Old Season are one of Irish doom’s classier bands.
Swathed in keyboard soundscapes and with a standout plaintive vocal, they’ve always lifted their music a level above the ordinary.
With a new album – and, crucially, a new vocalist – Ollie Gill remembers the history of the band while chatting over the present with guitarist Jimmy Blanchfield.
I’d like to start off by going back to the origins of the band.
I know Darren Moore of Mourning Beloveth sang in another incarnation of the band when it was known as Karnayna.
Who were the main founders of the Band and how did Frank Brennan come to take over on vocal duties from Darren?
This part of the band’s history is a little beyond most of our current members’ time, with the exception of Smyth (Dermod), who featured on the Karnayna demo.
Anto joined soon after the release of the demo and I joined around 2002 when the band was still called Karnayna. The founders of that incarnation were Ciaran O’Neill, Phillip Mahony, and Smyth.
As far as I know, Darren was only helping the lads get off the ground by doing some gigs and the demo. I don’t think he had ever committed to any long term plans.
By the time I joined, there was no singer. I remember Anto suggesting Frank as a possibility. Anto was friends with Frank and he said he would ask him, but no one was sure if he would do it because of his commitments to Mourning Beloveth.
I think because our music, and Frank’s role in the band as a frontman, was so different than that of Mourning Beloveth it didn’t really create any creative conflicts for him. He enjoyed the music and it was probably something that allowed him to explore a different side of his creativity and performance.
I’ve never heard any of the Karnayna recordings and cant seem to find any samples on-line. Was there a big difference from the demos you recorded with that band compared to what eventually became Old Season?
Yes, but no also!
Yes because there is obviously a big difference in the Death Metal style of vocals in Karnyna, and the cleaner, Bruce Dickinson style of Old Season.
I fell in love with the Karnyna demo when I heard it in Anto’s house way back in 2001/2. I was immediately hit by the atmosphere and dark ambience between the keyboards and the intricate guitar melodies.
Although I had never quite heard the keyboards played like that in a metal band before, the overall sound of the demo had an early Amorphis feel to it.
We definitely tried to hold onto that overall sound in “Volume 1”, and elaborated on this throughout the next albums. The melodic nature of the band remained the same.
The evolution of the songs grew naturally around the new vocal style. With that range and style of vocal, it means that you can allow songs to go in a different direction than what can be done with the more guttural vocals.
From “Volume 1”, ‘The Claw’ was done with Darren on the Karnayna demo. It actually sounded great, as it did also with Frank.
However, with the clean vocals, songs could explore and emphasise a larger dynamic range, and really bring to life some of the subtle nuances within the melodic phrasing of the songs.
Your music has echoes of Bruce Dickinson’s solo work and elements of While Heaven Wept and My Dying Bide to me.
Who are your main influences? And what is the song-writing process in the band?
Iron Maiden have definitely been a major influence, particularly with Anto and John, and Frank previously.
They’re a foundational influence for a lot of metal bands in the last 20 years, including ourselves. However, there is a massive variety of influences within the band as each member has his own set of influences that they bring to the table.
I suppose While Heaven Wept and My Dying Bride were influential to a point. While Heaven Wept’s ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ and My Dying Bride’s ‘Turn Loose the Swans’ got many a spin in the Old Season HQ back in the day and these albums probably seeped into our subconscious through the amount of times they got played.
It is very hard for us to nail down specific influences because we all listen to such a variety of music, but some of the bands that come to mind would be Amorphis, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dream Theater, Opeth, Thin Lizzy and the list really goes on and on, sometimes extending outside the metal genres.
We try to blend them all very subtly, to the point where you could have 4 different people listening to the same song and have all of them name 4 different bands as possible influences.
The song -writing process for us, particularly in the last few years, is a very natural and enjoyable thing. Because there is a deep rooted respect for each other as musicians, the riffs and songs just seem to flow in the room.
I think because we’ve been through a lot as a band, and as friends, which has solidified us, along with general personal growth as people and musicians, we’ve created an environment for ourselves where everyone feels comfortable to write and share ideas free from criticism or judgement.
This really broadens the base from songs can emerge.
An example of how a song may emerge for us is Smyth, Jimmy K, or myself could come to rehearsals with a riff and everything else would rally behind it.
From there, myself and the others would explore the potential variants of that riff and try out other phrases that might work in conjunction with it. . We then put a basic structure on the song and as time goes by we edit it, play around with different ideas, then nail down the final structure with the vocals.
However, this process can often start with the bass, vocals or drums either. The great thing about playing in this band is that we get riffs and ideas from everywhere.
While I’m probably the most proactive (maybe just the loudest at times!), everyone else contributes, writes and arranges with me as a solid team.
There are times when I may have 75 – 100% of the song finished in my mind before I even bring it to the table. Jimmy K sometimes starts the process when he comes in with a riff that we all rally behind, John sometimes picks up the guitar and plays a piece or even an alteration of something we’ve done on guitars, or he might have a whole song idea that he wants us to jam out.
Anto could have a riff in his head and would just sing it out and the guitars would emulate it. Dave is your stereotypical bass player – super chilled, goes with the flow, but is super confident in his own capabilities when it comes to taking control of his own parts.
It’s amazing. Everyone has the ability to write and arrange songs and we all respect each other’s opinions. For me, this gives the music a lot of depth and dynamic, 6 writers are better than 1.
The new album ‘Beyond The Black’ welcomes new vocalist John Bonham to the fold.
Was the transition between vocalists a difficult one? And ,for this album, did the band write with John’s voice in mind or were the songs wrote before he entered the band?
The hardest part was finding John! It wasn’t easy finding a singer who fitted with us musically and personally. However, we can all say confidently that he was well worth the wait!
We found a good friend along with a great singer. The actual transition and adjustment to John’s style was very easy, mainly down to his professionalism, creativity and musical awareness.
John is very easy to work with. I think both him and I think similarly when it comes to developing a song.
He is full of ideas and always enthusiastic to try out different things. He really adds to the song-writing process because he has such a good grasp on all the instruments and is able to contribute outside of vocals.
For the most part, the songs on Beyond The Black were written, or started, before John arrived. We have a lot of new material at present and we have definitely written some of these with John in mind and he has also been involved in some from the start.
I know that ‘Archaic Creation’ was recorded with Chris Fielding at Whitby Studios in Cheshire and the results were quite amazing.
This time around you worked with Michael in Trackmix studios in Dublin. Can you compare what both recording experiences were like, and were you happy with the results this time around?
When we recorded with Chris, he was working at Foel Studios, Wales.
It was a great experience for us and we have very fond memories from that time. Chris is a real perfectionist and the set- up there was very professional.
The only real problem was the distance. If your travelling abroad, you really have to have every element of the songs completed with a solid schedule in mind.
If you spend too much time experimenting and messing around with parts it’s easy to go overtime and this will eat into someone else’s recording slot. There’s a lot of pressure in that environment and it’s not always conducive to a creative atmosphere.
The great thing about working with Michael in Trackmix is we had a lot of time between recording sessions and this allowed us time to get a feel for the parts that got recorded on any given day, we then could take it home, work on it, then make any alterations the next session.
It was much more relaxed and nothing got rushed. Michael is very professional, has great gear and really knows what he’s doing. He worked very hard for us on this album and we couldn’t recommend him enough. We were all very happy with the results.
I mean, every record is a learning experience that you bring with you into the next one. We have learned stuff now that I know will make the next album even better.
There was a lot on Archaic Creation that I wanted to improve on, mainly for the guitars, and I’m personally very happy that we achieved this on this record. I think we all really came together as a team on this and everyone helped each other out as much as possible.
The songs on ‘Beyond The Black’ seem to have taken on a more NWOBHM feel than before while still retaining that classic Old Season feel.
What do you think the future holds musically for Old Season? Will you ever veer into more modern styles of metal?
Yeah, a lot of people have mentioned the NWOBHM feel. We didn’t consciously write it like that but that’s what seemed to emerge.
I can hear it particularly on songs like ‘A New Dawn’, ‘Scavenger’, ‘Words From Beyond’ and some sections of the other songs. However, I think songs like ‘Journeyman’, ‘Nevermore’ and ‘The Void’ have a more modern feel, particularly with some of the heavy layers present on those songs.
There is a certain probability that we will veer into more modern styles, even if only for a brief period within a song. This is because we tend to blend styles as much as possible.
For us, it’s a real gift to have been able to experiment with so many styles and techniques over the years but still have it coming out as distinctively Old Season.
So yeah, it’s possible you could hear any style in there but we would obviously put some ‘Seasoning’ on it!
What are your views on illegal downloading and does it anger you to think people download music without paying for it?
It’s a double-edged sword really.
On the one hand, there is potential revenue leaking out for bands with regard to sales. On the other hand, bands like ourselves, without big financial backing, are getting their music disseminated globally to audiences who might not otherwise have interacted with the band.
The way I try to look at it is that anyone who downloads the album illegally is still a potential customer for other merchandise or may buy a ticket for a show.
My opinions on this have changed somewhat over the years.
A few years back, the thought of people downloading a band’s album illegally really angered me.
The fact that there were people going around stealing albums from bands seemed somewhat inhumane, with no thought on how it would affect a band’s ability to sustain itself to create the art that these people thought worthy of listening to.
However, with the passage of time, I see that this is just the climate of the industry. There’s no point getting angry because it’s not going to change. The industry, and the artists within it have just adjusted to it.
For the younger audiences, it’s a cultural thing not paying for music. However, music fans are music fans, and they always find a way to support their favourite bands, either through merchandise like clothing or vinyls, or through ticket sales.
Where can we expect to see you play live next?
We’re working on finalising some dates in Spring in Ireland.
As soon as theses are signed off you can check for updates on our social media platforms and website in the coming months.
We love playing and we’re always on the lookout for interesting shows and events to do, so we’ll see where this takes us into 2018. We will also keep an eye out for suitable shows in Europe for the summer and beyond.
Finally, Jimmy have you any words for anybody reading this interview?
On behalf of everyone in the band, I’d like to thank everyone for their support.
People have been contacting us through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTtube and our website wishing us well, congratulating us on the album, or sometimes just dropping in for a chat. We appreciate the contact and are always glad to speak to people.
Happy New Year to everyone, and lets all hope 2018 is one to remember (for the right reasons)! Cheers!
– Ollie Gill ::: 29/02/18