Interview: Core Device Guitarist Tony Nocera

Anvil may have made the saga of a promising young band toiling away on the border of obscurity before finally getting their shot part of mainstream metal lore, but that certainly doesn't mean they were the first band to live it. "I remember actually playing the bar side of a bowling alley on a Sunday afternoon," says Core Device guitarist Tony Nocera, reflecting on years between the band's two albums.

"It didnt matter what the place was or who we were playing with, we would play anywhere we could," he adds. "To me the live show is the reward, it the reason I ever wanted to play music and more importantly metal."

Seven long years after the release of their self-released debut album, Our Fellowship Eternal, New Jersey's Core Device are back with their second full-length, What I've Become, which is out now on Heaven & Hell Records (and is currently available here.) The album successfully combines elements of power, thrash and traditional heavy metal in a way that will please fans of Sanctuary and Nevermore alike.

We recently caught up with Core Device guitarist Tony Nocera to talk about working with Michael Romeo, wild times on tour and the band's latest album.

How did you guys hook up with Michael Romeo on your first album?

I actually just helped him do some work on his house about a week ago. [Laughs]

We have been friends with Mike for a while; Symphony X rehearses in the next room from ours. I know, pretty awesome right? Mike is a really cool dude, he has always been trying to help us out anyway he can. Before Our Fellowship Eternal we did a cover of King Diamond's "Mansion in the Darkness" at Romeo's studio -- also a three song demo with "Burning Away," "Unknown Tears" and the original version of 'Sixth Sense" on it. That made it possible for us to jump on a few great shows with them over the years.

Prior to recording there I will admit, as a guitarist, I was intimidated. You would be too, stop lying. [laughs] I was thinking that if I didn’t nail a part after a few takes he would start getting annoyed but not the case at all. Or at least he hid it really well. [Laughs]

With Fellowship, we recorded at Mix-O-Lydian studios in New Jersey; pretty sure they are closed now. Well as much as we were happy with the tracks, we could not get the mixing to blend correctly. We went and asked Mike for advice and he offered to play with the tracks a little. Well that turned into him producing the album. Mike turned a single computer file with a boatload of tracks (yes we are track whores when recording) and meshed frequencies and... Jesus I can’t even pronounce some of the things he did. Needless to say he really captured what we were looking for out of Fellowship.

Was there anything in particular, a piece of advice maybe that you took away from working with Michael?

"Its cool dude"... Whenever I would start to over think parts, especially a part in a solo I would ask his opinion and his reply would be "its cool dude."

He gave us a lot of tips like good ways to get that extremely tight guitar sound. He gave us great ideas for drum tones. Most importantly, he taught us how to get our recorded material at the same level as our playing abilities. Given the fact that he came into Fellowship after all the tracks had been recorded, he also gave us good ideas on layering guitars for future use -- which we totally abused on What I’ve Become.

That album, Our Fellowship Eternal, was self-released. What did you guys learn from that process?

Its extremely hard work to self release an album... PERIOD! We acted out every role: manager, booking agent, merch salesmen, street team, etc.

When you have to take on every job it is exhausting. In addition we had no idea what we were doing so it was a mistake ridden road. We spent money on things that did us absolutely no good at all. I remember buying onto a compilation CD -- can’t remember what it was for, but it was a few hundred bucks -- so we did it. The whole CD was nothing but hardcore and rap-rock type stuff. Anyone who possibly heard that CD and liked it I guarantee hated us completely. I remember sending in blind press kits to labels, probably the most painful thing in the world.

After you put together this great kit that looks awesome and package it really nice you send it in hoping someone listens to it and they don’t. It’s heartbreaking. So I found being the annoying call all the time guy worked a lot better before sending. The hardest thing you learn is being able to accept that things are never going to go as planned, but if you always remember you are doing this because you love it they end up good anyway.

Then there was an almost seven year gap between that record and What I've Become. What was the band up to during those years?

After the release of Fellowship we basically just pounded any avenue we could. We played sold out venues with major national acts and small dive bars for 15 people. Our goal was to just keep getting us out there.

I remember actually playing the bar side of a bowling alley on a Sunday afternoon. We went on at like 2 o'clock and the only other people there were the bartender, the other bands that were playing and our long time friend Greg. It didnt matter what the place was or who we were playing with, we would play anywhere we could. We actually got booked at a party that I am pretty sure expected classic rock, by the third song we were playing for 5 out of a possible 200 people. Everyone was outside waiting for us to finish. To us, we were so happy playing we didn’t even care and made five fans that day. To me the live show is the reward, it the reason I ever wanted to play music and more importantly metal. The energy is something I couldn’t explain.

Our greatest achievement during that time was we actually put together a headlining tour of Japan. We did like 16 shows in 18 days. The stories from that trip could go on for days. [laughs] The most memorable story was the night after our first show. We killed it on stage, had the whole place up and moving. After the show we celebrated a lot. We have a good friend Paul that earned the title official "Band Mom" on that trip.

Paul can fight off gargoyles that may try to steal your equipment, cook a mean egg omelet and carry you home when you drank too much. He also punched me in the arm when I named him band mom. Well this night he decided I was so drunk it would only take a few more to make me pass out so we started racing with glasses of Jack Daniels. Needless to say at six foot three and 260 pounds, he won.

You would have to ask Dan for the rest of that story. He is the one that really paid the price for my actions that night.

Prior to Japan we did short trips all over eastern U.S., Canada and as far west as Milwaukee, playing/touring with all kinds of local and national acts. This was our first real taste of touring overseas. Overall Japan was a great experience; we had a great time, made a ton of friends and learned a lot of the physical strain that goes into putting on a show night after night.

After returning we kept on doing what we had been doing for awhile. Time flew by and after all the endless nights lugging equipment, we started noticing the Core Device buzz was dying out. We were still not on a label and as a band we were getting tired. So like any band would after years of being together we started having internal issues. We started second guessing everything -- every riff, every vocal melody -- and some of... or should I say one of the members became overly disgruntled.

When we decided to start working on writing a new album it was difficult because we have never been a one man show. Meaning we are all a part of the writing process. Having a lack of faith or focus around us constantly made it hard to agree on anything. Finally, Dan called a band meeting and we talked and drank until we all agreed on a direction for the new album. Within a few months we knew we had the right material and it was time to record and basically start from scratch rebuilding the buzz.

How long have some of the song ideas found on the new album been around?

"Sixth Sense" was the only complete song that was written earlier. That song was on a three-song demo we did in 2001, but for some reason it didn’t get onto .

Dan had a new way of singing it that was really awesome and I had re-written most of the solo. Outside of that, maybe a single riff here and there, but that’s it. We didn’t want to rekindle all old ideas because as a band we were evolving. The difference from Fellowship to What I’ve Become are enormous to me. Not just the production, but as a whole each song seems to hit me harder.

I guess it’s the old saying you spend your entire life from the first day you pick up an instrument writing your first album. Your second album you take into consideration all the things you learned from your first -- not to overuse riffs, never underuse a guitar harmony, big guitar fade outs cannot happen in every song on an album because it’s gay to other members. You know, the important stuff. [laughs]

At what point did serious work on the new album -- pre-production, recording, etc. -- begin? When in that process did you sign with Heaven & Hell Records?

We started the actual recording in January of 2010. We recorded all the tracks ourselves and mixed at Trax East with Eric Rachel. Once we had the album about 50% recorded we started shopping it to labels. I can speak for the entire band when I say we really challenged ourselves when writing and recording this album. We had spent hours upon hours in the studio banging out tracks and writing transitions. Somewhere along the way Dan came in contact with Jeremy of Heaven & Hell Records. We were shopping an unmastered version of "Spiritual" and he just loved it. At this point we were really starting to feel the anticipation of the new album release. Then we found out Jeremy had gotten Travis Smith to do the cover. The timing was perfect, Core Device signed with Heaven and Hell Records and by May of 2011, finally found its way into CD players other than our own.

How does it feel being on a label now as opposed to trying the do-it-yourself approach?

I love the idea that we have someone else to lean on and promote us in ways we never knew how. I never fooled myself in thinking I am a good promoter or manager. We are musicians and we really don’t even like people. [laughs] No I am kidding... but not really.

I think to this day if we knew better ways of promoting years ago Fellowship could have been much bigger. So after years of making mistakes yes, it feels great to be on a label. It is strange taking an opinion from someone outside the band though. For so many years it has been just us so that is still taking adjustment. For instance when we were getting ready for the release Travis was finishing up the cover and I suppose it was a miscommunication but he had the title as "What I Have Become." Jeremy from H&H pointed out that grammatically "I Have" is correct over "I've". Oh that cracked me up! Stuff like that is tough to get used to but thank god it was a easily fixed. I wonder if anyone ever suggested "Kill all of Them" instead of Kill 'Em All. For some reason I doubt it.

As far as gear goes, what was your main guitar/amp set-up for the album like?

I am a sound nut -- one of those guys that turn the knob a 1/16 of a turn and swear it changes everything. I have been chasing guitar tones my entire life. The amount of money I’ve wasted on equipment that I didn’t ever like is unreal.

My rig for the album is not much different than my live set-up. I play the Jackson SL2 with a X2N in the bridge and a Deactivator X in the neck. My amp is a Krank Rev1+ with Ruby 6550's in the power and pre are V1) Ruby AC5 HG+ V2) Ruby AC7 HG V3) Sovtek WC V4)Sovtek LPS. Put that through a Mesa Rectifier Cab and you've got METAL. Love the Krank big time! The amount of tonal control you have is amazing and so simple. Mic it with a Sennheiser 620 and that pretty much wraps up what I used on the album. Of course just change the tone a little for solos.

Live I use the same amp and cab I just add an effects unit, a power conditioner and a wireless. Romeo got me hooked on the G System by TC Electronics. I have been using it a little over a year now and have to say it does anything I would ever want an effects unit to do. My favorite is being able to save and change your head's distortion with a preset in the system. Finally one button that changes everything! With that I use the Line 6 X2 wireless and a Furman MX-8 conditioner. My case was made to order by Maxline Custom Cases and all my cables are monster and Mogami.

Who would you consider your primary influences as a guitar player?

Way too many to list. For me it was more the bands that I listened to. I used to be able to play along with every Megadeth album cover to cover from Peace Sells... to Countdown. Still remember some of them.

I was always into bands with two guitars rippin’ like Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, etc. Those are the guys I would call my primary influences. It’s the guys like Dimebag, Satriani, Randy Rhodes; those are the guys that made me practice for hours on end and spend most my childhood in my room.

Funny thing, I actually started out playing drums. My brother played guitar so it only made sense for me to be the drummer. Well that was well and fine until he found someone that already knew how to play. Just like that I was out of the band and my drumming career was over. So I picked up his guitar and learned the intro to "One." I have been playing ever since. Guess in the long run he did me a favor but I’m still pissed at him...

What can fans expect from Core Device in the future? Hopefully not as long of a wait between albums...

Before the release of ‘What I’ve Become’ we changed a member for the first time since 1998. As scary as it was to change after so long, adding Jay to the mix has been like an ingredient that you never knew was missing. He kicks ass! The next album definitely is not as long of a wait this time. We are enjoying ‘What I've Become’, but we have been writing like madmen so expect the word of a new release soon.

The sophomore album from Core Device, What I've Become, is out now on Heaven & Hell Records.

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Josh Hart

Josh Hart is a former web producer and staff writer for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado magazines (2010–2012). He has since pursued writing fiction under various pseudonyms while exploring the technical underpinnings of journalism, now serving as a senior software engineer for The Seattle Times.