It could be argued that metal is losing it’s theatrical edge. Only the biggest bands can afford lavish stage productions as many bands turn to day jobs to fund their tours and albums. One band, however, that puts time and effort into their stage show is Preston’s Ward XVI. They carry the torch lit by their icon Alice Cooper by putting the show back in show business. Before their appearance at this year’s Bloodstock Festival, I chatted to the band about their origins, influences, their costumes, their album The Art of Manipulaton, the road to Bloodstock and their post-festival plans.
Jack: Hey, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you?
Beardy McStumble (Bass): When I answered I was bored. But who knows how I’m feeling when you’re reading this. It’ll be a new day anything could have happened, most likely I’ll be hungry.
Jack: How did Ward XVI form?
Beardy McStumble: Blame Psychoberrie.
Psychoberrie (Vocals): Primarily through joinmyband.co.uk. I got chatting to Min online about wanting to create something totally different and story driven with a theatrical show. He was also hoping to find musicians wanting to create something new. Beardy McStumble joined us not so long afterwards along with Dale our former guitarist and we just got to writing from day 1, we never even played a single cover, those guys just jammed and jelled so well we never needed to.
Lex Whittingham (Guitar): I found an advert posted by the band online and applied to that after listening to some rough demos prior to the launch of our debut, self titled, E.P.
Jack: What inspired the asylum concept?
Beardy McStumble: Blame Psychoberrie.
Lex: Psychoberrie is the driving force behind our lyrical concepts, she’ll be able to answer this in more detail than the rest of us.
Psychoberrie: I literally don’t have a clue. All I knew in the beginning was that I wanted to be a character on stage as I’m pretty shy in real life and after being kicked out of a band for not being good enough; my self-esteem was on the floor and if I was to come back I needed something to hide behind. I like horror and I love Alice Cooper’s stage show. Initially I roughly drew Psychoberrie on a sketch pad, then one day I started singing what is now ‘Take my Hand’ whilst walking home from work at 1am. The lyrics have always felt like they’ve written themselves, I tend to zone out and they just arrive sometimes. We took a long time to come up with a band name. We narrowed it down from about 20 names. When we settled on Ward XVI that was when the concept really started to take shape.
Jack: The band have a wide range of influences from Alter Bridge, Iron Maiden, Lordi, Diablo Swing Orchestra and The Skints. What influences do you take from these bands?
Dr Von Stottenstein (Guitar): From Maiden and Alter Bridge I take much from the musicality and importance of the melody and hook. I love epic progressive music and they do it and have done it so well. Visual representation of the music is vitally important too. Maidens stage show and art gripped me before the music did 30 years ago so I know how important that is to represent the music.
Beardy McStumble: Lordi were the reason why I picked up the bass. Ox is one hell of a bass player. You listen to Bite it Like a Bulldog and his bass just leads the song. Not just that but they’re entire live show is theatrical, it’s part of what appeals.
Lex: Personally, from the influences mentioned in our biography, I take the most inspiration from Avatarium, I enjoy their doom based sounds on songs like Moonhorse, Avatarium and Pearls & Coffins. Songs like these especially influenced my guitar parts in our song ‘Adrenochromania.’
Jack: You’re also influenced by Alice Cooper. Why has Alice captured the imagination of so many different generations?
Psychoberrie: When Alice Cooper came out the band were completely unique and still to this day there’s not really anyone out there that compares. I love the music, though I’d say that hasn’t really had more of an influence on our music than any other band from the classic rock era, it was the stage show that really gripped me. I’d heard the odd track by Alice Cooper and I liked what I’d heard but it wasn’t until my Boyfriend whipped out his VHS titled “Welcome to my Nightmare Live” and shoved it in the slot that my addiction truly began. I love to have all my senses penetrated at once and that show really did that for me, it was like nothing I’d ever seen, a full, round package! Still to this day his show is exciting, energetic and very visual and the character that Vincent has become is intriguing, plus he still interacts a great deal with people of all ages through his radio show. It’s classic horror which is timeless.
Beardy McStumble: Who isn’t influenced by Alice Cooper these days? He’s one of rocks biggest icons and he’s still going. You can’t not be influenced by him, even if you don’t say he’s an influence he will have influenced any other band you recognise and is therefore indirectly an influence.
Jack: Has being from Preston influenced the band’s concepts?
Beardy McStumble: Ward XVI is based in Whittingham Asylum which is near ish (apparently)
Psychoberrie: The name came about after I researched the horrific abuse that took place on Ward 16 at Whittingham Hospital, Preston and a late night visit to the now derelict asylum definitely helped inspire the concept. I wanted to capture some of the fear that we felt on that night.
Jack: With the costumes did you decide on them as a collective or was each individual member given artistic freedom with them?
Lex: At first our costumes were a little mismatched, however once we began work on our debut album, we discussed the idea of a matching theme between our outfits, which has now become the black and white stripes.
Von Stott: There was a little bit of freedom, at first we all wore what we wanted which didn’t always reflect on the narrative. We then tried to keep this individual but adapt it to have a uniformity across us all which is how the stripes came about.
Beardy McStumble: Originally started off as whatever we really wanted, some of our earlier gigs it was really mix and match. And didn’t really stay the same. Since then though we’ve talked it through and settled on a theme, which we went away with and did what we wanted to it.
Jack: The Art of Manipulation is a 12-Track concept album telling the introspective story of a female psychopath locked away in a high security asylum. Throughout the album she delves into her past life and tells the story of how she manipulated a man into killing for her using her feminine charm. What inspired this story?
Beardy McStumble: Blame Psychoberrie.
Psycoberrie: I just found this was where the story was going. It wasn’t ever some kind of organised, well planned out album to begin with, it came together slowly over time like a puzzle that I had to work out. This is just where the lyrics took me so I went with it and I never tried to force it in any particular direction. I can now see the bigger picture and I’m excited for future albums. There are things Psychoberrie says in the interludes of this first album that will unfold in future albums.
Jack: How would you say the album is different to your previous albums?
Psychoberrie: The only previous release we have is an EP which consists of four songs that are on the album so I guess the difference is that this one is bigger. [Laughs] It’s also significantly better recording quality.
Beardy McStumble: It’s our first album. It still differs to the EP we released, we had a different guitarist at the time so the sound is completely different. He had a different style of playing and different influences. We’ve used the same songs in the album with our current guitarists and the sound is completely different.
Jack: Was it an intense recording process?
Von Stott: The recording was pretty interesting. We were in the middle of nowhere for two weeks, camping on floors, car parks, in cars and then spending all day everyday in the studio. Although it was hard, it actually enhanced the claustrophobia. I’m glad we did it that way but next time I’d change the way I recorded the guitars so I got more emotion and desperation out of it.
Beardy McStumble: It was so intense I had to wear a tin foil hat. Apparently I’m full of static electricity and caused issues with the mixing desk when trying to record the bass lines. I looked like a giant gnome, just needed a fishing rod.
Psychoberrie: It was one of the best experiences of my life just living like a hobo for two weeks. There happened to be a big 80s music festival on one weekend which we snook into and managed to get up to all sorts of mischief, we even ended up on the main stage. But the actual recording part I found really hard. It’s difficult trying to replicate the energy that’s in my voice when I sing live. I just found it felt unnatural to be stood there on my own in an empty room. I got there in the end and I’m happy with the result, but it really exhausted me. It was a great sense of achievement when we’d finished. I think cramming it all in one go was probably a bit harsh on ourselves but I’d probably do the same next time.
Jack: How was the experience of supporting William Control?
Von Stott: It was a great experience although we didn’t say much to each other. I think the way our music had certain similarities and also contrasts made us go down well.
Beardy McStumble: It was one of the hottest days we’d had that year. It the venue itself was a sweat box and that was before the crowd arrived. I remember on the day having an issue with my bass, I think the battery died. The gig itself was okay but I’m not a William Control fan, I remember him in Aidan and that was okay, but just no. I remember seeing them arrive late, take forever sound checking and then just disappear and not even speak to us.
Jack: You also supported The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, how was that experience?
Von Stott: One of the best musical experiences of my life. That night I knew I had to play music and also saw what you had to do regarding stage presence and selling your act. They’ve remained good friends since and we are playing a gig or two with them later this year. My 3/5 year old kids adore them and know the words to all their songs.
Beardy McStumble: I was already massively excited for this gig. It’s not every day you get to play Ruby Lounge. I went in having no idea who they were apart from knowing about Andrew O’Neil as a comedian. But they are such nice people. We’ve gigged with them since and will be doing again in October, they’re always a great laugh and put on a good show.
Jack: You’re playing Bloodstock this year, how did it feel to win the Metal to the Masses?
Beardy McStumble: It was incredible. Just to get through to the final was fantastic. There was so many fantastic bands playing and so much going against. So, yeah, we may have blown the power during our first song. I genuinely expected Blast Tyrant to win, so when they called our name it was just unbelievable.
Lex: It’s amazing to know our work is loved enough for us to be considered as a suitable act for Bloodstock.
Von Stott: A massive relief and shock. We aren’t putting our music down – we know our music is good, but the quality of the final was very high and the majority of the bands playing are close friends. We’ve missed out before as the brand of music we play is sometimes not what metal festivals are after. We are glad that we’ve been given a chance.
Jack: Was playing M2TM an exhausting process given the high profile nature of the competition?
Beardy McStumble: Not at all. Playing Metal to the Masses is a fantastic opportunity, even if you don’t get through the first round you’ve still played the best to your ability and will have met some other fantastic bands and had one of the best nights.
Jack: A lot of people say Battle of the Bands competitions such as Metal to the Masses divide music scenes instead of uniting them, what are your thoughts on this?
Beardy McStumble: Utter hogwash. It all depends on you as an individual, if you’re an elitist and only like Norwegian black cheese gypsy metal, then you’re most likely going to be disappointed, but the majority of people have a really eclectic music taste. A Metal to the Masses or Battle of the Bands should just be treated by the bands as a gig. The competition should be the afterthought of the night.
Psychoberrie: I think sometimes the attitude of the musicians taking part get in the way of this being a positive thing. These competitions are just meant to be a bit of fun and if you approach it like we did this year and care more about networking with other bands and playing to new audiences than winning then you will reap the benefits. We played better this year because we played for the people that came to watch rather than focusing on winning a competition.
Lex: Personally, I don’t like battle of the bands, I feel like the number of small venues supporting local, start-up bands is always dropping, therefore local music scenes should be working together to keep such scenes alive. We were up against a lot of friends, and our friend’s bands in the competition, and I don’t feel like it’s right for us to be put up against each other like that.
Jack: What can we expect from your show at Bloodstock?
Beardy McStumble: We’re bringing the Circus Pit to Bloodstock. They had better be ready and give us the best Circus Pit we’ve ever seen.
Von Stott: Blood, circus pits, a chainsaw or two and a dress wearing, accordion playing clown
Psychoberrie: This will be different to anything else you’ll see or hear at bloodstock. We do this for the audience. They need something new and that’s what we are bringing to them. It’s a high energy set with lots of visual stimulation, audience interaction and the sound is very unique.
Lex: Lots of energy, a variety of sounds and genres, blood, chainsaws and general insanity.
Jack: What else do you have coming up post Bloodstock?
Beardy McStumble: We’re playing the Glaston-BURY festival on the 28th August. Not to be confused with the real deal, as this is in Bury. An all day festival with various different stages all around Bury. We’ve played it several times and its always been a good laugh.
Von Stott: Lots of gigs this year as we are trying to promote our new album The Art of Manipulation we have just got a slot at next year’s breaking bands festival and we are also playing a splendid day out festival later this year. Halloween is always a busy time so we have a big gig or two then as well. One with our friends the dead xiii.
Jack: Finally what unsigned bands do you recommend?
Lex: Again, personally I’d recommend a number of the bands we were against in the M2TM competition, our friends in Twisted Obsession, Avarus and Soldato. They’re all great people and top musicians, going up against them wasn’t easy.
Beardy McStumble: EMPEROR PHUNK: By far the best band we have ever shared a stage with. Rock and Phunk combined to create something beautiful. Blast Tyrant: We shared the stage twice with these guys during the Metal to the Masses competition. They have a song about Cthulhu what else do you need. Agrona: We very recently shared the stage with these guys at Lostock Festival. They’re imagery was just great and they’re sound was fairly brutal.
Von Stott: Soldato for sure as well as Sin Circus.
Psychoberrie: Emperor Phunk, Sin Circus and Healthy Junkies.