EVILE Frontman Matt Drake: The Metal Injection Interview
- Posted by Chloe Scannapieco on October 18, 2011
Losing a treasured band member in some tragic circumstance or another is becoming just all too frequent. Just ask British new-wave thrashers Evile, who decided to turn their anguished situation into a renaissance to honor their fallen comrade. The result of their astonishing courage is Five Serpent’s Teeth, their third record and a by-product of not only their unstoppable will, but also their proletariat ethic as the working man's band, which hits stores today on Earache Records. Read along for info on how the album came to be, the history of the band, how they are dealing with the tragic loss of their bassist two years ago and other topics.
For those who may never have heard of Evile, could you just give us a brief rundown of the band?
We started about 11 years ago; me and the drummer Ben go together at school. My brother learned to play the guitar, amazingly fast overnight. He played the guitar for us. Then we found a bass player, Mike and we started doing covers live. We did that for a few years, but got bored with playing other peoples songs. We switched from doing covers and started doing our own thing in the band Evile. We were going to be called Exile, but there are already a million bands in the world called Exile. So we put a V instead and thought ‘Ooh that’ll work! Evile! Cool’. That easy, A ‘V’ instead of an ‘X’. Then we did a demo in 2004. We played live, did another demo, Earache picked it up in 2006. First album 2007 Enter the Grave. Second album Infected Nations 2009 and we did a couple of tours between that. We did the Megadeth tour. Exodus tour. A couple other cool gigs as well, Machine Head support. We lost Mike in October 2009 (passed away due to a pulmonary embolism). Got Joel in December 2009, the same year, a few months after. Now we have a new album.
The new album is Five Serpent’s Teeth. Did you ever envision when you guys started out 11 years ago that you’d be making a third album on Earache Records?
Never. Never. Didn’t even consider it. We never actually even looked for that kind of thing. We were never interested in writing albums. We just enjoyed getting together in a practice room every now and then like two nights a week we’d get together for two hours at a time. That was about the extent that we really got to. We just enjoyed writing music a bit. Nobody else was satisfying our needs, so we just did it ourselves. We never had any idea that anybody else had taken any notice of it. There was no plan to get all our bands together and start a movement. It was like, “Oh, you do this as well? Bloody hell, so do we!” It was completely bizarre.
And at what point did the band become serious? From hanging out and playing some covers to – right, we’re going to go for it now and we’re actually going to make a living out of this.
Well that’ll be never then! I honestly don’t think we’ve taken it any more seriously that we did when we started. Doesn’t feel like we do. Feels like we just do it like we used to do. We just do more of it. That’s what it feels like to me. The only time I’ve felt a bit more serious about it was when we did the second album. Because, the first album, the songs were written over a few years and played live, so we knew them all inside and out. We just waited and recorded what we knew, basically. They always say that you’ve got a year to write your first album. Somehow we got to do second one, we thought it’s an actual chance to prove a point. That was the time we took it more seriously, but I think since then we’ve just taken it as it comes. We don’t really go out of our way to be serious about it. We’re serious about songs, but not about anything else!
What thoughts did you have around this album? Was there anything in particular that you wanted to achieve or depart from? Or was it just quite an organic creative process?
It felt like birth. At first we knew what was wrong with the first album, what was right with it and the same with the second album. We knew on the second one, we’d lost the energy in favor of more technical kind of stuff. Playing and trying to show that we can play. But we lost the energy which was a big downside for that album and I think I ruined the second one as well because the vocals were terrible on the second album. I don’t like them.
Yeah. I started having singing lessons and I could only afford to have them until I learned how to power it and not hurt myself. Because on the first album I wrecked my throat to record the album because I didn’t know how to sing. I’d never recorded before properly. After gigs, I just couldn’t talk for a day after because I obviously did it wrong! So I had some singing lessons for the second album but I could only afford to learn up to the point where you can power it without hurting yourself. I never actually learned any melody. I definitely knew that was a point that needed improving for the third one. We just wanted to get the energy back. That fun, bouncy energy that we had on the first album, that we’ve always had and that we lost on the second one. That’s definitely back and it’s made the third album, I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.
Are you the main lyricist within the band?
I am now, yes. So it’s all my fault! The first one was mixture. One song’s Ben’s, Mike wrote, I think three songs with lyrics, Mike and Ol wrote ‘Thrasher’. I wrote the rest of them. But then on ‘Infected Nations’, I kind of grabbed everything on a cable and pulled it in to my chest and went “Mine, mine, mine! I’m doing the lyrics!” They see the vocalists job as it should be, do the vocals, that’s pretty traditionally. We write our own path and I’m really glad because it really got me to think more about lyrics and how things are written. I love the stuff on the new one. I’m really proud of it. I’ve been very vague about the lyrics on some of it.
You have been fairly ambiguous with your lyrics and a lot of lyricists do, in all fairness.
I’d rather. The thing we did for the second one is, someone told me I had to explain what the songs meant before the album’s released and it really pissed me off. So I said I wouldn’t do that again because I like people to listen to it and make their own opinions. So they can figure out what it might mean to them instead of someone telling you. I’ve purposefully written lyrics to this one to be a bit more vague, so you can read in to it. I know what they’re about myself. I know exactly what they’re about. But they could be interpreted in different ways by different people. To see if I could do it really and if somebody else picks up any of things they’re about. One of them is… if anyone ever gets it, I will personally give them £20!!
Is there a common lyrical concept or is the record about various different things?
Different things. Just various ideas. I’d always write the lyrics when I was sat on a bus. It sounds really daft but I had this thing where you’re on a bus travelling somewhere and your brain just switches off and you can let everything just flow. I’d just get on a bus, go to work on the bus, write lyrics. Do the same thing back and that’s how I wrote my lyrics for the album. On a bus.
You see bands like Mastodon who are heavily into their concept albums; can you see Evile ever doing a concept album from start to finish?
I don’t know if it would work for us. I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d like to tackle it with Evile, anyway. When we’ve encountered all the drugs and the money and the fame and we break up and all the Evile helplines are set up for the crying fans. We’ll probably go our own ways and I reckon Ol’ll be the first one to do it. But I don’t think it’d suit us now really.
Are there any guests on the record?
There are two. There’s my dad. He does part of a solo on ‘In Memorium’. He’s a great guitarist; he’s played in bands for years. He’s got a plastic finger as well and he can play guitar with it, which is amazing! He was in a car accident when he was younger and flattened his first finger. He’s got the best bravto feel of any guitar solo and he’s brilliant at it and we’ve got Brian Profane, the American comedian. He’s on ‘Cult’ on the album and may have slide in a naughty word.
What was the biggest challenged that you encountered when creating this record?
Finding the time to get together to do it. We’ve written the album about 50% capacity. Because I work full time, it’s hard for me to find the time to do everything. I couldn’t get to practice because I was quite far out from everyone else, about an hour away from town. It takes me an hour to get there and an hour to get back, so my time’s quite limited because I have to work as well. So I struggled to get that time to play guitar and write songs with them. It was easy for me to do it at home, write the lyrics and have them email me what they’ve written and for me to agree or disagree and argue until it worked. We struggled with that because we weren’t together all the time for the writing. I think we’ve done really well with this, made something this good that’s not put all our attention to it. I can’t not work because I have bills to pay and a house and all that stuff. If I don’t work, I’m screwed. I was going to work in the morning, coming home at about 6:30pm and writing lyrics until 10pm and then learning the other songs they were writing until midnight. To play them on guitar and learn how to sing as well takes quite a while for me and I was doing that, having like four hours sleep a night for months. That’s us doing it without ten hours a day writing. I just imagine what we could do if we we’re doing that. If we were not working, 12 hours a day of solid writing we could achieve ridiculous stuff, I imagine. That was the biggest hold up. That was the only hold up actually. Everything else was really smooth. Especially with Russ in the studio, we get on a so well. I just think if we were writing, doing the band as a proper job, then it would be pretty good. We’ll just have to find that out. You can’t go, “I know, I’ll be successful now!” So we’ll see what happens.
You mentioned Russ Russell there, who produced the album. Why did you decide to work with him again?
Because he’s brilliant and he has a great moustache. It’s got a nice curl in it! He just gets what we do. He’s a ridiculously hard worker, he’ll come in at 9am, be ready to go by 10am and he’ll stay until midnight/1am. Just work all day and do that constantly. He’s always doing something. He gets what we do, understands what we need and understands how to tell us what we don’t need. He’s very good at doing that with us without annoying each other. We just get on so well. I wouldn’t work with anyone else actually, from now on. For me personally, I’d go back to Russ every time. He’s brilliant. I love him to death, he’s awesome.
This is the first record with Joel on it. How did he take to the recording process and how did you gel in the studio?
He was fine actually. He had recorded before with his old band Rise to Addiction. Joel’s pretty laid back, he’ll do whatever we ask him to and in fact the first thing he played when he went in there was the bass intro for ‘In Memorium’. Which is something that Mike used to play at sounchecks to check his bass line. We’re not sure if Mike actually wrote that or if it’s something he stole from someone. We recorded it anyway and we’ll find out in court! So that was the first thing that Joel recorded which was kind of nice. He did really well; he was the least hard work. Everything went really smoothly in the studio. Everything we wanted to do got done, we worked together great, no-one stabbed anyone! It was really good.
Yeah, yeah it was. Very. Very, very weird. He had his own personality. Ridiculously huge personality. It’s hard to not miss. So, it was difficult, at first it was, but Joel’s been amazing. The day Joel started we knew we had got the right guy.
You mentioned ‘In Memorium’ there, is that a track to honour Mike?
Yeah, I thought we were a bit brave with that one actually. I think we were. I can see why people respond to it. It stands out really well, it’s a complete contrast. We just wanted to write better songs and that seemed like a perfect chance to write a better song. A proper song. We thought about structure on this one and where the songs were going. We thought more about the song length and what makes a good song and that’s probably the best example of what we’ve done. It’s easy to connect with for some reason. Really proud of that one. It’s really good.
The anniversary of Mike’s passing was recent, marking two years. You lost him tragically in Sweden, which is where Metallica lost Cliff Burton. Do you a feel a weird connection to them, being from the same genre and losing the same component of the band in the same place?
It’s hard not to. Wherever we seem to go, everyone always throws Metallica comparisons at us. The weirdest thing was that Mike used to joke years ago, ‘Oh we should never go to Sweden because I’ll never come back!’ Ha ha, very funny. And then it actually happened. I can’t even put it into words the feeling of that, because the first thing I remember back to is that, joking about those years ago. It is really crazy. You can’t really fight that, can you? But yeah that was, pretty rough.
You had a lot of musicians reach out to you when you lost Mike. Famous and influential people within the rock and metal world. Who were they and what did they do?
We got quite a few messages through from Rex Brown (Pantera/Down), one of Mike’s favorite bassists as well. We got loads sent to us for auction. Metallica sent us a signed skateboard and posters, Iron Maiden sent us some wine and signed calendars, Slayer sent us a signed motorbike helmet and some other stuff. Exodus sent us loads of stuff, Machine Head – Phil Demmel sent us a guitar. Trivium sent us a bass guitar, Gary Holt gave us one of two guitars he’s got, we had all this stuff to auction off. It was crazy.
It must have touched you so much to have that outreach from the metal community.
It was crazy. We were so proud. The worst thing was that’s what it takes, because Mike was such a huge fan of all of these bands and that’s what it takes to hear from people like that. It’s quite sad and also, after all of this happened we ended up touring with Overkill and Kreator and Overkill were one of Mike’s top five bands. He’d have given anything to tour with those guys. He would have given his legs or his arms! It’s just so sad that you get to go out there and do that and he’s not with you to do it. That really hit me hard actually, when we were doing that. It’s so sad.
Was that the first time you had played America?
We did Canada in 2008 for a few weeks. But America was our first time that March (2010). That was bloody brilliant as well! As I was saying with Overkill and Kreator, such a shame that Mike couldn’t do that.
How did you find the American crowds?
It differed throughout it because we did five and a half months in America last year. About 8 or 9 tours there and you could see from the first tour we did that some people knew us, but most people had no idea! You could see them looking at you trying to figure you and that kind of happened a lot on the first tour and then we come back the month after to some of the same places with Overkill and you could see people going, ‘I remember you! I liked you! This is good, impress me!’ You see the differences between people’s reactions and we came back again later in the year and people knew who we were and it works. You tour and people know who you are. The difference was great. We did the House of Blues in LA twice and both times no one liked us! That was weird because we thought LA was going to be amazing. But it was bad! Then we went back again with Forbidden and played, the last tour of last year and we played The Whiskey, which is the place to be and everyone went mental for us. We expected nothing and everyone went crazy! It was really good. The more we go over, the more people will come out to see us and remember us and like us. It’s the same for any band. You’re that far away from home where you’ve based yourself for years and you go out there and people know who you are. You think -how the hell do you know who we are?
How do you find that the US and UK crowds compare?
To me, metal fans are metal fans. I think, the only difference I noticed is I think people in America were a lot more welcoming. I think they just have a different attitude to everything in America; they can make the best of everything in America. They’re a lot more upbeat about everything.
There’s been a revival of Thrash over the last few years, particularly this year with the Big 4 playing shows around the globe. How does it feel to be an English band in a predominantly American genre?
It’s weird isn’t it? I think it’s really weird. Because the British bands didn’t contend that much with the Americans the first time around. We had some really good bands like Onslaught and Sabbat, those guys were good but they were completely outclassed by the Americans. Completely. So these people are saying about us, that a British band is doing better than a lot of the American bands this time around and that’s pretty good! I don’t know how it stands, because I’m the insider so I couldn’t tell how it is. I’m part of it. Then again, we don’t sound like a retro thrash band. We don’t sound like what you’d expect as a thrash band. I mean we have obvious influences, but we don’t sound like you’d expect a retro thrash band to sound.
You supported Megadeth a few years ago, right?
We did, yeah! We did the Gigantour with them for a month and a half. Oh it was amazing. It was one of the best tours; it was probably the best tour we’ve ever done. How could it not be, it’s Megadeth! We learned a lot, we learned a lot about touring with that. We’d only ever done our own little tours so learned a lot about how to do it properly from more of a logistical point of view. How to make it easier on yourself, organisation, being professional on stage, stuff like that. Not as far as having people string your guitars for you, that’s probably a bit too far for me, I like doing that!
How was Dave?
He was really nice. When we first met him, me he was stood on one of the balconies and we went to introduce ourselves and he was sat with a glass of wine in one hand and Mike went to shake his hand and said, “Hi I’m Mike, I’m in Evile, one of the bands supporting you”, and he went to shake his hand and knocked the glass of wine! Bloody hell. Dave just said, “You spilt my wine you fag!” to Mike. Sorry! Spilt his wine and shook his hand. He was brilliant, he came drunk into our dressing room one or two nights and told a few stories and laughed with us. We spoke more with Shaun Drover actually. Shaun Drover was really, really good with us. He’d come into our dressing room and come and sit with us and talk for hours. They were brilliant, they were really nice guys. We did Download Festival (UK) this year and James Lorenzo was stood outside our dressing room door waiting for us he said hello and it was like “Hello, James Lorenzo!” Great.
Mates for life.
One thing I have to tell you as well. This is probably the best thing that has ever happened. We were at Download and Down were playing and I went off to watch System of a Down because I’d wanted to see them live for ages and as they started I got a text from Joel, he said the most unbelievable thing in the world. Apparently what happened was Joel was stood talking to a journalist outside our dressing room and Phil Anselmo came walking past, probably quite drunk by then, this was about10:30pm/11pm. Phil Anselmo clocked Joel and ran over to him and just shouted “Motherfuckin’ Evile! Jump into the fucking pit! Yeah!” Joel was like, “What the fuck?! Phil Anselmo listens to Evile!” We were completely blown away. My reply to Joel was just ‘fuck off’. Liar. But it happened! Because there was another witnesses! That kind of thing is cool.
What non-thrash influences do you guys have?
Queen. A lot of Queen. Especially me and Joel. A lot of Freddie Mercury comes in to what I think, vocal-wise. Especially now, with the new one. Yeah, a lot of Queen. Ol’s very influenced by death metal. Lots of death metal, he loves his Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, things like that. A lot of different stuff, we’re influenced by all the music. I haven’t listened to much modern stuff in years. The only few albums that have grabbed me of recent times would be Opeth and the new Mastodon and stuff like that.
The proggier stuff.
Yeah, but I listen to mostly 60’s and 70’s stuff. So a lot of that, old 70’s pop-rock stuff like Detours, Wishbone Ash. But we have obvious influences as well like Metallica and Sepultura.
What do you guys have coming up for the rest of the year?
We have a UK tour that starts from Thursday and we actually did our first local show in three years last Sunday night, which was immense. We booked it with this guy and he didn’t expect anyone to turn up, because he thought we were just a local band and we still are, but we’re a busy little local band! We’ve been about now. 400 people turned up. So, we were blown away! It was amazing. I was reading the local paper this morning, the website is the Huddersfield Daily Examiner and a couple had written a letter in. It said ‘Dear Examiner, my son took me and my husband to a local rock show. I wasn’t sure if we should go because I am 69 and my husband is 71. But we went anyway and watched the support bands who were all quite good and then we watched the main band Evile and they were amazing!’ Wow, pensioners love our show, this is brilliant. I’m so chuffed with that, it’s the best thing I’ve heard in years. That and the Phil Anselmo thing!