May 10, 1999
Taken from: Metal Update
Interviewed by Eric German
S.O.D. Interview 1999
Stormtroopers Of Death started out in 1985 as the side project for members of a little-known band called Anthrax. In a time that saw both metal and hardcore boasting strong underground scenes, S.O.D.'s 'Speak English Or Die' united both camps and helped define the word crossover. Since then, we've seen the band's respective members march into the metal consciousness as Anthrax flourished, and bands like Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth, and M.O.D. were born. In 1999, it seems that the climate is right for Sgt. D to come out of hiding and this time he has a host of war-torn metal veterans to back him up. The recent release of 'Bigger Than The Devil' allowed the opportunity to get vocalist Billy Milano's take on this legendary act.
Metal Update: Let me take this opportunity to welcome you and S.O.D. back to the heavy metal scene circa 1999.
Billy Milano: Cool. Thank you.
MU: What brings about this reunion, this resurrection of Sgt. D.?
BM: Well, actually, we just look at it more as a continuation. But certainly, we are playing again and, uh, I think we just wanna have fun. We all have our lives straightened out, as far as what we're doing with them, and they all wanted to get together and play and I thought it'd be fun.
MU: What the fuck, right?
BM: Fuck everybody, I wanna have fun.
MU: So, Billy, the big question is, can you still do the Milano Mosh in 1999?
BM: Big time. Not only can I do the Milano Mosh, I can do the Milano Crush. A lot bigger, a lot meaner.
MU: What is the Milano Mosh all about? Is it one of those things where two guys are spinnin' each other around in circles, or perhaps one of those wild fisticuffs-in-all-directions things?
BM: It's more of an attitude. It's an attitude.
MU: OK, Billy, let's go back, when did 'Speak English or Die' come out?
BM: It came out in 1985 on Megaforce records.
MU: And, speaking of Megaforce, any contact with Jon and Marsha Zazula?
BM: Actually, I'm always in contact with Jon and Marsha. Even though they' re not a label anymore, it's more of like a catalog situation with them, and not an active label. I've remained friendly with them. Over the years, I' ve matured a lot and they definitely, you know, have become a lot more easy to approach and a lot more, let's say, less business. You know, it's a good relationship, it's a good friendship. I do other things with them, I work at a - I own part of a studio. Big Blue Meenie. We just bought a new building in New Jersey. One of the things that we have is a small record label.
MU: What's the name of the label?
BM: Black Pumpkin. And we use, actually Jonny and Marsha to distribute Black Pumpkin through ADA, cause Jon sits on the board of directors for Atlantic Distribution. So we've got national distribution with a little mom and pop record label that sells - you know, some records are like 400 and 300 pieces.
MU: What's the biggest act?
BM: Well, I don't know if there's a biggest act. There certainly are different things. There's some pop-punk and things like that. More of compilations - like when they did the 'New York's Hardest' run - we're doing a 'New York's Hardest 3' with S.O.D. and Agnostic Front on it. We're more geared right now towards the finalization of the studio that we bought. We bought Quantum. And we've got a beautiful studio here and that's what we're putting all our efforts in right now.
MU: Let's go back in time a little bit, back to 1985. I bet you there are a lot of people who will get into this record this time around that are new to the whole S.O.D. thing. How did this whole thing come together the first time around?
BM: It basically happened as a result of the guys from Anthrax goin' to a Psychos show in New York City - always going to these hardcore shows, Agnostic Front, Murphy's Law, back in the day at CBGB's, because they were fans of the music. And there were just a couple guys that wanted to be with the guys with the long hair. I always thought that was stupid, I was never a part of that kind of mentality.
MU: Are you a metalhead? Or were you a metalhead in '85?
BM: I listen to all music. I grew up with four brothers. So, you know, whatever was the loudest stereo at the house at the time was what I listened to. And, you know, it was between the Dead and Zeppelin. I like music, you know.
MU: So we're back in '85 . . .
BM: So I met these guys, and they were just doin' this side project, cause they were really influenced by what they were seeing.
MU: Did they already have it together and they were looking for someone to sing?
BM: Yeah, they had it together. I didn't know these guys really that well, other than that I approached them and spoke with them several times.
MU: What record was Anthrax on at that time?
BM: 'Fistful of Metal'.
MU: So you hadn't heard the record or you didn't care?
BM: No, who cares? All I heard was that these guys were going into a studio, and they had this hardcore project they were doin', and I said, hey, man - 'cause I'm an opportunist - I said, hey, I never been into a real studio, this could be an opportunity to move the Psychos forward. Which was the band I was playing bass in.
MU: Did they [S.O.D.] have songs written at the time?
BM: I believe they had some of it written. I don't know if they had all of it written.
MU: Billy, you seem like you almost are Sgt. D., I mean, that's the fan's perspective. The lyrics that come out, are those your words?
BM: You know, the bottom line is, it's more of my attitude than my words.
MU: So who writes the words?
BM: We all do.
MU: And who wrote the stuff mostly on that first record?
BM: Ian mostly wrote everything. The two songs that I wrote were - I wrote "Pi Alpha Nu" and "No Turning Back", like the more hardcore styles.
MU: And was Lilker in Anthrax at the time?
BM: No, he'd just got thrown out.
MU: But yet they're still friends, to do this thing?
BM: Well, I mean, they were childhood friends. That's just the way it works.
MU: So the shit just went way back, and business is business -- it doesn't mean friends can't get together and jam?
BM: That's right, you know. I don't think Scott - Scott didn't want to get rid of Lilker, it was the singer at the time, which I believe was Neil Turbin.
MU: And we all know how long that lineup lasted.
BM: Exactly. (laughs) One record.
MU: So S.O.D. comes out in 1985. Did that first record sell?
BM: You know it sold really well for the first two years, but it blew up after that. You know we were on the music for Headbanger's Ball for like four years.
MU: How did that come together?
BM: I have no idea. I know that the manager had something to do with it, which was Jonny Z. I never received any recompense from it. Certainly we obviously received some notoriety from it.
MU: Did you stay in touch with Lilker, Benante, and Ian during the down years?
BM: For the most part, we just said hello when we saw each other. We all did our own thing. I played in M.O.D. for a while.
MU: Was M.O.D. ever supposed to be in any way connected to S.O.D.?
BM: No, not at all. The thing was, first of all, I'm a bass player. I'm not a singer. I don't like to sing. You know, I've been conned into being a singer. While I was trying to do a band. I wanted to play bass. I did not want to sing. And, after S.O.D., no one wanted to talk to me about playin' the bass. They all wanted to talk to me about singing. I find that amusing since I can't sing to save my life.
MU: Well, dude, you said it yourself - it's all about the attitude. Right?
MU: The kind of shit you're doing isn't about hitting all the right operatic high notes.
BM: (laughs) Right.
MU: So, anyway, you guys weren't like great friends.
BM: We had something linking us together. You know, in life - it's whatever? You don't have to see someone you went to high school with every day to know he's your friend. That's the way it was. They went about their business, I went about mine.
MU: What did you think of the material Anthrax was producing in those days.
BM: Well, you know . . .
MU: C'mon, when you saw Joey Belladonna running around in knee-length flowered shorts, did you think he was cool?
BM: Umm . . . No. I mean, I wasn't a fan of the band. I was a fan of their first two records, I thought they were genuine. After that they became very "dis-in-genuine." But then again, it's all part of the facade of music.
MU: What do you think of the new shit with Jon Bush?
BM: I don't know. I'm indifferent to it. To me, it's not Anthrax. But, I like Jon Bush, he's a really nice guy.
MU: Isn't it Anthrax though? When Scott Ian is riffing and Charlie Benante is playing drums - isn't that a long way toward Anthrax no matter who else is playing?
BM: No. Mmmm . . .
MU: Some of the tunes on 'Bigger Than the Devil' sound Anthraxian at times.
BM: Mmm . . . Anthrax from what year though? The new stuff sounds like fuckin' Alice in Chains to me. It has that very Seattlish, grungy feel.
MU: Well one song on the album sounds undeniably like something on an Anthrax record - "Aren't You Hungry". What's the story behind that?
BM: Well "Aren't You Hungry" was written in 1985 by S.O.D. When S.O.D. wasn't gonna do a second record, we had all this music and lyrics that we had written which turned into 'USA for M.O.D.', and turned into some of 'Among the Living'. "I Am the Law" was an S.O.D. riff. "Imitation of Life" was S.O.D. And some of "Indians" was S.O.D.
MU: Those were some of the biggest hits from that record.
BM: Well, there you go. S.O.D. rocks.
MU: (laughs) Did you care about them using the riffs?
BM: I don't care. It's not something I have a patent on, you know what I'm sayin'? It's just somethin' that happens. Better that it be used than not used.
MU: Did you pay attention to Danny Lilker's career?
BM: I went to see Nuclear Assault in all those days. But, you know, they played L'Amour's every month. (laughs) It's like, how much can you see of this band?
MU: Nuclear Assault was a lot closer to your familiar punk vibe than Anthrax ever was.
BM: Without a doubt. I think Anthrax was never an underground band. But whatever, you know? I think Nuclear Assault was definitely aiming for that thrashy, kinda metal, kinda feel, and Anthrax is desperately trying to get away from it.
MU: What got you guys back together in 1999? Who called who?
BM: Actually, Scott called me up and asked if I would be interested in doing it and I told him no.
MU: Did he just have an itch to do it?
BM: Yeah, I think he did. Because, you know, Anthrax's new album did mediocre. And they had all this downtime after touring and they had a problem with their record label again. And it was just one of those things. And basically what it came down to was, they wrote without me for a couple of months 'til I was able to be convinced to do it.
MU: Did they approach anyone else to sing in the meantime?
BM: I have no idea. Who could replace me?
MU: (laughs) You're bigger than the devil, right?
BM: I didn't want to even do it - if they wanted to get someone else, fine. I told 'em to get someone else, they didn't want to do it.
MU: So what changed your mind?
BM: Basically, I told them there were certain criteria that it would have to meet if I was going to do it. One was to perform live to a certain degree. The other thing was, if I liked the music I would do it. I don't care. And would not sign a contract until we had the music. They had a lot of stuff. They had a lot of songs already written, 'cause I had not talked to them for a couple months when they were talking about doing it. And I just didn't really want to do it. I'm happy with my life right now. I have a nice studio. I have a nice management company. I'm content.
MU: Are you playing any bass?
BM: I'm playing guitar, and I write music still. I produce. That's really where I'm going. I have a nice studio, I have a nice facility to transport myself into the next level. I really want to do that.
MU: Is S.O.D. a metal band?
BM: I don't know, it's a band.
MU: There's a lot of heavy metal references on both records.
BM: As far as . . .
MU: For instance, "Celtic Frosted Flakes". Whose idea was it to ask whatever happened to Celtic Frost?
BM: Actually, it was my idea.
MU: Were you a Celtic Frost fan back in the day?
BM: Back in the day, the first two records, I think, were really great records.
MU: So whatever happened to Celtic Frost?
BM: I believe that Tom Warrior's playing in a band called Apollyon's Sun? Which is . . . I don't want to say techno, but it has that kind of feel to it.
MU: Did anyone talk to Tom about the song?
BM: No. But we're actually playing a show with them. They're reuniting. Celtic Frost. For With Full Force.
MU: Are you doing a bunch of European summer festivals?
BM: Yeah, we're gonna play a few of them. We're actually only doing about two weeks of shows in Europe.
MU: Are you gonna yell "Speak English or Die" from the stage?
BM: Of course! (laughs) We played a show in 1997 in Germany at a big festival. I had 25,000 Germans yelling "speak english or die" which is kinda fuckin' ironic because those bastards wanted us to speak German, you know?
MU: The album cover is a parody of 'The Number of the Beast'. Who thought of that?
BM: Actually Twiggy from Marilyn Manson gave us the idea.
MU: (laughs) How do you guys find yourself hanging out with Twiggy from Marilyn Manson talking about what the new S.O.D. album cover should look like?
BM: Well, Scott's friends with Twiggy. He knows him, 'cause he's from that whole L.A. scene. And that's where Scott is right now, he lives in L.A. One night after rehearsal he said "we're all going to Manson," and I said, "OK, I'll see you guys later." And he says, "no, you're going too." And I was like, "I'm not going to see those fuckin' freaks." But I wound up going. And I'll usually leave after two songs if I'm seeing a band I don't like, that's usually my thing. So Scott sat there all night watching me watch the stage. They were a great live band. They were theatrical. They were professional. And they were fucking heavy. And I didn't know any of their music. I knew what? The MTV song, "Sweet Dreams" is what I knew. And they were just a great fucking live band. They just blew me away. I wonder if it was more of my inability to want to like a band like that . . .
MU: . . . you had low expectations . . .
BM: Fuckin' no expectations! I wanted to leave. But as soon as they played, it was great. I was blown away.
MU: Know the show "All in the Family"? Or "Beavis and Butthead"?
MU: You can watch shows like those one of two ways. You can laugh at the characters because of their brilliantly satirical ability to skewer the stereotypical racist pig, or you can laugh 'cause you really think the things the characters say are funny. How should fans laugh at the politically incorrect humor found in S.O.D.?
BM: You know what? If people take the shit seriously, they deserve to be offended. People are too fucking serious. Music is entertainment. And you know what, I am guilty of the same thing. I went to Marilyn Manson saying "those fucking freaks, they're disgusting." And I left saying, "you know what, that was entertainment." I left smilin'. And that's what S.O.D. is about. If people don't like it, they can fuck off. Go put your Korn record on.
MU: So is the Iron Maiden cover parody a mockery or a tribute?
BM: I mean it's a bust on all that satanic music - we're bigger . . . that whole image thing. Or you could say hey, you know this is a reference to the eighties, which is where we were.
MU: So on some level it's a tribute.
BM: I'm a huge Maiden fan. I love Maiden. I like their early stuff.
MU: You know they're back together.
BM: Of course. We got a call from their manager about the record cover. Trying to sue us. I think it's hilarious.
MU: Seriously, they're pissed about that?
BM: No, I don't think they're pissed. They just wanted to see it. They were a little surprised that it's coming out. But if you look at the original album cover, and the S.O.D. cover, its two different covers. They' ve completely repainted. That's the difference.
MU: The metal scene has done a lot of reflecting on its past lately.
BM: I think its more indicative of a looking back to the purist kinda attitude. Everything that's getting recognition today has people wearing makeup, carrying swords. What the fuck is that? Get the fuck out of here. What, are you kidding me?
MU: Let's talk about the infamous S.O.D. ballads. I heard you had a couple of works in progress?
BM: Like what?
MU: Hmm . . . let's see. "The Ballad of Layne Stayley"?
BM: We're waiting for him to kick it.
MU: Scott Weiland?
BM: We'll be ready.
MU: The ballads, of course, are a tribute, right?
BM: To a certain degree.
MU: Michael Hutchence, Jimi Hendrix, and Phil Hartman. By the way, who is the Simpsons fan in the band?
BM: We're all pretty much into The Simpsons. You have to look at it and put it in perspective. The Simpsons is probably the only true reflection of American society on TV. It's as retarded as you can get, but yet its so concise, and so perfect, and so pigeonholed, where it directly reflects - it directly reflects American society. Without a doubt. It's the most realistic version.
MU: I like the Simpsons-style band caricatures on the sleeve. That's part of the fun of S.O.D. - its just a big collection of fun, cool shit.
BM: Well, that's the whole thing. You can look at life with two different pairs of eyes. You can look at everything very seriously and not enjoy any of it, or you can look at things very lightheartedly and just enjoy all of it. You either want to enjoy it or you don't. And we do.
MU: Why is there always a war going on every time S.O.D. gets back together?
BM: Don't blame us though. (laughs) It looks like conflict follows us. Someone else has brought this up. In '85 it happened too, with the Iran-Contra Affair.
MU: What musical differences can you articulate between S.O.D. of 1999 and S.O.D. of 1985?
BM: First of all, the only thing we physically may have been affected by was our age, and our wisdom, and our life experience. Certainly, boys of twenty don't have the vision of men of thirty-five. And I think that's how we view it. We just look a things little bit more satirically, a little bit darker, and we're a lot more aggressive about it 'cause we're smarter.
MU: Are you on the internet, Billy?
BM: Yes, I am.
MU: How do you think the internet changes the equation for a band like S.O.D. in 1999?
BM: I don't know if it really changes it. In fact, I think the internet and things like that have actually limited people to a certain degree. In my assessment, it just doesn't allow people to be communal. Even though they have this community, this network, that they get on, where there's obviously an interaction between people - there's no physical interaction. I don't think that it's good, I don't think that it's bad. I just think that it's - it doesn't affect music. Part of the music culture is meeting people.
MU: Maybe that's why, when you talk about this reunion, you say you want to get out there and play live. That's more important to you than people reading about the shit on the internet.
BM: Well, that's not true. Cause one thing I'm not gonna really do is go out and tour like crazy.
MU: We know Sgt. D. is coming, but who the hell's on his list this time around?
BM: I think, right now, everyone's on the list. Lazy people, stupid people, whatever, society, everything. Organized religion, politics . . .
MU: Where you gonna take the live show?
BM: I don't know. I know we're doin' like two weeks in Europe with festivals. We're doing five shows in Japan. And, I think, for now, that's all we're doin'. Cause I don't really know what I want to do. Again, I've got a management company, I've got a studio . . .
MU: You've gotta play the U.S., Billy.
BM: You know, certainly we will within reason. I don't know. I can't tell what these guys are gonna want to do.
MU: I saw the show at Coney Island High in New York City a couple of months ago, it was one of the best gigs I've seen this year, it was so much fun.
BM: Ah, it was great. There you go, it was so much fun, you didn't have to come there with your spikes. And you just had to laugh. I was drunk off my ass.
MU: And it sounded great, and I think that there's a whole new generation of kids that need to . . .
BM: That need to lighten up?
MU: . . . they need to check this shit out! This album really has the potential to sell to a wide variety of fans. Do you think about shit like that?
BM: Not at all. I don't really care.
MU: Hardcore kids can get into it, metal, death metal . . .
BM: Let me explain something to you. I don't really care. The fact of the matter is, I did another record with S.O.D. that I'm proud of. To me, it's not better or it's not worse, it's S.O.D. It's the same watermark record as 1985. Even though 'Speak English or Die' has this cult status, this record definitely stands on its own. It doesn't have to have a first record. This could literally be a brand new band with a brand new record. So I'm not really worried about what anyone else thinks. I don't care about how much it sells. I know that I, personally, have a great deal of satisfaction.
MU: So, this isn't at all about getting' paid?
BM: Listen to me, you want to see what I do for a livin'? Look at my studio on-line. I've got a fuckin' million dollar console in one room. I've got a four million dollar studio. I don't give a fuck.
MU: You don't care if this record's bigger than the devil?
BM: You know what the truth is, put me onstage with anyone. I have nothing to lose. I'll blow away any fucking band that comes in. Because I don't care. I'm not worried about t-shirts. I'm not worried about getting paid. I'll go up there with the attitude that needs to be seen that doesn't get seen. And that's how you win. You win by not caring.
MU: What are you listening to these days?
BM: I listen to a lot of different stuff. I work with the U.S. Bombs, I love their record. I love Manowar. (laughs) I love Pavarotti.
MU: You laugh when you say Manowar.
BM: Because everyone laughs at Manowar! I'll tell you what, they're the heaviest fuckin' band live I've ever seen.
MU: They just played at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival.
BM: How was that?
BM: I happen to like the band because I think, genuinely, they do one thing that everyone lacks the ability to do - which is entertain. Isn't the ultimate goal of every musician to be an entertainer?
MU: Is that why you like Marilyn Manson?
BM: Exactly. I mean look, not for nothin', if they sucked live, they wouldn't be where they are right now. They really have come of age as writers and as musicians. I think they're a great band. I don't care what anyone says, I'll debate it to the end, and more importantly, believe it or not, they are really genuine people. I've only met Twiggy a few times, I've talked to him several times, had beers with him. Seen Marilyn Manson three times, and three times in a row I was blown away. I haven't been blown away by a live show since Rush.
MU: I like them a lot better now that I know that Twiggy thought of the album cover. Cause that's funny as hell, dude.
BM: Yeah, I think it's pretty funny.
MU: Any idea how long you'll be reunited for or if it's a one off deal?
BM: It's not a reunion! It's just a continuation of the madness. It lasts as long as everyone keeps it in their hearts. It lasted 14 years without us playing 22 gigs.
MU: Who really holds the cards on how long this will go on?
BM: Me. That's what I try to tell other people. There's only one boss of this company and that's me. And that's not because I want to be the boss, it's because I have an agenda in my life. I've gone into different avenues with my life and I have to respect my agenda, as far as a manager and as far as a studio owner. And that's what I do and people have gotta get used to it, including my own band. In all honesty, I'm the busiest one. It's funny.
MU: Right now Scott and Charlie don't know what's up with Anthrax?
BM: I don't know. I know that they're trying to get their record situation rectified cause they have problems with distribution again.
MU: But you've got day-to-day shit to take care of.
BM: Sure. They're doin' the band for a living. They're in a different environment than I am. I run a studio and I run a management company. I'm sitting behind a desk, they're sitting behind a guy in front of them on a bus. That' not what I'm about anymore. I've done it, I've seen it and you know, it's all cool, it's all good. I respect what I've done in music and more importantly, it's part of the growing pains that I've had.
MU: So there'll never be another M.O.D. record as far as you can see?
BM: You never know, you know? And this is the truth, I've been offered a record deal already for M.O.D. because everyone knows already that S.O.D.'s coming out. It's obvious that it could be piggybacked on it, success-wise, for a record label and that's what it comes down to. The truth of the matter is, do I want to do another M.O.D. record? I don't know. I don't know if I can write something honest. If I could write an honest record, if I can say something that I have to say, if I could prove to myself - and this is the thing, I don't give a fuck what anyone says - if I could prove to me, that I have something to say, than I'm going to say it. That's why I did S.O.D. When I heard what they did - when they were writing music - I said, okay, I see it's going to be a legit thing, they're not trying to cash in on it. And then I sat down and set my goal up to the band and said, "this is what I'm doing, you either go with me or forget it or I'm not gonna do it."
MU: And you're just keepin' it real, right?
BM: I don't wanna say keeping it real. It's too cheesy. What I will say is, I just wanna do what I do and if people don't like it, fine. I don't give a fuck if this record sells, I really don't, cause I know I did a good record and I know that everyone else is gonna have to fuckin' admit it.
MU: You have any final words for the Metal Update readers?
BM: Yeah. Everything's a fucking joke. If you take this record seriously, and you're offended, then you deserve to be.
May 1999, Eric German