Exclusive Interviews Only Found Here at MetalCore!
Whiplash was one of the 1st underground metal bands I was into way back in 1985 and lucky to even see them at the legendary Lamour's in Brooklyn, NY a few times. Well not to long ago I got to see the band again and I emailed guitar/vocals Tony Portaro a novel and here is the book of an interview with him:
MC: Does it amaze you in any way that when the band formed in 1984 and here we are almost 30 years later and Whiplash is still together and kicking ass I might add.
Tony: Writing, recording and performing live are some of my favorite things to do. So, it doesn't surprise me that I continue to do these things. Even if there was no success involved, I would still be writing songs and recording them for my own entertainment.
MC: So what was it like being a young man in the early 80’s living in North Jersey? Were you a big metal fan back then before the band formed and what were some of the bands you were into at that time?
Tony: I left Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA in 1980. I gathered musicians that I knew from high school and began writing originals. A local college DJ introduced me to Tony Scaglione and I immediately saw his many talents and knew I wanted to work with him. In 1984 we started writing "Power and Pain". Within a short period of time we had written contracts from six different record labels.
MC: Did many metal tours or shows happen back then and if so what were some early bands that you saw live?
Tony: There were some scattered at small clubs locally, but most of the popular bands played rock and roll covers. Some metal bands passed through while on tour. I remember seeing Raven and Anvil with a crowd of about 20 people. There wasn't much promotion back then in the States. In Europe however, the venues were larger and more acceptable of original music. That was long before the wave of festivals that you see nowadays. We toured Europe and played 28 shows in 30 days in the small intimate clubs. The total amount of people that we performed for in that month was a small fraction of the masses you can perform to at a festival in one day!
MC: Now were you in any bands before Whiplash? Did you go through many line-up changes before getting to the core line-up?
Tony:I was in different bands with friends as I grew up. But as I matured as a musician, I began to surround myself with the most talented people. I was in a band called Toxin when I was introduced to Scaglione, who was in Jackhammer. I went to their rehearsal and they didn't have a singer. I liked what I was hearing, so I grabbed the microphone. I came up with some good vocal lines. Two weeks later Scaglione convinced me to join his band. Before long we decided to move on. We formed Whiplash and recruited Tony Bono on bass.
MC: Tell me a bit about the early band practices. Did you pretty much start out playing cover tunes and jamming on some riffs and starting to write your own songs?
Tony: I don't remember ever playing covers with Scaglione. We were both in original bands before we met. We were focused on writing, getting a record deal, and performing live. We knew where we wanted to go and nothing was going to get in our way.
MC: Do you remember the 1st show the band played and if so what was it like and what club was it at?
Tony: Our first show was very memorable."Power and Pain" was already released. It was 1985, when we flew to San Francisco and performed at Ruthie's Inn, a landmark for thrash metal. Metallica, including Cliff, attended the show. Gary Holt from Exodus was also there. We headlined. Possessed also performed and they let us use their entire backline. Death Angel was also on the bill. I run into these guys often at the larger European festivals and it's great to see them.
MC: Were any other names considered before you came up with the name Whiplash and did any of the members of the band Metallica ever say anything about the name?
Tony: I don't recall having any other band names in mind back then. I recently saw Lars on "That Metal Show" and he acted like he never heard of Whiplash. That was very strange, because I know he was aware of us and I never said anything bad about Metallica. On the show they were asking who the "Next Big 4" of thrash would be, and Whiplash was mentioned several times.
Let me take this time to clear something up. Jose Mangin of Sirius radio and MTV2 (who I consider a friend) once announced that Metallica plays a song that I wrote. I told him that wasn't true. He said something about a Whiplash song in the Sirius library. Maybe there was confusion with the Australian band Whiplash or something. I really don't know. But, I know Jose is good friends with James Hetfield. So I said, "I hope you didn't say that to James". He stared into space for a minute and told me he thinks he did! So let it be known that I never said that Metallica performed any of my music... however, I never performed any of there's either!
MC: Now we are gonna move onto when you decided to do a demo. How long was the band around at this time that you decided to go into the studio to record a demo. Where was the demo recorded and how many songs were on it? After the demo came out and all were you pretty happy with the results and as far as the demo goes, were copies dubbed on a dual cassette player or did you have them professionally made?
Tony: We did a few demos before signing with Roadrunner. You're talking about nearly 30 years ago. I remember two of the demo titles..."Looking Death in the Face" and "Thunderstruck". That was recorded in Sonic Studios in Long Island where Manowar worked in the past. One night, after working on some guitar leads, we left the studio in Tony Bono's van. We were stopped at a red light on the Sunrise Highway and this guy plowed into the back of the van. We went flying. My right arm snapped when I landed on the Marshall head. The police estimated the car that hit us was going 90+ mph. The steering wheel went through the guys chest and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The doctor in the emergency room said I could get a cast and have to wait 6 weeks to start therapy or I could have rods put in to stabilize it and begin therapy while it healed. I opted to get two 13" titanium rods and a screw in my arm that are still there to this day. Two days later I had my Gibson SG in the hospital bed and my right arm was gently falling over the strings. About 3 weeks later I finished the guitar leads. That was the demo that got all the attention from the labels.
Back then, we had black and white 8X10s, a bio, and cassette tapes that Scaglione had dubbed. We sent them out to probably 15-20 labels and had written contracts from six.
MC: Now also in 1984 you recorded a 2nd demo called “Thunderstruk”. What are your thoughts on that these days?
Tony: See above
MC: Now the following year, you recorded 2 more demos, “Looking Death in the Face” and an untitled one. Were these the 2 demos that helped you get a deal with Roadracer Records?
MC: Did you send any of these demos out to many fanzines and did you notice it showing up on many people’s tape trading lists and did you ever do any tape trading at all back in the day?
Tony: We did send them out to fanzines. Tony Scaglione was great at spreading the word. There was also a local tape trader that had connections all over the world. When clubs were cracking down on allowing cassette players, he had sewn a pocket behind the hood of his sweatshirt. I still see live Whiplash shows from the eighties popping up once in a while.
MC: Did having demos out help you play more shows and what were some of the other early gigs that you did and what bands did you share the stage with?
Tony: The demos did help create a buzz. We were like the house band at L'Amour in Brooklyn. Anytime they needed a band to fill in that middle slot or had a cancellation, we were the ones they called. I think we played there 18 times and CBGB's about 13 times. We played often with Carnivore because they were also on Roadrunner. Pete Steele sang backgrounds on the first Whiplash album. We also performed with Agnostic Front who did backgrounds on "Power and Pain". I recently had the opportunity to reunite with Roger and Vinny for the first time in about 25 years.
MC: Did it at any time feel weird having 3 guys with the first name of “Tony” in the band?
Tony: It really didn't bother us. If someone would say, "Hey Tony!", only the person who it was directed at would acknowledge.
MC: Do you feel that the band at this time was finding it’s sound and do you think you were an original band with its own sound cause I for sure as hell do?
Tony: Thank you. I appreciate that. We were heavily influenced by the California thrash bands...especially the San Francisco Bay Area bands. I believe that, with my Berklee education, mixed in with our east coast roots, and my huge influence from Deep Purple's Richie Blackmore, it equaled something that no one else had.
MC: So in 1985 you get signed to Roadrunner Records and you go about putting out your debut release “Power and Pain”. I remember it even came with a sticker as I bought it on tape way back when. Was there a big difference with going in to do an album as opposed to doing a demo? Did you have all the songs pretty much ready to go when you headed into the studio?
Tony: There wasn't much of a difference, but it was even more exciting. We were working with a producer for the first time, but the songs were already completely written and arranged.
MC: Did you have any other label interest at the time and what made you go with Roadrunner Records? Do you feel “Power and Pain” is your best release of the 7 albums you have put out?
Tony: As I mentioned, there were other interests. I don't remember all the other labels, but there was New Renaisance, Axe Killer, Combat...maybe Megaforce or Metalblade. We walked in to Combat Records office and they wanted to put us on a compilation album. We just kept nodding our heads. But when we left, we were like, "FUCK THAT!!!!"
Roadrunner said they would change anything on the contract that we wanted.
After we signed with Roadrunner, many of the labels said they would have changed anything also. Too late!
Most fans like "Power and Pain" the best. I am hoping this new material comes as close to that as possible.
I have favorite things about different albums. My favorite guitar rhythm sound to date is from "Cult of One". The guitar collaborations with Warren Conditi on "Sit, Stand, Kneel, Prey" ranks with the best metal duos.
MC: Did you do any type of touring behind this release and I know you played Lamour’s in Brooklyn, NY more than a few times. Looking back what was it like playing such a now legendary club?
Tony: L'Amour was THE metal club in the northeast. Even when we weren't playing there, we were hanging backstage. I remember hanging with Dave Lombardo and his wife there. I was right behind the drums when Voivod did an amazing set. Then the time Paul Baloff got sick and Exodus performed their entire set instrumentally. The crowd sang every word!!! THAT WAS EPIC!!!! ( I was there that night too it was an amazing show-chris)
MC: Now when Tony Scaglione left briefly to play with Slayer did he have the other 2 band members blessing and what made him leave Slayer and was he welcome back with open arms from the other 2 members?
Tony: Tony asked me what he should do when he was approached by Slayer. My response was, "If they asked me, I might even do it!". I never told him to do it or not to do it. He definitely had our blessings and he was the one who recommended his own replacement for Whiplash. We believed it was long term. I think Slayer reconciled with Dave. Looking back, I wish I would have gotten Tony back in the band. He never asked me and I never asked him. I really don't remember the specific circumstances. We might have already begun recording "Ticket to Mayhem" in Tampa, FL.
MC: How did you get members from Agnostic Front and Carnivore to do backing vocals. Were a lot of the bands from North Jersey and NY tight with one another at the time?
Tony: We were on the same record label or shared the same manager. I always found it strange how the NY hardcore bands took us under their wing. We were the three, thrashing Tony's from NJ, but we got along so well with them. Those were some great times at those packed Sunday matinee CBGB shows.
MC: How were the sales of your debut release and do you feel Roadrunner Records was treating you pretty fair at the time?
Tony: I was told by an employee there that we sold between 40,000 - 60,000 copies of "Power and Pain". We helped put them on the map in the U.S. I think we could've been treated better, but I also believe I will always sense that from whatever label I am signed to.
MC: Now in 1987 you went down to Morrisound Studios to record your 2nd release called “Ticket To Mayhem”. A lot of bands were going down there to record was there any pressure from the label to go down there or was that something the band wanted to do?
Tony: I don't remember the label even suggesting it. I believe it was our choice. Tony was great on staying on top of the hottest thrash producers, labels, new releases, etc. We wanted to work with the Morris brothers. Later we found that Morrisound was the only recording studio built from the ground up to be a studio.
MC: Did you get to do any type of touring behind this release and looking back are you happy with this release? How were the reviews and response to this release?
Tony: "Ticket to Mayhem" got a great response. I'm happy with that album. Currently, about 80% of our live set consists of songs from "Power and Pain" and "Ticket to Mayhem".
MC: 3 years later, in 1990, your 3rd release came out “Insult To Injury”. Now at this time, with the 3 original members still on board, you decided to get a singer, Glenn Hansen. How did you end up finding him and looking back do you think it was a good move or bad move? Was this a 100% band decision or did Roadrunner Records have some say in this?
Tony: At that time, I wanted to focus 100% on my guitar playing. I wasn't disappointed at all, but looking back, I'm not sure if it was the right decision. There's some great songs on that album, but my vocals were a big part of the original Whiplash sound. I never liked my voice. Scaglione and I auditioned many singers, but we could never find someone to replicate what I was hearing inside my head. Before "Power and Pain" we released the demos. I only sang because we couldn't find the right person. When we got really good reviews, we decided I would sing on the album. I still do not consider myself a singer, but I am giving the Whiplash followers what THEY want. And that is 3-piece with my vocals. Knowing that the first two albums are the most popular, it makes me wonder what would have happened if we would have stayed 3-piece. But we'll never know. I am proud of that album and I still consider Glenn a close friend. He knows he is always welcome to join Whiplash on stage for the title track from "Insult to Injury".
MC: Looking back what are your thoughts on this release these days? Do you think through these 3 releases that the “Whiplash” sound was still present
Tony: SEE ABOVE
MC: Now through all this, did any of the band members have any day jobs or was it 100% dedicated to Whiplash? Do all 4 of you pretty much get along for the most part or was their fights every now and then? What was the reaction from fans having a singer sing the old tunes? Did it feel weird at first just playing guitar and not singing at all?
Tony: We got along great. Life on the road was so much fun. The reaction was great.
I was always most comfortable playing guitar. I believe my style is very original and difficult for most guitarists to play. If you can master one of my songs by using my video tutorials, that's great. But now try singing and playing it at the same time!!!!!
MC: I read where the title of the album almost was gonna be “Rape of the Mind”. Why didn’t you call it this and did you like all 3 of your album covers at the time?
Tony: That could have been possible, but I don't recall. Although the covers varied tremendously, I did like all of them. What Sean Taggart did was perfect for the time. Then, the second album is not a drawing, but a photo of a pieced together model. We went back to a drawing for "Insult.." and by the fourth album, "Cult of One", we had Danny Muro involved and he put together a fabulous photo for that album and "Sit, Stand, Kneel, Prey". In fact, that is my daughter on "SSKP" and she is now a 19 yr old college student!
MC: Were any or all 3 of your releases so far available on vinyl? Are you a fan of vinyl?
Tony: They weren't all released on vinyl, but several have been recently. I do have some Whiplash albums on vinyl. Only a couple though. "Power and Pain" is one of them!!!!
MC: Now it took 6 years for the bands next release to come out. Why the delay in releases? At any point before 1996 had the band broken up and did any of the other 2 original band members join any other bands? Were you guys just burned out and need a break or did you kinda see the trash metal scene dying out and just wanted to stay away from putting music out?
Tony: I think it was a combination of everything. It all slowed down. I think Tony Bono joined "Into Another" after we took a long layoff. I ended up going to the Chubb Institute and graduating with honors. Then NYU for Audio Production and Music Marketing. I opened my studio, Concrete Island, to the public.
MC: So in 1996 you're off Roadrunner Records and you sign with Massacre Records and you're now a 5 piece band with a different singer and guitar player and bass player. What made Tony Bono leave the band as well as Glenn Hanson? What was the fan reaction to yet another singer in the band and at any time did you think of returning to do the vocals yourself?
Tony: Yes, the "Cult of One" album was when Tony Scaglione rejoined Whiplash and I still didn't want to sing. I think Tony was in "Into Another" then. I don't know why we didn't approach him.
MC: The “Cult of One” release sort of went away from the original thrash metal sounds of Whiplash. What was the change for or was it just the way the band was gonna sound 6 years later? Were any other labels interested in the band cause you’re a US band and your on an overseas label? Did you at any point at this time ever get to play any overseas tours or do any type of touring at all? What are your thoughts on this release nowadays?
Tony: We all had a nearly equal part in the writing of that album and the majority of the members were not on any previous records. Hence, a new fresh sound. In my opinion, this was my favorite guitar rhythm sound of all the Whiplash albums to date. I don't remember shopping anything around to labels. We probably got a good offer and jumped on it.
MC: What was your set list like at the time. Was it a mix of new and old stuff or was it mostly new stuff as you kinda wanted to get away from your older material especially with a new line-up and singer?
Tony: It was mostly new material at the time because the vocals were vastly different then mine. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I didn't like Gonzo's vocals. In fact, I feel like hearing that album right now. And, Gonzo has been known to join us at local shows and sing "Enemy" live. His new acoustic material is awesome.
I was a bit sad when we toured Europe that year though, because people weren't very familiar with the album and they were looking forward to hearing the first two albums.
Fortunately, now I am able to give them that and more!
MC: Now just a year later, “Sit, Stand, Kneel, Prey” comes out on the same label, but another line-up change as you're down to a 4 piece now and you’re the only original member. Did having all these line-up changes drive you crazy at all and you also added keyboards to your sound as well as another singer, Warren Conditi. Where did you find Warren and do you think all these line-up changes hurt the band and what was the response to this release like and did you do any touring or play overseas at all?
Tony: When we parted ways with Gonzo, Warren went from guitar/background vocals to lead vocals and guitar. I have great respect for Warren. He's outstanding at everything he does, in and outside the music industry. Scaglione found Warren and Gonzo before the "Cult of One" album.
I do think the lineup changes hurt the band. It seems like I have been trying to get back on track for a long time. I am hoping "Old School American Way" takes Whiplash to a level beyond what we have ever reached in the past.
MC: In 1998, just a year later a total reshuffling of the line-up took place and the 3 original members were back on board for your release “Thrashback” which to me brought back the “Whiplash” sound as this release fuckin kills. How did this all take place and what was it like going into the studio with the other original members for the first time in a long time? How easy was it getting songs together for this release?
Tony: Thanks again. I appreciate that. It was tremendous to reunite. That is one of my favorite Whiplash albums....some of my best lead work. I hope everyone takes the time to listen.
It was very easy to put together. The chemistry that the three of us had seemed to never leave. You knew what move the other members were going to make before they did it. The songs practically wrote themselves.
MC: If I remember correctly the response to this release was great for you guys and how do you view this release these days? How did you come up with the title to this release, was it to let people know that Whiplash was back and back in a big way?
Exactly. We thrash and the original lineup was back. It was that simple.
MC: Did any of you at this time feel that after being and doing this band for so long that a big break was going to come your way? Also major labels were signing thrash bands, did you think or hope that at some point that might happen to you guys?
Tony: I don't think we ever looked into the future like that. I'm sure we hoped for the best, but we were just setting goals for ourselves and reaching them. You never know how far it is going to take you. You're there doing your job and enjoying the ride.
MC: Now with the re-union of the 3 original members, did you do any material live that the original line-up did not record?
Tony: We may have done two or three, but I don't recall. If we did, it would probably have been "Insult to Injury". That is such a fun song to sing and play and I love the guitar lead. That's in our set nearly every show now even though I didn't sing it on the album.
MC: In 1999 Massacre Records released a very cool compilation of your demos and also some live tracks. With this your idea or the labels? Was it hard finding all the old material and sorting through the live tracks that were going to be on this release?
Tony: That was Scaglione's idea. He put it together. I just had to agree to release it.
MC: The worst news for the band came in 2002 when bass player Tony Bono passed away due to a heart attack. Was he suffering from any health problems that you know of or was this sudden and out of nowhere? It must have been devastating for you and the other Tony at the time this happened.
Tony: It was VERY devastating. I remember getting the call from my father like it was yesterday and I couldn't believe it. No one expected that.
MC: Now after Tony’s death did the band break up? What did you do with yourself between 2002 and 2008 when the band got back together again?
Tony: I bought a house and relocated Concrete Island. I was making good money, but I didn't have enough time to work on my own material. So, I raised the rates and scared nearly every client away! It was perfect.
I wanted to work with former members and left the door open to them. It wasn't until Joe stepped up and said he was ready to do it. I was totally down 100% and we wrote the album in less than ten weeks.
MC: Now take me through the events of you getting back together and recording “Unborn Again”. Who was in the band for this recording? This came out on Pulverized Records if I am not mistaken and what led to you working with them?
Tony: Joe brought Rich Day, a long time friend and fan of Whiplash, into the mix. Rich is an awesome player. We worked with a new manager and he sealed the deal with Pulverized. It was a huge advance and they signed us without hearing one note of the new material!
MC: Also in 2009 you got to play a bunch of big festivals including Wacken Open Air in Germany, Jalometalli Festival in Finland and shows in Italy, Norway, and Mexico. What was it like playing these big shows after so many years of the band being around and what was it like playing Wacken?
Tony: Those festivals were awesome. We had the longest autograph signing in the history of Jalometalli. During the signing, I dove into the crowd!
Wacken was incredible. When we first arrived, the first person I bumped into when we were getting our passes was Tom Angel Ripper. It was a great moment! Then, to hang out with one of my favorite bands of all time...Trouble. We performed on Friday and they hung out in our dressing room. We shared our Wacken beer with them. Then, on Saturday, they performed and we hung in their room and they returned the favor.
MC: When can we expect any new Whiplash music? What is the current line-up of the band these days? Do you still get a thrill and rush of playing songs that were recorded in 1985???
Tony: There's always a thrill and rush during a Whiplash show. I'm sure the fans feel it to. The adrenaline flow rushes through your body. I don't drink the day of the shows until about 10 minutes before we go on. One or two beers keeps the adrenaline in check and levels everything off perfectly. I could never drink a 5 Hour Energy drink before I went on. I would probably explode!!! Right now we are working on new material, so pretty soon. This release is going to be called "Old School American Way." I am very confident that this record will be seen as the return to the thrash core that Whiplash started out doing. Whiplash now has a strong foundation with Dan "Loord" Foord - one of the best drummer's in England - and Dank De Long, a solid bassist from NY, that makes Whiplash thrash harder than ever.
MC: How long do you see the band continuing? Tell me your 3 proudest moments of being in Whiplash and the 3 worst moments, not counting Tony’s unfortunate passing.
Tony: I see the band continuing until I'm dead or I lose the physical ability to write and record. Hey, Lemmy's still doing it. Right? I saw Buddy Guy live last year. He's 25 years older than me and still plays like he's in his mid 20s.
MC: Are all your releases still in print to your knowledge and I assume you had a hand in Displeased Records re-issuing your first 2 releases with bonus tracks. Any plans on re-issuing any other stuff and is there any old or live stuff that might see the light one day?
Tony: That's a good question. We have been contemplating re-recording some of the material from the first two albums, but we are very focused on the new material at the moment.
MC: To your knowledge has any band ever covered a Whiplash tune? Have you ever seen any bootleg stuff of the band whether it be a shirt, cd or live cd? What is your opinion of bootlegs? How about a Whiplash tattoo?
Tony: Another excellent question. And yes, to all of the above. I've seen many bands on You Tube playing Whiplash songs, but in Athens, Greece we performed with Released Anger. They released an album with a cover of "Power Thrashing Death". When I found that out, I asked them to join us on stage. They did and the crowd went berserk. It was awesome.
Recently in Norway a guy showed us the Whiplash logo tattooed below the back of his neck. That was cool. The first Whiplash tattoo that I ever saw was the face from the "Power and Pain" album.
I see bootleg shirts often. Some of them are done very well.
Recently in Portugal at SWR2, I walked up to a vendor's booth and saw he was selling bootleg Whiplash patches. I told him that was my band. Then I saw some other stuff he was selling and asked if I could have one. He eagerly said yes. So, I said, "How about this...and this...and this?" He kept saying yes, so I walked away with like 4 things for free. That was pretty cool... and I let him keep the Whiplash patches.
MC: Please plug any websites and/or merchandise the band has.
facebook.com/tonyportaro.usa - I am usually on 5 days a week
officialwhiplash.com has all the full length studio recorded Whiplash albums for your listening pleasure
MC: With sites like Facebook and My Space, etc have you found or re-connected with many people from the good ole days and is there any die hard Whiplash fans still around in NJ that were there from the 1st album release days?
Tony: Hell yes, I have reconnected with friends from the past. There's fans from all over the world that I talk to. I even use Facebook for business at times. I connect with promoters from all over the world. I even have Whiplash followers tell me who the local promoters are. I contacted Sakis from Rotting Christ before going to Greece, to find out about the rioting going on. Also, Ben Ward, from Orange Goblin, was able to suggest Dan Foord as the replacement on drums for Whiplash, via the web. NJ and NY are definitely home to old school Whiplash followers. I'm happy to be friends with so many people who appreciate my music.
MC: After all the ups and downs the band has had, if you knew ahead of time that this was what the career of the band was going to be, would you do it all over again?
Tony: Absolutely! One of the best things in life for me is looking down at the faces of the fans and seeing how happy they are. They forget all of their problems and they're having a great time. I feel great when I'm making them feel good.
MC: Have you ever gone on sites like Ebay or Amazon to see what some of your releases and/or t-shirts sell for nowadays?
Tony: Yes. It's atrocious! Don't do it! Only buy Whiplash merchandise from officialwhiplash.com. We don't have everything you can find on the web. You'll get the best possible price directly from us on what we DO have available.
MC: If you had the power to go back in time, what are some things you would have changed about the band? Do you still talk to or are on good terms with any or most of the ex-members of the band?
Tony: I think I answered that above while I was rambling on and on!
MC: What is the set list like when you play out live nowadays?
Tony: Ha. I took care of that, too!
MC: Tony thanks for the many years of great music and it was great seeing the band live just recently, your voice and the band sound incredible and any last words to wrap this long interview up?
Tony: I think you have enough information here to write the Tony Portaro Biography!!! But seriously, thank you so much for the opportunity, your kind words, and for keeping metal alive! I hope we get to see each other again soon.