Tony Cummings tracked down bass player Wade A Little to talk about Californian metal band MALACHIA
By the mid '80s something unprecedented had hit the music industry. California's Stryper had emerged to become major market album sellers. With their spandex outfits and makeup they were undeniably glam metal. But their evangelistic songs and Bible-throwing stage act put them in a different place from the debauchery and decadence of Motley Crew and Twisted Sister. But Stryper were by no means the only band to fuse metal riffs, glam pop influences and a bold declaration of Christian faith. Bloodgood, Sacred Warrior, Recon, Holy Soldier and dozens more pitched in with albums and tours to spread the word that, for sections of American church-going youth at least, Christian music had emerged from the era of sacred solos, youth choirs and George Beverly Shea. And so it came to pass that in 1985 in Covina, California a Christian metal band were formed called Malachia. In the next four years the band were to record an EP and an album which are now considered Christian metal classics by a new generation of metal collectors. Cross Rhythms recently made contact with the band's one-time bass player Wade A Little, who took time out from his Christian apparel ministry to talk us through the momentous years of Malachia's gigging and recording.
Remembered Wade, "I came to love heavy metal as a kid. Bands like Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Metallica and others grew in popularity and were making some amazing albums. For as long as I can remember, as a kid I would scribble down sentences, lines of what I considered poetry, but in looking back, were really bad. I specifically remember times of riding the bus home from school when I was around 13 or 14 and I can see myself writing away in my notebook. Fast-forward to the early eighties and I'm still writing poems and what I call lyrics. I'm learning how to play the bass guitar, hanging around other musicians and I now know that if I want my lyrics, my words to be heard that I need to start my own band. I guess it was in 1984 that I started praying and asking God for help. Things like, what to name the band? I wanted my band to be a band of Christian musicians but not necessarily a "Christian band." Of course this was the time that Stryper was going huge and breaking down doors and barriers that had never been seen before. After spending the night in prayer and searching through the Bible, I came across the name Malachiah but shortened it by removing the h at the end. I loved this name because it meant, 'messenger of God'. That's what I wanted for this band, that's what I wanted of me, to be that messenger who proclaimed the Good News to a hungry and thirsty world."
At first there were frequent changes of personnel for Malachia. Said Wade, "Members came and left. But in 1986 the lineup was set. . . at least for a while. Ken Pike joined as the vocalist, then Jeffrey James (lead guitar), Dave DeVaughn (drums) and, as the Lord often does, he saved the best for last, Steve 'Chima' Ayola (keyboards) joined. There's a funny story about Chima. As Malachia was playing around Los Angeles clubs and churches, we decided that we needed more sound. We had seen another band playing around and hearing that they had broken up, we called Chima. After Chima joined the band, he shared that there was one band that he wasn't interested in joining and hoped wouldn't call him. . . yes, that band was Malachia. But when we did call, he came down and we talked together, played some music and prayed. God changed his heart and he joined us and made us a better band. From that point on Malachia was set."
In 1986 Malachia released their EP debut 'Under The Blade'. Wade recalled how the EP came about. "We recorded demos of our songs at a little studio in North Hollywood prior to 'Under The Blade'. I had a friend who was best friends with Gene Simmons' (Kiss) girlfriend. She said that she would get him the demo to listen to. We went into this small, dark studio, laid down our tracks and, BAM. . . it was over. Not sure when, but a few months after that we were able to get my father to provide some financial support to go into a studio in Los Angeles where we recorded 'Under The Blade'. In looking back we were over our heads and not yet ready to be in the studio, we needed some more seasoning playing and rehearsing. I do remember that as a band we did grow closer while in the studio. Spending six, eight or more hours together teaches you how to appreciate each other and overlook the things that annoy you. For a couple of weeks we worked the recording schedule around our 'real' jobs and when it was said and done, we had 'Under The Blade' recorded."
The following year Malachia recorded their sole full length album, 'Red Sunrise'. Reminisced Wade, "I remember the challenges of working with a new producer who was strong willed and, at the time, not the best of communicators. It was stressful on several levels as I was the middleman between my father who was the executive producer of the album and the producer. Time and money. . . more time meant more money and that was the hardest part for me. But we had fun! It was in the studio that our producer brought up the idea of using a violin on 'Master's Call'. He brought in a buddy of his who laid down the track and oddly it seemed to work. Looking back, if it were remixed I think that it would sound better, maybe make the song better musically. This session was also the first recording that we did with Dave DeVaugh, a brilliant drummer. Dave used a single kick but was able to make it sound like a double kick when he wanted to. I remember that someone said he had 'lightning-fast feet'."
Decades after its release some metal collectors have dubbed 'Red Sunrise' an unacknowledged classic. How did Wade view such praise? "That's cool that people think that. To know that there are people out in this world who appreciate something that I had a hand in creating. . . very humbling. I do think the album is one of those forgotten or 'unrecognised' gems that was overlooked in the day. We were trying to do something unique and out of the box. With Ken's gifted vocals and the songwriting of Ken, Jeff and myself, then adding the skill and power of both Dave and Chima, we had something that none of the other bands at that time had. We had a show and a story to tell and we wanted to entertain and tell people about our God. We tried to do that every time we played a show and recorded a song. I've been blown away as I've heard over the past 10 years or so of people selling their albums to collectors for $50, $100 and I heard of one going for over $200."
Despite the quality of their music making, the big breakthrough never quite happened for Malachia. They changed their name to Bashan-Tyre and then, in 1990, to Vision. Wade spoke about the band's last hurrah. "At the time we finally dissolved, we were using the name Vision. That's the name we recorded a song under for the 'California Metal Band II' compilation CD. We recorded the song 'Runaway' with John and Dino Elefante producing. One night at rehearsal, Ken walks in, we set up, do our things then we start to talk about band things. As we're talking Ken says, 'I have something to say.' I look at Ken and say, 'Ken, want to leave the band?' Ken was shocked but he says yes and then proceeds to go on a 30 to 45 minute reason why. Finally Ken packs up and leaves and Jeff and I look at each other and laugh. We both were thinking the same thing, if you want to leave then leave. After Ken left we rehearsed some and made a plan to start auditioning singers. At some point in the future, Dave left the band due to personal family issues. We found a new drummer, a good kid who turned out to be immature. We also found a great female singer who gave our sound a new feel, a new vibe that was exciting. But, I guess it was 1989 or 1990, we fired the drummer and I remember Jeff calling me and saying that it was time for him to leave the band. I agreed with him, what we had, that 'feeling', was gone and it just seemed that we were fighting the inevitable."
Two decades on Steve 'Chima' Ayola is the Technical Director of an arts theatre in Oregon and plays keys in the worship band at a local Vineyard church; the singer with the three and a half octave voice Ken Pike works as a federal law enforcement officer and plays in a symphonic power metal band called Absolon; guitarist Jeffrey James works in the chiropractic industry; drummer Dave DeVaughn lives outside Los Angeles where he runs his own business; and Wade Little heads up a private investigation agency and for the last six months has been running a Christian apparel line called Wretched Sinner. He explained, "I use Romans 7:24 as my key verse, 'O wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?' It's a strong and bold name, a name that when people see it they ask questions. These questions lead the wearer of the shirt to then share the Gospel, maybe their testimony; it's a vehicle to open a door to share. The website is www.WretchedSinner.com. There is also a Wretched Sinner Facebook page and my personal page which I just started at W.a.Little. Look for the W.S. logo and me riding my motorcycle. I have developed a ministry fundraising area where I work with small ministries, ones that are active in the world, feet on the ground so to speak, and I develop a t-shirt for them. The shirt does not cost them any money and when the shirt sells a percentage is donated back to them. The ministry is getting money donated at no cost to them. I currently work with a group called Forever Found that helps support organisations that rescue children from sex trafficking, prostitution and other child issues. They work in the US and other countries."
Wade looks back on his years with Malachia with mixed feelings. "That time, the '80s, was a special time for music, especially metal music in Los Angeles. I can also look back and see how I have grown spiritually. My love for my Saviour Jesus has no end. I truly now understand that my sin is what separated me from having the relationship that God intended for me to have with him, and until I repented of my sins, gave my whole heart and life to Jesus. . . until I did that I would remain apart from God. I thank God every day that he chose to reveal himself to me, to save me! I am so unworthy for I am a wretched sinner! But, I know that even though I am a wretched sinner, I am saved by the grace of God and when I sin I know that while my sin comes between me and God, that I have to ask his forgiveness for my sins so that I can be put back into that right relationship with him. His forgiveness is always there to cleanse me.
"If I have one regret about Malachia, it's that before the Internet took off and sites like ebay came along, I trashed a couple cartons of 'Red Sunrise' albums. I can still see myself doing it. I didn't have room for storage, but in my wisdom, I knew that cassette tapes would always be around so I kept a case of those 'Red Sunrise' cassette tapes. I still have them to this day, all sealed up. I think I got that backwards. Maybe it's time to sell them!"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.