TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with the bass player Jo Bench of Bolt Thrower was done in December 2001 by Salvador P. Gouveia. It is published with kind permission from Panzer Magazine.
What do you mean with the title "Honour - Valour - Pride"? Is it like the band's code?
They are from a line in the lyrics of the song '...for Victory', and we always really liked the words. We just thought it was a good strong title, it's not really our code, but it's a pretty good sentiment.
Bolt Thrower had stopped using these Games Workshop kind of covers on the "Warmaster" album, but it seems you have now recovered that image. Was it the new cover made by Games Workshop? What made you return to this fantastic war image again?
We like to go backwards and forwards in time with the covers, we've gone from Sci-fi to Medieval to the Falklands, etc. and we thought it would be good to go more futuristic again. This cover was done by Jan Meininghaus, he did the 'Mercenary' eye and we asked him to do the new eye - he said yes and he'd like a go at the new cover. He came back with a good rough and we told him to go for it. After a few emails going back and forth, he eventually came back with the finished piece and we really liked it, and so far the reaction has been positive.
Where did this entire war image come up in the first place? I mean, this along with the war lyrics are probably the most well know trademarks from Bolt Thrower (along with the fact it has a female member)… did you always had this interest in battles and the fantastic world? Or you actually decided to create an image based on this?
War has always been an interest of ours. Gav's brother/father/grandfather had been in the army so he'd always had an interest in the military. The band name itself is a medieval weapon and it seemed obvious to use war as the main topic of our lyrics. The lyrics cover war strategically and historically as well as everyday life and we like the fact that each individual can give a different interpretation of them.
Being you a female playing in an extreme band, how would you describe the death metal and the heavy scene in general environment around you? I mean in our days we even have bands where all the members are woman, but when you first started you were an exception…
I've never experienced any negative reactions in the scene. I really love the music and I work really hard, and have done for nearly 15 years, and I think people respect that. We've never used the fact I'm female to sell more records, it's never been a gimmick. It's really good to see more and more women getting involved in the scene - as long as they don't compromise themselves and they are in it for the right reasons (the music!), then I'm all for it. I have seen a few females in bands who seem to have done more photo sessions than gigs, and I don't have a lot of respect for them!
Does people still get shocked when they find out that you play bass in a death metal band with blood on the covers?
People in the scene are not really shocked, it's people who know nothing about the band who get a surprise. But it's really no big deal. I'd be the first to admit I'm not the greatest bass player in the world, and I still feel lucky to be in such a great band.
9 full lengths and 2 EP's is quite a discography… as a band, did you reached the expectations you had back then, when you first started…
Well, it's 7 real albums. I don't think we ever had any expectations when we started, just to play original, heavy music without compromising or selling out.
Bolt Thrower is around since 1986, that's 15 years, and 15 years is a lifetime in music, especially in heavy music where survival is tougher due to the size of the heavy market when compared to the general one. How did you managed to survive?
When we were first started out we were playing to a hardcore audience, at the tail-end of the punk scene and we were always thought of as too metal for that scene - and then considered too punk for the metal scene. But we never conformed to fit into the different scenes and I think that is really important. We found our sound pretty early on and we stuck with it and I think that's what helped us survive.
What would you point as the biggest change in metal since then to our days?
Probably the number of bands and labels. It seems a lot easier nowadays to get a release out, however bad you are! I think metal in general is bigger than ever now - over here in England you can't get away from Slipknot or Limp Bizkit. But I think image is sometimes more important than the music now, which is pretty worrying!
Bolt Thrower are managing themselves, the shows, the merchandise, everything. Why made you take this decision and how are things going on your hands?
We made the decision after Karl left really. He was the main organiser of the band and when he left we decided to take as much control over everything as possible, it seemed as soon as something went out of our hands then it turned to shit or a lot of people made money out of us. With us in control, we can keep the door and merchandise prices low, a lot of people are going to other shows and paying ridiculous prices and we've proved it doesn't have to be that way. It's a hell of a lot of work, but at least we know if anything goes wrong we've only got ourselves to blame!
Good or bad, there are bands that change constantly like Paradise Lost for example and there are bands that never change like for instance Benediction. Bolt Thrower is one of those bands who kept original and true to their musical choice for more then a decade, even though the band has suffered a few line up changes. How did this happen?
We grew up watching a lot of the bands we were into change into something completely different, and that really disappointed us. We always vowed we would never change our music style and although we are sometimes criticised for this, it is something we really believe in. If you want to hear Bolt Thrower you can put on any one of our albums and hear Bolt Thrower. If you want to hear another style of music, put another band's album on. With new members we make it clear that there is going to be no 'trademark' from them personally, and that it is really important we keep the music sounding the same, and so far it has worked out well. We don't have any respect for bands who 'try something different' to sell more records and when it doesn't work out, they go back to their 'roots', it's a total compromise, and something we will never do.
What do you see the future of death metal? Do you think it will go on its own, or do you think it will have to adapt to the modern times in order to survive?
When we started out we were called 'thrash metal', then 'grindcore', 'death metal' and now 'war metal', so we've never adapted to fit into any scene. We're just Bolt Thrower. Death metal seemed to die a few years ago and then made a comeback, and we survived that, so we'll just continue to do what we're doing and see what happens...
I know you had some sold out shows in Holland and Germany this year… What was the sensation?
It was meant to be a few shows to warm us up before we went into the studio - no real promotion and pretty low-key, but it was crazy and most of the shows were sold out. We had a great time and I think it really helped the recording as were on a total high when we went into the studio.
Will you tour? As headliners?
Yeah! The tour starts on January 10th 2002 and ends on February 3rd. We're doing about 12 shows in Germany and we are headlining. The support bands are Benediction, Fleshcrawl and (in Germany) Disbelief, should be a great tour!
Thanks for the interview! And thanks a lot to all the Bolt Thrower fans out there, we really appreciate your support over the years. See you in January...
Links of interest:
Metal Blade Records