Only a few Extreme Metal bands are as unique and as highly regarded as NILE!
THEGALLERY.GR had the honor to host Karl Sanders, the famous frontman of the American Death Metal pioneers, with whom we’ve explored many aspects in NILE’s history. You can find many interesting information about the band at the interview that follows ahead….
– Hello from Greece and THE GALLERY Web Magazine Karl. Let us start from your latest album “Vile Nilotic Rites”, which was released in November 2019. One year later, listening again to this record, would you change anything, if the opportunity was given?
Karl: Well, I listened to VNR the other night , and of course I heard things that I might do differently ; I think that’s just the way many artists are, always looking to see what could be better. Having said that tho , my take on it, after a fresh listen, not having heard it from start to finish for a long time – is that Vile Nilotic Rites is an album that is we can feel really strong about. The entire record is undeniable killer Death Metal , and I think the production is right on the money.
– “Vile Nilotic Rites” is a very “fresh” sounding record, it’s like a rebirth for NILE. Do you agree with that and, if yes, why do you believe it is sounded like that?
Karl: Yes, I would very much agree. I would say VNR has that fresh element for several immediate reasons. Firstly, and most importantly , the forceful writing and cohesiveness of the songs are a direct result of 4 people sincerely working together ; each member contributing wholeheartedly and earnestly to make music together. I can very much hear the collective singularity of purpose , of all the members giving their all, every step of the way , to make killer songs as a team. I can hear the fire , the burning conviction. Its evidenced from the first notes of that record , to the last notes , it practically explodes off the CD. And I would say , the production is very spot on. One can hear the exquisite care put into the recording, and the mix by Mark Lewis is right on the money. In this style of Extreme Metal music, a mix can either make or break the sound of a record. How those songs translate to the listener is everything. We learned some very harsh lessons on past records- sometimes it doesn’t matter how well the band played, or how much work was put into the songs – if the mix isn’t right, one can lose listeners right away. But Mark did a great job – and I think his work is one of the key factors that really lets the brutality and musically of this record come alive and breathe fire. Another element not to be underestimated is the new blood in the band . With some fresh attitude, people who actually want to make some Nile music, and having everybody on the same page , that spirit of rebirth was like a shot of adrenaline. Another part I think is crucial, but doesn’t get talked about much – is the amount of preproduction that went into this album. Some songs were demoed and redemoed as many as 7 or 8 times , slaved over . There was an incredible paradox , of each of the songs receiving ruthless but nurturing care and attention to detail , until the instrumental and vocal arrangements were really well honed. And then I think we managed this time to make some real smart choices about how and where the songs were recorded .
– Did you follow a different procedure on the songwriting process for “Vile Nilotic Rites”, comparing to your previous records? What is your usual method of songwriting?
Karl: Yes and no. On the one hand , many of the songs started with lyrics , which is normal for Nile, but each of the songs was allowed to form in its own way. As each of the members added their own individual contributions ; the songs sort of were allowed to follow previously unexplored paths of collaboration; each song developing in its own unique way , with everybody taking part one way or another in the creative process. Some songs had different combinations of different people doing different things within the songwriting . It felt very fresh , and I was really happy to have everybody so eagerly participating.
– The whole atmosphere in “Vile Nilotic Rites” brings in mind your early era (especially “Black Seeds of Vengeance). Was there a certain idea behind this “connection” when you were writing the songs or did it come naturally?
Karl: That is a great question. It all felt very natural to us as we were doing it ; but getting back to focusing on the original spirit of the band was something George and I had been talking about for a couple years. It wasn’t so much an exact “Oh lets do this thing this way or that way cause that’s how we did it back in rehearsal room years ago with Pete and Chief”, it was more like re-examining and getting back to the core fundamental principles on which the band was built , of making and playing music that we love for no other reason than making Metal together. Its easy to lose sight of those ideals and clarity of purpose , as years go by, and members come and go, and after years the difficult realities of the music business does strange and terrible things to your soul . There was a pivotal moment, I will never forget it , when one day on tour , Brad and I had gone to “The Bikini Coffee Shop” in Seattle , waiting for soundcheck ,drinking our coffees and enjoying the baristes in bikinis , Brad had said to me , “Karl , what could Nile be , if we had actually had 4 people working together , who actually wanted to be in Nile, instead of working against each other” and I knew in my bones he was right. It was something George and I had been yearning for , and saddened by , for many years. So when not long after, Brian joined the band , we saw first hand what kind of person he was . Everything all just coalesced very smoothly into an environment very conducive to people working together and making some kick ass metal.
– Having in mind that nowadays, a lot of bands give more attention on the technical side, forgetting to make their songs “interesting”, I will note that, all those years, NILE have found the unique music formula to combine technical and aggressive parts, maintaining a certain balance. How difficult is that?
Karl: Well, it is, in my opinion, the supreme challenge. Lol There are countless bands with unbelievably technical riffing and drumming – and many fine, superlative musicians in every country doing amazing things with their instruments. Somehow, just because something is completely technical and challenging to play, doesn’t necessarily exactly equate as it translates to the listener. A piece of music can be amazing to play and experience as a musician; but that is not a perfect guarantee that the listener is going to experience it in the same way. There are some real “ineffable, intangible mysteries of the Arts” at work here, that have no exact science or formulae, because music is an art form that is experienced by humans via our ears. I don’t think there is an exact formula, that applies in every case when writing music that balances many disparate elements. It’s an ever shifting, imprecise balance that requires individual, special attention for each song. I have come to a humble place in music with NILE, where in recent years I just write Metal songs I personally like, that I myself enjoy, and have meaning to me and hopefully, the other guys in the band enjoy as well. On this record, it was important to me that George and Brian and Brad also felt a connection with the songs. This bond, or connection, of ourselves with the music is what we share with the listening audience , on record or live . It’s like opening ourselves, and whatever we have to give, to freely give to whomever wants to live and breathe Metal with us.
– George Kollias is, without doubt, one of best Death Metal drummers. How do you see him as a musician and what do you believe that George brought in the band since his coming, back in 2004? How important is his contribution in NILE’s sound?
Karl: How do I see George? Well, lately, with facetime or Zoom lol. Seriously, people yet have only the slightest notion of the true extent of George’s musical talent. He is, yes, one of the worlds greatest Death Metal drummers. But he is also a great drummer. You should hear him play jazz, or fusion. He did a guest appearance on my upcoming Saurian album, that is so laid back, free form jazz and tasty, and utterly creative, that it will boggle your mind trying to fathom how this is the same guy that crushes a single foot blast in 13/8 at 280 bpm. And, he also plays great metal guitar and writes killer metal songs; AND has a brass horn/ funk project where he writes EVERYTHING, and it is all killer , no filler. George is a serious lifelong student and instructor of drumming, a true musician and talent in every sense of the word.
– Let us go to the past now. Before NILE you were playing with the Thrash Metal band named MORRIAH. What made you move on and create NILE, having a more Death Metal approach? Did MORRIAH’s tour with MORBID ANGEL had an influence on this?
Karl: Well, this is a tale that does not get told much. In MORRIAH, Pete Hammoura and I had long struggled, for about a decade, in various incarnations of MORRIAH , always leaning heavier and heavier .At one point , sometime in early 93 , we had a really nice opportunity , opening for a much bigger band ,in a club in Charlotte NC called Jeremiahs. But our incredibly talented but undependable vocalist decided the day of the show he was not going to sing that night. It was yet another possibility to move forward and grow the band, that we were going to miss. We were at a heartbreaking, crucial point, fed up and discouraged. We could either give up on the band, cause our singer and dear friend was hopelessly undependable, or Chief and I could take up vocals. So that night we did the gig, best we could. Chief and I doing whatever we could to make it through the songs, doing whatever limited vocals we could manage at that time. Of course, it wasn’t as good as what our vocalist could do, our vocalist was immensely talented. But we did the gig, and it went well enough. At least we were playing our songs. On the drive home that night, in the van, we realized hey wait a minute…. Why are we letting someone else determine our fate in life, it is time to seize the day, and not let anything or anybody stop us from making music. We had given this singer YEARS of our lives, beating our heads against the wall, time and time again giving this guy chance after chance because we believed in him and his talent – but it was seeming like a dead end. So right then and there Chief and decided we would do whatever it took to learn to do the vocals ourselves. Chief had a bit of a head start, he was already doing some backing vocals in the band , and could actually sing in a Phil Anselmo style , and Layne Staley vibe pretty well. And I would say, most definitely having known David Vincent before MORBID ANGEL, seeing him evolve from not just a killer bassist , but also becoming a commanding vocalist as well – we had a clear example to draw inspiration from. So I learned to do metal vocals, no kidding, by just continually singing along to MORBID ANGEL, CANNIBAL CORPSE, and NAPALM DEATH albums, on repeat all night at my 3rd shift job. Learning to do that and play guitar at the same is a whole another challenge, so that took a while. But within about six months, we were doing gigs as a 3 piece, chief and I sharing vox , and we had found a name, and some vague ideas about what was possible for us genre wise.
– NILE’s legacy counts more than 25 years! Which memories are the strongest ones through all those years? Name me three, if this is possible.
Karl: Let’s see, Dymano 99 , Wacken in 04. And recently, drinking tequila till the late hours of the night on my back porch in 2019 with my brothers George K. and Pete H , listening to a newly released “Vile Nilotic Rites”. That was fucking sweet.
– You have also released two solo albums in a quite different style from NILE. They could be characterized as a more atmospheric sound with ambient and dark acoustic elements. What was your thoughts and musical visions behind this project? Do you have any plans for another solo album?
Karl: Well, I just finished the mixes and masters on the 3rd “Saurian” album. So hopefully that will be out soon. Initially, it was not even a project. It was music that I was making in between tours, to relax. On a Death Metal tour, one gets a full daily dose of metal 5 or 6 bands full sets, soundchecks – its many hours of metal. And I love that, do not mistake me. But after many months of that, year in, year out – sometimes I just need some peace and quiet – some relaxing chill. But I am the type who also has to be working on some music, so the saurian thing was a way to play some dark quiet exotic music to unwind and have some calm. I let Matt Jacobsen of Relapse hear it, and he was all “dude, we have to put this out, release it -people will love this music. The new one however, was a little different, I had some of the ideas for quite a while, a few crucial pieces , the concept and the title. But I had been so busy with NILE the last few years- really pouring everything into rebuilding NILE with the new guys, that I just did not have enough hours in the day to devote to a side project. And then of course, this year every single tour was cancelled, and all of us musicians were now out of work and struggling. It seemed like a rare opportunity, a perfect time to work on a solo album lol It was also a means of coping with the situation, and a outlet for expressing myself , and a chance to play acoustic music – which I really love. I also really like film scores, so this new Saurian album, conceptually is like a soundtrack to a scifi film – a film that no one has made yet. Lol, there is also a book that goes along with the record – that I am nearly finished writing. The plan is to include the book as part of a special box set.
– What was the spark that ignited your interest in eastern traditional music? Would you like to name some artists of this type of music, who influenced your approach with the Saurian project? When and how this fascination with all this has started?
Karl: Well, that initial inspiration would be Pete Hammoura, our original drummer, who introduced me to a lot of Middle Eastern musics. I would say the most directly inspirational for the saurian project would be Trial of the Bow, Dead Can Dance , and Le Trio Joubran , a Palestinian Oud trio who play the most incredible music. They are my go to favorite, not merely because of their unique take on traditional forms ; but because of the deep feeling and evolved composition underlying the magical hypnotic music they make.
– You participated in the new NADER SADEK album. Can you please give us more info about the recording sessions and what should we expect from this album? What was your contribution to this project and what is the story behind your participation in this release?
Karl: Um…I played guitar and wrote some riffs lol . Really it was more about the experience of just Nader putting us all together and firing up the collaborative ambiance. He flew us all to Cairo, and it was about 2 weeks of sightseeing, trips to historic places and music making. Then after writing, we each did detailed re-recordings of our parts for extended long distance collaboration.
– What are NILE’s plans for the upcoming months since we still have “lockdown” restrictions with COVID-19 pandemic?
Karl: We are waiting, like everybody else in the metal world. In our down time, we are working on side projects, teaching, writing new music. In a way, although it really is difficult to adjust to not being on tour, and being out there conquering the world with my bandmates, it’s also a rare , once in a lifetime opportunity to dig in, learn some new things on our instruments ,play music in its most simple way. I particularly have been thankful, and I use that word here cautiously, for being alive , safe and well, and getting back to the fundamentals of studying and learning on the guitar. I am very lucky to have a teacher like Rusty Cooley. It is interesting to see all the ways that all this learning new things and practicing like a madman manifests itself in the new things we are writing. I just wish we didn’t have to have an apocalypse , making so many people , in so many places suffer so much.
– Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Is there anything else you would like to say at NILE’s Greek fans as also at THE GALLERY’s readers worldwide?
Karl: Yamas! Stay safe, stay healthy and may the Metal Gods Bless you. See you soon!
Interview: Nikos Manousis
Cover Artwork: Alexandros Soultatos
Design & Editing: Nikos Manousis
Date: January 19th, 2021
External Link: NILE – Official Page
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