A Talk With
DONNY HILLIER (Vocals)
Questionnaire by Stefan
In 1982, I bought the second edition of the legendary Metal Massacre compilation albums. Padded with great Metal bands, especially Trauma was one of the highlights with their song ‘Such A Shame’, featuring ex-Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. Trauma created one full album entitled “Scratch And Scream’ in 1984, now 30 years later on they’ve released the sophomore “Rapture And Wrath” through Pure Steel Records. What happened with the band during this lengthy period of time, I hope to get an answer from singer Donny Hillier over the next list of questions.
Q: Hi Donny, good to have you on board brother – how’s life in the US at the moment?
A: Hi Stefan, Life is great, and I hope for you as well. We are excited to have brought Trauma back to life. We have the new album out and a video of the song “When I Die” from the new album out on Youtube. We are playing select dates in Northern California and in the Reno, Nevada area. We are going back to our classic 2 guitar lineup. Lastly, we have started writing songs for our next album. We are talking to a few promoters about tour possibilities.
Q: To bite off the tip, I’d like to go back to the very early days of Trauma’s existence. How and by whom the band was formed? Please introduce the players by a little briefing history.
A: The band was formed by guitarist Mike Overton, drummer Dennis Shaefer, guitarist George Lady, and bass guitarist Cliff Burton. I was the last piece of the original lineup. The guys had been jamming together, and needed a singer. Mike Overton saw me singing in a club in Hayward, CA and asked if I would be interested in getting together with the band. The others came to meet me at my apartment, we agreed played together a few days later and I joined Trauma.
Q: What were the ambitions those days?
A: Our goals were to obtain a record deal and play as many live shows as possible. We were very active for a 4 plus year period. We had all the usual dreams and ambitions that performers have.
Q: Your participation on Metal Massacre 2 has not gone unnoticed, ‘Such A Shame’ sparkled among the rest of the featuring bands. How did you get on this legendary compilation album?
A: I am glad you like the song, Stefan. “Such a Shame” was the first song we ever recorded. We had a very aggressive manager in the early days. One of his accomplishments was to talk to Brian Slagel at Metal Blade Records and get the song on the Metal Massacre II album.
Q: You’ve worked with Cliff Burton who unfortunately died in a bus accident somewhere in Sweden. In what way you always will remember Cliff – how was he to work with?
A: I will always remember Cliff very fondly. He was dedicated to a life in music. He was very close with and loved by his family. Cliff was a great bandmate and a good friend. He was cool and well liked. He was very smart and had a quiet clever sense of humor. He was confident in his abilities. He was terrific to work with. I am glad I knew him and played in Trauma with him.
Q: What about your reaction on his sudden, unexpected death?
A: I was shocked and very saddened. Everyone who knew him felt that way. All his fans felt that way. I remember being at his funeral and feeling how awful it was for him and everyone that his life was cut short. We all miss him.
Q: During the early years of existence, Trauma played at big Bay Area clubs like The Keystone Berkeley and The Stone. In LA you even walked the stage at the legendary Whisky-A-Go-Go. Must have been a crazy period of time, right?
A: Very exciting days. We also played at the legendary Troubadour in LA, and Bill Graham’s Wolfgang’s club in San Francisco. It was much fun doing those road trips. Heavy Metal was pretty new and everything was new and exciting to us.
Q: Many line up changes occurred as time passed by, any idea why some of the members left the ranks rapidly?
A: Dennis Shaefer left to rejoin a band he was in before Trauma. Cliff left for Metallica. Mike and I retooled with drummer Kris Gustofson, bassist Lucas Advincula, and guitarist Ross Alexander Merson prior to signing with Shrapnel Records.
Q: How the collaboration between Trauma and Mike Varney came about - who has contacted whom?
A: I am not sure initially how we met Mike Varney. As you say he was already an iconic personality in the Heavy Metal world. Mike probably saw us playing locally and developed an interest in us. He was out and about on the scene a lot in those days. He was great to work with. Mike knows many legendary people. He is great fun to talk with and has terrific stories about people he knows.
Q: Great discussion about the cut came in, mostly from magazines across Europe and the United States. From which magazines you guys got the highest appreciation?
A: The magazines I remember having good reviews were Kerrangg, and Metal Forces, even Circus had a brief complimentary review of Scratch and Scream. We were not very aware that there was “great discussion” about our recording. We saw some reviews in other languages and did not know what they were saying. There was no Internet, we had fallen out with our management at the time. We did not understand that Shrapnel Records was busy producing albums and not in the promotion business. We were musicians focused on writing songs, rehearsing, and playing shows. No one was paying attention to promotion.
Q: What does “Scratch And Scream” delivered with regard to the further career of the band?
A: To this day, we are increasingly realizing that many people like and value the Scratch and Scream album. It was a good start.
Q: You want to describe this album as a true success or not?
A: If you mean Scratch and Scream, I would say yes it was a success. It has become known as a classic Heavy Metal collector’s album. There has been enough interest for the album to have been re-released decades later in CD and digital format.
Q: Your debut album was amazingly good to me and expected a successor shortly after. Unfortunately Trauma seemed to have disappeared from the radar, what happened?
A: Thank you, Stefan. We wrote the songs for a follow up album that was never recorded. As I said previously, we were focused on playing music and did not have a good business organization. Eventually, Kris moved to LA and Lucas moved out of the Bay Area. We did not find the right replacements for them.
Q: What kept you busy the next following years?
A: All of the members of the Scratch and Scream lineup have been involved in other bands. Kris has done a lot of recording and European and US tours with other bands. I have worked on several projects, some more serious than others, and recorded a few albums. A couple of the guys have played in worship bands. We all raised families.
Q: Through the many years, you had been approached by multiple record companies for the re-release of the album. Why Shrapnel Records got the privilege to all the others?
A: Yes, and there have been numerous illegal bootlegged releases of “Scratch”. Shrapnel Records holds the publishing rights to Scratch and Scream. They had the right to re-release it before any others, and they wanted to do so.
Q: I’m very satisfied with the CD version of a glorious US Classic Heavy Metal like “Scratch And Scream”, loaded with three fantastic bonus songs from the very early days of Trauma featuring the one and only bass player Cliff Burton ! I really like these first recordings of Trauma, the sound was different in contrast with the compositions added to the tracklist of Scratch and Scream. Do you have an explanation for it?
A: Yes, it shows how our sound was changing and developing. These were early days of Heavy Metal and the days of NWOBHM. “We’re Going Off” has a jam Zepish sound to it. “Woman Be Gone” was the power balled, typical of its time. We already talked about “Such a Shame”. The band was developing it’s HM sound.
Q: The wait is over, the re-release became reality and the fans of US Metal classics are definitely pleased to the bone, do you have a clue about the number of copies sold so far?
A: We don’t. Pure Steel Records told us it would be 4 months before they would have an idea.
A limited vinyl collectors’ release sold out in 1week.
Q: I’ve posted my review right HERE. Agree with this way opinion or not?
A: Thanks Stefan, this is of course your review of the Scratch and Scream album. You are very knowledgeable about the album and the band. I agree with you, and appreciate your strong review of the album.
Q: Trauma played at the Headbangers Open Air Festival 2014 edition. How did you get on the bill of this great festival? Did you have a great time being there make the garden burn?
A: We played the festival because Jurgen Hegewald one of the festival promoters is a long time fan of the band and the Scratch and Scream album, which he asked us to play in it’s entirety. We additionally were able to play many of the songs from Rapture and Wrath in our set. Playing the HOA Festival was a great experience. We enjoyed all the people associated with the Festival, and all the fans. Yes, the Garden burns and we want to play there again. Germany is a wonderful place. We want to play all over Europe, and wherever we have the opportunity.
Q: W have come to the last chapter of this interview, the new album entitled “Rapture And Wrath”. Released through Pure Steel Records a while ago, the end result is more than satisfying but have to admit that the level of “Scratch and Scream” is not attained. Agree or not Donny?
A: It is different from Scratch and Scream. We wrote an eclectic group of songs. They were developed rather organically. There wasn’t much discussion about what the album was to be. We were a 1 guitar band during this period. That has an effect on the songwriting and recording. We selected the songs we liked the most, at the time. I think we liked the idea that there was a variety to the songs. We didn’t feel that we had to have any particular pre-ordained sound. There is an Old School, Power Metal feel to the album.
Q: Some new blood entered the Trauma camp, who plays what on the new effort?
A: Kris Gustofson is again on drums, Kurt Fry a former band mate of both Kris and mine, is the guitarist. Marcel Eaton plays bass guitar.
Q: Who wrote the songs and tell me some more on the lyrical topics.
A: The music was written by Kurt, the lyrics by me. Of course, Kris and Marcel contributed to arrangements and their own parts. These are songs with themes about love and love lost, religious based intolerance and hatred, corrupt political leaders, the struggles of people. All the themes of Heavy Metal music.
Q: The discussion of the new album was done by MTI co-editor Officer, posted right HERE . Can you deal with the review?
A: Yes, of course. Thank you Officer, for the positive review of Rapture and Wrath.
Q: Tauma has now released two albums, which one gets your preference and why?
A: We all poured so much into these albums, it is hard to choose. I can’t at this time select one over the other. Rather, there are songs that I particularly like off each album. The Day All Hell Broke Loose, The Flight of the Raven, Bringing the House Down, In the End, When I Die, The Long Way Home, Kingdom Come, Egypt are some of my favorites at this time. Hard to choose.
Q: What about the future, can we expect a third album later on?
A: Yes, you can expect a third album soon, Trauma is back. We have started writing the songs for the next album. The songs will be heavier and more uptempo. There will be a 2 guitar lineup.
Q: Thanks a lot for your presence here at Metal To Infinity webzine, the pace where US Metal still reigns supreme. I leave the last words to you brother, cheers !
A: Thank you very much Stefan, Officer, and the readers of Metal to Infinity. The members of Trauma appreciate your knowledge and your interest in our band. You contribute greatly to the HM community. It has been a pleasure talking with you. We hope to meet you all face to face and play for you. Best Wishes and Horns Up!! Donny Hillier