Warbringer – Interview With John Kevill
@ The Audio, Glasgow
Date: Wednesday, 9th of August 2017
Interview By: Pete Mutant
Warbringer were only three gigs short of heading back towards home. After a gruelling month of travelling the length and breadth of Europe, you can imagine just how eager the band was to be getting closer to home. Warbringer have been known to be heavy tourers, but it still is a mammoth task for any human to undertake; albeit an essential one in order to keep yourself in this industry. A point the John Kevill was more than aware of as he spoke of this life which he has chosen to live and endeavour for.
He may have been feeling the burn of all of his and the band’s exertions but he was still in fairly good spirits. As we sat in his band’s touring van he was able to give deep insights into his line of thought in everything from touring to some of his world views and what inspires some of the lyrics that he writes for Warbringer.
PM:It’s only been a few months since Warbringer decimated Edinburgh at the Heavy Scotland festival, you glad to be back in Scotland?
PM: Fantastic. It is such a short time but it’s always good to have you back and you guys always come back…
JK: We always seem to have done so, so far and thus it may be eternally that way.
PM: You’ve been referred to as a hard touring band, you’ve been to the UK several times since your beginning. Have you guys reaped the benefits of this hard touring lifestyle?
JK: Well in terms of being able to play metal for a bunch of people,yes. That’s really the benefit that we reaped and that was really, kind of, the goal when we started the band so yeah.
PM: Have you always considered being a live band before anything else?
JK: No, just being a sweet band before anything else, but that includes being a good live act.So you know we try to be goodin all aspects in which a metal band can be, I guess.
PM: It’s part and parcel isn’t it.
JK: Yeah, and playing this kind of music, you’re not going to have an overnight radio sensation when you’re trying to be fast, viscious and brutal so the only option is to tour hard and we do. We like playing live and this music translates really well to the stage.
PM: It most cetainly does. You are correct sir. So how has this tour been so far?
JK: Really strenuous to be honest. I’m like sitting here collapsing and now I’m doing this interview (laughs). We are near the end of it so you know it tends to be, one tends to be tired towards the end but it’s had a lot of highlights. The cool thing about this tour, is that we’ve had a number of days off in cool locations which was kind of accidental but it rarely happens so I’ve gotten see a bunch of really neat stuff that normally you just drive right by.
PM: Yeah, see that’s a big loss for a lot of bands because the tours are just day after day, mile after mile and you don’t really get to experience much of the places that you’re actually playing.
JK: Yeah and sometimes even if you do, you’re too damned tired (LAUGHS) and you gotta sit around for soundcheck and you’ve got to try to eat something and by the time that you’re done with the show,it’s late at night then you sleep, leave to the next city and repeat. So, it kind of puts a major dampener on actually seeing anything. But, I got to spend a lot of time in Vienna, in Nurnberg, in uh, went to Ypres the other day, got to swim in the Danube river and all this cool stuff.
PM: That is really cool. They are experiences that I think that most people would want to do. Harrowing as well with Ypres and everything.
JK: Yeah, it is funny though because it all happens kind of spur of the moment and just “oh we’re here, I guess I’ll do this”, you know. I have my lady here with me too so she’s kind of pushing me or cracking the whip on me to go and do things and drag my tired body around places (laughs).
PM: Well I guess it’s good motivation in that respect.
JK: Yeah and it’s good though. In the end, like retrospectively, it will be great especially because I will remember all that stuff and all the hours sitting here going “ughhh”and justbeing tired and
sweaty. I will remember much less.
PM: Pictures are good as well, you can pretend that you felt good at that moment in time.
JK: Yeah, I usually do to be fair. It’s just at the end of the tour it’s like “ugh”(laughs). We got three shows left including this ones so we’re very near to the finish line and I can tell you that we have a specific plan. We’re going to eat tacos and burritos before I even go to my home. There’s nothing anywhere in Europe that tastes like proper Mexican food. And I mean proper, that I’ve ever had and we from Los Angeles just live on that stuff and I very much miss it.
PM: Yeah it’s much more authentic in the States.
JK: Yeah, I hardly ever even see it anywhere in Europe.
PM: To be honest I have never had a good plate of enchiladas here.
JK: Oh Well
PM: I mean Never
JK: I have never had a plate of enchiladas here and I would be highly sceptical before I ordered one (laughs).
PM: It has been eleven years since ‘One By One The Wicked Fall’and ten it’s coming onto ten years since the debut (War Without End’, has time really flown by for you since starting Warbringer?
JK: I mean there’s that whole concept of duality. it has both flow by which especially now as I look back at all of this and it all seems like this blur and yet at the time I was there it would often drag because it is hour after hour after hour of driving and so it’s both really.
PM: A little bit of both…
JK: A little of both. I can remember…well I suppose everything seems quick once you’ve already done it. So that’s just part of the human condition and these faulty little memories we’ve got.
PM: I’d say very faulty in my case, just flashes of this and flashes of that.
JK: (Laughs) yeah tell me about it. You know there’s a bit though that makes me feel happier about that faulty memory thing which is that, I forget where it’s from, might have been Lord Of The Rings or something with wizards and you know they say “he’s forgotten much than most ever knew” and I feel like a wizard sometimes.
PM: Well there are those certain things that just stick with you. Sometimes inexpicably.
JK: Yeah sometimes it’s something that you’d obviously remember like “wow this is amazing, it’s such a great time and we’re going to remember this forever” and other times it’s like “that one idiot that said that one thing that we saw this one time at this one place”. There’s a number of funny ones. I remember this one time we were just walking outside a bar and it wasn’t the show we were playing but we were to somewhere else and some guy outside of this bar smashes a bottle on the wall and just goes “RAGE!!!”
JK: You can’t forget that.
PM: No that’s a good one. Think he was onto something.
JK: Yeah or on something, but maybe both.
PM:(Laughs) or possibly both. Well who’s not sometimes.
JK: Who knows what, where are they now?
PM: Rage doesn’t get you far now does it?
PM: Well…rage in music though…
JK: Rage in musc. Well he just smashed that bottle and said “RAGE!!!”. Very direct.
PM: I think I like that guy (laughs)
PM: I like the sound of him (laughs)
JK: He’s stuck in my mind. I’ve never had any other interaction with him, we just kept walking; a little faster perhaps (laughs).
PM: A little faster was definitely a good idea.
PM: So was doing a little research and I was looking at the post back in 2014 when it was that plea, well, almost a plea. That question that was sent out to the fans after Carlos left and John left and there’s this question hanger over yourself over Warbringer continuing on and now we’re two albums later isn’t it?
JK: No just one album, we made the next album after that and that was ‘Woe To The Vanquished’.
PM: So, now we’re at that point, do you think that you are in the best position now to sort of get to the next step and keep on going forward?
JK: Way better position than what I was in before. Definitely so. We had three years where I was rebuilding the band and in the music industry, that hamstrings you very badly. So this record has been yet another uphill battle where we have to get our feet back and you know people in the industry, I think, are starting to take us seriously again. Even this Summer run, we wanted to be on a number of festivals. We were rejected by Bloodstock for instance.
PM: Really, rejected?
JK: Yeah we’ve never played on that festival. We’ve submitted ourselves damn near every year.
JK: you know Warbringer seems fated to fight a difficult uphill battle its entire existence and I’ve kind of come to terms with it. I believe that anything worth doing will be hard often and I’m okay with that because I am not going to change a damn thing about the music we make or the way I do it.
PM: And no you shouldn’t. I guess that drives you doesn’t it?
PM: It’s just like there’s adversity ad you’re just like saying “fuck you” in the face of it.
JK: More or less, just you know fuck everything fuck this stupid materialist world we live in. I’m going to do something that I actually believe in and care about and I’m not going to let anything
get in the way. I was really, at the time, my whole life had fallen apart to be honest because I had spent, at that time, seven or eight years; my entire adult life doing this then I suddenly couldn’t. To add to it I had a relationship fall apart at about the same time so I was in pretty bad shape one a personal note then.
JK: Very dark but you know it’s very inspiring and good to know that people give a shit. And, sometimes, when I even felt like “ah no one cares about us anymore”, they do. And that is inspiring to me because that tells me that alright well whatever I’m making or whatever I’m doing, that people, people all around the world. People that I have never met think it’s, you know, it’s worth enough to them that they care to say something to me or show up to shows , buy the merchandise, buy the record and listen to the records, which is even more important than all the buying shit. If I wanted to make commercial success then I would have done something more conventional and mundane,and not music whatsoever either. But, I want my mark on, it’s kind of on the song ‘Divinity Of Flesh’, I want my mark on the world to be something of my spirit and personality and music is a very great way to do that. And so yeah, I’m driven by that in a lot of ways. At this point, you are one of 7.5 billion and the only thing that can make anyone special is their ability to make something, to help others, to impact others in some way. Without that, nobody’s special and we’re all just sad little mortals fated to die. With that, that voice of our own creativity and expression, we can be a little bit more than what we are.
PM: I think the sort of the bi-product of all your hard years of touring has certainly helped you. Even, you know, cemented the fact to yourselves that people do care.
JK: Yeah, absolutely and you know there’s a line shuffling in right now of people, this is a sold out gig so a lot of people care, it turns out. That’s great and you know it really helped push me. This last record, I think, is the best thing we’ve put out hands down and I really put more of myself in it and kind of redoubled my efforts because I had to shoulder a lot more than I had to before and it turned out to be kind of a privilege in a way. This record is just more me in the thematic and the concept of it. And so thus I am most proudest of it.
PM: So how well do you think the album HAS been received so far?
JK: Very. Best reviews we’ve had on a record and I think it’s easy to see why because the song writing and the playing and the production is the best we’ve had so what else is there (laughs). We made sure of that. We really, meticulously, pushed ourselves because, in my mind, if we’re doing a comeback after three years of practical non-existence, you can’t do a weak one. I’m really against, and I often speak out against…like I guess the careerists who are just constantly doing weaker versions of themselves and it often is depressing because some of those include bands that initially inspired me to be playing metal in the first place. So I am fully against that and I hope that at the time where I notice that I’m not singing like I used to, I can’t do this, I can’t do that. We’re kind of out of ideas instead of I’ve got something.The moment it becomes like that then quit. That’s how I see it, I want to do that but I want to make it take a while to get there because I think as long as one is relentlessly self-critical and pushes themselves and has an idea and something for something their striving for then you don’t ever need to get there.
PM: Just work on it, work on it and work on it basically.
JK: Yeah until maybe I’m like 45 or something then I’ll be too old for this shit.
PM: Well look at a lot of bands nowadays
JK: Well I’m against that for the most part. There’s a few select exceptions I think it’s a bummer to see so many. I think it is one of the big problem with metal, if you look at who’s headlining at
festivals or whatever and it’s literally the same bands that were around at the time of my birth.
PM: Like Monsters Of Rock you know, you’re still seeing the same headliners kicking about.
JK: Yeah but it’s always the same and resultantly there hasn’t been any renewal in the music and thus, thus it runs the risk of becoming a dead genre. If there never is that renewal. And we of course, this creates a huge uphill struggle for us. That’ the very nature of it. But, I know it, I’m still here you know.
PM: From listening to the albums, there’s a stylistic shift from the last one (IV: Empires Collapse) I would say. So, was that something that was in the back of your mind, that you needed to change it up because it sounded a bit like more of some of the earlier albums in some respects?
JK: I think the fourth record is really the left turn and I think that this one is more back in line with the proper evolution of the band. And the fourth record to be fair, the band was falling apart during the recording of it and John Laux just didn’t want to play metal anymore so some of that crept in with some of the punk rockier and more upbeat songs. Which I was never really for but I allowed them past my dictatorial filter.
PM: To keep it all together and all that.
JK: Which it didn’t so, I just regret it.
PM: Still, you know it was an interesting sort of shift. A lot of different influences I could hear in that. Obviously, the earlier albums and ‘Woe To The Vanquished were more straight up, hard and heavy, in your fucking face thrash and all that. The last one for me was still good with a lot of different influences like Voivod were creeping in, mad jazzy influences. It was quite interesting but obviously that was, as you said, was the left turn from the sort of material that you had done before.
JK: The thing, the theory behind the ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ record was to kind of take, the thing that we got on Empires that we hadn’t done, that we had kind of dabbled on, particularly on the second and third records was some of the like dark, melodic, like progressive/black metal influences, that kind of stuff. We thought that worked really well on ‘Hunter Seeker’, ‘Towers Of The Serpent’, that more melodic edge and that progressive edge and we had some songs like that on, actually since the first record, a lot of people liked. The first record has ‘At The Crack Of Doom’ which has a black metal riff and blast beats so we’ve always had this and people like to say, you know that either A) we’re doing the same thing over again. No, not true and B) that we’ve taken a total left turn. Also, not true. We’ve kind of done a very gradual refinement and evolution that way.
PM: Evolve with all these sort of influences…
JK: Yeah but this record, the concept was, the side A, in particular, is just like punch, punch, punch of different punches and then the end it kind of settles into this spiritual desolation of the last song. That was sort of the idea and to me, this is all very compatible with thrash metal. Thrash metal has on one side, leading into it like Maiden and Dio and Priest an like early speed metal stuff. And on the other side you’ve got black and death metal and so you can, as a thrash band, I think you can…I don’t think you have to be on one part of that spectrum, you can slide around it a bunch and we try to really explore the full breadth, the full width of the genre and kind of jump into some other pools as well when fitting.
PM: I think evolution is an important thing but also a sense of self is an important thing as well.
JK: It’s a tight rope to walk for sure. You don’t want to just be a different band. The band is called fucking Warbringer so if you pick up a Warbringer record and it doesn’t slaughter you in some way…
PM: Melt your face…
JK: It’s a disappointment. It’s got to do that but at the same time if you do it the exact same way well it won’t be so face melting then because it’s boring. You’ve heard it before.
JK: So there’s got to be an avoidance of stagnation and for us that’s really, we’re not trying to change what the band is, we’re trying to improve it at what it is and sort of chrystalise what makes this band different from any of the influences we have.
PM: So is there much thought about a new album, the next album?
JK: Yeah, that’s the plan. I’m already writing some stuff for it that I think will be better than the lyrics I had before. And if I didn’t think that then I wouldn’t fucking make it.
PM: (laughs) So obviously ‘When The Guns Fell Silent’ is about the Great War and it’s got the sort of poetry influences in it. Have you thought about doing a full concept album around this?
JK: This one is probably as close as I’d get to it. I’ve studied the first world war a shit load and read all kinds of books about, The second one I know a good deal about too from earlier but I really like the you know, the first world war like British soldier poets and all the art that comes from that time period is great because it’s the old romantic era of art but then struck by complete disillusionment. So it’s the most heartbreaking, soul crushing shit ever and the average, you know the average fucking soldiers could write. Now, people can’t even text properly so it kind of makes me think that perhaps there is a bit of a romantic view but there’s also some truth in it that the world before these calamities that there was something different in the human spirit that was destroyed.
JK: Yeah lost and that’s literally the theme to Lord Of The Rings a which many say is an allegory for the Great War. the idea that these ancient ways which were good are now gone.
PM: Sustainable as well you know…
JK: Yeah, in the march of progress and industry, technology, all of that. That we lose something of ourselves in the process as well, you know. The world where King Arthur and his knights rode from is gone forever and what do we have now? Steel, concrete and gadgets.
PM: Sort of like the one I’m holding in my hand right now.
JK: So you know, it’s kind of a romantic fantasy view of it but I think that there’s a lot of real truth to it as well. So I like to get those concepts in there as well and yeah I want to also, especially
with this last record, I want to be more, a little bit more poetic with the lyrics. Not in a happy, flowery way but in a really soul crushing way where liek if you dig into the lyrics it will break you.
PM: A little bit too much imagery and all that…
JK: And to connect to not only just have images of a battle somewhere but what it means philosophically for humans and to connect it to something anyone could feel.
PM: And to get into the psychological and everything as well
JK: Absolutely, absolutely. Like the end verse in ‘Shellfire’or the whole concept behind ‘Silhouettes’ and stuff like that. It deals with one eye on history and one eye on the present is kind of how I’m trying to do it. I’m trying to create a unique perspective as a thrash lyricist and I think ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ is really where that comes together and I can say “yes I have achieved that”.
PM: It’s some pretty haunting stuff when you read the lyrics.
JK: That’s the idea and I reject the notion that metal has to be this kind of music for idiots that are like “huhuh face melting brutal”.
PM: It’s beyond that.
JK: And there’s a lot to it that, why do we feel this connection to this angry, destructive music. Well it’s because it’s the world around us that makes us feel this way.
JK: And metal is the expression of how we feel when we look at that.
PM: Final question, because we have been going on for about 20 minutes now (laughs). So what do you plan next? Obviously you have the three dates here, have you got any festivals lined up?
JK: We did them already. We are now going home. We are then doing a tour in the US with Dark Tranquility and Stryker. Then we are doing another short tour that we just got the emails for and accepted so there’s going to be something at the end of the year. We also do a few shows in Latin America. Then my plan is to go back to studies for one semester until the summer where we hope to come back to Europe. And during all this time, by the end of next year to sort of have written, at least, the next record.
PM: Heavy Schedule…
JK: More or less but I mean that’s the only way you make it. If you don’t work hard, you won’t make it anywhere.
PM: Well three years is a long time as you said and you’ve had this rebuilding job…
JK: I think it’s mostly done and now it’s building past where we were before and that was always the goal. I want to make it a name where, hopefully when I’m gone, that some people will remember and care about what we did here and that really all that anyone could ever ask for. That matters more to me than all the gold and jewels so to speak.
PM: And what a way to end, that’s awesome man.