Fear Of God Biography
In 1984, drummer Dennis Butler and rough-throated Dawn Crosby form the band Détente, with Jim Tutone on guitar and Rob Farr on bass. Dawn and Dennis had by then already played together in Allies. Dawn had been active even before that, in a band called First Attack in London, 1983.
In April, Détente record their first demo, a three-track effort that includes tracks such as "Shattered Illusions" and "Vultures in the Sky". Song themes primarily revolve around the atrocities of society as opposed to inner horrors that would surface in later recordings. Although Jim Tutone was the principal author of both "Vultures in the Sky" and "Shattered Illusions", it's not him that's on that first demo. Fred Rascon replaces Jim on guitar after both Tutone and Farr leave the band because of a big argument with Dawn. Fred leaves later, too. But Dennis and Dawn persevere, and through adverts in music magazines they attract the attentions of Caleb Quinn (guitar), Ross Robinson (guitar) and Steve Hochheiser (bass). Steve has been on stage before with Lizzy Borden.
'We started to play the club circuit in L.A. a few weeks later, which were the band's first gigs,' Steve Hochheiser recalls from these early days. 'Ross and I wrote the music to "Losers", "Widows Walk" and "Blood I Bleed" around that time.' This is also the line-up that records the second demo, which includes "Shattered Illusions" and "Vultures in the Sky" from the first demo, coupled with "Holy War" and "Widows Walk". This demo tape results in a lot of interest from record labels, including Combat, Noise, Music for Nations, Metal Blade and Roadrunner. A record deal is made with Metal Blade (US) and Roadrunner, the latter because the band reckoned they would be more successful in Europe. A rough version of "Widows Walk" is put on Metal Massacre VII (Metal Blade, 1986), even though, so Steve claims, 'we hated Brian Slagel' [boss of Metal Blade].
Détente play a lot of gigs in the Bay Area until they are banned after a riot breaks out at a gig with Megadeth and Dark Angel. 'Dawn and Dennis had bad feelings towards Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson of Megadeth,' Steve remembers, 'they lived together at the same place, where the Dave twins ran up a huge phone bill, refusing to pay for it after they took off.' At this gig, Dawn starts pelting Megadeth with filled beer cans, which ends in a riot. After that, gigs in L.A. are almost impossible to get.
Later that year, the band record "Recognize no Authority". They choose Dana Strum for a producer, due to the fact that he has good contacts with a top recording studio in L.A. called Baby O's. 'We paid him a third of our US$ 12,000 recording budget,' Steve says, 'Dana was an expert at scamming the studio for time. The band always started recording at 10 PM and usually finished at 7 AM, to avoid studio management. We would slip the nighttime workers a twenty each so we could borrow outboard equipment from the other artists (outboard gear from Michael Jackson was used on "Recognize no Authority"). We would also say we used 4 hours despite using 8 or 9. Studio time was US$ 175 per hour, so Dana's large piece of the budget was recovered quickly. I think it took about nine days to record the album'. Around that time, Dawn Crosby and Dennis Butler get married.
In the studio, problems quickly arise. 'Dawn would walk out of the studio after any disagreement,' Steve sighs, 'and after one of these episodes I went to her place and woke her up and started screaming at her.' Dawn goes back to the studio that night, but Steve is not allowed to go near her during her tracks. The result of all these trials and tribulations, however, doesn't fail to impress. Rooted in punk-rock, the tracks on "Recognize no Authority" are pretty straightforward and the politically oriented lyrics a far cry from the masterpieces that were yet to emerge. Reviewers consider the album a fine one.
Even before the album is released, Dana Strum has the potential to round up acts for the "Trick or Treat" soundtrack. 'Because Dana refused to work with Dawn after having worked with her on "Recognize no Authority"', says Steve, 'we inquired about the availability of a couple of singers and were planning on using Dennis on drums if it came to pass.' They tell Dennis of their plans, and Dawn reacts heavily to that. The Détente recording line-up plays a few more gigs, ending with a show at the Country Club in Reseda. Then the band decides to take a break. Dennis has a work-related accident with some type of acid, getting burned over a large part of his body. Dawn goes to Europe on a promotional tour. The individual members of the band go their own ways. This eventually leads to Steve and Ross leaving to form Catalepsy (called after the instrumental on "Recognize no Authority" that they'd written). They are replaced by LSN member Greg Cekalovich (guitar), George Robb (ex-Agent Steel and ex-LSN too, bass) and Mike Carlino (guitar). 'Dennis was asleep on the floor, it was about 2 AM,' says Mike, 'and Dawn and me started jamming until, like, 6 AM. That's how we wrote "Diseased", and I was in.' In March 1987 the band play a show in San Francisco (Country Club) without Greg (Greg had run into a little trouble with the law, nothing serious, but it did mean he couldn't show up to play that show). Greg leaves the band to re-form/join LSN, taking George with him. The band decide to continue with one guitarist. Mike's friend Blair Darby, originally a guitarist who works in a music shop, is asked to join the band to play bass.
Slowly, the magic that became the classic Fear of God line-up started to form. Mike Carlino had played in several New Jersey cover bands in the early eighties as a highschool senior, then moved to L.A. in 1985. When he got Ross' position in the band, he and Dawn couldn't get along at all. Mike and Dennis got along really well; 'we were like brothers,' Mike remembers fondly.
In 1987, the band records another demo, a pretty low-budget job. It does not succeed in enchanting the people at Roadrunner, resulting in the band getting dropped. While writing for the second demo (that would eventually surface as the "'89 Demo"), Mike and Dawn start to click. 'One evening the two of us sat down and started to jam, and we wrote "Red to Gray" in something like 10 minutes,' Mike says. 'Dawn had this organised footlocker filled with colour-coded notebooks containing ideas, snippets of songs, and poems. She just pulled out one of those notebooks and we had the song.' Working closely together on the songs, Mike and Dawn get involved with each other. Understandably, this leads to conflict within the band. The last show with Dennis is played at the Troubadour in L.A. Shortly after that, Dawn and Dennis get divorced, and Dennis leaves the band. He is replaced by former Raven drummer Rob "Wacko" Hunter.
This line-up records the next demo, entitled "'89 Demo", at Pyramid Sound, Ithaca, New York, with Alex Perialis. Although Blair is a good live bassist, Rob Hunter recognizes that he doesn't cut it in the studio, not with the faster parts. Mike plays bass on the demo (as, eventually, he would do on the debut album). Dawn and Mike become very much the unit from which the creativy of Détente flows. 'One evening we were actually fighting and there's this phone call,' Mike recalls. 'Dawn answered, listened, looked at me and then grinned the whole time. It turned out to be a call from Roberta Peterson, A&R person of Warner Brothers who'd been looking for us for over a year, because of the '87 demo and good stuff she'd heard of that Country Club gig.' The reason why Warner Brothers had been looking for so long was because the band had relocated to the east coast without telling too many people. Warner saw a lot in the combination of Mike and Dawn. What ensued were 9 months of negotations, during which it was also discovered that there was already a band called Détente. They were willing to part with the name, though there was a price tag attached to that. Somewhere around this time, Rob Hunter leaves and is replaced by Eric Alpert from New Jersey. He doesn't stick around for long, though, and it's Steve Cordova who we find playing on the seminal "Within the Veil". The album was recorded at Pat Regan's studio; Pat was also hired as an engineer. The end result is flawlessly recorded but somehow doesn't sound right at all. Mike and people from Warner Brothers sit listening to a lot of CDs for a day and decide they like what they hear whenever Andy Wallace turned out to have been mixing. So Andy Wallace is hired, who saves the day. The final version of the album is sent to Warner Records under the band name of 'Sedition'. Then, one day, Mike sits leafing through the bible and comes up with 'Fear God'. Dawn thinks 'Fear of God' would be better, so that becomes the new band name.
FEAR OF GOD
"Within the Veil" is released in 1991, resulting in widespread appreciation and, as they say, critical acclaim. Dawn's lyrics, anyway, have now found their true flow, with highly autobiographical topics involving emotional and sexual abuse. Michael's excellent riffs provide the solid basis music-wise. The band do a thirty-gig tour of the States in the summer. About ten shows prior to the end of the tour, Steve and Dawn end up in a physical argument, upon which Steve decides to leave right away. 'I followed him to this diner where we sat talking for an hour or something,' Mike muses. 'I think he had then already decided to leave the band, but he'd finish the tour with us.' At the very end of that tour, Fear of God play an excellent show at the Country Club which is professionally captured on a video bootleg. After the show, Steve walks up to Mike and thanks him for everything, then leaves and is never heard of again (he is rumoured to have later played in a band that Carlino describes as 'Van Halen meets something wacky'). Little did anyone expect that the Country Club show was almost the final ever real Fear of God appearance. The band get an invitation to play the Foundations Metal Forum in autumn. The drum stool at the time is occupied by Brendan Etter, who'd played in an industrial-type band on an independent label, Nature. He's had jazz schooling but his youth and hobby (he's a motorcross racer) cause him to be a precise, articulate, vigorous drummer. Dawn and Mike now finally have what they fought and worked for over four years to achieve. Warner Brothers sees longevity in the band, and the promotion machine had run efficiently for "Within the Veil". The record company set them up with studio time after Christmas of 1991 and a major tour slot on the Danzig tour of the year after. A Fear of God track is scheduled to appear on a movie soundtrack, too. Dawn meets a bass player on the train (Blair seems to be considered more of a live bass player). Jason Levin, a rastafarian with shoulder-length dreadlocks, plays in a reggea band and is an amazingly talented bassist. When they sit down to jam together he turns out to be able to add an extra layer to the Fear of God sound. Things look really, really good.
Then, when the band hits the Battery studios in London, early 1992, with producer Chris Tsangerides, things start falling apart. Initially, recordings seem to go very well. In interviews, Dawn claims that Tsangerides is a great guy and that the album will be a lot rougher. Personal problems between Mike and her, however, cause Dawn to not show up for her singing parts, at a time when the new album is practically finished. This is the start of the decline of the dream, the downfall of Fear of God. Well over $100,000 into the recording process, and with a European tour scheduled in several months, the band more or less split up. Warner Brothers, who still see a lot of potential in the Carlino/Crosby combination, try to patch things up. Dawn flies back to her home town of Annapolis, Maryland. Because there is a European tour booked, she seeks musicians to help her out. The very next month, Dawn is helped by Wrathchild America (later Souls at Zero) members Jay Abbene, Terry Carter (both on guitar) and drummer Shannon Larkin (later of Ugly Kid Joe 'fame'). Because Wrathchild America bassist/vocalist Brad Divens declines the invitation, they ask a friend of Jay's, Rob Michael, to play bass (ex-Have Mercy and in a side project with Jay, called Jakkpot). This line-up does a small (exclusively European) tour, climaxing in a mid April performance at the Aardschokdag Festival. Warner Brothers doesn't like this development, but still a lot of time and energy is spent on trying to get things back together, to keep the classic Fear of God line-up, in which they firmly believe, together. The people with whom Dawn now plays music, however, are into much heavier music. This is quite likely to have helped her decide that it's a heavier type of music that she wants to create. Unbeknownst to Warner she is working on putting together a new band line-up. She burns the Carlino/Warner Brothers bridge behind her.
Even during Shannon Larkin's playing in the band, there is in fact already a new drummer who is then learning the songs. This is Douglas Sylvia, formerly of Geneticide and Skeletal Earth. Not a lot is heard of the band for a while, until news gets around that a new demo has been recorded. Guitars are now handled by Brandon Hefner and Randy Bobzien; Rob Michael and Douglas Sylvia are still in the fold, too. The resulting demo is rather different from the style that later made it to "Toxic Voodoo", on account of Sylvia's drumming style being more frantic and more fitting to a technical death metal band. Douglas is dissatisfied with the band diverging from the formula of "Within the Veil" (he seems to be the only one around Dawn who likes her older style of music), whereas the rest of the band thinks his drumming style doesn't fit with the band. He leaves. The demo is in fact re-recorded with John Grden (like Rob, ex-Have Mercy) on drums. Brandon leaves the band - more or less in the middle of the late summer 1993 tour - and is replaced by Chris Kalandras. 'Brandon, who was living at Dawn's place at the time, had left after yet another endless argument,' bassist Rob Michael recalls. Dawn tries to shop the demo to Warner Brothers' Roberta Peterson. She thinks it's an OK death metal album but it's nothing like she knew and loved from the time when Dawn and Mike worked together. She declines. Then, on February 12 1994, Pavement Records signs a one-album deal with Fear of God on account of the re-recorded demo. Recording the album, however, doesn't go smoothly. 'On March 7 the band had gone to Florida to record the album,' Rob knows, 'but the night before Dawn had to do her vocal tracks (March 13) she got extremely drunk and used drugs. The day she had to sing, she'd lost her voice and was a total mess. We decided to go back to our day time jobs and leave Dawn to finishing (and producing) the album.' In July they play a few gigs, but the recording process of "Toxic Voodoo", coupled with personal differences with John Grden, cause the other three members to leave the band. It's the first of quite a few personnel changes.
"Toxic Voodoo", released in 1994, does not meet the expectations of a lot of fans. It seems that not Dawn, not Michael, but the combination of the two made for the unique blend of awesome talent that excelled on "Within the Veil". The old Fear of God style would never be again. Nevertheless, the album seemed to radiate a more positive atmosphere, which Dawn claims is caused in part by her having restored the relationship with her father, whom she'd not been in contact with for a very long time. In fact she's living at her father's place most of the time. In interviews she claims to be very happy, and the lyrics of "Worms" seem to imply a struggle with substance abuse, a willingness to go and live clean. Rob, Chris and Randy leave the band two or three weeks prior to the "Toxic Voodoo" tour. On the tour, we find Bruce Greig (formerly of the speed metal band Desecration, the technical metal band Voxhumana and the crazy industrial/metal band Spine) on bass, and the two guitarist positions are taken by Bill Hayden and one Sparky Voyles (currently of Dying Fetus). They start working on the next studio album, too. In 1995, Fear of God records the last demo with Dawn on vocals. Sparky has at the time already been replaced by Frank Dimauro. The demo does not cause Pavement to take the bait - in fact the term "giving the band the run-around" is used. Frank leaves in the spring of '96 and is replaced by Tony Mallory, who also takes on keyboard duties. Bruce leaves for Next Step Up, to be replaced by Mike Schafer. Tony is also in a gothic band called Chapelblaque, that he continues to be part of.
On December 15 1996, Dawn Crosby, to many the soul of Fear of God, dies of acute liver failure due to years of excessive alcohol abuse. It is the unfortunate culmination of a downward spiral that started back in the Battery Studios in London, early 1992. The remaining musicians continue for several more years under the Fog monicker.
Dennis Butler was last seen active musically, in Antoninus. Mike Carlino is recording an instrumental album and thinking of doing something with the awesome Fear of God legacy in the near future.
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