book the gig even without knowing if the guys would say yes to the fest. They all did, and we got together to rehearse for the show.
We thought it would be cool to do a new song for the fest and that song led to a record. It was so natural. It really did feel like the beginning all over again. So, to say this has been a crazy ride is putting it mildly.
How long ago did you start writing the new album?
As I was saying, we got together to do a fest in Germany. That was all we were trying to do. We had never played Europe and we had this offer decades after we broke up. We never intended to write a record. We wrote one song and it felt great and we decided to keep writing. We wrote the record because it felt natural. It wasn’t forced. It took longer to get the intro, interludes and outro ready then the actual songs. The songs came quickly. Trying to get the other parts right was time consuming. This is a concept record. And like any concept record the things that tie it together play a major part. I wanted to get those right. We are telling a story and presenting a subject that is important, controversial, and some say even dangerous, so trying to get it across is difficult. The songs were easy by comparison.
Can you talk more about the song, “Scientists and Priest?”
Ironically that is the song we played at Headbangers Open Air in Germany. The first new track we played live. We called it “Opiate for the Masses.” I decided it needed a better title. The track has a message that both religion and science are bullshit. What I mean is the shit they teach us or forced feed us when we are kids isn’t real. Whether it’s religion or science, it’s served with an agenda. It’s a way to keep the masses in check. If you think about it, they are the same despite the belief they are different. The Bible or the Big Bang are explanations for the unknown. Neither has been proven. Neither is true or not the way we are told or we are taught to believe. It’s a way to control the masses. The opiate they feed us.
The new album is very aggressive and shows your anger on the chaos that’s happening in the world today, in your opinion do you think social media has anything to do with it (for better or worse)?
If you listen to our 1987 demo Killing the Future – it was angry. We returned to our roots. The hardcore bands back then were angry, and the lyrics were real. I felt that way back then and still do today. The difference was back in the 80s we were pissed off kids. Today, I have lived life and the experiences I have gone through make the gut feelings from back then real today. The world is fucked up. Not because of those being controlled. The world is fucked up because those in control are evil. The institutions are all a way to control us. This planet can be a beautiful place and it isn’t because those in control are evil. It sounds crazy to say that but it’s true. It really is a battle between good and evil. The puppets that people vote for and argue about are actors. The real power lies behind them. We don’t see those people. Social media is exposing them and waking people up to what’s going on. It is also creating a place that everything is being called fake so it’s causing confusion. In the end, the internet is going to be crucial in spreading the truth.
Do you guys have any touring plans for this year?
Our goal was to release the record and play some festivals. Part one is done. Some fests are in the works.
How has the Chicago thrash scene change within the last 25 years?
The thrash scene back in the day in Chicago was amazing. It was so new and energized. Unlike Orlando or SF, we didn’t have one sound. We had thrash bands that all sounded different from one another. It wasn’t a sound that made the scene. It was a lifestyle. Today, thrash is thriving, but in Chicago the scene isn’t the same for us as it was back then because most of our peers are gone.
How would you describe your style now compared to when you first started?
We started out as a crossover thrash band or speed metal. We were at the forefront of that style. The goal was simple. We wanted to be the fastest band ever. Don Kaye of Kerrang called us too damn fast in 1987. That was the greatest compliment. We achieved the goal. In 1988, we were done with the speed thing and completely changed. We wrote a demo called Words that Echo Fear in 1988 that was a pioneering technical progressive 4 song recording. It was slow and complex. A complete 180. On the new record we combine both styles of the band. We decided to return to the crossover roots and also write the tech stuff. The concept needed both styles.
Do you receive any heat or criticism years later from the Dr. Dre lawsuit?
The lawsuit against Dre could be a book or movie really. We went out and got a federal trademark for the name Aftermath back in the 1980s. No one did that back then. In 1996, we got a call from Dre’s lawyer Peter Paterno. He wanted to get us to license the name for his client’s small R&B label. The “small label and client” were Dr. Dre and the label would go on to be Aftermath Entertainment. He thought we would never figure it out. Well we did. We sued them in federal court for a TRO and Permanent Injunction. The hearing lasted 3 days. The Reagan-appointed judge said no likelihood of confusion between a metal band and a rap label like he was an expert on music. This was 1996, no Facebook or YouTube, etc. and he was so wrong.
He got the entire standard of confusion and trademark law wrong and ruled on it as though we were still applying for a trademark we already had. He just completely ignored the U.S. Trademark Office who had given us a trademark years earlier. We were not granted the TRO and injunction, but we could go to trial. he cost of trial and the bond cost was insane. They knew that. They knew we couldn’t compete with their money. But the story made it to MTV and our manager/my brother, who was a law student at the time, got them to settle instead of going to trial. We weren’t going to trial, but he got them to think we were. And the media coverage of that scared them. He negotiated a deal on Interscope, and we signed with them as Aftermath. Instead of releasing an Aftermath record, we decided to change the band name and released a record by a new band called Mother God Moviestar. It was all based on principle. We negotiated a settlement and then changed the band name and had them release a record they would have never have otherwise released. Chicago justice at its finest.
My brother managed another band on a major label years after the Dre lawsuit and their A&R guy asked him about the extortion of Dre. So, I guess people in the industry have a problem with what we did. Which is fucked up. Think about it. Dre’s legal team fucks up their legal work by not clearing the name for Dre’s label, then they lie about it to try to get me to license it for $5 grand. The judge rules we can’t get a TRO because in essence Dre was spending too much cash to stop his release. But somehow we extorted him by settling a lawsuit? A lawsuit to protect our federal trademark. How insane is that?
Is there anything you want to say or add about the new album?
It’s complex and challenging. Because of the subject matter you will love it or hate it and that’s exactly what we want.