DATE OF INTERVIEW:
12th February 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘The March’ is an awesome album, I think…
DEREK KERSWILL: Thank you.
(Derek Kerswill on his drumming inspiration)
"I just had a mantra for the whole record in terms of drumming. I just wrote “W W V D” on this drum that I have underneath my hi-hat - “What Would Vinnie Do”! If Vinnie Paul wouldn’t do it, then I didn’t do it!"
Derek Kerswill in Unearth's dressing room backstage at the Academy, Birmingham, 12th February 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Official Unearth Website:
Official Unearth MySpace:
Above the Fall of Man (1999)
The Strings of Conscience (2001)
Albums & EPs
Metal Blade Records Website:
Thanks to Hannah Sylvester for recording the interview.
Thanks to Andy Turner at Metal Blade UK for arranging the interview.
Cheers to Derek Kerswill for taking time out to be interviewed.
The Oncoming Storm (2004)
Our Days of Eulogy (2005)
III: In the Eyes of Fire (2006)
The March (2008)
MD: How happy are you with the recordings and material compared to your other three albums? It’s probably a difficult one for you to answer if it’s the first one you’ve played on.
DK: Mmm…but as a fan, I think it’s Unearth’s best album, but I do have a lot of musical, emotional, and time invested into it. Buz and I spent a lot of time together on this record writing; trying a lot of different stuff. Trevor was always there to get inspired lyrically. He had a couple of snags trying to write lyrics to a couple of tracks, and I actually had to help him with one, so that was a huge achievement for me. You know, writing lyrics I felt were good enough to give to him. So that is huge, and it’s a super personal song too. If he tapped into it, he’s like “what’s the story behind this?”, I told him, and “I feel it when I sing it”. But it’s so cool for a guy to be open to another guy in a band helping him with lyrics but, you know, it’s only two songs and everything else is him, and I’ve always loved his lyrical content.
MD: So do you have in mind a story behind the music when it’s written and then kind of write lyrics to reflect that?
DK: Sometimes we’ll just talk about it - man, this song makes me feel like this, or kind of conjures up these images but, a lot of times, Buz and I, or all of us will be together shredding out new parts and he’s already jotting stuff down because he’s getting inspiration at that moment. But musically man, it’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m super proud of that record. We all are and Buz is on fire. The guitar playing on that record is ridiculous.
MD: Oh yeah, proper virtuoso playing in the solos I think…it’s there.
DK: Yeah, and I just had a mantra for the whole record in terms of drumming. I just wrote “W W V D” on this drum that I have underneath my hi-hat - “What Would Vinnie Do”! If Vinnie Paul wouldn’t do it, then I didn’t do it! And a couple of times Buz was like “hey man, I was hoping for ….”, and I’m like, hey, would Vinnie Paul do that?! “Oh, okay, yeah”. Okay, I’m just making sure, we’re on the same page right?! [laughs]
MD: Adam from Killswitch Engage produced the album…er, how do you pronounce his surname actually?!
DK: Dutki…Dutkiewicz. He’s just Adam D.
MD: Of course. He produced the first two albums as well - is there any particular reason you didn’t use him for ‘III: In the Eyes of Fire’? Was it just a matter of availability? I know you wasn’t in the band at the time, but…
DK: Yeah, but I know the story behind it. I know that they were looking to do something a little bit more raw with Terry Date…[to Trevor]…you can chime in if I’m incorrect here…
TP: Yeah, he’s right. We were after a more organic sound, and that’s what Terry was brought in to bring to the table. And a cool experience I think amongst that record, but this album we wanted to go back to what we knew best - you know, just a good studio album with the guy that knows the band inside out, and it’s Adam.
DK: Terry D, I don’t think he was too into the idea of trimming the fat from songs, and suggesting things like that, which is cool, I mean that’s why people go to him. But Unearth, you know, Adam’s almost like a sixth member of the band when we’re working with him, and we really trust his judgement, and he just knows how to…when you’re a little unsettled about a part of a song, he knows what to do, like these little tweaks that make you go ahhhh, that’s what it needed. So he’s literally one of the most brilliant people I know in metal.
MD: You recorded ‘The Chosen’ for a film soundtrack originally…
DK: Yep, ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’. Do you know what that is?
DK: It’s a hugely popular underground cartoon in the States. I don’t get it, but I think a couple of these guys are into it.
MD: You decided to re-record the track for ‘The March’ - was that to maintain the same kind of vibe and sound as the other songs on the album?
DK: I mean there’s a rock ‘n’ roll aspect to that song that we were really psyched to have as a dynamic on the record, and it was kind of...I think the recording originally was rushed, and we just wanted the proper time to give it justice.
MD: I gather the band…well, Buz and Ken…have started using eight string Ibanez guitars - are those down-tuned like Meshuggah down-tune their eight strings?
DK: Yeah. [to Buz]…Dude, what do you tune to with the eight string?
BUZ McGRATH: B-E…
DK: Yeah, so it’s like about Meshuggah. There’s two tracks on the album - ‘The March, the song ‘The March’ and ‘Letting Go’ - they’re like kind of Crowbar-ish sounding…
MD: Yeah, they sound pretty heavy.
DK: Yeah, that’s the eight strings.
MD: You alternate between seven and eight live?
DK: Actually, live we haven’t been doing any of the eight string songs. Especially when we come overseas, it’s not worth bringing the guitars over for two songs.
MD: Are you a fan of your own music once it’s recorded in terms of how much do you listen to your own albums?
DK: Well, I personally obsess over records I record through every stage until it’s done and then I take a break from it because I’ve been listening to it every for minute until then, but I’m definitely a fan of the new record. I have it on my iPod and when it comes on random I’m pretty stoked. But I do a lot of studio work and stuff - I play in Kingdom of Sorrow; I did an Icepick record with them; and I do a lot of studio work with singer-songwriters and stuff. So I go back and listen to my stuff every so often, but usually it comes up random on my iPod and it’s like, ahh cool!
MD: Do you ever have a moment of who’s this and then like, oh it’s me?!
DK: Oh, I did that! That happened to me recently, I swear to god - ahh man, this is a good tune, holy shit, I recorded this nearly ten years ago, and I forgot; I totally forgot!
MD: What are the best five albums you heard last year, metal or otherwise? Apart from your own albums!
DK: Last year? So 2008?
MD: Yeah, yeah.
DK: I love Kings of Leon personally. I know this is going to sound gay, but I don’t care! And erm…what else have I been really hooked on? Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ is one of my favourites. Erm…I’m trying to think what I’m hooked on at the moment…I like this chick Robyn. She’s like a pop singer. It’s kinda like a modern Madonna meets Björk or something.
MD: That’s the Swedish woman?
DK: Yes! Awesome! And Protest The Hero, ‘Fortress’, their last record, a great metal record. And the new Opeth.
MD: Ah, ‘Watershed’, yeah, absolutely phenomenal.
DK: Yeah, I’d say in terms of metal that’s probably my favourite record of last year.
MD: It’s in my top three. Last year was a decade since Unearth formed - was the occasion marked with any kind of celebration, or was it just more of the same…touring etc?
DK: No, we don’t want people to know we’re that old, so…[laughs] Ten year anniversary? Bad idea, then everyone knows that the band’s ten years old which means that we were twenty, now we’re thirty, so…no, no, we just actually did our first hometown show in two years, and it was unbelievable. That’s all we wanted; we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it - just go home, play, and kinda thank our fans, and do the best we could, and that’s what we did.
MD: What are your proudest achievements during your career as a musician over the last ten years?
DK: Playing with Maiden at Wacken last year was probably either number one or number two out of my two top moments.
MD: Did you get to hang out with Maiden?
DK: I met Steve Harris and I just was like, “Steve Harris!”, he’s like “yeah?”, I’m like “you’re a legend!”, and he was like “go and tell my wife, she doesn’t believe me!” I was like, okay, cool, I will! [laughs] And when I was with Shadows Fall, I played at Yokohoma Arena for this Beast Feast festival in 2001. It was my first arena show so it was a real big deal, and Pantera played, and have come to find out that was Pantera’s last show ever. So like in retrospect, it was a huge thing, you know. And I hung out with those guys, and I can almost say I think even if these guys answered that question, touring with Damageplan before everything went down was probably one of their biggest moments. They talk about that tour all the time. And I think anything tied to those guys is always gonna be kind of…I mean, Pantera for me was my favourite heavy band of all time, so to be tied with anything historical in my musical career with them is up there. But the Wacken festival, I see the footage - a friend of mine found it on You Tube - and I like watch it, and I don’t even remember being there; it doesn’t feel like I actually lived it! It was just such a great day.
MD: I think you’ve kind of answered this, but you’ve toured with some pretty big names over the years - what are the best and worst bands you’ve shared stages with?
DK: I think with them…[to other Unearth members]…you guys would definitely say Damageplan as one of the best, right?
TP: The most fun tour, yeah.
DK: My band Seemless toured with In Flames, and they were great guys - hugely respectful, respectable, and I love their music. It was just absolutely awesome watching them every night. And for me, personally, I’m a huge Fu Manchu fan and my band Seemless toured with them, and that was an awesome, awesome tour. Even now, some of the kids we bring out on the road with us, it’s great to watch them every night. Protest the Hero we did two months with - one of the best bands that I’ve ever toured with, not only as guys but just as musicians. Like I said, Architects in terms of modern stuff. All the big tours are always great; festivals are amazing, I love doing festivals.
MD: How about worst bands - have there been any bands you’ve toured with that you’ve thought never again?
MD: You don’t have to answer that!
DK: I try not to shit talk anybody, you know. I mean, I could tell you a couple but I’d rather just let other people find out on their own. A lot of bands have a reputation for a reason and that’s all I’ll say!
MD: The unsaid is far more potent than any band you name, so…!
MD: For anyone who will be reading this and have yet to discover Unearth, what words can you say that would recommend they go and check out your band?
DK: Balls out metal! Yeah, that just about sums it all up.
MD: Finally, are you happy with where you’re at as a musician and in the band in 2009, and what are your aims for the band in the future?
DK: Personally, I’m extremely happy. I think the band in general is. The record’s definitely forward taking it. All you can hope for is that you move forward and continue do what you’re doing, and not have to go and work a day job...but I’m the worst guy to ask that question because I’m always happy! You might want to ask one of these guys because, you know…I just don’t dwell on anything negative because it’s not worth it.
MD: That’s marvellous, thank you very much indeed.
DK: Yeah, likewise brother, thank you.