Vanitas – 2020 – Heaven And Hell
MembersS= Prey, SSSteele>>Vincent James [Vincent Jiovino]>>Pieces Of Eight, The Wizards Of Winter
G= Blazed Fury, Vikron>>VIC LECAR>>LeCarr, LeCarr II, Solo – DEAN AFRETT [DEAN FERRIOLA]
B= Mike Michaels [Mike Paradisis]
D= Hades, Z-Cobra, Savage, SSSteele>>Don Versailles [Donald J. Siudmak]
History & BiographyActive between 1983 and 1993, Platinum was a band of blondes (and brunettes) playing metal in New Jersey, USA. Two former members of SSSteele had assembled the act, i.e. James and Versailles (real name: Don Siudmak), which focused on originals and touring Northeast USA. Platinum’s co-founder Versailles was an early member of Hades who had moved to Z-Cobra, which became Savage and featured later Black Sabbath singer Ray Gillen. James and Versailles took bassist Bob Scheiner with them from SSSteele. Early guitarist was R.J. Mitchell (Mitch Ryzuk). The band had a self-titled demo in 1985. Afrett joined in 1987. R.J. left just before the band signed a record deal. His replacement was Le Car. The band had a 1989 demo called Here To Fight. Germany’s Rising Sun signed the band and issued Iceman. The song Iceman and others appeared on the band’s self-titled demo of 1990, which was issued before the record. Gregory Scott and Dean Afrett were the guitarists. The band conducted a press promotional tour of Germany, Holland, Switzerland Belgium and France. Allen Alexander became the lead guitarist in 1991. It was too late however. Grunge had arrived. Siudmak would operate a studio and later a company called NYC Hells Kitchen Music for sound design for television and radio from 1992 to 2012. He did this until retirement. His output included GI Joe commercials, Techno Zoids toys and Transformers toys. Siudmak even sang on these. The band reunited for a one-off show at S.I.R. in New York City in 1999.
Heaven And Hell Records re-issued the sole album and Vanitas – The Lost Recordings in 2020. The latter was essentially pre-production material for a second album and other songs the band was demoing after Iceman. Vanitas’ album cover was also an original oil painting painted by Federico Castelluccio. It was courtesy of the Dr Dave Barret’s collection. The concept was how nothing stays the same, beauty is fleeting and the inevitably of death. The band members were pondering a reunion of sorts.
New Jersey, USA-based Platinum was a glam metal band, which was active between 1983 and 1993. The term ‘glam metal’ is applied here in its most complete sense. The band had a glam image with big hair, flamboyant outfits and the associated moves, yet played music that was metal. The band’s sole proper record was issued in 1990; however, a collection of unreleased material dating back to the early ‘90s and post the aforementioned Iceman album is out now. It is called Vanitas. The time was right for Ali “The Metallian” to invite Don Versailles, the band’s drummer, to Metallian Towers for an interview. – 25.08.2021.
METALLIAN: Donald, thank-you for your time. It is good to speak with you. Let’s start with your personal background. Why don’t you tell us about your childhood and growing up?
SIUDMAK: I grew up in New Jersey some 16 kilometres from New York City. I trained in Classical piano since age four as did everyone in my family. My father was a surgeon, but really wanted to be a concert pianist, but there was no money in it. My older brother bought a drum kit when I was nine and I was fascinated. I put on Schools Out by Alice Cooper and away we went! I then discovered Kiss, idolized Peter Criss and loved that the drummer was a huge part of the show. I was also into sports playing baseball and ice hockey.
METALLIAN: Part of the answer is what you just said, Don, but at which point did you gravitate towards heavy drums and at which point did you become a metal fan?
SIUDMAK: I always seemed to be drawn to music with a darker vibe going all the way to being turned on to Dead Babies by Alice Cooper when I was in the second grade – in this case by my older sister. The song’s subject matter kinda freaked me out because I myself ate a bottle of children’s aspirin when I was three or four thinking they were candy.
All the bands I listened to… I always liked the heaviest ones the most. For example, the song Parasite by Kiss, Nobody’s Fault by Aerosmith and so on.
METALLIAN: Well, I am glad you are well and lived through the aspirin episode! Let us fast forward to the later years. Which bands were you in prior to Platinum? There was SSSteele, which also featured Vincent James.
SIUDMAK: Prior to SSSteele I was the first drummer of Hades. Back then we still did copy material. I was also in Savage with Ray Gillen. A video of us on a live TV show from 1982 is on YouTube.
METALLIAN: The story is that you and Vincent took SSSteele’s bassist with you to form Platinum.
SIUDMAK: Well, SSSteele had just added a new bass player prior to our arrival and he simply hit it off with Vince and me. He wanted to join us.
METALLIAN: Let’s quickly come back to you. Your civilian name is Donald Siudmak so why Don Versailles?
SIUDMAK: It seemed nobody used their real names in the ‘80s so we all changed ours to some degree. I didn’t want a cliché ‘metal’ name so I went with something easy to say, unusual with a flair for the flamboyant. Also I am a huge history buff - especially 17th and 18th century Europe. But overall, I just wanted to do something different. Incidentally, I kept the Don Versailles alias throughout my commercial music production career when I hired myself to sing, play or do voice-over work as a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Musicians Union Local 802.
METALLIAN: For some reason it is humourous to me to have ‘Don Versailles’ walk into the union offices. Can’t explain it. Regardless, I believe all members of Platinum had aliases. Was Vic LeCar also an alias? The real names, however, were not a secret as the album’s thanks list gave all the names away, didn’t it?
SIUDMAK: Well, everyone’s real names were only listed on the re-release of Iceman and the new release, namely Vanitas. Vic’s name was unchanged.
METALLIAN: OK let’s get to band as a whole: How was the band founded and how did the members find one another? Was this 1983 or 1987?
SIUDMAK: To make it official - since I know there is disinformation out there - Platinum was founded In January 1983. Our first gig was at the legendary Soap Factory in Northern New Jersey just across from New York City. We played with Prophet that night.
METALLIAN: That time-line jives with what you said earlier about your early membership in Hades. Thanks for the clarification. How about the monicker? Who chose it and why?
SIUDMAK: We got the name when Vince Jiovino decided to form Platinum. I think either I made it up as the ‘rare precious metal’ monicker or our manager Bill Zaccardi, from US Euro Productions, did. We don’t remember it was so long ago to be honest.
METALLIAN: It is understandable. Was Here To Fight the very first recording then?
SIUDMAK: Actually, Platinum’s first demo was recorded in 1985. Here To Fight was recorded a few years later.
METALLIAN: What was the 1985 demo called?
SIUDMAK: It did not have a title.
METALLIAN: OK let’s proceed to the album. The band next issued an album through Rising Sun Productions of Germany. How did the band and label find one another? Was the record ever released in North America or anywhere else outside Germany?
SIUDMAK: The band actually released another demo simply entitled Platinum just prior to signing with Rising Sun. After many rave reviews of Here To Fight in music magazines throughout Europe one particular review in Metal Hammer Germany caught the attention of Clemens Vath from Rising Sun Records. He signed the band in 1989 and the album was distributed throughout Europe and Asia, specifically on cassette in Indonesia. It was distributed in the USA through the collectors’ marketplace only.
METALLIAN: What about the album’s title? Are the title and song Iceman about a drug dealer? If so, the concept and cover artwork are unrelated.
SIUDMAK: Yes, Iceman is about a cocaine dealer. When we approached Federico Castelluccio, Furio from the HBO series The Sopranos, who is the brother of Marco Castelluccio a guitarist I played with in Savage, about artwork for the album cover what we proposed would cost too much and take too much time to paint. The album cover is not a graphic, but an oil painting. He suggested for us to review whether there was anything he had already painted that we could use as a base and re-work somehow to come closer to the budget the label had. Yes, in those days the label actually paid for everything (laughs). When I saw a painting he did, a self-portrait actually with his skin in a fantasy icy blue, I immediately said, ‘paint yourself with long hair, put some shackles around your wrists, add some fog and put our logo across the top and you become our Iceman!’ You gotta allow some creative interpretation here. And we came in on budget so everyone was happy. And it looks great!
METALLIAN: Let me try another one since I was right about the drug dealer connection. The 1990 movie Another 48 Hrs. revolved around an ‘Iceman.’ Was there any influence on Platinum from this film?
SIUDMAK: No relation to Another 48 Hrs. it was kinda common nickname back then. Val Kilmer in Top Gun for example, et cetra.
METALLIAN: Musically, Platinum was a mixture of approaches in that it contained bona fide metal rippers like Freedom Fighters and then the band goes into Do Ya! Could you pick up this point from your perspective?
SIUDMAK: Thank-you for mentioning Freedom Fighters and Do Ya. It shows you really checked out the band and gave it some serious thought as that is a great question! A band’s first album is usually a mix of tracks written over a long period of time, whereas the second and third albums are often written on the tour bus over a couple months or even in the studio itself. The song Do Ya was the first song I ever wrote back in 1983. Freedom Fighters was written a month before we went into the studio to record Iceman. Needless to say, the music evolved and continued to do so. The evolution into heavier sounds is ever so evident on Vanitas. Platinum always strived to be a theatrically entertaining act, but with a heavier sound than other ‘glam bands.’
METALLIAN: Thanks for the compliment and indeed the answer makes sense, but to be clear the question was not meant as a criticism of Do Ya. Both subject matters belong to metal. While we are on the subject of titles, the song Blind Lead The Blind features an Ed Fuhrmann (with two ‘n’s) as a guest. Assuming this is Ed Fuhrman of Hades how did this guest spot come about?
SIUDMAK: Having been in Hades and friends throughout the years I asked Ed Fuhrman if he would like me to fly him up to Toronto to do a guest solo for us. He loved the idea and so did the Label. He did a great job!
METALLIAN: Speaking of which, the album was recorded near Toronto in Canada. How did an American band from New Jersey end up at Chalet Studio?
SIUDMAK: The owner of Chalet Studio came to see a Platinum show and pitched us the idea of coming to Toronto to do the album. The show he was at was coincidentally the show where the owner of Rising Sun was also In attendance and the idea sounded good to everyone. They pitched that their studio was Rush’s main pre-production studio and that it was a nice secluded place for us to get away from it all and just focus. I got Neil Peart’s (Rush drummer) room (laughs). It was a beautiful ranch on top of a mountain 60 kilometres outside Toronto.
METALLIAN: You touched upon this earlier. The band made an effort to put on a show and not just stand there, which many musicians are guilty of today. How do you see this?
SIUDMAK: When it came to our show it is obvious that I grew up with Kiss and their whole concept of giving the crowd something to see, hopefully a little larger than life because just watching people play is nice, but like opera I think most people want eye candy. People want fantasy not people who look just like them. Of course, it’s all a matter of opinion but that the way I approached it.
METALLIAN: Well, you probably guessed from my question that we are in wholehearted agreement. Quick detour, what is the story behind the later photograph at a lounge smoking and being all Al Capone?
SIUDMAK: Thanks for noticing the Capone lounge shit from the Livin High video (laughs). That shit was actually from an after party where Platinum did a reunion show in New York City in 1999. Yeah we were all gangstered up, John Wicks years before!
METALLIAN: It’s my turn to laugh, Don. “Gangstered up,” sounds humorous. The lyrics contained a few grammatical or spelling mistakes, like ‘Your’ instead of ‘You’re’ or ‘Disbelieve’ instead of ‘Disbelief.’ Were these the band not writing well or did the transcription fail the band at the other end? Speaking of which the album’s jacket calls the song Straight Through The Heart while the lyric sheet calls it Straight Thru The Heart. Which is it?
SIUDMAK: The typo on Straight Through The Heart… (thinks) I have no idea. We had little to no control what Rising Sun did or didn’t do in regards to proofreading, however, I do often abbreviate ‘through’ with ‘thru.’
METALLIAN: What is interesting is that the band announced it would record a second album for Rising Sun, but then proceeded to record a demo in 1990. Why record this demo if there is a contract in effect with Rising Sun?
SIUDMAK: Actually, again, the demo with Iceman in it is mis-dated as it came out prior to Iceman the album.
METALLIAN: Well, that makes sense of course. Why did the second record not happen?
SIUDMAK: We were on the verge of negotiating a deal with Atlantic Records with the material on Vanitas with our Atlantic contacts, David Sonnenberg and Jason Flom. Also, yes, we were planning on a second release with Rising Sun; however, at the same time Nirvana hit and the grunge scene exploded big time and almost overnight deals with big labels for new metal bands ended quite abruptly.
I was also producing and writing for a New York City music company for commercials and film and decided to open my own studio, Hells Kitchen Music, and decided with a heavy heart to devote my full time to that. Singer Vince Jiovino runs a family construction business, but still tours to this day with the holiday act Wizards Of Winter with past members from Ted Nugent, TSO, Def Leppard, Trixter and The Irish Tenors to name a few. They tour every holiday season through the USA.
METALLIAN: Where are the other members today? Could you talk about non-album members R.J. Mitchell, Gregory Scott, etc.?
SIUDMAK: Bass player Mike lives in Florida. Dean is in New Jersey along with Vince and me. The lead guitarists of Platinum were a bit of a revolving door since Mitch Ryzuk left just prior to signing a deal. Since the music was written by the drummer and pianist this was not a major issue. Past members include Greg Scott, Bob Scheiner, Allen Alexander and Mitch Ryzuk.
METALLIAN: OK. Who was Big Money Butt Slut?
SIUDMAK: I can’t speak to the Big Money Butt Slut and what it was about (laughs).
METALLIAN: The mystery persists then. Platinum has been the subject of both a new release and a re-release of Iceman recently. Could you please tell our readers all about these?
SIUDMAK: We signed a deal with Heaven And Hell Records in 2020 to re-release Iceman with bonus tracks plus what would have been the material for the second album’s pre-production tracks mostly recorded live. It is entitled Vanitas. The material is much darker and heavier, but you still recognize the band.
Platinum has also signed a licensing deal with Season Of Mist based In Marseille France for Platinum merchandise.
You can hear most of the re-release material online these days except a few the label left off, which is only available on the CD. We have gotten quite a bit of press since the re-releases and it feels awesome to get a lot of the material out there especially now that with social media it’s all out there more or less forever, which is what I am most excited about. Who knows? Perhaps we will record more in the future, but as of now it’s just talk.
METALLIAN: Don, have to ask this question. Have you visited Versailles and, if so, what are your impressions?
SIUDMAK: I have been to Versailles, yes. I was there in 2006. I had been to France with Platinum, but never got to Versailles back then. Versailles was incredible, pretty surreal. Oh the decadence! We thought the ‘80s were decadent. Ha!
METALLIAN: Good point. To end our conversation, Metallian is acclaimed as the best there is. Do you also agree?
SIUDMAK: I must admit that you asked the most in-depth questions of any interview I have ever given. You really immerse yourself in the music and all the material and so I would have to agree that Metallian is the best there is.
What really got me was the way you asked essentially how the hell do you go from Freedom Fighters to Da Ya?! I was cracking up out-loud as I have practically said the same thing for years in a self-deprecating way (laughs loudly).
A video for the remastered track Livin' High is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psZAC7k-62g
Don was a friendly interview partner and Platinum deserves belated attention from both glam and heavy metal fans. For information on Vanitas or the Iceman re-release go to https://www.heavenandhellrecords.com/cds.
If you enjoyed this, read Excess