Thursday, 28 June 2012

INTERVIEW - Martin Van Drunen

Martin Van Drunen is a highly acclaimed Dutch death metal vocalist, who is currently the frontman for the bands Asphyx and Hail Of Bullets. He is also well known for his time as the vocalist of Pestilence, featuring on their first two records and he has also performed with Comecon and Bolt Thrower. Martin was kind enough to answer some questions for Chamber Of Ages regarding his career in extreme metal.

COA: How old were you when you started taking an interest in the rock/metal scene?

MVD: The first heavy tones I remembered hearing and liking was "Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones back in ’69 when I was 3 years old. Never forgot that starting riff and always liking and remembering it. Bones, blood and core were infected for life. In ‘75, when I was 9 I saw Kiss on TV. Killer show, aggressive music, biting riffings. Hard rock to the core. I was enchanted and hooked. Bought everything, miming their act with a self made wooden guitar. Spaceman Ace, the hero. I spread it all around the hood. Parents forbid their children playing with me, coz I brought bad news. Playing and liking it loud, I checked out AC/DC and Van Halen until NWOBHM arrived. Maiden, Saxon, Judas Priest and then Motörhead (but they had been around for a while). I thought it was the limit of heavy noise. But the boundaries were about to be broken. Venom raised from the dark deserted depths of hell. And that’s where it all started...

COA: Pestilence was formed around 1986. How did you end up in the band as vocalist/bassist?

MVD: I knew Patrick already from a band in a neighbourhood in Enschede and one day Patrick told me he was looking for a vocalist for another band of his, which was Pestilence. I wanted to try out, I did a rehearsal with them and I was accepted. But they didn't have a bass-player so they also gave me a bass and said "Here you are, now learn!" . That's how it went. Pestilence was the first band that I ever joined. I just loved their first demo 'Dysentery', it was totally the music that I loved so I was really happy that I could join. I had to sing the songs of that demo live and if you're not totally into it, you can better forget it.

COA: Can you remember your first gig with Pestilence?

MVD: That was in Genk, Belgium, but that was actually more something like a joke. We were in contact with a band called Typhone, we were friends with them, and their vocalist Lou had a sort of birthday-party where lots of people came to. There was also a small stage with instruments and everybody who felt like they could play a couple of songs on that stage. When we were there, many people went like 'C'mon, you guys have to play too.' and so we did but it as nothing serious, it was just for fun. Our first 'real' gig was a couple of weeks in our hometown Enschede, in the Atak club. We also rehearsed there.

COA: Pestilence's debut album, 'Maleus Maleficarum' got released in 1988. What do you remember of the recording sessions and were you pleased with how it turned out?

MVD: The thing with the producer, Kalle Trapp, is that he had this Destruction sound in his head all the time and that's also how the sound on 'Maleus Maleficarum' turned out. And that's a pity because that's absolutely not our sound, our sound was much more raw. But you're under pressure because you have to record the album in a very short time, the record-company books a studio and a producer for you, we didn't have much to say in that, all that comes together... The cooperation with Kalle was OK but it was a producer who had certain ideas and it had to be done that way, you know ... We were still very young, what did we know? Later on, we got more experienced and things like that didn't happen anymore...

COA: What exactly happened with the original cover for the 'Consuming Impulse' album? Was the design really too extreme for Roadrunner to put out?

MVD: Yeah, definitely, it was far too extreme at the time. I still have a t-shirt with the original design on it. You could see a mass of people who were eating each other. When you would look at it closely you could see women who were eating arms of other persons, others who were cutting with knives in other's brain, one mass of heads, legs and arms. We sent that design to Roadrunner and they didn't accept it. When the album came out, it had this 'ants-design' on the cover and we were just shocked. The Roadrunner staff said something like ' We didn't approve the original design and you didn't come up with anything else so we chose a cover ourselves'. And there we stood with the stupid design. I think it was really something... that your own record-company censored your cover and your ideas and even didn't sit together and negotioated with you. They just did what they thought was right.

COA: Is it true that you also had buy your own copies of each Pestilence album?

MVD: That's right. Normally as a band of a label it shouldn't be a problem to get something like 5 copies to give to friends or family, but not with Roadrunner. You just got 1 copy for yourself and that was it, I had to buy the one that I gave to my parents. It was totally ridiculous. The guy who colored the torture-device that you can see on "Maleus Maleficarum", I had to buy a copy of that album for his as well. I think that's really sad.

COA: What was it like touring with Death and Carcass and what was your impression of Chuck Schuldiner?

MVD: It may sound bigheaded but I already made this statement in other interviews as well: Death as well as Carcass didn't have any chance when we played, we just blew them away, every night! In the end, Carcass and us switched places and they opened from that point on. Then Chuck started to boycott us, in the end it got even to a point that the roadies of Death slept in our bus because they couldn't stand his company. I never got along with Chuck. His death also didn't impress me a bit. It may sound very hard but that is how I am. If people respect me and they die, they also get my respect which isn't the case here. That's how I am. It sounds hard but that's how I see it. I never liked him while he was alive and I also won't start to like him just because he passed away.

COA: To my knowledge, you did 2 European tours with Bolt Thrower and several gigs throughout Holland. How did those gigs go, what are you memories?

MVD: That was awesome. It's really unique to play with that band, it was such an honour for me , you just can't imagine... I also developed myself as a vocalist at that time, also because I didn't have to play bass anymore.

COA: What led to your departure from Pestilence and to you joining Asphyx?

MVD: The others told me that they thought that my behaviour on stage was unprofessional, I was an alcoholic and arrogant... I really didn't take that because I had been very professional on tour and had given 100% every night. There had already been discussions before, and when we got back to Holland, it somehow exploded. I didn't want to record in the studio with Scott Burns where they recorded "Testimony Of The Ancients" later on. I thought the production and the sound you got there didn't suit us so I went back to Holland on my own while the others stayed there to have a look at that studio. I had the chance to join Asphyx immediately, I knew Bob Bagchus already through tape-trading and all that. He had heard that I left Pestilence, he asked if I was interested in joining Asphyx and that's what I did. I really liked their sound, especially the guitar-sound of our original guitar player Eric Daniels.

COA: During the recording of "Last One On Earth" you had been replaced by Ron Van Pol, but Century Media asked you to do the vocals on that record anyway. What was the situation?

MVD: Well, I had already written many lyrics for that album and I thought it would be very strange if somebody else would do the vocals on that album. There was also pretty personal stuff in there, in my lyrics, and also Century Media really wanted me to do the vocals. So I had two reasons although the split was already a fact and that's why I did it in the end. It sounds maybe a bit bizarre but it was very logical for me. When you're in a Death Metal band and you sing about death, murder and blood al the time, well... I started to get the feeling that I didn't sing about things which I was totally into. We all get older, I had a sort of responsibility and I had the feeling that I could do much more with it.

COA: Hail Of Bullets is your other project. People have referred to it as a death metal super-group. Has that tag helped the band, led people to look at the band more critically, or both?

MVD: It’s a bit of both. Suppose we were a bunch of nobodies starting a band like this – we wouldn’t get any attention. It’s tough for bands playing this style to get international recognition. So it made it easier for us, but there is the pressure of expectations because we are death metal veterans. But I think we can live up to the expectations. The people I work with in this band really know what they are doing.

COA: Throughout your career your lyrics have tended to focus on war (especially now with Hail Of Bullets). What do you find so fascinating about warfare?

MVD: Basically, how mankind can get involved in these gruesome things and the atrocities of war. I was never into singing about zombies because actual atrocities take place in war. I’m always astonished at what one person can do to the other. There’s also a fascination with how certain regimes can build and indoctrinate a population to start a war. It’s usually explainable, but as a rational, thinking human being, you don’t think you’d join an ideology or movement that would bring destruction and terror. It’s still going on. There are fanatics in the Middle East that threaten us, and they are just as indoctrinated as the Nazi children or Japanese young men in World War II.

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