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Jeff Irwin (Will Haven)

Interview with Jeff Irwin from Will Haven
by Jean-Francois Poulin at 16 March 2018, 11:21 AM

WILL HAVEN has transcended the Noise Rock/Metal genre for more than twenty years, and are considered as one of the pillars of the genre and countless bands have expressed respect and love to this creative artists. They have collaborated with bands from every walk of earth and are back with a new album called ''Muerte''. Metal Temple writer Jean-Francois Poulin interviewed guitarist Jeff Irwin about the band, the new album, touring, and much more. Check it out here:

You guys pretty much went your separate ways in 2002, what happened and what came about the reunion of sorts in 2005?

Yeah, in 2002 we thought we had called it a day. We had been a band for about 10 years and kind of burnt out after barely getting by. The sad thing is that we had just come off a really good headlining tour in the UK, but I think Grady's mind was made up before that tour that he was ready to do something else in life. He was married and probably getting pressure to actually do something with his life, haha, so we played one last show and that was it. We were not really done playing music at the time so we started Ghostride with our friend Rey Osburn on vocals. We put out an EP and record and did some touring but that was it.

To be honest, I have no idea how Will Haven came back around in 2005. Will Haven has kind of evolved into a hobby for us, I think it started when we knew that our kind of music wasn’t going to become anything bigger that what we were, so we accepted that and just kept making the music we love to make, so there have been times when we would step away and do other things or just live life outside the band. Grady more so than anyone. So there have been a few times when I thought he was done but he eventually called me up and said "hey, lets rock!" and being that this is just a fun thing for us, it was easy to pick back up and start again. I think it would have been different if this was our full time job, but it isn’t so we just take it day by day. So in 2002 I thought we were done but we have stepped away and came back a few times since then, I have to admit I always enjoy the phone call from Grady saying hes ready because I love this band, its really my home.

Who is WILL HAVEN, I saw that that is was a character created to represent the band, so who really is WILL HAVEN?

To be honest, Will Haven was just a name that came out of nowhere. We were playing one of our first shows here in Sacramento and we didn't even have a band name. So we were just going to play with no name, haha. I remember sitting in the venue for the show and Grady had walked across the street to the local record store with our friend Shaun, they came back in and Grady said "I have the band name, let’s call it Will Haven!" I had no idea what that meant but I was just happy to have a name, so it stuck. The character came purely based off the music, I don't think that really took shape until we did El Diablo, the vibe of the record was dark and loud and evil so when we did the artwork and Grady put on the devil mask with the suit and I was like, yep, if Will Haven was a person that is exactly what he would look like. It fit our personality as well because when you meet us were are down to earth good guys, but if you listen to our music you wouldn’t think that. It’s funny when people meet one of us, they are like, you play in Will Haven? Haha, so it’s that nice guy in the suit but underneath there is an evilness to us that comes out in our music, so it’s the juxtaposition of the good and evil. That to me is who Will Haven is, so after time he has become his own being and we are the soundtrack.

You guys are releasing finally a new album in late march after the 2015 EP, what did you guys learn as a band since that very release?

Well there is a huge contrast between that EP and our new record Muerte. The EP was written fairly quickly and it was supposed to kind of be a segue into a new record because we had not released anything since 2011, so we didn't put a bunch of time into the EP. It came out cool, but there was no blood, sweat and tears put into it. So going into this new record, that was the goal – to put everything we have into it, push the envelope, keep our signature sound but expand on it. So we took a ton of ideas that we had laying around and put them into song structures. It was big puzzle we had to put together – we would write a song and then rip it apart and try to fine tune it so we were completely happy with it. We must have changed every song 10 times or so before they were finalized, so we just took our time, worked on each part, played every song over and over again til we had it down. This was the most fun I have ever had working on a record. I set up a little studio at our practice space and days we wouldnt practice, I would go in there and just mess with ideas. That to me is my favorite part – adding the layers and textures to the bones of the song. So, for me I had a lot of fun. We knew we wanted to do something new and fresh so we tried new ideas and that was fun too. Will Haven has kind of had this steady beat and riffs, so for this one we wanted to add more sonic layers to it. We were not sure how it would all turn out in the end but when we went into the studio we knew we had come across something very cool. So I wouldnt say we learned much for the EP, but we did learn a lot from making this new record. I came out of this session a way different musician then I went into it, I think the whole band did.

Can we expect a full-fledged tour for the new album in North America or even Europe?

We do not have anything planned right now. We are playing some shows here and there just to play, but nothing in the works for a real tour. Like I said before at this point this band is just a hobby, it does not pay our bills. In fact, we lose money when we do shows, so for us we have to be careful of what and when we do it. That being said, we are the kind of band that loves to play, so if a band approached us and wanted to do a full tour, we would definitely consider it. It just has to make sense for us time wise and financially to make it work. I think we would all love to do a full tour for sure, but we know were are limited at this point. Knowing the history of this band, we have now come to live by the saying “let’s just take it day by day and see what happens”. We have never really planned anything for this band, it just happens. So that's what we are doing, just going day by day whatever happens happens.

What brought the collaboration with Stephen Carpenter of DEFTONES of the epic last song of the album ''El Sol''?

I have been friends with Stephen for a very long time, He was one of my close friends before Will Haven was even thought of, so before I really played music I watched Stephen play guitar. He was a huge influence on me, not just musically, but personally. He is just a super awesome guy and I was always blown away by his talent. He didn’t play guitar like other people, no solos, no silly riffs, he was all about the song, making it sound big and giving it emotion. I loved that about his playing. So when I started Will Haven, everything I had learned from Stephen I put into my playing and song writing, I have always wanted to collaborate with him but just never did it. I have no idea why, so when I started  working on this record I called him up and I was like, "hey would you like to write a song with me for our new record?" and he said, "I would love to, I’ll send you something in a few days," and I’m thinking it would take a while to get something because he is a super busy guy.

Three days later he sent me an eight-minute song full of riffs. I was so stoked when I listened to it because he captured that Will Haven vibe but put his spin on it – it was perfect. After I got it, I just went in and kind of chopped it up a bit and added my guitar parts to it. It actually came really easy, I think we have a lot in common songwriting wise and in some ways we still influence each other so we just gelled really easy. I had a blast working on it, and we talked about doing more stuff in the future – I’m excited to see what we can come up with.

For me it was time to do something with him. He and the Deftones have been a huge part of my and Will Haven’s development, so for me this had to happen at some point. We have a family vibe between our two bands and thats how it felt when working on this song.

On the same subject, you guys were able to bring Mike Scheidt from the vastly underrated YOB to the fold for the fantastic ''No Escape'', how did that come about?

Mike is another guy that I truly admire. I love people who go against the normal and play music from the heart, and YOB is that band. We have played with YOB and few times over the years being that they are from Oregon and became good friends. When we wrote that part that he sings on at practice my first reaction was, “I can hear Mike singing over this”. So every time we would play it, all I could think about was how awesome it would be to hear him on it. So, I finally reached out to him. He had just come out of a pretty major surgery so he wasn’t doing much musically. I kind of caught him at a bad time, but he said when he felt better and if we still hadn’t recorded it, he would love to do it. So I pushed the record back for another three months or so just to get the chance for him to do it. He finally felt good enough to give it a try so he went into a studio in Oregon and put down his vocals. He sent it to me very cautiously because we have never had singing on a Will Haven record, so he was worried about what might come of people hearing that. But I reassured him that I didn't care what people thought, it was about the music and what he did was perfect for the vibe of the song.

When you work with people like Stephen and Mike, you know you only get their best because they are super passionate people about what they do. So I wasn't worried about it, I knew he would come with something amazing and he did. I was so happy with it and I actually think it fits in perfectly with the record. I always wanted to push the envelope with this band and no one better to do that with then Mike, he is a Pro’s Pro and his band is the real deal. I have so much love and respect for him and his band so this was a complete honor for me.

You guys have toured with so many bands from different genres like SLIPKNOT, CROWBAR and DEFTONES, any tour that stands out in your solid career up to date?

Being a band that has not toured a lot, we are able to fully take in these experiences with all the bands we have toured with. They are each special to us and full of awesome memories. The Deftones world tour we did in 97 US/Europe was definitely the best time of our lives. We had been friends with those guys well before all this music stuff so to be able to see the world with seven of your best friends was so amazing. We had so much fun and it made all the hard work before that worth it, that tour made Will Haven what it is. We were exposed to so many people here and overseas that we gained a fan base that is still there today.  There is nothing I could ever do to repay those guys for what they did for us, they took us under their wing and let us do our thing. I mean talk about luck, we are some damn lucky fools to grow up with those guys.

Touring with Slipknot was definitely second on my all time. They were touring on their first record at the time and were not that big yet. We were still playing clubs on that tour and things were insane. We got to see the Slipknot that people hear stories about like lighting themselves on fire, breaking things in the club, fighting on stage, just the most insane stuff you could witness. We got to see them at their hungriest. On top of seeing that show every night, they were some of the coolest guys in the world. They took such good care of us and were down to earth and actually fans of the band before we toured with them. I got really close to Joey and Chris on that tour, but unfortunately I don’t talk to Joey much these days. Chris and I are still super close and talk all the time – he actually played bass in Will Haven for a bit, so yeah that tour was a big part of my life. Being able to tour with my heroes like Neurosis, Soulfly, Fear Factory, Crowbar and so on, I mean that is what life is all about. We have been  blessed for a little hardcore band, we got to do some pretty awesome things and feel very lucky, believe me. We take nothing for granted.

Who does your album covers? Some of those designs are really out there and so creative.

Its pretty crazy our little area has produced some amazing talent, and a lot of them are our good friends who have an eye for artwork. Our first two records El Diablo and WHVN were done by our friend Jeff Gros. We kind of came up with the concept of the man and the devil mask but he took the photos and then did his thing with them. I love that cover, I remember him bringing me the idea he did and I was like oh yes that is awesome! WHVN was all his own, we told him about the radio idea on the record and he came up with the concept of the clock radio and stitched it up and took the photo. I love that cover as well, he is a very talented guy and I believe was nominated for a Grammy for some artwork he did for another band later. I actually tried to get him to do something on this record but was he too busy.

The next few – Carpe Diem, Heirophant, Voir Dire and so on were done by us. We had friends take the pics but we kind of did the concept on our own.Some are cool, but nothing to what Jeff Gros did. On Muerte, we had Michael Cobra do the artwork. He was in the band Happy Fangs from San Francisco. We had a few things in mind but he did everything on his own, I think he did an amazing job, when we saw the hands on the cover I was like “yes that is it”, that pic is so iconic for the word Muerte. The picture portrays so much emotion, that’s why we didn't put any writing on the cover, it’s just the picture. He did all the booklet layouts as well. So yeah, we have had some luck with some talented people who understand the band and what our vibe is about. I think sometimes the cover can mean nothing but if done right it can mean the world, so the artwork has always been super important to me. Music is art and so that art of the cover should match that same passion as the music. I am happy with everything we have done.

In 2008 you guys toured with the guys from MY OWN PRIVATE ALASKA, a band that is really coming along nicely in the last few years, any cool stories from that particular tour?

Yeah that was kind of crazy how we met those guys, my ex-girlfriend was friends with them and she told me they were coming to LA to record with Ross Robinson. So, we drove down to Ross's house to say hi and hangout. Ross played me some stuff and I really liked it, it was different but had the same power and passion of any metal band. Tristan is an amazing piano player, he plays that thing like a guitar. So after hanging out with them for a few days, we talked about how fun it would be to do a tour together, mostly because it was different. So they put together some dates in Europe and we went over there. We had a lot of fun, they are super fun guys and we shared a van so we spent a lot of time together. I think by the time the tour was over the driver of the van was very happy to see us leave. We had some pretty drunken nights with people getting lost, falling asleep on the Berlin Wall and so on. We had some good times, the crowds were into it as well. It was cool because they did their thing and then we came out and did ours, so instead of hearing three hours of just metal they got to hear something different. I have not heard from them in a while, they did come to visit me a few years ago but that was the last I heard. I’m happy they are doing good and still going, they are definitely some talented guys.

How has the band evolved since 2009 when Grady came back to the band, what did you guys learn from his very absence on the collaborative and creative front?

Yeah having Grady in the band is what makes us who we are. We did one record with Jeff Jaworski when Grady stepped away, I like that record a lot but as soon as Grady came back it felt like home again. He has been my best friend since I was 10 years old, so there is a comfort factor there, but also he is an amazing front man. I write music that flows out of me like an emotion so there is no other person I can think of to help me get that across then Grady. His voice is so powerful and so emotional he is an instrument all on his own. With that his lyrics are amazing as well, he speaks about some deep personal stuff that even when you read them you are not quite sure what he is saying but you know there is some torment in there. I love that about him, he is so personable in his lyrics but it’s not really transparent.

I feel very lucky to have him front this band. I think we always knew that but having him come back it felt right again. I think on this new record he is the best he has ever been, his voice sounds amazing and his lyrics are some of his best. Like all of us, he has seemed to matured musically and now kind of understands more the meaning of this and how lucky we are to be able to have this as an outlet, he is definitely one of my all-time frontmen ever.

So what are you guys planning for 2018?

We now live by the meaning "take it day by day" so as far as the record coming out and a few shows we have nothing planned. This band is an outlet for us, lets us step outside the normal every day life and let out some built up frustration and inner demons. So even if no one knew who we were, we would still be in our little practice spot playing away. So we will take it day by day see what happens, until then we will be in our little practice room playing our little hearts out and see what we can come up with next.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you guys for the Metal Temple!

Thank you and thank you for your support, it means the world to us, all the best,

Will Haven


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