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Diablo Blvd

Al enkele jaren staat Diablo Blvd aan de top van de metalscene in België. Toen hun voorganger ‘Follow The Deadlights’ uitkwam bij Nuclear Blast begon het ook internationaal heel snel te gaan. Met hun nieuwe album ‘Zero Hour’ heeft de band een heel eigen geluid ontwikkeld. Van het één kwam het ander, en l snel hadden we via Skype een leuk gesprek met frontman Alex Agnew.

Door: Koen W. | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

band imageHey Alex. Thank you for taking the time for us. How are you?
Okay. It’s going ok right now. I am relaxing in the garden. I'm not really doing much. But it are busy days. Many interviews and just back from a tour with Life Of Agony. So very busy.

'Zero Hour' is your fourth album. How many blood, sweat and tears has it taken?
Very much. Much more than equal to any previous album actually. We came from a very difficult period. Certainly with the farewell from Dave Hubrechts, our lead guitarist. He has played lead guitar on all previous albums. Except with this. The breaking apart did not really went well. In fact, that was all pretty fierce. There were also a lot of personal problems with some band members. But then in their personal lives. Everybody came a little from a very hectic period. So that is how we started making this record. Well realized that our previous album was 'Follow The Deadlights'. That was released by Nuclear Blast but only eight months after was released in Belgium. That was our first international release. But then you are also faced with critics from abroad for the first time. You only played in the Netherlands and Belgium but now we are going international. Then you start feeling that we had to add a dash if we want to stand out between all that talent worldwide. So we realized that we had to reinforce something in our sound and that the songs had to be better and everything had to be one step higher. If you have to start recording like that, it is a lot of stress. But once we started, it all went smoothly.

The eleven songs on this album just finished. There is plenty of room for details and the sound sounds much fuller. It is obviously played a little heavier. What has changed compared to predecessor 'Follow The Deadlights'?
Two things actually. I had a very long conversation with someone from Nuclear Blast at a staff party. The funniest thing was that he was very fond of 'Follow The Deadlights' because it was a mix between New Wave and metal. That actually struck me like a bomb because that was true. As a young boy I listened to bands like The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus, Killing Joke and that kind of bands. And that influence has always been a bit of a habit with us. That's actually much less clear than on this record. We also wanted some more aggression. Also in lyrics. At the same time, I was writing my comedy show 'Unfinished Business'. I wanted to draw the line of the content of the show into the lyrics. It is more a kind of a social-critical album. No concept because that sounds really too important. But there is clearly a theme in the album. We already knew that in advance. We were already planning to do that way. We kept it there. If we felt we were deviating from that line, we changed. It had to become a darker sound. All the happy pieces were cut out.

Were you also stricter for yourself?
Of course. We have also worked with another producer. The previous three albums were produced by Ace Zec. So the way of working was that we finished the songs and went to the studio. He did some adjustments but the most part of the work was already done. Now we went to the studio with Dag Taeldeman. He was the guitarist / singer of A Brand. Our guitarist Tim Bekaert was also part of it. Dag is also a musician and songwriter. A Brand is especially a rhythmically an interesting band. They played a combination of Dance with rock rhythms. I was also listening to Killing joke and many of that eighties stuff. It just worked perfectly with what we meant when we said we wanted a mixture there. We wanted to break the line of what we did. He has been there from the beginning and said: ‘I would like to do something about it, or it sounds a bit quiet’. So it helped enormously to keep that guy listening as if someone was listening to the record as a fan and not like the people who have created it He was someone who could just say his opinion and that was like somebody who was thinking as he listened the record.

So it was not just for money saving that you chose to work with a Belgian?
No, not. It is also much more convenient. You can choose again for an American, but then you have to go travel there. The final mix has been done in the States by Jay Ruston and Paul Logan who have also done our previous album. The album has left for America to be mixed and mastered. But I find it very convenient to work with someone if you are in the same room. That's a little easier than staying in Los Angeles for five weeks. The sound is determined when you record it and not after during the mixing and the mastering. But the songs and how you work on it is the hardest work. If you put a song together and it sounds like the line is held as you've predicted; it's much better. We tried to do that very hard. And I am glad that we did not deviate from it.

Did you write the lyrics after the music was finished?
On the previous records I worked that way. The lyrics were always the last one. I already had some ready but those were more melodies and then I began to complete the lyrics. Now it was the other way around. I just started to write lyrics. In recent years, a lot has happened and changed in the world. I started to write the opening song 'Animal' in response to the terrorist attacks in Brussels. After ten minutes it was done. The inspiration simply flew out. That comes from the same place as how I write my comedy shows. If I'm angry and very annoyed about something I just start writing. It works best when everything happens spontaneously. So it was the first time I did not have to be in the middle of lyric writing before we went into the studio. Now I knew what was going on and what I sang about. It was just a lot of effort before but that was all I had to do. It worked a bit more relaxed. I had to work a bit harder in advance but I had to stress a bit less afterwards.

What I noticed is that there is no comparison with Danzig anymore, but Diablo Blvd really sounds like a genre on its own.
That's right and that's a very nice compliment because that's what we've been aiming for years. Certainly on the first album, the Danzig influence is clearly heard. At the second and third, it was always a lot less. So now it should be pretty good. That is also the comment I have already received. Even abroad, they find that we have a very unique sound. They say they actually do not know any band that sounds like what we do. That was what we were aiming for. We are made up of a band of five members who have incredibly diverse music styles but also have the same similarities. So we have our differences but those differences make sure things are happening in the band. If every band member was a big fan of Slayer, you probably make a Slayer-alike album. But if you have people who love the most sorts of different things, good ideas come true. Certainly the Eighties influence that is more in it. I pushed that up so I also felt very hard the parallels with the eighties. I'm now forty-five years old. I know very well how it was to be a teenager in the eighties. How the cold war felt. Now you experience all the same things are coming back. You hear Trump using the same slogans as Reagan did those days. They are now building up walls again. The most beautiful in the eighties was how the Berlin wall fell. And now they are busy turning all the walls back and they want the borders back to close. With the Brexit and so on. There is also again a strong Russia. All the leaders of those countries have the same slogan: ‘Make Our Country - fill in the country like you want - great again’. That's the only thing that you hear today. That's such a sense of fake nostalgia they create. That it is used to make it better again. But honestly, I was glad that the eighties were over. In the nineties we had Nirvana, the falling of the wall, Clinton played his sax. And we thought it would all be going all right with the world. Then suddenly there was Nine Eleven and everything was completely reversed. Now you have a lot of ego’s who are saying how big their rockets are. So the eighties were quite a difficult time to live in but is was an excellent time to make music. The best music is made when the country's leaders are sucking.

I was born in 1974 so I know perfectly how that feels.
I am from 1972 so you know how it is. Now you have a lot of young bands who are influenced by the eighties and have a nostalgic feeling about it. But then I think that's because they were born in 1995. I remember when I was little and saw Stings video 'Russians' where he sings: 'The Russians love their children too'. I always started to cry in my sofa because I thought the world was going to end. Music was cool in the eighties but it was also a very dark time. I feel that many of those things are coming back now. That was the insertion of the new record and also the new direction that the album was heading.

Jan Rammeloo is the bands new bass player. He comes from Bliksem, which played a lot heavier. Did he already have an input into the writing and add some more aggression in the sound?
He joined Diablo Blvd after the record was written. Tim has been played the bass lines. But we already knew Jan for a long time. We also toured with Bliksem sometimes. Jan has already done some replacements with us in the past, when Andries was not there. In the past everyone played in other bands. So Tim was part of A Brand and Andries with Born From Pain. If they were away with those bands, we had to work with a replacement. Jan has done that a lot of times. He knew us well and he is also a super good bass player. He was actually our first choice as a new bass player. But I have to say I never thought we would have him. Because Bliksem was still there. But then it turned out they were going to split and Jan sent a text message if the vacancy was still open. He came down and he joined us. That was it. We already know each other well.

You can give multiple filling to the term 'Zero Hour'. Is it all or nothing or is it just a fictional title?
Or a step of something new. That's the time when something has to happen. When a missile has to leave or changes needs to be made. I feel we're all waiting for it. That is something very typical for the end of a century or a millennium. We are a generation who have experienced that. There are not many people who can say they have experienced the changing to a new millennium. In history, people thought it was going to be the end of the world. Those were ideas that people have. That was the time of the Romans with the birth of Christ. Everybody then thought that the world was going to end. But that has all gone well. It is rather the time of revolution. From people who suddenly feel that it should be different. A number of decisions from recent years have therefore been taken. The Brexit is such a good example: ‘It must be different. But it’s better that you stay in the EU. But we want something different.’ The same in America when they elected Trump and not Clinton. That is the status quo of the last forty years because we choose something else. But it remains a politician and they are all special. Just that we have some more entertainment with Trump. For a comedian he is the ideal inspiration.

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The artwork is now an illustrious modern drawing. That's a lot of contrast compared to the previous artworks that were made more bombastic and in a more classic way. Is there any meaning behind it?
That is the work of the Norwegian artist Hedi Xandt. Our drummer Kris was the one who usually did the artwork. Now he was looking for something that looked cool. We saw it and agreed immediately. It's colder, killer, stylish and more mature. It also suggests a darkness but not in a metal music way. Our previous records looked more like that. This album is a bit more a different. At one point we were listening to it in the studio and we had something like what we are actually doing. We could not answer that immediately. The cover also more like the way we recorded the album. The band logo has changed. The letter font is different. The first three albums were more a trilogy with those two women each time on the cover. We are well aware of that. We are also a new band after the leaving Dave. Tim who changed from bass to lead guitar and Jan Rammeloo who has joined us. The dynamics in the tire have changed completely. This is Diablo 2.0. We are ready for the next step. The cover and photos make part of it. It had to be a clear line and we have kept this on the album. And the title of course.

You were also available for a face to face conversation. I live only thirty minutes away from you. But it was only possible in Leipzig, Berlin and Prague. How more international you can go?
It’s not that weird. We were on tour with Life Of Agony and played in those cities. You could also have just met with me at a pub in Antwerp. But it is the way the label is working.

Was that also possible without the support of Nuclear Blast? How does it actually feel to be the only Belgian band ever at Nuclear Blast?
Of course, that means a lot. It's a vicious circle. If you want to play abroad you must either have a booker or a record label. But usually you do not have a booker without a record label or no record label without a booker. Actually, one of the two had to sign you first. And for us, we were lucky that it was Nuclear Blast. That is simply the biggest metal label on the planet. A lot of bookers then say of 'how it has to be a good band, otherwise they would not sign them'. We are now working with Seaside Bookings and that is a good booking office. They also do many metal bands and they let us play in a few nice places. Hopefully, they will continue to do so.

Guitarist Andries Beckers said in an interview on the occasion of your previous album that how bigger you become as a band, more and more people would have to say something. Now you have grown even more. Is there any work you used to do in the past and that you have to stand unfortunately or are you still holding all the strings?
That's right. It is still true. With this album we have actually made our way. At our previous record we had some interference. It came out after six months at Nuclear Blast but with a different cover because they did not like the original one. And another order of songs. We were all fine with that because who are we? But once we got that record we decided that something on the next record it would not be true. I also know that the first time we sent the album cover to Jaap from Nuclear Blast, he was not so happy. And our answer was: it will be that one. If you want it or not. So at the end, it was our choice. We are standing stronger in our shoes. We have been busy for a while now and we know how to do that. You will not anyone dictate you. They are just a label. Should if they really know how it worked, they would have a hit album every week. But that does not happen. So they don’t know how it is working. It is still the artist who decides. Should it be different, you could work as Justin Bieber and others make your songs. You get dressed by a stylist. Let the record company search for an image that suits you. That's not really the kind of band we are or the music we make. Metalfans, punk fans and hardcore fans will not take it. You feel if something is real or not and if it's not real, nobody believes in it either. So all we can do is to do what we can and believe in that too.

Some hot news: Fleddy Melculy has performed at Maanrock (in the city of Mechelen). Vocalist Jeroen Camerlynck expressed his regret in the press when he heard that crowd surfers might get a penalty fine That reminds me of the performance of Diablo Blvd in 2012 when the show was stopped. Have you ever experienced that anywhere else or can it only be in Mechelen?
That was a big party there. The show has been stopped twice by the police. We also had to stop earlier. I know that crowd surfers have also been fined. The band then decided that if they send their fine to us they would get a 7 inch and some t-shirts. Some have done that and they have received a package from us. I find it disgusting what happened, but I can understand more or less about the organization. We played on a square in the middle of the city and not on a demarcated festival place. So when they suddenly see a wall or dead or a circle pit they would thought that that someone would go through the window of a shop. I understand the fear, but I found the police's actions subservient. And then the fact they gave some penalty fines. I found that completely unnecessary. And now Fleddy Melculy has also experienced such a thing.

Is that only possible in Mechelen?
I've only experienced that in Mechelen so I suspect it will be mostly Mechelen.

Perhaps Bart Somers, Mayor of Mechelen, could spend some time with his colleague Vincent Van Quickenborne (metal-minded mayor of the city of Kortrijk where the Alcatraz Metal Fest takes place - KDW).
I think so. That will never be a big problem in Kortrijk. We went there and played on the market square and then we went for dinner with Vincent Van Quickenborne. After that we played on Alcatraz Metal Fest. I think the Alcatraz Metal Festival only has grown so much with the support of Vincent van Quickenborne. They have a lot support from their local government. That’s is not everywhere going to happen. So the metal fan can be happy with someone like Vincent. In fact, every city should have a mayor like him. That would make it a lot easier.

Alex, of course, you also have a career as a stand-up comedian. What do the other band members do than when you are performing comedy shows?
We've always combined that. I was writing the album together with my comedy show. The recordings of the album took place when I did my comedy performances. When the album was recorded, my comedy show tour was also done. Everything is being planned and so far it has always been a success.

What about the Diablo Fest. There was one in 2014 and 2015. But now it is very quiet about it.
That will be for next year. Now it's the release show at the 23 Th of September in Antwerp. There will play two bands as support but I cannot tell who it is. The names will be released one of the next days. Diablo will definitely happen again but it will be in 2018.

How happy is your wife with you? The comedy shows just ended and you are already heading an a tour with Diablo Blvd?
That was not that bad. She's just glad that I am away. She is at home and she thinks that's cool because she will get some rest. And now for serious. It's sometimes hard that I'm so far away. Also for my little daughter. They both realize that I have to do that. That is who I am. It will still be during some years. It's my job. Some people work from nine to five. So they have an easy family life. I usually work in the evening. So I often miss family reunions. But so they know me.

Is there any time after the show to have some contact with the fans at the merchandise?
We always do that. Abroad, I do the merch myself. I put it in place and sell some merchandise. At the end after the main act or we are the main act and have played, we all come to the merch to sign and talk with the people. In my comedy shows, I've always done that. People spend money on your CDs or DVD’s and their tickets. So talking to the fans is important to me. I learned that with the punk and hardcore scene. Those bands always did that and have a lot of respect for their fans. But I have still two more interviews to do and my time for this one is finished. So I thank you a lot and hope to see you at a show.

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