Interview with Venom Inc. conducted at
Reggies Rock Club, Chicago, IL, USA, September 8, 2017
Interview by Melanie “Sass” Falina
Although fewer mantras ring truer when it comes to a band ‘doing it all for the fans,’ saying so can often just sound trite – particularly if the band is simply talking the talk without walking the walk. But one band who truly takes the needs and wishes of their fans to heart is metal’s own Venom Inc.
After having fallen off the radar for some time, it was the fans who refused to let Venom music die, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Venom Inc. came to be once again after an impromptu live performance at 2015’s Keep it True Festival in Germany. With thousands of witnesses soaking up the glory of this newly reunited killer band, the music world quickly rose up to welcome these guys back and then beg them for more. What began as ‘fuck it, why not?’-fun kind of idea suddenly became a pedal-to-the-metal movement that was blossoming into tours all over the planet, and placing Venom Inc. right back where they should have always been – on stage, offering the goods to countless adoring fans, and while wielding the brand spanking new album, Avé, as well.
While in the midst of Venom Inc.’s whirlwind “2017 North American Blood Stained Earth Tour” with Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust, and The Convalescence UnRated Magazine’s Melanie “Sass” Falina got the opportunity to hang out on the Venom Inc. tour bus with Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan, Anthony “Abaddon” Bray, and Jeff “Mantas” Dunn to talk about the rebirth of Venom Inc,, the sheer importance of the fans, and all things Venom Inc…
Melanie “Sass” Falina: So all of this started with a festival and just kind of gained momentum since then – how cool is that?
Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan: You know what’s marvelous about this is that it was kind of an accident, none of it was planned. And we still haven’t planned anything, everything’s just been as it goes along. It’s all derivative of the fans because the fans wanted us to do this, it was a fan promoter who asked us to do [the festival] for the fans, and since that point the fans have wanted to us to go play everywhere in the world and we just said yes. But the demand for an album, the [concert] set, it’s all been from fans, so what’s kind of great is that we’ve let them be in control. We’re not trying to manipulate anything or provoke anything, we’ve just carried on and just done it.
Anthony “Abaddon” Bray: And that’s always been the Venom thing. When we first started in the very beginning, we didn’t sit down with a piece of paper and a game plan and a budget, we were just three guys who got together in the church hall because it was free and we kicked the shit out of some equipment. And a record deal happened and gigs happened – quite big gigs happened – and we just thought, ‘Well this is what happens when you’re a rock band.’ We just went along with it. We kind of stumble into stuff. [chuckles] It’s kind of a cyclical thing. Tony [“Demolition Man” Dolan] was playing at a festival in Newcastle, our hometown, and it spawned Jeff [“Mantas” Dunn] to get up to do a diehard Venom song, and I was just there because I go every year and I was at the bar. One of the guys who runs the Keep It True Festival in Germany was there watching – this was in January or February [of 2015] – and he was watching Jeff get up with Tony to play the song, and he kind of looked at me like, ‘Why aren’t you doing it?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m at the bar.’ [laughs] But then he must have thought, ‘Why doesn’t it happen at my festival?’ So he made contact with Tony and made contact with me, and I thought, ‘Why not?’
The Demolition Man: Yeah, why not do it? Fuck it. Just for the fans. And it was just like that, it was just as simple as that.
Abaddon: It wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t being offered $50,000 to do a tour, it wasn’t ‘we could make an album.’ We could just play five songs at a festival and then fuck off all of you and never see each other again. Why not?
The Demolition Man: And that was really good, because that was what it was, we could just have fun. And we did a signing, there was like 25 minutes for the signing but after like an hour and a half the guy said to me, ‘You need to wrap up,’ but I was like, “Look at them!’ There was like a thousand people with all these albums and I said, ‘When they’re finished, I’m finished.’
Abaddon: The band (Venom) had split up before we had the opportunity to meet all these people and sign all these records because Venom before previously only did one gig here, two gigs there. So there were a lot of people walking about with albums they wanted signed. There’s a big difference now, two years later, that we played all these shows all over through Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, people are getting their old albums signed and it’s got that feeling of everyone coming back to the band again – it’s that give and take thing. We’re kind of getting that back, and every night people will say, ‘Fuck, you’re like 50-odd years old, and you’re doing this every night like a school-kid. Doesn’t it kill you?’ And I say, ‘Oh yes, but as soon as you get that wave back, it’s easy.’
The Demolition Man: You feed off of that, you know? And that signing at that festival, the whole event was just feeding off the fans. Because we certainly didn’t go out to make a shit load of money, and it’s long doing 35 shows with no days off.
Abaddon: A lot of bands who are our age still still have this longevity, who are still able to play these places, they’re doing flights in, hotels, taxis to and from, and we’re living like this [gestures around the tour bus], we’re living like a punk band, you know?
The Demolition Man: But we did three festivals before we started the European run, just to give you an idea. We did three festivals and got pushed back on our timing, we literally came off stage and Tony (Abaddon) in his stage clothes – wet – had his case there, put everything in his case and went straight to the airport. And that’s how we’ve been doing it. No fancy-schmancy whatever, get in, do it, and get the fuck out.
Sass: So with all the touring, the new album, and everything happening so quickly – are you guys still kind of pinching yourselves about all this?
Jeff “Mantas” Dunn: Yeah, oh, when I heard the news that Nuclear Blast had taken the album I was bowled over, you know, it’s such a prestigious label. And then the deadline came in to do it so the pressure was on. I would say it was probably the most under-pressure time I’ve felt studio wise, but I work well under pressure. We do it, we would get in there and just deliver. But the whole thing has just totally overwhelmed me. I’m still in a daze. I’m the kind of person I don’t take anything for granted, you know, because here today gone tomorrow kind of thing. Especially in the music industry.
The Demolition Man: And in the early days, Venom were an entity who did it themselves on an independent record label. So for us to be on a label the first thing they did after we did the recordings was fly us out to Los Angeles to do a week of press and signings and stuff, and Glenn Danzig phones up and says, ‘Would you do Blackest Of The Black [festival] in Silverado with me?’ and we’re not used to that – the support and belief in the record, everybody is 100% believing in it. We’ve done it ourselves, we’ve been our own engine drivers forever and so we’re trying to get used to all this and every now and then, you know, we’re just not used to it. It’s remarkable.
Mantas: Particularly for Tony, it’s hard to take your hands off the steering wheel. I’ve always said in any band situation that I like to be the creative force, if that’s allowed, you know? But Tony handled all the logistics and the bookings and everything like that – I hate all that side of it. But it’s particularly hard for him to take his hand off the wheel because he’s an information freak, he wants to know everything. Communication for him is very, very important whereas for me I’m a recluse. If it wasn’t for the band I wouldn’t even have a Facebook page to be perfectly honest – I hate all that shit. But yeah, having these people behind us now, even when Jon Zazula came on board because obviously we’ve had a long association with Jon since the early days and he was the first one who took Venom to America. So when he came come board the wheels really started to turn, and Skyping him one day and he said, ‘You know, one great album is really going to change everything for you guys.’ And then you start to think, ‘Well, have we got that in us? Is it going to be there?’ But the reviews, the fan’s reactions to the album – I don’t know what to say.
The Demolition Man: It’s been amazing! And that’s a key point because him saying that, are you going to try to copy yourself, how are you going to approach that? And that itself puts the pressure on. But I think after doing all the live shows, I think personally I realized that what we had to do was be us. That was it. We didn’t have to copy anything, we didn’t have to plagiarize, we didn’t have to pretend to be something, we just had to be us. That’s what the fans wanted to see, that’s what they wanted to hear, and that’s what we had to commit to with the record. We just had to be honest and like it or don’t like it, that’s how it is and that’s how we are. Whether we to go Wacken [Open Air Festival] and play for 20,000 people, or we go to Costa Rica and play for 300 people, those 300 people want us to go. Those people have shirts and albums and the music has meant something to them. So if we can get there, we should fucking get there. When you bypass all the schmooze and commercial shit and all the money makers, and you get to down to the people, there’s where the music is – the connection – and it’s pure. And we pride ourselves on that – talking to people, listening to people. Venom always was a band for the people and that’s what we want.
Sass: Since you guys have all been around the block in life, so to speak, I’d like to hear each of your responses to this question – what is the most important thing you’ve learned thus far in your lifetime?
Mantas: [Rolls up his sleeve to reveal his forearm] Perseverance, determination, commitment, and no fear [while pointing to the words tattooed in Japanese characters]. I used to do a thing while I was still living in England for kids in underprivileged areas. Because I had the most experience with touring and all that kind of thing, they used to get me to give the kids talks on the music industry and all it entails. And I talked to little kids who were usually talented, and talent plays a part, buy it’s that perseverance and determination and sacrifice that plays a part as well. I had a martial arts gym in my hometown in Newcastle for 19 years and that was just all fucking hard work. And at the end of the day that’s what it is. I’m a firm believer in the laws of attraction and life is cyclical and all this, I have no religious beliefs but I do believe in universal intervention. And yeah, you can sit there in your little room and visualize how successful you’re going to be all day but it’s not going to help you if you don’t get off your ass and do something about it. And I think with me, with the two things that I love in my life which is music and martial arts, I’ve been very lucky but I’ve sacrificed a lot as well and I’ve been determined to do it. With the music thing, I can look back and say quite honestly I don’t think I gave it any choice but to happen. When I was in my bedroom with a tennis racket in front of the mirror rocking out to Judas Priest – I was in Madison Square Garden. I would see the audience in front of me. So that’s what I’ve learned on my journey, is the determination to get out there and do it, and like I said a lot of sacrifice. And I’ve said this a million times, I’ve got a love-hate relationship with touring, I love being on stage and I love performing, but I hate being away from home and my loved ones. And I think that’s probably the same if you ask any musician but for me in particular because I live in a very, very tiny village – if there are three cars in our village there’s a traffic jam…
The Demolition Man: It’s full of Smurfs. [laughs]
Abaddon: They recently had the whole place carpeted. [more laughter from entire band]
Mantas: But like I said I’m very reclusive at the end of the day, but when I get my head into something, it’s 150% or nothing. And I think that’s what you’ve got to do. Anyway, TED Talk over.
Abaddon: So lovely! [chuckles] For me, I’ve learned a lot about family. When I first came into the band I had a little boy and we were away a lot and I didn’t spend enough time with family then. But the backend of my life, the backend of my career, being married and expecting a new baby, so I think I’ve learned what family means to you and how you have to work with family. How you have to work things out with the band and with family and do a better job. So that’s the thing that’s been my journey alongside the band, if that makes sense.
Sass: And that’s an interesting point to bring up because a lot of times music lovers will view you guys only as those guys up on that stage, but – obviously – you guys have lives too, you have all of this ‘other.’
Mantas: When people ask me about a life-changing moment, for me on the music side it was 1979 when I saw Judas Priest and to me those guys weren’t human. They didn’t go shopping. They didn’t do the normal things that we do, they were gods. And then as you get older you realize that everybody’s human. We all do the same things, we all get up in the morning and do the same things.
The Demolition Man: The most important thing I’ve learned is ust to be nice, just to respect the fans, I guess, just to try to respect people, Everybody’s different and we all have our things and whatever, and I always struggle with who I am because I’m a pain in the ass, but I’m trying to remember who I am as well and how that might reflect on someone else’s reaction towards me. But I was fortunate enough to have a little bit of a conversation with Lemmy before the very last tour, and I thought [about him]: ‘You’ve done everything, you are that legend and you always will be, and maybe this is the time you can just sit in your apartment and enjoy your game and just listen to music and not worry about it.’ But, he wanted to die with his boots on and he said, ‘This is who I am, this is what I do.’ So I said, ‘Well, what advice would you give someone?’ And he said, ‘Just be yourself, be honest, and respect your fans.’ And that’s it, that’s what I’ve learned. You know that excited guy clutching an armful of albums who might be too intense for you, you can think about what it means to him. How a piece of music, even a piece of Venom music when there’s an emotional attachment, has saved people’s lives.
Sass: So not to downplay the fact that the new album is still in fact new, but is there a plan now going forward?
Abaddon: There’s still a tail end of the thing which started with people saying come on, you’ve got to play this place. You’ve still got that part of Singapore and places like that you haven’t been to, there are still people patiently sitting on the tails going, ‘Come on, come on, come on, we’ve got to get you over here.’
The Demolition Man: I guess we’re kind of looking at a map going we’ve got to go to Greece, we’ve got to go to Estonia, we’ve got to go to all the places we haven’t gone to.
Sass: So world domination, basically?
The Demolition Man: [laughs] World domination! They’re all lining up for next year.
Sass: Is there anything else that you guys would like to accomplish?
Mantas: To continue what’s been going on with the band because it’s growing. I would just like to see it continue to grow. In the early days of Venom we never did this, it was zero to hero overnight. We never did clubs, we never did anything like that, we went basically straight into arenas and who the hell does that? But as I’ve always said when people ask I think it was just the right place at the right time. The stars aligned, the world was ready for something different, and we came along. I’m a firm believer that life is cyclic, and what’s happening to us now has got some very, very strange similarities to what happened in the very early days. I don’t call them that, but if you want to call them coincidences, yeah. So two years down the line I would love to be in the biggest arenas in Chicago, you know? We’d still be packing in as many shows as possible, but maybe reach more people just to get it out there.
Abaddon: I’m personally an old school fan of the big rock and roll shows. All the big backdrops and moving rigs and lights and flames, and all that. And I think that there’s a place for that [with us], and not in a slick way but in a dirty, rock a roll way. And I think a lot of kids would come to that, and that we would be a good band to have that. And there’s nothing wrong with it being done in a slick way, the way KISS or Metallica does it, but in a dirty, rock and roll kind of way. I think that would be a very exciting stage show, it would fit the music we’re doing. I would love to see that happen.
The Demolition Man: I think for me, I think that Venom was a moment in time and wasn’t capitalized – on for many reasons – but they deserved a position…they’ve got legendary status and all that, but they deserve so much more. So I’d like for us to have respect from our peers and from the industry, as a band, as musicians, and whatever else. And to give us that place because I think we deserve it. I’m the one always under attack because I’m not Cronos, but nothing’s going to stop me from doing whatever I want to do because we’re just not here long enough. I’m going to the end of the road, whatever happens there – happens there, but every day is the same kind of motivation. If the stage show is there like Tony said, if the arena stuff is there like Jeff said, then brilliant, but if it’s not I’ll still be going on stage.
After wrapping up the interview, The Demolition Man, Mantas, Abaddon, and Sass departed the Venom Inc. tour bus and were instantly greeted by a group of fans hoping to get their albums signed and to take photos with the band. The band graciously complied with all requests as they’re known to do, and then went on to steamroll through Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago giving fans a show they’ll never forget.
Be sure to check out their official website as well for current tour dates and all things Venom Inc.