Welcome to part two of the epic three part interview with Venom Inc.! Let’s continue, shall we?
Was there much awkwardness in the first few catch-ups as a trio, or was it overridden by the excitement of playing classic Venom songs again for the first real time in two decades/writing new music together again?
M: “Abaddon will say the same thing; the first time we met was in England for a thought session. There was a lot of trepidation on both parts; how is this going to be received, how are we going to be with each other? We’d had a phone call previously and we were honest with each other, saying “Right; if we’re going to do this, we need to put a lid on the box and bury it.” Like I say, it’s the old old story where every band has been through it; but unless you’re in a band and you’re there in that moment, you put their shoes on and walk a few miles in their shoes, you don’t fully understand what goes on in a band dynamic. But we agreed and said “Okay, let’s just see how this goes” because we didn’t plan any longevity; we just planned it day by day. But everything’s working out fine! On the musical side, I’m a bit of a lone wolf; I’ll write and write and write and write, so all the music on the album has been written by me; a large portion of the lyrics as well. When Tony came over here to Portugal to do bass and vocals, then we filled in all the gaps. It just wasn’t possible in the time frame that we had to do this album, it wasn’t possible for all three to get together in the same room; although as I said Tony and myself had to play together to get the vocals/bass/guitars done which was recorded in my place and the drums were recorded in Blast Studios in Newcastle before all the files were sent over to me so we could mix and master. It’s been a little bit of a different process in that respect, but even as far back as the early days, I’d always take a fully finished song into rehearsals, we’d play it and then it would go into a live set or onto the album; I mean 80-90% to Welcome To Hell and Black Metal is all my stuff as well, so like I say I’m like that. I’m not a control freak, there’s just very few people who I can work with on a song writing level; I’m a little bit a lone wolf when it comes to that, as I like to lock myself away to come up with ideas. I’m always open to criticism though; if people don’t think it’s fitting or it isn’t working, we’ll re-look at it. But at the end of the day, I’m happy with the outcome of this album. We’ve played the title track a couple of times at festivals; it’s been very well received, it’s been great. It was a bit of a testing time handling all those duties, but it’s what I do. I get so focused and tunnel vision on it to the exclusion of everything else; I mean my girlfriend (laughs whilst talking) is sitting in the corner nodding her head at the moment, because during the writing process of this album she would literally open the studio door, throw some food in and shut the door again; we didn’t see each other for months even though we live in the same house! It was a little bit stressful, but it’s what I do and it had to be done; let’s put it that way.”
When responding an off-hand comment to how even though he is a bit of a lone wolf, it’s most important to be open to criticism and work with the rest of the band to add the finishing touches, Mantas continued:
“I mean, absolutely; you’ve got to have a little bit of a thick skin when you’re a song writer. You’re gonna be told “this isn’t working and that’s not working”, I’ll argue my points and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose (chuckles) I think every song writer is like that; I’ve read interviews with the members of Queen and they would openly say how “they’re very precious about their songs” and it’s just the trait of a songwriter. Sometimes you’ll write something and think it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever written sitting next to another track that you think is okay; the okay one is the one that turns out to be the classic or the hit, so you never know what’s going to turn out! I’ve told this story a few times now, because I’ve been asked about writing Black Metal the song itself. The honest truth is when you get up in the morning, get your first cup of coffee, your first cigarette, whatever it may be and then you go take your dump; some people take a magazine, some people take a newspaper and one day I took a guitar, so I was sitting there and the riff for Black Metal came out. The song was finished within 10-15 minutes and I never expected that song to have the impact that it’s had; you never know when you’re gonna write something that everybody loves. Even reading the reviews about Avé, I’ve read so many reviews now; a lot of people are picking on certain songs but again you get unexpected things where this person loves that song but that person loves the other song and you never know, as you can’t please everybody all the time! The one thing that we have got as a band; you know there’s a lot of bands from the US Heavy Metal and just from the music scene that have one great song, if you go see them in concert you’re waiting for that one song; we’re very fortunate to be in a position to have a catalogue of those songs! It’s very difficult to choose a set-list, let’s put it that way; we never get away without playing ‘Black Metal’, ‘WItching Hour’, ‘Countless Bathory’, songs like that as the fans are going to demand them forever. It’s the same with one of my all-time favourite bands Judas Priest; when I go see them I’m waiting for ‘Victim of Changes’ even though I love everything else that they’ve done! We’re lucky enough to be in that sort of list of bands that have more than one classic song; how I don’t know because I’ve always said “I was just a kid from Newcastle, I knew a power chord and I knew the first position of the Pentatonic Scale; I just wrote some songs and I was lucky that people digged them”. I don’t want to think that the same thing is going to happen with Avé but when doing interviews we’re getting a lot of high praise, so let’s just wait and see!”
Further elaborating on how music can touch people in an entirely different way, Mantas took a deep breath and seemed to remember a time in which music touched his life:
“Music, it can take you back to that one moment in time; when you hear a song, you’re transported back to where you were, the touch, the smells, the feels; it’s an incredible media. You know, I’m in the process of writing a book; I got asked to write a book years and years ago about me, my life and my years in Venom; I’ve got shitloads of stuff written down, but finding the time to actually get it all together whilst we’re touring is difficult and time consuming but it will happen at some point! I actually put a callout to the fans and said there’s gotta be a chapter in this book where I want the fans to write their stories; it will be totally unedited, mistakes and all as it will be in their words, how they discovered Venom, what they think of Venom, what Venom means to them, the experiences with Venom, both good and bad, it doesn’t matter just send me stuff. I’ve had some incredible stories, absolutely incredible stories where the songs have gotten them through depression, illness, through awkward times in their lives. I got this one letter from a guy in Canada who was in the military; (sighs) he was under fire, he was actually under fire! I’m not going to say where, as it will come out in the book, but he was next to this American GI. These two guys had never met each other and as stated, there were bullets flying everywhere! Obviously, everybody is going to be scared in that situation, so he started talking to this American GI who he had never met; the subject came to music and they both found out that they had a mutual love of Venom and have been best friends ever since. It’s stories like that where you think “Jesus fucking Christ; I can’t even imagine that!”; the singer from Onslaught told me how he in a club one night, maybe thirty years ago and he had a Venom patch on his back. This young girl came up to him, took off his jacket and asked if he liked Venom, they’ve been married almost thirty years! Then getting to meet fans who say “Your music has touched me so much/it’s changed my life/you’ve got me through so much/you’re a legend”, I honestly find it overwhelming and all I’ve got to say is thank you so much! Because without their support, a band doesn’t exist; I wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be interviewing me, nobody would be interested in me and I’d just be another guy. I’m just so appreciative and I never take anything for granted and once again, it’s all because of the fans!”
Touching on the chapter in Mantas’ upcoming book and how after getting to meet bands after shows where they thank the fans for coming, this interviewer mentioned how easy it is to forget that they’re just normal people to; Mantas followed it up with:
“We’ve played in excess of 200 shows now and we’ve played some very small clubs where it’s been very very intimate; I’ve even had the local club promoters coming up and saying “I never thought I’d have Venom playing here; fucking hell you’re here tonight, what a privilege and an honour!”, but I’ll always say “No no no; it’s an privilege and an honour for me to be here and set foot on that stage to people who appreciate it”. It’s the bands and the artists who are in the privileged position; I don’t understand any of these so called rock stars who make all these demands and they won’t go on stage until this is right and this is right, or want rose petals in the dressing room and all that sort of bullshit; I don’t understand that, as there’s people out front there who have parted with their hard earned money to come see you, they’ve bought the CDs, the t-shirts, the DVDs, everything! We’ve had fans bring ENTIRE collections to a signing session; I know of certain individuals who will turn around and say “I’ll only sign one thing” and I’ll sit there and sign everything you’ve got, I’ve done it countless times! Tony said it perfectly when he said “What does it really take for an artist to stop for a minute, say hello and sign something; when for the fan that one minute might be the ONLY opportunity they ever get to see us, so who are we to deny them?” I just don’t understand these artists who can just walk past fans without saying hello or taking a few seconds; as an artist and musician myself, I know what it’s like after a show to get off stage all sweaty and exhausted (because we put everything into that show and leave ourselves onstage), want to get to the hotel to shower/get in the bus to get food or just relax because you’ve got to do it all again the next night; but still if there’s someone there, how long does that take for me to quickly sign something which will mean the world to that person? That’s what a lot of bands sort of need to realize; it’s not the fans that are privileged to get to see you perform or own your clothing, it’s actually you who is privileged to get out there and play music, do what you do and love for a living. If you’re making a living out of it, you’re even more privileged! There are a lot of people out there who have to do a 9-5 to make a living and I’ve got the upmost respect for that; I’ve done it a couple of times in the early years when we had to take a job to make ends meet and it’s not for me. I’ve got friends who are up at 6am, they’re in the traffic going to work and then they have to face the traffic coming home; how do they do it??”
Touching further on the upcoming book and that fan inspired chapter specifically, Mantas opened up with:
“I’ll be brutally honest and say I don’t know how to take the praise; I’ve said this to many fans “What can I say apart from thank you, thank you very much?” Even though they’re saying “wow you’ve changed my life, that was incredible etc.” (sighs) it’s just I wrote those songs. We’ve become close to a lot of our fans; there’s a lot fans now we consider good friends, some I’m in regular contact with. I don’t consider them to be fans anymore, they’re part of the family. I mean, I’ve stayed at people’s houses and had dinner with their families, it’s incredible; they take it as such an honour but I have to remind them that if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here, it’s as simple as that! Another thing about me; I’m quite shy and a bit of a reclusive, I’ve always said I’m pretty useless in social situations; even though there’s all these people in front of me when I have to get up and sing, it’s got to be done!
D: ““It was exactly that! From the minute we played the first song and heard the fan reaction, that was it. We just knew that whatever we did together has a kinda special quality for us and it seems to have it for the fans; that overruled everything else and we didn’t feel awkward; we felt comfortable, we supported each other as friends and as musicians on stage. That’s quite a pleasurable place to be in, and it’s been fun; that’s been the best thing about it. Music should be fun; it should be fun to listen to, it should be fun to play and it should be fun to enjoy to play to people. When we play live shows, the fans drive us and we drive the fans. It’s not like going to see an X-Men movie and saying “wow; those special effects were amazing!”; those guys get paid a lot of money to do that, but you’re just viewing something and being presented with something instead of being a part of it. When it comes to the fans; you are a part of this, you are important to us and you are the reason we’re here! It’s very important allowing the audience to have that accessibility; that’s the difference with us and it was easy because we enjoy it.”
A: “The other thing you have to remember about Venom is that there’s a lot of humour in the band; yes there’s a lot of dark lyrics and dark photographs/imagery around the band but there’s a lot of humour in this band as well. Sort of like a ‘Gallows’ humour; we come from an industrial area in the North East of England and that kind of humour and adversity, we’re pretty jovial like that. When we got together the awkwardness kind of feathered away pretty quickly thanks to the humour; that led to a lack of tension when it came to playing songs and writing songs, suggesting new songs to learn, well new old songs to learn. The tension kind of went away pretty quickly; yeah there’s always something in the background, but the tension was gone and the ease to play/write songs together was there from the beginning really.”
Touching further on the sense of humour that this interviewer found when talking to all three band members, Abaddon adds that “it’s a good buffer you know; I find that with a lot of bands from here, obviously with the bands around the time we came out, the humour is the same with all of them. We grew up in a very heavy industrial area and there were a lot of lay-offs which meant people losing their jobs. To have that sense of humour, it helps when you’re going through some stuff as a band; it helps pull you together and it’s really important! I think the booze helps also, but I think it’s good to have a sense of humour as well (laughs) We’re about having a party and a good time!”
How much did that initial performance at Keep It True impact the songs that ended up on Ave? Also, how good was it writing again without feeling the need to re-write another big breakthrough album?
M: Regarding the first thing; I don’t really think the performance at Keep It True had any impact on the tracks that ended up on this album or any bearing on this album, because at that point nothing was planned after it; we didn’t know what was going to happen. As for feeling the pressure to come up with something else, the one thing that I didn’t do when I was writing this album, was I didn’t go back and re listen to Welcome To Hell or Black Metal and think “I need a song like this or like that”, I didn’t do that. The one thing I think that has helped is that we’ve been out there playing, as they call them, those ‘newer’ classic Venom songs night after night, in excess of over 200 shows so we’ve gotten back into the groove of playing those things. I laboured over the music a lot and then, I had a conversation with Tony and he said to me “Do what you do, be who you are and play what you play; we don’t need any more than that!” Tony has said in the Nuclear Blast interview that “Jeff was just writing and writing and writing”; as I said before when I go into writing mode, I’m into overdrive and it becomes quite prolific. Tony had said “when you’re writing, I’m not even gonna jump in; if you need help mate I’m here, but what you’re doing is great!” and basically, that was the writing process for Avé. There’s no good looking back at those albums; they’re great albums and I love Welcome To Hell and Black Metal but those albums were moments captured in time and they’ll never be recaptured! There’s never going to be another ‘Countless Bathory’, there’s never going to be another ‘Live Like An Angel’ or ‘Angel Dust’; I hope to think I’ve progressed as a song writer and a musician but at the same time, I knew I had to keep it in that spirit and that’s what I aimed for, was to keep the spirit alive! One thing that I did take from the Keep It True festival; one of the tracks that ended up on YouTube (I can’t remember what the song was) but as the subtitle of the track was “The Heart and Soul and Spirit of Venom” and I thought that was perfect; within Venom Inc. you’ve got a founding member which is me, you’ve got a co-founder which is Abaddon and you’ve got a performer like Tony; who you need to remember was also a member of Venom for a good few years, a few albums and countless shows.”
D: “It was great! You don’t get many opportunities to have the freedom, but I didn’t actually us to do an album because I didn’t want us to have all that other pressure; finances, management, labels, timing and all of that kind of stuff. I think that sometimes it can put too much pressure on a musician to perform to a particular level; it can help the creativity by driving them hard, but it can also distract from the creativity by trying to second guess what the audience wants. You know, just this morning; someone said on Facebook that “I can’t want wait for the album” to which someone replied “well the album is shit”. I’ve replied with “what do you mean the album is shit; didn’t you like it?” and the response I got was “I’ve seen the video for ‘Dein Fleisch’ and I’ve heard ‘Avé’ and I don’t like them; I mean they’re okay but they suck.” to which I said “but that isn’t the album; that’s just a couple of moments from the album. That’s the point, you’re judging something from a moment”. That’s like your mum making you a meal, you taking one mouthful and you saying that you hate it; you haven’t even eaten it yet! I think people wish to judge me and that’s why I didn’t want to get into this sort of thing; we were playing the legacy of the band and the people were loving it but they wanted new music. So we approached it to be ourselves, not to try and make another Black Metal or Prime Evil or not to consider any of that; just to be who we are, play how we play, write how we write and the end result is the end result! If you like it, great; if you don’t like it, fair enough. If you love it, amazing; if you hate it, okay you have the chance to listen to something else, but don’t try to manipulate it! That was the freedom we were allowed; to just do what we wanted to do. The label supported that, the management supported that; they know who we are, they know how steady-minded we are and how we like to do it our own way, and that the result is the result. I hope people like it, but if people don’t that’s just the way it is. You can’t write an album for one person and if you try to write an album for somebody else’s tastes, you’re not going to succeed making the album you should be making! So to answer your question, we had the freedom and it was liberating to not feel any pressure to have to write a particular album a particular way; if it turned into another Master of Puppets then great, but if it just ends up being another album in the collection that’s good to. It’s just an honest album that is dedicated to the fans and it’s our way of saying thanks to them for driving us to tour the world and make new music again.”
When this interviewer mentioned how Mantas was talking about how you can have two songs sitting side by side and that the one you aren’t keen on ends up outshining the one you thought was going to be the next big hit; Dolan added his two cents on the topic.
“I remember the first time I heard Angel of Death when I waiting for Reign In Blood by Slayer who I love; it just blew my mind! The whole album when I listen to it even to this day, it still gives me the same feeling all the time. It was a great album for them and I would say it was some of their best work! Yet when I cite Slayer as being one of my favourites, I know people who say “Yuck; Slayer is fucking shit, I hate them!” and I can’t understand that. Mantas and Abaddon aren’t fans of Slayer either and I don’t get it, but that’s the thing about music; you can love what somebody else hates, sometimes your favourites are songs that people just don’t get, but that’s what happens with music. It’s the same as anything; you can go to a place on vacation that everybody else doesn’t like, or there’s a food that you eat that somebody else hates, there’s something you drink that people wouldn’t touch; that’s what makes us individuals as there’s something for everybody and you have to accept that. You want people to have a voice and express themselves and whether someone says that they fucking hate it or that they really enjoy it, both are valid opinions because they both show a great passion for music and music is passion. I think that people want so much to recapture moments of their lives; like when they were sixteen and they heard that first album by that first band. The great thing about music these days is that there is something for everybody; you can love black metal but hate deathcore, you can love deathcore but hate black metal, you can love both black metal and deathcore yet hate thrash; there are no rules to it! If the music makes you feel good, that’s all that matters and if it doesn’t you go find something else that does.”
A: “Because of the break and the period that we haven’t made records, it’s almost like doing the first one again. When we did Prime Evil after a break, Prime Evil had a similar intensity to Welcome To Hell. Both albums sound very different sonically; of course we’d learnt to play the instruments better by then and learnt to use our studio equipment better by then! This album Avé is kind of similar in that way to Prime Evil and Welcome To Hell; it’s a kind of a first of a batch if you know what I mean. It’s a new breath to old windows and it’s got that vitality and that soul about it; so it doesn’t feel that had it to live up to anything. We’re staying true to the ethos of the band and haven’t shifted too far from the true Venom feel.”
PART THREE IS NOW LIVE!!! CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING \m/