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MetalSucks Exclusive: Jeff Loomis’ First Interview Since Leaving Nevermore

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photos by Daniel Zetterstrom

In April, Jeff Loomis (#7 on our list of the Top 25 Modern Metal Guitarists) and drummer Van Williams announced their departure from Nevermore. And while bands lose members all the time, few splits have ever rocked the metal world the way this one did. The idea of Nevermore without Williams and, especially, Loomis, seemed like blasphemy to a lot of fans — including this one. For Loomis is truly a guitar god; his style and sound define Nevermore, and if he retired tomorrow, his legend would already be assured.

But Loomis stayed quiet about the cause of the split, even as Nevermore vocalist Warrel Dane openly talked smack in the press. Instead of dwelling on the past, it seemed that Loomis wanted to concentrate on the future: In July, he teased a new solo effort — his first since 2008’s Zero Order Phase — and in August, he revealed that he’d recruited some pretty incredible collaborators for that album, including Soilwork drummer Dirk Verbeuren, and 7 Horns 7 Eyes’ guitarist Aaron Smith, who is producing the release.

And while there’s still no official release date or even a title for Loomis’ first post-Nevermore outing, he has, at last, started to speak out on the whirlwind year he’s been experiencing… albeit cautiously. He’s granted interviews to a few European magazines, but MetalSucks is the only North American media outlet with whom he has discussed — and, as we understand, will discuss — the break-up. And, yes, as card carrying members of the Cult of Loomis, we were only too thrilled to be able to get his side of the story.

After the jump, read everything Loomis has to say about what went wrong with Nevermore, how he feels about Dane’s comments in the press, the current status of his relationship with Dane and Nevermore bassist Jim Sheppard, and, of course, some juicy details on his new solo album.

Let’s dive right in with the obvious question: From your perspective, what happened with Nevermore?

Van and I started discussing leaving Nevermore when we were on our last tour with Symphony X in Europe. Obviously, as everyone knows, Nevermore had been together since 1993, and we were very happy for many years. I think that over a period of time, with excessive touring and doing records together, we just got burnt out from one another. There were also many issues with drinking and alcohol abuse [my own] included. I’m not out to do interviews about the end of Nevermore and just zero out particular people in the band, that would be wrong and false information anyway.

We were on the last leg of the Symphony X tour and Van and I had a talk with Warrel backstage and we told him we didn’t want to continue on with the next tour with Symphony X in the States. We wanted to take some time and regroup, so to speak, and wait for Jim to come back, since he was recovering from brain surgery. Warrel really did not like that idea, but Van and I stuck with it, thinking it was a smart move to maybe start fresh at a later date. All hell kind of broke from that [discussion], because the concert promoter [in the U.S.] got pissed off, and I heard through the grapevine that we might get sued because of it. That’s pretty much when Van and I issued a statement that we were going to depart from the band.

I really just had had enough at the end. I want to do different things musically, and I think it was just better that we left. It was quite amazing, though, with all the response we got from our fans. It’s really nice to know that we affected so many people in a positive way with our music.

So you started discussing leaving the band during that tour… at that point, for how long had you known that there were serious problems within the band?

For quite some time actually… there were many problems health-wise that were kinda getting scary. Warrel had a problem with his pancreas and diabetes back in ’05, and Jim recently underwent brain surgery to remove a small brain tumor, plus he had issues with Crohn’s disease. Sometimes Jim wasn’t able to tour because of that, and we would always have to find a replacement. Troubles happen all the time in bands, and we always dealt with them. I think that over a period of time, though, that started to kind of take a toll with never having the whole original band onstage at certain times when we were on tour. People were asking tons of questions about it, and we would do the best we could with trying to explain everything, but sometimes fans wouldn’t understand or get the real picture of what was going on. So, yes, I would say from as early on as 2005, there were issues we had to deal with, medical-wise.

So… not trying to get you to talk smack or anything, but Warrel said some very not nice things about Van in the press, and claimed he had learned you guys quit via Blabbermouth.  Do you have any thoughts on the way he reacted? Did he learn about the split via the internet? 

Yeah, when I read [what Warrel said about Van] I was really bummed. I’ve known Warrel for twenty years now, and still, to this day, I sometimes can’t figure him out. He has known Van for almost twenty years as well, and to say something like that is really sad, especially after the numerous tours and records we have done together.

Van is the kind of guy that speaks what he believes in. He is from New York and he is my best buddy. When certain issues would come up in the band, he never had a problem holding back his thoughts, and I don’t think Warrel liked that very much.

A lot of that started about five or six years ago when we used to get paid through Warrel and Jim. This sucked really bad for many reasons. Number one, you shouldn’t be getting paid by other band members, especially  when you’re in a signed band. Van and I ended up going to our manager and lawyer to get paid through them. Equal split four ways. Its so simple. This bothered Warrel and Jim quite a bit. For some reason, Jim had always thought he was our “manager,” and the one that could get things done.This actually worked for a while, but in the long run, it really didn’t. I wish he would had just stuck to playing his bass at those times, because it ended up not being a good thing at all.

I think Warrel might have heard prior to the Internet [reports] that Van and I wanted to leave, but you know, I can’t be certain.

Have you spoken to Warrel or Jim since the split at all?

I try to reach out sometimes with those guys, but right now we are keeping our distance.

Okay. Last questions about the break up before we move on to your new solo album: Can you ever see yourself going back to Nevermore, or do you think it’s pretty much done at this point? And how do you feel about Warrel and Jim’s decision to try and continue Nevermore without you?

I don’t know… I think it’s best at this point for me to move on. I think I did as much as I could musically in Nevermore.

As far as them keeping the band going, that is entirely up to them, of course. I think as the original unit with Van and I involved, there will surely be that missing link as far as the tone and sound of the band goes. I always hated seeing bands without the original members simply because you can’t identify certain elements and original phrasing when they are gone. Even when I replaced Sean Blosl in Sanctuary, it was hard for me to replicate a lot of his playing. It’s not going to be easy. If they do continue, I hope they get good musicians to do it. It takes time and energy — you can’t just hop up on stage and play a Nevermore tune.

Okay! So now that we have the past out of the way, let’s discuss your future. What can you tell us about your new solo album? Is it something that you were either working on or planning to do prior to leaving the band, or did it not come up until after?

My solo album is something I’m very excited about. Of course it will be chock full of the things guitar freaks want to hear instrumental-wise, but there will also be four vocal tunes on it as well. I’m working with a singer by the name of Christine Rhoades. She sang back-up vocals on Nevermore’s Dreaming Neon Black, and she has an amazing voice. This is an album that is a follow up to my last instrumental record, Zero Order Phase, from ’08. This new release will be a bit more “worked out” musically. Even though I’m very proud of my last one, I was still in Nevermore at the time, and wasn’t as focused as I am now. I’m putting all my energy into this release, and I think fans of Nevermore and aggressive guitar playing will be really happy with the outcome.

Me and my producer Aaron Smith are just working on the general tracking of it right now. Drums, bass, rhythm guitar and vocals are all now complete. I don’t have a title set in stone for the release yet, but check out my website for more details on that in the very near future.

I will also have some guest guitarists as well… more details on that to come shortly, too.

Can you be a little more specific about what you mean when you say that this release will be a little more “worked out” than Zero Order Phase? Are there stylistic differences? Differences in the songwriting? The production? All of the above?

On Zero Order Phase, I did a lot of improv work when it came down to soloing. On the new album, I will compose the solos and really get them dialed in as to what the song needs. We are also going to work with MIDI orchestration on a few of the songs as well, meaning that there will be some symphonic things going on, like voices, violins and cellos, etc., etc. Many of the instrumentals go back to elements of my old school thrash influences, which is kind of a different vibe from what I did on the last album.

In general, the production is going to be quite heavy. We are dialing in some killer tones for guitar, and, of course, Dirk from Soilwork really laid down the foundation of the entire album from the get go. He is so awesome. Shane Lentz, the bass player, added killer bass lines, and did an outstanding job as well.

Is Christine writing the lyrics, too, or are you contributing to those as well?

Christine wrote the lyrics for all four songs [on which she appears].

Can we assume that a tour will follow? And if so, will the touring line-up be the same as the line-up on the album?

Yes, I would love to tour for both my last release and the new one. I just ended up doing a bunch of guitar clinics for Zero Order Phase, which was fun, but not as fun as playing live.

I would like to tour with Christine and Shane. If time allows for Dirk to do it, I would be totally thrilled. I know how busy he is because his drumming skills are in very high demand by many other musicians, but if he can do it that would be great. But yes, be looking for a tour later next year sometime.

 

Thanks to Jeff for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us. Now do what the man says and stay tuned to his official website for more details on his upcoming solo release.

-AR

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