Interview with Chris Appleton of Absolva
Words: Anne Estella
You’re on a sprawling 34-date European and UK tour - Is this your biggest tour to date?
As Absolva this is definitely our biggest headline tour to date and we did that deliberately because we wanted to reach out to a lot of the countries that we’d been to before with our other projects, Blaze Bayley and Iced Earth, but we’d never actually gone to as Absolva. I wanted to make a big point of going to these places that we’ve been to so many times but never under the Absolva name, that’s the main reason why it’s such a lengthy tour. The tour’s kind of been split up into three parts; for the first three weeks we went to Scandinavia and did some headline shows in Sweden and Finland, which are countries that we’ve never really reached before. We’ve just finished some really big shows supporting Michael Schenker in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Holland, which was like the second installment of the tour and we’re just about to start the third part of the tour, which includes all the places that we have been to before as Absolva, our strongholds in Europe if you like, but I just wanted to make a point on this tour to really expand and reach some new places that we’ve not been to before.
How do you feel the band’s grown and developed since its formation?
It’s an ongoing thing, we’re all very busy full time musicians and for the past three years, myself, Martin the drummer and Karl the bass player have been very busy with Blaze Bayley, so 90% of our touring over the past three years has been with him. We’ve recorded a trilogy of albums with Blaze, so an album every year, and still somehow managed to release an Absolva album in that time as well! Luke, our other guitarist, my brother, plays bass with Iced Earth and he’s been very busy over the past few years with Iced Earth, especially over the festival season, and they’ve made a new album as well. So Absolva has not been on the backburner, but we’ve been so focused on our other projects that we’ve not been able to tour as much as we did in the first couple of years when we started. We’ve developed a lot of new fans, because obviously Blaze and Iced Earth have got very established fan-bases. People all over Europe and all over the world are discovering us through those bands and we’ve found that we’ve discovered a lot of new fans on this tour as well. So we’ve developed kind of in a strange way, not your traditional way I suppose. For the first couple of years that we were around it was just play, play, play and we were doing 200 shows a year or something stupid, so we were doing it very much the old-school way. We’re not signed to a big record label, we do everything ourselves, so it’s the traditional way of going on tour, finding those places to play, finding those fans that connect with our music and that like our sound!
How do you feel the UK heavy metal scene differs from the heavy metal scenes in the countries you’ve visited whilst on this tour?
This is going to be very controversial because there is some sort of weird myth that only seems to happen with English bands - that Europe is so much better than the UK, or a certain country in Europe loves heavy metal a lot more - which to be honest is complete nonsense! The scene overall in Europe, including in the UK, is very, very similar, especially with the amount of work you’ve got to put in, in certain areas. The UK has got a very established background in heavy metal and hard rock, just because there were so many bands back in the ‘60s and ‘70s that evolved from the UK, so there was a certain excitement if you were an English band going to Belgium or Germany, because you were English, and there was a certain novelty to it. But that doesn’t really exist anymore, we go absolutely everywhere and it’s just as much work trying to fill a room in Germany or Spain as it is in Manchester or London.
In which of the countries that you’ve performed in would you say have the biggest fan-base and why do you think that is?
We do very, very well in France, we have a massive fan-base there, and in Belgium we’ve got a longstanding history with our previous band, Fury UK, and in West Germany too. The countries that we do very well in are mainly the places that we’ve worked at a lot, it doesn’t just happen out of the blue or by accident, it’s because we’ve played there a hell of a lot. In France we had a bit of a lift up when we supported Michael Schenker a few years ago and did some big shows there, so we reached a lot more people. It’s all about reaching the people first and how much you’re working. We haven’t discovered the magical formula to get a thousand people into every room, if we knew about that then we’d definitely be using it, otherwise you’ve just got to really work hard.
Can you tell me all about your latest album, ‘Defiance’?
It’s the latest album but it seems like a long time ago since we recorded and released it. It was released last October and we’ve basically been touring the hell out of it for the past twelve months. And again, the reason why this tour’s so big is because we only did about three or four weeks touring the UK and Europe last year because we were still recording all the albums with Blaze in the wintertime. It’s a very important album to us - it’s the fourth studio album and it’s a double disc because I wanted to do something special for the fans as a bit of a treat for them. The first three albums were single discs and we did the live album so I wanted to do something really special for the fourth release. The songwriting is usually done completely by myself but my brother Luke rejoined as an official member and is very much a part of the songwriting process with me. I’ve learnt through working with Blaze, who has a lot of tips from when he was in Iron Maiden with Steve Harris, and Luke was in Iced Earth and working very closely with Jon Schaffer on the latest releases, so we’ve two very strong backgrounds where we’ve gained a lot of songwriting experience. We’ve morphed all the stuff that we’ve learnt over the past four or five years and put that into ‘Defiance’. The bonus disc was a collection of other songs that hadn’t been on an official release and some live tracks that we recorded in Sweden, so it was an important package and it’s definitely been the biggest release that we’ve done to date.
The band has changed its look and image recently, why is that?
I was sick of everybody thinking we were a death metal band! We did a photo shoot in Belgium last year and had a fantastic photographer, and the black and white photographs we were using were great, but we all looked really mean, moody and grumpy! It’s a weird one really because I’m very passionate about calling us a heavy metal band, but I think if you mention ‘heavy metal’ everyone just assumes that you’re doing a Cookie Monster down the microphone and grunting, whereas Absolva couldn’t be more different from that kind of thing. So I wanted something completely different that would be a proper reflection and representation of the band’s music. We’re quite tongue in cheek when we’re on stage, we’re very cheeky and we write very positive songs so people walk away feeling good about themselves. We’re not a very depressive band and I looked at that black and white photograph and thought that if somebody who’d never heard of the band before saw that photograph they’d probably think we sounded like Cannibal Corpse, no offense to Cannibal Corpse, but from the photo we look like a death metal band and I wanted us to look like a brighter sort of band. I wanted to go more Status Quo than Cradle Of Filth!
You headlined at this year’s SOS Festival. Being a Manchester-based band, what was it like headlining such a big festival in your hometown?
It was great! It was good fun and you never get sick of playing your hometown, but at the same time there’s always a little bit of pressure because as well as our fans from Manchester, we get a lot of people travelling over here because they want to see us in our hometown. We get people from Poland, Germany, France and Belgium flying to Manchester because they see it as a really big deal, so the pressure’s on to be performing at your absolute best. It meant a great deal to us, and to do it with the ‘Defiance’ album was very special, but you never get bored of playing Manchester!
How do you see the future of the local heavy metal scene and which bands do you see rising through the ranks at the moment?
To be honest it’s so hard for me to actually know what’s going on in Manchester because I hardly spend any time at home! Some of my favourite bands from Manchester are Babylon Fire and Vice, and Vice are supporting us in Manchester in December. Tom Atkinson was one of the first Absolva guitar players and then he returned to Vice shortly after. Babylon Fire are a fantastic band and the new lineup’s really good. The local scene’s always been there and there’s always a gig to go in Manchester, there’s always a place to go, even though venues sometime close down and places reopen, it’s one of those cities that’s not got the largeness or snobbery of London, but it’s not like a small town or village where there’s only one or two gigs going on. It’s a nice happy medium I think, where there’s always something happening and you’re not going to get bored.
What will Absolva be doing next year? Will you be back in the recording studio, is a new album in the pipeline? More tour dates?
I’m not 100% sure if I should be telling you this or not but I’m actually in the studio right now! We reached an insane decision to use these days off that we’ve got in between the shows in November to record the drums for the new album, so I’m actually sat in the studio as we speak. If I have a day off I’ll try and think of how I can fill it up with work! We’re working on the new tracks because we’re all very busy next year already. In January I’m going to South America with Blaze and then we’ve got the UK and European tour with Blaze in March and April, then we’re going back to the USA with Blaze, so the first half of the year is a lot of touring with Blaze Bayley, but we’ve already penciled in a lot of the Absolva tour dates for the entire year. We’re headlining one of the Rockmantic festivals in Carlisle and we’ve got runs of headline shows and Breaking Bands in Bromsgrove. Hopefully if we get this album finished in time we’ll be doing another UK and European tour around a similar time in winter 2019.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I don’t know really… not working at Tesco?! There have been so many monumental moments and it’s usually when you’ve done a really good gig or you think that the band’s performed at their best at a really big, important show or festival, but then a lot of the smaller shows are big victories for me as well, when you sell out gigs. You get your wage at the end of every month and you think “Oh, I’m a full time musician and I’m not working a Tesco”, that’s an achievement for me in itself. No offense to anybody that works at Tesco, I just don’t think I have the temperament for stacking shelves!
Apart from Blaze Bayley, is there anybody else you’d like to work with?
There’s loads really… one of my early dreams when I was learning to play guitar was to work with Ronnie James Dio, one of the best heavy metal singers in the world, but obviously that’s impossible now. There are lots of different things I’d look at doing and I see the next ten or so years for Absolva to be growing more and more. Because I get bored so easily I probably wouldn’t suit just being the guitarist, I’ve always got to be the guitarist and something else, in the studio, the producer or whatever. My main aim is to be working with more bands on the road, like we’ve just done with Michael Schenker, doing more collaborations with different bands, touring and playing to different audiences. I definitely feel that touring with Michael Schenker we’ve won a lot of people over and lots of people have said that they’d never heard of us before which is great, as it means we’re reaching new people. I feel that if there’s a band supporting Absolva and their fans come to the show and they’ve never heard of us, then it can happen that way round too. At the moment I’ve got so little time spare, everything just kind of gets sucked into Absolva or working with Blaze, so someone would have to make me a very big offer!
You’re an award winning guitar player, do you feel that children get enough encouragement from schools, parents and peers to pick up and learn a musical instrument, when there are so many other distractions these days?
That’s a good question! Well, one of my pet hates is phones, computers, iPads, etc, and it’s something I dislike because I don’t think people talk enough anymore. I picked up a guitar for the first time properly when I was nine years old and I just couldn’t put it down. I’d play before school, I’d come home at lunchtime and I’d play after school, it was just guitar, guitar, guitar, so I must have been playing anything between eight and ten hours a day. I do know a few kids that follow Absolva and it’s mainly because their parents follow the band and their kids have got into heavy metal or rock music or just guitar music, so I do know some exceptions where the kids are just as into the guitar, but it’s hard to discover because there aren’t that many places where kids can go to see it in person and be amazed by it. One of my earliest memories was going to watch my Dad play in the pub in his covers band and one of the best moments I remember is when he did a guitar solo and I watched all the pub’s doors fly open because he did something flash and I thought, I want to do that, I want people to watch me and go “whoa, how has he done that?!”
I think it can be pushed a little bit more in schools too. My school was very good with that kind of thing and I got on very well with my music teachers. We’d set up little lunchtime and afterschool gigs and it was something different for the whole school to do instead of mucking about on the football field or in the playground. Everybody came into the school hall and we played a half hour gig and showed everybody what we were doing. Stuff like that, such as afterschool gigs, could be done more. There’s still a lot of effort put into kids playing football but there are always going to be kids that are not sporty. I’m not sporty at all, I kick the ball ridiculously and if any member of my band starts kicking a ball around a field I’m the first one to get excluded from it!
Should we have afternoon gigs that children could come along to?
Well that’s another good thing about SOS Festival, it’s an all age, family-friendly event. In fact, SOS stands for ‘School’s Out for Summer’, that’s where the name came from! There’s a little kids play area there for the younger children and there’s always security, but you never get any trouble there anyway. I think people feel comfortable letting the kids go around the two stages and there’s lots of stuff happening.
Absolva will be headlining an end of year finale at Manchester Academy 3 on 22nd December. See the links below for tickets:
Chris Appleton - Guitar & Lead Vocals
Luke Appleton - Guitar & Backing Vocals
Karl Schramm - Bass & Backing Vocals
Martin Mcnee - Drums