Cape Town, South Africa: with Zombies Ate My Girlfriend having recently snatched away top honours from nearly 30 other countries’ bands at the international Wacken Metal Battle 2016, and only days to go before they depart for Johannesburg to play at Krank’d Up music festival (featuring USA-double-whammy with Periphery and Norma Jean), they seem an unstoppable force. We caught up to learn more about the roadmap which led them to the victory in Germany, and what plans the band is considering for their future. Will they tread into territories as yet unexplored by South African metal bands, to become true pioneers of the local scene? Zombies Ate My Girlfriend now already hold one title of “first from South Africa ever to…”
Having come from not-so-humble beginnings, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend put their first mark on the South African scene when they appeared quite suddenly as this nation’s nearest thing to a “supergroup” in 2012. Armed with an arsenal of already-seasoned live performers (Adriano Rodrigues, formerly with 21st Century Tragedy/also member of Infanteria; Gavin Marchbank, also member of Betray The Emissary; Louis Henn, also member of Megalodon and numerous other projects; Ferdi Groenewald, formerly with Day Turns Night, and; Wesley Robb, formerly with The Broken Result) and some killer material already released with their 2012 Patient Zero EP, the band featured on the line-up for www.metal4africa.com‘s WinterFest’12 festival as their debut live performance, and have been chewing up stages and audiences hearts ever since. The main songwriter for the band, Adriano, describes their entry to public view.
“We did well with Patient Zero and on the whole, it served it’s purpose; which was to have a recorded product that people could take home to listen to as soon as we hit the live circuit. It was also great to have something in hand to entice promoters and media” ~ Adriano Rodrigues (guitar/writer, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend)
Yet, as to the release of material, Adriano cites the later full-length release of Retrocide in 2015 as the band’s most significant career milestone in the build-up towards their Wacken Metal Battle victory.
“Before Retrocide I got the impression that people weren’t taking the band seriously, as if it was going to be a ‘once off’ and the band is gone type of thing. Since releasing the album we’ve just gone from strength to strength. In all honesty we thought that the initial launch hype might carry us a few months into 2015. In reality we ended up on an almost two year cycle of receiving accolades and promoting the album.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
For live shows, or “spreading the siff” as Adriano calls it, the band took a very calculated approach right from the beginning, choosing carefully which shows to play and which shows not to play.
“I have never turned down as many gig opportunities as I have before with this band, and still do. Our focus was to partake in quality over quantity. Mistakes were made along the way but all in all we’ve had a pretty flawless run with shows.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
Adriano describes the band’s strategy as first establishing themselves as a household name in their home city, Cape Town, before their purposeful “spreading of the infection” to Gauteng in order to become a power in the national scene. Once the band felt convinced that they had accomplished that, they would turn focus towards more distant shores; of course, not having taken into account the possibility of a victory at Wacken!
“We never factored in winning something like the Wacken Metal Battle, which has now obviously steamrolled us forward towards Europe probably a year or two before we initially anticipated it happening.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
To summarize, the 2015 release of Retrocide seems to represent a turning point – or an accelerator – to a more arrow-straight trajectory for Zombies At My Girlfriend.
“Probably between the time that we played Emalyth Arts Expo at the beginning of this year and the Wacken Metal Battle South African Finals in June did we feel like we were starting to become well-known in Gauteng. It must also be said that Krank’d Up Music Festival also played a big role in the band’s popularity on that side of the world, due to the opportunities provided to appear before Gauteng audiences before and presently. Winning the Wacken Metal Battle this year has now put us in a position where returning to Europe next year is very much a reality.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
Of course, this was not the “Zombies'” first attempt at the Wacken Metal Battle either! For those who would recall South Africa’s first ever participation in the international competition as a nation back in 2013, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend took part as well, still in truth a fledgling name on the scene – although already a formidable power given the members’ pedigree even then, prior to consequent change-ups. Also, prior to the release of Retrocide, the band progressed to the South African finals for their first ever live appearance in Gauteng. Indeed, the value of longer years of experience as a unit and the release of a full album stand to a band’s credit. At that juncture another Cape Town native took the honour to represent South Africa abroad with Infanteria.
“It’s a tough one to look back at it even with hindsight. The band hadn’t even taken its final form at that stage with regards to members. I think we did pretty well in the finals and we’ve always been a high energy band when it comes to live performances. But one thing I can say without a doubt is if we had to have gone through to Wacken at that time, we would not have won. This mostly comes down to the songs for me. When we entered the first time, we only had the songs from the EP to play. This was cool and all, but Retrocide just has so much more variety, and with a bigger pool of songs to pull from you can do so much more with your set. I have to admit though, Zombies At My Girlfriend has been firing on all cylinders for the last two years and it’s no coincidence that Marc (bass) and Chris (guitar) joined the band at the same time the change occurred. We are just on another level now. It really does feel like a well-oiled machine and relationship-wise we couldn’t be closer with each other.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
Incidentally, Infanteria – a more traditionally oriented thrash metal outfit – also consisted of (and still does) both of Zombies Ate My Girlfriend‘s current guitarists, Adriano and his fellow Christopher Hall (frontman for Infanteria). This would invariably lay some important groundwork for future successes by the pair.
“It definitely played a role. I mean, in a way, we’ve been involved with the Wacken Metal Battle South Africa since its inception in 2013. Zombies Ate My Girlfriend and Infanteria taking part that year and both making it to the local finals, and then Infanteria going through to Germany; The following year none of us could enter owing to having made it to the finals the previous time, but Chris still ended up being a judge for that year and we (Infanteria) played the guest slot at the final as the previous year’s winners. Having done the whole thing before, we knew exactly what the judges were looking for. Not that this was privileged information, since the Wacken Metal Battle SA released the judging criteria publicly, and it has received a lot of public comment previously.
But probably the biggest thing was that Chris and I had been to the actual ‘big battle’ at Wacken already. We knew what to expect; the effect of standing in front of a crowd that size has on you. We also knew what we were up against, and this isn’t a slight to the other battle bands, but we were fully aware that we could clinch this. That is to say, from our previous excursion, we already had the confidence that South African metal was capable of taking the top honour. I guess ultimately this band has been through a lot. We’ve always wanted it all and we’ve worked damn hard at being in a position to earn it. If there’s luck involved, then it was surely that we were ready to do what we did, and that the opportunity to do so presented itself at the same time that we were ready. It may seem like arrogance to some but after a while when you’ve been doing this for so many years and you’ve been through so much shit together, you know what you are and what you’re capable of. Confidence born out of survival.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
Of course, the first ever victory of a South African participant at what is often described as “The Mecca Of Metal”, being Wacken Open Air where tens of thousands of heavy metal pilgrims visit from every corner of the globe is a major milestone, not only for Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, but for South African metal as a whole. It shows that as a nation, we have got the makings of greatness, especially considering that participants from almost 30 other nations partook, and many of those nations having a great reputation for delivering quality metal bands. Adriano got some help from the band’s frontman to try and encompass what this signifies to Zombies Ate My Girlfriend and it’s members:
“That’s not so much a difficult question as it is one that can have a particularly long answer. I mean once you get beyond the ‘Holy fuck, are we actually winning this shit?’, you slowly try to process what it means to have made history – however significant or insignificant that may be. ‘Making history’ isn’t something you thought you’d be doing with a metal band that ten-years-plus activity in the South African environment has convinced you is little more than a cash-starved hobby. So you obviously cast your thoughts onto what this might mean for you and your band back home. And one part of it is hoping that it’s garnered some respect for us; as individuals and as a band. But more importantly, I hope we’ve earned some self-respect for every metalhead in South Africa! Even if it’s only enough to overcome the cynicism that we all seem to suffer from. If, instead of trying to tear down the next South African representatives at Wacken, or trying to drum up controversy and conspiracies about the local battles; how about our guys get behind them, wish them luck, and encourage them to give it horns? I think we’ve achieved something tangible… something great.” ~ Gavin Marchbank (vocals, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend)
With this monumental achievement now at their backs, and Zombies Ate My Girlfriend now venturing into uncharted territory for local metal, the big question on everybody’s mind is: “Where to from here?” Whilst the victory is significant and potentially career-changing, the onus is still on the band members themselves to make something of it.
Adriano remains upbeat and determined. Having already stated to www.metal4africa.com even on the day of victory “This is not the endgame, this is the start”, Adriano and the clan are hard at work. Most immediate will be the release of the band’s Life of Zom documentary which encompasses the entire story of Tour The Disaster (a series of show dates in South Africa and Germany, including the set which won them the battle) later this week, followed by another excursion to perform live at Krank’d Up music festival in Gauteng this coming weekend. Otherwise, the band are already queuing up their gig roster for 2017 – remaining as committed to their selective strategy as ever – and most certainly spending the remainder of 2016 focusing on the completion of a new album.
“So far we’re planning to release the new album around April and following that up with a return to Europe to promote the album.” ~ Adriano Rodrigues
And that is all that they are prepared to tell us about the coming release at this time. Well done, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend. From us at M4A, we wish you the greatest success, and that you use this momentum wisely! We will, as always, be watching closely.