Invasion Of The Riffanauts - an interview with Canada's Sheavy
Sheavy formed in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada in 1993, and originally performed under the name Green Machine. They did some great recordings but it was the "Electric Sleep" album that was recorded in St. John's in the summer of 1997 that brought them to the attention of Stoner Metal-Heads and Doom Metal fans worldwide, that album has gone down in history as a "cult-classic" of the genre. One British reviewer deemed it as "the best Black Sabbath album in 25 years" and from then on, there was no stopping these Canadian riff merchants as they released one killer album after another. The only upheavel within the Sheavy ranks was in April 2009, when original guitarist Dan Moore resigned from the band, however he was replaced by a equally, if not more so talented guitarist in Chris White, they premiered the new guitarist and new material at local St. John's venue distortion in October 2009. This year has been a monster year in the history of the band with not one but two classic Sheavy albums being released, the first was "The Golden Age of Daredevils" and only just recently another album titled "Disfigurine" which is my opinion one of the best Stoner-Metal albums ever made. Here is a interview I did with vocalist Steve Hennessy and new guitarist Chris White.
Hello everyone, thanks for allowing this interview, it is truly a honor. Let's start at the beginning. I first heard Sheavy when "Blue Sky Mind" was out and just before the release of "The Electric Sleep" but there was two demos before that "Reproduction" and "Slaves to Fashion" as well the "Dalas Tar" EP. How was life for Sheavy back then, did the sound fall into place or wasn't it developed yet?
I don't think the band really came into it's own until Electric Sleep. By that point there's a little more maturity in the songwriting and up until then I never felt Sheavy was much more than just a side project for Dan and Ren. Once we had a deal with Rise Above to make records we took things more seriously for sure.
I know you have been asked this before but I guess you know by now that the song "Electric Sleep" still comes up on Limewire, Bearshare etc, etc as being a rare Black Sabbath track. I find it strange because I have never thought as Sheavy as a Sabbath sounding band at all apart from the vocals. Do you find it surprising that people still give you the "Sabbath" clone status?
I'm not surprised by the Sabbath comparisons any more. Given our sound I can see the connection. But in many ways we've moved away from the stoner sound and have morphed into more of a metal band. I'd still love to do more doom stuff but it's not always what comes out. I don't think we've ever sat down and tried to write a certain kind of album. Sometimes its doom, sometimes it's metal and sometimes it sounds like Sabbath. You can never tell with us.
"The Electric Sleep" album was the break through in terms of making waves in the underground doom/stoner rock scene and that album still sounds fresh today. When you made it did you think of it as a special album and did you think it was a big step-up from "Blue Sky Mind"?
I think The Electric Sleep was a step up in a bunch of ways. We had more production time, we had label support, we had an experienced recording engineer do the mix and the songs had much more time to develop because we'd been playing them for a while before we went into the studio. I think we've done much better albums since but it is a special album in that it set us on course and got us thinking about where we wanted to do in terms of the music. We had a solid lineup with Keith joining and Ren was just all over the business side of the band. It was a fun time to be making music.
After "Electric Sleep" you recorded "Celestial Hi-Fi" and one of my personal favorite albums from Sheavy " Synchronized". Did you feel you were on a roll at this point?
It felt really great to be given the opportunity to go to Europe and record Synchronized. I don't know if we felt like we were on a roll though. At that point the band had members living all over Canada and I was living in the U.S. I'm super proud of having worked with Mike Butcher. He did a fantastic job given the small budget and limited amount of time that we had. From a songwriting point the album was a nightmare. We'd write songs in the studio in the morning and record them in the afternoon. It was crazy. I'd never gone into the studio that unprepared before.
Back to Black Sabbath again, not too many people know that you audition for the man himself, Tony Iommi. That must have been an incredible experience, can you tell us a bit about how that came about?
Tony Iommi's manager had an office in the same complex where Rise Above Records had set up shop. Through some strange turn of events he ended up hearing a little of Blue Sky Mind and The Electric Sleep and gave copies to Tony. Iommi was in LA at the time working on a solo record. Both he and his producer liked what they heard and offered me the chance to fly to California and audition. It was an all around surreal experience but it went really well. They were great to work with and I got a call from them later saying that they were really pleased. Unfortunately for me the project turned in to a showcase of all-star vocalists like Henry Rollins, Ozzy and Billy Idol. It may not have turned into much but it's something I'll always remember that's for sure. I got to have breakfast with Tony Iommi. We talked about bands. It was awesome.
While we are on the subject of vocals, this is another for you Steve. Who are your personal influences and vocal hero's, of course you sound like Ozzy but I am guessing that was nothing more than the wonders of mother nature who gave your that voice. What singers do you really get inspiration from?
I'd have to say that Ian Gillian is an influence as well as Glen Anderson from Yes. Peter Gabriel is also someone I really admire as a vocalist and songwriter. A good vocalist should give you chills and for me …. These are the ones.
You signed to Rise Above Records for a few albums, how did that deal come about and why did it end?
The Rise Above deal came about as a result of Ren sending out demo stuff to a few prospective labels. He had been in touch with Man's Ruin for a while but was really impressed with some of the bands Lee Dorrian was signing. Stoner was looking hot at the time so plenty of bands seemed to get sucked into the fuzzy guitar vortex. Of course the scene never really was much more than an underground thing. We fulfilled our contract obligations after releasing Republic and I decided that I'd self produce the albums after that. It wasn't a bitter split. I just felt that they weren't doing anything for us that we couldn't do for ourselves.
The album "The Machine That Won The War" had the band take a more straight-forward direction, was this planned out or did it just happen? By the way the album art for that one is spectacular!
After Republic I wasn't altogether happy with how the band was sounding. I liked Billy Anderson's mix but I thought the album itself was a frigidly cold digital production. I decided to take a more organic route with Machine that Won the War. We rented an old Studer 1" 8-track analog machine and did the entire album on it. There were old-school challenges for sure but in the end I think the record sounded much less polished and much more like Sheavy should sound. An Israeli digital artist, Eliran Kantor, did the artwork based on a concept I gave him. He did a fantastic job. It was the first time we'd taken the artwork outside the band so I think that in and of itself was refreshing. I think even Dan was pleased with the final product.
One more historical question before moving onto the current state of things in the Sheavy camp, the DVD recorded live on March 3, 2007 is a killer DVD release indeed. Did you approach the sound differently as opposed to a recording for a CD and how has been the sales for that been and do you have any future plans for more DVD releases?
DVD's are a whole lot of work and they're really expensive to produce. I don't think we took a different approach to the sound when we were making them. You've just got to hope you're having a good day and that you've got a good guy taking care of the tracking. I'm not sure about doing any more DVD releases. It seems that it's just as well to do a low cost thing and upload it to YouTube. It's faster, a whole lot easier and you can get away with less than stellar quality video.
In April, 2009 Dan left the band but not much has been said as to why, can you tell the readers how and why he departed?
Dan's departure came as a bit of a shock to everyone in the band. After 17 years I guess it's to be expected that he might have wanted to move on and do something new. He's a multi-talented and super creative guy. He was the creative force in the band for many years and I think he was feeling he'd given everything he had to give. We owe a lot to Dan. When I found out he was leaving I thought long and hard about shelving the band. But in the end I decided that Sheavy wasn't quite done yet. A year and a half later I still feel like I made the right decision. The new lineup has energized the group and I feel confident that there's still a lot of good music left to be made.
Now you have the new guy Chris White in the band and with all due respect to Dan, the band seems really revitalized on the last two recordings especially on "Disfigurine". The band seems more aggressive with the songs being more up-tempo than ever before, what elements of this to you put down to his playing style or is it a new approach that Sheavy has to composing songs these days?
I think both Chris and Evan have really stepped up and turned things around. New blood has certainly served to revitalize the band and I think you can see it in the songwriting Chris was brought on board because he had a guitar tone similar to Dan's and he brought a wah pedal based solo style that allowed us to play the older songs without altering the sound too much. Evan's brought a bunch of cool tunes to the table and I feel that his writing contribution has been nothing less than phenomenal. We've started writing tunes for a new record already and I can see that both of them have some really cool stuff in their back pockets. The jams seem fresh and new again. It's a really cool time for us.
Chris, can you tell us about your musical background?
We'll I grew up listening to a lot of metal and hard rock just like any kid that was really into this style of music. I listened to all the classic metal bands: Iron Maiden, Sabbath, Metallica, Priest, Pantera and everything in between. I was really into metal music before I started playing guitar but when the whole grunge thing started in the 90's it allowed me to start learning guitar and figure out cool songs that weren't super complex or difficult to play. Once I figured out the basics of the guitar that was it, I was totally hooked! Once, I started getting somewhat proficient at the guitar I started really getting into the whole Jimi Hendrix , Cream, Led Zeppelin era of blues based hard rock. That stuff really hooked me because it was loose and jammy and it seemed like all the players had a great chemistry with each other and could just jam it out for hours on end. I love watching live videos from that era where the bands songs are so much different live then they are on the studio album.
Nowadays I listen to pretty much anything metal or hard rock that has great riffs. I'm a riff guy at heart so the music I like gotta have kick ass riffs all over the place! The newest metal that I've been really digging on is the latest Kingdom of Sorrow album, Seventh Void, High on Fire, Mastodon and the band Black Pyramid.
The new album which I totally am addicted too right now is back to back riffing magic. Is it my imagination or is there even more riffs coming out now?
Yah man….there are definitely more riffs coming out. The writing of the last 2 albums was fantastic because everybody in the band wrote riffs and guitar parts for the songs. We ended up having tons of good material to choose from and even had to leave some stuff off the last record! My favorite part about being with a group of musicians is creating new ideas and there's no shortage of that stuff coming from us lately. I know that I have lots of riff ideas for the newest material and Evan is always a riff machine…so I would expect the future material to be just as riffy!
Can you talk about some of the songs on the album? What are your personal favorites and what are the ones that the Sheavy faithful can expect to hear during live performances?
Some of my favorites from the last 2 albums are: Loving the Abyss, War on Titian,
Beyond the Blackwaves, Waking the Bloodbeast and Dead since Birth. I like all the songs but I love playing those 5 songs live the most…..they translate really well to a live setting and come off with lots of energy. I personally think that Loving the Abyss and War on Titan are probably 2 of the best Sheavy songs that came out in a long while……that's speaking as both a fan of the band and as a band member. As for what we'll play live…well we're going to try to play most, if not all of the songs live at some point. This band has such a large back catalogue and such an abundance of new material that it's hard to pick a set list that you want to play.
Sheavy has been amazing in the amount of work you do, recording wise. 8 full length albums in 14 years is pretty good by modern standards. Has it always been easy to come up with material? Has there been anytime when the band had writers block and struggled to create new tunes?
I think there was a period in time around Synchronized when we were struggling a bit in the songwriting department. The fact that we got that album done was a bit of a miracle. Things also seemed a little rough around the time Ren was replaced in 2004. I know it was hard on me personally. Ren was the heart and soul of the band for so long. In many ways it felt wrong to go on without him. I guess I have the same feeling about moving on without Dan to tell you the truth. It's not the same. It's just ….. different. Still, I feel like we have something left to offer and I don't think we should call it a day until we've tapped this crazy rock and roll thing to the very last drop,
Well you have released 2 albums in 2010; does this mean the band will take an extended break now from recording?
Not a chance. We haven't been touring and it doesn't look like we'll be doing much in the near future. We have no excuse not to turn out records. It's the creative side of music that does it for me. If we're not working on new tunes regularly I'm pissed. So, with that being said expect at least two new records in the next twelve months. I'm gonna try to get something out before Christmas if it kills me.
What has the band got planned for the rest of this year and going into 2011 ? Any tours, please say Seattle or anywhere in Washington State for that matter.
Songwriting and recording is my plan. I'm hoping to convince the boys to do the RPM Challenge again and this time we'll slip deep into doom mode with two super sludgy 18 minute epic tracks. Hell, I've even got an album title and cover art in mind. Touring? That doesn't look likely at the moment. We've got no label support (Dallas Tarr Records is me) and getting everyone clear of day jobs long enough to make it happen just never pans out.
Ok, thanks again for the interview. Any last words for the readers?
Yeah, we'd like to thank all the fans out there who keep buying or downloading the records. We hope you like what we're doing and we'll do our best to keep the tunes comin'. Peace!
Sep 22, 2010
Sep 22, 2010
Next interview: As We Die and throwing away the neagtive energy