Wed 16th January 2008
After an unstable year following their 2006 co-headline tour with the awesome Crowbar, Will Haven lost original vocalist Grady Avenell and he was replaced by Jeff Jaworski of Red Tape. I interviewed guitarist Jeff Irwin before their Manchester show on 13th November at The Music Box. The band were touring to promote their new album 'The Hierophant' which was produced by Shaun Lopez with additional input from The Deftones' Chino Moreno. I unintentionally managed to say 'that's cool man' after about 90% of the answers but have omitted this inane repetition from the interview...
How was the tour last year with Crowbar?
"It was a blast, I've always liked that band, they're are a lot of fun, most of the shows were pretty packed, there were a couple that were kinda not so good but for the most part the tour was really good."
Did you get on with Kirk and everyone?
"Yeah they are super nice guys, we had a great time with them, all those guys are awesome and really fun to be with."
It was a really good bill with you and them, just heaviness! I saw you in Manchester that was a good show that was
"Yeah that was a really good show. That was cool 'cos halfway through that tour Grady had to leave for two or three shows because his wife was sick and Kirk came up and sang that was really cool."
You seem to play over in the UK quite a lot is that the band's decision or is that more to do with the label?
"Well initially our friends The Deftones took us over here and we did a full Europe and UK, that was '98 I think and after that tour we got a lot of interest from agents and other labels, once we did that, other bands that were coming over here started to ask us, bands like Tura Satana and Fear Factory, there just happened to be all these great bands that were coming over here and then we were able to do a licensing deal with Music for Nations and they took really good care of us, they made us come over here all the time, they promoted the hell out of us, it was easier for us to come over here because we had a great label and now it has pretty much gotten to the point where we can fund our tour without any label help, in America we can't do that but over here we can so if we want to tour and actually do it, we can do it pretty easily which is cool."
That's quite strange then in some ways way you are more popular over here than you are in America is that right?
"Yeah it came from Music for Nations, they did a great job getting our press out, over here hardcore metal is more accepted than it is over in America, plus you have Kerrang! and Terrorizer and these magazines and all they do is look at heavy music, whereas in America we don't have that, they ship Kerrang! and Rock Sound into America so we have a rock magazine, we don't have that in America so, it's a totally different vibe, if you want to be in a pop band or whatever you can have anything in America you want, to be a metal band in America is really hard it's a very underground scene, over here it's more mainstream."
How long did 'The Hierophant' take to write in the end, it was quite a long time wasn't it?
"Kind of, just because in the process of writing Grady wasn't sure if he was going to stay with the band so that put a dampener on things, plus over the summer and last year we got busy with other things so it kind of took a little longer than we wanted it to, but once we got going it was pretty fast, once Grady quit and we got Jeff in the band, then we got Chino and Shaun on board, then it just flew by and we got the whole record done in like three weeks. The initial writing was pretty quick but the whole thing with Grady and trying to get Jeff into the mix and write all his lyrics and stuff that put a little dampener on the thing, but it all came together pretty smoothly after that."
How much was Chino actually involved?
"I talk to him all the time, I told him I was writing songs. We were talking on the internet he was actually on tour at the time I im'ed him some of the ideas I had and he totally loved them he said 'you gotta come to L.A come stay with me'. Shaun actually lived right behind him, Shaun who produced of our record actually has a house behind chinos house, they live next door to each other, he said you 'gotta come down stay with me, we'll go to Shaun's house and well go in the studio and work on these songs'. It was supposed to be a pre-production thing but we went down there and actually just recorded them and kind of changed some stuff, while we were recording Chino had us change some stuff, change the structures of some of the songs, he was there for the first two weeks and then The Deftones took off for tour, so then it was just basically im'ing each other and we were actually touring with The Deftones when we started getting all the mixes in so Chino was there to hear the mix and stuff, he wasn't in the studio the whole time with us, he lent a pretty good helping hand. Chino actually got the ball rolling, we were kind of just stuck, trying to figure out what to do then all of a sudden he was like 'come to L.A', and the next thing we were there with him and Shaun, but not to give Chino all the credit cos Shaun actually had a bigger hand in production and the ideas and everything, I mean Shaun was a huge part of that record. Chino definitely lent a good helping hand and actually got our butts kicked, Shaun was the one that actually put everything together so it was a really good team."
Was Jeff the first choice for a vocalist after Grady left?
"Yeah actually when Grady quit the first time, like five years ago, we actually asked Jeff to join but he was actually in another band at the time, so we had to stop and put Will Haven on hold for a while and when Grady quit the second time that's when we asked Jeff and he was like 'ok I can do it this time' and he was basically our only other choice. If he hadn't have joined the band I think we would have basically just let Will Haven die and not do it anymore but Jeff's part of the family, he's actually been there since day one, him and Grady are really good friends they come from the same background he knows about the band it was just like the perfect fit really."
How do you think the new album compares to your other material?
"When I first started writing it I kind of wanted to go back to the more 'El Diablo' type feel and then it just kind of started to drift off, once I started writing again you know? I feel like when you get older it's easier to write, it comes to you a little more easily and you're a little more creative your brain's a little more developed you know? So I kind of started experimenting a little more with two guitar tracks and all this other crazy stuff but I had to contain myself because I could have gone really crazy, I just took our basic ideas 'cos it was our first record in years I didn't want to exclude Will Haven fans, I wanted to let them know we are still around were still the same band, still the same sound but we are trying to progress at the same time. So I think it came out really good, production wise it sounds different because we had a different producer with Shaun but as far as musically it's pretty much Will Haven."
One thing that's kind different on your albums is that you have the kind of interludes with pianos and synths and that kind of thing, who does that come from and why do you employ those interludes?
"That comes from me, I'm really really into ambient music, I've always been into scary soundtracks and evil stuff like that, I actually have a little side band that I do by myself which is all that kind of stuff and I try to incorporate it into Will Haven too, I actually wanted to do a lot more with it but never really had the time to actually incorporate it into Will Haven's album, because everything has been so rushed, but it all comes from me. For me, music is not about metal or pop, for me it's about dynamics, about having that really really hard crushing stuff and that really soothing mellow kind of eerie stuff makes the dynamic that much greater that's why I like to incorporate it."
What's the band called?
"Right now it's called The Dark Mind of William H and I just basically soundtrack kind of stuff and really dark evil and ambient, no distortion, just pianos and weird noises really.
On the guitar who are your three main influences, or just your main one?
"Well I played drums like forever but then I stopped playing drums and then bought a guitar to start Will Haven because we couldn't find a guitar player to play the kind of stuff that we wanted to so I was like 'screw it, I can do it' you know? So I bought a guitar and basically just living with Shaun Lopez who was my roommate at the time and Stephen Carpenter of The Deftones, those were two of my best friends, when I bought my guitar with those were the guys I was with every day, so those two I got all my influence from, all my song writing and stuff was from Stephen and Shaun. As far as big guitar players, I never really had an idol, it was just those two friends."
With your riffs, how do they come about, do you set out saying 'I want this to be a headbanger or crushing people's faces' or is it just expressing yourself through the guitar?
"A little bit of both, mostly it's expression through the guitar for me, but also I think of if I was listening to music, what would I want to hear, so it's a little bit of both, mostly expression though because if it's something that moves me then I'm like 'ok I'll stick to that riff', but other times I'm like if I wanted to hear something heavy what would I want to hear? That's what I try to incorporate into that stuff, I'd say it's about 50/50 really."
Do you listen to much sludge or doom music?
"Yeah, I pretty much listen to everything, our bass player is the one who is really into like doom, sludge and stoner rock stuff so I always get stuff from him - yeah I love that kind of stuff, I loved touring with Crowbar, we don't really get to tour with a lot of bands like that , so seeing those guys every night and their kind of style was really cool, there's tonnes of bands that I love that are in that vein, some bands I like are Yob, they are good friends of ours, stuff like that I love that kind of stuff."
What equipment and tuning to you use to get your sound, as you have that signature sound don't you?
"Well, its kind of been varied over the years, on this last record me and Shaun just kind of fooled around with different heads, like Marshalls, Diesels all kinds of stuff. Back home I have a Mesa Boogie amp and an old '88 processor, which they don't even make anymore, everything I use they don't make anymore so I've got to be careful with it you know? Not to fucking blow it up or some shit! So that's pretty much my signature sound, I do little tricks to my guitar too, I put different pickups on which they don't make anymore either and there's always little tiny tricks you can do, I learned those from Shaun and Stephen and those guys that's where I learned all my tricks from but I've kind of tweaked it a little bit to try and get my own sound as well, but yeah there's little tricks you can do, people think 'oh if you buy that head it's going to sound amazing' but it's not that, you need pickups, a decent processor you need a head, all kinds of little tricks to get a really good sound."
So no one is going to be able to emulate your sound then are they?
"Well I mean the stuff I use you can't find anymore so it's pretty hard!"
I'm not really into putting bands into a genre, I don't think I could put Will Haven in but if you had to classify, what would you call Will Haven's music if you had to put it into a genre?
"I don't know in simplest terms it's pretty much metal, but if somebody wants to break it down, I don't know because... even me I don't really know if it's hardcore if it's metal, sometimes I think it's like orchestrated metal in a way, it's metal but there's like something fuller about it you know? That's what I try to incorporate I want a fuller orchestrated sound but I wouldn't really know how to classify Will Haven to like a pin-point, but as far as I'd say pretty much metal, to kind of get the idea of it but maybe metal/hardcore/experimental."
You do have your own sound and it's quite rare to have that these days I think it's quality. Being a fan of the band, I don't know how stable it is, what keeps you together throughout all the line up changes and everything like that?
"Love of music really, I mean it's really really hard being in a band, we don't make any money at this, we don't get any benefits, besides meeting people that we admire. There's no benefits to being in the band like money-wise or celebrity-wise, nothing like that - we just love music, we love playing and we love playing for people too, we love our fans, I mean our fans have been amazing over the years they've stuck with us you know? I mean this tour hasn't been, we've played way bigger places than this on our own and we're kinda stepping back but we don't really care we're just really having fun, still meeting new people, still meeting new fans, still playing and that's all we really care about, I keep telling people they're like 'why is it so hard to like stay together?' if we actually made money at this, if this was our living then Grady and even our first drummer Wayne would still be in the band to this day you know, it's really hard - you spend your own money, it is really hard, you have a life back home, everybody has bills to pay, everybody has a house to pay for, everybody needs a car so for us, it's like that balance between trying to play music and trying to have a real life too. I know it's unstable, because we don't know how stable it is, with the labels now, they don't really care about bands that much anymore, there's not a lot of love there, so basically the only thing that keeps us going is the fans right now, if the fans went away then we'd be totally gone, the only reason we're still going is because we do have that hardcore fanbase that still loves our music and loves to watch us play.
That's awesome man, the final question then, what are your plans for 2008?
"Hopefully tour a little more if we can, we want to do some stuff in the states for sure, we haven't done anything there in a long time, we are trying to come back to Europe by ourselves then maybe back to the UK to follow the European tour but I think mostly we'll write, start writing for our new record, because this one was so crazy with Grady leaving and trying to put everything together so fast, so now we just want to start writing early so we can probably make the best record we've ever made, take our time, do it right. For us we just love creating music, that's our favourite thing in the world - so a lot of writing you know?"