By Justin Smulison
Vicious Rumors originated in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1970s. The band was part of a heavy metal explosion which would famously emerge there. Guitarist and songwriter Geoff Thorpe aimed to assemble a group to combine grandiose vocals and storytelling with guitar hooks drawn from thrash and rock. The new wave of British heavy metal had unofficially cornered that market and through Vicious Rumors, Thorpe set out to build on that brand.
With releases like Soldiers of the Night and Digital Dictator, Vicious Rumors garnered notoriety during the 1980s. These albums put the band on worldwide tours and festivals alongside contemporaries like Megadeth, Accept and Death Angel, while attracting an international fan base. Though the band suffered an enormous blow when singer Carl Albert died in 1995 as a result of a car accident, Thorpe pushed forward.
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In the past 10 years, Vicious Rumors has refined its sound and produced consistent, edgy metal albums including Electric Punishment and Concussion Protocol. Following the 30th anniversary tour of Digital Dictator in 2018, Thorpe began writing the band’s next studio album. Armed with a new singer and second guitarist, Celebration Decay, Vicious Rumors’ thirteenth studio album, is available Aug. 21, 2020 via Steamhammer/SPV Records.
Musicinterviewmagazine spoke with Geoff Thorpe about Celebration Decay, familiar and new music territories, lineup changes and more.
An Interview with Geoff Thorpe of Vicious Rumors
Musicinterviewmagazine: Is Celebration Decay a mission statement for Vicious Rumors in 2020?
Geoff Thorpe: I’ve been fortunate enough to have a long run at this. I’m as proud of this record as I am of any of our classic records. It was a lot of work. I had been working on it for years. As far as the subject matter, I grew up in Hawaii in the 1970s. Life was a little easier and of course, I was a kid. We’re living in a much darker world today and I think Celebration Decay follows the dark trail. We wanted to make a super, kick-ass heavy metal album that reflects it, where the lyrics were as heavy as the music. Once I came up with this Celebration Decay concept, it was just like one nightmare after another. We have some stories in there, like on “Death Eternal.” We wanted to keep it exciting.
Recording the band members separately often happens out of necessity. Does this help fuel the creative process?
It was an intense recording process over three months, having the band fly in and play one at a time. For Concussion Protocol, released in 2016, we had the guys all together to record. We had to do that before the tour we were about to embark on and we had to establish the chemistry in the studio. That was cool, too, but the good thing about doing it one at a time is that it provided a more intense focus on each of them. There are advantages to both ways.
This time around, this lineup did 108 shows on the Digital Dictator tour, which was insane because it started out with just about 25 shows. We had already established the chemistry so this time it was not as important that I have everybody in the studio together; it was beneficial to record everyone separately.
Celebration Decay marks the studio debut of Nick Courtney as the singer of Vicious Rumors. Courtney is the band’s tenth unique singer. How did you know he’d be able to deliver?
I felt like Nick covered every aspect of something I was looking for. I almost hate to say that because being the lead singer for Vicious Rumors has been an unstable position. I look for the whole package. I want someone who has a great voice and a wide range who can sing many styles; someone who looks cool and has stage presence and works the crowd. And someone you can hang out with, in close quarters. It’s a tall order to have all those ingredients. I have to say that Nick fell into every category. The fans really loved him on the shows and he brought a lot to the table.
You were the band’s lead singer on one album, 1996’s Something Burning. What was that experience like for you?
We had a singer like Carl Albert, who is quite possibly one of the top five rock singers of all time. And after he passed we auditioned a lot of very good singers. But Carl left such a deep impression and we just weren’t satisfied with anybody after that first year. So that’s why we just decided to do it ourselves, me and drummer Larry Howe. My voice is quite a bit lower. I don’t have the high range that’s required for a lot of the parts and also some of the classic Vicious Rumors are kind of a handful to play guitar and sing at the same time. So I totally admire James Hetfield and Dave Meniketti when I see them do it so effortlessly. So we did that album to get that out of our system and then we were ready to get a new singer.
Do the lineup changes present creative opportunities as well?
There’s no doubt. It’s all in how you look at it. Losing someone like Carl was devastating and that could have easily ended the band. But Larry and I felt like we still had a lot of music to make. It’s not even really that we’re that hard to deal with. We are focused on what we’re doing and our train is moving forward. Sometimes people shift gears in life and direction and that’s okay.
I have a great relationship with about 95 percent of the guys who have been in the band. We’ve done special reunions and guys come back for guest spots when I feel like we need them. It’s a big family. Instead of looking at it as something negative, I look at it as something that’s part of life. When you have a business for 40-plus years, you’re going to go through a few people. I think I have a pretty good eye for talent and I found some incredible musicians through the years. All these albums are like a snapshot in time.
The band was formed in the Bay Area. What was the scene like for you back then?
When I first got here, from Hawaii, it was late 1979. It was the perfect time to be here. We had no idea that the world was going to look there for what would become this explosion of thrash and power metal that happened. Metallica was one of the exceptions to the rule, since they became one of biggest bands of all time. The Bay area just produced these special bands and I was very lucky to be a part of that and it paved the way for us to rock all these years. I started the band with 1,000 business cards with the name Vicious Rumors on the card. I just went to four or five clubs a night and passed out cards every weekend. That’s how I built a name. We got into Bill Graham’s nightclub, Old Waldorf. They had a Metal Monday scene. Next thing you know, we were playing with Metallica and Mötley Crüe in the beginning of their careers. It was incredible.
Do you still have your ear to the ground there?
There has always been a scene here, but it has changed. A lot of clubs have closed down. Back then there were five or seven venues in the San Francisco Bay area five nights a week with an audience to support it. It’s not like that anymore. It’s still a thriving underground scene with a lot of talent.
What was your reaction when you realized Vicious Rumors were seeing more success in Europe?
I felt super thankful. We spent a lot of time over there and we played a lot of festivals there. It really led to Vicious Rumors continuing on our own. It was a great experience.
You recorded Live You To Death during a 2011 European tour.
That was recorded in Passau, Germany, during the end of a tour with HammerFall. That was a really special year because we did 92 shows in Europe, which is kind of unheard of. We did about 60 shows over an eight month period and ran into HammerFall three times. Right at the end, HammerFall invited us to go back with them to be the special guest on their tour. We went through the same cities but played bigger venues. It was just a fantastic year.
Though Vicious Rumors is a metal band, you throw the occasional curveball. One that stands out is the acoustic instrumental cut, “Barcelona,” from 1998’s Cyberchrist. How do you approach those special tunes?
Thank you for noticing that. The thing with VR is that we definitely keep it metal for sure. But if you go through our albums, we have a pretty wide variety to our sound. I always loved bands like Led Zeppelin because they could take all these styles and it still sounded like Zeppelin. They were masters of taking those different types of songs and making it feel like it fits on one album. I’m not saying Vicious Rumors is quite as versatile as Led Zeppelin, but we have incorporated a lot of types of feels into our music. We did “Barcelona,” like you said. “Stripsearch,” off Something Burning has a blues feel. We did a power ballad on Electric Punishment. We do balls-out speed metal and elements of thrash. On Celebration Decay we have “Darkness Divine,” which is different from the other songs. If you’re going to be around in the music business as long as we have you have to have different elements to your sound. It keeps it interesting for us.
When I put these albums together, I’m even looking at the order of the songs and how they impact the feel of the record. I associate it with a rollercoaster. We want to pull you up slow, drop you down fast and send you around the turn, spin you upside down and get you disoriented and drop you fast and hard. I want every song to be good. Some will be better than others, but it’s important for me for the whole album to be strong.
How would you advise bands and players to build a base or establish themselves?
When we go on tour, I almost always pop my head in to catch the local groups who support us on our shows. I always meet cool musicians on the road. The main thing is to do it from a point of passion. Love your instruments and love your music. Do it with passion. Metal fans can see right through something that is not real or something that is forced. The bottom line is and what I’ve been basing all this music on for years is that I’ve got to do it for myself. I’ve got to make sure I think it’s cool. Because if I believe in it for Vicious Rumors and it isn’t forced, then the fans usually like it, too.
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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.