Thursday 25 October 2012

20 Questions w/ Ishmael

Hey guys, I not am kidding when I say this, but at this present moment in time, the UK are producing some of the finest sludge/doom metal around.  What with released by Conan, Undersmile, Wizard's Beard, BOTS to name but a few.  Add to the list, Ishmael, who with the release of their debut record, Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here have released one of the heaviest records of the year.
Ishmael, describe themselves as Violent, misanthropic doom, blended with sludge and bound with ale - equal parts despair, disillusionment and all-out...hatred, steeped in alcohol and thrown to the baying crowd. A sound as relentless as a mammoth trudging towards better lands, as heavy as its mud-encrusted testicles, and so loud that we will shake all the saints and angels down into Hell.
Is it any wonder then, that we love this band here at The Sludgelord.  So much in fact, I snagged an interview with their amazing vocalist, Dani Hawkins, to talk about the roots of the band and their brilliant new record.  So enjoy. 20 Questions w/ Ishmael.
Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here cover art
Hey Dani, How are you?  I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, here at the Sludgelord.
D: Not at all, thank you for the interest!  And we’re very well, thank you.
Q) Where are you guys at the moment and what are you doing, in terms of the band at the present, having released your brilliant debut record, Hell Is Empty and All The Devils Are Here?
D: Brilliant?  Cheers!  We’re just taking it easy at the moment, having a few chilled practices and attempting to write the follow-up.
Q). We at the Sludgelord are massive fans of your band and your latest record, is ‘sick’, but can you tell me little a bit about the history of the band and some of the bands you've played with? Where you’re from? When Ishmael first formed? Current band members?
D: OK, well, we formed in Plymouth in 2009.  Alex and I had been in a band together for six years previously, and it so happened that it split just as Jim’s band was also slowing down.  We wanted to set up a doom project so we initially formed Ishmael with Jim and Conor, played a few gigs and made a demo.  In 2010 Rick came on board to add a bit of grit and filth to the guitar sound.  Alex left at the end of that year to focus fully on The Wounded Kings and we ended up kind of in limbo for a few months until Owen joined us and completed the five-piece line-up once more.
Q). Is Ishmael a full time project, or do you have other bands?
D: I’ve fantasised for years about playing bass in a punk band, but I can’t drive so I’d have trouble getting my gear anywhere.  I’m a lazy sod, to be fair, so Ishmael is probably quite enough!  As for the others, they all keep themselves out of trouble with various projects and little noodlings here and there.
Q) What made you start the band?  Did you all know each other before you formed?
D: Most of us have known Jim for years, haha!  He loves his extreme metal and because his previous band was ending he was the obvious person to ask when Alex was setting up Ishmael.  He also invited Rick to jam with us when we were seeking a second guitarist – we all knew of him from his previous band but I didn’t really twig who he was until we got talking at a gig, and it turned out that we’d been working at the same place for months!  And we all knew Owen as well.  We always put some thought into who we wanted to play with – it would have been frustrating to get any Tom, Dick or Harry in just for them to quit after a few months, so we always discussed who might fit best within the band.
The only person that came to us completely new and who didn’t know any of us before Ishmael was Conor – Alex knew his dad from work and said that his son was a good drummer, so we got this quiet wee fifteen-year-old in to try out and he blasted out a load of Nile, it was ace!  As for what made us start the band … I don’t think Alex and I were ready to simply walk away from our last band, we had played with some really talented musicians and good friends to this day but we wanted to start a more intense and aggressive project.
Q) Probably a stupid question, but are you or would you like to be full time musicians?
D: I don’t think I would, to be honest - I love being in a band but I could see it becoming a chore if I had to do it day in, day out.  I can’t speak for the boys but I strongly suspect they would embrace it.
Q) Are you big fans of rock/metal, if so what are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations?
D: Of course we’re all metal fans!  We’re forever lending each other random CDs, there’s a lot of “if you like so-and-so, you’ll fucking LOVE this!” going on.  I can’t constantly listen to metal, though, you can have too much of a good thing!  I’m bit of a punk at heart so I’ve been spinning lots of stuff like Zeke and Rancid lately, and I’m forever having the piss ripped out of me for being an AFI fan!  That said, if you want a good recommendation, I recently fell well and truly in love with an incredible Scottish doom band called Winters who are well worth checking out.
Undersmile Album Launch
Q) When you started Ishmael, what were your hopes for the band?
D: Simply to be really bloody heavy.  Not much has changed 3 years on, but now we hope to make interesting and still bloody heavy music with an intense and unnerving live show.  We don’t ask for much!
Q) If someone was unfamiliar with your band, how would you describe your sound? Has it evolved?
D: The boys are probably a bit more technical in their descriptions, but I like telling people that we just make a proper unholy racket and letting them make their own minds up.  The sound has definitely evolved, though, we started out with an almost stonery groove in places but we’ve developed a darker and much more aggressive sound.  The lyrics and vocals have definitely become more intense.  There were clean vocals in our earlier days until Jim told me that I sounded like that bird from Kittie, and then that was the end of that, haha!
Q)  Who would you say are your influences both musically and artistically in terms of the band’s sound?
D: We’re influenced by so much; I couldn’t even begin to make a list.  We’re inspired by everything from film and TV and even stuff on YouTube to other bands.  You can hear aspects of our own favourite genres in the sound, there are little hints of post-metal and drone and stuff tucked away in there among the sludge, but we try not to owe too much of our sound to any particular band.  Lyrically there are no concepts, just fascinations with death, sexuality and generally the horrible things that people can do to each other.  I’m a huge fan of Paul Catten and love his lyrics, especially from when he was in Lazarus Blackstar, so I guess you could call him an inspiration.
Q)  Why did you choose the name, Ishmael?
D: Alex came up with that one - as I recall, it was in reference to Abraham’s outcast son.  As to why, I honestly don’t remember!  It tends to get people asking us about Moby Dick, though, which is a mighty fine book.
Q)  What is the scene like in your hometown?
D: As far as doom/sludge is concerned there’s almost no scene, save for perhaps one or two other bands.  The extreme metal scene as a whole is getting better, to be fair, we seem to have some tasty grindcore acts in particular, but there isn’t much for fans of the slow!  But the White Rabbit venue has been hosting some incredible bands I never thought we’d see in Plymouth; we’ve had everything from Weedeater and A Storm of Light to Deicide!
Q) There is an outstanding underground metal scene coming out of the UK at moment.   Where you think you think Ishmael fit within that?  Any bands we should be keeping an eye out for?
D: The UK sludge/doom scene as a whole is really flourishing at the moment and we are a very proud part of that.  We’ve played with some amazing bands like Parole, GURT and Dragged into Sunlight and there are still so many more that we want to share stages with in the future.  They’re pretty established on the scene by now but I’m particularly keen to gig with Lazarus Blackstar, and of course we want more gigs with Undersmile (who seem to be dominating the scene right now!).
Q)  What are your views of blogs such as the Sludgelord reviewing your records, as opposed to mainstream music magazines?  Has your music reached the mainstream mags, at home or around the world?
D: I don’t think many mainstream mags would really touch it, unless we were lucky enough to be picked up by a writer who knew his/her doom.  I’d rather have someone who knows what they’re talking about review our stuff.  Besides, these days you only need to Google a band to find dozens of articles about them, so I don’t mind if we never reach the big mags!  For us, blogs like this are a blessing as far as promotion is concerned, so thank you for helping the little bands as much as the big ones!
Q) Hell Is Empty And All the Devils Are Here is an exceptional record.  What are your thoughts about the record, now it’s out in the public domain and how would you describe your record to those people who are unfamiliar with your music?
D: Thank you!  We’re immensely proud of it and we’re really pleased with the positive reception it’s gotten so far.  Personally, it’s the first recording I’ve been part of that I’m truly happy with.  It was especially satisfying to work with Rich Robinson (who recorded, mixed and mastered the album) because he’s also a long-time friend of ours and knew exactly what we wanted from the record, he did a cracking job and we had a lot of fun over that weekend.  It’s an intense listen for sure, I’m not sure we could describe it any other way!
Q) Does it surprise you when people buy your music and merch?
D: I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it!  It blows my mind if I see or hear about someone wearing one of our shirts, it’s the biggest ego-boost and also the most humbling thing in the world.  We’re just a little sludge band from the bottom of the country so it means a lot to us that people want to spend their money on us.
Q) Despite having released only one official release, what are some of your highlights so far? What are your aspirations for the future?
D: We caused one man – a mate of ours, in fact - to faint from the sheer volume a couple of years ago, and I aspire to add to that number in the future.  Haha, seriously, though, our only aspirations really are to keep producing music as violent and interesting as possible, and to take it to the stage as often as we can!  Playing the Bloodstock New Blood stage in 2010 was a big highlight; we started off playing to about twelve people and ended up nearly filling the tent.  And playing Undersmile’s album launch in May was also a highlight because that was our first gig in a year and a half, our first gig with Owen and the first time anyone had properly heard our change in direction.  I was terrified that night!
Q) Do you have any interesting stories from your tours, favourite places you’ve toured and bands you’ve toured with?
D: We haven’t been able to tour properly yet because of various work commitments, it’s a pain in the arse trying to get time off!  We’ve played a couple of really enjoyable shows in London where we made some really good friends (and hopefully future tour buddies) but I especially love playing in Birmingham.  The people are ace and of course, it’s the birthplace of metal!
Q) Did you have an agenda or a game plan in terms of what you wanted to write for your debut? Does everyone contribute song ideas?
D: I rarely interfere with the real musicians, I just sit in the corner with my notepad until the time comes to shriek all over their good work.  I want them to contribute to the lyrics but they seem to prefer to leave me to it!  There was no real agenda, each song was just pieced together around an initial riff or idea and then it just took shape from there.  But yeah, as far as the lads are concerned, they all have some input.  None of the tracks ever have just one songwriter.
Q) Where did the audio sound bites come from on the record?  I felt it adds a little more tension to the record, was that your intention?
D: That was Rick’s idea, he’s well into his experimental noise.  He finds them from all sorts of sources!  Yeah, they were something else to keep things interesting, everyone likes a spooky sample to chill them before the main noise commences, don’t they?  Plus they’re a practical addition to keep the audience engaged during the live set: the boys do all their tuning and stuff while the samples are playing so there are no grating silences (and I’m not forced to attempt any stage banter, haha!) between songs.
Q) You released this record digitally on your own, was that always the plan?   How do you feel about the digital era of music and people downloading music for free?
D: I do download music but if I particularly enjoy something, I will end up buying it anyway because I love having the CD, the lyric booklet and all of the good stuff that comes with it.  The whole ‘free download’ hornet’s nest is an incredibly hard thing to police so unfortunately it’s become just another thing for bands to worry about, I know Alunah were incredibly disappointed to find their new album leaked on torrent sites before its release.  In an ideal world we’d love to be able to give our music away but it’s just not feasible, production and duplication costs all come out of our own pockets and we have bills to pay, dammit!
Q)  Do you have any plans to release a physical version of the record, as our readers are big fans of vinyl?
D: See, that’s the thing, despite living in the digital age it’s surprising how many people have asked us about vinyl or tapes!  Vinyl is bloody expensive to produce so there are no immediate plans, but if anyone wants to pay for us to have some pressed, then sure, haha!  We do have a CD version of the album available on our Bandcamp page now, though, it’s a very swanky digipak which should hopefully satisfy those who prefer to have something a little more tangible than a bunch of MP3s.
Q) What are your plans for the rest of the year and any chance you're doing a full UK tour?
D: I think we’re just going to take it easy and work on writing new material, our day jobs get in the way of planning anything too short-notice and the year’s getting on now.  Next year we’re really going to concentrate on gigging and hopefully look at a mini-tour at least – we’ve developed a close friendship with Undersmile so personally I’d love to play a handful of dates with them.
Q) Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, you got anything you like to say to your fans?
D: Just a really, really sincere thank you to everyone who’s supported us, be it attending our gigs, buying merch or just mentioning our name.  It doesn’t go unnoticed and we truly appreciate it.
A massive thank you to Dani from Ishmael, great interview.  Their record is phenomenal.  It is just a stunning record.  Do yourselves a favour and purchase that record immediately.  You won't be disappointed.  Check the link below for more info about great band.  Cheers Aaron