On March 9th, Thrash Mag’s own Tim Ledin and co-owner, Don Alcombright, had the pleasure of speaking with John Kevill, lead singer of Warbringer. At the time, Warbringer was in the opening slot for Symphony X and Iced Earth’s co-headlining North American tour. This stop on the tour was at the Worcester Palladium and I actually got to see what the “dressing rooms” were like. John said something to the effect of, “feels like a Soviet prison.” He hit it right on the head.
Tim Ledin: This is Tim from Thrash Mag and I’m here with…
John Kevill: John Kevill from Warbringer.
TL: And John, for those who don’t know who you guys are, what is your position in the band?
JK: I’m the singer for Warbringer and we are a thrashing machinegun.
TL: This tour is a much different tour that I have seen you guys advertised for. I’d say it’s a power metal tour with Symphony X and Iced Earth and you guys are definitely that outlier group. You bring the thrash, the “party” atmosphere so to speak, you like to fuck shit up. With that said, how have the fans been so far?
JK: The fans have been great! Actually, and don’t get me wrong I love my thrash metal, I started into metal with traditional and power metal and got into thrash from that. So for me it doesn’t seem illogical at all that we are on this tour. I love my heavy metal in all forms and thrash as far as aggressive forms of metal is pretty close to that. Iced Earth specifically seems to be really close to that with all that hard rhythmic picking they got, it’s pretty thrashy in its way. So I think we have a good continuum of metal bands here. It’s more of a power metal tour but we are obviously playing what we play anyway. It turned out really good. The response is good. It may not be as moshy as say a thrash or death metal tour that we’re on but the point isn’t that, it’s that people are enjoying the show.
TL: That makes a lot of sense and I haven’t really thought of it that way before!
JK: Heavy metal is good. We’re playing metal, these bands are playing metal… it’s good (laughs).
TL: That’s all that matters. Sub genres are just labels anyways.
JK: People say that and I will actively disagree. I will say that sub genres are a way of categorizing specific sounds and feelings you can get from things. However, I think they (the bands on this tour) all fall under the greater umbrella of just metal. They are all fist-raising, and head banging as fuck, and that’s a common ground there. Because I think labels are pretty useful for categorization and people say, “Oh I hate labels, I love all music.” No you don’t, there is something out there you don’t like, and there is a label out there for it to explain why you don’t like it or why you do like it. So it’s not just bullshit, its actual terms to help explain qualities of something that is esoteric and artistic like music. Labels and sub genres are people’s attempt to explain sound in that way. Some people get it flat out wrong, but if you get it right than it actually is helpful to determine what you might or might not like.
Don Alcombright: You thought about that deeply!
JK: (laughs) A little bit, yeah.
TL: I guess in my experience I’ve heard people say things like, “I don’t like thrash because I don’t like Metallica.”
JK: Well that’s not a fault with a concept of categorization; it’s a fault with that person’s logic. That’s like saying I don’t like a Ford Pinto that explodes… so I don’t like cars.
TL: (laughs) Exactly!
DA: Random off topic question… how in depth is okay or not okay?
JK: When you get super duper in depth about it, it gets a little stupid. But broad categories like: thrash metal, power metal, metal, hard rock, etc. help explain qualities of music to people and it’s not a bad thing. It’s not just bullshit and labels; helps explain the sounds and feelings that are there. Things can be mislabeled or judged according strictly to label and not what’s there. Just because something is a thrash band, doesn’t mean it’s the same as another thrash band. Like a power metal band or a death metal band doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same as another. It just helps group in the general, broadest ideas of the music present there.
TL: Spot on. Although it’s not, well it’s been with a year so I guess it’s new, you guys released Worlds Torn Asunder. Great album, how do you think the reception of the album has been so far?
JK: Strong. I am really proud with the record. I will say on the record here, I feel like it’s our best performance on record yet, and also our best batch of songs. I feel really proud of every song on there and everything on there has its cool little thing that I like about that song specifically. So I am really happy with how it turned out.
TL: I’d agree with that. There’s always something that makes a song memorable to not just press the skip button or you make a playlist without certain songs on it.
JK: We try to give every song its little moment or a bit of character to separate it from the rest. Definitely a focus on making the record and I think we pulled that off fairly well.
TL: I agree. I thought it was a really good album from last year. Still on the album, I was reading that Steve Evetts produced it. I did some digging and thought how could Warbringer be on this tour? I found he produced a few Symphony X albums, is that how you guys got on this tour?
JK: No it has nothing to do with it actually. It’s purely management, booking, and “jocking” for position on the tour. We ourselves, our part was to say yes we’re interested in doing this tour. Management and booking, who I feel we have a good team working for us, they got it done and we’ve been on this tour and it’s been successful.
DH: Week 5 or 6 now on the tour?
JK: It’s almost over. We have about a week and a half of shows left before we go home. But the tour is done in 2 days. We have half of that time left with Iced Earth, the other half with shows just by ourselves. But it’s been a really great experience. It’s been a long tour definitely but I’m happy we did it. Now that it’s pretty much done, I can say with full confidence that it has been a success!
TL: That’s all that matters!
DH: Do you have plans coming back out here for more than a 6 song set?
JK: We had half an hour which is more or less what we can fit in there. 6-7 songs if we push it. But often the 7 song set will go over and that won’t fly too well often. We keep it safe and conservative. But yes. The next tour we are main support with Destruction. We’ll be playing at least 9 or 10 songs, more of a solid set. For me that is an ideal length for this band. Well this being my only band (laughs) I feel like for the kind of music we play, the speed and intensity, if we play shorter, you don’t fully manage to get everything across. We haven’t been doing “Total War” a lot and people who know our band are like “What?!” I think after 9 or 10 songs we can get the point across, we can get the pure speed burners in, we can get the more different ones in, some pounding mid pacers. We can do a good selection of everything that we’ve done from all albums and get a few songs in from every album and end it before it gets tiring. This kinda fast music does get tiring; it’s physically exhausting for us to play and for the crowd if you are actively moving to it.
TL: Yeah my neck started hurting after 6 songs. Maybe I need to do some more crunches.
DH: I get to cheat out on the pits, I have to photo. Oh and I will get you those photos as well.
TL: One of the big stories I remember reading about was Adam leaving the band. Obviously an original member and its sad to see him go. But now you have Andrew stepping in, how’s Andrew been so far?
JK: Andrew Bennet’s been great. We’ve known that guy for years; he wasn’t a random that came in. He’s kinda one of those guys where he’s a sick guitar player but he just hasn’t gotten a band together. He wrote all this stuff, we talked music together, he sent me the music and it was all good. And so, when Adam left, he was one of the guys we had in mind to try out for it. He came in and pretty much nailed it. So we let him do it. One cool thing, he has a lot of heart, he is absolutely into what we’re doing. He’s not a hired gun at all. He’s known about our band since the first demos and he knows what we do. He fits right in. He understands completely what we’re doing. His style of playing is a bit more of shred I’d say than we usually had. But that’s fucking metal and that’s fucking cool for me. He loves it, his heart is in it. This is his first tour, actually first live shows really. We told him basically, “Hey man we know you, we know what you’re about, and we have faith in you that you’ll do this.” And he did. Im really happy how that turned out and I think we sound the tightest we ever have.
TL: Out of all songs that you’ve been able to play live, which has been your favorite, as of today?
JK: I’ve been saying since the new record came out, I’ll say “Living Weapon” my favorite. It’s a good example of the core essence of our band. It’s vocally fun and challenging to pull off for me. It’s got a lot of high screeches and sustained fast vocals, but it’s at that speed where the annunciation and delivery really matters. I really like doing that song a lot.
TL: That’s the best way to start off an album too. I remember I got to listen to it the first time. And after hearing that song alone I was like “Okay so let me put my seatbelt on because the rest of this album is gunna be fucking great.”
JK: Oh cool man! And I think that one totally when we wrote it, felt like an opener. For me, on thrash albums, I like those songs that do feel like they’re just gunna open things with a bang. Something I like quite a bit.
TL: Nice. On the other spectrum, what song haven’t you been able to play from your full discography live?
JK: We’ve been working on “Wake Up Destroy” to put in there pretty soon. It’s got strong mosh grooves going on in it. Compared to the recording, it’s just one tempo. But when we do it live there’s more fluctuation, the grooves kick in a lot harder when we do it live. “At the Crack of Doom” is a lot of fun. I love playing “Abandoned by Time,” which we have a hard time working in because it’s such a straight speed burner and it’s already really fast. I always, in my mind, have a hard time placing that in the spot where it’s really gunna stand out. I really love that song. We just have to put it in such a place that if we play straight fast for too long, it’ll go over people’s heads and wear them out. Oh and we need to play “Total War” we haven’t played it for awhile and that one is a bitch to do live (laughs) because it’s pure speed.
TL: I heard a ton of people calling out for it too but I knew it wasn’t gunna happen.
JK: It’s alright. But you know we’ve done “Combat Shock” every night. That one’s good and it’s fun to play. On this tour we chose not to do “Total War” regularly, but we have done it a few times. Just because, as you said, this is more of a power metal show where that is pure speed picking brutality. We have a lot of it anyways. Even some of our songs we’ve played that aren’t as speed picked as that, are still pretty goddamned speed picked and fast. (laughs) But that one literally is 4 minutes of sustained picking.
TL: Don’t want your hands falling off halfway through the tour!
JK: It’s not about that, we could do it. (laughs) More about can people keep up with it?
TL: Yeah. I mean, if you wanna show up in my backyard and play a bunch of fucking speed demon songs, that’s fine in my book.
JK: The set we played the other night was pure speed, which was nice. But we try to mix it up and to not be a one trick pony either. We put a lot of thought into our songs and we don’t want people thinking well this band can only do one thing. If you actually listen to our full albums, we tend to open albums with faster and aggressive songs. Especially the past two albums, the further you get in, the more progressive you get. It’s a cool element we try to show in our set as well. We played “Future Age is Gone” tonight and that’s a weird progressive number. I really like playing that song too.
TL: I thought it was great live. I agree. You’ve been on a good handful of tours since you guys basically surfaced out of the middle of nowhere, at least to my knowledge. Which band has been your favorite to tour with, or bands if there is more than one?
JK: I’d have to say partially because of my being a fan of them and partially how Kreator and Exodus were super cool with us. We party with those bands all the time. I also got to sing some of their classic songs, both of those bands. It was just a really great feeling altogether touring with them. Those, for me, if I made a Top 5 Thrash bands, both of those would be on it. That partially made it cool for me. We also stayed in touch with those guys and that’s cool. It’s really good to be able to call those guys friends as well as bands I like.
TL: Now I’m really angry I didn’t go to that show. I think it actually came through here (Worcester). I remember I had some friends up the street at Assumption College that said hey chill up here for the night after the show. But I turned them down because of my long commute from the South Shore and lack of a car, so I figure I’d hit up Kreator next time. I remember not knowing who you guys were; I looked you up, and was like holy fuck why didn’t I go?! But yeah, having said that you enjoyed touring with Kreator and Exodus; what bands haven’t you toured with that you’d love to tour with, alive or dead?
JK: Well… not around anymore… let’s say Dio and Thin Lizzy. Rest in Peace for both! Still together, I’d love to tour with Slayer. God I would love to play with Slayer. Even just in a local town bar doing an acoustic mic night, not that I’m against this kind of music, but just to satisfy my inner metal demons I will shout, “Slayer!” at those type of events. You know, just to let it be known that I want to hear something brutal at all times. I mean just shouting “Slayer!” means you just want to hear something fucking heavy.
TL: It’s great too when you have that one or a few people that are like, “Yeah! Slayer!” right back at you.
JK: Yeah and it doesn’t even mean that Slayer’s on. Shouting, “Slayer” just in general means you wanna hear something intense and heavy. I think it’s great how Slayer has come to stand for all of that. So ya I would love to tour with that band because I approve of all things that are intense and heavy. Slayer is kinda the ultimate forefathers and practitioners of all that is straight fast and brutal.
TL: Absolutely. Don kind of mentioned earlier, you mentioned the Destruction tour, do you have any future plans in touring?
JK: Yeah we’ll be touring all year. I can’t tell you anymore than that, but we are touring all year.
TL: Of course.
DA: Do you have any new songs already written?
JK: Nope. Touring. (laughs)
TL: (laughs) Yeah they’re too busy touring! Anyways, Don actually started up a page on our site a couple of months ago that is keeping record of different quotes by different musicians on their opinions of illegal downloading. Obviously, it has been mostly cons because, yes, it is a business. However, there have been a few quotes where musicians say things like, “Well it works well for us because it’s getting our music to people that can’t get our music and then they come out and support us at a show.” So what is your stance on this?
JK: Well, both. It’s a topic that’s been talked about to death and I’ve talked about it many a time. I’ll say that it basically means, because of the presence of the internet, we will never see a penny in my life from record sales. It’s just not going to happen. On the other hand, I, on a personal level, enjoy people listening to and liking my music and because of that I like any way they can get my music. It’s a contradicting mindset there I suppose but as far us now, we’re a band in the modern age that’s the way things are. That’s part of the reason why you see us tour so much because that’s the only way a band to make it now.
TL: Well said. When we ran into you downstairs right after you guys finished up, I had said, “Hey you guys were great.” and you said, “Thank you, I love doing this.” That makes it all worth it obviously. If you didn’t like doing it and you aren’t making that much money off of it, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.
JK: Yeah, I mean from touring, running a real tight ship, cutting corners, and working hard on ourselves… we do make a little money off of it. Not a lot, a little. It took a long time to get there and we’re trying to climb higher up that hill. I had this interview recently where I was trying to explain the concept of how I wanted to be successful at something I was passionate about and that I work hard at. This girl just didn’t get it. She was like, “Oh you don’t give a fuck about any of that.” And I said, “No. I am explaining how we do really give a fuck and that’s why we work as hard as we do.” She missed it completely and I laughed. But yeah, we do give a fuck and we work really hard. The way we make ourselves work, the business end, is really honest and forward. We try to play the best live show we possibly can. You won’t ever see us were I’m not headbanging my fucking ass off! Destroying myself because I feel it, I’m into it, and I’m not half-assing it. And neither is the rest of the band. We do not half ass it. We give a full on performance every single night, two to three hundred nights a year. We try to make ourselves work as a business in that way by providing a quality live show, every single night, to everyone who comes out. I think that’s a really honest way of making a living in doing something we love that has no compromise involved or any selling out. We’re just trying to make a living by playing heavy metal. It’s a long and hard road, we know that, were on that road, and we’re marching forward.
TL: Good. That’s it! That’s the goal right there. A long goal, but you guys show it out there. Yeah sure the sound guys could fuck up, but I can tell just from watching the performance you guys were giving it the most you possibly could. That makes a great band in my mind. Its one thing to record great music, but performing live is just as, if not more, important.
JK: When you come to a live performance it’s that. Sure knowing the songs helps, but you want to see the song performed with full heart. When you hear a song that you really like because of the feeling it gives you, you want to see how that feeling is projected live. You wanna see, hear, and feel it. That is the point of a live performance. If you do all that and go that… well I won’t say go that extra mile because I view it as you have to do that, it shows and it has a power to it that people can connect to.
DA: After our long discussion of Starcraft II previously (laughs) I realize that you like to learn, learn, learn, learn even as you were talking about your music. When you go in to the studio to record the next album, do you go in with a mindset where you want to learn new things and you want to one up yourself?
JK: We do have the mentality of one upping ourselves. Definitely. Every time we record we try to do better than the last time. Not that we disown earlier work, we view it as crucial to what we are, but we do try to learn and improve always. I think the moment you stop doing that, is when you’re dead.
TL: Agreed. Well, I am out of questions. I leave the last few minutes to you.
JK: Well I don’t have a few minutes of things to say, but I will say thank you for the interview, any listening, and keep it metal. See you out on the road.
TL: Thanks for your time tonight, John.
I’d like to once again thank John for his time for the interview as well as Century Media for setting it up! If you haven’t already checked out their most recent album, Worlds Torn Asunder, you should go treat your ears to some serious thrash! Also, check out Warbringer on the road this spring with Destruction, Vital Remains, and Pathology coming to a venue near you!
5/8 – Casselman’s – Denver, CO
5/9 – Beaumont Theatre – Kansas City, MO **with KITTIE, BLACKGUARD, THE AGONIST, BONDED BY BLOOD, PATHOLOGY**
5/10 – Reggie’s – Chicago, IL
5/11 – Blue Pig – Milwaukee, WI **WARBRINGER headlining with PATHOLOGY**
5/12 – Blackend Moon – Lansing, MI
5/13 – Music Hall – London, ON **WARBRINGER headlining with PATHOLOGY**
5/14 – Foufounes Electrique – Montreal, QU
5/15 – Imperial – Ancienne-Lorette, QU
5/16 – B.B. King’s – New York, NY
5/17 – The Met – Pawtucket, RI
5/18 – Maverick’s – Ottawa, ON
5/19 – The Rock Pile – Toronto, ON
5/22 – Kim’s Pixie Inn – Pueblo, CO
5/24 – Coach House – San Juan Capistrano, CA
5/25 – Ace of Spades – Sacramento, CA
5/26 – Metro – Oakland, CA
5/27 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR
5/28 – Venue – Vancouver, BC
5/30 – Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
6/1 – Ramona Mainstage – Ramona, CA
6/2 – Avalon – Santa Clara, CA
6/3 – Whisky – W. Hollywood, CA