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23rd April 2012
Ahead of two rare UK headline shows at the beginning of May (their last being at the Underworld in London some four years ago), Primordial frontman Alan 'Nemtheanga' Averill spoke to Metal Discovery about the forthcoming performances, his mysterious voice loss during Bloodstock Open Air in 2011, the themes central to latest album 'Redemption at the Puritan's Hand' a year on since its release, as well as his what he currently considers to be a musically vacuous Pagan Metal subgenre...
METAL DISCOVERY: You have the two UK shows coming up which always feels like a special occasion for your English fans because you obviously don’t play over here that much these days. Is there a sense they’ll be special occasions from your point of view as well?
ALAN: Yeah, as you say, shows in the UK always feel like that. Back in the day, in the mid-late 90s, and even up to 2003, we played maybe four or five dates in the UK and Scotland and Wales but, since then, the band has changed and shifted record labels and all that kind of thing. We’re a bit older now with a different set of responsibilities and…what can we say, playing in Swansea to thirty two people on a Tuesday just doesn’t happen anymore. It can’t happen anymore, to be honest.
(Alan Averill on his spontaneous voice-loss during Primordial's set at Bloodstock Open Air last year)
"…I guess touching, yeah, you could say that because you could just hear everybody singing back and the rest of the band were like, “wow, this is actually something very special”. It was cool to hear everybody sing."
Primordial - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Gareth Averill
MD: That’s fair enough. So do you have any setlist surprises planned at all?
ALAN: Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing this evening in a couple of hours; we go off and we figure out what to do. When you’re on a tour or at a festival there’s a bit more constraint and you don’t get much more than an hour, tops. Sometimes you get forty which, for us, is only five songs. So now that we have a bit more time we’re gonna try and figure out if there’s some old songs…unusual ones; different, odd things that we can fit in.
MD: When you’re talking older songs, do you mean from the first couple of albums too?
ALAN: Yeah, what we usually try and do is play at least one from each of ‘em. It’s much easier at a club show like that which is longer. It’s more difficult at a festival to try and maximise your impact where playing something from the first album means that ninety per cent of people are gonna go, “what the fuck are they doing?”! But it’s okay because, for a lot of bands, when they play at festivals, people just want to hear stuff from their first two albums…we have kinda the opposite thing going on! [laughs] Which is cool in a way. But, yeah, we’re gonna try something different at the two UK shows.
MD: You have so many albums and so much material now that you can’t please everyone, I guess, whatever set you come up with.
ALAN: No and especially not if you have songs which are all between six and ten minutes long; it becomes more difficult.
MD: Obviously the last time you played over here, you suddenly lost your voice at Bloodstock…
ALAN: Yeah.
MD: But I thought there was a real good display of metal solidarity because the whole audience stayed for the duration and everyone was singing along. You looked quite touched by that whole reaction but, obviously, it must’ve been pretty frustrating as well?
ALAN: Yeah, it was very strange. I don’t really know what happened. It’s never happened to me ever. I mean, obviously, I’ve been on tours where your voice has been a bit ragged from singing for twenty odd days in a row. But it’s very strange; it was basically from one line to the next and it just disappeared. It didn’t just disappear…I couldn’t even whisper. I looked up some stuff about it and there’s something called ‘temporary vocal cord paralysis’ which is very similar to…I suppose it works in the same way if you hurt yourself pretty badly, your brain will cut off the pain. It seems to have been almost an allergic reaction to something in the smoke from the smoke machine. I do remember it being so dense and at one stage we couldn’t even see the crowd which is very strange for the middle of the day!
MD: In the sun!
ALAN: Yeah, it was very weird and, of course, very frustrating at the time. It was just a horrible feeling because you wait so long to be able to play an open air festival in the UK and then this happens three songs in. But, as you say, in another way, I think for people who’ve seen the band and who are into the band, it’s something very unusual which I guess they’ll remember…maybe not for the reasons I would prefer them to remember it for! It was not like we were gonna storm off or anything like that; I just kinda said, “we’ve got to keep playing and hopefully it’ll come back”.
The thing is, if we’d been playing…I could start to make a bit of a noise by the end of it so if we had another fifteen or twenty minutes the chances are I probably could’ve been able to sing again. But, you know, it’s sod’s law. I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of gigs but this is the only time it’s ever happened. So after all the fuss of us being on and not being on the bill, this happens. I guess that’s sod’s law really, isn’t it!
MD: Yeah, like if you’re a guitarist and break a string then that’s repairable but if you’re a singer and your voice goes then what the fuck can you do.
ALAN: There’s nothing you can do but if you really dig around on the internet you’ll find videos of it happening to Dio, David Coverdale and lots of people so I figured okay, well, you know… [laughs]
MD: It’s happened to the best!
ALAN: Yeah, it’s really unfortunate and, like I said, it’s never happened to me ever at any other show but what can you do.
MD: I guess it was a rare chance to hear some Primordial songs played live in instrumental form.
ALAN: If we’d really been thinking, what we should’ve done is given our drummer a microphone and set that up because he can sing very well but, at the time, no one thought of it. To be honest, it was…I’m not sure touching is the right word I’d use, it was more…I guess touching, yeah, you could say that because you could just hear everybody singing back and the rest of the band were like, “wow, this is actually something very special”. It was cool to hear everybody sing.
MD: So is there a sense you’re making amends for your UK fans with these two UK shows next month?
ALAN: Oh, it’s a combination of things. A long term friend of ours started to work in the UK putting on gigs; an Irish friend of ours in metal events here and he just said, “look, I’d like to try and book Primordial in the UK…the sales are pretty strong and ever since ‘To The Nameless Dead’ the sales have been going up and you’ve been playing hardly any shows there.” He said, “okay, I know you guys don’t want to do a week of playing in lots of different places on a Monday or Tuesday”…which we still have some bad memories of! [laughs] I don’t know if it would be any different now. I think the climate, maybe in the UK, is a bit different to ten years ago in that it seems more healthy to be able to play Manchester or Liverpool or Nottingham…I see those names pop up now when you look at what’s happening there. In the old days we would’ve had horror stories of forty two people and thirty five people but for certain kinds of music it seems to be picking up. I guess for this Pagan Metal thing, people are more interested in that than some other kinds of things.
But it’s a mixture of just having somebody there who just wants to organise and push these things through and also, to some degree, attempting to make some kind of amends for what happened at Bloodstock. Obviously that’s an awful lot more people but we’re trying to do proper club shows and have proper supports. We are very aware of the fact that people do get sick of…you know, we get a lot of messages saying, “every time we see you guys it’s a forty five to fifty minute set, either on a festival tour or a festival”. Club shows are actually probably rarer than our festival shows these days, especially in Europe. It’s rather a sign of the times that festivals are killing touring really.
MD: Yeah, I guess at a festival people can get a quick hit of one band and then move on to the next band.
ALAN: Well, it’s very strange and a negative situation in a way, especially in mainland Europe. I mean, are you gonna get in your car and drive on a cold, rainy Tuesday night, an hour and a half or two hours from Hamburg to Bremen or vice versa to see a club tour of three bands that you’re probably able to see sitting in the sun with your mates having a beer in the summer? I understand and it’s a bit of a no-brainer but I think, probably, people aren’t understanding the implications of it. And because of the ridiculous fees that bands in the top five to ten per cent at festivals are charging, and they are ridiculous; people have no idea, there’s like a veil of secrecy over it.
MD: I’ve heard about some of the fees and I know what you’re saying.
ALAN: Well, you know, let’s just say that Manowar can charge over a quarter of a million Euros. I do know of them being paid nearly twice that. Anyway, that’s just an example. It’s absolutely ridiculous and, what it does, it means that all the bands in the middle and the bottom…well, at the bottom, you have to play for free because, hey, there’s an audience there. But going from playing for free to ever getting paid is very unlikely and then what happens is that all the bands in the middle just get squeezed and squeezed and squeezed and, not only that, all the festivals want to take twenty to thirty per cent of your merchandise. It’s a calculated risk on their behalf. They’ll offer you a third of what you’re supposed to be offered and if you sell X amount of t-shirts then you pay for yourself to play. But these are all things that, for some reason, nobody is allowed to say! [laughs]
MD: Apart from yourself now!
ALAN: Well, I’m getting to the stage now…there are certain things, even for myself, I realise you’re cutting off your nose despite your face kind of thing. Even despite the age that we live in with the internet and instant information age, there’s still this veil of secrecy and people like to…you know, we had this huge argument with Bloodstock, it’s no secret as it was on their forum, and what surprised me was the percentage of people, even on the forty to fifty pages of the forum when I looked at it, who were still like, “how dare Primordial announce this is public” and, “what do you mean they wouldn’t want to play for free?” And it’s like, really?! Do you really not have any clue of what’s involved to get five middle-aged men with a twenty year history of playing music with kids and mortgages to come and play for you for free?! It just doesn’t work like that! [laughs]
MD: That’s crazy. Very crazy.
ALAN: Yeah, it’s a rather longwinded answer but there’s this weird veil of secrecy over the way things are. I’m not gonna fucking spout this and spout that but the point I was gonna make was that if people ultimately make the decision to not go to a club show then you are basically killing an awful lot of middle bands’ only income that they have from performing. You can see this in America already. There’s almost no point in touring America for an awful lot of bands with the amount of red tape and bureaucracy that goes on there. Also in Europe, yeah, I can see it in German shows sometimes with the exception of Pagan Metal but that’s where you get your six to eight band festival bills.