Memoriam - Interview
Brits of Memoriam have released their fourth album "To The End" (review here) this spring and with it they have emancipated themselves further from the bands in which they have previously participated as it was also the case on the three previous albums. I had the opportunity to have a nice chat over a beer with Karl Willetts, who needs no further introduction, per Skype, and talk about the evolution of the band, the new album, politics, and a few other things. Have fun reading this!!
Hello Karl, how are you? Thanks for taking the time for the interview!
Fine, thanks!! You're welcome!!
You have just released your fourth album "To the End". You always have a very short time between your releases, are you so full of ideas that you can write so many albums in such a short time?
We recently release so many albums in quite a fast pace is the fact that we are burning with creativity, and we created this band in the first place for the joy of making music. For such a long time I was involved in bands that were not really alive creatively, just releasing an album every 5 or six years. What we're trying to do with Memoriam is to recreate that spirit what we had back in the late 80s or the early 90s when we were releasing albums in a voracious pace. Yeah, 4 albums within 5 years, we're maintaining that fast pace of outputs. Lyrically it's driven by the world around us, you find tons of things to write about but musically as well. We have Scott Fairfax, he is the main songwriter and he has all these riffs that are locked in his million dollar vault that he hasn't used and he's also coming up with new stuff as well continually. So we've always got to the luck of a rich vein of material to draw from. So, we are maintaining that fast pace, it may slow down a little bit as we're moving forward, as things generally tend to do but we still trying to do that. We're still trying to keep that spirit and that creativity going forward, as I said as well, we are all not getting any younger. We try to achieve as much as we can as long as we have the physical and mental capacity to deliver. Those are the main facts why we are that productive and creative and maintaining that fast pace of creativity. It's gonna be there for the next two or three years, we've got another trilogy, so that will keep us busy.
How did it happen that you changed from Nuclear Blast to the relatively small label Reaper Entertainment?
Nuclear Blast is a great label, they launched the band quite nicely and they built the profile for the band which is great. There is nothing bad to say about them. We had a three-album-contract deal with them which we fulfilled. It came to the end of that contract and there was the option of moving forward and maybe taking another one. But it all came at the same point where they got taken over by a large corporate distribution, Believe Digital they're called. And as a result, out of it, they had a shake-up of their roster. We are a band that makes things on our turn, and we don't want to be told what we have to do. We never be a band like Sabaton or Amon Amarth and get on the road for eight months and continually tour and promote and generate big sales off the back of that. We do things on our own turns the way we want to do it. So, we took the option ….and as a result of that big major shake-up, half the staff that for Nuclear Blast, all the staff that we worked directly with to promote Memoriam, they all left. Florian, the main contact for us at Nuclear Blast, he left to start-up his own record label and asked us to start something new and offered us a deal which was on a par, if not better than the deal we were on with Nuclear Blast and we decided to become a part of this new exciting journey for Florian and Reaper Entertainment. And it's great to be a part of a maybe smaller, independent label, before that I would consider us to be a rather small fish in a large pond and now we are slightly larger fish in a smaller pond. A pike in a puddle. It works for us really well, we get all the things we ask for, if we don't like something, the label back us up and agree with us. It is really great and we're good friends with Florian. It's great to be a part of his new journey and adventure and it's a good working relationship we got with them, and they did great things with the new album. To get into the German national network charts at #9 was absolutely amazing. They did sterling work and we're really proud and pleased to be working with them.
Musically you have made a big step out of the shadow of your previous bands with the new album. I find the new album much more epic, partly also rougher, something in the style of old British HC-crust bands like Doom and Co. I assume that this step was intended, because you didn't feel like the constant comparisons anymore.
Well, up to now, I think all the way through our career, we were always in comparison. We can't get away from it. We're really trying to from day one on (laughs) and it would have been very easy to be a clone band and do exactly the same stuff, but we didn't wanna do that. So, we've always constantly wanted to try and do things differently and try things out creatively. The dynamics in the band are very different. We're a four-piece-band from the start and what we create musically is very different. We've always tried to move away from the shadows of what we've done in the past. Of course, we're proud of what we achieved but I think you cannot escape from that comparison. We're almost in a position where you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. We get criticized for being too much like Bolt Thrower and sometimes you get criticized because there is not enough Bolt Thrower in it. It's an argument that you can never win. So, we try to stay clear out of the whole debate and leave that to other people to think about. We're just driving forward, just doing our own thing. And we've done that from day one. Sometimes you work some things out creatively and it hasn't really worked and sometimes it has, we're prepared to do that. That's the glorious thing about being this band. We have the capacity and the will to try out new things and push forward and do different things but with this album in particular, there is a big step forward for us but there is a change of sound that's involved on this album. I think there is a number of factors that are involved in that. The first factor is the time that we had to concentrate, focus and develop this album. It's been much more in depth and longer process than we've had on the previous albums. We were aware that maybe the first and the second album you are trying to find yourself and develop a sense of identity, of course we had this always ongoing battle, but I think with album number three, Requiem For Mankind, we found that sound we were looking for. We found the blueprint of what works. We should have predominantly going to Parlor Studios and working with Russ Russel again. We knew that we got the foundation was there in place with album number three and again, we could have quite easily gone and done another album number three in the same vein, but we wanted to build on that. We wanted to continue the creativity that we've always had going throughout the band and try out new ideas and different things. And I think, because of that continued creativity and the time that we had, because we were doing nothing else last year apart from this – you know, all the gigs that normally takes part and time to do every weekend and the rehearsals for the shows, all that was removed obviously as a result of Covid. So, we had some good eight, nine months to purely focus on getting this album together. I think that the time we had to prepare has had a massive impact, it gave us a chance to try out different ideas and think about doing things differently which we have done. That's one major factor in the change and also another change which is noticeable, and that will probably be one of your next questions, is the fact that we got a new drummer as well.
Haha, yes, that is my next question….
Well, Andy he is my best mate and always will be and he was the predominant main reason why I started doing Memoriam for the opportunity to work with Whale again. But he had to leave because of the issues with his shoulder, so we had to find another drummer. We got Spikey, he's a real professional, he played in classic bands I've really liked like English Dogs, Conflict or Sacrilege. For me the Killing Joke thing ticks the box massively (laughs) and he brings a different style and interpretation as a drummer than Andy Whale did. Better or worse, it's just different. This pushed the album up and made it what it is and changed the dynamics of the band sound and the songs themselves on the album are very diverse. It is some kind of journey; we have different tones and textures in the songs. We have different styles, different elements of old British Grindcore, kind of crust metal, slow epic doom metal, some emotional stuff like almost Paradise Lost which makes the album what it is, and it challenges the listener quite considerably. Especially 'Mass Psychosis' which is our tribute to Killing Joke, a lot of people love it, it's their favorite song and a lot of people just don't get it. That's what it's about for us. All these different ideas and following this flow, which really makes the album an interesting one to listen to.
Lyrically, it's about war, violence and things like that, just like on the last albums. The last three albums are a trilogy according to your statement - how far is there a difference (apart from the covers) to the current album?
Good question. The first three albums were exploring the things loss, sorrow and mourning, they had a dark theme. The main central theme in the artwork and the visuals was the coffin. They carried it across the battlefield; it was lying in state and was interred and taken into the ground on the third album. And once we completed that trilogy and the coffin was consumed into the ground, we asked ourselves where we go with this now, that story has been told now. With Covid in the background going on and all this negativity and fear in the world around us and we were experiencing this for about a year when I was writing the lyrics. But there also were some senses of hope that this will pass and that was kind of like in my mind. I've always lived by this moniker that the music we create is old school death metal which is a celebration of life. So, I really was thinking about this hope concept, the celebration of life and thought "what can we do?" So, I think we've always seen this central focus of the character (the person in the coffin; M.) in his state of death, so let's explore his life. Let's have a look at his glorious days when he is alive. When you have a look at the cover of To The End, you can see the central focus is the leader figure and he's coding a glowing green orb. It's symbolic of life and in the background, there's light. It's life and hope involved in this. This album is called To The End and why it is called so is because this is the end point of his life. It's a prequel to For The Fallen. This is the big battle which he leads his troops into and ultimately gets killed in, which lead onto the first trilogy. This new trilogy is gonna explore this central theme, this character, this leader or whatever you wanna call him. It will explore his life in reverse. It's gonna be a little bit like Star Wars. That's the concept.
So, you go backwards in time and every new album will become more and more hopeful…
Yeah absolutely. I'm not sure where they're gonna be in his lifespan but they are gonna celebrate and go through specific points within this character's life. We are working on that already; we are moving forward. We've got some songs that Scott's been working on, three or four that are already taped for the next album. So, we are continuing that fast-paced recording because we have nothing else to do (laughs). We use all the time and space we have to get ourselves in an advanced position, so we are prepared to get the new album released next year, maybe March again if we get the studio in November.
You've been working with Dan Seagrave, one of my favorite artists, since the first album. How does such a collaboration work? Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Well, it's an amazing process, working with him. He is also one of my favorite artists with all the great album covers he created back in the days. We wanted to create some old school feel, so we needed to get someone like Dan involved in from the point first. When we started with the band, we had a list with things we wanted to achieve, not really massive but things like release a 7', do a local gig. Scott was a bit more ambitious and said "I'd like to an album and Dan Seagrave for the album cover". Four albums later, I think, we've managed to achieve that for him, which is good. It's great working with Dan, because the creative process that's evolved is spectacular. With this album in particular, it was very interesting, because it was pretty much light in the day when I decided that this is gonna be a trilogy of albums. It wasn't until late of August, early September (2020; M.) I didn't know what to do with the ideas in my head and I contacted Dan and said, "Look Dan, I've got this idea, this is what it is, I need it in six-week time, can you deliver?" Dan Seagrave is incredibly busy; he's got a hectic full schedule of what he has to produce but he liked the concept I told him, and he did it within these six weeks' time frame I set him. For my perspective, it's my favorite cover that he's done so far because of all the light that's involved in it. Working with Dan is an amazing experience because when you've got something in your head, when you've got this idea and you write it down and tell him about your rough ideas, how it should look like and which colors should be involved, a week or two later, he is coming back with some rough sketches. It comes with a selection of sketches, and you have to choose the positioning you'd like from. Then from that point onwards, you are involved directly in the creative process. Every week, he updates you with different ideas and things he puts into it. It's amazing to watch developing the rough sketches to the outlined full sketch. It's great to be involved in that process and it's special to experience that. He's is almost like the sixth member in the band. Russ Russel is silent partner number five and Dan Seagrave is partner number six. It all works hand in hand together now. I can't do another album without using Dan Seagrave, because once you use an artist of such a caliber, it's very, very difficult to move anywhere else and use anybody else. If the artwork is not as good as on the last album, you get into the open criticism. And for me, artwork is on a par with the music. I've always been proud and wanted to have spectacular artwork with the music I've produced or been involved in. It's always important to maintain that and Dan does that very well for us.
You always denounce grievances in the world, most recently on 'Failure To Comply'. Do you hope to change something with your lyrics? In the end, that would be rather bad for you, because you would run out of topics; the world in its current state is an almost inexhaustible source of inspiration for your lyrics.
Haha, I think that I never get managed to do that! But as an artist and lyricist, is my position to state what I feel is wrong about the world we live in important. If I didn't do that I would do myself a massive disservice. I take the opportunity to do that. I think I that cannot massively change the people's minds about the way they feel but I might align with certain people that feel a certain way and backup their ideals and help support in their way of thinking. What I'm really trying to do is to say things I feel the way they are and make comments about the social injustice in the world around us. I think this is quite important to do that. Probably more nowadays than I was ten or twenty years younger. I think it comes with the age, belligerence and confidence in my own person. You have to make comments about the world around you. That's what we draw direct influence from, and I think if you don't state things that you feel they're wrong, then you become a part of the problem. It's always that constant dialogue, people are saying "keep politics out of metal, there's no place for politics in metal". For my opinion that's bullshit because that's where I come from, that's where my heritage lies. The music I've always listened to have a meaning and political content behind it. So, all this has become a large part of the lyrical content for Memoriam. But there is a balance in the lyrical content I write about. There are always songs about war, something that people expect from me for the past thirty years, but then there are these songs about political means. And there are some songs about life in general like 'As My Heart Grows Cold' and 'Each Step (One Closer To The Grave)'. I think these are the strongest because they have a lot of resilience and are connected directly with people because we all had these experiences in our lives.
What do you think is the biggest problem in today's world? When I think about all of them, the whole system seems to me like a cat trying to bite its own tail….
The biggest threat to the world is the global rise of nationalism. This right-wing ideology is causing mass division across the planet, not just localized in specific countries. It's a global pandemic. We've seen it so clearly, America is the prime example with what happened there. The storming of the Capitol was a classic example of democracy devolving and the rise of Trumpism that almost legitimizes the right-winged ideology. Here in the UK, Brexit is a result of right-wing ideology taking control of the mass-minds of the people through the media. But we see it in every country throughout the world and that is the biggest threat to world we live in. So we do need to stand against that and be prepared to do that whether wearing an Antifa T-Shirt and get some criticism for it but we need to keep together and try to make a difference and bring what is wrong to the front because it eats the rich, nationalist make the profit and gonna be the corporate elite. We are no longer the United Kingdom, we have got polemic differences, a massive split all way down the line.
If you had three wishes, what would they be?
I'd like to see what is going on in the world when the pandemic is over.
My second wish would be the total eradication of the right-winged ideology worldwide.
My third wish would be global peace. God, I sound like a Hippie!! Can I have four wishes??
Yes, you may, haha!!
So, my fourth wish is that Memoriam achieve multi-national platinum album sales across the world, generate 6 000 000 £ in record sales and I can retire, haha!!!
Since I can't remember you answering this question anywhere before - what are your favorite musicians / albums?
It's Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke and my favorite albums are all by this band!!
Do you have any last words for our readers?
Thanks for your time and support and the very nice review and for accepting us for who we are and not comparing us to anything we've done previously in the past. Thanks to anybody who is listening to our music or who is reading this, without your support we wouldn't be where we are, and we are very aware of this!! We are humbled and privileged to do that!! Thanks for all your support through the ages!!!
Thank you so much for the interview!!!
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