Back in 1992, a little band from Canada by the name of Slik Toxik released an album called Doin’ the Nasty. That album absolutely blew my mind. It was such a huge sounding record full of great songwriting, incredible musicianship, and a voice that sounded 20 feet tall. Slik Toxik quickly became one of my favorite bands but as fast as they came, they were gone with the wind. Where the fuck did they go?
In 2016, I noticed one of my followers was a guy by the name of Kevin Gale who, as it turned out, was a guitarist in Slik Toxik. We hit it off right away and he introduced me to his latest (and really outstanding) band, Punishment. We finally decided to do an interview and I’m so glad we did. Kevin is easily one of the sweetest dudes in hard rock and I had a blast talking with him about the Slik Toxik days, his band Punishment, and his adoration of Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. Enjoy this one y’all!
Kevin, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, my friend!
Thanks so much doing this, man. It’ll be fun.
Before we get started, I have to say that I do wish I could go back in time to my 17 year old self and say, “Dude, you’re gonna be buddies with the guitarist from Slik Toxik someday.”
[Laughs] Yeah. Poor you! [laughs]
Slik Toxik was one of my favorite bands back in the day and definitely the “little band that should’ve.” I’m also very lucky that I got to see you guys live. What a powerful live band you guys were!
I think that’s what the strength of us really was. We were a really strong live band. The songwriting was good too but we were just really lucky and that’s the bottom line. Anybody who’s “made in” in the industry, whatever that definition is, they just got luck [laughs]. That’s just what it is.
I think you downplay it a bit but what was it about Slik Toxik that got you guys noticed and eventually signed?
If you could tell me, I would be able to relate that to my current band [laughs]. Honestly, I don’t know. We had a great, a charismatic lead singer; we had kick ass guitar players, and a solid rhythm section and decent songwriting. Maybe that’s what it was but honestly, I just don’t know. We were playing a club in Toronto and our management found us there. It all happened pretty quickly but my mind is pretty hazy from that era [laughs]. It all happened really fast and again, we were really fortunate and lucky.
You guys released the Smooth and Deadly EP and then released the full length, Doin’ the Nasty but I heard that the EP was actually recorded after the full album. Is that true?
Yes, it was done after the debut was finished. Capitol wanted something to put out before the full length so we did that EP and put BFD (Big Fuckin’ Deal) on it and then did three other songs for the EP.
So I have to ask. Who is Rachel and why was she breathing (Rachel’s Breathing) on the EP and then dead (Rachel’s Dead) on the album?
[Laughs] That’s funny. We used to get phone calls constantly at 3 in the morning from this random girl and we just dubbed her as “Rachel” [laughs].
I was in a metal band in the 90’s and we named ourselves Rachael’s Dead. Do I owe you any money?
[laughs] Oh man. No, we’re good. Maybe a nickel [laughs].
The only tour I remember you guys being a part of was the Faster Pussycat tour in ’92. Did you guys do much touring other than that?
Not really. We did that Faster Pussycat tour for a little while but then they went on tour with Ozzy so we went back home [laughs]. We toured with Yngwie Malmsteen in the US for a little bit but that was about it for touring in the use aside from a couple of headlining shows. We didn’t tour a whole lot more than that and then did some Canadian shows.
You guys toured with Yngwie? Man, how was that? I know he has a reputation for being, how shall I say it? Difficult.
[Laughs] He was really nice to us. He loves to drink. I almost got his Rolex [laughs].
How the hell did that happen?
He says to me when we were in Chicago “Hey man check out my Rolex” so I put it on and a few hours go by and he keeps getting more wasted. Then we had to leave and I thought I got away with it he goes, “Hey man give me my watch.” I was like ugh.
Do you ever look back on that time and think, “Man, if we had only been four years earlier”?
You know, I used to. I used to be really bitter about it but I’m not anymore. It is what it is. The musical climate had to change in order for things to progress. It happened and there wasn’t much we could do about it. I was fortunate enough and very grateful to have been able to do what I did and to even get that far. Most people don’t even get a taste of that.
Back in the day, bands could get label support, a tour bus, tours, etc. Do you find that it’s hard to be a band now than say when Slik Toxik was around?
Absolutely. The cost of everything goes up, club owners aren’t paying what they used to, especially to bands who aren’t on the radio or who aren’t going to draw huge crowds into their club. You end up with a lot of negatives against you. Is it worth it to do it? Hell yeah it’s worth it. If you’re a musician it’s what you do. The avenues are smaller and smaller these days though.
These days, bands are schlepping it in vans and leaving gig to gig. Could you do this these days?
Oh man, back in the Slik Toxik days, we did our share of schlepping it around touring Canada in a cube van. If I did that now, at my age, I would probably seize up and not be able to move at all [laughs]. There’s no way I could do it now. I’m amazed we lived through it back then but our manager back then use to say it was character building [laughs].
At the time when you guys were touring, did you have a sense that you might be coming into the scene at a bad time or was it more of a “Fuck it. Let’s just milk it for what we can and enjoy it.”
Actually, we were just having fun. We were a bunch of kids that, like I said, got lucky. Yeah, we worked our asses off but we had a lot of fun and we did what we had to do. I don’t think we were thinking about much of anything. We were just doing it because we had nothing else to do [laughs]. I wish there was some better story that we had our future planned out or that clairvoyantly we saw what was going to happen but we just didn’t. I remember talking to Dave Murray from Iron Maiden once and he said, “We had no idea any of this was going to happen and we got lucky. I’m the luckiest fucker on the face of the earth. I get to do this every day” [laughs]. I’ve been lucky enough to meet all of my heroes and all of them will tell you that it it’s blind luck. Yeah there’s talent involved but the majority of it is luck; being in the right place at the right time.
Slik Toxik released Irrelevant after the debut. This album was a change in sound and took you into a more modern direction. Was this intentional or was this a kind of label push?
Here’s the story behind that one. We had been writing for the 2nd album and the record company was listening to what we had. They then came in and said something that I’ll never forget. They said, “It’s not organic enough.” [laughs] I said, “Can you define organic?” The answer we got was, “I don’t know but it’s not organic.” We were lucky enough to work a little bit with Glen Robinson, the guy that produced Kyuss, and Garth Richardson who worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers so after that we started down tuning our guitars. We got some ideas from them about how this whole new thing was going to go. We started down tuning before all those other guys so we’ll take credit for that. No, I’m just kidding [laughs]. We were tuning down to like drop D and stuff and I had no idea how to even make chords out of that [laughs]. It was pretty funny.
Musically the album was a shift but songwriting wise it still had that Slik Toxik vibe to it.
Yeah. It’s a really dark album. We were angry kids. We were pissed off and when you’re pissed off and you have a voice and you can actually put that voice out there. Do I think what we did was right at the time? Yeah, I think so. I think that was pretty important for us to do at the time. Again, it was a natural progression for us as a band to go that route.
So was the title “Irrelevant” sort of a play on words as far as where the genre was going?
Nope. It didn’t mean anything actually. The title was just completely….
[laughs] Exactly. It could’ve been called Brown Shoes for all we cared so we just called it Irrelevant. It means nothing.
Which makes it completely brilliant.
[laughs] I suppose if you look at it in hindsight. We were just pissed off kids so we didn’t care what it would be called. We could’ve called the album Pissed Off and it probably would’ve been more fitting for the time [laughs].
Dangerous Toys put out an album called Pissed around that time.
Yeah. Same deal right? All of us mid-grade sort of bands sort of got thrown away in the hype and than you had some of the huge bands that were able to ride it out.
How do you think it would go over if say Slik Toxik released Doin’ the Nasty now, in 2017?
I probably wouldn’t [laughs]. It might still stand the test of time but I don’t know. I do love a lot of the songs we did on that album and I’m proud of them but do I think it would’ve done as well today? Probably not.
So what was the end of the line for Slik Toxik?
I think the end of the line for me was that I got tired of not making any money. I quit the band and then I got a job. After that I think they did a couple of shows with another guitar player and it just fizzled out from there.
Looking back on Doin’ the Nasty, what song are you super proud to have your name on?
“Sweet Asylum”, “Midnight Grind”, “Its Not Easy”, “Crashed.” Actually all of it but the epitome of Slik Toxik was “Midnight Grind.” I think that song encompassed everything we were about. This was in the days before ProTools and we were recording on 2.5” tape. All those really high harmonies you hear on “Midnight Grind” are all Nick (Walsh; lead vocalist). That’s in the days when you really had to go in and sing and play that stuff. That really set me up for a lot of my work ethic when it comes to going into the studio. You’ve got to know your part, get in, and get out of there.
Slik Toxik used to get a lot of shit about being Skid Row rip-offs but I felt like they were doing that before even hearing you guys. I never remember you guys lashing back or getting fumed about it but was it tough to swallow at all?
I’ll never forget this. Nick and I were sitting on his couch and we were watching MuchMusic and Sebastian Bach was on there. He was carving on Nick for some reason and Nick and I were just watching this going, “What the fuck is this guy talking about? What does he mean that Nick’s copying his moves?” So Nick, all 5’7 of him gets on the subway to downtown Toronto and marches down there and confronts Bas and says, “What’s your fucking problem man?” Bas is a tall guy and Nick is not [laughs]. Afterwards they ended smoking a couple of joints together and being friends over it [laughs]. This whole Skid Row comparison was just ridiculous. I guess Sebastian was pissed that Nick was copping his moves or something [laughs]. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “You’re on your own with this one. I’m not dealing with that [laughs].
Sorry Sebastian but Paul Stanley invented the “hair flip”, not you.
[Laughs] That’s funny. The hair flip was invented by Paul Stanley, not you two guys!
So here you are now, 2017 with your new band Punishment. Tell me about how this came to be.
After Slik Toxik I quit music. I hated it and I didn’t want anything to do with it. Finally, God bless the internet, I was talking to Darrell Dwarf (Killer Dwarfs drummer) and he wanted me to be a part of his band, Automan. I went and joined that band and its Darrell Dwarf I will credit for bringing me out of retirement so to speak. It was almost like Bon Scott era AC/DC with a really ripping guitar player. It was cool but it just wasn’t for me and it didn’t work out. There were no hard feelings on either side. Through a chance meeting on Facebook with Brad (Searl; Punishment vocalist) and without hearing him sing a note we were talking and I said, “You’re the singer in my band.” He says, “But you haven’t heard me sing a note” [laughs]. I said, “I don’t need to.” There was no preconceived notion about Punishment. I just needed to get back into doing what I believed in doing and what I believed in myself for doing. That came about with drummer Karl Anderson and bassist James Verner. James didn’t work out so we got another bassist and then we did our four song EP. We toured and played that for a couple of years and then we just sort of needed a break from a bunch of different things going on. Outside influences can really put a strain on a band. We all took a break from it from then. Brad and I didn’t talk for a while but then we hooked back up again and went out for drinks and he’s really the only guy that I can write with. That’s what set us moving forward today. Karl (drummer) needed to leave to do what he had to do so we got Pat Carrano who is absolutely amazing. I’ve known Pat for 25 years and we used to hang out during the Slik Toxik days. We also have Mark Johnston on bass who I was in a band with before the re-formation of Punishment and that is where we’re at today.
Punishment released Remnants of Things Left Unsaid in 2016 and the album absolutely floored me. I love how you guys melded two hemispheres of music being that Alice in Chains kind of sound with David Coverdale on vocals. With a sound like this, you must be attracting a diverse audience.
Yeah, we get a cross section of lots of different people both young and old, people who are into the 90’s grunge to people who are into the more classic stuff. We’ve been getting great responses from the record which has been great. You do this to be self serving but you also do it for the people. If someone digs what you’re doing, you’ve done your job. We’ve been pretty lucky to have a wide variety of people dig what we’re doing.
How does the creative process in this band differ from how you did things in Slik Toxik?
It’s way different. It’s a lot more focused I’d say. It’s a different vibe. Slik Toxik was good but this is just a whole different vibe. It’s really effortless. This band fully takes my expectations of how things are going to work and it’s five million times better. The guys that I get to play with in this band; they take and make everything fucking amazing. I’m one of the luckiest motherfuckers on this planet to be honest. If it wasn’t for the guys that I play with, I wouldn’t be playing music. These guys make it so that I enjoy music again.
Ok Kevin, let’s cut loose for a little bit. Who do you feel is one of the most terribly underrated guitar players?
Oh man. There’s so many. I’ve had guys tell me that it’s not how many notes you can play but that it’s all about the song. Believe it or not, I think the most underrated player is Alex Lifeson from Rush. He’s the defining glue that holds that band together. I mean, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart are both technicians in their instrument but then you have Lifeson is a technician as well but he’s very cordial and he makes those songs so big for three guys. Man, the list could go on for underrated players but he’s the first one that comes to mind.
How about overrated guitarist?
Oh wow, that’s another good question [laughs]. I don’t really think anyone is really overrated. I think that if a guitar player moves you, and if that player writes something you really dig, that doesn’t make them overrated. I think everyone has their own strengths where they need to be rated that high or whatnot. I mean, you have guys like Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert. I watch a video of Paul Gilbert playing and I just put my guitar down and say, “I’m not even going to bother.” Those are the kind of guys that do that well. But then you have guys like Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, and Angus Young who’s the sloppiest motherfucker but wrote every great riff known to mankind [laughs].
If Hollywood was to make a movie about your life, who would play you?
Chris Farley [laughs]. That’s pretty much the closest you’d get to finding someone to play me. That guy was like a bull in a china shop and that’s pretty much how I play guitar [laughs]. I’m not a technician. I play guitar like a meathead so I think he’d be the perfect guy to do it [laughs].
What is one hard rock/metal album that nobody should go without owning?
Can I pick two?
It’s your fucking interview.
[Laughs] Ok. There’s so many… dude this is hard. It might have to be 3.
Let’s just make it a Top 5 and be done.
[Laughs] Ok, let’s start off with number 1. Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath. All I have to say about that one is Ronnie James Dio. Heaven and Hell has some of the most classic Sabbath riffs on there and I know it’s going to offend some but it’s better than anything they could’ve done with Ozzy. Screw them [laughs]. Second is Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance. I saw them at Maple Leaf Gardens and all I remember seeing was walls of Marshalls! Third has to be Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast! Dickinson’s first record. The fourth one Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime. Easily one of the best prog metal records ever written. Finally, anything by Rush from Fly by Night to Moving Pictures. That right there is my definitive metal collection.
What is the most un-metal thing about you?
I’m made of flesh [laughs]. Oh yeah, and I drive a Ford Escape [laughs].
If you could anything differently, would you?
Nope. Not a thing. Everything happens to you for a reason. If I did things different, things would not be what they are now and right now I’m where I’m supposed to be whether I like it or not. The situation that I’m in right now, I have a beautiful wife, I’m with Punishment, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Finally, finish this sentence. If I wasn’t a musician, I would be….
A podiatrist [laughs].
Kevin, thanks so much for taking the time for doing this. This was really a blast for me and I hope you enjoyed it as well.
Fuck yeah I did. Thanks so much for doing this and supporting us. I really appreciate it.
For more on Punishment, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/punishmentmusic