Joe Varga may not stand out in a crowd – he’s a mere 5 feet 3 – but he didn’t have to be a scrappy guy to gain some respect.
“I’m a lover not a fighter,” says the Hamilton, Ontario native who is the namesake of the industrial-rock quartet Varga. Its Zoo Entertainment debut disc, “Prototype,” and the tight-fisted single “Greed,” have metal fans taking notice.
It has Varga walking taller than Buford Pusser.
“One guy came up to me after a show recently and said, ‘I thought you were a lot taller on stage,’ ” the singer-bassist says. “What you do is come back with a snappy comment and move on from there. I’m pretty mellow about it, so nothing’s gonna bother me.”
Varga the band has paid its dues and then some. Formed in the late ’80s, the group – also featuring Adam Alex (guitar), Dan Fila (drums) and Sean Williamson (guitar) – honed its speed-metal sound amid the steeltown grit of Hamilton.
“The town has a pretty big influence on us,” Varga says. “I’d say about 90 percent who live there work in the steel mills or has some link to the industry.
“You hear a lot of big bangs, there’s lots of smoke. It seems like it’s dark all the time … you don’t see much light there.”
That gloomy side had an impact on Varga’s blue-collar, hard-edged sound. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s probably why we sound the way we sound – you know, maybe dark and sinister,” he says, “but don’t get me wrong, we’re proud of where we come from. That dark vibe from Hamilton gave us the ability to write some cool songs.
“It sure beats growing up in Beverly Hills and writing the girls and cars thing.”
Varga landed a recording deal in 1990 with the independent label Maze America, but it folded before an album could be released. The foursome didn’t give up – they pursued a new deal with BMG Canada and Zoo in America in 1992.
“We were really ready to tour and everything, but I guess those things happen,” Varga says, looking back on the experience. “It could’ve been fate. Maybe it wasn’t our time. In the long run, it was probably for the best because we learned a lot of things along the way.”
One of those things was incorporating more technology into their solid-rock sound.
“Before ‘Prototype,’ we were pretty straightforward,” Varga says, “but we were always interested in technology and getting it into our music without any compromises. We couldn’t afford to do it before, but the record company loaned us a bit of money to get caught up.”
Varga acknowledges an affinity for Rush and Black Sabbath, but he says the biggest influence on his career is his mother.
“My mom used to play Black Sabbath while I was sleeping, and it would seep into my brain,” he says laughing. “She had me when she was young. She was a total Sabbath freak. Still is.”
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