Touring Europe, hanging out with Sepultura – have Nervecell finally made it? Time out investigates

Interview, Music feature
Interview, Music feature
Interview, Music feature

Where are you right now?
I’m in Paris, just breathing some nice French air.

Europe, eh?
Yeah, this is basically the Nervecell tour; we’ve played festivals and small club shows in Germany, Austria, The Netherlands and Belgium, and now we’re meeting French promoters. Mostly this tour’s about meeting promoters and getting the word out about the European release of [the band’s third CD] Preaching Venom.

How’s it going out there?
Very, very good! In some clubs we were the only band on that night and people still came out to see us, saying ‘I saw you at [German metal festival] With Full Force,’ or ‘I saw you at [another Teutonic metal fest] Wacken Open Air’. To have a band play a big stage at a festival and then play a small club in someone’s hometown really helps word-of-mouth. It’s really fun, too – smaller venues are just packed with metal and passion. Sometimes we see people coming out in Nervecell T-shirts and it’s like, wow man – we’re developing a cult following! You know?

Does the fact that you guys come from Dubai surprise people?
Yeah, a lot of people have said they’d only come out to give us a shot, then when they heard us their jaws were on the floor. They expect… not cheesy Arabic scales as such, but some kind of Arabic influence. Some of the solos do have a little bit of that, but none of it’s intentional. Mainly we come across as a band that could tour with Slayer or Cannibal Corpse.

You’ve met some huge bands on the road, we hear…
One of my icons – Phil Anselmo, the ex-singer of Pantera – heard us and asked for a CD. That was a real honour. And for the With Full Force DVD, we were interviewed by Andreas Kisser, the guitarist from Sepultura.

You’ve played with them before.
Yeah, we’ve played with them three times before. We keep in contact with them all the time.

Have you thought of touring with them or working together?
Actually they want to do a Middle East tour; they said to us, ‘Man you guys should come out if we can do it.’ We’ve been trying to do a Middle East tour – Dubai, Beirut, Bahrain, maybe Doha – for the past few years, and then all of a sudden Sepultura are thinking about it, too, saying maybe we should tag along. Whoa!

You signed to the German label Life Force this year, didn’t you?
In March, when we were playing Desert Rock, we prioritised 12 labels to send CDs to and Life Force’s CEO, Stefan, was the only guy who replied as soon as he got the press kit. And just a few months later, after we’d finished our With Full Force set, we were sat down with him discussing how to release the album. And this is a label that found Trivium and The Faceless – really big modern metal bands that have signed to bigger labels.

Do you have any plans to leave Dubai permanently?
It’s something we’ve spoken about, but even with the label and the tours there’s no conflict or pressure to leave. We’re happy to be based in Dubai. It may make sense to move out some day, but for now we’re staying here.

You’re playing in Dubai soon – does that feel strange?
That is going to be strange, actually. We haven’t played in Dubai since March. We’ll be tight as a band, but there’s a lot of pressure. If we play a show in Dubai after playing Europe, it has to be perfect. We don’t want people to think: They’ve just come back from Europe and this is how they sound? With YouTube, it only takes one bad performance to ruin a band’s reputation.

Last year you were complaining about not having anywhere to play; now there’s at least one metal night a week. Do you think the scene here has improved?
Definitely – we’re very happy that it’s taken flight. When we started playing in high school we never saw this coming. It’s the only place I know in the Middle East where promoters are giving heavy metal and original music a chance. It couldn’t get any better.

Nervecell play Rockafellas (Regal Plaza Hotel) on Oct 9, Dhs30. Preaching Venom is available in stores now.

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