Posted on May 23th. 2020
Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
I was kindly offered the opportunity to review the latest album of the English formation Absolva. As an avid lover of well-oiled heavy metal I immediately agreed, in the meantime my discussion is already online… check THIS link and read all about. I have the honor to have a conversation with one of the founders, Chris Appleton. Let’s plunge back in time where it all started for him, and the rest of the members, to take the phenomenon heavy metal to heart.
Stefan: Hello Chris, may I friendly welcome you here at Metal To Infinity! In these dark Corona times I hope everything goes well and that we will all soon be rid of this dangerous virus. Where did you get your ambition to become a musician in a metal band? How did it all start and who were your idols during your teenage years?
Chris: In my early years, I idolised guitar players and bands such as Bad Company, Gary Moore, AC/DC.
I got my first guitar when I was 9 years old. And although in later years I was mainly self taught, my father got me started on my first chords and lead guitar things.
First time hearing ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC, really was a mind-blower moment too.
Stefan: Because your brother Luke also goes through life as a metal musician, I wonder if you might descend from a musical family.
Chris: Yes. Our family has a very musical background. Our father is a very good guitar player, who played anything from blues/rock covers to playing material heavily influenced by Rush & UFO.
Our mother also is involved with music, she runs her own festival in Manchester as well as in the past doing PR for many bands and releases. It is a very nice thing to have a music family.
Stefan: I know the feeling of learning your first guitar chords, you’re trying to sing and then comes the moment you’re convinced to join a band… what was the first band you were both active in.
Chris: The bands in my younger days were the early incarnations of Fury/Fury UK. Back when I was still high school. I was always the band leader back then and obviously that evolved when my brother Luke joined also.
Also at the same time I was putting my own band together, I was playing in my dad’s covers band, playing alot of Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, but also bluesy stuff like Walter Trout, Rory Gallagher & Cream.
Luke on the other hand because he was younger than me, he joined a band called Breakdown. Which was Luke on bass, and 2 brothers on guitar/vocals & drums. They won many competitions in Manchester for being so good.
But also incredibly young. Being something crazy like aged 11, 14, 15. But playing like they had already 20 years experience. That band was called Breakdown. Which was the band he was in before he joined Fury UK.
Stefan: Were you immediately convinced of the fact that playing in a metal band was what you were looking for?
Chris: I always knew I wanted to be a guitarist, probably from the age of 9 years old which is when I started playing guitar. Back then I wasn’t into the metal side of things much until I got into my teens.
The early days I wanted to be Angus Young or Gary Moore. Those were the guys that blew my socks off. Sometimes I would dream of being the next ‘guitar cowboy’, Ozzy Osbourne gives me a call and says, Zakk Wylde has left the band.
Do you want to audition? Or…. back then, Doug Aldrich has left the Dio band, Chris do you want to come and write the next album? These were dreams I would have. So yeah, I always knew I wanted to be a musician in a band.
Stefan: May I assume you were the brains behind the band Fury UK? One day, you called it quits, what was the main reason Chris?
Chris: The main reason behind it, was Fury UK was a 3 piece band. Myself, my brother Luke and long time drummer Martin Mcnee.
This was the main line-up of the band and we had achieved many great things. Supporting many top line artists and performed on huge stages across the world, and huge festivals. We had done a lot in a short space of time, with limited experience.
After we completed the tour supporting ‘Iced Earth’, my brother was ‘head-hunted’ and picked directly to take the position of full time bass player with Iced Earth.
At the point this happened, I really couldn’t see Fury UK continuing without Luke on the bass. The sound was the 3 of us and it just wouldn’t work without him.
But it opened a new opportunity and new beginning with Absolva.
But…… We never actually ended Fury UK we just put it on long term hiatus….
We might never play again as Fury UK but we never said we would or we wouldn’t. 😉
Stefan: The time was come to set up a new band called Absolva… what were the ambitions in the beginning?
Chris: The great thing about setting up a new band, is you have a fresh beginning, new excitement and you can apply all the things you have learnt in the past to the new project.
Nothing will be holding you back and no ‘Skeletons in the closet’. The beginning of the band was to create a 4 piece band. Expand to 2 guitars and really explore and apply my love for Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest.
Twin guitar harmonies, twin guitar solos….. And to release top quality albums and tour heavily.
Stefan: what did the group occupancy at the time look like?
Chris: The first line-up of Absolva. It started with obviously myself on Guitar & Lead Vocals. From our previous band Fury UK, Martin Mcnee came with us on the drums. This was crucial really to get things moving.
Tom Atkinson was first on my list for guitar players. He was from a band called ‘Vice’ which I had been helping out with bookings and some studio work in my spare time back in Manchester.
He also worked with us when we were the backing band for former AC/DC vocalist ‘Dave Evans’ on a UK tour. And on bass Dan Bate from the Midlands.
Stefan: How and by whom was it decided which genre would be played? Was this decision made quickly or was there any disagreement between the members?
Chris: I made it very clear from the beginning that this would be my band and my baby. Everyone can have their input and their say but ultimately Absolva would be to me, what Iron Maiden is to Steve Harris.
I made it very clear I wanted it to be a British Heavy Metal band. The sound of Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy. This would make it very clear to fans what we are all about too.
Stefan: Heavy Metal was preferred and a first effort was in the making, tell me a little more about your debut album “Flames Of Justice”?
Chris: I wrote all the songs for Flames of Justice. It was actually a very quick process. I wrote and demo-ed all the songs, we got into rehearsals and got them slicked up,
And then shortly after that we entered the recording studio immediately to record the album.
I had auditioned the members, written the album, got the band into shape and booked the studio all within a few months after Luke has joined Iced Earth.
Flames of Justice is an album I am incredibly proud and marks a new beginning of a new era for me.
I was very happy with the sound and especially my vocal performance. It was the first time where I thought, I had really grown as a singer.
Stefan: How did the press and media react to this product, was there an immediate increase in new fans?
Chris: Yeah, everyone was happy. We had a small head start because Fury UK reasonably know in UK & Belgium.
But I think it is always difficult with a new band and new name. For anyone.
There was a gradual increase in new fans. But we still had a lot of work to do at this point.
Stefan: Released in 2012, also the year that your brother Luke was allowed to fulfill the world famous Iced Earth ranks. How did he end up in this very deserving situation?
Chris: He was a huge Iced Earth fan, they were his favourite band for years. We did the European tour supporting Iced Earth with Fury UK and during this tour Luke always got fantastic praise from the Iced Earth members and management for being a great bass player. During the tour at the show in Lithuania, Luke got up and played a song with the Iced Earth guys in the sound-check. We will never know if this was his ’secret’ audition, we never even knew their bass player Freddy was leaving the band.
But when the time came, Iced Earth management phoned Luke and asked if he would like the job? No auditions, nothing…. They knew they wanted Luke. That is a great compliment.
Stefan: Do you have any news to report regarding current developments in the Iced Earth camp?
Chris: Not that much news to be honest. Jon Schaffer the main man from Iced Earth was very busy with the Demons & Wizards project, which features the Blind Guardian Singer ‘Hansi’. They recorded and released a new album and has many festivals booked, but now with the crisis their touring was put on hold like everyones.
Iced Earth will return I am sure but with everything going on at the moment it is more a question of ‘when’.
Stefan: Okay Chris, back to the order of the day, Absolva ! After your first album, I was sure there would be a sequel; and so did you. I was surprised by the fact that instead of an album you guys opted to records a Live Video called “Beyond Live”. Who came up with this idea and why this choice?
Chris: We were a new band, we wanted to have as many products out there as possible.
We wanted a representation of the band in a Live capacity. In front of big audience.
And we wanted a visual DVD so people could see the band perform live at home on TV.
It was a fantastic concert in Belgium and a memorable experience.
Stefan: In retrospect, was it worthwhile?
Chris: To be honest I listen back to ‘Beyond Live’ with open ears and its a true representation of the band at that particularly time in history.
If I had my chance again I probably would have waited another 1-2 years before doing a live album and DVD.
We would have had more new material and the band would have been more settled.
Bands and musicians grow and find their feet after more and more touring. I think we were still finding our feet as a band and unit at the point we were filming Beyond Live.
Stefan: Between 2014 and 2017, Absolva released three more albums – how did you guys see the band evolve, musically?
Chris: Yes of course. Next we had ‘Anthems to the Dead’. Which contains songs which are a staple point in the setlist, such as ‘Never Back Down’ & ‘Live for the Fight’.
‘Anthems to the Dead’ also featured ‘Doug Scarrat’ of ’Saxon’ & return of my brother ‘Luke Appleton’ of ‘Iced Earth’. Both musicians doing guest performances on various tracks on the album.
The next album ‘Never a Good Day to Die’, was a big hitter. This was the first album that featured Karl Schramm on the bass guitar and featured the return of my brother Luke but this time on lead guitar alongside myself.
‘Never a good day to Die’ was the start of myself & Luke taking on the songwriting duties together.
The title track is a massive fan favourite and always has a place in the setlist. The ‘Defiance’ album came shortly after which was when myself and Luke really started getting in to our stride with song writing.
‘Defiance’ was also a double album with the second disc featuring un-released track ‘Harsh Reality’, live songs and acoustic versions.
Stefan: Which effort is preferable to the rest, why?
Chris: ‘Side by Side’ the latest album is my favourite. It holds maturity and experience, a combination of Luke working with Iced Earth and myself working with Blaze Bayley who learnt so much from Steve Harris of Iron Maiden.
Combining these skills with what we had learnt through the Fury UK and early Absolva days we knew from the early demos that we were going to have something magical.
Stefan: Meanwhile, countless live performances have been completed, including a number in Belgium. With which memories can you look back on your stay here on Belgian soil?
Chris: I have many many great memories in Belgium. Back in the early days we used to play at WizzFest in Aalter which was a fantastic venue and event that was always sold-out.
We had fantastic shows in Antwerp, Brussels, Verviers, Kortrijk supporting Iced Earth, Michael Schenker & Y&T…
We have played many festivals in Belgium as well as many club shows.
Headline shows we used to always try and do an ‘early show’ usually on a Sunday in Deinze or Roeselare. So doors open 17.00 : Onstage 19.00. So people could still get up for work next day.
We used to like this because we would never have a show on a Monday in the tour schedule. So after the show we would to a great after-show party with everyone who stuck around.
To be honest we still try and do this now. 😉
Stefan: How difficult is it for a band like Absolva not to be able to do any more gigs for the time being because of the Covid-19 problem?
Chris: Covid-19 is a problem. But It is a problem that will not last forever.
All our European tour was postponed due to the virus and if it is not safe enough for the fans, it’s not safe enough for the band.
The last thing I want to do is have a concert and then find out a few weeks later someone got serious sick or even worse after catching the virus at an Absolva concert.
It is massive shame because we are one of the most hard working and heaviest touring bands out there… But we have put safety first in this situation.
We are very lucky to be independent at this time, having our own record label and owning everything we release means that the fans pre-ordering our new album and buying our merchandise on our webstore has kept this band going.
We also have very good management and he handles the numbers & figures very well.
Stefan: For me it was a bright spot in these dark times to receive your fifth album. Titled “Side By Side”, a new masterpiece that suits me very well. First of all, who’s the man behind the beautiful cover artwork – what’s the story behind it?
Chris: The artist is known as Akirant from Spain. He worked on the Blaze Bayley Infinitive Entanglement artwork, I think from the ‘Redemption’ album onwards.
He has also worked on fantastic projects for Iron Maiden & Star Wars. He is a very clever guy and o I thought it would be great to get him involved with the new Absolva album.
My brief to him was a ‘coat of arms’ of my birth town ‘Salford’ in Manchester. I wanted to have the Scottish unicorn & English Lion on the cover, but I also wanted to feature the Absolva elements of : my Gibson SG, Lukes Chapman guitar, Karls Fender Bass, Martin’s drum sticks. We also added the Absolva ‘Alien Womb’ which features on every album and then to finish off we set it on fire!!! You cannot get more British Heavy Metal than all those elements in one! haha.
It is my favourite Absolva album cover.
Stefan: As far as I’m concerned, the production is of high quality, who was responsible for this?
I was the engineer, the co-engineer and producer from start to finish. I was co-producer on the last 3 Blaze albums and I learnt a lot of stuff from those sessions.
I also produced my brother Luke Appleton’s solo acoustic album & EP and so I thought it would be time to take on the task of doing the Absolva album as producer.
I had 100% control of all the sound elements of this album ‘Side by Side’ and I really enjoyed doing it too.
It also gave me an opportunity to have my vocals exactly the way I wanted them and there was no pressure for me to sing 5-6 songs per day. I could really take my time with the vocal recording.
Stefan: Where “Side By Side” has been recorded?
Chris: The Drums were recorded in Belgium. At Wynsberghe Studios.
Everything else was recorded at Rocksector Records HQ in Manchester.
Stefan: Has anything changed in the lineup since Absolva was founded?
Chris: The stable line-up of Absolva has been since ‘Never a good day to Die’ album.
Chris Appleton : Guitar/Lead Vocals, Luke Appleton : Guitar/Vocals, Karl Schramm : Bass/Vocals, Martin Mcnee : Drums.
Stefan: Ten brand new compositions – please guide me lyrical content of a few songs.
Chris: We always try to have a positive message to put forward in our songs. Even when we sing about dark content we always want a success story or a positive message at the end of it and make people feel good.
Pulling through and succeeding through adversity. But we also featured some true story and themed stories on this album too. Burning Star was based on Rocky Erikson. Being given electric shock treatment for having bad experiences with drugs,
but continues to write lyrics for other bands from his hospital bed and these songs become top 10 hits. A success story from a bad situation.
Also songs like ‘Legion’ & ‘End of Days’ were loosely based on the movies & books.
Stefan: I suspect you have already read my review and hereby ask if you agree or disagree with it.
Chris: You only said fantastic things about Absolva. So I was very happy with your review. Thankyou. 🙂
Stefan: Do you dare to say that this is the best album so far or do you remain modest and prefer to answer neutrally?
Chris: This certainly is our best album so far. An artist or musician always believes that their latest work is their best, as we believe we grow and learn as song writers.
As a song-writer you also write in that particular moment. I wrote Flames of Justice in a moment of my life that is completely different to me right now.
Of course the fans will always have their favourite tracks and albums.
But I really do believe ‘Side by Side’ delivers nothing but the best songs and performances of all of us.
Stefan: The fans will be rewarded with two bonus songs, actually re-recordings of real classics of greats Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. These kind of compositions are world class and can’t be improved, but can be approached with your own interpretation. Absolva has more than succeeded in this, both cover tracks sound generous. Maiden and Black Sabbath must be absolute faves of yours, right?
Chris: I’ve always wanted to record cover versions of these songs but there also comes a tremendous amount of pressure.
We have performed these songs live for many years which goes right back to the Fury UK days. So they are songs we are very comfortable with.
I think because we had the opportunity for me to be the producer on this album it opened up the realms of possibility alot more.
We are very happy with the fans comments about these tracks.
Stefan: How would you like to announce the new album ? I now give you the opportunity to convince our readers of this achievement.
Chris: This is a British Heavy Metal album.
It has all the elements, *big guitars, *big vocals, *massive guitar solos, *huge choruses, *catchy songs,
Ask yourself, *Do you like Iron Maiden? *Do you like Judas Priest? *Do you like Black Sabbath?
Yes??? Then you will like ‘Absolva’ – ‘Side by Side’.
Stefan: Under normal circumstances “Side By Side” would be presented to the general public these days, Belgium was also on the list. How are you going to do that in these difficult Corona times?
Chris: As I’ve said before, safety first. If its 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years then thats how long it take…
I do not want to put the safety of the fans at risk, at all…
But I tell you this for sure…
When we do get back touring again we are going to be more hungry than ever!!! It will be explosive!!!
Stefan: What are you guys doing in this lockdown period?
Chris: Myself, I am trying to go for one long walk every day and keep myself active.
I am a Type 1 Diabetic so it is important that I try and eat as best I can but I can still enjoy a few beers.
I am trying to keep in contact with all our fans online, have regular meetings with management and Luke. I have been playing guitar and putting some new riffs down.
Plus all the other boring stuff. Cookings, Cleaning, Hoovering, Shopping. Netflix has been getting a hammering too.
Stefan: Then I’d like to end by wishing you all the best for the future. One thing’s for sure Chris, “Side by Side”, we’ll conquer the battle against the virus ! Thank you for your willingness to contribute to this interview – perhaps one last word to our readers?
Chris: Thank you very much. I enjoyed this interview a lot, there were some nice questions here. A massive big shout out to all our fans out there. Thankyou for supporting and believing in Absolva through these difficult times.
We will be back, we will return, we will never back down. And remember……….. ABSOLVA. Regards Chris