Dead Heat For the Politicians of Ecstasy
CoC chats with Jim Sheppard of Nevermore
by: Paul Schwarz
Nevermore were behind Nile by a mere single point in our Writer's Poll of 2000 [CoC #52] -- and had I had the time to get into _Dead Heart in a Dead World_ [CoC #50] just a week or two longer than when the polls went in, I probably would have unwittingly made it album of the year. Nevermore would have deserved it too, not necessarily over Nile, but in different ways just as much -- as reward for the true brilliance of what they created. In _DHiaDW_ Nevermore created one of the greatest classically metal records I have ever had the pleasure to hear, and yet more admirably also made an exceptionally contemporary, modern metal record. Chopping, changing and percussive riffs and rhythms one minute, acoustic and infectious, catchy melodies and refrains the next: Nevermore synthesised contemporary ideas of brutality with truly classic, yet non-regressive, songwriting. I almost expected my CD player to gain a personality and ask to hear some other in the weeks when I was spinning _DHiaDW_ night, day, and to just about anyone who came in the room. That's another wonderful thing about Nevermore: their wide-ranging, deep-down appeal. Without pandering, Nevermore present sounds and songs which I believe most listeners to most forms of heavy music -- from Agoraphobic Nosebleed to AFI -- would latch onto, given time -- and I have watched a varied selection do so. So, on the day of which the evening would bring my first experience of their mighty live presence, I hooked up with bassist Jim Sheppard in London's Astoria (where tonight's Metal Odyssey gig where Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, Lacuna Coil and Susperia would also be present) and we had the following chat on the way to and on the very balcony where from, a mere few hours later, I would watch Nevermore put on a show which filled me with excitement and prompted my lungs to sing along with the lyrical lines from every song I could remember -- that being most of them!

CoC: How has it been touring with Annihilator and Soilwork in Europe?

Jim Sheppard: Pretty good. There was a positive vibe. The new record seems to be affecting people a lot better.

CoC: It seems to have caught people more than the last one -- just like the last one caught people more than the one before. It seems to be a good growing process.

JS: Slowly getting there.

[As we walk by an Astoria advertisement poster -- proclaiming: "Thursdays will never be the same!" -- Jim repeats the tagline in mock-enthusiastic tones. As I relate the amusing billings that come about as a result of this regular gay night falling after gigs (like "Napalm Death + Gay") and some of the homophobic reactions of metal fans to such things, we reach the balcony, and a table where we can sit down and get to chatting seriously.]

JS: I think Rob Halford's starting to break that a little, though.

CoC: Yeah, I think so. That was funny: it was really funny how everyone was really surprised and the guy has been dressing in leather and wearing his cap for so long.

JS: Then he tells it with a boa and some eyeliner.

CoC: Yeah, strange that the way he said it [the industrial, Nine Inch Nails-flavoured musical direction Halford took on his album under the name Two, _Voyeurs_ -- Paul] was totally what he wanted to do and then suddenly he turned out to want to do metal again. Suspicious. This is your first time in the UK, I'm told?

JS: Yeah, with Nevermore.

CoC: How are you enjoying it?

JS: Well, we just got here and immediately went for fish and chips. We were here ten or eleven years ago with Sanctuary. We went to Hammersmith and some other places on a tour with Megadeth. And I haven't forgotten how good the fish and chips are.

CoC: Excellent, d'you find a good chippie?

JS: Yeah... <his voice takes on a slightly disappointed tone> Not as greasy as what we got when we were here before, so, a bit dry, but it was good.

CoC: This being the first show here with Nevermore, how are you feeling about playing for the first time for a UK audience?

JS: Excited. Especially to play to a large audience, like will be here tonight.

CoC: Yeah, the show sold out the place next door [Mean Fiddler, previously London Astoria 2] and they moved it in here.

JS: Yeah, we're really excited, I wish we could play a little bit longer.

CoC: How long have you got?

JS: Most of this tour we've had forty-five minutes and it was Susperia, Lacuna Coil, Nevermore, In Flames and Dimmu Borgir. But this show in particular the promoter wanted to switch the bands around so we play before Lacuna Coil. I think they're a bit more popular here so we get thirty minutes.

CoC: That makes me pretty sad.

JS: I don't really understand how it works production-wise either, 'cause we've been sharing a drum riser with In Flames, the first bands set up in front of it, and then Dimmu Borgir has their own drum riser. So it should be a production nightmare.

CoC: Do you know whether the album has been doing well, or average, or badly?

JS: In the UK we haven't been doing that well. As Sanctuary I think we did better, then that whole scene died out and bands like Machine Head and harder stuff got more popular here. I noticed with this record we've been kind of in the grey: we appeal a bit to a melodic crowd, a little bit to a heavy crowd. So as we do get a little bigger I think we pull from each fanbase.

CoC: That's always the hope: that you do that rather than alienating one or the other.

JS: I hope that we can at least start doing the set thing [In terms of sales, I think he meant -- Paul] in the UK to the point that we can at least come here and tour 'cause we really like being here.

CoC: That's my hope as well, as a fan. That's the thing about the album that's interesting: it does kind of really cut a good line in-between the two [between the heavy crowd and the melodic crowd], even better than _Dreaming Neon Black_ [CoC #38]. You've really got that heavier, more percussive side of things. If people -- which I'd hope -- discover Nevermore through this album, does it feel a bit strange -- having done Sanctuary, having three or four albums with Nevermore now -- for people to suddenly, sort of, discover you as a new band? Is that a bit of a strange thing? 'Cause you're known in the underground and well respected throughout magazines at the level of Terrorizer but above that people don't know the name of the band.

JS: It's strange but it's a good feeling, 'cause it definitely means that we're getting a little more popular. I don't have any unreasonable hopes of being a megastar or anything. I wanna do well enough to secure a future and make a living. So when we start reaching the new audiences it definitely is that really good feeling. I mean, I've seen things on this tour that I've never seen at a Nevermore show before where we had someone in full goth regalia and somebody next to her in a Slipknot shirt. We'll have a kind in a Deicide shirt moshing to "Inside Four Walls" and stop to sing "The Heart Collector". I've never seen anything like that, so...

CoC: That's really cool. I think Nevermore like a lot of really good bands within the metal / extreme music genre are doing well out of the scene that seems to be emerging. I've talked to a lot of people recently from the guys from Relapse, to Nile, to various other bands from all over the place and people seem to be accepting a lot more of a general idea of extreme music. They can listen to Nevermore and grindcore and Nile and different bands mixing different things. That's the hope, and what you're saying backs that up. How does that fit with your vision of what you do with the music? The last album was a concept album and this album isn't, is it?

JS: No, it's just a straightforward metal album.

CoC: And the songs!... It's one of those albums where I can't deny any of the songs. There's no skipping. I listen to the whole thing and each song has its own character. Having done that -- and I imagine being quite pleased with that -- how does that fit with your idea of what you'll do for the next one?

JS: Perfectly. I think... The first Nevermore record was just some demos we were doing, shopping around. It wasn't intended to be a record but it happened that way. And then with _The Politics of Ecstasy_ [CoC #15] we kind of felt that we did an album where we had to prove ourselves, technically and stuff. We kept it different with _Dreaming Neon Black_ -- we kind of wrote some of the music to the concept that Warrel had and this time we were kind of relaxed. We just decided that we couldn't have another two years in-between records and just decided to do pretty much a straightforward metal record and get it out as soon as possible. It made me realise that in the past we had a habit of fixing things that weren't broken -- adding bridges where you didn't need one, that kind of thing. I think we're all maturing as a songwriting team: this one flowed so much easier. Sometimes people perceive that as selling out, but to me I see as just your songwriting gets better. And I hope we can keep that vibe going. Our record company puts a lot of pressure on us each record 'cause you've gotta do a better job this time. We just don't put any pressure on ourselves and it just kind of happens naturally. We're really fortunate to have two great songwriters: Jeff and Warrel.

CoC: That's the thing, _Dead Heart..._ has great songs, yet heavy songs and you have a lot of off-time riffs and interesting structures but there's always a central theme. There's always a chorus you can sing-along to -- and it's not cheap catchiness, it's the good side of catchiness. That's an interesting thing to get. Do you find that comes out well live? Playing the rest of the shows on the tour, have people sung along?

JS: Yeah. This record, more than any one we've ever done, we get a lot of people who sing along. I don't know about tonight because I'm not sure how many records we sell here but obviously in Germany, Greece, Portugal, Italy, a lot of people have the record, and the favourite sing-along to have is "The Heart Collector".

CoC: That's not surprising. It's a great song.

JS: It's a great chorus. The response from the audience has been incredible so far. So, maybe we can get that going tonight, that would be fun.

CoC: That would be cool. I'd like to see that. I'll help. Do you find it's kind of difficult doing Nevermore with the whole true metal revival that has been going on throughout Europe? Some people would like to fit Nevermore into that -- I don't know whether Century Media would -- but one of the things about _Dead Heart..._ is that it kind of shies away from that by being a bit too heavy and a bit too modern, to be honest. That's what I really like about it: that it mixes melody and a modern, percussive sound. Do you ever feel pressured to go down that road of writing cheesier metal songs?

JS: The thing that makes us more original than most bands in the first place is that we added a newer guitar player -- Jeff was in a death metal band. He had some more modern influences, of course me and Warrel from Sanctuary had some old-school influences and brought 'em together, but the whole true metal scene puzzles me because we have some bands in Europe that deny Nevermore and, actually [we get] a lot of this thing with Iced Earth where Nevermore and Iced Earth are American metal, and <adopts mocking monotonic voice> "American metal is not true me-tal". And I'm like: what's true metal? To me, true metal is that first metal record I heard: _Black Sabbath_. That's true metal. They're just trying to find an identity, I guess. To me, it's like a lot of Helloween clones are calling themselves true metal.

CoC: God that stuff's awful!

JS: It's amazing 'cause in Europe you get one and you get ten of them. It's almost like the nu-metal scene in the US where you have a band like Limp Bizkit and then you have all these bands who copy them -- but in America they all go gold. It's unbelievable.

CoC: I know, it's amazing how much that trend gets to permeate before it goes. In Europe, Primal Fear and all that stuff is all becoming very popular. I think what is interesting is that metal has a history -- although Black Sabbath changed a lot of things in -their- time -- metal has this weird sort of stigma of wanting to repeat itself, in some cases.

JS: Yeah.

CoC: Whereas other people wanna see it as something where you can do something new. And they always seem to clash. Some people claim that it's "not metal" when you try to do something new and some people are very much the opposite. I remember Satyr from Satyricon talking about black metal and he was saying that for extremity you have to push boundaries. I totally agree with that. This last year has been an amazing year not only 'cause of the good records that have come out but also 'cause of the variety. I found making up a top twenty there was Nile, Cryptopsy, Drowning Man, Nevermore and loads of stuff that hit a really good range of music. Do you find in the States the audiences are less or more? Do you find they're more receptive to the music 'cause they're -not- coming from the true metal thing or do you find it's the same problem kind of the other way 'round from the nu-metal side of things, maybe?

JS: A little bit. I think we've always been a band of the underground and I think, like you said, it's a really exciting time for hard music and metal. Especially in America, we usually like to hook up with a Swedish band; Swedish bands seem to be really popular. Even though we would sell more records than them, they seem to have a really good draw at the shows. We just supported In Flames in the States and that was awesome. We did a tour with Mercyful Fate not too long ago and had about a thousand people on the weekends, no less than six-hundred. The In Flames tour was pretty close to the same; you'd see some of the same fans there, not all of them. In Seattle especially, the whole metal scene went a bit stagnant when grunge came along. And then Korn came out and was really big and everybody who was into old-school metal denied Korn and, I mean, it's not my favourite band but I really appreciate what they do and the fact is that in Seattle when Korn became popular a lot of the nu-metal fans were looking at their roots like Iron Maiden, Nevermore, and actually ended up discovering us. As soon as that whole thing broke our draw tripled in Seattle, again.

CoC: I think that's another weird thing: a lot of metallers are negative towards nu-metal. For me, a lot of the bands I don't like; I like a couple of them, like Amen. At the Drive-In are another band [I like] who get lumped in with nu-metal. The thing is, I don't think nu-metal is metal, but I think it's still a valid form of extreme music and people can like it or dislike it on its own terms. But it's a pity that there has to be this big fight about whether it's metal or not.

JS: Yeah, it is a pity. Personally I liked Metallica, I loved every song, every record, it was kind of like the old days of Rush: once you been hooked by that band, you can't do anything about it. With nu-metal I actually call it pop-metal. If I hear Korn on the radio and I like a few songs, I won't go out and buy the record just 'cause I don't like 'em all. Same thing with Limp Bizkit: there's a few songs -- mainly off the first album; I really like quite a bit of it -- but the newer stuff is obviously a bit commercial and for MTV.

CoC: Limp Bizkit have always, to me, been the most commercial part of it and the part I really don't like, but in the end you do have to give Fred Durst some credit for being clever. He's made a lot of money, he's sub-head [yes, I meant, Vice-President -- Paul] of Interscope Records and that, so...

JS: He's a businessman more than a musician. I really got into the first album 'cause the bass player really caught my attention. He's an amazing bass player. Funny story: we were talking to some people in the industry in America and they told us this story about the band Linkin' Park. They're pretty big in the US now and there was a major label behind them and an A&R guy said: let's get another singer involved, give them a little more depth, let's change your name to Linkin' Park, and that way we'll release it the same time as Limp Bizkit and we'll just massively push it all over the TV and radio and that way when the kids go to buy Limp Bizkit, right behind it is Linkin' Park.

CoC: That's thoroughly clever.

JS: Yeah, and it went platinum within a month: after five weeks in the charts.

CoC: I remember people mentioning Linkin' Park to me, and a few weeks later it was everywhere here in the UK, and everyone had heard of it.

JS: I mean, that's genius, that's a businessman at work: change the name, put it right behind Limp Bizkit...

CoC: Yeah, and good business -can- mix with good music, but it's a pity when business comes first.

JS: Yeah.

CoC: I think that's one of the problems with music, sometimes, at the moment. You said one the pressures from Century Media was topping this record: do you mean creatively or do you mean also in sales? Where do they put the most emphasis, do you find?

JS: I took it creatively but they might have been meant business-wise. It's a shame you can't separate money and art. Painfully, I've learned that it has to be a business, you have to be business-smart if you wanna survive doing it. Otherwise you might as well get out and get a real job.

CoC: Absolutely.

JS: Especially this year we've been really focussing on that. We haven't had a manager for a long time so me and Warrel have pretty much been managing the band ourselves.

CoC: Do you find that better?

JS: No. It's like a Catch-22: to get to the next level you need management, to get management you need to get to the next level. We finally were working with getting management the last two years and finally hooked up with a guy at Continental Concerts named Gerald, a German guy, really good manager. So we're psyched.

CoC: Let's talk a bit about the album. What kind of themes do you have running through the songs? Because, in many ways the melodies can make it seem -- not happy -- but melodic and consumable but in general it seems to be quite -dark- in terms of subject matter: the title, songs like "Narcosynthesis" and "Inside Four Walls". Are you really trying to say something with the songs or are you just making a small point?

JS: Warrel is actually trying to say something; he composes the lyrical content. He finds a lot of inspiration in the darker side of the personality and he does a lot of his writings staying up drinking all night and getting a little depressed: I think a lot of it comes out. It's just where he finds his inspiration, I mean, he doesn't walk around with a cloud over his head when he's done with the creativity part of it. He comes out of it a pretty happy guy. But there's some threads that connect this record to the past ones. Like: when we wrote _The Politics of Ecstasy_, we saw the show on TV and we were really disturbed by the political climate in America: laws, that "drug offenders would do more time than child molesters, rapists and murderers".

CoC: Used on "Inside Four Walls", right?

JS: Yeah, but that album [_TPoE_] wasn't that personal to us, but we felt strongly about it. Then years later a good friend of ours went to prison, first offence, and he's in prison for seventeen years. And violent criminals get out before he does. And that's where that song ["IFW"] came from. So that kind of connects to _The Politics of Ecstasy_ but we came to realise it personally. "Dead Heart in a Dead World", the title track, was pretty much just putting closure to _Dreaming Neon Black_, which was a pretty personal story for Warrel. Most of the rest of the songs are just fun. When we did "We Disintegrate" we felt like Judas Priest doing balls-out metal.

CoC: Absolutely. It's really very chorusy in all the good ways. "Believe in Nothing" is a really good juxtaposition because it's probably the most melodic and imbuing song on the record -- "The Heart Collector" has a certain element but "Believe in Nothing", which I heard on samplers, is very melodic -- but it's also complete nihilism (lyrically) [though that's maybe an exaggeration from a philosophic perspective -- Paul].

JS: That song definitely is one I'm proud of and we really like. A lot of people, 'cause we did a video for it, were offended at the fact we did a video for that song and wanted to know if we were changing our direction. But if you listen to every Nevermore album we have a song that's kinda like that. We grew up listening to Scorpions and stuff and we don't deny ballads. We all pretty much wrote that whole thing but the whole lyrical thing could be summed up by the fact that we covered "SoS", "Sound of Silence". Warrel's sisters were big fans of that and he grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel. And I think you can see this correlation between Warrel's lyrics and Paul Simon's lyrics. Paul Simon wrote some really dark, depressive material back then, but the melodies were kind of upbeat and poppy. And I think you can kind of see a little bit of that in our music where the lyrics are pretty heavy and dark at times but the music isn't always as dark as the lyrics.

CoC: I think that's definitely something you can do with music. A lot of popular songs from the past, if you actually sit down and listen to the lyrics, you can see how screwed up some of these people must have been. Is the music written very separately to the lyrics -- are the lyrics put to the music -- or do you kind of write them in tandem? The bit in the middle of "Inside Four Walls" really seems to fit with that quoting and with the feel of it: "Is this justice? Is this the American way?".

JS: It's actually, I think, a kind of magic. It's chemistry in the band, we've been together long enough. Sometimes Warrel has the vocal melodies and hums the guitar lines to Jeff. Other times Jeff has the music and Warrel just... it's like magic: he'll have some lyrics that automatically fit to it. He has always wanted to do "The Sound of Silence" and we never set out to cover the song. Jeff wrote a song and presented it to Warrel and he immediately heard the vocal melodies of "Sound of Silence". We didn't plan on doing that as a cover, we have a history of bastardising covers but I think this time we took it a step further, you could say.

CoC: Foolish that I am I didn't realise: it just sounded like a good song that fitted into the record. [:see bottom] So, I guess you managed to do it properly.

JS: We're all wondering if Paul Simon is gonna like it or hate it. It'd be fun to see him do a soundcheck with that song. Really, the only part of the song that's connected to the original is the guitar line at the beginning and as soon as it kicks in it's a completely different song with the exception of the vocals and the lyrics.

CoC: How do you think Nevermore -- as the audience for the band goes -- fits with the other bands on tonight's bill [Susperia, Lacuna Coil, In Flames and Dimmu Borgir in case it wasn't clear]. Dimmu Borgir are a very popular black metal proposition and then In Flames is a very different audience. Lacuna Coil maybe fits with Dimmu Borgir [wrong, wrong and wrong in retrospect! -- Paul] and so do Susperia, but I think the one you'd fit with would be In Flames?

JS: Yeah.

CoC: Do you think a lot of the crowd are gonna be a bit non-plussed or do you think with your earlier idea of the different kids, things will be OK?

JS: It's hard to say. In most of Europe the crossover thing is working really well. With this package we haven't had any negative response from the audience at all. And I kinda think there are two bands who are in the same kind of genre: Susperia and Dimmu Borgir, opening and closing, which makes sense. Lacuna Coil is a completely different thing to me and then Nevermore is different and In Flames are different.

CoC: In Flames are definitely on a different sort of trip from Nevermore, but I can sort of, in a very vague way, see where people would link up the two. I know a lot of people who like In Flames who also like Nevermore. When I first play people Nevermore a lot the comments I've got have been: it's kind of heavy and it's kind of melodic and I'm not sure where it's going. Then, after a few listens, they like that aspect of it. Do you find that live, by the time you're finishing your set, people are getting it, or do you find it catches them a bit off-guard?

JS: I notice that by the end a lot of people who were there for Dimmu with their faces staring at us blankly at the end are headbanging and getting into it.

CoC: So, not the typical "Slayer reaction"?

JS: I think the fact that we've never really budged or changed direction and just stuck with the grey area we were in, now that we're expanding into the other audiences it definitely will give us some longevity if we pull a little bit from each audience. I am excited for tonight, really. I've seen shows in Seattle for bands who open for Slayer: that's like the kiss of death. But I think with this European bill all the bands are different but there is a thread between 'em all that we can connect with. The gothic, thrash...

CoC: This is a big enough thing where it's not a Dimmu Borgir gig, it's the "Metal Odyssey" gig. They'll hopefully be people here to see all the bands.

And there were, I can assure you...

[After the interview, I ask Jim to sign something. I mention how cliche it seems for me to ask for my album to be signed, and he supplies me with a convenient quote to end this interview with.]

JS: It sounds kind of cliche, but it is my favourite Nevermore record.

[:Note: I'd never heard the original version until recently, and after this interview (you are further recommended to check out the Simpsons alternative take on the same song in the episode "Lady Bouvier's Lover", though it was the lyrics that they altered). -- Paul]

(article submitted 12/8/2001)


CHATS
7/11/2005 J Smit Nevermore: A Transcendent Endeavor
7/13/2003 J Smit Nevermore: The Greater Goal Achieved
1/2/1997 A Bromley Nevermore: Seattle's Sinister Sages
10/1/1995 A Bromley Nevermore: Thrash the Seattle Way?!?
ALBUMS
9/4/2010 A El Naby 8 Nevermore - The Obsidian Conspiracy
7/11/2005 J Smit 10 Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor
7/12/2003 J Smit 10 Nevermore - Enemies of Reality
11/20/2000 M Noll 9.5 Nevermore - Dead Heart in a Dead World
3/14/1999 A Bromley 10 Nevermore - Dreaming Neon Black
11/18/1996 A Bromley 9 Nevermore - The Politics of Ecstasy
GIGS
10/13/2003 P Schwarz Arch Enemy / Nevermore I'm Dreaming of a Neon Black Earth...
5/13/2001 M Noll Dimmu Borgir / In Flames / Nevermore Crimes in the Mourning Palace
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