After Evile tragically lost Mike Alexander while on tour in 2009, the future of the British thrashers hung in the balance. They endured what is the worst possible scenario within a group of well-known friends, but two-years on they’ve continued for Mike. I caught up with Evile guitarist Ol Drake for rushonrock.com, ahead of one of the most anticipated records of the year – Five Serpent’s Teeth.
rushonrock: Could you tell us a bit about the new album name Five Serpent’s Teeth? It was chosen by Matt right?
Ol Drake: Yes, I think it’s actually from a book called The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. It’s a literary reference and the apostrophe is in the right place! If you actually read the book – what it’s about – it places the apostrophe correctly because it isn’t necessarily about the serpents. You have to read it in the context.
rushonrock: Is it a reference to ammunition?
OD: Yes it is, well done!
rushonrock: Does it have any statement underpinning it?
OD: I think it does, but it’s Matt – he won’t tell us because he likes to keep everything a bit mysterious – he doesn’t like how much information is readily available on wikipedia, google and all that. He wanted it to be left to the listener to interpret.
rushonrock: Is this opinion on the age of information particularly representative of Evile as an entity?
OD: To a certain extent I think it’s really good to have the internet and things like that – it’s great for keeping in touch with fans through Facebook but there is a limit and you don’t want to give too much information away and keep that mystery to the song meanings. And people don’t want to see you on the toilet! There’s boundaries.
rushonrock: After you’d finished recording and Russ Russell had done his work on production, were you happy with the result of Five Serpent’s Teeth?
OD: We were just blown away. We’re allowed to say we’re blown away because it’s Russ’ job and as soon as it was finished we were like ‘wow’. I don’t know how he does what he does. It sounds amazing. We put so much work into it – literally two-years leading up to it and then we were in the studio five or six-weeks – so it’s been an awesome pay-off to have the final product like that. We know people will enjoy it. Buy it if you like it.
rushonrock: Obviously this time round it was the first time without Mike Alexander who passed away in 2009. How was recording without him?
OD: It started quite strange. The last time we were in Parlour Studios was to record the Pantera cover for Metal Hammer with Mike and to go back there was a bit weird. But Joel is such a perfect guy and bassist that he made it so much more easier. He’s so respectful towards everyone and to Mike. He knew Mike and went to the same college, same pubs – so it was good to have that connection as well, instead of some stranger that we didn’t know. He made it a lot better.
rushonrock: On the new album, there’s In Memoriam which pays tribute to Mike. That must have been a tough one to record…
OD: It was. In a way, if Mike hadn’t passed away and he was still in the band, I don’t think we’d have done a song like that on the album because we couldn’t say what we want to say in a song that was a thousand-miles-an-hour or so. The bass line intro to it is actually Mike’s bass-line that he used to play at soundchecks. I still had that in my head, just in memory of what it sounded like. I thought it was a good thing to set the tone.
rushonrock: The new record definitely seems musically darker, would you agree with that?
OD: I think that’s got a lot to do with what we have been through. Even if you don’t notice, there’s a lot of anger from what happened and dealing with what happened. We just wanted a simpler approach like the first album because people love getting into the riffs and chanting the vocal lines and stuff like that. We wanted to be more straight-forward with it and not surrounded by technical things, we want to put a bit of sin there and get people going.
rushonrock: Does it set out to channel this vexed aggressiveness?
OD: Yeah, but at the same time doing it for Mike. After it happened it was a case of taking a step back and thinking ‘what are we going to do?’ We decided that we’re going to do this for the rest of our lives,we’re going to take this seriously and we want this to be our living so let’s go for it. Hopefully, this is the album that lets us do that.
rushonrock: You had all this aggression to give out, but keeping things under sonic control was Russ Russell at the helm of production. How was it working with him this time round?
OD: It was amazing. It’s like he’s in the band. It’s so perfect to work with him. He knows exactly what we want even though we don’t know we want it! He really shaped this album because he didn’t feel like he could intervene much on the second one (Infected Nations, 2009) because he didn’t know us well enough, but this time round he really knew us, so he could just say ‘well, that’s crap, let’s do this instead.’ It was a really creative process.
rushonrock: Is that how it works in the studio? On a collective basis?
OD: We’ve always been a democratic band in the sense that we want everybody to be happy with everything in each song. It doesn’t always work because there’s always going to be one guy who just doesn’t like something. But we do our best to accommodate everyone. He’s a part of that, and an extension of us being a democratic band. He’s got a really great musical mind for it.
rushonrock: Looking at other songs on the record like Cult – are we looking at a bit of Slayer sentiment with a stab at organised religion?
OD: It’s not specifically organised religion, and I know it’s Matt’s subject and again, he likes to keep things close to his chest. But it is a generalisation of how feel the need to follow something so blindly. It’s not tied down to any ideal – it’s about how people can be sheep in a way. And also, it’s to join the Evile cult! A bit tongue-in-cheek.
rushonrock: Well Evile are certainly picking up support all over the UK and a lot of people are talking about a so-called British thrash revival with Evile at the forefront of it. How do you feel about that?
OD: It’s an honour to be thought of so highly in a genre that was made famous by Metallica, Slayer and everyone. We didn’t set out to do anything like that – we started out as just a laugh – just four guys in a room playing thrash. It’s just an honour to be considered that highly by someone. We’re not going to take it to heart and our heads get huge and say ‘we are this and we’re leading this movement’, because thrash never really went away. Metallica are obviously there, Kreator, Destruction, Pantera during 90′s and we’re just proud to be a part of it.
rushonrock: In the past it has been predominantly German and US thrash bands that have had success…
OD: I agree, but that’s no disrespect to Onslaught and Xentrix. I grew up loving In Search Of Sanity and I had Shattered Existence on vinyl. I think it was just really bad timing. There was the second wave of thrash – bands like Testament coming up – not a second wave, but second in line to the big four. I think it was just little to late, even though they were awesome bands. Hopefully we can add something more to the UK thrash list!
rushonrock: With Onslaught it was unfortunate that they had to call it quits in ’91 and not get back together until 2004. Often musicians are having to fit their music around day-jobs to finance themselves…
OD: I think especially not being from the Big Four – for those extra bands there’s just no money. It’s just doing it for the love of it. At one part I personally made the decision not to have a job and make this my job, even though there’s not a lot of money in it. I can see why they had to do that because it just wouldn’t have been financially viable to not pay the bills. Hopefully this album will be the one that gets us out there and gets us noticed and actually allow us to get a living from it. We don’t want to be rich, we don’t want to be superstars, we just want this to be our job. People don’t realise that bands nowadays aren’t rich just because you’re in a magazine.
rushonrock: What’s your opinion on Metallica and their direction since The Black Album? Many says they so-called ‘sold out’, what’s your opinion?
OD: I love Metallica, I always have. I just really respect for the fact that they just do what they want . I’m not comparing myself to Metallica, but we do things that we want to do, we don’t like to do something because of what someone else thinks. If someone says ‘your next album should be a full-on thrash album’, we’re not going to say ‘OK we’ll do that for you’. I really respect what they did. After The Black Album – if that was me in Metallica, I would have no idea what to do creatively after that, because it was such a ground-breaking thing. I respect the fact they said ‘let’s do Load’, and even though the fact it’s not life-blinding, but I just love the way they had the balls to do that. That’s the reason they’re still here – they can just do what they want.
rushonrock: In the past you’ve been known to have an appreciation of both jazz and classical music with a mind for the theoretical side of music. Keeping what you said in mind about Metallica doing what they want, is there any potential for you to perhaps exploit those avenues?
OD: In a way I already try to do it, but not to the point of being obvious. I used to throw in a lot of jazz depending on what notes I’d play over what chords. A lot of classical is in, but I’d like to put some more in. I think it’s always going to be heavy metal, we’re not suddenly going to be doing light rock or anything – it’s always going to be us because we love metal.
rushonrock: Bands like Mr Bungle have gone for the whole jazz-fusion thing. Would that not appeal to you at all then?
OD: It would. It would appeal to me a lot. One of my favourite bands is an old UK prog band called Gentle Giant. They’re just insane – they had some of the most strangest ideas. They obviously didn’t get as big as Yes – it was just too of the wall. For us to suddenly do a Mr Bungle album it would be like ‘what are you even doing?!’ Maybe one day as a side-project for a bit of a laugh, but it’s always going to be Evile doing Evile.
rushonrock: How would you think it would be received if you went all Mr Bungle on us?
OD: I have no idea! I think we would just be laughed at! There would be a few musical minds who would be like ‘wow, this is amazing!’ But the average guy who comes to our gigs, headbangs and sings along to the songs would be like ‘what are you even doing? I don’t even give a crap!’ It would be a tricky one.
rushonrock: Like Morbid Angel-syndrome? What did you think of the former death metallers’ attempt to cram themselves into the realm of ‘all things not traditionally Morbid Angel?’
OD: I heard one song and I didn’t like it – I’m not going to hide it. But I respect them for doing what they want. It’s just not Morbid Angel to me that’s all. I think a few of the songs are awesome – like the very death metally ones. I’m a huge fan of the orchestra, they’re always going to be on my favourite list of bands, no matter what they did.
rushonrock: You have a colossal UK tour approaching and this is a big chance to pick up even more support. Is this the moment of truth?
OD: In many ways it is the moment of truth. I just hope this the album that makes us carry on doing it because people don’t realise how serious it is being in a band because if we can’t afford to do it then we can’t do it any more. If this album doesn’t do well we’re still going to do it, but there will come a time if we can’t afford to do it, we can’t win. It is a moment of truth. All I want to do is play guitar and play in Evile and if I can’t – I have nothing else. I wouldn’t know what to do. We gamble a lot by putting out lives into this.