“The end result is you’ve got five different styles working together, that’s why it’s so good.”
Success in the music business cannot be easily defined. The longevity of a moniker could be a measuring stick, except when we consider how many groups are nothing more than a shadow of their former selves. The original members long gone, these groups are past their age of relevancy, reduced to the personal business ventures of their original foundering members.
The success of the individual artist is just as difficult to measure. We could consider how long they are active in the business but again the concept of relevancy comes into play. Sure, you played guitar for twenty years but do any of the bands you played with really matter?
The job of an artist is to create but they’ve also got to eat and pay the bills. I often wonder if artistic expression has become an afterthought in the ‘throw away society’ we are so hell bent on creating.
Metal Church has been active since 1980. The moniker has been through some ‘rough times’ but is now on an uphill swing. Of course, the re-addition of vocalist Mike Howe is a big part of it but I’d argue it’s also the longevity of key members like Steve Unger who really brought this band full circle.
Bassist Steve Unger has been with Metal Church since 2004. That’s the beginning of the Ronny Munroe era, a time when metal went unheard. Steve weathered the storm, playing on four records before XI (2016) brought this famed moniker back into the limelight. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the indestructible bassist. Please enjoy some excerpts of our 5/2/19 interview where we discuss Metal Church music videos, record re-releases and Steve’s unfathomable schedule….
David Halbe: Considering the success of your last tour, was there any apprehension preparing for this one?
Steve Unger: No actually, the band, we’re very confident in everything we do. Everybody brings something different to this band. The thing is, there’s five different individuals in this band, five very different individuals. There’s a confidence that each of us have in each other to bring ‘The Full Monty’ every time it comes, its beyond what most other bands probably have. We come in, everybody knows their shit. Listen, we recorded it, it’s on a CD, we’ve all learned it, practiced with it. When we go to rehearsal, it’s not to learn the songs, it’s to make sure everybody is playing them together. Everybody comes in, everybody is professional. We kick it out a day or two and we’re ready to start the tour.
Dave: Tell me a bit about the band’s writing process.
Steve: The writing process is about 85% Kurdt Vanderhoof. He writes the main riff, he writes a part of the vocal melody if you will. He sends us this framework of a song and each of us sits in our studios and contribute to it. I usually come into the recording studio with two or three different takes per song.
I’m like ‘Kurdt, I’m hearing this, I can take it like this or I can push it more like this, maybe lay back a bit like this’ and he’s like ‘Do what you feel is best but of the three I kind of like the final one the best’.
Dave: There you go!
Steve: So, I’m like alright, then I do the bass line in that direction. That’s pretty much what we do for every song. You’ll get a scratch track with just a drum machine beat and Stet (Stet Howland – drums) will get that and he’s like ‘I’m the drummer, this is what I’m gonna do here. Then Kurdt will come back with an enhanced track with a more prominent rhythm line and so forth.
Dave: So, everybody gets to put their own stamp on a song?
Dave: That’s bad ass. It’s great that everybody is involved.
Steve: I’m a firm believer that it’s actually a big part of the chemistry of Metal Church, that we are allowed the creative freedom to put in what we would do. Instead of being fed an idea. ‘Here’s this is what I want you to play’, ‘well, why don’t you just play it yourself then?’ (laughs)
Dave: I think it let’s you bring your individual style to a song.
Steve: The end result is you’ve got five different styles working together, that’s why it’s so good.
Dave: Wow. I think you’ve got it right.
Steve: As an end result, I think it appeals to so many people because it really is five different styles and you can kind of pick out the one you want in the music even though it’s really a song from one band.
Dave: I think I might try listening to Metal Church, instrument specific, now that you are saying it.
Steve: Right on.
Dave: I noticed The Human Factor and Hanging in the Balance are going for big bucks on Amazon. Are there any plans to re-release them?
Steve: I know there’s been talks of it. There’s been a couple albums re-issued previously but currently there are some legalities holding things up. Something to do with the record labels that originally held the rights to the music.
Steve: Now that the time stamp has passed, the band should have those rights back in their own pocket.
I believe our label is actually involved in negotiations in an attempt to recover some of these masters.
We’d like to re-package them and send them out as second releases.
Dave: That would be awesome.
Steve: That would be very awesome.
Dave: It could definitely get the Metal Church name out there even more. Hey, I noticed the alarm clock in the “By The Numbers” video seems to be stuck at 5:45. Does that time have any special meaning to the band?
Steve: You know, I really don’t know if there is any special meaning. I mean, I guess for the average person who has to get up in the morning, that’s probably the time you get up. ‘It’s 5:45 fuck! I can probably hit the snooze button one time’.
Dave: (Laughs) That’s so true.
Steve: Still got enough time to jump in the shower and wash my ball sack before I get to work.
Steve: Basically, I think 5:45 represents a time when most people are getting ready to start their work day or end it. That wasn’t my idea that was probably something from Jamie (Jamie Brown) the director of the video, part of a brainchild he had going on or something. That would be my take on it.
Dave: Who’s house was that in the video?
Steve: You know? I don’t remember the guy’s name, but it was a friend of the producer who shot the video.
Steve: He got in on the ground floor of some social media network and made a ton of money.
Dave: Wow. That’s kick ass!
Steve: Yea. Apparently, I did the wrong thing joining a rock and roll band.
Dave: Is it true both of your current videos “By The Numbers” and “Damned If You Do” were shot in the same day?
Steve: No. They were not shot in the same day. They were shot over two different days. We flew into Los Angeles and we did the “By The Numbers” video at the mansion and then the next day we did the “Damned If You Do” video in an old rundown warehouse down in the work district or whatever you want to call it, the industrial zone.
Dave: I can picture it.
Steve: It was hot as balls in that place! There’s was no air conditioning, we were all dying. It’s like 95 degrees and I’m the asshole wearing leather.
Dave: Hey man, sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team. It’s your persona! Speaking of personas, in the “By The Numbers” video you play the part of the pool boy.
Steve: Oh yea.
Dave: So, was that role assigned to you or were you the only one with the balls and physique to pull off the Tarzan skivvies?
Steve: If it’s hot and there’s a fucking pool, you’re gonna find me in it. So, after the shoot I was like chillin’ in the pool and it was a total afterthought, they saw me in there and they were like ‘Dude, can we film you like that?’ and I was like ‘I don’t give a shit, I’ve been filmed doing a whole lot worse’.
Dave: Oh my god. That’s hilarious!
Steve: Anyway, it made the video.
Dave: It’s hysterical. That’s the greatest part. So, one final thing about that video and this one might be a stretch but Stet receives a text that says something like Elvis’s wife has left the building. Could that possibly be a reference to your heavy metal Elvis project Alive 85?
Steve: I don’t think it was a reference to it but it’s kind of funny that it has a part in it. I mean you know the story line, Mike (Mike Howe – Vocals) is this successful businessman and he’s really living a double life. You know fronting a band, he and his wife both leave for work and as soon as she’s down the road, he pulls back in. Essentially, he texts us ‘Get over here guys!’ and Stet shows up to the house but I was already there because I was the pool boy and everything like that, Mike didn’t know I was servicing his wife at the time.
Steve: Hey, that’s what the pool boy does.
Dave: So, in addition to the bassist for Metal Church you have your Alive 85 project, you’re active in a couple other groups overseas and you manage your sons band Sin Circus. How in the hell do you find time for all this stuff?
Steve: Well, it’s not easy but thankfully we’ve got email, Facebook and Messenger. Modern networking allows you to handle business at a new level. I could be networking with my phone while I do this interview with you.
Dave: That’s very true.
Steve: Essentially, you just have to be able to multi-task. You have to be able to compartmentalize things task by task, ‘after I do this, I’ve got to do that’ I mean, as long as you stay diligent and do your shit and make sure everything gets handled, you’ll succeed, which so far up to this point, I have been able to do.
Dave: I hear you.
Steve: I’ve got a full plate man, there’s no denying that. I’ve got Metal Church, Stet (Stet Howland – Drums) and I also play in a European band called Last Temptation.
Dave: What kind of music is that?
Steve: It’s more commercial than Metal Church but still hard. It has more of a European sound, a European vibe.
Dave: Will the group be releasing anything soon?
Steve: Well, actually we (Steve Unger & Stet Howland) were in France about two months ago and we just finished recording an album with another band called Killing Machine.
Steve: The Killing Machine album is done. It’s being mixed right now. It was completed four days early. A couple of the members in the band Killing Machine are also in Last Temptation.
Steve: So, when the guys in Last Temptation heard that we finished four days early, they decided to record a few things. So that’s what we did.
Dave: That’s cool. Are you playing bass in that band?
Steve: Yes, and Stet’s playing drums.
Steve: We end this current Metal Church run on May 15th, Minneapolis, St. Paul is our last show. Then I fly out on the 16th. I also play in another band called Steppenwolf Revisited.
Dave: Holy shit you are fucking busy.
Steve: On the 16th I play a casino show with Steppenwolf Revisited in Mesa Arizona. On the 18th I fly from there to Vegas where I grab my suburban with a rental trailer and I drive our gear (Metal Church) all the way back to Seattle.
Dave: Holy shit!
Steve: Yea, it takes a bit of time for that stuff to get there. After that I’m home for about a week and sometime in early June, Stet and I fly out to France. We’re going to be doing a week’s worth of rehearsals with Last Temptation then we’re doing a few shows with Dream Theater and then we’re ending up at Hellfest in France.
Steve: After Hellfest we fly back home, I’ve got a couple of weeks off and then I fly back over to Europe with Metal Church to do another tour.
Dave: Dude, your year is booked! I totally appreciate your time right now.
Steve: No problem.
Dave: So, this is my final question. This year is the 30th anniversary of Blessing In Disguise. Has anything special been planned to celebrate the release?
Steve: Well, hopefully we can get this re-issue thing done. Then we can do a re-release that kind of a thing. Maybe we can add some bonus tracks to it or something like that.
Dave: Why not?
Steve: That could be cool.
Dave: Maybe even some bonus live tracks. Something you haven’t released.
Steve: We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves. This band has got some aces up its sleeves.
Dave: I’m glad to hear it. Thanks a lot for your time today Steve.
Steve: Right on. Take care. Anytime brother.