Los Angeles local Bob Nalbandian steps behind the camera for the first time telling the story of three different eras in L.A. metal history. Inside Metal consists of The Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock and Metal and The L.A. Metal Scene Explodes (now available) and The Rise of the L.A. Thrash Scene (summer 2017). Each documentary is two volumes, done interview style with narration chronicling their respective era with Pioneers covering late ‘70s to 1981 and The L.A. Metal Scene Explodes covering ’81-’86. In a two part interview, Nalbandian talks about the L.A. music scene from late ‘70s to ’86 and everything that made it legendary.
The documentaries have received high praise from the local scene, from film style to their authentic vintage feel of the period it’s reminiscing about. While Pioneers showcases the forefathers and godfathers of the early scene, Metal Scene Explodes puts the spotlight on local bands popular in L.A. that didn’t get the fame, notoriety, respect or national attention they deserved.
“I’ve always wanted to do a doc on the scene,” he says. “I’ve always thought the true story was never told. You saw it kinda, on Behind The Music specials, more the later ‘80s scene when L.A. got a little ridiculous with the glam thing. I wanted to show what happened in the early ‘80s, it was a very organic scene, from the ‘70s Van Halen era, before MTV broke and the bands that started in the early ‘80s. Armored Saint, Steeler W.A.S.P., even Ratt and Motley, they started very organically. It wasn’t like they had a big pull from MTV starting out and they were pushing metal, in the early ‘80s MTV was all new wave. It started as a very organic thing, very heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene.”
Nalbandian had connections from that era. “I was good friends with Joe Floyd of the band Warrior, part of the L.A. metal scene, they put out a great album called Fighting for the Earth. He and I were kinda close and had him on a podcast.” Nalbandian asked if he’d be interested in being in the documentary. “He said hell yeah.” Floyd got him in touch with local DVD distributor Warren Croyle of MetalRock films known for alien conspiracy DVD’s and an old school metal guy, part of the L.A. scene. He also worked on tons of metal records back in the day.
On the Pioneers DVD’s, “We all came from the same school and background, if we’re gonna do it lets start from the beginning with Van Halen era and really tell the full story of how this scene developed into what it became,” he says. “Give props to a lot of bands that were underground and had a huge following and impact on the scene but never got the recognition they deserved. I really wanted to get into the bands in the late ‘70s and the Starwood. I remember catching a lot of these bands like Snow and A La Carte and Smile. I caught Dubrow but never caught the original Quiet Riot with Randy. All those bands were big bands on the scene but they didn’t have the record deal but were packing in 800-900 people at the Starwood and the Country Club. We really wanted to give props to those bands.”
On the roots of the L.A. scene, “They’re really what developed into what we see today in L.A., the forefathers so to speak. Like most people not from L.A., even people very involved in the metal scene had no idea, because there was no exposure. Bands didn’t have albums out. They weren’t on the radio or MTV, or touring. Unless you were in L.A. at the time, checking out the club scene you probably didn’t know most of these bands. These are the bands we wanted to touch on, it was driven by passion. We wanted to tell their story.” Pioneers recently debuted on Axs TV alongside Motley Crue The End and Motorhead Clean Your Clock. “We’ve had a tough time, getting it places because people weren’t familiar with the bands besides Metallica, Great White, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Wasp, Y&T and the bigger bands.
“It’s kinda funny, Joe had never done any producing. We were all really new to this. I brought in Carl Alvarez, who’s been a terrific asset. He was a huge part of the early ‘80s metal scene in L.A. and Orange County. He shot a lot of the footage. A lot of the footage Joe shot; he wanted to get that early ‘70s vibe. That’s kinda important, when you watch a movie about the ‘70s you wanna bring the viewer into that era.” He uses the skateboard movie Dogtown and Z-Boys, with the music and style as a reference.
“We wanted a documentary that really brings the viewer into that ‘70s vibe with footage and the music. There’s a lot of that feel in the camera work. The old documentaries on Hendrix where they’ll do quick zooms on the face and pull back, so this is a lot of that. A lot of it was intentional but we had a lot of QC (quality control) issues when it came to getting on some of the digital platforms and channels but we did what we needed to. It was done on a fairly low budget, we didn’t want a high dollar VH1 Behind The Music thing, we wanted to really keep it raw and as real as possible.”
The documentaries have received high praise for their visual style and portray what bands had to do back in the day to “make it” and survive.
“It was late ‘70s to 1981, at the time there was very little video, it was all film footage. It was very hard to get some of it, we were able to get footage from Smile and some of the bands we interviewed [like] A La Carte, Snow and Quiet Riot with Randy Rhoads and utilize it.
Footage for The L.A. Metal Scene Explodes was easier to come by. “You shot with those big VHS cameras back in the day and we had more access to footage for that one. It was something we wanted to show the viewers, it was going back 35, 40 years ago. A lot of these kids, even in their 20”s have no idea what it was like to promote a band without social media and cell phones. It was about busting your ass every day, going out there with fliers, spreading the word. You didn’t sit all day and post shit on Facebook. We really wanted to portray that. So many don’t realize; they grew up in this technical era. That’s what made us what we were, we had to bust our ass, rehearse and get our chops right, we had to play, play, play.” For some bands it took multiple years and the better half of a decade to get discovered. “That’s what bands had to do and what made them so damn good. It wasn’t like American Idol, becoming stars overnight, it wasn’t like that.”
Writing letters to labels was a big thing. Bands like Bitch traded tapes and demos with people overseas. Getting magazines like Kerrang! Copying cassettes of your demo, waiting to hear back. That was how self-marketing was done back then to get noticed outside the L.A. area.
Veteran metal drummer Gene Hoglan hit the scene young, “Gene Hoglan has been in the scene forever.” He used to write for my fanzine The Headbanger from 82-85 in his early teens and was a big part of the local scene. He saw the first shows of Slayer when they were a cover band. He saw the first shows at The Woodstock and Dante Fox before they became Great White. Gene and his sister, they were really big in the scene.” At 14, Hoglan was a fixture in the L.A. scene. He was really active.”
“I’ve always thought the L.A. thrash scene was pushed under the rug, because the glam scene was so predominant and everyone concentrated on the Bay Area.” Hoglan was a fountain of great stories and information. “Dark Angel was a great thrash band from the ‘80s, then came Slayer. Gene said so much cool stuff about Rough Cutt and Dante Fox. He used to jam with the drummer from A La Carte teaching him chops as a kid. So, he was a big part, even [with] Dave Ellefson and Lars Ulrich, we didn’t want to keep it all glam bands [on The L.A. Metal Scene Explodes] we wanted to get the heavier bands like Warrior, Armed Saint, Malice, Leatherwolf, Racer X. They all had a more European sound and they didn’t fit in with that L.A. [sound].” They wanted to focus on Lizzy Borden, Pandemonium, Bitch and more traditional bands as well.