Interview with vocalist and guitarist Chris Appleton
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 12, 2018
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Mark Appleton for everything (that "free hoodies" for sale episode was hilarious, haha!!)
Absolva is a four-piece British band from Manchester, England, formed in 2012, that plays honest, pure and melodic Heavy Metal of the highest calibre. They have recorded four studio albums and toured a lot over the years, both in Europe and their home country. The whole band also works as a core unit for Blaze Bayley, which is how yours truly found them.
The band started their Defiance European tour in Varberg, Sweden, on October 4th, 2018, reaching Finnish soil on the 11th, where they had two dates including a gig in the not-to-be-skipped town of Mäntyharju (on October 13th), which has become an important place for both Blaze Bayley and Absolva over the years.
The following interview took place at On The Rocks, Helsinki, on October 11th where The Metal Crypt got a great opportunity to meet and talk to Chris Appleton, the founding member of Absolva. He is the one responsible for the way the band sounds and whose brainchild the band is (after Fury UK was put on ice in 2012 due to Chris' little brother, Luke Appleton, joining Iced Earth as a permanent member).
This and much more was discussed with Chris. Read on...
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland and this same venue, once again! You were here last spring with Blaze Bayley. How were those gigs this past May?
Chris: Great! We've been here a few times before with Blaze. My actual first time in Finland was around six or seven years ago with my previous band, Fury UK. We've gotten to know a lot more fans coming here with Blaze and have had a lot of good times. The last gig here in Helsinki with Blaze was probably one of the highlights of the tour. It was fantastic. I always like coming to Finland, anyway, because it always seems so far away from England, but you always feel at home when you get here. It's almost a bit of a relief.
Luxi: Do you feel like Finland it is your second home, sort of?
Chris: Kind of, yes. I feel very close to a lot of different countries in Europe, but as soon as we get off that boat and we set foot in Finland, I always feel very much at home.
IT'S IN THE GENES—FINNS DRINK HARD
Luxi: Did anything surprise you about Finland while you were playing this May with Blaze?
Chris: I'm always very surprised on how people can drink in Finland.
Luxi: [*laughs*] I was just about to ask you about our Finnish drinking habits.
Chris: I like to drink beer. We go to many places where they have strong beer, but I've never seen people drink quite as much as the Finns do. You're probably number one.
Luxi: I guess we are pretty good at that, ha!. Alright, let's start talking about Absolva, that's why you are here, right? You already did three shows in Sweden. How was it?
Chris: Sweden was great! Same sort of thing again. Absolva did one show in Sweden before but it was a festival where we were playing with Blaze as well. The dates we just did were the first headline shows that we've ever done in Sweden. It was very important for us. The reaction from the fans was fantastic.
The shows in Sweden and Finland are being done with the intent to come back very, very soon. These people haven't seen Absolva before. We want to hit them hard.
PLANNING TOURS—AND THE DIFFICULTY OF IT
Luxi: You started your "Defiance" European tour right here in the north. Is there some logistical reason why you came here first?
Chris: Yes. I did all the bookings for Absolva and Blaze Bayley. I'm the booking agent. I always plan my tours from the end and then work backwards. With this tour, I planned the whole of November in our usual places; Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland. Then, we got some dates supporting Michael Schenker. That added to it.
Then I always want to try and play Poland. We have a lot of loyal Polish fans and I try to play in Berlin and Hamburg more. I was looking at the routing from Helsinki down to Poland. I thought, "It's not too bad. We could have two or three days just driving through." I had a thought, "Well, maybe if we started off in Sweden and then we get the boat over to Finland, and then drive from Helsinki to Poland, we could work it out." We'd never played Finland before and Sweden, it's something that I really, really felt passionate about doing. Here we are.
Luxi: You have done similar, lengthy tours before and for some strange reason you have always avoided playing here in the northern part of Europe; Sweden, Finland, and so on. Why is that?
Chris: There are two things really. First, there's the travel. It's very expensive to get from one place to another. Then, it's getting the shows, finding somebody who wants to book us. I spoke to so many fans in Finland who said, "why have you never played in Finland?" Sometimes it's a basic reason why we can't find a gig. Someone has to believe in us to book us. I spoke to the promoter here at On the Rocks after the last Blaze show. He said, "I really want to start something for Absolva." He believed in us. Our friends in Mäntyharju, here in Finland, they really wanted to do a show as well. We made it happen.
Luxi: You guys are the core unit for Blaze Bayley whenever he goes on tour. Has this helped get Absolva's name better known among Metal fans?
Chris: Yes, I would say so, absolutely! I wouldn't have done so much work in Finland if it wasn't for Blaze. It's definitely helped us in territories where Blaze has a lot of fans. We've been introduced to a lot of new people. Also, on the flip side, we've helped Blaze a little bit because before Absolva was his backing band, he was only doing one or two shows in Germany every year, and Absolva have quite a loyal fanbase there. We helped him expand his shows in Germany. We help each other out. It is a team thing with Blaze.
Luxi: You will be joining the Michel Schenker Fest for seven dates, the first one in Malaga, Spain, on October 27th. Was this part of the tour easy to get arranged?
Chris: Chris: Not really [*laughs*]. I mean, it's always difficult planning these things. We've actually toured with Michael Schenker a few times in the past as Michael Schenker Group, as the Temple of Rock and just Michael Schenker but this is the first time supporting him as Michael Schenker Fest. I keep in touch with their booking agent and Doogie White. He's from Scotland. I speak to him on Facebook every now and again.
The main problem was I'd already booked my gigs in Berlin and Hamburg, and then the first show of Michael Schenker Fest was in Málaga, Spain. That was my first problem; how we were going to travel from Madrid to Milan in less than 48 hours. It's always something that you have to consider, but we always find ways around it.
Of course, being the opening act for Michael Schenker means that you're probably not going to be loading up the venue and leaving the venue after midnight. We will probably have all our stuff packed away and hang out with the merchandise. We could actually do a lot of the driving in the evenings. That's part of the package of being on tour, really. With Absolva, nothing's too big, and nothing's too much of a stretch. We always just seem to stretch as much as we possibly can.
Luxi: Have you ever shared the stage with Michael before, with either Absolva or Blaze Bayley?
Chris: With Absolva and also my previous band, Fury UK. The first tour we did was Fury UK supporting Michael Schenker Group when it was Gary Barden singing. Then, we did two tours in Europe with Absolva and Michael Schenker, Temple of Rock. I think we also did some shows in Greece. We flew over to Greece with him to do some special shows. That's four tours I've done with him and I have only ever met him twice [*laughs*]. He's quite a secretive person but he's always been very friendly with us when we have spoken. He always seems to recognize us, especially our drummer Martin because he's got the beard.
He sticks out, but we've enjoyed it.
DRAWING CROSSOVER PEOPLE TO YOUR CONCERT
Luxi: I can see your music appealing to metal fans over many different genres because your music has many classic elements; it's melodic, it's catchy, it has many nice hooks and killer riffs, great vocals, of course—and this list goes on. Have you ever thought about how your music might bring different types of people to your shows due to these things?
Chris: Maybe [*laughs*]. I've never really thought of it like that before. Yes, we definitely sit in the middle. We call ourselves a Heavy Metal band, but when you say Heavy Metal to normal people in 2018, they often think Heavy Metal with the growling vocals, the more Death Metal vocal—like what Lamb of God are doing, and things like that, which is great. If you say Heavy Metal, they never really think that you're going to be singing or playing melodic things.
I always say Heavy Metal relating to the traditional sense of Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest. It's a little bit difficult. We've tried to make sure our branding is accessible.
I think that's another thing that we have, is that we're a very, very heavy band when we want to be. Live, we could be really, really heavy. Some of our songs are very heavy but we've always got melody. There's always singing, there's always harmonies in the guitar playing and the vocals. I think that's probably what you're saying, we probably unite those people who like Hard Rock and melodic Rock like us, but then those people that like the heavier side of things, Thrash Metal, Death Metal. They also like us. I don't know.
Luxi: Well, you're uniting the crossover people in Metal, I think.
Chris: Yes, I think so. It's a good way of saying it [*laughs*]. I think the main thing is that we are very, very honest. We don't write songs to sound like something else. We just write the songs how we feel they should sound. We always write very positive songs. We never really write about killing people, or negative things. We're always writing songs to bring the best out of people. We want people to walk away from our concert feeling really good and happy about themselves.
Not to say that we're going to have sunshine and rainbows on the stage but we're like, "come on. Get your fist in the air. Let's really have a good time. This is heavy. This is good. In the audience, you are as cool as us." That's the feeling that we try to create in our fans.
Luxi: When you first started this band, did you have a clear idea of how you wanted the music to sound?
Chris: At the start, Fury UK, my previous band, was no more. Luke had gone to Iced Earth and I was thinking, "what am I going to do with my life?" I decided that Absolva was going to be the new project. It was very, very clear from the start that I was going to be the band leader, and my decisions were the only decisions. Everyone could have their input but I get the final say.
From the first album, Flames of Justice, I did 99% of the writing. Same with the second album. Then, Luke came back for the third album. He was not doing as much touring with Iced Earth. He was joined me writing for "Never a Good Day to Die" and "Defiance". It was very, very clear. I wanted the two guitars. I wanted Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, influences. I wanted these big hooky choruses and big guitar solos. The things that we all love about Heavy Metal.
Luxi: Like things we all love in both Maiden and Priest—with lots of guitar harmonies, dual guitars, and stuff?
Chris: Yes. It was like if you hear guitar harmonies, or big guitar solos, or big choruses, that's what we want.
Luxi: How much can you still remember from the recording sessions of your first album, Flames of Justice? Was there any pressure?
Chris: Yes. A lot of pressure really because Fury UK, before we split up, we were doing well. We had done tours with Saxon, Y&T, with Michael Schenker, Diamond Head. We had done lots of big stuff. We hadn't really done too much in Europe but we were getting pretty big.
When we decided to fold and start a new project, we were always thinking, "is this going to work? Is this going to work? Is anybody going to like it? Are our old fans going to carry on liking us now with this new band, new songs, new name?" There was a lot of pressure for that first album. It's amazing that it's six years ago because it doesn't feel like six years ago at all. In fact, six years seems to have flashed by very quickly.
Luxi: That record was very well received, as far as I know.
Chris: Yes, it was—and I am very glad it did pretty well.
Luxi: Flames of Justice was a very solid record and it was pretty well received. Did that make it easier for you to start recording your follow-up album and did you feel like Anthems of the Dead was your "make or break" album?
Chris: Well, I think everything feels like that. Every time you release a new album, your number one thing is you don't want your fans to turn around and say, "I like the last album, but I don't really like this new album". That's a constant pressure whenever you record any album. I was hoping Anthems to the Dead was going to be just as good as Flames of Justice. That's all I wanted. I just wanted them to say, "it's as good as Flames of Justice. It's great". That pressure is always there.
DON'T WHINE ABOUT LITTLE THINGS
Luxi: You toured a lot in 2014 for this album, mostly in your own home territory of England but you also played a plenty of shows in central Europe as well. What has all this touring taught to you over the years?
Chris: Take nothing for granted. When I get back home and I go back into normal life, usually around Christmas time, people are worrying about little things like somebody's talking bad stuff about them in the pub, or somebody's parked the car in the wrong place or something, and I'm thinking, "God, on the road you see so many people who are seriously ill in hospital, or there have been accidents, or people are dying every day and...
Luxi: Seeing homeless people around you, every day.
Chris: Yes, seeing those poor homeless people, too. That's just so sad. You come to learn to appreciate the small things. It's easy to get caught up in it. It's easy to get to get worried about simple things on tour. It is possible to get really annoyed with the sound engineer because he's not giving you the right monitors, or the kick drum doesn't sound right. After a while you think, "These are little things." At the end of the day, the most important thing is to perform a good show for the people that have come to see you. Those are two things that are very, very important.
Also, everyone's health in the band, that's most important. Yes, I do feel definitely in the past six years I have learned a lot being on the road, especially when we average out doing 200 shows a year for the past six years [*laughs*].
Luxi: It's a lot of shows. How much trial and error happens when you are on tour? Some things get fucked up but you can learn from them, right?
Chris: Yes, absolutely! There are so many things that can go wrong when you're on tour, and you've just got to try things. Nothing works the first time. It's like anything in life, but it's like any job as well because you have got to think of it like, "our full-time job is performing every night, writing albums, and traveling all across the world".
When you think about a big band, getting into a nice big tour bus with all the crew members and doing everything, 90% of what we do, we do ourselves. We're completely independent, both Absolva and Blaze Bayley, booking the shows, loading the equipment in, sound checking, parking the van. There are only four band members and one manager, so there's a hell of a lot of stuff that can go wrong.
The trial and error thing, you have got to try things. If it doesn't work, you can't let it bother you. You've got to think, "how can we move forward with this? How can we solve this problem? How can we make it better the next time?"
Luxi: When you released your third album, called Never a Good Day to Die, in 2015, you toured quite a lot, but only in the UK and some central Europe countries like in Germany, The Netherlands, France and so on. Have you tried to get some gigs booked outside of Europe as well, like Japan, Australia, and the USA, of course?
Chris: Definitely, yes. The United States is incredibly hard. We did a tour with Blaze last year and the amount of paperwork involved to go to the USA, it was just ridiculous. They want to know everything about you.
Luxi: Almost every musician, not living in the States, has complained about the same thing when I have asked about planning to go on tour in the USA; all this extra bureaucracy of getting working visas and stuff...
Chris: Yes, but we had a great time over there. We had some very loyal fans, but it's just incredibly hard, very expensive as well. When I go to America with Absolva, I want to really wait for the right time. I want to try and crack Sweden and Finland before Japan. We're actually in the album charts in Japan with, I think it was Anthems to the Dead.
We were in some magazines. Somebody took a picture of a few magazines that showed we were in the album charts in Japan. I don't know how that happened, the export must have got there. That was very exciting. There is some interest in those countries, but it's just all about timing.
TRYING TO "SELL" ABSOLVA FOR JAPAN
Luxi: Exactly. In Japan, people just love melodic Metal. They're big fans of all kinds of melodic Metal, being it extreme or less extreme sounding.
Chris: Yes, definitely!
Luxi: As you may know, they're also very fanatical in Japan about bands as well. When they are really into some band, they are really into it. They show you how much they like you by making you the target of idolatry or something. Also, they are very sincere, very polite, and stuff. You should go there with Absolva.
Chris: Yes [*laughs*] I think you've convinced me.
Luxi: Even though you have toured quite a lot these past 3–4 years, there are still metalheads out there who have never heard of Absolva. If there was one sentence to describe what Absolva is all about musically, what would it be by your own words?
Chris: Pure, honest, British, melodic, Heavy Metal. If you like guitar solos, if you like big choruses, if you like catchy songs, you will like Absolva.
Luxi: Now that's a very fitting description. I actually found this very funny description about Absolva. It said, "if the Oxford English dictionary had a singular word to describe contemporary classic Metal, it would be listed as Absolva".
Chris: Wow ... that's cool. Who said that [*laughs*]?
Luxi: To be honest I can't remember where I read that, but I wanted to share it with you.
Chris: That's so cool. I want to put that on my Instagram.
Luxi: After the Defiance tour has come to an end, will your main focus be on composing new stuff for your next album?
Chris: We're actually doing that right now.
Luxi: So, in other words, you've been in the studio, working on this new album already?
Chris: Yes. I'm not sure if I meant to say this yet or not. We've had these days off in Finland, in Mäntyharju, we've been doing the pre-production from the new album. Next month during the days off in Belgium, we have the studio booked to record the drums. We hope it will have completed drums by the time we get back to the UK in December. Then we just begin to track the guitars and the vocals. Wow...!!
Luxi: Will this new album be released sometime in early spring perhaps?
Chris: Well, we've got a plan for the release for next year. The working title for the new album is Absolva Five because it's Absolva V. We want to make a big, big statement with our fifth studio album. That's the plan. We're doing a new album and we're recording it while we're on this huge tour. If you didn't think we were crazy enough then—[*laughs*]
Luxi: That's nice to hear. Summer festivals can also be nice events because you can reach out masses of people all at once and get new fans. What other festivals have you got booked for Absolva for next year besides Breaking Bands Festival and Hammerfest?
Chris: Absolutely. There's always a clash with the amount of touring that we're doing with Blaze and when Luke is touring with Iced Earth. We've only got a limited window per year to push into Absolva. What I want to try and do is, now the Trilogy tour is over with Blaze, I want to find more time to be in festival season and in the normal touring year for Absolva, and really push it with the Absolva Five.
Luxi: What about your brother, Luke? Jon Schaffer is busy with his other band, Demons & Wizards, but I guess it's just a matter of time before Iced Earth will be back in full swing, with a string of new gigs and stuff.
Chris: This is odd now. I've just got to say that as far as I know next year, it is completely on with Absolva. I think he might have some commitments with Iced Earth a little bit, but Jon Schaffer's main concentration for 2019 is Demons & Wizards. So, I have got him [*laughs*].
Luxi: If you have anything else in your mind that you would like to tell about this new album, for example, then be my guest.
Chris: Yes. Well, we're working on the songs right now. We're in the pre-production. I'm planning, hopefully—hopefully, I want to make it another double album with some live tracks on there as well. The songs are definitely taking a different sort of direction. We're doing bigger songs, longer anthemic sort of things with big instrumental sections. It's very exciting.
The songs are taking a lot more time to sort of work out the pre-production because they're a lot longer, but that doesn't bother us. It's something different. Defiance, we had a lot of songs, and we had a lot of shorter songs, very punchy, very heavy. In this album, we're going to go with more the big, long, anthemic sort of direction, similar to some of the songs on Flames of Justice.
Luxi: Do you already know how many songs this new album is going to have?
Chris: Well, usually what we do is we write as many songs as we possibly can with the time that we have. It's either 11 or 12, and then we say, "these are the 11 or 12 best songs out of all these songs that we wrote". Then the songs that we don't use, we just keep on the hard drive and we go back to in the next year or the year after. We always just take the best songs out of the collection that we do. We might write 20 songs but only end up using 11 or 12.
Luxi: Okay. I think that was it. Thanks a lot for the interview, man.
Chris: Thank you very much.
Luxi: It was a pleasure.
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