In Conversation | Red Enemy on nu metal, Crabcore, IKEA & Vinny Paul’s strip club

Dublin metal heroes Red Enemy kick off their Irish tour this Thursday (June 25) in Galway with the mighty Bitch Falcon by their side. Before that carnage can commence, frontman Kevin Letford and guitarist Conor Dockery sat down with HeadStuff for a pint to discuss the important things in life, such as nu metal, touring the States and visiting both Dimebag Darrell’s grave and Vinny Paul’s strip club, the importance of good merchandise and why they listed a popular pornography site as their most visited in a recent interview…

Let’s start there, eh?

CONOR: Porn, for lads, is definitely up there, with Facebook as a close second… it was a bit of a laugh. What am I supposed to say?

KEVIN: ‘Ah, Twitter and Facebook’. Any lad who reads that will be like, ‘Yeah, yeah…

It led to Red Enemy being described as ‘Kings of the Rhythm Flick’.

C: We might get a t-shirt with that written on it.

When we last spoke, Kev, you said that nu metal was coming back. About a week ago, P.O.D.’s first album went platinum in the UK. So bravo, you called it.

K: Our bassist went to see them about three or four weeks ago! They did a tour with Hoobastank and Alien Ant Farm. Jay said it was the best gig he’s ever been to. Apparently it was full of people, all about 27 years old, going mental. Nu metal is coming back. Well, the sound is, anyway. Modern bands are stealing it.

Like who?

K: Well, not so much stealing it but definitely putting a wheel to it. Bands like Sworn In, My Ticket Home… there’s a band called Islanders who sound like very early Deftones.

So you approve?

K: My Ticket Home are beasts. I’m not mad on Sworn In, they’re not my cup of tea.

C: As a sound, it was so popular, so undeniably massive as a genre that it was inevitable that it would come back at some point. The bands that are doing it now are just kind of creeping it back into their sound, they haven’t gone full…

K: Nu metal.

C: And it’s nice, it’s like taking all the little bits and mixing it with more modern metal elements.

I remember being in a green room with about 10 bands of different genres and Hoobastank’s ‘The Reason’ came on and everyone started singing along. It was this weird peaceful unifier. Everyone knows.

K: Everyone knows.

C: All those bands had huge songs.

K: I think people around our age and maybe a couple of years younger, that sound is embedded in them. It’s always going to be with you. If you’re all in a bar and a nu metal song comes in, you nod and smile. ‘That’s my youth!’

So why is it so maligned? Why is it taboo to say that you like it?

K: It was the same with metalcore, that was a bad word for a while.

C: I could never understand why people would say they were uneasy about being into nu metal. I think it’s because it had the word ‘metal’ in it and anyone of an old school leaning, it was too different for them. KoRn started using seven-string guitars after Steve Vai kind of established it, then it was low-tuned, it was slower, they were making better use of technology, the production was absolutely massive… in a way, it was going against traditional metal.

Is ‘metal’ a dirty word in 2015?

K: I think metal is pretty cool again, actually. It goes through phases. You’ve got Penneys printing Slipknot and Motorhead shirts…

C: I find, in my experiences, if people ask us what kind of band we are, we always say that we’re a metal band. ‘Oh, but what kind of metal is it?’. I do find it hard to explain it because a lot of people would still consider ‘metal’ to be Metallica. People definitely revert back to Metallica and Slayer when they think of metal and that specific sound. We’re a modern take on it.

K: Modern metal, yeah. You don’t want to be sub-grouping. It’s messy.

Metal seems to have more sub-genres than anything else.

K: It’s ridiculous.

C: I read an article on Pitchfork today about Spotify statistics. Metal is more popular than pop on Spotify. It’s the most listened to genre on there. Is it ever going to be accepted or break into the mainstream, even though it has in small ways? I definitely think it is a bit of a dirty word to a lot of people.

K: To people who don’t get it and never will, sure.

Were you at the Slipknot gig in January?

K: Oh my god that was the best night of my life. I lost my mind!

C: Unbelievable show.

A huge amount of work goes into what they do and yet they remain a target of mockery because of their image, but every big act has a carefully-constructed image.

K: That’s the marketing genius of Slipknot. The production value of the show itself is up there with any pop act. That stage was insane. Their Download set had even more crazy things going on.

C: The likes of Slipknot and Marilyn Manson may not have envisaged their image as the marketing genius it ended up being, but if you look at their personas… it’s just art, really. At the end of the day it’s just expressing yourself. I find it hard to believe that people still think that the people involved in metal are…

K: Weirdos…

C: …in any way weird. I guess you have to be a little weird in order to listen to something extreme but it depends on how you want to define ‘weird’. In this day and age, now that people are much more exposed to everything across the board every day, if people still think that Marilyn Manson is a freak…

You hear the same bullshit urban legends about throwing a box of puppies into a crowd and demanding the audience stamp them to death about Manson and Slipknot…

C: A lot of people who don’t listen to metal will understand that a lot of it can be an act or a marketing ploy but some people still definitely think it’s legitimate.

K: It’s also about how it came about in the 70s and 80s, that metal was ‘demonic’. That kind of attitude gets passed down.

C: You look at a lot of mainstream hip hop; that’s all an act, as well. Money, cars, women… they have professional stylists who come in and curate the whole video shoot. How is that any different to…

K: A lad wearing a mask.

C: Or someone acting ‘crazy’ onstage? I do think a lot of people are a lot more open-minded now. There’s too much information at the touch of a button not to be.

K: The only exposure you had back in the day was CDs and magazines. That was the only way into metal. It was never on TV. You might get the odd snippet on Top 30 Hits if someone was good.

They used ‘Freak on a Leash’ as the theme tune in its final run, now you mention it. Back to sub-genres for a moment; will Red Enemy ever turn to CRABCORE?

K: Ah, no. I do squats, but not onstage!

C: But even that was just the evolution of choreography, you know? That’s no different to Beyonce going up and singing one of her massive tunes with a dance routine. Those bands brought that to their sound, it was part of the production, almost. Attack Attack! were one of the first bands I saw doing that and they were fuckin’ huge, like. Kids lapped it up, man.

K: Asking Alexandria as well.

C: Yep. I don’t know who started it in the first place. It was so over the top but kids lapped it up.

K: It was such a love/hate relationship, really 50/50. People hated it but they were still posting about it.

C: There was no doubt. The bands who did it gained a lot of popularity, it became part of the show and it was entertaining. I would never do it but you couldn’t help but stick on a live video from The Warped Tour of Attack Attack! or Asking Alexandria and be like…

Both: ‘Ahhh there it is! There it is!!’

On the subject of contentious things, what was your most questionable purchase around the time of your early musical fandom? I spent twenty-three pounds on an import of Staind’s Break The Cycle in HMV at the time.

K: I loved Staind!

C: Me too, I saw them in The Ambassdor.

I saw them in The Point, supported by none other than Vex Red. Loved it.

K: I paid silly amounts of money for HMV imports back in the day. I got the Pantera home videos for about £90. I got a Zakk Wylde live DVD, crap quality, paid about £50 for that. Imports did me in when I was a kid.

We were starved. We didn’t have YouTube.

K: And we had a Discman, so if it got scratched, you were fucked.

C: I remember the whole wave of Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, Trivium, when they all burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. I just remember wanting their merch so badly. I think I owned one or two Metallica shirts but I was more into skate shirts. But with these bands…

K: They were among the first to change it up, to use colour and do something a little different. It was usually just the album cover on a t-shirt.

C: I’d go into Asha regularly and they’d never have them. I finally got a Killswitch shirt in a Hot Topic over in Hollywood when we were visiting family. It was about $30 and it was the shittest thing, this blue bottle cap logo and it was an XL. It was the only one they had but I didn’t care, I just couldn’t believe I’d found a Killswitch t-shirt. That’s how it was back then. Merch wasn’t what it is now.

K: Bands made money off records.

C: Merch wasn’t so much of a focus. It’s everything now.

How do you guys do with merchandise?

K: We do pretty well.

C: We actually do, to be honest. It’s at a point now where we’re planning on being a lot busier in the next year and we just got a new batch in so we have tons of merch now. Whereas before, we’d only ever get a limited run in before a couple of shows.

K: We have about six or seven items now, which is a pretty good spread.

C: That’s how we make our money.

K: We learned a lot from touring the States. The bands, even if they’re local, they kill it on merch. You have to make everything look presentable. You see bands with big lighting rigs shining down but that’s how you get people to buy your stuff.

Any notable war stories from the States?

K: Not really… we just got pissed and stuff. Even though we have bad luck in terms of organisation or whatever, we never have any disasters while touring.

C: You’re always trying to avoid arguments. ‘Look, we’re on tour, if there’s a problem we’ll sort it out, everyone just needs to calm down…’,but then, no matter what, halfway through or towards the end, everyone just blows up and there’s this massive argument and everyone thinks they’re in the right.

Who’s the first to go off?

K: Jay and Lango, probably. Actually, Jay and Jordan usually start butting heads. Lango wasn’t happy about Vinny Paul’s strip club…

C: Lango’s temper definitely builds and builds as the tour goes on. He doesn’t have much patience for people being annoying or anything that goes against the group. In fairness, he’s the best lad to tour with. He gets it. He knows what to do and what not to do but every now and then we’ll go against that and he just doesn’t have the patience for it.

Sorry, what was that about Vinny Paul’s strip club?

K: We had a massive argument about going there. We were in Texas last year…

C: Fort Worth, Pantera Country. We went to Dimebag Darrell’s grave and then played a show.

K: We made friends with the barman who owned the place – Rustin, an absolute hero – who got us pissed. We were in absolute Pantera mode after seeing the grave and wanted to know how far it was from the bar to Vinny Paul’s strip club. So it’s a 45 minute drive, which is nothing when you’re doing 14 and 15 hour drives.

C: We were staying with Lango’s uncle in Houston and the intention was always to try and swing by, we’d heard that they look after bands and all that. Rustin knew Vinny and he said he’d put a call in for us and gave us directions. Boom, let’s do it. But, Jay, who was driving, is a bit older than us and he had a bit of man flu and was in a bit of a ratty mood the whole day. He wanted to get back and just have his comforts, basically. So when we were like, ‘Right, we’re going to the club’, he flipped.

K: ‘Listen, there’s four lads here who are going to the strip club…’

C: It was the most intense moment.

K: Probably ever. Over a strip club!

C: That’s what happens on tour. You’ve got five people and possibly a driver and a merch guy, we’re in Pantera Country and it’s possible to go to Vinny Paul’s strip club and just say ‘we experienced that’ and if two people don’t want to, it just causes tension.

K: Crowd rule is enforced in the band, no matter what. It has to be. Usually it works out fine, and that night we ended up meeting Vinny Paul, so it was all good.

So he caved.

C: Very, very reluctantly. We all drove up to Dallas and we pull in and Vinny Paul is standing outside. Everything was grand again!

K: That tour flu was sick, though. I got it the day we finished and we got back to L.A., I think it was 24 degrees and I spent the day in two jackets and four hoodies, sweating and freezing.

Kev, what’s more intense – hearing a packed crowd roaring back at you or spending the day traipsing around IKEA, which I know you endured recently?

K: It’s grim. I hate IKEA. It’s the worst. It’s the worst place in the world. There’s no way out, you have to follow one route and you can’t go back.

How big is it?

K: Massive. It’s full of arseholes and screaming kids and people fighting over fucking duvets. It’s grim.

Switching gears, your upcoming shows are quite packed, which seems to be a theme among the Irish scene. There’s an obvious camaraderie and the gigs are usually extremely affordable. What goes into the planning on your end?

K: I’ve heard people say, ‘You could charge 15 quid for your shows’, but at the end of the day, for us, it’s about getting people in the door and having a bit of craic. I’d rather under-price a show than over-price it. Pricing is huge to us.

C: We’ve always been conscious of it, definitely. We’ll always keep it as low as possible.

In terms of picking the bills, you don’t need to pack them so strongly, yet you do.

C: I don’t think we’ve ever thought, ‘Hey, let’s get this band so that we look good…’. I’m sure there are bands who don’t want to risk being shown up but when we book our headline shows, the thought process is; ‘How do we make this our best gig?’. We’ll always try to get the best bands. Down through the years, it’s worked in our favour. We’re a confident band anyway…

K: It’s never a case of competition, more friendly camaraderie. We have mates in different bands of all different genres and it’s fucking savage to play alongside them.

Finally, as a big scary metal band, what’s the guiltiest pleasure on your iPod?

K: Charlie Simpson.

C: Charlie Simpson is whopper.

K: I’ll get the iPod out right now… I’ve got a bit of Robbie Williams here.

C: Robbie Williams is delish.

K: Sugababes!

C: They’re amazing, as well. That Ariana Grande song… [sings a bit of it], the dance one…

K: Carly-Rae Jepsen, ‘I Really Like You’. That’s a fuckin’ banger. 40 plays in a row every time. I’ve put about 10 cents into her pocket from YouTube plays, at least.

Red Enemy headline the Roisin Dubh, Galway on June 25, Sub Bar, Belfast on June 26 and The Workman’s Club, Dublin on June 27 with Bitch Falcon in support. They also play Hangar, Dublin on July 30

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