Interview with guitarist Nathan Sadd
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 8, 2020
Shrapnel are a 4-piece thrash metal band from Norwich, England, who have been around since 2009 and recorded three EPs and three full-length albums, of which Place for the Insane is the latest. The band has become one of the most important thrash forces from England, alongside Onslaught, Xentrix, Evile, Acid Reign, Gama Bomb, etc. They have recorded all of their albums for Candlelight Records, which has also done a splendid job promoting the band's latest album. It goes without saying, but naturally gigs with more established names such as Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies, Death Angel, Sepultura, etc., have also helped them to gain more notoriety.
We here at The Metal Crypt were so impressed by the band's last album that we finally contacted the band and Nathan Sadd (on guitar) kindly shared many things with us related to some of the latest comings and goings of the band. Read on...!
Hey Nathan! How's life in Norwich, England, these days? How bad is the virus situation over there at the moment?
Nathan: Hey Luxi! The UK has been badly hit by COVID-19. The government response here has been shambolic and completely incompetent. It has been embarrassing, although sadly predictable.
I'm currently in Oxford where it hit fairly hard, I think. We haven't really left our college here much since March, so I'm slightly forgetting what the world looks like! The other guys back in Norwich have been starting to meet up a little bit and will start rehearsing again soon. Norwich was thankfully one of the least affected areas of the country.
Congratulations on your third album, Place for the Insane, which has been kicking my butt quite a bit lately. Could you tell us about the writing process for that album?
Nathan: Thank you! We've had so much fun on this record. It has been great right from the beginning!
We actually started writing for it around the time of the last EP, Decade of Decimation. We recorded that in late 2018 and were playing around with new stuff at the same time. One song ended up on that EP, "Live Vindictive," and a few ideas from the time ended up on the new record as parts of "Infernal Choir" and some other stuff.
A big part of it was having Chris Williams return on drums. He and I were hanging out a lot, and reconnecting after years of him being away. We started jamming and making pre-production demos of some really heavy, chugging stuff. We were listening to loads of old-school NWOBHM stuff, drinking a lot of beer, and just wanted to make a bunch of fun, catchy old-school stuff. That kinda set the tone at first. As we came closer to recording the album last year, we started adding a lot more thrashy elements, and experimenting with a few things until we had around 20 songs. It was pretty tough narrowing down what we had, which is one of the reasons the album turned out to be our longest so far.
This album is also your most diverse album so far. It's got lots of melodies but also lots of aggressiveness and brutality as well, so I guess it's safe to say that you guys always want to challenge yourselves when it comes to your songwriting process and testing musical boundaries every now and then, just to see how they would fit the sound of the band, right?
Nathan: Yeah, I think so. We try to make everything we do a bit different. The way we see it is that we have a full-on thrash record, a more extreme-influenced record, and this new catchier and diverse album. I think most bands like to think of themselves developing throughout time. With us, half of it is natural in that we've gotten more experienced and better at songwriting over time. Half of it was a conscious effort at being a bit different. There was definitely more of a focus on challenging ourselves to write some earworms this time around. We kind of realised that writing 3-4-minute thrash songs was relatively "easy" for us, so we wanted a new way to challenge ourselves.
We usually mess about with a lot of different ideas on each record, though. Some of the demos would probably surprise people! We tend to take demos and just try things like swapping verses and choruses or ripping song structures apart. This album could have turned out a lot differently if we had stuck to some of the more traditional heavy metal ideas we had floating around! There was also some really weird stuff floating around at one point using octaves and effects and stuff! Some of it we binned straight away because it was ridiculous, but other ideas remained on the album and turned into songs like "Begin Again." We usually have some crazy ideas, but these filter down into more serious stuff as the process moves forward.
I think there will always be a thrashy and aggressive side to us because that's the music we love and listen to the most.
What has Aarran Tucker, who joined the band in 2019 for vocals and bass, brought into this band?
Nathan: Aarran has been brilliant. We're really proud of him and delighted with the effort he put in. He basically jumped straight in at the deep end. He joined us in the summer of last year, we toured a little, and then we were straight into the studio. He hadn't done any vocal stuff in quite a few years, so it was quite a nerve-wracking thing for him, but he really threw himself into it.
I think the greatest asset he brings is his versatility. Like you said, the album is quite diverse, and a lot of that is possible because Aarran is willing to try stuff out. A lot of the album really was just an experiment. We're looking forward to getting on with the next one now that he's a lot more comfortable. He's also great live. We've done a couple of our best ever shows with him, so we can't wait to get back out there next year.
Before you normally record something, do you try to bring the final, finished song to the studio or is it normal for you to do some new arrangements for your songs in the studio while recording them?
Nathan: A lot of what you hear on the final record is a polished version of the demos we make. This was especially true of the second record Raised on Decay. The demos I made for that basically didn't change in terms of the structure of the songs. That's basically true on this one as well, although there was a bit more chopping and changing in the recording process.
I think the biggest changes come in the added stuff, what we call the "sprinkles." Things like guitar harmony layers and little melodic ideas here and there. We can spend loads of time in the studio trying out different layering ideas. I also write pretty much all of the shreds in the studio too, as I never seem to plan them out beforehand! That can get frustrating for everyone else, I think!
This was the first record where we wrote a song in the studio, though. We were nearing the end of drum tracking, and felt we needed another fast rager. Chris W and I went back to our hotel that night, blasted out a demo, and tracked it the next day! That turned into "The Mace" on the record. That was new for us!
Would you say that you were pleased with the response this album has received so far? Has all this positive feedback exceeded your expectations?
Nathan: Yeah, we're really pleased! The reviews have been awesome, and it's been listed as a contender for album of the year a bunch of times which is amazing. Given the line-up changes we had, it could have been completely different.
As we were writing it there was a sense that it might be our best effort yet. When we were finishing up the early mixes with Sam (Turbitt) at Ritual Sound Studio, there was a buzz about it. It did feel a lot catchier and listenable, so we felt pretty confident that people would like it. We had kind of planned for it to be more accessible and enjoyable to more people this time round, and that seems to be reflected in the feedback. At the same didn't expect to see so many people around the world interacting with it, it has been great.
I think it has out-streamed our last album already, and we've certainly been busier than ever packing orders. I think the main importance for us is that it has reached a ton of new fans. We've had people asking where the hell we've been and wondering how they've missed our last two records, which has been awesome.
If we go back in the history of the band a little bit, Shrapnel was formed in 2009 and during these past 11 years, you have managed to record some EPs and three studio albums. Would you say it's been a steady growth success-wise from one year to the next, gaining new fans from all around the world?
Nathan: It's crazy to think it's been 11 years! We've done some cool stuff in that time, but I think our growth has always been a bit stuttered. We've had a lot of ups and downs based on how busy we all have been with our stuff in our lives. We grew really quickly after releasing the first EP and were playing with some of our idols straight away. We did another EP, but it took us from 2010 to 2014 to get the first album, The Virus Conspires out. It was finished in 2012, but the label stuff took forever, and I think that stunted us a little. The first album then did really well, but then we had line-up changes, we moved away from each other for a while and all that life stuff. That made the second record really difficult and impossible to tour properly, so we just fell off the radar for a while and weren't growing at all for a few years. The time around 2016-2018 kind of feel like a bit of a hiatus looking back at it. We did some low-level touring but couldn't seek to get over to Europe and really grow.
That's what has been so great about this record. We've all been on the same page and happier than ever, and really throwing everything at it. Obviously, we have COVID-19 to deal with this time round, but the energy behind the album has been awesome! We've worked harder, been more involved, and it is really paying off. The last year has been our biggest period of growth in our entire history! I think a large reason for this is that the band has moved from being a peripheral thing in our lives, to a much more primary focus. It's become something we're really excited about again in a way I haven't felt since our first album. If we continue growing as we have been, we should be in a really good place in the coming years.
How much credit do you give your record label, Candlelight Records, for your success and doing all this promotional work for your band?
Nathan: Candlelight have been brilliant on this album! One of the biggest issues from the last record is that it was changing hands, and they were moving their HQ to London. It was radio silence from them throughout Raised. This time has been a much more positive experience on all fronts. They're really busy with some bands on their roster like Emperor, but they've been really good in terms of helping us with funding and stuff.
What was it about Candlelight Records in particular that made you eventually to sign to this label?
Nathan: I really don't recall! I remember we were recording the first album with Russ Russell in 2012 and we were spending some time trying to get labels interested. We were in that studio for an entire month, completely locked away and having a lot of fun. The problem with that is that the whole period is a bit hazy! I remember we had tried to get Listenable Records on board, but I think Candlelight were the first to say yes. Us being completely naïve, we just jumped at the chance. When you're a young band, the thought of being signed seems super important, and it is to be fair, but you tend to be a little stupid too! Thankfully Candlelight were great on that first record, and it turned into a really positive thing for us. Luckily our deal with them is pretty great, but we didn't look at the fine print at the time!
For me, they have an incredible history. The Emperor stuff, Orange Goblin, Crowbar. They've had some of my favourite bands. They were definitely on our list of labels we wanted to approach early on.
When you recorded your debut album for them, The Virus Conspires, was there any real pressure because I suppose you kind of had something to prove to the Candlelight staff that your band was worth signing?
Nathan: I don't remember feeling much pressure to be honest. We were just super confident at the time. We were fully in that headspace of just being thrash as hell, and just wanted to write a really fast, aggressive, and melodic record. I think we just wanted to write some great songs and beat the stuff we'd already put out at the time.
There probably were conversations about what we needed to do, but I remember just blasting through the writing period for that album. Simon had joined on drums and we were really firing on all cylinders. We knew we needed it to be good, because we were going in without a label and hoping to attract one. But at the same time, we were just having loads of fun, and feeling really confident about our abilities. Another thing is that there has always been a bit of a division of labour between myself and Chris Martin. He would handle a lot of the business stuff, and I would handle most of the music side of things. I think I was really wrapped up in having a lot of fun on that album, while he was busy trying to do the serious work!
The main thing that comes to mind when thinking about that record is how much fun we had recording it!
Your follow-up album, Raised on Decay, came out three years after your debut, in September 2017. How important was is to blow your debut album out of the water with your follow-up album, so to speak? Obviously, you wanted to improve your songs in each area, correct?
Nathan: Yeah, I definitely wanted to beat the first record in terms of songwriting. My mindset was really technical. I wanted to make it really complicated at the time and make the fastest and most intricate stuff we could.
I'm not sure if this is something that happens to all bands, but that album is the one I look back on and grimace a bit. Everything surrounding it kind of sucked! There was no structure in place to do anything with it. It took way too long to get ready and we ended up in two different studios. We scrapped the initial work on it and ended up going back to Russ to do the whole thing. Chris M. was in Austria, Jae was super busy so most of it was just Russ and me in the studio on our own. When it came out, our drummer at the time moved to the US straight away, I moved to Oxford to start studying here, Chris M. was in Austria working, so we didn't tour it at all. There was no backing for it and our booking agent wasn't working for us. It sucked.
Sorry, haha! I'm whinging! That album just pisses me off because I think the music is killer. I think it is way better than the first. I spent ages putting it together and trying to make it a more extreme listen, while stepping out of the thrash boundaries a lot. I was really trying to push what you could do with standard-tuning thrash. When you listen to "Complete Resection", "Boundaries Set", "Pariah", "Echoes", and "Choir of Wolves" – that album was pretty nuts and I'm really proud of it. Some of the ideas on there are completely different from any other thrash record, especially "Pariah" and "Echoes."
The actual writing and recording of it was really satisfying and I was really trying to push myself. Johnny's drumming on that record was phenomenal, too. I urge people to listen to it, because I think he gave one of the best drum performances on a thrash record I have ever heard. He should get recognition for that.
One great thing about the new album is that we're seeing people go back through our discography and pick the second album up again. Hopefully some people are liking it!
You have already supported bands such as Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies, Death Angel, Sepultura, Voïvod, and many other known bands. How does it feel to share the same stage with those big names that have obviously been big influences on you before you even put this band together? I guess it must feel pretty special to play together with bands like Exodus or Death Angel, right?
Nathan: We've been really lucky! Playing with Exodus was just incredible. The first time at Islington Academy was just a dream come true. Loading in and seeing Gary Holt wandering around, I was just star-struck. It was the most fun I think we've ever had. Doing soundcheck and having those idols of ours watching was great. We've become friendly with some of the people who inspired us, which is really surreal. We ended up becoming really good friends with Xentrix, and Stan has done a lot of work with us in the studio, and filming one of our videos. Voïvod was a huge highlight for me by the way. I love that band so much!
One of the best things about it is that it really gives you a ton of inspiration. Every time we've played with bands like that, we've come away being turbo-charged. These guys are pros, so you can learn a ton from the way they put live shows together. It's definitely one of the most satisfying parts of being in this band.
Touring is a crucial part of promotion for any band. There's nothing better really than promoting your own band by going out and playing live for people. Have you gotten any tour opportunities to play around Europe, or even in the States or Japan thus far?
Nathan: We had just begun to make our footprint in Europe as COVID-19 hit. We'd never been out of the country before, except over to Dublin with Overkill and Xentrix. We played at the House of Metal festival in Sweden at the end of February, and it was our best show ever. It was the first stage of us planning to get over to Europe more often. Obviously, this has been messed up a bit! But we are really focused on Europe being our main destination for touring in the future.
We've been quite a strange band in that we haven't toured anywhere near as extensively as our peers. That's something we're really committed to changing over the coming years. We're determined to tour everywhere we possibly can.
The US has turned into our biggest source of streams and stuff, so it's on our radar for sure!
How has a lack of gigs affected the band so far due to this virus thing? Obviously, all of you are missing to get back on stage and play for your fans?
Nathan: I guess it's hard to quantify. Palace has been our most successful album so far without touring it yet, so I can only imagine we would have a multiplier effect if we were out on the road right now. I think the advantage at the moment will be going to bands who are smart with their online presence and getting their streaming platforms to work for them, and we've really been stepping that up.
We're desperate to get back on the road though. I don't think there has ever been such a buzz within the band to get out there, so I think those first shows back are going to be crazy! We can't wait to meet all of these new fans that have found us, and we're getting a lot of requests to play all over the place. It's exciting, and we'll be doing everything we can to get out there!
As it's still pretty hard to predict the future, do you want to keep all of your future gigs plans on ice 'til the world opens a little more and you can be more secure that it's safe to play gigs again?
Nathan: We're actually trying to find a new booking agent at the moment, so that's key for us. We're trying to put the structures in place so that when things do open up, we're ready. People seem to be planning for next year at the moment, so I think it's really important for us to start booking stuff up. The problem is that there's so much uncertainty in the industry at the moment that taking on new artists is a bit of a risk. But we're confident that we'll get something sorted.
Do Metal bands have some good opportunities to play live in Norwich and how has this situation changed because of this virus thing? Have some of the venues over there closed their doors for good?
Nathan: Norwich has been faced with the closure of so many venues over recent years, it's pretty sad. There was a venue that was recently saved by the community, which was great to see, but the choices there are becoming few and far between. Living in Oxford now, I'm a little out of touch with the Norwich scene, but there's some great bands like Bastard who could do some awesome things. I think Norwich is seen as being a little out of the way for touring bands, so we struggle to get great bands swing by that way.
What do you hope or expect from the next year as far as your band is concerned?
Nathan: The primary goal is to tour the hell out of Europe! That's our number one aim. We want to become a well-known band in Europe and continue to grow like we have been over the last year. We can see it happening at the moment, so we just want to push forward with that. We're desperate to get to Germany because we love it there. We should be returning to Scandinavia too as we've made a bunch of friends and contacts there.
We've also started writing a massive chunk of the next record, so I think we'll be considering getting into the studio as soon as possible. We don't want a three-year gap between releases this time.
Okay, that was it from me this time. Thank you for your time, Nathan, for making this interview happen and, of course, all the best both to you and your band in the future as well. Thanks again and stay healthy!
Nathan: You too! Stay safe and thank you for giving us a platform, we really appreciate it. We don't get much mainstream attention, so it's really great to get the chance to reach more new fans!
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