EVILE INTERVIEW: Guitarist Ol Drake’s keeping the mystery and chasing off the influences

UK thrashers Evile were plucked from the womband signed to Earache in 2006, offered before the world as not only the saviors of UK thrash, heir apparent to Sabbat, but the more frenzied quarters of society were proffering them to be the next Metallica. Like, yeah, let’s not burden four kids form Huddersfield, a reasonably drab, ordinary pocket of northern England, with too much expectation. So when they first gamboled onto the stage and fired through the debut album Enter the Grave they were already being cross-examined, dissected. That must have been weird. Back then, they were just caning it, taking it for what it was worth. But it got serious. The death of bassist Mike Alexander was the sort of horrible tragedy that put everything into perspective. From there on, guitarist Ol Drake, his brother and Evile frontman/guitarist Matt, and drummer Ben Carter had to decide whether this was it or whether they should push on.
They chose the latter, recruiting Joel Graham on bass and jetting off to hit clubs and dives across the States for the best part of a year, before returning to the Parlour studios to record album number three, Five Serpent’s Teeth with Russ Russell, and get on with being a band again. The Deciblog caught up with Ol Drake just before Damnation festival to talk awkward grammar and why being the next Metallica is totally redundant, and kinda unrealistic for anybody.

You’re on holiday, for like a week, but you’ve been on the road for ages.
Yeah, we kinda know what we want to play now; we know the songs that get everybody moving and the ones which have everyone standing.

What’s going with the grammar—Five Serpent’s Teeth? You’re making life difficult here.
No, it is right! Plus it’s a literary reference—if it’s wrong, blame the author of the book. It’s the Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, and I’m not sure because I’ve not read it, I’m not sure what it means, but I know it’s not about serpents. I think it’s about bullets, so that when he says “these five serpent’s teeth” he’s talkin’ about bullets. And in the context he says it it’s correct… T apostrophe S, but if you don’t know the context or the meaning it looks like it should be “Serpents’”.

No matter, the title sounds pretty kung-fu, though, I thought you’d gone all Wu-Tang. Is there a concept to the album?
There is—but I don’t even know it! Matt (Drake) won’t even tell us. Especially this time round, he doesn’t want to reveal anything because he hates how everything’s so available, like you can go on Wikipedia, type Evile… blah blah blah and find something out. He just likes the listeners to make their own interpretations. It’s like David Lynch’s films; he’ll never reveal what they’re about and that’s what makes him so intriguing and interesting, and it’ll be an ongoing debate as to the meaning. But as soon as you tell someone what it’s about there won’t be a debate anymore. I think you’ve got to leave it open to what you think it’s about.

That’s a bit of a departure for you—you weren’t always so coy.
We were a little bit more obvious back then; a lot of the lyrics before were either sharks killing someone or like politics. This time round, a lot of them are quite personal to Matt, and that’s why even he won’t describe them to us. I think he wants to see if anyone can relate to him.

Is it a question of growing up? You made two albums and lost Mike, toured the States, huge and terrible life experiences while so young.
I think with Mike, it made us sit back and think, “What are we actually doing? Do we want this to be our job? Do we want this to be serious or do we just want it to be a bit of fun?” I think it made us sit back and think that we are serious about this and we’re going to take it seriously. So a lot of the subjects are quite deep and serious instead of just nuclear war and whatever… I think we just found our comfort zone in terms of writing and lyrical subjects.

That must have been an uncomfortable process.
That process happened long before we got into the studio because we had to write the songs with Joel, so we’d conquered all the awkwardness in the rehearsal room; the weird thing was getting into the studio and tracking without Mike, and getting a different vibe. Because it’s four people who have a certain chemistry and when one of them isn’t there it’s a completely different air to the situation. In that way it was a lot different, because Joel is a lot more groove-orientated—he locks in with Ben on the slower stuff, whereas Mike and Ben were all speed. It was weird in that sense—plus he wasn’t there, and the last time we were there it was to do that Pantera cover in Russ’ studio…. It was just weird, but we got over it. When Joel joined, we just jumped in at the deep end. There wasn’t any time to talk to him about it—“Like we’ve been in this band since 1999 and Mike’s died, this is what we think”; we just had to go out on tour. And it was just more about getting to know Joel. Like we did five months in America, 140 gigs with six days off and we got to know him really, really well. It got to the time of writing the new album and I think through that he naturally latched on to what we were going for. He is more classic rock-orientated, so I think he was really up for the different approach. It was a natural thing; we never really spoke about it.

It’s something that will never leave you, that whole process of being a band again. What would Mike have made of Five Serpent’s Teeth?
He’d love the fast ones! I know he’d love “Devoid of Thought”, “Descent into Madness”… All the fast ones I know he’d like because it was just what we’d do anyway. Mike was very outspoken when it came to slower stuff. If it wasn’t real fast he’d be like, “Shit—don’t like it!” But I think that was just him keeping up his thrash metal sensibilities, like if it’s not fast it’s not good. Eventually he’d come round, “Yeah, it is a good part”, so it’s hard to say on the slower stuff because he’d either be acting up to be thrash or accepting that it’d be good. In terms of the “In Memoriam” track, I’m not sure, because that song would not exist if that hadn’t happened. I don’t know. We never ever wanted to do a ballad-y song. We never wanted to—the clean guitar part, Matt said he’d love to put in a song but the general consensus was that we can’t, it’s not us, it’s not right.

When you first came out, the perception was that you were very much following in Metallica’s footsteps—Flemming Rassmussen etc.—and that you’d end up going large a la …Justice but Five Serpent’s Teeth sounds more instinctive than anything you’ve done before.
This isn’t saying, “I am Evile” but a lot of the stuff is written by me initially, and in the past two years I purposely didn’t want to listen to any music, I just wrote riffs and wrote songs and didn’t listen to any music in case [it would seep in]. If it was on in the van then I’d hear it but I made an effort not to listen to anything, or let anything influence me as to what should happen in a song. I think the fact that it sounds like Metallica in bits is because I grew up with them as my favorite band in it’s just in my DNA when it comes to write a song. When it came to “In Memoriam”, especially, it is for Mike, it isn’t from Metallica but if you’re going to do a heavy metal/thrash ballad, then the only way my brain knows is what I’ve learned from when I was growing up and it’s bound to have some Metallica in it. It’s not conscious at all.

Your riffs have got really weird—do you feel your style has developed a lot?
Like I say, I haven’t listened to much it was just what naturally happened. Before, we might have though, “Oh, that sounds like Slayer, that sounds like Metallica”. But that didn’t come into question [this time] because it didn’t figure with what we were doing. We’d write a song and be like, “I love this song!” We wouldn’t be worrying about it sounding like Metallica because we hadn’t been worrying about it, we didn’t even think about it.

Yeah, because if you had the original thought that it might be a bit Metallica, then you might start getting paranoid that it did sound like them.

Is it not a question of being a better guitar player now? You can do so much more now.
I always try to learn. I think if you think ever accept that you’re great and don’t have to learn anything more you’ll just… There’s no point! I try to learn all kinds of stuff. I got into a band called Gentle Giant, a prog band from the ‘70s, and that was the one band, the only band I listened to over the last two years. It’s just their approach, their off-the-wall stuff, and it was this off-the-wall prog that made me think how can I adapt this to thrash? That was there a bit, but it wasn’t so much musically [an influence] it was more their approach.

You’ve been listening to Lady Gaga, too!
I have, but that’s just a bit of fun! To be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of metal. When I’m at home, and I’ve been touring for however long, the last thing I want to hear is lots of metal ‘cos I’m deaf already from the tour. That’s not to say I don’t like metal it’s just that I need a change because I’ve been doing it for three months straight. I’ve tried to adapt a lot of prog into the thrash elements without going like Opeth.

You don’t want it to be too Opeth—it can’t be too beautiful.
I still want it to sound like thrash, like metal, I’m not going to steal anything musically from prog, it’s their sensibilities. Like I’ll listen to something and think, “How did they do that? Or, why did they do that!?” And I try to approach metal like that.

It must help with creating a sound that’s your own.
I think it helps keep people on their toes. I mean you could write a song that goes verse/chorus, verse/chorus, bridge, whatever, END. But it helps in giving the unexpected, staying interesting, and you can do the unexpected and then it sounds terrible—like, “Why have you done that!?” It’s about finding that balance between interesting and unexpected, if that makes sense. It can catch you off-guard, and sound terrible.

With you avoiding music, did you look to film for inspiration?
OD: I remember when I saw Eraserhead for the first time, it was the first time that a film really frightened me. You know how horrors are like, urgh! But that was the first film that made me feel unsettled, sick in a way, and I was really interested in seeing how something you look at, perceive, or hear can make you feel unsettled. It’s not on this album because it wasn’t used, but I tried to write a song while watching Eraserhead over and over again, so anything that came out was the result of Eraserhead. I’m planning on doing that for the next one, an Eraserhead song, whatever that will sound like I dunno!

Is there anything weird that you’d want to add to your sound?
I loved what Mastodon did with Crack the Skye, it had really interesting proggy parts but it stayed really interesting all the time. I think, for us, it’s got to stay thrashy and heavy; I don’t want to waver to far from our sound, that people identify as being us.

Evile’s Five Serpent’s Teeth is out now through Earache and is available HERE.