INTERVIEW: Ash Grey – Venom Prison

VENOM PRISON have set the world of heavy music alight this year. Following the release of their stunning debut Animus last year, the band have taken 2017 by absolute storm. From supporting heavy hitters in metal, performing solid sets at major festivals like Download Festival and Bloodstock, gracing the covers of major metal magazines, VENOM PRISON are hurtling up the ranks of heavy music at breakneck speed. Now, as the year draws to a close, the band have made hit another achievement in their young career; completing their first headline tour across the UK. Before the final show on the tour in Manchester (read our live report here) we caught up with guitarist Ash Grey to reflect on the band’s breakout year, the bleak circumstances that sparked the band into action for this headline run alongside glimpsing into what’s next for one of metal’s most exciting prospects.

So we are on the last date of this short headline run, how has the tour been for you?

Ash: Really good! It’s been nice to do this as we’ve done so many support tours, it’s nice to gauge where we are as a band independently rather than saying we played a really busy support show. Bristol was very very full, London was sold out I believe, Birmingham was really good, Glasgow was okay and yesterday was really good as well. So my only concern is Leeds and Manchester being so close but yeah, it’s nice to see where we are at as a band.

I believe this is your first headline run as well so is it much of a step-up from the support slots?

Ash: Yeah, I think you get to that point where you realise you are the main focus of a package. So like before the tour we had a bit of money leftover so we spent quite a bit of money on lights and our own lighting rig and stuff which we can now take on bigger support tours. We have this controller that links up so we can have full control of our lights and their lights. So that was one aspect of upping the game and just making sure we were on point with the set and stuff, trying to make sure we don’t disappoint anyone. It’s definitely something we wanted and we’ve all sat there and gone “right guys we need to kick this up a level.”

The circumstances surrounding this tour are obviously bleak, with the whole DECAPITATED situation. When that broke, what was your initial reaction?

Ash: I was quite upset really because it was a tour I was looking forward to doing. Obviously the standpoint we as a band take, regardless of it being true or not true, when we put that status up it was trying to be as diplomatic as possible. I didn’t want to just sit there and go “fuck you guys.” Obviously I do not condone it in any way, I need to be diplomatic and make sure I’m not going to say fuck you and all this and then turn round and be like “hang on a minute.” So, it was difficult and at the same time upsetting as it was a tour we were looking forward to, but then, as soon as we posted it I was like “shit, we need to do shows.” So these were the replacement ones for it but with only a month to promote it it’s been quite stressful. We initially weren’t planning to do a headline tour at this point so the fact we’ve been thrown in the deep end yet again has kind of been refreshing in a way because it means it makes us work. But yeah, it works in the favour, I don’t think we’ve lost from not doing it but yeah, it would have been nice to have done that tour…

I think you should be commended for the way you handled that situation because of how distressing the situation was, especially given what VENOM PRISON stands for, actions speak louder than words…

Ash: Yeah, it really wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I remember when it all happened and stuff and I literally stayed up all night preparing that post. The amount of times I was deleting stuff and re-writing it and I generally sat there all night thinking how can I do this as fairly as possible. Obviously some of the reaction it got to it, some of the comments I read on it, you’ve clearly not read this. You clearly read the first couple of lines and just gone “fuck you” which is their own idiocy not reading on. It is what it is.

So, moving on to a more positive note, Animus has been out for just over a year now and that album has really opened VENOM PRISON up to the world. Are you really happy with that album and how it has been received?

Ash: Yeah, I’m really pleased with the reception and stuff. Normally once I write an album I’m already thinking of what comes next so now, I’m about six songs deep into a second record now. It’s all about looking at ways in which to improve yourself, all the ways to progress and whatnot and obviously Animus has served its course and has done well in my eyes. It is just all about taking that next step and not just sitting too much on an album going “oh people like this album, let’s just keep playing this” because you do need to just keep stepping forward with everything.

I imagine as well with how Animus was received and the opportunities VENOM PRISON have been able to do because of that album, I imagine there is an immense pressure to deliver with this second album?

Ash: Yeah, that was actually something I mentioned to someone in the band not long ago. I’m sat there writing going “holy fuck!” There were a few things I’ve done this time that I’ve not really done as much or should have done where like I’ve just sat down with a guitar and just learnt to play a bunch of things just to kind of go “if this album is going to get better I need to be better.” It’s the same for everyone else in VENOM PRISON, it’s all well and good writing another album, but are we better in ourselves as well as the music. So that’s been one aspect I’ve really been focusing on, making sure we’re all getting better as musicians.

So with the new album, is it too early to say what sort of direction it will take?

Ash: It has all the core elements but there are a few new aspects that have kind of added to it. I don’t really know how to explain it but it’s gone more technical, a bit more progressed. In terms of guitars and drums it has got a lot more technical but still keeping the super heavy parts and the groove parts and whatnot. But yeah, it’s progressive and it is getting more technical, it is getting heavier. I always like to think how are we going to make this heavier? But yeah, it is all about progression, you can’t just sit there and go this was great, let’s just do it again because how many times can you do that?

With the year VENOM PRISON have had, you’ve achieved some massive things like playing at Download Festival and Bloodstock for example. If you had to pick a highlight what would it be?

Ash: I don’t really know, one thing that always sticks in my head is I love how, to me, being from the scene and community I grew up in was very DIY punk/hardcore. I didn’t have many opportunities to go to big shows when I was a kid, I just didn’t have the money, so that’s how I really got into hardcore and punk. So for me, to go on a stage like Download and play a set that was so well received and the following couple of days playing in a house show where everyone is just going wild and it is like, this is what I think this is about. How we can step on a big stage and be ourselves and then do a club show.

Yeah, it doesn’t really matter what size stage you are on, it’s still the same intensity…

Ash: That’s an element I never want to lose because who is really doing that? A lot of bands just go “we’re big now fuck everything else, fuck playing small clubs and all that.” I was talking about this earlier, so many venues are closing down, the smaller club venues and stuff, a lot of bands are just getting bigger and bigger and just moving on and leaving everything behind. There’s still people, I know a lot of my friends who, unless they are on guestlist, they can’t afford to go to a big show like that. So, being able to go back and be like we’re doing a house show, let’s have fun. I think people respect that.

I think that has been fundamental to VENOM PRISON’s success, having that DIY element.

Ash: Yeah, definitely.

You’ve got this massive tour with TRIVIUM coming up. It must be a massive compliment to have a band like TRIVIUM take you out on the road?

Ash: Yeah, it was very surreal. Matt tweeted at us and said “how do you fancy touring with us?” In all the days I’ve been playing music, if I had a pound for every time someone said we’re going to take you out on tour, I’d be a millionaire! But then, a week later there was an email and I was like “fuck, this guy wasn’t joking!” I respect someone on a higher tier supporting smaller bands because someone has to. One day they are going to disappear and who is going to fill those shoes? And then you get stupid comments like “oh the support bands are better than TRIVIUM” and it is like, come on now, have a bit of respect. This band has brought out all these other bands for you to come and enjoy a show, lets have a bit of respect for what they are doing for everyone.

So really just to close off, after the year VENOM PRISON have had in 2017, can you expect the same next year?

Ash: Yeah! We’ve booked quite a lot of stuff. We’ve got a tour like literally three weeks after TRIVIUM so we’re sorting all that out and stuff. Obviously when we get back it’s album number two, record that. We’re doing a couple of festivals, maybe do a European run again and just start the album two cycle. VENOM PRISON has never stopped moving so it is not really in our nature to say we’ve had a great year, lets relax next year. We get too bored!

Well brilliant, best of luck for the show tonight and, as always, it was a pleasure talking to you Ash.

Ash: Thanks a lot!

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