IRON WILL – A Talk With AL RAVAGE (Drums)

Posted on September 10th. 2018

Questionnaire by Jason Houston on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM

Jason: Hello there Al and thank you for taking time out of your very, busy schedule to speak with us.  Welcome To Metal To Infinity.  Where is the band based out and is there much of a Metal scene there these days?

Al: Iron Will is based out of Malden Massachusetts USA which is just north of Boston, Massachusetts. It’s a good area for metal because most of the major and minor acts who tour the USA hit the Boston area, so our other band Ravage has gotten the chance to play with a lot of national acts and we get to see all of our favorite bands when they come through.

There is also a good diverse local scene with a lot of traditional and power metal bands springing up to join the speed metal, thrash and death metal bands who have been around for a while. We’re the home of national touring bands like Revocation, PowerGlove, and Ramming Speed and also up and coming bands like Seax, Seven Spires, Ice Giant, Reckless Force,  Black Mass, etc… etc


Jason: Who were the bands/musicians who had the greatest influence on you when you were coming up?

Al: As a drummer, when I started out, Metallica and Iron Maiden were the biggest influences. As a kid, I would put on isolation headphones and play along endlessly to live Iron Maiden albums like “A Real Dead One” and Metallica’s self-titled album or “Master Of Puppets” so my entire drumming style is just a bad knock-off of Lars Ulrich mixed with Nicko McBrain fills. As a band we have more diverse influences, but we’re mostly rooted in traditional metal and thrash. Our guitarist Eli went through phases when he was really into power metal or black metal or speed metal, and as a singer Tony owns a copy almost every metal album ever released – but we share the same basic influences – Maiden, Priest, Running Wild, Accept, Warlock, Overkill, Kreator, etc… etc


Jason: What was the point in your life when you knew you wanted to take a shot at being a professional musician?

Al: Well I started playing drums around age 12. But it wasn’t even rock music that got me going.  I had been a singer in a professional choir when I was a little kid and we played a couple of big orchestra shows with the Boston Symphony to thousands of people and that sort of gave me the bug to want to play live. Then when I got into rock music I wanted to play in front of the biggest audience possible and record my own music etc. Our singer Tony says he was inspired to be a singer by seeing a video of Axl Rose when he was a kid. But I didn’t really get exposed to much rock or heavy metal until I was 11 or 12 years old because my parents only listened to classical music.


Jason: Do you remember how you chose the drums as your Instrument of choice?

Al: Ya, I tried to play guitar when I was a kid and it seemed like too much work. I couldn’t even tune the thing properly and I was all thumbs. Drums just seemed easier and more fun. I always thought there was something cool and mysterious about the guy in the back behind the drum set. What was he doing there? Well that, and I always liked to bash inanimate things…


Jason: When you were starting out, as far as playing the drums I was curious how old were you and if you took lessons or would you consider yourself to be more of a self-taught player?

Al: I never took formal lessons. I was always tapping on things as a kid and making drums out of buckets and pans, but I got my first real drum kit at age 12. This was around 1993, I think.  I immediately set it up completely wrong. I put the bottom heads on the top and put a dent in a couple of them because I didn’t know they were thinner than the top heads. I didn’t really get going until my older brother showed me a couple of simple punk beats. So I would play them over and over again and then work on adding little fills. I remember listening to “Enter Sandman” by Metallica around that time and thinking “Wow! How does that guy do it? He’s so fast. He must be layering tracks and using eight hands or something!” Ha ha. I didn’t have any exposure to  anything faster than that until I started listening to other bands like Accept and Judas Priest, etc


Jason: Do you remember what was the first song you learned to play on the drums?

Al: I remember the first song I tried to play in a band was “Detroit Rock City” by KISS. It was funny because I hadn’t even heard the song before we started trying to play it. The guitar player just dictated what fills I should play. Needless to say it didn’t go very well. I had jammed along to a lot of recordings by the time I started trying to play with bands but we just dove into original music without playing a lot of covers in the very early days. Covers came later.


Jason: What do you remember most about your very, first drum kit?

Al: I still have it… in pieces. It was a bright red Cannon five piece kit, made in Italy. It came with a stock crash and ride cymbal and hi-hat. The cymbals sounded awful – they sounded like hitting trash can covers and they didn’t last very long. Within a few weeks of bashing them they were cracked and the metal was so cheap I remember I could peel off the broken pieces to make them sound bearable. I peeled a 20 inch ride until it was a 16 inch. Later on I got some good-sounding Zildjian cymbals, painted black skulls and monsters in the drums and got a double bass pedal, but for a long time I just jammed on the crappy first kit had. The pedal that came with it was a single pedal and it was basically a toy. It kept breaking and the bottom of the beater fell down and tore through the head. Since I had no money for a replacement head I remember using an old piece of canvas from a painting I found in the garbage. The beginnings of that kit were pretty rough.


Jason: I understand that the band was formed in 2000.  Could you talk a little bit about the story of how the band first came together?

Al: My brother Eli and I (who is the guitarist in the band) were watching public access television sometime around 1997 and we saw a local metal band called Scortched Earth. Their singer was this zany guy who was trying to do Rob Halford-esque power screams and since we didn’t know of any other bands in the area that were trying to get a classic metal sound with that kind of vocal, we said to each other “We have to get a show with those guys!” We contacted them through a mutual friend and got them booked on a show we had coming up at a bar a couple of months later. The show was a great time and we immediately became friends with the singer Tony. When we heard that Scortched Earth broke up a short time after that, we said “We need to start a band with this guy!” we contacted Tony and Iron Will formed shortly thereafter.


Jason: Could you tell us the story behind the band’s name Iron Will?

Al: I don’t know if there is much of a story behind the band name. Tony suggested it because he wanted a “metal” band name that evoked thoughts of Iron Maiden etc and because he has always said “An Iron Will is the will to succeed!” Ya, not much of a story there. Tony chose the name, it stuck, and we never bothered to change it.


Jason: What do you remember most about Iron Will’s very, first professional gig?

Al: Iron Will’s first show was at a bar in Malden MA called TJ’s Roadhouse. It was a real dive. We played our set. There was a very small, but surprisingly receptive crowd in attendance and I remember Tony walking up to the owner of the place after we played. Tony, as always was very enthusiastic. He said to the guy “Thanks for letting us play at your bar! This was great. Do you think we could play here again some time?” I remember the guy was a real jerk and he was fuming because only a few people were there on a Friday night and he wasn’t making any money so he said something like “I don’t think so, kid! Your screams are driving away my paying customers!” Needless to say we never played that place again. Tony was a little upset, but it was pretty funny.


Jason: The band recently released a 9 song CD titled “Life Is Your Labyrinth”. Talk a little bit about the album title which I love by the way and what people get on this new CD. I mean talk a bit about the overall sound of the album and what has been the overall reaction from fans so far?

Al: The reaction to the album has been great. Honestly, it’s been a lot better than I would have expected. I think people are more receptive to traditional metal today than they were even five or ten years ago. The songs on there are pretty simple. Most of them we just jammed out at practice over the years. Eli would start playing a guitar riff, and we’d start jamming and Tony had a book of lyrics he had written. He had a whole concept album put together about a dream he had about entering a labyrinth which symbolized the trials he had faced in his life. He’s guided by the spirit of his deceased father and encounters these weird spirits… It’s interesting stuff, and it all just sort of magically came together. We added a few songs later on, but the bulk of the music was written by jamming at band practice in the first couple of years we got together – 2000-2003. “Life is Your Labyrinth” was the song title that summed the whole thing up because it is about fighting your way through the labyrinth of life. It’s about overcoming the struggles you face in life… people putting you down, saying you’re no good etc, etc. Tony had to deal with a lot of adversity growing up.


Jason: I was curious Al when the band was recording “Life Is Your Labyrinth” if everybody was in the same studio or did you record the modern way where everyone in the band recorded their parts individually?

Al: It would have been great to record everything live, but we didn’t have that kind of recording capability, so things were recorded individually. We did use a lot of first takes and complete takes. We knew the songs really well because we’d been playing most of them off and on for the better part of 15 years so when we finally got to record them we just ran through the drums and guitars and there weren’t a lot of overdubs. When it got to mixing, Eli wasn’t happy with the guitar sound so he actually went back and re-recorded all the rhythm guitars three or four times, but the basic tracks are pretty raw, live-sort of takes without many overdubs at all. We left mistakes and tempo changes in there so the recording would feel more organic and we didn’t use any triggers or samples on the drums.


Jason: While I realize they’re two totally different animals Al I was curious if you prefer being in the recording studio or performing live on stage?

Al: Well with recordings, the finished product is the enjoyment. You like seeing the final version of the album and the art and your songs and how it has all come together. With live performance the enjoyment is being in the moment, connecting with fans who know the songs or are hearing them and enjoying them for the first time, feeding off that energy. They are totally differenty experiences so it’s hard to choose.


Jason: How often to you practice the drums before getting ready for a tour?

Al: We don’t tour very much with Iron Will. We do practice regularly these days, but we only play shows every few months so it’s not very strenuous for me. In my other band Ravage, we play more shows, but practice less. In Iron Will it’s seems like we practice all the time but play shows rarely. It’s an odd situation.


Jason: Is there an album/CD in your collection that you can point to and say that’s the band/that’s the album that played major role in doing what I am doing today in Iron Will?

Al: As a drummer, I’d have to say that even though my style was greatly influenced by Nicko McBrain and Clive Burr, I was inspired mostly by hearing Metallica’s self-titled album. Just hearing Lars bashing the hell out of the drums on songs like “Wherever I May Roam” and “Don’t Tread On Me” made a huge impact on me. I still think that is one of the best drum sounds on a heavy metal album ever – maybe the best.


Jason: How important of a role has the internet played in helping to spread the word about the band?

Al: The internet has been instrumental to getting the word out on the band. I think that without people hearing us on the internet, only five people in the local bar would have heard our music. Instead we have a video out there that has over 10,000 plays and people all around the world have heard it. There is nothing better than having your music reach the other side of the planet. Who would have ever thought someone in Botswana would be blasting Iron Will?


Jason: How do you feel about digital music sites vs. fans who still like to purchase physical CDs?

Al: There are different ways to experience music. Whatever makes people happy is fine with me. I still enjoy getting engrossed in an album… sitting there, staring at the artwork, reading the lyrics… it doesn’t matter if it is a CD or vinyl or cassette format. The digital revolution has allowed incredible access to music and new bands. You can call up any song at any time, but there is also something to be said about holding the record in your hands and reading the liner notes etc.


Jason: How much do you enjoy with interacting with fans on-line?

Al: It’s great. I enjoy hearing the feedback and even the criticism. Even the stupid, unconstructive criticism. I just like seeing people react to the art. That’s why you offer up something creatively, so you get feedback and a reaction of some kind from someone else who is experiencing it in a different way. If you don’t want that you can just keep the music bottled up in your basement.


Jason: What can fans expect from Iron Will for the remainder of 2018?

Al: We are taking a little break for the Summer because Eli is busy recording and mixing the new Seax album and Ravage will be touring Europe in July. So most of the band will be away and/or busy. When we get back in the fall we’ll be working on songs for a new recording, playing local shows and maybe trying to get on some festivals in 2019.


Jason: Is there anything left you’d like to say to all the Iron Will fans out there? Thanks again Al!

Al: Thank you for supporting us over the years and for picking up the “Life Is Your Labyrinth” album. We appreciate all your support and Iron WILL be back. Check in with us at our facebook:   Iron WILL Rise! Hooh!