Entering the metal again: Interview with Dan Fila of Varga
Interview by Kenneth Gallant
During the late 80's and early 90's, Canadian metal was flourishing with a vengeance. Bands like Annihilator, Sacrifice, Entropy and Malhavoc all took the thrash template established in the Bay Area and made it their own. Most of these bands reached a modicum of success on native soil, and in some cases broke out into the American market too.
One such band to be included in this group is Varga, a progressive thrash act from Hamilton who took the influences of Rush, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, fusing it all together to create an array of musical splendor. They rose to prominence quickly, touring throughout Canada and the United States with Rob Zombie and even opening up for Metallica, proving this band was a force to be reckoned with.
Varga was signed to a major label and gained further exposure on MuchMusic and MTV. They released two albums before going on hiatus in the late 90's, and after 13 years of being away from the metal scene the band has returned with a brand new release. Simply called "Enter the Metal", the album celebrates the roots of the band and to help us delve further into all things Varga, HMS has managed to track down drummer Dan Fila for an engaging interview.
HMS: So let's start with the obvious question. Varga has been re-launched, so why now?
Dan Fila: There was no real plan to do anything other than get together and jam and just hang out with each other again. As a band we went from driving around North America in the back of a van eating Kraft dinner and 7-11 hotdogs to opening for Metallica and hanging out with the guys from Pantera. I personally felt an empty space when we decided to take a break from the music industry bullshit in the 90's. The entire fabrication of the alternative and grunge genres along with their collective bashing on metal was completely hypocritical and ignorant - both of those styles are influenced by the same bands that influenced metal and us. Everyone in the band stayed in touch and we all knew we would get together and play again when the time was right, and that time is now.
We started off by jamming "Seek and Destroy" (by Metallica) and it felt really good, then we jammed "Shark Attack" and the feeling was back; four friends who like and respect each other bashing out metal in the basement drinking copious amounts of whatever was there to be consumed. You could feel the "thing" that the major label recording industry had sucked out of us in the mid 90's. A friend of ours, Julius "Juice" Butty, who produced Protest the Hero and Alexisonfire came to one of our jams and was excited about the possibility of doing a record (or two) together. It just came together naturally, we paid for the recording ourselves, we made all of the artistic choices and treated the recording experience as a privilege to be working with Juice, Nick Blagona and Jeter. The commercial possibility never crossed our minds. We made this record because we wanted to do it for ourselves and that's the way records are supposed to be made.
HMS: Going back to your thrash roots is a stroke of genius and one that I feel reconnects you to the fan base. How do you feel about going back and revisiting the style?
Dan Fila: A few of the songs on Enter and Return of the Metal have never been recorded before, Joe dug into a box of cassettes from our earlier jams in the late 80's and we revisited them, jammed them out and songs like "Gamera" were the result. For me revisiting our early thrash/second wave of British metal roots with knowing what I have learned about music since we parted ways; the extensive touring and studio time I have put in was really exciting. There were no limitations put on me as to what I could or could not do, the possibilities were endless and inspirational. Just having beers with the guys, jamming and listening to Slayer, Metallica, Rush, Venom and whatever else landed on the turntable or iPod was a blast, and making these records has been killer. Anything else that comes out of this is bonus material.
HMS: The majority of the material on Enter the Metal is from older demos, and obviously re-recorded. So was the intention to dust off some of these classics a chance to get the band reacquainted with the material, or was this done for some other reason?
Dan Fila: The intention initially wasn't to release 2 albums of our earlier material, it was as I mentioned above to just hang and jam again. As we were bashing out the songs, we collectively realized that they are epic pounding metal beasts and we wanted to have them recorded properly for ourselves. Then Julius came into the picture and the process began. We spent over a month writing the click track maps and really honing in on each and every part of the song and learning how to play the songs the way we heard them. We rehearsed and rehearsed and then rehearsed some more, but we wanted the record to sound like a band playing together, like early Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer Priest, Maiden, Rush etc.
"...we wanted to do it for ourselves... that's the way records are supposed to be made"
HMS: How does it feel working with Joe, Alex and Sean again? I assume the chemistry is good overall?
Dan Fila: All of us continued to make music with other people during our time apart and we all had really cool experiences, but I have never felt the chemistry that happens when the four of us are in a room together, with anyone else, not even close. Chemistry is a mysterious thing, but you can feel it and it feels really good.
HMS: Enter the Metal is the first part of the project to celebrate Varga's return, so how does Return of the Metal fit in? Is the material on this release recorded yet?
Dan Fila: Return of the Metal was recorded concurrently with Enter the Metal, Return is in the same vein as Enter - 6 epic progressive pounding thrash metal beasts.
HMS: You will be performing Enter the Metal on December 7th, at Club Absinthe in Hamilton; any nerves going into that show?
Dan Fila: No nerves, just excitement. We have been waiting a long time for this date and we can't wait to blow the roof off Club Absinthe and everywhere else we play.
HMS: I was tickled pink when I heard the big news of Varga teaming up with Entropy for a huge concert coming up in the New Year. How did this come about?
Dan Fila: Gerry and I are Facebook friends and are like minded in our thinking that we have a world class metal community here and we can all benefit from helping each other out. During the 90's, the Seattle scene exploded partially because all the bands united and helped each other out with touring and promoting instead of keeping the music from their scene a secret from the rest of the planet: much like we did in the 90's. We did a great job of keeping great bands to ourselves instead of sharing them. I hope this time around people get that strength in numbers and positive energy between bands is in the best interest of everyone and paramount in solidifying a music scene.
HMS: Beyond this concert announcement, does Varga plan on booking more shows and maybe embarking on a small tour across Canada?
Dan Fila: Plans for Canadian, US, UK and European dates are in the works, we are looking forward to getting in the faces of the global metal community.
HMS: How do you feel about local bands like Sacrifice, Entropy and even the Killer Dwarfs all reforming again? In my mind this goes to show the strength of Canadian metal, so what are your thoughts about this?
Dan Fila: I think there is definitely a stream of metal consciousness that is going on now. I don't think it is an accident that the current explosion of metal is happening. I know that if a package of metal bands like you mentioned above and Varga were to tour together it would be a monster. Imagine the possibilities of a traveling Canadian Metal Fest with killer production playing in killer venues. It would work, on a global scale. However, I am not sure that everyone has learned the lesson from the past and can't see the validity and benefit of a tour like that through personal ego. We are ready to go.
HMS: Finally, where do you see Varga going from here?
Dan Fila: There are plans for the third record in the Enter/Return of the Metal trilogy, but immediate plans are to get in peoples' faces and melt them off!
Kenneth Gallant, HMS