Sakis Fragos, publisher and chief editor of Greece’s Rock Hard magazine recently conducted an interview with guitarist Dan Rock and vocalist Devon Graves (a.k.a. Buddy Lackey) of reunited San Diego, California-based progressive metallers PSYCHOTIC WALTZ. The question-and-answer session follows below.
Rock Hard: I had always the impression that PSYCHOTIC WALTZ, as a band, followed their vision from their first steps. From the characteristic artwork of Mike Clift, to their evolution from album to album and finally the way they decided to end their career as a band in 1997. 15 years have passed since your break-up. How would you describe the career of PSYCHOTIC WALTZ and their evolution through their discography?
Dan: I agree. We followed our vision of what type of music it was that we wanted to create. We each brought a little something from our own personal taste and style, and, fortunately, it blended in a pretty cool way. As we aged from year to year, our tastes also changed. I can’t imagine if we would have put out four CDs that all sounded just like “A Social Grace”, nor do I think the fans would have really appreciated it too much… OK, some would, but the variety of the four discs we made offers a much larger pool of sound to dip yourself into, I think. As a career, I can’t complain; we were together for 10 years, played all over Europe, made four albums we are all very proud of, and developed a very devoted fan base. Eventually, like many bands, the time became right for us to break up. I think we all feel very fortunate that there is still an opportunity for us to be together again making music and playing live.
Rock Hard: Although you seemed to be a band with no restriction musically, some bandmembers had various projects like END AMEN, DARKSTAR and the solo album “The Strange Mind Of Buddy Lackey”. Which were the reasons for forming these projects?
Devon: In my case, it was two reasons. First, this was to fill the gap while Dan healed from a near-fatal accident, and a move in case there would be no more PSYCHOTIC WALTZ in the event Dan would not be able to return. Second, although we had no musical restrictions, I still had the desire to explore my own vision in a way that PSYCHOTIC would not allow simply because that PSYCHOTIC was a group and not the platform for me to personally indulge my own ideas. I just wanted to try it.
Dan: And with DARKSTAR, likewise it was an opportunity to try something that really wouldn’t have worked with PSYCHOTIC WALTZ. I mean, it was an instrumental-oriented concept, I couldn’t ask Devon to not sing on a whole PSYCHOTIC WALTZ album, now could I?
Rock Hard: You are considered to be one of the smartest and beloved progressive metal bands of all time, although you do not have any of the stereotypes of this genre. How do you explain that? Dan Rock had once said that music does not stem form the musical colleges but from the street…
Devon: I think we don’t follow the stereotypes of “progressive metal” because that is not what we were following. We were simply evolving from the more primitive style of rock and metal. The tempo and texture changes came from the desire to be interesting and unpredictable, not to copy other bands doing the same (of which, at the time there were very, very few)
Rock Hard: Reading the “Waltz times” fanzines these days, the fanzine from your fan club, I couldn’t help but notice the passion showed by your fans all over the world, even from Greece where you have hardcore fans. Are you satisfied from the success and recognition you have tasted so far from the press and the fans?
Devon: Not so much satisfied as appreciative. But, of course, it is human nature to want more.
Dan: I agree, we very much appreciate the good vibes from fans and critics alike.
Rock Hard: Which bands would you say that defined the PSYCHOTIC WALTZ sound?
Devon: PSYCHOTIC WALTZ.
Dan: Ha ha ha, funny answer. I think since we all brought different backgrounds into the jam room, we are basically the product of our combined childhood heroes mixed with our own concepts and imaginations.
Rock Hard: Which moments of your career would you describe as the best and the worst?
Devon: For me, the best day was July 1, 1986 (my 20th birthday) when the guys came over and surprised me with the fact they had rented a PA system and invited me to join the band. The worst was July 1, 1997, when I stepped out of the car returning me home from our last tour, when I knew I would not be coming back.
Dan: Ahhhh… but you did come back, so now that’s not the worst day anymore, is it? For me I guess the best moment was our first show at the Dynamo Open Air 1991. As I looked out at 30,000 people and thought to myself, “Holy shit!!!” The worst for sure was my accident Devon mentioned. I couldn’t play guitar for over eight months, and it really set the band back a bit. But, here we are, so many years later, and it’s all good.
Rock Hard: What made you spilt up back then and now reunite?
Devon: We split up for several personal and professional reasons, all of which I don’t care to dig up at this time. It’s all water under the bridge now, but let’s say it was in the pursuit of happiness. The reuniting was long in the forming. I had my taste of self-production and leading my own band, playing guitar and so forth. I felt I said my peace in that respect over five albums. In all that time I saw the PSYCHOTIC WALTZ legacy grow and grow. It made me realize how lucky I was and how insignificant my complaints were. I also missed the simplicity of being a lead vocalist (with such amazing players and writers) over playing lead guitar and singing, as well as being the mastermind behind the whole thing (DEADSOUL TRIBE). It was just more weight than I could carry any longer.
Dan: 10 years is a long time for a band to be in a jam room, and it was the usual stuff, I suppose, bands break up over. But the reunion now, as he said, was always just over the horizon, around the corner, but the time was never just quite right. As of last year, the time was finally right for everybody.
Rock Hard: Do you have any plans for a new album? If yes, in which stage are you with that? With which album would you compare it?
Dan: Yes, we do. The stage is called the “embryo stage.” Since it’s just embryos, I wouldn’t compare it to anything yet. We’ll have to wait and see.
Rock Hard: Several bandmembers have tasted lots of serious health problems. Brian [McAlpin, guitar] in wheelchair and Dan almost killed himself while rappelling. How important have these difficulties been for the band and its existence?
Dan: Well, it does cause obvious difficulties with traveling and loading gear and stuff. But we deal with it.
Rock Hard: Dan Rock, about 10 years ago, had told me that he found the woman of his life and he decided to quit playing music, as he thought that love is more important than music. What made him change his mind and play for the reunited PSYCHOTIC WALTZ?
Dan: I told you that? I must have been drunk! HA HA HA!…. Just kidding. I stand by my claim, so would John Lennon, I think. THE BEATLES sang “All You Need Is Love” … not “All You Need Is Music”. But again, the time is right at the moment, and fortunately I have both love AND music.
Rock Hard: When, in 2012, the PSYCHOTIC WALTZ reunion was announced, Devon Graves and Dan Rock were not members of the band, with Steve Cox being the second guitar player. However, when Devon Graves had come for DEADSOUL TRIBE shows in Greece, he seemed positive for a PSYCHOTIC WALTZ reunion. Why wasn’t he announced in the first place?
Devon: First of all, it was 2011. Dan was not announced because it took a long time to convince him to rejoin. I mean, he wanted to, in theory, but there was no real objective that seemed worth all the effort it would take (re-learning all the old material, for example) He wasn’t announced until he finally agreed to join. It was the “Power Of Metal” tour offer that gave him the incentive he was waiting for. As for myself, I agreed in secrecy, but I wanted to keep it quiet until my album with THE SHADOW THEORY was released. I thought the PSYCHOTIC WALTZ reunion would steal any possible thunder from THE SHADOW THEORY, and as it turned out, I was dead right!
Dan: Not to mention my wife was pregnant at the time, and I just had zero desire to go back in the jam room and start that machine all over again. Once my daughter was born and all was well, the opportunity was much more acceptable. And for certain, the “Power Of Metal” tour was the kind of thing I had been waiting for.
Rock Hard: In case Devon Graves wasn’t in the band, was there an alternative? Who would replace him?
Dan: Vanilla Ice? Nah, for me, an alternative was never an option.
Rock Hard: For many people, Dan Rock has been one of the most significant elements of PSYCHOTIC WALTZ. For what reasons wasn’t he announced in the first place for the reunion? Was he and Devon disagreeing with the whole reunion idea and when you saw the enormous support in Facebook, you changed your mind?
Devon: Not at all the case. I was the one begging Dan to rejoin. Brian also wanted it too, but Norm [Leggio, drums] and Ward [Evans, bass] were happy to play with Steve. However one of my conditions for my participation was that it should be the original lineup. I really love Steve, but Dan is a very different kind of musician as Steve. Without Dan, any new music would just not be authentic PSYCHOTIC WALTZ. Same goes for everybody else in the band, in my opinion.
Dan: Actually, Devon and I have been emailing for many years before this reunion and we always agreed on the possibility of a reunion someday when the time was right for everybody. When the other four guys finally decided the time was “now,” I just wasn’t ready. Now I am.
Rock Hard: Is it true that you’ve been sued by a member of the filming crew for the video clip of “Faded”, because he claimed that the lights blinded him? What happened with this case anyway?
Devon: It was the actress in the video. I imagine she did, in fact, sustain eye damage because if you watch the part where the actors are staring up toward the light (the UFO) the shadow of her hand is not falling over her eyes as it normally would when someone is shading their eyes from a bright light. Maybe she just wanted her baby blues in the shot, but to me that is not only a stupid thing to do, it’s just bad acting Those lights are really powerful and I don’t doubt that she has a spot in her vision to this day . I wasn’t present at that shooting, but you can see the other actor is properly shading his eyes from the light and he is just fine. She was awarded a settlement from the band (which Norm paid), from the college, and from the lighting rental company.
Rock Hard: Looking back in time, how do you see the sound of “Mosquito”, where some of your hardcore fans blamed you for being “commercial?”
Devon: They are entitled to their opinion, but some of my favorite work we have ever done is on that album.
Dan: While I agree that “Lovestone Blind” may seem “commercial” to some people, none of us ever made a conscious effort to write something we didn’t like. That was our groove at that point in time.
Rock Hard: Do you think that if PSYCHOTIC WALTZ had the backing of a bigger label, they would have been active all these years?
Devon: Could be. Some of our frustrations may have stemmed from our continuing starving status.
Rock Hard: Now that PSYCHOTIC WALTZ are active, what will you do with DEADSOUL TRIBE?
Devon: I ended DEADSOUL TRIBE back when I formed THE SHADOW THEORY. Having said that, as we see here, these decisions are never permanent. I do miss those guys as we were really close friends. I guess if the demand rises, I would do something with them.
Rock Hard: How was your experience with THE SHADOW THEORY?
Devon: It was wonderful to record such fantastic players and really inspiring to make that music. But that was about the end of it. The PSYCHOTIC reunion pretty much overshadowed THE SHADOW THEORY‘s reception and it went no further.
Rock Hard: There had been some rumors before your split-up, that Tom Mallicoat from LETHAL would take the place of Buddy Lackey. Is that true?
Dan: Sorry, Tom, I never heard that rumor.
Rock Hard: How was your experience touring with SYMPHONY X and NEVERMORE after all those years of absence?
Devon: For me it was just so wonderful to be back with our band, and it was also very interesting to see how we were accepted by a new audience off the first listen. Times have changed because in the old days it took us a while to win new listeners over. Maybe the time is right for us now. My memory of SYMPHONY X is that Russell [Allen] is extremely talented singer and a genuinely funny man. The guys in NEVERMORE were very kind and gracious, and simply a kick-ass band.
Dan: It was absolutely awesome. How we wish our tours back in the ’90s had been handled like that. The professionalism of the whole tour was top notch. Great roadies, sound guys, road managers, the whole crew… and of course two of the coolest bands touring. I had a surreal moment with Jeff Loomis one night on our bus, where we both kinda tripped out on the fact that after all these years, we were actually playing together. Cool times.