British Thrash Metal combo Onslaught are a band I have been supporting since day one, so reviewing their London show and interviewing their long term guitarist Nige Rockett was something I was looking forward to.
While the former was achieved with much success, interviewing Nige hours prior to the show proved to be a much more difficult nut to crack due to the fact that he was also handling tour Manager duties.
Two weeks later, and from the comfort of our individual homes, I got in contact with the much more relaxed and very talkative guitarist to discuss the success of their latest album “VI”, their upcoming US Tour and their plans for a new studio album.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi, Nige. Nice to be able to talk to you – thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. I am happy that we manage to arrange this phoner instead of doing it on the day of the London show as things looked pretty hectic.
Nige: Thank you for being so understanding on the situation.
- My pleasure. I have been an Onslaught fan since day one and so more than happy to help you guys promote your music in any way I can. Well, the show you gave for your London crowd on the 20th of July was nothing less than amazing. The sound was pot on, the lights used were amazing and you guys were on fire…everything seems to me to have worked really well for you on the day. Do you agree with my assessment?
Nige: Yeah, definitely. We had some amazing shows on that tour, particularly the ones in London and Bristol which were the ones we were filming as well and so that was really nice for us. On the whole, the tour we just finished was amazing.
We’ve been having some amazing reactions, some of the best live reviews we’ve ever had and that did blow us away. Obviously, we were quite nervous going into this tour because it took place in the middle of summer and this is a time of the year that, traditionally, nobody ever tours. It was a big gamble for us but we had the opportunity to work with the O2 Group, which was very cool and something we have been trying to put together for the good part of two years, and it worked well. It’d just been very good for us.
- The decision to have Artillery as your main support band – was that completely a result of a personal choice? How did that partnership came to being? The reason I am asking is because I felt that having these bands touring together was a great idea.
Nige: Well, we and they shared the same management company a couple of years back and so we were naturally pushed towards that direction by the management at the time. So, we went to South America with them back in January and February, we did this tour which was now finished and we are also going to Canada and North America.
We get along well with them as they are a lovely bunch of guys and we are two old-school Thrash bands which belong to two different ends of the scale, you know? I think the fans really like that as there’s a lot of variation in our shows and they get two really good live bands playing together. So, we are going to keep on working with these guys for the foreseeable future as people seem to enjoy it.
- While the show was in full swing I remember thinking to myself “why can’t more bands put the same amount of effort with their live performances” and that’s when it hit me that you must have paid a lot of money to have those top quality light systems on stage. Was the whole production as expensive as I think it was? Is that the kind of setting one ought to expect to get from any everyday Onslaught show?
Nige: Well, it wasn’t cheap, no…I think that for a long time…this show was recorded with a DVD release in mind but, for a long time, and I do no0t mean to boast here, we’ve always had a reputation for being a very good live band, you know, but we felt that this time round we wanted to take things onto the next level. We do need to step up a level as a band.
We had some amazing reviews for our last album (note: “VI” – 2013) and our live reviews were great too but we wanted to add to it a little bit more, you know? We always have a lot of energy on stage but we wanted to put a little bit of a show for the fans this time round and show the festival people what we can do with a bigger production and stuff.
You know, we just have to make sure that we’re perceived as a bigger band, you know? We needed to do something like this to show people that we have more things to put onto a show than just energy.
- I understand where you’re coming from and agree that the addition of these nice props made a massive difference to the overall experience. I cannot recall another gig in a venue of a capacity similarly to that of the O2 Islington Academy where I enjoyed the visual aspect of a show as much as I did the audio one. You were great on all accounts that night.
Nige: Thank you very much.
- Nige, as an old-school metal head I do like to own physical products such as albums, CDs and DVDs/Blue Rays – I like to see them on the shelves of my music room and use them whenever I find myself in the appropriate mood. Times, however, are changing and many people do not share the same sentiments – especially young people. Do you believe that a DVD release is an attractive format for the band’s younger fans?
Nige: Well, I would like to think so or I hope so for the sake of ours when it does come out (laughs). I don’t believe that a music DVD is as easily downloadable and shareable as a music CD is and we plan on adding a lot of extra features on our passage.
We are obviously not going to sell as many DVDs as we would if this was a new studio album but I do think that it is going to be quite an interesting release when all the editing and the mixing are done.
I really hope that there still is a good market for this kind of product out there as the last one we did back in 2006 (note: “Live Polish Assault”) sold amazingly well. I am interested to see if things have changed over the past eight or nine years in that respect – still, we aim to make this a very nice product so we hope that the fans will rally behind it and show us their support by buying a copy.
- I do believe that you are approaching this project in a very smart way. If my understanding of the situation is correct, you have been asking your fans to contribute personal material relevant to the band’s recent shows for the purpose of adding them in the DVDs extra features. It is a very clever approach in the sense that it makes your fans involved and thus more inclined to invest in it.
Nige: Yeah, I mean, we’re a band that likes to stay close to its fans. We are trying to interact with them as much as possible and as much as we want this to be a high quality DVD, we want it to be grainy and in touch with the band’s ‘street’ feeling, you know? By letting our fans add their personal footage as you mentioned we allow people to become better connected with this DVD release…I don’t know – I think it will add something very nice to the way things will look. It will be a unique way of looking at things.
- First time we spoke face to face was roughly seven years ago when you guys were in London in order to promote your then latest studio album “Killing Peace” (2007). I remember vividly how nervous you were in relation to how people would receive the album and whether they were willing to give Onslaught a chance for a new career of sorts.Here we are now, seven years and three studio albums later, and you guys look stronger and healthier than ever. I am sure that this must have been a difficult period for the band but you must feel pretty vindicated with the way things worked for you, right?
Nige: Yes indeed, it’s been amazing! I am enjoying things now more than I did the first time round with the original band. I think that we’re making better music now than we’ve ever done and…yeah, we’ve had a rough ride along the way with people coming and going but every time we have to make a change we try to make it for the better, you know?
We are constantly trying to improve the band and that shows by the fact that each record sounds better than the previous one. As always, the remit when we go to make a new album is that it has to be better than the last one.
For me there would be no point in going and making a sub-standard album that’s not as good as something that we’ve previously released. We are working hard to ensure that the end product is the best we can deliver at that given time.
- Nige, please clarify one thing for me. I did not see Andy (note: Rosser-Davies / guitars) at the show so I just need to run this by you – is he still a member of Onslaught?
Nige: Yeah, yeah. Right now…he’s got some personal issues over the last eighteen months to deal with which do not allow him to be on tour with us and there is something else that has been happening these last couple of weeks which has not helped the situation at all…it’s…we’re still writing material together but, at the moment, he’s not in position to come away on the road with us.
We have been discussing this week if there is a chance of him returning for the next tour but, in recent events, we’re not really sure what’s going to happen. I would love to have him back on the road with us as he’s such a great guy to have around you but there’s nothing definite to report on that as such as the moment. We will continue working together, writing music for the next album.
- In the case that he does return, something that we all wish for, we are going to have Onslaught performing with three guitarists on stage, right?
Nige: (laughs) Well, I don’t know about that (laughs).
- It would be exceedingly interesting to see how you would have to adapt as a guitarist for the demands of such an enterprise. Leigh (note: Chambers), the guy who performs with you on this tour, did add a lot to the show and you seem to complement each other very well.If we were to end up with three guitarists on stage, you will have to re-evaluate how your songs are performed live, right?
Nige: It will be (laughs)…like having a Thrash version of Iron Maiden I guess (laughs). Well look, Leigh is indeed a really good guitarist that brings a lot of new energy onto the band and we do indeed play very tightly together which is nice. He’s been fantastic for us, especially as he has to work in the conditions that he has been, you know? He just gets on with his job and he’s a great guy to have around.
- Nige, there was a festival here in the UK called Alt Fest which you were meant to participate in but which was cancelled only a few days prior to the opening day. What’s the story there?
Nige: We actually playing Brutal Assault festival on Wednesday this week, which is something we’re really looking forward to as it is an amazing festival.
- I am happy to hear that. If I sound a bit surprised it is because this date has not been announced on your website.
Nige: Yeah. It’s in an old army fortress and the location is amazing! It’s a wonderful festival and so we’re really looking forward to playing there. The Alt Fest was…it’s obviously been a huge disappointment with what’s happened there but I do find it very strange why it’s happened really.
I was only looking at the full line-up the other day last week thinking to myself what an amazing line up it was – such a cross section of bands, so I just cannot see how this could not succeed. It really does baffle men with the line-up that was there.
We had such great plans for that festival; we were going to use lots of pyro, a big light show again – just to add more to the DVD. We were thinking of putting a lot of footage from Alt Fest into our DVD so it was a massive disappointment.
- Will you guys be featuring any footage from the upcoming North American tour or will this be too late down the process?
Nige: Yeah, I think that it will be a little bit too late as our label wants to have the DVD ready for a Christmas release.
- That’s a bit of a shame as America is such a different beast from Europe when it comes to the way people respond to and appreciate Metal music and so it would have been very interesting for the fans that will buy the DVD to witness the different feel between tours.
Nige: It is a shame, especially as we will be going down to Brazil for two weeks after the end of the American tour and that would have been indeed nice but, sadly, it is too close on the deadline for the release of the DVD.
- Oh well – not much you can do about that I guess.
Nige: We’ll make another one (laughs).
- Well, I, for one, would buy it if you make it (I laugh). America is a country that one needs to tour constantly and ruthlessly if they stand any chance of making a name for themselves there. As far as I can see, you have planned a relatively extensive set of shows there which is very good indeed but it also must be a fairly tiring experience, right? Is it one you’re looking forward to undertaking?
Nige: It’s a bizarre situation as it is kind of the other way around in Europe and the UK I guess where, if an American band comes over, people rush out to see them. In the States, as you said, you need to keep touring and working that market to make a name for yourself – it’s really quite strange. We’ve obviously got a good name in America but, like you say, everybody says that you’ve got to tour the States to break the back of it something that we find to be a very desirable thing indeed.
We’ve done one big tour over there just over two years ago which was very good. After that tour was concluded we heard from the local promoters that all went really well so now they booked us on a bigger tour and that kind of backs up everything we said on this issue; the more you tour the fees are going up, the shows are getting better, you get more shows and your profile is getting up.
The last album outsold “Sounds Of Violence” within the first five months I believe, so it obviously shows that touring there does help. The last tour we did was fairly comfortable as we did it on a Mercedes bus which provided Wi-Fi access, comfortable seats – yes, there were long drives involved and different hotel rooms every night but, still, it was quite comfortable.
We went from Seattle all the way down through California across Arizona, Texas and all the way back up to Canada and then back again to New York. It was a great cycle, a monster trek as this one’s going to be. I think that we will be doing a full circle on this one more or less. To further back up your theories, we have a plan of going back there again next April/May to do the rest of the States – places that we will not do this time round. It will be another two to three weeks next April/May time.
- Tiring though this may be it is quite a beneficial thing for the band as money can only be made these days through touring.
Nige: That’s true.
- Now, earlier on you mentioned something about new material being prepared, something that made me both curious and excited. I assume that we are at the early stages of any new songs being created, right?
Nige: Yeah. We are still a long way off from talking about a new album, however, I do have the skeleton of the new album put together. I’ve got all the working titles ready for the songs, a lot of vocal ideas as well as a lot of musical ideas. That’s the way we like to work; I put all the working titles together to help paint a picture of the album by the numbers of the songs I’ve written down.
I like to get all the titles in place…we’ve already decided on what the name of the album and of two tracks will be and then we’re going to start on the artwork. We’re well ahead of the game on this one, I think. Once we get the American tour over we are going to sit down and really start having a go at the music. “VI” is a tough album to follow (laughs).
- Yes, however, this is exactly what we thought after “Killing Peace” was released but look where we are now (I laugh).
Nige: Yeah, I know. We do have to do it again, though. We’ve got to make a better album that “VI” so the challenge is definitely on for us.
- What do you think has changed as far as your song writing process is concerned that has enabled you to create one solid album after another these last seven years?
Nige: I really don’t know! We’re just very self-critical, Andy and I. We wrote the last two albums together. We’re so critical and so anal about things that we work things down to the last physical drum beat or the last guitar note to perfection and we don’t let anything go until we can sit back and say that we are 100% happy with it. I think that this is the only way that you can kind of move forward and better yourself every time.
With Mike (note: Hourihan / drums) coming in on the “VI” album, that helped us massively as well as Mike can play literally anything that you throw at him, you know? That kind of opens our horizons to what we can do on the guitars as well and it gives us so much more scope with the rhythms in the band.
I think that “VI” was probably the most technical album in terms of the overall music that we’ve ever written. It allows us to play more complex stuff and makes things sound more interesting and more aggressive at the same time. I am really looking forward to having Mike being involved from the beginning on the next album as this will give us even more creative powers, you know?
- I believe that you’re even more blessed by having a front man of the quality of Sy Keeler in your ranks. Based on his performance at the London show alone, he sounds as if he’s eighteen years old all over again! I don’t know how he does it.
Nige: (laughs). I don’t know either. His voice seems to grow stronger and stronger as the years go by – it’s bizarre. I think the fact that we had a long break (note: 1991 to 1995) in the middle of our career may have kept his voice fresh as a result. Every time we go in the studio we end us saying “where did this come from” (laughs)? His performances get more powerful and powerful every time!
- And it was to his credit, and yours too of course, that he was willing to sing material from the “In Search Of Sanity” (1989) album during the show. This took quite a few of us fans by surprise! This, however, does seems to prove that whatever demons you had to cope with you finally managed to exorcise after all these years, right?
Nige: No, I mean, the last one he wants to rid himself of by re-recording this very album which is something that we have been planning to do. It will be nice to become a bonus feature in our next album – something that we will be discussing with our label. I think that a lot of fans want to hear Sy singing that album in its entirety.
I want the fans to hear that album the way it was meant to sound in the first place. It needs to sound aggressive as it was too slick before. I want it to sound like a true Onslaught record as there are some very good songs on that album – songs that failed to come across the way I had originally intended them to, you know? I’d like that opportunity to correct things as much as Sy does.
- Now, that’s something that I, for one, am really looking forward to hearing.
Nige: Me too (laughs).
- Nige, I really want to wish you the best of luck with everything you’re planning. You have a lot of touring ahead of you but I am sure that you’re going to do well with this. You are an amazing band on stage, one of those which sounds better live than on record and with songs like “Slaughterize” and “66’Fu*king’6” in your arsenal success is pretty much guaranteed.
- Onslaught are one of those criminally underrated bands that should have been ten times bigger than they currently are but I know that you will do everything in your power to change that.
Nige: We are trying (laughs). Thank you for the support, man!
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