Interview By Kassu Kortelainen / December 2009
On the verge of getting propelled to a wider recognition with their brand new album ‘Heretic Nation’ that draws it’s strength from the very lifeblood of traditional british heavy metal, Vendetta proves to be a band that has taken a strong influence from the past but also manages to add a personal touch to their music. Vendetta singer/guitarist Edward Box stopped by at the Steel Mill and sat down for an interview. Fans of smoking riffs, shining solos and the spirit of classic heavy metal – take heed!
Hi Ed and thanks for stopping by at the Steel Mill for the interview! What is the latest news from the Vendetta camp?
We are just getting ready for a gig at a local venue, Trillians and we have been working on some new material. The main thing at the moment is doing as much promotion for Heretic Nation that we can.
The new Vendetta album ‘Heretic Nation’ has been out for about a month now, how has it been received?
Great. We have been album of the month on one site and we have also been declared one of the 10 best albums of the year by another so the feedback is very positive. Out of all the reviews we have I would say we have about an 80% approval rating.
Vendetta’s debut album ‘Tyranny Of Minority’ was released in 2007 and got very positive reviews. How would you compare ‘Heretic Nation’ to that? Any notable developments or changes in style? Or did you focus on shaping the strengths of it’s predecessor to an even more powerful shape?
The main difference between the two albums is that Tyranny of Minority had more of and LA/European influence but Heretic Nation feels more British but has some progressive and 80’s thrash elements. In the last two years my voice has improved a great deal and that has helped to assert our sound more. We certainly wanted to go in a heavier direction and having a permanent drummer has really knocked us into shape. All the rehearsals and gigs have paid off and we now a far more cohesive unit.
What would you list as the biggest strengths of Vendetta? Your recipe to conquer the hearts of heavy metal loving audience?
I would say that we have really strong song structures and catchy choruses to start with and we offer a straight ahead twin guitar attack that I feel your average metalhead would love. Add to this a thunderous and tight rhythm section and you have all the ingredients for classic/traditional metal with a contemporary twist.
Looking back to the pre-Vendetta times, you were personally captured by heavy metal musicearly in life. What are your very first metal recollections from your childhood?
My earliest metal memory is watching Judas Priest on Top of the Pops in January 79 doing Take on the World. I didn’t know it was metal then but later that year my brothers got into AC/DC and then everything exploded in 1980 with Maiden, Saxon and all the rest. It was a great time for music because you had all the great albums of 1980 (British Steel, Wheels of Steel, Heaven and Hell, Animal Magnetism, Iron Maiden, MSG, Back in Black, Women and Children First) and then you check out the fantastic back catalogue and before you knew it you had a treasure trove of metal/hard rock that went back 10 years and included the likes of Lizzy, UFO and Rainbow.
At what point of life did you decide that you would aim to become a professional musician? Any particular events that triggered the determination to front a successful band in the future?
Once I hit my mid teens it was clear I wasn’t very academic and music just provided an outlet and energy that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I just desperately wanted to be like the people I admired and these weren’t accountants or lawyers, they were musicians playing the music I loved. I also think most musicians have something to prove. They don’t fit into the standard structure and they want to show people that they can achieve in their own field. This spurned me on to be the best I could in my chosen field. It’s been a long and arduous slog but I now feel I’ve got something to show for my efforts.
In the 90’s, before Vendetta you had a couple of other bands, XLR8R and later Arch Stanton that despite of having some good success in different contests and magazine polls didn’t in the end rise to a bigger fame. How do you see those times now? What were the biggest obstacles that blocked those bands’ routes to a wider recognition?
In respect to XLR8R, we had some really great songs but we lacked direction at times. We could go from a pop metal/ U2 style ballad to all out thrash by the next number! There was a general lack of consistency in the writing but the main reason we failed was due to shifting musical climate. By 1992 we were starting to get a really good name for ourselves but grunge was exploding and the industry was turning away from musicianship and into other areas. Numerous lineup changes didn’t help our cause either and in the end we were a very different proposition to the one that started out.
As for Arch Stanton, that was more of an opportunity to write and play a different style of music and to have a go at taking some lead vocals so it was never as serious as XLR8R. Being based in Newcastle doesn’t help as it’s so far away from London but then again, rock and metal had always thrived in the provinces more than the big smoke.
You were originally mainly a guitar player and after the XLR8R/Arch Stanton days released two well-received instrumental solo albums, 2002’s Plectrumhead and 2006’s Moonfudge. Can you tell us something about these two albums?
Just as Arch Stanton was coming to an end in 2000, I decided to record four instrumental tracks that I had written. One idea I had kicking around for about 10 years. It was a genre I had never tried so I thought I would have a go just for fun really. They turned out quite well so I sent them off and they got a good write up in Guitarist magazine. The following year I wrote and recorded some more tunes and it was then I realized I had an album in the making. I sent the demos to a few labels and Lasse at Lion Music came back to me with an offer. I re-recorded all the tracks plus one new one and that became my album Plectrumhead. Moonfudge took a while because I had moved house and I was also working a lot but it turned out well and they have provided a good basis for exploits with Vendetta.
Are you planning on continuing doing your solo stuff also in the future, or is your concentration now completely on Vendetta?
At the moment I am completely focused on Vendetta.
You also played on a Jimi Hendrix tribute album back in 2004. And were in a quite notable company with the likes of Richie Kotzen, Chris Poland, Greg Howe etc. That must’ve been a cool experience as well?
The track I did had some really good playing on but overall I don’t think we did a good version. In hindsight I think tribute albums are a bad idea but I don’t regret doing it as I was able to be in there with some world class players.
Let’s move back to your current band… What’s the story behind Vendetta’s birth?
I had just started recording Moonfudge (it was done over the course of 6 months in two sessions in 2005) and I was knee deep in instrumental land. I had written a few vocal tunes the year before but I wasn’t convinced by them as I hadn’t written like that in over 4 years. Then Angel of Retribution came out and I was just bowled over by how great it sounded. It was great to hear that kind of metal again and it really inspired me and I pretty much started to write Tyranny of Minority after a few plays of the album.
I started checking some of the European power metal bands and I realized there was a new world out there.. not. After lots of writing I decided I wanted to record the songs and to have a crack at singing them myself. I got together with Gary Foalle and Pete Thompson and it was clear after one practice that it would make a great band and not just a project so off we went. It took a while to get everything sorted but we are well into our groove now.
The style of Vendetta is full-on, unmistakenly pure traditional heavy metal. Was the choice of direction clear from early on?
Yes. I didn’t want to cloud things. I knew what I wanted to do and how it should sound. Too many times in the past I had written in this style and that but I was determined we would have a focused direction, even if people didn’t like it! The main remit in the band is that we play music we like and hopefully the audience will follow.
Nowadays, in addition to playing guitar, you handle also the singing duties. After a long period of focusing mainly on guitar, how was it to expand your skills also to singing?
It’s been a long road. If I’m honest, the vocals on Tyranny of Minority could have been a lot better, although I did the best I could at the time but with Heretic Nation I have found more confidence and range in my voice and I’m hoping I’ve turned a corner. It’s a bugger to sing and play at the same time but you’ve got to look at guys like Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield as inspiration for that. They wear both hats brilliantly and are awesome.
How about your biggest influences? Both as a guitarist and as a vocalist?
For guitar I love George Lynch, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Doug Aldrich, Mathias Jabs and Tony Macalpine to name but a few and for singers well it’s got to be Halford, Dio, Klaus Meine and Geoff Tate who influence me most. However, it must be said that I could never sound like those singers in a million years but I can try! At this time of year our thoughts are with Ronnie James Dio. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
You have stated that Judas Priest has been one of your favourites for a long time – what do you see sets them above many other bands?
Priest are the greatest, most diverse and risk taking metal band of all time. No offence to Sabbath who invented the whole thing, but Priest just took the template and made it a whole other ball game. If you look at their imperial phase from 1976 to 1982, it’s extraordinary how different each album is and the ground that they cover, from a ballad like Epitaph or Before the Dawn, to the commercial hard rock of Living after Midnight or the proto speed metal of Let Us Prey. Since then they have reinvented the wheel again with Painkiller becoming a huge influence on power metal and now, with Nostradamus, they have delivered their most challenging work yet and one that I feel will be seen as a corner stone of bands oeuvre in years to come.
We talked about the Hendrix tribute you participated on earlier… to twist the idea to a Steel Mill style – if someone asked you to do a couple of tracks for a Judas Priest tribute album, what songs would you choose and why?
I would have to do Starbreaker as it’s my favourite Priest track of all time. I love the riff and Rob’s delivery. Sin after Sin is such an interesting album and this track is awesome. I couldn’t do the screams at the end though. I’ve got some mates who play in a Priest tribute band called Judas Beast so I would get their singer in! For the other one it would have to be Stained Class. It’s an amazing track and the lyrics are superb. I reckon Vendetta could tear into that one!
Our readers who play guitar themselves, always like to read about the gear musicians use. What kinda equipment do you use at the moment?
I have four guitars – Three Fender Strats and an old Ibanez DT350. One Strat has a Floyd Rose system on and this is my main guitar. I have customized two of them with Jeff Beck pickups, JB 1 and JB jr. For amps I have a Crate Shockwaves head and I use a Boss DD3, Chorus and Octaver. This blends well with Pete’s Mesa Boogie Stiletto and he uses a TC Electronics delay, MXR Flanger and Phaser. Pete has just got a Namn show special Shur Modern and it’s one of the best guitars and well made I have ever played.
Besides playing for Vendetta, you work as a guitar teacher and were also one of the judges of the international Guitar Idol contest in 2008. From those points of view you have seen a great number of aspiring guitarists. What do you think are the most important factors a young guitar player should focus on to become really good?
When we are selecting finalists for Guitar Idol we focus on the tone and vibrato of the player and the quality of the song. With enough practice anyone can shred but you have to have a musical quality as well. So tone, vibrato, technique and writing ability are all essential. If you look at the truly great players, they all possess these qualities plus an aura of charisma and this is what marks them out not only as top players but as true guitar heroes.
…and vice versa, what are the most usual pitfalls those players should try to avoid?
Bad tone, bad vibrato, bad technique and bad writing! In effect if one thing isn’t right then the others won’t follow. It takes a long time to become a well rounded musician so you have to keep at it and to practice all facets of being a musician.
Okay, as we’re closing to the end of our interview – what can we expect from Vendetta next?
Well we’ve just started to write some new material so expect an album at the backend of 2011. We will be gigging next year and with luck we may get on some festivals. We would love to play some festivals!
Thanks a lot, Ed! Any final greetings for the Steel Mill readers and K.K. Downing?
The Steel Mill is a great archive of Priest and by proxy the history and development of Heavy Metal. The most inspiring things are the old pictures of the very early gigs. This shows that Priest, like all bands, had to start from scratch and build their base. K.K. started with nothing but he has built Priest into the finest of all metal bands and this is an inspiration to anyone who loves music and plays in a band so next time you’re at a small gig, remember that all your favourite bands started this way and grew from there so support metal at a grass roots level.
On this note, I have a list of all Priests gigs and it says they played the Westmorland Show in Kendal on August 26th 1973. Kendal is where I was born so I may have been there in my push chair! Also, on the Rocka Rolla tour, they played the Chesford Grange Hotel in Kenilworth (this is a town in the Midlands). I have relatives in the Coventry area so in 1986 I went there for tea and cake to celebrate my Grandma’s 80th birthday. Little did I know that 12 years previously, the mightiest of all metal bands had rocked this hallowed turf! But I think that illustrates my point – the battle for metal hearts and minds isn’t fought in the arena’s of the world, it starts out in the nooks, crannies and provinces and grows from there and that’s the kiss of Judas! All the best for the New Year and have a great festive season. Keep forging the furnace and feeding the flames and K.K. – I await the next Priest opus with baited breath and make sure you bring the British Steel show to the UK!