Getting To Know: Varga
Dan could we get a quick lesson on the history of Varga for metal fans that may be not quite familiar with the band?
It was founded in 1989 by bassist/vocalist Joe Varga and myself (drummer Dan Fila). We had been friends since elementary school. Joe and I started our first band together in grade 7 and we called it “The Golden Phoenix”. Our first gig we stole shopping carts and brought all of our equipment to school in shopping carts. Adam (Alex-guitars) joined the band by grade 9. Sean (Williamson-guitars) joined a few years later.
In 1993 we signed with BMG Sony and then released two albums Prototype (1994) and Oxygen (1995). We toured with Metallica, White Zombie, Prong, Pantera, and Crowbar. We had pretty regular rotation on Headbanger’s Ball and even appeared in an episode of Beavis and Butthead when they used to review music videos. By the time Oxygen was released the band was musically confused at the time because the grunge scene was really huge and being a metal band was pretty unsustainable in those days. We had a lot of pressure from the record label at that time and released what I thought was a pretty crappy album.
Instead of continuing down that path we all sort of went our separate ways at that point. We stayed in touch and remained friends but we didn’t really feel the urge to return and revisit Varga until 2011 when Joe called everyone and at first we just hung out and had a few drinks together. We started jamming from there and Enter The Metal (2013) came from that two years later with another record due in 2014. It’s a really honest representation of what the band is. We financed everything ourselves so we didn’t have to answer to any label pressure. It’s progressive heavy ciaos because our influences are so varied. Everything from Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax to Rush. Our good friend Julius Butty produced the new albums after hearing some of our jams in the studio.
Varga has been around since 1989 but Enter The Metal (2013) is my first Varga album. Is most of this release older material re-recorded using not only modern technology but also slightly different versions of each song?
Some of the stuff was pulled from old audio cassettes recorded during jam sessions and rehearsals. Other stuff was taken from old demos brought to BMG but they said no we don’t want to release that because we want you to reinvent yourselves and become this sort of hybrid metal act. Looking back if we had not done those albums in the 90’s with BMG we could have performed this newest material the way that we did. Enter The Metal we recorded all of those songs live off the floor as a band. To be able to use a click track to record those songs it was a pretty difficult undertaking that we would not have been able to do given the experience we had.
This must be great for the band in terms of creating a new fan base because for them these are all new songs so they are also getting a taste of the old band as well?
Exactly. Our intention was never to go into the studio and record two albums worth of material and just release them. The idea originally was to just hang out together and get to know each other a little bit better. We went through a lot together as a band. We went from in one year playing for $50.00 a night at clubs and living out of our bread truck to supporting Metallica and having our own tour bus. We weren’t interested in making money necessarily but we wanted something we could enjoy.
In reading through the bands you thank on Enter The Metal it’s a pretty widespread spectrum of acts from King Diamond to Rush to KISS to Dream Theater. I had read that Varga and Dream Theater had crossed paths in the past?
Well James (Labrie) is from the Toronto area and had almost shared the same management team. We went to New York City in the mid 90’s and hung out with them for the day. We also did a show together in Toronto. Great guys incredible musicians.
Songs about giant killer turtles, shark attacks, plane crashes and mad scientists – Enter The Metal has something for everyone both musically and lyrically. Any funny stories behind these tracks?
Lyrically we are all big fans of sci-fi movie genre and also kung fu movies. We have been critically taken to task over our lyric content because they are not serious. “Gamera” is a song about a giant flying turtle so how can you take those lyrics seriously? We wanted to create a musical songscape behind it so as you are listening to the music the lyrics tell the story just like a movie soundtrack. We wanted to approach things like a band like Iron Maiden. Telling a story like “Powerslave”. We also have a song about social Commentary called “No More Clean Air” which deals with pollution in Hamilton.
Your next release will be called Return of The Metal. When is that album due out and what can fans expect from that release?
Mid to late May 2014. They can expect the same thing as Enter The Metal – super heavy progressive mind bending metal. Only 6 songs total but they are long like 8-10 minutes long. We didn’t want to restrict ourselves with 3 or 4 minute pop metal tracks we wanted to tell a story with the music. I think we have accomplished that 100%. The theme of these records is based upon the Bruce Lee movies Enter The Dragon and Return of the Dragon films. Same thinking in terms of the title’s. Joe is a very artistic guy. He made his own Kung fu movie. When he brought it to the table we all loved the idea.
Currently you play sporadic dates within Canada but are there plans to tour here in the US or elsewhere?
We are slated for Bloodstock in the UK for August and a bunch of dates we are finalizing in Western Canada for August as well. We hope to be in the north east US sometime in July. The fans have been real receptive to our live shows. We have a huge fan base in the UK and any touring is a direct result of the feedback and buzz created by these albums. We didn’t know what to expect going into this but we are certainly a little surprised as to how quickly it has been selling.
Have you always been a drummer? What was your first entrance into hard rock?
Joe Varga was my first drum teacher. He started off as a drummer and he showed me my first drum beat in the 2nd grade. Then he moved to the east end of the city and then five years later my mom and I moved into the exact same building! Really freaky! I actually have a music degree. I learned a bit of everything but what I took most away from it was being able to analyze symphonic pieces and brought that to our band. The thing about music is you never stop learning. The minute you think you know it all is the minute you really know nothing. The more I learn about drumming the more I realize I don’t know much at all. It’s a big lifelong learning experience for me and for the guys as well. My first record that I saw and heard that made me want to play hard rock was KISS Alive II. I couldn’t get myself away from it. The next really important album for me was Rush 2112. The progressive thing just started to infiltrate my system. At this point Joe and I were hanging out and he introduced me to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and we just went from there. I’ve probably seen Rush in concert about 35 times. We had a chance to meet Geddy Lee because we had been nominated for a Canadian music award and he was presenting the award. We didn’t win the award but meeting Geddy was even better. It’s a day I will never forget.
What is the goal for Varga in 2014 and beyond?
We are not going to stop again that’s for sure. We are doing this now because we love it not because we have to. We have all worked really hard and are in a position now financially we can afford to do this. It’s really different when you are not getting paid and just playing for the art’s sake. I think that kills a lot of creativity and forces you to create compromises and that’s something we will never have to do again. We are writing music for ourselves and keep recording Varga albums for as long as possibly can.