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Gnarly Charlie’s interview with Jonny Santos of Silent Civilian

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Sunday, October 1, 2006 @ 7:56 AM


“I became a singer on accident

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It seems that Jonny Santos has so much belief in his band and its music that he would die for it. Within the last 6 months, he and fellow members from Silent Civilian have endured the worst of weather, yet they keep trudging on a road that for them has been toilsome. It is a fiery trial through which they pass.

When Santos left Spineshank he wanted to break out his guitar and start a thrash band—and he didn’t give a shit whether his band’s music appealed to the back-stabbers. He was more concerned about having fun, being true to his roots and leaving a musical legacy.

Silent Civilian is still out on the road promoting their debut release Rebirth of the Temple and has recently booked a headlining tour.

Props to Jonny’s hardworking wife, Kirsty Lingman-Santos. Experiencing such adversity like losing band members, tour managers, wrecking tour vehicles, and running out of money can split a band up and destroy a marriage. The band has endured these setbacks and so much more in such a short time. Kirsty’s dedication and undying belief in Silent Civilian is astonishing.

KNAC.COM: It seems like Silent Civilian has had a turbulent ride from the start.

SANTOS: We worked really hard and we sacrificed a lot for a long time. There were a couple guys in the band that were really super talented guys, but had regular lives as well… and that’s totally commendable. I think what happened was is that they weren’t willing to sacrifice as much as we were when it came down to roughing it on the road. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I just don’t think these guys really knew what they were getting themselves into, you know? The road can eat you alive if you’re not prepared for it and some people are just not really cut out for it. I don’t think that’s an insult toward these guys—everybody has their breaking point. Some of us can go without showers for 4 days and live on a 27-foot trailer with 7 other people and a dog, and some of us can’t. The two guys that we lost were amazing, super-talented musicians, but I don’t think that this is what they wanted, and I also believe that because of their lack of sacrifice it made it easier to walk away. For me or my drummer to walk away from this… we have way too much invested in it, we’ve worked day in, day out—the two of us, every night, without any other band members, writing this record. We got our new guitar player Marcus Rafferty. His brother is the drummer for Demiricous. He comes from a family of musicians. He really wanted a job and was persistent about it. We were in Redding, Pennsylvania, he was in New York. He drove 6 hours to audition. I said, ‘Learn two songs, note-for-note, leads, everything. Don’t waste your time’. He came down, brought his guitar, plugged it in, and played with the band the first time, sounded like he was in the band forever. We’re getting through this. Silent Civilian is not going to stop. This band is a machine; we’re a family, most importantly, as you can tell. I got my wife on the road, my dog, and my daughter’s here tonight with me. We’re one big family and there’s a lot of dysfunction in families, but families pull through things. People do things and they do what they have to do to get through it. The bottom line is bringing music to the kids and having a great fuckin’ metal show… fucking metal show.

KNAC.COM: You picked up guitar when you were 7 years old, right?

SANTOS: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: Do you like this better than being a front man in Spineshank?

SANTOS: I do like it better, because playing guitar was always my first love. I played guitar 13 years before I ever sang a note. I started playing when I was 7. You know, in Spineshank when they asked me to just be a front man it was, at the time a rough move and I felt naked. I always missed it. It’s something else to be able to play guitar and be part of the actual foundation that the vocals are laying on top of. My heroes did that. Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield and Rob Flynn, those guys did that. Am I gonna sacrifice good musicianship for being the guy that jumps around like a fucking monkey all night? There are some really good front men and obviously front women out there, but for me this is where I am in my element. I became a singer on accident and some people tell me I’m a pretty good singer, but I’ve always been into guitar. Now I’m so happy. I don’t have to worry about the song being less than three minutes and thirty-seconds. I want the big, long, guitar solos. That’s what I grew up on, you know? Like, Alex Skolnick. It’s really cool that I can comeback now, how many years later, after thrash took a backseat to grunge and then nu-metal, and I have an opportunity to bring it back just as alive. I feel very fortunate to bring this kind of… I don’t even want to say old school, because thrash is timeless. I just feel fortunate to be able to bring some kind of thrash back to the music scene. Dude, I’m fuckin’ happy. I’m in a thrash band. I think there’s this whole metalcore thing going on and that’s cool. Some people—if they even pass by my van they say “Oh, yeah… he’s in that metalcore band”, but if you listen to a lot of the stuff we do and you listen to the music you’ll hear the punk beats and that’s what thrash was. Thrash was metal and punk combined. I was 11, 12 and 13 when it was at its peak. By the time I was actually getting my chops up Seattle happened.

KNAC.COM: Circa 1990, ’91 or whatever.

SANTOS: Yeah, and that was it. When I started to write this record I wanted to do a modern thrash record. I wanted to take everything that I grew up on and try to bring it to the 13 and 14-year old kids and give them their new version of thrash.

KNAC.COM: Right now you are the band’s tour manager and you’re juggling quite a bit of stuff. It doesn’t seem like it’s taken any of your juice away up on the stage.

SANTOS: I’m a really hard worker. I want my guys to be comfortable. I want them to be able to go onstage every night and have a great time. We just haven’t been able to find somebody that cares about the band as much as we do. We want things done certain way—there’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, but at the same time we’re happy. My drummer Chris, he works numbers for the band and we work together and I advance all the shows. I have two cell phones constantly going off. We look at the bigger picture-- the bottom line is that we’re living our dream. So what if I have to work extra hard? This is what I want to do. This is what we all want to do and there are no egos or rock star crap going on. I help my crew unload the trailer half the time.

KNAC.COM: Logan [Madder] produced Rebirth of the Temple. How did you guys hook up?

SANTOS: I ran across Logan through a weird situation and he loved the band and wanted to do the demo. He did the demo and people were flipping out over it and he said “I gotta do the record Jonny” and I said ‘You’re gonna do the record’. Logan was so excited about the project… and that’s the thing… everybody that has been involved with the band since its inception has been excited about it. I didn’t take the big money run. I wanted to go with people who were truly excited about the project. People who were like “Wow, it’s a thrash metal band… with hooks. Awesome. Let’s do it.” You know? Fuck yeah, and they were so excited, I mean everybody, right down to all the staff at the label.

KNAC.COM: Rebirth of the Temple was the first video you shot from the album. Tell me about that.

SANTOS: We shot it in the house that I grew up in. My Dad still lives there. No permits.

KNAC.COM: Which neighborhood?

SANTOS: Baldwin Park, California. Deep down in the ghetto. And I invited about 50 friends and about 10 minutes before we started shooting we put up a MySpace bulletin and pretty soon a bunch of people started showing up. We packed about 100 kids into a really small house and we had a good time. We bought a keg for everybody and we fired up the barbeque. When I was growing up, you’d go to a thrash party and pay 5 bucks—couple of kegs and 4 bands. And that’s kind of what I wanted to capture.

KNAC.COM: And the cops would break it up…

SANTOS: Exactly. And the cops actually did break it up the second night.

KNAC.COM: Yeah?

SANTOS: Yeah. The cops didn’t really know what was going on, they just thought a band was playing. If we would have been caught shooting the video without permits we would have been in deep shit. But that’s the risk we took and we did it. We have a fabulous video with some really good, candid shots and cameos—Wayne [Static] from Static-X is in the video. Logan was in the video and Roy Mayorga came down for the video as well. It was a really good time. It was so fun. My daughter was in the video. The whole Silent Civilian camp right now—there’s an energy that can’t be stopped. We are going to see this through. For better, for worse, we’re having a great time and we’re playing the music that we want to play. We’re not giving you a 25-minute record with three minute songs; we’re giving you an hour and 10 minutes of metal with a 10-minute video documentary of the making of the record. I will not rip kids off. If you’re going to go out and spend 16 bucks on a CD—I’m going to make sure you get your money’s worth. And Justice for All—how long is that record? You put it in and by the time it’s done you’re in Arizona (laughs). So we did that with this record. With 13 songs it’s over an hour of music.

KNAC.COM: In closing, what do you want to put across to the kids as a musical message or meaning?

SANTOS: To kids: don’t buy the bullshit! Keep your minds open and think for yourselves. Don’t buy into the bullshit. Enjoy yourselves. It’s a good life. I love the kids out there. I love the fans. They’re still there and there are new ones. They’re coming in droves and I would never steer anybody wrong. I would never disrespect any of the kids out there. I’ve been a fan since I was 7-years old… since Powerslave. I want kids to continue to be fans and dig in deep. Go home, put on a record—put on a metal record and really just dive into it, love it, embrace it…

KNAC.COM: Inhale it.

SANTOS: Exactly. Whatever it is you do. If you want to build models while you’re listening to it or drink a beer while you listen to it, become part of it and let it become part of you. That’s what metal is, man. We’re a different breed and we always have been. This is what we choose and this is what chose us. We love it, just fuckin’ love it. It’s defiance… in a positive way, though. It’s what we all stand for. This is something that we are passionate about. This is what we live for. The kids that come out to these shows—this is what they live for. I don’t think that there is another genre of music out there where the fans are as passionate. I’ve been in the game for 8 years and I have fans from ’98 that are still showing up to shows. You don’t get that shit from Power 106, man. When are we gonna bring KNAC back to the fuckin’ radio waves? Long Paul, Philthy Phil, Tawn Mastery …I mean, Jesus Christ, I grew up on you fuckers. Come on! Come back. Let’s do this. Somebody invest. I’m fine with being in a genre of music that is not overpowering the nation. I’m okay with that, because I’m going to go out there and play for the kids—the same kids as I was when I was a kid. I still am. I’m still a fan. Embrace it. Let it embrace you.

Click on the thumbnail shots for larger pictures.





Photos by gnarlyfotos.com


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