INTERVIEW: Tommy Mezmercardo on being The Mezmerist

In 1985, a kid by the name of Tommy Memzercardo released "The Innocent, The Forsaken, The Guilty", an off-kilter fantasy/epic metal EP featuring Bill Ward on drums. Back then, the former Black Sabbath drummer couldn't be credited for legal reasons, while Memzercardo was a mystery all of his own, calling himself The Mezmerist and playing psychedelic, abstract NWOBHM with mystical lyrics rendered in falsetto. The Mezmerist's sound in itself was weird enough to have ring-fenced it in the underground, but a pressing of 500 copies, many of which were kept by the band, only helped cement it in obscurity. With "The Innocent, The Forsaken, The Guilty" getting reissued via Shadow Kingdom, we called Memzercardo, aka The Mezmerist, and found out how he convinced one of metal's most-famous drummers to play on his record.

How did The Mezmerist project come about? First of all, the reason why we couldn’t do anything bigger was because Bill Ward was still under contract with Black Sabbath and with their label, so we had to do this as a secret. When I first put out the record it doesn’t show any credits, but you can see right where the special thanks is, Bill Ward is right there. Bill said he that would get sued. But now he is not under those constraints, legally, and that’s why he is able to sign on now and take credit for the drums. That was actually the only project he has ever done outside of Sabbath, and I wrote all the music.

How did you meet Bill Ward? This is interesting, a man who has done photography for me came up to me when I was at the beach and he goes, “Do you know that Bill Ward is playing across the street?” And he was playing across the street at a private party, right across the street from the beach, and he was playing with a cover surf band—they were playing surf music and Bill Ward was there playing drums. Everyone was afraid to talk to him, and a lot of people didn’t even believe that it was him, and after they took a break I approached him and asked him if he was available for any studio time. At that point I had only been playing the guitar for a couple of years. He had a personal assistant who got back to me about a month later, and he came over to my house, and he listened to my demos on the four-track—back in those days a four-track was a really big deal to have. He liked it and said he’d be more than happy to do it.

Had you thought about who was going to play on the record before Bill? Did you change the music after he signed on? I had written stuff and was waiting to see exactly where I was gonna go with it. I actually had to scramble for the bass player, and the bass player was actually another guitar player who was a fantastic musician, Roger Abercrombie. The bottom line was Bill Ward listened to the music that I was doing, and I kind of switched it on him because I was writing music in different genres and whatnot, but as soon as I knew I had Bill as the drummer I tailored the songs more in the direction of what the album came across as. That’s why it has a slower vibe. The Arabian influences and all that, I had already done all that stuff. I only had a demo of one song, and that was the second song on the album, a song called “Dead Ones Cry No More”, which I did all the instruments on, and that was the only song that was completed; all the rest of them I had to scramble together. After we did the basic tracks, after we did the rehearsals, I had to go home, stay up all night and write the lyrics. Then back in the studio we went the next morning. We knocked the whole thing out in three days.

After getting Bill on board, did you feel under any more pressure having such a high-profile drummer? Not at all. I was so young. I was just totally like, “Just another drummer . . .” Except for the fact that I, of course, looked up to Black Sabbath. I wasn’t even a big Ozzy fan. I just liked Black Sabbath. I liked early Black Sabbath, like Master of Reality and Sabotage, stuff like that. I wasn’t gunning to have him as a performance artist it just kinda fell into my lap. I just decided to be cocky and asked him something that most people would have been really afraid to ask him. I wasn’t afraid to ask him. When I signed my record deal, no one—including the record company—knew that Bill Ward was on that record. I got that record deal under my own merit. Bill Ward was not a selling point. The record company initially didn’t know that Bill Ward was on that record, they just wanted that music. As soon as they found that out, the lawyers got involved from my record company and Bill’s lawyers and they hammered something out.

Who was influencing you back then? Believe it or not, bands like Van Halen, and bands like Black Sabbath, and just to be honest a lot of different fusion music. I don’t know if you have ever heard of Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, but Frank Marino was a very, very big influence on my writing. I had never ever, ever, ever heard of King Diamond. I had never heard Mercyful Fate, didn’t know anything about them, didn’t know anything about King Diamond’s singing, never heard anything like it. Believe it or not, when I was singing those vocals I was actually thinking—believe it or not—of David Lee Roth and the very first Van Halen album, y’know, just the high screams.

Did you have any projects before The Mezmerist? I was very supressed as a child. My father would not let me play music. This is something I have not been able to share before and is something that no one else has ever heard. When I was young my parents used to force me to go to bible meetings. We used to go to bible meetings in people’s houses but the one house we went to, the son was playing in bands, and he was a Black Sabbath fan, and he showed me “Into the Void” and I said, “Isn’t that kinda Satanic? Y’know, Black Sabbath and all that?” And he said, “Look, as far as the bible is concerned, if you are a liar, if you are an adulterer, if you are a Satanist in God’s eyes, it’s all the same, so name your poison.” My father would never even let me play guitar. I didn’t even pick up the guitar until I had moved out of the house and was on my own. I picked up the guitar when I was 18, 19 years old. I had been playing the guitar for about two and a half years when I did the thing with Bill. The thing was, my father wouldn’t let me do anything. When I had listened to that young man tell me that Black Sabbath was just Black Sabbath, it was the strangest thing in the world. My father told me that I would never be anything, I would never do anything, and two and a half years later I am in a recording studio with Bill Ward from Black Sabbath, fulfilling my dream. Out of the blue, as fate would have it.

Do you believe in fate? To be quite frank, I am a Celt, I am Scottish, and I am a Druid; and I totally believe that it was a blessing that came to me.

How did this reissue come about? This 17-year-old kid who lived in New York contacted me when MySpace was really popular. I looked differently because I had a bald head and anyways… The kid’s name was Kenny, a 17-year-old aspiring drummer and he sent me a private message and said, “You are The Mezmerist!” And I was totally taken aback. I said, “What makes you think that I am The Mezmerist?” And he qualified it; we were switching phone numbers and talking about it and he said, “Don’t you know people are looking for you?” I said, “No.” I had no idea, and he told me that there was several record companies who had been looking for me for years. I had no idea. There was one guy in Athens, Greece, who tried to rip the music off of me about 10 or 15 years ago. He was trying to get me to sign a bogus record deal and I decided not to go through with it because I knew for a fact that I had no legal representation. The reason why I picked Shadow Kingdom Records is because the president of Shadow Kingdom Records answers his phone, and with all the other people I’ve had to go through channels and this way and that way; Tim at Shadow Kingdom was so professional and so attentive, and I was so busy with my other band, my other projects, and he was patient enough to wait five years for me to pull all of this stuff together, all the artwork and all that stuff. I mean, stuff had been put in storage. Stuff was here. Stuff was there. I had moved across the United States; it took me five years just to get this all together and to get it going. That’s why I chose Shadow Kingdom, because I knew they were a smaller label but they treated me like I should be treated, and they continue to do so.

Do you have any other projects on the go at the moment, and is there any appetite to do more as The Mezmerist? The band I perform under now is called Melodic Abrasion. With The Mezmerist, I really want to continue to play. Everyone’s alive. I want to do it. I’ve yet to ask Bill Ward about performing; so far everything has gone through lawyers. I would be more than happy to do a reunion, a one-off show or a small tour, do the whole catalogue, some new music, and do a gigantic set of all originals. I would love to do that. But Bill has got a lot of personal problems, and that is one of the reasons why he is not playing with Black Sabbath right now, and I have got this other band that I just decided to wipe the slate clean [with] but we still do about half The Mezmerist catalogue. We play live every couple of months. But I haven’t spoke to Bill since I gave Alex Van Halen Bill Ward’s phone number—because they used to be friends—and that’s the last time I spoke to Bill. But I don’t see why we can’t play. I am still in good shape. I still have the original guitar from the recording, that I’ve put away and it’s still in perfect condition.

If you were going to do a new record, how do you think the sound would have developed? More aggressive. More aggressive, much more aggressive.

**Order The Mezmerist The Innocent, The Forsaken, The Guilty here

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