Monday, September 28, 2009

Warrel Dane of Nevermore interview

Here is the full transcript of an interview I conducted in late August of '09 with Warrel Dane, lead singer of Nevermore. It's been cleaned up a bit for ease of reading. The shortened version of the interview was published as a studio report in the November '09 issue of Decibel (Baroness cover). At the time of the interview, none of the songs from Nevermore's forthcoming album The Obsidian Conspiracy had been finished. Even so, Dane's delight at how things were going was palpable; he was even excited to tell the same stories that he did in his last Decibel interview. The Obsidian Conspiracy comes out in January of 2010 on Century Media.


Hey Warrel! How are you doing sir?

I’m fucking fantastic.

Are you in North Carolina right now?

I am, yes.

What does it feel like to be back in the studio with Nevermore for the first time in – what must be almost five years now?

This feels like the family’s back together. We’ve been together a long time, and people are gonna be pleased with what they hear. I don’t want to overstate anything, really, but obviously, I’m in a very good mood, because I’m very excited about these songs. We’re in a beautiful place, and we’re creating something that I think is going to surprise people. Maybe not shock people. But definitely, if somebody’s disappointed with it, I’ll be shocked.

So then I’m hearing there must be some kind of change of direction.

No no no, not really.

So what kind of surprises are you talking about?

I think there’s no change in direction, but it’s more of a progression of where we have been going over the years. It’s finally come to a place where…it’s just brutal dude. I mean last night I was listening back with Peter (Wichers, producer) to some of the tracks Jeff (Loomis, Nevermore guitarist) was doing, and I’m like “Oh my god. This riff is so fucking brutal!” and he’s like “What are you gonna sing over this?” and I said “…something really melodic?” And I’m like “NOBODY DOES THAT!!!”

You know it’s funny, I was reading some of the interviews with Jeff, just the little blurbs on Blabbermouth, where Jeff says it’s a more wide-open album musically, and that will let you be more vocally free. Can you talk more about that? What does he mean by that?

You know what the funny part about that is? After I read that, or after I heard that he said that, I had a talk with him. I’m like, “Dude, this is some of the most vicious, complicated, brutal stuff you’ve ever written.” “Oh, but the choruses are big!”

So there’s a little bit of that brutal verse, big chorus switching dynamic.

That’s where that came from. I think.

Are you doing more overdubs than usual? What’s changed about your vocal approach for this album, if anything?

Uh, nothing, so far. Well I actually haven’t started singing yet. Jeff is still doing guitar tracks. Our drummer, he did the tracks in Seattle, and then we moved to this beautiful, beautiful place in North Carolina called Lake Norman, and we rented a house, and basically just turned it into a recording studio. Which I think is the wave of the future for the recording industry, because it’s much more cost effective for the band. I mean you can rent a house, bring in equipment, and you don’t have to spend as much money as if you went to a high-level studio in a major city. We’re in this gorgeous, gorgeous fucking setting that’s so inspiring. It’s allowing us to be so creative, and really expand…I don’t know how else to describe that but that’s what it is.

The view outside Nevermore's studio
Lake Norman, NC

So this is not Peter’s actual studio. This is more…you brought him in and rented equipment.

Well it’s all his stuff, but we just kind of moved it into this house that he found. If you go on to my Twitter page, you can see all the pictures of this place.

Man, making some of the most vicious music of your career in the most gorgeous setting possible?

Isn’t that kind of ironic? But at the same time…Dead Heart in a Dead World. That record that we did, a lot of people view that s our best record, a lot of people view that as our shittiest record. That’s what’s funny to me, that there’s that wide gap of opinion about it. But we were listening to some tracks back last night, and Peter said to me, “You know, coming form a fan viewpoint, Dead Heart in a Dead World is my favorite Nevermore record, and this is as good.” So I don’t know what to say about that, but these are really good songs. And obviously, we’ve had a few years to work on them. So I think that’s showing in the end result.

You mentioned that you don’t have vocal lines worked out. Have you written lyrics for any of these songs yet?

Oh, of course. All the songs are written.

Since the last album, there’ve been a lot of setbacks with various illnesses, band members dropping out…but obviously you’ve rebounded, you guys are back together, both you and Jeff put out solo albums last year. Did any of that turmoil feed into what you’re writing for this album?

I don’t feel that was really turmoil for us. I think that (recording a solo record) was something that we both had to do to get something out of our system. Jeff has always wanted to do an instrumental record, and I have always encouraged him to do that, because I knew when he did one that it was going to be amazing. I’m so proud of what he did with Zero Order Phase. And at the same time, I always wanted to do something that was a little more rock-based. And you know, we were lucky enough that we both got to do what we wanted to do. And we got that out of the way, everything’s…

Hunky dory?

Well yeah, I guess, that’s kind of a funny thing to say, but it’s true.

I guess I meant more the medical things that a few of you went through in 2006. I know with your diabetes, there was a complication or two that resulted in some show cancellations?

That’s all managed now, I’m doing very well. It’s a difficult thing to go through, but I’m lucky enough that it was caught early on I guess. But you know, the booze – this is my favorite quote right now, “Satan lives in a bottle, you can find him at every 7-11.” I basically drank myself into Type 2 Diabetes.

I understand it ran in your family as well? Or a predisposition to it?

It does, yes. And my sister recently just this past month was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes as well.

I’m sorry to hear that.

So I probably woulda got it anyway, but I just…kickstarted it.

You might as well get it over with.

Yeah well, I think I’m a better person for the whole experience of going through that. Trying to be sober is a day-to-day thing. I used to mock people that went to AA, and these bumper stickers “One day at a time.” But seriously, it’s true, that’s all you can do. And I’m not a perfect person, and I never will be, and I’m okay with that. So I relapse sometimes, but now, I am much, much better than I was when I was a fat, bloated fucking idiot that could barely fucking sing on stage. I look at some of those old videos and I’m like, “Oh my god. And we still have fans?” I don’t want to preach to people and say “alcohol is bad,” but you know, everybody has to make their own decisions.

So then you are going to AA now, but I understand from the last article that Decibel did with you that it’s a non-religious AA?

Yes, exactly. Because I did not want the god crap. So I found an agnostic AA meeting. Of course it was in a church. Which is ironic, as well. But I have a great story about that. This girl I know, that’s a friend of mine, who is also in AA, she came out to visit from New York, and she wanted to go to a meeting. So I took her to this place, but it was on the wrong day, and we ended up going to a sex addict meeting. And of course she thought it was some kind of evil plan to get in her pants. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had. It was funny as hell. But eventually I convinced her, “No, I didn’t do this on purpose.”

It definitely tells you that church holds a lot of “A” meetings…any kind of addiction you got, we’ll take care of it!

Yeah well, I’m a victim of multiple addictions.

Tell me a little bit more about the musical addiction that’s going on here – you actually sound kind of high on the experience of recording this new thing. I mean, you’re so happy, but the name of the album, The Obsidian Conspiracy, just sounds black and paranoid to me. So what’s behind it?

If I told you what it means, you would probably want me to be institutionalized.

Please. Try me.

I’m not sure I can yet. It’s still evolving. The way I approach songwriting and recording, is everything evolves up until the moment it comes out of my mouth. And is permanent on tape – well there’s no tape anymore. But it’s evolving. And it’s something very, very intense. I don’t know how else to say it, actually. But when I’m done recording all this stuff, and we’re done writing – because we’re still working on music, lyrics, everything on a day-to-day basis, and it’s changing, and morphing, and becoming something different, even sometimes within minutes. And that’s so exciting to me. I mean that’s probably why I sound like I’m high on something. But I’m not. I’m high on life right now. And that can be the best drug ever. “There is no stronger drug than reality.” I said that once (on the Enemies of Reality album) and I meant it.

I was just listening to that album in the car on the way over here today, actually.

Funny, some people regard that as our worst album ever.

Well I think it’s mostly the production. A lot of the songs are fantastic.

Well the songs are great. You know when Andy (Sneap) re-did it, I think it took on a different life. And then I realized, “Wow, those songs really were pretty fucking good.”

Yeah, there’s some fantastic hooks, and then thematically it works really well, references to the reality issue from front to back.

I think a lot of people blame Kelly Gray (original producer of Enemies of Reality) for that record, but it wasn’t him. I mean he had a vision. He thought that metal was going to have a new sound, and apparently that would be it. I guess that vision was of horrible, muddy production, and it didn’t quite work out.

Yeah, that’s the thing. It works out for a lot of bands…

It does! He’s a very good guy, and I would never say a bad thing about him, except that situation didn’t quite work with us.

So take me back to The Obsidian Conspiracy, the story behind the title. You told me you’re constantly changing, up to the minute that this is laid down.

Right. Yeah. When I get in hyper mode and I’m in the vocal booth, I just keep writing and writing and writing and I change things constantly. So sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what some of these songs mean until I’m done, and later, and it’s all permanent. And I sit down and read what I’ve written, and I’m like, “Holy crap, is that what I’m saying? Wow. I think I need mental help.” But that’s kinda always the way that I’ve always worked, since day one. Since the first band that I was ever in. I guess it seems normal to me at this point, but it kinda freaks out my bandmates sometimes.

From talking to a lot of songwriters – I work at ASCAP, so all we do is deal with songwriters – that actually sounds very normal. You’re a creative person, you don’t always have perfect control over what you create. And maybe it’s only in retrospect or when you start matching up what you’ve done with what you’re thinking about right now, or were thinking about when you wrote it – it’s only then that you can make sense of it all.

I think that you put that a lot better than I did. And you’re exactly right.

So does that title The Obsidian Conspiracy relate to that process, would you say?
Probably, yeah. Probably.

Once the title’s actually printed on the album cover, and you look back at it, you’ll have a better idea of what it’s referring to.

My idea for the album cover is like – Wal-Mart will not stock it. That’s all I know. And after I’m off the phone with you, I’m immediately calling Travis Smith and discussing his ideas for the cover. I think Travis is one of the most amazing artists, and he’s done some of my favorite album covers ever, especially stuff with Opeth and Katatonia as well as Nevermore, and it’s gonna be…interesting. That’s all I can say.

You worked with Peter Wichers on your solo album, Praises to the War Machine. Is it any different having the rest of the band there working with him? It’s the first time that Nevermore as a band has worked with him.

Well you know what, I told them all, “Don’t have any fear bout working with Peter, because he has such insight into the psyche of musicians when they’re recording that he’ll work with you so well that you’ll never want to work with someone else.”

Well he’s a musician himself, he was in Soilwork.

Yeah, exactly. And the only difference with this is we’re not writing with him. I was writing with him on that (the solo album). He really is doing such a great job. And one thing that I’ve always said, and this may sound funny because I’m a singer, but Nevermore is a guitar band. And we need a guitarist as a producer. That’s why Andy Sneap worked so well, that’s why Peter’s working so well, Neil Kernon (producer on the early Nevermore records) – he plays guitar as well. And I’ve always said that our main focus should be just vicious, brutal riffing. Vocals to me kinda seem like an afterthought. Obviously they’re a big part of it, but I’m a fan of guitar. I always have been. And I always want a wall of sound. That’s the best way to describe it.

So you feel like so far, what you’ve listened to, Peter has been able to capture that.

Oh yeah. Is the world ready? Maybe that’s being arrogant, but fuck it, I’m the singer!

You gotta have a little arrogance to inspire an audience. I hear you have two cover songs on the album. How did you choose those two?

Well Jeff chose one, he’s a big Doors fan, and I chose one because I’m a huge fan of the Tea Party, a Canadian band that’s now defunct. The Doors song was not my original choice. I really wanted to do this song called “Waiting For the Sun.” When I listen to songs, of course since I’m a lyricist, I gravitate towards cover songs (for which) I admire the lyrics. Jeff being a guitarist, he goes for the guitar stuff that he thinks is really cool. And that’s `how we came on the Doors thing. “Crystal Ship” originally he had taken the approach of making it a little heavy. And I tried to work with it and I said “Jeff, I don’t think this is working. I think maybe what we should try is an all-acoustic approach to the song.” And when we did it, he was like “Dude, you’re totally right.” And he was like doing five layered guitar parts over this – when people hear it – it doesn’t sound like the Doors anymore. I think that’s what people expect when we do cover songs. ‘Cuz we’ve been known to deconstruct and recreate more than one song.

Definitely the “Sound of Silence” cover (from Dead Heart In a Dead World), I wouldn’t have recognized it if it weren’t for the lyrics.

Yeah, well there you go. Those lyrics are brilliant, Paul Simon is one of the best rock lyricists that has ever lived. And if you listen to some of those old Simon & Garfunkel records, holy fuck. I mean they’re so dark and so depressing. I mean “Richard Cory…” you know this song?

I do. It’s such a depressing story.

The end. “Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet in his head.” ::sings:: “But I / I work in his factory / And I hate the life I’m living…” it’s just fucked up! It’s fucked up shit!

The Simon & Garfunkel song “I Am A Rock,” too – that’s a pretty depressing image to have to deal with, also. “I am an island.”

Every man is an island.

You and John Donne could get into a fight over that one. I mean he’s dead, so you’ve got the upper hand. So what about The Tea Party? I haven’t heard of them before.

Are you kidding? They’re a Canadian power trio, kind of like…we’ve got Rush, we’ve got…well, obviously Rush is the biggest Canadian power trio …Triumph, another Canadian power trio…anyway, this is like my favorite rock band. At the moment. My tastes change, every now and then but…the singer is just so fucking good. I mean he sounds like the bastard child of Mark Lanegan and Jim Morrison. So Screaming Trees meets the Doors.

Nice expressive baritone there.

It’s really, really interesting. And I would hate to say which album is their best, because I can’t pick one. But to start with, I would go with Transmission. It’s different. Definitely. But we all are kind of into this band. I mean we wouldn’t cover a song if we didn’t like the band.

Did you suggest earlier that you’re recording some other tracks as part of these sessions that you might not release on the album?

I don’t know. One of my ideas, because we’re in this absolutely gorgeous, inspiring place, is “Jeff, can we just go out and sit on the dock with your acoustic and just jam? And I’ll hit record on my iPhone and see what happens?” You never know, something might happen. I mean I think that we are in a space right now where we’re being so creative that anything can happen. And I’ve never really experienced that before. So that’s something that’s just – I mean I feel like a 13 year old kid. And I’m over 40, so that’s something.

Are the other two members of the band contributing much to the songwriting this time around?

Well it’s mainly Jeff and I. They do have their contributions, but Jeff and I are the songwriters.

And it’s just Jeff on guitars right? You don’t bring in a rhythm guitarist for any of the recording sessions?

No. Jeff is a fucking machine. Every producer that we’ve ever worked with always is amazed by his precision in the studio. So this is basically the same kind of situation we did when we recorded Dead Heart in a Dead World, when we didn’t have a second guitar player at that point so Jeff did everything. And it’s I guess that’s why we’re also thinking in the back of our heads that it’s sounding similar to that. Maybe I’m just being crazy, but maybe it DOES sound like it. But we are definitely doing some stuff that is going to…I think, nobody can change the world of music, but people can make a contribution, at least, with something startling. And I hope at least this is startling.

It’s really fantastic to hear that you’re getting behind this so much. I mean every band is going to be hyped on their new album, I hope…

I’m not gonna lie and say it’s the best shit we’ve ever written, because I don’t think it is…but I think it’s as good as anything we’ve ever written. For a musician, if you’ve got a number of records out in your career, it’s like picking a favorite child. You can’t say “That’s my favorite kid.” Because you have to love everything you do, or create. So it’s kind of like childbirth in a way. I guess that sounds weird, but it’s the only way I can describe it right now.

Are there any ridiculous studio stories that you can share so far?

Heh…nothing that you could print. Wanna hear about toothless redneck hookers?

Dude, you’ve read Decibel before. That’s all we write about.

Yeah, we’re in an interesting area. I’ll just say that much. The people here are so polite! It’s making me be more polite when I’m relating to people. And I think that’s just part of Southern culture, but…you go to the grocery store and people talk to you different. They’re like “How’s your day? How’re you doin’?” And it makes you relate to them in the same way. “Well thank you, thank you very much! I’m havin’ a great day, and I hope you have a great day too!” You know in Seattle (Nevermore’s hometown), people get weird. Sometimes you’re walking down the street and people don’t even look at each other. Same thing in New York. It’s a different world out here and I think that’s also affecting our experience.

It’s funny, some of the metal that comes from the South, especially the New Orleans area, it’s the dirtiest, nastiest, least hospitable metal you could imagine.

::laughs:: That’s cool though!

Maybe it’s just a complete reaction to what you’re talking about. Could you see yourself moving down south? Or even importing some of that vibe up north?

I love Seattle too much. I’m born and raised there and it’s just too much…I mean that’s my home. So I can’t see myself living anywhere but Seattle.

You’re a trained chef. Are you cooking for yourself down there in the studio?

You wanna hear what I’m making tonight?

Yes I do!

Pasta a la puttanesca. The story behind that…

You know you talked about this in the last Decibel interview you did. It’s the whore sauce, right?

Yeah, the prostitute sauce. It was hookers that wanted to cook up something quick that they could eat before they did their next trick. And it’s very easy to make. It’s just fresh garlic, anchovies, capers, crushed red pepper, basic basil sauce, and that’s it. And it’s fucking delicious. One of my favorite pastas, ever. But I have to tell you something. There was this man that affected my life so profoundly. His name was Vince Mottola. And I worked for him for a number of years in Seattle. And he was from Naples. And he immigrated over here, brought his family over, and he opened a chain of restaurants in the greater Seattle area, and I started working for him, as did Jeff and Jim (Sheppard, Nevermore bassist). And we learned so much from this man. And when my father died, he kind of became my second dad. He would scold me for doing bad things, and I’d get so pissed off, then think “Oh my god…he’s totally right. I was being a little shithead.” And I miss that guy so much. I really do.

This is one thing that’s kind of funny. There’s so many musicians that work in the restaurant industry. And people that are playing music, if they’re also cooking, it seems to me that they view food preparation as more of an art form than people that are not musicians. So when we were hiring people at this restaurant, we would hire musicians. Even if they were fucked up, they were always better cooks.

That’s really interesting!

It is, but it’s true.

When you write reviews, one of the go-to metaphors to use to describe music is food. Like “What the band’s got cooking..” or “put ingredients of this and this and this in there,” or “it boils down to…” It goes together with what you’re saying. So did Vince own that restaurant that you were working at in Seattle?

He did, he did.

And then you took it over once he passed?

Yes. Eventually we had to make a decision -- do we wanna do music? Because running a restaurant is 24/7. You have to commit yourself. There was a time around ’97, when we toured for Politics of Ecstasy. We went on tour, and we came back, and there were like 17 kegs missing from the inventory, and the liquor costs were going through the roof, and we figured out that these people were taking advantage of us, our employees, because they thought “Oh, you’re in a band, you’re partyers, and nobody’s going to notice.” But we noticed. And so we kinda had to make a decision, it’s either this or that. And of course music is my passion, and it always will be. But I still cook! And I’m cooking a damn puttanesca tonight for everybody.

You’re making me so hungry. I haven’t had lunch yet.

I made ‘em matriciana the other night.

What’s that?

Matriciana is basically spicy red sauce with bacon and onions. Have you ever had carbonara?

Yes I have.

We used to joke about that and call it heart attack on a plate. Because it’s heavy cream, egg yolks, cheese, butter, bacon, and you don’t drain the fat, and it’s just yummy. And a lot of black pepper. I don’t eat that so much anymore because, you know, that can really affect your cholesterol levels. I try to be healthy. You know, when I was in my twenties, I was a bad guy, I did everything unhealthy, but when you get a little order, you realize that that was your time, and it’s time to grow up, now.

Not that there aren’t plenty of great fat singers, there are…

Don’t make me even go there. Because I have a really bad joke that I cannot tell you.

Come on!

Unless it’s off the record. No, I can’t do it. I can’t do it.

You've had a lot of members come and go over the years. Has Nevermore ever had a band member that you wanted to keep with the band, and they just decided to leave?

We always think that the current one is gonna be the one! And it turns out that something weird happens. I’m not gonna name names, but there was one guy in the band where his wife tried to poison Jeff’s girlfriend by putting shit in one of her booze bottles. Like ammonia or something. And the cops came, and it was a really big thing. And anyway we got rid of him, and his wife was crazy. Yeah. I live Spinal Tap every day. And I think that really, to be a metal band, you have to. Don’t you, really?

I think you’re absolutely right. There needs to be some hilarity to keep you going all this time, too.

Laughter’s the best medicine.

So that’s about all the questions I have, unless there’s anything else you want to tell us about The Obsidian Conspiracy.

It’s rising.

The Obsidian Conspiracy is rising.

That’s my quote.

That and your opening line “fucking fantastic” are competing for the title of this interview. Well great. Thank you so much Warrel.

No, thank you. It’s really cool when you talk to someone…I mean obviously we both do a lot of interviews – when people ask questions that aren’t like the normal dumbass questions. I’ve been asked really stupid things like “So…tell me something of the meaning of the lyrics because we think maybe you do not like Jesus.” I mean that’s just retarded to me. I have nothing against any deity, except I don’t prescribe myself to any organized religion, and everyone needs to make their own decision and take their own path in life.

Now there was something that really made me very angry recently on CNN…where this guy, who is a pastor in some church, and I think it’s here in the south somewhere, and he took his kid to school, this little girl that I think was eight or ten years old, and made her wear a t-shirt that said “Islam is of the devil.” And I was so stunned that there are people that are that fucking ignorant in the world.

It’s both having that opinion and also forcing it upon an eight-year-old that probably doesn’t know well enough to decide for herself.

Exactly. Remember this old song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “Teach Your Children Well?” This guy ain’t doin’ it.

That’s probably the hateful underbelly that you might see if you go a little further outside the nice mom ‘n pop places where you’re shopping. There are more gun-toting wackos there than most other places… more hate crime and domestic violence down south.

There’s good people everywhere, there’s bad people everywhere. That’s the way I look at it.



Anonymous said...

You and Warrel Dane were well matched. Fascinating and wide-ranging interview.

China said...

Late reading this, but you're a really good interviewer. I love that he loves "Richard Cory," too.

However...a diabetic should not be eating pasta. You should have done the responsible thing and told him this.

Anonymous said...

OK, now tell us the joke about the fat singer....

Anonymous said...

This was an absolutely amazing interview, as a die hard fan of this band since the sanctuary days there are a-lot of things in this interview that I was previously unaware of. Keep up the good work. Nevermore are amazing and I truly hope they come to Vancouver, BC on this upcoming tour. Last time I saw them was in Toronto with Mercyful Fate.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Nice interaction between you and warrel. But I still wonder, is warrel working with anything besides music? I mean, can he make a living only with that?

Rob Liz said...

Fantastic interview. This is how it should be done. Too many times I read interviews and its usually the same tired questions asked and the same tired answers.

You were able to gather insights on Warrel's personal life and have a thoughtful conversation about the music. Well done.