California thrashers Warbringer are preparing to unleash their sixth full-length, Weapons Of Tomorrow. Frontman John Kevill fills us in on the record, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the band and him personally and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: How did your newest member, bassist Chase Bryant, come to join the band?
John Kevill: We hired Chase Bryant, formerly of tech-metal band Oni, in order to play for the band on Heavy Montreal festival and a European tour in 2018. He stepped in at rather short notice and killed it, raising the standard for bass in the band. He’s a really tight player live and in studio.
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Weapons of Tomorrow compared to previous albums?
We carried forward very much in the vein of how we wrote on Woe to the Vanquished. Carlos, Adam, and I formed the main songwriting team, and we created demos that we then all took and worked on. For bass and leads they were then written by the guys who played the parts in conjunction with us, we’d talk about the direction of the song and they’d come back. This was all the pre-production stage. We then went in and recorded the records. So for this and Vanquished we pretty much recorded a working version of the record ourselves over several months and used that as the model to build the real record from.
How has the band’s sound evolved from Woe To The Vanquished?
I think we basically took the stuff that was uniquely ours and cool on that record and went further with it. This one is very much a successor.
What inspired your lyrics this time around?
The civilizational, big-picture themes of Warbringer remain a focus. This album has a running theme of “fear of the future.” This is either expressed with a present day/modern context like on “Firepower Kills” or “Crushed Beneath the Tracks,” or songs about a historical time and situation where modernization does something awful to people (Belgian Congo/African colonialism on “Heart of Darkness,” World War I on “Glorious End” and “The Black Hand Reaches Out”). There’s other stuff too, themes of spiritual emptiness and personal isolation from the world.
You have European tour dates scheduled for the end of the year. How does the band’s level of popularity/awareness there compare to North America?
We love to tour and play concerts in both North America and Europe! Europe is a great place for metal, and is easier to tour in many respects. We are an American band, but Napalm Records is based in Austria. With the world being what it is today, we consider ourselves a global band and we try to play and get our music to everywhere we possibly can.
Will you schedule any U.S. dates before then if live shows are allowed to resume?
If we are able to play shows, we will. We will do so as soon as it is safe and clear. We don’t wish for any threat to the fan base. The concerts are gonna be a straight-up awesome time for those in attendance when they happen, that’s very important to us.
There’s no social distancing at metal shows. Do you think people will be cautious in attending concerts until there’s a treatment or vaccine?
No, can’t social distance in a mosh pit. So, as I said, we are gonna do shows again when it is clear, when the outbreak is contained and life returns to normal. If that takes a long time, then it does. When that does happen, we will be out there supporting this record on the road and doing the high-quality thrash show we are known for.
The first dates we are booked on are half a year away. It is tough to imagine that the world will still be in this kind of state by then, but none imagined this crisis. We gotta do our best for everyone, and I wouldn’t want to have shows in a context where this is still a serious concern for people.
How was the video shoot for “The Black Hand Reaches Out?”
Fantastic! I really enjoyed it and liked the result. We were there a long time, it’s an 8-10 hour deal. Lenny Vituli did a really good job and put some work into it, and I collaborated with him a lot on the production and aesthetic. The flying newspapers were funny to pull off.
Do you enjoy filming videos or are they a necessary evil for promotion?
Usually more on the necessary evil side, but I don’t have to enjoy the production to enjoy the results. This time I did enjoy it, working with people who are excited and motivated really helps.
Social media has been around for a while now, but its importance to bands these days is bigger than ever. Do you enjoy the transparency and interaction with fans, do you wish there was more mystique in the process?
The band’s social media presence as the entity Warbringer is different from any of us as an individual, and I myself don’t do social media. That being said, we make a lot of content that really shows us and our process and the thought behind our songs (such as this behind the record series “The Science of Thrash” we made for this record), and gives fans a deeper dive on the music. We try to keep our social media stuff focused around the band and the music though- we want to focus on the art itself rather than gimmicks. And on a personal level, I spend a pretty good deal of time talking to fans at shows.
Was there any thought of pushing the album release date back because of the coronavirus pandemic?
It was discussed, but we decided not to. We had promised the album this year on April 24, and we would have to suspend release for an indefinite period of time, as we don’t know when this will be over. We had already released material, such as the “Black Hand” video. We decided we couldn’t push it back and it was better to release the record.
How has the pandemic affected Warbringer as a band/business?
We have to release the record without touring on it, which is a big problem and uproots the way we do things. We are a live, touring band and that is a big part of our business model, and the best way to support the record. Having that crossed off as an option is a serious problem. We have to keep trucking and trust in the strength of the record to make an impact despite all this.
How has it affected you personally?
I’m stuck at home, but I like my home, so it could be worse. I have my wife and two cats, and a nice little garden, and a grill. We have been cooking a lot and eating very well, and I have been doing a whole slew of interviews in preparation for album release. I feel a little restless though, as I’ve been inside without enough purpose for far too long now.
Have you binge watched anything good during the lockdown?
Oh, hell yeah. Let’s see, a few things:
Lawrence of Arabia – Goddamn epic old movie. Four hours. Perfect for these kinds of days. The desert-crossing scenes are amazing.
Operation Odessa – This was a fun one, it’s a crime documentary that is set up like a kind of heist movie. Cocaine smuggling dudes in Miami use the Soviet collapse to try to buy a Russian military submarine to smuggle cocaine with. Pretty ridiculous characters too.
Epic History TV – This one’s a YouTube thing with giant maps. I love this kinda stuff. Has a bunch of series, did Alexander the Great’s campaigns, the First Crusade, and now we are about halfway through the Napoleonic wars. If you have maps and explain battle maneuvers, I’m sold. “Kings and Generals” is another one of these that is great.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Just thanks to all the fans for their support, best wishes to everyone’s health and safety. I hope you guys really enjoy Weapons of Tomorrow. For Warbringer, this will slow us down, but it sure as hell won’t stop us. Keep the metal flame strong, and we’ll get back out on the road as soon as we can.
(interview published April 23, 2020)
Watch Warbringer – “The Black Hand Reaches Out” Video