Interview with Karl Sanders of Nile
01/25/16 at Fubar St. Louis.
Our very beautiful and oh so talented Angel sat down with Nile’s Karl Sanders a couple weeks back discussing anything from what they’d write about if not Egyptian Mythology, What its like having a younger musician like Brad in the band and old Egypt themed movies. . . more on that below. The interview took place about 3 hours before the doors were scheduled to open on the cool January day, where later that night Nile was going to destroy the ground they stand on at Fubar. Opening for the band was local acts Paradigm Symphony, Absala and Tyranny Enthroned which made for an epic evening of metal. But enough on that, check out the interview below!
Damnation: Thank you for setting down with us for an interview today.
Karl: That’s a high tech piece of equipment right there.
Damnation: It’s really high tech. You have to be careful with it.
Karl: The slightest finger contact can negatively impact the quality of our interview.
Damnation: That’s very true. All of that background noise I am sure will be louder than us.
Damnation: In a metal community consumed by Satan and Vikings, Nile has not wavered on Egyptian mythology and history. What about Egypt piqued your interest?
Karl: Well I remember when I was a kid watching movies with my dad. Big epic pics like Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Land of the Pharaohs, Sodom and Gomorrah, and all kinds of others. It seemed like an incredible, magnificent civilization. So, why not? There’s lots of stuff you could write about. Literally, you could write about anything you wanted to. But that kind of interests me, so why not?
Damnation: Perfect answer. Egypt is awesome.
Karl: I might have answered that some twenty thousand times in the passed 20 years.
Damnation: I’ll take that answer. Basically anything based on old movies will make me happy.
Karl: You’re a movie buff?
Damnation: I love old movies. Old Hollywood is my favorite.
Karl: What’s your favorite movie?
Damnation: Oh man, it would probably be easier to tell you my favorite actor.
Damnation: Which is Vincent Price.
Karl: No kidding. Wow, fabulous actor.
Damnation: He’s my favorite. My favorite movie of his is Laura.
Karl: I don’t know that one. I’m not familiar.
Damnation: It’s not one of his horror movies. It’s one of his noir, mystery flicks.
Karl: Oh ok. Alright.
Damnation: It’s really good. You should check it out if you like old movies.
Karl: Will do.
Damnation: How much research goes into writing the lyrics for Nile?
Karl: A lot of hours. Thousands of hours. I remember Black Seeds of Vengeance, I spent almost a year digging around trying to find topic worthy topics. This is a death metal band, so not every single facet of ancient Egypt is going to be appropriate for death metal lyrics.
Damnation: Right, kind of have to wade through some of the lighter stuff.
Karl: Yeah, you got to wade through the boring, mundane stuff.
Damnation: With thousands of years of Egyptian history, what person, event, or dynasty do you find yourself enthralled by?
Karl: I like the earlier stuff. The early kingdoms. There’s just a little more mystery. There’s a little less written about it. There’s also more poetic license to be taken. So it’s ripe for plundering.
Damnation: It’s a little easier to create historical fiction out of the earlier eras.
Karl: Yeah, historical fiction, hah. I don’t look at what we do necessarily as historical fiction. I look at it more like aggrandizing history.
Damnation: I can see it that. What are your thoughts about the possibility of a hidden room in King Tutankhamen’s tomb?
Karl: I think that’s awesome. I hope they find one. It would be much more entertaining than not finding one. I mean if they didn’t find one, it would be like Geraldo Rivera when he was, yeah.
Damnation: It would be such a let down. I’ve been watching the news religiously to see if anything new has been released, but I haven’t seen anything in about 5 months.
Karl: What if they did and they found something in there that they shouldn’t tell anybody about?
Damnation: It would be on the next Nile album.
Karl: It could be on the next album, which is the perfect segue to talk about What Should Not Be Unearthed.
Damnation: If you were not writing about Egypt, what other topics might be featured in your music?
Karl: If I wasn’t writing about Egypt, what other topics would I write about… Well I am a history buff, so it might be some other facet of history. Science fiction I’m interested in.
Damnation: What other parts of history do you like?
Karl: Ancient Greek history. I also have a jones for anthropology, the study of man, where we came from, yeah.
Damnation: That’s an interesting topic. What do you do from album to album to keep things from becoming repetitive?
Karl: Well, hopefully it’s not repetitive. Hopefully the new material in and of itself is enough to feel like we’re not retreading. I mean, we’re still working the same genre, the same niche, so it is a challenge to find new ways to not only do what we’re doing, but to conceptualize what we’re doing. We often ask ourselves, “ok, what do want to do on this next record? What do we want to do?” And, the last couple albums it’s really been focused on the dynamic between Dallas, George, and Karl. The band itself. What do we do. As opposed to In Their Darkened Shrines, which was all kinds of orchestrations and other instruments and all kinds of stuff, extraneous to the band itself. I think the three of us are a special and unique band, which years from now may be our lasting contribution, the thing we leave behind that is worthwhile.
Damnation: There aren’t a whole lot of other bands out there that are quite like Nile.
Karl: Agreed. And, I think that uniqueness is the reason that when you see the name on the marquee you’re willing to plop down you’re hard earned dollars for a ticket.
Damnation: With the age difference between Brad and the rest of the band, what has it been like to work with someone of a younger generation?
Karl: It’s very refreshing. He’s talented beyond his years. And, he knows music very well. He knows things about music that for his age, he shouldn’t. which makes it easy to talk to him about what we’re trying to do. If you have a commonly understood reference point, then it’s easy to communicate an idea. Like, “Oh, yeah it was like, play it like Rush on Cygnus X-1.” Or “Hey, remember that Cream song where Jack Bruce did this with the guitar part.” You know, alright. So, it makes it easy to work with him. And, his youthful attitude, his enthusiasm, to him all of this is fresh. He’s having the time of his life when he gets up on stage with us, and that’s infectious. Not only for the audience, but for us. Because, it’s very easy when you’ve been doing something for over twenty years to get jaded about it, to be ho-hum. Life if you look at this illustrious venue we’re at today, one could take the attitude of “Why are we in this fucking shithole? Isn’t there some other shithole we could be playing at instead?” But, with Brad, that doesn’t matter. He reminds us of why we’re here in the first place, which is to do what we love, to play metal. And of course, not every venue that you play is going to be Madison Square Garden. That’s in New York, and we don’t play there anyway. There’s going to be a lot of Topeka, Kansas’. Enthusiasm, that positive energy. That’s what keeps you going. Also, the constant positive waves are really helpful for a band on tour. It is so easy to get swallowed up by negativity. I’ve been sick for the last five days. It would be really easy to get depressed and go “fuck this, why the fuck am I getting up there to play, I don’t fucking feel like it.” Negativity is easy to come by. It’s for sale at every rest stop. But, having someone around with so much positive enthusiasm, it lifts everybody’s spirits. I’m tired of working with negative people. Some of the people we’ve had in the past were very negative minded, and that’s very infectious. It doesn’t take long at all to poison an entire crew of otherwise reasonably happy humans with tentacles of evil negativity. It seeps into everything. So we like having Brad around.
Damnation: It sounds like Brad reinvigorated everyone.
Karl: We are very conscious of that too. I don’t want to name any names, but that was one of the reasons we let our last guy go, amongst others. Which I could tell you tales all day and entertain you on this boring day, but we won’t go there.
Damnation: It’s so much easier to latch onto negativity than to be positive. It’s good that someone like Brad has joined the band.
Karl: We think so. We’re happy to have him. And, he’s happy to be here. At least for now. There’s a curve where people join and there’s enthusiasm and then after they’ve been beat down for a couple years playing the Fubar’s of the circuit, it really takes its toll on your capacity to be a positive happy human.
Damnation: We all get beaten down at some point in time.
Karl: It’s so easily done. Especially in a genre where there are few tangible rewards. When I started playing metal back in the 80’s, it was during the Reagan years, everybody had disposable income. Even local bands made good money. Local bands, there were rewards on tap. All the sex, drugs, rock ’n roll that you could possibly consume and more were there for the taking. So, it was a different era when I started. Now, there aren’t so many tangible rewards. Now, you only keep doing it, if you actually love what you’re doing. It’s sort of weeded out a lot of posers.
Damnation: Which kind of leads us to my next question. Over the years, there have been many noted changes in the metal community and the way it is viewed by society. What, if any, changes have you noticed over the years?
Karl: So many. It’s an entirely different, entirely different scene. I think we’re in a transitional period of going from the old business model of how music was sold and marketed and how bands made a living to an entirely new paradigm where you have to aggressively seek out opportunities to get paid. Because there’s no more CD sales. It’s tough to make money on tour, because the only money to be made is from merch sales. But, everybody is fucking trying to get a cut of that pie. The venue’s trying to take a slice, the promotor’s trying to take a slice. The government’s trying to take a slice. I mean, come on man. Come on, really. The toughest part of this gig is probably trying to get paid. If you don’t get paid, you don’t keep going. The financial realities of life eliminate most everybody eventually. There’s only so long you can keep going without making a profit. You only lose money for so long before any sane, rational person would go wait a minute, I can’t pay my bills. I got no shoes on my fucking feet. I’m tired of being a bum. Where’s my next hot meal coming from? So, it’s a crusher.
Damnation: The metal scene has definitely changed. I hadn’t even considered the financial changes.
Karl: No, I imagine you were talking about it from some other angle. But, that’s my perspective as someone who makes a living playing metal. It’s gotten really, really challenging. The fans are what makes it possible. The fan who buys a concert ticket. The fan who comes and buys a t-shirt, who buys a CD. They’re what actually sustains the entire scene.
Damnation: What are your thoughts about the current metal community?
Karl: Hahaha, I’m grateful for the metal community. Despite all the changes that have gone on and a lot of stuff that could be better, there’s still a lot of metal fans who are keeping things alive, and I’m really grateful for that. Because, I love metal, and I hope that the scene keeps going. I want there to be a metal scene in twenty years. When I’m finally finished playing in a band, whenever that day comes, I want to be able to go to shows and watch somebody else do it.
Damnation: Fingers crossed that it continues on.
Karl: Well it will go on as long as people keep coming to shows, listening to metal, and it will survive in some fashion. Who knows exactly where things are going. Like I said earlier, we’re in kind of a transitional state. Until there is a more stable way of making music and distributing it to people, then it’s just going to be chaos. It’s like the wild west right now.
Damnation: The wild west is a good analogy.
Karl: Yeah the wild west. It hasn’t been settled yet. There’s a bunch of cowboys running around. There’s a bunch of Indians all pissed off. The Indians would be not the greatest more accurate analogy for record companies who are mad because the Internet has moved in and taken their lands, hunted their buffalo. That’s not a good analogy. Until some other new technology comes around, things are going to be very unsure. That’s what always happens. We started off with vinyl. Then the cd came along, completely changed how things were being done. And then, the fucking MP3; the invention of the MP3, holy shit.
Damnation: It made it a free for all.
Karl: Made it a free for all. I am kinda sad that we probably never will see again the rise of another Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, a Metallica. Never have anybody able to achieve that much mass widespread popularity, because things have become so scattered and so diversified. There’s no money to be made anymore. Once you eliminate the potential for professionals to earn a living, then those talented people will go do something else that makes them a living. Why are there all the great guitarists live in Nashville? Because you can still get paid playing country music. So that’s where all the good people go. So what do you have left? You have a bunch of people who are doing it only because they love it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those are the best people that are going to succeed. That just means that there a lot of fans; people who love it but aren’t necessarily going to be able to be successful with it. So you have bunch of little bands on Facebook who are never going to achieve much of anything because it’s just not possible anymore. There’s a giant wall of apathy for any young band starting out. It’s like when they show a tsunami wave and it’s 500 feet high. There’s no way. That’s what young bands are facing. Sure you can get exposure from Facebook, yeah, ok. But there’s 10,000 other bands trying to do the same thing. So the listener, literally now days, if you click on something, you go well ok maybe I’ll listen. I don’t know how many nanoseconds it takes for you to say yay or nay, who cares. I’ll click on something else. Man, that’s a tough wall to climb! How do young bands manage to surmount that obstacle? That’s a tough one.
Damnation: That’s not even considering that a lot of people don’t even want to go to local shows. People don’t show up for local acts; they come in later.
Karl: We’re trying to do our part. We’re putting local acts on every show. Because, it’s something I believe in. I think without having opportunities to play, how do you develop your craft? When I started playing, we had an entirely different world. The music world was completely different. People had jobs. People had disposable income. People went out to have fun. People went to shows just to go to shows and have fun. It didn’t matter which band was fucking playing. Oh somebody’s playing, let’s go. And, you knew all your friends would be there too. There were so many opportunities for bands to play. It was crazy. As a local band back in the 80s, we played three or four nights a week, every week, a constant three state rotation. We made good money, we play to lots of people, and had a blast. But, nowadays bands don’t have that. We learned our craft. We learned what we were fucking doing by actually doing it. That’s irreplaceable. A young band nowadays is competing against everyone else on the internet. Everyone. Literally. If you are setting there with your mouse in your hand, and “Oh I’m in the the mood for something” and you see Exodus, Testament, Slayer, and those guys down the street that you know, what are you listening to?! Can you possibly compete against someone who has been doing it for thirty years? No fucking way. No way. So, I believe in giving younger bands if possible a chance to do what they do. Get up on stage, for better or worse and you know, give it their all, do some metal. I think someone needs to be playing it.
Karl: Hah, you remind me of my mom. (Shaking head and laughing)
Damnation: Me? You’re the second person who has told me that today. . . (conversation continues, not pertinent to the interview)
That’s going to wrap it up for us today, thank you again for sitting down and talking with us, it was great to meet you!