Bob Nalbandian: “The Rise of LA Thrash Metal”

Getting to the Heart and Soul of Thrash Metal with Bob Nalbandian: Director/Producer of “The Rise of LA Thrash Metal”

Written by Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen

Bob Nalbandian, who is the Director/Producer of The INSIDE METAL Movie Documentary Series, recently held a Screening in LA of the Thrash Documentary “The Rise of LA Thrash Metal,” which will be available in January 2018 with Part 2 coming out in February/March of 2018. I’ve known Bob Nalbandian for a while and have seen all of his LA Metal documentaries, and a couple of them at LA screenings too. However, this was the first time we got to sit down and really talk in depth about this series. It was great to learn some of the inner workings of INSIDE METAL and see where Bob came from and what inspired him to create this series.

rise of la thrash metal

ALISON “METALBABE” COHEN: Hi Bob, I am really happy to be interviewing you today. Can you start out with an overview of what has been released to date for INSIDE METAL?

BOB NALBANDIAN: Sure Alison. The first INSIDE METAL film is titled “Pioneers of LA Hard Rock & Metal,” which is focused on the original hard rock and metal scene in Los Angeles from 1975-1981. It covers a lot of the mid/late hard rock/metal bands from the “Van Halen-era” and covers now defunct Hollywood clubs like The Starwood and English Disco. The second INSIDE METAL film is titled “LA Metal Scene Explodes,” and covers 1982-1986, basically during the time when the LA Metal scene truly exploded and several LA bands were finally getting recognition by major labels. We interview all the classic LA Metal bands in that title. Way too many to name here!

The upcoming third film is titled “The Rise of LA Thrash Metal” basically focuses on the roots of thrash metal in Los Angeles. As you know, we did a big screening for this movie and it went over fantastic, so we’re really looking forward to this new release. By the way, all the Films are 2-volume titles (Part 1 and Part 2 are sold separately) so there will actually be six INSIDE METAL movies total!

METAL BABE: Thank you for the overview. What inspired you to begin this series and what were your first steps?

BOB: I knew guitarist/producer Joe Floyd who was the guitarist/leader of the classic LA metal band Warrior (who were one of my favorite LA bands). I featured him on one of my metal podcasts we did about producers in 2012. He mentioned at the time that he was planning to do a documentary film (which turned into a series) with his business partner Warren Croyle.

Both Joe and Warren co-owned the recording studio Silver Cloud. Warren also started a production company a few years previously and had produced several successful films (mostly conspiracy and horror films). Warren is also a total metal head and was big part of the LA Metal scene in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. He produced several major metal albums. He always wanted to get back into metal and came up with the idea of doing a documentary on the scene. I also knew Warren, we actually did a license deal when he was working with a European label back in the early ‘90s. Anyway, the plan was for Joe to be a producer and film the interviews. And Joe asked if I wanted to direct. I had never done anything in film before so was a bit shocked yet flattered that he asked me to direct, so Warren, Joe and I had a 3-way phone conversation about our ideas and we totally hit it off.

At that point we didn’t necessarily know it would become a series of films. I told Warren my idea to start from the beginning of the LA scene in the mid-late ‘70s, since that era was rarely talked about. This was years before MTV, and really the only LA hard rock/metal band to really break at that time on radio was Van Halen. There were so many great bands from that era that I thought deserved to be covered. After discussing the whole ‘80s metal scene and all the underground thrash bands I wanted to cover it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to fit this all in a single documentary film. Warren love the idea and that’s when we decided to make INSIDE METAL into a series and separate the movies.

METAL BABE: That’s so interesting. Can you tell me more about the interview process, editing, and team members?

BOB: We started the process back in 2012, and pretty much did all the interviews (for all three titles) at once. We were just lining up interview after interview. As director, I set up and conducted pretty much all the interviews. I had Carl Alvarez (Co-Producer) assist me on many of them, and both Carl and Joe (Co-Producer) filmed the interviews. It turned out to be something like 84 interviews total! That part was very exciting… Interviewing bands and talking about the classic old days of the LA metal scene. Even the artists loved to talk about that era, which made it even more fun and compelling.

The hard part came in the editing process, where we had to go through hours and hours of footage and edit/sequence the clips together. Then add in the narration, photos, music, etc. This was the most time-consuming part in putting this together. It took about a year in the making for each title. But the editing team we had was great. Carl Alvarez was integral in the editing process as well as the various editors involved in the three titles: Curtis Don Vito, Robert Gaston, and Rico Lowry. We also had so many artists, great photographers, and others that contributed so much to these films. It really was a collaborative effort and everyone saw eye to eye on this project.

Alison Masson and Bob Nalbandian. Photo by George Contreras

METAL BABE: I am happy that I was able to attend the premier in L.A for The Rise of LA Thrash Metal” in LA. It’s an interesting concept overall because Los Angeles isn’t really known for thrash, even though LA is the birthplace of three of the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth) and numerous punk/metal/thrash bands including Suicidal Tendencies, Dark Angel, Hirax, and more. Why did you decide to take on thrash for your most recent documentary?

BOB: What you said exactly is the reason I decided to make a whole separate movie about the LA Thrash scene. I wasn’t gearing the documentary to be commercially viable as possible so to speak and I didn’t want to make a dramatic “Behind the Music” type of documentary. Being a huge underground metal fan my idea was to create the most informative documentary on the ‘80s LA metal scene and not just cover the bands that broke out of that era but many of the bands there were crucial to the LA Metal scene yet never received the proper recognition. Many people have asked me about continuing the series to include the scene from 1986 through the ‘90s, and my thought is that’s been covered a million times already on MTV, VH1, and in other rock docs.

METAL BABE: Exactly. That’s definitely true.

BOB: Not to mention I was never into the latter glam scene of Poison, Warrant, Faster Pussycat, etc and what more can be said about G N’ R that hasn’t been told? So it’s like what’s the point of doing that? That’s why I felt it’s best to cut off the scene at 1986 and make the third film (the premiere that you attended) to be on the “The Rise of LA Thrash Metal” because as you said, LA was rarely known for thrash as it was so overshadowed by the glam scene and everything else that was going on at the time. But as you know there was such a huge, vibrant thrash metal scene in LA throughout the ‘80s. It was just much more underground. Most the thrash bands had to play in clubs on the outskirts of town and many thrash bands were banned from Hollywood clubs.

Bob Nalbandian and Bill Metoyer

METAL BABE: How did you personally fit into the LA thrash scene and what were you doing at the time it was rising in LA ?

BOB: I was right there at the beginning. I was fortunate to live in Huntington Beach, and many of the clubs in Orange County were all ages like The Woodstock, Concert Factory, and Radio City. One of my best buddy’s in HB, Patrick Scott, was friends with Lars before Metallica formed. So we used to go to Lars’s parents’ condo in Newport Beach back in 1981 and he would make us killer compilation cassettes of NWOBHM bands. (Lars had the ultimate record collection at the time.) I attended the very first Metallica show at Radio City in Anaheim. I also saw their second show when they opened for Saxon at The Whisky as well as many of their other early LA club shows.

I published a metal Fanzine at the time called “The Headbanger” and we ended up doing some of the very first reviews and interviews of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Armored Saint, Dark Angel, Hirax, etc. So I was right in the midst of all that since most these thrash bands started at Orange County clubs. I used to see Slayer back when they mainly played covers at The Woodstock. Kerry King and then manager Steven Craig used to come to my house (I lived with my folks) and we would watch metal videos while folding “Headbanger” magazines! I did center spread ads on Slayer in all my early issues in which they claimed to be the “Fastest and Heaviest of all US Metal Bands.” That statement in my little fanzine gained worldwide controversy!

METAL BABE: That’s so awesome! All of it.

BOB: I saw all those early shows of Metallica, Slayer, Dark Angel, Hirax, etc. before there was this thing called “thrash metal.” In fact, most those bands, including Metallica, were just metal cover bands at that time. So I was right at the forefront of it all. In fact, a 14-year old Gene Hoglan used to be one of the contributing writers for my fanzine. So you can say I was right at the heart and soul of thrash metal!

METAL BABE: That’s so cool on the shows and fanzine. You definitely were at the heart and soul of it all! A few of the musicians in the film mentioned that the glam scene was so popular in LA at the time that they didn’t even want to be associated with LA and moved up north. What are your thoughts on this?

BOB: That is very true. At the time, we’re talking the early to mid ‘80s here, the LA Scene was dominated by the glammier bands

Liz Duenas, Gene Hoglan, & Bill Metoyer

like Motley, Ratt, White Sister, WASP, Black n Blue, etc. These bands ruled the Hollywood scene years before Poison, Warrant and the like. They were still not nearly as glammy as what came a few years later. But they had the big draw in Hollywood, so they got all the great shows as well as a huge female crowd, where the thrash crowd was literally 99% dudes. I believe Katon from Hirax points that out in the film. And the fact was that the San Francisco fans, as well as the Bay Area clubs, were very accommodating to the thrash scene so it really made sense for the bands to travel up to Bay Area where they went over way better than they ever did in Los Angeles.

METAL BABE: Yeah, definitely makes sense. A couple takeaways that I got from the film are that the crossover energy of punk and metal formed thrash. Can you elaborate on this?

BOB: True to an extent. A lot of the bands in the film claimed that the energy of the punk scene heavily influenced their music, but also many bands said that the NWOBHM played a lot more crucial element to the formation of thrash than the punk scene ever did. Obviously many of the crossover bands like Suicidal, Slayer, Overkill LA, Cryptic Slaughter, Body Count, etc were very influenced by the punk scene. But, bands like Metallica… Lars was hugely influenced by the NWOBHM. Most of the other bands were also influenced either by both Metallica or the NWOBHM bands like Motörhead, Maiden, Diamond Head, Raven etc. So both elements really contributed to the sound and style of thrash metal.

METAL BABE: Gotcha. That makes sense. And no one really knows where the term thrash came from. What are your thoughts on this, and the term thrash?

BOB: Yeah, that was pointed out in the film. Who knows where it originally came from? I remember when Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth first started it was called speed metal. Then some called it other stuff like power metal (before the term “power-metal”) and slowly people were calling it thrash. I couldn’t tell you… Some say it was taken from Thrasher Magazine but who really knows who came up with the term.

METAL BABE: Interesting. How did you decide which musicians to contact?

Phil Sandoval, Elisabeth Steen-Nokleberg, Gonzo Sandoval

BOB: I had my core musicians in mind… Many of them were long-time friends. Once the ball started rolling, the word got out and musicians we interviewed told other musicians and the next thing we know is we had over 80 interviews! I really didn’t have to go out to solicit bands since I’ve been a writer for metal mags for years so I had interviewed many of these artists previously or had built up a strong relationship with them. It all pretty much came about (I’ll use that trendy term here) “organically”.

METAL BABE: What are some of the greatest rewards of putting this series out?

BOB: The greatest reward for me is hearing from fellow music fans and the artists in the film praising the work of the movie and telling me stuff like “it’s about time we had a documentary telling the real story of the scene.” And that to me is the biggest reward. I didn’t really expect this to be a huge financial success, as I was well aware that these films cater more to the underground, true metal head. We purposely didn’t want to have in all the drama, dirt-talk, sex, and drug exploitations in this movie. I’m well aware that is what most the public want to hear about and I could have easily included a bunch of stories that would have got the likes of TMZ foaming at the mouth, but that was never my intention or goal. We just wanted to make the best and most comprehensive documentary about the LA Metal Scene that we could possibly make.

METAL BABE: You did an amazing job doing just that! Part 1 of “The Rise of LA Thrash Metal” DVD is now available for pre-order on Amazon and will be Streaming on Amazon Prime starting November 3rd?

BOB: That was actually the initial release date, but I’ve just been told that the release date for Part 1 is now January 19, 2018. I’m not sure the reason for the delay, but it likely has to do with the distributor. I believe people can still pre-order Part 1 on DVD and/or Streaming through Amazon Prime. Part 2 will likely be released in February or March 2018 through the same channels. Each movie is roughly 80 minutes long. We also just finished the interviews for the next Inside Metal title on the San Francisco Bay Area Metal scene and we will begin editing that title (also a 2-volume movie) very soon. That should be released late 2018.

METAL BABE: Great! What final words would you like to say to our readers?

BOB: I would just like to thank everyone for their support. Everyone has been so kind and helpful to make this series a success! I just want to send out my gratitude to everyone that has bought the DVDs, supported INSIDE METAL and the entire metal scene in general. And thank you Metal Babe for all your support!

BOB: You are welcome! I really love what you are doing and appreciate that you took the time to talk to me about it. I’m looking forward to the release. See you at the next screening in LA!

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