Karl Sanders of Nile: The Hellbound Interview

By Raymond Westland

Some time ago I had the chance to do an interview with Karl Sanders, the guitarist/vocalist and main songwriter of death metal outfit Nile. He had a lot to say about the band’s latest album, the creative process within the band, the less glamorous aspects of being on the road and his positive comments on the last Morbid Angel record…

Hi Karl, Thank you for your time. At The Gates Of Sethu is a very solid album in the best Nile tradition. Are you happy the way it came out?

We as a band certainly are. What other people think about it we’ll leave it up to them. This time around we really wanted to put the focus on the musicianship. We did that by using very clean tones, so that people can actually hear what we are playing. Recording an album is hard work, but the way we did it meant double hard work. We really pushed ourselves really hard as far as playing and musicianship goes. Neil Kernon pushed us really hard as well. He read some of my comments of working with him during our last record and how hard it was. One day he called me and asked me about my comments. He asked whether I wanted him to be really tough on the band with the recording of the next album. I said hell yeah and in hindsight it was perhaps not that smart. Neil has an uncanny ear for detail, so he really hears the smallest mistakes. He was really cruel to us in the studio, but it was all for the greater good.

What I really like and admire about the new album and Nile in general is the attention to detail and the fact that you guys write actual songs with a whole range of different dynamics. This really sets Nile apart from many of your peers…

Thank you! I try to keep things interesting for myself by using influences from other genres, like blues and jazz. That’s how I manage to keep the Nile material fresh and exciting after so many years. There are many bands out there who are only inspired by metal and you can hear that. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but as a musician I don’t like to limit myself to death metal per se. There’s so much more out there. I love to listen to blues. I’m still very much into death metal, but there are some bands out there that really bring tears to my eyes.

You are the main songwriter within Nile. Can you take us through the process of writing a Nile song?

Sure, the lyrics come first. I start writing words and over time they evolve into lyrics. Those words inspire me to come up with guitar riffs. After a certain amount of time I have a big pile of riffs and I start to mold them into songs. At that point I show them to Dallas and George and they give their input. I really like using a program called Sonar. I still use SoundForge from time to time and I still love to hack up certain pieces and create new parts out of them.

Did your perspective on songwriting change over the years?

I guess it did. Every time when I listen to our older records I get into the same headspace I was back when we were recording that particular album, including all the emotions and things we went through during the recording of that album. I find that really fascinating. It’s very difficult for me to listen to our older material from an objective point of view, because I only hear all the little mistakes we made. If I to record those songs nowadays I certainly would do some things differently. But then again, all those records are stepping stones to where we are today as a band.

George, Dallas and you form the nucleus of Nile, but with every new album there’s always marks the introduction of a new bassist. What’s up with that?

Haha, the first bass player who left Nile must have put a curse on us, I can’t find any other logical explanation. In fact, some days ago Dallas was so fed up with this, that he jokingly said that he would be the bass player for Nile from now on. I told him he was nuts, because he’s a such a killer guitar player. It’s really heartbreaking when somebody leaves the band, because you put a lot of energy and effort into getting someone up to speed, both on musical and personal level. We are pretty demanding as far musicians go and we really like to push ourselves. Especially Dallas and I are a pretty good team in that regard. That’s our way to prevent us from getting bored. Boredom is the origin of sloppiness.

One thing that really fascinates me about Nile is your preoccupation with the culture and history of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Where does it originate from?

It started as a casual hobby. When Nile grew in popularity I really started to dig deep into it. My friend Ashmedi from Melechesh is really into the whole Eastern spiritual element. My own interest is purely academic. It’s not like I start the day worshiping ancient deities or something. I do have some ancient artifacts in my living room, including a sarcophagus. My wife doesn’t really mind, for her it’s another object that needs to be dusted from time to time, haha.

I would like to move on to the upcoming tour with Kreator and Morbid Angel. Purely based on merit I think Nile is too low on the bill..

Thank you, but for us this is the single best tour opportunity we had in years. All the bands involved are really good and this will give us the chance to meet a lot of new metal fans. My father told me that the world is unfair, but you have to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt with.

Touring isn’t necessarily the most healthy lifestyle around. How do you keep yourself in shape?

Touring isn’t healthy at all. When one person gets sick within a tour bus everyone gets sick. During our last tour with Melechesh we played in Sweden, Norway and Finland. It was incredibly cold, so I got really sick. When you’re on the road you don’t have the time to go to a hospital or see a doctor. When I got home from that tour it took me one month to recover. Believe me, sleeping in your own bed, seeing your wife and family and being able to shower every day are the best things of getting home after a long tour. As far as tips and tricks go, I cut way back on my drinking on the road and I try to take a shower every day and I wash my hands as much as I can. Our former drummer Tony Laureano did exactly the opposite. He never washed himself during tour because he theorized that the existing germs would keep the new germs at bay. It really worked for him, because he never got sick. Needless to say, things got really smelly as the tour progressed, haha.

All jokes aside, the life of a touring musician must be quite a strain on family life and relationships in general. How do you cope with that?

It’s a tough call when you’re gone for half of the year. You’re really missing out on some great moments. I have a seventeen year old son and it’s very difficult as far parenting goes when you’re 5000 miles away. Luckily there’s Skype nowadays, so that makes a little easier. As far as relationships go, it’s really tough. I’m on my third marriage now.

As a final question I would like to know if you’re still backing the positive things you said about Morbid Angel’s last record, which received some really scathing reviews from almost every critic on the internet..

Well, let me explain why I did it, so things may be a bit clearer for you. I’m really good friends with Trey Azagthoth and David Vincent. Our friendship dates back to the early days of Morbid Angel. They really helped with putting Nile on the map and in that capacity they really helped in moving my career as a musician forward. I owed them at least 10,000 favours, so by the time the Morbid Angel promotion team approached me to say some nice words about the latest MA record, I returned the favor. As a fan it wasn’t the album I expected from them, because I’m still very much into Altars Of Madness and Blessed Are The Sick. But then again, they made those records 27 years ago, so there’s no point in repeating yourself. When you read carefully the things I said about Illud you’ll see that I didn’t say anything on the album itself. Production-wise it’s a good modern metal death metal record. At the end of the day I received a lot of hate mail because of that, so perhaps I will decline next time, haha!

At The Gates of Sethu is out now on Nuclear Blast

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.