DATE OF INTERVIEW:
6th August 2015
ART LIBOON; DANNY WHITE
The 1980s Bay Area thrash scene spawned the likes of Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, Possessed, Forbidden and Heathen to name but a few. And then there was Mordred, a different metal beast entirely. Unleashing their debut album, 'Fool's Game', in 1989, which was predominantly characterised by a thrash aesthetic, albeit a more innovative one than the creative output from many of their Bay Area contemporaries, it wasn't until their 1991 sophomore album, 'In This Life', where they started to deviate from their roots. Bold, daring and ground-breaking, the cross-genre record was flavoured with elements of funk, hip-hop and soulful sways, fused to perfection with traces of their thrash origins and oozing compositional originality throughout. This stylistic diversity was further progressed and explored on their follow-up, 1992's 'Vision' EP, forever cementing their place in the annals of metal history as one of a small number of stateside bands from the late-80s/early-90s that took the genre into previously unexplored, pioneering sonic paths, alongside the likes of Last Crack, Cynic, Atheist, Watchtower and Mindfunk. Splitting in 1995, a year after their final album, 'The Next Room', the first release not to feature frontman Scott Holderby, it seemed Mordred's journey was over. Not so. 2001 and 2007 saw ephemeral reformations of key band members for a small handful of shows. However, in 2013, a more permanent reunion was announced, featuring the entire 'In This Life'/'Vision' personnel, apart from sticksman Gannon Hall. The first new Mordred material for two decades arrived the following year in the form of single 'The Baroness', which was accompanied by a UK summer tour. And, in the midst of working on further new songs for a forthcoming album, the band found themselves back in the UK in summer 2015 for another series of regional dates, including their first ever UK festival appearance at Bloodstock Open Air. Bassist Art Liboon and guitarist Danny White spoke to Metal Discovery in their dressing room about Mordred's past, present and future, a couple of hours before their headline show at Manchester's Academy 3...
METAL DISCOVERY: This is the second time you’ve toured the UK in two years since reforming, so was the UK always an important place for Mordred, and does it remain so for you now?
ART: Absolutely. Mordred, the name, the legendary figure was born, of course, in the UK… although we like the early stuff, the pre-Lancelot/ Guinevere bullshit. But, yeah, with regards to the band Mordred, the UK has always been very, very important. Our biggest support has been here and in Germany.
(Art Liboon on newly composed Mordred material)
"...we have a pretty stringent sorting policy in terms of what material is Mordred material and what material isn’t Mordred material...The stuff that we’ve chosen to play on this tour, in our opinion, is congruent with what the Mordred mandate is."
Art Liboon and Danny White backstage at the Academy 3 in Manchester, UK, 6th August 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Have you ever been to Cornwall, where all the Arthurian history’s based?
ART: Yeah. That’s how we started out. We started out as very mediaeval, but we had a different singer then; that’s before we were signed. Once that singer left and we got Scott, and the whole idea of that morphed into Mordred as not another villain, but the hero of people. The way the winners of the wars always change history, perhaps Mordred was really a good guy and wanted to serve Arthur. Arthur might’ve been a dickhead, no-one really knows!
MD: [Laughs] It’s all hearsay and myth, isn’t it, so no-one really knows. You’ve got Bloodstock in a couple of days, which I gather is your first ever UK festival…
ART: Yeah, that’s our first festival in the UK and we’re really excited about it.
MD: Did the opportunity never originally arise to play any UK fests?
ART: No festivals in the UK ever, I don’t think… no.
MD: What kind of crowds are you seeing at the gigs – presumably a lot of older fans are showing up who remember Mordred first time around, but are you attracting a new, younger generation of fan too?
ART: Some. Most of the younger kids who are coming are coming with their dads and mums who have seen us before. And it’s great because they’re loving it too. They like the high energy stuff, you know, as all younger kids do; they like thrash and the high energy, yelling stuff. And, yeah, parents are bringing their kids along and they’re loving it.
MD: You had a rather successful Indiegogo campaign last year to fund your tour, so were you surprised there was so much interest in Mordred all these years on?
ART: Yeah, absolutely. The fact that we were able to pull enough money to start touring again and get to see that there are still people out there who are still supporting the idea of Mordred was a big surprise for us because we had no idea.
MD: You ran another crowd funding campaign this year to help cover touring and recording costs, and it stated your aim was to have a new album ready by the end of July. Have you met that deadline?
ART: Our drummer did get injured so we got slowed down. When the drummer gets injured and slows everything down, it’s not his fault or something you can help, but we weren’t sure if he could really do this tour. So, now, maybe by the end of November or something like that.
MD: Have you had any label interest yet or are you going to wait until you’ve got the album done and then shop around for a label?
ART: We’re not sure. We’ll probably just get enough material for a record, demo it out and see what people think of it. We’ll probably shop around three or four songs.
MD: Gannon [Hall] isn’t part of the live Mordred lineup, but he still appears on certain websites as still being a current member of Mordred’s reunion since 2013…
ART: He does?
MD: Yeah. And Jeff [Gomes] is listed as just your live drummer. So is Gannon not part of Mordred at all now?
ART: No, Jeff is definitely a part of Mordred. He’s the Mordred drummer. Anybody who was ever in Mordred who was never kicked out is always welcome to come back to Mordred in some capacity. You know, if Alex Gerould wanted to come back and write a song… always welcome. If Sven Soderlund wants to play a couple of songs live… always welcome. Anybody who wasn’t actually kicked out of the band is always welcome to come back and do something with us. Gannon’s always welcome to come back and write lyrics, if he wants. That’s the Round Table for us.
MD: I gather he lives in Europe now?
ART: He lives in New York.
MD: Ah, I read an interview with him from five or so years ago and he was living in Europe then.
ART: Oh, when he was living in Geneva or something… Zürich or somewhere like that.
MD: So how did Jeff become involved? Where did you find Jeff?
ART: He was a friend of Scott’s. Scott introduced Jeff to our scene and he came on board pretty much immediately. We didn’t even have to audition anybody else. Jeff just came around and started playing the stuff. He was able to play ‘The Artist’ on the first day without even hearing it and he hit his drums harder than hell, so we just said, “let’s work with this guy” and that’s how it started.
MD: Have you given him a little creative freedom with Gannon’s parts, or is he remaining 100% faithful to the original songs?
ART: Yeah, he’s free to interpret anything that he wants so long as he understands what the parts are. If he understands the function of the parts then he’s free to interpret those how he wants.
MD: I gather you’re playing some new material during this run of shows, so how have those songs been going down with the audiences?
ART: They seem to be loving it, simply because we have a pretty stringent sorting policy in terms of what material is Mordred material and what material isn’t Mordred material. And the songs that we’ve been playing, the songs that we’re all digging, much of which Danny has written. Danny’s been bringing in songs from the time he joined from all over the place; it can be any style that Danny can play. The stuff that we’ve chosen to play on this tour, in our opinion, is congruent with what the Mordred mandate is.
MD: It’s a long time since you last composed music for Mordred so did it take a while to get back into the songwriting vibe, or was it a natural process to start composing again?
ART: It is difficult. We are used to being a band, unified, all playing in a room. We used to practice five times a week, back in the day; you know, all of us were there, always, jamming and coming up with stuff. Now, it’s different. Dan lives far away and we tried this thing where we send songs over and then we mess with it or just playing it. It’s not exactly how we do it. Like, for example, when Dan comes, then we all play as a band, and that’s when we really learn the songs that he’s come up with, if you know what I’m saying. But we’re just learning how to adapt to this right now. It’s been going okay but, you know, doing this ourselves, the way we’re doing it, everything’s a little bit slowed down than normal.
MD: So, back in the day, when you had those practices, did some of the material come out of those jam sessions; like, mutually composed?
ART: Yeah, a lot of the stuff, particularly near the end, in 1993. There were still songs being written by individual members that they’d bring in and we’d all work on it. You know, it was a mix of different ways of writing, but we were always in one location so it was very simple.
MD: Last year’s ‘The Baroness’ was the first taste of new Mordred material, which I think sounds both fresh and retro...
ART: Oh, thank you.
MD: But then a lot of your music from back in the day still sounds incredibly fresh, so it’s timeless in that sense…
ART: Are you going to be in the pit?
MD: In the photopit?
ART: Are you gonna be in the mosh pit tonight? That’s my question for you, buddy!
MD: I’ll be in the photopit for the first three songs, and then I’ll have this heavy camera bag on my back, so we’ll see!
ART: Come on!
MD: I’m here for the whole gig, so we’ll see! So, in terms of ‘The Baroness’, it’s seems as if time’s stood still and this is the natural continuation of the old Mordred.
ART: Does it?
MD: I think so, yeah. Does it also feel like that for you?
ART: That was part of our mandate, that’s who we are. We want music that will not be so different to scare away people familiar with our sound. We want to keep it congruent with that because, for us, that was fun stuff to play; the stuff that no-one had heard back then at that time. It was the fact that we were known for having a different sound from the Bay Area. It was important for us to stay along that line but, also, so much time has passed. We don’t want to be so different from everything; we want to be pretty much in line with what we had been doing.
MD: Everyone seems to use the phrase “ahead of their time” when you read about Mordred, which can only ever be an opinion with hindsight, of course, after a particular style of music has become more commonplace and popular. But was it frustrating for you to see other bands achieve greater success for styles of music that you pioneered?
ART: Not really. We don’t really hear us in other bands. We see that other bands have a DJ or whatever but they don’t sound like Mordred. I think we were sticking a lot to our traditional Bay Area thrash roots more than a lot of other bands taking it more to the hip-hop, Krush Groove style… which is cool, it’s just not what we were.
MD: There was so much interesting stuff coming out of the states back in the late-80s/early-90s, with bands trying to push the boundaries of what it meant to be a metal band – Atheist, Cynic, Watchtower, Mindfunk, Last Crack all spring to mind…
ART: I love those kind of bands.
MD: So did you see yourselves as part of a more radical, left field movement in metal?
ART: Super progressive music? No, no. We were pretty much just a thrash band that had, maybe, more political lyrics than the esoteric stuff, and that’s just how we ended up because that’s what we liked playing. We all love different variations of where punk music stands; you know, it’s kind of important for us to keep that raw edge.