From London to Hamburg: Lucifer Star Machine's Tor Abyss on Tattooing, Records & Heavy Rock

Tor Abyss is the founder and lead singer of the "Heavy Rock 'n Roll" band Lucifer Star Machine, originally launched in London 2002, and reformed using Hamburg, Germany, as a home-base in 2014, influenced by Heavy Metal, Punk, and classic Rock 'n Roll. Since their reformation, the band have put out two singles and an EP, but have recently released their first big LP with their new lineup, The Devil's Breath. Accompanied by music videos, which the band seem to love to make and lace with horror elements, The Devil's Breath has cemented the reputation of Lucifer Star Machine as an active, creative force driving their own legacy in new directions.

Tor Abyss previously joined our Tower Live instagram show, and you can catch that video and Q&A here on PULSE! But we also asked him if he'd like to do a follow up discussion about his own history in music, how his tattooing career fits into it all, and the musical direction the band is taking these days. Settle in for the music chat, but stay 'till the end and you'll get to hear how Tor Abyss' philosophy of Satanism can remind us all what kind of human beings we should be right now in these difficult times.

 

Hannah Means-Shannon: Thank you for appearing on our Tower Livestream show. I thought we’d have you back to talk a little more about music and your own history as a musician.

Tor Abyss: Sure, I’m always happy to talk about music.

HMS: I wondered if you could tell us more about how you ended up in London and how you got on the music scene?

Tor Abyss: Oh, sure. Well, I was always really into music, ever since I was a kid, and as I mentioned last time, KISS got me into music, particularly the record Rock and Roll Over.

That’s the first record I bought. The first record I saw and listened to was The Best of Solo Albums, and I thought, “Yeah, man, that’s just the best band ever.” I’ve been into heavy music ever since. I had my first band at age 14. It was a school band, obviously pretty rubbish, and we wanted to be a Metal band, but at the end of the day, it was probably Punk. Because we weren’t good enough as musicians to pull it off. I was a singer. Then I was in a few local bands over the years, but they didn’t go anywhere.

I wanted to go to London for a long time, but I couldn’t at the time, because my longtime girlfriend didn’t want to do it, since she was more of a family person and didn’t want to leave the country. But once we split up, I said, “Okay, I’m going to pack my bags, and I’m going to go to London, and I’m going to see how it’s gonna turn out.”

I just took a backpack, and told myself, “I’m going to see how it’s going to go for like half a year, and if it doesn’t work out, I’m gonna come back.” And then I was there for 12 years, so obviously it did work out. I did form Lucifer Star Machine in London.

I got to know a few people in London, but it was still hard to find people to start a band, so I placed ads in magazines, and I even wrote the first songs on the guitar, even though I can’t play the guitar, because I have a tendon that I tore as a kid, as a young adult. But I played a few riffs anyway, and that’s how I wrote the first songs. There are actually two of them on the first album. Then I had a guitarist, and he wasn’t right. It took a few changes until the band was right. At least then I had the right people for the time being. Then we recorded our first single, played a few gigs.

The funny thing is that we played a gig for Rat Scabies Band, which has the original drummer of The Damned. He really liked us, and he helped us produce our first single with another friend of his, who was a producer for The Cure.

[Photo credit to H.G. Muller]

HMS: Wow!

Tor Abyss: We didn’t have a record label back then, but that’s how we started. The sound wasn’t like it is now. I would say it was a bit more Glam, with a T. Rex influence, and a Turbonegro influence. That was the first single. We did the first album after a few line-up changes again, and then the sound had changed to a Punk Rock, influenced The Ramones.

HMS: That’s an amazing story. That’s fascinating. So you arrived in London, and you wanted to spend six months figuring out the scene there. Did you choose London because it was associated with Punk and Metal?

Tor Abyss: It was at the time. But I was always interested in different types of music. When I moved to London, I was quite heavily into 60’s Garage Punk. But always open-minded and listening to all sorts of things. I liked Turbonegro at the time, since in 1998, Apocalypse Dudes came out. I thought it was an amazing record and it had everything that I liked. It had that theatrical aspect like KISS, but it was more Punk, with a Ramones approach.

When I went to London, I wanted to form a band like that, basically.

HMS: Would you say that going ahead and playing live gigs in London is what led to recording opportunities for you? That live performance came first?

Tor Abyss: Yes, we played live shows first in the London Rock ‘n Roll underground scene. There were a few places back then, and it was a thriving Rock ‘n Roll scene. It’s not like that anymore. London is dead, now, really. The places have been pulled down and corporate stuff put up. Cool Rock ‘n Roll dives are all gone, or most of them. There’s not much of an underground anymore, which is a sad thing. It’s not just me saying that. You can speak to people who live in London and they’ll tell you the same thing. I left at a time when I just didn’t enjoy it anymore.

HMS: So, you kind of hit it right to encounter that scene, but by the time you left, it had faded out.

Tor Abyss: Yeah, it did. Everything was going downhill a little bit and I was looking for different things. But I learned to tattoo in London, as well, and I needed a fresh start. In London there were too many tattoo artists everywhere, since everyone came to London from everywhere as a the mecca of tattooing. I also met a girl who is now my wife, and she was from Hamburg, and that was one of the reasons as well. She moved to London and stayed for a year, but I was the one who said, “Oh, come on. Let’s go to Hamburg.” Because I had been to Hamburg before and thought it was an amazing city for opportunities. It was a fresh start for me, and I didn’t regret it at all.

I’m not from Hamburg, originally, I’m from the South of Germany, from Munich.

[Photo credit to Ravengraphy]

HMS: So regarding the two aspects of your life, the music, and tattooing, when did the tattooing start for you?

Tor Abyss: That was actually quite late, and I’ve been tattooing for 11 years now. I always liked tattoos and got tattooed but I didn’t have the opportunity for it to be my job. I was actually a screen printer, which was what I was doing in Germany, and when I went to England, I was just working in call centers to get money, since obviously you can’t live off being a musician.

I did that for quite a while, but then I got kicked out because the company changed location, moving to South Africa. At the time, I was quite heavily tattooed, and had neck and hands done. So, it was difficult for me to find a job. It’s not like now, where nobody cares anymore if you’re heavily tattooed. Back then it was a bad thing, really. An opportunity arose because a friend of mine opened a tattoo shop and needed someone at reception. So I worked at reception and learned to tattoo, and I never looked back.

HMS: That’s incredible. I was going to ask you if you had other artist connections, since most tattoo artists like to draw or paint also.

Tor Abyss: I did draw a lot as a kid and stuff. But I didn’t really follow it up that much as an adult. I basically started everything properly when I started to tattoo. I started drawing again, and got heavily into it. It was a big opportunity, and I was very happy and lucky to get it. I put everything into it. I tattoed myself, then my friends. In the beginning, it’s not about money, since you want to get into the business, and there are always friends who want to get free tattoos. [Laughs]

HMS: [Laughs] Yes, of course. It sounds absolutely terrifying, going from working reception to drawing on peoples’ bodies in a permanent way. You must have to gain some confidence in there between those two points.

Tor Abyss: Well, I could draw. But some people draw their whole lives—I wasn’t like that. But for tattooing, you draw in a different way, and you have to get into that, so that’s what I did.

HMS: It sounds like you had a kind of revelation that the tattooing life could fit well with the music life, and then you could be more financially secure and do what you wanted. It was freedom for you.

Tor Abyss. Yeah. Obviously, as a tattooist, you’re self-employed. It depends on whether you have your own shop or not, and at first I didn’t, but you can still tell these shops when you want to work and when you don’t want to work. Whether it’s two or three days a week, for example. And it’s easy to take time off if you want to tour. And that’s something I had in the back of mind.

HMS: Do you think culture has changed in accepting tattoos? I’ve faced a lot of regulations in terms of work places in my life regarding visible tattoos and the service industry is still affected in the USA. I think it’s getting better…

Tor Abyss: It has improved a lot. Back then, when you walked down the street, everyone was looking at you, maybe even changing their side of the road. But now people come up to you and want to talk about. It probably depends on the state or city in America. In Germany, it’s the same. If you go into the countryside, people look at you, but Hamburg has a history of tattooing anyway, with all the sailors. Here, you go to a grocery store down the road, and you’ll see a girl who’s completely tattooed, neck, hands, everything. Even with implants.

HMS: Yes, it can depend on region, and in the past ten years, a lot more women are getting tattooed now too.

What was the first tattoo that you got, and what was the first tattoo that you gave someone?

Tor Abyss: The first one that I got isn’t one you can see anymore. It was like a demonic Jesus with tribal art around it. I had it tattooed over since I now hate tribals. I always wanted to get tattooed from the age of 14, but I didn’t get one until I was 19 and had the money. Tribal was new back then, and I thought it was cool and timeless, since it wasn’t a picture. But a year later, I thought it was shit! That’s all covered now.

I tattooed myself first, and that was Felix the Cat, and it still looks crap. [Laughs]

HMS: [Laughs] I guess that gave you somewhere to go. When your adorable son is older, how old does he have to be to get a tattoo?

Tor Abyss: You’re not the first person to ask that question! The thing is, I can’t tell you. Times are changing anyway. He’s three now. Usually you have to be 18 in Germany to get a tattoo, though you can tattoo someone who is 16 with the consent of the parents. When he’s 16 and wants to get a tattoo, it depends on what it is, I reckon. If he wants to get his face tattooed, I’m definitely not having that. But whom I am I to tell him?

HMS: Maybe your daughter will surprise you and go first!

Tor Abyss: She doesn’t seem to like tattoos. He’s talking about tattoos already, drawing on his arms and stuff.

HMS: For The Devil’s Breath album, were you involved with the artwork at all, or did someone else do that?

Tor Abyss: Łukasz Jaszak from Poland did that. He’s done three of our album covers. I did the last one, though I wanted someone else to do that. But other people let me down, so I ended up doing it myself. Lucas did the first two sleeves for our record, and we presented him with an idea, and he had to redraw it a few times, because I was a bit picky. The first drawing he did ended up as a cover for the digital single of “The Void”.

We also used it as the gatefold sleeve, since the album was released as a limited edition gatefold also. He did a tremendous job. We told him that we wanted it to be a little bit like the Famous Monsters of Filmland, because I’m a big horror fan as well. We’re not a Horror-Punk band, but we have a lot of influences. We wanted to have a cover that’s quite iconic and I think he did a great job.

HMS: It’s a great cover. The colors are so bright and the design is very classic looking. You’ve invented a new Famous Monster! The gatefold edition is gorgeous, with the vinyl with yellow with red bloodspatter.

Tor Abyss: It was slow to get to the USA due to COVID. And shipping has been really expensive as well.

[Photo credit to Gideon Le Rouge]

HMS: I saw a quote from the writer Charles Bukowski on your Facebook page: “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live."

Tor Abyss: Yes, absolutely. I put that up years ago. I read a lot of his books when I was young. He was always one of my favorites. What he writes is very real. He writes straight from his heart and soul, there’s no sugar-coating. I always appreciated that writing style. It’s a quote I live by. It’s hard to live by that when you’re parents!

HMS: On the other hand, children are crazy.

Tor Abyss: I’m going to have a hard time if they are like me when I was a kid. Oh man. There’s always something new with kids. They are, obviously, so much trouble, but they give so much love back.

HMS: You have double-trouble with twins.

What was this video that you and your wife did, The Psychopunch Lockdown Video? How did that come about?

Tor Abyss: Oh, that was cool. I know the guy who is the singer in Psychopunch. We have a mutual friend who did our video for “Eat Dust” and he did their video for them, also. He had this idea for a lockdown video and asked a lot of people from bands he knew if they would be in it. There’s Dregen in it from Hellacopters, Backyard Babies, the guy from The Bones. He asked me and my wife to be in it, so we got really, really, hammered, and recorded the video.

[Laughter]

We were told: “Here’s the song, here’s the video, just record it. We are just going to cut it.”

HMS: We talked about Lucifer Star Machine videos on our live show, and videos seem to be really important to you. Does it feel different or strange to you to be performing for a video versus performing on a stage, or does it just come naturally?

Tor Abyss: I think, naturally. You know it’s a different think, and it can’t compare to performing live, but everyone in the band has been doing it for a long time, and we are all semi-professional musicians. There’s no hesitation. You just perform. Doing videos is fun, and I do enjoy it. I think it’s a great way to get you music across to a bigger audience. Youtube is a big platform and if it gets shared, you can get a big audience to get to know your music.

HMS: It can also convey an aesthetic for the band in a bigger way, and you can be involved in that.

Tor Abyss: Yes. And we always put a lot of thought into the videos. We don’t want to do just plain performance videos. If you do quite a few videos, you don’t want to do the same every time. We talk things through come up with ideas. We have two guys in the UK who always do the videos for us, with a few exceptions. They flew over for “The Void” and “Baby When You Cry” and shot the videos within two days. They are great to work with, very quick, and know what we want.

HMS: How do you decide which songs will make good videos?

Tor Abyss: We discuss it. It’s sometimes hard, because not everyone has the same opinion, but we just vote. I really wanted to do a video for “Dwell in Misery” since that’s my favorite song. But we are going to do another video soon for “El Camino Real”, which is a cover that we did on the album. That’s one of my favorites. It’s a cover for a late 60’s Rock ‘n Roll song.

HMS: Awesome. I look forward to seeing that. I mean, ideally you would come to America and drive through the desert…

Tor Abyss: YES! That would be the best. But we’re going to try to create an American scene here Hamburg. It’s going to have a Tarantino vibe, like Reservoir Dogs. We’ll definitely get a US car in, and we’ll see.

HMS: What is the story behind you appearing in a Surrealist painting by a friend of yours, Gerhard Novak?

Tor Abyss: [Laughs] Yes, yes. I was surprised by it. He’s a customer of mine who became a friend, and one day he posted the video of that. I was like, “What the fuck??” I think it’s pretty fun. He has now given me the original painting.

[Painting by Gerhard Novak]

HMS: Well, I think that you need to take it to the city art museum and tell them to hang it in the gallery.

Tor Abyss: Maybe one day when I’m famous, I’ll drop it off there. [Laughs]

HMS: It’s pretty cool! Do you have friends in your life who are totally from other spheres, and not involved in music or tattooing at all?

Tor Abyss: Yeah, sure.

HMS: What do they think of all that?

Tor Abyss: It’s like people I grew up with and stay in touch with. They are not tattooed at all. When we were young, we were into similar kinds of music, but they went a different way. I don’t care if people are into the same kind of music. It doesn’t make a person. If you’re cool, you’re cool. If you’re not, you’re not. But music doesn’t define somebody. Maybe there’s more to talk about if you’re into the same stuff, but there’s plenty of other stuff to talk about.

HMS: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the musicians I’ve spoken to say that since it’s their work and their constant focus, they much prefer not to talk about music with their friends.

Tor Abyss: Of course! I do enjoy talking about music, and doing interviews, but it doesn’t mean that’s all I talk about. You’d have to be a narrow-minded person to only talk about yourself all the time. It’s about other people as well, and what their interests are.

I will never get tired of talking about music, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not all I have to talk about.

HMS: Did you have any memories of Tower Records?

Tor Abyss: Oh, yes, I went there when I was in the UK. In Oxford circus, I think.

HMS: Yes, the ones in London, like the ones in the USA, were big places to hang out and learn about music.

Tor Abyss: Yes. Obviously, physical media is so much better than listening to music online. I do like Spotify, and I listen to it in the shop, and it’s a great way to discover new bands. But if I do like a band, then I’m going to buy it.

HMS: You’ve shown us some of your vinyl already. Is that a large collection?

Tor Abyss: I should have a massive collection. Like an entire wall, probably. But I always sold stuff, then bought new stuff, then didn’t buy new stuff for a while. It’s big now, but not massive. I’m collecting again, and though I don’t buy records every day, I do buy records.

Here’s one from New York, Wyldlife. Their album is amazing. One of the best records I’ve heard in awhile.

Then, there’s Twin Temple, who I saw live. “Satanic Doo-Wop”.

HMS: [Laughter]

Tor Abyss: The singer sounds a bit like Amy Winehouse and it’s 50’s and 60’s style Doo-Wop music with Satanic lyrics and stuff. They have a Black Mass on stage. Check them out.

HMS: Nice! I think I've seen some pictures of their performances online.

Tor Abyss: Then there’s The Good, the Bad, and the Zugly. They are from Norway. There are a lot of good Scandinavian bands. There’s one I couldn’t remember that I wanted to say last time, Askvader. They are on the same label as us.

HMS: Oh, we just interviewed them! They came on our show, and they told us to listen to the Hellacopters. And I later saw that you liked the Hellacopters in an article you did, “10 Records to Die For”. I find their music really interesting, and look forward to seeing where they go.

Tor Abyss: Yes, they look like something different than they are, because the cover of their album looks like Viking Metal, but it’s not. And they are really cool. Good band.

HMS: They taught me a term that we didn’t know, “Action-Rock”.

Tor Abyss: Oh yeah, the Hellacopters started that. And a lot of Scandinavian bands call it Action-Rock now.

Like these other guys from Sweden, also on our label, called Drippers, and they even called their album, Action-Rock. And they sound like early Hellacopters. When the Hellacopters started out, they sounded like Punk Rock, but they progressed, and were influenced by KISS, I think. They got more melodic as they went. Their album “High Visibility” is, I think, their best. Sadly, I don’t have it on vinyl yet because it’s quite expensive.

“For the Grace of God” is one I do have, by The Hellacopters. They have been going for ages, and are one of the first Scandinavian artists to mix Punk Rock and Rock ‘n Roll. Obviously, there are bands before that were doing that sort of thing, but they were one of the ones who made it big. Them, Turbo Negro, Gluecifer.

HMS: Does everyone know about them in Scandinavia?

Tor Abyss: Yes, they are really famous. Even here, in Germany, they play big halls. They are not as big as The Rolling Stones, but they are big.

HMS: This is kind of a personal question, I hope not too personal, but I heard that you had some kind of serious surgery in the past couple of years. What happened?

Tor Abyss: Yes, I’ve had a few. I had both my shoulders operated on a few years back, and last year, I had a slipped disc. They cut open here [my throat/chest] and went through and cut out a bit of my spine and then replaced it with metal. The slipped disc was the worst pain I’ve ever had to entire in my entire life. I’d rather have my ribs tattooed by a chimp than ever have that pain again.

[Laughter]

Yes, that was pretty awful, but after surgery the pain was gone. My movement is getting better but I still have to work on it. In the beginning, I couldn’t move my head properly. But at least I’m not in pain anymore.

HMS: What led to having to have the surgeries? Was it from performing music?

Tor Abyss: I think it was from the tattooing, really. When you are a tattooer, you are always [working] in a bad position, and also maybe from stress. You can’t really tell. These things happen. Maybe sometime you lift stuff in a wrong way and then everything together means that shit happens. 

HMS: Was that rotator cuff issues for your shoulders?

Tor Abyss: No, the shoulders, both times were because I fell. I fell the first time when I was walking the dog, and I fell on my straight arm, tearing my tendon, so I needed an operation. The other one was a Rock ‘n Roll accident. Basically, I was playing in England, and I came off stage, and somebody had put a flight case on the floor as a step because the stage was quite high. But he had put it sideways, and I stepped on it, and it went forwards, and I went backwards. The stage was about a meter high, and fell on my straight arm again, and tore a tendon again, so I needed an operation.

[Photo credit to Marcus Luepke]

HMS: Wow. Are you glad you’re not a guitarist because you’d be totally destroyed?

Tor Abyss: Yes, I couldn’t be a guitarist. I’d be completely fucked.

HMS: Well, firstly, I’m glad you’re feeling better, and are presumably okay for live performances when the opportunity arises again.

Tor Abyss: Yes. Thanks.

HMS: Secondly, regarding your voice, did you ever do any training at a younger age to try to keep it from getting damaged by all the performing?

Tor Abyss: I never had training or took lessons. Once I had a mate whose mother was a singing teacher, like for opera singers. I sang some stuff for her, and she said that everything was okay with the way I was doing it. That the way I was breathing and stuff was okay. In the beginning, when we started off, there was more shouting. We don’t do as much shouting these days, and these days I know how to do it so I don’t get hoarse. So it’s fine. Obviously, when you’re on tour for a long time, that’s more of a problem, especially if some drinking is involved.

HMS: It seems like there’s more awareness now about possible voice damage for certain vocal styles, and if you want to keep doing it for a long time, you take more precautions.

Tor Abyss: Yes. I’m a lot more careful than I used to be. When we started off, we were more into all this Rock ‘n Roll bullshit, heavily drinking, and doing drugs. But that stuff is not as important anymore, and the music is in the foreground. Now we just want to perform properly. And everyone in the band is thinking the same way. If you want to perform, and then party afterwards, that’s fine, but not as excessively as we used to.

HMS: It’s good for fans that you’re looking after yourselves.

Tor Abyss: When you’re a Daddy and stuff as well, you think differently.

HMS: You mentioned on our Live show that you consider yourself a Satanist. We only heard a little bit about what you think of it, as a social thing, as a way of life, or philosophy. But you seemed to say that what’s important to you is the “live and let live” idea.

Tor Abyss: If you read about Satanism, and you read the Satanic Bible, everything is open-minded. It was written in the 1960’s and Anton LaVey started the Church of Satan then. It was “treat everyone how you would like to be treated”. It doesn’t matter is someone is gay, that’s their business. And even back then, people said, “How can he say that?” And the Christian Church was attacking gay people back then. The Church of Satan always felt that everyone should be equal and should be treated the way you would like to be treated.

I mean, if someone is an idiot, whatever. The way it was written in the Satanic Bible was quite funny: “Tell him to leave. Tell him again. If he then doesn’t leave, destroy him!”

[Laughter]

HMS: That sounds like a good rule for what to do at a crowded rock concert if someone is trying to cause trouble!

Tor Abyss: Absolutely.

HMS: According to that philosophy, if someone is a different religion, is the idea not to mess with them?

Tor Abyss: It’s their choice. The thing is, Satanism is now a religion in the USA as well. And I don’t know, I don’t think that’s cool because I always saw Satanism as an anti-religion. Now there are important people, and that’s not my kind of thing. I just like the philosophy. I don’t want to follow something that gives you rules rather than guidelines.

HMS: Yes. Thank you. I was going to ask you if you saw yourself as a religious person, or if this is more of a lifestyle or philosophical position.

Tor Abyss: I’m not a religious person at all. I do hate religion. A lot of our lyrics are about that stuff. That you should think for yourself, and believe in your yourself, and not believe in some fictitious god in books that were written many, many years ago. What guidance do they have, you know?

I don’t force this on other people. If people want to know my opinion, I tell them. I write about it, because as a musician you can write about whatever you like. People can take it or not, it’s up to them. I just think that the world would be a better place if people weren’t into all this religious shit. What does religion do? It starts wars, really.

HMS: It certainly creates a lot of divides, rather than bringing people together.

Tor Abyss: Exactly. “Whose god is right? Oh, you’re so lucky, you were born into the right religion. Great.” But if you were born Buddhist, that would be the right religion because your parents were Buddhist. I just don’t understand how some people believe in things and don’t question it.

I’m not in the Church of Satan and I don’t do rituals, or anything. So, I don’t know if I should call myself a Satanist now, really. But I guess I’m more Agnostic. I just don’t know if there is a higher power. Probably not, but we just don’t know, and so I don’t live my life by it.

I think what everyone should do is just try to be a good person. Try not to be a dick. Live your life. Try to accept everyone. You don’t know people, and you can’t judge people by their color or appearance. Try to get to know people and then you can decide if you like somebody or not. That’s all, really. You don’t need religion to tell you that.

HMS: Do you think that music and art can help people relate to each other?

Tor Abyss: Yes, I do. Like I said, I can talk to all sorts of people. They don’t have to have the same musical taste, but obviously it does bring people together. When they get to know each other, when they go to the same gigs and stuff, it does bring people together. Especially Punk Rock! It’s necessary, especially right now.

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