Interview: Employed To Serve
For us to be able to explore new musical directions, and to have our fans not only embrace it, but love the new ideas we’ve incorporated, is very validating of the hard work we put into the record.
Employed To Serve have established themselves as one of the premier bands to have emerged from the UK underground metal scene in recent years with albums like Eternal Forward Motion and The Warmth Of A Dying Sun. The band latest album Conquering ups the ante in terms of their songwriting and sees Employed To Serve reach new heights in terms of heaviness as well as melody. Gavin Brown caught up with Employed To Serve guitarist / vocalist Sammy Unwin to hear all about Conquering and the reaction to the album so far as well as what the band have coming next regarding new music, their last UK tour and forthcoming live plans, playing Download and the challenges and triumphs of running Church Road Records.
E&D: Your latest album Conquering came out last year. Have you been pleased with with the reaction the album has had so far?
Sammy: We honestly couldn’t be happier with how it’s been received! For us to be able to explore new musical directions, and to have our fans not only embrace it, but love the new ideas we’ve incorporated, is very validating of the hard work we put into the record.
E&D: Do you feel that this is your most fully formed album to date when it comes to the songs on Conquering?
Sammy: I would say so, yes. I feel like we were already starting to head in a more metallic direction on our previous album Eternal Forward Motion, but on this one we really let loose and became even less strict with the rules on what’s acceptable for an Employed To Serve song. I feel Eternal Forward Motion was a good representation of where we had been and what’s to come, and Conquering is a much bolder and cohesive representation of what we’re all about.
E&D: Have you had any thoughts about any possible new material at all?
Sammy: This is actually probably the longest we’ve gone without considering the next release. I think that’s been due to Covid and us wanting to make sure we tour the absolute hell out of this record, because we’re so proud of it.
E&D: Conquering has some of the best riffs I’ve heard in ages. Did you always want memorable riffs to be a big part of the Employed To Serve sound?
Sammy: Thank you, that’s awesome to hear! I think in the beginning of the band, we were more into making the music as chaotic and abrasive as possible. Where as now, memorable riffs and hooks take president over everything else. We want the music to remain extreme but to also be memorable. I think this attitude comes from playing extreme music for many years. Nowadays, songwriting is really key for me. For me creatively, I kinda exhausted the format of writing a million riffs that don’t repeat in one song. At the moment, I’m more focused on writing stuff with more of a simple structure that hopefully sticks with the listener from the get go.
E&D: What are some of your favourite riffs of all time?
Sammy: Woah! tough question. Here are 5 that definitely make the cut… Black Sabbath – ‘Symptom of the Universe’, Pantera – ‘I’m Broken’, Testament – ‘Into the Pit”, Celtic Frost – P’rocreation (of the Wicked)’ and Dio – ‘Straight Through the Heart’.
E&D: Can you tell us a bit about the cover artwork for Conquering?
Sammy: Sure! We wanted it to be a continuation of the Eternal Forward Motion cover. On Eternal Forward Motion we had a bleak factory setting, with people in chains walking single file. This was supposed to be a metaphorical depiction of the state we can all get ourselves into within our own minds. Although there was uplifting moments on Eternal Forward Motion it was on the whole a much darker record. With Conquering, all of the themes are based much more around overcoming all of the things in life that can drag you down, thus the idea for the cover came about. We wanted something that represented someone overcoming their inner turmoil and ascending from their own personal hell. We had already spoken with the artist Luke Preece a little bit about working with each other. We sent him the basic idea of an ethereal looking head with cogs bursting from its cranium, and he just took it to another level. We absolutely love it!
E&D: How have Employed To Serve changed as a band since your last album Eternal Forward Motion?
Sammy: Massively! Me and Justine are the only people still in the band that were on that record. The bass player Brett couldn’t commit to the touring as he had to be free to tour with his other band, We Never Learned To Live (incredible band, check them out if you haven’t). Our drummer Robbie, with his wife, decided that they wanted to start a family, and since have had their first baby! And our guitar player Rich moved out to Japan to be with his girlfriend (now wife) last year! So there’s been a lot of change, but we knew it was coming and it all seemed to happen at just the right time. The new line-up has more or less only been with the band during the pandemic, and because of this we’ve been able to really get to know each other. Rather than jumping in to back to back touring, recording etc, we’ve had lots of time to just hang out at practise, and we’ve become a really tight unit in the process.
E&D: Who are the biggest influences on Employed To Serve?
Sammy: Ohh there’s so many! Musically on the last record we drew a lot of influence from Machine Head, Sepultura, Pantera, Testament, Lamb Of God, Corrosion Of Conformity. For me this is the stuff I grew up on. These bands have definitely moulded me into the musician I am today.
E&D: How did your last UK tour at the end of 2021 go and what were some of the highlights?
Sammy: It was amazing! It was so great to be back at it, and so surreal to be finally playing these new songs live. I’m still on a high from it to be honest. The highlight was hearing people sing the new songs back at us every night. It’s weird coming up with these songs at home, in your own little world and then suddenly hearing people sing the words back at you. It will forever be mind blowing.
E&D: You were due to tour with Gojira late this year but the tour has sadly been cancelled. Will it happen a later date?
Sammy: Yes indeed! A whole block of the shows have been rescheduled for July this year, and the rest have been moved to Feb 2023. A little longer to the wait but it will be more than worth it! For more info on the new dates please visit here.
E&D: What are your live plans for the rest of this year now?
Sammy: Well, because of the shows being rescheduled, we’re now trying to figure out what the rest of the year is going to look like. We’ll be keeping busy one way or another, that’s for sure!
E&D: Have you got any festivals planned for the summer that you can tell us about?
Sammy: Yes, we do! We’ll be playing at the following festivals, Graspop, Rock For People and Resurrection festival, with more being announced soon!
E&D: You returned to the stage at Download last year. How was the experience of playing the festival again dnd can you tell us a bit about that day?
Sammy: It was literally incredible! What a first show to have back after a year with no shows. Because we were so excited to be playing again, the nerves of performing were non existent. We were just up there enjoying every second of it. It was David’s (our new guitar player) first show, and he absolutely smashed it. Even though I cannot wait for international travel to come back, it was amazing seeing the wealth of amazing bands we have here in the U.K. making up the entirety of the Download line up.
E&D: How was the feeling being onstage and playing live again, after such a hiatus with everything going on in the world?
Sammy: Truly liberating and a much needed reminder of why we do this!
E&D: What other gigs have been particularly memorable for Employed To Serve?
Sammy: There’s so many but I guess I should pin point all of our London headline shows to date as they’ve been the biggest. Seeing the crowd and enthusiasm grow for our band each time has been truly mind blowing and life affirming.
E&D: What are your favourite festival memories, both in Employed To Serve and as a punter?
Sammy: Hellfest 2019 haha! I was literally like a kid at Disneyland. Not only had we played our biggest show to date in front of 15,000 people, but all of my favourite bands were playing too. Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Immolation, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide ahhhhhh the list literally went on and on. Second best day of my life next to my wedding ha!
E&D: What releases do your label Church Road Records have coming this year that you can tell us about?
Sammy: We have so much in store for this year, I’m very excited about it all. We’ve already had a bunch of releases this year. I’ll focus on what we have coming up! We have the debut album Matriarch by Tuskar (FFO Mastodon, Yob) out now, The sophomore record from Helpless (FFO Cult Leader, Converge) Caged In Gold out in March and then we have the new EP from Heriot (FFO Full Of Hell, Nails) Profound Morality out in April.
E&D: Would you ever consider doing a Church Road live showcase or even a tour featuring a whole host of bands from the label’s roster?
Sammy: We might have already planned such an event. News coming soon!
E&D: Do you find it a challenge being in band and running a record label at the same time?
Sammy: It’s still a fairly new thing to me, so it will be interesting to see what it’s like once touring is back properly. However, we’re fortunate to be able to work anywhere as long as we have our lap tops, so I don’t think it will be much of an issue. It will all be about planning ahead of time, which thanks to the vinyl delays, we’re very used to at this point.
E&D: What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of setting up their own label?
Sammy: From my experience of running it by myself as a small time operation when it first started, my advice would be to be patient and to keep with it no matter what. Things will not always go to plan. Don’t beat yourself up about it, try and learn from it and keep your focus. Also, feel confident to ask for advice from other people. Despite what people say about ‘the music industry’, most people are happy to offer help and talk shop.
E&D: What record labels have been inspiring to you?
Sammy: From a very young age I was hugely inspired by UK based grind/death metal label Grindethic Records. The guy who runs it is called Tom Bradfield, and he’s always played in a whole bunch of bands too. When I was younger I was like ‘I want to do exactly that! Play in loads of bands and put out music I love’. Another huge influence for me and Justine is Relapse Records. We love how they put out records by Dying Fetus and Nothing. That’s the kind of diversity we want to have at Church Road.
E&D: Who would you love to sign to Church Road?
Sammy: I’d love to work with Boss Keloid if the chance ever came up! I love their music and I find their lyrics hugely inspiring.
E&D: What has been the best piece of advice you have received both for the band and the label?
Sammy: This may be a weird thing to cite as an inspiration, but I’ve always liked Rodney Mullen’s approach to his skateboarding, and I try to apply the same thing to music. Of course the end result is to try and be successful in some capacity, but having fun and enjoying the process needs to be the priority. He describes his competitive days like protecting a fortress all the time. He never really enjoyed anything in the moment. I think it can be easy to feel the same in the music world. Everything moves so fast, and you’re always working on the next thing. You have to step back and focus on the bottom line sometimes, which is enjoying yourself.
E&D: Who are the biggest influences on you as a musician?
Sammy: Tom Morello, Dimebag Darrel, Jeff Hanneman, Vivian Campbell just to name a few.
E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments in your music career so far?
Sammy: Making life long friends. The rest is all a bonus!