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22nd February 2016
In existence for over a decade, Devonshire alt-metallers Sanguine have been creating more buzz in recent years than a swarm of agitated honeybees having a particularly bad day in an overpopulated beehive. Aided by a run of good fortune and random breaks, it certainly doesn't harm the CV when the likes of Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith phones your singer to request she provides vocals for his latest project; or when ex-In Flames axeman, Jesper Strömblad, personally invites you to collaborate with him on some new music; or landing a coveted support slot at a Megadeth show; or performing at the Download Festival four years ago... the list goes on. However, it was the Strömblad/Sanguine collaboration that led to the band recording their latest album, 'Black Sheep', in In Flames very own IF Studios in Gothenburg, which was released to rave reviews at the end of January this year. And when you actually listen to what Sanguine have to offer, their seemingly endless string of good luck doesn't seem so arbitrary. They can back up their ever-expanding list of impressive credentials with some truly great music, as evidenced on their sophomore full-length release. Metal Discovery spent a very pleasant half an hour chatting over the phone to vocalist Tarin Kerrey and guitarist Nick Magee about Sanguine's latest sonic offering; the band's diversity-driven impetus; their emancipation from genre-led songwriting; just how said axeman ended up on the moors hacking away at a putrid sheep carcass; and other conversational divergences...
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘Black Sheep’ came out last month, which is quite a diverse beast in terms of styles and moods. Have people generally hooked onto, and embraced, its diversity? Have reviews been generally favourable?
NICK: Yeah, it’s been insane. We’re not sure what we were expecting, to be honest; we were just concentrating on the sort of art stuff. It’s been absolutely nuts, like really, really crazy.
(Tarin Kerrey on the diversity of Sanguine's latest album, 'Black Sheep')
"… we were a little bit nervous when we first put it out, simply because when you’re painting a picture, you hope people will like it. We painted lots of pictures on this album and we were hoping people could grasp each mood we were trying to express."
Sanguine - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2013 Uncredited
TARIN: People seem to have really grasped what the album’s supposed to do. I’m kind of blown away by that because we were a little bit nervous when we first put it out, simply because when you’re painting a picture, you hope people will like it. We painted lots of pictures on this album and we were hoping people could grasp each mood we were trying to express. It’s really strange because, in interviews, everyone gives a really detailed breakdown which is really lovely to see.
NICK: Yeah, that’s been the coolest thing, actually. We’re like, “damn, you’ve really listened to this, haven’t you!”
TARIN: Yeah, it’s been amazing.
MD: Cool, so it sounds like people have definitely hooked onto the diversity then.
TARIN: Yeah.
MD: For me, I would say the diversity is more between songs than within songs, so are you careful to try and not throw too many different styles all into one song? You know, the songs each sound like well-rounded compositions; each one is its own entity.
TARIN: Yeah, that’s kind of reflected in the way we write songs. I mean, we very much have a mood which we want the song to be.
NICK: Yeah, it’s not really genre led. I don’t think any of us actually ever even consider genres. Like, we are a heavier band, generally, but it’s more kind of what mood we’re in because humans experience multiple emotions. Just being full-on angry, 24-7, is a bit much!
TARIN: Nowadays, you can give listeners a lot more credit because it used to be people were just into punk or just into heavy metal, but now people are like, “I like a song from that, and I like a song from that, and I like a song from that.” So, they build a collection of songs to listen to, and I think people have a broader spectrum of tastes now so, hopefully, that’s why people can understand this album.
MD: Definitely. And, in terms of metal, it’s fragmented into so many different subgenres these days that there are so many different styles within the metal genre, so that’s naturally broadened people’s tastes, hasn’t it.
NICK: Yeah, totally.
TARIN: Definitely.
MD: Your music, in places, is actually more progressive than bands who proclaim their style as progressive - in other words, you’re actually progressing something rather than imitating a certain prog sound. Do you strive to push boundaries with your music?
NICK: Completely, man. I think that’s pretty much all we do.
TARIN: It’s quite funny, actually, because we’ve tried covers before and there are very few covers Sanguine can do, really, because, whenever we do a cover, it can sound completely different. And I think that’s just, probably, the essence of who we are as band members. You know, we’re very original in what we like to do and how we come across. I don’t want to model my voice on anyone; I just hope that what comes natural to me, I just do confidently. And that is my voice… I’m not trying to be anyone else.
NICK: I think following fads, as well, there are a lot of bands who follow these little fads that last for three years and then die, and then the next one starts up. I think it’s a real mistake doing that because, by the time you’re on the map, the whole scene’s died again. I think you’re better off just doing what’s true to you… and then just hope it comes into fashion!
MD: I guess it’s all cyclical, isn’t it, subgenres, and subgenres of subgenres, but I guess there are pros and cons to that because, obviously, if you’re part of a scene then you can easily get a following that latch onto that subgenre. But, I guess, if you’re doing your own thing, you’re riding above that and it’s harder to find a crowd… but it seems like you have, so…
TARIN: Yeah.
NICK: Yeah, yeah, it’s actually really strange the way that we’ve been booked. We’ve talked about this a lot in various interviews, but we’ve ended up getting booked on black metal shows, like really heavy, and then the week later we’ll be playing with a Californian reggae rock band. We seem to sort of fit everywhere. I suppose, in that sense, that’s where the whole thing of ‘Black Sheep’ came from a little bit - it was that we sort of felt like black sheep… not in a bad way; in a good way.
MD: Yeah, seeing the positive side of being black sheep. I guess that pushing boundaries and transcending genre is all about challenging yourselves as both musicians and songwriters… so, how do you approach challenging yourself in terms of how you play and write music, to ensure you’re keeping it fresh?
TARIN: Oh, we’re constantly listening to new stuff and writing; I mean, we’re constantly writing. Half of the stuff we wrote, we wouldn’t even show you because it’s so odd!
NICK: Yeah, we write for other projects and just our own weird little projects. And, I suppose if you exercise those muscles then, I suppose, Sanguine… there are certain things I write and I think, oh, that’ll definitely work with Sanguine, whereas other stuff I wouldn’t even bother bringing to the table.
TARIN: We like screwing around with songwriting. Nick started writing a stupid little ditty the other day and it was a creepy song about stalking someone or something, and it was so creepy, I was like, “there’s no way we’re ever gonna do that song!”
NICK: [Laughs]
TARIN: But it made me laugh and we’re exercising our songwriting muscles all the time.
MD: Cool, yeah. There are parts of the album, as you’ve kind of touched on already, that couldn’t be considered metal at all - maybe only through atmosphere, rather than style, so is it your aim not to be defined by genre?
NICK: Yeah, I kind of think it is, actually.
TARIN: Well, we’re massive Faith No More fans… that gives you a bit of an idea.
NICK: I think we fall into that camp where we kind of sit on a satellite. We’re associated with heavier bands, but we’re not necessarily always heavy. There are a handful of bands I can think of that occupy that territory… and I don’t really know what any of those do either! [Laughs]
TARIN: The aim of Sanguine, and I know it’s the aim of me and Nick as songwriters, is to eventually write that big song that everyone knows. So, we’re exploring all these different genres in order to try and create that. If I could die knowing that I wrote a song that people know as a household song, I would die a happy person!
MD: On the diversity and Faith No More thing then, you’re the Mike Patton of Devon?!
TARIN: Yeah!
TARIN: I couldn’t self-proclaim that, at all!
MD: Do you listen to Fantômas as well then, and all his other stuff?
TARIN: Yeah, I absolutely love all of it, but I think Faith No More have the songs that you remember. There are songs on those albums you can play at funerals, and then there are songs you can play at some 40 year old’s birthday party as an ironic track. So, I don’t know, I’ve always been fascinated by being yourself but keeping it interesting.
MD: You’ve nailed all your vocals on the album, from the screams to your clean voice; it all sounds great, and very natural as well, so do you have a vocal coach at all? I think I’ve read the SikTh frontman has helped you out with a bit of vocal advice?
TARIN: Not originally. I never had any vocal coaching; I’ve never had any professional training or anything like that. It’s very much that I fell in love with guitar bands when I was fifteen and I just, basically, tried to emulate male vocalists for a very long time. And, singing along to these tracks, I found my own voice. It was on the first album, that was self-released, that I met Mikee [Goodman], and he helped me put those vocals together and gave me some fantastic tips. I mean, if you hear his vocals, you can understand why I respect the guy so much.
MD: Yeah, he’s got a great voice.
TARIN: Oh yeah, it’s like Jim Morrison, poetic, you know, crazy…
NICK: If Jim Morrison was in a tech metal band, it’d be him!
MD: I guess if you get a call from Adrian Smith then you’re doing something right.
TARIN: That was a bit nerve-racking! You know, he sings himself as well, and he’s not shy about his vocals either. You know, without Adrian in Iron Maiden… he’s always been the backbone, really. I was just blown away by the whole invitation.
NICK: It’s weird talking about it now, isn’t it; it feels like it didn’t happen!
TARIN: Yeah, it didn’t happen! Did it actually happen?! But, yeah, they put my name forward and I was up against some really big acts and I didn’t think I stood a chance. But, obviously, Mikee put my name forward as we worked on the first record together and Adrian actually loved my voice, so it was down to Adrian’s choice.
MD: I guess he was looking for something fresh and different, because he’s always tried to push his music in different directions to the stuff he does with Maiden.
NICK: Exactly, and it’s a really awesome album. I grew up on Maiden; they were the band that got me into heavy metal… I was like, “can I just come and stand next to you?!”
NICK: Literally, I went over to Adrian’s house and I sat in the studio with him and watched while she laid the vocals down, and we talked a lot about fishing and stuff. But he’s an absolutely awesome bloke. I suppose, for us, for the band, we’re really proud of Tarin for that because there’s no bigger accolade, having that sort of validation, to have somebody saying your singer is this good. We were like, “yeah, we thought she was pretty, bloody good!”
MD: Yeah, to get that kind of commendation, it’s always going to look good in press blurb… a good old bit of name-dropping never harms!
TARIN: [Laughs]
NICK: Yeah, that’s it!