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InterviewsAn Intimate Chat With Karl Sanders of Nile

Posted on Sunday, March 24 2013 @ 18:01:03 CDT by Pete Pardo
Heavy Metal Staff writer Carl Sederholm recently sat down with Karl Sanders of Nile. They are currently headlining a 20th anniversary tour that features two full sets from the band. All the opening acts are from local venues.

SoT: I saw you last year with The Black Dahlia Murder. That was a great show; not only was it my first time seeing you guys live, it was your second time playing in Utah after many years. What is your impression of our scene here?

KS: That was our third visit to Utah. It's a great little scene. There's always been a lot of metal fans in the area and in the surrounding area that make the trip to the shows. I wish we could come back here more.

SoT: You guys are major supporters of local bands. On this tour all the shows have local openers. What are your thoughts about local scenes and their importance to metal generally?

KS: Every band starts out as a local band. The local scene is where bands get the chance to hone their craft, to perform, to test out their songs on an audience, to work out the basics of their craft--how to write songs, to play to an audience.

SoT: You sound like a good mentor.

KS: Well, back in the way back time machine years when we started playing, before the internet, there was a whole big circuit you could play if you were a metal band in the 80s and early 90s. There were innumerable opportunities to play which have since dried up. I've also noticed that with the proliferation of multiband packages--when you have 5 or 6 touring national or international acts--it leaves little room for openers. While that's good for fans who get to see a lot of their favorite bands, it doesn't leave opportunities for the younger generation to get in there and get their feet wet and gain some valuable experience. There used to be a commercial for the army in which a young man goes in to apply for a job with the boss. The boss says, "Tell me what experience do you have" but the young man has no experience with anything. He can't get a job because he has no experience. He's in a catch-22. The army is the punch tag at the end of the commercial when they say, "Get the experience you need in life with the army." All that's true. With metal bands, where you get your experience is from actually fucking doing it. That's why, for the future of metal, younger bands have to have the opportunity to play. We haven't forgotten what it's like, struggling trying to get on shows. We haven't forgotten. I've notice in the last couple of years that we don't see as many local bands any more. They are not getting the chance. So we're doing our part to turn that shit around. It's a new business model with this tour--well, maybe not entirely new. It's the way things used to be done.

SoT: It's like punk rock--the DIY approach to touring. Seeing who's out there and letting them play.

KS: Give them a chance, let them get up there and do their fucking thing.

SoT: This tour is also is your 20th anniversary and you are playing two complete sets, one drawing on a little more on newer material and one drawing more on older material that hasn't been heard in a while. How are fans responding to the two sets? How will this "expanded" approach to your performances shape future setlists and touring schedules? Are you interested in playing bigger venues and longer sets—an evening with Nile sort of thing?

KS: Well that is what we're doing--an evening with Nile. It actually says that on our tour passes right now. The responses to the multiple set have been better than we hoped. We had expected to see a trailing off toward the end of the evening because people have to go to work the next morning. We actually are quite surprised that people are staying until the end. It's really rewarding seeing them enjoying the older material. That's why we decided to do this anyway. Fans have been asking to hear these songs for years, but because of time restrictions we haven't been able to play all the songs we wanted to play. So actually playing them for people is very rewarding in a pure kind of way. That's why we're here. If we don't play the songs people want to hear, then why are we here? It seems an obvious thing, so we wanted to make that connection, to finish that loop for the fans.

The only place that people did not stay all the way to the end was our first show of the tour in South Carolina, our home state. We did see a very disconcerting trailing off near the end, but it was a Monday night in South Carolina and by the time we finished playing there was like 20 people left. We all looked at each other and said "I hope the rest of the tour won't be like this." In order to get respect you have to go out to at least a radius of 1000 miles before anybody will respect you.

SoT: Where do you think Nile currently fits in with the metal scene generally? Are you still technically part of the metal underground? I'm not saying you guys are mainstream, but you've proven that extreme metal can do well commercially.

KS: We are in that nebulous, in between place. We are still a band with an underground heart, underground sensibilities. But we've worked so long and so hard that people do know who we are. That's another catch-22 because many underground purists want to be with the underdog only. Once a band achieves a certain level of success, even if it's only able to put gas in the bus, some people view that as some sort of heretical transgression against the underground. But that's not the case. We're still struggling and we still play our music in uncompromising ways, doing what we want to do. With the more recent album, we made some underground decisions; we decided to strip down the production, leaving it very raw. People have complained that it's too clean or too thin. I don't want to go on a tangent: The point I'm making is that once you achieve a certain level of success, there are many underground purists who then see you as the enemy, which is ridiculous. We're not trying to be anybody's enemy. We're trying to play music and put gas in the bus.

SoT: Where is Nile headed in the next few years? The music has been consistently strong; do you plan to keep going in the same direction? What's in your mind about Nile these days?

KS: We owe allegiance to ourselves first and our fans, of course. We do things the way we want to do them within our style. You could say on the one hand that our latest record sounds nothing like any of the others. You could also say that it does--it's the same kind of style, coming from the same place, using many of the same idiomatic and thematic, recognizable motifs. So where are we going in the future? We don't exactly know, except that we will remain true to ourselves and our own vision, wherever that leads us.

SoT: I really like the new album. My favorite has always been Those Whom the Gods Detest. That is a killer album. Some of your songs stem from the work of H. P. Lovecraft. What are your thoughts about him? What do you think it means to see Lovecraft as a kind of "metal" person? Why do you think HPL is so big a part of metal today?

KS: Well, I'm all for it--the connection between Lovecraft and metal. It's such a thorough permeation--it just seems natural. When you read Lovecraft, you just feel like you're living--breathing--ideas and words coming off of the pages in utter harmony with Death metal and our mythology. Death metal has its own sort of quasi mythology now. A lot of it is Lovecraftian in nature. Lovecraft has a way of distilling it to its most pure essence. He is the master. There's times when I'm reading something and I go "you know what? That could not have been written any better than what he did." Some people might say that if you are borrowing like that, from Lovecraft, its plagiarism. Maybe, maybe not. I tend to think of it that I read a passage and I want to set music to this thing.

SoT: I call it adaptation.

KS: OK, adaptation. Why not? I try to remain utterly respectful. I hold him in high regard and I don't want to profane what he has done by borrowing from it. It's a totally respectful thing. [Lovecraft and Death metal] spring from the same source.

SoT: It's something like man's place in the universe is not as central as we think.

KS: It's hard not to realize that. If you go out in the desert and look at the night sky--with the sky undimmed by civilization--and you realize, wow, the universe is a big fucking place.

SoT: Who's playing bass tonight? I can't keep track of your bass players.

KS: Our current bassist who's been with us since the Black Dahlia Murder tour is Todd Ellis.

SoT: Is he semi-permanent? What his status?

KS: I would say semi-permeable. He's got the job until he fucks up. That's kind of the way I look at it. We have been let down, deceived, led astray, by many a four-stringer. So I think it's hard to judge people too quickly. People who come from a small local band and step onto the world stage often experience changes within themselves as they adapt to this new environment. I've seen really nice people turn into not nice people and not nice people turn into nice people. It's unpredictable. I'm reserving judgment until somebody withstands the test of time.

SoT: You used to teach guitar lessons on the road, do you still do that?

KS: Not on this tour, although people have been after me because I haven't done it in a few years. People bug me about it. But on this tour we are playing two hours of Death metal--and not just any old Death metal, but Nile which is very demanding., very taxing, very tiring. One set of Death metal is enough to exhaust you over the course of a tour. People who really understand how exhausted extreme metal bands get are people who have actually done combat service.

SoT: Maybe in the future, then?

KS: I don't see us doing two sets a night for the rest of our career. The wear and tear. My wrists are extremely painful right now. I'm sure George has got to be deep-down exhausted, too.

SoT: Thank you.

Carl Sederholm

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