Bay Area speed metallers Trauma are best known for featuring bassist Cliff Burton before he jumped ship for Metallica in 1982. Trauma never released a full-length album with Burton, but he did play on the band’s first demo released in 1982. Appearing on Metal Blade Records’ infamous Metal Massacre 2 compilation series with the track “Such A Shame,” it created a decent buzz for the band nationally.

Trauma forged ahead without Burton and released its debut full-length album Scratch and Scream in 1984. However, the band wasn’t able to tour and ultimately ran out of steam and ended up taking a long hiatus from 1985 to 2013. Since reforming, the band has gone on to release three more albums including its latest, Awakening, which has already received rave reviews and has spurned a renewed interest in the band. With a brand new vocalist in ex-Vicious Rumors’ Brian Allen, the band is on fire. Longtime drummer Kris Gustofson, who joined the band right after Burton left, spoke with us about Trauma’s early days, what led to the band’s long hiatus, the new album, and more.

...

...

What was the band situation at the time of Cliff Burton’s departure and did you follow the band before you joined?

(Before I joined), the drummer was Dennis Schaefer. Then they got Lucas Advicula in the band as the bass player when Cliff left. And then shortly after that, Dennis departed and they were looking for a drummer. I knew of the band because I had seen them play a couple of times. I was playing in this band that was really into Motörhead at the time and they were looking for a lead singer. And Donnie Hillier (former vocalist, R.I.P. 2020) actually showed up one night just checking things out. We got to talking and he said he played in Trauma and that they were looking for a drummer and if I’d be interested in auditioning. So I went and auditioned and I just got the gig.

That time period when the band first formed, it had a NWOBHM feel to it and that style was kind of the sign of the times that everyone including Metallica were discovering these bands from Europe in the UK. Were you following that scene as well?

I think at that time, pretty much everybody was because all these new bands like Metallica, Testament, Slayer, all these bands were just starting to break ground. And I think the only bands at that time you really could look up to at that point in time were really most of the bands that were coming out of England. So I think that's one of the reasons why that was going on.

The “Such A Shame” track from that first demo appeared on Metal Blade Records’ Metal Massacre 2. That must have been a cool beginning of something great for the band to be included on that compilation. Do you think it led to bigger promotion or more opportunities?

It's hard to say; I do believe it probably did. When we ended up signing the contract with Mike Varney at Shrapnel Records, I know he was aware of it. Because Brian Slagel, the owner of Metal Blade (and Varney) were in direct competition with trying to find bands that were doing that style of music. So, it could have helped.

When you joined in 1982, when did you start working on the debut album Scratch and Scream that was released in ’84?

The band at that time rehearsed pretty much like four or five times a week. And right when I got in it we started playing a lot of gigs right out of the gate. And Varney started showing up to our rehearsals and at the shows and really showed an interest in the band. And we had probably half the material written at the time. But I would say between the end of ’82 and ’83 is when we had all the material together. And then obviously in ’83 is when we went in and recorded it. And then the record came out and ’84.

What initially led to the break up and 1985, and then the reformation and 2013? I believe you reformed because Mike Varney asked you guys to after the reissue of Scratch and Scream

At that time, the band was doing a bunch of gigs, the same old gigs. Varney's label at the time was brand new, and we just didn't have a good direction is really what it came down to. The band got a lot of really great reviews from Europe and everything like that. But everybody was working little jobs here and there, making money and stuff. We were all in our very early 20s. So without having some kind of label financial backing; touring on our dime was completely out of the question. There was no way in hell we would be able to afford doing that. So everybody just kind of got a little, I wouldn't say burned out, but just was kind of like, “What are we going to do next?” kind of thing. And I had some opportunities down in LA, so I moved down there. And shortly after that, I think they did find a drummer for a little while, but then the whole thing just broke up; it didn't last. When the reissue came out in 2013, Varney thought it might be a good idea to put the band back together in case we got any offers to go do festivals and everything, which we did.

When you reformed, did you know that you wanted to do a new album? Was that the main focus? When did that process start up until the release of 2015’s Rapture and Wrath?

We needed to do a new album. But the thing was, the band was gone for so long we had to start somewhere. Rapture and Wrath is definitely not my favorite Trauma record. But like I said, we had to start somewhere, and that's kind of where it started shortly after we reformed. In 2014, we went and played at the Headbangers Open Air festival in Germany. And that was really, really cool. We got a really good response from that. And shortly after that, we went into studio and recorded that album Rapture and Wrath.

Since you weren't the biggest fan of that album, did it start to come together and click for the band on As The World Dies?

Yeah, basically we got a lot of really good reviews off that album. It was kind of a metal album, but it was more like hard rock. We also did it with just one guitar player, and Trauma was always a two guitar player band. So when we did the As The World Dies album, me and Donnie both realized that we got to do this with two guitar players. We were lucky enough to get Joe Fraulob in the band at the time, and then Steve Robello came on board. And that's kind of how that formulated into doing that album.

What was the writing process like for Awakening? It was 2020 during the pandemic that most of this music was created. What were you wanting to achieve with theses tracks?

The pandemic had everything to do with it. Everybody was on lock down, pretty much globally, and we figured it was a good time to write a really a darker type album. I really pushed for it to be heavy, which I think we did achieve on it. We would just come up with riffs and everything and send each other files and go back and forth and then fine tune things and then we finally have enough tunes together and then we would go in and play them. And then before you knew it, we actually had enough tracks for an album. And then we got Juan Urteaga involved. It was quite a lengthy process because during that time Donnie unfortunately passed away, which it threw a major wrench into the machine. I was literally at the studio getting ready to set my drums up when I got a phone call that Donnie might not make it through the night. And pretty much that night he passed away. So we put the whole thing on ice for about three or four months. And we weren't even sure if we were going to even continue. But Juan said he knew this guy Brian Allen from Vicious Rumors and he's not doing anything. So we got him down and played with him and everything clicked.

Getting Brian Allen must have given the band new life or a boost of energy for these tracks. He sounds excellent and he gives the band more of a thrashy metal edge.

Oh, totally. Yeah, we were blown away with the way he sings. (We felt) we can go a long way with this guy. So we were definitely fortunate to find him. We put a lot of work into that record. So far it seems like we're getting really good reviews from it. Not everyone's going to love it to death or anything. Everybody's got their opinion. But, we worked our asses off doing that record, for sure.

I have taken notice of your drumming skills on this album and they are phenomenal. What were you trying to achieve with the songs as far as patterns, double kick and fills are concerned?

Basically, it was just playing for the song and try not to (overplay). Just approaching it in different ways and taking the best out of it and fine tuning it until you finally get something down that just works for the song. A lot of production went into that in terms of, “Try this, try that,”; everything but the kitchen sink basically.

Lyrically, what were some of the inspirations for the songs?

Steve Robello wrote most of the songs on the record, and he is into serial killers. That's why one of them is called “Death Of The Angel,” that's a Ted Bundy kind of thing. It pretty much comes from a whole bunch of different stuff. Donnie actually wrote the lyrics for a lot of the songs before he passed away. He was a fantastic lyricist. And some of the other tracks came from Steve Robello’s wife Rochelle. So we figured at the time, why not give someone a crack at it. She came up with some stuff that was pretty amazing.

Produced, mixed and mastered by Juan Urteaga. What did you want to achieve sonically? What types of sounds or tones were you wanting him to capture?

We definitely weren't trying to copy anybody or anything or listen to other bands and needed to sound like this or sound like that. We just went with what we thought sounded really good. Juan’s got really good ears and does a lot of metal albums. I've heard a lot of good things about (the album). I've heard a couple of people think the drum sounds a little too triggered, which they weren’t. But he just has a way of mixing it that way to get it to sound like that. I didn't do any tricks at all, I played all those freakin tracks. I just went in and played my ass off.

A lot of bands nowadays, and especially because of the pandemic, track them separately in their own studios and then send the files over. Were you able to rehearse as a band and then get together in the studio?

Actually, we didn't because of the fact that everybody was scared shitless about catching Covid. Juan was a little bit worried about it, too. So when I went in the studio, it was pretty much just me that went in there and did the drums to tracks, these guys had skeleton tracks, to a click track. In this day and age with everybody's schedules, and just how you can go ahead and record now. There's so many different ways you can do it, but that was the best way for us to do it on this record. But the next one, I would like to get everybody in the same room and just hammer on it. That's what we did it there in the early days. I do miss that for sure.

Did you feel that you not easily fit into any scene early on? You didn’t really play pure thrash or speed metal, but also had a traditional heavy metal approach. I feel you should be more well known. I guess that's easy to say, but maybe it was due to your long hiatus. But are you happy with where you guys are at now with the band's trajectory?

We definitely took a long time off. I talked to Donnie over the years and we always throw around the idea of maybe someday putting Trauma back together. But there had to be some sort of catalyst to make it worthwhile. And the rerelease in 2013 was it. And to try and play catch up at this present moment in time now is extremely difficult. There's no doubt about it. We do have some things in the works of touring and everything like that. But I wish we wouldn't have taken that much time off, but it is what it is. We can't get the time back now. It's definitely not an easy thing to try to conquer when you take that type of time off. So, I think we're doing the best we can with what we're able to do.

During that time off, you actually were active in St. Elmos Fire. Did any other members play in other bands?

I think everybody just got involved with working and stuff like that man. Nobody really else from out of the band in Trauma really went on to do anything else. I know Donnie was in a band called Black Sunday Dream for a while, a really good band. They didn't really play out a whole lot. But as far as everybody else, I'm not really not too sure what everybody else did. I played with St. Elmos Fire. I got involved with a band called Threat that was out of Switzerland. I did that for about three years, but we weren't able to get a recording contract so that kind of fizzled out. We did do some gigs over in Europe. And then I was in a band with Frank Hannon (Tesla) called Moon Dog Mane. We did do one record and it actually charted in Billboard. And then I've done a bunch of different stuff. I was very active after Trauma, just to stay busy as a drummer.

What's next? What do you fight now hope to achieve or accomplish with the band and what's your upcoming touring plans?

We just have to see how it goes. Back in August, we went and played the Alcatraz festival over in Belgium and it was really cool. We got to play in front of a big crowd and the people were really receptive to the music. And we played most of the new music off the new album that nobody really heard at all. And people really liked it. We are working on doing some touring. We have something lined up in March and April, but I can't really announce who we're playing with. But it's a pretty big deal. We do have the opportunity to go over to Europe again as well. We really just want to get out and play. In this day and age, it's definitely not an easy feat. But hopefully we'll get some opportunities to play for the fans.

...

Awakening was released on September 9th via Massacre Records.

More From Invisible Oranges