Van Williams: Drummer for Nevermore
Interviewed in October 2000 by EvilG
This interview was originally supposed to be with Nevermore’s vocalist, Warrel Dane. As such, much of my questions were designed specifically for him. When the call came through it was Van William’s on the phone…Warrel couldn’t make it. No problem, but the only challenge that left me with was having to drop a bunch of questions and make up new ones on the fly. Hopefully the interview is not too disjointed as a result. In any case, talking with Van was way cool and he was able to excellently answer all my questions even though he said to me he wasn’t “Mr. Johnny Interview” haha.
Well, let’s start out… I’ve been listening to the new CD Dead Heart In A Dead World for the past two weeks straight… (Uh huh) I haven’t been able to take it out of the player, I think it’s total kick ass.. (Oh great, thank you!) Do you view this as the strongest Nevermore album to date?
I think it’s definitely, yes, it’s definitely solid, (right) I think it’s definitely a solid one so… my favorite still is Politics but this one is definitely more to the point.. So, I guess if you would call that, what, how did you word it?
Your strongest work to date?
I would say it’s definitely… I don’t know, I’m still torn with ‘Politics…’, I like ‘Politics…’ the best.
Yeah, that’s my favorite so far but this one hasn’t sunk in enough yet. I can’t make an opinion after just two weeks right? Give it another six months and I’ll know. (laughs)
I think I’m kind of the same way because the songs are still pretty fresh for us too but it’s definitely the most solid that we have.
Regarding the song on there, “Inside Four Walls”, I know you didn’t write the lyrics but you probably know what it’s about and I was wondering is that a song about someone in specific or is it just about how screwed up I guess the criminal justice system is today?
Right, actually it’s a song about someone specific. A friend of ours that is a really great guy was nabbed you know, with a lot of (laughing)..a lot of, put it this way, he was nabbed with a lot of coke. He just got caught up into something he just shouldn’t have been caught up in because the guy’s, if you knew the guy he’s such a great guy. So yeah, it’s pretty personal.
Right, so, he’s in jail? Is that what it’s about?
Yeah, he’s in jail right now. (ok) Yeah, he’s being held in another state because he got nabbed in another state and stuff.
The other song I wanted to ask about is… You did a cover from Simon & Garfunkle, of all bands, (laughs) “The Sound Of Silence”. (uh huh) It’s very different sounding than the original obviously. I was wondering what drew you guys to do that song? If I remember correctly I think, was it Warrel pushing for you guys to do that?
Yeah, for a long time he’s mentioned that song I think for since, probably since the first album. We’ve always been talking about covers and stuff like that. We’re pretty much all on the same key as far as songs that we would like to cover and you know like the Bauhaus thing was, that was like awesome because we all love you know, Bauhaus. Simon & Garfunkle, you know, I’m not, I don’t know all their stuff.. but I know, the songs that I do know I love, you know that are really great. “Sound of Silence” has always been like one of those awesome songs that just stands the test of time forever. And he’s been really pushing that one for a long time… that you know we should do that and it was always something that would come up…That’d be a great song to cover. We’d all say Yeah, yeah but nothing really ever came of it. And then when we were done with all the music it was just like you know, one day I think Warrel said something like “that’s the sound of silence” we were like we had no idea he was going to put the words to it. So he kind of just took it and started singing in rehearsal and it was like oh man, that’s cool! (laughs) It turned into “Sounds Of Silence” that way.
Cool, Do you have any favorite songs on the CD that you’re extremely proud of or? this one stands out to you?
To me personally? I think my… the songs that I think are my favorites are “Inside Four Walls” I like a lot, the title track “Dead Heart..” is probably my favorite one, and oh, “Engines Of Hate” is probably another one of my favorite ones on there. Those three are really the ones that I really like a lot.
Cool. Since the last Nevermore album you’ve parted ways with guitarist Tim Calvert because I believe, of the grueling touring schedules, he wasn’t much into that I guess? Was that the reason?
Well, You know it’s …just kind of, I suppose, It’s you know, he recently got married and he got a decent job out here in Seattle and you know so, parting… kind of things happen like that. He’s a great guy. I still talk to him was much as I can.
Right, so what, the split was amicable you’re not on bad terms now with him.
No, I’m not, I’M not.
So has he given up on the idea of like making his career music?
No, I don’t think so.. I mean, I have one of his guitars here still, he’s got to pick it up. (laughing) But ah, he’s been, he’s just been really busy working right now. I think he’s going for his pilots license too. He’s always been into flying. So I don’t really don’t know what his plans are at the moment.
Back to your second guitarist position, did you immediately decide to continue on as a four piece again or you know, did you toy with the idea of getting another guitarist into the band?
No, at this point it’s just us. The guy who’s going to be playing guitar on tour with us is this guy named ?Carn? Murphy who is in a band locally called Aggression Core, a local band. He actually toured with us before on the Politics of Ecstasy tour. After Pat, when the whole Pat thing disbanded, you know, he came on the road with us. So he knows some of the songs already. He knows some of the stuff. We’ve been rehearsing with him.
So, yeah, about Pat O’brian. I never did read why he actually left the band. One thing that I always thought, correct me if I’m wrong.. is he left because he wanted to play death metal and that’s why he joined Cannibal Corpse or did he leave for another reason?
Yeah, it was pretty much, you know I think with Pat, he was always like a death player and he definitely was more in that vein, wanted to do more things like that so you know, it just turned out that…it just turned out the best for him and for us. Because Cannibal was his favorite band at the time anyway and so that was like the dream job for him, to play in Cannibal…. So, I’m sure he’s not complaining. He’s doing well, I’ve seen him a few times and he always seemed happy and stuff. (Cool) He’s a cool dude. I’m sure he’s doing good about it.
So what is your opinion on death metal in general and, I guess, Cannibal Corpse in particular? (laughs)
I really like the new Cannibal. I have a CD-R of it because it was recorded at the same place that we were in and I was never like a big, death fan until recently. I’ve started getting more and more into it. Most of the times I get into it is because people turn me onto certain things. You know dude, you’ve got to check this out, you’ve got to check that out. And it’s just killer and I’ll either like it or I’ll hate it, that’s the way it’s always been with me. King diamond, when I first heard of Mercyful Fate… You know, I was so into Rush at the time and Kansas and Yes and things like that…I was like, Dude, I’m not listening to or playing any of that skull and cross bone devil shit, you know and the next thing I’m like fucking, we’re out there playing Black Funeral like “eeeoohhhhhh” (belts out some high notes in King style while laughing)… like fucking converted, you know!?. So, that’s the same thing with death metal now for me, it’s like if I hear something if it grows on me then I’ll fucking listen to it and I’ll really dig it. So my CD player has, like I said, it’s got the Cannibal in it, it’s got Spiral Architect, it’s got Planet X in it, and it’s got Dave Mathews in it right now. So those are like the things I’ve been listening to.
So this is probably a good time for me to ask you about influences for your drumming and about what you grew up listening to. Is it the typical kind of Priest / Maiden or have you come from a different background than that?
Well, As far as listening to it was always.. like Rush was always one of my favorite bands. Well, I don’t think I reflect any of that in my playing but that is definitely one of the things that first turned me onto how cool drums really are, you know, was everything that Neil would do.. that kind of thing and Kansas and Yes and things like that and Sabbath. So it’s pretty much the standard things and then Priest, and Iron Maiden, of course. It’s pretty much the typical. I wasn’t really into Metallica. That was one of the bands… like I never owned a Metallica record but I ended up playing songs in cover bands like that and stuff like that. (Right) So it’s pretty much a wide variety and things like that.
Cool. I had a couple questions here related to Sanctuary so I’ll see if I can twist them around and get an answer on some of them from you. I know you weren’t a part of Sanctuary but I guess, well one question you could definitely answer is do you guys play any Sanctuary songs live anymore and if so what ones are you playing?
We haven’t played any recently. I think the last time we played any Sanctuary songs was probably maybe a year and a half ago maybe two years now, I think. We haven’t played any and when we did it was like ‘Taste Revenge’ and my favorite was ‘Termination Force’.. I think.. it’s still a killer song. You know, there was another one, there’s another popular song that they had that I can’t remember.. (‘Future Tense’? laughing) Yeah, ‘Future Tense’, yeah, we played ‘Future Tense’ but I can’t remember. We haven’t played any of them in awhile.
No plans for the new tour for that?
I don’t think so.. if we headline maybe but I doubt it… if we’d play one… Because there’s just so much Nevermore material to do, you know, it’s like hard to squeeze in a Sanctuary song.
Right, so what is your opinion on the Sanctuary material? Were you into that before you hooked up with Warrel and stuff?
I listened to Sanctuary maybe about a year before I moved to Seattle because I’m from New York so I never heard of Sanctuary it’s one of those things that kind of happened like Mercyful Fate, you know, where I was turned onto it from someone else. The band I was in at the time – my bass player introduced me to Sanctuary stuff. So about a year before I moved to Seattle and then when we moved here we went out to a club and we heard that Sanctuary was now Nevermore. So we went to see them to check it out. It was good, it was really killer, I was already into Sanctuary stuff so I kind of knew what to expect but it wasn’t like I knew what it was for a long period of time.
Right… And do you mind the fact that you know, people like me, or fans will say, you know, play some Sanctuary? (laughs)
No, I think it’s like anything you know, it’s like almost anything you’d listen to… If I go to see Bruce Dickinson live, I mean, ‘Chemical Wedding’ is like one of the fucking killer, it’s a killer album. Awesome! I would love to see you know, like the Chemical Wedding tour. And If he decided to bust out “To Tame A Land” or something I’m not going to complain. I would just be like killer! You know… So it would be all good.
The only other Sanctuary question I guess, would be, you can probably answer this… I wanted to ask Warrel about… I guess you’ve heard the early Sanctuary material and his vocals on that were a lot more operatic and higher pitched, and on the new album the only place where I, off the top of my head, that I can remember where he does that.. he kind of does it a bit in the song ‘We Disintegrate’. Is there a reason why he’s changed his vocal style maybe or you know, is it just that hitting those high notes has become more difficult or you know, just doesn’t like that style of singing?
No, I don’t think he has anything against that style of singing. I just think that it’s for him, I think it’s if the song really calls for it, where it sounds appropriate or not, I think he thinks about it more that way. Like that ‘We Disintegrate’ it’s like you know, I can’t hear anything kind of low there if he was going to do something low there, you know what I mean? (yeah) It’s such a, It’s a Priesty vibe. To me that whole part of the song is pretty Preistish style that you know, it calls for that, you know, old Sanctuary, or Halfordy kind of thing. And I think that’s exactly what he felt, and when he was doing it.. He still can pull all that shit out his ass. If he wants to… We’ve always tried to egg him to do it more.
This is a question regarding lyrics. I guess, topics that the band has covered. I don’t know if this is probably too personal. If you don’t want to answer it I can understand but through Nevermore’s lyrics and even back to Sanctuary times there’s been references to drugs as being an inspiration and like the artworks for ‘Politics’ kind of looks like a hippie acid trip kind of artwork. And Sanctuary covered the song ‘White Rabbit’ and stuff like that and then the new album like we were just talking earlier about ‘Inside Four Walls’. So I’m just wondering what is the bands stance on drug use.. is this something you don’t want to talk about?
Well, It’s hard to answer that for like everyone but I could tell you this – none of us are big druggies, (laughing) really…but everyone had their fair share of all sorts of things. Drug stuff, you know, but nothing crazy. There’s no crack flying around. No heroin.. nothing crazy. It’s just, no one, we’re not really, I guess it’s a tough one for me to answer. As far as a stand on drug use, I don’t think… I can’t make one. I mean, I drink, you know, probably more than I do any kind of drugs. I think that kind of goes for the rest of us, you know, a good trip here and there is ok I suppose. (laughing)
Your last album ‘Dreaming Neon Black’ was a concept album yet you’ve steered clear of a concept album on the new one. Was that just a one off thing, or you think you’d like to do a concept record again?
I think it would be kind of tough to do concept records back to back because I think they come as they come and there was nothing really, it was just like.. this album ended up just being the continuation of the last album because from what I’d gotten from Warrel he didn’t get everything out that he was basically trying to say with ‘Dreaming… And a couple songs aren’t all mixed in. If everything did have to do with it. And, you know, ‘Inside Four Walls’… then you’ve got the ‘River Dragon’…. which totally different topics and stuff so he basically told me that its more finalizing that and this album is more about you know, that, even though everything is pretty fucked, there still is a little hope, you know what I mean. So, this is kind of wrapping it up. Concept albums back to back I think would be kind of difficult to do.
Regarding writing for the album. I was just curious… Do you write your drums separately or do you jam it with the band to write your drums or do you listen to a tape with the riffs and like come up with different drum patterns?
Yeah, basically that’s the way it happens… where, you know, Jeff will come up with a bunch of ideas and throw stuff and make me a tape of a bunch of parts or maybe he’ll have whole parts written out. And some drum machine stuff and drum machine ideas and it’ll all start to happen like that. Then we’ll go down try rehearsing some stuff and fucking around and improvising on top of things and then taking some parts that are good that he might come up with and reworking them or adding to them or taking away from them or whatever and then Warrel might get a later tape. It’s made, more compiled and start coming up with vocal ideas. We try to give it to him more last so that in case music stuff changes he doesn’t fall in love with something too early.
I just got some news a couple days ago that the tour you were to do with Fates Warning got cancelled? Is the tour itself completely cancelled.. or has Fates Warning themselves just pulled out of the tour?
The whole tour is cancelled. We have no plans on picking up the tour. We did that with the Grip tour. We were supposed to tour with Grip Inc. awhile back and Grip was headlining this tour and we were added onto the bill kind of late into the tour and then at the last minute Grip pulled out.. and the promoters said “well, hey, you guys want to just headline a tour and you guys do it?”..and we’re like “heeuh?!” So we ended up doing the tour anyway and now people were hearing that the tour was cancelled so it turned into this whole debacle. So your like In the middle of Idaho playing for ten people thinking that there was no show. So, It’s a nightmare trying to recover on someone else’s tour. If it was a Nevermore tour and we cancelled and we headlining it and we put it back on and it’d be easier and we could take whatever then… but since it’s someone else’s tour.. we’re not picking this one up.
So where does it leave you guys now in terms of planning a tour for the US or North America?
Since it was pretty sudden and still, like, kind of fresh because everyone was pretty much gearing up to go on this thing.. and since it just fell apart here we haven’t even thought about what the next move is. Probably some kind of CD release party in Seattle hopefully. I’d personally would like to see something on Halloween maybe if we’re still in town here. I think that would be cool because the album should be out obviously by Halloween maybe do a really good show in Seattle and then hopefully have some tour lined up by then.
Right, so there’s no plans for the next few months or after Christmas for a tour? You don’t have any idea yet of where you’ll end up being?
Yeah, at this point I don’t have any idea but I know we will be touring probably our asses off for the next year and a half. I’m thinking there’s going to be tons of touring… either headlining or touring with someone.
Were you given a reason why Fates Warning backed out of the tour or you don’t know?
I heard that they had irreconcilable differences with the tour promoter. The guy who was putting it on, I guess, wasn’t, didn’t work out the correct details with the owners of the clubs or what have you. And the routing was pretty bad – like driving from here to there and back down and another hundred miles in the wrong direction when you could have done that yesterday, you know. And I think Fates Warning was just like we’re not going to do it. That happens all the time kind of thing, so… we spent a lot of tours where we’re driving around and it’s like ridiculous. It’s like man, we just went ninety miles today and then tomorrow we’ve got to turn around and go back the same 90 miles when we were only twenty miles from that gig yesterday.
So if it were up to you and you could join a tour or headline a tour now, what bands would you think would be ideal for Nevermore to head out with?
That’s probably… that’s a tough one.
Dream tour.. (Laughs)
Yeah, because I personally don’t know where we fit with other bands that are playing what we are playing. What are we playing? I don’t even know what we’re called… You know, people call us prog power metal and power thrash, or whatever..
All of the above. (laughing)
Yeah, all of the above. (laughs) Or metal… I don’t know.. I guess we’re metal. I know that, we’re heavy. So were do you stick a band like us? That is, I always thought a Queensryche tour would be good because they’re in the same thing we’re doing, I guess, or were at one point or something. I have no idea what a dream tour would be. I mean, one of the best tours was the Death tour and that was most surprising for me because I knew we weren’t like Death musically but it was just such a fun tour. Arch Enemy was good too so that could be… that was always good but we did that already so know I don’t know. I have no idea.
Weren’t you on tour with Iced Earth and Arch Enemy or was it just Arch Enemy?
It was just Arch Enemy.
Iced Earth might be a cool match up.
We did that in the States before with them. We played with them a few times, a bunch of times actually, in Europe. That was always cool but we’ve definitely done that a bunch of times already so I don’t think we’re going to be doing that any time soon.
I’m sure a lot of fans would like to have a live CD or a live video of Nevermore. This is especially true for us fans who are not on the beaten path of where most tours head to, so is there any chance or has there been any talk within the band of maybe someday soon doing a live CD or live home video?
No, there hasn’t been any talk about that actually. The only thing we’ve been… we’re planning a video for the new record but it won’t be like anything like that, it’s just going to be a video. But a live thing would be really really cool to do, like a full on thing. An on the road kind of thing and going to different places and taking some of the best performances from wherever. That would be cool but we haven’t really discussed it yet and I’m not sure if we’re even at that point.
Well, as a fan I think it would be an awesome idea. A number of bands put out live CDs but it seems recently there’s been very few bands that put out a live video. Listening to it is one thing but if you don’t get to see a band at least if you have a live home video you can say oh, this is what they look like besides that picture in the magazine and here they are playing.
Yeah, a live home video… a live video thing would be…. I’m going to write that down. I’m going to have to bring that up next time we bullshit because that would be awesome, you know, that would be really cool. We’re totally different than… like Gene Hoglan he’s got a band up in Vancouver…
He was playing with Strapping Young Lad for awhile…
He’s still playing with Strapping but he’s got a side band called Punch Drunk (right) and they’re really killer, man, they’re awesome. And he’s been talking about getting us up there to do a show and we’re going to probably end up bringing them down here to do a show in Seattle and stuff. But we were thinking if we do go up to Canada to do a show with them in Vancouver then maybe we can hit a bunch of places throughout Canada while we’re there, do a little thing, know what I mean?
Right, yeah. About your drumming… are you completely satisfied playing in Nevermore or is there different facets of your drumming or your style that you’d like to bring out in another band or a side project kind of thing?
Yeah, I listen to so many different kinds of music. I listen to a lot of things. I’ll have, I’ll have, you know, Death and then the next CD when that Death CD finishes is Earth Wind and Fire will come on. I guess I listen to so much stuff that doing something on the side for a goof would probably be fun. I don’t know what’s going to happen at this point. I mean right now, we’re so busy with Nevermore there’s really no thinking, there’s not much time for anything else. So the stuff that we’re doing is cool because it varies.. ‘Politics’ is totally different from this new album so you get a chance to really play a lot of different things. And we got a lot of mellow songs just trying to put everything into the mix. And then who knows what the next album is going to be like. We’re pretty content doing what we’re doing or I am.
Cool. That’s good. So, is there any other news about Nevermore? Like what your current or recent plans or happenings in the band that you could tell me about?
No, not really current, Jeff just got a computer, so Jeff’s going to be online…he’s online now I think because his phone’s been busy for the last two days. So, he just got hooked up on the internet…
He’s downloading porn steady belt? (laughs)
Absolutely. Warrel said he’s found The Hun, that’s like a porn directory thing so I think we won’t be seeing Jeff… but you’ll probably be able to hear from him more on the website because a lot of people ask for tabs and shit like that so I’m sure he’s going to be more involved.
Yeah, the web sites pretty cool. Actually I was reading the studio diary thing. I think Warrel did that, right… It was updated every couple of weeks while you were recording – that was pretty cool.
I told him he should have gotten more into depth though, you know, because like some of the times we’d have tequila all over the place, Jeff’s running around naked, Jim’s in there putting his bass parts down. I’m like “tell ‘em what’s going on!” He kept it clean, put it that way.
Yeah, or pictures.. We got some of those.. but they just can’t be shown I guess. (laughing)
Yeah, one thing I noticed that was kind of funny was a few people were concerned that where Jeff was using a seven string that you guys were going to go the way of a lot of these rapcore bands or something because a lot of those guys happen to use seven strings. And people were all worried. I didn’t know what to think, even though I like some bands that use seven strings. I didn’t know what to expect but it still has the Nevermore sound. I don’t know why people were expecting something else just because of the instrument.
I think he’s just searching for different things. It’s all about trying things out. If something doesn’t work you’ll know if it works or not when you’re using it but why not experiment with it? It’s not like, I don’t see Nevermore trying out any rap hardcore record or nothing. It’s just.. it added something different, that’s it. Those are the chords. It’s like trying out someone else’s guitar and messing around with it. It’s like holy shit! That’s a fucking heavy chord and then you see what you can do with the chord. And that’s basically what he was up to. So that’s why I kind of think that worked out.
Just another question or two, just curious, before you got into Nevermore I just wondered what background you came from in terms of what bands you were in or was it anything that was recorded or was it just jamming with some guys?
Yeah, there was this band I was in and we were kind of playing stuff that was like a cross between Queensryche meets Psychotic Waltz or something like back like a Social Grace kind of day thing… album. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that?
What Waltz did you just call it?
Social Grace, Psychotic Waltz…
No, I’m more from the “Toxic Waltz” Exodus school. (laughing) I grew up listening to a lot of thrash.
Well Psychotic Waltz is, you know, really progressive kind of shit. You know, just a lot of changes. Songs got like fifteen parts in it and the songs are like seven or eight minutes long.
You guys used to pull it off? (laughing)
They’re all epic songs with a lot of, like, funky time things going on. So that’s the kind of stuff I was getting into and doing so the closest thing for that was the ‘Politics’ album which kind of felt like that…a little bit more right up the alley kind of thing. So that’s kind of where I came from. The bands, basically all those bands I said before were all the things I really loved.
Yeah, actually I think the first song on ‘Dead Heart…’ – ‘Necrosynthesis’ does sound like it could have kind of fit on ‘Politics.’ That’s the feel I got out of it anyway. (Yeah) For some reason just the riffing and the drumming, just the sound of it. It kind of reminded me of an updated version of ‘Seven Tongues Of God’ or ‘Tianaman Man’ one of those types of songs.
Yeah, I could hear a little bit of that. I think that song also has a little influence of like… to me it kind of reminds me of a little bit of Fear Factory or something. That’s the thing, it’s like everyone with all of the influences of stuff that everyone’s been listening to, kind of little things start to fall out, you know. I think the whole album is a culmination of those things.
So what kind of CDs have you been spinning lately? Any new CDs you’ve picked up? Like maybe the new Halford or Maiden or something like that or something different?
You know, I haven’t bought.. the only thing I’ve listened to recently that I think is fucking killer, is well, Spiral Architect is really good. This one album right now that I’ve been playing every fucking day is The Dillinger Escape Plan, ‘Calculating Infinity’ is fucking killer man! (laughing) It is just insane! It is just INSANE!. I’ve been listening to that a lot. And the new Planet X.. I’ve been checking that out because we were supposed to tour with them and Fates Warning… I haven’t heard the music so I picked that up. And Dave Matthews, ‘Before These Crowded Streets’, man, such a great album.
I’m not familiar with Dave Matthews.
I’m not familiar with Dave Matthews.
(laughing) Oh really?
No, don’t know him… couldn’t tell you anything about him.
You know what it is.. it’s, they’re just really good songs, you know. And the drummer is just fucking killer, and probably from a drummers’ standpoint, drummers would appreciate it even more than, like, the guitar players. Not really much guitar type things going on. The drummer’s doing all these little tasty things, you know.
Cool. Anyway man, that’s all the questions I had. (cool) And congrats on the great album, I wish you the best of luck finding a good tour to hop onto, I know you will. And hopefully I’ll get to see you this time in Canada. That’d be great. (yeah man, great) If you have anything that you want me to pass on to readers or any final notes I’ll be more than happy to pass it along.
Yeah, you know, I’m… Warrel’s always got some little funny thing he’ll say but that’s why he’s got a mic in his hand, I guess.
Yeah, (laughing) Metal Rules!!
Yeah, you know, so I’m not even going to go there, you know. (laughing)
Yeah that’s cool man, ok, thank you very much.
Ok thanks a lot!
Thanks to Van Williams for taking the time to answer my questions. Also, a big thanks to Matt & Century Media for setting this interview up for us! Finally, I’d like to thank Cheryl from www.MetalGospel.com who took the time to transcribe this interview for us. That really was cool of you to help us like that…YOU RULE! Be sure to visit her website!!!