An Interview with Kam Lee of Death & Massacre

All images courtesy of Kam Lee


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

Death metal, while integral, seminal, and highly advanced, is one of music’s most misunderstood genres. As a result, there is a case to be made that the genre has more detractors than supporters. While many misunderstand and subsequently relegate death metal, few take the time to understand its near-mythical origins.

Still, for those in the proverbial “know,” death metal, with its vivid imagery, technical musicianship, sprawling production, and explosive energy, can be thrilling, captivating, and exhausting, all in the same breath.

Recently, I caught up with one of death metal’s originators, frontman Kam Lee. Among other things, Lee and I touched on his first encounters with Rick Rozz, Bill Andrews, and Chuck Schuldiner, the subsequent formation of Death, the trials and tribulations of Massacre, his newest music, where things stand with his former bandmates, and a whole lot more.

Andrew:
Kam, thanks for taking the time. What first sparked your interest in metal music?

Kam:
I grew up essentially a punk kid in Broward and Dade county. I was a South Florida city kid. I was into the Misfits, Samhain, The Plasmatics, The Clash, The Ramones, even stuff like Discharge and G.B.H. I wanted to play drums in a punk band, but we moved from South Florida to the suburbs of Orlando, and the kids there who were into punk wanted to play more new wave stuff like The Police and Missing Persons. Everything here was so Mickey Mouse and so fucking Disney. Kids didn’t want to skateboard in the back parking lot of the grocery store around broken bottles, and dirty junkies’ needles, they wanted to go to the beach under the sun and sand, and go surfing.

I couldn’t find the kind of gutter punks who were into the aggressive music that I liked. At some point, I started tape trading with some pen pals I made through the back of a punk fanzine, and one of the guys started sending me metal bands’ songs in between the punk bands he was sending to me. That’s really how it started. Eventually, I met Rick [Rozz] and other classmates who were into more early underground speed metal and early thrash bands, and it just grew from there.

Andrew;
How did you first meet Rick Rozz, Chuck Schuldiner, and Bill Andrews?

Kam:
As I mentioned before, I met Ricky in high school art class. After that, I met Chucky through Rick, and Billy through Allen West when I relocated to Brandon FL.

Andrew:
From there, take me through the early incarnation of Death. How did the band come together? 

Kam:
Well, we started out as Mantas. Chucky, Rick, and I were just playing Venom covers in Chuck’s garage, with me as the original singer and drummer. Eventually, Chuck wanted to move away from the Venom style, and become more like Slayer, Exodus, and Possessed. I wanted to be more like Hellhammer. That’s probably when the first creative differences between us began to arise. All these years later, reflecting back on it, I can see that both myself and Chuck were probably manipulated by Rick. Rick is definitely a manipulator. I won’t go into any more shit-talking about the guy, but the guy definitely can play sides and can play people against each other. He’s done it all these years, and he still does it to this day. I’m pretty sure when I reflect on it, and look back on it, Rick was the cause of all the problems throughout the years. Even going as far back as to ruin mine and Chuck’s relationship in the beginning, because he’s a petty jealous man, who’s still a little boy. Rick can’t stand it when someone else gets more attention than he does, and he’s the type that will disrupt and make problems when there are no problems there in the beginning. He does that just so he can become the center of attention. He’s a toxic human price of filth. And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew:
As you mentioned, you were Death’s drummer and vocalist. Your vocal style proved to be very influential. How did you develop it? 


Kam:
Honestly, it started with me emulating Cronus from Venom adding a bit of Tom G. Warrior from Hellhammer influences (ripping them off) but in the early Death days, I was more of a higher-pitched vocalist, with more of a screaming type of vocals. It was the same as Chuck when he started singing. For influences, we took from the thrash bands which were coming out of the Bay area. The California thrash bands, guys like Paul Baloff from Exodus, Tom from Slayer, and of course, Jeff from Possessed. I even took early screechy screaming type influences from Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics. However, I didn’t come into my own style until after I left Death, and became the front man of Massacre. That’s when I was taking influences not only from Tom of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, but I heard the low growls that dogs like Pitbulls and Rottweilers were making, and I decided to try and emulate that sound when I did my vocals to give it a more primal sound.

Andrew:
What do you recall regarding Death’s first gig?

Kam:
Death had only played five shows in 1984and 1985. Only three with Rick, and the other two shows were ones that Chuck and I did together with just the two of us. The last show I did with Chuck was opening for a punk band called The Battalion of Saints. As far as the first gig, it was at a ShowBiz Pizza which is sort of like a Chuck E Cheese. In the 80s they turned ShowBiz Pizza into a concert venue on Friday nights from 7:00 pm. to 10:00 pm. It basically became a teen club and we got a gig there. Now that I look back all these years later, I’m pretty sure teen clubs were created by dirty old men who were pedophiles that wanted to pick up underage girls. It’s pretty fucking vile if you think about it. I despise pedos, they’re the worst fucking scum on the planet as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, as far as the show, the simple thing is we got to gig there and that was our first show. We also found out that they would put on these airband contests where you could win money. I was asked by another friend of mine if I would join them on stage to airband to a W.A.S.P. song. If you’re up on current events, this is the event that Rick is trying to shame me for in a recent Blabbermouth post. I guess he thinks it would embarrass me, but he couldn’t be farther from the truth. [Laughs]. I have no shame about it whatsoever. But of course, I did it, what teenage kid at sixteen years old isn’t going to try and do something where they can win money? I do believe the prize was something like fifty bucks, but you have to remember this was 1984, so fifty bucks was a pretty big deal to split between three guys. I’m not ashamed that I did it, hell I got more attention doing that from girls than I did doing a real band. [Laughs]. So of course, as a young horny teenager, I was going to do whatever it took to get the attention of the ladies.

Andrew:
Take me through the numerous rehearsal tapes that have circulated over the years. What are the origins there?

Kam:
It just started as us recording rehearsals and sending them off to friends. We did so many that I couldn’t tell you what was official, and what wasn’t official because we literally would record so much all the time and then release it. See, we were tape traders, so sometimes friends of mine would get some copies, and friends of Chuck’s would get other copies. I guess, eventually, they all got compiled into what was later released as some kind of official Mantas/Death demo thing.

Andrew:
In your estimation, how influential were those rehearsal tapes to the death metal genre?

Kam:
I guess Chuck and I were prolific at tape trading, along with a couple other guys, and Chuck knew that we were spreading it everywhere in the underground tape trading circle really quickly. Eventually, when I met Jim Pederson of Comatose Magazine, I found out that he was one of the early tape traders that was insanely collecting and trading tuff back in the late 80s early 90s, and that had a huge impact too. I think Pat of Hell Witch also was part of that early tape trading, and Monte Connor, who eventually would go off and work for Roadrunner Records, he was part of that early tape trading circle too. Honestly, it’s the foundation of the underground, and we were there in the beginning and in its early stages. Literally, the seeds were planted by a lot of the bands that were coming out of the California, New York, and Chicago areas. Soon, the seeds started to grow and the roots started to reach out, and that’s really when it took off. We were part of the roots that were reaching out, and we were part of the first wave that was starting to break the surface. It’s kind of like when you watch a plant go from a seed to becoming an actual full-fledged plant. We were the first little tiny leaves and stems breaking the surface of the soil.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew:
Do you think the genre of death metal takes off the way it did without the help of that scene?

Kam:
No, probably not. It was pretty much just people all over the world trading cassette tapes with songs that they recorded off of vinyl, or possibly college radio shows. These were shows that were playing this stuff for maybe one hour between midnight and one in the morning. They would just play all these different demos of different bands from all over, and a lot of people would record that one-hour radio show from a college out of New York, or a college out of Chicago, or something. After that, they would make copies, and just send that one-hour show everywhere, and everyone would just copy that and send it out to their friends and so on. It was huge for spreading the word about the scene.

Andrew:
Death by Metal and Reign of Terror were both released in 1984. Where do those songs originate from, and how were they recorded?

Kam:
Kam:
Death by Metal was recorded on a boombox and Chuck’s garage, that’s both versions, the Mantas version, and later, the remade Death version. Basically, they are live in the garage rehearsal recordings. With Reign of Terror, I believe that was recorded on a four-track, or possibly an eight-track cassette recorder in the back of a music store. It was done all in one sitting, all in one night. Again, it was pretty much a live session recorded, and the only thing that I think was dubbed in were the solos. Everything else was live as it happened. I played drums and did vocals as I did during the sessions in the garage.

Andrew:
Infernal Death and Rigor Mortis were your last official recordings with Death in 1985. Take me through those sessions.

Kam:
Infernal Death was three songs which I think was the first time that Chuck completely wrote all the way through musically without any influence at all from Rick. These were Chuck’s songs completely and totally. They were 100% his, and you can kind of tell from that point where Chuck was going. By the time we got to Rigor Mortis, Chuck had really honed in on his style, and it just grew from there.

Andrew:
Walk me through the end of your time with Death. What led to the fracture?

Kam:
I didn’t leave Death on my own. Chuck and I had a disagreement that kind of just got out of hand. I mean, I make jokes, and sarcastic remarks sometimes. It had to do with a bowl of Apple Jacks. I ate the last bowl of cereal while I was living with Chuck, and he really got upset with me and kicked me out of the house. That part is actually true, but it was a couple of days later that it went south. At that point, we were still in the band together, and I started to tease him about a girl that was showing interest in him. He didn’t seem to be interested and I made some kind of snarky teenage remark about how he could get laid, and finally lose his virginity. Then I said that if he didn’t want to oblige her, I would have no problem doing it myself. Well, he blew up and kicked me out of the band. I guess he didn’t like my sarcastic comment about his virginity.

I was actually standing in his front yard and he was so angry that he told me he didn’t even want me on his property. Scott Carlson and Matt Oliva of the band Repulsion were there at the time because they came down with possible thoughts of joining Death, so they could confirm this event. Honestly, that was it. So, the next day I got my mom’s van, went over, picked up my drum set, and never saw him ever again until many years later. It’s true, man. It was just stupid teenage kids mad at one another for saying stupid teenage kid shit. And though some of us have grown up and become grown-ass men at this point, others like Rick have remained butt-hurt teenage boys, with teenage boy issues. Oh well, man. You know, what can you do? Jealousy is such a bitter thing.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew:
After the original members of Death left, Chuck basically turned it into a solo project featuring new players for each album. Had you stayed, how might the vision and sound have differed?

Kam:
Well, I don’t know if it would have sounded different because Chuck was always trying to elevate his style, and sound and become more progressive musically. So, I do think that the sound and direction Chuck went with was a natural progression of his style. However, lyrically is probably where the most differences would have occurred. I was a big and still am a big horror fan, so a lot of that early Death stuff had a lot of the horror movie elements, which had a lot to do with my influences. As a matter of fact, being that I’m a huge horror movie fan, I am more than certain that it indirectly influenced the type of lyrics that I was writing, and would have kept doing so had I stayed with Death. Honestly, the proof is right there for anyone to see. Right after Scream Bloody Gore, Chuck dropped that whole lyrical theme. I do think guys like Chris Reifert from Autopsy had another huge influence on the early Death lyrics because that had that horror movie lyrical type of theme too. I’m pretty sure that Chris was a huge influence on a lot of the stuff that appeared on the first album as well. Chris has gone off to do his own band and has carried that theme over into his own band in such a great way, that it’s become a staple in the death metal genre.

Andrew:
To this day, Death is widely credited with launching the death metal genre. What are your thoughts on that assertion?

Kam:
Man, you really just keep wanting to stir up this pot of trouble, don’t you? [Laughs]. Asking my opinion is like asking me to expose my belly to a churning chainsaw of opinionated know-it-alls. They’re all out to gut me for just once sleeping in the same room as their chosen “metal messiah.” Fuck, it’s like you want to get me in so much fucking trouble, and you want me to say something that’s going to get somebody wanting to use a baseball bat across my kneecaps. [Luahgs]. Look, I’m not going to say that Death started the death metal genre. I’m not going to say that they didn’t start the death metal genre. I will say we were there at the beginning with a lot of other bands. You can’t ignore the facts, and the facts show that guys like Killjoy and Necrophagia were there in 1985. You had Paul Speckman of Master, Tom Warrior of Hellhammer, and Jeff of Possessed there too. There were so many great people during the early days, and all had essential parts in the creation of it.

Andrew:
You’re on record that Chuck basically ripped off Possessed. Can you elaborate on that? Do you feel Chuck’s influence is overstated?

Kam:
Bro! It’s like you want to get me killed. My bad. [Laughs]. I guess that was actually a bad choice of wording. Saying “ripped off” makes it sound bad. I guess the proper wording should be “took heavy influence from.” Although, you could say that I ripped off Hellhammer and Tom G. from Warrior, and I’m not going to get butt hurt about it. I won’t because it’s fact. Yet, some people don’t care about facts. They just want to keep believing the fiction they bought into because it fits the messianic mold their “hero-worshipping” icons have been fitted for. It disrupts their ideology and topples the tower when they hear their gods might not be as almighty as they once believed. It’s that same sunken feeling when a kid for the first time is discovering that just maybe Santa Claus is not real. It hurts their feelings. Worse yet are those others out there manipulating those people who are hurt. Some people are just trying to jump on the pity party bandwagon with that one. I got a lot of hate from that statement, though it wasn’t intended to downplay Chuck’s influence on music, but rather to end the debate of who came first Death or Possessed. Sadly, morons spun it to change the narrative, to fit their agenda, and to further instigate and cause strife.

Do I feel Chuck’s influence is overstated? Let me put it this way – for the “product and commodity,” his legacy became post-mortem. In order to keep reselling and repressing albums, it’s exactly what it’s being marketed as. No, it’s actually exactly what one should expect from a product sales pitch. I mean, you’ve got to make sure that your product is the people’s choice, right? It’s Coca-Cola vs Pepsi. McDonald’s vs Burger King. Starbucks vs Dunkin Donuts. In the end, the company with the better commercial is always going to win over the masses.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew:
After you left Death, you joined Massacre. Walk me through the origins and what led to the other members of the band joining Death, which halted the band.

Kam:
They were Massacre first before they joined Death. I left Death in ’85, and a couple of months later I was in Massacre with Allen West on guitars, Mike borders on bass, and Billy Andrews on drums. We only got Rick Rozz in the band basically because the other guitar player that was in the band wasn’t showing up for rehearsals, and he didn’t have equipment. I knew Rick had equipment, so I reached out to him to see if he would join. Shortly after he joined, Allen was then fired for showing up drunk to rehearsals, or not showing up at all. We existed as Massacre from December of 1985 into the latter half of 1987. Then Rick, Billy, and Terry, who had just come in to replace Mike all quit to join Death. They all did that because Rick found out that Chuck had moved back to Florida from California and didn’t have any band members, but he did have a record contract. So, that kind of goes to show you how conniving and manipulative Rick is going as far back as then. He basically stole the band that I had him come and join, so he could run back to Chuck with band members in order to get a record contract. That’s exactly the truth of it all. Rick likes to say that the “facts are out there,” well the fact is out there Rick, you admitted all of that in a interview that was on YouTube from 2019.

Andrew:
A reformed Massacre recorded From Beyond in 1990, which is in my opinion one of the most underexposed metal albums of all time. What are your memories of the sessions?
 

Kam:
Not very good memories, to be honest. Everything was just rushed, and it was a train wreck of a recording. We had two weeks to relearn everything and get it recorded, and it was rushed. Digby of Earache hated the “The Second Coming” material, which Rick and I, along with bassist Butch Gonzales, and drummer Joe Cangelosi wrote. He did not like it at all, and he wanted to have us return to the original demo material from the 1986/1987 era of the band. So, when he learned of both terry and Billy getting kicked out of Death by Chuck – after they toured Europe without Chuck as Death – he requested we rejoin with them and put out a record of the old demo material. I’ll say this, reflecting back on the whole thing, it was doomed from the start. I was being basically forced to re-work with assholes that had already fucked me over, and would later go forth to continue to fuck both me and other people over. Greed and selfishness have led to all the problems throughout thirty years of shit in this band. Everything really stems from the mistrust and dishonest backstabbing shit that goes back to the original 1987 departure – when they all jumped ship to join Death. It’s never been a comfortable ride since, and the years of failed reunions, continued distrust, and break-ups prove it.

Andrew:
Were any of the Massacre songs slated to be Death songs?

Kam:
Only “Corpse Grinder” came from the Death demo days. Nothing else was ever slated to be Death songs.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew:
Inhuman Condition was a fantastic EP but it proved to be Massacre’s last. It seems obvious now, but what led to the band’s demise at that juncture?

Kam:
Everything I just mentioned above. It came down to distrust, dishonesty, and backstabbing agendas. It was falling apart long before even recording that EP, and it only got worse once we started the tour. I quit the band on the last day of the tour because it was just all falling apart. Distrust and dishonesty, and basically, money came up stolen and missing. I’m sure different members had their dirty hands in all of it.

Andrew:
When you look back at Massacre’s early 90s output, how do you compare it to your contemporaries?


Kam:
Had it come out when it was written in 1987, I feel it would have been groundbreaking. But because it was delayed by four years because of dishonest betrayals, unfortunately, it got swept up and under the rug. The problem was, as I said, the band just was an enormous pile of shit tumbling around on itself from mistrust, dishonesty, back-stabbing, and shit-talking from the get-go. It’s too bad because if everything wasn’t so damned dishonest, then perhaps maybe something more solid could have come out of it.

Andrew:
Before resurfacing in the mid-2000s, you seemingly took a long break from recording after the sessions for Promise. What led to that decision and how did you spend that time?

Kam:
I hated the way Rick was attempting to turn Massacre into a pseudo-Pantera meets Type O Negative type of band, and I hated the fucking joke of an album, Promise. I thought the entire thing was just shit, and I can’t even believe I went along as far as I did before deciding to walk out and quit during the post-production period. I was to the point that if this is what the future of death metal is going to be, then I didn’t want anything to do with it. I removed myself from the entire death metal music scene for an entire decade – ten full years – because I thought it sucked that much. I was only keeping up with a few select bands in the grindcore and even early black metal genres. These are things that I was finding myself listening to more than death metal.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew:
Since 2007, you’ve been seemingly constantly busy, with many projects at hand. Which are you most proud of, and why?

Kam:
Everything I do with Rogga Johansson I am proud of. That said, I’m happy and proud of all the projects that I’ve done since working with him such as Bone Gnawer, The Grotesquery, and The Skeletal. All have been great and fun to do in their own rights. So has been working with Noel Kemper of Gruesome Stuff Relish on our EP project Broken Gravestones, and working with Mark and Mike Riddick on our band Gravewax, as well as working with Jonny Pettersson on our project Nattraven. I also did a funeral doom project called Akatharta that I’m very proud of, and I have many other side projects.

Andrew:
To date, 2019’s Massacred stands as your latest full-length record. What’s in the works as far as new music?

Kam:
We have a brand new EP called Mythos that is about to come out on July 1st. Also, Massacre has continued to self-release singles and EPs during this entire time. We do limited self-released vinyl 7”s, CDs, and digital singles all the time. So fans that visit us on our Bandcamp page can always find us releasing new stuff all the time.

Andrew:
Last one. Have there been any talks about getting together with Rick Rozz and Bill Andrews for a Death/Massacre reunion?

Kam:
Not a chance. Rozz hates me and the feeling is mutual. I wouldn’t even piss on him if he was standing in front of me on fire. Billy is a guy living in Japan as far as I know – and a Christian – I think he’s far removed from doing anything death metal for fear that Satan will drag him to hell or something.

All images courtesy of Kam Lee

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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