Interview with Karl Willetts, Vocalist of Memoriam
Memoriam, made up of key band members from death metal bands Bolt Thrower and Benediction, was born from grief. With the loss of Bolt Thrower band member Martin Kearns and the father of Benedictions Frank Healy, the members of each band needed an outlet to heal. What came of that was Memoriam. With the combination of Bolt Thrower's Karl Willets and Andy Whale with Benedictions Frank Healy and Scott Fairfax, the old school death metallers have put out an incredible debut with For The Fallen. We had a chat with frontman Willets about their new album, upcoming tours and who inspires them.
First of all, congratulations on the new album, For The Fallen. How has it been received so far and how do you feel about everything at the moment?
Well, yeah, where to start? It's been an overwhelmingly positive response from everybody involved. Even when we delivered it to Nuclear Blast back in October/November last year, their response initially was outstandingly positive. I've never been with a record company that's been so supportive and into what you're doing as a label. So from that point onward, it's just rolled out from there. The response from the music press, generally, globally, across the world has been overwhelmingly great.
Now it's actually been released, well, it's gotten positive feedback from our followers and friends. It's just been positively life affirming to get the response that we've received. We knew that we'd create something good and we wouldn't have put it out if we thought that it was substandard. So we're very pleased with what we've put out and are really proud of our accomplishment. Bottom line is we liked it and everybody else in the world seems to like it, which is one kind of big bonus, really.
It's a joyous experience at this point in our lives to be in this position to create this new band called Memoriam and we think For The Fallen is a very fitting tribute and a document of this point in our lives and the times that we live in. It's been an amazing, and a very, very fast tracked experience. Since the initial inception of the band back in November 2015 to where we are now, March 2017, it's such a short space of time, but seems like a hell of a lot has happened in a positive way for the band. It's been a fantastic experience and we're all really, really enjoying and relishing the position that we're in.
It sounds amazing, personally I think it's a great album. If you love old school death metal, you'll definitely love this.
Yes, it does tick those two boxes quite well.
It's been well documented how the band came together and what the bands all about, but do you mind telling us what sort of other bands and other artists inspired you and made you want to cover their work when you first began?
That's the original reason that we got together in the first place, to create that energy and that feeling, that joyous experience of creating music and being in the studio as a band, and in a rehearsal room, by doing some cover versions of other songs from the bands that inspired us when we were in our late teens. early twenties, back in the mid to late 80's. The first major song that I wanted to do was cover a band called Axe Grinder and do a song called 'War Machine', and I still haven't gotten around to doing that in the last 18 months, but the one thing that I wanted to do was to do some sacrilige songs and some Discharge, some Anti-Sect, all of those grind, punk, crust kind of bands that really gave us that feeling of joy to want to be in a band in the first place. So that was really the driving force that got us together in the very first place.
We do play a few cover versions when we play live but we pretty much dropped that before we even got to the first rehearsal because Scott Fairfax came to us with a whole bag of riffs that he'd had over the past 10- - 15 years that had never been used. So that's a goldmine of musical inspiration that he had there, so we shelved the cover band idea at a very early stage and started to work on new material, and that's how it all evolved basically, at a very, very fast pace, from 2016 to where we are now.
Being death metal royalty yourself, was it a relatively easy process to get the Memoriam name out there once again? I'm sure getting signed to Nuclear Blast did no harm, was it a good relationship?
Absolutely. As I said, our original intention was just to have a bit of a laugh, and enjoy making music and have some joy and some fun with some mates - that's the bottom line. Everything else just span off from there. We actually haven't had to chase anything really, people approached us and said 'hey, fancy doing this?' or 'would you mind if I took photos?' - that's how we got our first photographer involved.
Nuclear Blast approached us, along with a few other labels as well, and said 'do you fancy signing with us', and at that point our idea was maybe release a 7 inch on our own DIY label and keep it all in house and do it that way. Our aspirations weren't really of that nature, but once Marcus approached us from Nuclear Blast, and we've known Marcus, who runs the label, for about 30 years, we've seen it grow from his little bedroom in his flat to the global corporation it is now. A lot of the size of Nuclear Blast is purely down to the passion and the integriy of Marcus, and the work he's put in. He's only ever reeally worked with artists that he wants to work with and that he's got a feel for. Frank has worked with him with Benediction over the years and has formed a working relationship with him, so when Marcus stepped into the equation it was pretty much a no brainer. 'Yep, we'll sign, what do you want us to do?' We haven't looked back since. It helped us achieve a lot more than what we could achieve on our own. It's opened doors for us as well, that we couldn't possibly even knock on by ourselves. All power to them.
It's a great label full of amazing bands. That's excellent.
Yeah, they've got a great roster. Some great bands on the label. I think that's through their dedication to what they do and their positivity. I think that people kind of align themselves with that, they've got a good reputation within the industry. A lot of other labels out there, not mentioning any in particular, that have got not such a good reputation and my experience over the years of working in the industry has always been almost like the band vs the label, to acheive what you get. But this whole relationship with Nuclear Blast, it almost, without sounding too cheesy, feels like you're part of a wider family. They've been very, very supportive. I'm very pleased with the situation we're in.
The concept of eternal war and such things seems to be a lyrical source for you, is this the same with the new album?
The theme of war is a central focus for my lyrical inspiration and in my writing process'. War is a constant theme for mankind. I always approach it in a way that's slightly departed in a sense. It's not a blood, guts and glory kind of fare, it's more the psychological effects of war and how it effects the individual. The bottom line is that you can interpret that in the lyrics, once I've written those lyrics, they're out there for people to interpret them in their own particular, different ways, and make them relate to their own lives. So the concept of war could relate to the everyday life that we live, the survival in our lives, because survival is a kind of war. But war is something that fascinates me, and it being eternal throughout mankind's history and evolution, from when we first started out, to where we are now, and in the future. It is something that fascinates me and will always be a central part of what I write.
However, I do think with the new album that I've kind of had a slight departure from writing totally about war. The lyrics on this new album are drawn mainly from experiences of life in general, things that have actually happened. I've based them more on reality and things that I can relate to and that I've experienced in the past ten to fifteen years. There are also maybe more overtly political ideals that I talk about more on this album, but there's a lot of songs that I've drawn directly from experiences of grief and sorrow and mourning. Our music is born from a place of sorrow and grief and expressing a lot of that within the music, so yep, ok, we've got the war element there, but I think we've moved beyond that to draw on more relevant, actual experiences of our lives as well.
It's an exciting, creative experience, something I've missed and something that I feel is really what it's all about, being in a band. It's the creative element of what you're doing. Without that I think that it's almost pointless, really. So we're really pleased to be in this position and getting to write stuff that means something to us directly.
Do you plan on taking Memorium out on the road at all or are you going to keep shows very limited? Any overseas plans, possibly Australia, just throwing it out there? [laughs]
Yeah, just throw that one out there. [laughs] We're not the kind of band that are going to jump on a tour bus and do an eight week tour of Europe or America or the World or wherever. We've all done all that in the past, and the idea of it, the tour coach and playing a rural town in the middle of Wales on a Tuesday night, doesn't really hold any kind of form of anticipation for us. We've done all of that and we don't really need to do that again.
What we are doing, though, is that we are selecting festival shows this year that we want to play. Ones that we haven't done in the past, the sort of larger ones we maybe didn't contemplate doing with our previous bands. So we're experience some of these. I think we've got about fifteen or sixteen major European festivals lined up between April and September. We are intending to do a few club shows in between there as well. If we do a series of club shows, they'll be over weekends and they'll be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, four gigs on the trot. For us, the people who come to see us, our fanbase, a lot of them have all got kids and have got jobs and responsibilities, just like us, so it's more convenient for them to see us on a weekend show.
So that's what we've got planned right now, which will take us through this year. Hopefully we'll get back in the studio towards the end of this year and record the follow up to our debut album and then next year we're looking to hopefully push the boundaries and book further abroad. So we are looking to maybe play some shows in America.
We'd love to come back to Australia, it's been a long, long time since we played some shows with Bolt Thrower back in 1993, something like that it was. We know we've got a very good, supportive fan base, and some good friends out there in Australia, so we'd love to get back out there. It's just, logistically, it's quite difficult and quite expensive. So what we need, and what the purpose is for being on these press interviews with you lovely interviewers, is to try to get a bit of a buzz to get some promoters to put some pounds in the pocket to pay for our flights to get over there. [laughs]
No, we'd love to do it, for me it was almost the pinnacle of our career, with Bolt Thrower, playing Australia. To get to the opposite side of the World, and to play our music in front of people that loved it. It's just a fantastic, phenomenal experience and I'll always remember, one of the defining moments being in a band, was being on the beach with the rest of the band in Perth, watching the big ocean rolling in and we kind of looked to each other, and went 'yeah, this isn't bad for a bunch of lads from Birmingham. We aren't doing too badly here'. I'll always remember that moment, it was a really big point for me in my musical career. So I'd love to get back and do Australia. It almost feels like a battle lost as well because we were gearing up to come to Australia, in September 2015, when tragically Martin passed away. So that's something we never got to accomplish though I really would like to do that to kind of fill the circle and feel like we can win that battle that we feel that we almost lost, in a way.
I'm sure it's very possible. That pretty much wraps it up. I think it's a brilliant remembrance for a fallen member and a fallen friend and it's definitely something to be proud of. Do you have any final words for your fans here in Australia who are going to read this interview?
Absolutely, I'd like to say thank you very much for the overwhelmingly positive response we've had from all of our followers, friends, and fans in Australia. I know there's a lot of you out there and we really appreciate the support you've given us and we know that without your support, we wouldn't be here, in this privileged position that we are in. It humbles us, and it fills us with joy to know that we have got your support and we would love very much one day to come over and play our music to you. So get on those switchboards, tell people, tell the promoters to get onboard, tell them that you want us to play over there and hopefully one day we should all meet up and share a few tinnies.
Sounds good to me! Thanks, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and I'll let you get back to your beer and I'll go and get another coffee. Enjoy the rest of your night!
Absolutely, well I hope you have a good day. I hope you started off your day in a positive way.
For The Fallen is out now on iTunes, Spotify and all good music retailers.
Watch the lyric video for the track 'Surrounded By Death' below;