For those of you not sure who Eric Wagner is, let me fill you in. Wagner is the creator and frontman of the epic Chicago doom metal band, THE SKULL. Wagner was also one of the original members and songwriter for the legendary doom metal band, TROUBLE, back in 1979. The band was formed in Aurora, Illinois. He stayed with the band until 1998 and then came back to the band in 2002 until 2008. After leaving the band the second time, he then formed THE SKULL in 2012 along with Trouble bassist Ron Holzner and Trouble drummer Jeff Olson.
Since the band’s formation, they’ve forged ahead with their own music and direction. But being such a large part of the highly popular Trouble, they still play songs from that period in many of their shows, to much aplomb from crowds, I might add.
Also, since 2012, Wagner, in his downtime, performed in another doom metal band called Blackfinger, which is still active.
I had the great pleasure to catch up with Wagner before one of their shows in Joliet, Illinois at The Forge rock club. Read on to see what he had to say about his band, new members, being labeled as Christian metal, and where he sees The Skull in the future. It was an interesting chat you don’t want to miss!
Read our Corrosion Of Conformity concert review in which Wagner’s The Skull is direct support here.
- I’m here with Eric Wagner, lead singer of The Skull formerly of Trouble.
Horror Patch: You guys have been touring pretty extensively in support of The Endless Road Turns Dark. How has all the touring been going? How has the response been from the fans for the new album?
Eric Wagner: So far good. We’re having fun. We’ve been on a lot of good tours here lately with Weedeater, Orange Goblin, now COC. So we get to play for more fans right now. It’s cool here in the States when they put packages together like that because it’s kind of tough doing anything on your own these days here. In Europe, it’s a little easier. Here to get everybody to come out…in the rain, it needs to be a good package and so far this one’s been great.
HP: Awesome! It’s a great lineup and honestly, I’m here for you guys. I’ve seen you guys several times and I’m a fan going back to the beginning with Trouble. I don’t think you live in Chicago anymore but ever since the beginning of Trouble, and now The Skull, you guys have been a Chicago band. Is it good to be back playing again for your home crowd?
EW: Well, I’m here from time to time and live here once in a while, right now I’m not. So yeah, it’s cool, come through here. I don’t think we ever played out here and certainly not at The Forge but I do think we played in Joliet a long time ago. I can’t remember. It’s been too much man. People always say stuff to me like – “Hey man, do you remember me? We smoked a joint out the back of the venue that one time.” Like when? “Oh like 90 something” I’m like, umm no. I bet I wouldn’t remember it if we did it yesterday (Laughing). Yeah, it’s cool to be home. We just played Thalia Hall in Chicago with Orange Goblin. It’s always home.
HP: Who’s got the best crowds, Europe or here in America?
EW: Well, Chicago always..it’s home so – you know back in the Trouble days back then in the 80’s and 90’s, Chicago was one of the worst cities for us. Not that it was the fans but we always did better elsewhere but I think now it’s for people who get a chance to hear some of those songs and it’s different now. Chicago is always home so I’m partial to that. New York is cool. There’s a lot of places around the country. Even some of the little towns, even when there are 50 people there, I don’t mind it if it’s that small if the crowd is there to hear it and they’re into it. It’s easier to play in front of two thousand and twenty but, you know, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. New York is always good for us. I don’t know.
HP: I’ve seen you play several times and the band always gets a great response when you play Trouble songs. Will you continue to do that?
EW: Ummm, we want to be The Skull. Of course as a songwriter and stuff. As soon as I’m done with a record I start to think about the next one. When The Skull first started we started just doing the first two Trouble records and then people were bugging us to write an album, so we did. In the headline sets, we do some Trouble stuff. The Weedeater tour was the first time we said, let’s just be The Skull. I loved it because I’ve been playing some of those songs forever and it was cool to take a break. On this tour, we do a couple in the set. You know people like it and we’re playing for more people and why not? I’m proud of that stuff you know but it is nice sometimes to break away and just be The Skull.
HP: I was reading in Milwaukee you’re going to be playing two sets – One The Skull and one Trouble set.
EW: Yeah well, you know, umm, we got asked to play Hammer Of Doom after those guys backed out of the show and they wanted an exclusive all Trouble set and we’re like ok. We’ve got a couple of new guys in the band right now. I didn’t want to go out in Germany at Hammer Of Doom and play that set for the first time. I called my friend Mike in Milwaukee and he booked us a show. It should be interesting. We don’t know what we’re going to play yet and even if I did, I wouldn’t say it (laughing).
HP: You recently had a couple of lineup changes. You now have Alex Johnson on guitar and Henry Vazquez on drums. How did that come about?
EW: Well, Henry’s jammed with us before. After Brian Dixon, they wouldn’t let him into the States – we had to cancel a tour two April’s ago, something like that. Anyways, Henry, he sat in with us before. Me and Ron and Lothar, we’ve been there since the beginning and some of the other guys, they were always in other bands and they weren’t really what I would say a permanent member or anything. There came a time when they needed to go do their thing and we’re still here but you know. Alex is a friend of Henry’s. He plays with him in his other band, Blood Of The Sun. That’s how that came about. We needed somebody for these two tours right here and Henry was going to do it anyway. We’ve known Henry forever too, he was in Saint Vitus. I think the band is sounding really good right now.
HP: You’re heading back to Europe after this tour. Are you excited about that?
EW: Always love when I go to Europe. I’ve been going there since I was 5. This time it’s going to be a short run. The main thing is Hammer Of Doom and we’re doing some date around it as long as we’re there. It’s only about 5. We were just there in April or May in Europe for a month. So this came out of the blue for some reason those guys pulled out of that whole thing and they called us and we were like…Ok, I’ll do it.
HP: Again, you already touched on this a little bit. Do you plan on writing new material when all this touring is finished?
EW: I’m always working on something. I mean, I can’t force it or anything, it happens when it happens. I’m always working on something or making notes you know. My plan for me is – I think after we get back from Europe we have one show left in Chicago and this winter I was going to write and stuff hopefully. I’ve got like four tunes right now and a bunch of papers everywhere that I have to sift through.
HP: Have your lyrical themes changed over the years? Trouble was once described as “white” metal. Has that changed with The Skull?
EW: Yeah, that was Metal Blade’s fault. All the metal back then was kind of a lot of the same subject. I think I said just as many Satan’s and Lucifer’s as everybody except I didn’t grow up that way. I was never able to write about something I didn’t believe in or was right for me. So, I always put a positive spin on it. So Metal Blade put that “White Metal” tag on us, which me personally, I think it was a mistake. I’m not a Christian like in the sense – more spiritual really I would have to say. I wasn’t out there trying to save anybody. I think once you put that label on then people automatically don’t listen to it or don’t like it because of it. I think it’s better off to let people make up their own minds instead of telling them what it is. If you don’t say anything, you put it out there and then we would’ve been just like everybody else. There was a positive twist to it – so what. But it isn’t labeled that word, which some people are really against.
HP: Back then, I think a lot of the fans hear that and you get all the Stryper fans coming out.
EW: Yeah but Stryper, they threw out Bibles, we never did that. I remember in the 90’s and it took a while to get that label off. Some people still think we were a Christian band. I saw a headline in an interview I did it said “Trouble – Christian Rockers Are Drunken Metal Heads” I’m like Yeah! (laughing). It’s not that I’m against it and all that stuff but I just don’t think you should label things, you should let people make up their own mind. As far as my writing thing, it hasn’t changed at all. The only thing that has changed is me. If you listen to the first Trouble album first song all the way up to every single song I ever wrote, every album, it’s all one life. It’s just me now. Otherwise, it’s just the same. I’ve always written about how I feel, what I see, what I think. I have the same problems and the same bullshit in my life as everyone else. For some strange reason, people listen to my big mouth, what I have to say and that’s cool. I guess I was able to put it in writing in a way for people to understand too or make it relate to themselves. That’s cool, I appreciate it too. I still get to do it too. It’s freaking me out. I never would’ve thought in a million years that I’d be sitting here right now on tour with COC at age 60. I’m enjoying every minute of it because it’s not going to last forever. People need to stop bitching and enjoy it because one day it will be gone.
HP: That’s for sure. What’s the future like for The Skull? Where do you see the band headed?
EW: In the future? I have no idea. I’m just playing it by ear, you know. Whatever happens, happens. All of a sudden we have new people on board, we have new booking agents, we have people working for us that we need. Things are going good right now, you know. As I said, we have COC right now, we’re going to Europe to play Hammer of Doom, we’ve got a festival in Chicago on December 7th. Next year, we already have some things starting to line up, festivals, and I think Maryland Doom Fest wants us again in June. It’s just whatever happens man. I’m always working on new material. I’ve told them guys, we can’t wait cause I’m getting older. I can’t wait another four years I said. Actually, I just said it as an incentive to write. I think this winter we’re going to do some writing. I don’t know about recording yet or anything, it’s not time.
HP: If you could go on tour with any band who would it be?
EW: Oh God, I don’t know.
HP: Who do you listen to now? Personally?
EW: I don’t listen to anything. I hate everything. If I do listen to music, I listen to more acoustic stuff or maybe older stuff you know. If we’re sitting having a glass of wine, me and my girlfriend, I put on something we haven’t heard in a long time – Grand Funk or some shit like that. I was just seeing in my news feed, they were arguing over why doom bands sound the way they do and things like that. I’m like I do know the answer to it, I wanted to comment on it. People in interviews do ask me sometimes, how do you write a good doom record. The answer is, you don’t listen to doom. A lot of these bands are just listening to that kind of music instead of all kinds and incorporating their influence in their writing. You can write any song, any riff on the planet. If you tune it down and play it out of a Marshall cabinet at 11, it’s going to be heavy, you know. That’s the difference between bands of the 70’s or like Sabbath and shit. Who were their influences like?
So today, the kids coming up and listening to doom, their influences are like Sleep and Electric Wizard or something like that. Their not broadening their horizons you know. Sabbath didn’t listen to doom, they were listening to blues. Ozzy’s favorite band was the Beatles and shit. That’s the biggest difference I think and sometimes why the music today isn’t that great because who is the music they’re listening to? If you’re just copying what you like, well, I can’t say it that way because they’re listening to that kind of music, the same kind that they’re writing. I don’t. I listen to what I like…acoustic music, I like chilling back and relax. I don’t really listen to that much heavy metal. The heavy metal that I grew up with isn’t the same as it is today. I think MTV changed that name. I was listening to early Judas Priest and Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, UFO and all these different bands you know. I think that’s the biggest difference is who are their influences and who are they listening to.
HP: Well Eric, I’ll get out of your hair and let you get ready for the show tonight. Thanks again for taking the time out to speak with me and the readers of Horror Patch. You are an icon of the genre and I have really appreciated your music. Thank you.