EVILE (Ol Drake & Ben Carter) Interview
When it comes to Metal music, I am quite supportive towards a variety of different genres, however, the one that will always be closest to my heart is Thrash. Naturally, as every old-school fan tends to be, I am quite protective of the genre’s history and legacy and so I was never ashamed to admit my lack of enthusiasm and support towards some of the young bands like Evile which were being heavily advertised by labels as ‘spearheading’ the ‘revival’ of the scene. Evile, however, are about to release their thid studio album entitled “Five Serpent’s Teeth” which consists of ten fairly varied and, at times, impressive material. As soon as I realised that the band is finally showing signs of real individual worth, I decided to have a face-to-face conversation with drummer Ben Carter and guitarist Ol Drake – one which I must say was not only informative but also pretty enjoyable.
By Yiannis Stefanis.
• Hi, chaps. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, especially as I understand that you guys have a pretty busy schedule today.
Ben: No problem.
• I always believed that a band’s third studio album is the most important in it’s career! I mean, with regards the first, you normally have all the time in the world in order to record it and the second pretty much tends to be a continuation of the first, so I believe hat it is the third album which normally defines what a band is all about and where it is heading in terms of career. Now, to me, “Five Serpent’s Teeth” is quite different from what you guys have recorded in the past – do you share my thoughts at all?
Ben: Definitely. What you said about the first album, you know, you make the mark, in the second you either refine it or keep things much the same so you re-establish what you have already done. I think that if you look back through the years of all the bands’ careers, the third album is what puts them on the map properly. It defines the sound, it defines where you are in the industry, and every band who’s had a really good third album has gone to achieve ridiculous success. Now, if we got it right this time, then it is all really good for us. We like to think that we’ve got it right this time around; we’re all very proud of our third album and, fingers crossed, it will work in our favour this time.
Ol: I’d say that we’ve had a weird one with this. It is the first album that we…technically didn’t write the album as most of the songs were done in the rehearsal room before we were even signed and so, in a sense, the first album was not written. The second album was really our first attempt at writing as we sat back and thought: “Right, we’re writing an album which will be released around the world – what shall we do?” I think that we wanted to be different from the first album, but I think that we wanted to be a bit too different and so we went really experimental, like: “Oh, let’s try this” and it worked in certain ways, but I think that in certain ways we learned also what not to do, which we adapted to this album. This is why I think that we like this album so much – we learned what the crowds like, what we like and…everything just worked for us this time round; we all felt really comfortable in doing it and we are really proud of what it is!
• I have to be brutally honest with you guys; I cannot say that I am the biggest fan of your first two albums. It could be as a result of the fact that I am part of a generation that grew up listening to Thrash and feels a bit on the defensive when a Thrash Metal ‘comeback’ is advertised as heavily as it has been in your case. I did spot, however, both the talent and potential in your band and so decided to keep my ears open for new music coming from you and based on what I have heard – the variety and quality of the material – the future looks quite promising.
Ben: Cool, excellent.
• So yes, well done for that. I now realise that I am probably one of the few people who have started an interview by saying that they are not the biggest fans of your early work!
Ben: Look, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and that is something that we have said right from the start, you know? We have got that ‘marmite’ quality – some people love us, some people absolutely hate us (laughs). That’s good! There’s nothing better than a band that’s talked about in a negative way or a positive way, because at least you are talked about!
• One thing that you guys have done really well is to use every possible medium to promote your band, whether that is ‘Guitar Hero’ or by being constantly advertised on important news sites, such as Blabbermouth. That is a really clever approach to take, especially nowadays when a number of young bands are competing for a ‘place in the sun’, so to speak. In retrospect, do you feel that this clever way of advertising yourselves has worked to your benefit?
Ben: I think that the online side of the promotion is just an extention of how we are as people after a show. We are really accessible; I like to think that Evile is one of the most accessible bands in terms of fans coming and approaching us after a show. Going out, meeting people and, before you are to go out and play, having a chat and a couple of beers with people – that’s what playing music is all about! It’s all about interaction with the fans. There are so many bands that isolate themselves in the tour bus or in their dressing rooms and they never ever commit to going out and talking to their fans, which is something that we have done from day one! I think that, online, if that can be done in a similar way, then that is what we have to do in order to be perceived as being accessible and that is a good thing for us, and this is indeed a reflection of how it is that we are as people in a live environment. It’s like the online ‘liveness’, if that makes any sense (laughs).
Ol: Especially in Myspace: then that got popular, that really helped us in terms of getting the word out. I know that Matt (Drake; guitars/vocals) used to spend ages looking for people who like bands like Slayer and all that stuff, asking them to check Evile out. He would do that so much and so would I. Then Facebook came out and Twitter…I just think that it’s really good to keep in touch with what is happening, like Ben says. Everyone’s on the Internet, everyone’s on Facebook, Twitter and all that, so they’re going to want to know about the bands that they like through that media and you’ve simply got to be there telling them about you – if you don’t then people will forget all about you. So, I think that people like to be kept up to date by the band that is going to be there doing it, I think!
• I agree with your approach. What I am still trying to figure out is whether this approach will work for fans of all ages. I mean, someone like me who even hates carrying a mobile phone around will not be abl to keep up with what is happening if not in touch with technology, right? That begs the question: what do you guys to as a band in order to capture such an audience?
Ben: I think that ‘word of mouth’ is key…
Ol: Playing live…
Ben: Definitely! If you can get across to a percentage of your audience live, even a ten percent, that ten percent is going to go away and tell their friends “I saw this brilliant band last night” and so next time you play in that town, they are going to bring all their friends! This is a case of gradual growth – that’s how it works and that’s how it’s always worked for music.
Ol: That’s why we just want to tour all the time, because there’s no better way to get through to people other than the Internet, but by going for a gig in their local area – it’s just as simple as that! Playing live as much as possible.
Ben: When we were in the States last year, there were some towns that we hit maybe three times in the entire touring cycle and every time we went back to that one venue in a certain state, the crowd would have doubled or even tripled for us on each visiting, purely on word of mouth.
Ol: I remember a few gigs where there were not many people there and there would be this guy standing there at the front, making up his mind about us, and then a month later we would come back to that venue and the same guy would say “oh, I love you guys, I’ve got both your albums”.
Ben: And then next time he will be there with six or seven of his buddies, all drunk shouting ‘yeah’.
• I believe I understand why this is happening as I always felt that music is like a set of frequencies to which you need to tune in. I always use the band Toxik as a perfect example; when their first album “World Circus” (1987) came out, I got really hooked on them, but when two years later “Think This” came out, I was bitterly disappointed. I left this album in a dark corner of my record collection for many years, and then one day I decided to give it another spin and got totally blown away by it! Sometimes you simply have to give people time and space to ‘synchronise’ with your ‘frequency’, you know what I mean?
Ben: Definitely! It makes total sense!
Ol: It’s just like me: I have bought albums which I first hated and now I like. You’ve got pre-conceptions like, let’s say, Metallica. When I first heard “Death Magnetic” I hated it, but then I gave it a few more spins and found out that there are things that I really like and also that there is stuff that I don’t but I didn’t hear the good stuff at first because I had to have the time to get used to that being a new Metallica album. I mean, I do have them cemented, the ones I like, and this is a new one there, so I can see from both sides as well.
Ben: For me personally is was Slayer; I could never decide for Slayer at all! I think that it was when you (note: he refers to Ol) lent me…did you lend me “South Of Heaven”?
Ol: I can’t remember.
Ben: Yes, then all of the sudden it all clicked! Now, I don’t know whether that was because my musical taste had matured a little bit at that stage or whether I stopped listening to things with an immature view – I don’t know what it was, but all of a sudden things clicked into place and it was all great! I can actually listen to all the Slayer stuff now, but when I was a kid and I was at school I couldn’t listen to it – did not have a clue what was going on! I believe that this is the case with many bands: it takes a few attempts to get things into people’s heads!
• Guys, as far as the new album is concerned, I believe that you made a few right moves: it’s quite varied and you are not afraid to experiment at all, plus Matt’s vocals have improved quite a lot. I am well aware that I am not the only person that claims such a thing, one other person being a guy I met at Bloodstock this year who has heard your new material in advance and who described it as “the most commercial album that Evile could have done without stopping being Evile in the process”.
Ol: That’s a compliment, isn’t it?
Ben: It’s a compliment that reinforces our theory in terms of how we need to go and write our songs at the minute. You can’t just keep on doing the same thing and reach the same crowd; you need to try something different all the time.
Ol: We didn’t purposely think “let’s write something commercial”! From playing live so many times you kind of get a sense of what people like and what people don’t like and I think that it just so happens that we naturally wrote what we like to play live for people and that might just have a wider appeal because we are thinking of appealing more to an audience. That doesn’t mean that we are trying to make things more commercial – it’s just how this has come across.
Ben: I get it – I think that we’ve stopped…no sorry, we’ve started realising that a lot of our fans aren’t musicians – they just want to get out and get their rocks off and enjoy the gig. They want to listen to catchy choruses and massive riffs – they don’t want to stand there and listen to complex time signatures that they don’t get! You cannot dance to a complex time signature…well, you can but you will end up looking like an idiot. So yeah, you’ve got to get into people’s heads inside that five-magic-second-time-frame at the start of a track and if you are clever enough writing like that, then the rest follows! I think that we’ve got that on this new album!
• I am not an artist but from the point of view of a person that has been listening intensely to music for a great number of years, I believe that there is a very fine ‘space’ in which you can write a song that is catchy without jeopardising your artistic integrity and what I am getting from you guys is that you are in that stage of finding that space. Songs are all about rhythm and melodies if you look at them from a simplistic poing of view. The new album indulged in both and it still sounds like Evile.
• Now, I am sure that many people will have talked to you about the change in our line up and how that has affected you. As you have already made quite a few statements on that subject I have chosen not to dwell too much on that. What I will ask you, though, is how this change affected your working process and I am mainly referring to you, Ben, as the bass and the drums have to be pretty tight in order for things to work out properly in an album. Having a new bassist in the band, did you have to follow an approach to song writing, different from the one that you followed in the past? Do you see things in a different vein now?
Ben: Well, I see things pretty much the same way as I have always seen them! I have always been the engine and I have always worked at my speed with as much passion as I can possibly put in when playing the drums. The bassists that I have worked with always have reinforced that and I’d like to think that I worked in a way with the bassist where I can get the best out of them and they can get the best out of me. Regardless of who I work with, that unit will always be tight and it’s always going to be solid, purely because that is how I appoach the drums. With Mike (note: Alexander – ex bassist, RIP) he had so much passion and he could pick play so fast that we pushed each other to the limit to see who could play the hardest in a way. Joel (note: Graham – new bassist) doesn’t operate like that! He brings out the groove in me; I can sit back on a beat. Someone told me once that to play groove, think like Vinnie Paul (note: Pantera drummer) – just think fat and sit on it and that is what Joel brings out of me as a drummer. In no way is that criticising Mike’s playing, but that new approach has changed the foundation of the band a little bit but it hasn’t made it worse – it’s just a little different. In terms of song writing, Joel brings an entire different background to our songs. He’s pretty much into his classic Rock and he also has a Stoner/Hippie background, so everything is kind of tuned down a little bit but it hasn’t lost that aggression.
Ol: The other side of that is that Joel was there, like yourself, when Thrash first came out. He was the biggest Anthrax fan when he was a kid and got his metal for Christmas when he was eight, or whatever, and so he’s got that Thrash experience as much as he loves his classic Rock, so whenever we break into a speedy Thrashy bit he knows what to do pretty much saying “yeah, I know where you’re going with this”. He can do the groove, but he can also do the Thrash thing too.
Ben: Yeah, there’s a mutual understanding of what everyone needs from everyone else within Evile and that is regardless of whether it was Michael or whether it is Joel, that foundation is till there, so that is great!
• Many Thrash Metal bands that first came out in the 80s, especially American bands such as Forbidden, started their career by performing fast paced Thrash and then in the early 90s moved into a slower but somewhat heavier sound. Now, this is a pattern that I started detecting in your music too – especially in songs like “Xaraya” which just so happens to be one of my favourite tracks of the album. Do you find yourselves drawn into creating slower paced material as time goes by or was this observation of mine purely coincidential?
Ol: I believe that it is purely coincidential because I remember the riffs in “Xaraya” being written from just jamming – it was not created on purpose, like us saying “oh, we need more slow riffs” or anything like that. I mean, I don’t think that heaviness comes from detuning or anything like that. One of the heaviest riffs that exist are from the band Possessed and that’s in ‘e’ – the highest you can be. I believe that it’s the approach of the riff and how it is written that makes it heavier. If you detune any riff it will sound heavy because it will be lower than normal. We just try to find the heaviness in just how we perform things.
Ben: I think that a lot of it is feeling at the time we write a riff as well. Your mood does come across – it doesn’t have to be, you know, distorted guitars to make it heavy. You listen to some of the Opeth stuff and it’s some of the most beautiful classical pieces you could listen to but in the way that it’s unsettling and it’s a bit ambiguous that it makes it heavy. I think that mood plays a very important role in song writing – definitely. It doesn’t need to be Thrashy guitars all the time to make it heavy; you can play one note and it can be heavy.
• With the new line up is the end result pretty much still a collective effort?
Ben: Yeah, we are a democracy, so someone will say if something’s not right and we’ll work on it to make it stronger between the four of us! We all hold our way in different ways during the song writing process. Ol is pretty much the creative spark that starts the process; he will go away and start with some riffs which he will bring in our rehearsal room. Then we will say things like “that’s cool”, “that could work with this riff, that could work with that riff”, I will work out some drums on top of it and then the icing on the cake will be Matt adding his vocals. So, there is a song writing process, definitely, and the more we do this the easier it is becoming!
• Was there any specific song that you found to be particularly challenging for creating in the studio?
Ben: “In Memoriam” was impossible, because we were so aware of the fact that it could become cheesy at any time.
Ol: I think that, other than that, it was our first experience of a song like that as we normally tend to shred and play really fast (note: Ol re-creates the sound of the drums playing up tempo beats) but in this case I had to track eight clean guitars to sound exactly the same, with all these different chords. I was not used to all this and so I found it really hard – to capture the point of the song was hard, but we realised that it was kind of inevitable to capture it because of the reason why we were doing it. So we were quite scared of the possibility of sounding cliché because of the typical approach of ‘that other band’…it was about how we generally felt about this matter and so I am really proud of it.
Ben: Yes, it took a life of its own and a lot of people said that this could be the stand out track of the album. Now, for a Thrash band to have a ballad as the stand out track, that is very rare I think, but it works for us at this point in our career, so…
• I was just wondering about that song actually as I read an article where you Ol said that, “I expect a few people to question Evile for doing such a song, but if the sentiment is not understood then I don’t care less”! Why would you ever expect a negative reaction towards such a song written for a fallen colleague? Fans of Evile loved Mike and there’s nothing more respectful than writing a song about him.
Ol: I didn’t mean by that the fans who know about the purpose behind the song and who knew Mike – these people will understand. I am referring to people who will think “oh, this is a Thrash band that wrote a ballad – stop copying so and so”…
• Ok, and the band we are talking about here is Metallica, right?
Ben: I think that a lot of people draw conclusions to a situation where they put two and two together and they make five! We didn’t do it because we wanted to sell out, we didn’t do a ballad in order to change our sound and become more commercial so we sell more albums and appeal to girls or to a different audience.
Ol: Well, I do that (laughs).
Ben: (laughs) No, it was originally meant for us – nothing more, nothing less. It was us putting our feelings out in a piece of music. The fans of the band will appreciate the sentiment.
• I find that to be very interesting indeed. I can understand people being sceptical of such an approach back in the 80s when fans were thinking in terms of strictly defined genres but nowadays people are supposed to be more open minded when it comes to listening to music. Are we saying here that such boundaries continue to exist nowadays?
Ben: Some people have still their blinkers on.
Ol: There are boundaries.
Ben: I think that of all the genres…maybe Death Metal as well, Thrash is in a way so elitist sometimes, and some people and some fans have a way of excluding newbies to the scene. If you were not around back in 1984 then your views on Thrash are dead, you are irrelevant and are not perceived to be a true Thrash band! You cannot think like that these days.
• I agree with what you say, I know where it is that you are coming from and I respect your views. The only thing I am going to say in some people’s defence is that when you love something too much then you tend to become over protective towards it, you know what I mean? And you cannot blame people for being slightly sceptical thinking “when I was listening to this thing everybody was pointing the finger at it and now it is popular – why?” It is a natural human reaction, I believe.
Ben: Yes, but on the other side of that coin, the fans that are elitist and will only listen to bands like Sodom, Kreator, Destruction and Exodus, if they are not appreciative of new up-and-coming bands who are playing a similar kind of music, if they are nay-saying them then all they do is they are strangling the scene – you know what I mean? They are restricting the movement from developing!
Ol: How far does classical music span, is not like “the earlier stuff is cooler because it is earlier”. You didn’t have to be around at the time of Mozart to appreciate and understand Mozart’s music!
• Actually during a recent debate with a group of people, one chap came up with an interesting argument that classical music might not have been prominent for as many years as it did had it had the means to be directly advertised to people the same way like Rock music has.
Ben: That is a good argument!
• Yes, and it is one for a different type of conversation. Now, that all begs this question: if the scene is elitist and if you have people that are naturally against new bands, then how much space do believe that you guys have been given in order to evolve as an outfit and create the music that you love?
Ol: I personally don’t see that as there being any sort of boundaries ‘cause personally I think that limiting yourself to please other people is just crap! We have all the freedom we want to experiment and we do listen to our fans when they say “yeah, I like that” or “I don’t like that”, but at the end of the day we are doing it because this is how we want to do it. Like the next album: we have no idea how it is going to sound until we start writing it and people’s opinions and expectations are not going to change the way the next album is going to sound like. We will not really know until we get there!
Ben: Yeah! I think that it is wrong for us to define what we do in our career based on some schematic that Thrash fans seems to have in order to be accepted. So many bands over the years have completely done a 180 on what they started on doing. You listen to Aerosmith’s early stuff – they were a blues band and then they sort of refined everything and became this huge popular Hair Metal band. You cannot see what a band is going to turn into and I respect a band that have got change in them. If you are going to bring out the same album again and again and again then you are shortening your own career and you are treading the same water all the time which is bad…
Ol: Unless you are AC/DC – in which case you will make a career out of it!
Ben: Well, they are an established band so they are allowed!
Ol: That is one of the things that I have always respected about Metallica after the “Black Album”! If that was me, if was in Metallica having released an album that’s sold stupid amounts, I would have no idea what to do with the next album and I love that they did what they did on “Load”! “You know what…”
Ben: “Let’s just do this”!
Ol: “Let’s do “Load””! I just love that! It’s like ‘where can you go from the “Black Album”’ and it is naturally “Load”. I think that they have been really clever!
• Gents, during your previous tours you have managed to share the same stage with artists like Destruction, Exodus and a long list of other very impressive bands. It is quite a privilege I believe for any young band to have done such a thing, having released just two albums. Now, as you probably understand, people’s expectations will be sky-high with regards the upcoming tour, so what have you guys in store for them?
Ben: We are always in the position where we never know who to support or who to have as a support act when we go on the road, purely because we aren’t that typical old school Thrash band. Fair enough; we have been out and supported some of our heroes but it raises the question “who do we go out to support next” and that is a bit of a touchy subject with Evile. We don’t know where it is that we lie in the grand scheme of things at the moment. We are in a kind of evolutionary type of stage and it’s still like early days for us and we obviously want to play to as many people as we possibly can, all over the world. But, having said that, there are so many bands around us that are breaking up, not playing any more, reforming, bla bla bla, that we don’t know where we are in terms of what level we should be touring at.
Ol: I think that we’ve just come to the point where we just want to tour. It has been great supporting Megadeth and that, but we just want to be on tour and it fundamentally doesn’t matter who it is that we are touring with. First and foremost, we just want to be on the road. It is, of course, always great to be here with a great band that we like and which will hopefully be nice guys to be around and all that, but we just want to be touring! It doesn’t…well, it matters who we tour with – we are not going to tour with…
Ben: The winners of the X Factor (laughs)…
Ol: ..or ABBA (laughs)…but we want to be out there.
Ben: Well, we have been lucky to support some awesome bands but now it is all about exposure – getting out to play in front of different crowds.
• When do you reckon that you guys are going to be ready to do your own headlining tour?
Ol: We are kind of doing one in the UK which is coming up in October. These will not be huge venues but they are venues that we have been playing in the past. Europe – I don’t think that we are ready yet but we are freely available to headline. There are some places in America in which we have been playing a lot during the period of five months (laughs).
Ben: (laughs) Yes! It is very strange. The way that we are viewed by other people is completely different to how we are viewing things from the inside out.
Ol: We cannot view ourselves; we cannot see how we are being perceived – only by when other people are telling us whether it is possible for us to book a gig in their place or not! It is strange. I would like to see us play live wherever we can!
Ben: It will be great to make some massive headlining shows at some point but we are not at that stage yet, I think.
• Ol, I recently did an interview with Schmier from Destruction and he pretty much told me that he would love to have you as the band’s second guitarist. Now, you know when people are saying something just for the sake of saying it and when they really mean it and, I dare say, Schmier meant every single word. Now, apart from the fact that this is a great compliment, such a decision would fundamentally change everything for this band and for you personally. Is this something that you have considered doing at any point?
Ol: He did ask at some point and I couldn’t decide whether that was tongue in cheek or serious, but either way I am still all about Evile but it was great of him to say. I remember when we played the Damnation Festival, I got up with him and did a few songs, stepping in for Mike (note: Destruction’s axeman) and he said something like “this is Ol from Evile – the only other guitarist other than Mike who can play these songs” and laughed, so he might meant it – I am not sure. Either way, I wouldn’t…sacrifice my future with this band. It was good doing a few shows with one of my favourite bands, but I am doing my band as well, as tempting as this is.
Ben: From inside Evile looking at that, if Ol turned around and said “guys, I am taking six months out because I want to go and play with Destruction” there would be no requirements about whether he could do it or not because we know that Ol’s life up to now has all been about Evile, so there would not be any animosity or anything like that – it would be something that he would need to get out of his system and it would be great. I would love to see him do that, but we know that Ol is our guitarist so this is not a touchy subject or anything, you know what I mean? It’s good to see other people noticing him as a great guitarist because it strengthens what he brings to Evile.
• Well guys, honestly, I do wish you all the luck and I hope that everything works well for you. I have to ask, though: do you have anything as a “plan B” in case things do not work out for the band?
Ben: Well, I think that we all have ‘fall-back’ plans. I can have a lucrative contract with a wrestling company or something I am sure.
Ben: This is always something I wanted to do (laughs). I am joking, obviously (laughs).
Ol: I have got a back-up, plan but it is not confirmed. There is something that I would love to do if I was not doing this and this would be music production and engineering. So if ever things went tits up I would probably be knocking on Russ’ (note: Russell – producer of the “Five Serpent’s Teeth” album) door and asking him for a few tips.
• Does the fact that there is a back-up for you make you feel more confident about what you do with Evile – are you more relaxed?
Ben: Not at all (laughs).
Ol: I am only really considering it when people are asking me the question you just did so there isn’t really a ‘plan B’. This – Evile – is the plan!
Ben: All of us know that this is all we know how to do; this is all I ever wanted to do since I was a kid and it’s all I ever wanted to do. Whether it comes out or not, whether it pays off or not, I don’t care! We’ve got to do it while we can! Playing music for a living is an absolute privilege – it’s an honour to do it! So many bands don’t get that stuff, you know? They treat it like a god-given right and it’s not!
• Guys, let’s hope that this last bit of our lovely conversation is rendered unnecessary and that you continue recording music for many years to come! Good luck with everything and thank you for your time!
Ben: Thank you so much! Cool, we appreciate it!
David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.
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