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Warbringer’s John Kevill: "This is my life's work and that big spiky “W” logo that means quality as far as I'm concerned, you know?"

Interview with John Kevill from Warbringer
by Quinten Serna at 21 November 2019, 9:30 PM

Forged from the timeless discipline of abandon and steeled by a decade and a half of holding the line for Thrash Metal, Warbringer, proves themselves day in and day out; from their grassroots mentality to their in-your-face performance theirs is a mannerism shared equally between all members, unvexed by any adversity that they may come across they continue their pursuit of pure honest metal baring no compromise. Quinten Serna caught up with singer, John Kevill, after an unforgettable performance.

Alright, so first off I want to say that was an amazing show you know the sound was amazing everyone was tight, professional, there weren’t any hiccups—I mean of course the snare breaking but…

We broke the snare that was a pretty major hiccup, but in the spot it did too, not just anywhere—first song of The Encore after the build-up, but you know  it's like almost a test your might situation for the frontman because I have to I have to play it off somehow like it would be pretty easy to be like “uhhh” and panic but you have to explain to the crowd what's going on why we stopped and once it make sense to people then they understand what’s actually happening in the show and it's you know and I play it off chords Carlos is wailing on his snare too fucking hard—which he is—but there you go that’s why it broke, and also because it’s day 43 and the gears getting a lot of wear there's no days off so we have a limited time to fix stuff, to get new drum heads, to do all these mundane things that you need to do to keep the wheels turning, you know? But people understand and if you just are honest with people, “Hey we broke the damn snare would you like us to start the song again?” okay, you know, and it’s a bitch for me because I got to do that high wail twice, hahaha. 43 days in that’s a little oww.

Well your voice still sounds amazing

Thanks man it’s doing a lot of drinking water and gargling salt water and honey and tea and no alcohol at all which is a real bummer because I like to drink man I really do, but just on tour it has a detrimental effect and I got to put the show in the fans first ‘cause ultimately if I put my own having fun above the fans getting the best out of me that's just the wrong priority.

I respect that a lot I think everyone you know in there (points to the venue) respects that

Whether they know it or not, they just know if the show’s good or not that’s the only thing that matters in the end you know we're entertainers these people paid for a ticket we better entertain them and we better do a damn good job. This is my life's work and that big spiky “W” logo that means quality as far as I'm concerned, you know? So I'm glad you thought so all we can do is try our best to make that happen.

So to start this off I’m Quinten, I’m the interviewer from Metal Temple of course, glad to be here with you, brother. For anybody who doesn't already know your work or who wants to of course know you again why don’t you explain who you are and where you come from?

I’m John Kevill from Los Angeles California I do vocals in Warbringer and have since the founding and what we do is an extreme kind of Thrash Metal that I'd say has our feet firmly rooted in the 80s but we're looking to kind of bring the genre to the next step ‘cause it sort of died off in the early 90s, and I think there's been a revitalization but we're trying to be more than that we're trying to be an evolution and that doesn't mean taking it on some bizarre left turn or some novelty direction, but continuing where it really left off and finding a new way to go with it and for us I think that often takes us into some like Thrash extreme metal hybrid territory and other times just into what we’d say is just classic thrash written as tightly as we can.

Amazing, that’s a great way of wording it. Cool, so if you were ever going to be on America's Most Wanted what would it be for?

America's Most Wanted? Shit you know why I live a reasonably straight-laced life for someone who does what I do.

It could be something insane, completely stupid…

Sure, I mean they wouldn't get you for like smoking a bunch of weed there's bigger crimes than that—I do that at home—maybe just for fucking chewing people's ears off when they ask me something about like explaining something. I have just like a repository of all this  stuff in my head and in certain subjects will get me into—like if you want to go into the evolution of industrialized warfare or some shit like that, it goes on and on and on and on and one story I tell will bring me to another. So eventually they’d have to arrest me just to get me to shut up, you know?

So what have been some of the peaks in milestones in y'all's career you know those rare instances and occasions where you just look back and go “damn, that actually happened!”

Oh, there’s been a few… I'd say a couple of the big shows that qualify for that was San Bernardino in 2013 where we open for Iron Maiden. Along with Iron Maiden there was Megadeth, Anthrax, Overkill, Testament, a ton of great band—actually I don’t think Anthrax was there—but Megadeth and Testament and Overkill just tons of great shit and that was… for me especially opening for Maiden “Ahh!” that’s a childhood dream right there, Maiden’s still one of my all-time favorites it was quite wonderful, and I’d say recently maybe a year-and-a-half ago we did something called "Trash Domination" in Japan in Tokyo and that was amazing I was two nights back-to-back in with us with Testament and Exodus and it was just… that was an incredible experience. Packed place, over a couple thousand people there and in Japan too! I got to go on a whole trip with my wife afterwards. My wife and I went down to Osaka the next day where we saw Razor and Hyrax and others, so we had a really Thrashing Japanese vacation. But just stuff like that where it blends either bands I really love and just like great shows with any of my… where times where I get to combine doing what I love with the music with the travel and seeing the world there's been a lot of that and it's hard to put a specific time on those but one thing I saw that was just really amazing that has nothing to do with this. I saw a pack of wild— a pod I guess—of wild orca whales one time while we are on a ferry between Vancouver and Victoria Island that was freaking magical and glorious. Seriously, I needed to like all out David Attenborough to narrate the thing, you know? It was quite fantastic. I really love, apart from the musical aspect of playing shows having people appreciate the shows it's really seeing the world and broadening my horizons that way, it’s taught me a lot and really enriched my life so that's one of my favorite things about having done this life I guess.

That's great, this extra feeds into next question in fact it might be a little redundant because of that, so detailed. Being on tour exposes you to a wide array of different people culture and ideas so what’s some of the best food you've ever come across?

Oh, yeah well that’s not the same question, anyway like I was saying there's a lot… So I'm studying history in my other life and going to try to write something eventually, or teach, or something along those lines. It feeds in the lyrics I write and everything as well gives me something to write about that's not just stock and every day. So I got that interest I think largely from my travels with the band, just seeing different people: the way they are different the way they're the same. For food I think there was a really recent one, not on this tour but on the Mexican pre-tour warm-up we did with Enforcer, it was about a little over a month ago now. We were San Luis Potosi and we were looking for food at 3 in the morning and there's a taco shop open with nothing open at all for like hundreds of yards on either side of it and probably the best tacos I've had in my entire life there is nothing more incredible I could describe. Apart from that, shit there's been all kinds of stuff. Something I really grew to appreciate is the world of Slavic food although like sour cream and Dill on like Savory pastries and dumplings and stuff that's something I really grew to appreciate from touring through Eastern Europe a few times, I even like borscht even though it looks like Pepto Bismol. “Alright I’ll try it—damn it’s good!” So that’s something I really appreciate, for food I'd say Mexican is my official number one but you know not all Mexican food is created equal.

Right

And even just like Texas to California to Mexico proper and then even different parts of Mexico it’s all really different, and food’s just this enormously wide world and travel really helps me appreciate that certainly.

I'm partial to baklavas myself as well

Oh fantastic and I remember just getting some pita gyro sandwiches in Greece was like ridiculously dirt cheap for how good they were. Usually in my opinion the best food isn't like at some for four-five-star restaurant or whatever, you know, I usually end up disappointed when I go to those ‘cause there's like some stand with some lady doesn't speak English slanging whatever that's incredible. You find it all over the place, people eat all kinds of stuff that’s just delicious, you know? So it’s really broadened up my horizons. There’s a guy on this tour who I’m trying to open up the world of food, you know, there's more than hamburgers and pizza dude, you know? Hahaha. The more you allow yourself to eat and enjoy the more stuff out there you can have that’s great, you know?

Yeah and gyros are pretty remarkably fast as well, the way they make them

Oh yeah, and again those are a little different everywhere. I’ve learned a good deal of stuff just like what foods people put with what foods and I've been able to like free-form cook and grill some stuff at home, I usually grill a lot my wife’s into it as well so it's something that, you know, food I've eaten on my travels is something that we can bring home with us. So we do good homemade pierogis now, neither of us are Russian or Polish or any of that but we figured it out! One of many things, but I really like that it’s a way I can enrich my own life, what I’ve seen in the world you know but then I guess this seems to be the theme right now, hahaha.

What have been some of the most harrowing experiences on tour or you know playing shows in general?

*Sigh* well breaking a snare drum live on stage when you’re doing an encore… well you know if stuff goes wrong that's not really harrowing, you’ve just got to play it off and handle it a certain way and it's gone wrong enough that something I'm relatively used to by now. The thing that scares me—this isn’t a really exciting answer but to be honest I’m the kind of guy who’s like: well what actually is the most probable way that I'm going to be hurt or injured or whatever. And the thing that scares me the most is the travel. Planes and cars especially like cars, buses, and vans. What if whoever's driving falls asleep? What if whoever is driving a semi truck in the opposite lane falls asleep? You know if you look at it as like if you're rolling hundred sided dice and you know, any roll two to a hundred is fine but one and your dead, well shit I don't like having to roll that dice everyday you know. So actually I get more and more afraid of basic shit such as a motor vehicle transport as I go on because I’ve just spent so many hours in a moving vehicle that I feel like it's really lucky that it's like uncannily lucky that nothing has happened to me yet, I haven’t even been in a serious accident yet in my life so it’s pretty spooky, you know, it's like I'm due for one.

And there's one time when Nick Ritter was driving—this was all the way back in 2009 our former drummer now deceased, rest in peace,—Nick Ritter when he was driving once in Quebec we were on the freeway in the far left lane and someone somehow, I've never seen this before or since, was driving the complete opposite direction heading right at us on the freeway in the far left lane so you know I'm asleep on a bench in the van at the time and luckily we're on the bus now, but then we're in a van and I'm asleep on the bench and I go flying off of it while he’s slamming on the brake and drives us off the road into a ditch to avoid these people driving right at us. You know if they had a head-on collision with us, we're not wearing seatbelts we’re asleep on benches in the van we could easily be dead or seriously injured and that would just end my career right there and perhaps worse. So that kind of stuff honestly scares me the most and is the most harrowing, other than that the only thing that I'd really consider a harrowing is detainment borders for no reason. You know I don't travel with anything across borders, I'm not stupid, but it's just sometimes they're just really unreasonable and decide to detain you for long amounts of time ‘cause they don't like you and that can be pretty spooky when you're in a windowless room for like more than 2 or 3 hours.

That is terrifying

One time it happened on the U.S-Canada border and they asked for like all of our laptop passwords and everything, they were really trying to get us for something, they didn’t have anything on us but they sure kept us there for hours and hours, time became meaningless, you know strange.

Okay, if you could define yourself with one song, what would it be and who would it be by?

Hmm, well it would have to be one of my own songs, wouldn’t it? I guess probably if I could pick a definitive middle point for our sound and discography I might have to go with Living Weapon from Worlds Torn Asunder it has all the thematic of the band, it has those kind of signature really big build-ups that we do in a lot of our songs into the high shriek and it thrashes like hell and has riffs for days so I'd say that's a really good starting point for us and what we do and you know I guess if I have to define myself by anything it would have to be one of our songs or what the hell am I doing, you know? Hahaha. It's definitely, for me, it's very from the heart and that's my voice there so I got to choose that.

That’s right, it’s got to be eponymous. What was it like hitting the road for that first big tour and what was the transition like going from a 9 to 5 or whatever hours' job and becoming extremely successful starving musicians?

Well that’s a bit of a paradox what you just said there. Certainly it's been a hard road so extremely successful, it depends what you compare us to, haha, we manage to get by is what I’ll say about ourselves. Shit, I made that transition in 2008 I went on the road in the winter in a really shitty van we didn't have a GPS even we were really amateur at doing it and we got signed very early in our career so we weren't very tight or good really in my opinion so we had to learn it all. So it was pretty wild at first and kind of the efficiency and professionalism we pride ourselves on now we totally didn't have even a little, fortunately we were with Exodus who were really cool and they were like “you guys were like we were when we started out” so you know kind of the recklessness and wildness we certainly had that and you know, it was a lot of fun. You go out there and you learn a ton, you learn a lot about putting on a show, about people, about the world, about traveling, about touring, about how to deal with the whole thing, and winter uggh… you know for a Los Angeles guy in the dead of winter in like Winnipeg or something that was a shock and then how to deal with being ill on the road and everything, there was a lot to it, but you know I've been learning the whole time and it's all I can do so this shit's ancient history for me by now, I’ve been at it—I think I've done over 1,400 shows in my life it’s my best estimation.

Amazing

I’ve lost count completely but if I just kind of add the tours together in a rough sense that’s about the number I come up with. So,  that's kind of why the band is what it is right now and why we can put on the kind of show we do, it’s just experience and hard work over and over and over again, and you know hopefully it shines through.

It definitely does, at least from a fan's perspective it does. Assuming no legal repercussions would you kill two strangers to save the life of one of your band members?

Yeah. I mean… so let's not very moral of me… it’s not moral but it is practical. There's a lot of people out there, a lot of people but you know I don’t like having any more lineup changes than I’ve already had, hahaha.

Hahaha, that’s a good answer, I like that answer. What's the difference between where you see yourself 5 years from now and 10 years from now?

There is no difference because they're equally vague and hazy I just hope to be making progress on what I'm doing and the moment I can't do that, I’ll stop is what I kind of tell myself. I don't want to ever be worse than I was yesterday I don’t want the band ever take a step backwards I think that's disingenuous and dishonest to give the fans that if nothing else and for myself so you know as much as this is—you know when you're on tour it is a business that's the reality of it—but this was always a very personal thing to me and very much about art and I try to keep that in the front of my mind and I don't want to ever be doing it just to do it. So I really hope that I continue to have ideas I'm proud of, write songs I'm proud of, and be able to perform in a way that I'm proud of and hopefully I can keep that up for 5, 10, 15 years. So you know there will come a time where I can't anymore because everything has its lifespan, but I work pretty hard to extend that, and metal is a serious thing for me I really love quality Heavy Metal and to me it's an art form and I want to pursue it on those terms, so that's what I've been doing that's what I intend to continue to do. I hope of course for greater success than we've had but I also can't complain because, you know, it's kind of a privilege to be able to do what I've done. So I don't really have a good answer for your question those are some thoughts I guess.

It's credible and I mean going back on that, you know, Christopher Lee, was in his nineties when he recorded his first metal album

True, yeah true. He had a hell of a voice that guy, quite the narrator.

So you guys just released the single "Firepower Kills" this year and your last single last year, what do you have planned for the future? I know you mentioned, you know, an album in your show

Yeah! Basically that: the album. So "Firepower Kills" is the opening track and a pseudo title track in that it contains the title of the record, but the title of the song is not the title of the record if you hear the song you can probably figure it out. So, it's the opening track on our upcoming record which we're trying to like slide into a good release date where we can line up tours and stuff with it, the band's undergoing some like managerial changes like that right now, so we're  going to try to make it land where we have good touring opportunities and stuff. But it's going to come out early next year and it's done, so we're sitting on it and its pending release. It's not like we could put it out tomorrow it takes like 3 or 4 months to manufacture and set up, but we're very proud of the record it's very much like the next step after "Woe to the Vanquished" which is, in my opinion, the best record we’ve done to date. My goal and the band's goal was to make a record that can pretty much be a worthy successor to that and I think we've done it—something I was worried about but, you know, I was really happy with how it turned out.

The song’s span of a wide variety of stuff and you know "Firepower Kills" is probably the most straightforward just old school Thrash number on there but we got some that are like mid pace heavy, we actually have more what you might call epic songs on this than anything that sit in the 6 to 8 minute range, nothing like When the Guns Fell Silent in terms of sheer scale and duration, but we have like a few that are pretty darn big by our standards and it's also for sheer run time at like runs 10 minutes longer.

Fun fact about Warbringer records they all are between 39 and 41 minutes, all 5 of our records to date are like within 1 and 1/2 minutes of run time and it’s funny when we were making the first record we were like “You know a good Thrash record should be about 40 minutes.” And all of them have! And that wasn't on purpose either! This one is the first one that breaks that and it goes a lot of places and I think really encapsulates everything the band's done to date. It's not a radical left turn but there is new and different stuff on there you know we always try to strike that balance between maintaining what's good about the band—like it’s Warbringer, it needs to blow your head off or why the hell are we called what we're called? But, you know, we also don't want to make the same record twice and we want it, for fans that have been following us, to be an interesting journey, you know? So, we try to keep all that shit in mind as we make it and I am really proud of how it turned out, and I hope you guys like it when it comes out.

I know I will, at least, I think it will. I'm pretty sure I will, hahaha

Hahaha, you don’t know you haven’t heard it. So I really hope so though and I’m proud of the record, that the best I can do on my end.

That’s good, and that sounds like a very great step forward, going back into that whole evolution talk

Yeah, it needs to evolve but it needs to stay true to what it is, and that’s a delicate balance. You don’t want to take a left turn and just be a different band all of a sudden, and at the same time you don't want to release the same album twice. Beause if you release the same album twice, what do you think the odds are that your set of songs are going to be just as good as the ones before? Probably not, you know?

So how would you want your body handled if you left behind an incorruptible corpse?

Incorruptible meaning like permanent?

Yeah, where it doesn't decay, so the Catholics have this belief that if a body doesn’t decay then it’s considered sacrosanct, incorruptible and that's a sign of you know someone being a Saint

Okay, is that actually true of anyone ever?

Yeah, there’s actually, you know, bodies on display within glass coffins that are centuries old and haven’t decayed whatsoever

Didn’t they do that with like Vladimir Lenin or something where in Lenin's tomb he's got like wax—I don't know. I mean I guess if I get that I'd love a grand monument a la Napoleon, or Lenin, or someone who gets a massive mausoleum and tomb, you know? Maybe I'm like the speaker from the song "Powerslave" talking right? Hahaha, but why not, I’d prefer to have a glorious monument made to myself than to die in anonymity.

That’s perfect, so what's your favorite dinosaur?

Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Heck yeah

I mean that answer’s straight out of being 5 years old, but there it is. I mean it doesn’t skip leg day but I guess it skipped arm day like every time but who cares if you have the giantess teeth and the mightiest roar, you know?

People never really grow out of liking dinosaurs I think it's something everyone can relate to

Yeah, why would you? They’re giant lizards that's pretty cool, fuck if you saw one it would be quite incredible so why not.

Henry Rollins once said “go without a coat when it's cold… you'll never define your character unless you go without.” Being a musician I'm sure you’re used to sleeping hungry, and brazing against adversity in all of its capacity at least at some point in your career. Do you believe that, you know, that's responsible for who you are as a person, out your character and your attitude, and do you think you'd be the same person if you had a different career?

Well of course not, in the world of historians they call anything that didn’t actually happen like any speculation of what ifs or anything, that's a counterfactual and a counterfactual well it’s interesting to think about but the fact is it didn't happen that way. So yeah if you have different circumstances in your life you would be different I think that's almost self-evident you know. As far as “go without a coat,” don't do that on tour you'll get sick, and your your voice will suck if you have to do any high screeches or anything it’ll fuck you up, you need that coat but you know try to be efficient about what you have, don't get wasteful shit, and try to like provide for yourself as best you can. I do think because we've never been like wildly successful or anything that we're still hungry and that still contributes to us being able to still put out quality records in something resembling the original style of the band you know some evolution of it. I mean I think that the fact that we've always had to work really hard and bust our asses to be where we are in to do anything we're doing does mean that we've never been satisfied and that kind of gives us the fire to keep going in the way we have been. So I think if any of those things were different we wouldn't be who we are and that's self-evident anything else would be a counterfactual and that just ain't the way it is, you know?

Great. What would you say are the three most important albums in your life? Now it could be your band, it could be musicians that inspire you…

I gave you my band answer before so let’s see… I'd say the first like Heavy Metal record I got, and this isn't even a proper album but this is the first one I heard so it's the "We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll" Black Sabbath compilation, it was a greatest hits from like the 70s that just has those words written really loud and I guess it was like a label’s cash in on the old Sabbath stuff but regardless that introduced me to the origin point of Heavy Metal and really influenced everything I did going forward, you know, Tony Iommi—the riff as the center of the song that's something we still follow, so you know that kind of started my Heavy Metal journey. I’d say Iron Maiden "Powerslave" first one I heard from them and I go back and forth between that and Seventh Son being the best, but I heard "Powerslave" first so it gets it gets the mention there and then there's like 10 thrash records I could name you but I guess I'll give it a tie between like "Reign in Blood", "Pleasure to Kill", "Darkness Descends" those ones because some of those are cornerstones of a really extreme side of thrash metal because those are foundational for my band and what we do, so that's for my metal taste in particular but that's what we're here talking about.

If you would ever write one, what would be the title of your autobiography?

Shit I don’t know… I guess I’d do something really grandiose, Deeds of Valor and Glory let's go with that, hahaha, why not?

Hahaha, sounds like a Greek epoch

Sure, I mean if you’re going to write an autobiography I guess you think you're really important anyway so let's just run with that.

Where's been your favorite place to tour

There isn't a one favorite, because every show’s circumstantial and happens the way it does and there have been number of places several times… I’ve always enjoyed European tours in a very general sense they take care of you well there, for a very mundane reason, and I've only been to Japan twice but I really love it there, so I’ll let that be my answer.

Nice, so what's the weirdest thing to ever happen to you at a show? …ceiling collapsing, toilet overflowing?

Those aren’t the weirdest things. I remember one time in particular, this isn't like so much at the show but it's right after, we played Tijuana a Mexico once and there was this guy from Finland who had been at the show the day before in San Diego and he talked to his he was friendly so we recognized him he was like “I came down to Tijuana to see you” okay cool man. So we drank was the guy but he got Finland level drunk which is just like heinous, and it got to the point where like, man, we packed up we are ready to leave and this guy was just like blacked-out couldn't do anything so we said to ourselves “we should help this guy let's take—you know he's just a dude at the show, but he’s a fan of our band he came to see us let’s take him back across the border.” So we throw him in our van—this is many years ago—we throw him in our van and we're driving up to the US-Mexico border to cross back into the United States. As we are maybe two cars back from checking in, the guy wakes up ’cause he had been completely passed out he wakes up and sure enough he's got to vomit, we don't want him to vomit in the van. So we open the side door and we try to get them out, however he falls out completely and breaks his head open on the fence on this iron fence that's there, so now imagine how this looks to the border guards who are looking at the line of cars. They see a white van with doors open and a guy like flops out and smashes his head into the fence, it looks like some mob shit. So sure enough they are on us right then and it takes us the better part of an hour just to convince them that the story was telling is actually the real story, we then have to sit with this guy at the border for a while and he's useless and can't do anything and, you know, they're going to send him to a hospital in Mexico and we get them to to put him back on the United States side because that's where he was living and we figured that would be better for him. So pretty much that, that's one of my stock like weird things that happened stories, but yeah we were at the border for a good three hours they're dealing with this and that’s what we get for trying to help this guy, and I hope wherever he is that he buys all our fucking records to this day you know, hahahahah.

Hahaha, that’s probably one of the best stories I've ever heard

Hahaha, okay good.

Alright that's it, is there anything you want to leave the world with? With news of you, advice to anyone who aspires to be like you guys, people who just love and respect your music?

Well you know keep true to yourself and what you're doing to it and try to genuinely do your best I suppose that's the only real way to do it and if you don't do that, fuck you.

Words to live by

There you go, hahaha, that’s my thoughts, yeah.

That was awesome thank you



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