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Interview

Whitechapel Guitarist Ben Savage Discusses New Album "Kin"

Back in the 2000s, the metal scene was presented with a new and popular sub-genre named deathcore. Like many other styles that gain a large following, it received plenty of detractors, particularly from seasoned metal fans. But also like most styles which receive criticism, there's always one or two bands which gain the respect of even the most bitter of naysayers and almost certainly, the bands which received the most praise was Whitechapel.

Formed in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2006, the band are still going strong fifteen years later and are less than two weeks away from unleashing their latest album, "Kin." This eighth full length follows on from the previous release, "The Valley" and continues to see the band evolve their sound, songwriting and lyrical output. To find out more about "Kin," Metal Underground caught up with guitarist Ben Savage. You can watch the interview in full below.

Diamond Oz: The new album, “Kin,” is out on October 29th. It seems like it’s come about quite soon considering it was only announced at the end of August.

Ben Savage: I know, it’s nice. We’ve been sitting on this album since the last note was recorded in January, so we’ve been sitting on it for a good eight months and we’re ready to get it out.

Oz: Why has it taken eight months to release?

Ben: Just the mixing and the mastering and album art, which was started after the album was finished. I suppose that took about a month and also the vinyl printing, plus everything’s all backed up with the pandemic so it takes time.

Oz: What can you tell me about the title of the album? Where does that come from?

Ben: Well “Kin” is kind of a layered and heavy concept, so we tried to package it in the simplest word that we could. So we just brainstormed a lot of ideas and “Kin” seemed to be the one that fit the best because, “Kin” means “related to” and the album concept is a fictional story but also a non-fictional story. It deals with mental illness and it’s kind of like splitting personalities in two.

That’s what “Kin” represents. There’s two selves that Phil’s dealing with inside of him but they’re the same because it’s all in his head. Then when it starts dealing with the science fiction aspect of it, it deals with those selves actually being tangible beings battling each other while trading realities. The story that takes place throughout the record is those two forces: Phil’s true self and the evil self battling each other. That all formed from “The Valley,” you know, traumatic events kind of create deep shadow selves. It touches on philosophers and psychologists like Carl Jung, Ken Wilbur, they have studies about this sort of thing.

Oz: I think that’s reflected very well with the artwork and like you said, you took your time with that. It’s an oddly beautiful piece of art for such a ferocious sounding album. There’s the two figures facing off against each other but it’s not crystal clear, it doesn’t look like a wrestling card.

Ben: Yeah, well that’s one of the main reasons the artist, Jill, my wife, who’s like a fine artist. She has a degree in drawing and it was cool to bring her on. Once we had a concept in mind, we had an idea of what it should look like, which is half the battle, just having an idea and it takes a lot of commitment once you put that paint to canvas. You gotta know what you’re gonna do. We wanted some indistinct beings that kind of represent the souls within ourselves. We didn’t want them to have specific facial features so you can tell what it is. They’re kind of ambiguous spirits that are flowing like smokey particles like stardust or something and it kind of represents the thought static too.

Oz: It all fits in to what makes it such a really good piece of art, because it is very ethereal in a way and in another way it’s quite celestial, but it also kind of looks like an x-ray. So it really does fit well with the theme of the album.

Ben: Thank you. “Celestial,” that’s a good word for it. You know, you’ve got space, the final frontier, out there but you also kind of have infinite universes in your head too, so it can kind of be like a cephalic, celestial thing going on.

Oz: And you mentioned “The Valley” a moment ago. In what way is “Kin” different from “The Valley”?

Ben: There’s just more to go on. With “The Valley,” we wrote the music, not knowing that Phil was going to write the concept that he did about his childhood, so the music was just written as what we wanted to hear. Once Phil came up with the concept afterwards, we could kind of package the album art, the look and the feel and the horror themes off that. So that was a good jumping block to go off of when starting the new album, because we knew it was going to be a “Part 2,” a continuation of the saga. We didn’t know what he was going to write about, we just knew what we wanted to hear after “The Valley” ends and to do what’s closest. Like, “What is that next sound?” so it was kind of a jumping point from there.

The first song that we had the spark to continue writing was the first track on “Kin,” which is “I Will Find You” and that felt like what the next chapter should sound like and we just kind of finished the record from there. That’s just what got the ball rolling. Once you start working on one song, it kind of gives you confidence to work on other songs and piece them together,

Oz: Obviously, this is the first album with Alex on drums. He’s been with you for a couple of years as a live musician but I think this is his first album as an official member of Whitechapel. What is it that he’s brought to the table?

Ben: Well, he was just prepared. We’ve never been with a drummer that was more prepared to record. He had all the parts mapped out in his head and each part had about five other ideas that he could do so he had a bunch of ideas, but everything was already mapped out for him. We’d write the music and then he would add his thing to it which brought it to a whole new level. So it’s his professionalism and his attitude, he has a very positive attitude and just the way he plays, he hits super hard and he can groove and beat the hell out of the drums he needed to but he doesn’t over do. He just kind of compliments the part. Once you find a drummer like that, you need to hold on to them.

Oz: Absolutely. I mean, I know people that aren’t Whitechapel fans but they want to check “Kin” out because they know Alex from the bands he’s been with over the years. As for the recording process itself, were you able to come together to work on this or were you isolated and file sharing?

Ben: No, we didn’t. We social distanced and stuff when we weren’t working together but when we work together, we have to be in the same room or else the songs just won’t get finished, they won’t be at the fullest potential they can be. So we just did it how we do every album. We get together in a room, listen to the ideas and kind of distill. We all have to agree on something before it proceeds on to the next thing and that’s the only way we can work. If we had to shoot ideas back and forth through email it would probably never get done.

Oz: I think that kind of takes away the magic of it as well. Sometimes you’ll listen to an album and you can tell that it was all done via file sharing.

Ben: Yeah, it doesn’t seem threading together. It just seems like part then part then part. We want the album to be like an organic being in itself that kind of moves in and out and flows.

Oz: The only song I’ve heard thus far is “Lost Boy” and I really like it because it seems to have a grindcore edge to it. I don’t know if that was intentional…

Ben: Yeah, it’s kind of like an homage to the bands that influenced us when we started out. Bands like Necrophagist, The Red Chord and Beneath The Massacre, mid 2000s death metal bands that influenced us. It’s kind of an homage to that put through our eyes. We also added that cascading atmosphere in the centre with Phil singing and it creates images in your head. Someone told me it felt like you’re swimming in a deep sea and crawling through caves, then something opens up. Images, not like, “Oh this sounds like this band.” We just don’t want it to sound like one part sounds like this band and another sounds like that band, we wanted to thread it all together, seamlessly in a way. That’s kind of the hardest part of songwriting is the craft of it.

The first riff is kind of like a Tennessee owl, that’s where we got the inspiration from for that. It’s only native to where we’re from, so to kind of turn that into a riff sounds cool, and the harmonies of the song, which kind of feel like they’re pushing upwards, it sounds like it’s rising, then the third part sounds like it’s rising, then the riff descends. So that was kind of like dealing with opposites too, we had that in mind while writing, because “The Valley” is kind of descending so we wanted like opposite sounds. There’s little musical Easter eggs in there.

Oz: Just to wrap things up, what’s the plans going forward? Obviously it’s very touch and go in terms of tours and things like that and like you said, COVID has backed up a lot of scheduled for bands, so what’s the plan for Whitechapel right now?

Ben: We have a hometown show booked in December and then we have a couple of tours booked for next year, so we’ll see. We booked it far in advance because we’ve cancelled enough tours, so we wanted to book it far in advance just to make sure that things are better by then but there’s a lot of tours going on now which are doing great so that’s exciting. We’re just playing it by ear.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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