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Insaniac was a thrash metal band from the mid 80s’ that I interviewed way back when in one of my first issues and I used to write to band member CJ Scioscia all the time and we recently re-connected and I thought it would be fun to do an interview about the good ole days and what he is up to now and here is his story and id their stuff ever gets re-issued by all means buy it:
MC: CJ Wow it is a pleasure doing this interview after all these years. Did you think in 2012 that people would still be talking about Insaniac?
CJ: Not really, as we never thought that far ahead. When someone mentions the band nowadays I take pride in the fact that what we did touched some folks in a good way.
MC: For those who don't know give me a band history and how did you end up joining the band? Were you in any bands before Insaniac? For those who have never heard of the band what would you say were music wise?
CJ: Tom (Nolz - guitar/vocals) and Eddie (Sciortino - drums) had been jamming a bit. Tom and I had a mutual friend, Charlie Lim, and they went to Montclair State together. Charlie told Tom about me, and it turned out that he'd seen me play 5-6 months earlier with my previous band. We talked on the phone, I went down for a jam and I was in.
All my previous bands were of the hometown, all-covers variety. INSANIAC was my first real band. It was actually that way for all of us.
Tom and Eddie were already into the early thrash scene. I had only been introduced to it in the months before I joined, but I knew I found my calling. Our goal was to write and play thrash metal, but to keep the musicianship to the fore.
MC: I understand the band in its early stages was called Tantrum. What were some of the early tunes like when the band was under that name? How long did you have that name before you changed it to Insaniac? Whose idea was it to change the name and who came up with the name Insaniac?
CJ: Wow, Tantrum... I sort of forgot about that. Yes, that's what we originally called ourselves. Terrible name - it was just a placeholder until the right one came along. We went with that for 6 or 7 months. It was Tom Medcraft who came up with INSANIAC one night at rehearsal. We were having a bit of an argument, and he said 'you guys are insane, you guys are maniacs... you're insaniacs' - and, voila, instant band name.
Some of our Tantrum-era tunes were kinda weak, so they didn't make the transition. One was carried over from my previous band, as I had begun to write at the end of our run. "Mission To Hell' from Screams From The Asylum was the first one that we wrote together, and it showed some promise. "Living For The Fight" was originally called "Tantrum", and came from that period as well.
Originally we had a frontman-style singer, Lou Fugaro. He did the first official INSANIAC gig with us at The Dirt Club in Bloomfield, and then left right after. Tom Nolz decided to take on the lead vocals in addition to his guitar duties. It felt right, and THAT's when we really became INSANIAC.
MC: How was the songwriting process in the early days? Was it easy to write songs and was the music and lyrics pretty much a band effort or was it mostly one or 2 members?
CJ: Everyone contributed musically and lyrically. And we felt we got better with each song.
MC: In 1985 you released a demo tape called "Screams From the Asylum". There was 8 songs on this. Most demos back then had 3, 4 or 5 songs tops on them, why did you releases something with 8 songs on it? Where was it recorded at and how nervous were you guys going into the studio to record it. At the time when it came out how happy were you with it? Can you still listen to it today?
CJ: The funny thing is that Screams From The Asylum was recorded twice. The original release, in November 1985, had 5 songs on it - "M.A.D.", "Living For The Fight", "Genocide By Deceit", "Daughter Slaughter" and "Mission To Hell". We recorded it on my TASCAM 244 Portastudio, as I had a desire to learn about recording. And I recorded everything.
Sometime in early 1986 I decided I could do a better job, so we did it a second time. By that point we had been moving forward with new tunes so we recorded them as well, and they became bonus tracks (and this was before bonus tracks were invented). SFTA v2.0 had the original 5 songs (we still had cassette covers with all that info printed), but I'd dub 2 or 3 of the new tunes on them as well. The new songs included "Circle Of Death", "Plead Insanity" and "Apocalypse Warrior". These songs were going somewhere else, as we got influenced by heavier and more diverse bands.
Since I was recording us, our 'studio' was Eddie's basement. Since we rehearsed there it just made sense. I didn't have much in the way of fancy mics or racks of gear, it was done totally guerilla-style. But we were learning. With only 4 tracks I learned to properly bounce things so that we could open up space for more overdubs. Mixing was done at my house, and I'd set up in the dining room. As someone who now owns a recording studio and has virtually unlimited tracks at his disposal, it's amazing to think about what we were able to accomplish. Hell, I'd stick a microphone into a stomp-box compressor for vocals...
MC: Now where did you get the tapes made at and how many were made at the time? What was the response to it from zines and underground fans at the time? Did you sell it at any stores and did you start to develop a fan base at this time? Did you start getting mail from all over and did you send it all over to fanzines and stuff?
CJ: I dubbed every copy of Screams From The Asylum. I was the manufacturing plant. I was going to college and not working much, so I had the time - along with the desire. I believe 600 copies was the final total.
The Screams demo was a revelation to all of us. We were amazed that people were digging what we did. We had mail coming in from all over the US and Europe, and especially West Germany. There was even a guy by the name of Jürgen Hegewald selling it for us as he had a mail order business, and he'd by like 20-30 at a time. Towards the end of 1986 we began to get mail from Japan and South America as well.
MC: Did the demo tape help you with live shows? What were some of the clubs that you played back then? Did you get to open for any bigger live underground bands? Did you think you were a good live band and are any live videos floating around on say You Tube and stuff?
CJ: I don't think the demo help us get shows all that much. We did start to look beyond New Jersey a bit, as we did 2 shows with SAVAGE THRUST at Park Villa II on Staten Island. We did a couple of NJ show with our Union brethren FANTOM WARIOR in 1986 as well. One was at the Blue Ribbon Inn in Hillside, and was at Modern Artist Studios in Rahway. We always went out and kicked ass, no question about it. Then as things moved on into 1987 we played some shows with BLOOD FEAST at Billy O's in Staten Island.
There isn't any video of this period as I remember it. We started to get some later on, in late 1987 and beyond. We've yet to upload anything to YouTube at this point.
MC: What was it like being in a band where the thrash metal scene was just starting to take off and also NJ started having some killer thrash metal bands such as Fantom Warrior, Bloodfeast, Overkill, Whiplash, etc.
CJ: It was a fun time, for sure. We were all huge OVERKILL fans, and we felt proud that one of our own was able to move up in the world. BLOOD FEAST as well. FANTOM WARIOR were a little younger than us, yet they built a good, loyal following. NJ certainly was fertile ground for the thrash movement... maybe it was in the tainted soil?? Radon will do that to ya.
MC: How much time in any given week was spent doing band related stuff? Were you at the post office almost every day mailing stuff out and doing mail? How many times a week did you guys practice and what did you parents think of the band?
CJ: I spent loads of time doing band stuff, and I loved doing it. Rather than mailing one or two pieces a day I'd hit the Post Office 2-3 times a week with 5-10 items. We rehearsed twice a week, with Eddie's family right above us in their kitchen. And we were LOUD!! Most of our folks were supportive.
MC: Just a year later you released another demo called "At Large". How many songs were on this demo and did you go to the same studio as the 1st demo? Did you guys at the time feel it was a worthy follw-up to your 1st demo? Do you feel that you had changed your style at all from demo 1 to demo # 2?
CJ: At Large came out in April of 1987. We had accumulated a few good sounding live recordings by then, and felt we could do a 'live album' as a stop-gap until the next studio demo. I think we were influenced a bit by SAVAGE THRUST for that one, as they had put out a live demo.
There were 9 songs on At Large, although only 8 were listed. Included was our version of "Subliminal" by SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, but we didn't say it was there. Most of it was new material, including "Victims Of Society", which we never released as a studio track.
All the sources were soundboard tapes from shows in Staten Island. I cobbled it all together on my Portastudio, getting all the transitions right.
You could sorta see what was coming when listening to the new songs. We were getting more aggressive, and a bit weird. I was taking more of the lead in the writing of the music, pushing the boundaries further out. VOIVOD was becoming a big influence on me.
MC: Now at this point did you start sending this demo out to record companies hoping to get a deal? Do you remember what labels you sent your music to?
CJ: At Large never went out to the labels. I don't think Screams ever did, either, although I think New Renaissance got their hands on it as we were offered a compilation. We knew we'd be shopping the next one, which turned out to be Psychomania.
MC: In the same you released a 3rd demo called "Psychomania". Why did you release another demo so quickly after your 2nd one? What are your thoughts on this demo these days? At this point was what the morale of the band like? Was this demo sort of recorded just for record companies because I don't recall this demo at all?
CJ: This was the proper 2nd demo. It was also our first experience, as a band, in a real studio. Psychomania, to me, was a bit of an eye-opener. It was the first time where I felt we made a mistake - and that mistake was the song selection. I distinctly remember having a meeting down in Eddie's basement to decide on what we'd record, as we wanted to be prepared going into the studio. We made it an extremely democratic manner, and somehow we decided not to record "Plead Insanity". At the time it was our most accessible song, yet still a thrashy tune.
Another mistake was the running order, and I'll take the blame there. I was thinking big, so the first song was the title track, an 8-minute progressive-thrash epic. Big layered intro, loads of changes, odd timings - you name it - but the song doesn't get to the point, as it were, until about the 4:45 mark. Yeah, we loved it, but I think we outsmarted ourselves with that one. I remember Don Kaye reviewed it in KERRANG!, and he called it convoluted. That really stung, but he really was right.
Morale-wise, things were getting a little strained. Not that we didn't like what we were doing, but that we weren't getting any further along. We weren't getting any good shows at all, and we sold the same amount of tapes as we did with Screams. We should have jumped up a level or 2, not stayed the same.
MC: I read at this point you got a 3 album deal with Plastic Head Records. How did this come about and why did you sign with a label that was overseas or was that the only record label interest that you had at the time? This was at the time of thrash metal really starting to take off so did you think the band had finally "made it" and that once you had a record out you would be able to tour and stuff?
CJ: The Plastic Head thing came totally out of the blue. I remember getting the letter from them around Xmas 1988, and being very happy that we'd finally have an album out on a label. But we wanted to do it right. Their initial offer was for one album, with a budget of $5000. We went to an entertainment lawyer, and he worked on it for us. The contract kept going back and forth, so at some point we felt confident that it was a done deal so we decided to start recording the album. Bad move... just after we started initial tracking in February of 1990 Plastic Head pulled the deal, and we were about $1200 into an album that wasn't remotely closed to being finished.
MC: I read on your website that tempers began to flare and I guess arguments were a plenty and you parted ways with your bass player. Looking back were the arguments justified or were they childish and you wish they never happened?
CJ: Things definitely became strained towards the end of 1989, so we parted ways with Tom Medcraft. We had to look for another bass player, and that's when Pat Hamel came into the picture.
MC: Now at some point you found out that the label had folded and you were about to go in and record your 1st album. What was it like getting the news and how pissed off were you at the time? At some point I saw you ended releasing the album in 2 parts as 2 different demos. How hard was it going in the studio and recording these tracks knowing that your label had folded? Was that the plan to release a 4 song demo followed by another 4 song demo?
CJ: When the deal was pulled we decided to at least finish a couple of songs to have a new demo to shop. So we completed "Media Lies" and "The Verdict". We took a stab at "Screams From The Asylum" as well, but Pat wasn't up to speed on that one. He was only in the band for 5-6 weeks at that point. A few weeks later we went to the studio where we tracked Psychomania and did 2 'live in the studio' tracks, "Plead Insanity" and "Outcast", and released those 4 songs as the Media Lies demo.
There was a lot of stress going on. I know I felt bad that we brought Pat in, saying we've got a record deal that's basically done, and then it's gone. Collectively we were bummin' about our misfortune, as we were pushin' on 6 years with nothing to show for it. We worked hard, yet nada.
MC: Now was there any label interest in the band at that time? Is this why BFD Records was formed? Did you sign any bands or did you just release your own stuff. Also you and TOM went and formed a band called No Refund. What was the reason for this and had many demos did you put out and what was the reactions like as far as reviews go? Did you manage to play any live shows?
After the Plastic Head fiasco we never garnered any more label interest. The scene was changing by early 1990, and the first true wave of death metal was well under way. We were probably seen as a bit of a relic by then, although we didn't feel that way.
My label, BFD Records, came about in May of 1988. I decided that if we couldn't get signed (mind you, this was before the Plastic Head offer) that I'd start my own, to add an air of legitimacy to what we were doing. The second run of Psychomania was the first release, and it was then called an EP.
Yes, I did sign some bands. They were all New Jersey artists - BRUTE FORCE, DEMENTIA and NØ REFUND, and later SHRØUD ØF SILENCE and a couple others.
Ah, NØ REFUND... NR was formed as fun thing, but it actually had a longer lifespan than INSANIAC. We were a 4-piece, with Tom Nolz on lead guitar and and me bass. Dan Davie, our drummer in SKULLSHIFTER, was with us. He was still in high school when we started the band. The lead singer was a friend named Tom Zarzecki, and he was a riot. Now there's some video to upload to YouTube!! It was all hardcore-based stuff with comical lyrics. We did 3 albums and disbanded in late 1995. We did a lot of shows throughout our run, getting as far as south Jersey (was it Gee Willikers in Pennsauken??) and up to New Britain, CT. I'll have send you those albums at some point. The 3rd one, 3 Dead Dicks, was classic.
MC: After you released the "4 Song" demo in 1990 was the morale of the band still strong or was it a bit frustrating as at that time thrash was big time at its peak and there were many more labels and heck lots of bands from NJ were already on labels.
CJ: It was frustrating that we couldn't move forward with a label. We were getting better shows, opening for the likes of MORTAL SIN from Australia, ARMORED SAINT and SANCTUARY. I also thought we were writing our best material. However, I was changing - I got caught up in the death metal wave, as I was always searching for 'heavier'.
MC: At what point did you guys decide to end the band? I read where you played a show at Lamour's in Brooklyn April 19, 1991 and after that the band broke up? At the time of the show did you guys pretty much know the band was over? What led to the band breaking up? How sad was it to see the band go by the wayside with all the hard work that you did?
CJ: That was a tough night. We knew it was over, and we wound up going on last at like 2:45 in the morning to do only 20 minutes. We waited and waited, and there was no energy left to gig with. We went out with a fizzle.
I wanted to do something different, something heavier. Like I mentioned above, I got influenced by the death metal scene, and, more specifically, NAPALM DEATH. I wanted more propulsion from the drum position. Tom, Pat and I decided we'd start a new band with a new drummer, but after a few months it didn't work out. We had 3 new tunes all set to go as well, but nothing ever came of it.
Was it sad when it ended?? Not at the time. I certainly felt bad that we were parting with a great friend in Eddie, but we've remained friends. Eddie and I played together again a few years later in a local cover band, and we played hockey together for another 5-6 years after that. Hell - I saw him last night at a party, and he asked if I had time for another band as he wants to jam again. I'm sure it'd be covers, though.
MC: You guys played live all over the place in NJ over the years the band was around. I saw on the bands website that you were going to do a week long tour with Sacrement LA and the tour ended up only being one show? What led to that happening?
CJ: Yeah, we were working on a week-long self-promoted tour with SACRAMENT LA for the end of July 1990. I had become friendly with them via tape trading. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden we're attempting to book a tour. The only firm date was for Shank Hall in Milwaukee, on a Tuesday night. Neither of us could get other shows booked, so they decided to drop out. All of us had already taken vacation time from work, so we said 'screw it, let's go'. We had quite an experience, and not all of it was good. We did the show with VIOGRESSION as openers, hung out for another day and buggered off back to Jersey. I remember we met up with Eric Grief (who was managing DEATH at the time) at some point and we discussed going back there for the Milwaukee Metal Fest, but that never wound up happening.
MC: I also saw you played CBGB'S one time. What was it like playing that legendary club? With all your live shows and stuff did you end up recording any live shows and if you did will they end up being released one day?
CJ: CBGBs was another odd one. We played on an audition night, a Sunday at like 1:00am. There were the 4 of us, our manager and his wife, the soundman, a bartender and good ol' Hilly Kristal. I think we played well that night, but no-one saw it. I believe I have that on tape somewhere.
Yes, we did get recordings of many shows. Probably 50% of 'em, at least. But aside from At Large, I doubt there's anything worth putting out. Hell, At Large was pushing it.
MC: After Insaniac broke up what did you do with yourself? I know you and Tom are in a band called Skullshifter. What does that band sound like and how long has that band been together?
CJ: It was a long time before we started SKULLSHIFTER, Novembre 2002 to be exact. I did a bunch of things in between, and I'll note the important ones. Tom and I continued with NØ REFUND until late 1995. I did an instrumental rock trio with Pat Hamel on bass and Dan Davie from NR on drums from late '92 until early '96 or so. We did one album. I had the cover band with Eddie that I mentioned, called RADIØ X, from mid '94 through January '99. We played a lot throughout NJ. Dan and I had a short-lived project called LOUDERMILK that proceded SS. We did a rough 7-song demo and one show opening for THE DICTATORS at Maxwells in Hoboken, and that was it.
Tom and Pat played together briefly in SOUNDSTORM. That band later morphed into DIRT CHURCH.
We had a very brief INSANIAC reunion in August 2001. Tom, Eddie and I got together 2-3 times on the old stuff with great our friend J. McCaffrey from ELYSIUM and EXXPLORER on bass. It was sounding pretty good, but then Eddie decided playing the heavy stuff wasn't for him any longer. J. later came on board with us, along with Dan, in SKULLSHIFTER.
As for that band, it has a bit of a MACHINE HEAD vibe to it. That's the only band I've ever been able to compare it to. Even though Tom and I write a lot of the material, it doesn't sound much like INSANIAC. We released an EP called Here In Hell in 2005 that was mixed by Simon Efemey (NAPALM DEATH, THE WILDHEARTS, PARADISE LOST), and then a full-length in 2008 called Inner Demons. On that one Ross The Boss (THE DICTATORS, MANOWAR) played lead guitar on the song "Etched In Sand". We've been on hiatus for over a year now, but we hope to re-group soon and record another album.
My current projects include BONEDADDY, which is a cover band playing good hard rock and metal stuff from the '70s and '80s, and DEATH METALLIC, which is a METALLICA tribute band that Tom and I do together. I also released a solo album in late 2010 entitled Surface Tension, and I have another one in the works.
MC: Do you still have a lot of old flyers, reviews, fanzines, etc locked away somewhere and you view them from time to time? Do you and Tom ever sit down and talk about the old days and stuff and do you ever run into any old fans at all? Do you still follow the underground scene at all?
CJ: Tom, Eddie and I all have large collections of stuff. I have the fanzines and the audio archive, though. Tom and I have usually been ones to look forward, so we don't do a lot of reminiscing when together. We've got all the current stuff mentioned above to keep us busy. The old days definitely come up when we run into old friends and fans.
Do I still follow the underground scene?? Well, I really still feel I'm part of it in some small way. I've toured with NAPALM DEATH a few times as a roadie, and I was road manager for THE DICTATORS from 2000 to 2008. I still keep up on all the bands I love – KREATOR, VOIVOD, Napalm Death (of course), OVERKILL, etc. – but there are no new bands that have excited me for a looong time. MISERY INDEX, DECAPITATED and DEATH TOLL RISING are probably the last new-ish bands that I've gotten into.
MC: In 2009 "At Large" came out on CD it looks like in Japan. Are you aware of this and did this have your blessing and it looks like it is a bunch of live tracks. What is exactly on this release?
CJ: Yeah, that was fully sanctioned by us. Yohta Takahashi of HMSS Records contacted us about doing it, and we were all-in. We never had a vinyl release, so it seemed like a cool thing to do. It was essentially a re-packaging of the At Large demo, although it was not exact as one of the original source recordings was lost.
MC: I see the band has a website. Who is the webmaster behind this and do you hope to re-issue all your old material someday? Would you ever consider doing a re-union show of some type in NJ one day? I understand you have all the old master tapes and stuff so would be mega cool to see all your stuff on CD one day.
Tom Nolz is our webmaster, and the web-site is easy to find at www.insaniac.com.
I don't know if we'll ever officially reproduce the demos again. The reason there is twofold – A) we've basically been burning them to CD for folks that wanna hear 'em, and B) Tom and I have been working on a 'proper' Insaniac studio album since 2006. The 2 of us did all the guitars, and Tom the vocals. Eddie appears on a few songs, from old multitrack recordings. Our great friend Joe Moore, formerly of DTA, played drums on the rest of the tracks. It's all done except for the bass tracks. I had hoped to get Tom Medcraft involved for some of it, but we've lost track of him again. Pat Hamel is on board to play on 2 songs from his time in the band. J. McCaffrey is into doing a few songs as well. The rest may come down to me playing bass... we'll see about that.
MC: I read about some of your wild shows in NJ. What is your favorite one that still brings back sweet memories for the band?
CJ: The whole road trip to Milwaukee is an interesting memory. We did a gig in Rahway with FANTOM WARIOR in 1986 that was a lot of fun, general zaniness. Thoughts of gigs at The Dirt Club always bring back a chuckle or 3. Blowing those posers PROPHET off the stage in our hometown felt great. I will always treasure sharing the stage with SANCTUARY on their final US tour (pre-reunion, of course). Warrel Dane was awesome at that show.
But the best... we did a show on White Meadow Lake in Rockaway that's memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was a big multi-band outdoor event right on the edge of the water, and we were going on last. It was a beautiful day until we started setting up. Big black clouds rolled in, and as we hit the stage the wind kicked up a bit. We made it through to our 4th song and the wind was so strong that Tom Medcraft's hair was blowing parallel to the floor!?! The wind then sent a moonwalk ride rolling directly for the soundboard. I remember Tom Nolz seeing it just before it hit, and then the PA cutting out. Gig over folks!! The moonwalk went over the front-of-house mix position and headed for the lake. Thankfully it didn't start to rain right away, and you never saw a band pack up quite so quick.
MC: What were you saw were the best and worst times of being in the band?
CJ: The best was the camaraderie we had when we were all on the same page. The gigs and the creative process are a close 2nd. The worst were letting go of Tom Medcraft, and then putting it all to rest. I felt lost for a while after that.
MC: Plug any websites that you have for Insaniac and your current band.
CJ: Once again, www.insaniac.com. There's also www.skullshifter.com for Skullshifter (naturally), http://www.facebook.com/pages/Death-Metallic/205453639493012 for Death Metallic, www.BoneDaddyUSA.com for BoneDaddy and www.LCBW.com for my studio, Le Chateau Bow Wow Recording in Watchung, NJ. I can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MC: Any last words and thanks for the trip down memory lane.
CJ: Thanks hella for remembering us Chris, and for the interview – much appreciated!! It's so great that you've kept at it all these years. We both know how many 'zines did only one issue, but 25+ years?!? Damn dude!!
Lastly... keep an eye out for the album – we hope to have it done by the end of this year. My next solo album should be out in early 2013, and hopefully some new Skullshifter sometime shortly after that. Cheers to all!!