Grim Reaper Will See You in Hell Someday, but Not Today
“See you in hell, my friend!” Those were the first words many a young metal fiend heard from Steve Grimmett’s mouth when Grim Reaper’s first video punched MTV in the face back in 1983. The song was “See You in Hell,” of course, from the British band’s debut album, which was also called See You in Hell. It was major label metal of the post-NWOBHM variety: anthemic, shred-tastic and totally fucking awesome. And there was young Grimmett — resplendent in a red sweatsuit with cutoff sleeves, studded leather gloves and white choker — shrieking his balls off. Lefty guitarist Nick Bowcott played the shit out of his Union Jack guitar while drummer Mark Simon and bassist Dave Wanklin did their best Spinal Tap impressions, even though Spinal Tap didn’t exist yet. Grimmett remembers the video shoot fondly: “We’d never done anything like that before, so my mouth was open all the time,” he laughs. “We were on this huge stage, but there was no audience there and we had to act like there was a major crowd. So, I guess it was my first time acting as well.”
Five years and two albums later, Grim Reaper went tits up in a legal swamp that has yet to be fully drained. And yet: In 2006, Grimmett resurrected the band under the banner of Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper. Now he and his new bandmates — guitarist Ian Nash, bassist Chaz Grimaldi and drummer Paul White — have been stateside for nearly two months promoting a brand new album called Walking in the Shadows. When we catch up with our man, SG’s Grim Reaper are just hours from taking the stage at a sports bar called Tailgaters in Bolingbrook, Ill. (Check out tour dates below.)
Says Grimmett, “We all work full-time at doing this, so it’s a question of getting out there, seeing our fans, selling the new album and … well, basically, that’s it.”
I wanna go back to the beginning here. Can you tell us a little bit about the part of England you grew up in and how you got involved in heavy metal?
I live in Swindon. I basically live in the country — all of us do. In the '80s, we had places that were miles from nowhere, and we used to put on gigs there and people would come from all around. In a town called Tewkesbury [about an hour’s drive from Swindon], we used to have what was called a village hall, but this one wasn’t a village hall, really. It was a 1920s ballroom — it was huge. And we would pack those places. Considering that was just us as local musicians, it was fantastic. But then the big bands started playing there — Motörhead played there; Saxon played there. That wouldn’t happen these days, sadly. But we would all go and all my friends were into heavy rock, so it was inevitable that I would end up liking that stuff.
How old were you when you first discovered that you could sing?
I was probably in my late teens, so I was a late arrival to it all, really. I was singing in my bedroom one day, and this girl I was going out with at the time said, “Oh, you can sing.” Within two weeks, she got me an audition with a local band and I got the job. Basically, that was it. I had several bands before Grim Reaper — one of them, Medusa, actually got a release later on. But me joining Grim Reaper is what made all the difference to that band. We just got into the heady heights of joining the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
Were you playing mostly covers in your first band?
It was all covers, yeah. Stuff like Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest … and that was about it, really. [Laughs] It was so long ago, I can’t really remember. But I do know that it was all rock.
What was your favorite song to sing along to at home?
It was a few songs, to be fair, but it was Elton John. He’s the reason I sing. I used to listen to Elton John — I still do. I love the way he phrases, the way he plays with the lyrics and the music. My favorite time of his was when he was writing with Bernie Taupin. He’s back writing with him now, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
I would’ve never guessed you were into Elton John.
Well, nobody does! [Laughs] When I tell them, they usually go, “Are you fucking kidding me?” But I’ll often be pleasantly surprised when they go listen to Elton John afterwards and go, “You know what? I get it.” [Laughs]
What was your first concert?
I went to see a guy called John Miles. “Music” was his big hit, and that would’ve been the late 1970s. I was blown away by him. I thought, “Yeah, this is what I wanna do.” But I had absolutely no idea how to get there. I fell into my first few bands, really. The only one I didn’t fall into was Grim Reaper. I’d finished with Medusa because two of the members had left, so I was sitting there doing nothing. Then Nick Bowcott phoned me and said, “I want you to join the band.” It was funny because I’d been talking to my dad and I said that Grim Reaper was the only band I’d want to join. Lo and behold, about six weeks after I said that, Nick phoned.
What was the band that turned you on to heavy metal?
Probably Thin Lizzy to start out with. Because I was listening to Elton John, I wasn’t listening to much rock in the early days. I didn’t grow up with Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or anything like that. But I got into Thin Lizzy just as they were starting to break. And then Judas Priest was the next one because when I was in Medusa, the guitarist was a big fan and wanted to do a Priest number. So, we decided to do “Starbreaker.” I listened to the song and thought, “I’m never gonna be able to do that.” But when I got to rehearsals, lo and behold, I could! [Laughs] So, it was all a big learning curve for me in a very short space of time.
When Grim Reaper split up in the late '80s, did you hold out any hope that the band would get back together at some point?
No, I didn’t, because of the way it came to a halt. We were being sued by our record company, Ebony Records, and it stopped us from working. So, until that got sorted, nobody seemed to want to help us. It just got really, really messy, and basically we ended up sitting around waiting for something else to happen. And it happened to me first, when an English band called Onslaught got in touch with me and asked me to do an album with them. Of course, I said yes. There was a lot more to it than that, but that was pretty much how it went.
There was a BBC exposé about the Ebony Records guy that basically ended his career overnight, wasn’t there?
Oh yeah — that was in the '80s. That happened maybe about a year to 18 months after he served us with this writ. Basically what he’d been doing was getting bands to pay for a slot on a multi-band album. There may have been 10 or 12 bands to an album, and he’d done quite a few. But in the U.K., it’s illegal for you to have to pay to do that. So, he was taken to task over that, and a lot of other stuff, too. The Grim Reaper thing was brought up because he was basically telling these bands, “Look, if you come up with 500 pounds, I’ll put you on this album and get you a deal like I did for Grim Reaper.” Well, that’s bullshit to start out with, because he didn’t get us that deal [with RCA]. That fell into our laps, really. He had nothing to do with that whatsoever, so he was lying to everybody and taking their money. So, they showed him up on this program and exposed him as the villain he was.
Is it true that he ended up homeless not long afterwards?
Apparently, yeah. The reason we left him was because he didn’t pay us any of the money he was getting from advances — and he was getting a lot of money. He lived in a small house that he had his studio in, but he took the money he was getting and he bought a mansion in the countryside and built another studio in there. It was a rubbish studio — [the music recorded there] sounded okay in the studio, but outside the studio it sounded awful. That’s why we ended up with RCA: They rejected the third album, and we ended up leaving him. With no income after that, the guy had to go bankrupt.
Sounds like he got what he deserved.
He did — finally, yeah. But obviously we didn’t see our money and he claimed us as an asset when he went bankrupt, so that created more problems for us. To this day, I haven’t seen a penny of the money from the '80s.
Yeah, so I’m still fighting that. I’ve got lawyers dealing with it.
Well, let’s talk about something positive: Walking in the Shadows is the first Grim Reaper album in nearly 30 years. Was it difficult to get back into that headspace from so long ago?
Well, there was a reason for putting this together. We’d been offered a lot of work in Europe, but then it started to dry up. I spoke to one of the promoters in Germany and asked why they’d stopped having us over there. And he said, “Well, we’ve heard it before.” So, I thought, “Okay, that means they want us to do more material.” Ian Nash and I spoke about it and we decided we’d do another album. The whole process from that point onward had to go back 30 years — the writing, the recording — to make sure it sounded like the follow-on album.
What about lyrically? Did you think about where you were pulling this stuff from in the 80s?
Yeah, absolutely. Back in the day, the stuff was Hammer House of Horror. That’s basically what it was all about — and that’s what I went back to when I wrote the new lyrics. It was kinda easy, I guess, but also a challenge because I haven’t written stuff like that in 30 years. It was fun going back to where I used to be with it and play with the lyrics. It was very cool, in fact.
Original Grim Reaper guitarist Nick Bowcott joined you onstage for the show at the Whisky in Hollywood last month. Will he be joining you when you play Los Angeles again at the end of the tour?
Yeah, he joined us in Phoenix and L.A. But I haven’t heard from him as far as the last one is concerned, so I’m not sure if he’ll be joining us or not. He hasn’t said he’ll be along, so I’m guessing that he won’t be.
He’s done a few shows with you guys over the years. Is he not a full-time member of the band just because of the logistics involved? I know he lives here in Los Angeles now …
Yes, he does. He’s one of the main men at Marshall amplification, so it’s just not logistically possible. Basically, he just does not have the time to go full-time the same as us guys do. It’s a bit of a pain, really. But he’ll join us when he can. He joined us at Sweden Rock in Europe, and he’s done a few others, especially in the States. But the relationship is still good between me and him — and the rest of the guys, too.
Has Nick told you what he thinks of the new album?
No. [Laughs] I don’t suppose he will, either. It was a shame, actually, because he got in touch with me about two months before this one came out and said, “You know, I’ve been writing and I’d like to get together and do the fourth Reaper album.” That’s when I told him we’ve got our own album coming out as Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper and I’m not gonna put that on hold or in jeopardy. But I said, “Once that’s out and it’s done and dusted, then maybe we can do something.”
GRIM REAPER ON TOUR
Nov. 16 — Calgary, AB @ Distortion
Nov. 17 — Edmonton, AB @ Mercury Room
Nov. 19 — Eugene, OR @ Old Nick's Pub
Nov. 20 — San Francisco, CA @ Elbo Room
Nov. 22 — Glendale, CA @ The Complex