INTERVIEW: Karl Willetts – Memoriam

When news broke that Martin Kiddie Kearns had passed away in September, it marked an indefinite hiatus for BOLT THROWER. January 2016 marked a new beginning and MEMORIAM was born. Comprised of members from BOLT THROWER and BENEDICTIONMEMORIAM‘s explosive entry into the metal world has been nothing short of admirable, with a record deal with Nuclear Blast and a hugely successful demo all coming within the band’s first year. We spoke to vocalist Karl Willetts to talk about the band’s origins and their upcoming full length debut, signing with Nuclear Blast and their upcoming UK debut at this year’s Bloodstock Festival!

The band formed at the start of 2016, can you explain how the band formed?

Karl: This is kind of well documented already, but in a nutshell the band formed as a result of BOLT THROWER deciding to take a break indefinitely as a result of the tragic loss of Martin Kiddie Kearns last September. So with nothing to do music wise and a massive void to fill in my life I decided that I wanted to do something positive to pull myself out of the misery that was consuming me. I had wanted to do a band with Andy Whale [ex-BOLT THROWER] for some time, so this was an opportunity to make it happen. In December we met up had a chat about it and decided to give it a go. I also had always wanted to play in a band with Frank [Healy, BENEDICTION] but just had not got round to it due to our commitments with the bands we played in. So it was great when he agreed also. We then had to find a guitarist, it was Whale that suggested Scott Fairfax, and we knew he got on well with Frank as he had just completed a tour of South America with BENEDICTION. So in January 2016 we met up down the pub to have a chat about the whole idea and it has all just grown from there.

Originally, the concept of MEMORIAM was to just perform cover songs. Can you explain how that idea changed and you became a fully fledged band?

Karl: We really did not have a plan when we started, our intentions where to go into a rehearsal room and have a laugh and enjoy playing some music that had influenced us all to get into bands in the first place. The idea was to do some cover versions of songs by bands like SACRILEGE, DISCHARGE, ANTISECT, AXEGRINDER and the like and just enjoy doing that with the possibility of maybe doing a couple of local gigs, all low key for our own enjoyment primarily. But even at the first meeting we had in January Scott said that he had a couple of ideas that may work as original new songs, he sent over the versions of the songs that he had recorded at home on MP3 and right then I knew we were onto something special, the tracks which became the basis of the two songs featured on the Hellfire demos (War Rages On and Resistance) sounded awesome already. So we decided to hold fire on the whole covers project idea and roll full steam into creating a band that played new material. I had no idea that Scott had such great song writing ability and was totally chuffed to discover that he has a library full of unused ideas which we are currently working through (plundering!) to create what is MEMORIAM.

Karl, it was both you and Frank Healy who first formed MEMORIAM. Did the combined years of experience in the death metal scene you both have help with the creative process for writing material?

Karl: Well it was all inspired by the loss of Martin in the first place, he is the reason we are doing this band and for me MEMORIAM is a tribute to him directly. Whale and I where the first to sign up to MEMORIAM closely followed by Frank and Scott. I think that our experience has made us a lot more decisive and clearer about what we want to achieve with the band in terms of the music we create and the direction we want to take with it all. It has opened up some doors for us you could say as people are aware of our musical heritage and have faith in our ability to use our professional integrity to create something good. As for the creative process, this is an open book, a blank canvas we have parameters to work within, but there is no set formula, we have space to try out new ideas and sounds some may work some may not, but it is great and creatively stimulating to be able to do this.

Since your formation, you have released one demo, The Hellfire Demo’s, how have you found the reception to that release?

Karl: Astonishing! The response we have had is really amazing, I did not really anticipate the reaction to be so overwhelmingly positive, but I think that people actually understand what MEMROAIM is all about and they appreciate where we are coming from with the music we play. I have not seen any negativity around the demo at all. Which is really reassuring, We never really intended to release the demo at all, we did it to get a decent recording of the songs that we had written so that we could listen to it and learn the songs in preparation for doing some live shows! Not bad for two days work eh? We really are looking forward to going into the studio for a longer period of time to see what we can create!

In June, it was announced that you had signed a record deal with Nuclear Blast; can you describe the process of how you were signed?

Karl: Originally we toyed with the idea of releasing the MEMORIAM material by setting up our own label, but soon decided that this was a lot of hassle and an area that we were unsure of. So we decided to concentrate on what we do best and that is creating the music. Nuclear Blast got involved at a very early stage, about a month after we formed they showed interest in what we where doing (along with several other labels) once we had recorded the demo we fired a few snippets onto YouTube and Markus who runs Nuclear Blast got in touch and made us an offer we could not refuse. We are really chuffed to be on Nuclear Blast, the label is like a family, very helpful and approachable and supportive (unlike some other record companies that I have worked with!) They currently have a great artist roster so it is really great to be working with them. Markus who runs the label is a real genuinely nice guy who has been there from the start of the scene and has a real passion for the music; we go back a long way so it is great to be working with him releasing the MEMORIAM stuff!

It was in that press release where it was revealed that you are a planning a debut full length to be released in early 2017. What can fans expect from that record?

Karl: We are finding that as we progress together as a band the songs are getting stronger, we have only been together since January of this year so we have really achieved a hell of a lot in a relatively short space of time. The album will be recorded at Hellfire studios (where the demo/7” was recorded) in late September and early October, the demo was done over a weekend, so we are looking forward to seeing what we can create with a longer schedule. We intend to record around 10 tracks for the debut album, we already have 6 completed and we are currently working on the final 4 to complete the album. I am sure that people will not be disappointed when it is released sometime at the beginning of 2017, one year on from when we first started!

In terms of your influences for your upcoming full-length, who would you say is your biggest influence when it comes to writing?

Karl: That’s difficult to say, Scott is the primary song writer in MEMORIAM, he usually comes up with the initial ideas from which we develop the full songs. Frank has a lot of influence on this also. I just really say yep I like that bit and go off and work on lyrics which is what I do best! I would say that there is no one main influence on the sound that we are creating with MEMORIAM, it’s going to sound a bit like BOLT THROWER and BENEDICTION, people will automatically draw those conclusions that’s natural. But generally speaking I think that we have a more organic approach to writing songs, we just find a riff with a certain groove to it and knit it all together from there. There is no formula involved, we have a blank canvass to work from with MEMORIAM which in my opinion is fantastic, and we have the creative freedom to try new ideas and see if they fit or not which is creatively very exciting!

What sort of concepts and themes are you planning for the record to cover?

Karl: The usual suspects, we will continue with the eternal war theme, it’s a constant source of lyrical inspiration looking into the history of warfare and the world around us today! There is a heavy concentration of that theme along with the more general themes of death (the last taboo), loss and grief from which the bands initial inspiration to form in the first place came from. I am not going to change the habits of a lifetime with the lyrical content in what I write, no fluffy kittens and love songs from me, no fear, so in this aspect the song remains the same…..

The sound of MEMORIAM seems to incline with the old school sound of death metal, particularly that of your respective bands. Death metal has evolved a lot since the early days of the style, what is your view of death metal today?

Karl: Yep that’s right, Death Metal, its what we know and love, you could say its all we know and love. I am still kind of stuck in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the stuff I mainly listen to but with the help of social media (my chums on Twitter) I am being exposed to a lot of new stuff. There are some great sounding bands around today! The whole metal scene is so diverse which is great. So I think that overall the metal scene is in a very healthy place right now, constantly evolving and drawing on past references from the past which is how it should be! Each generation should be striving to make its mark on the scene and as a result there is a real wide variety of different sounding metal bands out there, some I like and some I don’t. That’s how it should be!

Looking ahead, MEMORIAM is set to perform at this year’s Bloodstock Festival. What can fans expect with that performance?

Karl: We are very pleased to be playing BOA, our debut and only show in the UK this year. It is going to be the 3rd gig that we have played having played our debut performance at Obscene Extreme Festival last month, and we are playing PartySan Open Air Festival in Germany the night before BOA. So it is still early days for us playing together as a band live and we are still in the process of working out what works best within the set and when. We all bring our years of experience of playing live to our performance, but it is far from polished at this stage! MEMORIAM will be playing a 45 minute set which will contain six of our own songs along with some cover versions of songs from the other bands that we are involved in! That is all I am going to say, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone!

With the Hellfire demos your only release to date, will your set at Bloodstock include any BOLT THROWER covers or any other covers from iconic death metal bands?

Karl: It may well do so…..

We will close by offering you the floor, is there anything you have to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?

Karl: Many thanks to you continued and valued support! War Rages On………

MEMORIAM’s as of yet untitled debut full length record is expected to be released in 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records.

MEMORIAM will perform on The Sophie Lancaster Stage at this year’s Bloodstock Festival. For tickets click here.

For more information on MEMORIAM like their official page on Facebook.