Interview – Alex Cooper – Devilfire

Midlands-based rockers Devilfire are set to unleash their long-awaited second album ‘Black Soul Vendetta’ on 4th September. Devilfire vocalist, songwriter, and founding member Alex Cooper joined us for a chat about (amongst other things) the album recording process, recording with Eric Dover of Slash’s Snakepit, and what frustrates him about the music industry. Read his thoughts below.

With the new album ‘Black Soul Vendetta’ almost upon us, are there any nerves about people finally getting to hear it?! Or is it more a case of the adrenaline flowing?

I think it’s a little bit of both, to be honest with you. We’ve had positive reviews coming in, and we’ve been drip-feeding releases from the album, but I guess that I’m always going to be nervous about what people think of it. Part of me is nervous, and part of me is excited. The nervous part of me is like; “What are people going to think? Are they going to like it? Have I done well enough?” and then the other part of me is thinking; “Well I like it!” You never can tell.

I listened to it today for the first time in a few months. I had obviously listened to it solidly for about two years when I was making it, but once it’s done and mastered, ready to go, I try and give myself a break from it for a while. I went back to it today and I was pleasantly surprised, and that’s usually a good tester. I was still happy with everything about it!

That’s a good indicator there then! If my timings are correct, debut album ‘Dark Manoeuvres’ came out in 2017, and then ‘Out Of The Dark’ came out after that as a stop-gap, how long after these did you start working on ‘Black Soul Vendetta’? You mentioned a moment ago that you’ve been listening to it for a few years?

I pretty much started writing the new one as soon as I had finished the first one. I’m probably one of these people that doesn’t ever stop, I just love it. I’m into the whole rock n’ roll thing, I love going to gigs, I love performing, I love going to rock bars, I love writing and producing; I love everything about it!

If I get a spare second then that’s what I’m doing, and with every album, I try and write about 30 tunes, and then pick the best ones to keep the level up, to keep the quality control high. So that usually takes a while. With ‘Dark Manoeuvres’ I hadn’t written as many as 30, maybe about 17 or 18, then ‘Out Of The Dark’ was made up with the ones that we hadn’t used, but were still relatively good. We wanted to put something out, as you said, as a bit of a stopgap in between albums. Then with ‘Black Soul Vendetta’, I wrote about 25 with vocals, and maybe 5 more without vocals, we will end up using these songs somewhere, they just weren’t right at the time.

With you being so close to the music, and the songs, do you find yourself having to take a step back at times, taking a break from the songs, then going back and finding something fresh about them?

Constantly, yes. There are songs on ‘Black Soul Vendetta’ where the background might have been written in five minutes but then when I sat down to write vocals for them, nothing came. And nothing came for quite a while. So I then had to put these to the side for a minute, work on something else which was flowing quite easily, then you might have a eureka moment and go back to it. It might be a case of; “That’s a great melody so let’s use that..” or “That’s shit so let’s not use that”! It’s a process, and you get better at it with each album.

‘Black Soul Vendetta’ is quite a dark album, what are the lyrical themes?

It is darker, yes. I think that’s why I went for the darker artwork. The title is darker, we’re obviously a melodic rock band but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have any scope. It doesn’t mean that we have to do the same thing every time. There is some darker lyrical content because that’s life! It’s going to be perfect for 2020! There is some revenge stuff, some love stuff, disappointment when things don’t go the way that you want them to.

So, life in general?!

Yes, life in general! Especially at the moment! In a lot of ways, it was a hard album to write, it’s easy to be nice and fluffy even if you are not feeling that way. So this one I wore on my sleeve, whatever I put into it was real, what I was feeling, it wasn’t fake.

You briefly mentioned the album artwork, my God it is stunning! I’ve seen your vinyl reveal video on your socials, and it looks incredible. You could tell how much it meant to you.

I think that the vinyl was a bit of a vanity thing. I’ve wanted to press a vinyl since I was a kid, and I knew that it would make my old man quite proud. People have asked us for vinyl in the past, and we thought; let’s go for it. It doesn’t sell as well as the cd version, but just to have one in your hand is incredible. The artwork was done by a guy called Dan Goldsworthy, who is fantastic and has done a lot of great stuff out there. We just clicked. I sent him a load of sketches and said to him that I wanted to go with something darker, and he said that darker artwork was what he did, so we batted a few things back and forward, and he did a stellar job.

I’ve always been a bit of a vinyl junkie, all my favourite bands I’ve got on vinyl, my Dad has a massive vinyl collection, and yeah, it was a little bit of a tear-in-my-eye moment when I opened the box!

You could tell it was! It also must be special when people pre-order in advance without really hearing much of the album? Especially now when it’s crucial that people support bands who have lost income through the pandemic. That must mean a lot?

Pre-orders are pretty much the number one thing now. Let’s put it this way, on ‘Dark Manoeuvres’ I had ten pre-orders. We had a Kickstarter that achieved our target, but that target was very low, just to make it look good, and a lot of bands do that now. A band might brag that they’ve hit the target and give the impression that they’ve done loads of pre-orders, but they haven’t really. So, yeah we only had ten pre-orders on the first album, but three years later and we’ve almost sold out. This time, the pre-orders have been stunning, which has allowed us to do more, like pressing a vinyl, we might not have been able to press a vinyl if people hadn’t pre-ordered the CD.

We’ve just produced a limited edition t-shirt and that’s going incredibly well. All of this money coming into the business, because that’s what it is; a business, helps us do more. At the level that we are at, and I’ll be realistic with you, we’re not taking a penny out of it for ourselves, it all goes back into the machine. We’re now getting orders from all over the world, which is amazing, and it just fuels the fire…sorry for the pun! It also means that when we can go back out on tour, we can have a better show, better lights, banners, make it look cool.

With so many people streaming music now, and the artist getting less than a penny per stream, the merch is such an important thing, so thank you to everybody!

You mentioned streaming, Spotify founder Daniel Ek recently ruffled a few feathers when he suggested that maybe artists shouldn’t leave it so long between albums if they wanted to earn more money…

Yeah what an idiot, and I’ll tell him to his face, what a fucking idiot. With the bar on album production set so high, you’re going to someone worth their salt to record it, so you’re talking at least ten grand. Who at the moment, as a band, has ten grand to spend? Nobody. Labels aren’t giving out money, I know what the advances are like for bands like us, and they are nothing. So what are you talking about? Doing this how often? An album every year? Unless you are from a well-to-do family, you’re not going to be able to afford that. How about you pay artists fairly and they’ll give you more content to put up.

If ever there was a comment to unite the entire music industry, regardless of genre, age, or whatever, it was that one from Ek!

Yes, it falls under the “Are you for real” category! Bands are having to cut costs nowadays, and the end product suffers. With Devilfire I’ve always said that will never happen, if I have to put in my own money to produce an album with a proper jewel case rather than a cheaply produced cardboard digipak then I will. ‘Black Soul Vendetta’ has a sixteen-page booklet with it, just because when I was a kid, I used to sit there with the booklet and go through it to learn all the lyrics. It was a bit of a psychical experience and I kind of never want to give that up.

It’s giving people value for money…

You can’t come at this with the idea of making a quick buck, it’s all about longevity. The one thing that I intend to do for the rest of my life, and you can pretty much count on it, is to put out Devilfire albums. I come from a production background so I can produce albums, I want to produce music for the rest of my life, and I’m always going to be writing for Devilfire. That’s kind of why I had to be the singer because the singer is really the one thing that you can’t change in the band.

Back to ‘Black Soul Vendetta’, ‘Chasing The Pain’ features Eric Dover from Slash’s Snakepit on guest vocals, how did that come about?

Via a really good friend of mine. We’ve all got real jobs, and my real job is that I’m a manager for PMT; Professional Music Technology, which is a chain of shops and a UK online website for music equipment. So a friend of mine, that I used to work with, is good friends with Ryan Roxie and Eric, so when they were over in the UK on tour, my friend David was out with them as tour manager. I’m a big Snakepit fan, always have been, so I went down to one of the gigs, and David introduced us. He was like; “Alex is also in a band…” and I was just like; “Can you sign my shit, please?! Sign my records so I can stick them up on my wall!” And he asked what the band was doing so I told him that we were writing another record, he said; “I’d love to hear it” and we swapped emails and started talking online. I said that I had this track where I wanted to try something different with the vocals, like a split personality type of thing, and he said to send it over. I sent him the demo with a word document with all the lines that I wanted someone else to sing underlined, crossing my fingers and hoping and hoping that he would say that he’d do it. And he did! To be honest, I didn’t believe it until I opened the email from Eric with all the files of his vocals attached!

I was blown away, that tune works so well, it’s become mega. I’m really happy with it. Had the lockdown not happened, we might have got a video together.

The horns on the track add some flavour…

Yes! That’s actually Ash Sheehan, who plays drums with Glenn Hughes. I’ve known Ash for years, he’s an incredible musician, not only a ridiculously good drummer but a very good trumpeter. I had worked with him years ago when I worked with Spike from The Quireboys, and Ash put a horn section down in half a day. I had wanted an Aerosmith ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady’ vibe running through it, but a bit darker, and Ash just said; “I get it”, then boom, it was done in something like three hours.

I’ve never wanted Devilfire to stay stationary, there’s a big musical world out there and I want all the flavours.

With that in mind, in what ways would you say that Devilfire has developed in the three years since the debut album?

It’s funny saying that! I remember when I first wanted to start Devilfire, when I got that glint in my eye. I had come out of this incredibly opulent gothic metal band, in which I was the drummer! I was also producing their records, and God, there was so much to put in! After that, I just wanted to do a fucking cool rock n’ roll band! Easy to produce, easy to do this and that, but that’s not how it ended up! So yeah, Devilfire has grown, and I’m interested to see where it grows to.

I still remember the moment when I decided that I wanted to do Devilfire. I was on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, in the middle of the Bahamas, and Cinderella was on stage. Tom Kiefer was at the piano doing ‘Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)’ and the piano kept on cutting out, he literally stood up, with a guitar on his back, and kicked the piano across the stage! He then pulled the guitar round and went straight into the solo! I was like; “That’s the coolest fucking thing that I’ve ever seen! That’s what I want to do!”…and that was the exact moment that I realised that I wanted to form Devilfire!

Great story! Now, the last question for you; with you having so much experience in the music industry, not just as a performer but also a producer, what frustrates you the most about the industry?

That it’s completely a monopoly now. There is no fair-trade any more, and there are certain people who hold the keys to the kingdom, and if they don’t like you, or are not into you, then you cannot pass through the gates. When that happens, people are deprived of making music that they love, and this is what breaks bands up. People say Spotify breaks bands up, or COVID breaks bands up, but the music industry breaks up more bands than these two together.

Devilfire has encountered this quite a lot. The problem is that it’s quite a small scene, so if people are pushing their own bands, anything that they might perceive as drawing attention away from their bands, they will actively try and shut down. One day I might elaborate on that! But that’s as far as I’ll go on that one for now. It really fucks me off, but there you go.

To be continued…(one day!)

Black Soul Vendetta is available to pre-order on CD/Vinyl here.

Connect with the band on Facebook here.

Interview – Dave





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