Primordial: being aware of your own mortality is the key to success

The story of Primordial is a story of artistic success. It’s reached a point where fans know that a new album won’t disappoint them and will mix just the right dose of new elements and all the strong characteristics that we’ve come to expect from the Irish combo. It’s also, for a big part, the story of leader Alan Averill, aka Nemtheanga, who has developed incredible vocal performances and a serious strength of conviction over the years.

On the occasion of the release of Primordial’s new album, Where Greater Men Have Fallen, we talked to Averill for a little overview of himself. In the following interview, you’ll learn more about the man himself, his approach of singing and the way he takes care of his voice, and his other activities – ‘cause the least you can say is that Averill knows how to make the best of his time.

« I’m quite driven and very conscious of mortality and how quickly life goes by. So I’m quite focused and driven to do as many things as possible but also I have the energy for it. »

Radio Metal: Apparently, for the new album’s title, you kept the working title, Where Greater Men Have Fallen. Usually, a working title is something that comes up very spontaneously during the writing process. Can you tell us more on how you came up with this title?

Alan Averill « Nemtheanga » (vocals): When we sat down and talked about it the guys said to me: “Can you please try to make things a little bit more straight and simple? Less complicated English?” Which means that Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand was a little bit complex for some people. So this is what I did and I just thought it was a snappy simple title. We just ended up keeping it, no huge secret.

The previous album had a very clear overall theme, which was death. Is there a theme in this album too?

Not exactly. There’s a small theme running through some of the songs. If we were to collect them under one thing it might be the concept of shattered hope or broken idealism, something like this, you know. The concept that maybe the war is lost and there’s only a battle open to you left to win. Something like this. This is quite a dark way to look at things but this is the tone of the album, it’s pretty dark and pretty grim. It makes sense.

How is an album like this one conceived?

I just write when I have to write, when there’s nothing to do, when we’re not rehearsing or something. But I don’t think about it that much. Last year we started to turn our attention to new ideas, we began to try and look for some new angles, new inspiration, new starting point. When you’ve written for 10 or 11 or 12 albums, it’s hard to always keep it fresh or new. I took a few different starting points. Generally I write on my own and then when we are all in rehearsal I would just listen and try to figure out the atmosphere of the song and try to place a structure around it that adds to the song and makes sense. It’s a skill that you learn over the years.

You have a very intense way of singing and screaming. And over the years, your voice doesn’t seem to diminish. How do you do to keep your voice at the same level, do you have some special training routine?

The first album I made I was 17 or 18 years old and now I’m nearly 40. You have to learn. If you weren’t learning or evolving as a musician there would be something wrong. So obviously I’m a better singer than 10 or 15 years ago. The first thing is confidence, when you make the steps from being a hobbyist to a musician and you decide: “Ok, I’m actually a singer now, I’m not just a guy who happen to sing because he wasn’t good enough on the guitar.” You have to make that choice yourself, and once you have made that choice you step up to the plate. Personally I think that the enemy of your voice is always stress and worry. If you worry about losing your voice, you probably will. So it’s being able to know where your body is at. If you’re going the stay up all night taking drugs, drinking and singing along to AC/DC, in three days your voice will be gone. So you have to know when to cut out from the party. You can’t take rock’n’roll out of rock’n’roll but you’ve got to know when to quit the party, when to shut up. Personally I’ve always been into sports and stuff, this helps. When you stay fit, you help out your voice because it’s part of your body. But mostly it’s a matter of worry, stress and confidence.

Do you think that rock and metal fans and young musicians wrongly think that rock’n’roll is some sort of a life style and that you can scream for 10 years without worrying about and completely ruin your health?

It depends on who you are. Sometimes you can be lucky and scream for years, it won’t make any difference, and sometimes you’re going to lose your voice. I mean, heavy metal is a young men’s game. When you’re approaching middle age you have to be more careful, you pick and choose your battles, you pick and choose your qualities. I don’t stand in the crowd shouting to someone over the support band anymore and stay up all night two or three days in the row and do all the slightly crazy things that I used to do. But there’s still a little bit of craziness, don’t worry about that. You have to learn a few things, that’s all.

Didn’t you get some health problems with your voice during your career?

Not really. Long before recording I got very sick, but it has nothing really to do with my voice and it didn’t affect my voice. It was due to living in a farmhouse when it was -50° with no heating. That’s how I got sick, but we all get sick from time to time, you just have to be clever, you know.

Primordial did participate to a compilation of traditional folk song’s covers. Can you tell us more about how you choose the songs and why you choose them?

Roman from Drudkh asked us to take part so I took that seriously and decided: “Ok, this could be a good stepping stone to get everybody in a state of mind to make a new Primordial album, so let’s do this seriously.” I think the point of this compilation is about living history, it’s about taking a historical perspective and trying to use it for positive ends, and not allowing people to hijack it or for political objective from one side or the other. It’s about breathing life into some old, old songs that people should hear. That’s it.

Was it important for you to go back to your folk roots?

Yes and no. I don’t really care about that, it’s not really my thing. Not that I don’t care about it but, as I said, it’s just important to live history. The song “Dark Horse In The Wind”, most people don’t know that, it’s a very obscure old Irish song. It’s not a traditional song it was written in the 70’s. It was important to do it, to open that song to a new generation of people. It’s powerful. And also it was important to show another side of the band and to take the concept seriously.

« Often kids would rather stay in their rooms and watch a band on Youtube rather than going out to a live show. Things change… Mostly for the worse I think. »

I’ve read that, in the beginning, your first musical heroes were UFO, AC/DC and Iron Maiden. And then, a few bands changed your views when you got older, bands like Bathory, Celtic Frost, etc. The question is, do you still have a passion for old school hard rock and heavy metal bands like AC/DC or Iron Maiden? Or did you completely lose interest for that type of music?

No, no. I’m wearing a UFO shirt right now! [Chuckles]I love that stuff, that’s my years, the 70s and 80s. You know, I’m also a fan of 90s stuff as well, but old hard rock bands such as UFO, AC/DC and all that stuff, when I listen to all those bands, I really listen to their recording techniques, the small subtleties, the skills involved in the song writing and the power of those old bands. Because they were really playing, they weren’t just copying and pasting in Pro Tools. UFO was my first favorite band and is still one of my favorite bands. Rock’n’roll is just a transfer of energy, a release of energy. You can still keep a place for that in your heart. I still hold on to that attitude.

Can you give us an update on your two other projects, Dread Sovereign and Twilight Of The Gods? What can we expect from them in the next few years?

I don’t know, really. I mean, Dread Sovereign is going on tour tomorrow, for two weeks. Dead Soveirgn is kind of like my baby band or something like this. It’s full of riffs that I wrote during the years. It’s a new discipline playing the bass and singing. I enjoy it. It’s not Primordial, it’s not my life work, it’s not quite as serious although it’s still pretty serious. It’s just that as a musician this is what you do, try to be challenged and challenge yourself.

During your career you had a lot of side projects and you did some appearances on other artists’ albums. Do you think that these projects can somehow have a musical impact on Primordial?

Yes and no. Sometimes I’ve learned some things about my voice, which is important. I’ve acquired some new skills with Twilight Of The Gods. It was like: “Oh ok, we can look at this harmony and this part where my vocal range is stronger” and that kind of stuff. You have to learn a bit as you evolve as a musician. With Dread Sovereign I learned a few things about tones, and recording, at least in a studio. Things that I would look at for Primordial. Like we used the same bass on the new Primordial as we did on the Dread Sovereign and that kind of thing. You have to keep learning.

Is it important for you to have those side projects in order to challenge yourself, like you said, and to try out new styles? Is it important for you as a musician?

Yeah, you have to keep moving forward, you have to challenge yourself. Maybe it’s because, compared to the other guys, I don’t have the same family/work/mortgage commitment; I have the time to make a little more music. But I’m quite driven and very conscious of mortality and how quickly life goes by. So I’m quite focused and driven to do as many things as possible but also I have the energy for it.

You said in an interview that «Social networking has changed how we absorb information. It also helped to destroy some elements of human interaction” or certain parts of it like live shows for example, « the live show which should be the ultimate interaction with fans/bands is fast becoming something that younger generations are just not interested in ». Do you think that this phenomenon applies to Primordial audience? Or do you think that somehow, Primordial fans are a little bit more “traditional” and dedicated?

I think they are. I think the difference is that we have nostalgia, we have history, we have created something around this band that people cherish, that people take to their heart. And it’s very important to them. It has taken us twenty something years to create this and our fans take this time very seriously, and that’s great! We are not a trendy band in that respect. I think that’s something really difficult for modern bands to do, to create this link between them and the people that consume their music. It’s a complicated question, you know. Things have changed… I think we’re lucky because people are passionate and committed to this band. It’s not a band that often has trendy kind of fans, people understand. It’s very rare when I look from the stage and see people standing there with their phones filming or texting. We just don’t seem to be that kind of band thankfully. But yes, it’s true, often kids would rather stay in their rooms and watch a band on Youtube rather than going out to a live show. Things change… Mostly for the worse I think.

Apparently you also work as a writer for Zero Tolerance magazine and as an A&R representative for Metal Blade Records. Is it important for you to know all aspects of the music industry and not to be focused only on the musician’s point of view?

It’s not important; it’s just the way things have become. It is important to try to understand some of the legal and contractual problems. I’m a band guy, and I will always be a band guy first and foremost and I’m trying to explain to someone who is about to sign: “This is what publishing is. This is the difference. If you take this, then you’re going to have to pay back this,” all this kind of stuff. You know, I’ve even studied music a little bit. I’m not saying it’s essential but the music industry is changing so rapidly that it can be an advantage to know some of these things.

Interview conducted by phone 30th, october 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Retranscription and traduction: Mariane Monin.
Introduction: Spaceman.

Primordial official website: www.primordialweb.com.

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