The X-Viles
CoC interviews Hammy of Peaceville
by: Pedro Azevedo
In February 1988, one thousand copies of _A Vile Peace Compilation_ were released. Ten years later, April 1998 sees the _Peaceville X_ compilation celebrating the label's tenth anniversary. Having once had At the Gates, Paradise Lost, Darkthrone and Autopsy in their roster, My Dying Bride and Anathema are nowadays the main bands responsible for the Peaceville's success. It is therefore no wonder that Peaceville has become somewhat associated to doom metal, which the addition of the recently extinct The Blood Divine only strengthened; yet Peaceville's most recent signings have frequently been somewhat surprising -- after Dominion came Acrimony, Lid and Blackstar, and these last three certainly aren't the metal bands one might expect. But, as Peaceville owner Hammy tells us, this attitude has always been what has kept the label going. Here are the results of our conversation.

CoC: First, I would like to ask you to tell us more about who is Hammy... I mean, most Peaceville bands' fans have read your name over and over again, but don't know much about you. What is your role in Peaceville?

Hammy: I started it and I have always run it -- I suppose that is the simplest way to look at it. Obviously I have had lots of help from others, but I'm the one who was here at the start and I'm still here now. I've always tried to stay in the background until now, as I wanted Peaceville to have its own identity and not really be strictly associated with me, as such. Also, I think it's a bit lame when the label boss is more famous than the bands (like Rick Rubin or something). Because this is the tenth year, we (me and Lisa) who run the label, decided to put up a bio page at our site for a while. To sort of "let our hair down" in keeping with the spirit of the "X" comp.

CoC: Ten years ago, Peaceville was being created... what was Peaceville's objective back then? Is it still the same?

H: Back then, I had been in bands and I'd been running Peaceville as a cassette only label for a few years; I wanted to stay involved with music, so the idea for a real record label was obvious to me. The only thing was, there were already a load of labels. So, in order to survive, you have to have your own niche. As I'd come out of the hardcore punk era, I was into having a really sort-of "free" label. One which wasn't afraid to take risks and do things differently. In a way, we have always gone down a different path to most conventional labels. So I suppose the objective is still the same. Never to sit back and pump shit out, but to challenge and push the boundaries musically.

CoC: A lot can change in ten years; how did you view the metal scene's evolution during this past decade?

H: Well, it has certainly changed. I mean, OK, when you release something like [Paradise Lost's] _Gothic_, you expect it to do well. But no-one could imagine that the band would become one of the -standards- of metal music. Same with Darkthrone, really. Evolution seems to have followed Peaceville. There are more "peaceville" bands that are big now than standard metal heroes like Saxon and what have you. So, obviously, I'm not against the changes. Plus, personally, I'm a lot happier to have more diversity than ever in the scene. It stops it from becoming stagnant.

CoC: You just mentioned Paradise Lost, who were once with Peaceville and are now with Music For Nations. What is your opinion on their career right now?

H: When we had Paradise Lost, they were growing at such a rate that it was always going to be hard to keep onto them. I simply couldn't offer the money that others could, so I can't possibly be bitter. The band have had great successes and traveled the world. That's all they really wanted in the beginning. Right now, I think they're at a bit of a crossroads. I know they want to break out of their old image, but is anybody buying it? Actually, I thought _One Second_ was the only move they could make and it was the most refreshing thing they'd done since _Gothic_, but that's only my opinion.

CoC: How much of a priority has it been for Peaceville to keep up with what the market wanted during this period?

H: Erm, none really. If we sucked up to the market, we would have nothing but black metal bands on the label.

CoC: The reason behind my previous question was your signing of bands such as My Dying Bride and Anathema, which are effectively your main bands nowadays. Back then, there wasn't much of a market for such doom metal, was there?

H: No; like I said, it's weird that our records have become standards within the scene -- instead of the dark, grubby little ghetto that we all crawled from ten years ago. That is also relevant to the above. Because if we had just followed trends we would always be imitators instead of being the innovators that I think we are.

CoC: What made you sign them? I mean, what seized your attention in their sound?

H: They were both doing something which was completely unique. It's just that sometimes it takes others a lot longer to realize -how- unique, because people often feel safer listening to something not quite as challenging to the norm.

CoC: How did you see Darren White's departure from Anathema, his transfer to The Blood Divine and their signing for Peaceville?

H: Daz had been a friend for a long time and he is a much liked guy. So, it seemed natural to continue working with Daz and I really liked their demo when he sent it. It's always unfortunate to lose band members, but it's just a fact of life. Just 'cos you run a label, you can't make people happy when they are not.

CoC: Is Anathema's drumming problem solved yet, now that John Douglas has left?

H: Yes, absolutely. John was a sad loss, but now the band have recruited Shaun Steels (ex-Solstice) and he is a full time member and plays on the soon-to-be-released new album _Alternative 4_ [which I shall review on the next issue of CoC -- Pedro].

CoC: What is _Alternative 4_ supposed to mean?

H: I honestly don't know. The band told me something about civilization having tried three ways to live and failed, so now it's time for alternative 4, or something like that. You really need to ask the band about that one!

CoC: Did everything go well with the recording of their new album? What changes can we expect in their sound?

H: It all went fantastically well. Everyone concerned is a lot happier with the presentation for this album than with _Eternity_. There is a more structured approach to the song writing. Vinny [Cavanagh, vocalist/guitarist] has been taking singing lessons for a long time and you'll be amazed at his progress. The production is, by far, the best the band have ever had. I also think the cover artwork is the best yet. But everyone has their opinion. I personally love the album and I can't remember listening to anything else for the past few weeks...

[At this stage, we discussed the future of The Blood Divine. However, a few days after the interview, the band broke up. Few details are known for now, except that everyone seems to agree that The Blood Divine are no more. -- Pedro]

CoC: And what about My Dying Bride? Losing keyboardist/violinist Martin Powell and drummer Rick Miah must be difficult to overcome. Any solutions in sight yet?

H: This may sound strange, but the solutions are all in place and all the negativity has been overcome. Yes, Rick was extremely hard to lose -- and in such a way [officially due to illness], but the passage of time has helped My Dying Bride to overcome the reality. Plus, having the services of an exceptional drummer like Bill Law [from Dominion] on hand... well, you can say it could have been worse. Martin's timing was dreadful, but it was becoming clear that Martin was, at some point, going to quit the band to return to his education. So, rather than prolong the inevitable -- it has helped the band to focus, re-group and look forward. As Calvin wrote all the keyboard and violin parts, it isn't going to be a problem in the studio. This buys the band time and they aren't clouding the album recording by looking for a replacement at this point.

CoC: One thing I would certainly like would be My Dying Bride using a cello in their music. Has that ever been considered? Any chance it might ever happen? I think that instrument can add much to doom sound.

H: Well, that's totally up to the band. I don't know if they've considered it, I don't interfere with songwriting !

CoC: What information can you share with us concerning their next album? Can you give us any idea of what direction to expect their music to take, despite the line-up problems?

H: I know that all this turmoil has made the band look at itself inside out, and to me, well, I've never seen them so convinced and confident. It's pretty safe to say that it will be different from previous albums, but as you can expect, it will still be My Dying Bride. Plus, without the touring pressure they have also had quite some time to write and rehearse. So I am really looking forward to this. They record in May and mix in July.

CoC: Any other new albums out soon on Peaceville? Dominion, maybe?

H: Dominion's new album will be delayed due to Bill's involvement with My Dying Bride, but a new album of theirs is on the cards, as is Acrimony, Blackstar and Lid. Coming very soon, though, is the debut album from new signings Thine. The album is called _A Town Like This_ and will be out in July. The band appeared for the first time on the _Peaceville X_ album. Considering they are 19 years old, I think you will agree that they sound a hell of a lot more mature than their ages suggest. The album is truly stunning, in my opinion. Rarely has a record showcased such a broad diversity from a new band. Personally, the guys involved remind me of the young Paradise Lost, because they have the same energy, confidence, determination and ability. I'm raving over these -- so check them out! They (will soon) rule!

CoC: You have a compilation out now, _Peaceville X_, celebrating your tenth anniversary. One question I would really like to ask you is why did you (or the bands) choose to cover non-metal songs only?

H: As I said, I've always wanted to push the boundaries and do things a little differently. To me, if we had just done another Slayer or Sabbath covers album, it would mean nothing and we would look childish and lazy. The bands all like the songs they've covered, they were their choices. I just said "no metal, please." So I think you can also get a little more information about the bands from knowing which cover songs they picked.

CoC: But you could have pushed the boundaries with metal covers... just imagine My Dying Bride playing Emperor, Dominion playing The Gathering, Anathema and The Blood Divine playing each other's music... why is it that such a compilation is never done?

H: Well, to be honest, I'd much rather they did what they did than what you suggest. You are sticking too much to the "scene". It's important that we all learn to look outside our own worlds or we may miss something amazing -- just because it's not "cool" within a niche market. ["Coolness" was never an issue for me... -- Pedro]

CoC: One band that I have to ask you about, even though they were never connected to Peaceville (at least not that I know of) is Enchantment. Their _Dance the Marble Naked_ (released through Century Media) does remind the listener of some of what Anathema were doing at the time, and they credit you as having produced the album and Mags as having engineered it. But that isn't quite right, is it?

H: True, this is a strange story. Century Media asked Enchantment to get me to produce their album. I said OK, if there was a decent budget, because I didn't want to do anything shit. They wouldn't give them any more studio time, so I refused to have anything to do with it, as five days for an album is nothing and I wasn't getting anything anyway. Strange thing was, they still put me down as producer. Which is a little naughty. It didn't sound all that bad either! [Indeed, for me it remains as a powerful piece of very emotional doom/death. -- Pedro] It just shows how desperate Century Media was back then... <laughs>

CoC: Do you have any idea where Enchantment (or its members) may be now?

H: A good bet would be Blackpool -- 'cos they came from there.

CoC: Speaking of Century Media: how do you view their attitude as a label? They certainly are controversial.

H: I don't understand why they are controversial, so I can't answer this question properly. I can't see how they are different from where we were five years ago.

CoC: Well, what I meant was that many consider them as the most mainstream of metal labels, because of the direction taken by bands like Moonspell, Tiamat, etc.

H: I never thought of it like that...

CoC: Let us discuss some of Peaceville's current direction now. Three of your latest signings -- Acrimony, Blackstar and Lid -- are quite different, to say the least, from the usual in recent Peaceville history. Does this indicate a new direction for the label?

H: No, never trust us to stick to one direction!! That was then, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Maybe jazz-western...

CoC: Who's next? Care to unveil some of Peaceville's newest signings?

H: We're working on two new signings right now, but I can't mention anything because of the contract situation. Both will shock you!!

CoC: One thing that your three main bands' musical path has in common is that My Dying Bride, Anathema and The Blood Divine's music has gotten somewhat more attractive to larger audiences. My Dying Bride's latest isn't as deeply doomy as before, Anathema's sound is now much softer, The Blood Divine have changed into a more rocking and less doomy band. Is there really a set pattern here and a reason for this or is it just a product of coincidence?

H: I think that you first have to realize that when these people were doing their stuff seven years ago, they were a lot younger, hadn't traveled the world and didn't know what was in store for them. To assume that they could possibly be the same person walking in to rehearsal now as they were then is missing the point that people do change. Inevitably, when artists change as people, their art changes. When you grasp that, I think you can understand why.

CoC: Does Peaceville ever advise bands to apply certain changes to their sound in order to make it easier to sell? I ask this because it is often said that labels have a strong influence in the direction bands choose.

H: I have always given the bands a free reign to do as they please artistically. Labels who get involved with the creative side should stick to what they're good at -- business, not songwriting. I mean, why should a band who have been playing together for seven years listen to a lawyer/accountant when it comes to songwriting? It doesn't make sense. When it happens, it also invariably messes up good relationships. I've seen it so many times with other labels...

CoC: Any plans of touring Europe in the near future? I understand this is a difficult moment to plan these things, considering all the changes happening in your biggest bands, but are there any plans for next year or so?

H: There are always plans. It's just that a lot of them go by the way. I'll be honest though -- there aren't many of our bands who enjoy being cooped up in a van half their lives, so it's difficult. But at the same time, I find it hard to imagine there being no major Peaceville tour this year.

CoC: To finish this interview, I would just like to ask how you would like Peaceville to be ten years from now...

H: In ten years we'll probably be a completely independent entity based entirely on the Internet (or what it becomes), directly distributing our product worldwide from a single server in Yorkshire. This would make me very happy. Simultaneous worldwide release. The sheer luxury of it. Either that or we'll be as foolish as Saxon or Girlschool look now... <laughs>

WWW: http://www.peaceville.com

(article submitted 7/6/1998)


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