Four bands. One soggy night in sleepy Weymouth. It could only be the mighty American stalwarts of the metal scene (and one of my all-time favourite bands), Soil, bringing their headline tour to the South coast. I was very, very lucky to catch up with front man and all round top bloke, Ryan McCombs before the gig. Here’s what he had to say …
So, how’s it been so far, touring with American Head Charge and (Hed)P.E?
I can’t complain, we did the European shows first and then came over for the UK, which is the opposite of what we usually do. There are certain European markets that we expected to be good and they were great and there were certain markets that we were questioning, that ended up surpassing our hopes. Here in the UK there have been a lot of sold-out shows so there are no complaints. We’ve done two different tours in the US with (Hed)P.E so we know those guys really well and the guys, while I was over in Drowning Pool, they did a tour over here with AHC, so they all know each other really well and the first band Wolfborne. It’s really cool when you get people coming to the VIP meet and greets and they’re talking about the first band; that band gets a lot of attention when they’re really good and surprise a lot of people, so they’re a great package.
What’s your favourite aspect of touring – what do you enjoy most about it?
It’s that time on stage. Soil-wise, we’ve been doing this now for 18 years, so I think everybody thinks it’s cool until they come out here and experience a little bit – they realise just how much time you’re waiting. Band members wake up, wait, sound check, wait, do the show, wait and leave. Your pay off for being out here is that time you get on stage, so that’s definitely the highlight of the day, each day.
So, for someone that’s never seen you before, what can they expect from your show – how would you describe an average gig?
We’re just who we are, we always have been. I would like to think that the show comes across as honest as the music does, I don’t know, I’ve never sat and watched us – I hate watching videos of live shows, I will leave the room as soon as it’s turned on. I probably should watch, critique myself sometime and decide what I want to do differently, but I hope at least that the show comes across as honest as the music does and reflects that it’s just us.
Are you quite harsh with yourselves, i.e., do you beat yourselves up if you feel that you perhaps haven’t had the greatest show?
Absolutely, especially being a vocalist. There are some days where, if the voice starts to turn on you, especially if you’ve been a little under the weather which happens out here on the road when you’re stuck in a vessel with a bunch of other people, it only takes one person to get sick and the next thing you know everybody is catching it at some point so the voice can turn on you. Just the other night, the singer from one of the other bands (although I believe he’s over it now from what I heard in sound check tonight) you could hear that he was under the weather and my heart went out to him backstage because I’ve been up there when you just open your mouth and it’s not working; you get off the stage on those nights and you just want to crawl into a hole because there’s nothing you can do about it. There are different nights where maybe you feel like you didn’t just grab that crowd like you should have and you over-analyse how the night went and what you could have done or said differently.
I’m sure nobody else over notices? I’ve spoken to bands where they feel they haven’t given a great performance, but to us in the crowd it still sounded awesome …
I hear that a lot. It’s also different for the other members up on stage – the guitar player, bass player and drummer; if we get off stage and they had an individually good show, then they had a good show and I think as a singer, you’re really more in tune with the reception that you’re getting from the eyes and the expressions on the people out there.
Talking of being on stage, if you could share a bill with any band, alive or dead, who would you pick and why?
I would say it would be Alice in Chains with the original line up, although I am the last person in the world that should talk about original line ups, but Alice in Chains was the first band that I kind of grabbed a hold of as ‘my’ band. Growing up there was always music in my house between my Dad and my brother, but they were ‘mine’, so the original line up would be pretty awesome.
Good choice. From what I’ve heard, UK and European audiences are very different to American crowds – have you found that?
To a large degree, although we have fans in the States that have been there since day one. We did a tour last year with AHC who have a younger crowd than us and there were kids coming up to us like “Oh, are you guys new?” After you get over the desire to slap the shit out of them, you thank them and let them know you’ve had a couple of records out there, spanning a few years! We’re gaining more and more over there still which, having been around so long, is weird, but it’s cool, it’s what you need to maintain. So there are the diehards over there, but it seems like from day one, especially in the UK, we were embraced and it’s having these shows that represent that – they’ve always stuck by us and it’s been more of a home than home to us sometimes. I think there is that commercial mentality over there (USA) that it seems like a lot of people’s taste in everything, including music, changes with what they are told is ‘in’ right now. Over here, I feel like a rock and metal fan is a rock and metal fan when they’re born and they die a rock and metal fan. I don’t get that in the wider spectrum back home as I do here and in a lot of the countries in Europe.
Let me mention ‘Scars’ (the best-selling album from 2001) which is arguably the most “famous” album that the band have done. Obviously ‘Halo’ is a massive track, it always has been. Does it bother you that it’s how a lot of people discover you?
It’s definitely why we’re still here. I don’t care, as long as they’re here. At this point in my career, I don’t care if it was ‘Halo’ or another Soil song, or a song I did when I was with Drowning Pool, as long as they’re here and they’re allowing me a job – that’s what gives me a job is them coming out to the shows, buying a CD and just giving us the time of day. I don’t care what got them here; if they’re here, it’s awesome.
Your sixth album ‘Whole’ has done well – can we expect a seventh album from Soil?
I don’t know, there’s been no talk of a seventh album at all. I think when you get to the stage we’re at, no talk is the best talk – a lot of times we can go full circle and talk ourselves out of something if we talk too much. We didn’t expect to do this one – we did the anniversary tour for ‘Scars’ over here and I went back home and I was feeling the drag of the business, as I had before I walked away from it. It took quite a while of talking again before we decided to do ‘Whole’. So, there hasn’t been any talk as to whether we’ll do another Soil record, or if we’ll go and do something else but right now, I’m in the middle of two different books and I’m finishing one that I’ve been working on for about seven years now; I’m supposed to have it done and ready for editing for when I get home in less than a week. I’m concentrating on that as it’s supposed to be released the beginning of next year.
Wow. An autobiography?
Yeah, it’s my stupid way of looking and laughing at my experiences getting to and through the music industry – as I want the title to reflect, it’s kind of the lessons learned on the path to rock star mediocrity!
Well, I’ll be first in line for that one! Is there any particular producer that you would really like to work with?
I’ve had some great opportunities already, so nobody in particular. Every time I go into a new situation I’m always a little leery because you want to be comfortable in the studio, but I’ve always been made to feel that way – I can’t look at any producers I’ve worked with and regret it. On ‘Whole’ we worked with Ulrich Wilde and I’d never worked with him before so, again I was going into it nervous but he was wonderful to work with. He’s an amazing guy and he just makes you feel at home – but I think also this experience would be so unfair for anybody to say anything bad about because for the first time, it was our call. We didn’t have to worry about pleasing some stuffed shirt behind a desk in New York or something, what we decided to do was what we decided to do and I think it was great, really refreshing, it gave a feeling of freedom. I think Ulrich loved the fact that he didn’t have to send something somewhere and wait for a response and see if we needed to change anything or go in a different direction.
You mentioned line-up changes earlier – obviously you’ve come and gone with the band and you’ve had some changes over the years. What’s the secret? You’re still enjoying it, even though you have other things going on as well. What drives you to keep coming back?
I get restless every seven years … I don’t know. I was very much a small town kid and I still have that small town kid mentality; I come from a very small town in Indiana and things move at a certain pace and people think a certain way; you open the door for people and you say “Yes, ma’am” and “No sir”, “Thank you”, “You’re welcome” and all that stuff. This music industry just chews on you a little bit so after seven years of Soil, I just had my fill and I walked away, ended up joining Drowning Pool nine months later and did seven years with that too. I may have a hang up though, because I was also married for seven years and the relationship I was in for that was seven years! That’s why it’s so important for me on this album to do things on our own because dealing with certain types of people in the industry just sickened me. It’s nice to be able to go into an album and hand-pick the people that we wanted to work with and that was very important for this record.
Do you have any festivals in the pipeline for next year?
Supposedly we have an offer on the table that will bring us back here next year for one of the festivals, but without being written in stone yet, I really can’t say anything.
(Well done Ryan, despite some serious pushing, he wasn’t giving anything up …) How do you amuse yourself whilst you’re on the road?
Back in the day on my original run with Soil I didn’t drink – I didn’t start drinking until I was in my thirties, so I was the guy locked up in the back lounge of the bus with his Playstation and all day long, leading up to show-time, I’d be back there playing football and all night afterwards until I went to sleep I’d be doing the same thing while everybody else was doing the partying. Then I found this thing called ‘rum’ …so now typically we just have a few drinks leading up to show-time and typically a few drinks after the show. I’m still an avid American football freak, so I’m keeping up with that and I’m writing a lot right now. For me, I’ve found out that the things that I need to be able to keep my head straight is just to talk to home. Before the show, after the show, we all talk to home and to know that that’s still there, everything’s still running good and there’s still happiness to come home to – that’s what keeps me running out here right now at this point in time in my career.
Good for you. Do you watch any English football, or soccer, as you guys call it?
No, I don’t – I’ve never gotten into it. My nephews got into it and I’ve seen it played but I don’t get it!
That’s fine. I don’t get American football either! Back to music, what’s been the biggest highlight so far, since you started out?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of experiences. To be really simple, during my time with Drowning Pool we did a lot of USO (United Service Organisation) tours; going over to Iraq and Kuwait during the war in 05/06 and having that experience of feeling like you’re taking a piece of home to the men and women over there who are just doing their job at the end of the day – just looking out and seeing their faces that they’re not getting shot at for a couple of hours whilst you’re on stage – that was a very humbling experience. We always stayed after a show until everybody had everything signed that they wanted, the shortest time we were there was two and a half hours, the latest time was six and a half hours. We had men and women coming back from a mission – they had seen the show, went out for a mission and came back and we were still there signing and they were so thankful that they didn’t miss the chance to meet us. We got to do USO shows in South Korea and Guantanamo Bay and being able to go over there (and it was never about supporting war, it was always about supporting the men and women who were doing their jobs) was a humbling experience.
So, what’s next for Soil?
I don’t know. I know there are people that would definitely like to see another Soil record and there’s people that would like to see me go off and do something on my own. I have no idea, to be completely honest, as to what’s next. I love writing with Adam and Tim so another Soil record could definitely be in the future, but there are other people out that that I’ve shared a stage with who I would like to write with. There’s that part of me that would like to go home and focus on writing and go to bed in my own room every night. So, I don’t know what’s in store, but I’m going to have fun doing it, I’m going to do whatever I can while people let me do it, that’s all I know.
Well, that’s all we can do whilst we’re on this earth, is have fun doing what we choose to do! Thanks, Ryan (even though you reduced me to a gibbering wreck with that sexy voice), best of luck for the future! The gig review should be coming to a screen near you via www.domoremag.com very soon!
UPDATE – Since this interview took place, it has been reported that Ryan was taken ill last Sunday evening – I would like to wish him the very best of luck for a speedy and full recovery.