At the Gate of Exhaustion
CoC chats with Karl Sanders of Nile
by: Paul Schwarz
The interview which follows is a pretty raw affair, and I feel I should put my cards on the table. For years I've been meaning to speak to Karl Sanders again, to ask some of the questions which have been bugging me regarding Nile. I bought _Ithyphallic_ when it came out and found it very disappointing. I was somewhat put off by some of the rave reviews which treated it like any other Nile album and, long story short, have not really followed the band since. But this urge to speak to Karl again remained. Not only were there questions to which I wanted answers but also I had spoken to Nile originally in what for me were formative years.

I saw them at the beginning and end of their first European tour, which began with an appearance at the 1999 Dynamo Festival in Holland and finished with a gig at L'Antipode in Rennes. Nile's rise from _Nephren-Ka_ to _Black Seeds of Vengeance_ was very significant, it was something I felt part of, and I felt a rapport with Sanders in particular which I selfishly wanted to revisit. This interview has come about now because Nile are about to make their first British outdoor festival appearance at Bloodstock, and I am off to cover the event for CoC.

The interview has been presented in a raw Q&A form for a few reasons. One is that those early Nile interviews you will find in the CoC archives are Q&As and I wanted to keep that tradition alive. The other is that I wanted to present this interview more or less as it happened. When I spoke to Karl he was very tired, being near the end of a month of solid press work, while I had suffered insomnia the night before and so was not as together as I could have been. I had also not found time to do my research and catch up on what had been happening with Nile since I had somewhat abandoned them following _Ithyphallic_. So be warned: this interview does not go into detail about the band's most recent release and does not reflect a thoroughgoing knowledge of the band's activities over the last few years. As such I feel it is somewhat unique and pretty revealing, in terms of facts about Nile but also the conduct of interviews. I hope it is not a disappointment, but if time permits I would like to follow it up in the not too distant future with a much more informed dialogue which does delve into the details of that most recent album and Nile's recent activities.

All in all, considering how tired Karl was, I feel this was the best interview to have conducted at the juncture which it was conducted. So my transcription is representative of those circumstances. My first draft was literal -- with many pauses and repetitions and mistakes and strange bits of grammar included -- and it was edited into what you see below. So there are plenty of "um"s and "y'know"s and pauses and the like. It's worth remembering that most of the quotes that you get to see in magazines have been edited into an appropriate form, partly to fit word counts and partly to make people sound less hesitant than they actually do, transcribed literally. It's a fine balance: I am confident I have got it right. What I wanted was for it to read like Karl speaking, and that I feel it does. If either Karl or myself seem a little scrambled it's probably because we were. Happy reading.

CoC: How are you getting on?

Karl Sanders: Uh, pretty good... Pretty good. It's fuckin' hot as fuck down here in South Carolina, 'bout a hundred and five degrees Fahrenheit.

CoC: Wow.

KS: Yeah.

CoC: Ridiculous.

KS: Yeah, it's insane. Good thing we're inside, holy shit!

CoC: It's a long time since Chronicles of Chaos did a Nile interview.

KS: Yeah yeah, Chronicles of Chaos. I love Chronicles of Chaos. There was always such great writing in there.

CoC: Thank you. I agree. Are you looking forward to going to Bloodstock?

KS: This'll be our first time at Bloodstock so, you know, that's kind of new and exciting.

CoC: The first time we met was at a festival, Dynamo 1999. It was at the beginning of a tour which finished in Rennes, right?

KS: Wow. Thaaaat's right. That's pretty amazing you remember that.

CoC: Well I remember because I still have the tour shirt from that tour.

KS: Wow!

CoC: I remember meeting you at Dynamo and you were going on about how it was a metal paradise and all that sort of thing and it's now, what? Fuck, like thirteen years ago. That was the first time you'd come to Europe to play, right?

KS: I think so.

CoC: You've not played a large UK festival before?

KS: This will be our first UK festival. We've not been at any, ever! Ever ever ever ever. Which is crazy because we've got an English booking agent, Nick Peel; you would think we would be, you know, playing plenty of English festivals but no, this is our first time.

CoC: So you're just in the midst of finishing a new album, I gather?

KS: Actually the album's done, it came out in Europe yesterday.

CoC: Of course it did, Jesus!

KS: I'm at home just doing press, interviews, talking on the phone all day, doing emailers. In fact, for the past four weeks I've been spending my days doing -nothing- but talking about Nile, day in, day out, day in, day out.

CoC: Oh my God! I think we'd better make this more reminiscent then, avoid your stock responses. I'm sorry I'm so out of the loop, Karl. I've been doing a lot of other things apart from writing. I'm just starting getting back into the swing of it so I'm a little behind on all the news. In fact, I realised as soon as I asked the question that I was wrong because my friend Amun Breaker -- we have a very entwined fascination with Nile -- he was telling me that the new album sounded quite good. Because the place where I kind of -left- Nile and stopped, y'know, being so engrossed in it was _Ithyphallic_, if I'm honest. It didn't grab me as much and it was something about having been at those sort of peaks and where I was with music in general, there were a bunch of things that I just thought: well, come on, you know. You get to live a lot more years, you can listen to it later, don't stress yourself out. So I'm a bit behind.

KS: Right on.

CoC: How do you feel about _Ithyphallic_ now? It not having explanations in the lyrics bothered some people. Was there a reason for that?

KS: Well, there were a couple of reasons for having no liner notes on _Ithyphallic_. One of the primary ones was because everyone was telling me I -had- to do it, I -had- to do it.

CoC: Right.

KS: -Had- to do it. And uh, if there's any way to convince this guy, me, not to do something it's to tell me I -have- to fucking do it. Well, I don't -have- to motherfuckin' do anything. You know, it sort of turned it -around- into a 'no-one can tell us what to do' situation. In fact the whole mood of that album was one of 'no-one can tell us what to do any more'. We weren't on Relapse Records any more so I didn't have to deal with people -constantly- telling me what I have to do or not do with my fucking records. I mean, there was always a war with Relapse. I remember they didn't want to call our album "Black Seeds of Vengeance".

CoC: Really?

KS: Yeah, you'll love this. They wanted to change it to "Seeds of Vengeance" because they were afraid people would perceive us... as racists.

CoC: <laughs> Oh my God.

KS: So they went as far as to print up posters and stickers with the title "Seeds of Vengeance".

CoC: Ridiculous.

KS: When we found out what they were doing we were like: what the fuck do you guys think you're doing? It's our fuckin' album title, it's our song. If we wanna call the fuckin' album "Black Seeds of Vengeance", we're gonna call it "Black Seeds of Vengeance", there's no two ways about it. Jesus Christ!

CoC: Yeah, totally. That makes no sense at all.

KS: Yeah, could you imagine? Could you imagine, just picture this: a dozen years later, you go to the Nile show and the very last song is, "Seeds of Vengeance". And the crowd will chant, '-Blank-, seeds, of vengeance'...

CoC: <laughing>

KS: 'Blank, seeds of vengeance'. It's just not as fucking powerful.

CoC: It's ridiculous, isn't it? It's amazing what some people come up with in these kinds of contexts. Record companies and executives in particular often have a very strange way of looking at things. The thing that it reminded me of: have you ever heard a recording by a guy called Pastor Michael Mills?

KS: No

CoC: This is amazing. If you want I'll send you a recording. A friend of mine -- who actually gave me the Nile record originally, interestingly enough -- passed it on to me. It's this guy from Battle Creek Michigan who in 1984 felt that he had decoded the hidden and Satanic messages inside music -- as many others have, of course. But it's amazing the tirade that he goes on in this interview.

KS: Wow.

CoC: He explains how he's studied it the matter "so intently". At one point says, "I feel there is a literal forcefield around young people." <laughs> But my favourite is...

KS: <laughter>

CoC: ...he goes on about -- and this is where it comes back to Nile -- he goes on about the repetitious, repeating rhythm of rock music <laughs> and how this entices people. I mean, rhythmically with Nile I think it's been an interesting journey. You started off with your good friend from childhood, Pete Hamourra. You moved into Tony [Laureano] who kind of stepped into the breach -- well, Derek Roddy stepped into the breach first and then Tony stepped in and did an album after touring with you. With George [Kollias] I feel like you secured, in some ways, the future of Nile. When you're playing with a band at this level, there are certain points where you need a special someone... kind of thing.

KS: Yes. I would agree with that.

CoC: I think George filled that niche.

KS: Yeah.

CoC: I guess what I'm picking up on is that when it got to _Annihilation of the Wicked_, you, Dallas [Toler-Wade] and George were kind of the three core members of Nile. For me, Nile then went through a very interesting stage of transitions because when Dallas was singing, at -first- I found that kinda of threw things off, in some ways. When Joe Payne was with the band you guys did a show at the Scala where the triple vocal effect -really- kind of made an impact, and it really felt like an -ensemble- band. D'you know what I mean? Like where there wasn't the focus on a one frontman, which was very much the case with Chief Spires and it was very much what Jon Vesano was about. Did you find that that was happening with that line-up, when Joe Payne was playing bass with you? Did you find that was really going somewhere?

KS: I really liked the team spirit that was in the band in those days. You know as far as like, frontmen or lead singers: I find the concept preposterous. What often happens to people is they start off pretty cool talented people, and then they stand in the middle of the stage, and they sing, and they talk to the crowd, and then it's like clockwork. Within a very short amount of time they start changing into somebody else. Some people refer to this as lead singer disease.

CoC: Yes.

KS: And it's, you know, kind of joke when people say that. They're talking about something that's -funny-. But what's -not- funny is what starts happening within the band once -somebody- becomes infected with lead singer disease. When it was me and Dallas and Joe Payne singing, there was a team spirit. It was just guys up there, making music and, y'know, working together as a team. That's what I like. I have grown to -hate- lead singers.

CoC: I think at the point where you got to _Ithyphallic_ there was quite a lot of stress in the band at that time. I remember an interview around that record where you were talking about how the songwriting had come together and things like that, and there was almost a frustrated tone in your voice. Because I think at that point you were carrying the band somewhat.

KS: <chuckles>

CoC: Uh.. does that ring a bell?

KS: Um... Yeah, there were growing frustrations during that time, a lot of it because of the bassplayer problem.

CoC: Because Joe left?

KS: It was very... I'm sorry?

CoC: Because Joe left relatively soon after the _Annihilation_ tour, right?

KS: Exactly, we had to fire 'im. He's one of the very few people that we've actually come out and -fired-. Usually we, you know, let people just go ahead and quit, because when you -fire- somebody there's often messy, legal issues that come afterwards. But Joe was... you know, we had to fire 'im, and it really, you know, it wasn't fun.

CoC: Why did that happen, if you can say? I mean, obviously there may be circumstances where that's not appropriate, but if I can ask.

KS: Um, it was some dumb, childish stuff. I mean, he was only twenty years old. We're, you know, grown men who know better about dumb shit. I don't wanna go into the details because it really doesn't serve any point. The important thing was, Joe did some dumb things and made it so that we -could- not keep him in the band. That was years ago, I'm sure Joe has moved on and grown, you know, a little older and wiser. So, you know, there was a lot of, uh, tension about that. There was also the entire mess with us having to hurry up and finish that record so that we could have it ready in time for Ozzfest, in America.

CoC: Right.

KS: And that was a deadline that we weren't happy about. I think if we would have just had another week or so on _Ithyphallic_, the mix could've been better.

CoC: That makes a lot of sense.

KS: Yeah.

CoC: It always felt to me like a record that had either been rushed, or where the participants had got to a point where they couldn't finish it, in some way.

KS: It was definitely under the gun, because the record had to be released -in time- to go on Ozzfest - or else what was the point to go on Ozzfest, if not to promote the fucking record. So it was just one of those, and that's a bitter lesson, y'know? When you look back on it you go: why did we allow ourselves to get put in that position when we could have made a better record with just a little more time? And maybe people wouldn't have beaten us up so bad about that record, because there are a -lot- of amazing guitar and drumming ideas on that record. But, you know, the production, it could have been better. There's some mistakes I think that we made that, you know, given a little bit more time to make appropriate judgements on things, I'm sure it would have been better.

CoC: Yeah. It's one of those things. That's how life goes, it doesn't always go as well as it could, y'know? I think it's interesting though because I think Nile had quite an ascension. I mean to me, when _Annihilation of the Wicked_ came out and was as good as it was, it was really astounding. You know, as much as I loved Nile -- and still do indeed -- it surprised me. To keep pushing the envelope that way, at some point I think it becomes almost impossible to keep moving outward, every single time without any faltering.

KS: Well, you know, I got a perspective on that I think people oughta hear and it's this. Every single record that we've done we were pushing ourselves, and we were trying to, you know, reach the goals within the framework of what we're doing. But everyone has perceived every one of those records differently. I remember when _Annihilation_ came out and there were -lots- of people that -fucking- hated it. Hated it. It didn't sound anything like _Darkened Shrines_. In fact, to some people the whole -vibe- of the band had changed, it wasn't even the same band, what the hell were we doing, what was this fucking bullshit we were playing? Dude, I remember those interviews and reviews, and I remember the shit that people said. -Now-, years later, people are like: dude, this is your finest moment. Well, yeah, but for somebody else the finest moment will be _In Their Darkened Shrines_ or _Those Whom the Gods Detest_ or _Nephren Ka_ or _Black Seeds of Vengeance_.

CoC: Sure sure sure. But I was actually thinking of a more -- I suppose it's quite arrogant, but a more artistic perspective. To me, _Annihilation of the Wicked_, it's almost... you can almost -prove- that it's as good as it is, because of how it builds and how it's put together.

KS: Right on.

CoC: What I was actually gonna go back to was the earlier Nile work. One of the records which has become better and better to me, every single year, is actually _Festivals of Atonement_. Myself and my friend Amun Breaker, it's a record we're absolutely obsessed with.

KS: Right on.

CoC: I mentioned it to you years ago: I've always been surprised that -- apart from "Black Hand of Set" perhaps -- you've never gone back to any of that material. Have you ever thought of doing "Wrought" or of doing "Divine Intent" live? Have you ever wanted to go there?

KS: Um, yeah, every once in a while we talk about it, but then the realities of the setlist and all the songs that we have to cram into a hour raise their ugly head. I think the last time we played a _Festivals of Atonement_ song was about '03 or '04, during the _Darkened Shrines_ touring.

CoC: Yup, that sounds right, I mean the last time I saw you do it was "Black Hand of Set", when Chief Spires was still in the band and you played in Glasgow, in 2001. The other thing was _Worship the Animal_, the earlier demo which was mooted in the early years of Nile. That has now seen the light of day. How do you feel about that release?

KS: Well I'd, you know I'd hoped that it would stay buried. Recently it -was- released: Pete and Chief really wanted to put it out, I really didn't want to. I don't think it's really representative of, like, Nile as uh... y'know, as a band with some sort of identity. I think back then we were kinda searching around, wondering who the hell we were. It was a very young band in terms of artistic development, even though all of us had been playing for a while. As far as songwriting goes, I think it's a very, very early, immature sorta Nile so I've wanted to keep it buried. I didn't really see any point in releasing it, but, y'know, Pete and Chief wanted to so there you go.

CoC: I understand why you might feel that way and I understand that it doesn't quite have the continuity, but I've gotta say, it's actually a very strong release. It's interesting to me that you could have had an entirely different band emerge from Nile.

KS: Yes. <laughs>

CoC: Some of those songs, like "Mecca" and, um, I forget what the second track is called but just the way that it comes in on the drumbeat. There's some -incredible- material there and it really is another example of just how consistently good the work that Nile put out is. I mean, in that context, has it come to a point now where you feel the band is back to a particular peak, that things are easier or that they're more vibrant and flowing now, because I get the impression that _Those Whom the Gods Detest_ was somewhat of a rejuvenation, perhaps of your own interest in Nile?

KS: Yeah, a rejuvenation of my own interest in Nile, I'd call that pretty accurate. There was a feeling in the band that we were gonna make a definitive Nile album. You know, where we've got all the pieces of the puzzle put together. And once we did that, we felt like: okay, maybe we can move on to new things, y'know see what else is next. Y'know, like putting the finishing touches on a catalogue or whatever. So the new record, y'know it's like a new chapter, it's like new directions, new things to do, new ways of looking at things.

CoC: Will you be involving anything like, um, clear singing, anything of that nature?

KS: Uh, well there is some clear singing on the new disc, although that's not an -entirely- new idea for Nile.

CoC: True. True.

KS: But -way- it's used... I think the context is different.

CoC: And if you can update me -- 'cause as I say, I apologise for not having had the time to do all my research today -- how are the vocal duties working out for Nile at the moment? Because I mean, I'll put my cards on the table. When myself and my partner went to see Nile and Melechesh down at the Carling Academy, in the end I really wasn't feeling it, the set that you did. I don't want you to defend that, it's not about arguing about that. But how do you feel that this line-up has -changed- in the last couple of years? D'you think that it being together has allowed it to move forward?

KS: Well, um, I don't know. In recent years I've not been doing as much vocals, for various reasons, and as a band we had pretty much decided yeah, we gotta start working Karl's vocals back into things, it's a big part of Nile, it needs to be in there. Also, y'know, I thought the vocals had been becoming a bit one dimensional, 'cause there's only one guy singing, whereas Nile used to have three guys singing.

CoC: Yeah.

KS: So that was another thing we really wanted to address: to expand the vocal sound and the vocal colours. That's one thing that is marked about the new disc: that, for better or worse, there's a lot more vocal variety. Some people are really angry about that and other people find it refreshing.

CoC: I feel I'm gonna be in the latter camp. I'm actually very much looking forward to hearing it. I think it'll be a bit of a rejuvenation for me as well. I mean, when it comes to making the music, are there any particular techniques you use when practising? I mean how do you... how does the process develop for writing the songs, in Nile?

KS: Well usually I'll write the words first, and then either Dallas or I will take those words and be starting to write riffs for them. I always write the words first because they kinda inspire the riffs, like I'll have the lyrics sheet while I'm, y'know, sitting there practising with the guitar and jamming. I'll put the words right there where I can see 'em, where I can think about 'em and I'll go well, what does this idea mean to me? How would I express this with a guitar riff? I find that inspiring. It's a fun way to work. I just kinda let the lyrics guide the guitar riff writing process.

CoC: That's very interesting actually because that's I think the reverse of what most metal bands do. Most metal bands, you ask them about lyrics and often they will say it's the last thing that they write and, y'know, they always hate having to get 'round to writing them and that sort of thing. It's very interesting to be inspired by the words that you're putting down and to match music to them rather than to do it the other way around, which seems to be a lot of people's methodology.

KS: Well I find when you write the riffs and the music first, you build this incredible song and then, you know, the band around me go: well okay, now we gotta put some vocals to it, what the fuck do we do? And you scratch your head and go: well maybe we could write about this, or maybe we could write about that. At the end of that process you may or may not have words and music that actually go together. There's a lot of like, having to bend the words around into trying to fit in with the music, and it's a hair-tearing-out process, I understand why bands hate it, I've been there too. So that's why I went: well wait a minute, what if you start with the words -first-, and use the words as like a guidepath to write the music? Then you'd never be lost, you'd never be like, sitting around kicking yourself going: where the fuck is this song going? You always know where it's supposed to go: you got the words right there.

CoC: It makes a lot of sense actually. Regarding Bloodstock, have you heard anything about the festival, have you talked to bands who've played it before?

KS: Well I know it's in England, and I know it's right around the time of the Olympics... Yeeaah. So I'm expecting complete chaos on the roads across England.

CoC: Yeah, that's quite possible, although thankfully it's far enough away from London that it shouldn't be too bad.

KS: Cool.

CoC: It's a very fun outdoor festival, I must say.

KS: Well, good. I'm expecting some mild English weather and, uh, yeah... Fuckin' hot here dude! I'm tellin' you, it's fuckin' hot.

CoC: I can imagine. From the amount of fatigue I can hear from your voice it sounds like it really is that hot.

KS: It is. Well, some of the fatigue is the mental exhaustion from the, uh, the pre-release build-up and, like, all the insane things that people say online.

CoC: Oh God, yeah.

KS: Yeah. That shit, it is mentally exhausting.

CoC: Absolutely. It's mentally something else as well. <laughs>

KS: <laughs>

CoC: I was talking to Alan Nemtheanga from Primordial recently and he was talking about people who go on metal forums and this whole online community, and he made a really interesting point about how, for I think a lot of people -- and they were noticing this at some gigs they did in Germany -- they don't actually have a kind of human social scene, they have this online, anonymous, you know, very disconnected scene. I found it very interesting. I've been doing some volunteer work recently where I've become sort of connected to a whole network of people, which is much more like kind of what it used to be, you know? I've just heard records 'cause people are playing them and then taped them off them, kind of thing, you know? It's really nice.

KS: Cool.

CoC: Yeah. It's something I think that that whole forum culture misses: it's definitely something to not pay much attention to, in my book. I really don't think the stuff that people say online -really- matters when it comes to the people who, you know, really buy and care about the records.

KS: You know, I'd have to agree with that. The people that you see talking online are not the same guys that you see coming to the show, and buying your shirt and like, having their disc signed or whatever. It's like two completely separate sets of people.

CoC: Yeah.

KS: And I gotta say, virtual people fucking suck. I like actual real humans and actual real fans that like, you know, come to the show and have fun and enjoy music.

CoC: Exactly, yeah. It's curious. Anyway, it'd be lovely to talk to you again at some point, it'll be amazing to see you at Bloodstock onstage and if I see you in person I'll buy you a beer, be lovely to do that again.

KS: <laughs>

CoC: We can remember what Dynamo was like, hopefully.

KS: Yeah, maybe listen to some Manowar.

CoC: Sounds perfect. Excellent plan. Anyway Karl, pleasure as always.

(article submitted 29/7/2012)

9/9/2007 J Smit Nile: Luring the Doom Serpent
8/12/2005 J Smit Nile: Blazing a Trail of Annihilation
5/13/2001 P Schwarz Nile: They Couldn't Dam This River...
10/12/1999 P Schwarz /
D Rocher
Nile: Preparing to Again Burst Their Banks
7/15/2012 D Lake 7.5 Nile - At the Gate of Sethu
11/13/2009 J Smit 9.5 Nile - Those Whom Gods Detest
6/10/2007 J Smit 8.5 Nile - Ithyphallic
5/13/2005 J Smit 9.5 Nile - Annihilation of the Wicked
6/23/2003 J Smit 9 Nile - In Their Darkened Shrines
11/20/2000 P Schwarz 10 Nile - Black Seeds of Vengeance
8/12/2000 P Schwarz 8.5 Nile - In the Beginning
7/8/1998 P Schwarz 9.5 Nile - Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren Ka
12/26/2003 J Smit Deicide / Destruction / Nile / Akercocke / Dew-Scented / Graveworm / Misery Index Redemption at the Palace
5/13/2001 D Rocher Nile / The Haunted / Carnal Forge / The Forsaken At the Haunted Gates of Vengeance
3/13/2001 P Schwarz Nile / Sleath / Regorge / Co-Exist The Delta of Death Descends
8/12/1999 D Rocher Six Feet Under / Mayhem / Vader / Enslaved / Cryptopsy / Nile / Thyrfing / Darkseid Facing the Breton Storm Season
8/12/1999 M Noll Six Feet Under / Vader / Enslaved / Cryptopsy / Nile / Thyrfing Pig's Feet and All Things Yummy
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