Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interview: Guitarist Chris Bennett of WIDOW

(above photo: WIDOW from left to right Chris Bennett - Lead Guitars & Vocals, Peter Lemieux - Drums and John E. Wooten IV - Lead Vocals & Bass)

While most states in America are comfortable at being defined by particular extreme metal genres (aka: California has thrash, Florida & New York have death metal, etc.) North Carolina can boast of having variety as well as top tier greatness. This is a state which has given extreme metal fans the world over top level bands like CORROSION OF CONFORMITY, TWISTED TOWER DIRE, CONFESSOR, BLOODSOAKED, WEEDEATER, DAYLIGHT DIES, AUTOMAG, MAN WILL DESTROY HIMSELF as well as past greats like SLUGNUT and DARKMOON just to name a few. For over a decade now another band has risen to appear on the list of NC Metal greatness. That band is WIDOW which formed in the winter of 2000 from the ashes of SORROW BEQUEST. The band has gone through a few line-up changes over the years, released four full lengths (all garnering critical as well as fan acclaim) and through touring across America as well as Europe has gained a dedicated following of true metal fans. Not too long ago the band signed to internationally known Pure Steel Records and in 2011 released their best full length to date Life's Blood which also appeared in Scumfeast Metal 666's Best of 2011 listings.

WIDOW has come a long way from their beginnings almost twelve years ago. In the process they've worked hard (and played hard so I've been told) as well as earned their place amongst NC's Metal greats. My words of praise for WIDOW do not come from friendship or mere hokey local band support. I like them because their sound is the pure embodiement of classic sounding early 80's influenced metal, an era I grew up in. Also their performances are always full on exciting to experience. 2012 doesn't see WIDOW slowing down at all. Still flying high from the release of Life's Blood the band will be hitting the road again this summer. One special gig for them is when they head back out west to support the legendary BITCH at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunday May 20. Also just announced WIDOW has been confirmed to play the Up the Hammers festival in Athens, Greece next year! The festival is March 7-9, 2013! and it will be the band's first time in Greece. Back in Febuary I asked guitarist Chris Bennett if he would be willing to talk about the band, it's history, influences, each full length, the present line-up and where they are headed next.
Interview by Mr. Wolf

SFM666 - Let's start at the beginning I remember when you and Johnny (Wooten) were in SORROW BEQUEST, a great band in it's own roght. What was the reason for ending that band and becoming WIDOW?

CHRIS - Thank you! Well, I was interested in starting a band that rehearsed where I live in New Bern. Plus, we were having some musical differences in Sorrow Bequest and I really wanted to form another band. I wanted to play the music that I grew up on! Traditional Metal is what I started with, and it was in my heart to play this style. It's funny because we considered Sorrow Bequest to be our "serious" band, and Widow was only supposed to be a fun, joke band. It's weird to think now we've released four albums and played a lot of places! But you never know what can happen. I'm really glad things worked out the way they did!

SFM666 - Your debut album Midnight Strikes from 2003 is considered by fans to be an impeccable homage to classic NWOBHM. It can easily sit next to early classics by MAIDEN. ANGEL WITCH, to name a few. Was that the formula which you were shooting for from the start?

CHRIS - Definitely the NWOBHM was and still is a huge influence. But we have really always tried to have our own sound. Even though those bands inspired us very much, we really have mixed in a lot of other influences too. I mean, we love thrash, death and black metal too along with punk rock and even hair metal haha! Also, a lot of the 70s rock has been an inspiration too. It seems like some bands want to just sound like Priest, or Maiden for example. I love them too, but we have always worked hard to have our own unique sound. I think having a broad spectrum of influences is key to forging your own identity.

SFM666 - Seeing the early part of that decade was not forgiving to traditional heavy metal sounds did you see WIDOW as breaking ground in a jaded metal scene?

CHRIS - There certainly was not many people playing the style when we started. But there were some great bands then that are still going today such as Twisted Tower Dire, Slough Feg, Wolf and so on. The funny thing is we never really thought too much about what we were doing with Widow, we just did it! We knew where our hearts were and went with it! It's amazing now to see so many people into traditional metal, I really wouldn't have thought that would happen! But I'm glad to see kids into the metal that I've grown up on! I really think a lot of them will be life long fans just like me!

SFM666 - Not long ago Midnight Strikes was re-issued now from what I read it was out of fan demand for it. How did that process all come about?

CHRIS - Matt from Tribunal Records, who originally released the album, started a reissue label called Divebomb Records. They have been doing lots of awesome reissues. He told me that lots of fans and distributors have been asking about Midnight Strikes. He said he wanted to reissue it so fans would have another chance to get the album, since it was long out of print. I was happy the people wanted to get it! So we were all for it! I think it came out great man! You also get our demo plus an enhanced video of a live show from 2004! It wasn't our best show so you might wanna have some drinks before you watch it hahahaha!

SFM666 - In 2005 a few things changed with WIDOW. You released On Fire which was on a fairly well known and respected label, Cruz Del Sur. Also you added a female vocalist to the line-up, Lili. Another thing about the release is that even though it displayed a Tipton/Downing and Smith/Murray guitar interaction it seemed like a darker atmosphere was going on with it. What was the reasons behind that album's, as well as line up change, direction?

CHRIS - Well, I was really happy with the first album and the direction of telling our own horror stories and such. But, I really wanted to continue that, but add a different dimension to the sound. I thought it would be really cool to have a female perspective, just a different angle for our story telling. I had seen Lili around and I knew she could sing. We asked her and she was into doing it. With us like I said earlier, we go where our hearts tell us to! If we get an idea we like, we don't think too hard we just go for it! It was funny how it came together, because we really didn't know how this would sound. But it worked great and there are people who like that album the best! I do think it was very different, and I think the album still holds up as being really good! We get a great reaction when we play some of the songs live!

SFM666 - I do like how you keep "An American Werewolf in Raleigh" in your set list as well as having it sit prominently amongst other newer cuts. If the opportunity ever arised would you re-record that album with the present line-up structure?

CHRIS - You know, I never say never, but right now I would say no we wouldn't re-record the album. The reason is because albums to me are about that moment in time. A lot of the stuff I record is my first take. I just play straight from the heart and we keep what comes out! I'm really all about the vibe, and I love how honestly that comes across in the music. I think that album was a moment for us, but the same thing goes for Nightlife and now with Life's Blood. I think we've always maintained our sound for Widow, but we've progressed along the way and changed the albums so that it's not like we released the same album twice. I don't think that would interest me to do that!

SFM666 - When you think about your guitar playing style would you consider yourself a Yngwie Malmsteen disciple?

CHRIS - Oh, I absolutely love Yngwie! He has been a huge influence. I even watched his instructional video haha! That's when I knew I would never be as good as him!!!!! I think there has been and still are lots of great shredders! I love that style, but I really just try to focus on being the best songwriter I can be. Don't get me wrong, I love great ripping solos and I'm a fan of many greats like Van Halen, Rhoads, LaRocque, Lynch, Jake E Lee, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman! But the song is the most important thing to me!

SFM666 - I've seen reviews were the writers described your 2007 release, Nightlife, as a return to your first album's sound and style. I had a different take on it. I believed it to be the perfect representation of WIDOW live. What are your thoughts on it?

CHRIS - Thanks man, that's great to hear! I loved the album and I agree, those songs are great in a live situation. With Lili out of the band, once again we just played what came out naturally. That album was different in many ways, the guitar sound was a bit different and the lyrics were a departure for us. They were more about the partying and life we'd been living out playing shows over those years! The album was more about us and what we were doing, instead of the more horror vibe! But I'm still happy with it! I'm happy with all our albums, every one of them was the absolute best we could do at the time! That's exactly where my head was at when it was released!

SFM666 - Another reason I had about Nightlife being a sort of live representaion of WIDOW was because of your inclusion of the KISS and VAN HALEN covers. Just like PRIEST made two cover songs their own staples you did the same. What was your reason behind those song choices?

CHRIS - Those bands were a major influence on us. I don't really see the point in doing a cover song that sounds exactly like the original. We wanted to take those songs and make them sound like Widow songs. I was happy because I do think it worked out! It was so much fun to do our own version, especially since I've loved both of those tracks since I was a kid! It was cool to do our own take on it! I love doing covers, we'll have some more covers we've recording coming in the next few years!!!!

SFM666 - Up until your most recent release, 2011's Life's Blood, you had a fairly regimented release cycle. Your previous releases came out within two years of each other. What were the reasons behind taking the extra time for Life's Blood?

CHRIS - I felt that we had to make an all around better album than we had ever made before. I have been happy with all of them, but I wanted to make something that we felt was better than all of them put together. We wanted better songs, better sound, a better album cover, everything. It took us a while, but I feel that we have done it! We all put so much work into this album, that's where the title comes from! We really have put our Life's Blood into making it! But almost unanimously, our fans and critics also have embraced the album. That feels really great, especially after how hard we've worked to make the best Widow album ever! Now we've got to make an even better one! Oh no hahaha!

SFM666 - Life's Blood also has it's fair share of changes within it. Most notably Johnny switching over to full time bass and WIDOW now as a trio. What's the story behind that?

CHRIS - When our last bass player was out of the band, we really didn't know what we were gonna do. Johnny had written almost all of the bass lines over the years. He was just like "I'll just play bass." I didn't really know what to think. I was nervous about playing live, and if we could do it! Man, i gotta say, things are the best now that they've ever been. I think we sound better than ever before. Things don't sound as muddy, it gives me room to play in my style without it being a blur of guitars. Johnny is great on bass, and him and Peter play great together. We are so happy! I guess now we'll have to do a Rush cover haha! Wish me luck!

SFM666 - One thing I noticed about Life's Blood is how your song craft has developed into including a stronger emphasis on melody that's catchy yet the song structures are still heavy. It's that key sound style which was of incredible importance to metal bands (mostly NWOBHM) in the 80's to breaking into AOR radio. Was this just a natural progression for you as a song writer or is just something you wanted to experiment with?

CHRIS - It was really natural. I've always been a fan of catch songs with big hooks. Stuff like Pyromania for example. Every song on that record is really great! With Life's Blood, we basically cut out all the excess, and just concentrated on making the best song we could. Sometimes making a catch, straightforward song is much harder than making a technical one! You would think it would be the other way around. Another thing I did was to make sure I didn't write down anything in advance. I felt if I can't just remember how the song goes, it's not good enough to be on the album anyway! I think this was really key to making sure every part of every song was really memorable!

SFM666 - Your two previous releases were on Cruz Del Sur records but now Life's Blood was put out by Germany's Pure Steel Records. What was the reason behind switching labels and how did you hook up with Pure Steel Records?

CHRIS - We had completed our contract with Cruz Del Sur Music and we wanted to seek a new label home. I had talked to the guys at Pure Steel before, and I knew they were fans of the band. I met them when we were in Germany. Basically, over some beers I just told them they should sign us. They agreed to it! I guess people will agree to anything when they're drunk! I'm happy with Pure Steel, they are great people and they are really behind us! They love Widow and they love Metal! Things are great!

SFM666 - Let me take you back to last year's NC Metalfest. You just returned from doing a few major shows / metal festivals out of state. Here you are returning to Raleigh and basically WIDOW were the headliners of the Metalfest (in my not so humble opinion). Sure you're going to get a good reception from a hometown crowd maybe better than most local bands. From my perspective it was more like heroes returning and being honored because everyone in that audience were tweaked like crazy people waiting for WIDOW to take the stage. What are your thoughts on the whole experience.

CHRIS - It was amazing! Yeah, there was definitely a special feeling in the air at this year's Metalfest! That was one of our best shows, and what a great occasion being the 20th anniversary! We have always had a lot of support from everyone here in North Carolina, but now it seems they are behind us more than ever! That makes us really proud, because we've had to work very hard for everything we've ever gotten! The Metalfest experience was so great, everybody was completely hyped and going crazy! It was also awesome to see so many new faces, of young kids that had never seen us before but rocked out and had a blast! I'm just ready to do it again!!!!

SFM666 - I know it's early in the year but does WIDOW have plans in the works for a return to playing Europe in 2012. Maybe another slot at the Sword Brothers Festival or even Wacken?

CHRIS - We've been working on doing a European tour to support Life's Blood. We've had some offers come our way, and we're trying to figure out what will be best for us. Right now, we are doing a full North American tour this summer, so we are really excited about that. And we do want to get back to Europe, it was amazing when we were there! I'm so grateful to be able to play the places we have played, and to be going to more places with Life's Blood! We wanna go everywhere so if you want Widow, you can get it!!!!!

SFM666 - Last one so where are the Life's Blood t-shirts? I mean come on that cover would be cool as fuck on a t-shirt, black of course.

CHRIS - We've got Life's Blood shirts now! They are ready, and they really did come out great! They'll be out on the tour with us, so come get one! Thanks so much Wolf, this has been an in depth interview haha! Thanks to all the Widow fans all over the world! You keep us rocking!!! Cheers everybody, see you at the bar . . . .

For more WIDOW check em out at the following: