It was the fall of 1987. A friend had encouraged me to move to Houston and share a small, one bedroom efficiency apartment with her on Jones Road. With that, your humble narrator boarded a Greyhound bus and would forever leave behind what was certain to be a dead end life in Podunk, Texas. The same young lady would also introduce me to her friend (and Success bassist), George Garvin. I would forever be indebted to George for being the person to introduce me to a dark and sinister Mercyful Fate album called, “Don’t Break The Oath”. As a result, I would go on to become a passionate Mercyful Fate/ King Diamond devotee for much of the following decade. In November 1989, King Diamond brought his haunted house theatrics to Houston in support of his fourth solo record,“Conspiracy”. It was at this show that I first set eyes on a band called Knightmare. They performed a short, nervous, and near forgettable opening set that night. One thing that did capture my attention however, was guitarist, Cheryl Hill. As opposed to the majority of local players I had previously seen around town, Cheryl struck me as a genuine performer. I went on to closely follow and support Knightmare until their demise in the spring of 1991.
Not long ago, I discovered that Cheryl, who had long since changed her name to Astrum Lux Lucis, was currently fronting One World (R)evolution out of Austin; while her former band mate, Chris Harris, was playing guitar in the Houston-based four-piece, Crank Case. With a little effort, both bands were soon booked together for a show in Houston, a show which would also serve to reunite the two former band mates on the same stage for the first time in over two decades!
In the days leading up to the slated One World (R)evolution/ Crank Case gig, I had the opportunity to talk with Astrum and ask her to reflect back on the olden day…
THE DAYS OF KNIGHTMARE
Rivethead Magazine: What do you most remember about the Houston music scene of the late 1980’s?
Astrum Lux Lucis: It was awesome! In fact, since then I’ve been all over. I’ve been to Florida, New York, California… lots of places, you know? To this day [Houston] was the best music scene ever!
Rivethead Magazine: Which Houston bands do you remember rubbing elbows with back in those days?
Astrum Lux Lucis: The few that I remember are Strutter, Prophecy… and Winter. That was a long time ago! The memory is kinda… vague [laughs].
Rivethead Magazine: Tell us a little about the origins of Knightmare.
Astrum Lux Lucis: We actually originated in New Jersey in the winter of 1987. I hooked up with Paul Pietro, who was the original singer, and the two of us got together in my basement to write songs. My parents were getting transferred to Houston, and [since] the music scene wasn’t too happening up in Jersey, I decided I’d come with them and see what Houston was all about.
I think I found drummer, Paul St. Clair, first; then (bassist) Bob [Bitter], and then (guitarist) Chris [Harris]… who was a longtime friend of mine. We went to high school together in Florida. So, I bought him a bus ticket and he came out to Houston. The next thing we did was try to get Paul to move out. He came down for a little bit and we recorded our first demo with him (1989), but he ultimately went back to Jersey because he didn’t want to be away from his family and all that stuff.
So, we were without a singer for a little bit [before] we found Kelly Kasparek. Kelly had quit a band he was with in Austin and moved to Houston to join our band. We did a two-song demo (1989), then later on, a four-song demo (1990) as well.
We had pretty good success with Kelly as our front person. We managed to open up for Crimson Glory when they came through town… and of course, King Diamond. We went to New York to do the CMJ Festival in 1990. We had been talking to Q-Prime Management, and I guess they had given Kelly some feedback on his vocals... and he didn’t particularly like it. He started going down this path of: “I suck… I can’t sing!” When we came back from New York he just disappeared. No one knew what was going on with him and things just slowly dismantled from that point.
Rivethead Magazine: How did you land the opening slot for King Diamond’s November 1989 stop in Houston? What were the circumstances that nearly doomed Knightmare from taking the stage that night?
Astrum Lux Lucis: Basically, we were shameless promoters back in the day. We had this guy “managing” us that turned out to be a real jerk. He ran up my phone bill and didn’t really do much for management stuff. It was Kelly who contacted the local promoter for the King Diamond show and somehow talked them into letting us open. So, we got on the bill and we’re all excited about that… then the guy who was trying to manage us was like really pissed off at us! He was at the show, like in the front row telling us we sucked…
We arrived at the venue and King Diamond is sick! He’s got a sore throat and he’s feeling like crap. They’re kinda like “Well, you know, we’re gonna have to cancel you guys from the bill.” And we’re like, “Nooo! We brought all of our stuff and we’ll play like two songs, or whatever!” They eventually let us go ahead and play our set. I’m kinda bummed that I didn’t get to meet or hang out with King Diamond. He kinda just motioned at his throat and disappeared… and I think one of the band members stole Kelly’s Agent Orange tee shirt [laughs]!
Rivethead Magazine: Did you have any sour experiences being the lone female rocker in a sea of an otherwise male dominated local scene?
Astrum Lux Lucis: Not at all. I was really well received! People thought it was cool that I was this chick guitar player!
Rivethead Magazine: Your thoughts on what the Riot Grrrl movement did to open up the playing field for women during the grunge/ alternative boom of the early 1990’s?
Astrum Lux Lucis: That was like a really dark period for me in my life, because the kind of music that I was writing and doing was dead. While I did buy Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album and liked it, after the destruction of the music that I was doing, I hated them! I was like, “You guys fucked my life up! I could have had a chance!” But now, my music people are telling me, “Oh, that’s dated, we’re not doing that anymore.”
So, I had this dark take on the whole industry back then. Anything that was even remotely grunge sounding, I was like, “Man, fuck that shit!”[laughs] You know? While I did like the “Seether” song from Veruca Salt, there was just not a lot in the 90’s that I really liked. Pearl Jam had a few tunes that were okay, but the rest of it was melodramatic bullshit music. The only band that I truly liked that came out of that whole thing was the band, Live. They are actually one of my favorite bands to this day.
For the most part, I didn’t really listen to music during that period. I was going to college at the time. I was around all these younger kids who were into all that crap. Then, I ended up doing an internship at Island Records, and I really got to see the bullshit that the music industry was!
After The Knightmare
by Wes Dodson
BECAUSE THE MUSIC MATTERS!!!
Features - Knightmare
Rivethead Magazine: Chris, how has your approach to playing the guitar changed since the old Knightmare days, or has it even changed at all?
Chris Harris: It’s changed a lot. I think by the time I’m ninety I might be pretty good! Actually, I do practice a lot... A lot of the styles have changed; a lot of the bands that I listen to have changed, a lot of the players that I absolutely idolize, like Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads… Neal Schon will be in there... Gary Moore, of course. But, there was a time when I got more into bands like Anthrax, Metallica, and stuff like that. Then, I kinda grew away from that. Bands like Metallica… I idolized; the first three albums were incredible. Then, they really went downhill. Guys like Yngwie Malmsteen I really loved. The first two albums were incredible, but now, like to hear one of his new albums… it doesn’t really affect me. A couple of bands that stayed in there were like: Queensryche, Pink Floyd… I’ve always loved David Gilmour. Jimmy Page, of course… Led Zeppelin. Any song but Stairway To Heaven, or anything they play on the radio. Like, I’ll listen to the album, but not the songs they play on the radio. I think people that listen to the radio are missing out on a lot because they’re only hearing the hits. Nine times out of ten the rest of the album is better.
Rivethead Magazine: Bob, you’re currently working with a project called Pond Water. Tell us about that and when might we expect to see something released.
Bob Bitter: I played with Derek Pistoll in The A.D.D. Players before I left Houston. When I came back I just wanted to put a band together that focused on my music. I wanted take this body of work that I’ve done and put it together in a band. I think if we pull it off, it’s going to be a nice addition to the music scene here in Houston. There’s no band that would sound like us.
Pond Water is kind of a… and I don’t think it’s describable, but if you took Deep Purple, Bad Religion, and Primus and kinda blended it all up into a musical style it’s kind of where we’re headed. We’re fast, but we’re technically proficient. Hopefully we can start recording in February.
Rivethead Magazine: In closing… Astrum, can I anticipate being able to pronounce your name 30 years from now should it continue to evolve?
Astrum Lux Lucis: [Laughter] probably, yeah… right on!
That Knightmare was a huge influence on me in the earliest days of my adoration for local music is one thing. But, what is perhaps even more inspirational is to see these guys still going at it, and going at it hard, twenty years after the fact!
There is no finer example than our embrace with music being a rich and lifelong experience… if only we continue to believe in it!
“Music is the religion.” – Michael Haaga
And so it came to pass… the long awaited day was finally upon us! The misses and I made our way down to the Rivethead Magazine Corporate Annex to meet up with the big guy (i.e. the head honcho); The Big Cheese. Rivethead Magazine editor-at-large, Andrew C. Schlett.
(The “C” is for Los Quesos Gordo, in case you were wondering).
Following a pleasant lounging with covert industry insiders, the decision was made to carpool to the show. This idea, while okay in theory, required the misses and I to crawl up into the bed of a lime green, Bondo-blotched 1978 Chevy Luv pickup truck; complete with a peeling ‘I ♥ NY’ bumper sticker, and a bizarre Nativity scene air brushed on the tailgate. We were later told that the previous owner of this hideous moving violation was some scary Mexican gangster dude known only as… Fat Nigga Carl.
The stars were out that night, so the ride to the venue was actually rather quite pleasant. Even if the wind was blowing us all around to Hell and back, it seemed to be the perfect time to take a moment for some personal reflection:
“Hmmm… When was the last time I rode in the back of a pickup?”
Well, let’s see now… that would have been when friends and I made a hasty getaway from a mob of armed black militants at the Gary Graham demonstrations in 2000…
About that time, our beloved editor et al runs over what I can only imagine to be a large head of livestock (maybe it was a speed bump); catapulting the better half and me into orbit just long enough to make a couple of celestial observations. My twisted, contorted frame slammed back down into the bed of the truck with such force that all I could do was lay there and mumble… “Who in the hell is Fat Nigga Carl?”
Despite an unremarkable turnout that night, which sadly remains a Houston tradition, both One World (R)evolution and Crank Case delivered top notch, spirited performances. While Astrum belted out a shiny set of finely crafted originals, Chris went above and beyond our expectations with nothing less than blazing fretboard gymnastics. Shortly after midnight, Rivethead Magazine sat down with Astrum, Chris, and original Knightmare bassist, Bob Bitter, for a brief but candid look at past and present…
AFTER THE KNIGHTMARE
Rivethead Magazine: Astrum, what are your thoughts on the modern talent pool in your home base of Austin? How is One World Revolution received there?
Astrum Lux Lucis: I think we’re received pretty good. We have the same twenty people come out for each show [laughs]; I guess we’re doing some good. I’d like to try and figure out how to get the rest of Austin there! But, we’ve only been playing [out live] since March, and we’re trying to keep it to once or twice a month in Austin so that we’re not over saturating. I mean, for the most part I think we’re doing good. We’re slowly growing our base. Talent pool? If you’re talented, you usually don’t stay in Austin. You get together with other talented people and you form something, you start building your regional thing and then boom, you’re gone… or you’re a hired gun.
Rivethead Magazine: Crank Case takes its style and theme from old school greaser rock, but it sounds different from any other greaser rock I’ve ever heard. What is it that sets Crank Case apart from other bands in that genre?
Chris Harris: There’s a lot more dirt. I come from basically a metal background, so like for me to even be in this band is kinda weird for me. I have to play more pentatonic and less shred style, which I was kinda used to. The Crank Case thing… everyone basically had old, hot rod styled cars. Shawn had a ’68 Plymouth, Roger has a ’55 Ford, and Greg has a 1964 GTO. It was more like a car club-type thing. I don’t know about us being greaser rock [per say], but I do wanna cut my hair and grease it back [laughs]!
Rivethead Magazine: Bob, give us some background on the years following your departure from Knightmare.
Bob Bitter: Well, after leaving Knightmare I played in a number of bands. Most notably, I played in a band called Syko Billy. If people see me today, they probably remember me more from my time with that band. I played with Roy Gonzales on and off for the next decade in several incarnations of SykoBilly… and a band called Chemistry. [That was] pretty straight forward 80’s fusion/ metal stuff.
I moved out of Houston for about ten years and moved back about a year and a half ago. Before I left I played in a band called The A.D.D. Players and kinda went back to my roots. I started in the punk rock scene. So, from about 1981 till about the time I joined Knightmare, I cut my teeth in playing punk and thrash.
I played in a punk band early in my career called Vex, and it still has a cult following today. I played in a thrash band at the beginning of the thrash movement called Despair Incorporated… playing fast as lightning, at speeds where you can’t even discern what the rhythm is!
Sad to say the most successful band that I’ve played in since then was an outlaw country band called Wicked Brew. We played often and got paid well. It was very unrewarding.
Rivethead Magazine: Astrum, give us the skinny on the One World Revolution debut, “Transitions.”
Astrum Lux Lucis: “Transitions” was actually a compilation of all my stuff I did under [the name] Cheryl Hill. I had gone through this whole, big life change thing. I hit forty and had this crazy mid-life crisis and all this stuff. I changed my name. It was like, okay… obviously I can’t do Cheryl Hill things anymore because I changed my name and I’m not that person anymore.
So, I put together One World Revolution, which at the time was me, myself, and I. The people I was playing with in Austin were hired guns and I just couldn’t afford them anymore. That just kinda flopped and I became this acoustic person for a bit.
I tried to make a comeback, so I put together some of my ‘greatest hits’ from the Cheryl Hill days and put out a compilation album called “Transitions” under the new band name. I tried to get some players together at that point and just ran into the same stuff I’d been running into for twenty, thirty years: Two people are serious and three aren’t. If not everybody is serious and on the same page, then you’re only going to get as far as your weakest link. My dream is to be a rock star… and I’m gonna die trying!
Astrum Lux Lucis
TAGS: Knightmare, Astrum Lux Lucis, Cheryl Hill, Chris Harris, Paul Pietro, Kelly Lee Kasparek, Bob Bitter, David James, David Gaudiello, Paul St. Clair, Shane Hall, Crank Case, Shawn Hamilton, Roger Cantu, Greg Loyacano, Syko Billy, Roy Gonzales, Chemistry, The A.D.D. Players, Vex, Despair Incorporated, Wicked Brew, Derek Pistoll, Pond Water, Strutter, Prophecy, Winter, Crimson Glory, King Diamond, CMJ Festival, Q-Prime Management, Riot Grrrl, Island Records, One World Revolution, Mark Doroba, Tony VST, Kostamos Yiacoumis, Houston, Texas, Wes Dodson, Andrew C. Schlett, Rivethead Magazine, Acadia Bar & Grill, Numbers, Kevin McGowen
KNIGHTMARE – ADVANCE CASSETTE (1989)
KNIGHTMARE – 4-SONG DEMO (1990)
ONE WORLD REVOLUTION