Erik Meade is a musician who has been a SF staple for decades. We met as neighbors in the Hayes District of San Fransisco in the mid 80's. Back then if you looked different, or wore a certain band t shirt you'd likely make conversation with others that also looked the part. Erik sort of became my mentor turning me onto some cool obscure punk/hardcore, and introduced me to other like minded folks in the Bay area. I moved back East in 1989 so we lost touch for over twenty years. I randomly ran into Erik while he was working at a record store about 8 years ago. It was crazy, and was weirdly emotional for me. I felt like I needed to tell him that he had influenced my entire life in a positive way through his influencing me musically. I ended up sending him everything I played on, and records I'd released over the years.
At any rate Erik has a long history of playing in tons of bands. One of those bands was the Florida death metal band Death. Death along with Possessed pretty much invented the death metal genre. I thought it would be cool to pick Erik's brain about his short time in the band. In my opinion he played on the best demo by this Legendary metal act.
Nate -You were one of the most open minded people I'd met in the 1980's San Francisco scene. You and your ex girlfriend Janis turned me onto a lot of different music and art back then. It was the punk/hardcore stuff that resonated with me. I still to this day have a tape you made me in 1985 with a bunch of East coast hardcore bands on it (76% Uncertain, Bad Brains, SSD, Sacred Denial, Beastie Boys ep, etc).You played bass in Death in 1985... I am trying to figure out the timeline because we were next door neighbors from late '85-1987. You were taking me to early meetings at Gilman Street as it was just being constructed, you introduced me to Tim Yo (who disliked me because I was metal dude), and you had me singing in a band you were doing with Short Dogs Grow, and Rhythm Pigs folks. Was this all taking place during the days you were in Death, or after it? How the hell did I miss this?
Erik -I would think it was during the period I was in Death, although it seems strange that I wouldn’t have mentioned it. It was probably just after I left, and I might not have mentioned it because, at the time, it didn’t seem important. LOL.
I'm sure I knew, but probably acted unimpressed because I was one of those metal dudes who was transforming into a hardcore kid, and I was rebelling against my metal roots. I'm WAY more impressed now...Haha. Did your days playing in Death end your playing in metal bands all together?
Erik - Yeah, I just played in punk and rock bands after that, as a guitarist, not a bass player.
How did you end up meeting Chuck and joining Death? What made him relocate from Florida to the Bay Area in '85?
Erik -Eric Brecht was playing metal with some guys in Oakland, and somehow, I had joined the group, I think as the singer. That project quickly fell apart, but a few weeks later Eric got a call from Chuck, who sent him some demo tapes. Eric was really excited about it, so when Chuck asked him if he knew any bass players, Eric asked me if I played bass. I didn’t really play bass much. I was a guitar player, but I said yes, and ran out and bought a bass. I then created a really ridiculous bass rig by putting my Roland guitar amp thru a 400 watt Sunn Power amp into a 4/12 guitar cabinet. It was an odd combo, but it worked. Chuck flew out a few weeks later and started staying at Eric’s place, and then with a girl named Amber who hung out in the scene. She drove him around everywhere while he was out here because he didn’t have car. I assume he moved here because the bay area had become the home of thrash metal.
How long did your time in the band last? Why did it end? Did Chuck continue with Death in the Bay Area after you guys were out, or did he move back to Florida?
Erik -We were only in the band for about six months and a few shows. then we had an argument with Chuck and he left. He just stormed out of the rehearsal room and that was that. I think he went back to Florida for a few months and then came back to SF, but I’m not 100% sure.
Did Eric Brecht quit DRI to Join Death? I recall seeing DRI at the Rock On Broadway once in 1985, and Eric approached his brother Kurt after the gig and started telling him about how he was jamming with Death. Kurt was totally supportive of everything Eric was telling him. It was a cool conversation that I dropped in on.
Erik - No, as I said, Eric had already left DRI when Chuck had called him. As for Kurt, as soon as we started rehearsing we got a call from Kurt, who was in Chicago touring with DRI. He said “You’ll never believe what some kid just gave me, It’s a tape of you guys rehearsing last week”. It turned out that Chuck had taped our rehearsals, and then dubbed copies and sent them to particular die hard fans in various cities, who then made copies for their friends. It was at that moment that I realized just how powerful and important the tape trading circuit was within the metal scene. That was why Chuck already had a fan base in SF before he even had an album out.
How old were you guys at the time?
Erik -I would have been 22, Chuck was 18 and I don't know how old Eric was, but probably 19 or 20.
Did you help in any of the song writing at all, or did Chuck move to the Bay Area with all the songs that you were going to play already written?
Erik - We worked on creating some of the songs that were on the first Death LP although over the years I’ve become a bit hazy about which songs, but overall they were Chucks ideas. We may have had a hand in some of the arrangements though. I bought the first LP when it came out just to see whether he gave us any credits, and was kind of amused to see that he’d gotten around the songwriting issue by simply not having any songwriting credits at all. I assume that was because he would also have the original members from Florida and Mantis to contend with. He may have claimed ownership on later pressings. but I don’t care. It was clearly his ideas.
Did you play on any of the demos or rehearsals that have been released through out the years?
Erik -Yes. I'm on the Back From the Dead demo which was the tape that Kurt Brecht heard in Chicago. Scott Carlson gave me a board recording of one of our Ruthie's Inn shows that is a much higher quality recording then Back from the Dead (which was recorded on a boom box). I've thought about trying to have an engineer clean up the Ruthie's tape and boost up the guitar tones if possible.
How many live gigs did you play with Death? Where were they? Most in Bay Area I assume?
Erik - As far as I can remember we only played three or four gigs total. All but one of them at Ruthie’s Inn in Berkley. The other one was at the Farm in SF with Mordred and the Rhythm Pigs.
I think I recall that you guys used to practice at Turk Street Studios in SF?
Erik- I honestly don’t remember where we rehearsed initially. It might have been Turk. But near the end we were rehearsing at a studio out by Potrero hill owned by Franco from MDC.
What was the reaction to the band by other local metal bands in the Bay Area at the time? Did they accept Chucks move to the area? Did they welcome the band? I recall much competition back then within the metal scene. Bands sort of competing to get signed, play bigger shows etc. Was Death involved in this crap?
Erik -I wasn’t really that familiar with the East bay metal scene since I was part of the punk scene in SF, and was only occasionally crossing paths with metal bands. But the first time we played Ruthie’s I was really surprised by how excited the kids there were to see us. You see, I had never heard of Death before Eric Brecht asked me if I’d want to play bass in the band. I thought they were just a band with a few home made cassette tapes out, which in punk circles meant you were just locally known. Death were from Florida so I figured nobody in the bay area had heard of them/us. I didn’t realize that within the metal scene tape trading homemade cassettes was a big deal, and true fans took it seriously. So at our first show there were actually people with our band logo painted on the back of their leather jackets who were all jacked up to see us. I also remember that the opening act at our first show was an Oakland band called Black Death who sounded an awful lot like us, and were really excited to be on the bill. It was an nice surprise for me. I think we either played with Sacrilege BC, or at least they were at the shows because I became friends with those guys thru Death, and later on when Dave Edwardson (of Sacrilege and Violent Coercion) started Neurosis. He and Scott Kelly asked me to be part of it. I lasted about two rehearsals before I guess they decided I wasn’t on the same page with them musically, and stopped calling me about rehearsals. When I finally called Scott he said “Oh, we decided we just want to be a three piece”, so I said, "Ok, well then, I’m gonna come over and pick up my amp”, to which Scott said “Oh, that’s another thing... we accidentally blew up your amp the other night”. Only last year Scott commented to me on Facebook, “By the way, I still haven’t forgotten that I owe you an amp. But you will always be OG Neurosis”. I thought that was nice. but back to your question. No, I didn’t see any backstabbing or catty behavior ever, in fact one of the guitarists from Testament loaned Chuck a Marshall Stack for one of our Ruthie’s shows, because at that time all Chuck had was a Peavey Transistor amp.
What was it that Chuck and you guys were listening to at the time that helped influence the extreme sound Death was later known for? This boggles my mind…
Erik- I have no idea what Chuck was listening to that made him come up with his sound. Me and Eric were both into mostly punk, so honestly Chucks music didn’t seem that radically new to me since I’d been listening to really harsh fast music for quite some time, and well Eric Brecht was the kid who invented ‘blast beats when he was in DRI. In fact, that was probably why Chuck called him in the first place. So I suppose it’s safe to say that Chuck had heard DRI. A few of the albums that come to mind were the first Die Kreuzen records, Dehumanization by Crucifix, and Animosity by Corrosion of Conformity, which had just come out around the time I joined Death. That one was particularly relevant as me and Janis Tanaka were hanging out with COC when they toured thru SF that year because they were staying with our friend Ruth Schwartz for the couple days they were in town.
Chuck, Erik, & Eric Brecht at Ruthies '85
Did you or those other guys realize at the time that you were basically involved with something that was much different then other metal that was happening at the time?
Erik- Not me, No. In fact, to be quite honest I didn’t get it, and really didn’t like it. I thought I was gonna be joining a band more like Exodus or Slayer, and I thought that Chucks, or to be more precise Eric’s, beats were so fast that nobody could mosh or headbang to them. I kept coming home and saying “I don’t like what we’re doing, it’s too chaotic”. and Janis would say “No, it’s great. Keep doing it”. Even after I left/quit/got kicked out of the band I didn’t get it. and consequently, gave away or taped over all of my cassettes of our rehearsals. I didn’t have any tapes of myself with Death for two decades, until one day I ran into Scott Carlson of Repulsion, who had been the original bass player for Death back in Florida. First off he told me that tapes of our rehearsals and Ruthlie’s shows were still being traded by Death fans, but more importantly he said that Chuck had mailed him copies of the tapes back in 1985 and he still had them. So he burned me a tape of all the recordings I was on. To be honest, I still think it sounds like a couple of kids going crazy in a garage. But my Girlfriend Sonja loves it. Her current favorite band is GoatWhore. On a side note some time around 1998 I was walking past a club, and heard a band inside that was playing blast beats with a cookie monster voiced singer, and I thought, ‘Fuck, they sound exactly like what we were doing 18 years ago. who would have thought our sound would stick around so long. I was also kind of astounded when I was in a bookstore and started browsing thru the pages of that book Lords Of Chaos. I thought, ‘man, this is some crazy shit. how did this start’. Then was kind of shocked and surprised to find Death listed as one of the original inspirations for those bands.
Do you think Chuck was setting out to try to invent a genre that later turned into "Death Metal", or was it like many things in life that was just a series of mistakes that happened? Bad recordings that were looked at as raw because engineers had no idea how to deal with the production...musicianship, etc? I can't get my head around what bands like Death and Possessed were thinking, and how they did what they did back then? Total innovators.
Erik- I think Chuck had it in his head that he was trying to create something new that had never been done before. At least he always talked that way. I remember asking him how he had come up with the name Death, and he said, “ I just wanted to have the heaviest band name ever, then it hit me...what’s heavier then death? The answer was, nothing... nothings heavier then death. So that had to be the name”. I thought that was kind of funny because it reminded me of that line from Spinal Tap, ‘How much blacker can it be? The answer is, None. None more black”.
Did you ever play in a band with Eric again?
Erik -I never played with him again. He was asked to be in Hirax pretty soon after that and moved to LA I think.
Had you been in Touch with Chuck after your time in the band...before his passing?
Erik -No, the last time I saw him or talked to him was at our last rehearsal at Franco’s place. We got into an argument about the lyrical content, which I thought was juvenile even though he had said he wanted to get more serious. Then he came in with another song about ripping peoples guts out (Regurgitated Guts maybe?), so I complained, and I guess Eric Brecht sided with me. Chuck said “I don’t need you guys. I’ll find someone who really wants to play my songs”. He then dragged his amp out onto the sidewalk and sat out there for the next hour waiting for his ride to arrive. I think if we had just walked outside and apologized we might have continued as a band, but we didn’t because of course at that time Death weren’t legendary, so we really didn’t care that much. Which is fine because I already knew I wasn’t the right bass player for his ideas. so it all worked out the way it was supposed to.
Was chuck someone that was easy to talk to, or was he difficult to get along with? He seemed to be hard headed but also seemed to know exactly what he wanted. Was he a control freak?
Erik -No, Chuck was a pretty easy going guy. A bit like Sean Penn's character Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, only not stoned. Chuck seem a little bit more square then that. He knew what he wanted musically, but compared to some of the egomaniacs I've dealt with over the years he wasn't unpleasant at all.
Like a stoner surfer attitude? He didn't really party?
Erik -I remember that he was really straight (no drugs) and kind of innocent when he first arrived in SF, but near the end of our run he changed.
Oh come on, there must be some crazy stories from those days? Something Death fans would find interesting? Drinking? Violence? Drugging? Hookers?
Erik -Lot's. but I don't think any of them involved Death. We went to keg parties and the like but it never got out of hand with regards to the three of us.
What are your fondest memories of those 1985 Death days?
Erik - Chuck playing with Kittens at Eric Brechts place which was a storefront at Haight and Fillmore. I think its next door to that crepe place that’s there now.
Tell people about the music climate in the bay area at the time. I recall Janis was in bands (with Courtney Love), and you were always in multiple bands.
Erik -the San Francisco scene in the 1980s and mid 90s was a really amazing thing. It seemed as though everybody was either in a band or a bike messenger, or both. it was a pretty large scene of hundreds of people who were all trying to do something creative. Back then the idea of playing in a cover band or tribute band was unthinkable. if you were a musician you wanted to create something new and hopefully unique. Not like today where most musicians are fine playing in tribute bands, or, if they do deign to play original songs they go out of there way to sound like whatever everybody else is doing. Granted, the metal scene has fought the longest against that mentality. but back then, the concept of creating original, unique music was everywhere. Take hardcore for instance. RKL, DRI, NOFX , Rhythm Pigs, Victims Family, COC, MDC, Dwarves, may have all been super fast thrash bands, and usually friends, but they all put their own spin on the form. Same with Bay Area Metal, Anvil Chorus,Exodus, Death Angel, Possessed. Then throw in all the artsier bands like Tuxedomoon, Flipper, Melvins,Neurosis, Trial, Treason, a State Of Mind, Clown Alley, etc, etc, and you can kind of understand why I didn't think what Death were doing was particularly weird or groundbreaking. I mean it was but so were dozens and dozens of other bands at that time, just ground breaking, original, and unique in different ways.