Interview with Blackguard vocalist Paul Ablaze and drummer Justine "Juice" Éthier
Interviewed by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
Before a recent gig in the Big Apple, I had a chance to catch up with Blackguard who were about to start the 3rd date on their North American tour with Epica. I’d had the pleasure of seeing Blackguard about 6 weeks prior on their tour with Finland’s Ensiferum, and their show impressed me so much that I just had to grab an interview with frontman Paul Ablaze and drummer Justine "Juice" Éthier.
I am really excited for your show tonight
PA: So are we actually, heard its sold out, so it’s gonna be our first sold out show [laughs].
That’s exciting I’m kinda upset you guys only have half an hour though.
PA: Yeah, but we’re gonna make it worth it anyways, we’re gonna use that half hour to its fullest.
That’s what I noticed about you guys when I first saw you, and I had never heard of you, and I was like, “Oh my god! Who is this incredible band and how come they kick way more ass than ten zillion other bands I’ve seen before?”
PA: Thank you.
This is your first major release, on Nuclear Blast, PROFUGUS MORTIS. Do you guys play other songs besides songs off of this album, do you draw from your past works as that name, cuz you guys were originally called Profugus Morits…
PA: On the last tour with Ensiferum, we were actually taking a couple songs from the first record, there were shows where we had longer sets because, just out of circumstance, say we had an extra 15 minutes, so we were playing…which songs?
JE: “The Fallen”…
PA: …“The Fallen” which is one of the better songs off of the first record SO IT BEGINS [as Profugus Mortis] so yeah, we’ve been only playing the older songs sparingly, cuz for the most part we’re looking to really push the new release and this new incarnation of the band under the new moniker, so that’s basically the priority is to just be selling the new record as opposed to the old record, although when we have the opportunity we’re more than happy to play some old stuff, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people don’t know us from that era. So, its kinda cool for certain people who do, but for the most part it really doesn’t mean too much, and also we find the songwriting’s a lot better on the new stuff than on the first record as a whole, so personally I just like playing the newer songs better.
JE: I was surprised of the good response we got from the old songs too.
PA: Yeah, we did get some pretty good responses from the old stuff. There were a couple of cities that we played where there was as surprisingly large amount of people who were familiar with some of the older material. I mean it worked sometimes and other times, it didn’t [laughs].
You guys have been touring like maniacs lately. You’ve been doing so much, you’ve got tours going for another six months, nine months up until…
PA: We’re booked…well we have all our touring planned up ‘til October of this year.
Are you getting tired?
PA: No, actually I’m not because every time we have a break, I get tired of being home, and I’ll wanna go back on the road. So it’s kinda like, after a month or so of being on tour, I need a nice little month off, and then right back at it again. So just enough time to recharge the batteries before I’m like, really itching to go back to the day to day regular life, the 9-5 job and wanna get back to playing show.
Understandable. You guys have a special touring relationship with a band called Swashbuckle?
PA: Ah yes!
They’re like your tour buddies…
PA: Just kinda been coincidence that we’ve been stuck on a lot of tours with those guys. We get along with them quite well, and we’re under the same management and under the same label, and actually now we have the same booking agent, so its kinda…sorta why we get stuck together, just kinda happens that way.
We kind of consider you guys one of [the Gramercy’s] house bands now, because you guys come through so much.
PA/JE: [laughs] Yay! Really, good, nice! We love this place, a lot!
I noticed when I saw you last time, the crowds who came, they really knew your stuff, and though you guys were pretty far down the lineup but it was like half the crowd came to see YOU. They’re doing this [throws the horns] chanting along to your lyrics, its like you guys are getting a following going.
PA: Yeah I was kinda shocked! [laughs] It was an extremely pleasant surprise, I mean, in my head we’re still literally just the opening band, so to see people really catching on to what we’re doing is…I mean, its an honor, and it feels great. This is the first year of us touring full-time, so to be able to see such a progression from the first time we were here at Pagan Fest, fast-forward three tours later to see a crowd and to see people really into it and following the bands, it’s incredible and it means the world to us.
You guys’ signature element, I think, is your live show, which I saw and was completely amazed by. What is it that you think you guys do differently from other bands that makes your live show twice as intense as anyone else out there?
JE: Try to share with the crowd, feelings and urges and get communication, not just playing the CD basically in front of them, not moving….just trying make them feel the music.
PA: It’s trying to give 100% of ourselves on stage, and also to…I mean, I’ve always said that a show is only as good as the crowd you’re playing for, so we can be up there headbanging and moving around but if people aren’t into, then it’s not a good show. And we’re lucky enough that, the way I see it is, if we’re ready to give 100% of our energy, then the people are going to be more willing to give 100% of theirs.
I dunno what this 100% is, when I saw you it was more like 115%. There was this extreme pressure of energy coming from you guys.
PA: [laughs] Yeah, we kill each other. We kill ourselves every night up there but it’s cuz…it’s so much fun and we love doing it and when we see the response and the reactions from the crowd it makes it worth it.
Do you have like a pre-show ritual besides beer that gets you going?
PA: I don’t even drink that much beer before shows, because frankly I move around so much on stage I try to eat like, only a couple of hours before the show and keep myself hydrated and I warm up vocally and physically about 40 minutes before a set, so like I’m stretching and warming up my vocals.
JE: Everybody warms up.
PA: Everybody warms up for a good half hour before their set, just to make sure everybody’s ready to go, so we’re all in peak physical condition and limber, ready to rock.
You guys are touring so much, when are you gonna have a chance to sit down and get to writing for your next album?
JE: [laughs] Um, ever?
PA: Never? The answer to that is never and always, because we’ve rarely had time to sit down and write the next record. But instead we’ve been doing a lot of writing on the road, like backstages at shows, in the van, there’s a lot of writing going on. Right now…more like yesterday, we had the day off in a hotel room and we spent the day pretty much going through music and I was writing lyrics the whole time, so that’s pretty much how we’re doing it this time, this record is almost being completely written on the road.
Are you the chief lyricist for the band?
From another interview, I read you guys try to take Quebec mythology into your records, but not exclusively. What are your other sources of lyrical inspiration besides just Quebec mythology stuff?
PA: A lot of it has to do with what I’m reading at the time, like I like reading a lot of different books and normally I’ll find something inspiring in whatever I’m reading at the time, then I’ll try to…if there’s a really cool idea or concept, I’ll try to take that and build on it and create a song out of it. For the next record, there’s a song that I’m basing off a novel that I read that’s the novel itself is based off of Alexander the Great, so there’s gonna be a song that’s sorta…that’s based around a battle…dunno even how to explain it right now, but um…I just take bits and pieces of whatever inspires me and whatever I’m reading at the time, whatever literature I’m reading.
Who writes most of the music for Blackguard albums?
PA: that would be Joe the keyboardist, and Kim, our [guitarist]…I mean, he’s not new right now, but he was relatively new by the time we were recording our last record. He started contributing quite a bit to the writing process and some of the arrangements and orchestration. Joe is still considered a primary writer, however I feel this time around, everybody’s really…
JE: …we had a chance for everybody to put their thoughts on it, and had the chance to get into the studio, and go through all the songs and add what I feel and say my opinion and it was taken care of, so I was glad to have the time to do this.
I noticed on your last album, Kim and [Joe] your keyboard player had this really cool Alexi Laiho and Janne Warman style duel, and it was sort of a one-deal thing, but I thought it really worked for what you were doing. Are you gonna keep trying to exploit the talent there?
PA: We’re still going to be playing off Kim’s strength and the strengths of Joe as a keyboard player, so on the next record you’re gonna hear similar stuff like that, I dunno how many straight up duels there’s gonna be, but there’s gonna be solos on both parts which are gonna really blow people’s minds. And at the very least they sound very damn cool.
You got your record deal form Nuclear Blast by winning a MySpace contest; how many records do you have locked in with Nuclear Blast?
PA: I’m not at liberty to divulge that information! [laughs]
JE: [mumbling with lips sealed]
PA: The contract is pretty under wraps, so I’m not really supposed to talk about it.
That’s totally ok. Your management company, you said last time, mostly deals with hardcore bands, or melodeath, but you said they’ve been really great to you…
PA: That’s the label, not so much the management, Sumerian records.
Sumerian records is your label or your management?
PA: Our label in the states.
And Nuclear Blast is Europe. That was my misunderstanding…Besides Yngwie Malmsteen, who would you tour with ideally? I saw your interview with Metal Injection and you had a pretty good joke about Yngwie…
JE: You said Yngwie?
PA: I said it’d be really funny cuz I thought we’d get kicked off really quickly.
JE: Yeah! [laughs]
PA: I hate egos and he’s got the biggest.
You did a show with him, right?
PA: Oh yeah, that was hilarious, that was the funnies thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
JE: it was something…
PA: He’s the one guy who I’ve seen act the most “rockstar” in my life, and I’ve met people who were bigger…technically bigger rockstars than he is, but he certainly thinks he’s above everybody else. So I didn’t exactly appreciate that…anyways! Who would I like to tour with…I dunno. I would love to…I guess I’d like to tour with Children of Bodom but…they’re a great band and I think we would go…I mean our crowds…we play similar styles of music, so I think we’d go over well with their crowd…I dunno, Cradle of Filth, cuz I want to meet Dani Filth. I think it’d be pretty cool.
JE: [whispers] He’s small!
PA: I know he’s small, he’s like up to my tits! But he seems…I would love to have a real conversation with that guy, he seems like an intelligent dude. I’d like to pick his brain for an hour and see what makes that guy tick for real, or just have a beer with him and just see what he’s like. Obviously he as a very well constructed on-stage persona, but what’s he like outside of the band?
I saw him do a British game show, and he was on as guest, it was quite entertaining. I forget what it was called, but he was really funny because he had a couple people on who didn’t understand what his whole gig was, and he made some great jokes, he’s a very clever guy…Your tour with Epica, how has that been going? Are you still getting the same responses as the last time I saw you?
PA: It’s been different, it’s been interesting. We’ve only played two shows on this tour so far, tonight’s gonna be…I have a feeling tonight’s gonna be a whole different story. We’ve played Springfield, Virginia and we’ve played in Philadelphia the day after, and both those shows were good. There were people who seemed into it, but not so much in a physical way. People weren’t moshing or circle-pitting or anything like that for the most part, most people were just watching and I’m guessing, that’s just what…cuz it’s mostly Epica fans at these shows…and especially in Philadelphia we’ve only played there once, so we really didn’t have an established fan base in Philly, so a lotta people were just standing there. If I was trying to get people to fist pump, but if I called people to move, everybody stayed in their spots. By the end of the songs, people gave a pretty nice cheer and were polite, it was nice…I dunno, its tough to gauge cuz normally I gauge how much a crowd’s digging you by how much they’re moving around, and this isn’t the kind of crowd that moves around, so how do you gauge how people are liking you? So it’s been a little weird.
Just a couple more. What do have in store musically for your next record?
JE: Definitely some epic stuff, more epic, exploring new musicality, new songs. I think the songs have grown bigger too, we have grown as composers, so that you can definitely feel when you listen to the tracks.
Last question is for you Justine; most women in metal are…
I see you’ve gotten this before, they’re usually singers, sometimes keyboard players, yet here you stand as a world-class drummer. Do you think that Blackguard’s continuing success will start to break that barrier…hey, women can be badass drummers, women can be badass shredding guitar players too?
J: I think the barrier’s been broken already. I get so many messages, and people get by me and say “ah it so nice to see a female drummer, I wanna do it too” and inspiring them to do so. But I don’t feel there’s such a barrier. Everyone can just grab the stick and hit the skin you know?
PA: Good answer!