SABOTAGE- KEITH FLAX
First of all, I would like to welcome you to METALZONE!
My pleasure Christine, thanks for having me!
So, Keith, I guess it must be a little odd for you to be interviewed for your band SABOTAGE after 35 years? Has it ever crossed your mind that you would talk about your band again after all these years?
I'm still in shock. I would have never expected this in a million years, let alone thirty-five!
How does it feel to see the first official cd release of SABOTAGE ? Are you happy with the collaboration with Cult Metal Classics?
It feels absolutely amazing knowing this music is finally getting out there for the world to hear and there's no better label to make this happen. Manos and Kostas from CMC are a pleasure to work with, they are very passionate about the music and are true fans of the genre, which I believe is a huge key to their success. EXTREMELY happy!
So, before we go deeper into the band’s history, please let us know how you got into Heavy Metal in the first place? What or who was the reason that drew you in this music and what were your major influences as a vocalist?
The metal bug first bit me after hearing JUDAS PRIEST’s "Unleashed in the East" album. At that point, there was no turning back! So of course, as far as influences, Rob Halford is at the top of the heap among many others including Bruce Dickinson, Dio, Geoff Tate, Klaus Meine and of course the great Ozzy Osbourne, who I feel was and still is a very underrated vocalist. What really got me into Metal was number one the music, but also the attitude, the bonding and the sense of brotherhood. The whole community and the feeling of being part of a movement that was an unstoppable force! I made some of the best life-long friends being part of that scene that I still consider brothers to this day. Also, let's not forget the whole fashion aspect. The hair, the leather and studs. We put a lot of pride into our image.
Many people are unaware of the band's existence, especially in Europe. Can you please shed some light on how and when SABOTAGE started and who were the founding members?
SABOTAGE was formed in early 1983 when I joined forces with existing members Kevin James, John Hastrich, Gary Lee and Troy Miller, who was later replaced by Rikki Baggett. Funny thing is, Kevin and John auditioned me and they asked if I could do a show the NEXT day which wound up going well and set the pace for an extremely fast ride to the top of Portland's growing metal scene.
At that time you were pretty well known in Portland's metal scene, and I guess there was a plan for the band to enter a studio and release a single or even a complete album. As far as I know, you never had an official demo release at that time, right? How did that happen? Low budget or something else?
Yeah, we were a classic textbook example of "struggling musicians" and couldn't afford to finish the recording sessions we had booked. We were so broke, we couldn't even pay attention, haha! We did although manage to finish one track, "Mental Anguish" which really defines our sound and appears on the new album. The self-titled release will also feature later studio recordings, done in LA in '87, as well as some live bootlegs and maybe even a cover or two...we're still working on the final touches.
Did you play only locally or even in other states at that time in order to promote your music? I know that you did many headline shows in Portland and also opening slots for THE MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP or METALLICA! (by the way, if my memory serves me right METALLICA never showed up) What were the gigs like and do you have any nice or funny memories about those concerts that you can share with us.
I guess there were many memorable moments! We were strictly local, although we did venture down to Salem (Oregon) to do a concert with RAIL, who were huge at that time. You are correct, METALLICA was a no-show and no one knew til the day of the concert, the promoters were trying to keep things hush and the fans lined up outside were being told for the first time at the last minute. The show still went on with WILD DOGS and SABOTAGE, we were the opening acts, and no one seemed to mind. The house was packed and we were on fire that night, as were the DOGS. It was a night to remember! As far as SCHENKER, we were told the day of the concert that he no longer wanted an opening act on the rest of that tour. I remember getting a call early that day by the promoter saying "are you sitting down?" which is never a good thing! We all went to the show that night and made the best of it, but we were really bummed and disappointed. As were many of our fans. Soon after, we did a show with NAZARETH and we DIDN'T get cancelled and they DID show up, haha! That night was a big deal and we had the sold-out crowd screaming for more. It was truly amazing and a peak moment for us at that time!
So what was the reason that SABOTAGE got disbanded?
Differences in musical direction, egos, etc. You know, the usual. If we'd only had a good manager to sit us down once in a while and keep us in line!
SABOTAGE hails from Oregon, a state that was very important for the US Metal scene throughout the years, especially in the eighties. How were things back then? I think besides bands like SABOTAGE, GLACIER or WILD DOGS there were also a big bunch of dedicated fans and supporters of the metal scene. So looking back what are your thoughts about that time?
It was magical. There were so many great bands were coming out of the Pacific Northwest and we were all like family, doing whatever we could to help one another. A real camaraderie. The fans were hands down, the best ever. Loyal and dedicated! I miss those days.
After the split, you joined HAVEN, a band which also came from the area of Portland. Can you please tell us more about this band? I think that you were a hired gun but as far as you can remember was there a release of HAVEN?
I was brought in as a hired gun in HAVEN when they'd already hired Rikki Baggett on drums, who had also come from SABOTAGE. Such an awesome band, heavily influenced by SABBATH. What a sound! There's a demo floating around somewhere, hopefully, it will turn up one day and wind up on Cult Metal Classics!
You also joined GLACIER because they needed help to finish their EP! You did the vocals for the song „When Heaven's At Hand” and you joined WILD DOGS as well. Tell us about that collaboration too.
Yeah, I pretty much whored myself out to everybody, haha!! I never really "joined" or did shows with either of them. GLACIER "borrowed" me from SABOTAGE to help finish their EP and with WILD DOGS, I just wound up writing and recording some songs and was offered the gig, but ultimately decided to stay with SABOTAGE. Not sure if that was the right choice at that time.
After all these you went back to New York and had a collaboration with JACK STARR's BURNING STARR. Was this just only for live shows or did you also record any songs with the band?
We did a few live shows and I recorded one track, "Out of the Blue", which I believe wound up on a B side to one Jack's singles. This collaboration led to another band I did, REYLAYER, which also featured members from BURNING STARR. The album is called "No Turn on Red", it was released on vinyl in '86, and is considered extremely rare.
What was the reason that you relocated to Los Angeles in the spring of 1987? Was it frustration and disappointment from the NY scene or something completely different?
I think I was just tired of shovelling snow, haha! Actually, I had been working with Jack again, when I got a call from Kevin, who was now in LA and we started talking about maybe giving SABOTAGE another shot. That's what motivated me at the time to head back west. We wound up recording some of the unfinished SABOTAGE material, which also appears on the new album. Plus, I really was ready to jump into that whole Metal scene that was blowing up in LA!
You started working then with Masami Fujimaki and formed MEAN BUSINESS and later VALHALLA. Tell me what is the first thought that comes to your mind about then? By the way, are we going to have a vinyl release of Valhalla too? Lots of people are waiting for it!
I remember meeting Masami for the first time and we listened to each other’s demos, talked in-depth about our passion for the same kinds of music and thinking this guy is the real deal. What a talent! I honestly believe we were destined to work together. As far as "UneartheD" appearing on vinyl, we'll just have to wait and see I'm constantly being asked the same thing but it's up to the label to make that call. Let's hope it happens soon!
You have also performed with PANTHER! Was this the same band that released the self-titled EP in 1986 with Jeff Scott Soto?
Yes, great band, and by the way, Jeff's such an amazing vocalist. I was very honoured to fill those shoes at that time. PANTHER is also how I met Frankie Anthony, who later on became VALHALLA'S drummer.
Are you familiar with today’s Metal scene? Have you noticed any new acts that stand out in your opinion or are you still more interested in bands from the past?
I'm definitely more interested in my old heroes and what they're up to these days but there are so many great new bands out there keeping this music alive and I have nothing but respect for them.
Music VS snakes... and the winner is? (if there is any)
Haha, good question! Very passionate about both. Can't have one without the other! For those that aren't aware, I breed exotic reptiles and specialize in arboreal species such as Green Tree Pythons, Amazon Tree Boas and Emerald Tree Boas...I find working with these animals to be very therapeutic.
Do you want to share with us your connection with Germany?
Sure, why not. My last name is really Flachsenhaar, I'm half German. Flax is just easier to pronounce, haha! I got the idea from my late, great uncle Marty who was a famous jazz musician back in the old days who worked with such legends as Dizzie Gillespi, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman, just to name a few. Google Marty Flax to learn more.
In a more private conversation, you have mentioned one of your dreams as far as music is concerned! Tell us about it and I would also like to know about your future plans.
Excellent interviewing, by the way, that last question leads up to this one perfectly! A lifelong dream of mine was to visit Germany and explore my roots, so to speak. If SABOTAGE or VALHALLA were to reunite for a slot on the bill at the Keep It True Festival, I would die a happy man! As far as the future, I'm hoping to write and record new music again and maybe even reunite with some of my old comrades for some live shows. Right now, just taking one day at a time.
Thank you very much for your time! It has been great talking to you! So be my guest and add whatever you want.
The pleasure was all mine and thank YOU Christine for all you've done. You've played such an important role in making all of this happen! I would also like to thank all of the Metal fans around the world for supporting this music with love and passion like no others and keeping it alive...you guys ROCK!!!