METAL ENOUGH: WARBRINGER’S JOHN KEVILL TALKS WORLDS TORN ASUNDER, PRODUCER STEVE EVETTS, AND BEING METAL
Warbringer is a band that uses elbow grease: Screamer John Kevill and crew work hard, make forceful records, and tour enough to symbolically qualify as vagrants. But with less reliance on modern music marketing — and its shrieking tone, nagging omnipresence, and sweaty odor — how does a no-nonsense act like Warbringer find purchase on the sheer cliff face of success? It helps that their three albums create a Warbringer world, with listener-orienting devices like common track order schemes (think Metallica’s second, third, and fourth albums), common art design (twice with tattoo-able art by Dan Seagrave), and common title phonetics (War, Waking, Worlds). It helps also that Warbringer’s band personality is totally eyeroll-proof, just the shared vibe of five cool metal fans in cool metal t-shirts being cool and metal just like you.
And Kevill exemplified that friendly, frank chillness in a chat with MetalSucks this week — after which we just gabbed about general metal for an equal amount of time — as he discussed new album Worlds Torn Asunder, Warbringer’s first non-traditional producer choice, their new drummer’s attention to the three P’s, and keeping his band totally metal. Trends die, but there’s always an audience for the real. That’s Warbringer.
Anso DF: You and I are talking on the release date of Warbringer’s new album. You guys must be excited, but is there some dread along with it these days?
John Kevill: Well, we are excited to get it out. We’ve had the record ourselves for like four months. We’ve been waiting that whole time for everyone else to hear it. We really wanna show everybody. We couldn’t. What it’s like to put out a record nowadays, though — of course the damn thing is gonna leak before you put it out, as all three of our fuckin’ records has done. [laughs] It seems like every record leaks within two weeks before it comes out. [By the time of its release,] half the people have already heard it.
It kills the mystique.
Yeah, when you’re looking forward to an album that’s coming out, y’know, it should be kinda an event. We’d like it to be an event. We worked hard on the records, y’know [laughs].
Are you super-pumped about Warbringer’s new drummer? He seems way engaged and totally awesome a player.
Yeah, oh Carlos is just a winner all around. His playing, his performance, and his personality — all around a good guy and good drummer. We’ve actually wanted him in the band for years — he’s from the same local scene as us — and he declined because he was working with his band Hexen. He was way into that. But then, basically I think some of the guys from that band checked out to go to school more or less. He was like, ‘No, I wanna play music!’
He already knew, like, most of our songs before we even jammed together. Just off of seeing us at shows and having a pretty good memory for that kind of stuff. He spent about a month just kinda getting used to the band. The whole band dynamic now is really friendly. He is a really positive kind of guy. It’s nice having people like that around. It makes the air cleaner, so to speak.
Can I bounce a theory off you?
Thanks! My sense is that Warbringer gets described in a unfair way. It seems like people think Warbringer does something that’s been done before. But you’re not cloning anything, like a retro or tribute band. You’re actually furthering an artform, picking it up where it once rested and carrying it somewhere. Do you agree?
Well, that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s up to people whether we succeed at that or not. We’re trying to make the best thrash that we possibly can. To us, we are in no way a tribute band of any kind. We are a fucking thrash band. I think we are legitimate thrash band that’s well worth listening to. Like other thrash bands. Time is fucking irrelevant. Only music matters.
I think that perception is easy because Warbringer is very traditional. I’m not talking about the music, but about your vibe and the ways the band is presented. The music is the biggest piece.
Yeah, I mean, we try to, y’know, be a real metal band. This is my first band and during our formative time in the band, since we all met each other, we see what metal means to us and we wanted to represent that. It’s an honest, from-the-heart thing. We’re going to carry ourselves the way we feel that a metal band should. There’s some values in that … that are pretty cool, I think [laughs]. It’s worth representing, you know? We’re not going to look like fags because it’s trendy. [laughs] That’s one thing, y’know … I really hate that. I think if you’re going to be a metal band, you should look like a fucking metal band and show that [laughs].
It’s degrading to the fan when a band tries so hard to be liked. But I think that some of history’s underrated bands had an approach similar to Warbringer: do albums, tour a shitload, work hard. Totally unsexy approach. Do you think about that?
[happily] Ah, not really. It’s like if success and fame were our driving goal, we’d be quite a different band. Even if we were still doing some form metal, you’d hear a lot more shunn djun djun. And I’d probably sound more like a modern screamer. Because that shit sells better than what we do, end of story. I actively kinda want to stand against that; that’s not my fucking heavy metal, y’know?
Some of the other guys listen to stuff from all over the spectrum of music. That’s cool and all, but I’m the guy who, like, if it’s not metal enough, I’m like ‘No, it’s not metal enough.’ That’s what I mean when I say I’m the nazi in the band. [laughs] It’s down to a point where they’re like, ‘Yeah we know that. We’ll keep it super-heavy or Kevill’s just not going to have it!’ [laughs]
After working with two consecutive old-school producers, why did Warbringer use a modern guy like Steve Evetts for Worlds Torn Asunder?
Y’know, it just kinda came together. We wanted a producer in this area cuz travelling makes it more difficult. We wanted something in the general area, where we could go and live outside of the studio. So we could stay focussed on the record. Steve’s name came up, we looked at what he’s done … It’s not like every release he’s done is cross-your-arms-and-scowl heavy metal; he’s done a whole spectrum of stuff. From talking to the guy, the guy just likes all kind of music. Which is sweet.
But he also gets what we’re doing; that’s the only qualification. It’s not like the qualification is that you’re exclusive to old metal or anything. The guys knows how music is supposed to sound, and is a fan of it. I actually had an awesome time working with Steve. He’s an awesome dude and I think he pushed me to do my best performance yet. That’s how I feel. I was really happy with that collaboration; I’d consider doing it again. Some people are like, ‘This guy’s more of a modern guy.’ But he’s been doing it a long time. He did Incantation and Demo[lition] Hammer, too. He’s been involved with bands in our general field.
My favorite record of Steve’s is Sepultura’s Against. That’s the energy I first expected from Worlds Torn Asunder — and I think it’s there! But in what ways did the project change because of Steve’s input?
The way he works with us is really focussed. It was one-on-one all the time. When I was doing vocals, nobody else was allowed in basically. Same goes for everybody else. That was interesting. It was just him and [one of us] working in there, and they’d we’d hear the track when it was done. He didn’t want any comments from the peanut gallery, which you inevitably have.
It took us the whole month to do it. Part of his philosophy is that the band’s sound comes 90% from the performance. So we spent most of the time getting the takes over and over. Like, the super loud double-bass is not [a product of] the lazy mentality; he was raging at this mentality and how common it is. That ‘Oh that’s off, but we’ll fix it in the editing’ thing. That wasn’t the approach we had. We consider ourselves a live band and we want the record to be, for the most part, our takes with as little fucking with them as possible.
You’ll notice there are a few spots on the album where there are some vocal effects going on. That’s something I haven’t really done before. But it was really cool. He’d have me print out the lyrics to all the songs, and we’d do ’em one at a time, and some of his ideas for effects were a sound he had in his head because of the words, what the lyrics were talking about.
In “Enemies Of The State,” the middle part is when you’re toiling in the labor camp, so he [proposed] we have it sound like the voice was coming from a P.A. speaker out to the downtrodden workers. He really tailored to the individual songs. That’s why I was on board with it. Having effects on my vocals is something I’m skeptical about, but his handling of that … That was his input on “Living Weapon,” the “open fire!” He totally got it. I found him totally awesome to work with. He had some great ideas that made it onto the record. Awesome job. He’s one of the reasons it turned out as well as it did.
This is weird, but I think Warbringer has a really positive vibe.
[laughs] Right? You wouldn’t expect it cuz our music is as negative as I can make it.
I listen to Warbringer at the beach with a huge smile on my face. The jamz are violent and negative, but the vibe is not hopelessness. Am I wrong?
That’s just who we are. Our perception of metal is … You rage really hard at what infuriates you, but in the end, you don’t listen to metal to have a shitty, bad time. That’s not what it does. Listen to metal and have an awesome time. We really want people to have a good time. Offstage, we just hang around and enjoy what we do. I think people kinda catch on to that and understand what we’re doing a little better from that.
I was hoping you wouldn’t laugh in my face about that.
Nah, I understand what you’re saying. We’re not overtly “party thrash” or anything, but I dont think it’s terrible party music either [laughs].
I had my mind blown at my first Warbringer show. That’s when I became a fan. Does it concern you, as part of a killer live band, that people get into bands that way less often now? It’s so much easier to have your mind made up before you experience the concert or album as it’s meant to be taken. Have you guys thought of capturing the Warbringer live spectacle with an official release?
Uh, it’s probably going to happen at some point. Before now, we only had two albums and that’s not really enough to justify [a live release]. Now that we have three, it’s more justifiable and we just need the right show. We’ve talked about it as a “maybe someday” sort of thing. We do consider ourselves a live band, though, so something like that would make sense for us.
Warbringer’s Worlds Torn Asunder is out now on Century Media. Order fancy CD/vinyl/shirt/flashdrive packages here.