Sunday, 22. June 2008

Ensign (Interview)

One of my favourite "old school" Hardcore bands in the late 90s was Ensign. I haven't heard from them in a long time, but a couple of weeks ago I listened to their albums since what seemed like forever and I still liked them a lot. That's the reason to include an interview with Tim I did about 8 years ago when they toured Germany with Grade.

I heard there’s a new EP from Ensign on the way, is that on Nitro Records and what can you tell me about that EP?

Yeah, it’s on Nitro, it’s a new EP that isn’t officially out yet, but we had pressed it up so we could bring it to Europe. It’s got four new songs on it, two of them will be on the new LP which is coming out in February and two that aren’t. There’s some brand new sounding stuff on there, kinda like different stuff for us, there’s a slightly more melodic song on it, and there’a a really really heavy song on there. We kind of wrote these four songs and made sure we had different representations of the new Ensign stuff on this EP. Basically we just put an EP together between the ‘Cast…” record and the new record so kids would have something to get between the last record and this one coming out.

So will these two songs that you were talking about, the ones that are kind of different for you, be on the new full length?

Actually the two songs that are the most different ones on the EP are also going on the LP. They will be re-recorded so they’ll sound totally different, but they’re definitely going on the LP.

So you didn’t record the songs for the EP and the songs for the album in one session?

We went into the studio and recorded four songs to put them separately on this EP and when we get back in October we’re gonna record the LP. Actually in the end of November we’re gonna do the LP.

Do you have a title for that record yet?

Yeah, it’s called ‘The price of progression.’

And where will you record the album, in the same studio(s) that you recorded your previous albums?

It’s the same place but it’s a different producer. This guy Steve Evetts is the guy we’ve always used to work with. Unfortunately he can’t work with us this time because he’s got to do the new Sepultura record, so we got this guy Eric who taught Steve how to do like mixing and stuff, so Eric’s doing the new record for us. I hope it will sound just as good.
Will the Sick of it All guys help you out on this record again?

Actually probably not this time around because we’re both really busy like they’re just gonna release their new record and they’re gonna be on tour a lot and we’re finishing our record, so I mean we haven’t seen each other a lot this year because they’ve been away and then we’ve been way. I’m hoping that when the records are out I hope we maybe might go out and do the US with them.
Is this collaboration with Sick of it All mutual, like Lou Koller did backing vocals on your last record and are you going to do backings for them or did you do so in the past?

I sang on backups on almost every Sick of it All album, I mean since like ‘Just look around’ I sang backups, except for ‘Built to last’ which they recorded in California, but everything else I had backups on.
You have a new drummer…

Yeah, he’s the guy who just left the van, haha.
Why did Ryan Murphy leave the band?

Well, what did happen was unfortunately for Ryan, he had a lot of messed up stuff happen at home, not his home in Seattle but when he lived in New Jersey. A lot of stuff happened in his personal life that really left like a bad taste in his mouth, you know what I mean. He didn’t enjoy living on the East Coast anymore because of all the messed up stuff that happened so he really wanted to move home to Seattle, and so progressively as the tours went on, he just more and more wanted to go home and then me and him started not to get along so well because I was really full into the band and he was like thinking other things. Before the last European tour we did he was like ‘This is gonna be my last tour’. So when we were in Ireland we met John our new drummer who was driving us around and we asked him if he wanted to come and try out to play for us and it kinda worked out.
Is he Irish?

Yeah, he’s from Belfast.
Does the rest of you guys also have Irish origins?

Yeah, it’s pretty cool, like to have an actual Irish guy in the band, we’re just like a bunch of American Irish guys like running around like we’re from Ireland, but it was really cool ‘cause last year was the first time ever we went to Ireland and it was pretty exciting like to play shows over there. We’re going back at the end of this tour, it ends up in Ireland. I’m pretty excited about it.
How many generations are between the US and Ireland for you?

Actually my great-grandparents came over from Ireland and everyone else is like a few generations between.

Did you meet any relatives while you were in Ireland?

No ‘cause they all live way down south and we toured up north.
Quite a while ago you left Indecision Records and went to Nitro Records, why that change?

There are a lot of reasons why changed labels. Most importantly I think the main reason why we left Indecision was that we as a band started to grow, not that we were getting really really big or anything, but as we started to tour more, like we toured eight or nine months in one year, what would happen is we would have to take some much Indecision resources and we would have been the one band that Dave (Dave’s the guy who runs Indecision) would have to put all his money into and we felt that instead of helping the label we were hurting the label because all his time was spent with us. So we decided ‘Maybe we should leave the label’ and hopefully his label can grow and he gets putting out more stuff which is what happened when we left the label, he had five or six records to put out. I mean Indecision is an amazing label, they’re a really great hardcore label, and Dave never put out a bad record. It was a hard decision to make but I guess we just felt that if we didn’t leave we could do more harm to Indecision, we didn’t want that, so we just had to go.
So Dexter Holland is your new boss, haha?

Yeah, he’s my boss, haha. You know, I’ve only ever met him like a couple of times. Honestly it’s his label but he’s in the Offspring and that’s a full time job and that’s where he can make all his money. He’s on tour like all year long, so there’s a group of people who work at Nitro and actually run the label. You know, everyone always thinks when you walk in there’s Dexter hanging out. I’ve met him like three or four times and he’s really nice, he’s like ‘Hey, how is it going?’, but it’s not like I call the label and he answers the phone. He’s not ever really there so much, but it’s a core group of people who actually run the label.
But does he still decide which band is on the label and which isn’t?
Yeah, he’s like ‘I want to sign this band, I want to sign that band.’ I guess he has like the final approval which band gets signed.
Did you think that some of your fans could dislike that change, because there’s so much gossip in the hardcore scene I think, and people could say ‘Oh, they’re on the Offspring label, they're sellouts’?
Originally I thought maybe we’d get some shit from some kids, but the truth is we didn’t get any. People never even said anything. A few kids said like ‘Oh man you guys sold out’ and we were like ‘Why don’t you listen to our next record?’. That was before ‘Cast the first stone’, and when you heard it then you can say we sold out. But when the record came out no one could say that because it wasn’t much different, it was heavier but it wasn’t much different than the first record. It wasn’t that we signed to Nitro and we had like tourbusses, it’s exactly the same than before. So no one really gave us any shit, and if they gave we were just like ‘We didn’t make a mistake’. The people that might have walked away from us never obviously liked the band.
I think people often go ‘Hey, that’s my band, you are not allowed listening to them.’
Yeah, that’s a problem with a lot of hardcore kids, they’re like ‘That’s my band’ and if other kids start liking them they’re like ‘I don’t like them anymore, that’s not my band.’ There were times in my life when I was guilty of that, too. But now I try not to be that way. If the band’s really good then I want as many people to hear them as possible. Just ‘cause we’re in the hardcore scene, why should we have all the good bands?
Another question that’s in that direction: I heard that H2O are on a major label right now, would you say that’s good or bad?

Well I don’t see any problem with that in general, but lost of people seem to think ‘Well that’s not hardcore anymore’…I think a band has to do what a band thinks is right. Like H2O, I know these guys, and they made a decision that they really needed to make to maintain being a band. Look at it this way: Sick of it All was on a major label and I still consider them as a hardcore band. In considered them as a hardcore band when they were on a major label. I don’t think that for the most part major labels understand how to handle hardcore and punk bands, but I’m not saying that if bands wanna try it shouldn’t try. I know a lot of people don’t like them, but I think Blink 182 is a really funny melodic punk band. I think they’re really good, their songs are really catchy, and a major label worked for them. They’re huge and on a major label. But it might not work for all bands. I definitely wouldn’t work for us. If Ensign was on a major label, they wouldn’t know what to do, and we wouldn’t know what to do, but I don’t necessarily think it’s bad. Well I think one of the main problems with major labels is that they don’t know how to work for a hardcore band.
Just consider Jimmy Eat World, they’re such a great band, and when the were on a major label, their records were not available in Europe.
I think that’s like the problem. Certain bands try it and it just doesn’t work, but it may work for other bands. It all depends on the circumstances.

On an early 7” by Ensign, ‘Fall from grace’…
Oh oh, haha…
Obviously you’re not satisfied with that 7“?
No, I hate that 7”.
Why, because of the sound or the songs or whatever?

Yeah, the sound… You know, when we recorded that 7” I was sick and you can hear that with my voice. And we had a real bad experience recording it, the guy who ran the studio where we recorded it was really an asshole. The songs on it, like the Insted cover, I really like, but the sound sucks, haha.
You mentioned the Insted cover on that 7”, why did you choose ‘Wel’ll make the difference’ and Insted?
I don’t exactly know how we chose Insted, we were just going through bands we wanted to cover, and we were like ‘What about Insted?’ For me, you know when we picked that song, the lyrics are so simple, it’s only like three lines repeated over and over again but it’s so to the point of how I feel about hardcore and punk, it’s a very basic ideology of this type of music, as a group of people we could actually make a difference in the world. The song is very to the point, about what the basis of the scene is about, a bunch of people who come together with the same ideals and hopefully trying to fix some of the things that we see as wrong. But most of that never happened because the hardcore kids seem to be too busy going to the computer and talking shit about each other instead of actually observing what’s really going on.
Is that also what your lyrics are about?

Yeah I mean there’s a couple of songs. I really can’t stand the pettiness in the hardcore scene, I can’t stand the fact that kids are more wrapped up in how they look and what the coolest trend is and who sold out and who did this. For example, on this tour, we played this festival the other day which was called an Animal Rights festival. Bands were like Highscore and five or six others. I was really excited to play this festival, ‘cause everyone’s supposed to talk about animal rights and it’s really be cool, but when we got there no one talked about animal rights, everyone was more interested in the distros and buying records and talking about their hair, and this and that. I was really upset. When we played everyone left. There was probably like 250 kids in the beginning and then by the time when we were playing there were about 100 kids there and I was just like ‘This is not what it’s supposed to be’ but that’s about the whole basis why I got so frustrated with the hardcore scene, because it’s an animal rights benefit, everyone should be like…if you’re there, you should be concerned about it, and the bands should at least say something lie ‘Thanks for coming to this animal rights benefit bla bla bla.’ That’s what we believed. But no one said anything. I got really frustrated about it, there was just no message to the festival.
Yeah, seems it was just a normal festival under the animal rights banner.

Yeah, it was just a reason for kids to come and buy records, watch Highscore and then leave. But Highscore is really good, haha.

Talking about your song ‘Pale horse’, you re-recorded it for the ‘Cast the first stone’ album. Why did you do that, is that a very special song for you?
That’s pretty much the Ensign song. For me and Nate that’s the song that kind of like changed everything for the band. When we wrote that song we realized which direction we wanted to head and it was the first time that I really felt that I got the lyrics right, like I said what I wanted to say and it came out exactly right. And we felt that when we went to Nitro we knew that out records would reach more kids and a lot of them would be hearing us for the first time, and we didn’t want that song to get lost ‘cause it only was on the first 7”. So all the new kids who can’t get the first 7” would never know about that song. So we figured if we put out a new record we could keep the song as an important part of the set and that’s kinda why we rerecorded it.
Is that also the last song on each show?

It used to be, but now it’s like somewhere in the middle. Just to like confuse everybody, haha.
How about this tour, how do you like it?

In fact it’s the best tour of Europe we’ve ever done. There’s been a lot of really fucked up stuff like shows falling through and getting cancelled last minute and stuff, but the shows we’ve played…we’ve been over here for like nineteen days, and out of those about two shows have been bad and seventeen have been really good so I can’t complain about that, it’s been really awesome. Last night we played this place in Italy, we walked in and the place held like 2.000 people, the stage was like 8 feet high and we were just like ‘Oh fuck.’ But about 300 kids showed up. It still looked strange, but you know, 300 kids is really good, and it was really fun, you know, Fugazi played there and sold out 5.000 people. But I mean this tour’s been really great.
And how is life on the road, I guess sometimes it’s really hard travelling around in a small van and stuff…
You know, sometimes it’s just like counting the days, like five more weeks til we get home. Last night we had to leave right after the show and our driver had like 15 hours to drive. 15 hours in this van is just like ‘Oh God’, but then you play an awesome show and can see your friends and this is why we do it. I don’t necessarily miss home, but I have a girlfriend to whom I’m getting married to next year and that’s what I miss. In the US she sells merch for us and at the end of this tour she’s flying over, it’s not so bad, but that’s what I miss, I miss people, if I could have my girlfriend with me all the time I would never have to go home.
So when she’s flying over, will you try to see some places in Europe?
No, she’s gonna come in the van and go to shows, she’ll be there for Ireland, we’ll have four days off, so she’ll get to see stuff in Ireland. I’m hoping that whenever we have time off…our driver’s from Prague, and I’m trying to bring her over to Prague ‘cause she’s never seen it, like the Czech Republic, just places I’d like her to see and I that I think she would like, like Barcelona and all these really nice places. It’s weird, you go there with eight of your friends, and we were in Venice the other day, and it’s romantic, but it’s not romantic when I’m with like eight other guys, haha. You know it’s romantic if I’d be there with my girlfriend, and I’d like to bring her here someday, but I don’t have the money, haha.
Maybe with the record record.

Maybe I’ll rob a bank, haha.
Earlier on this interview you said that last year you were on tour for about eight or nine months, I guess when you’re on the road for such a long time you don’t have the time to have any other jobs apart from the band, right?
I work at a record label at home, Go-Kart.

Oh yeah, the last Down by Law album came out on that label.

Yeah. I do all the layout stuff for them. My boss is really cool. This is the first extensive tour since I started working there. But last year we came home from like eight months of touring and none of us had jobs. I live in New York City and it’s really expensive, and I was like ‘Oh shit I’ve got to find a job.’ And I couldn’t find one, and I was really scared because I was running out of money. And then luckily my friend Greg who runs Go-Kart said ‘Come work for me.’ So it’s really hard, you have to find someone who’s willing to understand that you tour a lot but that when you’re there you want to work. You know, no one in this band is lazy, no one wants to go home and just sit around. We’re all people who need to be doing stuff, so even if we could I don’t think we would like go home and not work. I think everyone would try to do something. You know, going from touring to nothing is really boring.
And the layout work you’re doing for Go-Kart, did you go to a special school to learn these kind of things?
No, before Go-Kart I worked for another label called Blackout, and the guy who runs Blackout (his name’s Bill), he taught me all the basics of layout. I’m not the best, by far not the best, but I learn a little more every day, so eventually I hope to be fairly professional. It’s good because it’s like I graduated from school, and you know, I’m older, I’m 30, so when I graduated from college computers still weren’t as much of a priority as they’re now, you know. So I gained these skills on my own, and that’s really important, because if you don’t really know about computers you’re kinda lost these days, so I taught myself a lot and I’m still learning more.
Will you play ‘Where did we go wrong’ tonight?

You’re not going to???

Ok, I’m leaving, haha.
We only got to practice a certain set, because we had to fill in a bassplayer on this tour, and he can only learn a handful of songs. We only ever played that song once or twice, it’s basically my fault because I always messed up the timing, so I didn’t want to play it anymore, haha. You know at every show kids are like ‘Play this song’ and we’re like ‘We can’t, sorry.

Saturday, 21. June 2008

Bolt Thrower (Interview)

I first started listening to Death Metal back in late 1989 / early 1990 when bands like Entombed, Dismember, Morbid Angel, Grave etc. all came up with their debut albums. I was completely blown away by the energy of the bands and the freshness of the music. For about two or three years I was basically listening to Death Metal exclusively (some exceptions included Bad Religion (of course) and Hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits or Judge). Unfortunately record labels signed virtually every band that claimed to play Death Metal, and due to the release overkill I kinda got bored and annoyed with all those crappy bands that followed along. To this day, I still prefer the old classics and check out new albums by my old favourites, but I don't follow newer bands much. One of my favourite bands - among the ones mentioned above - was Bolt Thrower from the UK. Even on their very first album "In battle there is no law" they came up with a highly original sound that they stuck with over the years (of course they perfected their crushing sound). Classic albums like "Realm of chaos" (the first one I bought), "War master", "The fourth crusade" and so on followed and I was amazed by the brutality and crushing wall of sound Bolt Thrower delivered on all of their records. Not only did they influence tons of other Death Metal bands, but I would also dare say that they were a major influence for all the MetalCore bands around. Just look at Heaven Shall Burn who did a cover of "The fourth crusade" and named their first album "In battle their is no law". Bass player Jo Bench was kind enough to answer our questions, and even though this interview is a bit older (it was done after "Those once loyal" came out) I think it's still worth a read.

Hey Jo, thanks for asnwering our questions! Expectations were high after Karl rejoined the band. Did you feel some kind of pressure when you were working on the new songs?

Thanks very much. Yeah, we were aware that people would expect a lot with Karl rejoining, but we put that to the back of our minds. We just write for ourselves first and foremost and I think that we’re probably the hardest people to please. As long as the 5 members are all happy with the songs then that’s the main thing for us, if anyone else likes it then that’s a bonus.

Was it clear that you would ask Karl to rejoin when Dave Ingram (formerly of Benediction) left the band or did you think about other candidates as well? Was there even a moment when you thought about calling it quits?

We did think about the options – should we get someone famous from another band? Should we give an unknown a chance? We had quite a few offers, but the best option was always to ask Karl. Obviously we had hoped that Dave would stay in the band until the end, but there was always the thought there that Karl might come back, and luckily that was realised. No, we never thought about calling it quits. Never. The band means too much to us to let one person bring it to an end.

You´re one of those bands that have a very unique style. Some people even call you the “AC/DC of Death Metal”. Do you often have ideas during the songwriting process that absolutely don´t stand for Bolt Thrower? Do you sometimes think about doing something completely different that nobody would expect?

The AC/DC of death metal? Haha… well I guess we’ve been called worse! There are times in the songwriting when Baz will play us a riff and we’ll say “ yeah, it’s great but it just isn’t Bolt Thrower”, and it will get scrapped. Also there are riffs that were originally written a while ago and we thought they were too ‘advanced’ then, but they ended up being re-written and used on later albums. It’s important to us to keep on the same path musically, too many bands have strayed and lost what they originally were and we vowed from day one not to let that happen with BT. We make no apologies for that.

Bolt Thrower is one of the longest running Death Metal bands around. I mean when I started listening to Death Metal you put out "Realm of chaos" and now we have 2005 and you're still here. What makes you continue the band and play this kind of sound after all those years? Are you still in contact with some of the bands/people you met along the way in the early days just like the guys in Entombed or Pestilence?

Yeah, those 20 years have sure gone fast! We always knew it was about survival in this business, we never initially aspired to be a certain size or last a certain amount of time. We just said we’d continue to do what we do without compromising for as long as we still enjoyed it and other people enjoyed it. Luckily we’re still here and still enjoying it, so we feel very fortunate. There’s no deep explanation I can give as to why we’re still doing this, it’s purely because we’re into the music and we’re into Bolt Thrower. No, we’re not really in contact with the bands from the early days, a lot of them are either split up or doing other things. It would be cool to catch up with some of the guys though..

Bolt Thrower is not a band that puts out records every year, so I wonder what you guys are doing between records to pay the rent and stuff. Which kinda jobs do you have and how do you handle this when it comes to extensive touring?

We have times when we can live off the band and there are also times where we can’t. A couple of the band own their own homes and have kids, etc so have to get the odd crappy job now and again to make ends meet. Luckily they are also committed enough to give these up when there is band stuff to do.

I heard that Karl Willets did actually re-record the vocals for "Honour Valour Pride", the only album that featured Dave Ingram. Is this true? And will you ever put out these recordings? I'd love to hear Karl on these songs.
Karl re-recorded the HVP vocals as a demo to warm up his voice for the new album. We were originally going to do just 2 or 3 songs but we ended up doing the whole album. It came out great, but we don’t have any plans to release it. Dave did a good job and we don’t want it to be detrimental to the original recording. We might put another track up sometime on the website, we’ll see..

What do you think when you look back on the old days of Death Metal? I mean I grew up with Death Metal in the late 80s/early 90s and I still remember those days when I wrote to all kinds of people to get ahold of the rehearsals by Repulsion or demos from Massacre etc.? Nowadays with the internet there's lots of this classic stuff available just a click away and I have the impression that the tape trading scene is almost completely dead. What do you think when you look back on "the old days"?

I come from the same scene and I remember those days fondly. They were good times and I heard a lot of great new music through tape-trading. Yeah, I’m sure those days are long gone, which is kind of sad and the internet makes it a lot easier nowadays. I still miss those days of getting the parcel through the door with the Sindrome (Yeah, "Into the halls of extermination" rules! - Stefan) or Morbid Angel demos inside, damn, I must be getting old.. haha..

Did you know that Bolt Thrower is not only considered as one of the most popular and influential Death Metal bands but that you're also held in a very high regard in the Hardcore scene? I mean lots of bands with a Hardcore background play more or less pure Metal these days and very often they are heavily influenced by Bolt Thrower musically. Are you aware of that and do you keep in touch with today's Hardcore?

Yeah, I have been told this actually, and it’s an enormous compliment. We ourselves came from a punk/hardcore background and because of that I think it means more to us to be an influence to Hardcore bands than it is to the death metal bands. When we started out we had no desire to sound like anyone else, there was no death metal scene, we were playing to punks, crusties, metallers, etc, and the scene came later. It’s cool to be influenced by bands but it’s cooler to be original. I do read up a lot on the what’s happening nowadays, but I must admit that I haven’t heard a lot of the new bands around now.

Are you aware of the enormous influence on Metalcore bands like Heaven Shall Burn?

Yes. We’ve played with HSB a couple of times now. They’re a great live band and very cool people. It was interesting to hear their IVth Crusade cover, it reminded me of how Bolt Thrower would’ve sounded if Martin Van Drunen had recorded with us.

What is your opinion about Games Workshop nowadays? I mean they had a cool cover art for "Realm of chaos", but afterwards you had a couple of problems with them, right? So I was wondering if you're still into roleplay and stuff these days?

Games Workshop originally wanted to sign us to their record label, but we didn’t want to get that heavily involved so we opted for the Earache / Games Workshop collaboration which worked out well. There was an issue with the fee of the "Realm of Chaos" cover, but they’re a huge company and obviously had a vested interest in it. No, we wouldn’t work with them again, unfortunately the boss who originally contacted us left the company some years ago so we kind of lost interest in them. I personally never played the roleplay stuff, that was more Karl, Whale and sometimes Gav, and they haven’t played for some 15 years or so...

What did you think when you heard that John Peel died? I mean I can remember that he played Bolt Thrower a lot on his radio show back when "War master" came out (I still have the tape with the radio show where John Peel announces "A fine new track by Bolt Thrower called 'Destructive infinity'" that no other than Karl Willets himself sent me in 1990 or so), and I think that he played an extraordinary role in promoting extreme music, so what are your thoughts about John Peel?

The whole band was deeply saddened by his death. It was a complete shock. It was due to his first radio session that Bolt Thrower got their first record contract, so he was very much an influence on what happened to the band later on. We met him once, he came to a show with his wife and kids, you couldn’t meet a more genuine, humble person. He did more to promote new music than all the record labels and music press put together and he will be very sorely missed. There sadly will never be another.. RIP John.

That´s it! Thank you very much for your time!

Thanks a lot for the interview. We appreciate the support a lot. Hope to see you on the tour! Cheers.
“In a World of Compromise…. Some don’t

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