Interview With Alan Averill Of Primordial At Metalheim 2011
Band Photo: Primordial (?)
I sat down and had quite a long chat with Alan on the second day of the Metalheim Festival. Primordial has just released the album Redemption at the Puritans Hand and we had quite a lot to talk about! Alan shared with me his opinions of the metal scene today, as well as the difficulties musicians face in the long ladder that is the music business.
So great to meet you, I’m Rachel with Metal Underground. Introduce yourself for our readers?
I’m Alan from Primordial.
So you guys have had a busy year, a reissue of and album, another full length release. How have things been going?
Um its ok! We’ve been going back and forth all summer, playing festivals. 15 or 16 something like that. We did a small tour with Alcest and While Heaven Wept. It’s just keeps on going, we had the Album come out in March so we’ve been playing gigs. It’s just the same shit different year. The shows are bigger, there’s more people. As for the reissue of the album, we are issuing the old stuff, but we are having problems with the old label ripping us off.
So with a different label then?
No, we own the rights to the first four. Theoretically. And the reissue is through MetalBlade. But it’s the same old crap. Bands are usually at the end of the ladder, bottom rung. Everyone else thinks they should collect before they give it to the bands. Everything is good with MetalBlade but before that we have a bit of a history of being ripped off. Usual shit! The uncomfortable mix between art and business.
Does it take a bit of the fun out of making music when you have to deal with that?
O yeah! Well dealing with cunts takes the fun out of almost anything. But people have to become used to the fact, and when you are young you sign contracts and you are naïve. You are just excited to make a start in the music business you have no idea about things like publishing and what you are entitled to. It’s just the way things are. Standard record contracts haven’t been changed in 50 years since the early blues guys were ripped off by unscrupulous businessmen. Same crap, from 40-50 years ago. I’m changing now, in the respect that people don’t really need labels anymore. You can cut out the middleman and put the music out over the internet. But at the same time I think we can probably scratch the word musician off potential occupation at least in the next five years for most people. Yeah it’s really hard to make a living that way, especially when everyone gets a cut before you. It’s all across the board, the average festival wants 30% of merchandise for doing nothing. Whats happening is the old bands they are charging so much money for playing that everyone in the middle gets squeezed. Once the Maidens and the Priests fan retires which will be soon, theres no one that will take their place. The 90’s was the last era of rockstars, there’s no big bands anymore, big will be like 200,000 not 2 million. Unless you are Lady Gaga.
Well good that you aren’t though!
I don’t mind her actually! I’ll tell you what, she’s bang into heavy metal actually.
I can see that! I saw a video where they mixed her with Behemoth, and that was just great!
Well that’s nothing to do with them or her. But I know the guys from Enforcer and they actually told me she emailed them and ordered a cd and a t-shirt from them, and put them on the list for her gig in Stockholm.
I heard she tried to inquire about bringing Amon Amarth on tour with her.
That would be amazing. She does have damn good pipes.
But I’ve digressed. But the music industry is fucked. So everyone is just scrambling to find a way, wondering how can we make money from this. And as you can see, at the moment they record buying demographic is men between the ages of 30 and 55 so it’s a constant reissue of box set of Grateful Dead, box set of Pink Floyd blah blah floggin’ the same things and it’s the same thing when you look at the big promoters. The only thing you can’t replicate is the live experience. It’s a constant struggle dealing with, and to be honest unless you get money up front chances are you aren’t going to see it. For example we show up at a gig in Finland to find the label that is not allowed to sell our cd’s is selling them behind our back and we never got paid for any of it that kind of stuff.
It is but people rely on the fact that even if you know what they are doing you don’t have the money to follow through. I mean first the legal consultation in Ireland would be 400 an hour. So about 400 euros might be spent just to get the same amount of money back and it could take years. Generally our attitude is that you pay us up front or we don’t go and it’s unfortunate that we have to be like that.
So you are finding that you have to be a bit more cynical?
Sure but we still don’t make a living.
Well let’s talk about writing. So if we are thinking about where you get the bulk of your inspiration from where would that be?
Hmm well I can’t tell you anymore I don’t know. Its anything really, when I have to write I write, They aren’t written around anything, someone will come in during rehearsal when we have something to do and try to figure out the atmosphere, what would fit. And an awful lto of it is traveling, meeting people. The last album is very much influenced by growing older. Your faith, relationship to religion, which is for me none. But observing other people, about the shortness of life. It’s a bit more personal, a bit more morbidly obsessed. And then of course you throw in your cultural themes, your history. It could be anything really you know?
So far as culture, how does it feel when you are touring in States, and to be sharing your culture with a lot of people who may already have that background? It’s a bit different then Finnish bands who introduce new culture, but since we have such a large Irish population, how does that feel?
Well on a very straightforward level, I really like America. A lot of misconceptions are generally from Europeans who have either never been there or have never been outside. If you do a song like coffin ships which is about people who have left Ireland, mostly for America and then you are playing that song to that wider diaspora of people who can trace their roots back 2 or 3 generations to Ireland and is important. It’s a very powerful thing! I think there’s more sort of Irish diaspora then there are Italians in America.
Um so yeah, its interesting! And it’s a great shame we’ve only managed to do it once. We’ve been offered like five since that Paganfest tour, but it’s a highway to nothing. It’s so fucking hard because in Europe you get a financial offer, and that’s it, that’s your money. In America you get an offer and all of a sudden the promoters take visas, flights, bus, catering;everything from your fee. In America its very much the bands risk, whereas in Europe it’s the promoters risk. Which I think is the way it should be, because if they book you it’s their risk. In America everything is like that. But that particular Paganfest tour was discontinued.
Yeah it wasn’t bringing in the crowds they wanted, only like 500 or 600 people which in America I think is really good. Many tours in America get 40 – 60 people.
Well Metal is certainly making a comeback in States. So far as that society goes it seems like people are becoming very interested in these European Pagan metal bands, maybe rediscovering their roots. Why do you think that is?
Well there’s a couple reasons why. Trend, heavy metal trend. Ten years ago it was power metal, or 20 years ago black metal. Trends come and go, and Pagan metal just happens to be the particular trend at the moment. Its language, its syntax or whatever you want to call it, its vernacular is tailor made for heavy metal, It’s a fantastical romantic view of the past where muscle bound warriors save damsels in distress and do heroic deeds and fight dragons. It’s not too far removed from the power metal fantasy in that respect. And you can see that the grimmer bands the darker bands generally aren’t as popular because that’s just not necessarily what most people actually want. The party bands do better than serious bands,. But at the same time you know if you ask me if bands like Korpiklaani are very generally Pagan , they are in a very simple way, a very wild eyed and joyous way. It’s a different way than I would look at it, or I would want to play music but you need light and shade. It’s just that the problem is that you’re considering the google generation, kids with very short attention spans and they want ot take what they like and they have no concept of heavy metal. You meet kids, and they like Turisas, Finntroll, Korpiklaani and well their attitude is “why would I want to listen to Dio?” or they don’t know who Bathory or Samoth or Venom or Celtic frost. When you tour Europe these Finntroll kids walk out of bands they don’t like, out of bands like Primordial and older people would stay outside for Finntroll. So you have a standoff of about 200-300 people.
Not very open minded.
Well the kids aren’t open minded, and as for the older people, they know heavy metal and generally the Pagan metal scene is musically very lacking for them. Like I don’t like a single band, with the exception of maybe bands like Enslaved, darker stuff.
The Blacker stuff?
Yeah, well it’s that, and I don’t consider Primordial Pagan metal, but originally the very first Pagan metal bands were band like ourselves; Hate is Almighty, Enslaved. They came from Black Metal. But at the same time for someone who’s an old cynic like me, I still think when people get into something cultural it’s still better then singing about killing prostitutes or zombies.
If that’s your gateway to something with a little more substance that’s good! And on another level I think that there’s some small sub cultural Zeitgiest under this, and that is that people are tiring of their normal social conventions, and moral and there is some small subconscious movement towards what is a religious or spiritual structure that makes more sense.
A return to humanism, and nature rather?
Yeah! And I don’t know if that’s a high concept that we are attaching to low art, you know what I mean? But on a subconscious primal level you can see that. And that’s what heavy metal should do anyways.
Yes, it should remove you, and take you somewhere else.
And I don’t know if I agree with that, because for me the reason I’m into heavy metal is things like alienation, darkness, aggression . It’s the dark things, underbelly of society for me its not escapism, romanticism. Of course it can be. Manowar is escapism. Now in the 80’s in Ireland the reason we listened to heavy metal, thrash metal, is because it was a violent society.
The era between disagreements with the South and England?
Well I don’t know if it was that, but we were a poor second class society. You know Kreator, Posessed: that was the most aggressive music we could get our hands on.
So would you say that peoples’ personal experiences and personal occurrences affect what they take from music?
Sure! I mean most of the pop bands that are popular because heavy metal has ceased to be a working class movement. The middle class, upper class concern and if you look at Europe in the alst 20 years, where it has essentially (well we are in a recession now) but had successfully in the late 80’s gone from a post cold war climate full of poverty to eradicating poverty. For your average white middle class kid in Europe. Heavy metal reflects that, and that is why rubbish like NIghtwish and Within Temptation in popular. Now, for me that couldn’t have flown in 1988, because that music says nothing to the young me. I wanted violence, I wanted darkness, I wanted retribution and retaliation, that’s what I wanted out of heavy metal: brutality. Kids don’t want that anymore, they want a nice safe melody to sing along to. Back in Ireland we call it coffee table concerns, the middle class coffee table music. So to me all the interesting music in metal now has been made in the underground. I have no interest in any of the mainstream bands; I usually don’t even look at the bands we play with at the big festivals, I just don’t care. Unless it’s Judas Priest something old, or something real from the 70’s or 80’s. What am I going to watch Archenemy? What it is now, is the emasculation of heavy metal.
Heavy metal is men’s music, whether you like it or not its typically white middle class male’s music. And that’s what attracts women to it. And now all the biggest bands are female fronted, gothic metal bands. The society has changed.
It’s becoming more equal?
And people like that. The point I’m making is that the original blueprint of heavy metal has been diluted into the mainstream, and that modern mainstream, heavy metal is often a pastige of what it was originally. It has ceased to be soley for the working class, now it’s gone into the upper class in many respects. And I hope the recession will change things, because people make better music when they have to struggle.
So you could say desperation breeds creativity?
Yes! And you hear this in Primordial. This is not music made by people just because we have guitars and want o play riffs; that is not why we did it originally. It was formed by the society around us.
So what do you want people to take away from a Primordial gig, what experiences and ideas do you want them to have, or understand?
Well the first thing is that the gig in itself is a form of theatre. I’m not an entertainer, but it should be entertaining. I consider myself an artist, not pretentious as such, but the real essence of a proper heavy metal gig should be adrenaline and energy, and also be able to move people with emotion from the content of the songs.
Well you have this very raw, almost primal voice; I think that certainly is a part of it. For you what was the reason to do these clean vocals over more of the growls, or harsher styles?
Never interested in that really. Even in our first rehearsals there was an attempt at a style of singing inspired by like Celtic Frost, Pandemonium, Nemesis. I was always wanting it to me then just that. It just seemed the best way to convey the emotion, or to convey what you are trying to do in a better way. And I never made any pretenses of trying to say I’m the best, or technically this or that or the other. But you have to at least to be a singer sing every time as if it’s the last time, and if you mean what you sing, it shouldn’t be hard to become involved or moved by what you are doing. I couldn’t stand up there and sing about how much beer I drank, how many women I fuck, or fast cars or zombies or killing prostitutes. I couldn’t do to because for me it would be like, well I don’t have kids but, if I had kids and they were ten or fifteen years old I wouldn’t want them to be like this is what you wasted 20 years doing? Singing about gore grind. And no offense to those bands, it’s just not my thing, but to me it would feel like a wasted opportunity.
It’s good that you have such strong opinion because it seems many people don’t. Do you think it’s that don’t have or are afraid to share them?
Probably the first. If you are a bunch of fucking boring guys, then your band is boring. It’s not a problem, it’s that you are a hobbyist. You get a bunch of guitars, stick that riff there, it’s not a problem. And I don’t ask everyone to be like Primordial, or to be as difficult as me. Btu yeah it is, and I’m also at the age where I just really don’t care. I may have pulled punches years ago when I was 26, but now at 36 I don’t really care if someone from another band doesn’t like what I say. And all the Pagan metal bands we’ve toured with, I’ve made it known that “Well I don’t like your music, but you guys ar fucking cool”. I would tour with Finntroll forever, Korpiklaani is awesome. They are all fucking brilliant guys. And you see people bitching, like “O why is Alan out drinking with Finntroll, he doesn’t like them?” but who cares? I’m just to old to care what people think. I understand that we’ve become in a modern society that often has very little personality. And some people kind of hold me up as a poster boy for being outspoken, or a bit of a cunt.
Well isn’t it outspoken people who get the brunt of public criticism?
Yeah sure! But you need people. The scene needs personality. And you have to take maybe what Niklas from Shining says with a pinch of salt, but I love him he’s a great dude. I don’t believe everything he says, but he’s knows I don’t. He’s a character. The scene need bands like Watain, needs bad motherfuckers. People gravitate towards each other. If the future is Epica forever, I’d fucking hang myself.
Understandable! And it’s differences that make people interesting. So can I ask you to leave our readers with some last words?
Some Pearls of Wisdom?
Absolutely, I like that!
If you see yourself as a performer, then you will recognize yourself in Primordial. If you like the same old crap, you are reading the wrong interview. We never set out to be the biggest band, or the best band. This is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the confines of whatever the mainstream will throw at you. And we know, the exception to the fact is that we are not a small band anymore. We are just cynical old cunts.
Rachel Roth has studied classical music and folk music at the University level, and enjoys studying Folklore in her spare time. She is an avid metal fan lucky enough to be living in Helsinki, Finland, where she now studies social work. Currently, she has expanded her love of music to include photography and freelance writing. You can see more of her photography here.
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