Ed Warby / The 11th Hour Interview

To say that The 11th Hour’s Ed Warby has done a couple of things in his musical career would be a pretty major understatement. From his early days in legendary Dutch death metallers Gorefest to his current band Hail of Bullets and exceptional doom metal project The 11th Hour, to being prog legend Arjen Lucassen’s go to guy on drums, he has constantly involved himself in excellent projects. These days he’s investing all his time and money into making awesome records and having fun, apparently. Lucky stiff…

Anyway, this was also a new experience for me because it was quite possibly the longest interview I ever did. We started exchanging messages at about 2:30 PM and ended at around midnight. It turned out to be an extraordinarily extensive interview, and I didn’t even cover everything I would have liked to. I hope that you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

AMG: Let’s start with the new The 11th Hour record that you just put out: explain what you wanted to get across with the the11thhour091809-2concept of a guy dying of lung cancer and reliving his past. And why doom?

Warby: Actually it’s not cancer. The inspiration for this part of the story comes from the death of my parents, both suffered from lung emphysema caused by heavy smoking. It’s a very brutal lung disease that slowly breaks down the lungs’ capacity for processing oxygen. You can still breathe in and out, but you need supplemental oxygen to prevent asphyxiation. It’s part hereditary and my sister also suffers from it, I only had bronchitis as a kid but since I never smoked my lungs are OK these days. Originally I didn’t plan to get this personal, but during the writing process it felt right to invest some of my own grief into the lyrics. I think the fact that it deals with real emotions (even though the back story is entirely made up) greatly enhances the album’s impact, a lot of people can relate to this since we’ve all lost a loved one at some point. I didn’t want to get all weepy though, so we chose to go for brutal realism in the lyrics. I also wanted to portray this in the promotional pictures we did, my sister fortunately shares my black sense of humour and she actually lent me her oxygen tube for realism’s sake. The album’s in fact dedicated to her.

Why doom? I’ve always loved doom ever since I first heard Trouble and Candlemass back in the 80’s, but drumming in a doom band never seemed too attractive. A few years ago I started playing guitar and in that position it’s tremendously enjoyable to create this ultra-heavy, slow, monolithic music. I also have a preference for anything dark ‘n gloomy, be it films, music, art, literature, so this is a way to put that to good use. I’m very much into death metal, but doom moves me in a completely different way and I feel very comfortable within the musical idiom.

the11thhour091809-4AMG: Oi, my condolences, man. That’s rough. I guess that also explains the very realistic sense of grief that shows up throughout the album, though. What’s the quote? “We write what we know.”

But, while slow and monolithic the music doesn’t seem to ever be really hyper-repetitive or boring. During the writing process did you focus a lot on riff construction or song construction? What came first for you, the riffs or song concept?

Warby: Thanks, it’s already been a long time though. My dad passed away in 1995, just as I was about to enter the studio for Gorefest’s Soul Survivor, my mom died 4 years later. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss them still, my dad especially played a big part in my musical career and they both supported me as much as they could.

Even before I started writing my own riffs I’ve always been involved in putting the songs together and arranging them, that was basically my job with Gorefest in the past. With The 11th Hour I usually start with a riff or theme, and see where it takes me. For Gorefest and to a lesser extent Hail Of Bullets I try to stick to an almost poppy song structure, but for this I allowed myself a little more freedom as far as structure goes. “One Last Smoke” still has a very traditional song structure, but “Origins Of Mourning” or “Weep For Me” are all over the place. I tried to employ a lot of different “colours” to keep the songs interesting despite their epic length. The only part where I used a really repetitive riff on purpose is at the end of “In The Silent Grave”. Once I start working on a song I do usually have an idea of the shape I want, but if I get carried away it might end up quite different. “Origins Of Mourning” wasn’t supposed to be this long for instance, I just kept getting cool ideas to add and all of a sudden I had this 11 minute behemoth on my hands.

AMG: And are you writing lyrics and music at the same time? Or does one come before the other?

Warby: Music comes first, always. I’ll determine where I want clean vocals, where growls, and then I usually make up the11thhour091809-3something silly to see how many and what kind of lines are needed and then we take it from there. More often than not I already have some kind of image in my head that either inspired the music or is in turn inspired by it, and from that I make a general outline for Rogga so he can work his magic. He’ll write down whatever pops into his head and I pick the stuff that inspires me and add my own lines until we have an actual lyric. It’s a great way of working, I’d never written lyrics before but with Rogga’s inspiration it came quite naturally.

AMG: How’d you come to decide on Rogga as a vocalist for this record? Why not do the growls yourself since you did everything else yourself…

Warby: I can’t do a decent growl to save my life… and Rogga’s one of my favorite growlers, so that was an easy decision. On the pre-production demos I did some kind of whisper-growl, which is pretty pathetic but effective for working out vocal arrangements. Rogga’s a monster though, it’s exactly the kind of voice I wanted for this. He can do all kinds of growls, but I really wanted a deep, booming growl from hell and I think he delivered masterfully. Rogga’s a really modest guy, and many times he wondered why I chose him instead of “someone more famous”, but to me he was instrumental in how this album turned out.

AMG: Interesting. So you didn’t think about getting anyone else? Or was he pretty much the first person who popped into your mind? Where did you guys record his vocals? Did he come down to The Netherlands to record or did he record in Sweden?

Warby: No, the thought never occurred to me. I was already a fan of his vocals from the first Demiurg album (and I considered it a great honor when he asked me to play drums on the 2nd) so I never really considered anyone else.

He recorded his vocals in Sweden, in a cabin in the woods if he’s to be believed. He’s used to recording his own voice from all his other projects, so that worked out fine.

AMG: Nice. Cabin in the woods definitely fits! I’d say you made the right choice, though, ’cause his vocals are excellent. The recording of this record is interesting ’cause basically you demoed it at home, right? Let’s talk a little bit about your set-up and how you’re doing this stuff. First, instruments: what kind of guitars and cabs are you using?

Photo 04Warby: I didn’t just demo it at home, I recorded the whole album except for the drums at home. When I started this project about a year and a half ago I didn’t even have a guitar of my own except for the Squier strat my sister bought for me. Paul from Hail Of Bullets lent me his Ibanez 7 string so I could work out some tunes, and I used this to write and record embryonic versions of the 6 songs that ended up comprising Burden Of Grief.

Once I got serious about actually making an album I figured I’d need a guitar of my own so I started a rather ill-informed quest for the right axe. As a drummer I didn’t know much about this alien instrument and I ended up making a few bad choices along the way. First guitar I bought was a Gibson Les Paul Studio, thinking it’d be in the same league as the Standards the guys in Gorefest play. Wrong. The thing wouldn’t be tuned down to B, no matter what I (and the insanely expensive luthier I took it to) tried. So I sold that and got an Epiphone Les Paul Standard instead. Awesome guitar, I used it for 2 solo’s on the album, but it didn’t have the rhythm sound I was looking for so I got an Epiphone SG Prophecy. Liked the EMG’s in it, loved its playability but in the end it also had tuning issues (which show up most brutally once you start multi-tracking rhythm parts), so I started looking for yet another option. Ibanez was up next, due to good experiences with Paul’s guitar. I tried an RG with fixed bridge (I once tried to replace strings on a guitar with a floating bridge, still wake up screaming from that experience) and a 7 string (replaced the stock PU’s with DiMarzio’s), recorded basically the whole album and decided it didn’t sound right, so back to the drawing board once more. I had by then become convinced I should use a 7 string and as a last resort I got myself a Schecter Hellraiser after reading good things about it. Once I held it in my hands it felt like coming home, perfect tuning, fat sound, awesome playability, gorgeous looks, simply perfect! By a incredible stroke of luck I got in touch with the German distributor and they actually offered me an endorsement deal, so now I own 4 of these beauties and I’m positive I’ll never need another guitar ever again.

As for cabs: none. I record in Protools using a Pod for reference and a separate DI track for re-amping purposes. For the mix we used the Peavey 6505 setting in Peavey’s own Revalver amp simulator program, and we combined this with Recabinet speaker simulation (classic 4×12 Greenback setting).

Next time I’ll use a stronger computer so I can run these plug-ins real time while recording, that way I can leave the Pod out of the equation and just record DI.

edwarby1AMG: Holy shit. So you basically recorded this whole thing with emulated sound? The bass as well, I take it? How about the vocals? How did you record your cleans? Do you have good rooms for this kind of recording? Did you build yourself a “vocal booth” at home? How’d that work for you?

Warby: Yep, everything including the bass. Credit for that awesome bass sound (and the rest of the awesome sounds for that matter) must go to Ronnie, not sure what he used on it but it sounds incredible! I played everything on a pretty basic 4 string Yamaha, next time I’ll use a Schecter 5 string bass for sure.

For the demo I sang through a Shure SM58 lent to me by Excess studios, but for the album I invested in a Shure SM7B vocal mic, awesome thing that is. It’s been used most famously by Michael Jackson on Thriller, guess you can hear that in my “hee-hee’s”… To create some kind of vocal booth I added a mic screen similar to those made by ES, only cheaper. My room sucks for it, but with this I was able to get a good vocal sound, and Ronnie’s EQ wizardry took care of the rest. I must say the vocals caused me more trouble than I thought, it’s a very self-conscious thing to record yourself and judge your own takes objectively. I have a tendency to do way too many takes (a bad drumming habit) and it can be a bitch to edit those together into a cohesive vocal. Funny detail: Ronnie insisted on using Pitch Perfect, an auto-tune program, on my vocals and I came out sounding like Cher on that horrible “Believe” song. Fortunately we didn’t have to use it cause my pitch was fine without…

AMG: By Ronnie you mean Ronnie Björnström who did the mix, right? How’d you get hooked up with him? And how does that work? Do you send a thumb drive or something? Because you basically tracked the whole thing at home, then, used all those different tracks and the sent the tracks off to Björnström?

Warby: Yep, Ronnie Björnström of Enhanced Audio Productions. Rogga hooked me up with him since he mixes about 90% of all his stuff and he also plays with Rogga in Bone Gnawer. Great guy, and very talented. I sent Ronnie a DVD with all the drum files by mail, the rest was done digitally through sprend.se. That way I could keep working on the songs while he was already mixing, an incredible luxury without which I wouldn’t have been able to finish the album on time. I sent him some test guitar- and bass files so he could set up an early mix, and then we fleshed out the songs with additional parts as I went along. The edwarby2advantage of mixing during instead of after recording is that you’ll hear right away if a part is working or not and you can go back and change it, something that was impossible before. The last week was extremely hectic though, I’d ran out of time so I had to pull several almost all-nighters to get the job done, and consequently so did Ronnie. I think we put the final touches on the mix at 6.00 in the morning, when the sun was already coming up…

AMG: So, if it’s OK to ask, do you just pretty much self-fund all your equipment? I’m assuming you’ve got a pretty decent job, or are you actually able to live off your multiple projects?

Warby: All the money I make goes right back into equipment usually. Having endorsements helps a lot, but there’s always stuff I have to buy like everybody else. During the 90s I lived only off my musical activities, but times have changed and I also don’t want to have to depend on it, takes the fun out of it somehow… so nowadays I make music because I enjoy it, and this enables me to do exactly what I want, when I want, without the pressure of having to do an x number of shows or studio jobs every month to survive.

So yes, I have a decent job and I have my music to keep me sane and provide me with a nice bonus every now and then.

AMG: Speaking of the 90s, you guys called it quit with Gorefest again in June. Rumor has it you guys discovered porn. Would you care to extrapolate a bit on that?

Warby: Well, once you discover porn it takes up all your time really, doesn’t it?

No seriously, we’d run into the same brick wall of interpersonal and musical indifference that we did in the 90’s and there wasn’t edwarby3much sense in continuing. We had no inspiration for a new album, we didn’t particularly enjoy each others company anymore and I just can’t function creatively in an environment like that. I wrote about 75% of Rise To Ruin because I really believed in the band, and I’m still extremely proud of that album, but it’s a tough act to follow and I/we couldn’t muster that kind of dedication for a second time. As long as there’s a common goal you can be literally indestructible as a band, but once the cracks start to (re-)appear it’s amazing how fast a band falls apart.

AMG: So you guys just made a clean break for it?  How’d that play with the honchos at Nuclear Blast? Were you done with your contractual obligations?

Warby: No idea, haven’t heard a word from them since so that says it all, doesn’t it? Too busy promoting the new Nightwish I guess… as far as I know we didn’t have any contractual obligations, just an unfinished option for the next album.

AMG: Ah-ha. Well, I guess it could’ve been worse… How about Hail of Bullets? How’d your involvement in that band come about? And why’d you guys decide to do an MCD with lots of live tracks instead of holding off for a new full length?

Warby: Sometime in 2004 Stephan approached me with the idea of starting an old school death metal band together, but then the Gorefest reunion came along and I just didn’t have time anymore. In 2007 the idea came up again and this time we managed to set-up a “band meeting” (i.e.: obscene drinking spree) with the 5 guys Steph had in mind for this. We got along famously and the next morning we took our first “band pics” in Theo’s garden (you can still see those on our MySpace, 5 guys with a massive hangover and big plans), a few months later we made our first promo that led to the deal with Metal Blade records. It’s a real fun band to be in, we’re just 5 death metal freaks playing exactly the kind of shit we’d want to hear ourselves.

The new album will not be out until May 2010 at the earliest, so we and Metal Blade thought it’d be a good idea to show a small sign of life by way of an EP. I still had the plan to do a “Nachthexen II” like Bolt Thrower do with that awesome “World Eater” riff so this turned into “Liberators” (the aviation theme and the first riff are the only connections to the original “Nachthexen”, but it’s close enough) and Steph wrote “Warsaw Rising” which ended up being the title track. “Destroyer” was already part of our Hail_Of_Bullets_-_Warsaw_Rising_artworklive set, and the remaining 3 tracks were from our Party.san show, the 3rd show in our existence if I’m not mistaken. The new tracks were written specifically for this EP and will not appear on the next album, so it’s a neat little in-between I think.

AMG: That’s cool, then. You mentioned at one point that you’re planning on producing the next Hail of Bullets record. Is that all going to be done in your house again?

Warby: Yep! We already did the studio tracks of the EP almost entirely at my place, same as Burden Of Grief except the vocals were done at Excess. The way Martin screams I’d have the cops beating down my door in no time…

We just got a new workstation and some heavier recording gear so as soon as this is up and running we’ll start pre-production. Producing is a big word, but I do all recording, engineering and editing as well as coaxing the best takes out of the guys, everything except mixing really (although being the über-perfectionist that I am I usually have a big hand in that as well). Dan will of course be doing that again, he’s already done 8 remixes of Warsaw Rising in preparation for it, the guy gives new meaning to the word “workaholic”…

It’ll be a helluva job, but I like the fact that we’re in total control instead of having to rely on people that may not really understand what we’re trying to do. On Of Frost And War we had an engineer that wanted to clean up all the string noises, which to me is what makes a guitar take come alive, I had to fight tooth and nail to re-instate those little “imperfections” instead of ending up with a perfect but lifeless album.

AMG: Nothing quite so metal as a confrontation with the police over your vocal takes! What do you prefer, though, working with the other members or doing stuff by yourself? I know you’ve got some do-it-yourself pride…

Photo 07Warby: ”You’re torturing a man, we can hear him screaming!”  “No honestly, we’re recording an album!”

That totally depends on the project. Hail Of Bullets is a band and I enjoy it tremendously as such, whereas The 11th Hour is meant to be a personal project (in the studio at least) and I can’t imagine doing this any other way than strictly DIY. And I do take pride in finishing an album all by myself, especially since lots of people thought I had finally gone completely insane in my delusions of grandeur, but I also take pride in delivering a collective effort such as the Warsaw Rising EP. It’s all good!

AMG: I know that you’re Dutch.. you don’t happen to live near Den Haag do you? That kind of answer gives me the idea that your “good job” is working as a diplomat for the world court.. Haha.. So, now I gotta ask you: where does Ayreon fit into all of this? Are you just a hired gun for that project or are you actually a part of the “band”?

Warby: Haha, that diplomatic eh?

It’s true though, different dynamics, both equally enjoyable. But no, I don’t work in Den Haag although I live close by (about 15 minutes by train). Politics are not for me, I’m far too impulsive…

The first Ayreon album I did was Into The Electric Castle and me and Arjen got along so well he’s been asking me back ever since, even though he rarely works with the same people twice. This year’s Guilt Machine is a notable exception of course, and he actually called me before he started working on it to say he wasn’t going to ask me this time. When I heard who he had in mind for it and why I couldn’t blame him. Chris Maitland is a fantastic drummer and playing quietly isn’t my strong point. But apart from this I do feel like I’m Arjen’s drummer of choice for most of his projects. I was there for the Star One tour (one of the most unforgettable experiences of my career) and I’m sure we’ll work together again in the (hopefully near) future.

AMG: Yeah, sorry, but it was a damn diplomatic answer. I always want musicians to say things like “those jackasses? Well, I only work with them ’cause it’s the only way to get things done!” You never make any news with diplomatic answers…

As a side note, I’m a huge fan of that Guilt Machine record. It’s a shame you weren’t involved, then I could go all geeky fanboy on you about it. I think it might be one of Arjen’s best works to-date.

I guess I’m going to bring this back around to The 11th Hour again. I know the record just came out, but what are your plans with it? You planning on doing some touring? And are you interested in doing another one eventually or was this kind of a one-time deal thing that’s gonna get stuck on a shelf ’cause you’re spread to thin with projects?

Warby: Sorry to disappoint you, but Hail Of Bullets is a surprisingly solid and fun band! We’ve been together for over 2 years but it feels like 2 months, and whenever we’re on stage people always comment on how much fun we seem to be having, it’s sickening really…

I like the Guilt Machine album a lot too, Arjen sent me a copy (I just sent him a copy of mine) and I think it’s brilliant. Then edwarby4again I’m sure whatever he does next will be brilliant too, I’m insanely proud of my history with him and before he asked me to be a part of his universe “working with Arjen” was at the top of my musical wish list.

As far as I’m concerned there will definitely be another 11th Hour album, and the show we did 2 weeks ago was so much fun it’s scary… I was worried I’d be too nervous to enjoy being on stage as guitarist/vocalist but it felt awesome and I can’t wait to do it again! The booking agency that does Hail Of Bullets is now representing The 11th Hour as well, so we’ll see what happens. It also helps to have 2 guys from Officium Triste in the band since they’re more at home in the doom scene than I am and know all the right promoters and festivals.

In fact I’m already working on the next album, so far I have 4 finished songs and ideas for another 3-4. As soon as Hail Of Bullets is done I’ll start working on it for real, I’ll just have to make time I guess.

AMG: Nice, I think we’ll wrap it up there! I gotta say I’m looking forward to all the new stuff you’re going to be working on. And you’ve been a sporting good chap about this whole thing. I say we rendezvous after the next Hail of Bullets for an update. Thanks a lot!

Warby: You’re very welcome, thank you for letting me ramble on! And I didn’t even mention that new Demiurg we’ll be doing next year…

AMG: Oh shit! I forgot to ask about that. That’s ’cause I haven’t heard that project, so I ashamedly must admit that I know nothing about it… Feel free to promote it here and now!

demiurg_discWarby: Demiurg is Rogga’s baby, I like to think of it as the Rolls Royce among his bands as it’s a far classier affair than the atavistic down ‘n dirty death metal he’s known for (not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you). Last year we released The Hate Chamber, which I’m very proud of. Since crossing “working with Arjen” from my list “participating in classic Swedish death metal album” was at the #1 spot, and as far as I’m concerned that was it. I don’t know where Rogga’s going with the next album but he has some great plans for it, so I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with.

AMG: Nice. So in other words: look forward to next year ’cause it’s going to be a pretty kick ass year for you? New Demiurg, new Hail of Bullets… working on The 11th Hour stuff. You’re living the dream man, best of luck..

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