Interview with Martin van Drunen (Asphyx, Hail of Bullets, Grand Supreme Blood Court, ex-Pestilence)
Interview by Estelle at Brutal Assault on the 6th of August 2015
Hi Martin, thank you very much for giving the chance and doing the interview for Darkness Unseen! First I’d like to ask, in which band and in which period do you think you were on the highlight of your career?
Asphyx, right now in this very moment. I just came off stage and we agree with the guys that this was one of our best shows in like half a year. Everybody’s like “fuckin’ hell!”. Even if it was really hot, so we had to kind of dose our energy but it was a fuckin’ good show. We just walked off stage and we all came along to each other like “wow that was good, compliments guys!”. So it’s easy to say, it is right now.
Would you give any advice to your younger self if you could go back to where you started?
Wow. I think I would say “let go a bit of your pride”.
I read in one of your earlier interviews that you tried playing the guitar at first, and then Patrick (Mameli) from Pestilence forced you to start learning bass because Pestilence needed a bass player. When did you realize that vocals were rather your thing?
It’s really weird: I actually met Patrick in a hardrock-metal cover band from some guys that I knew. They were practicing and I was a kid so I just said “okay you guys practice then I come along and drink a few beers”. But their singer, lots of times he was not showing up being drunk or something, and then Patrick joined them and played stuff like Slayer with them. And they asked “who knows the lines?” and I was like “I know the fuckin’ lyrics!” – “okay, try then!”. So that was my first effort, just for fun.
Martin Van Drunen – Photo: Nando Harmsen
And a few years later when I met Patrick again, I asked “what are you guys doing now?” and he goes “I have another band, we’re looking for a singer”. Then he asked “and what are you doing now?” I go like “I’m a singer looking for a band” – well I was not, I just had a big mouth. But that’s how it happened with Pestilence, I never thought to be a singer, I just wanted to be in a band. (laughs)
Asphyx is one of the death metal bands that really sticks to the roots of old and ‘true’ style of death metal. Was there always an agreement on this matter between the members of Asphyx? Was there anyone who would have liked trying new ways?
No, this is something which we know THIS is Asphyx. As soon as we start experimenting with new shit, it’s not Asphyx anymore. This is probably safer than to say “let’s do something else” but I don’t feel the need for it, I just don’t like it. I like what we do with Asphyx now, this is the style that I prefer, this is the style that’s inside of me. And this is the same with the guys. So Asphyx will always be Asphyx – what you see is what you get. We never disappoint any people by changing our style, we would kill ourselves.
Even though you were not in the band most of these times, do you know why Asphyx split up so many times so far?
I don’t know it exactly, but actually if you don’t know Bob (Bagchus; founder drummer of Asphyx – ed.), he’s not the easiest guy to handle. I think it also had a lot to do with the relation of Bob and Eric (Daniels; guitarist of Asphyx from 1989-95 and 1997-2000): even nowadays as they do Soulburn together, they are really close friends, they’re like brothers. You just can’t get in between. Even if I really do like them as friends and as collegues in metal, even for me it’s really hard to get in between them. And I think that was the problem, that they were together and somebody else inside – and all of a sudden there was something happening and they just said “okay fuck off, you just don’t fit in”. I think that’s the main thing why so many lineup changes and ‘split-ups’ happened.
And don’t forget the Asphyx – Asphyx album (from 1994) that Eric did basically alone – that was a lineup that had nothing to do with anything else, he just found a few guys. It was like a new band.
Kind of a different subject: You were the vocalist of Bolt Thrower and did two tours with them from 1994 to ’97. Why did you have to replace Karl Willetts (the original singer of Bolt Thrower) live?
They asked me and you know if a band like Bolt Thrower asks you, you don’t say no! (laughs) We were good friends, I knew them because we toured with them with Asphyx, we were on the road for 5 or 6 weeks. They lost call, they didn’t want to do it anymore and they were like “who can do this?”. Then they found out there was something going on with Asphyx and they called me, so I was just like “fuckin’ A, I’m on it!”.
How is your relation with them nowadays?
Nowadays it’s still really good, there’s a lot of respect. We still meet each other, making the good old jokes, so it’s really fine and I’m happy with them. Karl is back and they do fantastic – Bolt Thrower deserves that. It’s a fucking good band, it’s a machine, one of the bests around the world.
You also play in Hail of Bullets and came to give an excellent show last year at Brutal Assault. Which one of your bands do you consider the more important one for you at the moment?
There is a No.1. in between them, I mean if I focus on one band, the focus is the same. I just really enjoy both, to be on stage, to have fun with the guys.
Only one question about Pestilence because I know you hate answering these:
Since you said in so many interviews that Pestilence was your life, Pestilence was the band that meant the world for you, don’t you ever feel like you made the wrong decision when leaving? Or that the albums the guys released after you left would have been “better” if you were still in the band? (As we know you don’t like Testimony or Spheres at all)
That’s why I said in the beginning when you asked me if I would have changed things that maybe I should have lost a bit of my pride; because I was a proud little bastard back in those days. If you give everything that you have and you put it into a band and someone tells you that your performance is a crap… When you know that you are just growing all the time… I knew my voice was getting better, at the US shows that we gave we left nothing of Carcass and Death, we blew them away every night on stage completely; they had no chance and they knew it. So we were really, really good. I think if Pestilence continued that way, if I wouldn’t have left the band it would have been probably one of the biggest bands around on Earth. So yeah, in a way you regret that.
But from what I hear, from what Patrick is now as a person, he hasn’t changed. He didn’t grow up. He’s my age now but he’s still acting like a little kid. Very frustrated, feels very attacked, agitated, not happy at all. So even if I would have said okay, it would never work again. I can’t just work with a fellow like that. I do regret it because I know we worked hard and we deserved it, but one day the bomb would blow up, again. It’s not like with Asphyx where we are friends and have a good time, having a few drinks, listening to the same music – I don’t want to sit in Patrick’s house and listen to fuckin’ technical jazz. That’s just not me.
What do you miss the most from the old days when it comes to music?
It’s a French word: camaraderie (a feeling of good friendship among people in a group – ed.). I like being camarades and collegues, this is what I miss a lot. I mean we still are good friends with the bands we were, for example Autopsy or Bolt Thrower to name a few, but when we were touring at the time, we were just helping each other out, it was good fun. And now I see a lot of bands envying each other.
But it’s also because at the moment the scene is so big, there are so many bands, we lose the overview. Back then there were just a few bands that were really good, now it went too big. I miss that kind of intimity.
For the end: Is there any question that no one asked you before and you would still like someone to ask it from you?
It’s one of those questions where probably later on when you’re driving to the hotel you’re like “oh yeah, you could’ve asked me that”! Maybe something like what do I think of people writing lyrics nowadays – would I write that, am I interested in that…
Mostly no. I think most lyrics nowadays are just completely shit. Rubbish, it’s sad. They don’t rhyme, it’s all done before, it’s not original, it’s really sad to hear. And that’s why a lot of things I don’t listen to, because I open the CD and I hear the singer and I’m like “what the fuck?”. I mean it was not bad in the past with French bands, if you don’t speak English that well, okay we forgive you. But come on, if you’re a Swedish band from nowadays you should speak your English and be able to write the lyrics. I think magazines and stuff don’t pay attention to the lyrics at all. I’d say if the lyrics are shit then the album is shit as well. Point.
I think lyrics should be given a lot more credits – but that’s because I’m a lyric writer. I put a lot of effort into it, I’m really working hard trying to be original, rhyming, having a good pace with the vocals; so it’s a lot of work but I enjoy it. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay off, no one notices.
Seems like it really does grind your gears! Okay Martin, thank you so much for being this straight and outspoken, I wish you a lot more gigs like this one at Brutal Assault both with Asphyx and Hail of Bullets!
Thank you for the support and the surprising questions – take care!