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Interview: Bulletbelt Talk About Their New Album 'Warlords'

Interview: Bulletbelt Talk About Their New Album 'Warlords'

Chris Cudby / Photo credit: Bixi Krippner / Album cover image by Scarecrowoven / Thursday 25th June, 2020 10:20AM

Welcoming new vocalist Paul Roberts into the fold, Pōneke's Bulletbelt arise from the battlefield of lineup changes and Covid-postponed shows victorious with their fourth studio album Warlords, releasing on vinyl LP, CD and digitally on Wednesday 1st July. Recounting the bloody tales of "real badasses" from throughout history, including Vlad The Impaler (the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula), queen of the Celts Boudica, and Chilean warrior Galvarino on lead single 'Blade on the Fire', Warlords was recorded by James Goldsmith (Beastwars, Earth Tongue) late last year at The Surgery Studio. We had the chance to chat with Bulletbelt drummer and driving force Steve Francis, who filled us in on the new record and what we can look forward to from the veteran metal crew in the near future...

Chris Cudby: Warlords is out next week, releasing right in the middle of what has been the most insane year. How has Covid-19 impacted the album release and your original touring plans for the record?

Steve Francis: We recorded the album October last year and then the following period of November, December, January is pretty bad for putting music out. We hadn’t planned to release it then, which gave us plenty of time for post-production and mastering and just getting it all together. We were looking at about June or slightly earlier, and then Covid-19 hit so we had to sit on it for a little bit. Things looked like they were getting a bit under control, so now seemed as good as any time to get it out. One of the positives of Covid-19 is that a lot of bands have had a more captive audience... because let's face it; most people are at home and spending a lot of time on the internet, which makes it a good time to put some music out.

In terms of touring, its been a bit messy. I was involved in the Sacred Reich / Vio-Lence shows and they were through UnderTheRadar and meant to go ahead in May, but ended up being pushed out to July. As well, the Abigail shows that we’ve now pushed out to December… we’re still very hopeful but who knows what’s going to happen next. It's impacted things a lot, but you’ve just got to diversify and be flexible – the train needs to keep going! The band can’t stop, the only thing that really affected us is that we couldn’t band practise for two months. We are a two or three time a week practise band and we like to practise, so that was interesting.

Bulletbelt's music is physically demanding and technically precise. Was there a bit of a learning curve getting back in the practise room, after the lockdown?

To be honest I thought the first practise was going to be an absolute disaster and sound terrible, and man, the first practise was like the tightest I think we've ever played, when we came back together. We were so excited to be doing it again, and it was probably the most fun, tightest band practises we've ever played. We all looked at each other and were like "woah, I thought this was going to be an absolute train wreck" but I thought, man we were on fire.


Paul Roberts has taken up the reigns of lead vocals on Warlords and guitarist Josh O'Brien is a recent addition to Bulletbelt as well – does it feel like a new era, or that the band has been born again with the new record?

Yeah, I guess it does. Josh has been with us for over two years now... we toured Japan with him, so he’s sort of part of the furniture now. Paul came on board about a year ago, but we actually auditioned him two and a half years ago when we were previously looking for a new vocalist. We decided to see if Paul was in a slightly better place than he was in when he originally auditioned and he was. He’s certainly the strongest vocalist – his pipes are friggin’ huge! The comradery is really good and that’s important when you are spending a lot of time together. Getting along is number one, it comes even before musicianship and all those other things. Getting along is most important to making a band work long-term. So to answer your question about a re-birth, it is quite exciting and I guess the biggest thing was losing Ross [Mallon] who was with us from day one, him and I started the band ten years ago. Him dropping out has been a major change and it shifted the focus on who was coming up with the riffs and the vibe of what we were doing as a band. For me, being there from day one, it feels very fresh at the moment and very exciting.


Who handles the song writing on the new album, how much of it is a team effort?

It really is a team effort. We might just start with someone playing a riff while we are warming up and all of a sudden we could have a song in an hour, or it could take us three months for us to write a song. It generally starts with Josh or Tim bringing a riff, or me bringing an idea. I listen to a lot of metal music so I’m always suggesting new things. We can try like "hey look what Judas Priest did on this album, we need a song with that kind of vibe." It might just start with a little embryo like that and we all just add our bits in the band room. We are very much a band that writes in the band room, we don’t share files around and stuff like that. We’re better being more spontaneous and working off of each other in the band room.


That makes a lot of sense. The first single from your new album ‘Blade on the Fire’ is inspired by Chilean warrior Galvarino who fought with knives attached to his stumps on each arm. Can you talk us through what other topics are explored on your new record and what kind of research was involved in writing the lyrics for your songs?

Once again it started with an idea. First album Down In The Cold Of The Grave, that's a lot of words. Second album Rise Of The Banshee, third album Nine Centuries, two words. I said to the guys... "I want it to be one word. I want it to be super easy to remember." I wanted it to be a really strong, heavy metal name, that also gives us focus for the songwriting. Warlords, the name of the album, kind of came before the subject matter. Then it was like, let's do some research, let's find some real badasses through history, who've been warlords. Most of them have been quite bad dudes, not good guys, they've done some pretty bad stuff, but there's some really interesting stories there. There's a song about Vlad The Impaler, 'Impaler'. There's a song about Boudica... she went away with an army and defeated all the people who had wronged her.

The 'Blade On The Fire' guy, his story's actually super interesting. The full story was, he went into battle and his army got caught. He's a Chilean guy, 1557. They chopped one arm off all the rest of his army and their nose, and they chopped both his arms off and his nose. Rather than killing them, they sent them back to their leader to say this is what will happen to your troops. His leader made him a general and he attached blades to his stumps and went into battle [laughs]. That's pretty badass really.



Wellington seems to be a real hotbed for world-class metal and heavy music groups. Do you have any theories as to why that might be?

I guess it's hard to pinpoint, y'know things just snowball. Auckland has had its moments where there's been a lot of bands and the scene's been really healthy, there still are. Here in Wellington we're very lucky to have Valhalla. It is what it is, it's a dive bar and your feet stick to the floor, you'd never want to take someone there for your first date. Ben the owner of Valhalla has really played a big part in the Wellington scene... if Valhalla went, Wellington would be in deep shit.

With Amber Beaton's documentary Prevail and Conquer, you talked about the kind of challenges involved in keeping a band going. What fuels the fire to keep Bulletbelt charging into the future and drawing in new recruits?

I guess I drive the band really and the motivation for me, is to continue to create music. It's my creative outlet and it's our creative outlet. We're always going to have day jobs, we're under no illusions about that. Most international touring bands have day jobs, that's just the way it is now.

Heavy metal has always been a passion for me, since I discovered it as a 10 year old. It's a desire to create music and to create something new. We've had band members come and go. It's always been about keeping our standards, like I said before, we practise two or three times a week. We need to be able to turn up to those practises and contribute. We sometimes will be required to do some touring. It's not every weekend, it's not for weeks on end but we need to be able to commit to doing that. Just not being prepared to be a run of the mill band and go through the motions. It's about trying to always move forward and better ourselves. If you listen back through our albums it's been an ever-evolving process. Although the people have changed, I feel the the same kind of vibe has always stayed there. We've always blazed our own path and get on with it, not caught up in all the bullshit that goes along with it.

It's so easy with social media to be caught up in the negatives of life, that we just steer clear of all that and are preoccupied with moving forward – better ourselves. All these amazing opportunities we get, like playing Japan or playing with Venom like we did a few years ago, or playing with Sepultura. These are just amazing opportunities and as huge metal fans, we're kind of living the dream.


What's the plan for Bulletbelt for the rest of the year?

I'll tell you what, putting a New Zealand tour together during lockdown has been really painful. I've done a few of these now and it's normally not too bad. This one, oh my god it's taken me almost two months, we're almost there. We're looking at about ten to twelve New Zealand dates. The Sunday Avo Rager (is) the first one. Just spreading it out, because we're really limited to Friday and Saturday nights, we're gonna do a few Thursdays if we have to, a triple header, and definitely keen on Sunday avo. We'll be announcing those in the next two weeks. We're also going to be doing our own festival here in Wellington with a brewery, who are releasing a beer with us. That's something exciting that we're going to be announcing soon. Kind of like Beastwars did with their festival, same kind of vibe.


'Warlords' is out digitally and on vinyl LP and compact disc on Wednesday 1st July – available for pre-order now via Bulletbelt's Bandcamp page here, limited edition bundles are available.

Go into the draw to win a Bulletbelt vinyl LP prize pack – all four studio albums over here.

Links
bulletbeltnz.bandcamp.com/album/warlords
bulletbelt-official.com/

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