Nevermore interview (10/2003)
|With:||Warrel Dane [vocals]|
On the recommendation of Megadeth's leader Dave Mustaine, Epic records signed fledging Seattle five piece act Sanctuary. Mustaine's faith in the groups ensured that he produced their 1988 debut 'Refuge Denied' [Dave even provides some backing vocals and the guitar solo on the Jefferson Airplane cover 'White Rabbit']. While it attracted a modest amount of attention, 1990's follow up album 'Into The Mirror Black' had a bigger impact on the metal scene, giving them something of an elite cult status.
However, it wasn't enough to hold the band together, and the members went their separate ways. Vocalist Warrel Dane, bassist Jim Sheppard and guitarist Jeff Loomis [Who joined after the completion of their second album] decided to stick together and start a new project, bringing Nevermore into being.
After acquiring drummer Van Williams in 1994, they ventured into the studio with producer Neil Kernon [Judas Priest, Queensrÿche, Dokken]. No sooner had they finished recording their self titled debut, they were signed up by Century Media records, with 'Nevermore' released in 1995. To bolster their live sound, Nevermore recruited second guitarist Pat O'Brien [ex-Monstrosity], and set out on tour with Blind Guardian and then Death [At Chuck Schuldiner's request]. Early 1996 marked the release of the 'In Memory' E.P., with their sophomore effort 'The Politics Of Ecstasy' released later in the year, and the end of their association with O'Brien [Who moved onto Cannibal Corpse]. Former Forbidden member and long-time friend Tim Calvert helped to fill the vacant spot, and helped with the writing of their 1999 concept based masterpiece 'Dreaming Neon Black'.
The relentless and seemingly unending world tour with bands such as Mercyful Fate, Iced Earth and Arch Enemy proved to be a bit much for guitarist Tim Calvert who decided to leave the band in early 2000. Nevermore decided to remain as a four piece when entering the studio with famed producer Andy Sneap to record their most ambitious and critically acclaimed album to date, 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World'. Again, Nevermore went on tour, this time with Arch Enemy, In Flames, Shadows Fall, Opeth, Angel Dust and Savatage.
Three years has since passed, and on the eve of the release of their fifth album 'Enemies Of Reality', I spoke to vocalist Warrel Dane about their new producer, disgusting artwork and comparisons to progressive rock act Queensrÿche!
- Many would have thought that 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World' would be Nevermore's crowning achievement. However, judging by the reaction so far to 'Enemies Of Reality', Nevermore may have achieved what many would have considered impossible. Warrel though, is still waiting for some backlash.
We're getting really good reactions, but I'm still waiting for the bad reviews. There has to be one! [Laughs] I think probably the only bad review we'll get is in our hometown. I mean 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World' got a fucking horrible review in our local Seattle paper. So I'm anticipating that. That would fit in a way I guess, because we're still not conforming to what people want to hear here in Seattle. They're still in what I call 'Post-Grunge Depression'.
- When I suggested that they weren't able to get over the fact that grunge is gone and isn't about to come back in a hurry, Warrel was certainly quick to agree and laugh at the statement. When talk turn to the question as to whether 'Enemies Of Reality' is a theme or concept based album, things take a more serious turn.
What I was trying to do with this record was to avoid the concept, so it's definitely not a concept album. We've done one concept album, and that was 'Dreaming Neon Black'. I have always felt that if we tried to do another concept album it would just kind of take away from that. 'Dreaming Neon Black' is very close to my heart, and is very close to me because it was based on very personal experiences. With this album, there's some very common lyrical themes woven throughout it, but for me, it's more of an experience rather than a concept. I think perhaps you can link all of the songs together because in essence it might be one long song, with different movements. I know the theme 'Enemies Of Reality' keeps coming up over and over again in the lyrics. That was definitely intentional, but it wasn't meant to be a concept. I kind of hope that people can kind of absorb the meaning of it and actually understand it, because I'm very, very happy with the way this record turned out. The production is amazing, and I'm looking forward to touring on this album.
- Obviously Nevermore didn't want to produce a carbon copy proven formula of 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World', but instead allowed instinct to guide them.
This album wasn't something that we really set out to do differently, it's just that we've just been through a lot in the last couple of years. We toured so much for the last record, and we've had problems with the record company that have been very well publicised, and I think the overall tone of aggression on this record is probably more of a by product of our life experiences in the last two years. We had to take it out on something!
- Unbeknown to Nevermore is the fact that along with a few select bands on the scene, they're one of the few acts spearheads the resurgence of thrash and hard rock currently in metal.
I guess so, but we've never been one to follow trends. The current trend right now is really mundane for my taste. I mean I prefer music that has guitar solos. At this point, I think maybe that might be the mission of Nevermore - to bring back the classic guitar solo while still incorporating elements of modern music within that. We certainly have a good enough guitarist to pull that off.
- Obviously the success that preceded 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World' brought along it's own pressure for the band to follow up with something as equally strong, and that's something Warrel isn't afraid to admit played it's part.
Well you know you're always going to feel that element when you're writing a new record. We definitely tried not to make a conscious effort to think about that. If you start letting things like that influence you, then it takes away from your creativity when you're writing songs. For us, we just decided to write this batch of songs, and not even really think about the past. That's how we've always approached things. If you look back at each one of our records, each one has its own distinct character and its own unique sound. That's what we've always prided ourselves on, being able to write records people may not always expect from us. I think we've followed on the tradition with this one.
- One of the first things you notice about the album is its running time of just under the forty-one minute mark, and the mere nine tracks. One could complain the lack of more material, but the optimist will tell you there are no fillers either.
Well we definitely wanted this album to be brutal, unrelenting and to the point as you said. We also wanted to make sure that there weren't any filler tracks on this album either. We really wanted to make a really strong statement. Metal can still be vital, vibrant and ever changing, and that's what we've always tried to do. It was just time for us to really let ourselves out of the box, and really do whatever the fuck we wanted to do. It would have been really easy for us to sit back and create 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World' part two, and maybe perhaps that's what a lot of people expected. In the immortal words of Chuck Schuldiner, 'People should expect the unexpected'. With this band, we're never going to do what people expect of us. We will always trying to moving forward and drive ourselves to create something that's a bit different with each record. We could have played it safe, but where's the fun in that? There's no fun in playing it safe I think. If you really expand the boundaries of what metal is all about right now, I don't think playing it safe is the right approach.
- The track 'Tomorrow Turned Into Yesterday' takes the commercial appeal of 'Believe In Nothing' from Nevermore's previous album and taken the commercial appeal one step further without selling the bands ethics out. But judging on the bands previous experiences in regards to singles, it'll never be heard on radio, or seen on video.
Well of course the European office of our record company has assumed that's going to be the big single. On the last record, we did the video for 'Believe In Nothing' and at the time, the band felt that that wasn't the proper lead off single. We wanted to lead off with a different track off 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World', but we had a lot of pressure from the record company telling us it would be great crossover to the mainstream and very appealing to a commercial market. We had to do that song, or else we wouldn't be able to do a video at all. Looking back in retrospect, I realised how wrong that was. I hope they learned a lesson from that as well, because it didn't cross over into the mainstream like they thought it would, and they should have listened to us! [Laughs] This time around we're doing the video for the title track 'Enemies of Reality', which is just about as brutal and uncommercial as you can get. We'll see how that works this time. I think it's going to work out well! [Laughs]
- Making a video worked in a completely different way too. After the high rotation that 'Believe In Nothing' received, 'Enemies Of Reality' will reintroduce and confirm to fans that Nevermore aren't simply about ballads.
I guess 'Believe In Nothing' is just a different aspect of our sound. We've always been more into the heavier aspect of metal, as well as mixing melancholic and depressing themes in with that. 'Believe In Nothing' was just basically a dark and depressing ballad. I mean, you can only write so many ballads in your career before they start to sound similar to what the others sounded like. Personally, I'm more comfortable doing the aggressive stuff.
- The last couple of years have also brought to light within the media Nevermore's growing frustration with their current label Century Media.
This is currently our last album we owe to Century Media. We have a number of offers that are on the table at the moment, and what we're going to do at this point is just sift through them all and do what ever we need to do as far ensuring our future. We need to decide what is going to be our best decision of the future in the long run. We've been doing this for so many years that we need to secure our future. We're not going to be forced to sign to a label that isn't one hundred percent committed to us. So, with that said, Century Media is still up on the block at the moment. What happens at the end of the day remains to be seen. This album is coming out, and we'll see what happens with that. It's already getting phenomenal press reaction and I think that looking back, every album that we've done has been more successful than the last. At that point, if this album is more successful than the last, then we'll have more bargaining power and we're going to be able to get a better deal. That's what we're looking at right now. I'm not saying that Century Media is ruled out, because they're not. They've actually given us the best offer to resign. There are other things to consider beyond that, and we're just going to do what's best for the band and not what anyone else wants us to conform to.
- One of the hardest working artists on the scene is graphic artist Travis Smith. With his artwork gracing the covers of artists such as Opeth, Katatonia, The Defaced and numerous others this year so far, it isn't surprising to see Nevermore use him once again on 'Enemies Of Reality'.
There's really no concept or idea behind the artwork except that I had given him an advanced copy of the album, and I had sent him all the lyrics. I told him that I would like him to listen to the title track, and come up with something he thought represents the music and the lyrics as purely as he could do it. When he sent me this initial rough draft of the album cover, my jaw just hit the floor. I was repulsed. I thought it was the most hideous and disgusting thing that I had ever seen. Then I saw the beauty within it, and realised it was perfect. It's hard to look at it, because it's so disgusting. But that's nothing. Wait till you see the rest of the artwork! [Laughs]
- One change Nevermore has made is using producer Kelly Gray instead of Andy Sneap.
We actually didn't seek him out. He has a background in doing different forms of music than what we're playing. The situation was that we were going to record in Seattle, and we had wanted to work with Andy Sneap again of course, but he was previously already engaged with Arch Enemy's new album [The soon to be released 'Anthems Of Rebellion']. We were at the point where we had to record the album, because we had been out of the public eye for so long we just couldn't wait. So we decided to record in Seattle, and find a suitable producer here. Kelly was somebody that I had for many years casually. We'd see each other at clubs and whatever. We've always been kind of casual friends. So it was kind of a natural step there, and I think it kind of works out well for us because he brought in a really fresh perspective into everything because he's not used to doing metal bands. He's more in the pop or rock arena, and we're more toward the progressive or extreme power metal side. It was a new thing for him, and it was a new thing for us, and I think it worked out beautifully.
- It's ironic that when reviewing Nevermore's last release 'Dead Heart, In A Dead World', I described it as the sort of direction that Queensrÿche should be going in. The fact that Kelly was the former guitar player for Queensrÿche, and he's producing the latest Nevermore release was lost on Warrel.
You are not alone in that statement actually, because it was said so many times in so many reviews that at some point I just started laughing every time I would read one. I guess that we'd get that because we're from Seattle, and we're kind of in that style. I'm not sure if our music is similar, but Geoff Tate and I both grew up listening to the same kind of records, and have the same influences. So that's pretty amusing. I think that Nevermore always wants to expand and grow and create new sounds and basically fuck with the formula. The thing that Queensrÿche has settled into these days is something that is very safe.
- Although Warrel does mention that the similarities drawn between Queensrÿche and themselves are due to coming from the same city, I assure him that when listening to Nevermore's last couple of releases, progressive elements are evident.
I think a lot of that comes from the fact that our guitarist Jeff Loomis comes from a death metal background, and all of us are listening to different styles of music all the time. I don't just limit myself to listening to one style of music. I listen to a lot of death metal and black metal. Ironically, the one thing that I don't care for too much is most power metal these days. I think everything is just way too happy. I don't think heavy metal is supposed to be happy! I think it should be dark, because that is the way it was born! [Laughs] When Tony Iommi wrote that riff for the song 'Black Sabbath', I think he started something that he didn't realise was going to turn into something of this magnitude. Maybe if you call him up and ask him how he feels about the ten thousand Helloween clones that this form of music has spawned, he'd be nauseous.
- By the time 'Enemies Of Reality' hits the shelves, Nevermore will have released five successful studio albums. But the mere mention of a live album for their next release doesn't exactly seem like the right idea to Warrel at this point in time.
You know that's always been somewhere in the back of our minds, but not really a priority. I think now that we've got five studio albums under our belts now, and perhaps we're going to think about doing that. The time has to be right though, and right now it just doesn't feel like the right time to release a live album. I mean there's so many bootlegs that you can get on the Internet. I'm sure it would be redundant to put out a live album. Other shows are so widely available anyway. Maybe we'll release an official bootleg! [Laughs] What's going to happen when we do this next world tour is that we're going to tape a lot of the shows, document them, and we're all going to bring video cams, so we'll just see what happens there. I don't know, and I can't say for sure, but it would be nice. It feels like the time might be right to start thinking about that. Maybe we'll do one more studio record. We're already starting to write songs for the next studio album anyway, so at least that won't be another three year wait!
- Once again, Nevermore are turning their sights to touring again, with fellow Century Media label mates Arch Enemy once again joining them.
Next week we're doing our album release with a show here in Seattle, and then we have two shows with Type O Negative. We have a bit of a breather, and then we start our full on headlining tour of Europe in September through to October with Arch Enemy. We're just trying to find another support band at this point. There are a number of bands that we're considering. That's going to be great. Arch Enemy's new album ['Anthems Of Rebellion'] is really good. We did a tour in the U.S. last time with Arch Enemy. We made some good friends on that tour, and we're really looking forward to touring with them again. And they've got a hot chick singing for them now! Can you believe that voice comes out of her? I've seen them live, and she is so charismatic as a front woman. When they eventually make their way down to Australia, you're going to be blown away! After that we come back to the U.S. and do a couple of months with this great package tour with Dimmu Borgir, Children Of Bodom, Hypocrisy and ourselves. That's going to be killer!
- What happens after that is anyone's guess, but Warrel assures me that another tour of Australia is not out of the question.
Everything's kind of chaotic at the moment man. After that, the slates clean, so we'll see what happens. We're road dogs. We'll play anywhere that will have us. What I can tell you though is that we're working on coming down to Australia right now. The last tour we down there in 1999, was simply amazing. We had so much fun, and we met so many good people. Everybody down there was just awesome. I really enjoyed the time we spent down there in Australia. Our manager is having talks with a number of promoters down there at the moment. I think it's inevitable that we'll get down there. It'll probably happen at the beginning of next year at the earliest because our touring schedule is pretty much booked out until then.
I would like to personally thank Warrel Dane for his generous time. I would also like to thank Andrew Haug at Century Media Records for making the interview possible.
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