Interview: Mace | Kirk Verhey & Dave Hillis

by on May 1, 2012
Tell me about this reunion thing?

Dave:  You wanna talk music…here the deal;  I had a chance to write music again with Kirk Verhey, who was the lead singer of Mace and I felt enthused again.  I felt like I wanted to play guitar again because he was singing behind it.  It was thrash…it was metal.  It’s what made me want to make music again.  You know, I’ve been behind the scenes, working on other music that didn’t really move me.  I mean it did, but it didn’t, you know?  Playing with Mace makes me feel alive again.  I’m real excited about that and I wanna make it happen.  We’ve had a chance to re-configure and re-look at stuff so now we wanna do it and we wanna do it right.

Kirk:  You know, to tell you the truth.  I was slackin’ at the end. I was ditchin‘ practices and ‘playin it up‘ to the fans rather then gettin‘ the job done.  I think it was that in combination with us moving apart in musical directions.  That all lead to the break up.

So at one time Mace was the center of your lives and now that it’s not you’re able to look at it with a clear vision?  The way, maybe, that you should have done it in the 80’s?

Dave:  I think you almost nailed it.  It was hard to think that way at the time cause we got caught up in it.  It really takes a minute to really re-grasp everything and sometimes life gets in the way.

Who’s ‘baby’ is Mace and where did the ‘magic’ start?

Kirk:  Let me take this one.  Starting in high school I had a picture of my Fender Bass.  Dave saw it and said “Hey we need a bass player!”  So originally it was Dave’s baby.  He found Vince and they found me.  That really made the trio that’s on the “Northwest Metalfest” comp.  It’s pretty much been Dave and I at the core since the beginning.

What year was it when you actually got started?

Kirk:  1982, I believe.  Man…we’re old.  We put out that Northwest Metalfest album when we were in high school.  “Metal Masters” came out when we were in high school too.

Where did you guys come together?  

Dave:  Well…we started in Everitt, Washington.  That’s where we went to school and met.

Depending on what blog you look at depends on how some people depict you.  Metal crossover, metal, punk metal…one site will put you aside of the Circle Jerks and another would talk about Anthrax or Death Angel.  When you guys started, did you play with metal bands or punk rock bands?  

Kirk:  It was kinda both but at the heart we were metal guys.

Dave:  We also did a lot of covers, but it was all metal stuff.  Rush.  Ozzy.  Rainbow.  We were definitely metal guys.

Kirk:  We were so metal…but then we met a band called The Accused.  Then my older brother brought home ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans’ and ‘Fresh Fruit For Rotten Vegetables”…

Dave:  …and we were like “Fuck man.  This is cool.”  So how do have this and be metal…

Kirk:  …and it turns out the punks wanted to kick our ass for being metal and the metal kids wanted to kick our ass for being punks.  We couldn’t win.  The only way we did survive without getting our asses kicked was hanging out with The Accused.  We just tried to blend it as best we could.

Was there ever a point where you won either one over?

Kirk:  No! (Laughs)

Dave:  I mean, we would kinda get little pieces from both sides.

Kirk:  I never saw that. (laughs)

Another interview I did talked about the PV Punks and how if they saw Metal doods…well, basically it was ‘go time.’

Dave:  That’s how it totally was.  If you went to Frisco and Berkley and you didn’t have “Exodus” written on the back of your coat you’d have to check yourself….like gang style.  It was tough down there, but that’s what made the music cool.  That’s why we played hard and fast.  Nowadays, people talk about ‘thrash’ or they talk about ‘stage diving’ or any of that nonsense on MTV…Ima call bullshit on that.  Back then when you played, you played your Marshall loud.  You played hard.  You made it real.  I don’t feel like I see that anymore.

What can you say about the ‘punk rock scene’ in early 80’s?

Kirk:  Pusfan who wrote for Maximum Rock N’ Roll and artwork for Damage Incorporated and Thrasher and some skateboards, and even more.  He was a big fan of ours and that really helped us out.  So when we went to San Francisco he helped give us the recognition in that area.  That basically how we played down in that area.  Cliff Burton would come cause he was friends with Pusfan, and that’s how we got into that ‘scene’ down in Berkley.

What happened when it was time to put your first record out?  How did that come about?

Kirk:  It came about by me saving all the money from the record store I was working at.  (laughs)

Dave:  We saved up enough to make this Metal Lust demo tape.  That got us on the Northwest Metalfest comp, which got us the Coleman deal with Jeff Gilbert.  I mean, we were floored to even think that we were going to be on this metal compilation thing.  There were two bands from that comp that were picked by Jeff Gilbert to move on.  It was us and Metal Church.  Shit, Metal Church picked up the ball and ran.

When did your first full length come out?

Kirk:  ’84 or ’85.  I think the record came out in 1985 and we tried to get noticed more in San Francisco.  No one was into metal or thrash or anything like that in Seattle Washington.  We bought a van and drove to San Francisco and started playing shows.  Jeff Persea from Possessed offered us a show…

Dave:  …and Danny from Fuck. Shit. Piss. People really helped us out and so that’s where we felt like we were wanted.  That crossover was also there in Berkley and that outside area.  That’s where it was happening.

Was it intimidating to go down there?

Dave:  We were scared shitless.

Kirk:  That’s where I met El Duce (The Mentors.)  He gave me a big ole’ hug.  He just looked at me and with this gruffy voice just said, “You know what?!  You’re allright!”  He had his wacky eye looking at me and I just thought “I belong here.”

Dave:  If El Duce says you belong somewhere then you belong there.

[El Duce died on April 19, 1997 in Riverside, California after being hit by a train while intoxicated]. (http://www.metal-mayhem.co.uk/interviews/oderusurungus.shtml)

What happened after that?

Kirk:  We had some new songs written so we came back to Washington and started working on “The Evil and the Good.”

Dave:  We got a deal with Black Dragon Records.  They gave us some money to do the next record.  You gotta remember that there were no recording studios in this area.  We didn’t know what we were doing and there was no place with good equipment.

So there was no scene in Seattle?

Dave:  There was nothing.

Kirk:  If you go back to that ‘conflict’ between metalheads and punkers, what sucked about Seattle is that metalheads had it worse.  We had ROTC military brats and we had rednecks.  A short-haired motherfuckin’ punk rocker could slide right into either of those two demographics.  Easy.  A long-haired metalhead dood is usually gonna get pinned down and threatened to get his hair cut by a bunch of assholes.  It was waaay harder to be metal up here.  It was easier to be a punk as long as you didn’t have a mohawk.   And that actually happened to me, I got pinned down by a bunch of Jarheads.  It was at a drive-in theater.  Dave’s brother saved my ass and his green Camero.

So what happened when you guys recorded the second record?

Kirk:  We had no idea what we were doing…They made it sound like we knew what we were doing.

Dave:  We were trying weird shit.  We tried to put electronic drums on the record.  Even more then that it wasn’t the best place to record.  We’d be down in San Fransisco where we were excepted and then we come home and we have to fight to keep our hair.  So we questioned if were going in the right direction.  We tried some directions Bauhaus, Batcave.  We tried going a little darker with Peter Muphy style shit.  If you look at the pictures on the back of “The Evil and the Good” you can see we were gettin’ a different feel for it.

Kirk:  We were searching and experimenting…trying to find out what we should do.

Dave:  We were like drug fiends and music was our drug. We were experimenting with all of it…

Kirk:  …but we were also naive and young.

Dave:  Hell…we still don’t know what we’re doing…

So what happened after you recorded that record?

Kirk:  Nothing.

Dave:  That pretty much broke us up.

Were you guys just going in different directions?

Dave:  I think personally all of us just needed time away from each other.  I wish it was more ‘romantic’ then that or I could make it sound better…

Who manned up and ended it?

Dave: I think I did and I’m gonna hug Kirk right now… (laughs) ‘cause obviously it was me…

Kirk:  I stood up and said “You can’t fire me!  I quit!”

Dave:  The real deal is that it’s me and Kirk.  I’ve known him since high school and it’s me and him.  This is the music we’re gonna make and we’re gonna make it the best that we can.

So Dave…you’re the one who pulled the trigger?!

Dave:  Why are you picking on me!?

Because I’ve got to get to the bottom of this!  Did you guys talk to each other after that?

Kirk:  I was pretty pissed.  I had a big ‘fuck you’ attitude.

Dave:  Really?

Kirk:  I walked into a practice and another dood is singin’ over my shit and you told me there was no practice.

Dave:  Yeah, I guess I did.  Well, I apologize.

Kirk:  No problem man.  It was so long ago…Fuck it.  I don’t even care.

Dave:  I didn’t know that it effected you like that…This is rock therapy!  I wouldn’t have even brought it up if Tommy hadn’t asked about it…

So who had the biggest head back then?

Kirk:  Dave definitely had a big head.  I was just a social butterfly rockstar who wanted to bang all the girls and stay up all night.  I didn’t wanna practice or do any of that.

Dave:  Tommy, do you have a pshyc degree?

Just a marketing degree…moreso, I was 6 when you guys broke up.  I don’t think it matters if you’re 16, 21, or 45 all the same themes run through.  

Dave:  I think you’re right. (laughs)

(this is about where Dave goes on a rather hilarious rant about how Rancid was not punk rock in the mid-nineties…only to realize he was thinking of Green Day.)

What’s your biggest regret?  What do you regret not being or doing in the band?

Kirk:  Not tag-teaming that post-op tranny.

Dave:  That’s a good question.  After all the stuff that just came out in this interview…I regret no realizing that this was something real special.  We were young and naive and didn’t realize that this was important to us.  Now, hindsight, I realize that we had no idea what we were doing.

Kirk:  It was bigger than us.

Why did you guys decide to remix these songs?

Kirk:  They sound stupid

Dave:  It took a long time to get to the point where I could have a new studio and get the tapes.  It’s just time.  I was in LA and London.  I’ve only been back for about two years.

Kirk:  While Dave was out floating around I was in a couple of bands around here.  Just recently I decided to start playing the base again.  Now, back in my day they weren’t called ‘tribute bands’ they were just called cover bands.  Some of ‘em are making a lot of money in casino’s, so I’m decided I wanted to get together a Sex Pistols tribute band.  My friend Dave Sutton was playing guitar and we needed a drummer.  We ended up getting Shane from Mace to play.  Dave is a big Mace fan and he would say that we should just do a Mace tribute band.

Shortly after that Dave was in town and I started talking to him.  He said, “Hell, let’s just write a song.”  Before you know it this whole idea of a Mace tribute band turned into a Mace reformation.  Now it’s going full steam ahead.  I’ve talked to everyone that was in Mace and invited them to come along.  Vern’s too busy, Vince is in another band.  Shane, whom I love, is just a little to physically beat up to do it.

Dave:  Greatest drummer ever.

Kirk:  Definitely.  For the past 20 years I’ve been in a band called Big Top and just kept playing.  Dave got his studio together and we just kinda made it happen, right down to the crew and the crowd.

Dave:  The big difference is now we have a band where everyone’s on the same page.  We didn’t have that back then.

Tell me the story of you guys playin’ with Anthrax?

Dave:  There’s actually a good story about that.  You ready for it?  We had shit equipment for that show.  I think we only had a Peavey for you…

Kirk:  Yeah.  We set our equipment up in front of theirs and drapped black cloth over the amps.  Anthrax’s equipment was set up behind us so we tried to make it look like we were playing out of their Marshalls…

Dave:  They had 32 Marshall’s set up…I didn’t even have one Marshall!

Kirk:  I had a bass head sitting on the floors…but their road manager comes in freaking out screaming, “Fuck you!  You ain’t makin’ it look like you’re playing out of our Marshalls…

Dave:  Ian came back and he was real cool.  All the guys were really cool during that show…and this is back with their original singer.  Who you [Kirk] actually got into a fight with.  You kept sayin’ he was a dick.  I was more pissed off about the 32 Marshall stacks.

What year was that?

Kirk:  Probably ’84?

Dave, when did you make the connection after Mace with the ‘Seattle Scene?’

Dave:  Mace broke up and it was probably 1989, I was looking for a job and I got an opportunity to an engineer for Rick Parashar who was a record producer who helped build London Bridge Studios.  It really had nothing to do with Mace at all.  It was a whole new life.

Tell me about the quote I read that said “We’re ready to show these youngens how to kick some ass.”

Kirk:  I’ll tell you what’s wrong!  The kids today are hiding behind tuned down guitars and cookie monster vocals!  They’re not even bustin’ there balls out there.  They’re fuckin’ not doing shit on stage anymore.

Dave:  I’ll tell you what’s up.  I think that was well said, actually but if you’re asking me as a producer and an engineer?  People don’t come into the studio prepared anymore.  They don’t know how to play or they don’t have their guitars in tune.  They don’t step up to the plate and realize that it takes money and time to make a good record.  You wanna talk about Jerry Cantrell making ‘Would.’  That’s a record I engineered.  Hell, that’s a song I engineered.  Jerry showed up and delivered and it sounds really fucking good.  Most people I see show up, and they aren’t able to play that.  It’s funny cause they always say the same thing…”Why doesn’t it sound as good?”  You know why?  Cause you suck.

Have you watched the Pearl Jam documentary?

Dave:  I haven’t seen and I’m not in it!  Rick Parashar produced ‘Ten,’ and I engineered it.  A lot of press is going around right now saying that I produced it…and I mean, I’ve produced stuff like Afghan Whigs and a lot of other albums but, for the record, I only engineered ‘Ten.’

Did anyone come to you because you were in Mace or was it your ‘clout’ at a producer?

Dave:  That’s easy.  Nobody gave a shit about Mace.  The producing side of my life was completely separate.  I hope it might now, but at the time it meant nothing.

I got a real weird fascination with Producers, but we’ll talk about that another time.  Tell about the new song “Harp Strings?”

Dave:  It’s a brand new song.  We were remixing the old songs and we thought we’d try a new one.  Harp Strings is what came out and the reason we wanted to put it out for free was like a tape trading, old school 80’s style thing.

One of things I was most impressed with is how fast it is.  You see a lot of older bands getting together and they start playing their music at half the speed.  You guys still seem to have it!  Especially after reading that statement about showing the ‘youngens’ how to do it!

Dave: Thank you…

Kirk:  Thank you.  You know one of my biggest fears is to end up like The Circle Jerks in Repo Man.  I mean I love that movie, but that scene “Two kids…In a cadillac.”  And then Emilio says “I can’t believe I used to like these guys.”  Brutal.

Dave:  We’re back and we’re planning on stepping up to the challenge.  One thing we can tell you is we’re not tuning down.

Kirk:  We’re not tuning down and we’re not hiding behind cookie monster vocals and we’re gonna deliver.  Did I mention we are not planning on tuning down?

Dave:  …Ever!

Kirk: …Ever…

What do you think your greatest accomplishment was with the band?

Kirk:  The only time I felt like we were in the right direction and actually doing it well was after the first show that no one threw anything at me.  I knew we were doing something right.

Dave:  Mine’s the opposite.  The first time I put on eyeliner.  I got the hottest chick with a white mini-skirt.  Man…I walked on stage with high heels and make-up.  Everyone spit at me and threw shit at me.  I thought, “All right…we’re good.”

Final question.  If you had any advice for anyone trying to get in ‘the game’ what would it be?

Dave:  Don’t do it!

Kirk:  Don’t marry a crack addict…and I’m serious.  Also…play with you heart.  Do what feels good.  If you build it, they will come.  It’s gotta come from you.  Don’t fucking let anyone tell you what to do.

Dave:  Be prepared too.  You gotta make it sound good.