INTERVIEW: Ben Ward of Orange Goblin

Prior to the release of 2012’s A Eulogy for the Damned, the Deciblog met up with Orange Goblin and found a band that was pretty much a long-standing institution turned part-time concern. Breaking bread over a table henged with pint glasses of cider and beer, the English quartet were talking about making their first studio record for five years, riffs and inspirations and all that sort of thing. But also they talked about how band business was tantamount to a holiday away with the boys. These were guys with jobs, wives and kids, who made everything else fit around Orange Goblin’s touring schedule and vice-versa.
Fast forward a year or so and it’s all change. The Deciblog is in the Red Lion in Leytonstone, (whose location is only relevant to Decibangers outside of London’s transport Zone 3 because this was the pub where Paul DiAnno first met Steve Harris) and vocalist Ben Ward is gearing up for a full headlining tour of North America, telling us all about how they all quit their jobs to do all this full-time.

How is Joe getting on after wrecking his achilles—will he be fit for the tour?
“Yeah, I think so. He’s got the cast off and is in one of those plastic, Robocop-style boots, which is just protecting the tendon, making sure he doesn’t bend it too much. But it’s meshed back together again, and by the time we head to America, I think he is going to be absolutely fine. He’s going to have a little bit of physio.

How did he do it?
“We were playing football outside the hotel in Italy—he is not a natural born footballer. He kicked the ball to Martyn, went down like a sack of shit. He wasn’t in any pain whatsoever, I guess because all the nerve endings were severed. Martyn, being an ex-footballer, took a look at him and had a feel around and said that when he pushed in where the tendon was there was nothing there at all. So we went to the venue and asked about he local hospital, and luckily the promoter for the show that night was an ex-ambulance driver and had a few friends who worked at the hospital there. After the gig, he took Joe up. I could tell straight away when he walked back into the dressing room from the look on his face—he said, ‘It’s bad. It is really bad.’ He flew home the next day. Luckily we’re insured for that sort of thing, and the insurance paid for his flight home and everything and the medical bills we incurred in Italy—which, thankfully, weren’t much, if we were in America or anywhere like that we would have been screwed.”

He is a very underrated guitarist.
“I think so. When we had announced that Joe had injured himself and had to be flown back home from the tour, the response from the Orange Goblin followers on Facebook and fans from all over the world was phenomenal. I think we realize what a gem he is.”

You carried on with the tour though—you had a stand-in.
“That was another stroke of luck. We had our tech, Neil [Kingsbury], who is an old Orange Goblin fan anyway, and he knew the rough guitar parts for 14 songs, so it meant that we could carry on with the tour. We got to Dresden the next day and had a two or three hour rehearsal, just soundchecking and everything with Neil, going over stuff, and he did the show that night and for the rest of the tour. And he played a blinder.”

Did it change your setlist?
“It did. We had people turning up at the shows, requesting certain songs, and we were like, ‘You’ve got to understand the situation here.’ I mean, between the four of us with Joe, we only have an armory of 30 to 35 songs off the top of our heads anyway. There are a lot of songs that we can’t play in a live environment because we don’t have the keyboard player, the harmonica player, or the lap-steal player, that sort of thing. Neil stepped up and we got through the rest of the tour and there wasn’t a single show cancelled. Touch wood, Joe’s gonna be back when we fly off on the 25th.”

And this tour kicks off on the 27th, in New Orleans, right?
“Yeah, we have a day off on the 26th it gives us a day to get over the jet lag and meet up with our U.S. crew, who’ve got all our backline, our merchandise and that sort of thing.”

Have you organized all this yourself? The last time I spoke to you, you mentioned how much you enjoyed organizing itineraries for the band?
“Things have changed slightly in that department since it became a full-time job. We now have agents on both sides of the pond how book the shows for us, and, as I say, we’ve got a U.S. crew, with this guy John Hopkins, who works for C.O.C. and Weedeater, and Valient Thorr, he tour manages us, drives us, and does front of house.”

So have you quit your job?
“Yeah, all four of us quit our jobs in January, and Orange Goblin has become a full-time band.”

That’s great news—but surprising, too, because you had mentioned that you had a great life/band balance. What changed?
“Yeah, since we spoke to you last, the Eulogy for the Damned album got a great response, great reviews, great fan response, then all of a sudden agents and management stepped up and said, ‘There is a chance you could do this for a living; would you be interested?’ I mean, all of us were a bit sceptical. We’re 18 years into our career. We’ve all got kids and mortgages. But, the flipside of that is that if we don’t do it now with this opportunity we have, then we will never know how it could be.”

You can always go back to work.
“Exactly. Well, we won’t be able to go back to the jobs we were doing. I don’t think I will be able to go back to the job I was doing, but that’s part and parcel of taking the risk to be a musician, I suppose, and luckily we’ve all got very supportive wives at home who said go for it. There was a lot of mulling over it, number crunching to make sure we could afford to do it, but, like I said, they kind of pushed us out the door and said, ‘Look, if you don’t do this now you’ll be miserable and you’ll always regret what could have happened.’ And this year, since January, we’ve done 108 shows in 26 different countries. We’ve kept ourselves very, very busy. We did a UK tour in January, 16 shows up and down the British Isles, and we went over to Australia and did the Soundwave festival, which is incredible. It is a massive, massive organization. I mean, this year they had Metallica and Linkin Park, Anthrax and Slayer and God knows how many different bands. There must have been 60, 70 bands touring there.

You’re too long in the tooth to go overboard with all this though,
“We realized that we’d gone from doing the UK tour and being the big fish in the little pond to going over there and doing Soundwave and we’re the little fish in amongst all the big boys, but it was a great learning curve. It showed us how those sort of bands do things, and it made us realize that if we are going to make this work we are going to have to be a lot more professional about things. When we left Australia, we flew to Boston and did seven weeks supporting Clutch, which again was a massive learning experience for us.”

What did you learn?
“We realized you’ve got to look after yourself. You need to look after what you use as your tools, just like any other tradesman would. I have to use my throat to sing and that means I can’t go out and smoke 40 cigarettes a day and drink as much as I want.”

That’s a good thing.
“It is a good thing. Y’know, it is gruelling being out on the road for that amount of time. It is not as glamorous as a lot of people think it is. You need to look after yourself. You need to get rest. When you have been doing it every night you arrive to certain places, and bands and the fans have come to see you in this specific town, and they’ve been waiting months for it—this is their big night out; we roll in and they want to party.”

How do you get away from that?
“You just hide. Haha! You just hide in the dressing room. Nah, we’ve been quite forward with people. Look, none of us are getting any younger. Chris is 43. I’ll be 40 next year, so will Martyn and Joe. If we had a day off then maybe we would go out for the night, but we’ve got a 12-hour drive to Albuquerque, and that is gruelling. We need an early night. We need to be rested before we do another show. ‘Cos you realize that the crux of our livelihood is making sure that you’re gonna have people come to see you, and keep buying the tickets, and keep buying the merchandise. If you show up at shows and you’re hungover and put in a half-arsed performance, the next time you come back these people aren’t gonna be bothered coming to see you again. You gotta give it everything.”

Do you think the five-year wait for Eulogy . . . helped make it an event record for fans, helped make Orange Goblin that bit more
“Yes, there was that five-year gap between the previous album and Eulogy for the Damned. We hadn’t stopped touring in that time; we had done as much as we can, and I think that kept people interested, but it also meant that people were desperate for some new product, so when that album came out—I mean, I personally think that it is far and away the best thing we’ve ever recorded and that obviously helps—the fact that there was such a long wait people responded to it really well.”

Who decides on the routing of the tour?
“This time we let the agent take over for us. It is a lot of weight off our minds; we can concentrate on just going on stage and doing the job that we’re paid to do. We’re not so hands on with this tour; we’re just looking forward to being ‘the band’ and not doing all the other aspects of it.”

It means less time spent on the phone to promoters and all that sort of thing . . . More time writing?
“Yes, exactly, and like you said, about the wait between albums, doing this for a living means we can’t wait five years before delivering an album. We’ve got to have a constant stream of new product to keep people interested. It means that when we do arrive at a venue we can sit around and start working on new ideas for new songs rather than sitting on a computer trying to organise whatever needs to be taken care of that day.”

Do you have any new material?
“Well, yesterday was the first time we all sat down together since we got back from the European tour. It was the first time Martyn and Chris had seen Joe, and Joe delivered a CD of 19 songs, and ideas, and random riffs put together in no sort of structure or anything. I’ve been going through it, yesterday and today, and I think there is a lot of promising stuff in there and it’s definitely a launch pad for us to start thinking about the next album. I know Chris and Martyn have ideas. I’ve started working on some lyrical themes as well. I don’t think it’s going to be too long before we seriously put some songs together.”

This is a huge tour for you, headlining the States; but what does America mean to Orange Goblin? Not just as a market and a territory for selling your records and whatnot, but there’s that bit of a Sons of Anarchy-vibe to O.G., it seems a bit like a muse for you, lyrically?
“Yeah, we are influenced by that. The first time we toured America we played with Alabama Thunderpussy and we always had the same sort of interests as they had, the biker metal and that whole cool sort-of laid back American barroom music, the Southern rock vibe. You can’t help being inspired by that when you are driving around touring America, going across Texas and seeing that stuff for real, and you get a sense of where ZZ Top came from, where Lynyrd Skynyrd came from, all that sort of thing. I think we still retain a certain amount of British charm but with an element of that Americana thrown in there as well. We’ve down the whole drive down Route 66, and we’ve driven through Big Sur, and you can’t help but being inspired by all that, and you can see what was inspiring Kerouac and writers like that. It’s the perfect fodder for writing lyrics for the music we do.”

It might sound silly, but to anyone who grew up in the UK, America was properly exotic; unless you were loaded and your folks took you to Disneyland, you only ever saw it on TV or in the cinema.
“It was a pipe dream, really. I don’t know about you but I grew up watching Entertainment USA with Jonathan King and absolutely being fascinated by the States—it was like a fairy land; it was one of those places were you thought you were never going to go . . .”

Whereabouts are you looking forward to playing?
“I am absolutely over-the-moon excited about the show in Albuqurque because I heard that they do Breaking Bad tours there and you can go ‘round all the spots, like where the guy who was dealing for Jesse and Walt got shot, the little park where Mike used to take his granddaughter on the swings, the police building. That will be absolutely fantastic for me. I am a massive fan—we all are—of Breaking Bad. [How’s the show going to end?]I wouldn’t like to say. I can’t say how it’s all going to be resolved now. I mean the thing that is frustrating me is that I’ll get to see next Monday’s episode, then the episode after that, but for the very last episode I will be in the U.S. I hope the Netflix on my phone works out there. There’s Fargo, and we’re all massive fans of the movie; we’ll be on the look out for wood-chippers out there.”

Do you feel more pressure on this tour now that the band is the full-time job?
“Umm, no. Maybe if I took the time to think about it . . . But doing it full-time, it’s almost like we’ve started again. We are not going to give up because of one failed tour or anything; we’re going to keep chipping away and see if it works out. Playing with Clutch meant we were playing to 1,500 to 3,000 people a night and if we can grasp 10 or 15 per cent of their audience then hopefully it’ll snowball from there.”

Do you notice much difference between American and British bands?
“I think American bands are a lot better prepared than English bands; from my experience, with an English band, four guys will get together in a room, they’ll write a bunch of songs and then they’ll want to start gigging before they’ve even bought their equipment or even thought about how they wanted to proceed, whereas American bands tend to have everything more or less in place before they start getting out there and putting their name out there. I think a good example of that is the band Scorpion Child, who were also on the Clutch tour with us. They are all very young guys, but they’ve got everything in place; they’ve got the image sorted, they’ve got the songs, but they’ve also got all their backline everything is really professionally organized. They’ve got road crew, management, everything, and a really good label behind them—they’re on Nuclear Blast and Monte Conner is working for them, doing all their PR and stuff. I can see that band doing really big things.”

The image is still important—even if the image is having no image or looking like a geography teacher.
When you think that the crux of selling records is to appeal to a certain age group or certain social group then, to fit in, you’ve got to have that look. Beyoncé fans probably wouldn’t like Beyoncé if she didn’t look as glamorous as she does; young girls wouldn’t want to be her, and it is the same with metal. You’ve got to look the part. If Lemmy walked on stage one wearing a pair of dungarees and a cardigan he wouldn’t be half as cool in his tight jeans and open-necked shirt.”

. . . Or daisy dukes.
“Image is important. With bands like Judas Priest, it has always been there in metal, you’ve always had the leather and the studs. I think in this country we might be a little bit guilty of shooting ourselves in the foot and putting our own bands down and don’t give them a chance. Everybody gets categorised and if it’s not the sort of music you listen to, or the not the sort of metal you listen to, you cast it aside. I guess it’s a British trait. But there are enough bands in the British underground that should be championed, and should be achieving more than they are and doing good things. I think British music is in a pretty good place right now, especially British metal.”

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**Get tickets for the tour here