For our March installment of the Women of Heavy Metal interview series we speak with Claire Percival, the energetic drummer of Irish melodic death metal outfit Dead Label. Having been together for just over three years, Dead Label have won a nation-wide Battle of the Bands competition, self-released an EP, and - just last month - issued their debut full-length album, Sense of Slaughter, via Rising Records. As obviously hard-working as Dead Label is, Claire still found the time to chat with Harvest Moon Music.
[HMM] For readers who may be unfamiliar with Dead Label, can you introduce the band and describe your role?
[Claire Percival] We are a three-piece metal band from Ireland. I am the drummer, Danny is the guitarist n Dan is the vocalist n bass player.
How did the group come together, and is there a story behind the name Dead Label?Well we used to all be in a band together called VX with two other members n previous to that I was in other bands with Danny, so when VX broke up we decided to go as a three-piece because we all had very similar tastes in music, a direct vision of the type of music we wanted to write n we all knew we were a hundred percent committed to being in a band for life n giving it everything we had!
Yeah there is a story to how we got our name. Around the time that we started as a band, a girl in the UK called Sophie Lancaster was killed for being a "goth". We wrote a song at the time n decided to write it about the sick people who murdered a girl just because they didn't like her "label". As rockers growing up you do see some hostility, n this was a horrific n extreme version of this. As the song was being written we were obviously talking about labels as such, n as I'm sure you know in metal there are so many sub genres! We didn't really want to work to a genre, we just wanted to be straight up metal, so the name Dead Label covered that ground also. There is no label, we are just metal! (forgive the cheesiness of that statement!) So after we decided to call the band Dead Label, Dan renamed the song about that murder "Rest in Pieces".
Less than a year after forming, Dead Label won the All Ireland Battle of the Bands "The Crypt Trials" in October of 2009. What was that experience like?
That was an incredible experience. We entered not really expecting to get very far, more with the attitude of it's another gig! When we won the first round we were so happy! It was our first achievement as Dead Label, n it felt great to get that far! It was a voting system from the audience, n a lot of our friends were there so we didn't get our hopes up about the final at all! When we got to the final, it was decided by a panel of judges so we were a lot less confident because it didn't matter how many friends you brought! We played with some very talented bands n we were sure we wouldn't win! At the end of the gig they gathered everyone while the winners were announced from third to first! I remember being devastated when we didn't get third, because I thought that if we were going to get anything it would be third! The band that came second were the sure winners in my head so when they called us first we went crazy! It was an amazing feeling!
Your debut full-length release Sense of Slaughter just came out in February on Rising Records. How did the recording sessions go and did how involved in them was the label?
We went to Essex in October to record the album. We were staying in the studio which is also the home n offices of the label. It was an awesome house! We arrived late on Sunday n began recording on the Monday! We were nervous but we got straight to work, there were no arguments during the recording session, n there was no major stress. There was a schedule for the day, we worked ten until seven. There are some production parts that I am not too happy about but that may be because we went straight into mixing, with no time to rest our ears as such, so obviously things will sound better the minute you start mixing them from raw tracks, n it's only when you step away you find certain sounds you aren't completely happy with. Having said that, overall I am very happy with the album itself n the recording process. We were made extremely welcome, n looked after very well. It was an enjoyable experience n I am looking forward to recording the second album!
How has the response to Sense of Slaughter been so far in Ireland and elsewhere?
The response so far has been great! We wrote these songs to our taste, if we like them n enjoy playing them that's all that matters to us! N if they will make a crowd jump up n down! So with that attitude we were not sure what reaction to expect. The first review we got gave us seven out of ten n we were blown over! We couldn't believe a complete stranger who had no allegiances to us liked it that much! We have gotten a lot of reviews n for the most part they have been really good! We have one or two who didn't like us us, n we had one guy who hated our guts! He opened his review with "go fuck yourself for writing this album!". It felt great to affect someone so much with our album! ha ha! Apart from that we have been getting great feedback. There was a problem with the CD deliveries so people haven't received their copies yet but they should be getting them within the week! So I am excited to see what people think when they have the full copy of the album!
Do you have any impending tour plans in support of the album?
Yes we certainly do! Well we are playing a few warm up gigs here in Ireland, starting next Saturday! We have a couple of dates in the UK for April, n we are supporting Blaze Bayley here. We will be playing with The Dead Lay Waiting in the UK for June n here in Ireland for July. After that we have things that are currently being confirmed. We hope to hit Europe as soon as we can! We want to play as many cities as possible, if we could we would be on tour every day! We also would love to get back to Belgium. We played there last May n had a great time!
Are there any notable stories from previous gigs that you'd be willing to share?
Actually I just mentioned Belgium, well that was a new experience for us! A couple of months previous I made friends with a guy called Peter on Facebook, due to similar musical tastes! We chatted a bit about bands like Caliban n Ektomorph! I asked him to check us out, as I do everybody who ever connects with me on Facebook! (I spam everybody!) A while later, he asked me would we be interested in going over n playing two gigs, n that we could stay with them n they would look after us. On paper this sounds risky! Meet someone on Facebook n fly over to them n stay with them, but I had a good feeling about this guy n his band were real - we saw pictures n videos etc. Plus there was three of us, n our friend Robbie, so if we were going to be killed we would have a fighting chance! I'd like to mention we didn't get the feeling we would be killed! So we booked our flights n the dates came upon us quite quickly! I have to say it was very exciting flying to a random country not really knowing what was happening! We also were going to use their gear so there was very little for us to have to think about! So we landed in Belgium n as we walked through arrivals we were so nervous! The guys from Decent Invasion, (Peter's band) were there waiting for us! They were really friendly! Jens had the best English n could chat away to us! They could all speak English though so that was cool! They took us to a pub n bought us MASSIVE burgers called pub burgers! N bought us beers! They made us very welcome! We played a gig that evening in a pretty small venue, but it was packed n the other bands n the crowd were awesome! It was rally cool to meet the bands n the people! We were exhausted but we had loads of fun! The next day we were playing in a venue called Take Five! The guys were excited to show us this venue n they were right to be - it was really cool! It was like a massive renovated barn! N they had free beer for the bands! During sound check Jeremy took us to Luxembourg, which was only half an hour away. He was getting petrol n we tagged along! We live on an island so it was quite exciting for us to inter-country drive! ha ha! This gig was honestly one of the times where I have had the most fun playing! All the bands were excellent, n very friendly! N the crowd was just so alive! We all had loads of fun on stage! Then we got drunk for free n had to go to the airport after the gig, being hungover in the airport was dreadful but worth every minute we spent there!
Is the songwriting process for Dead Label a collaborative one, and how long did it take to write the songs for Sense of Slaughter?
Yes it is very much collaborative. The songs are written in the rehearsal room with all three of us throwing ideas back n fourth! Sense of Slaughter I guess has been in the writing process since we started as a band. "Rest in Pieces" was the second song we ever wrote as Dead Label, mind you it has been updated n changed since it was first written. A few tracks off the album were recorded for the E.P. but again they have been changed quite a lot n are skeletons of the old songs they used to be. We have written a lot of songs but we only ever keep the songs that always give us a certain feeling when we play them. If a song dwindles it tends to get scraped. We believe if it loses its eumph for us, it will certainly lose it for a listener! So Sense of Slaughter is a collection of songs that still excite us to play, even after quite some time. The last song to be written for the album was "Self-Immolation" which we decided to use as our single, n there is a video coming out for it soon. This is the newest song which would usually make us nervous, but we all love it just as much as the older songs!
When writing material for Dead Label, where do you draw inspiration from?
We are all heavily influenced by the same bands, Metallica, Machine Head, Lamb of God, Pantera. We all have other bands we love too, but they are the bands that influence all three of us the most. I think in terms of writing we would focus more towards the Machine Head n Lamb of God style than Metallica n Pantera. Its impossible to listen to Through the Ashes...... by Machine Head n not be instantly inspired!
Is there one particular song on the album that you consider your favorite to perform live?
I enjoy playing all of the songs, but recently I think my favorite to play is the song "Sense of Slaughter" itself. It's really enjoyable on the kit! There's some half-time moments were your whole body goes into a bounce, n you cannot avoid it, well I can't! I love playing "Enslavement" too, that's one where I can kind of sit on the groove which is a lot of fun!
How long have you been playing the drums, and what led to your involvement in heavy metal?
I have been playing drums nearly seven years now. I had a drum kit before I could play it all. My friend asked me to start a band with him n I said yes, completely unable to play! He said we were covering Metallica's version of "Turn the Page" so I played a standard eight over four beat for that. I also used that beat for the two songs we wrote in the band. I did not move from that beat for a whole band ha ha! It was disgraceful now that I think of it! At that time I started listening to Metallica n Machine Head, n when I heard "Vim" on ... Ashes ... I was one hundred percent sure that I wanted to be a heavy metal drummer. I bought a double bass pedal shortly after n there was no turning back from there!
Are there any drummers in particular who inspire your own style?
My biggest inspiration is n always will be Dave Mc Clain from Machine Head! That guy is a robot! He is incredible! He plays exactly what the songs require but he manages to blow your mind every single time! He is so fluid in his playing, n he plays some parts that are more like drum riffs than drum beats! He is amazing! I was lucky enough to meet him last year, n watch the gig from behind the kit! This was my fourth time to see Machine Head live but my first time from this angle, n it is an experience n a day I will never forget! His playing was flawless, it was kind of like watching a magic show, just unreal! N the best part is, he was super cool! I don't think he has any idea how AWESOME he truly is! Other drummers that inspire me are Chris Adler, Joey Jordison to a degree, n Travis Barker. Travis Barker was the first drummer I ever noticed, n the reason I wanted to start playing, he was so cool n flicky! He has a knack for making the drums the catchiest part of the song!
I've read that you also sing. Are there any plans to involve your vocals in Dead Label's sound?
Good Lordy no! I can't sing at all! I wouldn't inflict that sort of pain on anyone who listens to our band! ha ha! I don't sing in the band, n I never will! Even if for some magical reason I could sing, I'm pretty sure I would sound far too girly to sing along with Dan! Whoever wrote that probably saw videos of me mouthing along while playing, even at that I am probably singing one word per bar n it might not even be the same word as Dan so it's a good job nobody can hear me! ha ha!
You're also pursuing a modeling career, correct? How, if at all, has your success as a heavy metal drummer impacted your work as a model?
Well I wouldn't say career really, there isn't a lot of jobs going in Ireland at the moment, n we are quite busy with the band, so I do some modelling n promotional work as my job because it coincides nicely time wise. I am in a competition called "Face of Ireland" at the moment so we will see how that goes! Being a heavy metal drummer hasn't really had any impact on work I've done, I guess they are two very different worlds. You meet people from two completely different lines of work, n they are very different people. When people outside of the "heavy metal" world think of heavy metal, they think of beards n anger I guess n not like that at all. Well there are a lot of beards, but some of the nicest people I know are people I've met through being in a band.
If there was one bit of advice that you could give to a woman with aspirations to be a heavy metal drummer, what would it be?
Advice number one: practice, practice, practice! N when you're sick of practicing, practice harder! Number two: Never be happy to be told you're good for a girl. This is not a compliment. Unless boys use their manhood as a third arm or leg, there is no reason why your gender should effect your ability. Yes boys have a little bit of extra natural strength but that's nothing practice won't fix. Number three: Hit hard, always hit hard n lastly, get tough. Some people can't help but expect you to be crap when you're a girl so there will always be people who doubt you. Flip them off n play anyway!
Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Dead Label for the first time?
Thank you for checking out this interview! If you have heard us before thank you for listening n if you're going to have a listen I hope you like it! N to anybody in a band, no matter how hard it gets keep going!
Thanks so much for the great interview Claire! I'm looking forward to the video and much more from Dead Label!