Nervecell interview (06/2011)
|With:||Barnaby "Barney" Ribeiro|
|Conducted by:||Nefarious (in person)|
Fans familiar with the Arabian metal scene will know Nervecell well. Based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, they have been unleashing their brand of Death / Thrash metal upon the masses for almost a decade. Just back from a mini tour of Asia supporting their newly released second album "Psychogenocide", I recently managed to sit down with my good friend, Barney Ribeiro, and find out what he's been up to.
Hi Barney, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. For the benefit of our readers here at Metal Storm who may be unfamiliar with your music, can you tell us a bit about the history of the band & the style of music you play?
Barney: Nervecell is a Dubai based Death / Thrash Metal band that's been around since 2000. Being the only original member since back then it's been a rollercoaster of a ride, being the only band from the Middle East playing extreme music and having such a sustainable growth over the last decade. We've pretty much made history with the things we've achieved and done as Nervecell, releasing albums, touring the world and just raising the torch for extreme music in this part of the world!
Congratulations on the release of your new album Psychogenocide. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Barney: Thank you, Psychogenocide is the band's second full-length album and came out May 2nd 2011 via Lifeforce Records in Europe and via Spellbind Records in the Middle East earlier on April 30th. I'd like to think that we've kept the aggression in the music of Nervecell on Psychogenocide, but we definitely have a lot more faster paced songs on this record. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that we wrote most of the music considering the live aspect of the band. We had toured a whole lot in support of our previous record Preaching Venom and when we came back to write new music we were more focused and experienced as we learnt a lot from the past tours about how we wanted the new tunes to stand out on the record. To me it's a more brutal record, a few melodies are still in there, but it's a lot more technical and filled with dark passages throughout the songs. I think with Psychogenocide being our second record we've developed our own sound today and have proved to the masses that we're serious and certainly here to stay, keeping the music heavy with no compromise!
Did the recording process go smoothly?
Barney: Yes it did, we were honestly mentally prepared to go into the studio for 6 weeks and basically just complete the recording of the album, all we did was work on the song arrangements for 2 whole months before that, so when it came to recording we knew exactly how to get the job done in a timely manner, meeting the deadlines with the labels and the mixing and mastering studio schedules in Poland, the album release dates etc.! And that's exactly what we did. We literally slept in the studio for that entire period.
Psychogenocide is a follow up to your debut album Preaching Venom that was released in 2008. The album has the same unmistakable Nervecell sound, but it feels like the band has matured musically on this record. How has your sound evolved/progressed from Preaching Venom?
Barney: That's very true, the music is a lot more mature in the sense that the songs are a lot more diverse. I think the mood of the album too has a very strong role. You can have fans of many sub-genres all find something in common there which is cool. I guess we grew as musicians too, I know that when we were writing the music for Psychogenocide we were aware that we were experimenting a lot more on this record but it was something we felt very confident in doing. The music is still very solid and technical but we wanted to have a few twists and do something new and unexpected, so we decided to include non-traditional metal instruments such as the Oud and Arabic drums for example, even the idea of featuring Karl Sanders and doing the track "Shunq" with Arabic vocals were all examples of the measure we were eager to try out with the band. Overall we wanted to write a groovy yet brutal album, but not at all drift away from the style of metal we play, which is old school Death / Thrash metal with subtle hints of Middle Eastern vibes within the riffs and melodies.
Nervecell: Rami H. Mustafa (Guitar), James Khazaal (Vocals & Bass), Barney Ribeiro (Guitar)
You have just finished shooting the music video for the song "Shunq (To The Despaired…King Of Darkness)" with Karl Sanders from Nile. Tell us about that experience. What was it like working with Karl?
Barney: It was a wonderful experience simply because of the fact that Karl is such a professional in his art. When you work with someone like him who has been in the business playing extreme metal for 20+ years you also walk away learning a lot! He got along with us very well and is a very patient dude for being able to come all the way to Dubai to work on the video with us. Of course, we being fans of Nile for years were excited to have him in our company. Just knowing that he himself totally loved the track was a very humbling feeling. We had a fantastic time and there were many fond memories being able to do that track with him. When it came to recording the video for "Shunq" it was more like a fun day out in the desert with Karl! We worked our asses off and we're glad that Karl took the initiative to work with us on the track and make history in Death metal by having him collaborate with Nervecell in putting out the first death metal song to feature both English and Arabic lyrics…he was the best guy to work with to get the job done!
What was the impulse behind incorporating Arabic into the lyrics? Whose idea was it?
Barney: It was entirely James's idea, we thought about it and said we have bands from all over the world, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Norway, India, China etc all playing metal but very rarely do you hear them sing in their own language. So we thought maybe we could give it a shot without worrying about how funny or weird it may end up sounding, unless we give it a shot we would never know. So James had a few lyrics put together and when we heard how the Arabic vocals sounded over the music we were convinced quite instantly that we should damn well do it.
What is your favorite song from the new album and why?
Barney: The 9th track on Psychogenocide which is "Driven By Nescience" simply because its one of those songs you appreciate more after a couple of listens. I think going back and seeing how we wrote this particular track was very complicated and stressful, but hearing the track now I see the reason why we took so long in composing the song as well. It was one of the last songs we were completing for the album, so Rami and I wrecked our brains over writing it. It's one of the most technical songs on the album if not the most, what's also special is that it stands out from every other song on the album. It has some of the best brutal riffs combined that we've written and some really clever transitions too. 90% of the time whenever I hear it I just feel the need to wanna punch somebody or something and smile.
The album cover artwork is pretty interesting. How does the artwork tie in with your music and lyrics on this album?
Barney: It perfectly represents the lyrics and compliments the content of what we are talking about in Psychogenocide. It's an intense record with a dark mood, a lot of the aggression in the music is fueled by the ignorance of the world we live in today. Bjorn at Killustrations is a fantastic artist and he perfectly designed the art to speak for itself with regards to the topics of brainwashing, mass manipulation and the conditioning of the human mind by those in power.
What has been the initial reaction to Psychogenocide so far?
Barney: Well Preaching Venom did exceptionally well for us, so Psychogenocide naturally was a very anticipated release for the fans. Usually when bands put out their second full-length most critics are ready to note the progress or changes in the band's style, I think with Psychogenocide we've maintained a sound of our own and still hold our ground with the mix of Death and Thrash metal style that we have. We knew within the band that both the production and the musical compositions itself on Psychogenocide were a definite step up in comparison to our previous releases. So far the reactions have been splendid and the majority of the reviews we've got back have been extremely positive stating that we are on the right track with where we are heading being a modern extreme metal act.
The metal scene in Dubai has fluctuated over the years, and is fairly small compared to most countries, with very few opportunities for extreme metal bands to gain exposure & showcase their talents. Many Dubai based metal bands have come & gone in the last few years, so how were Nervecell able to succeed where others haven't?
Barney: Simple, we are and always have been true to our music and more importantly we don't go around making a big noise about it. We do realize metal is not for everybody, but we do very much appreciate it when the fans come out to the shows and buy our merch and generally support the band in any way possible! It's common tendency in Dubai to get ahead of yourself when you're in a band or in general when success is on your side, however with us, we have always been fans of metal music and I believe that is what kept us grounded! When I started Nervecell, I knew well enough that I was getting into this sort of music not as a trend, but because it's what gets me going, to be on stage and share that adrenaline with the fans is something I still to date get a kick from, that feeling hasn't changed a single bit since our very first gig as Nervecell back in 2001. The difference between us is that we do this out of pure passion regardless if times are bad or good, it's what makes us feel strong and confident.
Only you and James actually live in Dubai. With Rami living in Qatar and your session drummer, Louis, based in Australia. Has this distance ever been an issue?
Barney: It's an ongoing issue, but it's not stopped us from pursuing our dreams of being a full-time touring band. Fortunately we have been able to go ahead in the last 4 years releasing albums, touring the world and having to deal with members who are not physically together, but still pull off all the hard work in between because of the dedication we have towards the band. So yeah, it is an issue, but it sure as hell isn't going to stop us from continuing on.
What equipment do you use?
Barney: Initially I used to religiously play Ibanez Guitars, but ever since 2008 I've switched onto ESP LTD Guitars. I currently use the LTD DELUXE H1001 and my backup Guitar is an MH 50. I'm endorsed with EMG pickups and I also have an endorsement with Madison Amps, which I'm extremely proud of and satisfied with for my Guitar tone!
What can people expect at one of your live shows?
Barney: Just pure aggression on stage and a lot of chaos in the pits, we like to see the fans break free and we make sure everybody's taking care of each other!
You have just returned from a brief tour of Asia, playing at the Pulp Summer Slam Festival In Philippines alongside thrash legends Anthrax, followed by headlining shows in Sri Lanka & playing at the Deccan Rock Festival In India alongside Decapitated. How did it go?
Barney: Really good actually, we've been to Sri Lanka and India before and it's always great to go back and play to the fans there again, especially since we have the new album out too. This Asian tour was also cool because we had a good mix of club shows and festival appearance as well which was exciting since we also got to play the more intimate shows in clubs. It was our first time ever to play in the Philippines, which was where we started the tour and man that was insane indeed. Not only because it was alongside Anthrax and Death Angel, but because it was our first time there and we were going out to perform to 25,000+ people! The majority of which were going to see us for the first time. So it was an awesome feeling to be the only death metal band on that bill and to be making our debut performance to that many people was a great opportunity for us and one that we totally took advantage of. It was one of the most memorable gigs we've had in our career!
You have had the opportunity to play alongside such bands as Suffocation, Vader, Deicide, Sepultura & Cannibal Corpse, as well as playing at large festivals such as Brutal Assault, Rock AM Ring & Wacken. Could you have ever imagined that when you first started Nervecell?
Barney: Well imagining was all I ever did, I always dreamt about reaching that far because it was very motivating to see videos from those festivals and know that as a metal band if there were a few places in the world where you must perform at or be a part of then Wacken for example would be one of those key essential places where all metal heads at some point of their lives must be. I, being a fan of metal music would have made an effort to go there but I'm so thrilled by the fact that it was my music that brought me there! I mean being a Middle East based band, one can only imagine how hard it is for us to get recognized but it never intimidated us because we knew that through dedication and commitment to our music we could achieve something, even if it meant getting our music played overseas and developing a fan base as far out as possible. Fortunately for us we worked really hard and continued to keep the band alive regardless of the limitations around us to reach where we are today, and it's such a wonderful feeling to see that all paid back! Even if Nervecell didn't pick up as it did over the last 5 years in our musical journey I'm sure we would still be the same dudes, all we did was try and things worked out for us gradually.
What has been your most memorable Nervecell live show or tour?
Barney: Well for me the most memorable live show would be Wacken 2009 because it was special in itself. Also playing Rock AM Ring on June 5th 2009 since it was my birthday and also it being our first ever-German show! As far as tours go I would have to go with the Suffocation Tour we did in 2010 entitled "Legacy of Blood Tour", that was memorable for so many reasons…all the killer bands we were on tour with, the non-stop partying, the endless amounts of booze, just all the band's getting along with each other and the crew and of course the very simple fact that we were on the road with the best brutal, technical death metal band ever!
What is the funniest thing to happen to you on tour? Any Spinal Tap moments?
Barney: Actually on this last tour we did in Asia, after the Deccan Rock Festival we had gone for an after party at a hotel where most of the bands were staying at and I ended up leaving with this chick who promised me she'd cook me up some food if I went back with her to her place! Now at 4am in the morning after a night of just drinking it sounded like an offer not to pass out on. I could very well do with some food so I thought to myself "OK no biggie, here's a girl offering to take me out, she's a local and she probably knows her way around the city enough to get me back to my hotel room," so that all sounded pretty good to my ears, right? I even double checked and asked her if she was able to get me back cause I obviously don't know anything about where I was, but she replied back telling me not to worry and that she would get me back in 1 piece...haha that never happened! Basically we went back to her place and hung out and when it was time to drop me back we were just driving around in circles asking people on the streets where was the location of my hotel room for a good 3 hours! So here I am drunk as I could possibly be on a Sunday morning in India thinking what the hell have I got myself into, oh yeah I forgot to mention the girl was drunk driving too…what's funny about this whole situation was my band mates even spoke to me over the phone when I reached her place asking me if I was alright and I told them not to wait up for me or anything and that I'm going to find my own way back in the morning being all confident - Yeah lets just say that whole situation was a disaster to say the least.
Wow! Is that what life like typically like on tour? What are the positives and negatives of living out of a tour bus?
Barney: Well the positives are that you can literally wake up an hour before your gig and your already at the venue you're about to play at. Its also fun because its like sharing your temporary home with a bunch of dudes for the love of touring and playing music, it also helps when you have a tour bus because everything stays in one place the entire tour and you don't find yourself re adjusting from hotel room to hotel room which can be a hassle and things start to get lost etc.
As for the negatives I guess it involves having a lot of patience, because not everyone on that bus may want to sleep the same time as you, so you may find yourself having to deal with others to a certain extent. Also the fact that you can't take a dump on the bus can be a bit frustrating at times haha! I guess not having as much privacy could be an issue for most people too. It involves a fair share of learning to get along with others so that is very important to mention. Fortunately for us we get along with almost all the bands we have toured with so we've never really faced any trouble as such.
Being based in Dubai, the internet must be an important promotional tool for you. How much involvement do you have in the band's social media efforts, such as your Facebook page?
Barney: Well we try and get as involved as possible to our fans through the Internet. What we don't do is spam our band name onto anyone and everyone, I know a good many number of bands who do that and project themselves to be this huge deal…we however are a death metal band, and we prefer to keep it simple with the honest music and hard work we put into our music. So yes we do have what is essential in being available to communicate to the fans and get our music out there using the Internet. From the very beginning we run the website, Myspace and even the Facebook page because we believe communicating is key and we make sure we get all the info and updates on the band out there to the fans.
What bands/albums are currently playing on your ipod?
Barney: Septic Flesh - The Great Mass, the new Between The Buried and Me album and the new Obscura album too.
What was the first album you ever bought?
Barney: That would be Nirvana's Unplugged in New York in 1994
What bands inspired you when growing up?
Barney: I basically grew up to a lot of grunge music in the early 90's like Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden etc and then when I started getting better at playing the guitar I eventually found myself liking more of the heavier Thrash stuff like Pantera, Slayer, Sepultura, Megadeth, Testament etc. I remember it was around 1996 when I discovered death metal..haha and once I knew this was as extreme as it gets I set my goals to practice and get better and better, so here I am 17 years later with Nervecell still getting inspired and continuing to learn more and more musically as time goes on. I think the major bands that have truly inspired my playing style are bands such as Pantera, Sepultura, Dismember, Testament, Deicide, Death, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower to name a few…
Which guitarists inspired you to start playing?
Barney: I would have to say Dimebag Darrell, he was just the fun guy who was flawless on stage and a party animal off stage! I loved that he would never do a half assed show, no matter what the dude performed night after night and would nail every single note on stage. For me it's the aggression and energy you bring out on stage to call it a "show" and Pantera was that one band that always delivered. I always had the greatest respect for Dimebag, he was a natural hero in my eyes and no doubt very inspirational!
What are your hobbies/interests outside of music?
Barney: I used to play a lot of football back in my school days and I clearly remember having to make a decision when I graduated from high school, "should I drop football or should I focus on music"..haha - well its obvious which route I took! Apart from sports I love working out whenever I find the time, going to the cinema and catching a few movies and lastly collecting CD's. I a huge collector of music and I definitely do spend a lot of my money on buying DVDs, CD's, band merch etc…
So what is next for Nervecell?
Barney: We are taking a little break in the months of June and July 2011, after that we head to Europe again to promote the new album Psychogenocide! We have plans to tour Europe for a good 2 months in the second half of this year and we cannot wait to meet all the European fans we've made over the last 3 years of touring there. As soon as the new album was out we completed playing a few shows in the Middle East first since its home, we then head out to Asia last month and now its time to go out west! We are even planning to tour Canada this year, so it's only a matter of time before we head out to the US too Id imagine, hopefully we could do all of that before the end of this year itself!
Do you have any other tours/festivals lined up?
Barney: For now as far as I know we will be playing Summer Breeze Open Air 2011 and Rock Im Betonwerk Open Air, both of which take place in Germany in August 2011. So we probably will be there for the entire second half of August 2011 and play a few other shows around those festival dates. I know we are definitely going to go back to Europe to do a headlining European tour later on in the year for sure since we would like to reach out to all our fans in Belgium, Austria, The Netherlands and the UK too to promote the new album in those countries as well. That's l for now though…
Thanks a lot for your time Barney, any last words?
Barney: Your welcome, I'd like to thank you Glenn and all the members of Metal Storm for reading this interview and for voting Psychogenocide as 1 of the top metal albums in 2011! We are thrilled to get this album out and we just cannot wait to play these new tunes to all you guys when we head out on tour again.
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