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DAMNATION INTERVIEW: Larissa Stupar & Ash Gray – Venom Prison

2016 have seen VENOM PRISON explode in the heavy metal world. The UK outfit’s uncompromising and unforgiving death metal assault has seen the band receive huge praise from both press and fans alike. Now, the band grace the Terrorizer Stage at this year’s Damnation Festival, a huge accomplishment in itself and a challenge the band met with ease. Following their destructive performance (read our review of it here) we caught up with vocalist Larissa Stupar and guitarist Ash Gray to reflect on their breakthrough year, how Larrisa‘s political influences fuel her lyrics and what 2017 will bring for VENOM PRISON.

VENOM PRISON played an outstanding set earlier, how was it for you guys?

Larissa: I really really enjoyed it, I think it was one of our best shows!

Ash: I’d say the same.

Damnation Festival’s bill this year is typically black metal and doom. VENOM PRISON are one of the few death metal bands on the lineup this year, did you have any pressure coming into this show?

Larissa: Not really, I was just really looking forward to it. I wasn’t expecting anything and I think that’s why I really enjoyed it!

Ash: I think that’s the way I look at it, I mean it still feels weird, we are a new band and it was like “oh god are we going to stick out like a sore thumb and we’re the same shit as everyone else!” So I always get a little bit nervous but then, I’m just a nervous guy!

Larissa: You don’t want to be the band where everyone walks out.

Ash: And the stage was really big and you think if this room doesn’t fill up, what’s this going to look like? Those thoughts are always in the back of your head but as soon as you start playing you can’t see fuck all anyway!

This year has been a hell of a year for VENOM PRISON. You’ve only been a band for a couple of years and 2016, you’ve really taken off! You’ve had publications picking you up through introducing features and so forth, has it been overwhelming?

Larissa: Yeah, I think especially being in an actual magazine that you used to pick up when you were younger for the free CDs and yeah, it does feel overwhelming! I still can’t really believe it.

Ash: It’s weird isn’t it? I think we will be a band for two years this February coming so it still hasn’t been two years. You write an album and you think “oh we have to write a record, that’s what bands do” and you just kind of write it and you get the final product and when you listen to it, you think, this is my album. But you don’t really expect other people to react about it and when you look at it and go “you like this album?!” So, it’s kind of weird, and especially with Metal Hammer praising it and really supporting it, it is just like wow. Out of all the things you could of chosen, why us? It’s a cool feeling!

So with Animus being your debut, are you both happy with the overall reception?

Ash: Yeah, I didn’t expect it to do this well. When you’ve got a band this young and it’s your first album, it’s like a stone and then the next album is like a stepping stone where you go up, up and up. You think with the first album that a couple of people will like it, hopefully it will get us on some festivals and see how it goes. People were telling me earlier that they can’t buy it in HMV because it’s sold out, we’ve only got like 20 copies left, and you just think, this is cool as fuck.

Larissa: It is really cool!

So in terms of the themes Larissa, I’ve read an interview you did with Vice, where you said that everything your lyrics come from is from a political background. Given the state western society is in right now, is that just a massive catalyst for you when you are writing?

Larissa: Yeah, I think that those things just inspire me and keep me going, almost reflecting on what is going on. Sometimes you just don’t believe it, like what the fuck is happening, and since I grew up with political theory and that is something that moves me. I try to give a piece of myself to the record because that is all that I can do. I only sing and I write the lyrics so I try to give as much as I can.

Often death metal bands focus their lyrical themes on gore and make-believe fantasy. By having a political edge, do you feel that you are almost grounding VENOM PRISON so people can relate?

Ash: I think that is because of the backgrounds we come from, different bands before doing this, that was what it was always about, doing shit like that. If you want to write a piece of music and someone likes the guitar part or the drum part or a certain bit of a song, but when you add make-believe lyrics you’ve kind of eliminated all the seriousness from it. There isn’t that personal attachment, we’ve all watched a film and we could write a song about that film, but what does that mean to anyone? It’s like we’re pissed off, are you pissed off?

Larissa: Some people don’t even care about the lyrics and that’s okay as well, as long as they like the music.

With the album cover as well, it was inspired by the track Perpetrator Emasculation, how did the ideas for the album cover come about?

Larissa: When we asked Eliran [Kantor] to do our album artwork, he asked for the pre-production and all the lyrics. When he listened to it and read through all of it, he was inspired by that song and the lyrics for it and his opinion, I understand why he felt that way, he felt that best represents the whole album. He sent us a concept, like a rough sketch, we were all like yeah we understand.

And again, it goes against most of the trends especially in slam where most of the lyrics are male-orientated, Animus is almost flipping the roles. Was that always an aim or did it just come from the natural writing process?

Larissa: I think, because I define myself as a woman and I identify myself as that, I write from that perspective. I can’t write like I’m a guy, that’s just not who I am and I guess that’s why it happened. And personal experience as well.

Ash: I think it is just you get all these bands, I know people say it’s just make-believe shit, but people still take that in. I think it is good if people are a little more aware of what they are doing and what they are saying in songs. I know if it’s like a slam song or a death metal song they say stuff like that but it is like cool, you may not think much of it but the next person might. If they take that in a way where they think it is positive to do that, it’s pretty fucked up!

With you Larissa being in an extreme metal band, the internet is a minefield of horrible comments, to really get gender equality in extreme music is there still much progress that needs to be done?

Larissa: I think we’re only starting to get progress with stuff like that, even in hardcore and punk if you’re a woman in a band people just slay you. I’m used to that and I just don’t take it seriously but it shouldn’t matter if you are a woman, a trans person or a guy and you’re in a band. That doesn’t define the quality of the music.

And really my last question for you guys now that you have played Damnation Festival and you’ve released your debut, what does next year bring for VENOM PRISON? Are you going to carry on touring or are you already starting to look ahead to your next record?

Ash: It’s a bit of both! Touring because we did a little run last week so we’ve done a bit of the UK and Europe, next year we’re going to venture out a bit more, maybe venture to some new places and already when I got home from tour I was thinking about new songs in my head. It’s nice to keep things consistent, you get all these positive things like “oh this record is great” and the first thing you think about is thank you for the compliment but now I’m thinking about how I’m going to outdo this. I think it gets tougher each record.

Larissa: I think as well if you wait too long to release the next album people will just forget about you.

Ash: Yeah, it’s not like a Phil Collins record that is a classic forever. [laughs] Even forty years on you’ll be like “that record is fucking awesome!”

Well brilliant, well best of luck for whatever next year will bring for the band, thank you!

Larissa & Ash: Cheers, thank you.

Animus is out now via Prosthetic Records.

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