The U.K.’s Bolt Thrower came to the Bayou in Washington, D.C. in support of the new one, War Master. Andy Whale on drums graciously agreed to talk to me between bands backstage. Okay, on with the interview.
D.U.: How did you guys decide to tune to A natural on Realm of Chaos?
Andy: The downtuning? It was just one thing we decided to do, to get a heavy sound. In a way, at the time, a lot of bands were doing it as well, y’know. And it’s nothing new, really. I mean, a lot of the old bands, Black Sabbath and all that, used to sort of do the same kind of thing. And [U.K.] Sacrilege as well.
You uptuned on the new one, didn’t you?
Yeah, yeah. Well, what it was, was on the Grindcrusher tour in ‘89, we decided to do it, because live, if you get a bad P.A., you just can’t hear anything, you know? So we tuned up to three below, and you get loads more clarity, but you still get the heaviness in the songs. Which you need when you play. If you can’t hear anything, you might as well not bother.
How many songs on average must you have when you go in the studio, since you sometimes make up a song or two when you’re in there?
Yeah, well, I mean, we always go into the studio with nine songs. Over the last two albums, like Realm of Chaos and War Master, we’ve made a song up in the studio as well. ‘Cause we’re in the studio for about a week and a half playing together, and your juices get flowing like, and you get into the rhythm of what you’re actually doing. What happened with War Master was, Baz [guitar] just came up with a riff and we went from there. [The song is] like an extension from “World Eater,” which was “Cenotaph,” which is like “World Eater 2,” basically. And so me and Baz just went into the studio and put it down in about four sections, and that’s how it came about, really. And it was the same with “All That Remains” as well, on Realm of Chaos. Just one of them things we’ve managed to do so far, y’know what I mean. It just works out good.
“At the time, it was in a way quite trendy to become a vegetarian. It was trendy to be a crusty.”
Why didn’t you have any distortion on Jo’s bass tracks on the new album?
It was distorted, but not hella, y’know what I mean. We did go for an actual overall smoother guitar sound. Just for the clarity, and it just worked. We wanted, like, a smoother but still heavy sound. The production on War Master’s the best thing we’ve done, so we could afford to do that, really. The way it turned out is fine.
What types of sticks and heads do you use?
Well, I basically use any sticks, you know. I just use 2B sticks. That’s the thickness I use. I’m not too bothered about the make. But skins, I always have Remo.
Do you use those because they take a lot of punishment?
Well, the ones on the toms, I always have Pinstripe because they’re dampened, so I don’t an excessive ring on them. And on the snare and the bass drums, I always use Black Dots, which take a lot of the battering. ‘Cause I always use wooden beaters anyway, which gives you a lot more punchier sound, which is good for the studio. And then I use a Piccolo snare, which is really thin, so you get a real snappy share sound. But I mean, it’s just the things I like to use. But I always stick to Remo skins for some reason. I just like ‘em.
Are you ever gonna try to do a video again, after all the shit that happened with “Cenotaph”?
[smiling] Oh yeah, yeah. But we’re gonna be a lot more in control of it. It’s gonna be a lot more live stuff. What happened was, Dig [head of Earache Records] liked “Cenotaph” so much, he wanted to do a video. So somebody turned up at the Marquee in London and shot us live, and then went away. We were on tour in the U.K. like. When we come back, it was all finished, you know? And it’s, “This is the video, lads.”
But basically, we weren’t 100 percent happy with it, but it did its job. It got the single on the music stations. But really, we couldn’t understand the, sort of like, people running around at double the speed had anything to do with “Cenotaph.” I mean, the man who videoed it tried to make it sort of like they’re rushing to their grave. It was cheap, but it wasn’t what we liked. We’re prob’ly gonna do a live show, a whole video. Prob’ly next year on the European tour.
Why do you think in the press, whenever they’re talking to a grindcore band, they always say, “Are you a vegetarian? Are you a vegan?” Why is it so connected?
Yeah, I dunno. It’s just ‘cause all of us used to be into punk and all that and the hardcore type thing. It was a natural progression. All the bands and all that, Napalm and Carcass type, we all’ve, sort of like, been around at the same sort of time. And at the time, it was in a way quite trendy to become a vegetarian, y’know what I mean. It was trendy to be a crusty like. In fact, I dunno, about 40 percent of the U.K. population must be vegetarian now. It’s just a big thing over there.
I mean, like with this grindcore thing, in England and Europe we get called death metal, but in America we get called grindcore. It’s strange, y’know. We just want people to like us because we’re Bolt Thrower, not because we’re a trend, sort of thing. But it’s just like, music mags catch onto things. They like an angle, don’t they? ‘Cause they know it’s gonna sell copies. It’s always the way with big mags. It’s what they want, isn’t it? They want an angle, sort of like, to aim for, where, “Oh, you’re a vegetarian, but you talk about murder and all this like, and war.” Basically, nothing to do with it, really.
Speaking of which, how much of the war thing in general is going to be on the next album?
Well, I mean, the next album’s gonna be called The IVth Crusade, which is our fourth album, and it’s sort of like all the crusades to the Holy Land as well. It’s gonna be a futuristic version of the medieval time, sort of thing.
So there’s going to be more stuff going on in the mind?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like you say, it’s more of a psychological aspect to the thing. Where Karl [vocals]’s always tried to do that anyways. He’s always tried to put double meanings into his songs. But I mean, most people just get the war side to it. But if you actually read into it, you can see other things. Like a lot of people do. They’ll write to Karl, saying, “Oh, I read this out of the lyrics,” and, like, Karl hasn’t even aimed towards that. Which is good, ‘cause it means people are not just listening to the music. Well, we’ve always been, sort of like, war orientated, not as if we’re war mongers or anything. It’s just like Carcass being gore, y’know what I mean. It’s just our sort of thing.
What different styles of music, that one wouldn’t think you listen to, are influences on your music?
Well, I mean, we all listen to really different stuff. Like, Baz listens to rap type stuff and house type and more death metalier type stuff. Gavin [guitar] and Jo like more Trouble, Candlemass, that King Diamond stuff. Karl is totally across the board, from extreme death metal to stuff like Kingdom Come. And I listen to a lot of different stuff as well, from, like, extreme death metal to rock type stuff. And I like a bit of Paul Simon. I like the tribal drum beats and all that. And even things like Queen. I can’t stand disco or anything like that or rap music, but I like anything.
Do you think that affects your playing style?
Uh, I dunno. I don’t really know. I suppose it does in a way. It’s prob’ly a good thing listening to a lot of stuff, ‘cause if you get stuck in a rut, listening to, y’know, death metal all the time, you’re just gonna start coming out with generic death metal riffs. What we try and do is go for more of an original sound, which is not standard songs, what you’re supposed to do, sort of thing. I suppose everything you listen to influences you in a way. When it comes down to it, it’s always got that Bolt Thrower stamp on it. You can always tell it’s Bolt Thrower, but it always, sort of like, moves a bit forward as well. From the three albums it’s progressed, but in a way that you can still tell it’s us.
How important is it for you that this U.S. tour goes well, since you’ve been trying to get over here for so long?
Yeah, well, what happened with the Dark Angel tour falling through, I mean, that totally put us back, because it got cancelled about four days before we were supposed to fly out, and we really wanted to do that, ‘cause it would’ve been good for the band.
So do you have a lot riding on this tour?
Well, in a way, yeah. I mean, you always want a tour to go well. It’s doing okay at the moment. We’re averaging about 200 people a show, which for a first tour is pretty good. Basically, what we wanna try and do is not lose too much money, ‘cause every band that’s come out from England on tour, like the Grindcrusher and then when Napalm came over with Sepultra [sic], they lost hell of a lot of money. And we don’t wanna do that. We wanna try and be the first band that can go away with not losing money. But I mean, basically what we’re doing is, we’re coming over to put some roots down and show what we like live. Say, “We’re Bolt Thrower. We can play this music. We’re not some band that can only play in the studio.” And up to now, the seven dates have gone really well, you know. It’s sort of like, that’s the way it is. You can’t really expect too much on a first tour.
Well, that’s all my questions. Do you want to throw something in that we haven’t talked about?
[congenially] Well, not really. Just cheers to everybody that’s come to the shows over in the States. So as soon as we finish this, [we go] to Europe and then in February we’ll start making up new songs for the next album. So we’ll have another album out by next autumn, which’ll be The IVth Crusade. It’ll have a very good video with it, as well. [laugh] So that’s basically it, really. We’re just pleased to be across in the States. It’s a new thing for us, and it’s a new challenge. We like that. So hopefully we can build on it. ■
Photo: Bolt Thrower (courtesy Earache)
Originally published in ‘zine issue #3, 1991