Connection between Trauma and opera

interview Trauma band

There are several bands named Trauma but the most known is ofcourse the power, speed thrash band from the USA founded by Cliff Burton. Their album "Scratch And Scream" is legendary. In 2018 the band released a new album "As The World Dies". After the great review it is time for a talk between Manos and original vocalist Donny Hillier about history and future.

Hello Donny! First of all, thank you accepting to do an interview with me for It's an honor!
Thank you Manos. I greatly appreciate the wonderful review and the opportunity to be interviewed by The honor is mine.

Trauma have a new album out entitled "As The World Dies". Congratulations for an excellent release! What response do you get so far from people and critics?
We are getting a wonderful reaction and very enthusiastic, favorable reviews. Critics whom have heard the album like it very much.

I've spotted out the album was initially released on CD by the band with a CD reissue from Pure Steel Records to follow some months later. Why? Who did the vinyl version?
The album was released by The Orchard/Sony in digital format originally. There were primarily promotional cds sent out by the band and our US Publicist Guitarz Forever. Pure Steel Records has recently released the album in physical CD format and I believe vinyl at this time.

Let's go to the very beginning of Trauma. Under which conditions was the band formed in 1981 and which were your influences? What do you remember from the band's early days and the scene of the time?
Trauma was formed by musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area, in the East Bay Area to be exact. Our influences were primarily the NWOBHM bands although of course everyone had even more diverse influences than that. Once the lineup was complete we were able to write a set of original songs and start performing in the Bay Area at well known venues like Keystone Berkeley, The Stone SF, Wolfgang's, Keystone Palo Alto, etc. Soon after we made trips to LA, to the Whisky A GoGo, and the Troubadour and others. There were soo many places to play and live music most nights. These were the early days of the SF Thrash Scene.

Cliff Burton was an original Trauma member and appeared on "Demo I". Did he contribute in the songwriting? Please tell us the story behind both his joining and leaving Trauma for Metallica. Did he leave as a friend?
Cliff was a founding member of Trauma. He appeared on the Metal Massacre Volume II cut 'Such A Shame', the first studio recording of Trauma, I believe. He also appears on 3 songs of the bonus tracks on the "Scratch And Scream" album re-issue, 'We're Going Off', 'Woman Be Gone", and again 'Such A Shame'. There are other videos and demos floating around also. Most of the songwriting was done by Guitarist Mike Overton and me. We did play a few songs written by Cliff, and of course he contributed his bass lines and as everyone did, arrangement ideas. Cliff joined Trauma before I did, I was the last, so I am not sure about his joining. The other four members including Cliff were friends who were already jamming together before I met them. Cliff was recruited by Metallica over a period of about a year. He told us he struggled with his decision to leave Trauma. We remained friends and Mike Overton and I saw him socially on occasion. Mike and I attended Cliff's first appearance with Metallica, and other shows. Sadly, we attended his funeral and memorial events since.

Cliff is a cornerstone for both rock/metal music and the bass community. You knew him personally. What kind of guy was he and what memories do you keep?
Cliff was a serious musician. He lived for and was dedicated to music. He had diverse musical tastes, including a deep appreciation of Bach. Cliff would practice at home for hours at a time. He met his goal of becoming an accomplished professional musician. I think it was more important to him to live a musical life, than to be famous. He accomplished both. Cliff was easy to be with. He was smart, thoughtful, friendly, sometimes quiet. He had a wry sarcastic sense of humor, very clever.

interview Trauma Donny Hillier

How easy was it for a band to record, sign with a label and play live shows when you were formed? Is it the same for a new band today? How was it for you when you decided to come back?
It seems like it was easy to get off to a fast start in those days. There were always shows available. We had a very aggressive manager in our early days. He got us the Metal Blade connection for the Metal Massacre II track. He also got us out playing in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. He built a studio where we, and he scheduled video shoots for us. Unfortunately, the band decided to sever ties to him eventually. After some personnel changes, we attracted the attention of Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. Mike took us in the studio to record the "Scratch And Scream" album. I don't know that it is as easy for a new band today. Thankfully, Trauma has some name recognition that has helped for our comeback, but we gone for a long time, so we have been working hard to regain some notoriety.

How did the critics/people welcome the "Scratch And Scream" album in 1984? Why did Trauma split up just after its release?
We received favorable reviews for "Scratch And Scream". I remember positive reaction reviews or mentions from Kerrang, Metal Forces, and various European magazines in various languages. We had no public relations or management at the time, so we were only aware of reviews if they were mailed to us. There was no internet at the time so communication was not immediate. We actually continued on for about 1 year after the album release. We had to make more personnel changes as a few members moved out of the area or were having personal changes in their lives. We had no real feedback from outside the Bay Area on any potential success. Eventually we disbanded. I don't think that would have happened in the present world as the internet would have been an essential public relations tool. All the members of the band at the time were working day jobs and we were busy playing rehearsing, and writing songs for a second album which was never recorded. We spent little time on pr, which was a mistake.

What did you do during Trauma's inactive years (1984-2013)? Were you involved in any other bands/projects?
I was recruited to sing in another band which had some financial backing and I spent close to 3 years playing in Bay Area venues and recorded some demos. The band was more hardrock than metal. Eventually, I did not see everything face to face with management and we parted ways. I realized metal was where I needed to be. After that experience, I drifted away from music for awhile. I got married, bought a house, had children, and worked for a large corporation. Eventually I starting singing for various bands, playing gigs, or worked on recording projects on the side. By around 2013, I did some shows and recorded 3 albums with a Bay Area band, until Kris and I were both available to put Trauma back together.

What was the motive for your reunion? Was the "Scratch And Scream" album re-release an additional motive? Why did only Kris Gustofson (drums) was the only former member along with you to continue Trauma? Are you in contact with the rest old members of the band?
Kris and I had talked about the possibility of a reunion off and on through the years. We were each busy with other projects and not both available at the same time. At the time of the "Scratch And Scream" re-release, we were both available and agreed it was a good time. Yes, the re-issue was a motivator. We did have 2 meetings with the 5 "Scratch And Scream" lineup. Various members had moved far away from the Bay Area and/or had not been active musically, or had other personal commitments. It seemed unrealistic that we could collectively commit the time together. In the meantime, there were other musicians that wanted to participate.

The current line up is an all star line up. How did the new members join Trauma?
When Trauma reunited one of the 2 guitarists was Steve Robello formerly of Dublin Death Patrol. Steve had to drop out of the lineup as he and his wife were building a brewery/restaurant/nightclub called Cool Beerwerks. The brewery business was so time-consuming that Steve could not contribute time to the band. However, once he established the business, Steve returned to the lineup. Guitarist Kurt Fry then left the band and mutual friends suggested we try Joe Fraulob, formerly of Danzig and Deconstruct. Finally, Greg Christian, formerly of Testament became available, and again mutual friends were convinced he would be a perfect fit with Trauma, and the present lineup was completed.

interview Trauma live

In my opinion, "As The World Dies" is a lesson on how old school heavy/thrash should be brought fresh to present. What is Trauma's recipe for that?
I think it was an organic way that the members of the band went about songwriting for this album. We collectively contributed our experiences as heavy metal musicians. The result was classic metal with a modern sound.

"As The World Dies" reveals a variety of influences to the listener; from hard rock, N.W.O.B.H.M. and thrash to 90's heavy rock. How open minded are you when it comes to music, how has your music taste changed through the years and how does this reflect in your sound?
Yes, there are a variety of influences on "As the World Dies". It is an eclectic collection of songs in the metal genre. I think all the members of Trauma are open minded as to different musical tastes. I certainly am. Different musical genres and songs affect each of us in so many ways. One of the beauties of music. I love many types of music and even if a genre is not my thing, I often appreciate the talent of the musician. I think through the years I have learned that appreciation, while still playing music within the metal genre.

One of Trauma's highlights for me is your vocal skills! Throughout the album, I can listen to a veteran singer with not just a classic metal voice, but with experience and theatrical performance skills. A voice that is brilliantly expressive! I think this is rare and I can't resist to ask you if you have ever attended vocal lessons, if you have interest in other forms of vocal performance (e.g. opera) and which vocalists have influenced you?
Thank you for the compliment, Manos. I appreciate it very much. Yes, I took vocal lessons from a great teacher, the son of an Italian opera singer. His techniques helped me to increase my vocal range. Last year I took a few lessons as a refresher on techniques, from another teacher. She is also an opera singer. I greatly appreciate opera singers for their talent and power. While not a knowledgeable follower of opera, I am moved when I hear a beautiful or powerful voice.

How do you feel about staying all these years away from music recordings?
Although decisions and circumstances of life took me away from professional music for a time, I would like to have released more recordings. I often participated in musical projects and demo recordings that were not completed for various reasons. Prior to the Trauma reunion, I recorded 3 albums with a band called Black Sunday Dream.

What is the process you follow to compose a song?
In band situations, I have been fortunate to work with guitarists whom have had plenty of good musical ideas and licks, which the band collectively develop their parts for. I write the lyrics and the vocal melody, usually. I am open-minded about trying different ideas and occasionally, if another has a vocal idea I really like, I go with it. I also write my own songs, musically and vocally. I play enough guitar to capture ideas on a recorder. It seems like music is always playing in my brain, when I hear something in my head, that stays with me, i record the idea.

Who writes the lyrics and what subjects do they deal with?
I write most of the lyrics. On "As The World Dies", the subjects are diverse. The topics are as one may expect, dark. Warfare, death, nuclear holocaust, human trafficking, insanity, political divisiveness, corruption are just a few of the subjects.

"As The World Dies"... is the world really dying? Which are the world's problems of today? What do you think will the future bring?
Is the World Dying? Not yet thankfully, maybe never. However humankind certainly has problems. We have all the usual issues disease, poverty, wars, greed, cruelty, corruption........etc., things we all know. Add to that the fallout of mass human migrations and water wars, there could be widespread upheaval. I would like to think for the future that Humankind can select leaders that truly serve their charges and constituents, rather than making decisions for their own gain. We will certainly need them.

interview Trauma live

Will Trauma support the album with a tour or family/business keep you back?
We are ready, willing and able to tour to support the new album. Family/business obligations are not an issue. We have had some discussions with promoters about tour opportunities, but no definite plans have been finalized at this time.

What do you do for a living and how do you spend your free time?
I don't work a traditional job, so for the most part, I am able to spend my time as I would like. I spend a lot of time outside in various physical activities. I like to wander about the countryside attending various events. I also like to listen to music, read and watch movies. Lately, I have been practicing guitar and keys, and songwriting.

Back to the album, who is responsible for the cover artwork? And what is the meaning behind it?
The cover art was put together by Joe Fraulob. The mushroom cloud and dark grainy landscape is appropriate for "As The World Dies".

How do you see the music industry of today? Trauma were formed at a time when there was no internet and communication was rather slow. I suppose you had to tape trade back then to spread your music, while now you can share it with millions of people at the hit of a button. What do you think about it? Did it actually help?
The music industry is so different than when Trauma was formed. Digital music platforms changed most everything. Almost gone are royalties. However, an artist can release their music out to the World, themselves. It would have helped early Trauma to have had the Internet. It is a wonderful tool for everyone to use.

After the reunion Trauma seem very active. You have already released 2 full length albums. What are your future plans?
Trauma has been active recently. We are presently promoting the "As The World Dies" album. We have previously released lyric videos of 'The Rage' and 'From Here To Hell'. We are about to release a lyric video of 'Savage'. I am anxious to get back into the studio and record some new songs. Trauma is eager to tour.

Thank you again for this beautiful interview, Donny. Good luck in all your plans and I do hope you will make it soon to Athens, Greece!
Manos, thank you very much for the wonderful review of "As The World Dies", and for the opportunity to do this interview with you. Thank you for your support of Trauma!!! I hope to meet you in Athens. The best of luck with Selefice. I will be sure to listen to it.

Thank you so much Donny for sharing a piece of Metal History and of Trauma's excellent present with us! Thank you also for your nice words! I wish we will see Trauma live in Athens soon and meet each other!
Interviewer: Manos Michaelides
Jun 13, 2019

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