Heart of Steel: Interviews


Interview with guitarist Scott Atkins

Interviewed in 
Feb 2004 by EvilG

Thanks to Century Media for the promo photos

Fans of The Haunted, Slayer, Carnal Forge, and the whole new wave of modern thrash metal that seems to be getting more and more attention should take heed. A new English band has emerged from the underground hardcore/metal scene. Fellow brothers of steel, don't let the hardcore portion of Stampin' Ground scare you away. I am not a listener of hardcore music, but I do love good thrash metal and this band takes a lot of their influence from thrash, especially with the killer riffing provided by Scott Atkins (one of the band's 2 guitarists). The below interview is meant to introduce you to the band, to discover what they are about, and of course to focus on the band's new release A New Darkness Upon Us. For those in North America, you might be pleased to learn that Stampin' Ground will be coming to the U.S. this spring. Dates will be announced soon.

Since your band is new to many of our readers, can you briefly introduce us to your band and tell us what your goals are.

We formed back in ’95, and basically, and in all honesty, wanted to be the most brutal, crushing metallic hardcore band of all time. It wasn’t about success to us, we assumed that success would come from our original approach to hardcore, it wasn’t about being metallic, or more metal than any other hardcore bands, we wanted to be the most extreme.

When writing material, we tried really hard to grind our riffs as much as possible, and our first mini CD (self titled), and our debut album (Demons Run Amok) are a testimony to that; it’s a real hard job to play them all the way through without being worn down!

We found that the ‘grinding riffs to death’ approach wasn’t doing many favors for us in the live scenario; people were kind of rooted to the spot, or depressed, so we kind of learned that we might be doing something wrong. You’ll see that our second CD ‘An expression..’ saw us take a much more thrash metal approach to hardcore, this was a much more natural sound for us, and we were very comfortable with it. Likewise, this is what we developed on for our third and most recent release, ‘Carved from empty words’.

We’ve recently finished writing the new album, and admittedly, it’s more metal than we’ve ever been, but we it still has the Stampin' Ground (SG) sound. It’ll be world class metal album to go up against Slayer and Slipknot.

As strong as we see ourselves on CD, we pride ourselves to be one of the best live acts about, and we never give less than 100% when we hit the stage. If you ever see shots of us live, more often that not it captures the true action, airborne chaos we get every time we play – 50 kids or 500 kids!



How did you get the nickname "Axegrinder"? Was it just for guitar playing, or do you have an axe to grind / a chip on your shoulder / etc? ha!

Adam just came up with it one day. I really play hard live, and I was talking about grinding plectrums to dust one time. It was definitely ‘axe’ as in guitar.



Your drummer, Neil Hutton, was in Benediction I believe?!? What's the story on that and on how he joined Stampin' Ground?

Ade, our previous drummer used to slay his kit, and really blow everyone away with his playing. For reasons personal to him, his life went in another direction to the band, and his commitment and playing weakened. We had no choice but to replace him.

The new guy is Neil Hutton and yeah, he played in Benediction. He is unbelievably good, and very groovy and solid. He really brings the songs to life and is totally in to what we are doing. Basically, he had a side project band he played in when he wasn’t on tour with Benediction, and they supported SG a few times. We had his card marked from back then.



Being from Cheltenham, England, is not a location that we hear a lot about when it comes to metal scenes. What type of an atmosphere exists in your home town for playing live, and are there other up and coming metal bands in your area?

We have a lot of metal kids, but not really a lot happening with bands and shows. When we play it’s always a killer atmosphere, and we draw pretty good too. The only other band who are on tour all over Europe are a punk band called ‘4ft Fingers’. No one else is feeling the steel I’m afraid, maybe it’s got something to do with EMF (they had the single ‘unbelievable’) coming from around these parts!



Back in the later 70's / early 80's England was THE place to be for metal with bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Judas Priest, and Saxon establishing England as the premier country for heavy metal. However after this wave of bands, nothing as glorious occurred as their original breakout. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s like anything really, England has been a forerunner in a lot of things historically, but we always hand it over to another country to take up the reigns to do better!

I think by 1985, the U.K wasn’t the only country to be exporting metal, everyone was doing it and it just became so busy that all the struggling British bands had little or no chance to develop and succeed against the bigger U.S bands. It’s been that way ever since…until Stampin’ Ground delivered the new record!



"A New Darkness Upon Us" is your third album following "Carved From Empty Words" and "An Expression Of Repressed Violence". What changes in sound or style have occurred over this time?

‘..Expression’ was a true crossover album and we were finding our feet. Some songs are very hardcore, some very metal, but not many songs with a foot in each pond. ‘Carved..’ put a step forwards in getting SG a sound of it’s own, to be become a perfect blend of hardcore and metal and become a metalcore band. It was also the first album where we wrote pretty good songs.

The new album is all about good songs in the SG sound. Call it what you want, but its our sound.



Are any of the band members involved in other bands or projects?

No one in SG plays in any other bands.



When I mentioned to a few other Metal-Rules.com staffers that I wanted to interview Stampin' Ground, one reply was "I thought you didn't like hardcore?" I replied that I didn't but that I loved thrash metal old Slayer and The Haunted...so Stampin' Ground was an easy pill to swallow for me. Do you get this kind of reaction from some metal fans? Or the opposite, a reaction from hardcore people who think you are "too metal"?

Yeah, we do get this reaction, but people soon see the light. Often, they hear us on the radio and find out about the band later, without any pre-conceived ideas about how we should sound.

A lot of hardcore kids do think we are too metal; but I can understand that. At the end of the day, a good band is a good band, and their songs are good if you like them, regardless of what other people label you.



Speaking of that thrash metal influence, since you are one of the guitarists in the band, from where do you derive the more thrash elements of your playing?

I love the 80’s thrash scene, and I definitely draw a lot from that. That whole scene had aggression which a lot of bands don’t have anymore, and if you come to our shows, you’ll see what effect it has on the audience. We have a great time; its all about energy, thrashing it up and rockin’ out. Of course, it’s only an influence we use the thrash idea to give our modern sound the energetic edge.


Is image important to your band? I don't see any of the leather pants or spike of traditional metal, but perhaps more of a hardcore look to the band with the shorts and short hair cuts? Or maybe I'm retarded for asking...ha!!

We just wear what we are comfortable in. When we do photo shoots we try and make sure there is some harmony to the look of the band but that’s about it. We are obviously great looking lads so we don’t need weird clothes and make up to make us look cool…!



Who are some of your favorite guitarists both for riffing and for ripping (aka soling)?

I love Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Phil Demmel + Robb Flynn when they were in Vio-lence, Scott Ian, Alex Skolnick from Testament, George Lynch and Chris Oliva from Savatage.

Does watching some guitar player like Steve Vai make you want to throw up or perhaps throw away your guitar since his playing is sounds like he's from another planet?

I know Steve Vai is a killer player, but he’s got no steel in his playing. He’s not for me.



One could argue that many (not all) of the new wave of thrash metal bands have the exact same type of vocalist (i.e. The Haunted, Carnal Forge, Dew Scented, etc.). This is the only criticism I have for your band, with the vocals being not that diverse (even through they are done very well). Do you agree with this opinion, do you plan to diversify the vocals at all for the next album?

We worked very hard with the vocals on this latest album, but it’s very difficult to find stuff that fits other that what you hear on the record. Adam is improving so maybe on the next album, depending on the direction of the music, we will vary stuff. Who knows!



What does the title "A New Darkness Upon Us" refer to?

We felt that in recent years, a new sense of madness is gripping the world. It really is as if a new darkness is upon us. I’m not talking just about terrorism, but the evils of mankind and how things don’t seem to be dealt with that need urgent attention. Law and order is still very tame and when I watch the news it depresses me beyond belief.



The cover art looks great!! Did it have any special meaning, or was the artist given free reign to do what they wanted?

We wanted the art to reflect how mankind is a destructor in many ways.

Throughout the booklet, the artwork reflects the passing of time, starting with colours that convey light and peace. With the inception of a city, the harsh, cold blues take over the once bright, innocent environment. As the city crumbles, oranges and reds are used to show fire and darkness. It speaks as if to say that everything was fine until humanity took over, then destruction followed soon thereafter, resulting in the front cover.

We worked very closely with the artist; we found common ground very quickly.



What inspired some of the lyrics for the new album? Do real life events take precedence over fictional stories/lyrics?

Pretty much life in general, how things are obviously getting worse in the world, and how when we watch the news, you are left with a fairly numb feeling how everything is in chaos. I don’t things have been much better in the past, nor in the future; it’s as if things are getting darker, and that’s where the album title comes in. It’s all to do with real life. We don’t do fiction like dragons and swords!



What was it like to record with the renowned Andy Sneap? Did he bring out something different in the band's studio performance that hadn't been captured before?

The best. Andy came to the project like an additional member, and showed us a lot of guidance. He knew exactly what we wanted, and also when something could be better. Dave Chang had done a stellar job in the past but we were looking for a cleaner, punchier sound. It was great to be in Andy’s very safe hands and we could concentrate on performance knowing it was gonna sound amazing at the end. Andy helped mould the songs so they came across better, and it definitely comes across.

Knowing Andy had worked with some great bands like Testament and Machine Head and making references to things involved with those bands was cool too.

Was his recording process different form what you did in the past?

Not really, just more precise, more demanding and much, much longer. Andy has some cool tricks, and he records with ProTools which is a digital set up which makes life easier. Andy is a metal master and he’s always one step ahead.



Do you think you sound better on the album than you do live or has your live sound and level of aggression yet to be captured?

The album sounds better than we do live; it has to – it needs to stand up to scrutiny of reviewers and hundreds of listens. The ‘capturing the live sound’ debate is many years long now, and it’s the same for us as any band – it can’t be done. You don’t have the venue, the pa and the atmosphere in your house so it will never be the same. We’re probably more aggressive live because it’s raw and in your face, on record this equates to bad production and bad playing!



Tell us how you got signed to Century Media; as I understand it you had 2 albums out and had already toured in the US before they signed your band!

We had a few ep’s out and we were touring a lot and getting a good vibe out on the band. After a few years CM gave us a call and signed us. It was really quick and before you know it we had ‘Expression..’ out in the shops.

We never toured in the states before we signed to CM; they just hadn’t released the album there.



Has it made a huge impact on the band, album sales, touring opportunities.

Sure; they have good distro and good contacts for shows. You need good support from a label and without it you can’t tour….its a catch 22 situation. Things have built up over the years and now we are a priority act for CM.



Did any labels in England show any interest in the band?

Yeah, but there aren’t really any good international labels based in the U.K. Earache is, but things never happened with them.



What is next for the band? I understand you'll be coming to the US again? Any Canadian dates?

We are looking into coming over to the U.S in April / May….hopefully there will be Canadian dates in there. We’ve wanted to come over for many a year; so hopefully we will this time.



After touring, will you be releasing the next album through Century Media as well and have you thought that far ahead or begun any writing for new material?

The next album will definitely come out on CM, as they have our contract. We don’t even have a single riff for the next album yet!



I leave the closing comments for you...any words for potential metalheads who might like to check out your band?

Most bands promise killer albums and disappoint. Most bands promise to lay waste live and just stand there. We’ve got a killer album and we deliver every time. Go check us out and see what I’m on about!

Stampin' Ground's website: www.stampin-ground.com
Label: www.centurymedia.com