Interview: Abigail Williams Frontman Talks About New Album, Recent Mayhem Tour

By Andrew Bansal

Led by frontman Ken Sorceron’s forward-thinking and ambitious approach, Los Angeles-based extreme metal band Abigail Williams have never shied away from experimenting and attempting new things each time they’ve stepped into the studio. They’ve done it yet again with the new album “Becoming”, through which they’ve broken new ground and found themselves pursuing a musical style they hadn’t touched before. This album, set to release in the US on January 24th via Candlelight Records, is the band’s darkest, most intricate, and most compelling musical composition till date.

As the band prepares for the release of the album, they are confirmed to do a string of US headline dates, followed by opening slots on tours with Dark Funeral and Deicide. Just a few minutes ago, I spoke to Sorceron to discuss this epic new album in great detail, as well as touched upon the band’s plans for 2012 and changes in line-up. Read the conversation below, and check out http://www.facebook.com/abigailwilliamsofficial for all the info on album pre-orders and tour dates.

First of all, I would like to congratulate you, because the new album sounds amazing. To me it sounds like a single 55-mintue piece rather than six individual tracks. Did you write it with that aim in mind?

Yeah, I guess you could say that one of the objectives was to create an album that had a flow to it. Conceptually and lyrically, I think it all gels together very well. Although it was not a 100 per cent planned out, it was something I wanted to accomplish, and it just happened naturally. It didn’t take very much effort to make that happen.

Some of the tracks are pretty long. The longest track on the album, “Beyond The Veil” is 17-and-a-half minutes in duration. How did you approach that from a writing point of view? Did you write it in pieces or did it just come about in one go?

It came about mostly in one go, actually, and typically that’s how I do things. “Ascension Sickness” was written in one day. “Radiance” was written in one day, and “Beyond The Veil” was done in two different sessions basically. I had a huge chunk of it, about 14 minutes of the music, and then in the next session I came up with the lyrics and the rest of the music and kind of pieced it together. So when it was time to make the guitar parts and what not, it all just happened in one day.

You have some headline dates coming up next month. Is this the kind of album you would want to play in its entirety, at least in your own shows?

Yeah, we plan to play the album in its entirety.

I’ve seen you on a bunch of tours. Last year, you toured with Immolation, and this year with Deicide and then recently with Mayhem. How did you even find the time to write this album?

Well, like I said, most of the songs were written very quickly. It was all just written very naturally and in between tours, me and Ian devoted some time to sit down with our guitars, come up with some riffs, and then work on that for a bit. And then he would work alone and we’d show each other what we did. To be honest, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to write, but what we did have was a lot of time to reflect on what we had written. So we wrote this stuff pretty much straight after we did “In The Absence Of Light”, except for the “Beyond The Veil” track which was written in the last couple of months. But we had written the other songs just after the previous album, and they sat around. We listened to them for all that time. There were many other songs also written, but that’s how we decided to choose those songs. We had them for so long that we had a clear idea of what we needed to do when it was time to record, and how to approach the recording process. With the last album, we had pretty much written it in the studio, so we didn’t really come up with the correct way to approach the recording and make the songs say what they wanted to say. With this album, by the time we went to the studio, we knew what had to be done, and it almost became like second nature to record them.

How would you rate that Mayhem tour? Obviously I saw the tour in LA, but I was following your updates on facebook and there were some cancelled shows, venue changes and things like that. So, was it a little rough compared to other tours?

It was a little rough, but I think it was probably the best tour we’ve ever done. We got to play in front of crowds on some nights, depending on the territory, that were really big crowds and we were well received for the most part. In some territories, Mayhem has a pretty open-minded fan base, because they’re the type of band who will always have the straight-ahead black metal fans that just want to hear the first two or three albums or whatever, but we went into some pretty strange territory after that. We really clicked with those guys also on a personal and musical level. They were really cool to us and I think their fans were too. So I would say it was the best tour we’ve ever done. I mean, we’ve done much rougher tours where no one was at the shows at all. That makes it hard, to want to keep doing it when you’re not getting any money, when you’re running out of money, can’t even afford gas, and have to eat at McDonald’s every single day. It’s the worst thing to eat, but when you don’t have any money, you have to. It’s almost not worth it sometimes when you’re playing crappy shows. We had a lot of cancelled shows on this tour. That was because of venues closing down, and things that were out of our control really. We ended up playing shows for free on those days anyways, just because it was worth it to keep doing it. Those were some of the best shows of the tour actually, the ones that were cancelled. Even Mayhem played for no money. We totally respect that. They are a lot like us in the sense that they’re not about getting paid. They do it to enjoy the vibe and atmosphere they are creating when they play. It’s the same for us. So it was the best tour so far, even though we played first on the bill, which does suck a little bit. In some places, we were playing before the doors were supposed to be even opened. So stuff like that sucks, but other than that it was good.

You were also doing sound for Hate and Keep Of Kalessin after you were done with your set. Was that personally a bit hectic for you?

I started doing sound for them after the third night of the tour. Their sound man quit and went home. I don’t usually advertise the fact that I’m a sound man on tour because I don’t want to have to do sound while playing shows, but they’re cool guys and they needed help, so I did the sound for them for the entire tour.

Well, I can remove this from the interview if you don’t want to advertise it…

(Laughs) No, it’s OK, because now that I’ve actually done it, I don’t think it was that bad. I always thought it would be terrible. I mean, it is hard work, but it is nice to come home from a tour with money for once, because I was actually working while on tour. So it was definitely worth it. Once our tour schedule is less busy, I definitely plan to tour with some bands doing sound for them when I have time.

As you said, playing first on these tours sometimes sucks. So on these upcoming big tours that you have with Dark Funeral and Deicide, are you playing first or a little bit above on the bill this time?

We’re direct support for Dark Funeral. It’s Dark Funeral, us, Inquisition, and I think Gigan is the first act.

With this new, sort of deeper musical style that you’ve done on this new album, do you think it opens you up to a wider variety of tours and not strictly death and black metal tours?

We don’t necessary want to do just death and black metal tours, but the thing is, we just want to be on tour no matter what. Even when we started, we toured with a lot of bands we had nothing in common with musically. I mean, if you look at our touring history, we’ve toured with bands like Darkest Hour, and stuff that we didn’t necessary want to do, but we did want to tour, and those were the only offers being made to us. So, you do what you have to do sometimes. I’d love to break outside the box and tour with a variety of bands. To be honest, I really love the guys in most bands we’ve toured with, like Immolation, Vader, etc. We’ve made friends with all these guys, but we know that it’s not the best thing for us to be playing with these bands. But we’re not going to wait at home for a tour that may not come to us. So we have to get out there and play regardless. I mean, I definitely don’t think we should be doing these tours forever with bands like Deicide. We don’t fit on that bill at all, specially when you take into consideration our new album. I can almost guarantee that the majority of that whole crowd is not going to get it. It’s a very traditional death metal crowd. I’m not saying that those fans don’t like other stuff. It’s just that, from my experience it’s not been the best matchup (laughs). There is politics involved, and that’s just how it goes sometimes. We’ve got to do those sort of tours, because otherwise we’ll have an album coming out and we won’t be able to play it in front of people.

I was reading the other review that was posted today for your album, and you pointed out that they described you as “hipster black metal”. What do you think about that? Do you find that funny, or annoying? How do you react?

I don’t think it’s annoying. If anything, it’s an ironic term. I get it, and I don’t think of it as a derogatory term. It is funny. People are always going to need to label our sound, and I don’t really care what they are calling it. I actually mind being called that much less than some of the things people have called us in the past (laughs). I’m not saying that it’s even a real thing. “Hipster black metal” is obviously a term that we all use to describe certain bands, but not in a negative way. It’s just because of the fact that they have internet trolls and those sorts of things. They make these names up to help sort of understand where something is leaning towards, and it is what it is.

You were also saying that you want to release this album on vinyl. Is that something you seriously plan to do? It would sound great on vinyl, that’s for sure.

Yeah, our record label doesn’t really want to press the album on vinyl. But I come from a D-I-Y background, so it’s second nature for me to say, “Let’s do it ourselves!” The label will license it if they want any of it. To be honest, we sell more vinyl than CDs at our shows. We have vinyl only of our first album, and even that one sells really well when we have it in stock. So it’s about not only what people want, it’s what we want to see also. We want to listen to our album on vinyl and we want to have a copy of it. We’re the type of band that if we ever got into a situation where our label dropped us due to low sales, at this point I wouldn’t even look for another label. I would just put out all of our recordings ourselves.

One final thing I wanted to ask you is, I feel Zach Gibson has done a great job on the drums on this new album, and he adds a lot of aggression to the sound. What’s the situation with him? Was he just in-studio or is he going to tour with you?

He can’t really tour with us because he has a full-time job that he can’t quit. And as you know, when we tour, none of us are able to keep regular jobs. It’s one of the sacrifices we make to be able to do this. As a consequence, we are usually quite broke all the time. It’s just something he can’t do, and the reason why he’s not playing in the band in the first place is our touring schedule. Abigail Williams right now is essentially just two members, Ian and myself. We choose to play with certain people live and certain people in the studio. Zach has a very musical way of playing drums. He is capable of playing very fast and technical and whatever. We didn’t even need any of that for our record, but the real reason why I chose to use him is, I like the way he hits cymbals, the way he is able to make the drums sound different for different parts. He just plays a very musical style. So for the record, it was right. At the time we were also trying to find someone for the live shows, and right now we have a kid named Allan Cassidy. He’s playing with us live and doing a good job. We have different people playing live to the ones that play in the studio. It just depends on what we need, and really depending on what songs we’re going to play live. When we’re playing some of the older material, we have a different type of drummer live. For playing newer stuff, the same type of drummer might not be able to pull it off correctly, and vice versa.

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