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Simple But Difficult


Архив интервью | Русская версия

To be able to make this interview, first I had to fight my way into the backstage area of the Brutal Assault festival (I guess, Primordial frontman Alan Averill just assumed journalists had free access there too), and then I was to struggle against two simultaneous overwhelming odds: on one hand, there was Alan’s desire to go on partying, on the other hand, there was Alan’s need for a certain physical release. I’m not gonna lie, his “let’s make it quick, I need to pee” made me lose my bearings for a moment. Short interviews are by no means my strongest point. However, as a long-term reader of Nemtheanga’s interviews, I can assure you: rarely does he confess his love for country/folk/western music in such a wordy and self-abusing manner (if at all). It has nothing to do with my journalistic creativity, though. If Alan himself hadn’t mentioned Townes van Zandt during our previous interview, I would never have guessed he has a soft spot for acoustic country ballads. And if it wasn’t for Addi Tryggvason (Solstafir singer/guitarist) who gave me an insight into their common music projects, plans and aspirations, this discussion would have taken a completely different direction. So, I think it’s only fair to call this conversation an afterword to those earlier interviews with Alan and Addi. Which doesn’t make it any less interesting, in my opinion. Friendship, madness and country music can be a good alternative to politics, history and “we are not a celtic metal band”.

The other day I came across one of your Instagram posts and it read “I did a little bit of singing for a handsome bunch of Northern chaps”. Who are the Northern chaps?

Solstafir. I just made a song with Addi. He’s making a D-beat crust punk album. He is a very dear friend and I went to Iceland for Eistnaflug and recorded a song. It’s not an incredible secret.

Who wrote the lyrics?

Me. I actually wrote some of his lyrics for this album. But they won’t be printed, maybe just this one.

And what about his possible involvement with Aprilmen?

Addi… the second last time he went to Dublin and my cousin and I were making Aprilmen, and we had some studio time together. We made a song or two. We’ll see. I mean, at this stage we — people like myself and Addi — I think, we feel the benefit of making music with other extra people and he’s a very great musician. I like making stuff with him, so yeah, we’ll see. I mean, you have to be a good critic of your own energy. If you have no energy to do a thing and the vocal sucks, you need to be able to say, “Hey, this is not cool.” So far, I have a lot of energy and I like doing things with other people, so it’s not a problem.

But why did his ideas for Aprilmen end up not being used?

Oh no, it’s totally different. Me and my cousin made Aprilmen, and Addi made, like, a jam session. Aprilmen is very structured, you know. I come with the bass and I play, and my cousin edits everything. So, it didn’t really feel an Aprilmen because there’s no guitar in Aprilmen, it’s only bass and electronics, so it wouldn’t really fit for Addi.

So, what he wanted to do was to add the guitars?

Oh no no no, he didn’t want to do anything, we just played together — we just played together in a room and recorded it and there’s like 15 minutes of the things me and my cousin and Addi were doing, but that’s not Aprilmen, that’s just some men in a room playing with instruments. He’s one of my dearest friends and I like making music with him at whatever capacity — it could be D-beat, it could be… I don’t know, I don’t mind, it’s just…. I’m sure it will happen eventually.

How have you grown to be such good friends?

Drugs. (laughs) No, listen, there was a time about 7 or 8 years ago when Primordial was doing a tour where I told the people on the tour that I would not do the tour unless Solstafir were on the tour. I threatened to quit unless they booked them and then they booked them. And they put us together on a bus and we made friends.

And you wanted them to tour with you just because they were such a good band?

Yeah. It was also a bit of bullshittery, like to say to somebody, “Hey, I’m not doing this unless they are playing.” So, we played together a few festivals, met a few times while we were fucked up and stuff and I just thought they were really good people that are very like us in Primordial — complex, difficult but very simple, very passionate, very… difficult.

Simple but difficult?

Yeah, you know, like simple in a beautiful way — that you can be friends with him, but complex characters. Of course we got along with Solstafir. None of us are boring. That’s all you need to know. The worst thing you can accuse anyone of is being boring. And for sure, Primordial and Solstafir in a room together is the least boring thing you can imagine. So, with much love and whatever… we like to be on tour together, make some music together. They are sober now. Solstafir are sober guys. We are not. (everybody laughs) So, you know, it’s complex. But people are people and they are some of the best people. That’s the only answer.

Is it really that big of an obstacle — that they don’t drink as heavily as you do?   

I don’t drink that heavily anymore but I still drink. Yeah, it can be difficult. If you’re with a band who’s sober sober, it’s only complication. It’s like… imagine being in a metal tube, being on tour for 3 weeks: one half of you is up till 5 in the morning every night and the other half is trying to take a break or whatever. So, you know, I think, it’s more difficult for the people who don’t drink to be around. ‘cos you know when you’re in a band and you’re playing, all the bad things are around you all the time. Your first thought is that you wanna give up. Yeah, it is hard. But they decided to do this and I respect that.

They tour very actively, so I guess they need that to stay in shape. I mean, no offense, but they definitely tour more than you do.

No, it’s not an offense, it’s totally true. But it is what it is. When I hang out with them, we can be in a pub for half an hour or an hour and then we do other things — for example, we go to coffee. It’s ok. It’s no big obstacle. People are people and if you love and respect them and get along with them, you respect their choices. Their choices are a little bit different for now. But my intake of everything is — the volume is turned down in the last 10 years. I’m 44 years old and will be 45 next time, so we can’t behave like 25 forever, you know. I think it is what you make of it. It’s our life decisions, I mean, there are bands that we’ve been on a tour with who are on complete other end. That you know would be a nightmare to tour with. We’re somewhere in the middle.

Addi also mentioned you might record some Townes van Zandt material.

Well, listen, we are apprentices. Townes van Zandt is a master musician, if not the most masterful musician I’ve ever heard. So, here’s the thing: when you step into the realm of acoustic folk kind of music, it’s the most complicated place to be. Without a doubt. What I mean by that is, if you know Townes van Zandt you know that this is a master. Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash — that’s masterful. To be able to just play acoustic and sing and make “Walk the Line”, or like “Waiting Around to Die”… Let’s be honest, me and Addi could start a shit death metal band tomorrow and be booked everywhere and it’ll be ok. And people would go, “Yeah, it’s great death metal” but to be a master of this …. This is almost impossible. And every person who tries to do it — they realize, “OK, this is something else”. To be like Townes van Zandt, this is like being asked to be Messi or something. If you play football in a park with your friends and someone goes like. “Hey, can you play like Messi?” — that’s Townes van Zandt. Townes van Zandt is possibly the greatest songwriter of the 20th century. So, to be compared to that, you gotta be at least David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand, you gotta be at least that good. He’s 10 out of 10, my songwriting skills are 1, or 2, or 3.

Oh, come on!

No, no, no, for sure. We are now talking about other level, like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan. We scrape the bottom underside — in my opinion. Not to say we haven’t made stuff of great worth but to be compared to Townes van Zandt, it’s… that’s being compared to the master of songwriting, in my opinion. So, that’s very hard. That’s all I have to say. So, if me and Addi could ever make a song together that would be even touching the bottom of this…

You mean something Townes van Zandt-inspired? Not covers or anything…

Yes, sure. But we have to be careful. Like, I don’t want to throw something out there just because I think it’s good. You need to be this black folk Americana, you need to really analyze it and go, “how good is this really?” I mean, if you can’t stand up to Hank Williams, then I don’t wanna do it. But — I’d love to make it. I’d love to try, I’d love to try and make my words fit into this realm. My playing is too bad. I can play but it’s too bad. But basically to be aware of the masters and how masterful they are doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to be like them. It just means that stuff that isn’t good enough — [make sure] no one hears it.

I think very few people think so highly or folk musicians and country musicians…

Well, they need to fucking check their head because Townes van Zandt…. If you don’t know that Townes van Zandt is the master, we’ve got nothing to talk about. The only person who comes close, in my opinion, is David Eugene Edwards. He comes close. There are a bunch of other people around who come close… you know, like… I’m searching for the names of modern folkies but we’ll leave it like that. Townes van Zandt is the master.

Do you remember when you first got exposed to his works? I doubt it was the music of your youth.

No, it wasn’t. Country music is not the music of my youth at all. My uncle is a country music aficionado for 30-40 years. He does a website, he did all that stuff. And I remember we met at a Hank III concert, maybe 10 years ago and I’d been into Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, and I was getting into Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and stuff. And literally the next week he sent me, “You need to listen to Townes van Zandt”. And that just changed my life. So, no, country music is not the music of my birth, is not the music of my growing up. I’m NOT an Irish traditional music guy but proper country and western like Hank or whatever is a changing thing, I guess. But I’m very happy I discovered them at the moment that I did.    

And what’s so different about folk/country music and metal?

Because you’re naked, you’re bare. There are no huge drums, there are no huge guitars, there’s no wall of sound to hide behind. There’s literally you and what you’re picking on the guitar. And to make that for 3,5 or 4 minutes… listen to Townes van Zandt, you know, “Our Mother the Mountain” or something. And listen to this story told in 3,5 minutes. 3 and a half minutes! Takes me nine minutes to tell a story like that. No, no, this is something else. This is majestic songwriting. Also, I grew up with all of the blues, whether it’s Leadbelly or Muddy Waters or lots of, like, 50’s/60’s delta blues and stuff. So, I kinda grew up with the other version of it from the United States as well, back when I was a little kid. So, I grew up listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins and stuff on one side and there was Merle Haggard on the other side. And in the middle would be ZZ Top or Led Zeppelin. My parents were cool. They knew some stuff.

You said that when you play country you feel all naked. Don’t you feel naked when you play on stage with Primordial?

No, not really because I’m surrounded by metal. I mean, when I play the bass and sing, I’m more vulnerable ‘cos I’m not very good. Yeah, this is a totally different thing. If you play an acoustic guitar, it’s hard for you.

Well, I do hope you’ll release a record like that one day...  

You know, it’s a voice of experience. You gotta be old to write those songs. You can’t be young to write songs of experience.

But Townes wasn’t old…

Yeah, but I think he was an old soul. And a better guitar player maybe.

Why are you so self-critical?

Because you’re comparing me to Townes van Zandt! I can’t have it, you know. We need things to aspire to.

May I now ask you a few questions about other things you do apart from writing music. Recently you’ve become involved with Dragon Productions. How long have you been working with them?

A few months. It’s difficult. Basically when you get a bit old, you need to have other things to do. 10 or 12.

But you have so many responsibilities. Like, you write for several mags and also…

Yeah, but you need to pay the rent. And also you just need to do 6 to 8 different things very well, in my opinion.

How don’t you go crazy?

I am. I am crazy but I’m fucking relentless. I have more than enough energy. But yeah, I’m really difficult. But you know, you have to be like that basically — relentless in your drive. So, I’m not lazy, I’m not worried, I’m not tired. I need 10 things to do.  

Were there any insights since you’ve started working with Dragon Productions?

Yeah, everything’s fucked.

And you didn’t know that already?

I knew it. It’s difficult to work in a booking agency and everything is fucked. But what am I gonna do? Work in a shop? No. I need to do 10 different things which is the case of lining things up and concentrating on them and then trying to change your balls and all those things. It’s difficult, it’s true but everything’s difficult, right? So, it is what it is.

Do you actually get paid for writing for Zero Tolerance?

Not much, not much. Not enough for my opinions anymore that people wanna kill me for. The thing about it is that, 10 years ago when I started writing no one really gave a shit but now everyone wants to kill you for one sentence they take out of context. You gotta be very careful.

To round this up, let me ask you a traditional final question: do you have any plans to come over to Russia?

Yes. We will do Ukrainian Metal East (a festival which will take place in Kharkiv at the end of May — ed.) next year and before that we’ll try and play in Russia.

So, it’s like spring or something?

No, later, but I hope so, I guess. It’s been a while. We love it, I love being there… (I am reaching out to press the Stop button, but Alan stops me) It’s not a fan thing bullshit I say — I really love it. So, I hope we come.

But you were really cold last time you were in Moscow...

Cold? As in, in person?

No, I mean physically.

Oh yeah, I fucked it up, it was fucking freezing. that’s all you need to know.

Primordial on the Internet: https://www.primordialofficial.com/

Lena Pashko
August 8, 2019
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