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The Aggros’ Parris Mayhew: “I can tell a musical story without a singer – I let the instruments tell it instead”

Parris Mayhew
(Image credit: Barblin Mayhew)

As a co-founding member and guitarist of Cro-Mags, Parris Mayhew’s songwriting and guitar work was a major ingredient in what made their 1986 release, The Age of Quarrel, a trailblazing hardcore-metal classic. 

Now, Mayhew turns his attention to all-instrumental, guitar-driven rock under the moniker Aggros, with a focus on riffing, melodies, tempo changes, and songwriting rather than pure shred, as evidence in new tracks Chaos Magic and City Kids.

The guitarist is also a director (he has his own company, Wildfire NYC (opens in new tab)) and a camera operator for television and movies – which is no doubt why the videos for the two aforementioned Aggros songs are so visually striking.

Mayhew spoke with Guitar World about his return to music, Cro-Mags and, once upon a time, teaching a hardheaded instrument salesman a valuable lesson concerning customer relations. 

How did the Aggros come about?

“I began writing a screenplay about a band called the Aggros. And my plan was to just have a TV show and write original music for it – for a fictional band. Initially, I recorded the song Chaos Magic with that in mind. 

“I thought I would make a music video, and the main purpose of making the music video was to establish the look of the show – I wanted it to be a very dark, New York show. But as soon as the video was done, I immediately thought, ‘I’m just going to put this out.’ And that’s what I did.”

What do you recall about shooting and directing the Chaos Magic video?

Chaos Magic I did with one person and we began shooting it over the pandemic. My friend Scott was isolating in my garden apartment downstairs, and I said to him, ‘Let’s go out onto the Williamsburg Bridge’ – which is where I wanted to shoot a video for years. We drove out there at about midnight, and we shot the first night from about midnight to 5am, when the sun rose. Then Scott and I returned to the bridge 21 times over the course of the pandemic.”

My intention is to put out EPs – I’ll never do a full-length album

Is there a plan to compile and release all of these instrumentals?

“I’m in the final stages of recording and mixing the fifth song. All five songs [which feature Mayhew playing the majority of the instruments, and a mysterious musician named Cobz supplying drums] will be on an EP called Rise of the Aggros

“I recorded piano for one song yesterday, and I still have a couple of guitar solos to do and then mix. We’re probably about two months out. I know that sounds like a long time, but I can only work on the weekends, because I work on a television show called Evil during the week. So, my weekends are filled with recording and mixing. 

City Kids in itself is pretty much three songs. So, even though I say it’s going to be a five-song EP, it’s really going to [be] a seven-song EP. And it is just short of an album length – The Age of Quarrel was just around 30 minutes and the second Cro-Mags album, Best Wishes, was only a little bit more than 30 minutes. My intention is to put out EPs – I’ll never do a full-length album.” 

Parris Mayhew

(Image credit: Barblin Mayhew)

Would you consider adding a singer to the Aggros?

“I looked for a singer for many years – with zero luck. But if a singer called me tomorrow who fit the bill and I thought added something to the music, then I would have a singer. But I can’t just base my plans on hope. I can tell a musical story without a singer. I proved that with the last two songs and I feel that the next three songs [Fear View Mirror, Sk8bored Fight, and Best Destiny] are just as powerful without vocals. And the way I achieve that is by having the instruments tell the story.”

What is your guitar setup these days?

“In the Cro-Mags era, it was always exactly the same – I had my 1980 B.C. Rich Bich, which I used with [Marshall] JCM800 100-watt amps, with straight cabinets. On the first album, I used no pedals. On the second album, I used a [Boss] Heavy Metal pedal, and on Revenge, I used an [Ibanez] TS10 Tube Screamer.

“When I recorded Chaos Magic, I used the 800s, but I used a G&L Rampage [electric guitar] – with the Tube Screamer. But when I moved forward with recording, I changed things up – when I did City Kids, I was playing my Bich again for the first time in a while and I also used a Cry Baby wah.”

I grabbed the guitar by the neck, walked up to a wall of Les Pauls, looked back at him, held up the guitar like a baseball bat, and said, ‘How many of these things do you think I can smash before you stop me?’

You’ve become synonymous with the BC Rich Bich. How did you acquire it?

“I went down to a guitar store [in New York City] and looked around, and when I saw this red guitar on the wall, I immediately recognized it from the cover of a magazine that had Joe Perry of Aerosmith playing it. And I loved Aerosmith. I saw the ‘R’ on the headstock, and was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s the same ‘R’ that’s on the headstock of Dr. Know of Bad Brains’ guitar.’ Dr. Know had an Eagle. I was like, ‘Well, if Doc is playing one and Joe Perry is playing one, I’ll give it a shot.

“They had about 10 of them, so I took them all off the wall and lined them up. I played them all day long and whittled it down to two guitars – this red one and a wood grain one. And I said, ‘Damn. I don’t know if I can play a red guitar.’ So, I bought the wood grain.

“I took it home, and I was noticing I was having a hard time keeping it in tune. After a week, I realized, ‘There has to be something wrong with this guitar.’ So, I took it back to the store, and they said something like, ‘Our return policy is seven days. Today is day eight.’ And I was like, ‘But this guitar won’t stay in tune.’ The guy looks at me and is like, ‘Tough.’

“I’m getting outraged – here I am, I’m 15 years old and my brain isn’t fully formed. The guitar case is sitting on the counter, opened. And the guy closes the case and said, ‘You can take it out of here now.’ I opened up the guitar case, grabbed the guitar by the neck, walked up to a wall of Les Pauls, looked back at him, held up the guitar like a baseball bat, and said, ‘How many of these things do you think I can smash before you stop me?’

“I started swinging the guitar around like a baseball bat, and the guys is like, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop! OK… what guitar do you want?’ I pointed at the red one that was still on the wall. I grabbed it, walked over to the case, slid it into the same case, closed the case, and walked out.”

A few months back, Cro-Mags’ The Age of Quarrel celebrated its 35-year anniversary. How do you think the album holds up to this day?

“We recorded most of the songs previously to the release of The Age of Quarrel on a demo. You call it ‘a demo’ now, but back then in the hardcore days, you would record your songs, put it out on a cassette, and just sell it to people. 

By the time we went into the studio to record The Age of Quarrel, Cro-Mags was already fracturing. We were not a team anymore

“But that recording of those songs [later released as Before the Quarrel] – to me and a lot of fans – is the most powerful recording of those songs. And I feel that that recording holds up, because it holds and carries the fire of that time. It just sounds the way those songs are supposed to be played.

“By the time we went into the studio to record The Age of Quarrel, the band was already fracturing. We were not a team anymore. We went in and recorded that album, but I don’t think there was the same meticulous attention to detail with tempos and just the vibe.”

People may be surprised that a prog band like Rush was a major influence on you.

“I would say Rush and Motörhead were the two primary influences on my songwriting. I mean, I can pick out specific Rush songs that mirrored The Age of Quarrel songs. 

“Like, for example, the song Signs of the Times. On [Rush’s 1976 live album] All the World’s a Stage, on the song Anthem, there’s this ‘restart riff’ that is so cool, but he’s just playing an A chord. I was like, ‘That is such a cool riff… but so simple. What can I do to make a riff like that? I’ll play it backwards!’”  

  • The Aggros' debut EP, Rise of the Aggros, will arrive later in 2022.

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Greg is a contributing writer at Guitar World. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has been lucky to interview some of his favorite all-time guitarists and bassists: Tony Iommi, Ace Frehley, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, East Bay Ray, Billy Corgan, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, and Mike Watt, among others (and even took lessons from John Petrucci back in the summer of ’91!). He is the author of such books as Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Shredders: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (And More) and Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story.