It’s been almost 10 years since Whitechapel played St. Petersburg’s famed courtyard venue, Jannus Live, but that doesn’t mean Whitechapel guitarist, Ben Savage forgot about the place.
“We played there on our very first Summer Slaughter. We were opening Summer Slaughter that year, and Black Dahlia Murder was headlining, and that was right before This is Exile came out.” Savage told CL in a phone interview while in Chicago, the band’s first stop of its current tour with Black Dahlia Murder. Savage spent a nice chunk of time on the phone reminiscing on old songs, the band’s past, friends long gone and songs that make him cry.
He even spilled the beans on a new album and upcoming signature beer. Read our full Q&A and get more information on the show below.
So the tour kicks off tonight in Chicago, do you think that’ll be a sweet place to start things off?
Chicago is a very exciting city for us, they are always top-notch here.
So, it’s been a while since you played at Jannus Live, do you remember the last show you played at Jannus?
Is that an outdoor venue?
It’s been there for over 10 years?
Yeah, it’s been there for a good while.
Yeah, we’ve played there, yeah. It’s got a really tall stage. I think we played there on our very first Summer Slaughter, which we were opening Summer Slaughter that year, and Black Dahlia Murder was headlining, and that was right before This is Exile came out. I mean it’s probably been almost 10 years ago and now we are headlining, so that’s really cool. I remember that show being really awesome. I’ve actually seen a show there. We were playing Warped Tour in 2010 and like down the street In This Moment and Hell Yeah! Were playing a show there, and I think the place has gotten cooler since the last time I saw it.
Speaking of Warped Tour 2010, I know it’s a bit of an absurd question, but do you remember the set you played in St. Pete at Vinoy Park? There was a hurricane or a tropical storm coming through and it seemed make landfall right as Whitechapel started it’s set.
I could remember playing a show in Florida, and was it like beside a body of water?
Ok, then yeah, I do remember that. I do remember the hurricane coming in.
Nice. Personally, that was one of the more memorable shows that I’ve been to for that reason alone.
Awesome. That’s cool, man.
I was curious, you guys have mentioned the difference between European crowds and the American crowds, but last year you guys toured in the Asian market, and I was curious, is there a difference between the Asian market and the other two markets?
Yes definitely in like China, the Chinese seemed pretty reserved, Japanese as well, they were really respectful, they gave cheers after the song was done, but like we played Philippines and Indonesia as well, and those people went off because they don’t really get shows that much, so yeah, it was definitely cool, people made special flags with their home country on it for us, and we don’t really get that anywhere else so they’re really sensitive and respectful people.
Very cool, I heard somewhere that they’ll burst out into applause after a set, any truth behind that?
Yeah, like in Japan they do. They’ll yell too, but they clap, but you’d clap too after you see a good set, anyone does.
So you’ve been with Whitechapel since the beginning, and the band has kinda made the metal sound kind of the norm, but I was wondering what the reaction among the people of Tennessee when you all first started out? I remember a few people being a bit scared of Whitechapel when I introduced them to the band.
Maybe not scared, but I remember they definitely thought it was pretty heavy and this definitely something they haven’t heard before.
Yeah, it kinda helped with getting us recognition. We got known and got people to come out to the show. When we came up in Knoxville we just played rec centers and rented spaces that you’d bring and they’d have a P.A. system and let us play. So I mean, just being that sort of band there kinda got us talked about and a bunch of bands from our area sprouted up around that time. They had our sort of style and just seven string guitars, you know, that whole scene, which kind of died pretty quickly in our area — it only lasted a couple of years, but it definitely got us talked about and got us more shows around our region, you know, more shows to Florida. I think the first time we played Florida was like our second tour ever we played in some hookah shop in Jacksonville or something. It was rough. But it helped us booking shows and stuff.
Did it help being in Tennessee? I mean Nashville isn’t too far away, did that help with any connections in the music scene at all?
Yeah, sure. It did, but it’s just like we didn’t get any big connections. I mean our first label is from the U.K. and they heard about us through MySpace, so I mean, it didn’t really matter honestly that we played Nashville, I mean Nashville is three-and-half-hours away from us. We’re from a smaller city so we didn’t really have any big connections, what we did was we just played shows, we packed our cars up with gear and wrote and showed up at shows. We wrote full-length records, we put out two EPs first and then we put out a full-length record, which kind of got us recognized. A full record is easier to shop out, especially with a theme, just like the Jack the Ripper thing we had.
Yeah, actually I wanted to ask about that, obviously the name Whitechapel came from the Whitechapel district and Jack the Ripper, but was The Somatic Defilement about placing yourself in the shoes of Jack the Ripper?
Yeah, it was. I guess it is from the perspective of Jack the Ripper. I didn’t write the lyrics but what I take from it, it is from the perspective of Jack the Ripper and there are some songs from another person’s perspective.
And I know you didn’t write the lyrics, but do you know if Phil (Bozeman) did a lot of research behind the Whitechapel or was it more like I said, just placing yourself in Jack’s shoes?
Yeah, when we started the band he was about it. He did his research, you know, one of the songs “Fairy Fay” which is one the victims of Jack the Ripper. When we wrote that record it was exciting, it was cool to have a theme, we wanted to write some dirty, heavy music. We were on MySpace, as that generation was, and there were bands coming out at the time that made it a whole movement with heavy metal at the time. Job for a Cowboy, Suicide Silence, Animosity, The Faceless, The Acacia Strain, and all those bands, we kind of wanted to make our own sound around that music. So that formed us, and we started writing. We worked day jobs and went to our guitarist at the time, Brandon Cagle's house afterwards and write riffs, and write songs and eat Little Caesar's Hot-n-Ready pizzas. That was like all we did.
Oh man, you can't beat five-buck Hot-n-Ready pizzas.
Yeah, we were poor at the time so, I mean. I was just out of high school, the other guys are older than me and it's what we wanted to do, we didn't want to go to school or work these day jobs anymore we just wanted to tour. Yeah that's what we wanted to do, and that's what we did. We had that vision.
Are you classically trained in guitar or do you play it all by ear?
I'm not able read music, but I understand basic music theory, not like advanced music theory or anything but like intermediate sort of thing, and I understand this chord will sound good played after this one and this sounds like a cool bridge transition, but that's the main thing about music, like jazz people will tell you they learn as much as they can and they throw the theory out the window, because it's all about your ear at the end of the day, and there are genius musicians out there that don't know a lick of theory and they just use their ear, so I mean, if you have a brain and you can think of something cool, I mean if there’s a will there’s a way.
If you're willful enough to make it happen, you can make it happen. You obviously have to practice, you can't just go into it like "OK, I'm gonna make a great song now" you have to practice it, you gotta put the time in. Once you do you have to use your imagination, and set standards for yourself regarding what you're gonna put out there in the world, and you gotta be critical of yourself.
Makes sense to me. So how do you know when you write something on guitar or just inside your head, and you just know you gotta bring it to the guys?
Yeah, the thing with me is I'll record tons of things, I'll look for any idea that I have, and like 95-percent of it I won't use for the band. I'll email it or I'll just show it to the guys and they won't have a good reaction to it, so I'm just like "OK, well that's not good," So you just keep writing, you don't stop.
And is that how you get over a creative block?
Yeah, you just push forward.
Is there anything that sparks creativity? Any weird inspirations, like I spoke to a bassist at a reggae festival, and he told me cartoons inspired him, anything like that?
Uh, I don't know. It's kinda just the spirit of writing music, you know, like the people who have done it before us, so it's like the forefathers that wrote great songs, I kinda harness that spirit. I'm just trying to write a great song, or just have fun with it. I'm not trying to over stress, because that's another thing, I get stressed out a lot about, like it's not good enough or I can't think of anything, then that's the point where I should just put the instrument down and take a breather but ya'know. But I stay conscious, and it just gets me sad most of the time but yeah, kinda harnessing that spirit of musical ancestry, and all that. Movies, documentaries, whatever. Everything is inspiring, a cartoon with a cool soundtrack can be inspiring. Really anything, man. You can pull inspiration from anywhere, it's out there in the ether, you just have to tune in on it.
OK. Would you ever write a cartoon soundtrack or anything like that if given the chance?
Yeah, that would be cool. I'm very picky, I'm very hard on myself, I might not be the guy for it but. It'll probably take forever to complete and that's the thing, when you create you're mining ideas out of yourself and once you get those ideas out and put them into a song, you can't use those again, because you just repeat yourself and that's one thing I try not to do, we try not to repeat ourselves and that's why our sound has changed so much over the years because we don't want to repeat ourselves because it doesn't sound genuine.
I see, I think it's a sign of evolving and shows you guys are getting better and more aware.
Yeah, you're right. So yeah, you just mine yourself so you can't use that idea again so you have to go somewhere else. So if I wrote a soundtrack to a movie and I come up with a cool idea, like a cool concept I'm stoked on, I couldn't use it for anything else, so they would just have it. So in order for me to do that, I have to justify myself, I can't just give out.
So if you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be? And would it be metal?
Man, I'd like really like to make music with one of my best friends from high school, he passed away eight years ago, he was an amazing musician, singer, pianist. Named Andrew Bletzo, he sang in mine and Phil's old band called Psychotic Behavior and he just passed away from a heart condition.
Oh man, I'm sorry about that.
Yeah, that was in 2010 and we were gonna record an album of his that January and he died in December. It's one of those things I wish I could have made more music with him. We made a lot of music together but we could have made more, and that's probably the one person I'd want to collaborate with. It'd be like guitar-piano based music. He used to sing in a metal band too, so they'd have heavy riffs, or he'd be singing. After he died it was a very rough time, I kinda used his spirit on the next Whitechapel album, the self-titled record, and that's the record where I had something to prove, I wanted to prove it to him and everyone else. So yeah, I kinda harnessed his energy and tried to use it for something good, something positive. He'd be the one person, but if someone was living... I'm a good collaborator. I love collaborating with a good singer that's also a pianist. Name somebody, I'm not picky.
I can't think of anybody off hand, but the idea sounds cool. I mean, Winds of Plague had that symphonic keyboard, and the heavy metal, so I could see how it'd work.
I wouldn't do a heavy metal band because I put all of my heavy metal ideas into Whitechapel so that mind is already getting extradited, like I'd use it for something else, like another style of music. Probably rock, alternative music.
OK, cool. As I mentioned earlier, I covered a reggae festival, and I talked to Geoff Weers, the singer and guitarist of The Expendables and he said he'd like to make a metal album with Slightly Stoopid which was pretty interesting.
Oh wow, interesting. Those are kinda like reggae jam bands, right?
Yeah, they're jam bands. Kind of stoner-ish, they sing that song "Bowl for Two." So I gotta ask. People are usually quick to write metal off and associate metal with hate and anger. I was wondering what you're take on that was? I mean I don't associate it with those things, but some people do. What do you gotta say to those people?
Well they probably didn't grow up listening to it, they just hear it and they're just like "Ouch, that's loud." I mean it's fine, I was just exposed to it early, like my dad showed me Tool and Metallica and it grew from there, my friend showed me Pig Destroyer and I was like. "Holy shit, this is insane."
Yeah, it's just something that started out at a young age. It's the teenage angst. You're mad, and it all spawns from that. If our parents were teenagers metal would be alive because that first response is from your parents, you're living in their house, maybe you don't have a good household so you're mad about that. The music serves as a speaker, so like shit changes and it kind of brings you into another world. Metal music is powerful, sounds superhuman.
OK. Obviously music means a lot to you, but what does it mean to you? Besides a source of income, your lifestyle, and all that. What was the thought process behind "I want to be a musician and I am gonna be a musician"?
I just thought it was the coolest thing I could do, like I could make songs, put it out there. Music is cool, it's kinda like magic in a way, you make songs and you can't grab a song or pick up a song. It's in the air, it's out there. I just always thought that was cool, and my uncle turned me onto playing guitar. The first time I saw him playing guitar I was like, "Oh my God, it's sorcery. I got hooked to it. It's one of those things that I loved researching. The bands, the history of music, where it comes from and the evolution of it is insane to me. Just the thought that you can always write a better song, you can get better at it. It's like a journey. The journey of it kind is really exciting.
That's really cool. So, the last recorded album from Whitechapel was back in 2016, are you guys working on anything? I know the tour just kicked off and all.
Actually, yeah. The rhythm guitars for the new album are all done, yeah we just need vocals, guitar layers and bass to it. Yeah, the record is written. It's gonna be released next year.
Nice. Early 2019 or late 2019?
So speaking of rhythm guitar and stuff like that. How do you balance out three guitars in the band?
Um, well it's kinda like recording. Bands have two rhythm guitars. Rhythm guitar on the left, rhythm guitar on right, bass and leads, and overdubs in the middle, and that can't be done live, so we just recreate that [in a live setting]. So when that lead part is going on we've got two rhythms on the side keeping it heavy and it just makes us a heavier live band, and we have more than three guitarists in the band. Phil plays guitar too, and we have a well of ideas that we can choose from so it makes our albums more solid, some bands have two or three solid songs on a record and the rest of them are kinda like throwaways, so I feel like we take pride in that we actually write records better. Good all the way through and we can pull it off live.
OK, so speaking of Phil. I know you guys have talked to death about his clean vocals, but I was wondering, did he have any formal training behind it or did he just record and hoped for the best?
Before Whitechapel, like I mentioned earlier, Andrew, my friend that died, Phil used to sing with him in our other band, he used to harmonize singing vocals. Phil could always do it, he never had any formal training though, he's just one of those musical savants that could just pick up anything and get really good at it fast.
You said Phil plays guitar? Does he ever write any riffs?
Yeah, yeah he does. He wrote a riff on the new album, he wrote a riff on Mark of the Blade, he actually wrote the verse and chorus in “Mark of the Blade,” he wrote the bridge riff in "Let Me Burn" he wrote most of "Ear to Ear" on the first album. When he gets inspired, he'll come up with one or two ideas that he's all about, and he always wants us to work on those ideas. I'll have like 500 riffs and we'll use 10 of them on a record. I'm more of quantity. I just gotta have a lot of stuff so I can pick the best. Phil has like one idea and he sticks with that.
So, you can't listen to metal 24/7 I'm sure, but is there anything you're currently listening to worthy of sharing?
As far as metal goes, that new Rivers of Nihil album is awesome. I was listening to some Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness last night all the way through. That's a great record. Turnstile, that band is really cool, I dig them. There’s a bunch of cool stuff out there.
OK, cool. I got a three part question that's relatively easy to answer. Is there any songs that hit you with the feels? A song that just builds a lump in your throat while listening to?
Man... Yeah, I like Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" that's a heavy one. "Blow Up the Outside World" by Soundgarden is good. There are a lot. Radiohead has some good ones from OK Computer and stuff. Oh uh, Carole King "You've Got a Friend," that one actually made me tear up. A couple of weeks ago I heard that song and I started tearing up real bad.
Alright, so what about any songs you can just party to, something you can blare on the speakers and pump your fist to?
Yeah, sure there is. Any old Black Sabbath song is great, those upbeat rock songs I guess.
And are there any songs you can just listen to on repeat and listen over and over again without getting tired of it?
Yeah, like I said Smashing Pumpkins. Tool songs, I can just listen to those because you have the odd time signatures, you can kinda get lost in that, and it always sounds fresh anytime you hear it.
Alright cool. So you obviously do a lot when you're not on stage and a lot of it is working towards the music, but is there anything you guys do while not up on stage?
Yeah, usually we go to breweries and stuff, like we're in Chicago now, we're not gonna go to a brewery now, but we usually go to Lagunitas Brewery in Chicago, which is a fun time. It's cool, it's kinda just like a brotherly thing. We go out, kind of make life memories and go different breweries and stuff, that's something we all kind of relate to and enjoy.
So speaking of beer, I saw you guys are brewing your own beer.
Yeah, and I got to try it last night and it was incredible.
What type of ale? Is it a dark ale, or...
It's like a session IPA but it has hints of pepper, like habanero pepper in it, but it's not too overbearing, like it kinda has the taste of it, but oh my God. It's so good, man.
Will that be going on sale? Where can I get my hands on that? It does sound delicious.
It's not done yet, it'll be done in a couple of weeks, so it doesn't have the whole carbonation to it yet, but it'll be done in a couple of weeks, and I think they're definitely gonna can it, and I don't know. You can probably order it online.
Any name yet?
I think it's gonna be called something like White Chap Ale or... I don't know. We don't know yet.
Alright cool. Any other local breweries you guys like hitting up while on tour?
When we go to Kansas City, you go to Boulevard Brewing that's good. Stone Brewing in California, we still haven't been there but would like to go. We went to Stone Brewing in Berlin which is like the biggest craft brewery — biggest American craft brewery — In Europe which was really cool.
Alright that about wraps up my questions. It was a pleasure speaking with you, and best of luck on the rest of the tour. I'll be there when you guys come down to St. Pete.
Yeah, thanks man.