FFO: Rock, Metal
It may be difficult to envision or recall, but the live music scene on Long Island, New York was a haven for rock and metal groups through the 1990s. It was a glorious time to showcase talent, venues and collaborations and to develop a following. Several bands showed promise and delivered unforgettable performances, while others achieved various measures of mainstream success and failures.
One group thought to have faded into the area’s music history is MaelstroM, a metal band hailing from Nassau County. The subgenre-bending group was known for dominant live performances in long-missed venues like Sundance and The Roxy. Though they had two well-received demos and unofficial releases, MaelstroM disbanded due to a confluence of reasons, the chief among them was an industry-wide focus toward grunge.
Though paths diverged, band founders Gary Vosganian (lead vocals), Joey Lodes (guitar/bass) and Ed Marks (keyboards) remained friends and continued feeling the urge to create high-level metal over the years, evident in the intermittent output, including 2008’s EP It Was Predestined. In recent years, Vosganian and Lodes knew they were capable of creating a full-length metal concept which could encapsulate all their songwriting. They recruited fellow Long Islander and drummer Dan Kleffmann to the pace of what would ultimately become MaelstroM’s 69-minute full-length debut, Of Gods And Men, independently released on May 22.
The album is a classic tale of good versus evil in three acts containing elements of thrash, progressive and traditional metal without any overly harsh vocals. The band refers to Of Gods And Men as “Cinemetal,” as it invokes visual elements critical to the story and tone. Check out the single “Army From Ash” for glimpses of crushing riffs, precise drumming and vocals which seamlessly range from malevolent to melodic.
Musicinterviewmagazine caught up with Vosganian to discuss MaelstroM, Long Island’s live metal scene, Of Gods And Men and more.
An Interview With Gary Vosganian Of MaelstroM
Do you all still live on Long Island?
Gary Vosganian: First off, thanks so much to everyone at musicinterviewmagazine for the interview and opportunity. MaelstroM hails from Long Island, New York. I grew up in West Hempstead and now live in Long Beach with my wife, Dawn, who did all the female vocals on our album. Joey Lodes, our guitarist lived in Valley Stream on the same block as our keyboardist and vocal engineer, Ed Marks. On that very same block also lives Joe Bongiorno, who first introduced Joey to some early great metal like Maiden, Mercyful Fate and Slayer and has written a couple of great books on Black Sabbath, among other subjects. They had a whole metal trifecta happening just a few houses away from each other. Our drummer, Dan Kleffmann, lives nearby in Malverne.
How did local businesses, music schools and public schools encourage your growth for playing and performing?
The short answer is two words: Slipped Disc. During the 1980s, record stores like Slipped Disc in Valley Stream became a mecca and hive for all things metal. It was an adventure to go and see what new releases were out. A culture revolved around places like that. I literally got my wardrobe there. To give specific detail, I know Joey at one point in his teenage years had four different local guitar teachers a week. He was obsessed with the instrument. This was before the internet and YouTube, so if you wanted to learn you had to go to the source. Two teachers, Nick Cavagnaro and Rick Lopez were from the local Guitar Masters School of Music, both phenomenal guitarists. Joey was taking classical lessons weekly at the Stecher and Horowitz School of The Arts in Cedarhurst. And he had weekly music theory lessons with S.A. Adams. Ken Bossart was another great guitar teacher he had early on.
These teachers inspired him so much that Joey eventually became a very sought after guitar teacher in his own right at Music Emporium in Bellmore, Malverne School of Music and the Lynbrook School of Music which he later went on to become one of the owners and changed its name to The Music Centre. On the larger academic level, he also contributed guest classical guitar lectures at Juilliard.
What was the Long Island live scene like while coming up in the 1980s?
For me, there was nothing like the music scene Long Island had especially for the heavier side of music in the late 1980s. All of MaelstroM’s original shows in 1988 and 1989 at February’s/Hammer-Hedz in Elmont and Sundance in Bay Shore with the likes of Winter, Demolition Hammer, Malevolent Creation, To The Pain, Sorrow, Kronin, Cold Steel and Suffocation have now become the stuff of legend. In 1989 and 1990 we were the top drawing band at Feb’s for both years and the grand prize was recording time at Speed of Sound Studios (SOS) in Franklin Square. Those sessions became our second demo, This Battle To Make History, Yet History Never Comes. I think every band at one time or another on Long Island either rehearsed or recorded at Speed of Sound. Greg Marchak at SOS was an incredible engineer. To be surrounded back then by so much talent really inspired us and pushed us to develop our style and be as unique as possible.
What are some special memories or milestones?
A few milestones stick out for me. One was Apr. 8, 1989 at February’s. That bill was Demolition Hammer, MaelstroM, and Cold Steel. I think the legal capacity for Feb’s was like 80 people or maybe 100. Well, 480 people showed up and were literally stacked on top of each other. It was an attendance record for that place and absolute, complete insanity. Other shows that stand out were the SOS parties at Feb’s and the Plattduetsche in Franklin Square. Everyone who recorded at SOS would come up and do three or four songs. I remember Winter specifically killing it at the Plattduetsche. Another show that stands out for me was Suffocation’s very first show with MaelstroM at Sundance on Long Island. Those guys were brutal right from the get-go.
We also played twice at my friend’s restaurant Pig ‘N Whistle in Bayville. He was in a hardcore band called Chiefs Of Staff and was a big fan of ours. The first time was awesome. The place was packed and lots of fun. The second time they put us on in the middle of dinner and the whole place was full of families trying to eat. That was a pure Spinal Tap moment.
How do you feel Long Island as changed since then? What trends did you notice?
I think the camaraderie among the local bands was very tight. Extremely close friendships developed within and between bands which have lasted to this very day. We were all kids playing original music in 1988 and 1989, except for maybe a few covers. I saw the whole local scene turn away from original heavy music packing out clubs regularly and slowly transforming into a scene made up almost exclusively of tribute bands which are now very competitive and heavy music venues either giving way to dance clubs or totally disappearing all together. I applaud the original acts which have stayed the course.
I also have to give a special mention to CAR BOMB as well, who have made a great name for themselves not only in New York but abroad with their incredibly original take on the polyrhythmic math metal genre. They feature MaelstroM alumni Jonny Modell and Elliot Hoffman along with Michael Dafferner and Greg Kubacki who were originally in the Long Island thrash outfit, Neck. Really mind-bending, amazing stuff.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of releasing an album independently?
Today if you have an instrument, a phone and a YouTube account, you can be heard. To what extent is entirely up to you. MaelstroM is its own label now called Predestined Music. Joey and I decide what is going to be heard and when. We set our own deadlines and our music is limited only by our own imagination. That gives us creative and production freedom that we would never have had with any record label. In the end, it has all worked out for the best. I would say the ultimate advantage of self-releasing an album has to do with deadlines. We have set our own. We’ve both been through so many adversities along this journey and still go through them today.
What sort of challenges have you experienced?
I lost my house in Superstorm Sandy for a while. I have been out of work at various times since this all started again and have dealt with plenty of other life stuff we all are going through. Joey had to undergo open heart surgery in 2015. Thankfully all the guitar and bass parts for the album were all recorded in 2014, way before any of this happened. This just goes to show you, deadlines; our lives simply don’t allow for them.
Would you say that the demand for metal has come full circle?
I absolutely would agree with that sentiment. To quote Spinal Tap, “Metal’s appeal is becoming more selective.” As I’ve said, though records labels aren’t mandatory any longer to get your music out there, funding a project to create a demand is mandatory and it helped that both Joey and I had careers outside of music to self-produce this endeavor. Also, never underestimate the power of a great public relations agent, radio guy and social media expert to create that demand. These people become your team and are doing what a record label would have been doing either in house or outsourcing. These people are there for you where you cannot be working the phones and the computers trying to get you exposed to the magazines, stations and people who get your name and brand known. Let’s not forget the New York venues like Revolution, Blackthorn 51, Lucky 13, Duff’s and St. Vitus who keep local heavy original music alive. Hopefully, all these places will be able to rebound after the Covid-19 lockdowns are lifted.
Once venues are given the green light to reopen and host shows, what are the live touring plans?
We have dreams to play some of the festivals in Europe someday and would love to do some shows in Canada, as I have heard they are amazing fans. Of course, we would love to do some local gigs again and I really want to do the “70,000 Tons Of Metal” cruise. Unfortunately, right now, shows and tours don’t seem to be on the horizon anytime soon. One great thing about tech today is that bands can go onstage with little to no stage sound and use in-ear monitors and electronic drums and cymbals. Maybe there is a chance we could perform some shows or festivals.
Did you need to have a lifetime of experiences to channel them all into this latest music outing?
Thank you for noticing that, because it literally has been a journey for Joe and me to finally get this out. In the narrative sense it absolutely is a journey. The characters have arisen and build an army; face their fate predicted by an oracle; go to war; die; face the larger truth of the universe; get resurrected; stop a sacrifice; raise a saved child; train the child in mystic arts and swordsmanship on to adulthood; explain the past of that boy to him so he can decide his own fate and fulfill a prophecy of 18 years and on to the final climax.
In the sense of a journey of ourselves, we decided this album was something that we had to do, 15 years after we disbanded. The very first person we tracked down was our original engineer from SOS Studios, Greg Marchak, who was in Florida. It was amazing seeing him again and we recorded the drums played by the incredible Dan Kleffmann for all ten songs. Greg was renowned for getting absolutely killer natural drum sounds without the use of triggers. So we recorded the drums in Florida with Greg. Just a few weeks later we got a phone call that Greg had died from a massive heart attack. We were beyond devastated, yet thankful that we were able to reunite and work with him again all those years later. Greg was just an amazing person. Of Gods And Men is the very last project Greg worked on.
We recorded what were widely considered our three most popular songs from our original demos – “Arise,” “A Futile Crusade,” “Predestined.” This became our first EP, It Was Predestined, released in 2008 and was a rushed job from start to finish. Things were left in after only one take which could have been performed better. Sounds weren’t as together as they could have been. We had a rendering speed mishap going from studio to studio, so all the guitars and bass on one song had to be completely re-recorded. They were digitally sped up and out of tune. It was a miracle that it came out half as well as did. That was definitely a learning experience to say the least and part of this journey. It was literally art from adversity and an art which we have now, hopefully, perfected with Of Gods And Men.
You made the album available for free during a Memorial Day tribute through May 29, 2020 at 8 p.m. EST. What inspired the gesture?
My brother John was a big fan of ours back in the early days and having his support meant a great deal to me. He was an active duty Marine and sadly passed away at the age of 22 while serving in Japan. In his honor we offered the new album for free on Bandcamp to those who serve in the military, as well as first responders. For those who weren’t service members, we asked that they either pay whatever was comfortable or instead make a donation to an organization like TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
Thanks again to musicinterviewmagazine for this interview and helping to keep music alive and well. Of Gods And Men is available for streaming and download on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and others.
For more about MaelstroM please visit:
Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.