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It's been nearly 25 years since Sevenchurch split up, their musical legacy limited to a never re-released full-length, and a couple of very retrospective digital self-releases. Comrade Aleks talks to co-founder Paul "Ollie" Oliver about what happened there...

Interview with Sevenchurch.
"One of the UK's Doom metal pioneers, Sevenchurch was formed in 1987. Originally they played a different kind of music, but their first and only album 'Bleak Insight' offered some pretty Traditional Doom metal, written and performed in an original way. It's a shame, but after Sevenchurch disbanded in 1994 the album was never re-released, despite the band's cult (for underground) status. Moreover, their EP - given the ridiculous name 'Festival Of The Spoons' - was only released digitally and not until twenty years after it had been recorded! Demo compilation 'Stealing From The Dead' suffered an identical fate. So what? Well, I had my reasons to get a few answers from some of the band members, but I also see this interview with Paul Oliver, one of the band founders, as a just reminder about Sevenchurch and its legacy. Maybe some major label will finally come out with the necessary reissues…"

The 'classic' Mk II Sevenchurch line-up: Paul "Ollie" Oliver (Bass), Grahaeme "Basty" Bastable (Drums), Dave Smart Guitars), Dave Capel (Guitars), Martin Spear (Vocals).

Ollie, you formed Sevenchurch with Dave Smart in about 1987, and back then it was "horror-themed black/thrash metal". But, after a hiatus, the band took a new direction and you choose to perform doom metal. How did this metamorphosis happen? Did you regret this decision?

I think during the first Sevenchurch incarnation, the general trend in heavy music was everything was getting faster and faster. Bands playing faster thrash music seemed to be coming each week and our own music was speeding up too. Personally, I felt that this was the wrong direction. The thrash market was getting saturated with generic bands and I felt bands were missing the point by trying to go faster and faster. To me it was the groove of the riff that was the important factor in playing great heavy music. Our singer at the time left the band and I didn't really want to carry on in the same direction we were heading and so the original version of Sevenchurch came to an end. While I was working on a small project and trying to learn some six-string guitar so I could write my own songs, Dave put together a new thrash act called 'Dying Breed' which had a very similar sound to what we'd been doing except it had a twin guitar line-up (Dave Capel being the other guitarist). They were great actually and I think everyone was surprised after he decided to leave them after only a handful of gigs. Whatever his actual reasons for leaving were, both he and I were now both of the opinion that great heavy music was about great riffs and not faster speeds. Looking around us, there didn't seem to be anyone else around doing the type of music we were writing. It was a very exciting time.

Am I right that Martin Spear's appearance in 1991 was the last piece of Sevenchurch puzzle? You tended towards Traditional Doom, but the songs weren't just long, they had a well thought out balanced structure, and alongside that you have carefully written lyrics and an expressive vocalist to perform them. Did all the band members care about lyrics?

Yes, Martin joining us was the final piece. He was a local legend around the Oxford scene for his amazing live performances and when we found he was leaving his band Madamadam, it was a no-brainer to invite him to join us.

I think Dave and I particularly liked songs that had an epic feel to them and progressed through different phases taking the listeners on a journey. That was our aim rather to write something that was verse/chorus in structure. I think we all cared about the project as a whole and as initially the sole lyric writer, I would give each member of band a copy of the lyrics and get their feedback.

'Bleak Insight' was recorded during a short four day recording session in July 1993 at Woodlands Studio. It's a 70 minute long album, and the average song duration is about 13 minutes, so was it a stressful process? How did you manage to record everything in time?

Actually it was 4 weeks and not 4 days recording Bleak Insight, 4 days would have been stressful! In general it was a fantastic experience for all. I think we all learnt a lot recording that first record about playing tight and producing a performance.

Was this approach to building songs in this complex way your conscious decision? Was it about transferring emotions or musical ideas?

Yes, I guess I touched on it earlier. We wanted to take the listener on a journey with each song and take them through different modes and tempos. It not easy to make a song work that way, much easier to have verse chorus and give the listener an easy hook but if you can pull it off, it is magical. The listener feels the flow of the journey as a whole and goes with it.

Sevenchurch - 'Sanctum' (1993):

Noise Records - who released 'Bleak Insight' - were a kind of big underground label back then, did you feel Sevenchurch was a big band? What did this release change in the whole situation around the band?

Yes we were very proud to be on the Noise label. They had some amazing bands (Helloween, Celtic Frost, Destruction and Voivod to name just a few) and we felt that they would the right fit to promote us. We knew that we weren't going to be an easy band to promote because you couldn't easily pigeonhole us and 7min plus songs without choruses aren't easy to get played on radio and other outlets. You need a company that really understands you and supports you to progress. However, in reality the support we'd been expecting didn't come through. The EP that was supposed to come out before Bleak Insight didn't happen. The vinyl release of the record didn't happen and even the CD release didn't make all the markets we were expecting. We were told that we couldn't sell our demo tape anymore and we weren't allowed to sell people the CD ourselves either. This was before the internet had really been established of course but we were getting letters from people all over the world who wanted to purchase our music but couldn't find it locally and couldn't purchase it from us direct either. Also the record company had promised to get us out on tour to promote the release but nothing happened. It was frustrating really because we felt suddenly isolated from our audience, unable to continue to promote ourselves but not getting the support we needed or feedback of what the record company we doing for us. Of course what we didn't know was that Noise were now stuck in a financially very expensive court case over Helloween leaving Noise for EMI. Bad timing for us I guess.

It's said that Sevenchurch shared stages with bands like Carcass, Radiohead and Supergrass. What about doom outfits? Did you feel the band a part of the scene?

We weren't particularly aware of a 'doom' scene at the time. We were aware of Candlemass, Cathedral and St. Vitus and not much else. It would have been great to tour with any of them or any other bands really. We didn't really get out of playing our local area which is a huge regret for me.

Do I get it right that the songs for EP 'Festival Of The Spoons' were recorded during the same short session as 'Bleak Insight'?

We did record extra tracks for an EP at same time as Bleak Insight. It was Noise's choice. Originally an EP was supposed to come out first to build our audience slowly.

A short one: what does the EP's title mean?

That would be telling. I would not want to narrow that down too much.

What happened back then with Noise Records? Why didn't they ever release this EP?

The Helloween court case? Noise unhappy with our sales?

Sevenchurch - 'Inavoid' (1993/2013):

What were the reasons for disbanding Sevenchurch, besides Martin's departure? Did you try to continue under the same banner before the rest of the line-up formed Earth Machine?

I think Martin did us a big favour leaving in hindsight. There was a sense of desperation in the band by then I think. Noise was doing the typical record company thing of trying to persuade us to change our sound to something more commercial. We were trying different things musically that we thought would thought would be give us that commercial edge including bringing in verses/chorus arrangements and shorter songs. When Martin left and said he didn't like the new stuff, I suspect many of fanbase might have had the same reaction. We sat down and talked about where we wanted to go next and agreed that ending Sevenchurch would be the best option. We could start afresh and try different things without tarnishing the Sevenchurch reputation. It would have been a shame if we'd taken Sevenchurch too far from that original concept of long, intricate, twisting journeys of songs.

After all these years 'Bleak Insight' has never been re-released, while 'Festival Of The Spoons' was only released digitally. Didn't you get any offers from labels to reissue these records?

There has been talk over the years of re-releases but it not got much further so far. There is talk even now but until it happens we will just have to keep our fingers crossed.

Being a sort of criminally underrated (yep, sounds like a cliché!) band for so long, do you think that now is the time for a second chance for Sevenchurch?

Again, there have been times when a reunion has nearly occurred but fallen through, so never say never but I guess the more time passes the less likely that is. If a re-release happened that might just be incentive needed.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Sevenchurch bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-11-17 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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