“I NEVER quite realised it would be like this,” comments Dana Strum on Slaughter’s change of lifestyle since their overwhelming success. STEVE MASCORD discovers they aren’t so bad after all…
I had a strange encounter with Dana Strum in May last year. The occasion was the day before Slaughter’s first ever live performance, as opening act for KISS. The place was the Holiday Inn foyer in the Texas town of Lubbock.
Strum, singer Mark Slaughter, drummer Blas Elias and guitarist Tim Kelly were lazing about opposite the reception desk, waiting for a ride to rehearsals. As I walked past, I recognised Strum and in a flash he looked me straight back in the eye, somewhat unnaturally. I quickly looked away. When I looked back a second later , he was still watching me – as if he wanted me to introduce myself and ask for an autograph. Those of you who read my album review of Slaughter’s Stick It To Ya last year will of course, realise that would be about as likely as Saddam Hussein joining the Scorpions.
His gaze was like a sales assistant eyeing a browsing customer, hoping for an easy sale. The door closed in our faces, and I was rather spooked. Vinnie Vincent’s claim in HM#18 that his control over his Invasion project had been whittled away by a “used car salesman” sprung immediately to mind.
Since then, Slaughter – a spin-off of the Invasion, minus Vinnie – has gone on to make a fortune by selling some one and a half million LPs in the United States and I’ve gone on to become desperately in debt. Given our contrasting fortunes, I suppose it was somehow inevitable that I should have to speak to Dana Strum.
He is in Las Vegas, I am in Wollongong. He speaks quickly and lucidly.
“The whole rock star mentality doesn’t exist with Slaughter because we’ve been fighting for so long just to be musicians. Nobody even wants to be a rock star. We just want to play music and make people feel good, make a living and go for it.”
He says he wants Slaughter to tour Australia.
“We all feel that it’s very important that the Pacific Rim is an area that should by no means be ignored, and it’s an expanding market we’re all very interested in.”
The Pacific Rim? When was the last time you heard Slash talk like that? Strum speaks like a man who has memorized every line of How To Win Friends and Influence People – backwards. Vincent’s contention that one member of the Invasion was in it simply because “he was such an incredible talker. I never once heard him play his f_king instrument” springs immediately to mind.
But enough of that.
Most of the background to this story appears in our Vincent exclusive in Hot Metal #18. Suffice to say that – if all the hate mail I get is any indication – Slaughter is far bigger than Vincent ever was or is likely to get. They have massive airplay in the U.S., a hit video, a live EP ( not released here yet) and millions of kids who know every word to every song.
“At least half of the audience on the KISS tour is there to see Slaughter. It’s not uncommon in America for Slaughter to make 30 to 40 thousand dollars in T-shirt business a night,” Strum says.
“A lot of the younger audience don’t really know who KISS is in this country. We always tell them, ‘Listen, this is who started a lot of this shit, y’oughta see them.’ We’re KISS’s sales agents.”
When Chrysalis took up Strum and Mark Slaughter’s solo options following the ‘Invasion’s demise, both parties were just about, broke. Philadelphia native Kelly was cooking sausages at an L.A. barbeque when he met Mark. The story goes that when he auditioned at Hollywood’s famous Cherokee Studios, the Blue Murder LP was being recorded in the next room and Strum mistook Kelly’s guitar sound for ex-Whitesnake man John Sykes.
Elias was almost a medical student, but was stopped from returning to the halls of learning by a phone call from Strum.
When Stick It To Ya was finished, debt-ridden Chrysalis told the band it couldn’t afford to pay them until they went on tour. Elias and Kelly started painting houses for a living.
Indeed the decision to stay on the label was a brave – some would say foolhardy – one. Chrysalis was subjected to a 50 per cent take-over, staff were fired, Vincent escaped his contract and, later, Aussie bands The Angels and Johnny Diesel and the Injectors would follow in disgust.
Slaughter and Strum stayed, however, honouring their solo options.
“Quite frankly, we were very scared we were on Chrysalis because they had had a very hard time breaking anything.
“There was a choice – you have a lawyer and you have the ability to fight with that. You also have the option to say, ‘Look, we’ll buy our way out,’ But we agreed with them and said, ‘Look, let’s take a shot.”
“In America, this is the strongest year they’ve had for 10 years. They’ve made millions and millions of dollars here. For every million the band make, Chrysalis make six million. They’ve got Slaughter, Billy Idol, Sinead O’Connor all selling like hell.”
And so the decision to stay, against all odds, was vindicated. These days Slaughter don’t have to paint houses any more. They don’t drink, they tour with a full-time promotions man and spend hours signing autographs.
“You lose a great deal of your life,” Strum reveals. “It’s over. They tell you you’re going to have a day at home; it turns into an orchestrated day of, ‘OK, all the pictures are used up, we need a day of new pictures, we’re going to shoot a video because we’ve sold over a million records and there’s no video for sale on the market. I never quite realized it would be like this. If that’s the price you pay to have success then, you know, that’s what you pay.”
An established producer, Strum is currently working on the debut. LP for RCA rockers Kik Tracee. The legendary Bob Ezrin (The Wall, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Kings Of The Sun) was to originally handle the knob-twiddling, but he actually recommended Strum because he thought he could do a better job.
Two members of Kik Tracee, singer Stephen Shareaux and bassist Rob Grad, toured with Slaughter and spent Strum’s days off recording. Sharon Osbourne, who’s done wonders for the Quireboys, signed the band after hearing some Strum-produced demos.
“It’s a combination of the Cult meets Living Colour and really, really, really good,” Strum enthuses.
“They’re really a bizarre band. They remind you of early David Bowie and early Alice Cooper.”
While members of Slaughter are at pains to separate themselves from their ‘previous project’, the album Stick It To Ya carried what I thought to be a rather hypocritical credit saying, ‘Thanks to KISS fans around the world’. Wasn’t that just name-dropping, Dana?
“We played with this ex-KISS guy and we met a lot of great fans who were KISS fans. They were very supportive. They called radio stations and demanded to hear our new record. When they did that, our record just flew.”
“We did not get a fan base that way,” says Strum, emphasizing the ‘not’. “Vinnie Vincent Invasion was damn-near f_ked-off every stage we ever walked on. And it certainly wasn’t only Dana or Mark’s fault. The fans went to see Vinnie and were obviously not pleased with what they saw.”
This is Dana’s first interview since Vincent ‘went public’, and it seems some previously taboo subjects are now discussable. So, I suppose you’re still wondering, is Dana the mysterious ‘used car salesman’? Who was it that convinced Vinnie to get rid Of Robert Fleischman and hire the prettier Mark Slaughter, thereby beginning the band’s downward spiral?
“I brought him in, but my intentions were to have a band that was a band and we were all turned into sidemen,” Strum answers swiftly.
“Mark Slaughter was a young, energetic guy who wanted to go on the road and I went and met Mark. Vinnie was working with a guy in Europe who couldn’t even pronounce Vinnie’s name!”
Strum says Fleischman had to be ousted because of his flat refusal to go on tour.
“He still isn’t willing to go on the road,” Strum says. “I’ve heard that Robert sang on this Vinnie Vincent record that’s gonna come out, but nobody in this country much cares and – quite frankly – he’s (Fleischman) not going to perform again. Robert Fleischman’s about 38 years old and looks like an insurance broker.”
Our time up, Strum thanks me graciously for my time and reiterates his desire to bring Slaughter Down Under.
“Right now we’re talking to Cinderella about doing it together and I think it depends on the sales down there,” he says.
“We want the world markets. The record company was quite happy just doing the business we were doing in America and Canada. We reminded them there was a whole world out there “I have a very big interest in the worldwide thing. The only way to be a rock band of the year or a rock band of the decade is to have worldwide influence.”
Slaughter – Rock Band of the Decade!
That’s ten years of hate mail, folks.