A Few Choice Words With Whitechapel's Zach Householder

More groove. Less blasting. The Whitechapel fellows grow up...

No, he doesn’t sound like Bo or Luke Duke but there’s definitely a slight ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ twang to Zach Householder’s accent. As one sixth of Whitechapel AND one third of the band’s wall of guitar, Zach is chilling out in Knoxville, Tennessee. So what have you been up to, Mr Householder? “We did a little three week tour recently which was short and sweet so we’re off for a month then we hit the road for about two months with the Vans Warped tour so I’m just soaking up the R ‘n’ R before I’m gone in the blazing heat.” And what about Mark of the Blade, Whitechapel’s sixth album? It’s definitely a move away from previous works, albeit in a relatively logical progression. As Zach says “I don’t think we were trying to alienate anybody or any genre – we were just kinda doing whatever we wanted - it doesn’t really matter; it’s just metal whatever way you look at it.” Damn straight. More groove. Less blasting – there’s even a splash of clean singing (but in no way to the extent that the rumours would have it). I mention album opener The Void; it’s still brutal and it’s still Whitechapel. But then this slips into Mark of the Blade; it’s still Whitechapel but there’s an almost indefinable sophistication to it. What are your thoughts? He’s enthusiastic. “It’s just groove, man! Maybe it’s because we’re all death metal heads but not every song needs a blast beat in it. If a song’s groovy and punchy without it – if the song can breathe – then it works out perfectly. You picked a prime example; Mark of the Blade is a really cut and dried simple song but with Phil (Bozeman) the impact is there. It just goes to show that you can write a song and you don’t have to be super-crazy technical about it.”

I mention the PR rumours about the clean singing/change of direction which were massively over-hyped; Mark of the Blade is still inherently Whitechapel. Luke agrees whole-heartedly. “Oh yeah! We weren’t gonna alienate our fans by any means – but we were thinking about the [change to the] singing for the past two albums but it had to be organic and it had to work right. There had to be the time and place for it, and we weren’t gonna make it cookie-cutter or cheesy. Let’s be honest; there are some bands out there and their singers are super-crazy brutal and heavy, and then they go into this bubble-gum, tacky vocal. It doesn’t grip me. It needs to flow into it and needs to avoid making you go ‘Where the fuck did this come from?!’...” Having heard the album, I reckon Whitechapel have handled this transition remarkably well – and without throwing any spoilers out there, the amount of clean singing on the new album really is quite minimal. I hear the hard-core fans issuing a collective sigh of relief.

But what about Elitist Ones? It’s slow, it’s got groove – and that glorious bass (c/o Gabe Crisp). Have Whitechapel ever thought about going into doom? Zach chuckles before pointing out that “We’ve got some very doomy riffs but we just haven’t put ‘em to use yet.” He mentions an instrumental that didn’t make it on to the album, “but we decided to do another one –maybe it’ll be on the next album. It’s a very slow, doomy, kind of Yob instrumental that we’ll try, for sure.” I get the impression that a lot of time and effort went into the track listing for Mark of the Blade; were you trying to ensure fans are eased into the new territory gently? “We always listen to the CD over and over, and try different orders for the track listing – we’re very picky about that – the album has to flow but it also has to be a roller-coaster. It lets you have a really big scene where you build up to some big climax then you come back down then you go up again. We always wanted the album to be a real fun ride so you don’t get bored with it. That’s the idea.” I mention Bring Me Home as a clear example of the roller-coaster: clean singing and solos that are both ‘traditional’ and epic. Again Zach laughs, saying “We’re not doggin’ anyone (I think this is Tennessee slang for teasing? It has a very different meaning where I’m from...) but we like to call those ‘grown-up solos ‘ – I think we’re just gettin’ to a point where it’s more about feelin’ it, y’know? We’re not just tryin’ to impress people. It’s so easy to find people that go a hundred miles an hour on drums or guitar – these kids that have Youtube or the internet now, they can just learn that at such an early age – they can play me under the table! I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times before but when you get a bit older you think ‘Let’s write an actual song. Let’s do songs that actually grab people’ – songs that have emotion, that people can relate to. That’s kind of the idea.” I can see what he’s trying to articulate but I suspect there will be a lot of fans reading this thinking ‘WHAT THE FUCK?! WHAT HAVE THEY BECOME?!’ I would suggest that such readers chill the fuck out. Artists evolve. Get used to it.

Zach is certainly nervous about fans’ reactions and he admits that he’s his own worst critic, as he admits “I can’t just step back and hear the CD brand new so I’m definitely nervous about it. I hope that everyone likes it but I’ll still be torturing myself about it.” Well, the band’s had a reasonably stable line-up for some years now so you all must get on? “We’ve only really had one major line-up change and that was when we had Kevin Lane and then Ben Harclerode playin’ drums. But there are times when we bicker, just like any family does, but we know how to get along with each other, and when it comes to writing you’ve definitely got to put egos aside. Just because someone wrote a song it doesn’t mean that we can’t try to restructure it, or that the song can’t be improved. If there’s a chance a song can be better than why not do it?” He also points out that no-one in the band is overly precious about their demos. Which is nice.

So you’re touring the US and Canada with the Warped tour. What about Europe, or more importantly, Australia? “We are doing Europe in November but hopefully with Australia and the southern hemisphere, we’ll try and get down there when it’s our winter time so we can catch that warmer weather. Maybe sometime in the New Year we’ll hit Australia, South America, Japan, and places like that.” And what new songs have slipped into the tour set? “We’ve played Mark of the Blade because it’s already out but then we also wanted to play something no-one had heard so we played Tremors; it’s fun and heavy. I think on the Warped tour we’ll also play Elitist Ones.”

We get into a discussion about him having actually visited Whitechapel (he has). Being a cockney chimney sweep, I mention that I used to live there and we both have a good old bubble bath when he sums up the area as “a unique district” – that’s total plop-hole to you. He’s a massive Peaky Blinders fan too (“Oh yes! Man, I watched that show and was instantly hooked. It’s so good.”) – Zach assures me that he didn’t require subtitles when watching it. Getting back to the guitar, how would you say your playing has evolved since From This Is Exile (2008) to now? Apparently it’s in his ability to cut himself some slack. “You’ve gotta write and play what you’re strongest at. Feel free to experiment but now I recognise that there some parts of playing the guitar that I’m just not strong at; there are others that I am, and other parts that I’m OK at but as I’ve gotten older I’ve just relaxed a lot more. I don’t have to shred my ass off or do something crazy in every song that I write. That’s how I think I’ve really changed as a guitar player; just realising that. I beat myself up all of the time but I must be doin’ something right because people like it (his guitar playing not Zach indulging in self-inflicted violence). But sometimes it’s hard for me because I like to be on top of my game.”
Indeed, we are our own worst critics.

OK, we’re nearly out of time. Quick questions.
What’s the fastest/maddest Whitechapel track? “The self-titled (Whitechapel, 2012) has some mad songs that haul ass; Hate Creation is one of ‘em – there are some blazing songs on that.” And the mellowest? “I think Possibilities of an Impossible Existence is pretty groovy and mellow; it was a slow song but I definitely think the new album has a lot of slower songs.” I mention the outro to Brotherhood and suggest that the band do an entire album of that and freak the shit out of people. “Hey! I’m not saying anything but who’s to say where that [Mark of the Blade] will take us?! Then he laughs in a sinister fashion before adding “I still think we’ve gotta have some crazy fast stuff to keep everybody happy because that kind of stuff makes us happy too!”

And finally what’s your definition of a good day? “You put me on the back of my Harley or out on the lake in a fishing boat and I’m good.” He mentions fishing and we go off on a tangent talking about those elusive scaly blighters, thus using up the last few minutes of our interview time. It was bloody worth it, though.

Whitechapel’s Mark of the Blade. Out soon.