Date: Early 1999
Taken from: The Plague Web-Zine
Interview by: Daniel Hinds
Interview with Dan Lilker
In the mid-80s, when extreme music of all sorts was coming together in bizarre new combinations, one band was right there applying their own wrecking ball to the walls between hardcore punk and metal: S.O.D., the Stormtroopers of Death. A side project consisting of Anthrax's Charlie Benante (drums) and Scott Ian (guitar), Nuclear Assault's Dan Lilker (bass) and Billy Milano (shouts), S.O.D. unleashed their tongue-in-cheek brand of crossover on the unsuspecting world in the guise of the album Speak English or Die! The effect was immediate and the impact was considerably deeper than anyone would have guessed, least of all the band themselves.
Due to various other commitments, a follow-up record was not forthcoming, though the four did manage to get together in '92 to record a live disc for their well-starved fans. Eventually, things fell into place and this summer sees the release of the band's second album - a full 14 years after the debut. Dan Lilker fills in the details between sips of coffee one recent morning…
Where did you record the new album and who produced it?
Well, we recorded at a studio called Big Blue Meanee in Jersey City, New Jersey. It's a place that is run by some really good friends of Billy's. The actual recording was done there and produced by the band and Tim Gilles and he's like the main honcho there. Then it was mixed by the band and Vince Wojno.
Are you pretty happy with the results?
Oh yeah, totally. I've done a lot of records and this is definitely one, like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom by Brutal Truth, where I go, 'God, I couldn't think of much more I'd want to do to that record.' Sometimes it's like, 'Fuck, we should have done this or that or that,' or more personal things like, 'I should have done this note' or whatever. But we rehearsed more for this record than the first S.O.D. record, so it's a little more thought-out.
What possessed you guys to do another album?
Well, we've intended to for a long time. When I'd be out on the road with Brutal Truth, I'd always hear, 'Is there ever going to be any more S.O.D.?' and I know the other guys heard that all the time, too. There was going to be an S.O.D. tribute a year or so back and that fell through because a lot of bigger bands couldn't get permission from their labels, one of the nastier aspects of the music business. I think at that point we were like, 'Screw it, let's just do a record.' We had to stop back in '85 because a couple of the other guys in Anthrax were getting quite pissed off about it, but not all the same people are in the band now. Some of the people in the band now grew up on that stuff, so it's a little easier to do it now.
How does Bigger Than the Devil compare to Speak English or Die?
When we were writing this record, at least for me personally, we had to walk a thin line. We had to maintain the integrity of the old stuff, but make it sound modern, not make it sound dated. It has a lot of the aspects of the first album, but lyrically and at some points musically, it has a lot of modern stuff, too. But not to the point where it sounds like something else. We injected a little black or death metal here that we might not have had on the first one, or a couple of blast-beats, but it is still S.O.D. you know?
What is the S.O.D. song-writing process like?
A few of the songs, like "We All Bleed Red," "Kill the Assholes" and "Free Dirty Needles" are Billy's songs, ones he'd written and brought to the band. The rest of them was a process of Scott, Charlie and I sitting down in the rehearsal space, looking at each other and going, 'Okay…' The first song we had written together was "Make Room, Make Room," where Scott's like, 'I got a riff,' and I'm like, 'Okay, I've got some notes that fit really good after that,' and Charlie's like, 'Well, why don't you do it like this,' and the next thing you know, we've got like 20 songs. I guess maybe they relied on me a tiny bit to write some more extreme, more modern, more death-oriented stuff, because they know I'm the person who's been listening to and playing that all this time, but it's obvious that everyone was in on it. Like with Charlie, he puts his own stamp on everything, just the way he plays, it's amazing.
How did you respond to critics who were offended by some of the lyrics on the first album and do you think you'll have that problem this time out, too?
Well, when we wrote the lyrics for the first album, we were a little younger than we are now and I can see how people would take them the wrong way if they weren't seeing our sense of humor. We tried to explain patiently to people that, you know, there might be a song on there called "Speak English or Die" but there's also a song on there called "Milk," which is completely silly, and people have to understand that both those songs have pretty much the same meaning. With this album, the lyrics are still nihilistic and offensive, but they're a little more mature and articulate. We don't go after nationalities because we realized that that is kinda tasteless. There's still tasteless stuff, but maybe it's more social stuff, like picking on crack-heads, I don't know. As far as criticism goes, well…whatever. You gotta weather shit like that. We're not gonna tone down our stuff to the point where it's not S.O.D., you know - it has to be rude and obnoxious. If people don't realize by now that there is a sense of humor underlying all that stuff, then they probably don't want to. It's probably extreme P.C. people who are dead-set against us from the start and don't want to hear anything different. If we go, 'Well, it's not serious,' then they'll go, 'Oh yeah, sure…' If people are like that, I'm just like, whatever, and throw my hands in the air.- think whatever you want.
How did you come up with the title Bigger Than the Devil?
I think Scott came up with that. That has to do with the fact that metal is always identified with Satan and The Number of the Beast ties in with the album cover. By calling our album Bigger Than the Devil, it's just typical S.O.D. obnoxiousness. It's like, all these bands like Slayer and these black metal bands - we're bigger than that! Your god is just a little, puny piece of shit compared to Sergeant D. and the power of S.O.D. It's just an arrogant, S.O.D.-type statement. Meaningless as usual, but cool looking.
How did you get in touch with Nuclear Blast?
They got in touch with us. I've known about the label for years, been friends with the people in the States and in Europe for years. So, when it all came around, everyone looked at me and said, 'Are these guys good?' and I went, 'Yep!' We had been taking to a couple other labels and I don't how much of that's gone now - I'm not gonna be like Scott and insult the other labels (laughs). They got in touch with us, we'd been talking with a couple other labels and going 'Ahhhh…..' - I don't know how you want to write 'Ahhh….' but… - Nuclear Blast called us up and said, 'We're totally into it and here's what we've got.' We were like, 'Wow, it's a really good offer," and that was it. I'm psyched about it, if that was your next question. So far, they are doing a totally awesome job because they're psyched, too. It's people who grew up with that shit. It's like if you were a kid, your favorite wrestler, if you got to manage him later, you'd be like, 'Oh, wow!'
I saw that you are going to be touring Japan soon…
Yeah, we're going to Japan at the beginning of June for a week.
When was the last time you were there?
Well, S.O.D. has never played there. We did a few shows in the States and that one show in Europe in '97, but before all those shows in '97, we'd only played New York and New Jersey. We've got more coming up in Europe, too, so it's gonna be pretty interesting.
I understand that Billy has been working as a manager.
Yeah, for Agnostic Front and a few other bands that I should know of the names of, but I don't. A few other bands in the New York/New Jersey area. He's good at that, Billy's a go-getter and doesn't take any shit, so he makes a good manager.
What are your plans now that Brutal Truth has split?
I'm in another band called Hemlock that plays black metal. We don't have all the trappings, like paint and spikes, because that is very old and tired. That's not the most active band in the world because you've got me doing this [S.O.D.] stuff and our drummer is in another band and then, just being a black metal band anyway, we've only done like 8 shows in the last three years. We have an album and an EP out, both on Head Not Found, and our next stuff when it comes out eventually will be on Full Moon Productions. Since I got a computer in December, I've been messing around a lot with graphics. I'm basically a creative person anyway, so I mess around in Photoshop and I come up with stuff and people look at it and go, 'Wow!' So, I might get into free-lance graphics stuff eventually, because I've definitely got a taste for it. Basically, I just sit there, take a couple hits, and do some crazy stuff, but it does look pretty cool.
What do you make of the current black metal scene?
I still think there are too many bands running around with keyboards and violins and stuff like that. For me, black metal was Venom and Hellhammer, shit like that. However, if a band does it really good, like Emperor, I can get into it. I'm glad to see that black metal kids, Norwegian kids, don't have the same stupid attitude they did five years ago, when they had to be snobby and say that everything other than black metal sucked, especially death metal. I don't know how much you want to get into it, but the reason all those kids were saying that is because they saw something on the back of a live Mayhem record, a quote from Euronymous, where he said how much he hated death metal. But, that is because he was speaking from the point of someone being disillusioned, because he used to love it and it got all trendy and political. These kids didn't understand that and said, 'All death metal that ever existed sucks,' because that's what they read out of it because they weren't old enough. I'm glad to see that people are growing up a little bit. I prefer the more brutal bands like Gorgoroth, shit like that. I don't know if you've heard my band, but that's kind of the vein we're in. We like Darkthrone a lot.
I've heard the name, but I haven't heard Hemlock yet.
Well, it's definitely no frills. It's straight-up, punishing type shit. I mean, I'm friends with guys like Dimmu Borgir and everything, but personally, it gets just a little too, I don't know… If I want to listen to something nice and ambient, I'll listen to something directly like that. If I listen to black metal, it should be pretty much in-your-face, but that's just my unholy opinion.
How long do you think you'll be working with S.O.D.? Is it kind of open-ended right now?
Yeah, it's definitely open-ended. We could conceivably do another record in a couple years, we wouldn't wait 14 years - we'd be too fucking old by then. Right now, there's a huge, tremendous buzz on the record, a lot of good shit coming up, and if we do a whole bunch of stuff and at the time other people's schedules are open - I mean, I'm not sure what Anthrax's schedule is gonna be. My personal schedule is more open that it used to be. The whole time I was in S.O.D., I was in Nuclear Assault and then in Brutal Truth and that even overlapped a couple of years, so I'm always in more than 2 bands at the same time. To answer your original question, yeah, it's open-ended, but I'd be into more if there was a reason for it.
You've been in the business for a number of years now and I was wondering if your opinion of it has changed any over the years.
There's a lot of down stuff, but then again… When we signed to Relapse, that gave me a lot of faith because we'd had a lot of problems with Earache before that. There are some labels, like Relapse and Nuclear Blast, that shine through as people that are totally committed. There are other labels out there, I'm not going to mention them, that were big in the early 90s for a lot of metal bands and their names start with 'E' and 'R' - you can figure that out later - that make it really hard to do stuff, because eventually you just become a product and they don't care about you and it's very frustrating. As far as how it has changed since I first got into it, I don't think it has - it's all just a cycle. Something gets popular, everyone else tries to do it, all the labels sign all these bands that are trying to do something to get in on it. Then, it's like a ship that takes on too much water and it just sinks. It happened with thrash metal, it happened with death metal, it happened with black metal. As far as all this Korn stuff, I really don't like any of that shit at all so I shouldn't really comment on it too much, but it definitely seems to be happening with that. As much as I don't like Korn, I'll give them credit for being one of the first bands to do that, but I don't like what they're doing so, whatever.
All the copycat bands are just that much worse.
For me, I wouldn't want to play in a band that sounds just like someone else. I mean, how many interviews have you read where one of the first lines is, 'Oh, well we're influenced by a combination of Korn, Pantera and Machine Head,' and you're just like, 'Oh, crap, not again…' It's like, what are you contributing? Absolutely nothing.
Outside of the graphic art work, what else do you do in your spare time?
Umm… I live at home with my parents because it is too expensive to live around here in New York. Besides that, I've got my digital studio here in my room. I've got these boxes that Roland makes, these hard-disk recorders. One is a 16-track and one is an 8-track, but I've been real neglectful since I got my computer because I've been messing around online, learning Photoshop and all this other stuff. If I wanted to, I could make album-quality stuff in my room, which I used to - weird ambient stuff. Other than that, just a normal laugh: go out with my friends, have a few drinks, a few laughs. Pretty much normal shit, you know, I don't go out and kill people or anything.
Do you spend much time on the Internet?
Yeah, I mess around, I'll look at certain sites and stuff, but after a while it gets boring. It comes in very handy like, let's say, I want a book for my computer - I mean, this isn't very interesting in the scope of metal, but… - let's say I want to learn about Adobe Illustrator and I've got a pirated version. So, I can go on the Internet to Barnes & Noble or something, find the book I want, order it and it comes in a week later. I go on some black and death metal web-sites, look around, say 'hi' to people, shit like that.
The Plague Web-Zine, 1999