||INTERVIEW WITH STEVE CLIFFORD OF WRETCHED SOUL
The heavier side of the Metal scene may not be heard or seen much on radio and television in the UK, but there are still a large number of highly talented bands out there whose work should be reaching a wider audience.
In an attempt to try and re-dress the balance, we here at MetalTalk Towers have been listening to the very best in Death and Thrash bands and it was my pleasure to listen to the debut album from Canterbury based quartet, Wretched Soul (reviewed here).
I recently had the chance to sit down with Wretched Soul guitarist Steve Clifford for a quick chat to try and find out a bit more about the band, what their plans are for the rest of 2013 and, of course, to get the low down on their brand new album, 'Veronica'.
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The first thing I ask Clifford was to tell me what the band have achieved since their inception in late 2008.
"Perhaps our biggest achievement so far has been performing at Bloodstock in 2012 alongside more established acts like Machine Head, Testament, Watain, Dimmu Borgir, Evile and Viking Skull. Since then we have signed a deal with Dark Lord Records through which we've released our debut album, 'Veronica', and more recently we've also been privileged to share stages with the likes of Orange Goblin, Savage Messiah, Brutal Truth and Extreme Noise Terror."
Talking of the band's appearance at Bloodstock, Steve says: "It felt absolutely electric to walk out on that stage and see the place rammed nearly all the way to the back, (and) then it filled up even more after our first couple of songs – aided, I guess, a bit by the fact that Crowbar had just finished and the next band on (Mayhem) hadn't started their set yet, so we were literally the only band playing at that point in time! There was a huge pit during our last song too", he says with obvious pride, "and as we left the stage, the capacity-crowd were chanting our name over and over - that's a moment that I'll never forget."
After Bloodstock, it was obvious the band were building on their existing fan base, as Steve explained to me: "We knew that we needed to work hard and keep the momentum going after Bloodstock if we wanted to be eligible to play there again in the future, and I think that we've achieved this, because I actually did twice as many press interviews at Bloodstock 2013 than I did in 2012, so the interest level in the band has definitely increased through playing there."
When asked about the bands musical influences, Clifford is quite forthright in explaining that "there's no bite-sized, list-based or straightforward answer to this question" before explaining further saying "(our) musical influences are everything that we love about Metal be it Death, Thrash, Black, Doom or traditional Heavy Metal. There are literally dozens of bands (who) are all equally important in shaping our sound so if you imagine that you can hear it in our music then it's probably an influence.
"We've never wanted to exclude certain influences from our song writing just to satisfy a generic convention. The idea was to throw away that particular rule-book and try to develop something of our own from everything that we listen to and like, whilst still remaining emphatically Metal."
When asked about who writes what in the band when it comes to song writing, Steve explains: "Usually I'll come up with (the) riffs and Andy (brother and drummer, Andy Clifford) then helps me to piece them together. Andy occasionally adds a riff or two of his own, but we'll work out the basic song-structure together before presenting it to Luke (Mayell – Bass) and Chris (Simmons – vocalist), just to get their thoughts and let them fit their own parts into the song.
"Once Chris has worked out what the vocal patterns and melodies are, I'll go back and write lyrics to fit over the top of what he's doing and the song gets finished that way.
"As with our musical influences, our lyrical inspiration is quite broad. We take inspiration from tons of different historical and literary sources and also from daily life and our own experiences of the world. I'll always try to find lyrical themes that resonate with something in real-life. Thematically, I guess 'Veronica' explores different aspects of human suffering and endurance - from agony and grief (in 'Dash To Destruction' and the title track) to religious persecution and political subjugation ('Black Wings Of Treachery' and 'The Unmaking'). The endurance aspect is manifested in the search for truth, whether it is the uncovering of liars which is referenced in 'Wounded Illusion' or the quest for inner strength, which is what 'Summon The Hunter' is about.
"It's important that the lyrics are grounded in something emotional and/or real, and not just telling stories but looking at history and mythology in a way that says something valid about the present. This is part of the lyrical tradition of great bands like Primordial (an Extreme Metal band from Ireland), who always ensure that their songs and albums have something meaningful and intelligent to say about the world around them. We are inspired by bands who strive to stir up subjects that matter and we try to do the same, rather than being just a regular "beer band" who'll say "bang your head" over and over in lieu of anything valid or interesting."
Moving directly onto their debut album, 'Veronica', I ask Steve how it feels to finally have an album out in shops? "It's gratifying and a huge relief to finally have it out there and available for people to hear. Seeing it in the CD racks next to Iron Maiden albums in HMV was an absolute head-trip for me personally!" he adds with obvious pride.
The album was produced by Chris Tsangarides (who has previously worked with high profile artists like Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson, Gary Moore and Thin Lizzy), so I ask Steve how they managed to get him behind the desk: "Well, I guess it all started from a conscious desire to steer away from the 'modern', and by that I mean digitised, Metal sound and more towards something a bit more earthy and organic-sounding. As a band, we felt that this album needed to sound real - a real drum sound with a real guitar sound and audible bass and importantly to us, without the auto-tuned vocals!"
"I was trying to figure out a way to achieve that 'classic' feel and realised that we'd probably need to find someone who has worked on those classic albums. Then, whilst watching the 'Anvil: The Story Of Anvil' film, I noticed that Chris had a studio in Kent, (and) it just blew my mind to learn that a producer of Chris' calibre was operating on our very doorstep!
"I contacted Chris' management who passed on our demos and then he set up a meeting with us. We went along and hung out at his studio, The Ecology Rooms, for a couple of days and jammed on the rest of the songs for him - Chris liked what he was hearing, and agreed to produce our record.
"There weren't really any issues during the recording but I think we are possibly the most extreme band that Chris has ever worked with, so it took a bit of adjustment from him with the more guttural vocals and the piercing screams and whatnot, but I think he (Tsangarides) relished the challenge of something a bit different. We mixed and sequenced the album with the vinyl format in mind, making sure that the sound had some proper depth and atmosphere to it. This more organic approach is something that you won't often find on 'modern' metal albums, which tend to be over-digitised and rather sterile these days. We're proud of the fact that “Veronica” sounds like a real band playing real songs recorded by a real producer - because that's exactly what it is."
I ask Steve if there are any stories (good or bad) about the recording of the album? "Well, we definitely had our own moments of crazy, booze-fuelled silliness because it's quite isolated up there, but our stories pale in comparison to some of classic antics that Chris shared with us, like how he and Tony Iommi developed a penchant for setting surfaces (and each other) on fire – a game which ended in hospitalisation and skin-grafted hind-quarters, or how Chris and (Exodus guitarist) Gary Holt prank-called a zoo and attempted to order the tenderest primates to make "Monkey Soup" much to the proprietor's confusion and dismay. The phone call was even recorded and used on the Exodus 'Force Of Habit' album!
"Chris kept us entertained for hours with hundreds of cool stories from his past, from tales of ice-cream and archery fights with Judas Priest to cat-food baguettes being fed to some unsuspecting Black Sabbath roadies! I think he'll be including all of the best anecdotes in his forthcoming autobiography, and who knows, he may even make mention of Wretched Soul in there too!"
Bringing the conversation back to the present, I ask Steve about Wretched Soul's touring plans to support the 'Veronica' release: "We're touring the UK in mid-November with upcoming Finnish Death Metal band, Re-Armed, which we're all looking forward to. We were originally scheduled to play some other dates in the UK including one in Glasgow, but unfortunately we were forced to cancel this gig due to a double-booking with an industrial metal band from Minneapolis, American Headcharge.
"We'd like to apologise to all of our Scottish friends who were looking forward to seeing us, and we'll almost certainly be organising a show there in 2014 – so watch this space! Ideally, we'd also like to make it over to Ireland next year too, because 'Veronica' has received some awesome reviews from numerous fanzines and websites there so it'd be great to follow that critical success up with some live shows. In the gig diary for next year, though, we're already booked to play the Hostile Terrortory Festival in Norway next year and have UK shows with (American Death Metal band) Massacre and the legendary Cradle of Filth lined up for 2014 too."
For someone like myself who has yet to experience the Wretched Soul live show, I ask Steve what someone coming to one of their shows can expect? "Some vital, forward-thinking, modern day British Heavy Metal with an impassioned stage-show to match", is his short and to the point answer, but with plenty of shows in the pipeline for 2014, I look forward to seeing the band first hand next year.
Talking of the future, I ask if the band have any plans/timescales in place for album number two to which Steve tells me: "No, not really, we've only just begun putting a few new song ideas together. Our priority for the next year is to promote 'Veronica' as much as possible through as much touring and as many festival shows as we possibly can. I'll go out on a limb and say that if all goes well, and the finances are there, then we'd hope to be recording sometime towards the end of 2014/early 2015."
Bringing the chat towards its inevitable end, I ask Steve what, realistically, he wants the band to achieve: "Realistically, the Music Industry is on its knees - a raped and dying whore turned blind and riddled with disease, but as long as the band can keep working and moving forward whilst making chartable progress then we're happy.
"In the next year or so we'll be looking to play many more shows in Europe and possibly even a European tour with Re-Armed, but we'll continue to play live as much as we physically can and get our music heard by as many people as possible. We have no greater aspirations than to tour this album enough to be able to make a second one but we're taking things one small step at a time. Some more European festival bookings would be fantastic too, and (Scotland's only Rock and Metal Festival) Les-Fest too, if we get the chance!
"I first stumbled upon the Les Fest website back in 2012 when searching for UK festivals, it looked really impressive and this year even more so. I've heard great things about it from the Virus and Bull-Riff Stampede guys, so it's definitely a festival that we'd love to be a part of if we get the chance. As for which European festivals that we'd like to play; any that'll have us really!
Like I said, we're appearing at the Hostile Terrortory in January alongside bands like Taake, King of Asgard, Abbath's Bombers and Koldbrann, (but) we'd love to do other festivals in Scandinavia like Inferno, Sweden Rock, Wacken, Bang Your Head, Graspop, and Hellfest, if we get the chance."
Bringing him back to UK Festivals, Steve's quite keen on a return to Bloodstock: "It is so unique because it's basically the UK's answer to all these great annual European Summer festivals. With Bloodstock, you get all the quality of Wacken but at a quarter of the size, making for a very special atmosphere indeed. Walking into that arena always feels like coming home to me, (and) I know the other guys in Wretched Soul share this same feeling with regard to Bloodstock."
Thanks to Steve Clifford for his time, and to Gary Levermore for arranging the interview.
You can catch Wretched Soul live here:
Saturday 16th November - Gasworks, Bradford (with Re-Armed)
Sunday 17th November - Surya, London (with Re-Armed, Karybdis, Scutum Cruz and more...)
Monday 18th November - Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff (with Re-Armed)
Tuesday 19th November - The Unicorn, London (with Re-Armed)
Wednesday 20th November - B2, Norwich (with Re-Armed)
Thursday 21st November - Scruffy Murphy's, Birmingham (with Re-Armed)
Friday 22nd November - Shades Nightclub, Bridlington (with Re-Armed, Teras, Deformation of Man and more...)
Saturday 23rd November - South Sea Live, Sheffield (with Re-Armed)
Sunday 1st December - Electric Ballroom/Underworld/Jazz Cafe/Black Heart Camden, London (with Iniquity, Katalepsy, Unfathomable Ruination and more...)
Friday 6th December - The Ivy Leaf, Sheerness (with Neonhalo, Impuritas and Then the Wave Came)
Thursday 23rd January - Saturday 25th January - Hostile Terrortory Festival 2014 Stavanger, Norway (with Bombers, King of Asgard, Koldbrann and more...)
Tuesday 25th February - The Borderline, London (with Savage Messiah)
Friday 2nd May - Sunday 4th May - Rad Fest 2014, Powys (with Breed 77, Massacre, Cancer and more...)
Friday 15th August - Sunday 17th August - Alt Fest 2014, Kettering
Wretched Soul are:
Chris Simmons - Vocals
Steve Clifford - Guitar
Luke Mayell - Bass
Andy Clifford - Drums
Official Website: http://www.wretchedsoul.net
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