MIKE SCALZI is at a friend's Santa Monica home overlooking the beach on what he calls a rare vacation. Scalzi just wrapped up a summer session at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area, where he teaches philosophy, and I wonder if he ever uses these precious moments to look back on his 25 years as the singer and guitarist for the heavy metal band Slough Feg.
"Constantly—every single hour of every single day," Scalzi says, half-jokingly.
Truth is, the 45-year-old does think about Slough Feg—and quite a bit. The band has taken up more than half his life, for chrissakes. Scalzi is a rock 'n' roll lifer.
"I still stand in front of the mirror with my guitar," he says. I have to ask him if he's pulling my leg. "Of course not. My dad was 40 when I was born, so he wasn't listening to the Beatles and bands like that. I listened to the Doors and Deep Purple to be rebellious. Metal is really teenagers' music, but it's still deep in me."
Slough Feg's epic, scream-from-the-highest-mountain metal is as ageless as the bands that influenced Scalzi, in particular Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead. With Scalzi the only constant member, the band has released nine studio records, including their latest, Digital Resistance, a riff-heavy censure on humans' addiction to technology.
In recent years, it seems metalheads have come back around to the melodic metal of yore. That wasn't always the case. Scalzi formed the Lord Weird Slough Feg (the band's original name, taken from the villain in a British comic book series) in central Pennsylvania in 1990 before moving to San Francisco a few months later. You could say that Scalzi started a metal band at the worst possible time, as the genre was seemingly on its last legs. "I had to wait 10 years," Scalzi says with a laugh about Slough Feg's initial reception in America. "I got into Priest and old metal, and people thought I was some backwards redneck who knew nothing."
What they didn't know is that in high school Scalzi had already been listening to hardcore and post-punk records typically deemed cooler than metal. He fronted the hardcore band Heart of Darkness before turning his attention to the classic NWOBHM bands. By the time he formed Slough Feg and moved to the Bay Area, it became a personal mission to shove metal down the throats of nonbelievers. "It's funny how that worked out," Scalzi says. "We were rejected a lot, but I used that rejection... like, we were going to assault people."
That assault included playing at ungodly volumes, sloshing pig guts onto the stage, and members painting their bodies in war paint. These antics may paint a grim picture, but Slough Feg's music was anything but bleak. Records like Twilight of the Idols and Ape Uprising! mixed memorable riffs with concepts and topics that were clever and fun, delivered with Scalzi's soaring vocals. And though Slough Feg's music initially fell on deaf ears in the US, European audiences lapped it up.
More than two decades later, Slough Feg remains a working-class band, one that's kept a death grip on its integrity. Why the band isn't more revered is anyone's guess—including Scalzi. These days you know exactly what you're getting with a new Slough Feg record, and that suits Scalzi just fine. "I like how it sounds—that's it," he says. "I don't even know what people want to hear."