Matt Albers, Nick Licata
Music has always had a historical connotation to faith, spirituality, and religion in certain cases. Rock, metal, and hardcore are no exceptions. To the outside perspective, it has become stereotypically cliché to immediately associate forms of loud rock with Satanism. But in 2016, just about any subgenre of aggressive music can be an outlet or backdrop for one’s faith, just as it can for any message. Christianity is no different, stemming back to the earliest remembrance of the two entities, such as Stryper.
Religion can also be a divisive topic as well, however. Particularly in the age of the internet, social media, and twenty-four hour news networks, ideals can be used just as effectively to tear people apart from one another as it can be to bring them together. But for Erie, Pennsylvania’s War Of Ages, both Christian faith and the melodic death metal(core) that they play coincide for their overall message of strength and unity over adversity, negativity, and hate. We spoke with vocalist Leroy Hamp before their set opening for P.O.D. and (hed) P.E. along with The Dead Deads at The Ready Room in St. Louis, Missouri’s Grove neighborhood about his and the band’s collective philosophy, their observations of the cultures, and experiences in the business.
You’re on a pretty interesting tour right now, musically. How has the reaction been opening for P.O.D. and (hed) P.E.?
It’s been awesome! We are definitely a lot different than the other bands, like P.O.D., and (hed) P.E., and The Dead Deads, for sure. Just that, we’re the “heavy metal” band on the tour; (hed) P.E. is pretty heavy too, though. I guess you could say, we have a way more “attacking” style of music compared to them. So, whenever you’re playing on a tour that is so different rather than a bunch of other metal bands, the reaction, I would say, is, “What is happening right now?” And then they go, “Oh, this is actually pretty cool.” That’s been pretty much the reaction across the board.
How does it compare to other tours that you’ve been on that have stopped in the same or similar markets?
Well, this is the first time that we’ve done a tour like this in this particular market. We’ve done hardcore tours, we’ve done heavy metal tours, we’ve done, pretty much one hundred times over, the other types of tours. But this is the first “rock,” or I guess you could say “mainstream” tour we’ve ever done – aside from the other P.O.D. tour we did about a month and a half ago. But I mean, it’s different. If you would have asked me ten years ago whether or not we were going to get a P.O.D. tour or something, I would have laughed. Like, “Hey! We’re going to give you a P.O.D. tour!” [I’d be] like, “Yeah, right.” [Laughter] Just the fact that there’s been crossover bands since then, and since ten years ago when we’ve been able to just get on a tour like this, it’s cool. So I’d say that it’s definitely different than anything else we’ve ever done.
You’ve toured with all kinds of bands with different sounds. Are there bands you prefer to tour with or not tour with?
We don’t really care. I mean, we’ve toured with multiple different bands in our genre and, you know, we really don’t care. Just put us out on tour, we’ll go with it. I guess there [are] some fan bases that don’t really particularly care for our band. I would say, if you like death metal, they don’t look at War Of Ages, and they’re not really interested in our style as much. That’s a hard market for us to reach because we’re so melodic. I mean, every now and then, sometimes we’ll get a fan or two of that genre. But I would say if we did a tour like that… We’re already heavy, and the band they listen to is heavier [laughs]. So, unless they like pretty music, and like melody [laughs].
War Of Ages seems like a busy band. You already have seven full-length albums out, and at least ten music videos in some form. How important is it for you to keep up this kind of work ethic?
The scene changes so much over the years. I mean, every year is different than the prior [year]. So, it’s just knowing how to adapt. So we’ve just learned to adapt to whatever the market is saying. Not musically, necessarily, more so just, like, business-wise, and how we function and how we roll with the band. So basically, what we’ve done, some years are touring years, and you tour a lot more, and then other years, you don’t. So it’s just one of those things where you kind of just take it one step at a time. And if we need to be busy that year, we’re busy. If we can, kind of like, relax a little bit and not tour as much, we don’t. It just depends.
You’ve been on Facedown Records for about a decade now. How has the experience been? Are there any plans to search for another label any time soon?
Not really. I mean, they’ve taken care of us. We’re really good friends with the label owner. They’ve just done a great job with developing War Of Ages in general, and we have no reason to want to leave. As far as our contract and everything that they give us and what they do for us, it’s better than any deal we’re going to get anywhere else. Even if a label would want to match that deal, we have a relationship built with this same offer at the same record label we’ve been on for ten years. So, it’s like, you could match it, but it still would not be as good as what we’re getting, because we have the relationship established. Because, a label can hand you a contract that’s just as good, and then they can go, “OK, you didn’t do what we thought. So we’re done with you.” Whereas Facedown Records are like, “No, we just love you dudes.” So, they offer us a great contract, and then we do what we say we’re going to do, and they do what they say they’re going to do. It’s a deal! [Laughter]
Your albums have also always displayed incredible, impressive artwork. How important is that aspect to you, and what – if anything – goes into putting that together for each release?
Well, over a decade ago when Dave Quiggle did the first draft of Pride Of The Wicked and showed it [to] us, we just knew that was going to be a staple for us. So he just continued that trend. We have Dave Quiggle do all of our artwork… for every album. He just knocks it out of the park every time. So, that “warrior” feel that you see visually on those album covers is what we are as a band, as well. That whole spiritual, constant supernatural battle, or “battle of integrity,” that’s kind of what those album covers have to do. It’s very crucial to have him develop an album that fits that style. It’s kind of like… Manowar. You know, we don’t have the naked ladies on the front, but we try to keep that warrior feel.
Maybe you could have that on the next album.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’m sure my wife would love that one. “Honey! Listen, we’re just going to try something a little different. Manowar did it!” “…I don’t care who Manowar is!” [Laughter]
“But they sold millions!” [Laughter]
“Babe, come on; we’re going to get paid!” [Laughter] And she’d be like, “Yeah right, I don’t think so.” [Laughter]
How have the lineup changes affected the band dynamic, especially with writing, recording, and touring?
It’s affected us in a positive way. It’s never easy to let go of a member. We grow attached to every member that’s been in the band, but that’s part of life. When you grow up and you get married, and your life changes, and you figure out where you’re supposed to settle, you know, God calls you away. Sometimes He calls you to you, and sometimes He calls you away. And this is one of those things where… War Of Ages has always been one of those things that we’ve established to reach out to other people. And if we aren’t focusing on our first ministry, which is our families, then that’s, above all, the most important. Because that is our fruit, and that is what people are supposed to see. So that’s most important; if God calls you away, He calls you away. And if War Of Ages is meant to keep going, we’ll find that replacement and we’ll continue. I don’t necessarily think that there’s a reason why we would ever have to stop. It’s slowed down, yes, but maybe stop? No. I see us just continuing that route. So whether we find that other member for this or for that, and we change multiple times, that doesn’t matter. As long as our hearts and our vision stay the same and remains the same, that’s what matters.
Your brother, Alex Hamp, is only the second drummer and one of the longer-running members. How has having your brother in your band also effected your experience?
We fight like cats and dogs! [Laughs] He’s my younger brother, we actually got into a little tiff today, but everybody kind of just knows to stay back. Because if they jump into the fight and try to calm it down, we immediately turn on them together, and join forces. But it is difficult, it’s a challenge. And in a lot of ways, it’s awesome. And we know how to get each other’s goats, so we just have to be careful. But, sometimes not too careful [laughs].
You mentioned that you have a wife. Do you also have kids?
Would you ever bring them on the road with you?
I’ve never brought my kids on the road with me. My wife has toured with us before, pre-kids. She actually [toured] Japan last year with us. We have two kids and one on the way; so, a four-year-old little girl, and a going on two years old little boy, and then a bun in the oven that’s due April 28. My wife is extremely, extremely confident, and she is an amazing woman. So I know how good I’ve got it. And she supports me 110%, but she knows that my love extends at home, and she knows that it extends from tour to home, as well. She knows that at the end of the day, she’s number one; that my ministry at home is number one. So she respects that, she sees that, and that’s why it’s not as much of a problem. But, it is difficult at times. I mean, you miss certain aspects and certain things. When the kids are acting up because daddy’s gone… Like, my little girl; [she’s] got a bit of a ‘tude [laughter]. And when daddy goes, she’s got an even bigger ‘tude! When daddy’s home, it’s in check. So it’s one of those things; you find that balance, you’ve got to be smart.
You mentioned that you’ve played Japan recently. Do you enjoy playing other markets than the U.S.?
I mean, we have our favorite spots in the U.S. We have our favorite countries, too. Like Switzerland, we love Switzerland. China was insane. Japan was great, too. Mexico is awesome. It just depends. We don’t necessarily have a favorite area. It’s more so we just know that that area is going to be good. Then there [are] places that aren’t as great; they were great five years ago, but now they’re not as great. We don’t have, like, this favorite over this other favorite. We show up, we set up our stuff, and we rock; that’s all we care about [laughs].
War Of Ages is often cited as a Christian band. Do you feel that this description is accurate? If so, what does it mean to be a Christian metal performer in this day and age where socio-political and religious rhetoric is all over social media and 24-hour news outlets?
I don’t watch the news, I don’t really pay attention to social media, I don’t really care. As far as us being a Christian band? Well, absolutely. I mean, everything we do must reflect Christ. I don’t care if I’m brushing my teeth, I don’t care if I’m walking down the street, or just talking to someone about my job. I am here to reflect Christ in every aspect of my life. So if I’m a Christian, then everything I do is to reflect Him. So, yes, being in a band, I guess it would be a Christian band, because I’m reflecting Christ through it. So my lyrics obviously reflect my past and everything I’ve been through. So it’s one of those things… It’s so funny, when people ask that question, like, “So you consider yourself a Christian band?” I’m like, “If I’m a Christian, everything I do must be.” I mean, it should be. I shouldn’t say must be, but it should be. You know? So, for people to have a hard time with that label [laughts], I guess you could say…
I mean, all of the death metal bands that write about Satan; that’s a Christian entity.
That’s what I’m saying! I mean, every band… what they are inside is going to reflect [their music]. So, if you’re not a Christian band, you’re not going to reflect that. If you’re a positive band, you’re going to reflect positivity. So it’s like, we’re Christians, we’re all Christians in this band, so therefore, that’s going to reflect through our music, it’s going to reflect through our lives in general. And if it doesn’t, there is something huge and horribly wrong. That’s just my personal feeling and I think that’s biblically sound. I think it’s one of those things; if you’re in a Christian band, or you’re a Christian yourself, and you’re out there sleeping around on your wife, there’s something wrong, dude! [Laughs] You know? If you’re out there creating hate, or an environment of hate, and you’re a Christian, there’s something wrong, dude.
There’s a reason why Jesus in the Bible… I think over 99% of His arguments were all with other pastors. Not one time did He ever argue with a sex offender, or a drunkard, or whatever else; He never once came at them! He had lunch with them! And in Jewish culture, to have lunch with someone was a huge deal. It’s not like me walking up to someone and say, “Hey, come over to my house and eat dinner.” To “break bread” with someone is like a major, major deal in the Jewish custom; you are breaking bread with someone, that means you guys are close. Because you just don’t do that in their culture. So, He used to do that all the time with them!
And it’s like, well apparently that’s what we’re supposed to be doing; not picketing outside clinics, or whatever else [laughter]. But hey, whatever – to each, his own. Instead of creating an environment of hate, I’d rather just jump up on stage and get them to mosh a little bit, get some energy out, and if they start a fight, I tell them to stop. Some people claim that that’s an environment of hate, but I prefer to look at it as an environment to release, and then get fed. It’s a place for the broken, and because you’re broken, I can build up someone who’s broken.
What have you observed in your tenure as a member of the metal/hardcore community, as far as culture, music, community, or business? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?
Oh, heck yeah. I mean, you evolve, you change; we were just talking about that earlier. Business-wise, [you] get stronger, and you learn lessons from the hard road, and some things
are easier, and you do that instead this time. Your music grows, you grow as a person, maturity-wise; you become a veteran. So therefore, a lot of the aspects of [what] these younger bands go through, you are just a little more versed, and a little ahead of the game in those aspects. You are king of your own castle. I’ve always been a sponge; I can learn from a newbie, I can learn from somebody who’s been around for longer than I have. It doesn’t matter what side of the spectrum you’re on, I can learn from it. And that’s what has allowed me to be me. I’m always here to learn something. So if a newbie does it better than I did it, I’m not like, “Well, you’re new at this, so I’m not going to follow your example.” I’m just going to go, “Cool!” Or, they’ll show you how not to do it, in the new field of music [laughs].
Being from Eerie, Pennsylvania, what’s the music scene like there? Has anything changed since you started up until the present?
Yeah, I mean music scenes in general go through different phases, they always have. I’ve seen a couple through Eerie. I’ve been going to shows since I was really young in Pennsylvania, in Eerie and whatnot. So I’ve just watched it grow and fall apart, and grow and fall apart. It’s an old music scene, it’ll be around for years to come. It’s just in a rebuilding phase right now, and sooner or later, those new groups of kids will come through and enjoy heavy music and start coming to shows again. It’s just a matter of time; you know, cycles.
It’s the same thing here; I think we’re on an upswing right now.
I can see that; this show’s packed!
I have one more question: Marvel or D.C.?
Marvel – Ah, that’s a hard one. I say Marvel, but I love Batman; Batman’s my favorite superhero. But, I do feel like Marvel is the stronger comics, and I know you’ve just set me up for some arguments [laughter]. So Marvel, I think, has cooler characters, but Batman has been a staple with me, because I like dark comics. So, I guess you could say if I prefer watching a movie, I would go… That’s a hard one too! Because, I like the Batmans; D.C. tends to lead towards less of the one-liners, and more, like, the dark imagery, which I enjoy. Marvel though, they’ve kind of captured that one-liner… You know, it’s good entertainment… You know what? I can’t answer that. I like Batman, but at the same time I like Marvel, too. Instead of D.C., I just say Batman [laughs], because I know who the other [D.C. characters] are, but I don’t really follow any of them other than Batman [laughs].
Special thanks to Shannon Quiggle of Facedown Records for setting up this interview! War Of Ages’ latest and seventh overall studio album, Supreme Chaos, is available now via Facedown Records.