Nails – Sharp and to the PointThursday, 9th June 2016
Only on their third full-length record, Nails have already made quite a name for themselves. Big, established names like Max Cavalera have touted the band for their blistering and abrasive approach to metal/punk/hardcore. For good reason – the band’s all-out assault boils out the fat and leaves the listener with only the best and most relentless moments seemingly fused into each track.
You Will Never Be One of Us is the band’s upcoming album, which takes the brutality of Abandon All Life and adds some hooks to make the experience more memorable. Sure to leave a lasting impression on the listener, and short enough to engage in rapid, repeat listenings. We chat with vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones about some songwriting differences for the new album, their signing with Nuclear Blast, and the recording relationship with Kurt Ballou.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the writing differ for “They Come Crawling Back,” which spans 8-minutes, versus shorter blasts like “”Friend to All?”
Todd Jones: We knew that we wanted to have a longer song on the record. We didn’t necessarily set out to record an 8-minute song. We had some riffs that set the vibe of a slower paced song and we put them together. The track ended up being 8-minutes, so it also has a feeling of finality to it. We thought it would be better to put it at the end of the record instead of the middle. We knew we wanted to make a slower, dirge-y song – we didn’t really have a time limit that we set on it.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of the shorter song lengths in general, which you’ve done throughout – do you think that it keeps them more abrasive than if you fleshed them out to 3-4 minutes?
Jones: Well, they are fleshed out. They might not be 3-4 minutes but a lot of effort went into the songs but they end up being a minute long. We can repeat verses or choruses over again, but it would bring the momentum down. Keeping the energy up is the prime focus of the band, so we don’t make songs that have a pre-determined number of verses or choruses. We just play and whatever feels right – if we just want to end the song after the second verse and not do a second chorus, we just do that. It really depends on the song and where the song takes us.
Dead Rhetoric: So is it more important that there is a certain flow to it, than arbitrarily saying, “This is what we have to do?”
Jones: Yeah, that’s correct. We try to do albums that are ten songs. Judas Priest did ten song albums, Slayer did ten song albums. We are going to do ten song albums because our favorite bands do ten song albums. Also, you have a certain amount of restraint that you can do with ten songs. You have to get all of your points across on the album in ten songs. You can’t really do the same song 2-3 times. We just try to do everything in a limited amount of space so we have a good variety.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the songs on You Will Never Be One of Us are more…I don’t want to say catchy, but more memorable than some of your previous material?
Jones: On this record, we focused more on hooks, catchiness, and memorable stuff. On our last album, Abandon All Life, we intentionally made it aggressive. With the aggressiveness and the extremity of it, some of the catchiness was lost. On this record, we wanted to make it a little chunkier, but still aggressive. We also wanted a few more vocal hooks, so we paid attention to that more when we were writing the record.
Dead Rhetoric: As the band progresses further, do you think that you would ever reach that point where you would want to take Nails in a direction other than energy and anger?
Jones: It’s possible. I look at Nails as a very long-term thing. I don’t look at it as a band that is going to put out one more record and break up. I’d like to do Nails for a very long time. At what capacity, I don’t know. At this point, we like what we do. I don’t want to say that we have pigeonholed ourselves, but now that we are on our third full-length, we are known for certain sounds. People have certain expectations when they hear a Nails record. Right now, we are happy doing what we do. But eventually, who knows. We could change the format of the band. The band is a living organism and change is always constant. We are open to whatever comes naturally.
Dead Rhetoric: Just from reading some of the material out there, it seems that when you are writing and putting the music out there, you are looking at it in terms of if the music is going to make you happy. If your thoughts change, then it seems reasonable that you should be able to switch it up as you go.
Jones: We write music based on our knee-jerk reaction – if it gives us a charge. If we go into the rehearsal space together and we are sharing ideas, if the ideas make us feel good, then we know it’s good. If we are playing a riff/part/transition and we don’t feel good about it, then why should anyone else, right? We just go with our gut instinct on a lot of things, and try to come up with as many ideas to fill an album as we can.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve recorded all your albums with Kurt Ballou. Do you feel that he understands what you are bringing to the table?
Jones: Kurt’s recorded us for three records now and I’ve known him for like 15 years. When we recorded our latest record with him, it was just easy. We are very comfortable with each other, personality-wise. We are also comfortable his studio space. At this point, we just call Kurt up and say we want to record. He gives us the dates, and we show up and record. We let him do his thing and give him a lot of freedom to do whatever he wants.
Dead Rhetoric: So would you consider him, more or less, an additional member at this point?
Jones: He’s definitely a silent band member when he is recording, that’s for sure. He’s helped shape our sound a lot. The Nails that people know us as would sound a lot different if he didn’t do our records. At least sonically, as far as tones – we’d still write the same songs but the records would definitely sound different.
Dead Rhetoric: You have generated a lot of praise from metal’s elite over the years, such as Max Cavalera. What do you think draws people to Nails?
Jones: The punk aspect of our band. I think when someone like Max hears our band, he hears Discharge and stuff he grew up listening to. As far as older dudes, such as Barney from Napalm and Phil from Pantera – when they hear Nails, it reminds them of their youth. That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong. I’m just stoked. That is probably the most gratifying thing that can happen to us – when someone that we worshiped as young teens, and still worship today – co-sign our band and give us props.
Dead Rhetoric: Going along with that – how did you end up signing with Nuclear Blast?
Jones: Greg [Puciato] from Dillinger Escape Plan told Monte Conner at Nuclear Blast to check us out. Monte did his homework and he hit us up. He wanted to work out a deal, so we told him our expectations and our limitations. He told us what he expects of us, and we were able to reach an agreement. I have to give it up to Greg for that one.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there any backlash based on the mentality and sound of the band, signing with one of the bigger labels of the metal community?
Jones: Not really. We put out Unsilent Death and Abandon All Life – two records that our fans like a lot. I’ve seen a lot of people say that they like one more than the other, but they always acknowledge both as being really good records. I think that a lot of people knew that no matter what label we were on, we would make quality music. I did see a couple comments, like someone said, “oh no, this is the beginning of the end for Nails.” You’ve heard our record – we made the same record that we would make if we were on any other label or just released it ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: I know that you have put it out there in the past about the incessant touring cycle and not wanting to be a part of that. Has any of that changed since you have partnered with Nuclear Blast?
Jones: Nope. We like to tour 3-4 weeks out of the year. That’s what we are comfortable with. Every time we tour, we are super stoked about it, since we tour so little. I don’t want to live the life of a full-time musician. It’s not something I could really handle.
Dead Rhetoric: When you are going out for those short runs, it makes it more exciting than if you are spending half the year out and then three months in, you are ready to go back home.
Jones: Right. Another thing is that if the band was my job, I’d be worried about making money with the band, and that’s not good. We aren’t making much money – it just makes me happy [playing music]. I’m just stoked that we can go out three weeks a year. I don’t really want to be a full-time musician.
Dead Rhetoric: In the latest making-of video, you talk about the song “You Will Never Be One of Us” as being inclusive as opposed to exclusive in nature. Is that a feeling that you feel we need more of in the extreme community at this point?
Jones: Definitely, especially with some of the stigmas – people going online and badmouthing each other. The fact is, metal and hardcore is a scene of people. If you are someone who actually goes to shows on a regular basis, you can get a sense of it – you meet people face to face. I think there needs to be some more comradery and unity. I really truly feel when I am at a show, that whether or not the people at the show – they aren’t the same and they shouldn’t need to be, at all – we have one common thread. We are there for that band, or that we love metal or hardcore. We should have at least that sort of respect for each other or that sort of understanding. It’s fucking sad the way that people treat each other. But that has nothing to do with punk or hardcore – it has to do with being a human being. People are just fucking mean. I don’t know, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. If I’m at a show, I like to think that those people, they might not be a friend, but we do share a common thread. We are sharing something very unique and very beautiful.
Dead Rhetoric: So what is going to be going on with Nails once the album comes out?
Jones: Once the album comes out, we are going to play shows on the east and west coast. We are going to go to Europe. Next year, we are going to continue to play some shows in the US – probably hit up Texas, Florida, Washington, Oregon, and a little bit of Canada. We might go to Australia. We are always thinking about new ideas for songs – we’ll probably hack away at trying to make our next album after this one. The thing with Nails, which I said earlier, we look at it as a long term thing. We always have the band on the brain, we are always thinking about new songs and stuff. We are all pretty mature and understand that we are playing music for the long haul. In 2007, when we started the band, we had two goals: to play music and play shows. In 2016 we are on our third full-length and on the biggest independent metal label in the world. Our goals are still the same: to play music that we like and play shows. We don’t have a large list of goals – it’s pretty much the same focus as when we started.
Dead Rhetoric: Keep it to the point…
Jones: We don’t have a big agenda. When we play shows, we like to play headlining shows for our audience. Sometimes we play support tours but we rarely do that. We like to play festivals some times. For the most part, we just want to play our music, and we are grateful that we have people that are interested in our music. That’s something that we never overlook.