Formed in 1982, local rockers Shok Paris
received national attention and even toured with acts such as Savatage and Lizzy Borden before calling it quits in 1989.
But after reuniting in 2010 to play a music festival in Germany, the band caught a second-wind and began writing new material. It’s finally released the long-in-the works album, Full Metal Jacket
, a collection of songs inspired by European metal acts such as Judas Priest and Accept. Former Clevelander Jim DeMain, who used to play in the Pony Boys, mastered the album at his Yes Master Studios
The band's current lineup includes singer Vic Hix, guitarist Ken Erb, guitarist John Korzekwa, bassist Ed Stephens and drummer Donovan Kenaga. In a recent phone interview, Hix spoke to us about the album, the band’s first studio effort in three decades.
This is your first album in 31 years. What made you realize it was finally time to go back into the studio?
In 2004, the band was put together for a reunion with all the original members, and we went to the Bang Your Head festival in Germany and played it. A couple of the guys just did it as a reunion, and we didn’t think any more about it. In 2009, we were asked to come back and do Headbangers Open Air in 2010. A couple of the original members weren’t interested, so we put a new band together at that time with younger guys that were fans of Shok Paris from back in the day. They’re 20 years younger than me and [guitarist] Ken [Erb]. We’re the two original members. The response we got at the second festival was great. People asked us then if we would put an album out, and we started thinking about that right then and there. Not being signed to a label, we still wanted to try it. Between 2010 and 2012, we started working on material and went to different studios, but we couldn’t find our sound. When you go from analog tape to digital, the sound is totally different. We were going to Athens, Greece to the Up the Hammers festival, and we recorded a few new songs. We only released one for promotion. At that point, we realized that if we were going to do it, we had to do it ourselves. We bought equipment to do our own recording and someone had to know how to do it. It took quite a few years to perfect everything to the point that we could start recording.
Where’d you record this album?
Ken Erb bought the equipment and learned how to use it, and we recorded drums and bass at one guy’s house that had a nice little room. Guitars and vocals were done in a living room in a closet basically. We did this all ourselves. We did everything but the mastering, and we sent that to a guy who as a young man in 1986 and 1987 when we recorded Steel and Starlight
, ran the board at the recording studio at Beachwood. The other people at the studio didn’t know anything about metal, and this young boy said, “I’ll help.” He now owns Yes Master Studios in Nashville, and when he found out we needed mastering, he did it for free because we gave him a break. We gave him a break back then, and he gave us a break right now. It’s great how things come full circle.
The band formed in Cleveland in the 1980s, which was a particularly good place for heavy metal and hard rock at that time, wasn't it?
Cleveland is the heart and soul of rock 'n’ roll. I’m 60. I grew up listening to the hard rock and rock of the ’70s and ’80s. When we were doing it, Cleveland ruled. When you went to a nightclub, it was packed. It was elbow-to-elbow. It was a great thing. It still is. Cleveland still has a great name for the hard rock industry. I’m in southeastern Ohio now. I live about 65 miles from Pittsburgh. It doesn’t have the scene that Cleveland does.
How did you join the band?
I was playing in a cover band playing Dio and Judas Priest and all that stuff. We would play in New Philly or Dover or Canton. The original bass player lived in Newcomerstown, which is 30 or 40 miles from New Philadelphia. He had seen me and heard me singing and said, “Would you want to try out for an original band?” That’s what I always wanted to do. I drove up with him one day, and we practiced a couple of days. They said, “You’re what we wanted.” We started working on material right away. A couple of months later, we started recording at Suma in Painesville.
I think your headlining tour was scrapped in 1989. Was that why the band broke up?
I would say yes, but I put it on me. When you were touring, you got paid. It was like a job. We went out with Lizzy Borden and Savatage. Every time you leave, you had to quit your day job. You had to tour for a couple of months and then go back to a day job. It was rough. When you’re paying rent for a practice spot, it was tough. I asked the record company and told them what we made per week. They wanted us to be ready for tours. I told them to pay us. We were practicing five and six nights a week. It was hard to work a day job. They didn’t want to hear it. They weren’t interested. I had had enough. IRS Records was not a metal label. They just jumped on the bandwagon because hard rock had gotten popular. When we walked into the office in L.A. to sign our contract, here come the Go-Gos out the door. We replaced them on the label. They flipped us off and called us names. The label that had the Go-Gos was bringing in a hard rock from Cleveland. That tells you how much they knew. We weren’t going to turn them down. Bill Peters worked with them to get us from [his] Auburn label to them. He believed in us. It is what it is. We enjoyed the touring and doing what we did. I still put [the band breaking up] on me. I was the one that walked away. I was upset because we couldn’t get them to work with us. We weren’t going to get rich. But it wasn’t about that. We just needed $500 a week or every few weeks to get by. I thought a tour was going to be set up with Black Sabbath, but they kept putting it off. It was nuts.
The album commences with “Creed.” Talk about that track and what the lyrics are about.
“Creed” is the Marine creed. The album is called Full Metal Jacket
. It has nothing to do with the movie. “Creed” is just a lead in to the title track. The “creed” is what the Marines use. It’s been around since the second World War, from my understanding. We just turned it into an intro to the song “Full Metal Jacket.”
Is it an anti-war album?
I don’t see it that way. The song “Full Metal Jacket” is roughly based on what soldiers call the magic bullet. It’s the bullet on the battlefield that has your name on it. That was the concept. “Hell Day” refers to war, but we’re not ones to write a lot about violence. “Those Eyes” is about the creature that you thought lived under the bed that scared you when you were a kid. “Symphony of the Sea” is about explorers leaving and maybe never coming back. We try to write about different things, and we always have.
The title track shows just how well you can still sing. What’s been the key to keeping your voice in such good shape?
To be honest with you, not wearing out my voice. It’s a muscle. You want to keep it in shape, but you can overuse it and do damage. Some guys have problems with their voices from the smoking and drinking. I just try to keep it at a minimum. I do mental prep on my vocals for the recordings. I do my songs. I just use it when I have to use it, and that’s helped me keep my voice in shape.
Is “Metal on Metal” a tribute to local label owner Bill Peters, who has a radio show by the same name?
In a roundabout way, it is. I like to roughly base my lyrics on ideas. The reason being is that you can be exact, but the way I do it is that I like to hear what their opinion of the song is. At the beginning, Bill was afraid of the song’s name because Anvil has a song by that name. That’s where he got his name for the radio show. After he heard the song and what we were doing with it, he liked it and said, “It’s not Anvil and not about about me. It’s about the concept that metal on metal is what we do.”
“Hell Day” also hearkens back to the speed metal of the early ’80s and sounds like early Metallica. Talk about that song a bit.
Actually, our roots come from European power metal more in the vein of Accept and Michael Schenker and Judas Priest. We like the European metal. It could depend on what you listened to on the radio. Whatever WMMS played, that’s what we did. Our roots come from that European-type power metal. That’s where our concepts and ideas came from while growing up.
The record comes with a bonus track, “Up the Hammers.” Talk about that song.
It’s a reference to a festival in Greece. The song isn’t about the festival. We were in Germany, and when I got to Greece, it seemed ancient. I started thinking about the ancient gods. I started thinking about how they and us get together and almost like hard rock is a religion. It’s a play on the old and new.
Once the pandemic ends, do you plan to tour in support of the album?
We are hoping to do. Right now, no one is saying anything about any shows. We want to. If we have to wait until 2021, we will. We’re already scheduled to go back to Greece in 2021 for the Up the Hammers festival. We don’t know if we’ll be able to travel yet. We’re just taking everything one day at a time. We would love to have a release party and play some shows in Cleveland, but we can’t do that right now.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.