In the UK heavy metal calendar, Download Festival is basically the equivalent of Christmas. Within the hallowed grounds of Donington Park, a venue that has accommodated the lion’s share of British hard rock history, the twelfth annual three day party was a-go. The announcement of first time headliners Avenged Sevenfold, concurrently surprised and thrilled the masses – proving that the festival organisers are keen to elevate deserving bands to new levels of acclaim. Nu-metal kings Linkin Park boldly promised to play their debut, ‘Hybrid Theory’ in its entirety and the thought of veterans Aerosmith's mere presence tantalised more punters than you could shake a stick at. Gibson were there onsite all weekend, through the sun, rain and miscellaneous odours – maintaining a healthy balance of soaking up live music glory and diving backstage to score a variety of interviews…
Black Label Society – Zakk Wylde
An incredible performance on the main stage today, which marks two years exactly since you last played in the UK. You’ve had such a long and successful career that when you don’t come back for a while, there’s talk that you might be thinking about retiring. How do you feel about that?
It was awesome. I can’t believe it was two years ago that we played here last. That was definitely way cool. No, between the kids going to college and everything like that, I’ll be touring for quite some time!
You have a new guitar player in tow, what was the recruitment process like and what do you look for in a guitarist?
We got Dario! When it came time to find a new guitar player, a buddy of mine said he knows this kid out in Vegas – really a monster player. I saw a video of him playing, he’s amazing, but I said – “Can he dance?!” That’s the big thing here. Because Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, these guys are definitely huge influences on Black Label, but so are Chippendales and the Thunder From Down Under! So therefore he had to come in and do a dance routine for us. His dancing was phenomenal and he got the gig!
What do you remember about being picked to play guitar for Ozzy? What’s your relationship with Ozzy like these days?
When I got picked to play guitar for the boss? Oz just said, “Zakk, I want you to play with your heart and make me a ham sandwich now and go light on the mustard”. I did, I went light on the mustard and I’ve remembered that to this day! Still he’s like, “Make me a ham sandwich and go light on the mustard”. It’s great. It was in my wildest dreams – playing and jamming with him all those years. He’s the Godfather of my oldest son. I’m truly blessed, without a doubt.
Phil Anselmo recently joined you on stage to perform ‘I’m Broken’ by Pantera. How did that come about? Are there plans to collaborate live again or on record with the remaining members of Pantera?
Phil said maybe we’ll do a P song, you know, a Pantera song and I said yeah sure. Listened back to the catalogue, what Dime did, because there’s a ripping solo on that one and it’s a great song anyway. So we just worked it up in rehearsals and Phil came down and we just did it at a couple of different gigs. At the last one Rex (Brown) came out and did it because Kill Devil Hill was doing a gig in town. It was a lot of fun, it was an honour playing it and being up there with the guys; it was definitely cool. What we’ve really been talking about – me, Phil, Rex and Vinnie is opening up an amazing taco stand. So, it’s like a mixture of tacos meets Mediterranean and meets Irish pub food. We been talking about that and we just feel it would be an amazing collaboration!
The last time that Dimebag Darrell played in the UK was here at Download Festival 10 years ago. Do you have any current plans to mark the 10 th anniversary of his untimely passing later this year?
We celebrate Dime every night we’re on stage with Black Label. We play ‘In This River’ every night, banners come down – we celebrate Dime every day. Every day is Dime day doing a Black Label gig for sure.
Rivals Sons – Dave
How did you get the opportunity to join Rivals Sons?
I got a phone call at 8am on a Monday from Jay Buchanan, which is an incredibly strange time for him to be calling. I figured something was up. He told me Robin had left and could I come an do these dates with them in Scandinavia and some US dates last minute and of course I said yes and I’ve just been on ever since. Made the new record with them and now I’m a member. Everybody’s really close friends, it’s great because you get to travel around with your buddies and it’s a democracy.
What was making the new record, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ like?
We made it in Nashville. They had made all their previous records with a producer named Dave Cobb and they had made them all in LA, but Dave had moved to Nashville, so we went to Nashville to work with him and it was the same process they had been doing in the past, which was new to me, which is you go in with nothing. So we go in, we write with a completely blank slate. Nothing’s written – so everything was written, recorded, mixed and mastered. We did it in six weeks, which is longer than they’ve ever taken before. Typically they were 20-30 days, but this was a luxurious six weeks! It’s an interesting process. It’s a little bit chaotic when you first go in because you got to find a place to start and it’s really just getting into the room, starting to play together and seeing what comes out. There might be an idea here, an idea there, small ideas and then we just grow them and build them together.
‘Great Western Valkyrie’ has just reached Top 10 in the UK album charts, so congratulations! How does it feel to have achieved that with your first album with Rival Sons?
It feels great! I got to skip to the hard part with these guys. I don’t feel that bad about it because I’d spent years on the road in vans during previous musical endeavours. It’s amazing – Top 10, first record with these guys, can’t beat it. We’re pretty excited!
What kind of relationship do you have with Gibson?
I have a great relationship with Gibson. I’ve had a relationship with Gibson for years and years. I first met them in 2005. My old band was on Kiefer Sutherland’s label, it was called Ironworks and it’s not together anymore; Gibson made a signature model for him at that point, so I met a lot of the people. At that point I became endorsed and got my first Gibson bass which I still have and love. That was my main one for years. It’s a legendary brand. You know what you’re going to get – there’s no question marks; my experience with Gibson has been nothing but positive.
What have you got coming up this year that you’re particularly looking forward to?
We’re doing a date with Letterman on June 23rd and he’s retiring in January 2015, so we’re going to get in there! I’ve done it once before. Everything they say about that studio is true – it’s freezing cold!
Radkey – Isaiah and Dee
When did you decide to start a band? What’s it like being in a band with both of your brothers?
Isaiah: We were home-schooled, we started the band about four and a half years ago, started playing some shows and here we are.
Dee: It’s fun, it’s pretty easy, we don’t argue at all.
What do you remember about playing Download Festival last year?
Isaiah: Our very first gig out of the country was Download and it was a really intimidating show. It was cool though and this is a kind of like an anniversary thing going on right now.
Isaiah: The crowd was great.
Dee: And the sound was amazing.
Isaiah: It was perfect.
Can you tell me about some of your influences? Who are your favourite guitarists/bassists?
Isaiah: Top three are Ramones, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin.
Dee: My favourite guitarist is actually Jimi Hendrix.
Isaiah: John Entwistle.
What kind of a difference has the Gibson Min-ETune made to your playing Dee? You met the maker of the Min-ETune recently, what was that like?
Dee: Yeah, it’s pretty cool, it tunes itself. You just hit a button and strum and it’s awesome. It’s a lot easier, between songs it tunes a lot faster, so all I have to do is push a button and strum. It was really cool! He came down and showed me a few tricks – how to do drop-tuning and all the different tunings.
How is your debut album coming along?
Isaiah: We just got back from San Francisco, we’re recording with Ross Orton and we recorded half of our album already, which should be coming out in January 2015. These are pretty new songs. The recording process been really chill. We didn’t stick to any kind of schedule. We toured with Drenge and Ross produced their record, he liked our show and wanted to record with us and that was cool. It takes the right person and Ross was the perfect guy for us. There was no issues, no weirdness at all, it was cool.
Dee: We could be really laid back and open-minded with all of his ideas, so it helped a lot with the writing.
The Temperance Movement – Luke and Nick
You’re currently in the middle of supporting The Rolling Stones on a few dates in Europe. How did that opportunity come about?
Nick: A lot of people did a lot of good things for us – a combination of our live agent and our promoter in Germany. We’ve been told that Mick Jagger somehow or another got to hear our record and liked it, so asked for us to come and do some gigs.
Luke: I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet!
Nick: It’s crazy. You wonder round and it’s festival-sized, so at moments it just feels like another show and at other moments, you realise you’re on tour with The Rolling Stones. It’s crazy!
Luke: They are the biggest, probably best band in the world. They’re just such a massive influence on us and then to get to watch them every night afterwards… We’re just there dancing down the front having a really good time with it.
Have you met any of The Rolling Stones since being on the tour?
Luke: We sort of waved to Ronnie! He’s a big hero. He was obviously in The Faces and that was another really big influence on our band, so it’s amazing being in the same room as him. But we’ve been told we might get to hang out with them a little bit in Dusseldorf next week, so I’m going to try and be cool and not lose it! I’ll probably say/do something really awkward and weird and have to leave!
Nick: I’m kind of hoping they’ll do the talking!
Would you say this booking has been the pinnacle of your career?
Luke: We’ve been so lucky. In the past 18 months, we’ve gone from playing 200 capacity places in London to selling out Shepherd’s Bush Empire and we’ve got more shows coming up in London and all around the country that we hope to announce soon. It’s just been mind-blowing for us and the Stones are obviously massive, but it just seems to have come in a long string of very lucky things that seem to be happening to us.
Considering you only released your debut album in September – why do you think you’ve been so successful, so quickly?
Luke: I don’t know, we’re just scratching our heads really! I’d like to think we’ve worked really hard, we’ve made a record for no other reason than wanting to make a record and music that we’re proud of and really wanted to go out and play every night. The whole reason we started this band was to go out, play together and make it different every night; just try and grow organically. Some hard work’s been paying off, but we are very grateful and very humbled by it.
What’s it about the sound you get from a Gibson that you particularly like and used to make your self-titled debut?
Luke: There’s a lot of Gibson’s on the record. I was mainly playing an old 60’s SG and I still play an SG a lot. It’s growing up listening to a certain type of music and a lot of that music has been made using Gibson guitars, so when we’re trying to take that sound and hopefully do our own thing to it, it’s a really good place to start and they’re just cool as **** guitars! They look great and they sound great and they make it easier, which is good.
Drones – Rob King
How would you describe your band Drones?
We’re just straight up, stripped down punk rock music. We don’t mess about with trends and we don’t try and be any sort of band, we just play the music that naturally comes to us and have great fun doing it. That’s what we’re about. The band’s been around since 2010 and our influences are Strike Anywhere, Rise Against, Anti-Flag, Green Day, Blink – all the standard punk rock icons.
What is your fan base like?
It’s varied. You’d think it would be just a lot of the younger people, which is great, I mean I love appealing to the younger people that are coming up, the people that are just getting into music and are finding their feet with music. But we’ve had a good response from the older people as well. At shows you you’ll find some older guys that are really into us, so it’s cool, it’s really varied.
How long have you been playing Gibson?
For about five years now, I bought them and I’ve just loved everything about them. They just feel like solid rock n roll guitars. I’ve got a couple of Les Pauls, I’ve got a Les Paul Junior, Les Paul Studio, I got the Billy Joe Junior and then I’ve got a J-180 acoustic, which is great – they all sound phat. I’m a big fan of Gibson.
Quite a collection there! Who are some of your favourite Gibson players?
Billie Joe. Big fan of Mike Ness, rocking the gold top. The Foo Fighters – Dave Grohl. Rock n roll tones
What can be expected from a Drones live show? Do you ever worry about damaging your guitars?
We go berserk, but we’re not one of these bands who just go absolutely crazy and you can’t really hear what’s going on. I’m not really a fan of that. It’s just adrenaline, all out, full throttle. I know people that have £3000/£4000 guitars, but they sit at home in a case and they take them out and play them and put them back in the case. Whereas mine, they’re actually out there, I’m jumping about going nuts, using them for what they’re there for.
Bring Me The Horizon – Lee Malia
Bring Me The Horizon played a showcase at Gibson HQ in London many years ago, what do you remember about that?
It was a very long time ago and I’m sure we were all drunk back then. It was a bit chaotic and I don’t know whether we were particularly good, then there was a live dispute on stage. We were 18 year old kids, we didn’t know any better!
When did you start playing Gibson and Epiphone?
I met Gibson in 2006 at Download and I got a Gibson soon after that. From then I’ve been trying to play them and eventually I managed to start working with Gibson. So I started playing them in 2008/09.
Tell me about your new signature guitar, the Lee Malia Signature Les Paul Custom Artisan Guitar, how was the collaboration with Epiphone initiated?
I’ve been playing Gibson’s for a while and I think it was Gibson Germany who talked to me about trying to do this, they sent me a bunch of Epiphones and to try and told me to find stuff that I liked on them and they’d develop a signature guitar. It’s taken three years, but it’s cool, it’s pretty insane that like such a big company is even bothered!
How much input have you had into creating the signature?
Everything. They were cool enough to let me do what I want. I just basically told them everything and they made it. We went into every detail – the weight, the feel, the neck, the pickups – they were even cool enough to send me pickups and I tried them and modified one of their pickups to be slightly different. Any detail you can think of – we went into. Having my own signature is crazy to be honest. When it comes out it’ll be pretty crazy.
Whose signature guitars did you admire when you were growing up?
James Hetfield from Metallica, when I was a kid I always wanted his chequer plate Explorer guitar. Zakk Wylde – he had the Gibson and Epiphone combo and Slash. Anyone cool!
Orange Goblin – Joe
Who do you most want to see on the line-up today here at Download Festival?
It’s got to be Status Quo! I keep seeing Francis (Rossi) walking past in his pyjamas of all things. He’s got pyjama bottoms on that are far too small for him, they come up past his ankles and they’re red and white chequered with just a normal shirt and a pair of shoes. He looked great strutting around! It doesn’t matter what he wears.
How does it feel knowing Orange Goblin will celebrate their 20th anniversary next year?
It’s crazy and bizarre, it really has flown by. We’ve just recorded our eighth album and looking back, I remember recording the first album, thinking if we get to do two albums it would be really impressive. It’s just gone so quick. We’ve spoken about it and I’d imagine it’s going to be a big party. We’ll hire out somewhere and make a big deal of it because it’s quite a milestone. It really is, it’s incredible and I feel terribly old! It’s kept us looking old but feeling young, I guess. Or vice versa!
What can you say about the new record?
We’ve finished recording and we’re just waiting for the final mixes to come through. We’re fine tuning a few things but – very, very happy with it. Got 13 songs that we’ve recorded, we probably won’t use all of those, I imagine we’ll use 11 or 12 and maybe have one as a bonus track. It’s come together really well. We record in a weird way where we just record at weekends. We book the studio, have weekend recording, then we take the rest of the week off to listen to the rough tracks we’ve done and see if there’s anything we can add. It’s turned out really well.
Where did you make the album and who did you work with?
We recorded at The Animal Farm again with Jamie Dodd who did the last album, which is in Bermondsey in South London. It’s a fantastic little studio, it’s only tiny. We don’t really need anything too flash, we’ve done all that big studio stuff and you can get a bit too indulgent when you do that. Jamie did such a great job on the last album that we really wanted to use him again and he’s come up trumps and done a great job. He’ll work overtime to make it right and he’s kind of part of the band now.
Have you played a Gibson on the new record?
I’ve got a Gibson SG that I’ve been playing since the first album. It’s the only guitar I’ve ever played. It’s in a terrible state at the moment – I fix it because it’s part of me now, it’s the only guitar I feel comfortable playing and I’ve used it from album number one to now. I bought it in 1994 in Denmark Street in London. I wanted an SG because I wanted to play a guitar like Iommi being a huge Black Sabbath fan. I tried it and it was the one that felt right and I’ve just never looked back. Everybody keeps saying, why don’t I try a different guitar now because this one’s had it – no! I’m not giving up on it. I don’t like change very much!
Bury Tomorrow – Davyd
How was playing the main stage today?
A dream come true is the best way to put it. When you grow up coming to this festival since you were 14, you dream that hopefully one day you can be in a band that plays main stage. Today I got to and it was mind-blowing, really mind-blowing. Our first time playing here was last year and we played a smaller stage, it was really good and this year we were given the opportunity to step up and go to main stage. Wow!
What memories do you have from coming to Download Festival?
Just a lot of hanging out and watching your favourite bands with friends. That’s what’s great about Download; it’s very friend-orientated. Most of the friends I have, we’ve shared Download experiences together and that’s the best part about Download. My favourite show that I ever saw here was Johnny Truant and they absolutely smashed it. I used to love Johnny Truant; they were one of my favourite bands. But I think that Sikth are going to change my life today – that’s going be so good.
On stage today you were wearing a Slipknot t-shirt and your drummer was wearing an N*Sync t-shirt – is that an accurate reflection of influences within the group?
We love pop music! Everyone from Miley Cyrus right up to N*Sync! If you’re in a metalcore band and you want to write a catchy chorus, you’ve got to look at pop and the beauty with metalcore is that although it’s a metal genre, it actually relies heavily on that pop chorus structure of – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, chorus. It’s a structure set up by pop music that has become something within the metal genre which is great. Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit – we’re massive nu-metal fans and we’re massive metalcore fans – In Flames, At the Gates, As I Lay Dying – these are all bands that we love, so it’s really cool that they all come together and we can just be totally symbiotic with all of them. Usually I’d be wearing a One Direction shirt, but I thought they wouldn’t see the irony at Download!
What bass did you play today?
I used the five string Gibson EB Bass, probably the best guitar I’ve ever played in my entire life. I always played four string before and then when I got that the EB, it just felt it was so much easier going to a five string than I ever thought it was and now I hate playing a four string! I have a four string as my spare, but the EB is a game changer and definitely the best guitar I’ve ever played.
Your third album ‘Runes’ came out recently, what’s it like integrating the new material into your live set?
I’d really like to just be playing new songs. I think when any band writes a new album, the reason that they do is because they’ve progressed as a band and they want to showcase that side of them. For us, the hardest parts is choosing which old songs go in, not what new songs go in. We start with the new album and we take stuff out. That’s really where we’re at. We wanted to play a lot more of the new songs today but we only had half an hour so we had to work with what we had really. I had a good time up there. You just pick singles that most people are going to know. You got to go with a ‘best of’ set, instantly recognisable songs the minute they come on.
What’s the story with G.A.S.S?
G.A.S.S. is a very exciting new thing that I’m trying out. It’s a download only service cutting out all the middle men between the bands, the artists and the public. So far, so good! It’s going great, but it’s not for everyone. For anyone else who wants to break down the final wall between them and their fans and doesn’t mind getting up early in the morning and working hard, I think this is definitely something that would interest some bands. It’s like a glorified fan club. There’s podcasts, diaries, film recommendations, unreleased demos, video updates and there’s also three brand new songs every month. There’s a ton of stuff that if you’re not really a hardcore fan, you’d find no value in whatsoever! If you are someone who is interested in what makes a musician tick, then it’s great and personally, I’m fascinated about what makes musicians tick. It’s really cheap and it’s very exciting.
What can be expected from your, ‘Oh F*** I’m 50’ show later this year?
It’s our traditional birthday show. Every December 17th we have a show and this year will be no exception, apart from the fact I am actually amazed that I made it to 50! It was never part of the plan! I But they’re always a great night out. They’re always mental, but I’ve got a funny feeling that this one will be the most mental of them all. We have different guests for every song; normally the show’s a little bit chaotic in the structure in as much as people can choose if they want to do a cover or one of my songs. This year, I’m just going to keep it all to my songs. There’s the aforementioned guests and after that expect the unexpected, because I don’t even know what’s going on while I’m on stage! It is going be fantastic, it’s nearly sold out which is terrifying really. Considering people don’t know what they’re going to get, it’s pretty amazing. If I die between now and then, I’m sure the ticket stubs will be worth a fortune. I feel weird at being 50; I just don’t feel 50 at all. I haven’t made it yet! It’s only June!
When do you predominantly play Gibson’s these days?
I’m a Gibson player; I always played Gibson Les Pauls. I’ll always use Gibson’s for recording; they do something that other guitars just don’t do. I’ll always love Gibson.
What new bands are you currently working with?
I’ve been working with a female-fronted band called Love Zombies that I think are going to be big news. Big Gibson fans and they’re great. They’re like No Doubt when they first started out mixed with a bit of Blondie mixed with some Ramones. Everybody’s going be talking about them soon. They’re an amazing band, with quite frankly, too many good songs! It’s obscene. But they’re a wonderful group and they’ve been occupying most of my time.
Cytota – Ryan
You played The Red Bull Studio Stage earlier today, how did you find it?
It was amazing, it just went off. I was worried that people with their Friday hangovers might not make it, but a lot of people were there, surprisingly. Last year was amazing, but it was over too quickly. I remember coming off and just wanting to go straight back on again. So it’s awesome to play again today. Last year was my first year at Download ever and I camped from Wednesday to Monday. So I got the full experience!
Who have you seen so far that you’ve enjoyed? Who do you still want to see?
I saw Miss May I, Crossfaith and Avenged last night. I also saw Drones play as well. Killswitch tonight and Bring Me. Tomorrow – Steel Panther definitely for a laugh and Volbeat, that will be cool. Killswitch Engage have massively influenced the band, as has While She Sleeps and Memphis Mayfire – you can hear it in our sound. Our other guitarist listens to grime and I listen to The Rolling Stones, so it’s just a big mixing pot of ideas.
Cytota are from Birmingham which is the home of heavy metal; does this fact make you feel a duty to represent the city for what it stands for?
It’s a great city to be a part of the scene. I’ve basically grown up in Birmingham with the music scene, there are just so many bands there that love metal and we’re all pushing it for the country.
What would you say has been your career highlight so far?
We played Brixton Academy in London with Finch to 10,000 people and it was crazy. There were actually some Cytota t-shirts as well, which was cool. Then Download last year, Download this year – both have been massive highlights.
When and why you did you started playing Gibson?
When I was 13 I got this music grant to help me out with buying stuff and I always wanted a Les Paul, but the shop I went to didn’t have one. So, I tried some SGs and when I’d made some money from music a few years later, I bought and SG Voodoo – which are now extinct. You can’t get them anymore, so it’s quite cool. I’ve got two SGs and I want a Les Paul. I was drawn to Gibson through all the artists who use them, it’s quality when you feel it – you feel like you’re playing a quality instrument. I can trust this guitar to stay in tune, I can bash it about and I can play it well. I prefer the feel of it to the other guitars I’ve played.
Photo Credit: Graham Finney