With a new drummer, Carlos Cruz, to solidify the line-up, the band recently released their third album, Worlds Torn Asunder. They are in the midst of a U.S. tour with Landmine Marathon and Lazarus A.D. I had the chance to speak to vocalist John Kevill and Cruz at a recent stop in New Jersey to talk about Worlds Torn Asunder and structuring albums to please modern listeners.
Dan Marsicano: How has the tour been going so far for you guys?
Carlos Cruz: Loving it. Every band on the package are really good, solid bands. Everybody is signed and has a new record out, so there is a buzz going about. As people, everybody’s getting along really well. Non-stop parties so far (laughs).
John Kevill: It’s definitely been really enjoyable, I got to say.
How did this tour come together?
John Kevill: Well, we just decided we wanted to put together a headlining tour. Through the web of labels and agents, this is the package that got put together. I think it is a package that makes a lot of sense. It’s a good range of styles. It’s mostly just thrash and aggressive music focused, but it’s not like we have four of the same bands here. So I think it’s a really good balance.
I know you guys have mixed up your set and thrown different songs around on this tour. Do you enjoy doing that or would you rather be more prepared?
John Kevill: We’re prepared to play anything. Trust me, if we’re not prepared to play it, we probably aren’t, unless it’s a show with nobody there; then we’ll probably do something we’re not totally prepared. Instead of getting up there and being like, ‘Here. We’re going to go through the motions that we have planned,’ we’re going to be an organic, live band that’s playing for the people that are there tonight.
I feel like it’s necessary for us to be adaptable. If I call off a different song, we can just do it. It’s not even an issue. I think that’s how the band is. I like it more that way than if it’s the same exact set every night in the same order. We have a framework, but there are a few rotating spots and sometimes, we just toss the framework around a bit.
Carlos Cruz: Totally, definitely. Depending on how energetic the crowd is or how alive they are, or where we are and who we’re playing to. Sometimes, the rotating songs will be different, not to cater to anybody in particular, but just to see how they react to those kind of sounding songs.
The band just released your third album, Worlds Torn Asunder. There’s a lot of variety in the album, from the thrashier songs to a piano-based instrumental. What was it like to record that album?
Carlos Cruz: Great energy. Everybody in the band was personally getting along. The bass player’s return from the first record and myself, we...everybody had a part in writing the record, whether it be somebody handling pre-production or him and I working on lyrics, and he would write them, and maybe we would help arrange them. It was a creative spirit, which was good. Recording-wise, same kind of idea. The producer we worked us, Steve Evetts, hammered us until we got each take to the tee, on par. He really pushed us to get the best performance.
Musically, we all like different styles of music, so we try to incorporate that. You don’t want to make the same record every time. Nowadays, when you still have bands like Metallica and Slayer, who are still playing, it’s difficult to reach that stature playing the same style of music. So you want to expand on your sound, not cater to any particular metal sound. There might be something for everyone.
John Kevill: You just want an album where the songs are different. You can have an album that’s rooted in the idea of being an aggressive, fast, head-banging album, but the songs all stand out from each other. That’s what we were really going for.
Carlos Cruz: Definitely. That was a conscious decision to make each song stand on its own.
John Kevill: Lyrically and musically, we really tried to make each song be different and not by the time you get three quarters into the album, you’re like, ‘Oh, this song is kind of like this.’ I think that led to a conscious decision to put a lot of the more of the experimental stuff on the second half of the record. Just so when you get to that point, you won’t get the feeling like you’re listening to something from the first half.
How was it working with Steve Evetts, who has worked with bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Hatebreed? What did he bring to the table that other producers haven’t in the past?
John Kevill: A sheer professionalism and knowledge of what he is doing. He shared the same vision of how we wanted the record to sound, which was really organic and based on the sound of the actual band playing. The result of that is that we spent most of the entire time just doing takes over and over. He said he basically wanted the record to be 90% done after the tracking was done. He said a lot of producers have the idea of, ‘Oh, those kicks aren’t quite perfect. It falters a little here. Whatever, we’ll fix it in editing.’ There was no, ‘Whatever. We’ll fix it in editing,’ at all.
Did you handle that mentality okay? Was it different than other producers in the past?
John Kevill: A little, because we haven’t had the time frame or expertise to do it at that point. This time, we did. I think we handled it well because it was exactly what we wanted. We wanted a guy that was going to push us until we got the absolute best that we are individually capable of.
So Carlos, how did you join the band?
Carlos Cruz: I’ve known these guys since they started pretty much, when the whole scene started networking and doing its thing in the Los Angeles area. I was a fan, so I would go out to the shows and try to meet people. We would run into each other. Then it got to the point where our bands would play together. These guys were just the ones that everybody looked towards, because they got signed and they started touring and took off.
Around November 2010, they had approached me...well, they approached me one time in 2008 when they were first going to make a line-up change and go into their second record. This time, it just felt right. Things with my previous band weren’t working out too well, so everything just kind of fell into place. We’ve been mutual friends for a really long time.
How much of an influence did you have in the songwriting for Worlds Torn Asunder?
Carlos Cruz: I would say a lot, just because when I came into the picture, the headspace I was in was, ‘I’m going to be a full-on member. Not just a drummer-for-hire.’ Because I can play guitar and other instruments as well, I got to write a full-on metal song. I worked with our guitarist Adam (Carroll) with writing “Behind The Veils Of Night.” All the acoustic and clean guitars on that are me. I helped him with lyrics and I helped the other guitarist arrange their riffs and formulate the songs. It was great. It was a really collaborative effort for this new record.
Is that more involvement than any drummer has had in the past?
John Kevill: Yep. Nic (Ritter) and Ryan (Bates) were involved in the drum parts. With Carlos, like we were saying, there was a really positive mental attitude we had. That wasn’t always the case previously. We carpooled to and from practice, so every single day, we were talking about lyrics and songs. Almost every lyrics idea I had on the album I bounced off of Carlos. He jumped in and did as much writing as any other member right off the bat and it worked out well. I think we kept true to the spirit of what the band is about, also while expanding it.
Each album seems to be an evolution, with the first one being strictly thrash and the next few adding in more elements. Do you feel like each album is evolving into what the Warbringer sound could or should be?
John Kevill: I think we threw our sound out on the first one and then it just evolved since. I don’t think we’ve made the same record twice. I think the core essence of what the band is, was and will be is on the first album. I want to keep ourselves centered around that basic idea, but not stagnate on doing it too much the same way and continue to expand off of that basic concept of machine-gun thrash. Expand off of that basic idea and take it in as many interesting directions as the band can come up with.
Carlos Cruz: Totally. It’s just a natural progression as musicians, or as people even, that takes in how old we are, how many miles we’ve traveled, how many sacrifices you need to make, or how much you get to practice every night playing. So depending on where we’re at, that’s pretty much how it goes. The core sound of Warbringer, then just adding onto it.
One of the big issues in metal today is labels taking their artists off of Spotify, Century Media included. How do you feel about streaming sites like Spotify?
John Kevill: Basically, if you’re a band that’s trying to get heard, it doesn’t hurt you. If you’re a band that’s trying to get heard, it’s helpful for you. If you’re a band trying to make a living as a band, it makes it way harder. However, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. It is the modern age. People can get your music for free if they choose to. There’s no point in rallying against it because it’s just futile. We’ve all downloaded records before.
Our music is not on Spotify anymore, which means some people who might hear us for the first time on there won’t now, but if the same people were like, ‘Oh, I want to hear a Warbringer record,’ they might just Rapidshare it or torrent it. I don’t quite see the logic behind that. At least Spotify pays something. It’s basically free, but not entirely. I don’t really see the logic in pulling it off of there, when on Rapidshare links, our albums was on like 300 sites a week before it came out.
Carlos Cruz: I think there’s a definite disconnect between people and music. You go through life dealing with paying bills, dealing with bulls**t and hating everything else, but for so many people, music is a big part of their lives. I don’t see why they wouldn’t support it. Records don’t sell, and we get that because of technology and how easy it is to get it, but just having physical music from something you appreciate is what’s missing in a lot of people’s lives. $10 isn’t worth a s**t anymore, but $10 will buy you a record to support the band that you really like.
John Kevill: With the free music and stuff, if you buy a CD, you’re going to go and listen to the album all at once the way it’s supposed to be. If you download it, you’re like, ‘Oh, this song catches my attention in the first 30 seconds,’ and the song that is like track six or seven that’s got a lot going on may be completely ignored when in fact, it’s one of the deeper tracks. All of that cool stuff about the dynamics of a record as a whole you can lose out on if you don’t have that mentality.
Carlos Cruz: Especially in heavy metal, when you hear those classic records, whether it’s Slayer or Megadeth or even older stuff, people liked enjoying them listening to them front to back. Nowadays, like he said, you pick one or two songs, whatever catches your attention. That’s how the mainstream world of music works. You put out singles and you have album tracks that aren’t as important as singles, but you try to sell those singles and push those.
Does the band ever feel the urge when they are writing songs, or putting the track listing together, to put the faster, up-tempo stuff up in the front half because of that mindset?
John Kevill: We have done that in the last two records. I think, in our case, it’s not so much because of that kind of mindset, because we’re not exactly a pop group or anything. Also, I think we do try to make our songs generally catchy, but I think it’s a good idea in general to put the most immediate songs in the front, and then kind of branch out from it. That’s kind of the structure we’ve taken for the last two albums, I’d say.
I think it works out pretty well for the continuous listening experience of the album. By the time you’ve gotten four or so tracks of various, straight thrash songs, bruising songs, it splits off and you don’t get too much of the same thing in a row. We don’t have one of these, but for instance, having an eight-minute song as track one or two isn’t necessarily the best decision. It’s something you rather put when you’re deeper into the album. Listening to an album continuously puts you into a mindset that might enable you to appreciate certain things better.
Could you ever see the band doing a song of that length, seven or eight minutes?
Carlos Cruz: Once I joined the band, I came from a previous band who wrote really long songs just because it was a progressive type of ordeal. We wrote some full-sounding songs, so I think now it’s more about songwriting. I personally watch a lot of these younger bands who are openers not on our tour package, but opening bands locally in whatever city. Each song sounds exactly the same. It’s because they are going for...obviously, they are young, but as I grow as a musician, it’s about writing good songs that people like to hear. You have those “Master Of Puppets” and “Raining Blood” and “Holy Wars” that just stick out.
John Kevill: We’ve never really planned so much like, ‘This song is going to be a really long song.’ I think if you start to do that, you start to disappear up your own ass. You have to focus on, ‘Okay, here is the core idea we’re making the song around. What is the best thing to do with this song?’ The only song that we actually consciously decided on the length was “Treacherous Tongue,” which was the really short one. We were like, ‘Let’s keep this one snappy and have it build up to the end really fast and see how that works,’ and we liked it.
What kind of touring plans does the band have after this U.S. tour?
Carlos Cruz: We’re putting in a lot of work to push ourselves and our music to different people and bigger audiences and get on some high-profile tours. Definitely trying to escape the little thrash bubble we started in and break into just being an established heavy metal band. Not necessarily having that tag...that tag is going to follow us until the band is over, because that’s where you come from, but that’s not a problem.
John Kevill: We are a thrash metal band. That’s a legitimate genre of metal and there’s no reason to be like, ‘Oh no, we’re so much more than that,’ but I think we want to establish ourselves as an interesting and unique thrash metal band that’s worth listening to because we’re not just going to do the expected play-by-numbers. The songs we write are going to be a cut above most. That’s what we really shoot for, I think.
Carlos Cruz: We’re going to do some headlining dates in November after this tour, and closer to December we’re jumping on a direct support tour with Arch Enemy in Europe. There are some festivals around that time, ones with Ace Frehley and Buckcherry, which is different for us, but that’s great. We can expand and see how that works. Then there is another festival that sounds amazing. It’s us and Morbid Angel, Arch Enemy, Iced Earth, and Blind Guardian. The European fans know how to pick and choose the bands they like.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
John Kevill: I’m just going to say Ronnie James Dio right now, because I never got to see Dio live. I’d figure it would be best if we could get a best-of stuff, so you can get songs from Holy Diver, The Last In Line, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. If he did a set just comprised only of those four albums, I would still be completely happy. Maybe he could throw “Stargazer” in there.
Carlos Cruz: Something that’s not a stretch of the imagination would be somebody like Metallica. That would be the gold cup. You know you’re a successful band if you can open up for Metallica. That, or if it was 1970 or something, it would be Led Zeppelin or Hendrix.