Parris Mayhew of Aggros/ex-Cro-Mags: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview
By Greg Prato
Back in the ‘80s, there were several bands bold enough to merge Sabbath-style metal with the fury and explosiveness of hardcore punk – known at the time as “crossover.” And certainly, one such band was the Cro-Mags, who was responsible for issuing the crossover classic, The Age of Quarrel, in 1986.
And one of the major contributors to their sound was the BC Rich Bich playing Parris Mayhew – who would also contribute to several other offerings by the band (1989’s Best Wishes and 2000’s Revenge) – before exiting for good in 2001.
Mayhew would also become a sought-after director of music videos (he directed such classic clips as “Black No. 1” by Type O Negative and “Slam” by Onyx) and nowadays is a camera operator for TV shows and films. And in 2020, he returned to music – as the leader of the all-instrumental Aggros, who issued their debut album this year, Rise of the Aggros (which can be ordered at aggros.nyc).
The guitarist spoke to ClassicRockHistory shortly after Aggros wrapped up their first-ever series of live shows – discussing the band and their debut, directing videos, and his former band.
After leaving the Cro-Mags in 2001, what have you been up to musically?
Mayhew: When I broke up the Cro-Mags in 2001 – which is what I thought happened – I turned my ambitions to the film business. I’ve directed over a hundred music videos, so this wasn’t a wishful thinking ambition. But I had taken five years off directing to make music again – from between 1995 and 2001-ish, so when I made my attempt to pick up where I left off directing, the trail had gone cold. So, I switched lanes and became a camera operator, working on films and television, most recently I was an A-camera operator on Dead City (Walking Dead spin-off).
Flash forward, the pandemic was an opportunity for me to revisit my musical life, and I spent that downtime writing and recording new music. The result is my latest album under my new brand, Aggros, and the debut album is entitled Rise of the Aggros, an instrumental progressive metal band – or so it’s been labeled by a number of reviews, which I embrace. One review said, “Aggros are, imagine if Rush was born on the lower east side of Manhattan!” That made me happy.
How did the idea to form Aggros come about, and was it a conscious decision to make it all-instrumental?
Mayhew: I never stopped writing music during my three-decade tenure in the film business, but as I stated the pandemic gave me a chance to organize and frame the music in an album context. Initially without a band, I just recorded what I could with a number of different drummers – five in all appear on the album. I played bass and guitar and created the basic tracks slowly over time, leaving the songs unfinished until a time when I had a band, because that’s the model I understood. But that hope for a band began to fade as the songs took shape, so I began trying to visualize a vehicle for the songs, since a traditional band seemed impractical with my film schedule working thirteen hours a day five, days a week.
I considered the idea of a TV series about a band, the fictional band in my script was called “Aggros” and my original songs would be the songs the Aggros played on the show. I then considered how I would want the show to look, when developing a show, mood boards are created to determine and show the “look” of the show, so I decided to pick one song and make a music video to go with my pitch of the script. “Chaos Magic” was the song I chose and I made the video for that with the look of the show – NYC in the ‘70s and ‘80s in mind, the nights lit by sodium vapor lights.
Once the video was complete, I sat with it for a few months, when it struck me that all I had been trying to achieve musically was contained in this video. I didn’t need a traditional band or a singer and I didn’t require the TV show context, so I decided to release the video as an instrumental single. I created a YouTube channel and was confronted with what to call the channel, so I took the name from the script Aggros, and thus Aggros were born. It put my musical output into a context that I could work with. Like Daft Punk or Ghost, I would be the central musical force and I would invite musicians to participate on an album by album, tour by tour basis. And now with the debut album out and one tour under my belt, it’s working out perfectly.
Would you ever consider working with a singer in Aggros in the future?
Mayhew: I would, but I’m practical, and I can’t wait for a variable that hasn’t presented itself. I did work with a singer for a period, which was complicated by scheduling on both sides, so I continued on and made the music I needed to make. I’m a fan of instrumental music – Dixie Dregs, Polyphia, Brand X – so, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to determine that as a direction. And I found I was not only able but capable of creating a complete musical story without a singer again and again. I don’t have time to wait for a hopeful variable.
How were the recent first-ever live shows by Aggros, which saw you teamed with Crumbsuckers guitarist Chuck Lenihan?
Mayhew: The tour was great. We had an amazing send-off at our debut show in Brooklyn in July. I assembled a band that had never met before, we began rehearsals three days before the gig. It was astonishing to be standing on stage after performing the first song to a screaming crowd, with a band who had only just met three days before. There was a lot of anxiety, I knew I was ready, but my sound guy was dubious, and almost bailed, “I’m not used to this kind of unpreparedness” – which I rolled my eyes at and had to reassure him. But I pushed it all forward and had a clear rehearsal plan, Zoom calls with Chuck, time alone with Dierk at my house, and I drove to North Carolina twice to jam with drummer Cobz.
I knew we were ready in those incremental parts. And all the musicians are top-notch pros. Chuck Lenihan on guitar, Cobz – who performed on three songs on the album – on drums, and Dierk Peters on piano. It was a short eleven-day tour, but I really pushed to make it happen – just to see that we could do it properly. We will resume touring ASAP.
Is Chuck now a full-time member of the band?
Mayhew: In as far as he is available. I will make every effort to work around his schedule because he is extraordinary as a musician and I have a hard time envisioning the songs without him now. We have worked on new songs together which I hope to record soon. He plays in a number of touring bands, so scheduling conflicts are inevitable – but that isn’t a bridge that has presented itself yet so I won’t worry about it until it’s before me.
Looking back on the Cro-Mags’ The Age of Quarrel today, what are your thoughts on it?
Mayhew: I wish I got paid for the sales for all these years. To have eBay people call it a staple album, a classic, a seminal groundbreaking game changer under your belt and to never have received a dime for it is criminal. It was recently reissued on vinyl and no one even contacted any of us. Shameful. A remix is in order. I wish we had worked more on recording the vocals, I wish our original singer Eric Casanova was on it singing his songs.
I wish Eric was credited for his lyrics – “Street Justice,” “Life of My Own,” “Hard Times,” “Survival of the Streets.” Lots of regrets about that album. BUT I’m gratified that the album affected so many people in a powerful way. I can’t count the thousands of times I heard the same exact sentiment expressed by fans, always phrased exactly the same as if from a script, “Age of Quarrel changed my life.” So despite any reservations, regrets or pangs of what it could have been, it doesn’t matter now, it is what it is. And what it is, is important to many people. What more could you hope for?
How did you get involved in directing music videos, and nowadays, working as a cameraman on TV shows and in film?
Mayhew: I’m an artist. I began my studies at a high school of art and design, and the path most took was to a career college, so I went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC. But I grew bored with life as a solitary artist and transferred to the film department. I made a music video for my band Cro-Mags as a class project, and soon after began working as a director of photography on music videos while still in school. The Cro-Mas video “We Gotta Know” made quite an impact, and opportunities came for me to direct videos for Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Type O Negative and Biohazard.
Then I directed Onyx’s “Slam” – which became number one on MTV for an entire summer, and that positioned me as the “rap guy” for a few years, until I left directing behind – when CEO of Def Jam, Lyor Cohen, offered me a record deal if I resurrected Cro-Mags. Which I did and made the album Revenge – my personal favorite album. But the band didn’t last. Lyor was a major patron to me, and supported me as a director and musician, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that patronage and support.
What are some memories of directing Type O Negative’s “Black No. 1” video?
Mayhew: Peter Steele and I were friends and we discussed making videos going back to the Carnivore days – but the budget and label support to make one was never there. So when “Black No. 1” became the obvious choice for the label to release as a single, our years of speculative hope became a reality. I’d been reading Interview With the Vampire and envisioned Peter as Lestat – sitting at the table in that hotel, under the single light bulb being interviewed. So, I pitched that to the band. Josh and Pete came over to my Brooklyn loft and I sold it to them. I called in every favor I had getting this video made, the shoot was a nightmare managing the temperament of the backup band. But when I delivered the video, the label was super happy, and the label owner said, “It’s the best video our label has ever made.” And he gave me complete creative freedom for the edit.
Peter was over the moon about the video and called me, and left a long gushing thank you on my answering machine. Then the band started chiming in – they were not happy. They felt they were not as well represented in the video as Pete was, which began a long drawn-out tug of war between management, the label, the band, and me – which ultimately ended my friendship with Peter and I never worked for the label again.
But I made what I consider a work of art and I was able to assist in elevating Peter’s career to where it needed to be – which was my purpose in making the video in the first place, even if I was not able to continue to be his friend, I knew I had helped him get where he needed to go. The video broke the band, got on Beavis and Butthead, was nominated for a Billboard Music Award, and on a VH1 viewer’s choice top 100, the video was number 2 – only second to Bon Jovi “Livin’ on a Prayer” – and defined the band for the rest of their career. So, my memory is bittersweet.
What about King’s X’s “Dogman” video?
Mayhew: A great experience working with a band I admired, and who appreciated my effort. Great people. I was hired to “dirty up their Christian image” – so I put them in the 42nd Street porn atmosphere. It was awesome! We shot on the coldest night in memory, and they never complained and performed like troopers.
Anthrax’s “Belly of the Beast” video?
Mayhew: That was a real education. Anthrax called me and said, “We want a video exactly like your Cro-Mags video. We will send you our itinerary and you pick eight days that you’d like to shoot.” They sent it and it was a European tour. SCORE! So, we landed in Rome and departed from Berlin. Amazing. Me and my brother were the whole crew – we traveled on their tour bus, it was a blast. The band was super nice, they were total pros and hired me because they wanted to support someone in the fold – “one of us” who they respected in music, but also because they loved my work. But they could have hired anyone – their other videos were always shot by the top-notch guys in the biz, so this was a gift.
After I delivered the video, they asked me to direct a concert film, Live Noize, which I did. Anthrax are great people and they gave me a huge leg up as a director. After I did those two jobs, I was legit and was able to forge a career as a filmmaker. So, big gratitude to them always. Scott Ian is also in Mr. Bungle, and last year when they toured they performed a song I wrote all the music for called “Malfunction” every night on tour, so his personal endorsement for my art continues to this day. Eternal gratitude.
Since this interview is for ClassicRockHistory.com, are you a fan of classic rock? If so, see any noteworthy shows back in the day?
Mayhew: Well, I could talk all day about the great shows I have seen. I’ll list a few off the top of my head – KISS Destroyer tour ‘76, Rush eleven times before Moving Pictures came out, Van Halen 15 times starting with the first album up to 1984, Police Regatta De Blanc, Cars Candy O, Aerosmith Draw the Line, Kinks, Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, Steve Miller Book Of Dreams, Cheap Trick Dream Police with UFO opening and then 30 more times over the years, ELO, ARS, AC/DC, Ted Nugent and Heart 1979, Yes Drama tour at MSG! I would go to everything I could. After 1986 when Cro-Mags were established, I was able to go to shows “guest list style.” I went to everything – Robert Palmer, Tina Turner, Black Uhuru, Pogues, Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Johnny Cash, DEVO, Dwight Yoakum…anything and everything.
What are your future plans? Further Aggros releases? More shows?
Mayhew: Right now looking for supporting spots on tours to support the current album, Rise of the Aggros, and the normal life routine of continuously writing until the second album is inevitable. The third single/video “Sk8bored Fight” is imminent – I’m currently editing furiously on that. I will make videos for every song on the album and space them out for the future. Three more to go!
Parris Mayhew of Aggros/ex-Cro-Mags: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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