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Exclusive! Interview With Nile Guitarist Dallas Toller-Wade

By Chris Hawkins, Contributor
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 “remember a time when it was done right” 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 “underground” 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 Nile’s 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: It’s 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 that’s 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 it’s going to continue to be here. It isn’t 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. I’ve 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 doesn’t 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, “Nile!” It was great. We had a lucky break like that actually in ’99 when we got to play Dynamo. Ever since then we’ve had a lot of followers in Holland. We played the Metallica ‘fest 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 I’m in front of crowds like that, I really don’t look up. I really just try to stay busy and focused on my guitar and singing. If I start to think about it, I’ll 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. It’s like 100% Metal. It’s not flavor of the week for them. I like touring here, though, just because it’s home. There’s no communication barrier. I just love this damn country. It’s nice to see it. Now we’re touring in buses, but before we could afford that, we were touring in a van and able to see everything. That’s very cool. It’s 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 “Sarcophagus,” 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 “Sarcophagus,” other things were added to it later on. It’s 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, you’re rocking out, and the guitar’s 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? They’re 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 don’t get too much genre-crossing into it because there’s a real unapologetic approach to what I think is Metal. A lot of the stuff I’m hearing on Headbangers Ball isn’t Metal. Of course, they’re 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 [Exodus’] “Toxic Waltz.” They played “Toxic Waltz” the other night. That was killer. As long as they keep it true Metal then I’m 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 process…[guitarist] Karl [Sanders] and I have recording stuff at home. We’ll 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 we’re on the road it’s like, “Hey, I’ve got this riff idea.” It’s a lot of teamwork and keeping up with each other as far as what goes on in our heads and what not. That’s 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, “Execration Text,” Karl said, “I’ve got this set of lyrics, check it out.” He gave it to me, and a week later I had a song for it. It’s all about teamwork. That’s basically the process. It’s real casual.

“We’re all tuned in, and we’ve been doing [songwriting] long enough to where it’s real casual. We can be meticulous without being assholes about it.”
KNAC.COM: It sounds so meticulous, though. It’s so fine-tuned.
DALLAS: We’ve all been playing a long time. Karl’s been playing guitar for 20 years. I’ve been playing for 16, 17 years now. Jon, the bass player we have now, he’s been playing in bands for about the same length of time, and our drummer, Tony as well. We’re all tuned in, and we’ve been doing it long enough to where it’s real casual. We can be meticulous without being assholes about it. It’s real easy because it’s so fun.

KNAC.COM: Fun is what it’s all about at the end of the day, though, right?
DALLAS: Yeah, you know if it’s not fun, then I’m not going to do it anymore. I’ll 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, it’s 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. That’s 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, I’ve been in the band since ‘97, and it’s 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 haven’t seen in a while who will hopefully come out. I understand if people have to work and can’t come out. It’s really cool to me that this town finally has a place to play. When we were coming up, there really wasn’t anywhere to play. Things fizzled out in the mid ‘90s 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 year… 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 it’s paying off. Now I’m able to pay my bills, and I’ve got way too much free time in my hands. It’s pretty cool. It’s what I always wanted to do, and I always knew it could be done. I totally understand that bills have to be paid, and it’s not all fun and games. It’s not all fun and games. I busted my ass for this band, and that’s what it takes.

KNAC.COM: What kind of rig are you playing through?
DALLAS: Right now I’m using the Marshall 9100 Dual Mono-bloc power amp, which is 100 watts per side. I’m also using Metal’s 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 February…
DALLAS: Yeah! That’s a great band! That’s one of my favorite bands. We’re running all of that through Marshall cabs, and we now have a Dean guitar endorsement. Those things are sounding and playing great. We’re really happy with that. I’ve been a Flying V player since way back, and being able to get Flying V’s at an affordable price that are just as good… you look at the wood, everything. The wood is good quality wood. I play a ‘79 series, which is a reissue of the Dean Flying V from ’79. We actually got to meet the founder in Chicago. Karl had ordered a custom guitar and he hand-delivered it to the show. They’re a great company to work with. Anything to make our lives easier is great.

KNAC.COM: You’re 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. It’s very grueling and painstaking sometimes because it’s so fragile. We’ve 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, “Screw it!” 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. It’s just the four of us, man.

KNAC.COM: It’s almost reminiscent of Rush!
DALLAS: Yeah, I’ve actually heard people call us the Rush of Heavy Metal, which is really cool in a way that we’re able to pull it off live. It’s like tonight; we’ve been getting a lot of requests for “Unas Slayer of the Gods.” We never thought we’d be playing that. It’s like a 12-minute epic song. People are asking for it, though…

"There’s sections in the songs where you really feel that you’re standing in the middle of the desert surrounded by carcasses being eaten by vultures."
KNAC.COM: That’s actually my favorite track off In Their Darkened Shrines
DALLAS: Yeah, everybody asks for it. We were reluctant, but people were asking for it so we’re playing it. That’s just really cool because it’s something a lot of bands aren’t doing nowadays. People haven’t really written 12-minute songs since the ‘70s. To see that we’re able to do it and especially in the style of music that we play and keep it interesting…

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. I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s real repetitive, but that’s some of the most evil, aggressive music I’ve ever heard. We toured with those guys, and they were amazing. That is the baddest guitar player I’ve 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. I’ve never seen anybody that can play guitar like that. Some of the stuff he does to me is beyond [Yngwie] Malmsteen. He’s faster than Yngwie…way faster.

KNAC.COM: Do you guys write while you’re 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 don’t want to look at it. We’re 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, we’ll probably have a new record.

KNAC.COM: Any new concepts floating around?
DALLAS: I’ve had this one idea…you know that scene in Conan the Barbarian where he’s fighting that huge snake? I wanted to do some kind of serpent-slaying kind of thing. That’s kind of what we do anyway. We have a lot of stuff about snakes. That’s straight out of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. There are snake resurrection chants, and there’s all this stuff. There are thousands of years of history and culture to write about. It’s not like we’re writing about Satan or anything. Compared to the stuff we’re talking about. The stuff we’re talking about pre-dates it by thousands of years. Satan and the whole Jesus thing, to me, is like the Johnny-come-lately. It’s 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 don’t. The Egyptian thing is just heavier.

KNAC.COM: It’s definitely a different take on things.
DALLAS: Exactly. It’s about as Pagan as it gets. You can’t 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 doesn’t 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. It’s very interesting stuff. It makes good songs. It paints good pictures. You can really see it. There’s sections in the songs where you really feel that you’re standing in the middle of the desert surrounded by carcasses being eaten by vultures. You can feel that destitution. That’s what it’s 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, “Wow, I totally get this!” That’s 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. They’re 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.

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