FAME AND PRAISE IN TIME: THE REALM INTERVIEW [PLUS MONTE CONNER!]
A brief period in the late ’80s and early ’90s yielded a fantastical number of cutting-edge metal bands. Today, fans of this pre-internet groundswell of proggy, arty, and otherwise undefinable bands can rejoice at the reactivation of Coroner, Anacrusis, and the great Atheist. But conspicuously absent is Milwaukee’s Realm, once most likely to succeed among their high-brow ilk. Realm is also noteworthy as Roadrunner A&R giant Monte Conner’s very first signing, one that preceded Sepultura, Obituary, and fellow Wisconsinites Last Crack. Aside from some classy but low-profile reissues of Realm’s dual masterpieces Endless War and Suiciety, Realm buzz has remained low — especially for a band who left fans hanging without completing their sure-to-be awesome third album. I tracked down founding guitarist Takis Kinis (also ex-Beatallica) to get answers to largely unasked questions, and his insights go beyond Realm minutiae to form a sort of Do’s and Don’ts manual for budding young bands. Incredibly, Conner himself took time to stroll down Realm’s memory lane and provide even more invaluable peeks behind the music business curtain (look for his comments in gray). Don’t understand how a brilliant band doesn’t “make it”? Want to avoid the pitfalls of youthful bravado? Thinking of covering a famous Beatles song? Just want to get hip to two of metal’s most overlooked masterpieces? Read on.
I. Enter the Realm
Back in 2006, reissues of Realm’s Endless War and Suiciety albums featured liner notes authored by you. That must’ve been fun to revisit Realm’s history.
It was. I looked back at that last night and remembered how hard it was to write. It’s really hard to look back on something and speak about things from the omniscient viewpoint without sounding weird about it. It’s hard to talk about yourself.
A writer has the luxury of raving about Realm’s qualities, but you risk coming off bad. But it doesn’t make those observations less true.
You’re right. I do know what the strengths and weaknesses are — and were — and looking back on it even with more clarity both from the music, the production, the record company, but also us as people and that’s probably the thing that I kinda discounted back then the most. It’s hard enough to keep a friend; that was a group of five friends that stuck together for a long time. We had our crew, too, so it was this extended group of ten or twelve very hard-working and dedicated people. I look back on it now and go “Wow. We had a work ethic!” I know a lot of people in bands now who say “We rehearse every couple weeks or once a week.” But Realm was really hardcore. “We’re done working for the day? Now, we’ve got practice. We’ll practice ‘til ten or eleven.” That was four or five nights a week. Not all the time was spent playing — sometimes we worked on business things or responding to mail — but it was hardcore.
It doesn’t surprise me to hear you say that Realm rehearsed often and intensely. It showed in your live set.
Definitely. We put a lot of energy into writing music. Maybe unfortunately for us, we maybe put too much into writing it? [laughs] Some of it was complicated to play. It isn’t like I could pick up the guitar right now and [play it all]. I’d have to think about it for a while. There were a lot of little nuances. We put a lot of energy into being tight.
I think what slapped us into shape was recording our Final Solution demo on our own. We just went into a studio, did it as fast as we could, then gave the tapes to our soon-to-be producer Jim Bartz and he just mixed it at a studio in his spare time. We were lucky it sounded that good. But when we got into the studio to record Endless War, he said “Alright, that was great you guys. But it’s not good enough to be on a record!” [laughs] He got on our case.
It’s one thing to play live, it’s one thing to record, and it’s another thing to record well. When you listen to a recording, a lot of what turns you on and off is the intangibles. For example, the drummer: Is he following the guitar players? Is he setting the pace? Is he on? Is there a groove to it? Is it precise? With drums, you didn’t punch in — a lot of people do now — but back then, it had to be a take. The technology was different. We got good at getting really precise performances and understanding what was an acceptable performance from a professional standpoint. That impacted our live performance tremendously. Honestly, that tightness combined with the sound man we had … he was our sixth member. He could totally tight-focus the mix and make it pop out.
That’s a huge plus to have such an asset behind the soundboard. Cuz for the listener, Realm music provides a lot of opportunities to get lost amid the hairpin turns and shifts in groove — especially in the concert setting.
Believe it or not, out of the couple thousand gigs we played over the years, there is only one time that I remember that we had to just stop [the song] and go “Shit. We really fucked up.” It was more because we were being goofy on stage. I’ve seen bands totally fumble over stuff.
Yeah. We found that totally unacceptable, basically.
II: Monte Conner and Roadrunner Records
In 2003, Roadrunner Records unveiled an online archives store which made old records like Realm’s Endless War and Suiciety available for download. At the time, Slipknot drummer/self-proclaimed Roadrunner historian Joey Jordison wrote that Realm was A&R legend Monte Conner’s first signing to Roadrunner.
That’s my understanding, too. In fact, what was interesting about it was that we’d put out a couple demo tapes — one which is almost impossible to find, even for me. I don’t have a copy.
We’re talking about the Final Solution demo?
Actually, the Perceptive Incentive demo. One of the songs off that ended up on Endless War. We put that tape out there, got into a couple fanzines, and one of the first fan letters we got was from Monte Conner: “Dude, I go to school out on the East Coast. Can I play your stuff on my radio show? Is that cool?” That’s how that door opened.
Monte Conner, Roadrunner Records Senior VP of A&R, on signing Realm: Sometimes when people ask me about this, I say Sepultura is my first signing just because it’s a lot more romantic than saying it was Realm. [laughs] It makes for a better story. But Realm was actually the first signing for Roadrunner. Sepultura was my second.
Was the discovery of singer Mark Antoni a big sigh of relief for you guys? What a stud! His voice kicked ass!
[laughs] Back then when singing high was in vogue, he could hit those notes. It’s funny, I hadn’t talked to him in a number years and I called him up out of the blue. He gets on the phone — I’d forgotten what a tenor he is — and he was like [affects high voice] “Hi Takis!” His voice is just up there.
[laughs] You knew Mark before Realm?
Yeah. We’d known him for a long time. We did the whole Realm thing first [with singer Doug Parker]; we recorded very fast. We wrote five or six songs and within three weeks, we were in the studio. Another week later, it was on the radio; a couple weeks later, we were opening for Megadeth. Basically because of self-promotion skills of our then-drummer, Mike Stixx. He could talk a line of shit. He got us the gig.
How old were you at that point?
I was 21.
Was your world being blown apart? Opening for Megadeth!
It was a trying time. I wasn’t really working or going to school. I didn’t have a steady girlfriend; my big concerns were jamming and partying, basically. So, did it blow apart my world? Nah. [laughs] It was wide open at that point.
How did the Megadeth gig go?
Pretty awful. [laughs] This was the tour for their first album. They were real green at it, too. It [was similar] to our first tour: 50 people at the show. A pretty small scene. But they seemed to have quite an issue with cocaine back then.
That’s the legend.
It was the scene back then. We really didn’t delve much into that; we were beer drinkers.
III: “Eleanor Rigby,” Endless War, and Realm on the radio
Let’s jump forward in time a bit. I’ve always wondered about Realm’s cover of The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” on your debut album. Was that imposed on you guys?
Oh, no. It basically stemmed from an idea that I always had because I was always a big Beatles fan. The first record I ever bought was The Beatles. I had the complete Lennon and McCartney songbook; “Eleanor Rigby” was one of the first things I learned because it was basically two chords, E minor and C. I proposed to my first band, “What if we played a heavy metal version of it?” They were like, nah. So when I got to Realm, I started doing it at a practice and we thought it was hilarious. We would do the same for “Diamonds and Rust” by Judas Priest, just play it as fast as we could. So, we were playing a gig, needed to do an encore, and didn’t have any songs left so we played “Eleanor” and people just died over it. Our singer at the time would end the song with “All the lonely people” and then “Let ‘em diiiie.” [laughs]
Well, that’s a different take. [laughs]
When we were trying to push the deal with Roadrunner, we sent them this really bad VHS recording of us playing at the Jabberwockee — two whole sets — and they were like “Wow, that was really cool! You guys do ‘Eleanor Rigby’?”
So they were into it.
Yeah. That was what Monte used to sell us to the label and get us signed. For better or for worse, it’s become Realm’s legacy. Which kinda sucks, but at the same time, people remember it. So.
Well, that offends me as a fan cuz that jam is nothing compared to the Realm epics.
It almost doesn’t fit, really. That’s how things go. [laughs]
Monte Conner on “Eleanor Rigby”: The thing that really got me and the label excited was “Eleanor Rigby.” That’s a great, great cover. And you know, there’ve been a million thrash bands doing covers and they speed songs up and whatever, but that was pretty groundbreaking back then to hear a song like “Eleanor Rigby” given a treatment like that. We thought it was a real selling point. I know that when we were marketing the record — trying to get magazines to write about it and to get radio stations to play it — a lot of marketing was based around that speed metal cover of “Eleanor Rigby.” We thought it was awesome and that the whole world would hear it and get excited.
What was it like to be on Roadrunner? They were doing some pretty cutting-edge stuff.
It was cool in a lot of ways.
Circumstances were good?
No, they were pretty [pauses] bad. I should say bad and good. With Monte, we were very friendly; it was totally chummy. But back then, we didn’t get a very good record deal, in terms of “Hey, here’s a boatload of money!” [Labelmates and fellow Wisconsin band] Last Crack did get that, but it didn’t seem to help them much; I think we ended up selling more records than them.
Last Crack was very visible for a time, for example, with “Energy Mind” on Headbangers Ball.
Oh yeah. Don’t get me wrong. I had gone to the Jabberwockee on a Tuesday to hang up flyers and saw Last Crack for the first time. I was like, this band is very different. I ended up staying for the whole show. That’s when I first met the guys; little did I know we’d end up on the same label.
Realm didn’t have a big budget, but we did get a lot of push because of Monte’s contacts. We got into all the magazines, got really good reviews of Endless War, and there were ads all over the place. And thanks to “Eleanor Rigby,” we were getting airplay. We got out to L.A. on the first tour and our song came on KNAC; we were like “Holy shit! We’re on the radio.” That was pretty much the only town that it was on commercial radio, besides Metal Shop.
I miss Metal Shop.
I remember Paul and I [recording liners] for Metal Shop, like “Hey, this is Takis from Realm and you’re listening to Metal Shop.” I just couldn’t stop laughing. So they ended up using Paul’s. [laughs]
Monte Conner on Realm’s record contract: It was a pretty standard deal back then. All the bands that we signed back in those days, we signed them not only for records, but we signed them for merchandising and publishing — which wasn’t really too standard back then [in the industry]. But we were doing that from the beginning, when most of the labels weren’t. Now, of course, deals like that are called 360 deals. Although 360 deals these days include participation in touring income. But it’s funny cuz that’s what everyone wants to do now. I guess now in the world of 360 deals, we kinda look like visionaries. [laughs] Back in those days, we were signing bands for like ten, fifteen thousand dollars, so I can’t imagine Realm’s was a very expensive deal. It was probably around $10,000.
Who’s the lyric writer on Endless War?
It’s a mix. I wrote a lot of [lyrics] solo, some with Paul [Laganowski, Realm guitarist], some I wrote with Mark, and some Mark wrote by himself. I’d say I wrote most of them. As time progressed, Mark and I collaborated a lot more. It was really cool.
Do I detect Christianity as a source of inspiration for some lyrics? I’m thinking of “Second Coming” and “Eminence.”
There certainly was. Not that any of us were bible-thumpers, but there was a lot of stuff like that going on back then. First of all, Ronald Reagan was president. We knew a lot of people who were like “I used to be a drug addict, but now I’ve found god.” We all come from Christian backgrounds, but if you hung out with us, you’d know we weren’t really Christian.
In places, the lyrics make Realm seem a bit like a Christian band.
We had a lot of Christian mags say “These guys are righteous! They could tour with Stryper.”
I looked at it like Black Sabbath, like “N.I.B.” where he’s just telling a story. “Eminence” is based on one of Paul’s dreams. That’s in the reissue liner notes. In his youth, he used to indulge very heavily in LSD. Like two, three a day. He said he had a revelation after bar time one night watching TV; all that was on at 3 AM was this preacher, and he turned into Satan. Then Paul fell asleep and had this dream. The “Eminence” lyrics are his dream.
It’s a great jam.
Yeah, I like that one.
If I were forced to make a guess, I’d say that Realm didn’t get a lot of compositional input from producer Jim Bartz. Is that accurate?
Yes. He mostly put the icing on, know what I mean? He didn’t come from a metal background; he is an amazing guitar player, one of the best I’ve ever seen. [laughs] He and Paul were close since second grade, and for a while he lived at Paul’s house when we rehearsed there. He got to hear us every night. He knew our stuff down to his core. For example, on “Second Coming,” a song with no solos, he was like “That’s really cool. You have this section where you guys are just jamming on this riff. Even though it’s a cool riff, I’m hearing in my head something else. I’ve got all these effects on — here, do something!” I listen back to it now and some of it was completely unrehearsed, off-the-cuff brilliance. Listen to the center section of that song, there are feedback swells put backwards. It’s really amazing and all the result of Jim. We would have never done that, because it wasn’t “cool.” [laughs]
IV: Future music, heavy metal horns, and donating cover art concepts to Obituary
As far as composition goes, Realm’s melodies and structures are brilliantly sophisticated. Do you hang your hat on that?
Some of that comes from combining our different musical backgrounds. Mark was into pop-rock, a big fan of Prince. Paul came from a jazz and jazz-fusion background. At that time, I was all metal. Steve and Mike had their thing. Probably the most common influence was Rush. It was a weird blend. Paul and I wrote most of the riffs and there was a tangible approach that we took: future music. Whatever that meant. In other words, yes blues progressions are cool, minor progressions are cool, Iron Maiden is awesome. But we wanted to give it a futuristic touch which was accomplished by using approaches that other bands didn’t use.
We looked to the modernism of a lot of things that happened in the ‘40s and ‘50s and a lot of things that horn players were doing. Think of Miles Davis or Charles Mingus who were playing in a lot of extended modes and keys. Think of theme from The Simpsons. There’s a lot of diminished and augmented stuff that doesn’t fit into major or minor, and therefore sounds a little more open. We’d throw a lot of that in. In fact, we would do the guitar parts like horns, not just “Okay, play a G chord.” It was “You play the third, I’ll play the seventh, Steve you play the fifth, and the next time through we’ll all switch.” [laughs] The horn approach was a lot of Paul’s ideas; listen to the phrasings on “Endless War,” you can imagine it being played by horns. A heavy metal horn section. In fact, for a while we thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to have an actual horn section?”
But I thought if we do that, we can’t have heavy guitars; we’d have to play clean. We’d play all the same shit, but play clean and throw in horns. It would’ve been way out there. In retrospect, it would’ve been brilliant. But we wanted to be metal.
Monte Conner on Realm’s initial success: I think we were relatively pleased with the sales. If I’m not mistaken, when all was said and done back then, we probably sold anywhere between 7500 and 10,000 copies in the states. For a tiny little label back then like Roadrunner, it was encouraging. Certainly encouraging enough for us to pick up the option to get a second record, Suiciety.
What was the vibe going into the creation of Suiciety? Were you guys eager to take Realm to the next level?
We’d been well-received. We headlined our first tour and took one of our manager’s other bands with us, Acrophet. It wasn’t a big successful, thousand-capacity venue tour, but whoever came to the venue came to see us — even if it was 25 people. I was fine with it cuz I’d seen bands like Megadeth and Slayer with small crowds like that. I wasn’t discouraged by it at all. In fact, people were standing up front singing all the lyrics even though the record had only been out for two months.
That doesn’t surprise me at all. Realm songs, for all their progressiveness, are so singable and infectious. I feel like they are distantly related to the best melodies on the second, third, and fourth Elvis Costello records. The word “catchy” doesn’t quite do it justice.
That’s an interesting comparison. But I know what you mean. The term catchy implies that it’s a boring, repetitive hook. I feel the same way about a lot of Radiohead stuff, which I fell into completely by accident. It’s not like it’s complicated, but there’s something magic about it.
Sigh. Magic. Did you set loftier goals for Suiciety?
Oh yeah. The record label did too. They were happy with what happened with Endless War. It was well-received.
Great cover art, by the way.
We absolutely hated the Endless War art. [laughs] That was forced on us. It is a cool piece of art, no doubt. But get this: I had an album cover idea based on Endless War. My idea was sketched out by a friend and I sent it to Monte. That idea ended up being the Obituary album cover.
On Slowly We Rot?
But [Obituary’s] was a really cartoony thing. They had an artist they used. And in retrospect, the Endless War cover worked, though we hated it. It’s a bit more timeless than Slowly We Rot, though I like that album a lot. When we did the Suiciety cover, we had a very clear vision of what the word suiciety meant — a term invented by Paul — and expressed the concepts to an artist friend of ours: global turmoil, the end of the modern era. What’s funny is the cover you see is a physical piece of art that he created. It’s a photograph of an object. He had to break several pieces of glass, for example, to get just the right [effect]. It was spot-on. It represented what we wanted and yet the label was happy with it too.
Monte Conner on cover art controversy: I can’t remember what their cover sketch idea was – at that time I wasn’t involved in the art department at all. But I can assure you the Slowly We Rot cover idea was an original idea by Obituary and their artist. Think about it – have you seen that Obituary cover? It’s a rotting corpse resting over a sewer drain. Does that cheesy imagery look like something that connects in any way to Realm or Endless War? Ha ha. The Trojan Horse image that we used was an existing piece of art we found at the time. The band disliked it at first but I’m pretty sure they eventually warmed up to it, or at least Takis did.
The Suiciety art stood out at the record store, too. No other metal album looked like that. Not until maybe Nailbomb a couple years later.
Well, Reagan had just gotten done being president and we thought that the world was ending. The themes are right there.It’s beautiful and tragic at the same time.
V: Committing Suiciety
Am I correct that a couple of pre-Endless War songs made it onto Suiciety?
That’s correct. Endless War was like a greatest hits of our demo era. There were newer songs on there, but most we’d been playing for quite a while. We had a big catalogue of songs. Back then you only did 45-minute albums. Basically, we kept a few songs in reserve that we liked to play live. “Final Solution,” for example. That was one of the first songs that I ever wrote for the band — the lyrics when I was 15. We had more old songs like “The Omen” that we always played live and wanted to put on an album.
How do you look back on Suiciety?
I don’t like the mix. [laughs] Not that it’s bad in and of itself. I always tell people, it could be fixed by bringing the guitars way up. That’s all I would do to it. Some of the extra sound effects and extra vocals that we recorded, I maybe would’ve pushed back or eliminated. There was a lot of stuff we’d experiment with … We weren’t present for the mixing and Jim left the [experiment] on there. We didn’t really want it in there. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s all in how it’s presented.
And there are things that didn’t come forward on the album; at the end of “LaFlamme’s Theory,” we had all these talking [voices], like on a Pink Floyd album, that you can’t hear. If I could remix the album, I would. We’ve talked about it. I have all the reels, but it’s money. And who the fuck cares.
[laughs] Um. Good point?
Okay, all ten of our fans would buy it. But the material on the album I like more than Endless War in a lot of ways. A lot of fans may say I’m crazy —
You are not crazy. Suiciety’s peaks are way higher.
I think the writing’s better and certainly the musicianship is on a different level. There’s some guitar stuff that’s really difficult to play. There’s this mood on it, too. A lot of the songs that the record company didn’t like are my favorite.
“LaFlamme’s Theory” is probably hands-down my favorite on the album. I like “Gateway” a lot too.
Man, the section of “Gateway” that precedes the solos is mind-blowing. That jam and “Fragile Earth,” “LaFlamme’s Theory,” and “The Brainchild” can stand up with any song in 1990, metal or otherwise.
Thank you. That’s cool.
Monte Conner on Suiciety: For some reason, the guitars on that record are just not really there; they’re kinda buried in the mix. It’s very much a bass- and drum-heavy mix as opposed the guitars being like as up to the front as they were on Endless War. I heard the record recently and still feel the same way — even with modern mastering. The record was reissued on Metal Mind and they gave it more of a modern mastering job. They crushed it and compressed it harder. But even with all that stuff going on, the guitars are still kinda low in the mix. There were definitely some mixing issues on Suiciety.
The guy that mixed that record was the same guy that mixed Endless War. He did a great job on Endless War. From what I remember, this guy’s name was Jim Bartz, and he was a real sonic genius, this guy. He was trying to make these sonically perfect records. He wanted to basically set a sonic standard with that record. But for whatever reason, seems like the guitars just couldn’t be loud enough on that record to set that sonic standard for him. But I thought the material was really strong.
It’s really gratifying to hear you describe Realm’s influences and approach to composing, just because it seems that there are really no clear bands that directly inform Realm music. But I do hear little hints of Iron Maiden, in the opening to “Theseus and The Minotaur,” for example.
A bigger influence than Iron Maiden on Realm is Judas Priest. Mostly in the way that we would handle the guitar parts, especially in solo sections. When they hit a solo section, the way that they’re interchanging … we did a lot of that.
Interesting! I think the epic title track to Suiciety would proudly be claimed by a band like Maiden. I want to talk specifically about the final minute or so: There are those acoustic guitars just barely twinkling through the rising, post-explosion din. Wow!
That was supposed to be louder. That was the beginning of a composition that was going to be on the next record.
We never recorded it — though we did record other stuff for the next album — but the plan was to open the next record with that.
That kind of forethought and rewarding of listeners is underrated.
That’s a major problem in music today and it’s largely [due to] commercialism. I understand — it’s a business and you want to make money. But in the ‘70s, bands were commercial yet highly technical. Like Genesis or ELP. Yes, it’s catchy but there’s some talent behind it and it doesn’t insult the audience. The audience is a lot more intelligent than they are given credit for.
It’s like you’re reading right off of my notes. It says “Realm, proggy but latently sellable.” I mean, songs like “Knee Deep In Blood” and “Fragile Earth” have twists and turns and all the elements of a hit song. These are catchy jams, sophisticated but imminently graspable by any listener.
Well, we had an unspoken mission, or vision, I suppose you could say. Two words: Simply complex. That was our whole thing when Paul and I were first writing material. “Dick” is a good example. The first parts in particular are hard as hell to play. It’s not just one position; [the guitar player’s] hands are all over the place. I’ve seen live videos of us and we’re playing it while bouncing all over the stage. We had a lot of fun playing it. There was nothing funner than the energy onstage.
Great hair too. All of you guys.
That’s important. Don’t laugh.
That’s funny. [laughs]
VI: MMADD (Milwaukee Metal Against Drunk Driving)
Let’s talk about “Dick.” Its lyrics tell the story of a guy who goes out partying then causes a fatal car crash while driving drunk. It’s a great song, but I always kinda chuckle at how the story is so quintessentially Milwaukee.
Yeah. You’ve lived here, so you know. Our first rhythm section … those guys drank a 12-pack each per practice. Just to give you an idea of how much drinking was going on — we used to save the beer tabs and had a chain going around our rehearsal spot like ten times. We estimated it at about 10,000 tabs. We got about $50 at the recycling plant for it. [laughs] We played at Blondie’s in Detroit on our first tour and they gave us free beer. [The owner] said “You guys and your crew drank more beer than any band I’ve ever had in here. But you put on a great show!”
In addition to “Eleanor Rigby,” Realm recorded another cover: King Crimson’s “One More Red Nightmare.” It appeared as a bonus track on the 2006 Suiciety reissue. Was it a b-side? What session did it come from?
We’d pick up really weird cover songs to do. In fact, before we disbanded, we were doing “Bastille Day” by Rush. Mark’s vocals were perfect for that. Paul brought “Nightmare” to the band; the first record he ever bought was by King Crimson. It was a really fun song to play.
Another great Mark performance on that jam.
Yeah. That song was not recorded when Suiciety was recorded. We did it on a basement demo and we thought it was fantastic. We went into the studio after Roadrunner to record new material and we did that song. That’s the only song we completed with vocals, overdubs, and everything. We put it out on a compilation here in Milwaukee for a benefit or something. We had it mixed, so that’s why it’s on the reissue. We thought it’d be a nice bonus.
VII: The Third Realm Album
Let’s talk about Realm starting a third record. You guys had parted ways with Roadrunner at this point?
Yeah, it was a pretty complex thing. They weren’t happy with how long we were taking to do Suiciety. Endless War was recorded and mixed in like ten days — outrageously fast. For Suiciety … the drummer of the Violent Femmes, Victor DeLorenzo, has a house that’s a recording studio. Because we knew him through Jim Bartz, he gave us the whole place for a month to do the basic tracks. We took our time. We had jobs and families. We took a while to record and a while to mix. The record company started to get antsy and weren’t keen on how things were going predominantly because of our manager, Tony Selig. The nephew of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Tony used to run the Eagles Club before it was the Eagles Club or The Rave or whatever. He had a lot of connections because of his music business dealings, but the way he ran things was abrasive to the record company. We actually took rough mixes of Suiciety and used them to shop for another deal.
We were thinking that we were selling a lot more records and should be making more money. That’s what he was telling us. That was kind of a mistake. Roadrunner started hearing about that and said, “We’ve got to get this album out.” We were out playing gigs, [so] Jim Bartz was left alone in the studio to mix it. Big mistake. If we’d been there, [Suiciety’s mix] would’ve turned out better, I think. Just little nuances. Roadracer didn’t like it because the press didn’t like it. So they didn’t push it.
Meanwhile, while all that’s happening, Tony set up showcases because Island Records was nibbling. It got to the point where the guy flew into town, we set up a show for him, we played, he loved us, they started to put contracts together — they were saying they’d put us on tour with Anthrax, we were excited to finally get some budget money — and then it took a shit. The A&R dude got fired because Island was bought out. One conglomerate bought out the other or whatever. Because the dude didn’t have his job anymore, we didn’t have a deal. We attempted to re-establish it but they were like, “That’s not where we want to go right now.”
Roadrunner knew that. We had a two-record contract with them and they said, “We’ll support you on tour, but that’s it.” So we opened for Annihilator and Reverend. It was cool, but it was a mistake to open for other bands. I don’t know, I thought we were more a headlining band than an opening band. We played in Tijuana, and 100-200 people showed up. We played first and when we got done, all the people left and partied with us. The other bands were playing to nobody. It was like people came to see us, but we not making shit. That was happening at a lot of the venues we played. That was our second time around, people were starting to know Realm, and if we could kept this process going, it would’ve built.
So we lost the deal. People say they dropped us, but the contract came to an end. They decided not to opt in. So, we started trying to find [another deal], but labels wanted to hear new material. So we did a four-track basement demo with “One More Red Nightmare,” “Cast The First Stone,” and “The Final Argument of Kings.” All the performances on the demo are all live. We struck a mix, all played at the same time, then Mark added his vocals. That wasn’t good enough quality to shop; labels wanted to hear something more professional. So we went into the studio; we got to the point where most of it was done — there are guitar solos and vocals that need to be finished — and it sits like that. Five or six songs.
Monte Conner on Realm label strife: We were butting heads with Tony during the entire Suiciety process, during the making of and the campaigning of that record. I don’t remember it going as smoothly as Endless War. As to what the exact issues were, I can’t recall. They might’ve [shopped Suiciety elsewhere] behind our back, but it doesn’t really ring a bell. It kinda makes sense with the discord we were talking about. I don’t remember the specifics. I don’t remember them shopping it to other labels.
I’m familiar with a lot of unreleased Realm jams because of a live tape floating around. We’ve talked about some of them already. Can I confirm a few more with you? “Thrash It ‘Til It Burns.”
Yes, that’s one of the unfinished tracks.
“The Other Side Of Me,” my favorite of the unreleased stuff.
Yes [laughs]. Also part of the unfinished record.
“Partners In Crime”?
That had the high-energy, almost rappy sections that Mark wanted. He was always like, “We need to be more funky!”
[laughs] That’s amazing.
That’s a hard song to play.
VIII: A Return For Realm
Bluntly put, I’m dying to hear more Realm. Finishing that third album would never happen?
It’s very unlikely. The unfinished album, for one thing, was recorded on a bizarre format. The albums were done on two-inch 24 track, which was standard at the time. We did what I call the Cornerstone Tapes on a two-inch but it was 16 track. It was one of those formats that way back in ‘70s was the thing for funk music. Because there is more room on the tape, you can get this really powerful low end. Cornerstone Studios had the machine, but it stopped working. But since, the guy there got it fixed. The last time I saw him, he said “Come on down! It’s such great material that I’ll do it for free.” Perhaps. Paul and I have talked a couple times. He’d just have to do a couple solos on it.
What about Mark?
Mark would have to finish some vocals. Hypothetically, we could make it digital and email it, do a little ProTools, and make a record.
[laughs] It’s the least you guys could do.
We’re displaced by a couple decades now. A Realm reunion is very unlikely. We had offers when the reissues came out —
Do a couple shows. No big whoop! A couple shows!
Yeah, a couple shows. We’ll rehearse for like nine months, and then we’ll be able to do it [laughs].
Not that we couldn’t pull it off. I’m sure we could.
Is Mark in shape? Does he sing?
I don’t think Mark has done anything in music since. The rest of us have to varying degrees.
I lived in Minneapolis in the ‘90s and I loved its nasty, busted-out downtown area. I went back years later and there stood a huge mall on my beloved crack spot. It had a Hard Rock Cafe, a megaplex cinema, and a chain bookstore. The once-sketchy area was yuppie-friendly and uptownish. I felt like I’d broken up with a girl, then found out she moved onto a really rich guy and classy friends that I couldn’t hang with. To any extent, do you feel that way about Roadrunner?
Well, I wish things could’ve gone differently on a number of different levels. There are no hard feelings. What was, was. The way that record companies have run things since that time … They didn’t develop bands like they did in the ‘70s and give you three or four albums to see where it goes. It’s more like one album, maybe two if you’re lucky. If it’s not going, then it’s not going. Sincerely, we were way better right before we disbanded than when we did the albums. There’s a maturing. We found a more stable, calmer groove. That doesn’t mean we were slower; we were more solid. Really confident performers and [recording artists].
The later stuff seemed less frenetic.
It’s relative. There still was a lot of energy there. You can write something interesting and have it be slow … er [laughs]. There was more focus on the overall vision. You see this in a lot of bigger bands. Think of Metallica. They write all this stuff that’s really heavy and fast to play in clubs. They start to get popular and play theaters and arenas when they realize that it’s hard to play that loud, fast stuff in arenas. There’s an adjustment that happens. I don’t want to say “Less is more,” but you tailor yourself to that environment.
Is it a conscious decision?
You start thinking how it’s going to be presented in the recording and how it’s going to travel live. For a lot of people that’s selling out, but I don’t think so. It’s making some kind of adjustment once you know how it’s going to be presented. Because you’ve done it.
What I think gets lost is that everyone tries to do their jobs well. Metallica has to take into account certain things in order to do their jobs. The problem with this example is that Metallica’s adjustments sucked. I hate the black album.
We’d see those dudes play and feel like we were a much better band than those guys. I love their songs and their recordings, but we could play circles around those guys. It sounds egotistical, but it’s a confidence thing. We felt we could take the stage with anybody and hold our own. We did a tour with Death Angel and Testament, and [Testament guitarist] Alex Skolnick was the only musician that we played with who seemed to take his music seriously. The other dudes would be partying, and we’d be warming up and hear Alex practicing arpeggios through the wall. We’d trade arpeggios [laughs]. It was cool.