The name of Kublai Khan is well known to every thrash metal fan if you haven’t started to listen to this type of music only yesterday. Many knows KK as a band of ex-Megadeth guitar player Greg Handevidt. But it’s absolutely unfair to think that the band gained its reputation only by this relation to Dave Mustain’s group. The only album by Kublai Khan named «Annihilation» is awesome in its own rights — raw, aggressive and intricate thrash like it used to be. This year marks 30th anniversary of «Annihilation», so we contacted Greg Handevidt to recall the rise and the demise of Kublai Khan.
In 1982 you moved from Minneapolis to LA together with David Ellefson to study music. So what were your brightest impressions about LA? Were you impressed by local clubs, press, labels, bands and metal scene in general? By the way, did you start your studies at GIT at all?
I’d say our first impression was that it was the place we needed to be, and it was drastically different from where we had grown up. At first we were a little overwhelmed but once we got used to it we got right into the flow.
Yes. We loved the clubs because we could be immersed in the music scene in a way that we could not back “home.” Of course, there were industry people everywhere we went, and we would see people we’d idolized just hanging out in the clubs. It was when we really became grounded in that we understood that “rock stars” were just like us. Over time, we got to know other musicians, some of whom have gone on to have fabulous careers. No, we never did start at.
After a short time with Megadeth you decided to move back to Minneapolis. As far as I know you decided to do so because of a child you had in your hometown. Was it the main reason for you or were you disappointed with the whole thing with Megadeth?
The main reason I moved back was because of having a child in Minnesota.
When you met Kevin Idso he was into Motley Crue and it was you who introduced Metallica and other heavier bands to him. Was thrash metal still obscure in Minnesota? By the way, were you friends with Impaler, Powermad, Soilent Green and other bands from Minneapolis / Minnesota?
Thrash really didn’t exist. It was a new, emerging genre that we were creating without even trying. So, to say it was obscure I don’t think would be accurate. It was non-existent in Minnesota. Yes, we were friends with Powermad, Impaler, Vile and other local bands. I am still in touch with Joel DuBay and Bill Lindsey. I was able to spend some time with Joel last October when Megadeth was in town. Dirk played drums on Powermad’s latest record (it thrashes. People should check it out), so Joel was at the show. It was great to see him.
You mentioned that the band recorded two demos and one of them was “Clash of the Swords”. Is it really true? All sources mention only the demo “Rape, Pillage and Destroy”. Can you clear this situation?
Yes. We recorded the Clash of the Swords demo in Minneapolis (I believe) in 1985.
Were your demos popular in the tape-trading circuit? Did you send your tapes to labels like Megaforce, Metal Blade, Combat, Roadrunner etc.?
Well, it’s hard to determine how much the demos were passed around. So, it’s hard for me to say whether or not they were “popular.” I think so, but I honestly have no idea how many of them were sold. Yes. We shopped the demos to every label we could imagine including all major labels.
Finally you signed a deal with Shark Records which turned to a rip-off. I know you were pissed-off about this label. Did you sort out this situation?
The label breached our agreement almost immediately after we delivered the record. We got absolutely no label support, and to this day we’ve never received any type of accounting on the record. I know that we were not the only band that had a bad experience with that label, and other labels had bad experiences dealing the label as well. The last time I had any contact with them was in 1999. I contacted them and asked for an accounting of the number of units sold, and the label’s response was to swear at me. It was incredibly unprofessional. No it was never sorted out.
And how did you get a deal with New Renaissance Records? Were both labels helpful in terms of promotion? Did you get a lot of attention from fanzines and bigger magazines like Metal Hammer, Kerrang! etc.?
New Renaissance came about through a licensing agreement with Shark. New Renaissance was wonderful to us. I can’t begin to say enough good things about how Ann and everyone at the label treated us. You’d have to talk with New Renaissance, but Shark was a problem for them as well. New Renaissance was extremely helpful to the extent it could help us. Shark gave us absolutely zero support and gave us no information about anything that was happening. We did get a lot of attention from ‘zines, and did many interviews back then. For the most part, we got very favorable reviews. The most criticized thing about the record was, of course, the production value. We recorded the record in a hurry with almost no money.
All the songs on the album “Annihilation” were written by you and Kevin. Tell me please about your collaboration. Were you equal partners writing together, throwing riffs and solos to each other, or did you write singly and tried to incorporate ideas in a rehearsal room?
It was a little of both. I had a lot of thrash/speed metal riffs, and songs, already when I met Kevin. I had already been to L.A. and back. At the time, he had no idea what thrash was, having grown up in rural Minnesota. He was listing Motley Crue, Kiss and Bon Jovi as his influences. So, you can tell that at first we were worlds apart in style. As we began jamming together, he started learning to play a more speedy, thrash style. Once he developed the ability to play thrash, he started coming up with riffs that we would then incorporate into the writing process. We both wrote “entire” songs also but those, inevitably, were collaborated and co-written and arranged. All-in-all, the music on the record was a wholly collaborative process. I think it gave us a unique sound.
Tell me about the recording process of the album. Was the Westwood Sound Studio well equipped? How substantial was Peter Davis’ and Jonathan Akre’s contribution to the final result? Is it correct that the album was recorded and mixed in 3 days? Were you satisfied with the sound quality when you got final mixes?
Westwood was a well-equipped studio, but we had almost no money. The recording was as raw as raw can be. It’s practically a live album. The label put up a grand total of $3,000 to make the record – front to back, ALL production. Peter arranged all of the artwork, studio time, etc. Jonathan mixed the record, but the band really oversaw that portion. I HATE the sound quality of the record, and YES it was recorded – beginning to end – in just 3 days.
What can you recall about reaction from fans and press on your album? I believe some really cool zines like Metal Forces gave you raving reviews while bigger ones (Metal Hammer) criticized you for weak sound, poor arrangements, simple song structures etc.
As I recall, we received an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the record. Most reviews were quite good. Honestly, we didn’t pay that much attention to reviews. Fans seemed to love it.
What are you brightest memories about touring in support of the album? What was it like to pay at Milwaukee Metal Fest I? By the way, what can you say about Jack Koshick – the man behind this festival? There are different opinions about him and some bands claimed he ripped them off.
The shows themselves and the incredible fans and other musicians with whom we were able to interact. You mentioned the Milwaukee Metal Fest – that was a great time, and we got to hang with some excellent bands. One of my fondest memories is hanging out with Chuck Shuldiner on the roof of the venue. He was an incredible talent and a really, genuinely nice guy. It also gives rise to one really fun memory. The venue in Milwaukee had a bowling alley in the basement. After the show was over, we went down there and had a bowling “battle” Kublai Khan vs. At War. It was a blast, and no, I can’t remember who “won.” We had a great experience playing the show. I don’t know Jack Koshick at all.
Were you serious about being a full time musician with Kublai Khan? Why did the band split up? Was it more because of objective circumstances or was it more of a personal responsibility for the band’s demise?
Of course ! Absolutely. Every band I was ever in was ALL I lived: our bands growing up (ToZ, Killers), Megadeth in the beginning, eventually Kublai Khan, they were my life. Every waking moment was Kublai Khan. I was wholly immersed in Kublai. Being a full-time musician was all I had ever wanted to be from a very early age. I was absolutely serious about it. The band split up over personality issues that really emerged after we were signed and started developing the Kublai Khan brand. I’m not going to get into specifics. Sorry. Just suffice to say that there were some fairly petty issues of jealousy and some unrealistic and delusional ideas about how the band came to be, and how it had progressed, that came about such that it really made it impossible for the band to go on. I, personally, couldn’t afford to be a “starving” musician anymore because I had responsibilities. When it became apparent that Kublai could not go on, I made the incredibly difficult decision to leave the music business in order to obtain some stability and the ability to service my responsibilities.
Fast forward to 2003. What made you and Kevin to reunite? Were you able to get all of the original members involved? Why didn’t it last that long? Are there any other recordings outside the demo “Kronk Meets Kublai Khan”?
I was approached about the possibility of rekindling KK, so I reached out to Kevin Idso and we started discussing the possibility. He eventually came to San Diego, CA, which is where I was living at the time, and we started jamming a bit, recorded a couple of things and agreed to remaster Annihilation. As for why it didn’t last, personality and trust issues. None of the other original members were involved. Now, if anything happens in the future, it will be Mike Liska and me. Mike has a thriving music career around the Minnesota area and is involved in several projects. John Fedde has had some recent very serious health issues which keep him from being able to get involved, but he’s given his blessing to anything that may happen in the future, and the door is always open for John to be involved. I’m not aware of a demo called “KronK Meets Kublai Khan.” We recorded a couple things that Kevin had written – quite different from “classic” KK, but I’m not aware it was formally released.
Tell me a few words about your present life? Do you still play music? Are your children aware of your musical career?
I’m a criminal defense attorney by day, and yes I still play music. I handle criminal cases all the way from the most minor infractions to first degree murder. As far as playing, I haven’t actively played out since around 2006 when I was a guitar slinger with Voodoo Temple out of San Diego (that was a lot of fun) , but I certainly never say “never.” I still have sufficient gear to play any venue. I have four beautiful children (the youngest being 5 years old !), five beautiful grand-children, one step-granddaughter, and an incredible wife of 21 years. Of course they are aware of my music career. We are good friends with the Ellefsons, so my children know them and are aware of those connections also. My two youngest LOVE Doll Skin, spent some time with them last year, and developed quite a bond with those incredible young women. While I am no longer actively involved in the music business, I have an amazing life, incredible family, excellent, interesting job, and wouldn’t trade my present life for anything.