NAILS is a powerviolence, hardcore, grindcore, sludge, heavy music powerhouse from California. I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Todd, their vocalist and guitarist, that lasted longer than their newest album You Will Never Be One Of Us. You can read it below.
Let’s start with the album: ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’ is NAILS’ newest release, and it’s pretty mindblowing. What was the writing process like for the album?
Long. Hard. And Shitty.
So it took a while to write?
Yeah man. I mean, this is the thing: the way my mind works – and I feel like a lot of other people are like this, I hear Jacob [Bannon] from Converge does something similar – it’s like you start thinking about your next record as soon as whatever one you’re working on is done. So for Abandon All Life, as soon as we started mixing that record, when everything was tracked and whenever we were done our job on it, I was already thinking about what our next move was going to be as far as what we were going to do creatively. So you could say that we’ve been trying to write this record for three years; the truth is that most of the material probably came from the last year leading up to recording it, but we have been writing this record for a long fucking time. And that’s what we did for Abandon All Life, between that and Unsilent Death it was the same exact thing, so like even now I’m already thinking of ideas for our next album, and this new album isn’t even fuckin’ out yet.
But it’s cool man, I’m grateful that we get to do it and I’m grateful that people seem excited there’s a new album by NAILS, that’s pretty fuckin’ sweet. And what it comes down to is that we’re lucky that people are interested in our band and are excited about a new record, but, you know, writing a record isn’t really that fun, because there’s a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves and I put on myself to make sure that we do deliver. And that when we do put out a record, we deliver the best possible record that we can, so there’s a lot of self-doubt and there are a lot of scrapped songs and there are a lot of scrapped ideas. I do think that doing the band and putting out new records is rewarding, and I think it’s worth it, but sometimes I think making something you’re happy with can be an emotional rollercoaster. You might make a song or a part that you’re incredibly hyped on, but then when it’s time to be productive and creative and nothing is coming out sounding good you’re just bummed, it’s just a drag, so it’s a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.
Yeah, I totally understand. So, you said it’s a lot of pressure for you, and you’ve talked about recording being stressful for you, and the album was recorded with Kurt Baillou – was it still just as stressful as recording the other two albums – and I guess ‘Obscene Humanity’ counts too?
The actual going in to record, yeah, it’s kinda stressful. We’re pretty comfortable with Kurt now, though; we’ve been with him a few times and we’re comfortable with him as a person and his studio as a space. But recording itself is stressful because you’re like, “okay, you’ve been working hard for the past couple years to make music and now we’re gonna track it and lay it down,” and it’s really final. I’ve got to make these the most magical performances that I can with these songs, and that’s daunting. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, so recording isn’t my favorite aspect of playing music – but I’m lucky, and the final album is pretty rewarding.
Definitely. You said that it wasn’t your favorite part, so what would you consider your favorite part?
My favorite part of being a musician is when you record something you like and you play it back. That gives me an emotional feeling that I can’t really describe. And it’s an emotional feeling that I can only really get from that. Being creative is really, I think, the best aspect of playing the music.
I totally get it. You guys track demos in Taylor’s home studio, right?
So, does that help ease any tension you have about recording, or do you think it’d be more stressful if you just went in and had just written stuff instead of having tracked demos prior to it?
I don’t think I know whether or not it would make things more or less stressful, but I do know that it makes us more confident about the material we’re going in to play. Because there’ve certainly been times when I’ve gone to record something before demoing it, and I’ve realized after recording it that it’s not really that good. So it’s better to have those opportunities before recording the final album, it’s better to do that in your spare time, so Taylor’s studio is very necessary in the process of us making albums.
On the new album, there’s a song called “They Come Crawling Back” which… holy shit… I have to know – did you guys sit down with each other and propose writing a song that was guaranteed to raise murder rates everywhere?
Alright, I’ll tell you something that I haven’t told any other press people – and I’ve done probably about fifty interviews for this record. I’ve been on the phone a lot the past month, and people generally have two questions that they always ask, and one of them is about that song, but since you asked it in a little bit of a different way, I’m gonna give you a little exclusive info on that song.
The first intro riff is the first riff I wrote after Unsilent Death, and I’ve had that riff since around 2010. Me and Taylor would jam on that riff all the time, and we’d be like, “man, we gotta put this on a fuckin’ song, we love this riff,” and we would play it at various tempos. We didn’t really know where it fit in or what tempo we should play it at. For Abandon All Life we had that song “Wide Open Wound,” and that song has the main riff, the intro riff or the chorus riff or whatever, that riff sounded a little too similar to “They Come Crawling Back,” so that’s why that riff didn’t make Abandon All Life – so we had that riff for a long time. We were about three quarters of the way done recording this record, and we’re like, “fuck, we need a slower song.” Usually we like to end our records on a slow, dirgy song or a slow, super-fuckin’-heavy song, and we were like, “yo, we got that riff, we should play this at a very slow speed and just make a punishing, heavy, crushing song.” And we put a couple riffs together and made a pretty solid song, and I don’t know, we’re pretty stoked on it.
Oh yeah, definitely, I will attest to that.
And you said you like to end your albums with slow songs like that, so are you happy that those songs keep you outside of a genre barrier or an expectation?
Nah man, I don’t worry about genre barriers or expectations or anything like that when I’m writing a record. I just write what I want to hear. Like the second song, “Friend To All” – I’ve been wanting to write that song probably since we did Unsilent Death, and I was like, “man, I want to write the most possibly hardcore song I can for NAILS,” and have it still sound like NAILS, but also sound like Youth Of Today and Agnostic Front. A lot of people call us grindcore or powerviolence or whatever they want to call us, but I was like, “I’m gonna write a straight hardcore song,” because people, for whatever reason, think hardcore is a shameful thing or whatever, so I was thinking I was gonna let people know what time it is. That just proves that I don’t give a fuck about genres, man. I have influences from punk, hardcore and straight up metal, and I think that’s just what we do. We don’t write the longer songs to appease someone or to stay away from someone, we write them because we think they have a place on our album and we’re really just trying to construct the best album we can that doesn’t have any skip songs. We would like for our audience to see the record’s value from start to finish without skipping any songs, so we gotta use what we can in our arsenal to make an interesting record. You gotta mix it up and make the record have peaks and valleys, and it’s gotta feel good throughout the whole record.
Absolutely. And it translates well – the no real care about genre and the different influences really show, and it’s funny that you brought up “Friend To All,” because I have to say that that’s my favorite song on the album.
That’s what’s up, I like that song a lot too, man, I’m glad you dig it.
I was on my way to work at 6:30 this morning with my windows down screaming along to that song, and I’m happy it comes from such a solid place of influences like that. A lot of the other songs have to do with betrayal and deceit and this sort of toxicity vibe that we have in the scene now, so was there any sort of real event that inspired you to be like ,“we need to write about this” because it’s a real fucking issue?
Nah, man, nah. You know, I write a lot of lyrics and shit, I just try to write about things that being a human being and having to deal with other human beings entails, and the contention of that. Of course, I want the lyrics to match the vibe of the music we’re making – we’re making angry music, so there have be angry lyrics, you know? That’s really all there is to it, and there’s no hidden agenda or secret about that shit, I’m just writing about whatever comes off the top of my head.
Well, it’s respectable and there’s definitely no issue there. How has Nuclear Blast been for the album and the tour?
Good man, they don’t fuck with us and they just let us do our thing, and whenever they have ideas, their ideas are usually pretty cool. They’re the ones who got us on OzzFest, and now we’re playing OzzFest with Black Sabbath, and that’s pretty tight.
They approached us and they said, “hey we wanna work with you guys,” and we said, “cool, we’re interested, this is what we can do, this is what we cannot do,” and they were able to understand our expectations and we were able to understand theirs and we were able to work out a deal.
I remember when we signed to Nuclear Blast there were a couple comments people were making like, “oh it’s the beginning of the end for NAILS,” but I mean, you’ve heard the record, it’s just a NAILS record. We didn’t change our sound for Nuclear Blast. It would be the same album we’d be releasing if we were still on Southern Lord, or if we were self-releasing it. They said, “just continue to be NAILS and we just want to put your record out,” so, you know, it’s worked out, it’s good.
Yeah! And since you’ve talked about the mixed reviews people gave the signing, someone really important spoke up and said he thought you made the right choice. It was Max Cavalera previously of Sepultura. How was that? Was it really awesome to hear him say that and give you that sort of blessing?
Yeah, that’s my homeboy. Yeah, of course. But, I mean, you gotta look at his history, he’s only ever dealt with Monte Conner. I mean, that’s not necessarily true, he did the Cavalera Conspiracy, I think they’re on Napalm Records or some shit, but he was signed by Monty Conner to Roadrunner I think in 1988 or 1989, and then when Monte went over to Nuclear Blast, Max went with him. Soulfly is on Nuclear Blast. So I mean, obviously that dude just has a lot of faith in Monte Conner, and same thing if you look at Robb Flynn from Machine Head. I think that if you stick with the same A&R guy for twenty years, that A&R guy is probably doing something right. He’s probably treating his bands and treating his people right, so I do think it was a good decision.
You know, I talk to Monte over email or on the phone, and I’ll talk to him about NAILS/business stuff, or I’ll talk to him about regular life stuff, or I’ll just talk to him about music, and he’s just a really good guy. He’s just a regular ass dude that loves underground music.
That’s awesome. And because they’re a childhood band for me I have to ask, any tours with Cradle Of Filth lined up?
I’ve never even heard of that band. What record should I check out?
I honestly can’t even pick a favorite, my sister got me on them when I was like eight.
Well, at least pick one and I’ll check it out, I was already like knee deep in straight edge hardcore when I started checking that shit out.
Alright, I would probably recommend ‘Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa.’
That’s a crazy name for a record, I will definitely check that out. But I mean, I’d play with Cradle Of Filth, I know they’re like a metal band but I don’t give a shit, but they’re also kind of a big metal band, so when they do tours they probably do one or two or three month long tours, and I don’t know if that would really fit in with our agenda.
Definitely, you’ve talked a lot about touring being hard because you have a real life with a real job and stuff and that NAILS is more of a hobby, so I mean…
Well, I don’t view NAILS as a hobby – I look at NAILS as a real ass fuckin’ thing that I do, but yeah, that’s true; when you play music, you have two choices. You could either be a full time touring musician, or you could not be a full time touring musician. I just choose not to be, because there’re things in life that I like that I couldn’t have if I was a full time touring musician, so the way that NAILS is built is that we only tour about a month. Four to six weeks out of the year. And people in interviews say that, “wow, NAILS has grown so much, you could tour full time if you wanted,” but that’s not the kind of person I am, so I’m happy with touring four to six weeks out of the year. Especially lately, I’ve gotten tour offers from bands that I’ve loved since I was a teen, but we just can’t do them. When we turn down those tours, part of me kind of hurts, but part of it’s also like, “well, fuck it,” because I’ve known the deal for years. That’s just not the kind of life I want to lead.
Definitely, plus I feel like the vibe of a little tour is and knowing that people can consider their NAILS viewing experience as something special if it only happens in such a small time frame out of the year, then it makes it a lot more worth it for fans.
Yeah, I agree man, I think that’s something that might get more people out to our shows where – like where are you from, are you based in Canada?
CVLT Nation is, I’m in Florida.
See, we haven’t been to Florida since 2012 – no, 2013. Next time we go to Florida, people are gonna say, “hey, NAILS hasn’t come here in three years or four years, if I want to see this band I should probably go,” whereas if we were a band that came to Florida twice a year, they’d be thinking, “aw, NAILS is coming, but I kinda have something to do that night, I think I’m gonna skip NAILS and I’ll go see them in six months when they come back.” So yeah, maybe the fact that we don’t play so many shows draws more people in for the shows that we do play.
Yeah. And with the increasing fame (I’m not sure how else to phrase that) has your persona as Todd FUCKING Jones of NAILS still been kept under wraps from your career life?
Yeah, you know, I work in an office with a bunch of suit and ties and, you know, they’re pretty reserved people. I kinda keep what I do away from them, and they haven’t really figured it out – and I hope that they don’t. You know, if they found out what I did, and the lyrics I sang and all that bullshit, they’d probably think of me in a different light, and that’s just not really that good for me. I’m certainly not ashamed of what I do, but you gotta admit that those people are probably just not gonna understand grindcore, or they aren’t gonna understand Youth Of Today, or they’re not gonna understand Hell Awaits by Slayer. That’s no fault to them, but it just might be a little too extreme for the basic Republican type of person, you know what I’m saying?
It’d be better off for me if I just kept that shit to myself when it comes to the real world. I’ve never been one to overly project myself and what I do in my personal life anyway. I’ve never had a Mohawk, I don’t need to go in public and dress like an extreme person and show everyone what I’m about, because, really, I don’t want that kind of attention anyway. I don’t want to talk to people about things that they don’t know about, I just want to keep to myself.
I can understand, and I can appreciate that. As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing then nothing else should matter.
I’m happy, bro.
That’s good. So are there any places on the upcoming tour you’re really excited to go to?
Yeah, I suppose, I’m excited to go to Richmond and Raleigh and Pittsburgh. We’ve been to Raleigh and Pittsburgh, but it hasn’t been in over five years, and we’ve never been to Richmond. I’m excited to go everywhere, I really am, but there might be a little more excitement for those places just because we haven’t been there in so goddamn long or we’ve never been. We’re also playing Detroit, and we’ve never been to Detroit, so I’m really excited to play there. I’m excited to play in every city. Our show in Chicago sold out in a couple weeks, so we added another show during the day, and I’m stoked. People seem to want to see us, because the presales for these shows are doing very, very well. Probably more of them are going to be sold out than not.
That’s pretty cool.
Yeah I’m stoked.
Do you have to build travel playlists before you go, because I assume there’s a lot of driving involved?
A lot of flying, actually.
Yeah man – but how old are you?
See, I’m 34, literally twice your age. I don’t really listen to playlists, I listen to albums. I’m not saying that to fuck with you or one-up you, I just think that the way you and I listen to music is different. I load up my phone with as much music as I can, full albums; I used to have an iPod Classic that could hold 160 gigs of music, but I gave that to our bass player John, which got stolen out of his truck, but I definitely load up my phone with as much shit as I can, because for plane rides and long drives you need good music.
But, you know, the funny thing is that we listen to the same fuckin’ records in the van. All the time. We listen to Chaos A.D. by Sepultura. And Master Killer by Merauder. That’s pretty much it. I mean, we listen to a couple other records, but I load up my phone with albums and I try to torrent some of the later movies I haven’t gotten a chance to see yet. I’ve got young kids and it’s harder to go out to the movie theatre, so there’re a lot of movies in the last five years that I just straight up haven’t seen. Sometimes the airline will have good movies and shit, but sometimes I just try to torrent stuff. Playlists though, I’m finding out that’s the way a lot of people listen to music now, where they just build playlists and don’t really listen to albums anymore.
Yeah, I mean, I do the same shit that you do where I load up my phone, because when I listen to a band I like I listen to everything, and I download it until I like it all.
Yeah, I mean, that’s a good way to do it man. Just to find out whatever shit you like by a band. I feel bad for younger people who mainly listen to playlists, though. There’s nothing better than a good, constructed full-length album.
Alright, I have one last question. Do you have any tips for any younger bands trying to like stay true to themselves or trying to make it in a scene that seems to be borderline unreliable at times?
Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve always felt since I was a young age that I’ve played music that was not necessarily unpopular, but my peers didn’t always want me around or didn’t like me, and I wasn’t always accepted. And I think the best advice I can give from experience is do what you wanna do, and don’t pay any attention to people who might say negative things about you, because, I gotta be honest with you man, I’ve had a lot of people – even in NAILS – say negative things about me. And if I would’ve stopped playing music because of what people said about me, there would never be a NAILS and there would never be another band that I contributed to on a creative level – I wouldn’t have really done anything. Just don’t listen to what people say about you. If you have a drive to do something, then do it, know that what you’re doing is right, and that’s pretty much it.
Alright, well, it’s been awesome talking to you.
Same to you man, keep on the lookout for our dates next year, we may be in Orlando soon.
CHECK OUT NAILS ON THEIR CURRENT TOUR WITH FULL OF HELL, GODS HATE, AND ETERNAL SLEEP, THEN CATCH THEM IN EUROPE WITH FULL OF HELL, AND AT OZZFEST IN SEPTEMBER: