France generally isn’t the first, second, third, or fourth European country you think of when you think of “metal,” but France’s SCARVE is putting their stamp on the metal world one album at a time. 2004’s impressive Irradiant piqued ears and garnered comparisons to MESHUGGAH and STRAPPING YOUNG LAD. That year also saw drummer, Dirk Verbeuren, join Sweden’s SOILWORK. Despite seemingly unending singer woes, SCARVE dropped their latest, The Undercurrent, to an unsuspecting public. The Undercurrent is a dynamic album of gobsmacking technical metallic goodness. APESHIT pinned down the ever-busy Dirk to tell us more about France’s latest stars on the up and up.
APESHIT: SCARVE has come a long way since its inception in 1994, but still little may be known about the band. Tell us about how the band originally came together and a little about the band’s style then (considering SCARVE’s current sound sounds nothing like the bands that existed in 1994).
Dirk: Rewind to October 1993: Patrick Martin (rhythm guitar) and I were both students at the MAI, a music school in Nancy, in the North-East of France. What was initially a simple barstool discussion about the Swiss techno-thrash legends, CORONER, eventually gave birth to SCARVE. Our idea was –and still is–to create a unique form of extreme metal following nothing but our own feelings, ideas and inspirations. Over the years we’ve kept up a tradition of doing things our way. Every song we write has to stand on its own as a strong and unique entity; we succumb to no formulas or easy album fillers. Our new album The Undercurrent showcases that very well, I believe. Back in the day, we described ourselves as a progressive death metal band, but we were really more progressive than death metal. As we bettered our technique, our music became more proficient. I’d say our debut album, Translucence, was the real foundation for our sound.
APESHIT: Your last album, Irradiant, was a fantastic album, a masterpiece unto its own. The new album, The Undercurrent, has all the elements of Irradiant but is even more diverse and more dynamic. What was the difference when approaching the songwriting of The Undercurrent? Do you feel that the band did indeed make such a positive improvement?
Dirk: The songwriting process for The Undercurrent was a whole new experience for us. Prior to that album, Sylvain Coudret (lead and rhythm guitars), Patrick and myself used to spend a lot of time in the rehearsal room, shaping and recording our ideas, then refining them at home. But touring for Irradiant was quite intense, considering that we mainly played festivals and weekend shows which are very time-consuming. On top of that, two of the guys became dads, I was touring intensively with SOILWORK and both our singers were busy with other projects as well. Before we knew it, Irradiant was two years old. So instead of rehearsing for another year, we took our basic ideas and structures home and worked them out on our computers. About four months after we started writing, I was already in the studio in Sweden recording my drums. Some songs were still unfinished at that point, so I improvised left and right. After I was done, Sylvain–who recorded the guitars in his home studio–was free to experiment with the structures and develop the songs further. In the end, even though it was maybe too much of a drawn-out process, the album turned out very good. To me, The Undercurrent is definitely our most accomplished record to date.
APESHIT: Drummers typically don’t contribute directly to the songwriting process, but your style is so distinct that it really shapes the songs and sounds of the bands you are in. Do you in fact actively contribute to the songwriting? If not, what do you attribute to your drumming having a major impact on how the songs turn out? Do you play other instruments?
Dirk: Thanks! In SCARVE, I do my best to contribute to the writing process. We get inspired by each others’ ideas, so I try to come up with rhythms or structures that could turn into songs. In the past, I used to play guitar and bring in riffs as well, but on The Undercurrent, I concentrated on the drums. I tried to find rhythms that would stand out and sound different, like the opening blastbeat in “Fathomless Descent” or the middle and ending section in “Imperceptible Armageddon.” SCARVE was always my sanctuary for crazy ideas since the style of the band is pretty limitless. When doing session work, it’s usually more about arrangements and being creative on the spot; but in general, I am very much into finding the perfect structure and making my drum parts as interesting and dynamic as possible. I started out playing violin for seven years, and then went on to guitar and piano. I grew up listening to pop, classical and hip-hop, so I tend to have a pretty wide taste when it comes to music. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why my “influence” as a musician isn’t limited to the drums alone.
APESHIT: Most bands have only one singer, but SCARVE was unique in that the band had two singers. Was it difficult having two singers and figuring out how to write vocal parts for each singer? What advantages did you have with two singers?
Dirk: On our first two records, I spent a lot of time with Guillaume Bideau and Alain Germonville, our other singer at the time, working out vocal placements. Being the main lyricist, I always felt concerned with that. We recorded demos and prepared everything in detail before entering the studio. But for Irradiant, due to time constraints, we went to Sweden with hardly any vocal lines ready, and [producer] Daniel Bergstrand did an amazing job coaching Guillaume and Pierrick Valence. There were a few disagreements, maybe because singers can be big mouths! (Laughs.) But in the end we were very happy with the result, so we did the same for The Undercurrent. Having two singers is a great thing both creatively and on the live front. It opens an almost endless range of possibilities which in my opinion contributed to making SCARVE what it was.
APESHIT: The singer situation has been a bit of a troubling spot lately. First Guillaume left on good terms (to join MNEMIC), and then Pierrick left on what could be better terms. Can you explain the circumstances with Pierrick’s decision to leave and the aftermath that played out?
Dirk: Unfortunately, his departure was primarily relationship-related and it’s very hard to explain the circumstances. There are six different viewpoints within the band. I could talk about this for hours but what’s the point? Line-up changes happen. As a majority of bands, we’ve dealt with members departing for many different reasons and there’s usually more than one side to such stories. A band is a big commitment and people’s objectives can evolve over time. The bottom line is, you gotta do what’s best for you, and sometimes going separate ways is really the best option for all parties involved. The Irradiant line-up was great and we had a lot of good times together, but that’s the past. SCARVE is still going strong today and that’s ultimately what matters!
APESHIT: So currently SCARVE is without a full-time vocalist. How is the search for new vocalists going? Do you have any leads? Do you plan on filling both vocalist vacancies or just go with one singer?
Dirk: As of now, the idea is to try and find one singer who can handle all the vocals. A lot of people have submitted their demos and we’re currently going through all that. We really want to take the time to find the right guy. Recently, El Butcho from WATCHA has done a terrific job filling in on some European festivals, and he would be a great fit for SCARVE. But he obviously has his own band and we don’t want that situation to be an obstacle for anyone in the future. So right now it’s pretty much “wait and see”.
APESHIT: You guys had Lawrence Mackrory (ex-DARKANE) sing on the album and he fit in perfectly. How did you guy hook up with Lawrence? Is there a possibility that he will be involved with future recordings and perhaps even become a permanent member?
Dirk: We first met Lawrence in 1999 when we were in Sweden mixing Translucence. He had just recorded vocals for DARKANE‘s Rusted Angel which blew us all away. When Guillaume left, Daniel Bergstrand immediately suggested that we talk to Lawrence. Melodic vocals have always been an essential element of our sound, so we really wanted to find a suitable replacement to complete The Undercurrent. Lawrence was immediately enthusiastic about the idea, and since he’s been a SCARVE fan for a while, it wasn’t hard to convince him. Things worked out great on all levels, and to me, Lawrence’s hard work and creativity definitely saved this album! He’s currently unavailable for live dates due to his busy schedule, but both he and we are open to working together in the future.
APESHIT: Musically, SCARVE owns a unique sound that’s both futuristic and technical. But judging by the band’s talent and growth, it seems as if SCARVE’s sound has infinite possibilities. Do you have a vision for the future evolution of SCARVE’s sound?
Dirk: Since the very beginning, the whole idea behind SCARVE has always been to create something of our own. People often tie us in with STRAPPING YOUNG LAD and MESHUGGAH, which is a compliment because we admire both those bands. I can see some similarities in sound and atmosphere, but the truth is, we really do our own thing. The way our music is written, we don’t give up until we feel a song has something really strong and unique. A lot of ideas are discarded; for instance, I recorded drums for eleven new songs for The Undercurrent and only eight of them made it to the album. Being very critical towards our own work prevents us from getting stuck in a pattern. As far as the future goes, I’m very confident and convinced that we’ll evolve without denying our roots.
APESHIT: You joined SOILWORK as their drummer not too long ago. What has that experience been like? How is that experience different from being in SCARVE?
Dirk: SOILWORK has been nothing short of incredible for me! In just a few years, we’ve toured around the world, recorded two albums and had countless great times. The other guys have always been very accepting of me as a person and as a drummer. After two years as a session man, I really felt at home in the band so it was a logical step to join them. As far as comparing the experience to SCARVE, well, it’s different music, different people and a different way of working. SOILWORK sells more records so the conditions are usually better than with SCARVE which is a little more DIY and underground.
APESHIT: From touring, songwriting, relationships, etc… what have you learned from being in SOILWORK that you can bring back to SCARVE?
Dirk: On a relationship level, being in a “bigger” band, you get to see things from another angle. I’ve always taken care of most of the business aspects in SCARVE and the toughest part of that is finding a good balance between the different personalities involved. You can’t have three leaders in a band, but you also can’t have someone doing nothing. Everyone has their opinion about everything, which makes conflicts hard to avoid. SOILWORK functions extremely well at that level and that’s without a doubt part of their key to success. Getting along on tour is essential too because you spend months and months together in a bus. As far as songwriting goes, I find that that’s pretty similar between both bands. Being creative is fun so that usually flows easily.
APESHIT: Is it difficult splitting your time between SOILWORK, SCARVE, and your session work with other bands?
Dirk: Yes, sometimes it is. Until a few years back it was overall pretty easy, because SCARVE didn’t tour very much. But that changed simultaneously to my first tours with SOILWORK. Two years of combining both bands ended up taking its toll on me. Everyone needs to be home sometimes, you know? And touring, as much as it may seem like the dream job from the outside, gets exhausting. You spend so much time traveling and waiting that it can become frustrating. I love being on the road, but it needs to be in the right doses. That’s part of the reason why I haven’t played live with SCARVE recently. It got to a point where I really needed some time outside of music. Plus, we’ve been extremely lucky in 2004-2005 that the tours and shows of both bands hardly ever overlapped. I can’t see schedules not being a problem in the future and I don’t want to hold back the other guys in SCARVE. So we’ll just see where it goes from here.
APESHIT: What are some other session jobs or side projects you have going on at the moment or coming up in the near future?
Dirk: This year I have six albums coming out, including The Undercurrent and the new SOILWORK which is scheduled for October. The SUBLIME CADAVERIC DECOMPOSITION disc I played on, Inventory of Fixtures, was released in May. Coming out this Fall are new albums by SYBREED, MANU LIVERTOUT BAND and Nuclear Blast All Stars Volume 2: Out Of The Dark written by Peter Wichers [ex-SOILWORK] and for which I drummed on five tracks. Some more things are in the works, including a new album by PHAZE I as well as Warrel Dane of NEVERMORE‘s solo record which I’ll record drums for this summer.
APESHIT: France hasn’t become the darlings of the metal media as of yet. Can you tell us what the French metal scene is like? Is it growing? What bands should we check out?
Dirk: The French metal scene is stronger than ever! It’s been growing steadily since the “metal low” of the nineties, and I find that nowadays there are more talented bands than ever before. Everyone has heard of GOJIRA, and rightfully so, but make sure to keep an eye on KLONE, HACRIDE, LYZANXIA, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, SUBLIME CADAVERIC DECOMPOSITION, TALIAN, ARKHON INFAUSTUS, SOLEKAHN and KRONOS, to name but a few.
APESHIT: You are certainly one of metal’s most talented drummers. Who are some of your drum idols and influences? What do you think separates you from other metal drummers?
Dirk: Thanks a lot for the compliment! Besides my initial influences which are Dave Lombardo and Mick Harris, I’m still a huge fan of Sean Reinert who really influenced metal drumming with his jazz/fusion feel. His playing on Human by DEATH and the CYNIC album is timeless! Morgan Agren from Sweden is also one of my all-time favorites. I admire Mario Duplantier of GOJIRA for his pure, inventive and groovy style. In the new generation, I’d also name Morten Lowe Sorensen (SUBMISSION, THE ARCANE ORDER), GaÃ«l Feret (MISANTHROPE), Francky (DAGOBA) and Gilles Delecroix (GRONIBARD, ex-ABORTED). And then there are the “classics”: the inimitable Gene Hoglan, Tomas Haake, Steve Flynn (ATHEIST), Chad Smith (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), Tim Alexander (PRIMUS), Brian Mantia, Dennis Chambers, Tomas Lang, Peter Wildoer (DARKANE), Virgil Donatiâ€¦ and all the blast-masters: Tony Laureano, Pete Sandoval, Kai Hahto, Frost, Hellhammer, George Kollias, Inferno, Derek Roddy, Reno Killerich, Matte Modin, Mike (KRONOS)… and the list goes on. I really don’t know if I do anything exceptional compared to other metal drummers. I try to develop my own style which mainly consists of trying to play tastefully and with groove at all times, whether it’s a ballad or a blast-beat.
APESHIT: What’s next for SCARVE (after securing the vocalist situation)? Any chance of touring the U.S. soon?
Dirk: A lot will depend on said vocalist situation. If it gets solved quickly, we’ll go on touring for The Undercurrent, hopefully in the U.S. as well; if not, the writing process for a new album will begin while the search for a singer continues. Either way, you haven’t heard the last of SCARVE yet. As a matter of fact, the best is still to come!