Taken from: Unchain
Interview by: Rob Aloi
Interview with Billy Milano
Although it's been over 14 years since the infamous debut of S.O.D's Speak English Or Die, the band undoubtedly remains as a testament to the world of crossover music worldwide. Deemed too unpolitically correct by most conservative ears, the debut had raised quite a few eyebrows which unfortunately resulted in it being banned in Canada Lyrically, it attacked a multitude of social issues head on in perhaps, the most rude and offensive manner possible. Yet, in all of its crude pomposity, the band instantaneously achieved the kind of status only few could ever imagine. Originally, the band was more or less inspired by a rather crude comic book character drawn by guitarist Scott Ian and was even intended as a mere joke. Ironically, however the concept blew up into an overnight sensation and as a result, became an identity for some of the more disenfranchised of youth nationwide. Unfortunately, the band was abruptly put on hold due to drummer Charlie's and guitarist Scott's priority to Anthrax. Although they intended to eventually write and record a follow up to the monstrous debut, vocalist Billy Milano soon lost interest and decided to quit pursuing other projects in mind. That, along with Scott and Billy's personal differences made the idea of a second album seem all the more unfathomable. However, after doing a series of one off reunion shows, eventually all four members agreed that the legacy of S.O.D was far too young and precious to die such an untimely death. Thus, putting aside all of their differences both Scott and Billy (Milano, the vocalist) wasted no time in writing and recording the much anticipated second album. Sporting a much more cleaner, streamlined yet pummeling sound, Bigger Than the Devil proves to be yet just another classic within the realm of HC/Metal crossover. Though, as modest as he seems vocalist Billy Milano is definitely well content about the welcome his new album has received. Big, burly, and brash but at times uniquely sentimental, Mr. Milano displays the kind of persona quite fitting for a politician. Sincere and unapologetic, Billy Milano says things that we often dream about openly saying and if this interview proves as sufficient evidence, then I suggest you read on.
R: Greetings and congrats on the new album. I have to admit that you guys really outdid yourselves this time around. Now did you expect this album to become an instant favorite?
B: Well, I didn't know what to expect. I think I've learned over the years not to expect anything but just to prepare for everything.
R: Well, what inspired you to finally release another album after 14 years?
B: You know, I often ask myself that as well. I mean, I was already working, doing my own thing. I'm involved with the business end of the music industry but these guys were interested in doing it and I just thought it would be something fun to do because I work so hard at what I do that I thought it would make things a little more fresh and exciting.
R: Right, I take it that when you mentioned about being on the business end of the music industry, you were referring to being manager for hardcore veterans Agnostic Front. Now have you found it difficult in trying to fit the responsibilities of both performer and manager in your daily schedule? How frustrating has it become at this point?
B: Well, it's frustrating because people want hands on service as far as management is concerned. So I've had to curtail a lot of my personal life to do this. I still manage Agnostic Front and I'm also manager for the U.S. Bombs. So it's like for me, a matter of prioritizing. I'm either going to be a manager and be in a band or I'm just going to be in a band and a get a job. So this is what I choose to do. I want to, believe it or not, become the king of e-mails, ya know like become the big savior of my business because I'm pretty hands on when it comes to the internet.
R: Well, since you mention it, the internet has indeed played a big part as far as promoting and distribution is concerned. Thus, has it helped the entire heavy music scene to a certain extent and/or has it hurt it to some degree as well?
B: Well, I don't like to put things in perspective of "heavy" or "metal" as far as the scene goes. To me, it's just one gigantic music scene which everyone is a part of. I just think the crossover crowds these days are much more dramatic than it was even back in '85. However, I think the internet has allowed people to communicate with each other in a fashion that is really helping the expansion of bands' fanbases. So no longer do you just go out and do demos, you get a webpage instead. So it's helped a lot and it certainly hasn't hurt and certainly have to get with the times. If you not on it then you're off it, know what I'm saying?
R: Oh definitely, I have to agree with you there but on the other hand, I've often discovered that the internet has also become a source for lies and malicious rumors, usually started by people who've either got their info from such unreliable sources or perhaps by those who are looking to create some sort of a stir? Has that occurred with S.O.D recently?
B: Of course, about hundreds or thousands of times but that's just the way it is. You can either acknowledge it, fight it, or just ignore it and sometimes ignoring it is the best way to do it. I'm not going to give anyone credibility or creedence for bullshit rumors. Plus, you know what the truth is, I don't have time in my day to play games with people that are jealous or people that are uptight with the way that I do things. So I couldn't care less.
R: I understand. I also understand that at times you can become very straight up and honest when it comes to dealing with certain people. So how do people often find working with you? Do they often mistake your bluntness for arrogance or do a lot of them tend to understand you better that way?
B: Well, how I perceive the people that perceive me is simply that people know that I say what I feel and I speak my mind. It's better that you do this for the sake of ethical practice for business and I don't think people are intimidated by me. I really don't take that kind of demeanour when it comes to business and certainly I have grown up a lot since the days of the 80's. My decorum is a lot better, let me put it to you that way.
R: Of course without a doubt, but this leads me to my next question. Considering some of the more blatantly offensive material in some of your songs (that is as perceived by a lot of outsiders to what the band is all about), was it your intention originally with S.O.D to kind of stir up a reaction amongst some of the conservative types?
B: You know, I don't know what we were trying to do but apparently we did it well because people are still talking about it, 14 years later. I think our real issue was to just come out and take a piss on everybody meaning just to have fun at the expense of everyone who takes things so seriously in life. I don't think we were trying to make a statement other than trying to make people think about certain things so that people would think on accord. I personally believe that a lot of the political correctness that's going on in today's music scene is more of a follow-the-leader kind of attitude rather than truly finding out what one feels within themselves. If everyone spoke ther opinion, I mean not everyone might agree and it may not be all that you want to hear but at least you know where everyone stands and one of the things we wanted to do with S.O.D or what we wound up doing was making people come to blows with their demons, ya know making people think for themselves.
R: However, with the 90's being more politically correct than before, I'd imagine that more people would perhaps take offense to the sarcasm on the new record. What's your whole outlook on that?
B: Nothing, I couldn't care less to tell you the truth. I'm not worried about what someone is going to say and I'm not going to be put into a position that I feel I have to defend myself in the media. Simply put, I don't care where we sit when it comes to comparisons to all of these other bands because most of these other bands are full of shit. They're full of themselves and I don't agree with being a lamb. I'm a wolf and that's just the way I am. I have to be a predator. I have to be aggressive in everything I do and I have to think for myself. I just can't follow the sheep in front of me because it's wagging its tail.
R: Well, what is it that fuels such ferocity within you? Is it things in general that you find discontent in or does a lot of your anger stem mainly from deeply personal matters?
B: Well, I'm a very even-tempered person, believe it or not. It's just that I think... Well, I don't know, I really couldn't answer that. I guess just getting up everyday and seeing the world for what it is doesn't mean I'm going to change it but at least what I do is look at it in a light that may inspire someone to... Ahh! I don't know. Maybe I'm just full of shit or full of myself and I just want to be a prick so I can piss people off. So I don't even know myself at this point anymore. On one hand, I'm just basically a business guy doing business for a living and on the other hand, I put on this character and go out and play Billy Milano, ya know what I'm saying? It's as much of a character to me as it is to anyone else, and perhaps that's what needs to be done. Sometimes the best way to look at an issue is to make a confrontational overview.
R: What has been some of the biggest reactions to S.O.D by far and have any of these reactions left an everlasting impression which might have been misinterpreted even today?
B: Well, what it comes down to is... one of the things I have been coming to terms with is the fact that not everyone is going to be a fan of this band, whether it's in what we say or what we do and I've come to the conclusion that I don't care. It's the same with people's reactions even if they were positive. I mean, I'm doing my thing. I'm having fun with S.O.D and people are either going to have fun with me or they're going to be passed by in the end because I'm not going to sit around and worry what everyone else wants to do or what everyone else thinks. If I were to do that, I'd get nowhere.
R: Of course, I'd agree wholeheartedly that one of the main reasons to start a band to begin with is to have fun, but in this case how far should fun be taken? For instance, take the song "Skool Bus" where the first two lines in the lyrics read, "Kill the chinks, Kill the spics, etc. etc." Granted, the song is actually a statement AGAINST racism, but wouldn't the sarcasm in these lines tend to arouse some sort of shock anyway?
B: Well, without a doubt. The truth is, someone once asked if I had the chance to sit down and tell everyone what my lyrics were about, would I do it? Well, my answer is "No" because my thing is to be thought provoking. I don't want people to to listen to what I have to say lyrically and then ask me what I meant. I think that goes beyond the function of what I have to do. What I want to do is make people come to their own conclusion, good or bad. So when you spark people into a train of thought; into a mode of thinking then you can either enlighten them or alienate them at that point. Once people read my interviews or read the lyrics, they want to know more. They want to find out for themselves what's really up. But the lyrics are kind of very aggressive and kind of very thought provoking and very politically incorrect. Yet they're more politically correct in the actual politically correct thought.
R: Do you find yourself becoming all the more thought provoking with your music because maybe perhaps, there have been other bands out there that might have been afraid to go to the level which S.O.D has gone?
B: Hmm.. I personally feel that what I approach in music are issues that are funny, provocative, intelligent, and arguable in all facets. What I'm saying is not literally the one true truth. I don't think there is one true truth to anything I've said but again what I'm expressing is personal opinion at times and I'm being extremely satirical about it. That's the thing here to understand. A lot of the people out there in the music industry are probably afraid to approach these issues for the sake of say, job security whereas I don't care because I already have a job and I do well with it, thank God. I mean, I want to be able to make people think. I think it's my duty to make people look at issues even though our music isn't always about issues. Sometimes it's just about having fun and that's important too. Also, I think live, one of the things I don't do is sit there and preach like a lot of these other bands do. People aren't coming there to be preached to. They're coming there to laugh and smile and have a good time. At the end of the day it's entertainment that wins people over, not just my lyrics; not just my brashness.
R: Agreed, and relating to what you're saying, I know that whenever I look to go to local club and see a show, I like to get my money's worth. If I want a sermon then I'll go to church.
B: Exactly! Well, there you go. I think the big issue here is the fact that people want to live a fantasy when they go out. They don't want to leave work to have to look at the hard issues in life and be disgusted. And they don't want to hear about "keepin' it real" and all this shit. They'd just rather do their own thing.
R: Oh most definitely. Now of course, you've become a staple in the whole crossover scene over the last 12 years or so, so do you find that more and people nowadays identify with you during a live setting?
B: Well, I think the thing here is people understand me because I do things that most people only dream about doing. I'm like that guy on T.V. where everyone says, "Oh, look at him. He did this. I could have done that," but they didn't. I say things that make people happy or sad or mad or whatever and people want to do these things but they just never do it. However, when I do it, it's like their safe way of being able to do what I do. And people, when they meet me, they realize, "Hey, maybe's not like what he's made out to be," which is true because everyone makes me out to be a monster because it's part of the shell, ya know what I'm saying? The truth of the matter is, I don't think anyone has anything really negative to say about me once they meet me. They're actually very positive about meeting me which is why I have done so well in the business that I've worked with, which happens to be the management and studio business. I'm able to meet people on a first hand basis and they're kind of taken back that they had preconceived judgements of me. So that's just the way it is.
R: Well said, and as I touched upon very briefly before, I think that's where the subject of rumors tends to come in. I mean, nowadays when I log on to AOL, there's all these message boards where people can post info about their favorite band or just share a constructive idea or two. However, most of the time you get these adolescent-minded teenagers who have nothing else better to do but draw attention to themselves.
B: Well, you know what AOL is? AOL is like a big brother for these kids. It's someone to stand behind them when they're writing these little messages to everybody so that they feel safe. Most people won't say shit to my face because #1, I'm 270 lbs., so I'd kick the shit out of anyone who says anything about me on a one to one basis, and that's the fucking facts; #2, not only could I win the physical battle but I can pummel them on the intellectual battle and believe me, I have! So most people don't like to confront me because I'm a lot more than just a big mouth and a loud voice. So when people find out, it's a little too late.
R: Understood. Now do you suppose that one of the reasons why you got S.O.D off the ground again was to make a statement against the so-called "Nu-Metal" trend that's come about as of late? I'm referring to, of course, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Deftones, Coal Chamber, etc. What's your whole take on that?
B: Well, I don't like these bands. I don't like Korn. Deftones are okay. I know those guys so I'll be honest with you, that's why I think they're okay but the fact is simply, that's the new generation. Someone had asked me recently while I was on tour in Europe, "Why is S.O.D bringing out an unsigned band?" We brought out this band 40 Grit from California and it was just a very simple statement I made. It was because I know eventually I'm going to want to pass the torch and that's one of the duties of a band. Also, being in a band you have to come to terms with the fact that there's always going to be the up-and-coming next and you have to respect that. Even though I don't like Korn and Limp Bizkit and all of this shit, especially since it's all very contrived and very based on production rather than balls out which it all claims to be, I know that eventually there's not going to be a place for Billy Milano in music and these are the guys that are taking the place. They stepped up and have done well for themselves. I only recognize them for that single fact alone because they are doing good, they're doing what they want to do, and they're doing it on their own terms which I think is great when it comes down to it.
R: Come to think of it, considering not only you but Danny, Scott, and Charlie as well, I'd imagine that at one point in time people felt the same way about S.O.D, being such a high profile act and all. What I'm saying is considering both Charlie's and Scott's affiliation with the commercially viable Anthrax and Danny's reputation in the U.S. Grind and Death scene, I take it that some people might have viewed S.O.D as just another attempt at cashing in on the likeliness of their other outfits' fanbases. Thus, I'm sure a lot of these people were expecting a "supergroup" of sorts doing high profile tours with the likes of Korn and Deftones, as openers.
B: Well, I'm sure that's what they think. I mean, look if one of these bands called me up, I'd be a fucking liar if I said I wouldn't jump at the chance to go tour with them because it would be a life's experience and that's what I'm about; learning and growing from life's experience. I've made more business contacts as a result of me going out with S.O.D on the road for my management company than I have sittin' around in Hoboken. Do you know what I'm saying? I think one of the things I want to do is be able to do those things within reason. There's a fine line with this band. I mean, you have to realize something. As much as I'd like to do a Warped tour let's say, or an Ozzfest, I don't know if any of these people would get what I'm trying to do. It's not about standing out there and just singing my songs. Certainly the one thing I have always contended is that I can't sing for shit. I just think I'm an entertainer that does his act to music and I think this would be something cool to do if we were to go out with something like that. On the other hand, I don't know what it would be like for the people who really want to see the band because it wouldn't allow me to be me in the proper environment.
R: Yeah, I understand what you're saying. Being out in the open during a 40,000 plus festival is a lot different than being in a more intimate setting like a nightclub. At least in a nightclub, you're more up close and personal with the audience members.
B: Exactly, the one thing I don't want to be is put on display. I'm not a freakshow and that's exactly what I don't want to do but again there are certain things I would like to do as a performer eventually. However, I'm not saying yes or no to anything but what I'm saying is that certainly there is the ability to go out and do these things although I'd much prefer to do the smaller thing or rather the intimate thing as you put it.
R: Last question for the evening. Considering how S.O.D miraculously bridged both the HC and Metal audiences together with its unique sound, especially considering the fact that long hairs and skins were at each other's throats during the 80's, did you have any preconceived notions as to how this was going to go down with some of the most die hard of HC, or even Metal purists?
B: Well, we never made a conscious effort to do that. It just simply happened and I think that's why it happened because we didn't make an effort to make it happen. That was the beauty of what we did. It just really was an unconscious effort to do just we wanted to do. That's how it turned out. I mean, there's definitely a lasting impression for some music styles and bands that are playing have been afforded certain opportunities as a result of what we done. They've definitely taken it to other levels and that's the thing I'm talking about here. It's not as much as what I started or what I did, it's what they're doing now as a result. I'm not just talking about being a crossover band because we never made it a conscious effort to do that. Again, it just happened. What I'm talking about is the reality check the band puts into itself before it goes and points the finger at anybody. The band was a very real and very intimate kind of thing that just got really big and it's nothing that we personally planned.
1999, Rob Aloi