Anyone who is a fan of heavy metal, knows who Skull Fist is. Hailing from the great white north, they have put out some of the best albums in recent memory and been able to introduce a whole new generation to a style of metal which has almost been largely ignored by the new wave.
Insane riffs, clean vocals, style and rhythm, all come together in a powerful barrage of righteous rock n roll that you simply cannot stop listening to. Doesn't matter which era of the scene your roots are settled in, once you're smashed by the mighty Skull Fist, you are going to be hooked.
While prepping some new material and gearing up for their summer European tour, Jonny Nesta took time out of his schedule to speak with me. Out of all the interviews I've done, this was one of my favorites, Jonny's personality probably reflects on the attitude of the band as a whole; no ego, laid back, and humorous...you immediately get the sense that it's all about the music, a sense that you can't just listen to their albums, but must get to show to really see them shine. This says a lot, due to the fact that it's rarer than you think once a band has received the critical acclaim which Skull Fist has...Skull Fist is certainly on my short list of best metal outfits around today, not only because they put out insane material, but they're just cool as shit as well!
All hail Skull Fist!
ThrashHead: As a guitarist, you have some serious chops, laying down some really awe inspiring riffs and blazing leads, take us back a few years, what drove you to pick up your first guitar and what took you towards playing metal?
Jonny Nesta: Thank you man, hmm, honestly? Nirvana is when I picked up, Smells Like Teen Spirit is like the first song I learned, but it was Jimi Hendrix who really made me want to play guitar and then Ozzy was all metal.
ThrashHead: Ok, let me get this, I'm a pretty old dude, I mean it was back in the early 80's when I started to listen to metal and punk, hell I still skate man. The thing is, I left the U.S. right after the whole grunge scene came in, how do you jump from Kurt Cobain to Ozzy?
Jonny Nesta: I was talking to a good friend about this just the other day, it was like, man, people have asked me that all the time, it's just when you're a kid, you just listened to music, it wasn't like you gave a shit about it, you weren't there for the downfall of one thing and the rise of another, it's just all cool stuff.
ThrashHead: You're just open to everything.
Jonny Nesta: Yes, totally.
ThrashHead: Right on, I can understand, I listened to Nirvana too, I listen to a wide range, Smiths, Cure, everything from W.A.S.P. to Swedish D-beat, pretty much if it's good, I'll dig.
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, exactly
ThrashHead: I can get that.
ThrashHead: You've played in a few bands before Skull Fist, from metalpunk, thrash and even a one man blackmetal project Autymn Mist...
Jonny Nesta: (Laughs)Dude, that's a funny one cause like a couple of people have asked me about that lately...it was me and my neighbor ,when we were like seventeen, and I think we gave a couple of tapes to friends, then a buddy last year showed me someone put it up on youtube, it's funny...yeah.
ThrashHead: So you put out a couple of tapes and they survived!?
Jonny Nesta: I know, it's funny man! (chuckles) It's crazy, it was one of those things, we were like the only guys into Blackmetal in school and kinda did it to find people to do a band and it didn't really go anywhere and then to find it on youtube!
ThrashHead: Man, the land of the internet, it gets out there and it never dies
Jonny Nesta: Exactly!
ThrashHead: It's a trip because I had to look it up and when I found the video it was portrayed as this seriously hardcore underground, heavy, evil shit you know? Now, you're telling me...
(both start laughing)
...you did this as a kid, slapped out a few tapes, and now you've got people from Encyclopedia Metallum listing this stuff!?!
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, I can't believe it!!
ThrashHead: With all these projects behind you and now with Skull Fist, listening to the clean vocals, epic choruses, and your shredding of the six string, you guys, and this is not blowing smoke up your ass, sound like you could have played any club in Hollywood or New York City back in the day and would have blown anyone off of the stage. The sound is very polished compared to the brutal rawness of your other projects. .. did you find it easy to transition into, they've already given it a new genre name, the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal? It's mind-boggling, because I don't know where they come up with this shit, thousand genres, thousand sub-genres, it's all metal to me.
Jonny Nesta: That's what I say too, you know, it's just the music we like. Before that, the only band I had, which was an actually band, was Mäniac, Jackie Slaughter ended up playing with us too. We were doing some shows and shit together. It was cool, because we were all playing around the same time, we were all friends, I never thought he'd be getting us to play in Skull Fist, circumstances came up and it was really cool.
That guy is awesome to work with, he's just one of the coolest song writers I have ever seen, an incredible player.
ThrashHead: Yesterday I was paying close attention to some of the videos and live performances you've done the way your hands work that guitar, you look like a seasoned vet of that style of music...
Jonny Nesta: Cool, thank you for saying that.
ThrashHead: ...how long did it take to get that level, I mean am I speaking with a prodigy, did you have to take classes, did it just come out? It's rad guitar playing man.
Jonny Nesta: Man, thank you so much...hmmm, when I started in Skull Fist, I went back to take some lessons for a couple of months, because I didn't know my theory that well, I have a pretty good ear for learning songs so I just learned songs from players I like, another good idea, to make stuff interesting, if I heard a progression I liked, cause I didn't know scales or modes, so I took a couple lessons, I had a really awesome teacher and it helped a lot.
That was about four years ago, for about six months...to get a better idea...It's pretty cool to have gotten the opportunity to play guitar in skull fist, Jackie 's got some wicked melodies and I really wanted to be able to compliment that.
ThrashHead: Well, it works! I think Kirk Hammet did the same thing right before Master, he took some classical guitar lessons. (Note: After researching this, it turns out Hammet was Joe Satriani's last pupil)
Jonny Nesta: It's always good to take a moment to learn, because if you close yourself off to that and say; "I'm good at what I do." you can't really progress. I don't think anyone whose good ever feels like that, you know what I mean? I'm always learning, trying to get better all the time.
ThrashHead: Though skull fist put out a two song demo, no false metal, and the well received heavier than metal ep, the two albums which really made everyone take notice are the two full lengths, 2011's Head öf the Pack and last year's Chasing the Dream...you mentioned you had played with Jackie earlier in Mäniac?
Jonny Nesta: We played in Mäniac together, which was fun, we didn't do much, then when the EP came out he didn't have the bass player, so I started playing with them then, when that came out, I was supposed to fill in for one show, which turned into a week, then a month, the next thing you know, I was committed to that.
ThrashHead: Were you guys like childhood friends or did you just bump into one another, was there an ad in the paper?
Jonny Nesta: No, I met him when he moved from northern Ontario to Toronto, and started Skull Fist and playing in another band, I met him at a Mäniac show, before he was playing, I thought it was cool because there wasn't much music like that, then I found out he skated too so we started hanging out skateboarding and became good friends.
ThrashHead: Skating, that's another interest I have, how long have you been riding the board?
Jonny Nesta: I don't ride much anymore man, I wrecked my last board about two years ago and haven't gotten another, shitty weather, I dunno, I guess I started when I was 13. Man, it's hard in Toronto because the summers are so fucking short, winters are brutal here.
ThrashHead: Yeah man, all my buds up in the Northeast, where I just came from, said with this last winter, they finally had to accept they were Canadians now!
Jonny Nesta: Pretty much yeah.
ThrashHead: Canadians know exactly what winter is about. But, take it from me, if you've ever skated and enjoyed it, you're gonna get back on it.
Jonny Nesta: Probably, I'm sure.
ThrashHead: You guys are on the forefront of the new wave of traditional heavy metal. What do you think is the draw of the traditional metal and thrash revivals which has kids discovering metal again? Do you think the sound simply engages one's feelings more than let's say the cookie monster growls/shrieks and unconventional song structures of Black Metal or other "extreme" metal subgenres?
Jonny Nesta: I don't know man, honestly, I think...it wasn't around much. When we started doing this, Skull Fist, we never played with other bands who weren't screaming, you know what I mean? There was a like a couple around, now there's more. Death Metal is still huge, I think people like it a lot more than what we're doing, you know, overall.
Jonny Nesta: Seems like it, it's hard to tell. We get super great responses wherever we go. It doesn't feel like Death metal is fading or anything, I mean you hear more aggressive stuff on the radio now, then ever before.
ThrashHead: I'm an old fuck, but I haven't gotten to that point where I'm stuck in my ways, I always try to find something new to listen to. But, there's something about this style of metal it's pure, it feels that it can draw anybody and everybody in. Everyone I've talked to say that the Canadians are kicking ass...I mean your fellow...what do you call people from Toronto, Torontoans? (laugh)
Jonny Nesta: (Laughs) Ha! I don't know man...
ThrashHead: (Laugh) Well, I'll just say fellow Canadians, Cauldron is from Toronto too...
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, those guys are awesome!
ThrashHead: They had been on a tour last year, went down to Arizona and played a small club, and ended up crashing and one of our writer's, Dave Wright, house. Got a nice place to kick it, home cooked breakfast, friendly faces ...everyone I know are pointing up north and saying, these guys are just killing it. Perhaps that's the thing, you guys are making it what it once was, just good fucking rock n roll.
Jonny Nesta: I notice that Canada does get a lot of respect around the world for the bands coming out which is cool, because there's a shit ton. Cauldron is really cool, they were one of the first, and then Striker from Edmonton on the other side, lots of great shit coming out.
ThrashHead: Canada has always had its share of killer metal bands from Anvil to Voivod, and now it's a leader again in producing some epic tunes, it seems, at least from an American perspective, metal is more prevalent there in popular culture whereas the United States has become more centered towards prefabricated crap, seems people are more interested in Justin Bieber and Kardashian ass than solid music coming out of the garage, it's got to be created by twenty writers and spat out by some huge company.
Jonny Nesta: I think it's the same everywhere man.
ThrashHead: You don't think heavy metal has garnered more respect there, as in Europe?
Jonny Nesta: (Laughs) No waaaay. Naw, not even close man. Toronto, it's not popular, there's a lot of good bands, and there's actually good shows, the spotlight is like electronic dance music and DJs, they're big here for sure.
ThrashHead: Really? Man, that's depressing.
Jonny Nesta: (Laughs) Yeah...
ThrashHead: How many clubs do you guys have there in Toronto to play in?
Jonny Nesta: For bands like of us, there's a bunch of good ones actually, but you know, it's always the same four or so that everyone does, it's a huge city though. There's clubs everywhere.
ThrashHead: So you're not getting any media coverage or anything, television, newspapers?
Jonny Nesta: No...but it's getting better, there's been a couple local newspapers took note of the last shows we've done. One of the coolest things though is that we've been nominated for a JUNO for best heavy metal album which is like the Canadian grammies, but I feel like not as many people care. (Laughs).
It was cool, it's not something we had expected before or taken notice of.
ThrashHead: That's rad, when do they award it, have they awarded it?
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, it was last week, Devin Townsend got it for his new album.
ThrashHead: Awwwww man, Skull Fist shoulda had it...Kanye West didn't jump in did he?
Jonny Nesta: HAHAHA no, he didn't
ThrashHead: I'm a genius! It should have gone to Beyonce for best metal performance!!!
ThrashHead: When Head Öf The Pack was released, critics went apeshit, where you surprised by its reception?
Jonny Nesta: Yeah man, it was crazy cool. I couldn't believe it, we toured everywhere, it was fucking mind-blowing. When the EP came out, we did a lot on our own, we did Canada a couple of times, we even went over to Europe, a buddy of ours drove us around, we did a couple of weeks, we went to France and Germany and it was really cool and as soon as that came out, the support went way up!
I couldn't believe the next time we went over there how the turnout was, how many people were telling us they really loved our music. It was fucking incredible.
ThrashHead: That kinda leads into my next question, because I was going to ask, when you guys began to tour to support Head Öf The Pack, was that your first time in the full-on van road warrior style of touring and you kind of answered that? So, I'll ask this; what do you like the most about touring and what do you despise?
Jonny Nesta: Hmmm (pauses)... I really love it, pretty much everything about. It's always when I'm the happiest, the only thing you have to worry about is playing music every night, and that's not a worry, so I have a great time with that.
The worst thing I guess, is figuring out how to pay your rent at home when you're somewhere else, other than that it's all good.
ThrashHead: And, getting gas money to get to the next show?
Jonny Nesta: ha! Yeah...
ThrashHead: This is one of those way over asked questions, but each band has a story...what's the craziest thing you've experienced on tour?
Jonny Nesta: Ummm...I don't know, that's a hard one. I feel, I feel like sometimes, you get into a haze because crazy shit happens all the time, you don't even realize. Like that stuff is weird, it's like when you get back and begin talking to your friends, and you're saying "What the fuck are you talking about?"
ThrashHead: Everything becomes a blur until you're reminded.
Jonny Nesta: One of the funniest stories I've heard though, this didn't happen to us, this is just like trading stories with the guys in Enforcer, we both did south America close to each other, we were both talking how you get into a daze, you're not sleeping well, weird shit's happening, and they said they were driving down the road and there was a dead body laying on the side of the road and it's like (Jonny says in a calm, dramatically unemotional voice) "Oh...dead body." they look at each other, listening to music, whatever, and go down the road...they don't realize until later on and it hit them, they're like "man, that's pretty fucked up, we had like NO reaction to that shit!!"
(both crack up)
Stuff like that happens all the time, it's a total check when you get home and you're talking to your friends and it all comes out. Weird shit, it's really hard to answer.
ThrashHead: I'm sure when you come out with your book twenty, thirty years from now, there will be some crazy shit in there.
ThrashHead: You got a huge European tour coming up this summer, Shreds Not Dead Tour, right?
Jonny Nesta: Yeah it's gonna be sweet.
ThrashHead: Something like almost 40 shows or something like that?
Jonny Nesta: I think so, maybe not that many, it's two months.
ThrashHead: Like we talked about before, on this last album Jackie 's skating mishap put a damper on recording. I've watched the video, it was fucking gnarly, as gnarly as can be, but with that little flash of the x-ray, you couldn't really tell how bad it was...how bad was the break? I was amazed he could even walk afterwards.
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, it was fucked! He fractured a vertebrea in his neck, and he broke a bone in the front of his face, because he slammed on the front of his face. ..a bone above the eye, which caused all the bruising and his neck snapped, cracked a bone. It was really scary.
ThrashHead: Were you there that night? I can't tell from the video.
Jonny Nesta: No, he was with some other buddies, I came to see him the next day in the hospital. He is always in a good mood, joking around and shit, it was scary, he couldn't remember shit that happened five minutes ago. I was worried, wondering if your best friend's mind is going to come back fully.
He still can't remember that week in the hospital. He is fully recovered though.
ThrashHead: When you guys got back into the studio, he had said that you guys were already getting the funds together, setting up studio time, and that happened...when you were recording, did it affect his playing or performance by that time, a couple of months after the fact.
Jonny Nesta: No...actually, I think we did a Mexico tour before we went into the studio, I remember being in Mexico and it was like, maybe two days after he took his brace off and his neck was technically still broken and crazy drivers flying over the speed bumps and everyone was slamming their heads into the roof and we were like "Oooooh, noooo, fuck!"
I think for the first week of those Mexico shows, his neck was still broken, the doctors were saying don't doing anything.
ThrashHead: Oh man, he was so lucky...the thought, you know, you guys are playing a show, jamming your favorite set, and he get sswept up in the moment and starts headbanging or something, then crack!
I was listening to Mean Street Rider, the intro into that is of him skating and bailing isn't it?
Jonny Nesta: Yeah (laughs), it is.
ThrashHead: I watched the video once made me cringe, I refuse to watch it again, too heavy.
Jonny Nesta: Same here, watched it once, couldn't watch it again, it's so fucked.
ThrashHead: I've slammed hard...you see, the people who don't skate, they'll watch a slam and say "Oh, god, that's brutal", but when you actually skate, you know how hard it was...I've seen some crazy shit, people breaking their wrists, their legs, teeth...
Jonny Nesta: That's what I'm saying, nobody gets hurt that bad. I've never seen that, people slam on huge stuff and don't get injured like that, it was totally crazy.
ThrashHead: I'm amazed it didn't make Thrasher's Hall of Meat, it was that seriously fucked up.
Jonny Nesta: It was brutal.
ThrashHead: You guys put out the album, and it just fucking rocks. Rarely do you see anymore, outside of the punk and metal underground, albums that rock from the first track to the last, it used to be the norm. Skull Fist consistently puts out these types of albums...albums which have the songs to make the sales.
There's a lot of discussion about downloading music now, even more so then when Lars testified way back, and with the advent of Youtube everyone's albums are out there practically the day they are released. You have people like Simmons blaming the fans, and Dee Snider saying it's the business model. Do you think it's a business question of labels losing power and the money should be put into the merch and tours or do you think it's going to get harder and harder for musicians to make a living because of youtube and download browser add-ons?
Jonny Nesta: Man, honestly, I don't think anyone has figured it out yet. I don't know, it's never been easy for musicians to make money anyway.
I guess you still make money off of merch sales, but fuck, look how Whitesnake was broke until the 1987 album. I don't think it's any harder now then before. ..it's maybe different, but I don't think groups have ever found a foolproof way to make money.
ThrashHead: In the 80's you could go to a big arena metal show, very rarely will you see one now unless of course, it's like Priest, Maiden...
Jonny Nesta: Yeah you won't, totally.
ThrashHead: On one side I do kinda feel that the money should come from shows and top quality merch, vinyls with inserts, posters...
Jonny Nesta: That's cool as shit that people will buy that now, if you want something like a vinyl, it looks good, it's got a good insert, even if you're going to rip it to your computer and listen to it on your iPOD, you have something to hold that is cool to hang on to.
ThrashHead: Yeah, even with t-shirts, there's street cred with saying "Yeah, I got this at a Skull Fist show in Barcelona or L.A."
Jonny Nesta: Dude, yeah exactly.
ThrashHead: ...on the other side, you can fully be leveraged to promote your band and reach out to everyone from Antarctica to Alaska .
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, that's awesome.
ThrashHead: And yet, still have Joe Schmoe download the music on Firefox...it's a double edged sword, I'd really like to see a return in this part of the world to big arena shows, large European style fests where bands can get together and sellout tickets and sell their wares, become successful.
Jonny Nesta: There's no cool giant sets anymore, big stage shows for metal bands...the King Diamond show was pretty boss, the setup, very cool! That was like the biggest setup I've ever seen at a metal show. ..That was fucking cool.
ThrashHead: when did you start going to shows?
Jonny Nesta: (Pauses) Late nineties, like '97 was probably first show I went to maybe.
ThrashHead: So, outside of maybe Priest or Maiden, you've never experienced an arena metal show?
Jonny Nesta: No.
ThrashHead: Wow! It's a funny thing though, for those saying downloading is ruining bands, I tell people all the time, that back in the day, there was file sharing, and it worked to actually promote these bands. Someone would roll into town with a 7th generation demo or something, all bootleg shit, hand over a cassette and say, check this shit out! We'd tie two tape recorders together and record cassette to cassette, it'd sound like shit, but that's how we learned about bands.
And once we got our hands on the real deal, we'd snap that up! In theory, it should work on an even larger scale now.
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, yeah.
ThrashHead: What are your thoughts about heavy metal, do you think we're living in the last hayday for the genre or will it survive because it fills a need people for people to have guitar driven rebelliousness in their lives?
Jonny Nesta: I don't know man, I think...it was huge again in the 2000's, it may not be the music you listen to, bands like Korn, I can't think of anyone else now, but that shit was giant, that was playing stadiums, before that, Pantera, it might not have been what you liked in the 80's totally different, heavy music will not go anywhere, it'll sound different, but it's here to stay.
ThrashHead: So you think it's just gonna evolve.
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, I think so.
ThrashHead: Apart from the European tour this summer, anything else going on with Skull Fist, new material?
Jonny Nesta: Yeah, we just started doing that, working on getting a new album together, just starting to jam them out. Pretty psyched on that, I'm really excited about the tour too, but I've been thinking about these new songs too, I really like how they're coming out so far.
ThrashHead: Feeling pretty inspired by them?
Jonny Nesta: Yeah man, I am really pysched on the new record
Jonny Nesta: Hmmmm, we will probably do it when we get back, maybe late summer, early fall.
ThrashHead: That's awesome, you've got these jams going, you're fully inspired, you get to hit Europe with all the good times and ladies waiting for you...you married?
Jonny Nesta: (laughs) No.
Jonny Nesta: (Pauses and chuckles) No, I actually don't
ThrashHead: Well, there you go!! You got all these fine ladies, it's the summer, long European summer days, warm, you're young, you're in a kick ass band, man, life is good for you! No matter what your situation, life is good...you're getting laid this summer!
(both crack up laughing)
ThrashHead: Last words for the fans brother?
Jonny Nesta: I love you guys!