Interview: Nails Talk New Album, Abandon All Life
Some bands think they're brutal. Then there's Nails. The dark and heavy hardcore band was all over every extreme-music fans' radar when Unsilent Death was released three years ago. The record was ferocious and unforgiving, and Nails' new album, Abandon All Life, is even more violent than that and other prior releases, including the 2012 EP, Obscene Humanity. Revolver caught up with vocalist-guitarist Todd Jones to ask him what's got him so pissed off, his homestate of California, and hardcore cliques.
REVOLVER The amount of emotion dripping off Abandon All Life is insane. What is making this so genuine?
TODD JONES What makes something genuine is basically if you as a person can connect to whatever you’re doing or making. If you don’t feel some sort of emotional attachment to it, why are other people going to feel an emotional attachment to it? That’s why it took us such a long time to write the record. Most bands are on a two-year album cycle. This one took us three. We would have liked to have the album out in two years but the fact was we aren’t going to put out garbage. We took a long time crafting these songs and waiting for the right riffs. So that’s what it takes to be genuine. Like, if I’m playing guitar in my room and I’m playing something and I don’t love it, then I’m not going to use it, period.
I've heard that you recorded and ultimately trashed a whole album's worth of material before making Abandon All Life. What happened to those songs? Were they reworked or did you never think about them again?
Our wasted material? It wasn’t good enough. I mean, I could sit at home all day and write riffs, but it doesn’t mean they are good and should be put into songs. I mean, we have one song we didn’t record but…we might record that. I like the song but I don’t think it’s good enough. It is a cool song, but the thing is, we’re not going to play it live probably so what’s the fucking point? I don’t wanna litter our discography with all these B-rate songs.
You guys consider yourselves to be a hardcore band, but on Abandon All Life, there's a noticeably more death-metal sound.
It was the direction we wanted to go in. We just wanted to go heavier and darker. I was listening to a lot of Suffocation, which might not make sense to people. We don’t sound like Suffocation at all but I just wanted to go a little more brutal. I feel there is a void of bands playing straight-up aggressive music right now. They just want to play party metal or play songs with big structures. I’ve always been a champion of lean songs. I like metal riffs with lean punk structures.
That obviously played on the new record, which is 10 songs and only about 18-minutes long.
Yeah. Like I said, I like punk structure with metal riffs. That’s pretty much what I’m about right now. That’s why our albums are short--we’re not trying to like convolute our songs with lesser parts.
It seems like you’re pretty critical of yourself. What do you spend the most and least time on?
We spend the most time writing songs. No question. We want to perfect our craft. We want to make sure that we don’t put out a bullshit record and it's something we love. We spend time writing songs but it’s not like we go in on a Saturday to our studio and practice for eight hours. That’s not how we write songs. Our process is I’ll play guitar, or everybody in the band does actually, and when someone has something they have an attachment to, they bring it to the table. Usually things come pretty quick for us. Everything we do happens organically and we don’t force anything. The hardest part about doing a band is making sure you write good music, which a lot of bands fail to do.
What’s it like recording with Kurt Ballou of Converge at his studio, GodCity ?
I’ve been recording with Kurt for 12 years. It’s fucking awesome. He’s someone I legitimately call a friend. Before I look at Kurt as a dude who records my band, I look at him as my friend. So I’ll have a different perspective that other people. It’s cool because I know I can go to him to help take care of everything. I’m a very impatient person. I absolutely do not enjoy recording. I don’t like playing parts over and over and over again. But I know I can go to him and not even have to think about it. I could put minimal input into it and he’s going to do a great job.
Unsilent Death’s cover art and font are visually evocative of black metal. Why did you go with that look?
I thought it was fucking cool. I didn’t mean for it to come off as a Hellhammer ripoff. I just wanted something that was brutal and sick. I know what you’re saying but what are we going do? Put, like, a varsity logo on our record? We don’t sound like that. I like the way it looks and I don’t know why we do what we do.
The new album’s cover art was done by Farron Kerzner, vocalist of Lightening Swords of Death.
He’s done a lot of artwork for us. We were into the idea of having some sort of cloaked figure on the album that didn’t really have any defining features and then having a pile of dead bodies. That’s what we told Farron to do and he came up with it. I didn’t expect him to do something as good as he did. That cover’s amazing.
Lyrically, the reoccurring themes on Abandon All Life include ignorance by others, inflicting pain, and hatred. What’s going on in your mind?
I don’t know. I’m a pretty happy person. After Unsilent Death, I’m not as angry as I used to be but I have that dark side still. I just fucking hate fake and corny people. I hate ass-kissers and I fucking hate posers. So my mindset is just very primal, almost like a teenager. That’s what I wanted to tap into with Nails. When I was getting into punk, I was excited about the fact there’s all there bands that played music I wanted to hear and said things I wanted to hear. They were angry. They felt the way I felt. It’s 15 years later and I still feel that way. I want to express myself that way and I hope there are other teenage people out there who read my lyrics and feel like they aren’t alone. That’s not even teenagers--that’s everybody. It might sound kinda silly but I don’t think it is. I just want to come from a very primal, young state of mind. I’m not interested in talking about personal shit or having some sort of concept. It’s just music.
That’s very hardcore state of mind. How did you get into metal and hardcore? Nails is from California and the scene there today doesn't exactly sound like your band.
I got into mainstream music like Nirvana and Metallica when the Black Album came out. Punk rock grew, like, Green Day and The Offspring became big. Through that, my friends and I bought records. This was pre-Internet and information wasn’t readily available. You couldn’t just go to Google and download a record. Like, we really had to spend money and time with the random successes and failures of picking all these bands. Still to this day, I’m digging into new sounds of punk, metal, and hardcore. I mean, maybe we don’t sound like we’re from California but keep in mind Slayer, Terrorizer, Crucifix…there’s a lot of brutality coming from California. Maybe not in the past 20 years, but it’s still there. I don’t like living in California and I don’t like traffic. But Nails does not associate with California as it has no impact on Nails. Maybe it does subliminally. It’s not to say I hate California as far as the music scene goes, but when I started Nails, I never wanted us associated with any area at all. People want to associate a band with a city and I…I don’t care. It’s fine but I don’t think where we’re from has anything to do with where we sound like.
When you think of hardcore, you think of the regional scene and how everyone has their letters...
Yeah, and that’s not what I’m about. I hate the boys club of hardcore and all these fucking social cliques. It’s people who fucking look like they belong in a sports bar. I never fit into that. I want people like that to not like my band. I want them to feel like they aren’t welcome to listen to my band. I don’t care if anyone has a fucking problem with that. We don’t belong to any cliques, period. We just want to do our own thing and that’s why I’m saying, like, I guess you could say, we’re from California but we’re not associated with anybody but ourselves.
You have a family and that must make touring difficult. Do you have another job since you don’t tour as much as a lot of other bands?
I wish I had a job working manual labor. I don’t think anyone else is going to say that but I look at that stuff as creative. I wish I was handier but I work in Information Technology. I’ve been working in IT for 13 years. So I work with computers and I make decent money. I don’t want to tour full-time even if we had the opportunity. Touring six to nine months out of the year is bullshit and it takes all the creative energy out of you. It burns you out and it burns your fans out on your band. Nobody wants to see their favorite band play their hometown three times a year, no matter how much they like them. So, nah.
But going on the road is still an experience. What do you look forward to when heading out on the road?
My favorite part about going on the road is hanging out with the members of my band in a van and listening to music, along with playing shows. I don’t like anything else about touring. I’m not a very social person so I don’t try to make friends with people. I know a lot of people who say, “Oh, I’m going to go on tour and make so many new friends!” Well, I’m going to go on tour and make sure I don’t talk to people other than the people I already know.