By David E. Gehlke
The right-hand man to Dave Wyndorf in MONSTER MAGNET for over 25 years, guitarist Phil Caivano freely admits he's more comfortable working off to the side or in the background. Caivano has handled album productions for AGNOSTIC FRONT, HATEBREED and L7, had a tour of duty with New York hardcore legends MURPHY's LAW and even had a stint in the early '90s on a major label with his thrash band, BLITZSPEER. Yet a solo album never entered Caivano's mind until, like for so many, the pandemic brought life to a halt and opened up the creative vaults.
Caivano's aptly-named self-titled album is everything you would imagine it to be from someone who has been so embedded in hard, raw rock. The album is a highly effective exercise in no-frills and no-excess rock, pulling from his primary influences of THE RAMONES, MOTÖRHEAD and THE STOOGES for ten songs that get in and get out. It received the seal of approval from Wyndorf and many of those who have crossed paths with Caivano in his 40-plus years in the music business, warranting a chat with BLABBERMOUTH.NET.
Blabbermouth: You've been a producer and musician on many projects but never did a solo album until this year. Why now? And how did you fare being in charge of everything?
Phil: "It was all of the above. It was a lot of fun. It was frustrating because, being self-produced, I took on the role of producer. I've been around some great producers my whole career. I know I can play guitar; I know I can play bass. I'm not so sure I can 'sing.' [Laughs] I'm not so sure about this thing called 'vocals.' My arrangements are pretty simple. It was interesting. I have embraced it. I wanted to complete it as I started to get into it. It would have been very easy to stop. It would have been easy to go, 'I tried this. It's cool, but it's really not where I'm at. It's not what I want to do.' As I started getting into it, I took that energy and drive to finish it. A lot of times, I never thought to do a solo or side project. I was never interested in doing that because I've always been happy working with Dave. I've always been happy being the guitar player in MONSTER MAGNET for the last quarter of a century. This was a little bit different. I felt the time was right and enjoyed doing it."
Blabbermouth: Did you share any songs with Dave while you were working on the album?
Phil: "No, but Dave and I have these insane conversations. I did talk to him a lot during the process. He was always saying, 'I can't wait to hear it. Send me something!' I wanted to send him something when I finished. Plus, because of the isolation factor and where we were then, I embraced being in my little bubble. It was like, 'I am going to do this until I am done. And when I'm done, I'm going to present it to you, whatever it may be.' When it came time to do the vocals, who better to talk to than Dave Wyndorf, who happens to be one of the greatest singers in rock, he's right up there."
Blabbermouth: How did it feel jumping back into lead vocals after three decades? The last time you did them was when you were in BLITZSPEER.
Phil: "I've done some backup vocals. I did some stuff in MURPHY's LAW. But, no lead vocals that I can remember. I've gotten in front of the mic with some bands I've worked with, like gang vocals, but I've never taken upon since the BLITZSPEER days lead vocal activity. It was interesting because I hadn't done it in so long. I remember I did put on a BLITZSPEER record to hear, 'Wow, did I really do that?' I thought, 'Wow, that's terrible!' And I'm a lot older now. I can do some of the things I did back then. People have to remember that vocalists age. Very few can do what they did in their younger years. We've been lucky to see some great performers and vocalists in music history. Some of them are singers. But it's very hard to do. When you look at what some of these bands did in their late teens and twenties and are doing in their fifties and sixties and some in their seventies now? That's insane. I can grab a guitar, plug in an amp and plug in a pedal and it's relatively the same as when I started making music, but the sound of my voice is different. Dave really coached me through a lot of stuff. He said, 'Just do it. Get in front of the mic.'"
Blabbermouth: Was the idea for the solo album to make a distillation of the rock, punk and metal stuff you've done? The best part is that all the songs get to the point right away.
Phil: "I just love music so much. I've been really fortunate to be around a lot of different scenes. Growing up in the '60s, I heard all that great stuff. All this great music was on the radio and I'd hang with my friends' older brothers and listen to records. I remember sneaking into my friends' brothers' rooms in the early '70s, finding CAPTAIN BEYOND and being like, 'Oh my god! What is that record?' I loved being around the punk rock, crossover, hardcore, and noise scenes. A band like SLAYER. What's not love, right? But, also, you mention metal, being out there in Jersey, the Old Bridge Metal Militia. I can drive there in 25 minutes from where I'm sitting now. I'd go where Jonny Z [Zazula] sold records at the Route 18 flea market. I remember Jonny back then and going to parties with the metal scene. It was a big influence on me. Do I love a lot of that music? Some of it is here or there. I love the people. It was another scene bubbling up In my backyard."
Blabbermouth: The one album you did in BLITZSPEER, "Saves", is excellent. It was released by a major, too. What was that experience like? That was when major labels were still investing in new metal bands.
Phil: "We did a live record [1990's 'Live'], then 'Saves'. That was a really interesting time in New York. I don't think the New York bands could have competed with Seattle. It was such a special thing going on. Something cultural, street — everything happened out there. When we break it down as fans and historians, that time in Seattle was insanely special. New York tried to do that. The major labels in New York tried to do what was going on. But we didn't have the talent pool. [Laughs] There was no Kurt Cobain [NIRVANA] or Kim Thayil [SOUNDGARDEN]. I remember Layne's [Staley, ALICE IN CHAINS] first time in New York City. It was like, 'Where did that guy come from?' Where did that guitar player come from? Where did Jerry [Cantrell] come from? It was mind-blowing. Our contemporaries in BLITZSPEER were CIRCUS OF POWER, RAGING SLAB, CYCLE SLUTS [FROM HELL] and WARRIOR SOUL, all great bands. But the major labels didn't let us be ourselves. They wanted a hit. I don't know what they wanted. They wanted to market it, but I think the bands that came out of the New York scene, If they let us be who we are and who we were at the time, maybe something more would have flourished. Being in New York City, there's big money, this and that. Another band that came out from that area was QUICKSAND. There was a lot of great stuff going on. I have a lot of great memories. It was an honor to be part of a band making a record for a major label."
Blabbermouth: Returning to what we talked about with your solo album, you played guitar and sang in BLITZSPEER. Did you enjoy it?
Phil: "No. [Laughs] I like to make things happen behind the scenes. That's always been my role. In BLITZSPEER, it fell into my lap. I'll never forget Scott [Lano, guitar] saying, 'Okay. We tried to do something.' We were looking for a singer and we were looking for another guitar player. It wasn't happening. When we would hold drummer auditions, we would do MOTÖRHEAD songs. I could do a Lemmy [Kilmister] gravel-throated thing. That's what we would do. If a guy could play 'Ace Of Spades' and 'Metropolis', he could be in our band! That's how we did it. I became the lead singer by default."
Blabbermouth: MONSTER MAGNET was on a major when you joined in 1998. Did that make you reluctant at all to join the band because of your experiences earlier in the decade?
Phil: "I had moved to Los Angeles to pursue production. Like I said, I love being behind the scenes. Whether it was producing, guitar teching, studio tech, taking something apart and helping someone put it together, it wasn't the major label thing I was reluctant about. It was that the band was so goddamn good. It's like, 'You're asking me?' I was at a lot of shows. Dave had been my bud for a very long time. Then, the history of the band starting with 'Spine Of God'. I'm like, 'Why do you want me to join?' It's funny — even though I was initially reluctant, I wasn't that reluctant. I knew I had to figure out how to get back to New Jersey to do it as soon as I processed everything since I was here in Jersey for the holidays. I flew back to L.A. On the plane, I thought, 'He really asked me to join the band?' What that looked like at the time, it just sounded almost like a Charlie Brown teacher. I'm on the plane processing this. I'm like, 'I have to think about this.' A couple of days went by and Dave called me. I was involved with some projects in L.A. He goes, 'You got three weeks to decide what you want to do.' After that phone call, Dave and I had a great conversation where we said that no matter what happens, we will remain friends because we have known each other for so long. He said, 'I want my old friend with me along for the ride. I love how you play and love what you do. It would be a blast to go out there. Who knows how long this will last?' When I hung up the phone, I decided I was going to do it and I needed to get my ass back to New Jersey."
Blabbermouth: Would you consider doing shows as a solo artist?
Phil: "I went into this as a project. I don't know if I will play live. I always told everyone from the beginning, 'If it makes sense to do it, I will.' It's looking like it will make sense. I'm telling everybody, first and foremost, my obligations are to MONSTER MAGNET. That's my thing. When the time is right, I will put together a little combo, a group of guys and I have some on my mind. Of course, I'd love to do it with Bob [Pantella, drums, also of MONSTER MAGNET]. That's what thing about being such good friends with Mr. Wyndorf is that he's giving me his blessing to do whatever I want. To have that from my bandmate and friend because I know certain situations like this can cause friction. You know that. There's none of that. So, yes, to answer the question, I want to perform it live. When the time is right, I'm going to do it. I had a lot of fun making the record. It's just dirty rock and roll. That's who I am. I wasn't trying to do anything different. I know many bands and guys in bands that have done solo projects and side projects, and it gets out there. They want to do something so drastically different than what they're known for to get this cred or respect or whatever it may be. I feel fortunate that I don't need to do that. There was a period doing this where I thought, 'This guitar part sounds so much like MONSTER MAGNET.' My friend goes, 'You've been the guitar player for MONSTER MAGNET for 25 years. So what?' So this is me. I'm cool with it."