Trauma Awakens-An Interview with Drummer Kris Gustofson

By on April 22, 2023
Photo-Travis Failey

Most bands when they fade away early in their careers never make a comeback but that’s not the case with Trauma. After having their song “Such A Shame” included in the Metal Massacre II compilation in 1982, Trauma signed with Shrapnel Records and released Scratch and Scream. It received high praise with the band hitting the road to try to gain traction in the industry and with the fans and unfortunately they didn’t gain the steam that many other thrash bands did at the time.

After disbanding in 1985, Trauma got the band back together in 2013 and have been active on the road and in the studio releasing Rapture and Wrath in 2015, As The World Dies in 2018 and Awakening, most recently in 2022. Out on the road and with their new vocalist Brian Allen in tow, we caught up with drummer Kris Gustofson as Trauma is opening for Queensryche on their Digital Noise Alliance tour.

Photo-Travis Failey

Travis: Welcome to St.  Pete. Big show tonight and the venue should be packed as it’s Todd and Casey’s hometown. How has the tour been going?

Kris: Oh, it’s been great. You know, a great bunch of guys. Everything’s been going smooth, you know? It’s been really good, man. It went positive.

Travis: Any craziness on the tour at all?

Kris: Not too much.

Travis:  I know you guys are a little bit on the older side, has to be a bit different from back in the day.

Kris: Yeah, yeah, but I mean, it’s all been falling really good, man.

Photo-Randy Cook

Travis:  What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen on this tour in comparison to when you guys used to be on the road 20, 30 years ago?

Kris: Not much, really. I mean, the road’s the road. Except that the roads in the United States now, man, are not in great shape.

Travis: Probably more of a guy-centric-type crowd that you guys have been seeing?

Kris: Yeah. I mean, here in the United States, it seems like it’s…you know, it’s a lot of just, you know, white guys, and anywhere from, you know, 20-year-olds up to 60, 70-year-olds are coming to these shows.

Travis: So what’s the big difference between the shows in the States and shows in Europe? Music like Trauma’s is more predominantly in tune with the people over in Europe. We have our core family of metal fans here but its at a whole other level in Europe.

Kris: I think there’s pockets of metal people who are in the States, obviously. But over in Europe, and that’s where all the big festivals and everything are. So, I mean, it’s like a real popular type of music over there.

Travis: You guys have any tours dates set up over for any of the festivals over in Europe?

Kris: We’re working on some. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get over there in the summer this year. But, you know, there’ll be some stuff coming up.  Last August we just played the Alcatraz Festival. There were a ton of people there. So, it was a blast.

Travis: I’ve been listening to both Scratch And Scream and Awakening and some of the other material that you guys have released. I wasn’t familiar with “Scratch” at all and it’s amazing. Along with Awakening, the guitar work and just the musicianship in general on both of those releases is just incredible. The guitar player that was on Scratch And Scream, was Ross Alexander. What happened to him? After you guys broke up in ’85, the guy disappeared and I couldn’t find anything on the internet on him which is very rare.

Kris: Yeah, a lot of guys just didn’t continue on doing anything with music really. He was 17 when we were together. When we signed with Shrapnel Records, Mike Varney didn’t like one of the other guitar players. So, they used to do these competitions in the Bay Area with drummers and guitar players, everybody. And we went and picked Ross from going to one of these things.

Travis: Was there a major age difference at the time between the rest of the band and Ross

Kris: No, he was, like, 17. I think when we recorded that record I was around 21.

Photo-Travis Failey

Travis: You’ve mentioned signing with Mike Varney and Shrapnel and both Metal Blade and Shrapnel were signing thrash bands at that time. Was Trauma ever close to signing with Brian Sagel and Metal Blade at the time?

Kris: No.

Travis: So getting back to Scratch And Scream, you guys aren’t playing anything from it in the set. Was it tough to leave any of that out?

Kris: No. We got a new singer in Brian Allen formerly of Vicious Rumors after Donny Hillier unfortunately passed away. Brian is more comfortable singing the new music at this point in time. Plus, we’re trying to promote our new album. There’s no reason to promote an album that was done back in 1984. But right now, on this tour, we only play for such a limited amount of time. At some point, we’ll probably start picking some of those to play.

Travis: A lot of the new metal bands prescribe to a clean lead vocal mixed with metal-core type screaming vocals. An example of this would be Crown the Empire. What I like about your band’s sound and style is that I can understand the vocal track.  

Kris: Donny Hillier, the original singer, never sang like that. I’m not a huge fan of it. I mean, I appreciate people who are doing those kinds of vocals but we’re a thrash metal band from the Bay Area. So, we like a singer to be heard and that the listener can sing the words with us.

Photo-Travis Failey

Travis: My condolences on Donny’s passing. I know you guys were very close. He sounded a bit like U.D.O., a little early Joey Belladonna from the early Anthrax stuff with a bit of Dickinson with his own style obviously mixed in. Brian is a little bit more like Halford, but he has his own tone and much more aggression. So, it’s interesting to hear the music on Awakening with Brian in comparison to Donny from the previous records.  Brian’s work on Awakening especially on tracks like “Burn” is stellar.

Kris: Brian has the experience and is a really good vocalist. He’s a great front guy.

Travis: Were a lot of the vocals and the vocal tracks and the lyrics changed once Donny passed away?

Kris: Well, some of the lyrics Donny wrote before he passed away, not all of them, but some of the songs. He’s actually on the album on some of the vocal lines, we left them on there. So, his spirit’s on there, you know, but we had to kind of change it up a little bit for Brian.

Travis: Of course. Different vocal styles.

Kris: The songs were written kind of in the mindset of Donny singing them. But with Brian, he’s got more of an aggressive kind of voice. So, I think the next stuff we do is going to be really…it would be really good.

Travis: Well, you’ll be more cohesive as a band and you’ll be able to get into a room and work together instead of sending tracks to each other by computer and putting songs together during the pandemic while writing for Awakening.

Kris: That was a pain in the ass. Yeah, that was a tough time for everybody, you know? I mean, you know, everybody was on lockdown, especially in California.

Travis: Well I found that the production on Awakening is fantastic. Did the band do a lot of that themselves by Pro Tools or something of that nature?

Kris: No, we sent files back and forth quite a bit, but that was pretty much done by the producer, Juan Ortega. He’s really good in the studio, a lot of ideas, you know, he’s done albums with Testament and many others. So, we kind of had a vision of what to do with it.

Travis: It’s such a full sound and all the different instruments stand out at throughout the album.

Kris: Yeah, he worked his ass off on that album.

Travis: I saw that you were in a band with Frank Hannon for a little bit of time with Tesla. How did that come about?

Kris: We had this band called in San Francisco called Moon Dog Mane. Frank was working with the manager, a guy named Steve Clausman and he had helped Tesla with some of their stuff and we played a gig at the Boardwalk one night, and he brought Frank down. We ended up replacing a few guys and we formed a whole new band with Frank and kept the name and then we started playing a bunch of shows all over the place and got a record deal. It was cool.

Photo-Randy Cook

Travis: After this tour other than possibly doing some tour/festival dates out in Europe if it plays out that way, will you go back into the studio to do the follow up to Awakening?

Kris: Yeah, at some point. You know, I mean, we’re starting to kind of talk about it right now.

Travis: You guys ever think about going out and maybe doing a West Coast roadie by yourselves?

Kris: Maybe. Maybe. We just went out for six weeks doing this. And, you know, it’s time to go home and take care of home life, business-type stuff. But we’ll see what comes around.

Travis: Do you guys all have regular jobs back home, or how’s that working for you?

Kris: I have my own business, but pretty much everybody, you know, does their own thing.

Travis: The music cruise industry is doing big business and I just went on one and it was great. I know you guys played 70,000 Tons of Metal. Would you guys go back out on that and do that again? Was that a good time for you all?

Kris: Oh, it was killer. Yeah, it was great, man. There’s people from around the globe on that thing. A lot of people from South America were telling us, “Oh, you guys need to come over here and play.” You know, at that time, it was…when we did it in 2017, it was Anthrax, Testament were on it. It was great.

Photo-Travis Failey

Travis: Have you guys been getting any kind of airplay on Liquid Metal at all? It seems like that would be perfect for Awakening to be on…

Kris: No, for some reason, and I’ll say it, you know, we haven’t gotten much love from them or Full Metal Jackie. I was hopeful we would, you know, but the powers that be, man, it just didn’t happen.

Travis: Will you get to spend anytime in Florida to relax after the show tonight

Kris: No unfortunately. We have got to fly home, I have got to be at the airport tonight.

Travis: I was hoping you’d have down time here as it’s one of the best times of the year in Florida.

Kris: We all got to kind of get back.

Travis: Well, I want to say thank you so much for spending time with me and Rocket Sports and Entertainment. We wish nothing but the best for you guys and you are both Scratch and Scream and Awakening are now on my regular playlist. I always promote bands that some might not know about to my close friends and people in the industry and hope to see you at the various metal festivals in the future. I really hope that you guys can get picked up by them to attain more success and keep pushing this thing because the music is exceptional.

Kris: Right on. Thank you for the support.

To keep up with all things Trauma, go to their website at

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