BraveWords 25 Flashback - NEVERMORE Back In Neon Black
May 21, 2019, a month ago
In celebration of our 25th anniversary, we are digging deep into the BraveWords archives and blowing the dust off some classic features that ran in Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles magazine!
We head down the neon path with February 1999’s issue #28, delving deep into the psyche of Nevermore’s phenomenal album Dreaming In Neon Black. Legendary singer and BraveWords brother Warrel Dane (March 7, 1961 – December 13, 2017) and guitarists Jeff Loomis and Tim Calvert (November 7, 1965 – April 30, 2018) break down this classic record.
It is impossible to measure that which cannot be contained. Nevermore is the new soul of the old machine that is heavy metal. One listen to Dreaming Neon Black will confirm that to any discerning listener. Power metal chords and riffs sing throughout, with a domination of will that has no equal. The vocals are a picture in song, capturing the imagination and painting the record's stark storyline, and the bass and drums pound with the force of a planet smasher, creating all devouring rhythm. Sounds too good to be true, you say. Then read the lyrics as the story unfolds. It is a simple concept, a lost loved causes a man to go insane. But the depths of human depravity are explored intensely through the mind of the protagonist, and more importantly, through the provoking words of singer Warrel Dane.
It is within the words of Dane, guitarist Jeff Loomis, and recent addition Tim Calvert, also a guitarist that will unlock and make clear the creation of Dreaming Neon Black. Peer into these pages, dear reader, and know that this is the new sound to welcome the millennium.
Warrel Dane - Vocalizing The Tragedy
The conclusion of Dreaming Neon Black is very tragic. Were there any other possible endings in mind? "No. That's kind of always where I wanted it to go. I know that it's kind of depressing and dark and all that, but I think it's just more interesting to write about dark subjects because they can get very emotional and tragic. I would like to say that the ending should have been more uplifting maybe, but why? Life isn't always that way. Sometimes life's little problems do have tragic endings."
Even though the record is a concept album, but for the sake of packaging, possible videos or singles, what tracks stand alone?
"I think a number of them could stand alone, like 'Dreaming Neon Black' or 'Poison Godmachine'. 'Fault Of The Flesh,' perhaps too. The thing is, if you get into it, and you realize there's a whole story line woven into it, then you can take it as a concept record. If you don't want to go that far with it, you don't feel like investing that kind of time, I think pretty much any of the songs can be taken on their own. I guess that's why when I was working on the lyrics I didn't want to make it such a high concept album, which would mean pretty much the whole thing was rammed down your throat, whether you wanted to get into it or not. Kind of like The Wall. I think it's more interesting that way. It leaves it open so that different people will get different things out of it."
In what ways did you want to make this record different from other concept albums?
"I think the element of personal experience is one thing and also I didn't want it to be laid out in literal terms where 'This is what it all means,' because for me that kind of gets boring. There are things within the story that you can take differently from what I actually meant at the time. It was kind of written that way on purpose to make it so that it's kind of a different experience for everyone who listens to it. Within just the aspect of loss and despair that goes through most of it, I think at one point or another there's something akin to that in most people's lives that they can latch on to."
How is Dreaming Neon Black going to be performed live?
"We've talked about doing the whole thing, from start to finish. I'm really not sure if we are going to do that yet. I mean like what we were talking about before, most of the songs can stand on their own without having to be performed one after another in sequence, which, we might try to rehearse, but it might get kind of boring. We'll see what happens when we really start rehearsing hard, and that won't be until after the holidays are over."
The storyline of the record is based on a true life experience for you. How close are the events in the album to what happened to you personally?
“Well there was somebody that I did lose that I was very close to. As far as myself, this was something that I was able to get past and move on and deal with. But what I think I wanted to touch on here was that sometimes people can't get over traumatic experiences like that, and sometimes they're just fucked up for life basically. Everybody's not that way, and maybe by writing a story like this, something kind of depressing and tragic, where people see that I'm still OK, where this is just a way to get it out, maybe that can touch people that have had similar problems and make them feel better about it. I guess it's a bizarre kind of psycho-therapy, and a bit of catharsis for me, but I'm hoping in the end it has a positive effect, even though it is kind of a dark, tragic, romantic, depression vibe going through the whole thing."
Other than character illustration, what were the reasons for having the female vocals join in on “Dreaming Neon Black”?
"We know this girl (Christine Rinehart) really well, I've know her for years. She sings in another band here in Seattle that's much, much different from Nevermore. She had done some vocals on 'Garden Of Gray,' from our first album and when I was developing what I was writing about I knew right away that she had to sing on it. I guess I enjoy getting her to sing that way because she's playing like trip-hop music. She sings really mellow and laid back. It's good for that, if you like that sort of thing, but I know that she's got this potential in her voice to really belt and just really, really sing intensely. It was kind of fun getting her to do that. She always hates it when I tell her that she's not using her voice in the music she's doing."
In past albums you have delved more into the political spectrum with your lyrics, and on this CD they're more emotional. Why the shift?
"I think with Politics Of Ecstasy, I pretty much burned through all the political things that I could, and I think it would have been pretty redundant if I did that again. It was more of a challenge to kind of enter a subject realm that I hadn't tackled already. It's always fun to do that when you're writing records; to challenge yourself and push your limits."
Is there any unfinished business with your old band, Sanctuary?
"No, not really. I just saw one of the guitar players at a Christmas party. We're nice to each other now. Everything's OK, it's all better. We don't want to kick the shit out of each other anymore. That's a good feeling, just to know that there's closure on those past hostilities, but as far as ever playing together again, that's not going to happen. The thing is, every time I get together with this guy he always throws that in, 'You know, maybe it's time for that reunion album' and I just have to say 'No.' We don't really need to, and besides, I know what it's like working with those people."
With Nevermore's Dreaming Neon Black giving concept albums a rejuvenation, BW&BK asks lead singer Warrel Dane what he thought about some concept albums from the history books of metal.
HELLOWEEN - Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt 1. (Noise): "That was a really awesome album which I think was similar to Dreaming Neon Black in a way, because those songs can be taken individually and it's not really an over-the-top, ram it down your throat concept record. I used to love that record. I haven't listened to it in a long time. It would be nice to get that one on CD."
KING DIAMOND - Abigail (Roadrunner/Attic): "Abigail is awesome. I think that's where King Diamond reached his peak and I really love that album. It was a great live show too. The whole theatrical aspect of it and how he expressed the characters and developed them was pretty cool. I think he's really become this horror metal icon. It's nice that we have that."
FATES WARNING - A Pleasant Shade Of Gray (Metal Blade/Attic): “I love that album. It's great. I first heard it when we were touring in Greece and we were taking this really long bus ride to Athens. I was listening to it on headphones at the back of the bus and fell asleep a little bit through it, and then at the end when the alarm clock goes off, I woke up very startled."
QUEENSRŸCHE - Operation: Mindcrime (EMI): "Well, I think there you have the granddaddy of all metal concept records. I didn't really get into that when it first came out. I think it was a couple of years later after all my friends freaked out on it. When I first heard it I thought 'Geez, they've gone really overboard this time.' But eventually I started too really, really like it."
RUSH - 2112 (Anthem/Universal): "One of my favorite albums of all time. The first time I ever smoked pot I was over at a friend's house and was quite, quite young and probably too young to be smoking pot. I don't smoke it anymore I might add. I got really stoned and somebody put on that album and it scared the hell out of me. So that left a mark and now I guess it has a special place in my memory."
PINK FLOYD - The Wall (Capitol): "That's one of my favorite albums of all time also. That's, like, top two. I think when that album came out it really inspired a lot of drug use for high school kids and it was just their defining moment in rock history."
Tim Calvert - New Kid In The Black
Dreaming Neon Black was completed months before its release, so what have you and the guys been doing with your off time?
"Everyone has kind of been doing different things. We finished the album at the end of September, and I have this girlfriend in Belgium, so I visited her for nine weeks. So I've been having fun. Jeff was working for a while. Warrel and Jim were on unemployment for a while. Nothing really exciting, let me say that."
Being the new member of the band how much songwriting did you get to do?
"I came with pick in hand. Maybe 40 or 45 percent of the riffs. I didn't contribute to any of the lyrics because they were already great and a few of those were written in the studio, so we hadn't heard some of them until they were done. I didn't have too many drum ideas outside of some suggestions. Van (Williams, drums) takes care of himself very well. Just riffs, musical parts and arrangements. That's about it. We were all involved. The very last piece ('Forever') is an example of something that Jim wrote, and Warrel penned over and I think it's one of the best things on the album. I like the whole album though. It came out great."
Most bands fall back on established members before the new guy gets to take a crack at writing. Did you find it odd that you were thrown into the writing foray quickly?
"It didn't seem odd to me. There's maybe some people out there who can whip out albums like Stephen King whips out novels, but every band I've been in, writing has never really flowed out of people, so any time you come up with a solid riff it's always welcome. The writing was actually easier than what I've been through. There was a lot less tension and it didn't seem like a chore. I don't feel like a new guy. I really fit in personality wise and stylistically. I feel quite fortunate, like a real part of the band. I don't feel like I have to adjust at all. As a matter of fact it's a lot easier than being in Forbidden. I guess it's what they call chemistry, finding the right kind of people to work with. Maybe I felt equal because I do have some recording experience, three albums, and a lot of touring experience.”
How did joining Nevermore unfold for you?
"That was also a very convenient thing for me. I was really starting to go crazy. Also, I hate to say it, but it wasn't in my hands that Forbidden broke up, but I'm glad it happened the way it did. I see now that everything happens for a reason. It was really a stroke of luck that Forbidden decided to call it quits and that week my old guitar tech called me up and said 'Nevermore's lost a guitarist' and they're one of the only bands I would have even considered playing for. I'm not a closed minded son-of-a-bitch, but I'm kind of stylistically limited to what I'm doing."
Compared to the previous Nevermore efforts, the guitar sound on this album seems a lot more aggressive. Can that be attributed to you, or are there other reasons?
"It's kind of a strange story. We went down to Texas with minimal equipment. I brought my rack and a Marshall Moss amp, or something like that, thinking that it would work out good, combining the two. It first sounded freaking great when you're standing in front of the cabinet and play through it, but when you put a mike in front of it you find there's a lot of harshness. Plus, the top end of my amp wasn't working so good. Anyway, the guy that owns the studio in Texas, he inherited his father's pecan farm; 1400 acres. The studio was originally built as a bomb shelter in the '50s. It's half underground and about 40 miles from El Paso. So the guy makes all his money from the farm that he's keeping going, but he's been into music his whole life too. So he's been buying a huge collection of vintage guitars and vintage amps and things. We had this vast array of different stuff to try out and see how it sounded, including old Marshall cabs. So we picked the best speakers and cabs in systematic order, put them all on DAT and listened to them all back, like five seconds from each speaker. We picked our favorite kind of speakers, and it really made a huge difference. Once we had the best sounding speaker we picked the best sounding head, the best sounding amp, and we were having a hell of a time finding anything close. As a matter of fact we went through everything in the whole place and we were still left with nothing. We heard this guy who lived out of town had a Tri-axis. And we're really in the middle of a desert here on a pecan farm, that's irrigated. So the guy brings out the Tri-axis for us to try out and it was amazingly great and we ended up using it on the album. It would have been a really different sounding album had we not had a stroke of luck and scored this guy's Tri-axis."
Any other interesting things happen during the recording of Dreaming Neon Black?
"The female vocals you hear on 'Dreaming Neon Black.' Warrel wrote the vocals for this girl that lives in Seattle. He talked her into coming over one night and getting drunk with him to record the lines in the basement. So they got good and drunk and she did an absolutely soulful, phenomenal job of singing these lines. When we all heard them a few days later on the eight-track we were like 'Holy fuck, this song's going to be great.' Right before we left for Europe we did a three-song record for the demo company and it turned out like hell. She came in to sing again and she was just not capturing the vibe like she had that night. We were going to have her fly in to Texas to do those lines. Without her the song would have been very different. What happened next, we found out, we were so strapped for money and there was no way the label was going to fly her down there for that, so we were in a dilemma of having Warrel sing all the parts. They're written for the girl in his dream, his old girlfriend, it just wouldn't be right you know. Our producer took a listen to the original tape. It was drowned in reverb already, and we couldn't get rid of it, and it was in a different key, pitch wise, and he sampled the vocals off of the tape and somehow changed the key and the pitch and we ended up using the original track she did, which was a real magical track. It really, really pulled the song together. It was the work of a freaking genius."
Jeff Loomis - Dreaming Axes
So now that it's good and done, how do you feel about your new album?
"Well, it's definitely our best effort to date. A little different from Politics, a little more song-oriented, I think. We're pretty proud of it."
When you created Nevermore, there were so many avenues for you to take: death, grunge, trash, etc. Why power metal?
"I don't know man. That's a damn good question. I never really put us in any kind of category. I don't even know if I would call us power metal. I don't know if I can answer this. I think it's just something that popped out of our heads. We're just trying to be as original as we can. Lots of people probably don't think we're original, but I think we're going to win a lot of people over as far as us seeming original. I think we're a lot different sounding than your average metal band, per se."
What's the difference between working with your last guitar player, Pat O'Brien, and Tim Calvert?
"It's definitely more of a pleasure writing with Tim because we seem to have more of the same kind of technique, ideas and influences. Pat was more of a kind of death metal head. There's nothing wrong with that. I was in a death metal band and I do love that stuff. It's just that I think now that he's in Cannibal Corpse I think he's much more of a happier individual. I think that's what he's always been looking for. Me and Tim, I think, hit it off really well."
Alice Cooper, Mötley Crüe, Stuck Mojo and bunch of other bands have crawled into the wrestling ring. Now you guys have a big supporter in WCW wrestler Raven. How did that come about?
"Hey man, it's publicity (laughs). The funny thing about that is I've got a bunch of friends here in Seattle, and the day that he started doing that (wearing Nevermore T-shirts in the ring, and using the band name in his Edgar Allan Poe quotes 'Quoth the Raven, Nevermore'), I get all these calls that are like 'Hey man, you watching wrestling?' And I'm like 'Well no, I don't watch wrestling.' I figured out who all my friends were that watch this crap. Anyway, I turned it on and I did see it and I was kind of proud actually to see him wearing it because a lot of other people are seeing it and are probably asking questions as to what that is. It's kind of cool. It'd be more cool if he'd take it a little further and brought us out to play at an event."
Every LP you've put out comes almost exactly two years after the last. Is that planned?
"No. Realistically, I think we want to do one album a year, but it's like with all the line-up changes in the past and trying to find the right members to fit in the band, the hardest thing is just to complete the project. All those changes have really taken time. For instance say, one guitarist leaves and you have a tour to do. There's a lot of time involved showing him all the music. It's not your basic music either and can be difficult to play at some times. Finding that particular person, I mean, it was kind of hard to fill the shoes of Pat, but now that Tim's in the band I'm sure we'll have another album out in a year."
What would you say is your favorite or best guitar work on the Dreaming Neon Black?
"I would have to say my favorite thing is the flamenco guitar thing I did on 'Deconstruction,' before Tim's solo. That was really cool. It was kind of spontaneous. It was like 'Hmmm, let's try this and see if it works.' I think it added a nice colour to that song. Also the solo that's in 'No More Will.' It's got different kinds of time changes and stuff. It's really cool."
What are the highlights for you from the rest of your bandmates?
"Van, our drummer, probably his most solid drumming is in 'The Death Of Passion.' Warrel's singing, that I loved the most, in the last song 'Forever.' Jim's (Sheppard, bass) thing probably was 'The Lotus Eaters.' It's like one flowing bass line. It's the same thing over and over, but I think it's kind of his signature style. My favorite thing that Tim does is probably 'Deconstruction.' The whole song he pretty much wrote and I think it's really solid and pounding."
Neil Kernon has produced every album and EP for Nevermore. What is the relationship between him and the band?
"It all comes down to, number one, Neil being a friend. He knows us so well, he knows the way we play musically which is a huge plus. Also, I think personally, going to a new producer is actually kind of taking a step back in a way. If you go to somebody brand new they're going to treat you the same way too. They have to find out how you play, how you work the best. Neil Kernon has kind of studied our musicianship over the past years and he knows the way we work. He knows how to steer us in the right direction. He's like this really positive producer. He's got a great great work ethic and attitude and we love working with the guy."
The band bio says you guys have always wanted Tim in the band, so why not scoop him when you made the first album?
"He was probably at the point where Forbidden was giving him personal problems. I think contractually, he probably couldn't leave the band at the time. There were still things that needed to be done. It was kind of like a waiting process to see what would actually happen down in San Francisco first. But when it finally all took its toll, years later, and he was out of the band, he came here."
The upcoming west coast and European tour will be your first foray into headlining. Are you ready for the spotlight?
"Dude, we are like more than ready. You can only open up and not get a sound check for so long, and we've been doing that for like two years. I think that we have enough experience and knowledge as to what we're going to be doing. I think that we're definitely ready. I just hope that we're going to have a great light guy, and a great sound guy, because that's the most important thing about headlining. You gotta have those two people to make the show look great."
(Photos by Mark Gromen)