Category: interview

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The release of AETERNAM’s new album, AL
QASSAM, was a fantastic opportunity to speak with the singer, guitarist and
mastermind behind this oriental-inspired death metal quartet from Quebec. I saw
them on the 7000 Tons of Metal Cruise back in January in the smallest,
club-like venue, and liked them so much I went to their second set on the pool
deck at 4 a.m. They were THAT good. You would never guess from Achraf’s warm
smile and engaging nature during our Skype conversation that this man and his
insanely talented band is capable of unleashing the kind of brutality and rage
on stage that is absolutely fearsome. Check out the videos for the songs “Al
Qassam” and “Damascus Gate” to get an idea. Then imagine what seeing them live
is like.

BA:  Greetings! It’s great to “see” you again.

AL: Great to see you too! I definitely
remember you from the cruise.

BA: I know I spoke to you when I saw you
in the Windjammer (the main buffet/dining room). I believe you were with some
of your band members.

AL: Oh, we definitely were in there a
lot! (laughing)

BA: Before we talk about the band and the
album, how are you guys doing over there in Quebec with the current situation?

AL: We are actually doing OK. Our
government implemented the “shut down” early enough to slow down the spread of
the virus, and to be quite honest, here in Canada, we’re not big “huggers” –
not like they are in Europe, where people touch each other a lot more. Besides,
Quebec is not as populated as other cities are, like Montreal, so we’re more
spread out.

BA: Got it. Here in the States, some
people are having a hard time embracing the concept of “social distancing.”
Some get it, and some don’t.

So you guys worked on your new album, “Al
Qassam” …you have the release scheduled…and wham. This happens. I’m sure this
is not the way you planned it.

AL: Definitely not, but you know, at the
same time, what better time is there for people to listen to new music? They
are at home…

BA: True. And like you noted on your
Facebook page, the album has been released in all formats, and that’s what’s
great with today’s technology, people can access it all over the world. Now, I
understand you used to be on Metal Blade records – are you still with Metal
Blade?

AL: No, we are releasing our albums
independently. We signed a five-album deal with Metal Blade when we first
formed as a band, and we were really young. We released our first album with
them. The problem was they wanted us to tour, and I couldn’t do that because I’m
originally from Morocco and I was in Canada as a student, and I didn’t have a
Canadian passport yet (I have since become a citizen). They wanted a band that
could tour. So we record and release our own albums. We’d like to get the
attention of a big record label, which will hopefully happen in the next few
years.

BA: You’re the one with the Moroccan
background, but when I saw you perform on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise, and
in your videos, the other band members (Antoine Guertin-Drums/Back Vocals, Percussions,
Maxime Legault-Guitar/Back Vocals, Maxime Boucher-Bass/Back Vocals) were all
very much into the music. All of them brought the same intensity, passion,
windmilling, as though they come from the same background, even though they
clearly don’t (laughing).

AL: That’s true, I’m the only one with
the Middle Eastern background, but I will tell you that our drummer, Antoine,
really embraces this music and takes it to another level. We met while we were
in school. I write 90% of the music and lyrics, but he then takes what I give
him and adds layers and layers to it that make it way more than I could. Maxim
Boucher, our bassist, has been with us since 2012 and he’s just amazing, as is
our guitarist. Everyone is 100% on board with what we are doing.

BA: Let’s talk about the new album, “Al
Qassam” – The Oath. I understand there are several different dialects of
Arabic. I found it interesting that when I used an online translator and typed
in “The Oath”, I got “Al Qassam”, but when I typed in “Al Qassam” I got
something very different…(laughing). I didn’t get “The Oath.” Did you consider
that when you chose this name for the album that if people type it in a search
engine it will come up as the military wing of Hamas?

AL: (Smiling) Yes, we did. See, there is
a difference in how the word “Qassam” is spelled. In Arabic the two words are
spelled differently*. So yes, we did think about it, but decided to go ahead
with the name we wanted. And who knows, if we get enough hits on Google, maybe
we’ll help fight terrorism by having our album be the first thing you see when
you type those words in (laughing).

BA: That would be great. I figured if you
got Kobi Farhi from Orphaned Land to provide guest vocals on one of the songs
on the album, there definitely had to be another definition…

AL: Yes, definitely (laughing). It was a
huge honor, for me personally, for him to do that. I think he’s a great
vocalist and a huge influence. I’m a huge fan of Orphaned Land, and it was
great to be able to tour with them, Ghost Ship Octavius and Týr back in 2018.

BA: When I listen to you guys, I
definitely hear some of the Oriental influence of Orphaned Land, but you are
definitely not Orphaned Land part II. Their music is more about peace and love
and why can’t we all get along and “All Is One”…you guys are a bit more ANGRY.
You are like Orphaned Land meets Exmortus with a bit more rage thrown in.

AL: To tell you the truth, a bigger
influence would be Behemoth. Antoine and I really, really loved their earlier
albums “Demigod” and “The Apostasy.”

BA: You look a bit like Nergal in the
video for the song “Al Qassam” – your makeup is similar.

AL: Thank you!

BA: It looks like the second track on the
album, “The Bringer of Rain”, seems to be an early fan favorite.

AL: Yes, and that’s a bit of a surprise
to us. We didn’t figure that song would be a huge favorite.

BA: Which songs did you expect would be
popular?

AL: Well, the title track, Al Qassam, for
one.

BA: It IS a great song, and a great
video.

AL: Thank you. This song, and a few
others, are very personal to me. The words are actually an ancient incantation
sung in Arabic, and just before I recorded the song, I spoke with my mother in
Morocco to make sure I got the words right. She corrected some of them.  

BA: I really liked “Ascension” – the meaning
of the words to that one is a little easier to understand, for me at least!
(laughing).

AL: That’s one of my favorite ones too.
That song has nothing to do with ancient history; it’s about personal evolution
and the way you ascend spiritually.

BA: Is there a reason you asked Kobi
Farhi from Orphaned Land to provide vocals on the song Palmyra Scriptures in
particular?

AL: The song is actually in Arabic but I
could actually hear his voice in my head, and I wrote the word “orphans” in the
song with him in mind. We thought he’d sing the chorus but he ended up doing
more. It came out great.

BA: It really did. And who knows, maybe
one day you’ll be asked to do guest vocals an Orphaned Land album!

AL: (laughing) That would definitely be
an honor.

BA: You do both death metal growling and
clean singing, and you do both well, by the way. Did you have any singing
lessons?

AL: No, I just keep working and I think I
can improve my clean vocals a little. I’d have to say that some of my
influences there would be Nergal, George Fisher from Cannibal Corpse, Glen
Benton from Deicide, and Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth. I
really like Tatiana from Jinjer. I think what that band is doing is amazing. I
also consider Freddie Mercury an influence.

BA: What do you think it is about your music that speaks to
people? Because I saw the crowd that was there to see you at 4:00 a.m. on the
cruise. It was a pretty good size.

AL: We have a very loyal fan base. People that hear our music
either love us or REALLY love us.

BA: I think it has to do with authenticity. People look for
authenticity, and they can tell when it’s there and when it isn’t. I would say when
people see your band, they see genuine intensity, emotion…I could see that when
your set was over, all four of you left 100% of what you had on the stage. You
gave it all to the crowd. These days, there are a lot of bands, but I believe
the ones that survive for the long haul are the ones that bring not just good
music, but great songwriting too. Metalheads aren’t stupid. They may not all
have degrees, but they are very well read, and like to dig a little deeper.

AL: I agree. We are extremely passionate about what we do. We
don’t get to perform a lot, so when we do it’s something we put everything
into. And with our lyrics, there are definitely things to look into at a deeper
level.

BA: So with the situation the way it is right now, with
touring at a standstill…some bands, like Code Orange, are doing performances in
empty venues and streaming the performance live through mediums like Twitch. Is
this something you have considered?

AL: Not at this time, but in the future, maybe. We really
hope we will be able to tour soon, and it would be great if we could eventually
play the festivals in Europe.

BA: I know you had a tour already scheduled with Wilderun
that has been postponed –

AL: Yes, unfortunately. It will probably be rescheduled for
next year. So right now, we’re focusing on spreading the word about the album.
The sales have been great so far. I’m doing all the social media, and we will be
mailing out all the pre-orders soon.

BA: You got vinyl?

AL (smiling): We got vinyl.

BA: I will have to check out the vinyl. From what I heard, I
think this album would sound amazing on vinyl.

AL: I haven’t actually heard it on vinyl yet, but Antoine
said it sounds great, so if he said that… (smile).

BA: Here’s hoping that this virus thing will be over soon and
we’ll be able to see you live. In the meantime, best of luck with the album!

AL: Yes, we are looking forward to that too. And thank you!

*Note: He’s right, of course. One word
has the actual letter “a”, the other uses punctuation for the sound, and they
are pronounced differently.

We caught up with Smiling Assassin to assess how 2020 has been for them so far plus their thoughts on the current global situation…

What’re
your highlights of the year so far?
Josh Rogerson (Guitarist) –
The absolute
highlight of the year was filming the music video for coping, having friends
there enjoying the experience was great and we played the best we have so far
filming that video.

What
are your goals for the rest of the year?
Robbie Johnson (Drummer) – We’ve been so busy this year writing ‘Plight Of the
Millennial’ and gigging constantly, the first bit of hard work is now done. We
are immediately writing a bigger and better album we have planned for next year
but as far as the plans for the rest of this year go, we are trying to
modernise the punk scene and get the message out there that we are here and
here to stay!

Which
new bands/artists are you into right now?
George Garnett (Vocalist) –
Right now I’m
listening to PEARS a whole lot. I haven’t heard their new album, yet I’m still
hooked on green star.

What
was the band or artist that got you into music or inspired you to be a
musician?
Casey Stead (Bassist) –
I took up guitar after hearing
Franz Ferdinand! But not too long after, Green Day were my gateway into punk.
That’s when I started writing and decided to play in bands.

How
best do you write; in a jam room or a studio?
George Garnett (Vocalist) – My
writing process is
a bit unconventional. Lyrically, a line pops in my head and manifests itself.
Sometimes the song writes itself and sometimes I have to work on it.
Instrumentally, it’s the same with a riff. It can get frustrating because I’ll
stockpile a bunch of half written songs.

 

What
was your wildest show so far, and why?
Casey Stead (Bassist) –
It’s a hard choice between our video-shoot gig and
an anti-austerity gig.

The video shoot was
at a legendary local venue we’d played several times called The Adelphi. We
self-promoted, and thankfully the turnout was awesome! So that was wild just
playing to a crowd who were purely there to see us and to help shoot our video.
At one point we had to ask people to calm down a bit, as we had to get specific
footage and it was proving difficult with such a lively crowd!

On the other hand, the anti-austerity
show was at a venue called The Brain Jar. It was a really mixed bill, from
acoustic singer-songwriters through to live drum & bass. We played at the
end of the night and everyone went crazy! So that one was equally wild, since
most people in that crowd were completely new to us, but they fully loved it.

Where
is the furthest across the globe you’ve played so far?
Josh Rogerson (Guitarist) –
Well, the furthest
across the globe we’ve played was York, that was our first out of town gig,
still one of my favourite gigs, we found a new home with all the die-hard fans
and the guys running the BGB festival were all awesome.

Given
the current circumstances, what are you doing to keep the band moving forward?

Robbie
Johnson (Drummer) – We have been really lucky because we got everything, we
needed to do for this album done just before this global crisis struck. I think
it’s a good chance to deliver all the content we’ve been sat on for months.
Everything we’re doing now is online based, we have plans for a live stream
gig, online Q&A’s a daily lockdown diary full of riffs, covers and stuff
we’re doing to cope being stuck at home every day. Being a relatively new
independent band we’re amongst the most affected by this and so all we ask is
that people give their local/new artists as much support as possible during this
hard time.

You can keep up to date with everything we’re doing
on our website
www.smilingassassin.co.uk

We’re also on every major social media / music platform links below:

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/smilingassassinofficial
INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/smilingassassinofficial
TWITTER: www.twitter.com/SMILINGASSASS1N
YOUTUBE: https://bit.ly/3dFiRLE
BANDCAMP: www.smilingassassin.bandcamp.com
SOUNDCLOUD: www.soundcloud.com/smilingassassinofficial
SPOTIFY: https://spoti.fi/2QSJ9QO

One link for Single Coping:
https://www.listen.lt/SmilingAssassinCoping

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking
with Johanna Sadonis and Nicke Andersson a week after the release of Lucifer
III on Century Media Records. With the Corona pandemic affecting bands and
artists worldwide, that was obviously a topic that had to be covered. We
discussed what that meant for the release and the future plans for the band,
the album, and much more. We spoke through Skype, with them in Sweden and me in
Texas.

BA: It’s such a pleasure to speak with
you guys. I was at your show in Austin this past January (held up the shirt I
bought at the show) and I absolutely loved it.

JS: Oh, thank you so much.

BA: So, you have this new album, you
spent months working on it, you’re ready to release it, and WHAM! This thing
happens that affects the entire world. Not exactly how you planned it…

JS: No, not exactly (laughing).

BA: Now that the record is out, you want
to let the world know about it. How do you go about doing that?

JS: As an independent band, we rely a lot
on social media.

NA: Well, you’re very hands-on when it
comes to that (speaking to Johanna). Me, I’m not particularly fond of social
media, so I’m really happy that Johanna is doing all that. I guess you kind of
have to these days.

BA: You really do. Here’s how I heard
about you guys, and it’s probably not typical. Being the metalhead that I am, I
subscribe to Metal Hammer, the British one. Does this look familiar to you?
Have you guys ever seen this? (I held up a CD labelled “Attack of the 50-Foot
Riffs! 15 City-Melting Monsters!”)

JS: Ahhh…no, where is that from?

BA: When you subscribe to Metal Hammer,
it comes in a plastic bag and there’s usually a CD in it with a compilation of
songs. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it sucks. This one happens to be
really good. It’s from 2015, and your song “Anubis” was on it. I’m telling you
this because a lot of times people have no idea their music is on these CDs or
reviewed in the magazine. So you guys were on this one, and you were in very
good company – there are songs from Lamb of God, Parkway Drive, Thy Art is
Murder, Ghost, Powerwolf, Myrkur…

So I download it, and the song Anubis
really stood out to me because your voice, your music, is very different. It’s
not classic metal. Very simple melody. Very clear, beautiful vocals. I thought,
“Who is this?! Who is this band Lucifer?” And that was my portal of entry into
who you were. And I think I may also have heard you on Satellite Radio, SiriusXM
Liquid Metal, which I subscribe to.

JS: I’m actually taking a note of Liquid
Metal. I’ll check it out.

BA: Absolutely. I think every year more
and more people listen to satellite radio because people get tired of
terrestrial radio that plays the same stuff over and over again. The ability to
have metal at your fingertips 24/7 is a big draw. It was for me anyway
(laughing).

So when I listen to your album, there is
so much there that I think would appeal to a large American audience. Your
music has so much classic rock in it. I would love for more people to be able
to hear it.

JS: Thank you. You are so flattering. We
are both looking at the ground at our feet with shyness all of a sudden (laughing).

BA: Well, take the first song, for
example, “Ghosts.” Do I hear a little Grand Funk Railroad in there? A little
“American Band?”

NA: It’s not a conscious thing, but I
have every album of Grand Funk Railroad.

BA: It’s a great song. It’s very catchy.
Didn’t you guys play that when you performed in Austin?

JS: Yes, we’ve been playing that live
throughout the past year. It was the first song that we recorded for the new
album.

NA: And wrote.

JS: Yes. And we played another one live.
We played “Lucifer” live too.

NA: But we might have taken it off for a
few shows here and there, so I’m not sure if we played that in Austin.

BA: That’s another really good song. I’m
sure over the years people have questioned you a lot about the name of the
band. And I’m sure a lot of people have the association, right or wrong, of the
word Lucifer with Satanism. So finally, on your third album, you have the song
“Lucifer.” It seems to me like you’ve taken this opportunity to express what
Lucifer means to you, what your relationship is to Lucifer.

JS: Yes, well, first of all, it’s a very
classic thing for bands to do, like Iron Maiden has their Iron Maiden, and
Black Sabbath has their Black Sabbath, and so on –

BA: Yep.

JS: So it was about time, since we are a
band that loves all the classic approaches to albums, like giving the album the
number III, et cetera, there had to be a title song as well. Regarding the name
Lucifer, if you would have asked me when I was a 16-year old teenager with
black hair and a completely black room, I would have been very serious about
it. But as you can hear in the lyrics there’s also quite a bit of humor to it…  

BA: Oh yeah

JS: …and I think that’s equally important
in Lucifer. You can never take yourselves too seriously or it becomes a joke. I
see remarks from people who don’t know who we are and you get very mixed
emotions about the name, you know the guys who are totally into death metal and
grindcore are like, “These guys are called Lucifer but they sound NOTHING LIKE
a band called Lucifer.”

BA: (laughing) I know. And that’s the
irony.    

JS: And then there are those who say,
“Great music, sounds like Fleetwood Mac, but the name is horrible, it’s
repellant and Satanic” or whatever. So you get kind of everything. How I
thought about the name with the band is kind of like, since the band has taken
such a bow toward the big bands of the ‘70s, it’s as if Blue Oyster Cult would
have had a song called “Lucifer.” They kind of dabbled in magical themes but
they had fun with rock n’ roll. And I think that’s what this band is about.

BA: I got it. When I look at the lyrics,
it seems like there’s a little bit of worship, but there’s also a kind of
relationship, where you’re saying, “He’s falling for me” and “Please take my
hand”, so it’s like you want to walk side-by-side with Lucifer. He’s definitely
the Lord of many names, that’s for sure. But he’s also “The master of my
delight”, so there’s that too.

JS: The Devil stands for all the great
things in life. All the forbidden things that we all love.

BA: Most definitely. Another one that I
like is “Coffin Fever.” Funny thing is when I saw the title of that song I
thought, “cabin fever”, which we’re all experiencing right now due to the
quarantine (laughing).

JS: Exactly.

BA: There’s some great twangy guitar on
that one, and your voice is very expressive. Did you ever take voice lessons?

JS: No, that’s just years and years of
singing a lot out of joy. I guess it started when I was a little girl. I
listened to a lot of different music, and when you sing along to it, like when
you do the dishes, you try to emulate something just for the fun of it and
figure out how to use it. And I’m still learning.  

BA: Cemetery Eyes – it’s just a beautiful
song. It’s a great name for a song. It’s another one that I hope you will
include in your live set when you finally get a chance to go back out and
perform…

JS: (laughing) I know. First of all, we
are planning to come back to the States next year. We are applying for new Visas,
which is always a difficult endeavor. But if everything goes well and Corona
doesn’t kill us all, hopefully we’ll be back next year. And we will definitely
have Cemetery Eyes in the set. It’s very close to my heart as well.

BA: I know you already have a tour
scheduled in Europe that’s supposed to start in May –

JS: Yes, and that’s being rescheduled
right now, of course, so that will have to wait until next year. Because we’ve
been in the States three time in a row, we were supposed to focus on Europe
this year, but I guess now the first half of the year we will stay home and
work on new music. We will have more European dates for fall announced next
week.  

BA: It seems like everything is up in the
air right now. The summer festivals…Download was canceled, and I don’t know
what’s going to happen.

JS: Nobody knows, and I’m really hoping
people just listen and stay at home. Just a week ago a lot of people that I
know in the States have been underestimating this, and now the U.S. is number 1
on the infected cases list. Sweden has that problem too. The government is not
putting a lid on it yet. People are still sending the kids to school. Not
Nicke, he has a small son, he’s here with us right now, we’re not sending him.
We are totally staying home. But there are no restrictions yet on leaving the
house. We’re hoping people put their foot down and obey that and hopefully that
can get the numbers down, and maybe the later summer festivals, the ones in
July and August, will still happen. Who knows.

BA: We’re definitely having that problem
here in the States. Even when they put restrictions, people are finding their
ways to get around restrictions. It’s like a game – they put out what are
considered “essential” places to stay open, like grocery stores, hardware stores,
pet stores, and what people are doing are congregating in those places, acting
like we can hang in groups together at those places. They don’t understand that
the idea is maybe once a week or every other week you go, get your groceries,
and go back home and stay there. Our schools are closed, my daughter has been
getting assignments from her teachers daily, they keep extending the “stay
home” date, and I doubt she’ll be going back this year.  

JS: People think they’re invincible. And
then there was the myth that it’s like the flu…

BA: So what some bands are doing, what
Code Orange did a couple of weeks ago when they were supposed to have their
record release party, is they went ahead and performed in an empty theater,
streamed it, and some 13,000 people logged in and viewed it. Is that something
you might consider doing?

JS: Well, we are talking about doing some
sessions in our studio that we have at home where we live on our property, but
probably not a proper Lucifer show. Nicke and I were talking about maybe a few
songs here and there, acoustic, but we don’t know yet. We’re just putting out
feelers about what would be the best thing right now.

NA: But we might do it.

BA: (Sigh). It’s sad, because it’s not
the way you’re meant to perform and not the way we’re meant to see a show. It’s
just not the same thing.

JS: We were supposed to have a record
release party on March 20th. The record came out in Stockholm, and
we had booked this club where Nicke and the other guys and I were going to DJ
some ‘70s stuff. We had planned not to play this time, we just wanted to have a
fun night of good old hard rock and heavy metal. But of course we had to cancel
that, so Nicke and I made a bunch of Mojitos.

BA: I saw that on your Facebook page!

BA: One thing I did want to point out, as
someone who goes to a lot of shows and who pays attention to everything that
goes on at a show, is that you put a lot into the visual aspect of your
performance. There’s an authenticity there which I appreciate. I think it’s
very important that everything works together – your appearance, your
equipment, your music… I think even if people don’t consciously notice it,
subconsciously, it all has to work, it all has to click. With you guys it
definitely does.

NA: Thank you for saying that. I totally
agree that maybe people don’t realize it, but subconsciously that actually
affects people. It feels like it is its own thing, and that’s important. With
the new lineup, it works. I know I’m in the new lineup, but I also saw the band
when I wasn’t in the lineup, and now it’s a different thing. It’s more like we
play together. We all share the same taste, not only in equipment, but also in
clothes. It’s not like we dress up or anything.

JS: The thing is if you see the guys in
Lucifer on a regular day in the supermarket they really look the same. I think
it is very important. That’s how it used to be. Your heroes, the bands that you
love, that take you away to another place with their music, had all the
visuals. Unfortunately, nowadays, it’s not a thing anymore that bands have a
shtick. Luckily, in the metal world, yes, more so, but if you go to any Indie
show, they are in T-shirts and jeans. How many metalheads even have long hair?
When I was growing up as a teenager in the early/mid ‘90s, almost every
metalhead had long hair. It was unusual that someone had short hair.

BA: It’s part of the look. I try to
explain this to bands – enough with the cargo shorts and everyone is wearing a
different T-shirt on stage. There are very few bands that can get away with
that. “We want our music to speak for itself.” Guess what – you’re not that
good. I’m sorry. There’s no synchronicity, no performance, no unifying
anything…it’s so important.

And then you guys come on, and right off
the bat I see your Orange equipment, everyone is plugged in, the big white
coiled wires really stood out…I took pictures and showed them to musician
friends and asked them, “When was the last time you saw something like this?”
And it all worked. What you were wearing, the fringes, it worked with the
music… everything about it was so memorable. You knew who you saw. You knew you
saw Lucifer.

JS: You know it’s really strange, Nicke
and I are both very visual people, so when you come to our place, it’s filled
with things…so maybe we like to surround ourselves not only sonically, with
music, but also with items and things.

I think a band a band should have a
shtick, a certain thing that brands them as that band. That’s why people loved
Blue Oyster Cult, and the symbol that they have, certain things about bands,
certain colors, like with Type O Negative it’s green, things that people
associate with the band, it’s so important.

BA: You provide a complete experience for
people. Which is another reason why I think it’s great that you released your
album when you did and shouldn’t in in way feel guilty about releasing it even
with this stuff going on. You worked hard on it, it’s very good, and when it’s
ready to be born, kind of like a baby…it needs to come out (laughing).

JS: When you finish an album, there’s
still 2 – 3 months until the release because of record label procedures, etc.
So it is almost already like and old shoe for us. We’re already talking about
the next album. It seems like we’ll have plenty of time this spring.

BA: I read an article where you were
called “Occult Rock.” What do you think about being called that?

NA: There are quite a few bands being
called that, but I don’t think the bands call themselves that. It’s the same
thing with “stoner rock.” I don’t think the bands call themselves that. It’s
just an easy way for people to categorize bands. If we have to say anything, I
guess we’re rock and we’re heavy, so heavy rock seems fine to us.

JS: I think my preferred terms would be
“hard rock” or “heavy rock.” Clearly, it’s not heavy metal anymore.

BA: No, it’s not.

JS: Even though I’m a metalhead. Usually
these things get coined by journalists. They need their drawers to put stuff
into. I hate the terms “stoner rock” or “retro rock”, that’s horrible, because
first of all, none of us smoke weed. And we’re not a stoner band. Doom gets
confused with stoner these days. It’s really strange. For me, doom is something
else.

BA: You have so much classic American
rock in your music. Johanna, you spent time living in the States, correct?

JS: I was born and raised in Berlin but I
lived in Los Angeles for three years. I have family there. My son still lives
in Los Angeles, and my grandson too.

BA: Is he the California Son you wrote
about?

JS: Yes, he is, and that’s also what
Pacific Blues is about. It’s kind of my second home. That’s why I always love
touring the States.

BA: I think it’s interesting you made the
distinction between rock and metal, because there’s so much great rock guitar
in your music and on this album. Especially Southern Rock – I’m definitely
hearing The Marshall Tucker Band, Skynyrd guitar… and the solos are different
from metal solos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a metalhead – I can listen to Dime’s
and Glenn Tipton’s solos all day long – but this is a very different kind of
guitar solo. Like I said earlier, I know there’s a huge population in the
States that would love this music. There’s got to be a good way to expose them
to this music. It looked like the venue in Austin was pretty full, I’m hoping
that was the case the rest of the tour.

JS: It was pretty good, except for
Memphis, which was strange, because you think of Memphis being such a music
city. Of course, I would love for more people to know about Lucifer, but I guess
time will do that. We definitely plan to keep on recording music.

BA: Is there anything else you want to
tell us about Lucifer III?

JS: There’s a few Easter eggs hidden on
the cover and also in the lyrics, so happy hunting everybody! Other than that,
I hope everyone stays healthy and safe.

BA: Wonderful talking to you. Hopefully
we get to see you soon.

What’re your highlights of
the year so far?

Jamie Smith (Vocals): I cannot begin to put into
words how much of a buzz it was to finally hold a physical copy of our album,
after nearly 3 years of solid work and all that time, effort and cash, there it
was, and it was beautiful. It may have been the second greatest moment of my
life next to the birth of my son…same energy.

 

What are your goals for the
rest of the year?

JS: I want to support ‘Sleeping Giant’ to the fullest
and get the most out of this album’s life cycle as possible. Exciting
conversations are going on at the minute about gigs and tours and I’m chomping
at the bit to take this album on the road. On a personal note, I’m hoping to
get back into a bit more of a regular exercise program and shift a few of my
unwanted chins.

Which new bands/artists are
you into right now?

JS: I don’t think they’re considered “new” but I
love the latest offering from Fit For An Autopsy – called ‘Sea of Tragic Beasts’.
It’s heavy as fuck, yet melodic and hooky. It has everything I look for when it
comes to metal music.

On my local scene, there is a criminally underrated
hard rock outfit called Skull Fox who are insanely talented and well worth a
listen, just be ready to have some songs stuck in your head.

What was the band or
artist that got you into music or inspired you to be a musician?

JS: It was Gorillaz that made me realise that there
was more to music than S-Club 7 and Westlife. I credit them for opening the
door to alternative music for me when I was super young and impressionable. I also
vividly remember seeing the video for Slipknot’s ‘Duality’ for the first time when
I was 14. All of a sudden I was seeing these freaks in masks trashing a house
with a mob of their fans playing this music that sounded like nothing I’d ever
heard, I knew there and then that was EXACTLY what I was about.

How best do you write; in
a jam room or a studio?

JS: My writing is fairly separate from the other guys,
as I generally like the song to be pretty much there musically before I write
anything because if anything changes after I’m happy with it I get upset. I
have pages and pages of lyric ideas, phrases and themes written down and pull
from those whenever a song is ready for vocals. I isolate myself for a few
hours with a notepad, the track and a thesaurus, and tend to emerge with
something I’m happy to take to the rest of the band.

What was your wildest show
so far, and why?

JS: My mind goes to a show where I witnessed a kid
get absolutely fucking bodied in a mosh pit, like, completely taken down, and I
felt a strange sense of pride in him for taking that shot for our music. Also
the last time we played our hometown, there was a kid on the front row who was
absolutely LOVING us. I’m not sure if he was on something now that I think
about it, but it’s nice to see someone in the crowd matching our intensity on
stage.

Where is the furthest
across the globe you’ve played so far?

JS: Just the UK so far. But the sky’s the limit
really. I’m happy to go as far as this journey takes me, I travel often with my
partner anyway and I want to see everywhere – so if I can do that while
entertaining people that’s a Bonus.

photos by Cristina Massei

We’re back to Jaz Coleman’s habitual London residence for a chat about his new album “Magna Invocatio” after the official launch a couple of days ago. With so much happening in the world of KJ – and in the world in general – John just can’t wait to catch up with the man. Here it goes…


Today’s obviously a very special day, the release of the new album Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired by the Sublime Music of Killing Joke, now it’s a double vinyl/double CD and I wanted to ask you what sort of emotions you get on a day like this because obviously it’s a record that you lived with for a while and you’ve put a lot of work into it and now finally we’re at the day where you can walk into a record store anywhere in the world, what are your hopes and aspirations for people that are picking up a copy of the album?

The journey from the time you start conceiving the idea – never mind the fucking funding – to the when it’s in a record store, that’s a journey in itself on a project like this! What can I say? It’s magic that it’s happened, the effect it’s having is magic on people, on my life, everywhere.

Magna Invocatio is the only recording I’ve ever done where I’ve listened to it multiple times everyday since the recording, I can’t stop listening to it because it lifts my spirit, the idea of gnostic mass is that wherever you are you can put the headphones on and I can commune directly with the hierarchy or angelic forces at a time when there’s darkness on the planet.

Next year’s going to be the most frightening year for humanity.

It’s not looking great at the moment.

Next year and it starts in early January. The thing is myself, Killing Joke, the governing elites of the planet, we use astrology. The astrology we’re coming into this next year is worse than 1963 in similar terms so the first thing we’re going to have to do is prepare for the day when banks don’t work and there’s no money from cash point machines and start thinking about where we get our food from and how and let’s start thinking about that with our friends – I’ve said this for a while! [laughs]

Your thoughts seem to be coming true.

I wish they weren’t coming true! We’re so close to a nuclear war because it’s not like the Cold War, we’re close to something called Complex Systems Failure which is when you’ve got cyber warfare going on with this and that but we’re already in a shadow war with Russia so my work in Russia which has been going on for seven years now I see as all important – as a bridge between America, the United Kingdom and Russia.

Do you think recording the album in Russia added something that wouldn’t have been there if you recorded anywhere else?

When I was recording it all the British diplomats were being expelled in the tit for tat thing with the alleged poisoning case, I remain probably the last Westerner classical recording artist on a western label that works with Russia and I’m composer in residence for St Petersburg for a while.

How was it working with them – it must have been a dream come true?

Although I live on a desert island I’m probably going to move to Russia.

Really?

Yeah. So when nuclear war breaks out as I’m getting obliterated I can think of you getting obliterated in the complete madness of it all! 

Russia and Jaz Coleman – I never saw that coming.

Well I intend to work there more often – the temperature’s often thirty-five below zero. [laughs]

How did it feel getting an endorsement from the United Nations with the project?

I was a guest at the UN this week – isn’t it remarkable? The music of Killing Joke is now the music of the spiritual arm of the UN and that’ll be played at official functions. It gives meaning to the work of Killing Joke.

Is it something you could ever have envisioned happening?

Yes because we took holy vows, the holy vows you will hear in the text on the third movement of Magna Invocatio, that is a shortened text of the Rosicrucian Prayer that Paul [Ferguson] and myself recited when we were teenagers so when I listen to it I feel the magical past of time, my god literally, it makes me go wow and that’s it – when I listen to this work it connects me with these forces. When you’re listening it will lift you up too. 

I also designed it as a Feast of The Gods which is to say I noticed when every time I listened to Killing Joke it gave me indigestion when I was eating so I wanted to rescore Killing Joke so I could have it with a Sunday roast – appetizer, Sunday roast and pudding then you lighten a spliff or a cigar up and it’s still playing. Will you remember that when you have your next roast?

I will!

Put it on and by the time you get to dessert it’s coming to the end, you can listen to Killing Joke properly on Sundays now.

I’m looking forward to it! I remember listening to Extremities back in the day and that made me physically ill, I’d never heard anything that brutal and I’ve expected that from every Killing Joke release and to be honest it’s hit the bar every time recently.

Have you heard Invocation and Intravenous/ I loved doing that one.

Where did you record it because the space sounds like it was in an amphitheatre?

I recorded it in a radio station in St Petersburg – the old Soviet recording studios.

I’ve always imagined Killing Joke to be like a gang when writing and recording things – a lot of input from everyone. When you’re taking on a project like this where you’re responsible for everything do you find that it’s very easy to get too carried away – do you know when a song is finished?

Sure I do – I have a system where I pass music through my body and I can hear the score literally through my body, not just the ears, I can feel it and it tells you what’s right and what’s wrong. I know where every instrument is, every bar inside my entire being – it’s like kinesiology, the body tells me everything.

Do you go in with that action structure for every single piece of music in a movement or is there a scope of some sort because I imagine with bands you’re in a room someone will jam something off the cuff…

There’s no scope for that at all, if it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage, if it’s not written down you won’t get that so it’s as you write it but you can do radical things on session by dropping things out or muting things, you don’t normally start getting creative by rescoring or rewriting something – at £300 a minute it’s not a good idea.

I saw an interview where you were talking about the costs of it – it turned out to be quite an expensive project to actually get done. Was there a time you feared it might never happen?

Yes. I have to tell you that first of all the manager that put this together is long gone. To my shame I have murderous thoughts towards them because this whole thing was a setup by somebody who had it in for me who didn’t even allow me access to Killing Joke’s Facebook which is just one of a thousand things so we had a very bad relationship and he said to me first of all ‘I’ll put up ten grand and put in your pocket’ and I had nothing at all to do this project. It’s been a nightmare – there was no preliminary budget done, it’s been mismanaged, there wasn’t enough money anyway but what there was the dubious management I had took that and then Pledge [Music] went under. The management then said let’s do Songs from The Victorious City (Jaz’s album with Anne Dudley) which means I need the best Arabic players and when I did the budget, they wouldn’t have any to fly the players over! It was a setup!

It was a setup and I was really angry about it, the truth is when you hear the fifth movement – five is a great number for me – this piece of music ‘Invocation’  if you want to know the truth it’s hidden in the archives of the Royal Opera House because music has a magical function and I use this song when people betray me, it’s a war song. I did three versions of it – one at the Royal Opera House, once with Killing Joke and this is the third version where I’ve used a Sumerian war chant that’s 14,000 years old.

I was angry before I wrote that piece, someone found my daughter’s phone number and thought it’d be funny to say to my daughter that her grandmothers just died. We went through AT&T and I know who that is so when you hear that track remember – this is for them.

That’s one of those situations that people can’t relate to until it happens to them – why would someone do that?

Until we did those phone calls, my daughter and my family thought my Mum was dead and my daughter’s screaming on the other end – there’s only one person that knows that number and those are the kind of people we’re dealing with and if you think all these things I’ve been talking about are interconnected…

It’s been a dark journey but a victorious one because we got there in spite of everything and at the same time I feel I’ve made more strides towards making peace between the West and Russia than anybody else in one go because they want war. They want war because most of them are mad, the people that do military planning – they think that by bringing back a world war Jesus will turn up.

{All but Jaz chuckle]

We may well laugh but I was having a conversation with people that know people in the Pentagon – one being Jello Biafra – and this is the case! When you consider over 60 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture they’re going to be beamed up to new Jerusalem with their cars. [Jaz laughs]

Do you think there’s enough good people in the world to avoid catastrophe?

Yes – we need to have a conversation this time next year. If we get that far we’re going to be OK. That’s why we’re here – Killing Joke musically we’re to hold everyone’s hand! [Jaz laughs uproariously]

Speaking of Killing Joke you’ve done a few… small gigs recently!

Three American tours in 12 months – Killing Joke are hard fuckers! They take a lot of punishment, we live a Spartan existence.

Were you treated well?

Yes but we don’t like stadiums and the corporate kind of setup, we won’t be doing the corporate stadium thing ever again but we were treated very well, we had a wicked time with the guys from Tool, they’re musical children and mates of ours.

Tool are one of those uber big bands so I presume huge venues…

Massive! Some of them were 20,000, a couple were 50,000 seaters, makes your head swim and you don’t wanna look up, you’ll get dizzy.

What’s it like doing gigs where the crowd don’t really know you?

Killing Joke love a challenge, they love playing before another band and smelt blood always. It helps when Maynard’s telling people about our music every night and then people know through social media he’s saying that so we’re endorsed as it were and we’re playing fucking great, we were getting standing ovations almost every night. I feel like we made serious in roads into stealing as many Tool fans as possible in a positive way, I can tell you that’s happening because you can have a look at our website and you can see it’s made a massive impact!

Tool have got a number one record at the moment in America and it’s great to come out on tour with them.

It seems the band just keep growing.

At the same time I’ve been releasing Magna Invocatio I’ve made two visits to the United Nations in one year and it remains to be seen whether there will be an United Nations because America won’t pay its dues so they’ve got two more weeks of wages…

Do you think that’s the right thing to do?

It’s a terrible thing. It’s the only structure we’ve got whereby warring tribes can communicate because you see at the moment it’s not like the good old days where it was bilateral – a hotline between Moscow and Washington – now in a fragmented world with warheads pointing at every direction we’re in danger of complex systems failure.

How did you find the American perspective on it? People tend to be distorted I find by the way their governments are…

I think the people are very kind – but in America 80% of the population are two pay cheques away from homelessness, it has the highest illiteracy rate in the western world, there’s more people in prison than colleges there – it’s not a good model for the world, it’s a dangerous beast and I’m glad I’ve left this country because the leaders of this country have sucked up to America always. There’s not been one that’s stood up and said I’m sorry that’s unacceptable for the people of the United Kingdom, your bullying ways. This disgusting country’s got air bases in everyone else’s nation on planet Earth and they started this Russiaphobia thing, James Baker promised Gorbachev we would not expand NATO so when World War III breaks out – everyone can thank themselves for fucking not protesting, not making statements about our governments who have doing these things in our name expanding NATO eastwards breaking that law promised, NATO has encircled Russia, it’s been fermenting wars on its border with Ukraine.

Russia is not an imperial nation, it does not seek to invade the United Kingdom or America whereas America is taking over all our nations, it’s not a force for good – it’s failed in its mission to unite the world in freedom.

My prediction is when the dollar gives way it is no longer the trading currency in petroleum the United States will fragment into different sections, this and extreme climate change and demographics – Mexico will enlarge its borders.

Speaking of demographics in regards to music you must be reaching new territories you never dreamed to have reached…

Who works as hard as us? I mean Tool – there’s been thirteen years between their last release and this one, we’ve done three albums in that time and been touring HARD in a Spartan manner the way it should be because when you have too much comfort your music sounds soft! [laughs]

Speaking of music – one album that went under the radar was the Live at The Astoria release.

Not surprising as it was one of the worst tours of our lives, I haven’t seen it but everyone says it was good! I saw the opening and was surprised how good the sound was – it was one of the best live recordings ever. I miss all that, look at the shithole now, concrete and glass everywhere. I don’t even recognise Tottenham Court Road – it’s a different place, everything’s resembling a termite mound.

No one’s batting an eyelid, driving past an empty space – next thing there’s a silver building but no one knows what it’s for.

It’s all backhanders with planners and corrupt councils. You can’t trust human beings and that’s why governments should resemble jury service so there’s no vested interests. Until there’s further augmentations to the human condition we can’t trust human beings, they’re greedy, war-like and that’s because they’ve got the genes of primates mixed with genes of exo-intelligence and they go in opposite directions. Part of us doesn’t want to be on this planet – it yearns for somewhere else. Our bodies only want cooked food, they don’t like food in its natural state, part of our DNA makeup is not from here.

That’s why we’re at war with ourselves.

You’ve always moved around a lot living a subterranean lifestyle but you’ve bene in South America a lot recently – how’s life there?

Fantastic. I’m doing it for you, I’m living in rent free luxury – what we must all aspire to. Think about it – how much do we waste on rent and fucking mortgages and stuff? We can do better things with that money right? It’s one thing you have to concentrate hard on – living a rent free existence, well I’m good at that! I just keep moving – I don’t mind hardship, I don’t even mind moving to a country with no money in my pocket, I trust myself.

From my twenties – from Revelations onwards – I would move country and make a point of taking no more than £10 with me, I would stay in South America for six weeks on that. I’d meet someone and find a way to survive. I made that point so I wasn’t tyrannised by money or poverty, I’ve moved countries like this loads of times – the Middle East I would do like this – I go to mosques because you can feed yourself every Friday in the mosque as a stranger. I’m crazy mate! [Uproarious laugh]

So whereabouts in South America are you?

I’m in Lima, I go between there, Sao Paolo and san Jose in Costa Rica because I’m working with Buh Records and that’s where they’ve got bases.

You’ve done work with a band I really like in DEAFKIDS…

This new record is fucking on fire, I’ve worked with them on one record that’s not out yet, I’ve fundraised for them and we’ve done an awesome recording, mind-blowing! Revolutionary.

Does it restore your faith in music?

No one’s got any money so I help fundraise the recordings that I do with them, it’s part of the whole thing I do with the UN which is classical music as well and then I did Deflore recently, all these bands are supporting Killing Joke at some point and they’re the ones that totally inspired me. DEAFKIDS – when you see their little society they’ve created in a country where the president [Bolsonaro] is trying to stop bands from existing, has cut funding to orchestras , is burning down the Amazon and has death squads and they’re a band who exists and create heaven on earth – fuck yeah I’ll work for them.

There’s another band in Sao Paolo they always play with, a girl industrial band – Rakta – and they co-headline together, I’ll be heading with the duo to Lebanon to record with them.

I’m setting up a travelling club which I’ll take around South America next year which will be a masquerade party – bands and visual artists, different stage sets and it’ll start at five o’clock and go on late!

What’s next for Killing Joke?

A first-class flight with Singapore airlines home to a beach for a break… break a few necks more like! [laughs] Look, I like being on the frontlines but I need to recharge my batteries too so when I go to New Zealand I’m aiming to train hard on my body with this guy called Richie Hardcore and he’s good friends with the only politician I like in the world – the prime minister of New Zealand (Jacinda Ardern) My commitment to counter culture in rock music – revolutionary rock music because counter culture’s really important because I can see a time when if there’s no money from the cash point machines and cities have only got three minutes of food we can’t even think about music if we’re getting hungry or the arts until our primary needs are met so the art centres of the future are farms which I’m planning in South America and New Zealand.

What’re your highlights of the year so far?

Liam Carrol (Vocals) – “Probably some highlights for us
for the last year include Touring Japan with Suffocation (USA), The Faceless
(USA) and Aversions Crown (AUS) and filming the video clip for ‘UNEARTHED’.”

 

What are your goals for the rest of the year?

Sam Shergold (Drums) – “We’re actually in the studio
working on our next release and are currently planning an Australian tour, as
well as on the look out for an opportunity to come out to the UK and Europe in
2020.”

 

Which new bands/artists are you into right now?

Neil McNaughton (Bass) – “I guess that’s a bit of a
different story for each of us, but I guess generally we listen to a lot of
Architechs, Thy Art is Murder, Northlane and Periphery. Sam and I (NM) caught
Architects Show live in August and it was amazing how they brought together so
many elements to create an awesome show, we definitely have taken some really
great ideas aware from that”

 

What was the band or artist that got you into music or
inspired you to be a musician?

Alex Myers (Guitar) – “Growing up, my father (Alan Gresley) didnt
stray much from bands from the 60s and 70s, his favourite being The Beatles. I
started playing guitar with an old Beatles song book and a beat up old
acoustic. I didn’t get serious with the guitar until I first heard One by
Metallica. After only playing the guitar for close to a month I didn’t put it
down till I could play as much of the song as I could, which at the time was
just the intro, and I played it wrong. But that feeling I got from hearing and
playing something so different from what I grew up with stayed with me and
still inspires me to pick up the guitar today.”

 

How best do you write?

LC – “For our next release we tried doing some Co-Writing,
so we have been taking it in turns to sit down with Alex and create some really
cool material which we’re hoping you’re going to love!”

 

What was your wildest show so far, and why?

Ben Simpson (Guitar) – “So far we would have to say
Shiboya in Japan, our first ever international show to have so many people
getting into our Music was truly a magical moment for me!”

 

Where is the furthest across the globe you’ve played so
far?

AM – “The furthest we have
travelled so far is Japan, but we’re hoping to expand that out to the UK in
2020 so hopefully next time you talk to us we can say we have made it over!”

What’re
your highlights of the year so far?

Prav Smith (Drums) – Releasing our first
music video “Macy” and playing at Camden Rocks Festival.

Josh Jacobs (Guitars)
Definitely releasing our first music video, Macy. Getting signed to Engineer
Records was another major highlight for me – it really just gives me more
motivation to push harder and reach greater heights with the band.

Ben Felix (Vocals, Bass)
Honestly, our first gig as a band (even though that was mid- 2018). That was
the first gig I played in over 5 years (after countless failed projects in the
past, some heartbreaking!) and my first ever gig playing an instrument as well
as singing. It brought me back to what I believe is my reality – being on stage
and singing my lungs out.

Playing
Camden Rocks and getting signed were amazing achievements as well, but nothing
beats just getting up there and taking that first step that so many people are
never able to do. I feel very lucky to be able to do what we love.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?

 

PS – Nail marketing and
release of our debut EP and play a kickass UK tour

JJ – Get our EP heard by
as many people as possible. Kill our EP release tour. Sleep more.

BF – For this year, we’re
definitely going to focus on our EP as the guys have said. We are working with
our label and PR guys to promote it the best we can so that it can be heard by
as many people as possible. The tour is obviously top of the list!

Which new bands/artists
are you into right now?

 

PS – Ari Lennox, Billie
Ellish, Sam Henshaw, Noel Gallagher, H.E.R, Tom Misch

JJ – In Her Own Words,
Fever 333, Wage War…and yes, Billie Eilish.

BF – Stand Atlantic,
Mainsail, Maven, Yours Truly.

What was the band or artist that got you into music or inspired you
to be a musician?

 

PS
Soundgarden.

JJ – It’s a mix, but
Linkin Park for sure. Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda definitely had a
major impact on me growing up. Metallica heavily influenced my guitar playing
and was my gateway into heavier music and more technical guitar work.

BF – Question of the day,
haha! The first rock album I listened to, was Meteora by Linkin Park. That
album changed my life. I, then, came across Evanescence, Creed, Seether and
eventually Green Day and Nirvana. American Idiot and Nevermind, to me, are the
two most important albums ever made in

the history of
Rock ‘n Roll. The song ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ was the reason I picked up a guitar,
and to this day, is one of the first songs I strum when I pick up a guitar at
home.

How best do you write?

 

PS – With a guitar, coupled with slow incremental progress. Writing parts
in the studio with the band is a big part.

JJ – Pravir’s kidding,
drummers can’t play guitar! I tend to write in bursts – it’s either very slow
progress or suddenly I’d have finished an entire section and be tracking stuff
in Logic to see how it sounds.

BF – It depends on my
mood. I mostly write lyrics first, based on an idea I have in my head. The idea
for Macy came to me when I was on a train in Finland – from a graffiti image
sprayed on a wall. It took me 6 years to write Tomorrow’s Revolution – not
joking! The idea first came to me when I was at uni and most employers wouldn’t
even consider hiring me because I was an immigrant without a work permit. There
was a lot of anger – and it inspired a whole new world that I’ve written about
– that world is called ‘Nevernia’ – its very much what the EP is based around.
Once I have finished writing the lyrics to a song, I’ll put some basic chords
around it and then take it to the studio to work on, with the band.

What was your wildest
show so far, and why?

 

PS – Camden
Rocks Festival because it was so raw and after the show I got kicked out of
another band that I was part of and then just realised that Jack and Sally
meant everything to me and that those guys could **** off.

JJ – Christ, I’m not
topping Pravir’s answer. My wildest show I think was one at Fiddlers when I
realised people were singing our songs back at us for the first time, and that
was nuts. People bought our merch for the first time too, that night, which was
even crazier for me. Great show.

BF – I have to say, it was
a charity festival we played in Brandon, called Fives Fest. We literally played
in a lorry! Based on a photo we came across later on Instagram, it’s highly
likely that Ed Sheeran played in the same lorry in the past – which is crazy
haha…

Where is
the furthest across the globe you’ve played so
far?

 

PS – Probably anywhere in
the UK because I am from India and only moved here in 2017.

JJ – Northhampton for the Bloodstock semi finals probably? I mean,
anything north of Camden is pretty far for us London lads…

BF – I’ve done gigs in
Durham, but that wasn’t as part of Jack and Sally. Like Josh said, Northampton
is the furthest we’ve been so far as a band but that is going to change very
soon.

What’re your highlights of
the year so far?

Dom Smith (drums): I think
playing Fully York Festival with The Parasitic Twins, but getting a full band
together for MATR and jamming these songs has been great too.

What are your goals for the
rest of the year?

Mary and the Ram have just
been signed to Syndicol Music to release our new single, ‘Eclipse’, and we are
really buzzed about that.

Which new bands/artists are
you into right now?

Check out: LIFE, Black
Futures, Drug Church, Gender Roles, Birthmarks, Victim Unit, Pile and Miles (ex
Epilogues).

What was the band or
artist that got you into music or inspired you to be a musician?

Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn
Manson and Placebo

How best do you write?

As a band, Kiran writes
the lyrics, and me, Edward (Alan Logie) and Andy (Glen) build the sounds and
structure, In the studio, I build the drum sounds and Kiran arranges them in
NIN-esque fashion.

What was your wildest show
so far, and why?

Dunno, mate. I’m all about
tea, biscuits and cocaine-filled human pile-ups after gigs.

Where is the furthest
across the globe you’ve played so far?

The Parasitic Twins tour
Thailand in October, and I’m probably going to die.

What’re your highlights of the year so far?

 

Although I should probably put something musical in here for
the No 1 highlight, I think that passing all 3 A Levels with solid grades was
my happiest moment. The relief was really quite over-whelming!

Following that, most of the highlights are music related. I
was happy to win the UK Song writing contest with my song T-shirt. Subsequently
they have asked me to be a judge for the contest, which is a great honour.

I loved supporting Ronan Keating at Castle Howard back in
August. Unfortunately for Ronan his set was cut in half by overhead thunder and
lighting. It was pretty dramatic.

The music festivals this summer have been crazy. I have been
lucky to be on some amazing stages with some awesome artists – this is
definitely my ‘happy place’.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?

I’m hoping that touring with Boyzlife is going to be a really
positive experience. I have been reliably informed that Brian and Keith are
great fun and really supportive. My goal from this tour is to sell some
merchandise and deliver some great live performances.

I am hoping to sign a publishing deal before the year is out,
release 3 singles and bag some more festivals for the 2020 season. I am
realistic but determined and positive at the same time.

Which new bands/artists are you into right now?

I like listening to Maisie Peters (who I have been listening
to for a long time)/ I also like Noah Khan. My music taste is pretty broad to
be honest and you can def catch me dancing away to my 80’s playlist the I’m
with my friends! I’m also loving Joy Crookes, Kara Marni and Plested.

What was the band or artist that got you into music or
inspired you to be a musician?

Like many people of my age, Ed Sheehan has been a huge
influence on me especially as a writer. There are many artists who have worked
so hard for years to achieve their ambition and this too can really inspire.
Dean Lewis from Australia has taken 6/7 years but is now selling out arenas –
last year he was working in a music shop).
Taylor Swift has been a massive inspiration from such a young age – just
lyrically wow.

How best do you write?

I have done some joint writing sessions recently in Berlin,
which I really enjoyed and definitely benefitted from. But other than those
sessions, I have mainly written alone. I have never had to write on demand
before but I enjoyed the process. When I write at home, once the hook comes,
most song don’t take more than 20mins!!!!! I use both the piano and guitar to
write – it just depends on where I am I guess!

What was your wildest show so far, and why?

I was approached in August 2017 by the Big Day Out – bear in
mind that I hadn’t performed my own music anywhere except my bedroom. I didn’t
play guitar at that point either. An act cancelled so I was approached via a
fellow musician. They wanted me to do a 30 min set and the crowd was going to
be 10K strong!!!!!!!

I was 16, was doing work experience at the time and didn’t
know any guitarists who could play for me. Long story short…..I found a mate who
could play, we had 2 short rehearsals and then played to a crowd on 10K!
Madness but an amazing adrenaline rush. I loved it. Apparently, the crowd loved
me and that cemented  my burning desire
to be a singer/songwriter.

Where is the furthest across the globe you’ve played so far?

Whenever we go on family holidays, I normally sniff out a bar
with live music and end up doing a mini set or joining the house band!! Last
year that was in Thailand! In terms of an official gig, I was invited to a
private showcase in New York last year and that was a pretty intense
experience.

It
was an absolute pleasure to speak with the “Godfather of Thrash”, Bobby
Gustafson, mostly known for his time with Overkill. Bobby was very comfortable
speaking about the past, what he’s doing now and what he plans to do in the
future.

Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me
how you started out and how you joined Overkill.

I
had a guitar in my hands all the time when I was a kid. I would literally walk
a mile home from school to play at lunchtime and walk all the way back. My parents
saw how much I practiced, and I got this cheap guitar from Sears. I was still
in my last year of High School. Two years later I auditioned for Overkill.

My
first show was in a bar when I was 15. A DJ friend of mine snuck me into bars,
and I would carry his records in the booth. His name was Chuck, and he later
became the DJ at L’Amour in Brooklyn. Through him, I met John who played in Law
& Order. That band wanted Ratt (Skates), and he tried to steal Ratt for his
own band, but they recommended me for this band he knew that was looking for
guitarists. We tried to find DD’s house for the audition, and we got lost. By the
time we got there it was pretty late, but they wanted me to come back. We had
another guitar player for 2 weeks, he quit, we tried someone else, he quit, and
I told the band I could do it myself. The band was playing covers at the time
but I wanted to play original music. Within 8 months we had everything set to
go and put on our first show.

Our
first show was in August of ’83. Jon Zazula first saw in Jan of ’84, and it was
a blizzard. No one came out. It was a horrible show. The next time he saw us we
opened up for Anvil at L’Amour in October of ’84 and we ripped. We were razor
tight and had more songs. He gave us a contract the next day. But we had to
wait to get into the Pyramid studio until Nov of ’85. We didn’t know any
better. We were kids. That’s where he wanted us to go. We did what we were
told. So it seems like we were a bit later than the other bands, but we were
right there. We could have had that album out a lot sooner.

Then you released Feel the Fire. It was
received extremely well. What did you contribute to that? Did you write lyrics,
music, produce…?:

I
did a couple of lyrics, on the songs “Kill at Command” and “There’s No Tomorrow.”
I was really good at coming up with song titles, and Blitz would write the
lyrics on his own and then try to fit them to the title. I think I came up with
the album cover. I was the only one who wanted orange, they wanted green, so we
went with green. Then I told Biohazard why we used it, and Biohazard came out
with orange, so I credit myself for them using it. It really stood out. We
needed a color that would really stand out in a dark club. But then the green
grew on me.

You did some overseas tours, correct?

The
very first time we went overseas was the spring of ’86. Metal Hammer tour with
Anthrax and Agent Steel. Then with Slayer when we’re doing Taking Over, then
with Helloween was a big one in Europe, then with Megadeth, they were promoting
Peace Sells. We did another Slayer
tour in Europe, and a Slayer/Motorhead tour in the US, going into promoting The Years of Decay.

I remember seeing you guys at L’Amour A
LOT. Overkill and Anthrax were practically the house bands. Tell me about those
days.

We
became friends with the owners, and then they started managing us. We started
opening for bands, and then they started giving us Friday nights, and when
those would sell out, they gave us Saturday nights. Then we’d sell out on
Friday AND Saturday night. Everybody stopped there, from Queensrÿche to Maiden.

What did you do after you left Overkill?

I
started with I for an I, did some writing, the Cycle Sluts asked me to do a
solo so I helped them out, but I really wanted a change. I didn’t want to be
thrash anymore. I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to be
compared to what I did before.

Does it bother you to be referred to as “The
Former Overkill guitarist?”

It
doesn’t bother me. I’m told that they’re still playing my songs, and that the
majority of what the audience responds to are my four albums. To know that you
have four albums from me, 30 years ago, and you have 16 albums after me, and my
songs are getting the biggest response, I’m proud of that. As far as I’m
concerned, it sustains what they’re doing right now. They have albums they
don’t play any songs from. If it wasn’t for me they would still be a cover band
from New Jersey.

In 2017 you released, Axe to the Head of My Enemies. Tell me
why you decided to do that.

Friends
on the internet kept saying, “You should play again.” I had material left over,
so we put these 5 songs on the internet. Unfortunately, we used Tune Core, and
they didn’t do anything with it. There was no distribution. Then I wrote 5 more
songs, added it to the EP, created the album and called them “bonus tracks.” We
decided to sell it ourselves. We made enough money to go into the studio again.
I sat down and wrote 12 songs for the new one.

When you released Axe, I remember you wanted to release it on CD only so people could
have something to hold in their hands. Looking back, do you regret not
releasing it digitally?

Not
really. I hear from other bands that they’re not getting paid from it. Trust
me, it’s a pain packing CDs and sending them out. But I wanted control over it.
Sometimes we lost money sending them to Japan and Europe. I just wanted to get
it out there. These songs that I wrote in my room are now in Japan and New
Zealand. That made me happy.

We have to talk about your band name.
Some people love it. Some people are, “What the hell??” How did you come up
with that?”

Like
it is right now, it’s super-hot in Florida. Somebody said, ‘Oh my God it’s hot
as hell.” And the way my mind works, I always have to one up it, so I tried to
think of the hottest thing I could come up with, and I said, “Well, it’s not as
hot as Satan’s Taint.” We giggled about it all day, and I thought, “That sounds
like a good band name”, so I wrote it down, along with other band names. I
didn’t want to take it too seriously. There are a LOT of bad band names out
there. Just scroll on Twitter. I didn’t want to be forgettable. I’d rather have
a good band with a shit name than a shit band with a good name. I thought I
needed something that’s gonna stick out, whether they love it or not. People
loved it at first, it’s only recently that it’s been an issue. With a new band
coming out every day, you gotta have something that’s gonna stick out.  Do you really think that Pink Floyd is a great
name? I think it’s silly, but they’re one of the greatest bands of all time. I
could make it kind of vanilla, so no one gets offended, I could make it a
little scary, a little funny, but I don’t have to impress anybody. My music
will do the talking for me. It sounds good when you say it, it looks good on a
shirt. The word Satan means nothing to me. It’s just a word.

I don’t think it’s the word “Satan”
that’s making people scratch their heads. I think it’s the other word. I’ve
never heard that word used in a band name.

That’s
exactly why I did it! You know what it is…Satan – ooh, scary, Taint – juvenile.
One cancels each other out.

I
never heard that word until we went on tour with Anthrax in ‘86. I think
Frankie had it scratched onto his bass. Some people think it’s supposed to mean
“tainted”…and I thought, well, that’s pretty cool too, like what would taint
Satan’s thought pattern? What would scare him? But most people don’t go to that
– they go to the meaning of the word. You either get it or you don’t.

So there’s really no relationship
between the name of the band and the music. It’s just a name.

No.
There are a lot of bands whose names don’t match what they play. Like Butthole
Surfers. Metallica’s got metal in their name. At my age I wanted to come up
with some dirty ass heavy name, and I look back at what I did 30 years ago, and
a lot of it’s funny. It’s laughable. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you got a
problem. I wanted to have something fun the second time around. I didn’t want
everything to be so serious. I wanted to make music and have fun. I wanted to
be in control and not have deadlines, not have some manager tell me I gotta get
back on the road again. I wanted to make music in my time, when I want to do it
and when I feel like it’s done.

In your music, there are some Nordic
themes, some Viking stuff, so I’m curious: Do you have that heritage?

Yes.
My last name is obviously Scandinavian. I’m Swedish on my father’s side. There
were Gustafson’s that were kings in Sweden. I don’t really know much about it
because my grandparents were dead before I was born, but my Dad was always
proud of his Swedish heritage and I love history. I always fell back on my
Swedish and Italian background.

So Mom is Italian?

Mom’s
Italian, yeah. We can trace her side back to the 1500. There were two brothers
who have a music school that’s still in existence today.

Then
the Viking television series came out, and that was pretty popular, and I
always wanted to do this music. Other bands have done it; I know it’s not the
most original thing in the world, but it’s something history-wise that I liked.

When you say, “A lot of other bands have
done it”, that’s true, but they’re mostly Scandinavian bands. I don’t know of
any American bands doing Viking music. OK, Amon Amarth have been here so often,
they speak perfect English, they’re on Metal Blade, they are practically an
American Band now (laughing).

There
was one band in the early ‘80s called Odin, but since it is my heritage I do
have some claim to it. But we also write about other things, like the raids,
the killing, the exploring, that go hand-in-hand with metal. I actually wrote a
song called “Raid Again” that marries both themes together – it could be a
Viking raid or it could be about a band on tour hitting the stage. It’s just
that explorer type of spirit that a band has, on the road, exploring new
places, new lands, countries, clubs…I thought the similarities were kind of cool.

The new CD, Destruction Ritual, I love
the first single, Desecration.

Yes,
that’s going to be a video soon. We followed the lyrics strictly, and found
video clips that fit. I try to dig a little be deeper, and do things that
people have never heard of before. I’m always reading and coming up with stuff
that’s not typical. I just don’t want the music to be your typical mind candy.
Like the name, I just don’t want it to be something vanilla that people pass
over. Whether it’s the lyric, or the song title, people can research some of
the stuff I’m talking about.

There’s definitely some rage in your
song titles: “Spit in Your Coffin”, “End your Bloodline”…

(Laughing)
The engineer said that to me one day. He said, “Whatever made you so angry?” I
said, “Living.” He cracked up. There are enough bands that put nothing out,
nothing that raises your interest or gives you something to think about. I
wanted to fill that void.

I think the music will definitely speak
for itself. And you are going to be releasing it digitally, right?

Yes,
the pre-orders have already started. You get the one song now. The actual
release date is August 2nd. That’s new for me, this gigantic
build-up.

I know on the first one you played
everything except the drums, right? What did you play on this one?

With
the first one, I did all the guitar work; I had some guest musicians do some
solos and leads. I had a couple of different drummers. With this one, instead
of having to mail stuff out to other people, waiting for them to get into a studio
to play, waiting to get it back…I could see it dragging on forever. I had the
music all in my head, I can play bass, so I thought, let’s just get it done. I
did all the solos too. Basically it was me and my drummer, Jim McCourt. I used
the same two singers, Dan Ortega and Paolo Velazquez. They got 5 songs each,
one they sung on together, “Forever is nothing.” They both sing in Spanish on
that one. There’s one instrumental. They got to pick out the ones they thought
fit them musically.

Is there any possibility that you might
get out and tour?

I’m
working on it. I’m talking to other bands, calling in favors, but I think what
will probably really help is when the album comes out. A lot of the agencies I
spoke to that said, “I’m a big fan of your old stuff” might come around. I’d
love to do a festival or a cruise.

Is there any guitarist out there right
now that you follow or admire?

There
are tons of great guitar players, tons of players better than me. I learned
early on not to judge anybody. A friend told me long ago that if you play by
yourself, you will develop your own style. I don’t worry about what anyone else
is doing. There are plenty of good players who are just not discovered. But if
you don’t have a song – that’s what connects with people. I’m not worried about
my guitar playing; I’m worried about writing a song, because that’s what people
remember. They don’t remember solos, they remember songs. I consider myself a
better songwriter than I am a guitar player. You need something memorable that
connects with people. Anyone can shred. Look at Yngwie – I think he’s probably
the world’s best guitar player. But what was his last song? Couldn’t name it.
That one from the ‘80s? People will come and watch you play and do a solo for
90 minutes, but are they walking out humming anything? If you just want to see
someone shred go see Steve Vai.

So what’s the plan to get this new CD
out?

Doing
interviews like now, the link is out on Facebook, and hopefully get a few shows
in. The video should help. We’re going to try to do videos for two more songs.
I’ve already started writing a 3rd album. I’ve got about a 106 riffs
right now. Every time I pick up the guitar I put something on tape.

Speaking of videos, every once in a while
you catch an Overkill video on a “Metal Hour” on TV, you know which one?

Elimination
(laughing). I still dig that video.

It’s a great song, it’s a great video.

Here’s
some history, that song almost didn’t make it to the album. We had all the
songs written except for that one. It was half done. When we went in to go
record, I finished it in the studio. We almost made it an 8-song album, but I
said, “No, I really like this riff.” So I finished it, and we recorded it.

Every song on that album is great, and
it sounds like you have a great album ready to come out.

It’s
funny; people tell me there are people’s kids coming to see me. But now kids
are totally getting into the 80’s, and their parents are still digging it too,
which is crazy. I would never listen to the stuff from the ‘60s my older
brother would listen to. But there’s something about metal it’s one of those
forms of music that just continues as long as the songs are good. I think it’s
great.

I
want to be remembered for putting out good music. This new album is the best
continuation of what I did with my previous band that I could possibly have
right now.

And by putting out a second CD, you’re
showing that Axe to the Head of my
Enemies
was not a one-trick pony, that it wasn’t just material you had left
over but now the well has run dry.

Not
in the least. Wait until you hear it. It’s all the best from the first album
magnified on this one.

I think that’s a good note to end on.
Thank you for speaking with me about your career, and your history, and your
new music, and what you have planned. I look forward to seeing where this goes,
and of course, to the release of the new album.

It’s
very exciting to have something released after all these years. I said when I
first started that as long as people keep buying it, I will continue to put out
music. I’m not looking to get rich off of it, just to make enough to make
another album.

Destruction
Ritual will be released on August 2nd on Megaforce Records.