Having formed in 1995, Sacramento noise band Will Haven has calved out a place as one of the most intense metal bands in the country. Live, they’re a true experience: Singer-screamer Grady Avernell has a voice that can scare gangsters, and he seems to burst blood vessels in his eyes with every gloriously incomprehensible noise that blasts out of his throat. Yes, there are plenty of heavy bands out there. But there’s something disconcertingly out-of-the-box about Will Haven. Is it metal? Is it hardcore, or post-hardcore? They don’t care, and neither should we.
That don’t-give-a-crap-about-convention paired with the musical intensity is a theme which carries through to their approach to the band itself. Breaks have been taken, band members have come and gone and, 23 years into its existence, Will Haven is still seen as something that those involved reconvene for when the fancy takes them. Its members have other jobs, and guitarist Jeff Irwin sees the band as a “hobby.”
“Since the Deftones tour [in the 1990s], we’ve just been doing our own thing, trying to come up with something new, having fun with it,” Irwin says. “This is a hobby for us really. It’s not our full-time job, so we just do it when we have time to do it, and enjoy it. We don’t need to put a full 100 percent into it. But with this new record, that was the goal: to treat it like a real job. Work on it every night, put our heart and soul into it — and it came out amazing. We finally put out a record to where we think we should have evolved to after all the years. Right now, it’s been a slow progression but I think we finally hit our mark now. It’s the new dawn of Will Haven coming out, which is really cool.”
If they’re not putting 100 percent into it, you’d never know. Nothing about the recorded output or live performances would suggest anything other than utter and total commitment to the cause. That said, it’s been nearly three years since the aptly titled Open the Mind to Discomfort album, and Irwin seems stoked about the next one — no title yet — due this year.
“We just finished up our new one a few months ago, and it’s supposed to come out in the middle of March, I believe,” he says. “We did everything ourselves. We went into a recording studio in Sacramento, so we just did it here, did it ourselves, and recorded it, took our time, went back in and worked on production, mixing and stuff. Mixing alone took like three months. We took a long time on it but it came out awesome. I personally think that our new record is where I thought we should have always gone in terms of music. It sounds like Will Haven, but it’s a huge progression. So I think now we’ve evolved into what we wanted to be.”
The band has been working on the new record for a couple of years, with Irwin in particular writing whenever he got the chance. His dalliances weren’t necessarily enjoyed with Will Haven in mind, but some of those moments of inspiration proved perfect for his band.
“When it was time to work on a Will Haven record, I went back to the demos I had done for myself and incorporated them into Will Haven songs,” he says. “Lyrically, it’s always Grady’s personal life that he puts down on paper. I don’t get into it with him — I just let him do his thing. It’s just what’s within him. It wasn’t the climate or whatever. I did what I’ve always done and took my inspirations, what makes me write music, put it into the music, and then Grady does his thing. Lyrically, there might be some stuff on there that has to do with the times right now, but musically, that’s just how I write. I just took my time, took about two years to put it all together.”
Irwin says that, while he still loves heavy music, he’s fallen out of the loop a little, as he’s struggled to connect with contemporary metal the way he did with the bands of his youth, such as Sepultura and Faith No More. He looks around, but can’t find the same feeling.
“It’s really hard, but then a band like Code Orange comes out and brings the old-school into the new-school stuff, and I think that’s cool,” Irwin says. “I like seeing bands take older influences and put them back into metal again. Last year was a little bit more promising, and with our record coming out, it’ll be on the same level as Code Orange. It’s metal, but it’s got some different influences in there, and it’s different to what we’ve been hearing for the last couple of years. I think maybe it’ll make a turn, but for me it’s gotten watered down and lost its soul a little bit. Hopefully, some new bands will bring back the soul and make it fun and personal again.”
On Sunday, Will Haven will be in San Francisco for the first time in about four years. It’ll be a welcome return, and Irwin is psyched to be back.
“We love coming to San Francisco,” he says. “We never know what we’re going to get because we haven’t been there in so long — we hope people show up, but there’s a really cool scene there. They come out and support it. If the band’s good, they’ll come out and watch you, no matter how long you’ve been away. I love playing San Francisco, it’s one of my favorite cities. And I love playing Bottom of the Hill. It’s a fun club to play. I’m excited. It’s one of the first places we reached out to when we started booking shows. I can’t wait.”
The set will be peppered with oldies and newies, and Irwin says that it will be brutal from start to finish. Frankly, we’d expect nothing less. But it’s vital that you catch them before they take another break.
Will Haven with Catapult the Dead and Concrete Walls, Sunday, Jan. 7, 3 p.m., at Bottom of the Hill; 1233 17th St. $10; 415-626-4455 or bottomofthehill.com