Just a few days prior to making the journey to Australia to play at the Soundwave festival, deathcore heavyweights Whitechapel were forced to cancel their trip after the unfortunate passing of an immediate family member, and our heartfelt condolences go out to the band at this sad and difficult time.
However, with their latest album nearly ready for release and a crowd funded DVD in the works, 2014 is set to be a big year for the band, about which and more I recently caught up with guitarist Alex Wade for a chat.
G’day Alex, this is Geoff from Heavy Blog Is Heavy. How are you doing?
Hey I’m good man. How are you?
Not too bad. Thanks for taking my call today.
No problem at all.
I’ll get straight into it, and I suppose it’s pretty exciting times for Whitechapel at the moment, what with having a new album in the can, and I want to come back and talk about that in a bit if that’s okay, but you’re heading back down to Australia soon for the Soundwave festival, which seems to keep growing and growing in terms of its size and the diversity of its line-up, and it’s now actually Australia’s largest festival, if you didn’t know that already. This time around you’ll be paying with some pretty good mates in the likes of Suicide Silence and The Black Dahlia Murder, but given the line-up, are there any particular bands that you’re excited to meet and see play when you’re here?
There’s definitely a lot of amazing bands on it, and you say that it’s the biggest festival in Australia, but to be honest I feel like it’s the biggest festival in the world. There may be some that are bigger, but it’s insane with Greenday headlining and all these other amazing bands that are on it. The line-up is truly incredible, but it will be pretty cool to check out some new bands. I have heard a lot about that Thy Art Is Murder band, and I know they have a big following in Australia so it will be really cool to get to check them out. You know we’ve played with them before, but we’re excited to play with Deez Nuts as well. We got to meet them on a tour with Hatebreed in the U.S, so we’re really looking forward to that, and you know I am actually really excited to see Greenday. I grew up a punk-rock kid, and I listened to a lot of Greenday, so be able to watch them live, and be able to say that I toured with them is a crazy thing to think about.
Have you met Greenday before?
No, definitely not!
Well maybe this is your opportunity, and you can have a chat also! It would be pretty awesome to meet and play with people you’ve grown up idolising.
Absolutely! I mean, that’s pretty much been our whole career, getting to tour with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Slipknot and Slayer. I mean, those bands right there are a large proportion of what Whitechapel sounds like, influence-wise, so it’s really cool to be able to say that we’ve toured with some of our biggest influences.
Do you enjoy playing the large festivals, like Mayhem and Soundwave, and how does that differ as an experience from your own headline tour?
I don’t really prefer one or the other; I like both. Playing large festivals is always fun because you’re playing in front of thousands and thousands of people, and the stage is really massive and you have a lot of room, and there is just a lot of energy coming from a crowd that big, especially if they are singing along, and the people screaming are louder than the music. There is no crazier feeling than that. But I like playing club shows as well, be that headlining or supporting another band, because it gets a little more intimate, a little more personal, and you get a bit closer to the fans, and there are no massive barricades.
I had the opportunity to watch that short tour documentary that you guys recently put out, and it seems to me that now that you’re realising your dream of being this big internationally touring metal band, you’re becoming more of the sacrifices required to be a successful band, and I have to say that watching that doco I almost felt a bit sorry for you, although not really Alex! Is it what you imagined it to be like?
For sure! But as we get older, our lives are changing. When we were all 21 years old it was easy to just throw our shit in the van and go; we didn’t care, but now, as we’re getting older, people have relationships; fiancées and girlfriends, and our parents are only getting older and we have to think about taking care of them, and you miss your friends when you’re out on the road. So as you get older, you start to realise that touring has its pros and cons, but we’re still at a point in our career where we trying to push as hard as we can. We’re absolutely not at the point of giving up yet!
And in that doco, I think it was you Alex that said that it feels like through this experience of being in Whitechapel that the world is changing, but that you are not. Can you extrapolate on what you mean by that?
It’s just kind of like, you‘ll go on tour…for instance, I’m from a small town called Maryville, Tennessee, and you’ll go on tour for a few months and when you come back there are like all these new buildings in your town, or maybe some friends you haven’t talked to in a while, you’ll find out that they’ve gotten married or have kids, so it’s like, our world is being on stage and being on the bus, and coming back home it seems things can change and be different every time you go out.
Do you think that your experience, though, of touring the world, and being on the stage and on the bus, that that’s not changing you?
I think it probably has. If I never would have had the opportunities I’ve had with Whitechapel I’d be a pretty different person. I probably would have finished college and gotten a job somewhere like everybody else, but Whitechapel started touring about when I was half way through college, and I saw an opportunity, and stopped going to college and started touring with Whitechapel in the hope that we could bring it to the point that it would be a career, and that’s what ended up happening.
Thankfully it worked out pretty well for you!
I reckon at some point though, through that process, you must have some sort of realisation that at the end of the day, when you become as big as you guys are, the band is a business and there are people whose livelihoods rely upon your success. How does that responsibility sit with you and has that realisation effected your enjoyment of the process in any way?
No, if anything it gives us more drive to keep doing it! We have our crew guys, our manager, our business manager and our booking agent – all of the people that work for us – they have other bands they’re looking after too; they’re not looking solely after us and we’re not their sole source of income, but we are a big part, and as I said, I definitely feel like that responsibility gives us more drive to be able to create music, and go on tour, and create income that we can all benefit from.
So it’s more of an inspiration rather than an overbearing pressure.
Yeah, for sure. At some point it could start to build pressure, if money gets tight, but thankfully there has never been a point in our career where money has been a crippling issue for us.
And I am aware that you guys are working on a DVD, I imagine the purpose of which is to document the progress of the band and your experiences to this point. In terms of the DVD being a visual medium, because we all know what you guys have sounded like to this point, can you tell me what people can expect to see and perhaps what the narrative of the DVD will be.
The plan is to have two separate discs; one disc will be a documentary about the life of Whitechapel and will follow us on the road. It will have shots of us playing but it’s not going to be a full on production of a live set. It’s going to have interviews, and behind the scenes footage of us on the bus and traveling and stuff like that, because, I really feel like one problem with the band is that people don’t really know who we are; all they know is Whitechapel, so I really want to use the DVD as a way of opening up and showing people who we are as individuals. The second disc will be live performance footage, so we’ve collected a couple of different live performances from all over the world – a couple from the UK and Europe – and we’re going to be shooting a headlining tour in spring and summer of 2014 that we’re going to try to film and put on that disc as well.
You’ve chosen to partially crowd fund the DVD, and this is obviously a rapidly growing means by which bands are sourcing capital for their projects. What was the thought process behind electing to use that fundraising model?
Basically, we released that little video that had to do with the campaign, and in that video I explain that when you borrow money from a label, that money is not given for free, and the band actually has to pay that money back. So, if a band spends $100,000 on a CD, the band pays that amount of money back, which means that the label is really just a bank that fronts the money, the only difference being the band doesn’t have to pay interest. Our thought process, therefore, was that it was going to take quite a bit of money to do a DVD right, and I don’t want to do it half-assed so that it is less than what it should be, so financially, it seemed to make a bit of sense to ask those fans that actually want the DVD to help fund it, rather than going into a bunch of debt with our label. I really find that one of the biggest problems for a lot of bands is debt. They take out money to be able to fund whatever they need, whether it be touring or recording or whatever, and then they have a lot of trouble paying it back, so I always find that the less debt a band has the more chance they have of surviving. Luckily, our fans were very receptive, and we just hit our goal of $35,000 today, so I am really excited that the campaign was a success, but it’s going to keep running, and the perks will still be available, and all the money that it raised beyond the goal will be used to make the DVD even better.
Well congratulations with hitting the target, and I suppose the idea would be that if these fans are going to be buying the DVD anyway, which would be the hope, then why not front end it rather than back end it and give them some more of a personal connection through what’s on offer with the merchandise and so on.
Look at the end of the day, our fans can say that without them, that DVD would never have happened. I don’t know whether we would have ever thought that it would be smart to take that much money from our label, so when the fans sit down and watch the DVD they can feel like they were truly a part of it.
On a broader level though, do you feel like there may be something incongruous with bands on major labels pursuing the direct fundraising model, in the sense that maybe it reduces the pool of money available for smaller or independent artists, who might not have the same buying power as those on a major label?
It just depends, you know, if a fan was spending money on a bigger artist, and then liked the smaller artist but didn’t have any more money to give them, then that might be true, but I kind of feel like the fan base is what it is, and I don’t feel like our DVD campaign is…like people are pledging to our campaign and not somebody else’s and it’s directly affecting them. I don’t feel like because we put a campaign out there and started collecting money that we’re taking away from any other band that’s trying to do it. That’s the beauty of crowd funding; that it’s directly coordinated to your fans not anybody else’s.
And at the end of the day, it’s somebody’s choice whether to contribute to the campaign or not. Now it’s my understanding that you’ve just finished your fifth album and that it’s currently being mastered, and it’s also my understanding that you again worked with Mark Lewis, who also produced the self-titled album. Can you tell me, what was the process involved in writing and recording this album, and how has that process changed since The Somatic Defilement?
The process is definitely way different than what it was with The Somatic Defilement. Back then, we were just jamming in a garage, and writing songs in a live aspect, and now it’s way more of a professional setting. Me, Ben and Zach write riffs at our home studios, and then we pass them back and forth and decide what riffs we like and those will be turned into songs. Sometimes, somebody will write a whole song, and sometimes all three of us will write a song, so it just depends. For this CD, it was similar to how we did self-titled, in that we wrote it at my house in my little home studio and then we went down to Florida and tracked drums with Mark Lewis at Audiohammer, and then we came back to Tennessee and recorded guitars, bass and vocals at my house, and then Mark took it back to Florida and mixed it. We definitely did this more like self-titled in that we worked on it more in Tennessee rather than out of state, and some bands need to work out of their comfort zone, but I feel we’re one of the bands that need to be kind of rooted at home, because it’s kind of hard when you’re touring all the time and to then go and spend a month in another state just to record your CD, so it’s nicer for the guys to just drive over to my house to work on the CD and then sleep in their own beds and stuff.
Now mate I’ve heard you say before that don’t want every album to sound the same, and in that respect, I think the self-titled album was a great leap forward for you guys. I reckon it sounds rhythmically more varied and has a stronger sense of groove than its predecessors; I feel like the drums were right at the front of each beat especially in the breakdowns; I think it’s tighter and more compositionally varied; a greater sense of melody too. So I think in that respect the self-titled album pushed you guys well beyond the threshold of your previous work. So then, without giving too much, can you tell me what we expect to hear from the new record in terms of your evolution as a band, and further to that, when are we going to hear it?
Well it should be coming out in April, or summer. Everything you said about self-titled I agree with, and I feel like this new record is definitely an expansion on that. The melodies are there and are very strong; we made it a point to write choruses with catchy hooks and a lot of melody. With self-titled, we didn’t pigeonhole ourselves into writing one specific sounding album, it just sounds all over the place; there’s fast songs, slow songs; songs that are tuned up and songs that are tuned down. With this new CD we did the same thing; there’s varied tunings and varied beats per minute. There’s something for everybody on there.
If we had a bit more time I would like to ask you about the influence of Ben on that, because it sounds to me as if his style and what he brought to the self-titled album was pretty significant, but we are running out of time, so I want to ask you one last question, and that is, if you can, please tell me what are the five albums that have had the most significant influence on you as a musician and why?
I don’t know if I could make album choices in this time frame, but I can definitely say some bands, like Meshuggah, Slipknot, Deftones…
So tell me, Meshuggah; what would be the influence of them on Whitechapel, and you specifically?
I just always liked their dark and ominous sound, and their ambiance. That’s one thing that I feel we maybe do a little bit differently to the other bands in our genre is that we try to add a lot of layers and a lot of ambient sounds, and I like Deftones as well and they have a lot of ambient sounds, and that is definitely one example of how those influences play into our music.
I’m a pretty big Deftones fan too, man, so I was going to ask you what their influence was as well, but finally, Slipknot?
They just have a very large and aggressive sound, and that’s what we’re going for too; very loud and angry.
Cool. Well, we’re definitely out of time now, so mate it’s been a pleasure to speak with you and I look forward to seeing you guys at Soundwave very soon!
Alright, thanks man!
While they aren’t appearing on Soundwave, the band have recently announced their new album, Our Endless War. It’ll be out April 29th through Metal Blade Records. More info and pre-orders available here.