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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Zimmers Hole

By: Justin Donnelly

If you’re a fan of Devin Townsend, there’s you’re no doubt familiar with fellow Canadian act Zimmers Hole. Initially founded as a way to pass the time between Strapping Young Lad releases, the four piece act released their debut ‘Bound By Fire’ in 1997. Although it was a modest seller, the album did garnish an underground following, and helped establish the Zimmers Hole a reputation as a one of a kind band. The band did manage to squeeze their follow up release ‘Legion Of Flames’ in-between the band members’ various touring and recording schedules in 2001, but once again, with its limited distribution, the band’s reputation and stature grew purely through simple word of mouth and those lucky enough to witness the band performing live in North America.

Times have since moved on, and following the demise of Strapping Young Lad, Zimmers Hole have returned with a new line-up, a new recording deal (with Century Media Records) and their long overdue third full-length release ‘When You Were Shouting At The Devil… We Were In League With Satan’.

Barely having the time to unpack his bags after a short tour of Canada, I caught up with bassist Byron Stroud at home in Vancouver to talk about their change of drummers, the group’s reunion with former Strapping Young Lad front man Devin Townsend, the status of their much talked about unreleased live DVD and the reasons behind the long wait for ‘When You Were Shouting At The Devil… We Were In League With Satan’.

“We had every intention of making an album years ago. We even had a tentative record deal with Century Media Records back in 2003. But it just didn’t work out. What happened is that not long after we decided to go in and make an album, we all got really busy with Strapping Yong Lad. So it took us a while before we really acted on both the making of the album, and the deal we were right in the middle of negotiations with for Century Media Records. So we decided to wait until we had some time to devote to the band, and do this thing properly. In the meantime, I joined Fear Factory in 2003, so that only made my schedule even busier. So we couldn’t find the right time to do this. We had songs written, various ideas, concepts and even the title for the album years ago. We had everything in place, apart from the time to actually make it happen. So when Townsend decided that he wanted to take a break from Strapping Young Lad and go on hiatus for a while in 2007, which pretty much coincided around the same time that Fear Factory did, the timing couldn’t have been better. With more time, I was pretty much freed me up to take control of the band, finally get the record deal done, do some demos and get the album recorded. With me playing in two bands, and none of us living in the same city anymore, it wasn’t easy finding time to make a new Zimmers Hole album. But we finally found the time, and we’ve made a killer album! (laughs) Well, people seem to be pretty happy with the album, especially people that have been fans of the band for a while. They’re digging this stuff for sure.”

Given that Simon, Stroud and Hoglan’s commitments to Strapping Young Lad are no more, it comes as no surprise that Zimmers Hole has progressed from being a side project to full-time status.

“That’s right. I think that we all agreed that now is the time to get serious about the band and do it right. Especially given that Strapping Young Lad is on hiatus and Fear Factory are on a break. We’ve always considered this our joke band, or our fun to hang around like band. Zimmers Hole was the sort of group that we would fool around with while not on tour. But then we thought, if we’re having so much fun with it, why not make it a priority now? It made even more sense when Hoglan joined the band. So we made that move. We’re really serious about Zimmers Hole, because everyone is onboard. We all want to do this, and we all want be on tour and seen in this band.”

But while Byron stresses that Zimmers Hole is a serious band, he’s quick to add that the band’s only serious where the music is concerned.

“Lyrically, we’re definitely not serious whatsoever. I mean you really only have to take a look at the title! (laughs) We’ve had that title for a few years. My friend Craig Locicero, who plays guitar with Forbidden, he was hanging out with us one time, and he was telling us a story one time about when he was hanging out with David Vincent from Morbid Angel. Basically, they were hanging out and talking to him, and one of the lines that came out of the conversation was, ‘When you were hanging out with the devil, I was hanging out with Satan!’ We were just dying about the place laughing so hard at that statement. We thought that that would be an awesome Zimmers Hole album title. He thought that was great, and suggested we use it! (laughs) So that’s been sitting on the backburner for the last four years until we finally had the chance to use it. We didn’t tell anybody about it, because we knew that it had to be ours! (laughs) But really, we like to think we’re a serious kick ass metal band, but with a sense of humor. We really don’t like to take ourselves too seriously. Don’t take me wrong, we take the music seriously. I mean we’re good players, and we love metal. But if you can’t have fun doing what you do, then why bother right? (laughs)”

As mentioned earlier, Zimmers Hole parted ways with drummer Wheeler in August 2007 after fifteen years together, which paved the way for drum god Hoglan to sit in with the band.

“One reason why Wheeler left the band was because his successful business was demanding more and more of his time. The other reason was that during the seven years that Zimmers Hole was away, he hadn’t been playing that much. Throughout the whole time that we were playing with Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory and all the other stuff, he was just basically sitting at home working toward his business and not playing his drums. He did have another band on the side, but he just wasn’t being challenged enough with it. I think he just kind of lost the love of playing music because he’s just been so busy with his business. When it came time to record demos for new album, he was struggling a little bit, and generally not having as much fun with it as he used to. We all agreed to part ways. We’re still all friends. It was just a case of him stepping down, and letting Hoglan take over. Ever since Hoglan joined Strapping Young Lad back in 1996, he’s wanted to be in Zimmers Hole. From the very first time he heard ‘Bound By Fire’, he told us that he wanted to be in this band. We always laughed at him and said that because he never liked AC/DC, he could never be a part of the band! (laughs) The fact is that we’re all friends, and we hang out a lot together. So when the time came to do the album, I just called Hoglan up and asked him if he was up to it. He flew in from L.A. the very next day, learnt the songs all in one day and recorded them the next day! It was pretty amazing! (laughs) I don’t know any other drummer that can do that kind of stuff. He basically tracked eleven songs in about six hours. It’s amazing!”

But while Wheeler is no longer a part of the band, his presence is felt on a few tracks on ‘When You Were Shouting At The Devil… We Were In League With Satan’.

“We actually tracked the whole album with Wheeler, and then realised that it just wasn’t going to work. ‘Fista Corps’ was just one of those songs where we were able to make things work. That’s because it didn’t have the craziness of the other songs, well at least as far as the drumming goes. So we kept him on that track. He also played on the two European bonus tracks as well.”

The European bonus tracks Stroud speaks of are Venom’s classic ‘In League With Satan’ and ‘F**k My Aching Tits’.

“We recorded something like twenty songs for this album. We had a bunch of songs that were more along the lines of the old style sound we covered on the other albums. But then once we started looking at the overall material we had, we realized that we had a pretty kick ass metal album if we just released the more straight-forward metal songs on there. We could have included all the other crazy s**t that we sometimes do, but it just didn’t sound right. So in the end, we recorded the eleven songs for the album, and chose the best of whatever was leftover as bonus tracks. The Venom cover could have probably made the album, but at the same time we thought that the eleven songs that we had were perfect for a storming kick ass metal album. And that’s what we were really aiming for on this album. And as for ‘F**k My Aching Tits’, that was just a super joke song! That was live off the floor. We didn’t even rehearse it. We’re happy that song didn’t make the album. But the European division of Century Media Records wanted to put that on there as a bonus track. We actually have a couple more songs that we thought were much stronger than that. But hey, that’s what they chose! That’s what happens when you let the record company make these decisions right? (laughs)”

Apart from Wheeler’s appearance, ‘When You Were Shouting At The Devil… We Were In League With Satan’ also boasts another guest appearance in Brendon Small, otherwise known as Dethklok vocalist Nathan Explosion.

“We’re all friends with Small. I actually go out with Dethklok on tour as their tour manager. Besides that, Hoglan actually plays with them live too. So we just became friends over time. He’s been a fan of Zimmers Hole for years, and told us that he really wanted to be a part of the new album. We all sat and around and thought up some ideas, and basically presented him with some rough ideas for ‘The Vowel Song’. He read them out, and they were cool. I think the song works really well. Zimmers Hole and Dethklok definitely work together. We’re all very happy with the way it turned out.”

Although only playing a supporting role in the making of ‘When You Were Shouting At The Devil… We Were In League With Satan’, Townsend’s production is an integral part of Zimmers Hole sound. But according to Stroud, Townsend’s involvement with the band was more than just on a musical level.

“Townsend’s always produced Zimmers Hole. This time around he basically produced the vocals. We had everything else recorded. Although Simon, Hoglan and I have a connection with Townsend through Strapping Young Lad, Townsend and Valagao have history together as well. Valagao has sung on all of Strapping Young Lad’s albums and practically all of Townsend’s solo stuff as well. He’s been Townsend’s right hand man since the early ‘90’s. Valagao is such an amazing vocalist, and we wanted to capture that on a couple of songs with Townsend’s production. We hadn’t really talked to Townsend that much since Strapping Young Lad had split up, and I had only spoken to him a couple of times since he made the announcement of taking a break from the band. So I went into a meeting with him, and asked him if he would like to produce a couple of songs for us. He thought that was cool, so we started recording a couple of songs with him. He eventually ended up producing all of Valagao’s vocals on the album! He said that he loved hanging out with us again, and he insisted on finishing the whole album’s vocals with us. We were like, ‘Of course we want you to do that!’ When he finished that, he then wanted to mix the album. And we said, ‘Of course we want you to mix the album!’ (laughs) So it just kind of worked out. It was good therapy for us to hang out with him again, and basically reconnect as friends once again. We both looked at it that way. Once we started hanging out, I think we all realised just how much we missed hanging out with each other while we were in the band! (laughs) We had some good times with Strapping Young Lad, but a lot of memories of Strapping Yong Lad in Townsend’s mind are not the good ones. For some reason, he didn’t like doing it anymore. But it was all good this time around. We all agree that it was a really good time spent together, and that it was good therapy for us. We’re all really happy about the experience.”

With a new album in ‘When You Were Shouting At The Devil… We Were In League With Satan’ on the shelves, and plans for Century Media Records to re-release the band’s previous albums later in the year, it begs the question the fate of the band’s much talked unreleased live DVD from 2005.

“Well here’s the thing. It was pretty much finished. We just had a couple of small things to do with it, and when I approached Century Media Records and asked them, ‘Now that you’ve signed us, what do you want to do with it?’ They were like, ‘I don’t know!’ (laughs) That was basically the whole conversation. I suggested using it for a bonus disc for the new album, and they said they wanted to sit on it for a while, and see how the album goes. I really pushed the point and told them that they’re sitting on what we consider is some great footage that’s pretty much finished. We really don’t have any options with it any more, because we’re signed to Century Media Records now. Whether or not it’s released is now entirely their decision. Before we signed, we could have done something with it, but now we can’t. I’ll put a hard push on it either around the time the new album starts to die down a bit, and before we do our new album, or when they re-release our first two albums. They’re doing both of those with new artwork and re-mastering. I think they plan to put those out sometime between August and November. So before we do our next album, that DVD will hopefully come out in some shape or form. Be sure I’ll be pushing the hard push on them before the next album comes out.”

With Zimmers Hole now a full-time project for the four members, plans are well underway for the band to hit the road hard in support of their new album. And given Strapping Young Lad’s strong following in Australia, fans can expect a tour from the band sometime this year.

“Live, Zimmers Hole is a lot of fun. That’s what’s really cool about now. We have done some touring in the past, but now we’re really concentrating on hitting the road. We’re working on that now. We’ve had some issues getting in the US in recent times, which has kind of pushed back our touring plans there until September. And then we had some European dates booked, and then they decided to push them back until June. But they clash with the dates we have with Dethklok. So we hope to get things really fired up sometime around July. And then we’ll go hard until the end of the year. We’re even planning on coming down to Australia. I have someone working on it now. We hope to hit down there around July or August. That’s going to be really cool. So we hope to be busy for the rest of the year on the road, and then hopefully record a new album at the beginning of next year. We already have it written. We’ll just get in there and blast it out, and try to live out on the road as much as possible. We have a four album deal signed with Century Media Records, and we have a lot of material that’s just sitting there. We really want to go hard with this. We don’t really want to stop anytime soon. We just want to keep going and make this band as big as possible! (laughs) I think people will dig this group, especially given the fact that it’s the guys from Strapping Young Lad. Hopefully people will come and see what we’re all about, and eventually become fans.”

I would like to thank Byron Stroud for his generous time, and Andrew Haug at Century Media Records for making the interview possible.