Warbringer is undeniably one of the best bands in the newschool of thrash, putting out solid album after solid album, but also, as with all the greats, they are truly hardcore road warriors getting their music out to the fans with an incredibly strong presence which will satsify any metal junkie jonesing for the real deal.
I caught up with John while the band was stopped in Chi-town on their current tour with German thrash legends Destruction. Even with his hardcore schedule he took my phone call and we had a awesome conversation.
ThrashHead: Last Halloween we caught up with you while on tour, not long after that we get news that you guys are over in Europe, and tell-tale photographs of sharp dressed head bangers at roof-top soirees sipping fine red wines with an arm wrapped around the waists of beautiful exotic ladies begin to emerge. Tell me about Europe. You've toured there a few times haven't you?
John: Yeah dude, it was cool, we were there for almost two months, first half was pretty much just us hitting up Eastern Europe, Italy, Spain, us headlining, we did Austria too, the second part was like U.K., Germany and France, with Arch Enemy, it was a really great experience all around they are really good to tour with.
There was a lot of difficulty doing the first half of the tour, I got really, really sick and it lasted for a seriously long time which put a damper on the party factor for me, but the shows themselves were successful.
ThrashHead: What was the cause of your illness?
John: Probably partying on a really cold night in Serbia, had a really high fever...possibly pneumonia...it was bad it lasted a long time.
ThrashHead: Man sorry to hear that, but I'm glad to see you're back in action
ThrashHead: Everybody has a different opinion on this, but what are the differences which you see between the metal scenes in Europe and the States?
John: I think the European one is a little more active on all levels, you can go to a little town in Europe and there's a metal scene there and that's not always true here. Sometimes in the states it's only the larger population centers that really have a strong metal scene, and even then not all of them.
I think the people who come to the show and love the music are the same everywhere.
ThrashHead: One thing I noticed, at least from what I see now, when I was a kid back in the 80's, well known metal bands where playing larger venues and it seems like a lot of bands in the states are playing smaller sized venues, regardless of how well known they are, but when they get to Europe they have access to a lot larger venues...is that an accurate perception?
John: There's plenty of small club shows on both sides, in order to play a large venue you need to bring people in to said large venue...which is a very tall order, especially when you consider how many bands there are nowadays.
One difference between back then and now...pretend it's a pie chart and each band that's active takes up a certain part of the pie; right now, there is a bajillion bands playing metal who are all active. I think to have a big enough share of said pie, to play really big venues is something probably harder to do now.
ThrashHead: Because everyone wants a piece of that pie.
John: Yeah, yeah, also because It's easier to get a record out, it's easier now to be known enough so that you can tour.
ThrashHead: When you guys came back from Europe you jump right back on tour with Iced Earth and Symphony X, come on there's gotta be a few stories there...you get into any deep conversations with Jon Schaeffer about the new world order?
John: Yeah, we did, he has a lot of things he's very passionate about. I'd say I'd agree with the core ideas that he believes in which are that the people who are in charge of the world, of all the major nations, are generally corrupt, self-serving and don't have the common man's interest in mind; that's the thing that he and I agreed on, and that's the important part in regards to that whole discussion.
ThrashHead: Yeah, exactly.
It's been certainly a crazy last few months, any other any insane stories that can top the legendary Mexicali incident a few years ago?
(Note: according to legend, a Finnish fan had followed the band to Mexicali, he was extremely inebriated and the band decided to bring him back across the border, when they got to the INS/CUSTOMS checkpoint the guy up and runs away from the van, smashing his head into a metal fence!)
John: Nothing can really top that; see, I always get asked this questions, there is weird stuff that's always happening, but usually it doesn't stick that well, because we are usually wasted when it happens.
But today...There was a crazy airport guard, we were just sitting there and he approached us and just started asking questions...we were just waiting to pick someone up from the airport, and this guy just opens the van door while were sitting there...ends up finally asking, "Are you in a band?"...that's like the one thing you don't want to hear, like an old joke, when you're traveling is "You all in a band? What's your band caaalllled?" (John asks with a heavy southern drawl) and you say "Warbringer" and they will aaalways find a way to not get it right, that happens every day. (Laughs)
ThrashHead: If I remember correctly, you guys get pulled over in Canada while on your way to hook up with Iced Earth and they hassled you about speaking English or something....
John: Pauses...Oh, oh, yeah, what it was, we never drink or drive, but this one time I had done a little partying earlier that night, and it was my turn to drive so I was pretty good, I wasn't wasted or anything, I'm not ten minutes on the road and we get pulled over, it's like a total stubborn lady cop in her mid-forties with a total jethro going on, in Ontario, and she clearly doesn't like us. So, she immediately says "you must have been drinking!" and breathalyzes me but I am within the legal limit to where they can't punish me in any way, so she is pissed off and you could tell she wants to bust us for something. "Well, someone else drives the van!" and I'm like "Alright" I'm not going to argue about it, so she breathalyzes Andy (Laux), our bass player, who was going to be the next guy to drive anyway, but before she does, tells him to get out and, doing things by the book, begins to explain to him the procedure for taking the breathalyzer test . She's doing this in her car while we're on the side of the highway, it's windy out and he's standing outside her car...she's explaining how to use the breathalyzer and he says "What?" and she goes "Do you speak English or just Californian?"
And then I'm like "Jesus Christ!" and even after all that, after we comply with all this, we're stopped for like forty minutes, she ends up giving us a ticket because one of the taillights to our trailer was out!
That was the best she could do, she wouldn't let us go without a ticket...we didn't pay it yet, we'll see if the border will make us pay it in two days! (laughs)
ThrashHead: Yeah, that's right man, you're gotta cross back over...you're wanted in Canada by the Mounties...I guess there's a headline: "Warbringer wanted in Canada"!
Now you are on the tour with Teutonic thrashers Destruction for their 30th year Anniversary tour! How's it going so far, you're in Chicago now right?
John: It's still really early, this is only the third show with Destruction, what I can say though is that it's cool as fuck to play with them. I've seen them twice before at the Key Club on their last tour, we went out there while we were recording our last record; hung out with them.
We've actually kinda known each other, or at least, have met each other a long time ago, Schmier was on the same shuttle as we were on for Wacken 2008 and we were like "Oh my god, oh my god!" you know? (chuckles) 'cause we were still new to the whole thing we were really excited to meet the guy, we've run into them around different parts of world here and there, they've always been cool to hang out with and now, we're on tour with them. I like the sets they've been playing, pretty much all the stuff their doing is pure speed and it just rules!
ThrashHead: I've noticed also that whenever you get a chance, you guys will break away and headline other shows on the side...
John: Yeah, yeah we do that all the time man.
ThrashHead: Who are some of the bands that not many people may know about but everybody should definitely keep an eye on...which band has especially caught your ear this past year?
John: Bands we've encountered in the U.S.?
ThrashHead: Europe or U.S., you know, when you have these shows and have some local bands opening for you, who are some of the outfits that have caught your interest?
John: Let's see, I am going try to think...we've played with Angelus Apatrida in Spain that was cool, they may not be really well known outside of Spain, but in Spain we opened for them, we did a Europe tour with them once before, they're cool; kinda intricate, melodic style of thrash which is pretty sweet and somewhat distinctive. We played with a pretty solid band in Cleveland once by the name of Turbid North at Peabody's ...let's see, I'm trying to think, truth be told, a lot of the times when bands open up you get C grade death metal or something which I, at least, am not very interested in. I have to give a shout out to our friends in Vektor from Arizona. They have a really cool unique brand of thrash and crazy ass vocals, really good band I like their records a lot. Our friends Witchhaven, an excellent unsigned band, they are very much DIY, they give the most berserk alcohol fueled performance you'll ever see.
ThrashHead: Yes, definitely! I dig those bands too.
Last January Adam (Carroll) leaves the band and Andrew (Bennett) comes aboard and according to the official releases you guys put out, he was to be under the "audition process where it matters most, on the stage and in the van" how's his audition going so far?
John: Oh, he's in, this is his second tour with us. The thing is, the way we tour, it's happened before, most of the members we've lost is because they are sick of touring and their hearts aren't in it anymore. It's like, you know, it just won't do, that just won't do. Adam knew that, when he wasn't feeling it anymore, he knew it was a disservice to himself, to us and the fans...you know just dragging yourself up there opposed to wanting to go up there; the toll the road takes....
Andy Bennett, we go a ways back with him, known him for a long time, it wasn't just a random choice, the guy is a hell of a talented guitar player, he...(chuckles)...takes his metal goddamned seriously and I like that about him. He's been shredding it up, he fit in really quick, he didn't do it half-ass learning the songs, he went for it!
Whenever we find new members, Carlos as well was this way, we don't ever want to be a band that just has like me, John (Laux) and some hired guns. I think everybody we've brought into the fold has added something new to the band and has become a part of it, so that's what our goal has been when trying new guys...more so than anything else, and that's why we chose Andy Bennett; he knows what we are all about, we've talked at length to him before about metal and music in general and knew the guy and that's why we brought him in ...it's been a good decision so far.
ThrashHead: So he's the total road warrior, he can keep pace with your guys then huh?
John: (Chuckles) We still call him "The Kid" now and again, he's a little younger than the rest of us, he's the only one in the band who doesn't drink, so we'll troll him about that here and there but yeah, he's earned his stripes by now I would say.
ThashHead: So all in all you guys have been on the road for something like 9 months straight with a few weeks downtime between each...right now I am absolutely sure you guys are pumped, your shows are all high energy and it seems live is where you really shine. But, because of the nature of the beast, the load put on you by touring, do you think once you get back home to California you'll get hit with a bit of exhaustion?
John: The Iced Earth and Symphony X tour was a really long tour, like two months pretty much, which is a long time to stay out and we played a show almost every day for those two months, so it was like fifty, almost sixty shows...a lot of gigs, but I had a month at home. I think one problem we're having is a lot of health issues within the band, you know, if you were home you'd be able to do your required doctor visits to get problems handled, but out here we can't really do that.
For instance, right before this tour, literally like the day before, I woke up, and this scared the crap out of me, didn't actually end up being a problem because I managed to get it dealt with, but I had like the worst muscle spasm going on in my neck, for like an hour I couldn't really move, I had to just lay there in bed. When I finally could get up, my neck was stuck 45 degrees to the right and I couldn't move it to the left...
John: It's like if you lean your head to your shoulder to hold a phone between them, it was like that and I was fucking scared because my job on stage is to fucking headbang you know?
ThrashHead: Right, yeah
John: But I managed to get it fixed up and it kinda hurt for the first couple shows, but you know...fix it by thrashing a lot!
The day it happened, I was lucky because I went to go see my mom, who is a physical therapist, and she showed me a thing or two to take care of it, I went to a Chinese massage place where they worked on it, pressing on it really hard for a half an hour and I regained a lot of my range of motion.
Actually right now, we have to send Andy Laux home because he is going to have surgery on his throat.
ThrashHead: No shit? Damn!
John: Yeah, so tonight is his last night with the band for this tour. That's a real problem we've been having lately with the tour schedule we keep is that whenever there is a health issue there is no time off to deal with this...of course, it tends to be noticeable right when we are leaving for a tour.
I honestly think, as a band, as far as the hand fate has dealt us when we are out on the road, I think we are absolutely fuckin' cursed. But, I am proud to say that the guys in this band have been able to deal with all this shit in stride and we are still going five hundred million problems later.
ThrashHead: Whose going to be taking over for (Andy) Laux then?
John: Ben Mottsman, from the band Mantic Ritual, he's another guy who we go way back with , so I am pretty confident that it'll work out, he's actually with us now, today. He came out a day early, been jammin' with the guys, he's gonna see the show tonight.
The last thing we want to do is cheat our fans out of a good show, that's something we take very, very seriously; every time you come to see us, whether it at the Grand Ballroom or Sleazy Pete's shithole bar or whatever, it's going to be a 100% raging metal show, well performed every single time!
I think for a band like us, that builds its reputation on being a live band that is always going to deliver the goods, it's of the utmost importance that no matter what obstacles we have to face ourselves we always deliver the goods!
ThrashHead: Right on, the fans can always count on Warbringer.
John: Yeah, I believe that, you can always count on Warbringer to play a raging show no matter how sick and miserable we are that night.
ThrashHead: That was going to be my last question; " what will be awaiting fans at a Warbringer show?", but you pretty much summed it up, it's definitely worth the price of a ticket to see this band because it's a guaranteed kick ass metal show. So let me make this my last question so you can get ready for the show tonight..."Worlds Torn Asunder" was a critical success, Warbringer has an intense stage presence, as we've been talking about, both of which really have people incredibly stoked...are you guys already thinking about the follow up? Do you have any new material you've been working on?
John: Not really any full new songs, but a lot of ideas...I think the next album we are going to have to mix it up, because I felt "Worlds Torn Asunder" was a refinement, with a couple new elements, of all the things we had already been doing. I think what we want to do is take some of the more left field elements of our sound and take it further to create an unmistakable identity for the band. But, at the same time, we want to walk that balance between what is new, unique and original and still be Warbringer.
ThrashHead: Yes, absolutely! I wish you guys the best and wish Andy Laux a speedy recovery after he goes back to get operated on...why is he having the operation?
John: I don't want to get too far into it, he has to go home because it's potentially important. It's kind like "well, you don't fuck with that kind of situation". But you know, once again, I feel that even from all the stuff the road throws our way....I see a lot of other bands have lesser problems and going home, we don't do that...we stay.
ThrashHead: You stick it out unless it's something which is fucking hardcore which you just can't ignore...that's dedication! That also shows Warbringer is going to be one of those bands which we will be talking about ten, twenty years from now...you guys aren't going to be one of these bands that put out three or four albums and fade away, I'm positive we will be talking about you in the decades to come.
Again, I wish you the best and kick some ass tonight!
John: Fuck yeah, thanks a lot man!
As you've have just read, Warbringer "brings the goods", so don't be a fool by denying yourself the opportunity to catch these guys live! Sure, their albums are fucking awesome, but they can't compare to these guys the second they hit the stage!
And now, with a tour combining the best of the oldschool with the best of the new breed, what excuse do you have not to get into the pit?