Exclusive! Interview With Nile Guitarist Dallas Toller-Wade
Sunday, February 22, 2004 @ 9:12 PM
Toller-Wade Discusses Touring,
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Death Metal can often be a volatile sub-section of the Metal spectrum for many fans. There are the purists, the ones who constantly ďremember a time when it was done rightĒ and there are also those who refuse to accept any band with any form of notoriety or critical acclaim. The point is that Death Metal fans at the end of the day are probably the pickiest of any genre. What else can one expect, though? Here we have an art form that has been everything but completely shunned by the mainstream media, and left to ferment underground with only the most die-hard fans keeping the scene alive. The tide is beginning to turn, though. It seems that Metal in general is generating an unprecedented momentum, and what was ďundergroundĒ several years ago is being brought more and more to the surface.
Enter Nile. While other Death Metal veterans continue to make the same record (no names need be mentioned), this band is reinventing the genre. Nile shines brighter than the rest, not only because of their unique Egyptian themes, but also because of their 100% top-notch songwriting. Listening to a Nile record is at once a lesson in brutality and an invocation of something deeper. What each listener gains from the experience may differ, but ultimately, Nile has expanded the genre while not alienating die-hard Death Metal fans.
It was awesome to speak with Nileís guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade. It must be said that the guitarist hails from the same hometown as I (Fayetteville, NC), making the interview before their gig here almost like a homecoming. Though North Carolina may seem to be the middle of nowhere to most people, myself included, it has produced some great Metal in the form of said band. Read on!
KNAC.COM: How has the tour been going? DALLAS: Itís been going pretty good. I think more extreme styles of music are starting to catch on. It never totally died, of course. Heavy Metal is something thatís always been here when all the other bubblegum-chewing genres of music forced on us by radio and everything have come and gone. Metal has always been here since Steppenwolf, and itís going to continue to be here. It isnít really intended for the 6 billion humans on the planet, but it is for a certain amount, and the people that are into are really into it. Iíve been dedicated to Heavy Metal since I was probably 10 years old.
KNAC.COM: Nile has been able to play with more and more high profile acts and has toured virtually non-stop -- when was the last time you had a break? DALLAS: We had some breaks this past summer, but we did a lot of stuff overseas, too. We did Wacken Open-Air. Slayer headlined, and we got the luckiest spot in the house. We got to go on right before Slayer. It doesnít get any better than that. There were like 30,000 people there. It was really the highlight of our career to play in front of that kind of crowd and to look as far as you can see, and see the horns flying up screaming, ďNile!Ē It was great. We had a lucky break like that actually in í99 when we got to play Dynamo. Ever since then weíve had a lot of followers in Holland. We played the Metallica Ďfest in Holland this year, which was pretty cool. We ended up playing under the same tent. There was about 8-10,000 watching us. It was intense. When Iím in front of crowds like that, I really donít look up. I really just try to stay busy and focused on my guitar and singing. If I start to think about it, Iíll start to freeze up.
KNAC.COM: As far as audiences go, do you prefer Europe or the U.S.? DALLAS: I like it all. I like touring Europe. The people there are not trendy at all. Itís like 100% Metal. Itís not flavor of the week for them. I like touring here, though, just because itís home. Thereís no communication barrier. I just love this damn country. Itís nice to see it. Now weíre touring in buses, but before we could afford that, we were touring in a van and able to see everything. Thatís very cool. Itís strenuous touring in a van, but it has its ups, too, because you get to see the country.
KNAC.COM: You guys just did a video, right? DALLAS: Yeah, we did two videos, and one of them for the song ďSarcophagus,Ē which is on our last record, In Their Darkened Shrines. We flew into LA for a day and did both videos in one day. Being that it was more of a conceptual thing for ďSarcophagus,Ē other things were added to it later on. Itís got footage of us playing the songs. They use that, but it was really more of a storyline or whatever. It was a really strange experience, actually. Getting up there, youíre rocking out, and the guitarís not even plugged into anything. It felt kind of cheesy. The one thing that I always hated growing up -- and anyone that knew me in this town knows this -- is that I was always anti-Hair Metal. I was always just ragging on poseurs. I wanted to play louder and faster than anybody. Back then you had Hair Metal cover bands, and it just made me want to vomit. We got stuck in some old school building thrashing it up. It was cool.
KNAC.COM: What are your thoughts on the return of Headbangers Ball? Theyíre playing your video! DALLAS: I think the fact that Headbangers Ball is back is a good thing; however, I hope that they keep it heavy. I hope they donít get too much genre-crossing into it because thereís a real unapologetic approach to what I think is Metal. A lot of the stuff Iím hearing on Headbangers Ball isnít Metal. Of course, theyíre putting stuff like the new Nevermore video and the new Hate Eternal on there. They need to break out that stuff and the old thrashers like [Exodusí] ďToxic Waltz.Ē They played ďToxic WaltzĒ the other night. That was killer. As long as they keep it true Metal then Iím really happy about it.
KNAC.COM: In Their Darkened Shrines is unrelenting from start to finish yet has melodies that just stay with you. What was the songwriting process for that like? DALLAS: Most of the songwriting processÖ[guitarist] Karl [Sanders] and I have recording stuff at home. Weíll demo out stuff and let the guys listen to it and see what they think. We work on it together from that point on. Most of the arrangements are done with me and Karl together or separate. Even when weíre on the road itís like, ďHey, Iíve got this riff idea.Ē Itís a lot of teamwork and keeping up with each other as far as what goes on in our heads and what not. Thatís basically the songwriting process. It starts from a lyrical point of view. The songs are lyric-based. For instance, one of the songs I wrote for the last album, ďExecration Text,Ē Karl said, ďIíve got this set of lyrics, check it out.Ē He gave it to me, and a week later I had a song for it. Itís all about teamwork. Thatís basically the process. Itís real casual.
ďWeíre all tuned in, and weíve been doing [songwriting] long enough to where itís real casual. We can be meticulous without being assholes about it.Ē
KNAC.COM: It sounds so meticulous, though. Itís so fine-tuned. DALLAS: Weíve all been playing a long time. Karlís been playing guitar for 20 years. Iíve been playing for 16, 17 years now. Jon, the bass player we have now, heís been playing in bands for about the same length of time, and our drummer, Tony as well. Weíre all tuned in, and weíve been doing it long enough to where itís real casual. We can be meticulous without being assholes about it. Itís real easy because itís so fun.
KNAC.COM: Fun is what itís all about at the end of the day, though, right? DALLAS: Yeah, you know if itís not fun, then Iím not going to do it anymore. Iíll go on and do something else.
KNAC.COM: What about scales and such? How do you approach the guitar with Egypt in mind? DALLAS: Well, itís pretty simple really. I took music theory when I was younger in high school. That really helped me put together what the guitar neck was really about and where all the notes were. I have a pretty decent memory with that type of thing. I just know the scales. I know the modes. Harmonic Minor and Phrygian are about as Egyptian as it gets. We use a lot of that. We use a lot of more diminished type stuff, too, which is more towards the Death Metal side of guitar. Thatís pretty much it. When I started jamming with Karl, we kind of had the same ideas when it came to how we looked at the guitar. It kind of fit.
KNAC.COM: It sounds like you guys click well together. DALLAS: Yeah, Iíve been in the band since Ď97, and itís just been great. It just works.
KNAC.COM: How does it feel to be back in your home town? DALLAS: Being back in Fayetteville is pretty cool. I have some old friends I havenít seen in a while who will hopefully come out. I understand if people have to work and canít come out. Itís really cool to me that this town finally has a place to play. When we were coming up, there really wasnít anywhere to play. Things fizzled out in the mid Ď90s because it was so hard to find serious musicians at the time. Nobody really had the mentality to go out and do what I did later in Nile which was to starve for a yearÖ not eat, not sleep, and not bathe and promote this band. I believed in what I did, and I believed in what the band was doing. Now itís paying off. Now Iím able to pay my bills, and Iíve got way too much free time in my hands. Itís pretty cool. Itís what I always wanted to do, and I always knew it could be done. I totally understand that bills have to be paid, and itís not all fun and games. Itís not all fun and games. I busted my ass for this band, and thatís what it takes.
KNAC.COM: What kind of rig are you playing through? DALLAS: Right now Iím using the Marshall 9100 Dual Mono-bloc power amp, which is 100 watts per side. Iím also using Metalís best kept secret which is a Peavey Rockmaster tube preamp. Actually, Devin Townsend told me when we were touring with Strapping Young Lad that he used to have the exact same set-up and really liked it.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, I saw you guys with SYL at Jaxx last FebruaryÖ DALLAS: Yeah! Thatís a great band! Thatís one of my favorite bands. Weíre running all of that through Marshall cabs, and we now have a Dean guitar endorsement. Those things are sounding and playing great. Weíre really happy with that. Iíve been a Flying V player since way back, and being able to get Flying Vís at an affordable price that are just as goodÖ you look at the wood, everything. The wood is good quality wood. I play a Ď79 series, which is a reissue of the Dean Flying V from í79. We actually got to meet the founder in Chicago. Karl had ordered a custom guitar and he hand-delivered it to the show. Theyíre a great company to work with. Anything to make our lives easier is great.
KNAC.COM: Youíre still using the computer set-up on stage? DALLAS: Yeah, we have the computer. Karl has a guitar synth so we can play all the sounds on the record live. Itís very grueling and painstaking sometimes because itís so fragile. Weíve got a laptop now. We used to actually tour with a 24-space rack with a home pc in it. It was all MIDI, and it was costing too much to go to Europe. It was costing us like $3000 every time we went to Europe. So we were like, ďScrew it!Ē We spent 3 grand on a killer laptop. Tony, our drummer, has drum pads that he can play gongs, bells, and timpanis on. Karl also has another pedal over here where he can play choirs and stuff on. Itís just the four of us, man.
KNAC.COM: Itís almost reminiscent of Rush! DALLAS: Yeah, Iíve actually heard people call us the Rush of Heavy Metal, which is really cool in a way that weíre able to pull it off live. Itís like tonight; weíve been getting a lot of requests for ďUnas Slayer of the Gods.Ē We never thought weíd be playing that. Itís like a 12-minute epic song. People are asking for it, thoughÖ
"Thereís sections in the songs where you really feel that youíre standing in the middle of the desert surrounded by carcasses being eaten by vultures."
KNAC.COM: Thatís actually my favorite track off In Their Darkened ShrinesÖ DALLAS: Yeah, everybody asks for it. We were reluctant, but people were asking for it so weíre playing it. Thatís just really cool because itís something a lot of bands arenít doing nowadays. People havenít really written 12-minute songs since the Ď70s. To see that weíre able to do it and especially in the style of music that we play and keep it interestingÖ
KNAC.COM: Nile has been able to break that mold, though, and add some diversity to Death Metal. Instead of being a constant blast beat, there are peaks and valleys. DALLAS: Some people are really good at it. One of my favorite bands in the world right now would be Krisiun. Iíve heard a lot of people say that itís real repetitive, but thatís some of the most evil, aggressive music Iíve ever heard. We toured with those guys, and they were amazing. That is the baddest guitar player Iíve seen in my life. Not only can he play brutal, shredding Death Metal, he can play all kinds of guitar. He can play Flamenco. He can play Classical. People are saying he must have sold his soul to play like that. Iíve never seen anybody that can play guitar like that. Some of the stuff he does to me is beyond [Yngwie] Malmsteen. Heís faster than YngwieÖway faster.
KNAC.COM: Do you guys write while youíre on the road? DALLAS: Some. We may have a few guitar ideas here and there, but most of it is when we get into our little zones at home. Sometimes touring is a big inspiration. Sometimes I come off the road and set my studio up, but sometimes I donít want to look at it. Weíre definitely going to need a break after this tour. This is the third American tour for this record. Some time at the end of the year, weíll probably have a new record.
KNAC.COM: Any new concepts floating around? DALLAS: Iíve had this one ideaÖyou know that scene in Conan the Barbarian where heís fighting that huge snake? I wanted to do some kind of serpent-slaying kind of thing. Thatís kind of what we do anyway. We have a lot of stuff about snakes. Thatís straight out of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. There are snake resurrection chants, and thereís all this stuff. There are thousands of years of history and culture to write about. Itís not like weíre writing about Satan or anything. Compared to the stuff weíre talking about. The stuff weíre talking about pre-dates it by thousands of years. Satan and the whole Jesus thing, to me, is like the Johnny-come-lately. Itís cool if people want to play that angle if they believe it, but in my reality, that whole Satan side of Death Metal has been done over and over again. Some people do it good. Some donít. The Egyptian thing is just heavier.
KNAC.COM: Itís definitely a different take on things. DALLAS: Exactly. Itís about as Pagan as it gets. You canít get much more Pagan than that. Nothing that we sing about in this band reflects our personal beliefs. We all have our own beliefs. I, personally, am an Atheist, but that doesnít reflect what Karl might think or what Jon or Tony might think. Most of the Egyptian themes are stuff that Karl has been interested in, and he reads about. Itís very interesting stuff. It makes good songs. It paints good pictures. You can really see it. Thereís sections in the songs where you really feel that youíre standing in the middle of the desert surrounded by carcasses being eaten by vultures. You can feel that destitution. Thatís what itís all about, painting that picture so people can get an image. When I was growing up and listening to records, I used to sit there and stare at the album cover like, ďWow, I totally get this!Ē Thatís what we want. We want people to totally get it from one side of the album cover all the way through the booklet to the other side while listening to the music. Fuck pictures. Theyíre not important. What we want to do is give people as much information on a disc, and we did a pretty decent job last time. I think In Their Darkened Shrines is right under an hour so we really turned it out for that one.