MASTER “Masterplan” 

By Theron Moore

It’s been a while since we’ve hobnobbed with Mr. Paul Speckmann, Chicago native, death metal innovator, agitator and guiding force behind MASTER, one of the earliest and most influential death metal bands. Paul has kept himself super busy during this period, churning out new Master albums on a very regular basis, the latest being “An Epiphany of Hate”.

Paul’s always got something provocative to say and 2016 is no exception. He’s a walking encyclopedia of Chicago metal history and it is mostly in this capacity that we recently consulted him.

The following is a excerpt of an interview that’ll appear in “All My Friends Are Rock Stars,” The music scenes of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Rockford, Volume II”

Wormwood Chronicles:  If we discuss the history of Chicago metal, where does the conversation start in terms of bands and clubs? Who needs to be mentioned and what year(s) are we talking about? 

Paul Speckmann:  In the early 80's there was a melting pot of killer bands with great attitudes in the Windy City. So many cool fellas were hanging out together at The Thirsty Whale, The Iron Rail, The Metro and also Haymakers in Wheeling near the Palwaukee airport! I remember having countless great times back in the day. Names like Kenny Black, Berry Stern, John and Glen Dobbs, bands like Zoetrope, Burnt Offering, Znowhite, Hammeron, Paradoxx, Trouble, Thrust, Transgressor, Witchslayer, of course Warcry and many others were a part of my many weekend excursions at these different clubs. To this day I still believe it was something in the waters of Lake Michigan that helped spawn this mix of molten mettle in Chicago!

WC:  Chicago’s south side plays a large role in both the city’s punk and metal scenes. What is it / was it about the south side that is / was so accommodating to punk and metal? Is it still that way now?

PS:  To be honest I have no idea what you're talking about when it comes to the South Side as I rarely ever hung out there and couldn't really tell you about the scene from there, Someone would have to enlighten me on this subject. I guess my memory fails me as I don't remember where all the band came from.

WC:  I’ve heard a variety of stories that some clubs that hosted metal / punk shows back in the 80’s / 90’s were either owned by the mob or controlled by gangs and were legitimately dangerous places to frequent. Any truth to this or just urban myth? If it is true, any personal stories you can share? 

PS:  Again unfortunately or maybe fortunately, I never had any real experience with the mob or the Mafia in Chicago!

WC:  Do you think Chicago ever got the proper respect it was due regarding its metal scene of the 80’s / 90’s? Why did it not become as big as L.A. regarding hard rock and metal back then? 

PS:  Obviously Hollywood played a big part in the successful scene because of location. Many of the Chicago bands took years to break through, location can also be a pitfall as well. Certainly, Brian Slagel and his Metal Massacre 4, gave all of us from Chicago and the surrounding neighborhoods a chance to break through, but unfortunately not everyone was successful. Trouble and The Skull were the winners from this venture. It's nice to see the fellas still visiting Europe fairly often although with all the concerts I play every year myself I admit that I never seem to find the time for a visit. They never seem to play the Czech Republic, or nearby, and after playing 100 concerts per year with my own band, I rarely visit other concerts.

 WC:  Follow up question: Do you think Chicago’s punk / alternative / industrial music scenes of the 80’s / 90’s may have overshadowed what was happening with said metal bands and metal scenes back then? 

PS:  I always thought that the scenes were distant in many ways from one another so this in my opinion has nothing to do with it! I mean Smashing Pumpkins or any of Al Jourgenson's projects never had anything to do with Metal regardless of their success.

WC:  Chicago seems to be something of a microcosm unto itself regarding bands and music scenes. By that I mean you hear more about “L.A. bands” than you do “Chicago bands” (regarding national attention) with a few notable exceptions. Is Chicago just so big a city that bands don’t need to “break out,” so to speak? 

PS:  Bands would like to break out as you so well put it, but when everybody and his brother and next door neighbor are in a bands the odds for success are a bit against you! Also many weekend warriors exist that never really gave one hundred percent of their life to their craft! In Europe many people have a hobby called playing music on weekends!

WC:  How does Chicago’s current metal scene differ now from how it was back in the 80’s / 90’s? Is it better, not so good, worse? Has it stood the test of time? 

PS:  Well, for me actually when I returned to Chicago on a Monday several years ago Reggies was packed with over 300 people and I was pleasantly surprised, but then I played on a Sunday more recently and the place was nearly empty. So I guess it's hit or miss when it comes to Chicago visits. Back in the day we were lucky to get 50 people to come to a show. 

WC:  Can you give me a few memories / stories about the following clubs?


The Exit- In 1987 Death and Funeral Bitch had 25 people at the Exit. I remember getting a call from Chuck Schuldiner himself. He said that Jeff Allen a promoter at that time flew the guys out from Florida for this show and left them at the airport. Chuck also informed me that they only had their guitars and asked if they could use our gear. Alex, Pete and I agreed to do this of course.  Looking back on it now, it must have been a lie! Years later in a Rockhard Germany interview Chuckie claimed to never heard of Paul Speckmann and any of the bands I created or helped create. Although, I made the thank you list on their latest album at the time!
RIP brother!

The Cabaret Metro-Assault-Funeral Bitch had a show opening for the Cro-Mags on the Age of Quarrel tour Sunday March 8th 1987. I remember I was happy to see Brendan Burke playing drums for Lost Cause at the time also on the bill. It just showed me how small the scene is, as Brendan and I were in a band playing cover songs in high school. I was singing the latest flavor of the day, Sabbath, Nugent, UFO, etc. 
So we began the show, and at the time I was playing through a double scoop PA bin with two JBL 15 inch speakers. The bass was so loud the police came to Metro and tried to shut down the concert. This was a great evening as it was Harley Flanagan's birthday show! The following year my buddy Big Steve called as it seems that the bassist Harley invited me to the show. I never made it a second time. I still laugh as I remember John Joseph giving me his Vegan cookbook along with his autograph, I wish I knew what happened to that.

Medusa’s-I had a blast here as Master was supporting Morbid Angel March 10th 1991. First off during the show there was a grounding problem and as seen on the video that Aaron Nickeas never returned to me after editing a mistake he had made on the drums out on the VHS cassette. I was electrocuted throughout the performance as seen by the sparks in my relatively smaller beard I had back then. 

I have to laugh looking back on things now as during the show someone from Morbid Anger pulled the power cable as they were jealous as Master was killing it. Then the lighters came out like an Ozzy Osbourne concert until the power came back on!  So after the show I went to another bar for a bit of drinking with the fellas and confronted Troy Dixler from Sindrome at the time. I was a bit of an idiot at that time for sure. So after several beers I called Dixler out, and he followed me and cold-cocked me with my back turned. 

Looking back on this situation he of course did the right thing, I deserved it, my attitude then was through the roof. Master guitarist Jim Martinelli came out and chased him down as he was slamming my head on the pavement. I remember going to Beyond the Limit the next day and the owner Dominic was so happy to get a picture of me with the black eye etc. What ever happened to that guy? He still owes me money for merchandise!

WC:  When I listen to Master I hear influences from Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Venom, even The Exploited. Is this what you were listening to at that time in your life that may have drawn you into this new genre of music, thrash, death metal, etc? 

PS:  Well, to be honest at the time the sub-categories weren't so prevalent as they would become later! We were just playing Metal plain and simple! The biggest influences were from bands like Venom and Motorhead. But as you said we were listening to bands, like GBH, The Exploited as well as Discharge and MDC. This earlier Punk revolution had a lasting impact on myself and Master and even today the d-beat can be heard on the latest albums. On the Venom, Exodus and Slayer tour, I have to say that I was disappointed with the meeting in the Venom tour bus as they were toe tapping to the song Jump, and saying how much they liked it. This really shattered my image of Venom at the time.

WC:  Follow up to the last question. Were there any concerts / live shows you attended in the early 80’s that convinced you that thrash, death metal, etc. was the music / genre you wanted to pursue, be a part of? 

PS:  Shit, I was at many of the classic Chicago performances, like Metallica on the first tours as well as Slayer on their first tours, when these bands were still hungry and crushing the competition with their pure energy. It also helped that Alex Olvera from Assault and later Funeral Bitch was friends with many of the most killer bands and many time I ended up on the guest lists! It wasn't unusual back in the day, for somehow like the guitarist John Connelly from Nuclear Assault for example, to drop by our rehearsal studio on Halsted and Lake to smoke a joint in the afternoon before the concert. Of course seeing and experiencing the most aggressive bands of the time had an impact and influence on my life in general. I was living and eating Metal 24 hours a day. Today I am really living Metal, and somehow managed to make a living off it. Unfortunately, many of my peers gave up and took the road to normal lives I guess!

WC:  What was your record store of choice in Chicago to find metal at, especially imports where you could only find Celtic Frost and Venom at the time? 

PS:  Rolling Stone Records would be the answer. Of course the babes that worked there also drew us in without a doubt. They also had a great selection to choose from of course. Many famous people dropped by there on occasion as well, I remember shopping and talking to Joey Belladonna one afternoon.

WC:  Did the mainstream metal scene (Motley Crue, Ozzy, W.A.S.P., etc.) hold any attraction to you or was it just so much fluff? 

PS:  I had the first two Motley Crue albums and saw them open for Ozzy on the 2nd tour January 24th, 1982! I also road the crazy train a year earlier with Ozzy and my friends with the Chicago Loop FM 98 sponsored contest.

WC:  Tell me a little bit about the following bands / projects –


War Cry –This was the band that gave me my first real chances to appear onstage, supporting bands like Twisted Sister, Queensryche, the Joe Perry project and even Mountain. Steve Ahlers, Marty Fitzgerald and I formed a bond early on and began writing songs for this entity and after discovering Joe Iaccino, brought the band to fruition with hard work and many concerts in the city and outlying suburbs.

Abomination –Abomination was formed in its original incarnation without yours truly! Mike Paul, Chaz Baker and Aaron Nickeas formed the original band. At this time, I was playing in a band called Funeral Bitch! After seeing Nickeas crushing on the drums, we recruited Mike Shafer from Impulse Manslaughter and began our own lineup, and the rest is history so they say! The band went on to record several LP's and we did several shows a European tour supporting Master for 26 dates and broke up shortly afterwards.

Martyr-Whilst on the System Shock over Euro Part 2 Tour I had the pleasure of meeting the guys from a band called Krabathor when Peter and Vader canceled their participation. This was a lucky break for me, because after 44 cities on an old American type school bus with no toilets or running water, you either bonded with your mates or killed each other. We became fast friends on this tour. 
At numerous sound checks, drummer Skull and I would jam until the guys told us to shut the fuck up. This led Krabathor guitarist Christopher and I to go home after the tour and write songs for our new project called, Martyr, Murder X, the end of the game! This worked out well for me in the end, because I have created a life here in the Czech Republic and have really enjoyed the last 16 years already!

Regarding the bands mentioned in the last question, Master is the constant and it’s actually survived to success despite having been formed, broken up and reformed on multiple occasions. What goes to Master’s longevity, what keeps you connected with it? Obviously Metal is a way of life and to be honest the latest lineup has been together for 13 years successfully… for the most part, anyway. I never run out of ideas for new songs, and so with constant writing, recording, and touring, the band continues.

WC:  You had the west coast hard rock / metal scene and the Florida death metal scene. Was there ever any conversation about moving the band to either location, kind of “going where the action is?”

PS:  Never! I'll admit that Nuclear Blast had us record the debut album for the second time at Morrissound Studios in Tampa, and then after hearing it scrapped the idea and had the original Chicago recordings remixed and remastered and triggered with the Metal guru Scott Burns in Florida again! The 2nd recording was therefore named the Speckmann Project, as much money was spent on that recording also. So at the time both releases were competing on the European charts simultaneously!

WC:  In the 80’s / 90’s we had major music scenes in L.A. (commercial metal) and Seattle (grunge). That was prior to the internet existing. Do you think the presence of the internet and social media today have grown so large and so powerful to maybe negate such scenes happening, again today, as they did back then? 

PS:  Sure, the internet has endless possibilities, and of course with this promotion, anything is possible. My bands are still alive and thriving partly due to this of course. So any genre could make a comeback certainly!

WC:  How did the bass player gig with Krabathor come about? 

PS:  So after Martyr was recorded, original Krabathor bassist Bruno left the band. I was offered the position and took it as any real musician will go for a real opportunity every time, unless it's only a hobby, which is true for many. Fortunately for me, this kept me in the spotlight and kept the Speckmann name alive. 
But in all honesty it was a failure for the fans, as the Czech and Slovak fans had a hard time accepting me and many simply refused to do so period. But those four years was a blast for me, and I actually had the members play on the Master, “Let's Start a War” album in 2002! In 2003 we went our separate ways and Master took over full time again for me. Times change and people change because the original members of Krabathor and I reconciled a few years ago and it proves that time heals wounds sometimes!

WC:  Is Master a full time job or do you hold a day job? If so, what do you do? 

PS:  Master is a full time job unless you consider a visit to the post office a few times a week hard work. I spend my free time riding a bicycle in the forest, picking edible mushrooms for cooking, walking the dogs, practicing etc. Life is quite ok for me.

WC:  What prompted your decision to move to / live in Czechoslovakia? What a great place!

PS:  Joining Krabathor was the original reason!

WC:  An obvious question to those of us in the states – do you worry about terrorism where you are, is that a concern you have both as a civilian walking and a musician playing live across Europe? 

PS:  Honestly, the media overplays everything. There is no terrorism happening in the Czech Republic. But of course I am a bit worried every time I get on a plane, but what can you do, stay home? I visited the Gran Canary Islands a month ago and a few days ago I flew to Greece to play via Serbia, and all was fine and completely relaxed. I mean yes, people are dying from terrorism, but not as frequently in Europe as I am sure the American media portrays. I live a normal life here.

WC:  I would imagine it’s hard, financially or even visa-wise, coming to the states and touring with Master. How do you make it profitable in a day and age when a lot of live bands can’t do it? 

PS:  I have a US lineup, there is no other way!

WC:  When you look back on everything you’ve done, everything you’ve accomplished with your career, any regrets, anything you’d do different now? 

PS:  No, that's a problem for other people. Regrets bring down morale. I am satisfied with the mistakes as well as the successes I've had. You cannot go back and change things regardless, so why think about it? I am sure the original members have regrets, but as I always say, you made your bed, so sleep in it.

WC:  What does 2016 hold for you and Master? I know you have a US tour planned….

PS:  The same as every year: more shows, festivals and tours in the USA, Europe and South and Central America etc!