It’s no secret that we love us some Will Haven over in the RNRF offices so it was a no brainer when the opportunity arose recently to chat via phone with one of the founders of WH, guitarist Jeff Irwin, about the longevity of the Sacramento outfit, the blistering new record, upcoming West Coast dates playing Carpe Diem all the way through and more! So won’t you please join us as as we dig deep and learn how this year’s Burning Man is the reason why some lucky fans will see bassist Mike Martin back in the fold for dates this summer and why Irwin is not likely to get recruited into Meshuggah anytime soon:
Kicking things off, Will Haven has always been a hard nut to crack when it comes to the age old question of “what they sound like” with Irwin even sometimes perplexed as well when asked to describe their brand of noise to new listeners:
“That’s a great question! I have no idea! We have so many different influences and genres… I just tell people we’re Metal. Or soundscape Metal or something like that would be more appropriate?”
With Will Haven closing in on 30 years now since forming, Irwin was quick to point out the main reason the band has lasted as long as it has:
“Friendship. Will Haven’s not really a band, it’s more a family. I’ve known the guys in the band for over 20 years. I’ve known Grady (Avenell, vocals) since I was in fifth grade and the newer guys that have come into the band I’ve known forever so it’s more just my best friends and music’s kind of just one of those things we love to do and fortunately we kinda get to go out and play shows and stuff”
We touched more on the discography of the band with Will Haven’s first three records dropping over the span of about 4 years or so and likened releases since to be more of an “event” with the recent gap between records hitting seven and five years respectively but Irwin revealed the reason is a little more simpler than that:
“Yeah, just older. I mean, when we wrote El Diablo we were 21/22 I think? And El Diablo did pretty well. We were a pretty active band back then in our 20’s and none of us had families. Me and Grady lived together, had no responsibilities, so we were just out there doing it and pumpin’ it out. As you get older some of the guys in the band have kids and jobs and stuff so it does take a little more time to get the machine going again than it used to. Sometimes we don’t know where we stand with the band. Like I said, these guys in the band are my best friends so even though we have the band we still hang out outside of the band and we’ll go do stuff and be like ‘Hey, we should go write music again! Oh yeah, that’s a good idea, let’s go do it!’ It’s one of those thing where we’re not signed to a major label and this isn’t our job but if it was we’d definitely be putting out music constantly and touring. Unfortunately it’s not so we kinda just gotta do what we do. But we love it. We still have fun. Just getting everybody on the same page and getting everybody to practice is a little more energy than we used to have to put into it.”
Speaking of previous records, 2001’s Carpe Diem recently hit 20 but with the touring slow down due to the pandemic the band weren’t able to properly celebrate the release in the States so if you’re lucky enough to live on the West Coast (Or have a late summer vacation planned around it) then you can witness their 3rd full-length played front to back with a special guest in the form of original bassist Mike Martin thanks to a little ole festival called Burning Man. Irwin elaborated more on how the reunion took place:
“It was kind of organic. We got booked for Crucial Fest in Salt Lake City and I was just thinking we should build a little tour around it, a West Coast thing because our record will be out so I started booking those West Coast dates and sent them to the guys in the band and Adrian (Contreras, bass) was actually going to be at Burning Man that week. And nothing will stop him from Burning Man. So I called Mike (Martin), who’s in Texas which is kind of why he’s not in the band anymore, and said ‘Hey, we’ve got these dates: Would you like to come play in Will Haven again?’ and he was like ‘Hell yeah!’ so he was booked with us for those shows.
And I just had this brain fart because people have been asking us to do Carpe Diem, especially in the States because we did it over in Europe and it went really well, so I just had this idea of Mike’s back in the band, people have been asking for it, let’s just do it. It’s the original Carpe Diem line up so it makes sense and we really haven’t had the chance to celebrate it over here in the States at all so let’s do it. It gives Mike less of a set list to worry about because he already knows Carpe Diem, he just has to learn the new songs so that’s a little less on his plate. I shopped it out to a couple venues to see if they would be interested in it and they were so that helped a lot. It was just one of those things where organically it just happened.”
Irwin went on to talk about why, despite the anniversary, Carpe Diem was a go-to choice as a record to play from start to finish:
“What made the Carpe Diem stuff easy is that most of our set is CD heavy anyway so a lot of those songs we’ve been playing forever. There’s a couple songs we had to go back on like “Finest Hour” we hadn’t played in a long time and I think “Bats” was one we hadn’t played in awhile but the other ones we play quite often so it wasn’t that hard to do. I think we had that initial idea to do it and we practiced to see if it works but every song just kicks you in your ass. Like, it’s a great set on its’ own no matter if it’s the record or not it’s just a great set to play anyway. I don’t think I’d do it with every record we’ve put out. I think El Diablo I’d do it and the new record. It only works for certain records. The album has to match a set list you’d wanna play. Carpe Diem is one of our records that everybody loves. It’s brutal all the way through. It’s fun to play. It’s just kind of a no-brainer.”
Back in the present, Will Haven has just released what we think might be their best record yet with VII and Irwin confirms that the more immediate nature of the album was very much the intent from the start:
“When we went to go write a new record, for me anyways, I was like ‘Okay, I wanna make something in-your-face/heavy, something that fans might not expect us to do.’ You know, a lot of people thought we might go back to the old El Diablo ways or whatever but I was like ‘No, let’s go forward. Let’s write some riffs, make it in-your-face, more Metal, but still with our atmospheric vibe to it but kind of unrelenting all the way through. At the same time, not make it songs per se. A journey front to back and the songs just fall where they may. We wanted to do something a little different but not crazy different.”
Delving into the sound of the record with VII being equally some of the heaviest Will Haven material to date as well as some of the most atmospheric, Irwin revealed that those creepy keyboard sounds you hear throughout might not necessarily be coming from where you thought:
“It’s funny but a lot of it is actually guitar stuff! There are a lot of guitar effects that we used on this record. For me, keyboards are just there to add another element, a little background stuff. I think that came from being huge fans of Faith No More and how they’re Metal but Roddy Bottum, the keyboardist, adds a lot extra to their music. It wouldn’t be Faith No More without Roddy. For me, that’s something I’ve always loved about Faith No More is adding that atmospheric stuff to what (Mike) Patton (FNM vocalist) and Jim (Martin, original FNM guitarist) and what they were doing. I always loved that influence. I use that a little bit but, for me, I love messing with guitar effects and try and get the more synth-y sounds I can get out of my guitar. That was one of the things me and Sean (Bivins, Will Haven keyboards and piano) have been messing with.”
Coming out of the pandemic amidst closures and shutdowns across the world was part of the reason for the delay between 2018’s Muerte and 2023’s VII as Irwin gets into the recording process for the new record and why this process may have worked the best in regards to this particular album:
“We started writing and we had a few songs that we had completed writing and I didn’t know when we were going to record these things because everything was shut down. I had actually reached out to our friend Joe (Johnston) who owns Pus Cavern Studios where we did the record and had called him up in I think the middle of/June of 2020 and asked: “Are you open or closed because of COVID?” and he was all “Screw that shit, I don’t care about COVID. We’re open!” We did the record in pieces. We went in and did maybe three songs, tracked ’em, then write, go back and maybe track three more… Then once we got everything tracked I went back in to do my overdubs and all that stuff and Grady was the last one to come.
So it was a very sloooow process. I mean we’d do three songs then wait a couple months, go back and do three more songs… It gave us time to kind of work on stuff but also, Joe was still working so all the bands that wanted to get into the studios were going to Joe because he was the only one open. He was booked up! It was really hard to get in there and do two weeks at a time or whatever. But it worked out for us because nothing was open and we weren’t going to put the record out during COVID I don’t think so let’s take our time with it and then when things open up we’ll put the record out.”
When asked about influences for that particular wall of guitar sound that is synonymous with Will Haven at this point, Irwin didn’t hesitate to look to his roots and also point out some current axe masters for inspiration:
“When I started Will Haven I was living with Shaun Lopez from the band Far and Crosses. He was my roommate for like 10 years so being his roommate, that’s when I started playing guitar so he was my main influence. I would watch him play and when he’d leave to go to work I’d go in his room and plug in his guitar and play in his amps and stuff (laughs) so I just learned how to play from watching Shaun and growing up with Stephen (Carpenter) from deftones and watching him so those are two of my main influences starting Will Haven.
As I got older I’m a big David Gilmour fan of Pink Floyd so I loved what he was doing and now I’m watching old Dimebag Darrell videos and just loving Dimebag and wishing I’d gotten to watch him more or whatever. As a guitar player it just changes all the time. There’s just so many great guitar players out there. Even like Mick (Thomson) and Jim (Root) from Slipknot, I love watching those guys play. I like the guys that have their own styles but play the heavier stuff. I try not to write songs that are too complicated, though. So I can remember our stuff. If I was in Meshuggah I’d be kicked out of the band within a week. I try to keep it simple but people appreciate that, too. If you wanna watch a crazy band go watch Meshuggah or Gojira or something like that but if you wanna go to a show and just bang your head and go crazy then go see Will Haven, y’know?”
Wrapping up, we’d be remiss if we didn’t (selfishly???) get some insight as to whether or not East Coast fans would be able experience VII live anytime soon with Irwin remaining hopeful that it might happen… at some point:
“We would love to. Unfortunately for us we’re in that weird crowd where we can definitely go tour but we don’t make the most money (laughs) playing shows. For us, it’s hard to get a capital together and try to recoup what we put into the touring stuff as far as flights and gas and stuff. If we were a little bit bigger it’d be easier but we’re at that point where I think we can make it work but we’ll have to see what we can do. We played Saint Vitus like two years ago and that was the first time we’d been in New York in like 20 years and it was awesome, there were a lot of people there and it was a lot of fun. It’s one of those things where if it’s feasible we’ll do it. The band’s not saying ‘No, screw the East Coast!’, we wanna play the East Coast. We just gotta make it so we’re not going there and coming home completely broke or losing a shitload of money. So that’s our issue but we’re working on it, we’re talking about it, we’re putting it in the universe.”
VII is out now. You can read our full review here with links on where you can get yours and for the latest from Will Haven, including all the dates for upcoming live shows, follow them across the information superhighway by clicking here, here, or here.