Interview with Barry
How did you originally end up signing to Xtra Mile Recordings, and can you tell us about what they are like to work with? It came together pretty naturally really: I played a bunch of shows with Xtra Mile acts over the years (Frank Turner, Chris T-T, Ben Marwood, Jim Lockey, Beans on Toast, Crazy Arm) and ended up on tour with The Retrospective Soundtrack Players, also on the label. Their guitarist and drummer persuaded me to start a band version of Oxygen Thief after having been a solo riffer for quite a while, and so they hooked us up. It felt, and continues to feel, like coming home really - they’re a really supportive and enthusiast gang, it’s great to be part of the family.
What was it like to be an upcoming musician in the Bristol area? It’s a great place to be - there are plenty of venues to play and to see bands of all sizes, with loads of different scenes. I feel a bit like we fall between the cracks of some of them sometimes...not quite punk...not quite metal...certainly not indie...but with such a rich blend of genres about there’s a lot to be inspired by.
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? It’s been pretty quiet for Oxygen Thief - I played the Xtra Mile show at The Monarch for Lost Evenings Festival in London and did a couple of guerrilla sets at South By South West in Austin, Texas, but have otherwise been focussed on my Non Canon (mellow acoustic stuff) project. We just toured with Jonah Matranga (and played as his backing band), playing our own set and then performing Far’s ‘Water & Solutions’ with him, which was incredible. It’s hard to pick a tour highlight - touring is the highlight of being in a band as far as I’m concerned.
How did you get to the album title 'Confusion Species', and what does it mean to you? I borrowed it from a book of poetry by my favourite poet and all round top 3 best people, Suzannah Evans. It sums up the state I think we find ourselves in at the moment: on one hand making so much social and technological progress, but on the other having all this backward reactionary movements (alt-right, MAGA, UKIP/EDL and other forms of commodified bigotry). So we’re all angry and bewildered for various reasons and it’s exhausting. I had some lyrics started before I decided on the title, but then it really galvanised what I wanted the album to be as I wrote the rest of the record.
According to the press release "a lot has changed since you started the project in Bristol back in 2006, and the 11 tracks of ‘Confusion Species’ are the sound of you trying to make sense of it all", so can you elaborate on that, and about what we can expect from the lyrical approach of 'Confusion Species'? The songs are all about various aspects of how baffling it is to be a human being at the moment; bombarded by opinion masquerading as fact; trying to stay engaged and motivated; wanting to be an effective ally against inequality; self-doubt; fear; anxiety...all the cheerful stuff. It’s not a howl of despair though, it’s defiant and determined overall, plus there are riffs *metal horns emoji*
There's a bit to do with politics on this release as well right? So, how do you go about keeping up with this ever changing subject, and what do you think our readers should be more aware of in this day and age? There’s a lot to do with politics! Even where a song may not explicitly relate to a particular issue, I think almost everything you do in life is political - even “ignoring” politics is a political act because if you have the luxury of “not caring” then you are actively choosing not to try and make the world better for those who are worse off than yourself. I think the most important thing any of us can do at the moment is take time to examine and recognise the privileges we have in life, and to find out what we can to work towards improving equality. I mean, I’ve got the full set as a cisgendered, heterosexual white, middle-class man - it’s not something to be embarrassed or guilty about, but it’s certainly not something to be proud or take advantage of. I’m far from an expert, and I’m sure I get things wrong all the time, but I’m keen to learn and want to encourage others to do so as well.
Who produced the album, and how would you say they helped shape it? Neil (bass) is our main producer, Ben (drums) owns The Old Blacksmiths Studio in Portsmouth where we recorded, and they’re both studio wizards. I write all the music and lyrics and play the songs at them for a bit so they can work out what’s going on, what they want to play, and if we want to play about with the structure. Sometimes the songs come out just how I imagine they would, other times they go places I wouldn’t have thought of, then they record them and make everything sound enormous. It’s a lot of fun.
Has your work with Non Canon changed the way you approach Oxygen Thief at all? Totally. For a start it got all the niceness out of my system - previous songs/albums have had some quieter moments, whereas this record is pretty relentless. Even the mellowest song (’Rubbish Life Is Modern’) still has a lot of bite to it. Doing the Non Canon album & shows has built my confidence as a songwriter and taught me a lot about performing and connecting with audiences. I’m excited to see how that transfers to Oxygen Thief gigs.
Looking back on 'The Half-Life Of Facts', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Oxygen Thief? I’m still super-proud of it. I listened to it for the first time in quite a while recently and had a great time. It marked our progression from a one-man project to a band, and I think that ‘Confusion Species’ has taken that one step further again.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'The Half-Life Of Facts', and why? ‘Self-Righting Mechanism’ and ‘Trial & Improvement’ are always difficult to resist putting into a set, I think we’re going to play ‘The Incredible Sulk’ again soon as well.
What else can we expect to see from Oxygen Thief, as we head towards 2019? More gigs, in both band and solo format as I’ve not toured solo OT for a while, hopefully trips further afield into Europe before Brexit ruins everything, and there were a couple of songs that didn’t quite fit the record that I’d like to get out there in some form. Would be great to play some festivals too. I’m just excited to be back doing this again really and can’t wait to hear people’s reactions to the record.
Interview with Robyn
Can you tell us how Stone Broken originally got together? We formed in 2013, Rich and I played together in numerous bands, as well as Chris and Kieron. So Stone Broken you could say is an amalgamation of two bands. When all four of us got together we spent nearly a year locked away in a lockup jamming and writing before we played our first show. We really wanted to make sure we were ready, we didn’t want to rush into things. Since then we’ve spent a lot of time racking up the road miles trying to gain a good following.
How did you get to the name Stone Broken, and what does it mean to you? When we first started out, we all sat down in our rehearsal studio and made a list of all the gear we needed, all of the studio time and hiring a video production company for the promo videos, we looked at the total amount of money that we would need to spend (it was A LOT) and I said that we will be “Broke, Stone Broke.“ We liked the sound of it and then it developed to Stone Broken and it stuck. It will always mean a lot to me personally as it reminds me of when times were hard and some of us had 2-3 jobs trying our best to keep our dreams alive and putting everything we had into making Stone Broken what it is today.
What was it like to be an upcoming band in Walsall? Walsall Is a great town, it’s in the middle of two big cities which gives us plenty of advantage to go to gigs and hang out. Walsall and the surrounding areas has a rich musical heritage, a lot of awesome bands have come from this part of the world. We hope we can fly the flag and do them proud.
Was there a particular moment when you realised that you had something special as a band? I think spending a whole year together before we started playing shows really helped. We got to know each other really well and that helped when we came to writing and playing music together, When we recorded our first EP and listened to it back, we all felt like we had made something special, but when our shows started selling out across the UK I knew we were doing something right.
How did you originally sign to Spinefarm Records, and what have they been like to work with so far? We had sent a few rough mixes to the guys at Spinefarm just to see if there was any interest and they came back very positively. They seemed to like what we were doing. But it wasn’t until our set at Download Festival here in the UK a couple of months after that, unknown to us, Jonas from Spinefarm US was watching our set from the side of the stage. We came off stage and he came and spoke to us for a while. A few months later we were signing on the dotted line, working with them since has been great, they understand the band and really want the best for us.
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We’ve had quite a busy year so far, we started the year with a headline tour around the UK and Europe, we’ve had the chance to tour with some awesome bands like Ugly Kid Joe and Buckcherry, We’ve played some great festivals and we went on our first American tour supporting Fozzy. We’ve had so many highlights along the way, some of my personal highlights would be touring the US and getting to explore the different cities we played, playing Spain and Ireland for the first time was awesome too.
Looking back on ‘Ain’t Always Easy’, how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Stone Broken? We are very happy with how the record turned out, we felt the pressure a lot more writing the second album but I think that gave us more fuel to write it. We went into the studio wanting to achieve a certain sound, we wanted it to be a more dynamic album, and we wanted it to sound bigger than our debut. I think we achieved it.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from ‘Ain’t Always Easy’ at the moment, and why? I love playing them all, I love the reaction from the fans when we play ‘Worth Fighting For’, the song has a great energy and the fans really get into it, I also love playing ‘Heartbeat Away’ and ‘Anyone’.
Can you tell us about some of the main themes and influences that run throughout ‘Ain’t Always Easy’? We try to cover topics that we have either gone through or have witnessed, we wrote about addiction, loss, homesickness, domestic abuse and topics in-between, Although some topics can be quite dark at times, we always feel it’s important to put a positive spin on it, fans relate to our lyrics and if the song helps them get through what they are dealing with, we feel we’ve done a good job.
Photo credit: Paul Harries How did the front cover for ‘Ain’t Always Easy’ come together, and what does it mean to you? The story behind the cover came together from the title, we’re trying our best to get somewhere as a band and although we’ve been making waves it’s not always easy getting to where you’ve got to be, there will be some bumps in the road but you have to carry on and believe in yourself…that’s what the long road represents, and the road sign lying on the floor illustrates some of the struggles a band can face. You just have to keep on going.
What was the hardest song to put together on ‘Ain’t Always Easy’, and why? ‘Heartbeat Away’ was probably the hardest to write, it almost didn’t get finished. Rich wasn’t 100% sure that he should write about the subject matter, but in the end decided it needed to be written! I think he maybe struggled to convey the emotions he felt in the beginning, but he persevered and ended up writing probably the most meaningful song he has ever written.
‘Worth Fighting For’ was/is a huge hit! Can you tell us about how that track in particular came together, and maybe why you think it's gone on to relate to so many people out there? ‘Worth Fighting For’ was written to inspire people to make a change, stand up for something they believe in or just simply follow a dream, that’s exactly what we are doing right now, we are travelling the world playing rock shows, meeting new people and living every day as it comes, I believe people relate to the song because everyone has something to fight for. No matter how big or small.
What else can we expect to see from Stone Broken as we head towards 2019? We end 2018 with our Winter Tour, Playing shows in Sheffield, Dover and then we’re heading over to Germany, France and the Netherlands for a couple of weeks before we head home for Christmas with our families. We kick start 2019 with our “Home” Tour around the UK starting Feb 7th and THEN we start thinking about the next album!
Interview with Jasper
What was it like to be an upcoming band in The Netherlands? It was really exciting because I Against I was our first “real” band ever, and almost instantly we noticed that people liked what we were doing. Also, the Netherlands had no shortage of great bands in those days: The Travoltas, Undeclinable Ambuscade and NRA were just a few of the bands that were making a name for themselves. And before we knew it, we got to play with all of those bands, as well as opening for our heroes like The Descendents and Bad Religion.
How did you end up becoming the first European band ever to sign to Epitaph Records, and what are they like to work with? Somewhere in the mid 90s, Epitaph opened an office in Amsterdam. They were also looking for European bands to sign. Since they released some of our favourite records ever, we really wanted to be on the label. At shows we’d sometimes run into people who worked at Epitaph, and we gave them our demo tape. When a friend of ours applied for a job there, he did the same. That tape ended up on the desk of a Mr Brett Gurewitz, and rumour has it the guys from Rancid urged him to sign us. I never really believed this, but a couple of years ago I asked Brett, and he confirmed the story. Working with Epitaph was great, they gave us complete freedom. In hindsight, I wonder if maybe they sometimes gave these three young kids too much freedom. We certainly could have used some guidance here and there. But we wouldn’t want to change a thing, we had a blast.
Also, what attracted you to working with White Russian Records? Of course we already knew about White Russian, because we were familiar with some of their bands, like Note To Amy, March and Screw Houston. In 2017, when we started playing again, we read this interview with the guys who run the label, and we felt it would be a great match. They’re about the same age as we are, so their lives are similar to ours. But more importantly, the love for music seeps through everything they do. It’s their passion, not a career opportunity. Since that’s the same approach we have to our band, it’s a perfect fit. We tend to focus only on writing songs, and see everything else as a distraction. But really, after you’ve made the record, that’s when the actual work starts.White Russian have been a huge help, not only because they know what it takes to actually put out an album, they are able to help us out every step of the way.
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? Since our resurrection last year we’ve focussed on playing in Holland. That means we mainly did shows on the weekends, so we haven’t actually been touring. Now that the record is out, we’re looking to expand our horizon and play other countries too. As far as highlights go, playing a ‘Headcleaner’ anniversary show at the sold out Jera On Air festival was a highlight for sure. Another great show was the release party for our new album ‘Small Waves’, where we had friends from other bands joining us on stage.
So, how did you get to the album title 'Small Waves', and what does it mean to you? ‘Small Waves’ is about the struggle to accept your own mediocrity. Coming to terms with the fact that you’ll probably never make any big waves in the world. The three of us all come from the same small town in Holland. For a period of time, we thought this band would be our ticket out of this place. But twenty years later, we are still here. How do you deal with that? And is it a bad thing you’ll never make any big waves? And to paraphrase this article about the great John Williams novel ‘Stoner’: ‘Small Waves’ is also about the dissonance between life as seen - shabby and insignificant, a joke or a waste - and life as experienced, shot through with shafts of love and meaning.
Can you elaborate on some of the other main themes on ‘Small Waves’? Some of the other themes that run throughout the record are related to the main theme behind ‘Small Waves’. The feeling of finding yourself in a world that’s indifferent to the things you value, for instance. Feeling invisible to those around you. But it’s also about the sheer joy of being alive and being able to do what you love.
Who produced the album, and how would you say they helped shape it? The album is produced by Wilco Minderhoud and Jasper Van Dorp at their Labtones Studio. They are based in our hometown Dordrecht, just south of Rotterdam. We liked the idea of making this record locally. Besides that, Jasper and Wilco really understood what we wanted to do, and that can best be described by throwing in an Ani DiFranco quote: “People used to make records, as in the record of an event, the event of people playing music in a room.” It’s actually really simple, but records are hardly made like that anymore. We wanted to capture that vibrant feeling of a live band, that energy.
What was the hardest song to put together on 'Small Waves' and why? Musically, this album came together almost effortlessly. In the last six months before recording we wrote the majority of the songs. And when it came to recording the songs, we did the basic tracks in two days, which is the fastest we’ve ever done that. I’d say for this record, writing the lyrics was the hardest part, especially for the song ‘Small Waves’. The instrumental track had a certain feel, it’s different from the other songs on the record. We knew we had to deliver on that one. When our singer Ronald sang the lyrics for the first time, we all had goosebumps. He made it come alive.
You've said that “We now play with an intensity that wasn’t always there in the past", so why do you think that is, and how strong/closer has the band become over the years? I think that intensity is there because we’re really back to square one. When we started playing in 1994, this band was our outlet. Somehow that changed when it became a full time thing. But since we came back together, it’s all about being an outlet again, and that just feels great. We now realize just how valuable that is. The other reason is that we know this isn’t going to last forever. So you better believe we are going to enjoy every second of it.
You did some 'Headcleaner' annivesary shows, so how did they go, and what did you enjoy the most about re-visiting this album? We did two of those shows. One was, as mentioned earlier, at Jera On Air. The other was in our hometown. It was a trip to play the entire album in front of friends who have been with us since the beginning. Also, after the show people came up to us saying they started their own band because of us. That’s such a great thing to hear. But honestly, more than anything, doing those shows made us want to play our new songs even more.
What else can we expect to see from I Against I as we head towards 2019? The good thing is we don’t really know what’s ahead of us. The fact that we’ve just released a record is proof that anything can happen. We’re hoping to play as many shows as possible, making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.
What was it like to be an upcoming band in Los Angeles? It was and still is challenging! This environment isn’t one that asks you to listen first. You’re prejudged on Instagram followers and other social media numbers. None of us picked up instruments because we wanted to be “stars,” so we aren’t a band that is very good at posting pictures of ourselves, and that’s part of the music business these days. We are constantly being encouraged to post more, and we try, but our focus always is and will be expressing ourselves through music. That has made the relationship with our fan base more meaningful than if we had accumulated a bunch of followers that cared about our feed but not our music.
Was there a particular moment when you realised that you could be more than just an upcoming band? The second I met Joz I knew he could be more than just an upcoming songwriter, but as a band… maybe that was the time we played in Phoenix and the front row wanted my cheap beaded bracelets. Or at the Masquerade in Atlanta when the crowd sang one of our songs with me.
Interview with Sara
What bands have influenced you the most over the years, and why? This is just the hardest question to answer. Influence is such a subconscious thing. Maybe Queens of the Stone Age and Whitney Houston. Queens because their songs are artistic and cool and Whitney because I would go through my library trying to find the most vocally acrobatic thing to sing at full volume to piss everyone in the van off. Iâ€™m sure that influenced everyone somehow.
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We were in the UK in April with Night Riots, and all over the US in June with Night Riots. And in July we did a west side tour with Anarbor. We played a personal show in the alley for our 8 year-old friend Kaylen and her family. That was probably the highlight of our whole year. And the show we played in Salt Lake City was on fire. We were overwhelmed by the energy of that crowd. It was over 100 degrees, the smallest stage of the whole tour, and maybe the rowdiest most rewarding crowd.
Looking back on your debut album 'The Kindness of Strangers', how happy have you been the response to it, and what do you think it’s done for the band? We’re pretty freaking happy. The kinds of people that album has attracted into our little world have made everything we’ve gone through so worth it. Just yesterday someone commented on our Instagram post that they didn’t agree with our political opinions but we would be their favourite band regardless. We actually don't even voice political opinions because we don’t always agree with each other… BUT, the fact that we’ve attracted someone who is down to disagree peacefully, and love regardless IS WHAT THIS JAM IS ALL ABOUT!
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'The Kindness of Strangers' at the moment, and why? EVERY SINGLE ONE. I think the reason those songs will never get old to us is because they were very real. Maybe the kick drum could have had more “this,” or the guitar could have had more “that.” Every day we hear the opinion of some shmo on how it could have been better. Maybe it could have been “better,” whatever the hell that even means, but I know this - it couldn’t have been more real.
What was the most challenging song to put together on 'The Kindness of Strangers', and why? ‘Find Them Beautiful’. We whipped that one up in the studio. Joz wrote some chords and most of a pretty sick melody. And it was my turn to finish the melody and write the lyrics, but I had to fight for the idea of the song before I even wrote it. Our old band had just come back from tour before we started writing ‘Kindness’, we fell in love with Detroit, and I had been wanting to write a song about Detroit. But Joz and our producer, Matt Wallace, thought it would be inauthentic seeing as I’m from nowhere NEAR Detroit. I swear in a past life I was the damn MAYOR of Detroit because when these two punks told me I wasn’t from Detroit, I almost lost my mind. Anyway, my manager IS from Detroit and he gave me his blessing. It ended up being one of our more “pretty” songs because it’s very melodic. And I like that it’s visual. I wrote about stuff I remember being totally moved by.
How did the music video for 'Just One Voice' come together, and can you tell us a bit about the meaning behind that track in particular? It’s a song for outcasts and we wanted to translate that very literally. We had a call with Lisa Mann, the director, and we told her “freak show.” And she ran with it. We didn’t do a damn thing except show up and have fun.
It's early days, but what can fans expect from your upcoming album? A more extreme version of the realest “us.”
Also, what have you enjoyed the most about working with Mark Needham so far? That we share the same artistic taste and instincts. It just makes everything fast, efficient, easy, and FUN!!! We’re not drinking in the studio, we’re not goofing off. We don’t really even talk about anything outside of the task at hand, we don’t take breaks, not even for food. The fun is in the work- That’s something Joz would always tell me. But this was the first time I really felt it in a studio environment.
How excited are you for your upcoming UK tour? Beyondddddddd excitedddddddah!!!!!! You can expect a very energetic show. Also, we’re very friendly and huggable so you can expect some hugs afterward. And do your vocal warm ups because I’m going to make you sing.
What else can we expect to see from Silent Rival as we head towards 2019? More music videos!
How did Mad Apple Circus originally get together? The four “Apple core” members, Luke, Stat, Jello and myself all went to primary school together. We started out as a ska/punk four piece (called Sullied) not knowing much more than electric guitars, bass and drums. As we grew up we became more aware of the sounds that we could introduce into our music. Craig, our old front man started playing sax on some of our songs, then Luke learnt trumpet and slowly but surely, over the next several years we brought in more and more horn players. It’s safe to say I don’t think we’d have it any other way.
Was there a particular moment when you realized that you had something special as a band? We have been at this since back in the day, so musically we have all grown together. We just enjoy writing music and sharing it with those who want to listen. But to answer the question, I would say the “special something” is more so the moment during a set where both the crowd and the band are locked in and bouncing off each other. I believe Sean Connery once called it “atmoshphere”.
Can you tell us about what the music scene in Bristol is like to be a part of? It’s a great city for music and a great city full stop. There isn’t one genre of music that rules the town, and outside of London I would argue it’s the most musically diverse city in the UK. All genres are welcome meaning you can go out every evening and listen to a different style of music, enjoy some jazz with your juice or a mai tai and metal. Refreshing! The versatility and robustness of the acts and promoters I think also adds to Bristol’s musical fabric, everyone is up for pushing each other’s music and supporting new acts.
So, how did you get to the album title 'Designer Music', and what does it mean to you? Straight up… we were trying to be funny! The title ‘Designer Music’ is meant to be ironic. The song of the same name features on this album and is a musically aggressive track with the lyrics observing “designer music” as diluted and unauthentic. But for us it works on a few levels, as it’s such a high energy track as a band we felt it represents the effort and energy of the album perfectly. It’s a tad risky though... let’s hope people get the irony!
Can you tell us about the themes and influences that run throughout 'Designer Music'? I think the driving theme is the varied writing styles, this record is 100% a band effort with everyone getting involved throughout the whole process. As far as influences go, we all have different things going on and the mix of styles in the Interview with Josh & Sam album is a great showpiece of how nine people write together!
Who produced 'Designer Music', and what were they like to work with? We recorded the whole album at Middle Farm Studios in Devon and let me say first off, what a lovely place to make music. I would highly recommend the studio and the chaps running it to anyone who is looking to record. Our engineer for the project was a gentleman called James Bragg. It’s really down to this guy why we’ve got such a great finished product.
What was the hardest track on 'Designer Music' to put together, and why? This award would probably go to ‘Dictators’ Lounge’. This is our “interlude” track on the album where the listener gets a brief moment to adjust their seating position or help themselves to a refreshment before the next actual song plays. The concept for DL changed a couple times before we settled on having a handful of the band soloing in turn over the rhythm section. Oh, and that key change ;)
How would you say the sound of Mad Apple Circus has changed/progressed over the last couple of years? The most obvious change would be Steph stepping up to the mic, we are loving the strong female vocals, it adds a great dimension to the band. A few years on, and everyone is better at their instruments, there is a lot more improvisation at jams which is leading to really interesting song ideas. We are definitely way more open as a group with a solid "give it a go" mentality.
Looking back on your self-titled album, how happy are you with this release still, and what do you think it did for Mad Apple Circus? Very happy! Ultimately, it’s our own work so we’re proud of what we produced. We had such a great time making the album it’s impossible to say it wasn’t a happy creation. The album itself helped us to secure better festival slots as well as opportunities to play bigger venues and to bigger crowds. The songs on the Self-Titled album are still out there floating around the ether helping us grow our general profile within the industry... wouldn't change a thing!
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from your self-titled album at the moment, and why? We're always mixing up the set so it keeps every song foil-wrapped fresh!
Is there anything that you learnt from creating this album that you maybe went on to apply to 'Designer Music'? Absolutely, authenticity! Our aim was to make an album we could replicate live, not going crazy on vocal and instrumental layers, getting our parts down in solid takes and translating the real energy of it all. We did a lot of gang vocals and singing parts together, we were literally looking right at each other and feeding off the vibe and it all came out beautifully!
What else can we expect to see from Mad Apple Circus as we head towards 2019? New videos, a couple are already in the pipeline so keep your peepers peeled for those. We’re also working on a new EP with a special guest for this one! Glastonbury is of course back on next year so we hope to be back there again as well as getting stuck into a sunny summer season of festivals. Plus, we’re all excited to give our new members a chance to stretch their musical legs. 2018 was a year of work for us, 2019 is going to be the year of play!
Interview with Alex
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We have been concentrating on writing new tunes this year so had less shows, but played some Festivals and have a mini end of year tour coming up. Personal highlights? We've been touring for over 20 years now (!) so way too many to pinpoint just a couple... plus a lot of them are pretty blurred!
Can you tell us about how your latest single 'Liar' came together, as well as maybe what it means to you guys? We knew we wanted to write some new tunes, partly for new things to play, and partly to prove to ourselves we had more to give. â€˜Liarâ€™ is not about any one person in particular. It is about the concept of people being very different creatures depending on who they are with or what their agenda is. We all come across this from time to time and the song is our way of saying you probably aren't getting away with it as smoothly as you may think.
How would you say the writing process with [SPUNGE] has changed over the years? It hasn't really. We are very old school when it comes to writing tunes, we all get together, someone starts to play something and we all jam and add ideas. This either evolves into something we all like, or it gets dumped on the â€œcutting room floorâ€? - I think we have thrown out more partly finished songs than we will ever have time to write again.
So, how did the idea for Dent'All Records come about, and what has it been like to run alongside your band? We needed a way to release stuff - we had been let go from our label, we wanted to bring new stuff out, and we knew enough people to get something distributed once we did it so we decided to do it ourselves. There was a time when we had a couple other bands on the label, but it is just us now so running it isn't really any more hassle than just using it to release our stuff through it. We already do all the work involved with getting the releases written, recorded etc so it's just one last piece of the puzzle.
What has it been like to release your own music via this way, and how has it compared to maybe how you've worked before? We've done it this way for a while now so it feels normal, one thing it does give is a LOT more control.. that's something we definitely lost when it was on the bigger labels.
Looking back on 'Hang On?', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of [SPUNGE]? Personally very happy. I think there are some great tunes on there and we were pleasantly surprised that we could still pull it out of the bag when it came to putting an album together. I'm all about fun and some of my lyrics are just complete nonsense - but I really like some of the themes on that album lyric wise.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'Hang On?' at the moment, and why? We haven't actually played all of them live but of the ones we have the ones that keep getting picked for the set pretty regularly are ‘Higher Ground’, ‘Gavva Wownd’, ‘Nothing at All’, ‘Never Grow Old’ and ‘Pirate Song’... Why? Any songs we wrote we had to like or they wouldn't have got to the recording stage.
It's been twenty years since the release of 'The Kicking Pigeons' EP. What do you remember the most about putting this release together? The excitement of having something physical to represent the band, and the fact that the cover design is where the brackets on our name were born.
How excited are you for your upcoming UK tour, and what can attending fans expect? We always love playing live, it's what we do - so we always look forward to any shows. You can expect the usual smiling, bouncy people getting drunk and having a good time, and that's just the ones on stage.
What else can we expect to see from [SPUNGE] as we head towards 2019? We have more songs to release, one before the end of this year and then more in the works. We have our end of the year mini tour to look forward to and we are already booking up festivals and tours for next year. We aren't slowing down yet, if anything we just found our second (third/fourth?) wind and have the taste for it more than ever.
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? I’ve been a busy boy, touring in support of ‘Ghost In The Tanglewood’. It’s been a bittersweet year though, with highlights often rubbing shoulders with low points. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of year it’s been actually, as I usually try to get philosophical around this time of year. Chaos seems to rule the world right now so I guess it’s been a year of lessons. It’s our choice to learn from lessons or not, and I’m hoping 2019 will be a great year because of what 2018 has taught me.
So, how did the idea for your Round Records label originally come about? Like any musician or music fanatic I have always wanted to have my own label. First Round Records was set up to control quality on such Wildhearts singles as ‘Sick Of Drugs’ and ‘Vanilla Radio’, but over the years Round Records has been a way of being able to make available music of mine that no other label would ever release. Be it ‘Mutation’ or the album I have completely written, and hope to start recording soon, ‘Elemental Bleeding’, I don’t concern myself with the market when I’m writing. I’m trying to get what is inside of me out into the open. Not a lot of labels care about self expression so the smart money is in releasing your own music and finding your own audience.
What made you want to re-launch it, and what's that whole process been like for you? I guess the initial idea was to re-release Wildhearts albums, but to do a better job than the labels currently rereleasing albums that they own. I’m a fan and I buy a lot of music, and when I get something that has obviously been put together with love and attention to detail then it makes being a fan so worthwhile. I don’t see a lot of love, or attention to detail, with typical Wildhearts re-releases, so you can either sit and complain about standards or you can off your arse and do a better job yourself. Lead by example. Which I believe Round Records are doing and will continue to do.
You're releasing ‘G*A*S*S* MK II’, (An extension to 'Year of the Fanclub') can you tell us about what we can expect from this release, and what it's been like for you to put together with your own record label? Like any project that contains over 30 songs, the commercial “highlights” will be voted for by committee. ‘Year Of The Fanclub’ was a great album but omitted a lot of my favourite songs, or favourite recordings, memories etc. No-one can compile an album of personal highlights other than me, obviously, so that is exactly what ‘G*A*S*S Mark II’ is.
Looking back on the music from this album itself, how rewarding was it to put together, and to work so closely with your fans throughout the process? It was both immensely rewarding and crucially important. I wanted to know how many hard core supporters I had. I think every musician should do this in order to know how long they have left, y’know? I was massively disappointed in a project called ‘The Singles Club’, which I did in conjunction with Infernal Records, who were part of Warners/East West. The label pulled out halfway through what was to be a year of new music. I’m not the sort of person who can fail at something and just move on, that will haunt me, so the plan to do a year of new music was always in the back of my mind. We took that plan and created an empire with ‘G*A*S*S’ It was a lot of hard work for everyone involved, and I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry, but it put some ghosts to bed and established the community that I’m proud to belong to today.
How did you end up working with Dave Draper for ‘G*A*S*S* MK II’? I’d known Dave since falling in love with his band Volta. He always seemed like a talented kid, but was still learning, and I like to see people develop their talents and passion. Jase Edwards and I gave Dave the ‘Clout’ E.P. to master and right then I knew that he had learned enough. I put him to work with ‘Hey! Hello! Too!’ and saw what a huge talent he is.
For the artwork. How did you end up working with Rich Jones, and can you tell us about what the cover means to you? Jones is one of those people I just can’t remember meeting, it’s like I’ve always known him. And he appears to have identical tastes to me in most things, especially art. The cover is simple, just a play on the gas setting on the oven, but I gave Rich artistic control over everything, and just requested a few things, knowing I’d be a fan of what he came up with. And I was. I love this artwork.
We've read that you are also working on a reissue of 'The Wildhearts'! So looking back on that album in particular, what do you remember the most about putting it together, and why do you think it's gone on to be so relatable to so many people? That album felt like a real comeback after the previous incarnation (the band that recorded The Wildhearts ‘Must Be Destroyed’) fell apart in such a messy fashion. Ironically I met Scott Sorry when we toured that album, and Jon Poole stood in for Danny, who wasn’t doing too well at the time. Scott and I became really close friends, so when it came time to put the band back together I knew who I wanted to play bass immediately. The album, affectionately known as ‘The White Album’, means so much to me. First of all we did it completely independently, without a manager or label, and it was the first major release for round records since the ‘Vanilla Radio’ single. I think people related to that album because of the sheer wilfulness buried within its angry exterior. There’s a sense of “taking care of business” in those sessions that I think comes across in the music and performance.
What else are you really excited to see your record label work on, and why? We are going to release the follow up to ‘Ghost In The Tanglewood’, which is called ‘The Pessimist’s Companion’, to the fans in November, with an official release in February. We will co-incide the release, in Feb and March, with a tour of the old theatres that I visited on the ‘Songs & Words’ tour. I’ve been longing to return to those places for a while now and I’m very excited about doing it with a full band.
So looking back on 'Ghost In The Tanglewood', how happy are you with the album still, and what do you think it's done for you as a musician? I think the album captured something timeless and authentic, the melancholia and the fighting spirit that comes with age. I think that keeping the music subtle gave a chance for the lyrics to shine. I don’t get a lot of recognition as a lyricist, usually because I drown out the words with loud guitars. I wanted to let critics know that I’m actually quite good at putting thoughts and feelings to words. I think it worked really well.
What songs are you really enjoying performing live from 'Ghost In The Tanglewood'? I still love playing ‘Daylight Hotel’ as the surging chorus always lifts the audience, even when they’ve never heard me before. The chorus of ‘Golden Tears’ never fails to engage the audience, and ‘Paying It Forward’ still makes my hairs stand up on end when the crowd sing it back to me. There are some great, enduring highlights in that collection of songs.
What else can we expect from you as we head towards 2019? I hope that Santa brings me a voice for Xmas. In the meantime I’ll be releasing the music that, thankfully, already contains vocals. I’ll be working on the new Wildhearts album too, which should see the light of day before Summer. And the Birthday Bash will be a lovely cap to a year that I am, quite honestly, glad to see the back of!
Interview with Dan
Your new record ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ was released recently, how’s it been received by fans so far? Has it been getting a good response? Yeah really well; we’re on tour right now in the states, we’re playing L.A tonight but we’ve been out for almost 3 weeks now and we’ve been playing 5, maybe even 6 or 7 of the new tracks each night and I feel they’re being received really well.
It was engineered by Vance Powell, how was the experience working with him and have you worked with him before on your previous records? No this is the first time we’ve worked with Vance and for us working with him was a blast! He’s a really easy person to work with and he knows the band well, well we haven’t known him personally, but he knew of us before we contacted him. We talked a lot about what kind of record we wanted to make, and he actually came out on the road with us. We were on tour in the states leading up to the point where we were just going to go straight from the end of the tour into his studio, so he was with us on the road for about a week and just lived on the bus with us and watched every night’s performance. So he really got a good sense of what Clutch is about and what we’re like on stage. I think he carried over a lot of that information into the studio.
Nashville seems to be a hub nowadays for rock music, besides recording, how did you spend your time there, is it somewhere you’ve visited before? We’ve not been there for any extensive period of time, I wished I had stayed there a little bit longer after I was actually done recording my parts because it’s a cool city. It has great food first off, so I was definitely gaining some pounds eating some spicy fried chicken but yeah, it’s definitely a place I’d like to go back to and venture out a little bit further than we did.
Back to the record then, this is your 12th full-length, how do you keep things fresh between each record you put out? We try to make the songs as diverse as we can and something that we haven’t done in the past which we did for this record was with the song writing process. We would only get together if each member of the band had a new idea to offer up and that was a really good exercise. The cool thing about this process was as soon as an idea was conceived we took it to the rehearsal space, put it on tape, set it aside and then moved on to another idea to the point where we had at least 50 ideas for potential tracks. That’s a great place to be because then you can really weave out all the stuff that’s not that strong.
It seems to me that the record has a very personal feel to it; did you base a lot of the lyrical content on real life events? Neil handles all the lyric duties, but I do feel like it did take a bit more of a personal almost like interspection type of aspect than usual, just kind of looking back at the history of the band and the experiences and all the weird things that have happened over the years and using that as a starting point.
I do especially like the title – A ‘Book of Bad Decisions’, how did that one come about? Naming an album is always the last thing that we think about and it usually is very difficult to come up with a title that really kind of sums up the whole personality of the album. We were kicking around a lot of ideas but someone, I don’t think it was even one of us it may have been somebody outside of the band that suggested using the song title ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ as the album title. It did make a lot of sense because it put this wrapping of concept to the album that didn’t previously exist and it was a good way of tying all of the songs together.
You recorded this record with a live set up, was this something new and different for you guys and how does the recording usually work for you? It’s certainly not something new to the band, I mean that’s the way everybody used to make records up until around the year 2000 when the digital side of recording really kind of took off. The previous 2 albums we worked with a producer out in the New Jersey area who works within a digital framework. His preference for recording was recording a band in a room but then going over and re-recording each individual instrument over the top of what we had just done so when you separate it individually like that it takes away from the band experience of it to some extent. It does make it a very tight sounding record, but we wanted to go in at a different direction this time and we wanted to make a record that, to the best of our abilities, really captured what it was like at a Clutch show but have the tools and the added function of recording in a studio.
Are you usually well prepared going into the studio? We had spent well over a year writing these songs and we actually had a chance to play a lot of them live at our shows before we went into the studio, so they were really fleshed out. By the time we got into the studio we had 14 songs that we knew inside and out so it was very easy to just set up the gear and bang them out! We knew we wanted to record 15 tracks so the last track to make the list was something that we actually put together in the studio from a couple of riffs that Neil had and that became ‘Hot Bottom Feeder’.
You’re due to hit the road shortly, it’s a pretty long run of dates, how are you feeling about it? Awesome! I’m really looking forward to it! We have The Inspector Cluzo and The Picturebooks joining us on the road and it’s the first time we’ve played with them so yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun!
Do you have any favourite tracks that you are desperate to play to the crowd? I’ve actually got a lot of favourites that change on a daily basis to be honest, but I really enjoy playing; the first 4 singles that we released – ‘Gimme The Keys’, ‘How to Shake Hands’, ‘In Walks Barbarella’ and ‘Hot Bottom Feeder’, those songs are almost on all of our setlists that we have done so far. There are other songs that I really enjoy playing that we’ve been throwing in and out of the mix as well like ‘Spirit Of ‘76’, ‘Emily Dickinson’, we played that one last night and I felt really good about that one.
Are there any dates you’re particularly looking forward to playing? Definitely looking forward to playing London; we had a really good show last time we were over there, we played at The Roundhouse and that was heaps of fun and it was a really cool venue. It’s been a really exciting journey; we’ve been playing the UK and Europe for close to 25 years now and it really seems to have taken off over the last 5 years with our shows becoming larger each time we go back over there.
For this run of dates will you do a full run through of ‘Book of Bad Decisions’, or will you select certain tracks for the setlist? I wish we could do that! Our setlist is usually 17 songs long so if we played the full 15 songs off the new record that would leave quite a few people in our audience a little disappointed! What we usually do is each night a different member of the band will write a set list, so you get a fairly good mix of different songs night to night, but we will most probably play close to 6 or 7 new tracks. Our most popular song that we have right now is ‘Electric Worry’ which was on an album that came out in 2007, and we’ve been playing that song at pretty much every show under the advice of Lemmy from Motorhead. He at one point told us that that track was our ‘Ace Of Spades’ and that we have a duty to our fans to play it every night, so when we play that song at least 90% of the audience are excited to hear it.
Interview with Griff
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We’ve been out touring with BFMV, Asking Alexandria, Blessthefall & doing some festivals like Download/ 2000 Trees/Reading & Leeds etc. as well as a few headline shows. Download was a big highlight. The tent was packed full & the show we’d always hoped it would be. Headline shows in Europe were dope too. They lost their scheiße.
So, how did you get to the album title ‘Greater Than’, and what does it mean to you? When it came to listening to the last record, it was clear after a few months; if we continued to put out records like that, we’d maybe tour the UK once/twice a year and play some tiny club shows in Europe & that would be that. That’s not what I want, I want this to be my career & it was the only goal we had when writing this record; to make sure every second was greater than the last record. To me, it’s about continuous improvement; always trying to be better than you were yesterday.
We've read that with your debut album you "didn’t feel like it represented your talent 100%" (in press release) so would you agree with that, and how do you think the creative process compares on this record to anything you've done before? I wouldn’t say that it didn’t represent our talent, I think we were just a lot less experienced and we weren’t all aware of what we were trying to achieve. There has been a lot more thought this time round & a lot more demoing before these tracks ever touched a studio. Some songs were re-recorded 3/4 times before they went in for pre-production. Having that time to sit on songs, live with them & recognise when something isn’t as good as it could be has allowed us to squeeze the very best out of ourselves. Also having garnered the creative balls to put a couple rap tunes in there has got everyone feeling pretty good.
On this record there's themes of "robberies, infidelities, violence, addiction, anxiety and depression" it sounds pretty intense. So can you elaborate on that, and maybe how you'd describe the lyrical content and approach behind this record? It sounds intense, but a bit of a running theme on this album is talking about life’s woes/bumps in the road and delivering them with a smile. Yeah, there is a lot of meaning behind these songs, but this band is about having fun. I want to talk about heavy stuff, because that’s what comes to mind, but I don’t want it to be a sob story. If you ain’t laughing, you’re crying, so lyrically, I write about bad stuff. We just have fun doing it.
How did you end up working with Jim Pinder, and how would you say he helped shape the album? He produced our last record & did a great job. So when this one came around, we got on a phone call and he shared the exact same vision I was describing to him for this new record. I made him a playlist of songs that had a similar feel & he went away and made about 7/8 rap beat versions of our songs. It sold him to us in an instant. We didn’t end up using anything really from those beats, but it set the precedent for what this album was going to sound like. He was instrumental in that.
How did you end up working with Matt Heafy on 'Rain', and can you tell us what he brought to the track? Trivium took us out on our first ever European tour & over the six weeks, we became good pals. On the last night he said if I ever want a feature guitar/vocals, he’d be down to do it. At that time we didn’t have many songs written for the new album & we didn’t want to just slap him on a track, just to have his name on it. We wanted it to work for both of us & be more of a collaboration. It wasn’t until we started pre-production, that a “hip hop/trap” style breather section emerged in the song ‘Rain’. I thought it would be cool to leave that gap & have him feature there, so it would be a bit out of his comfort zone & more of a collab with us. It’s quite a rythmic/rappy party, but delivered in his traditional vocal style. He sent over about 15 takes of him screaming in different tones/pitches and we used them all to create a gang chanted Matt. It sounds dope.
Looking back on ‘Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair.’, how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Shvpes? I’m proud of it, we all are. It’s taken us round the continent several times & allowed us to tour with some of our favourite bands. It’s not a perfect record, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but it forced us to go forth and make those changes for ‘Greater Than’. We have a fan base & that’s a beautiful thing. Now we have ears ready for our new album. Plus, we never had to experience 2nd album syndrome, so PJED’s looked after us nicely.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from ‘Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair.’ at the moment, and why? ‘Skin & Bones’ always goes down well live, but ‘Two Minutes of Hate’ is one we’ve recently added back into the set & we’ve adapted the sound a bit, so it’s a bit more in line with our current music. So ‘Two Mins’.
What else can we expect to see from Shvpes as we head towards 2019? More tours, more tunes, more merch, more visuals, more fans.
Interview with Ronnie
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We released a new album, in support of that completed a full US tour and now a world tour which started in Bali, Indonesia. Other than that I have been raising my son, full time dad part time rocker.
So, how did you get to the album title 'The Awakening', and what does it mean to you? This is a concept album, my first ever. â€˜The Awakeningâ€™ is a reference to a change in perspective spiritual in nature that has been profound in my personal and professional life.
Can you elaborate on some of the other main themes and influences that run throughout 'The Awakening'? Sonically there are three movements. Movement one is more post hardcore/metal, movement two is stripped with minimal gloss and production, movement three is our classic pop punk or old school sound.
This is a concept album right? So can you tell us how that decision came about, and maybe what you enjoyed the most about working in this way? Yes, the album flows lyrically from one song to the next in order from beginning to the end. It was really hard for me to do that, but people like it so It was worth it in the end.
What was the hardest song to put together on 'The Awakening' and why? The second single ‘On Becoming Willing’ was the hardest because the original chorus and progression were a lot different. I almost dropped it from the album but Angela (co-producer/wife) and Randy (brother/guitarist and engineer) really liked the music. So, late in the album I changed the chorus lyrically and musically then re-tracked it and finally came up with something I loved.
'On Becoming Willing' has become a huge success. Can you tell us about how that track in particular came together, and maybe why you think it's resonated with the masses so well? Yes, it is doing really well. Today marks 12 weeks as Number 1 on the US Billboard Christian rock radio charts which is our genre. I believe it resonates because everyone's experienced pain and trauma if you have lived long enough. This song reflects what I do in those times, and I believe people can relate to that because it's not for fame it's for people. I actually try to help people instead of just selling them a product.
You and your wife Angela produced the record. So what was it like to work this way, and to just have so much creative control over your material? It was great, we worked from our custom home studio while taking turns raising our son. I felt like it went really smooth and having that much control enabled us to release the album less than one week after getting the final mixes. No one does that.
Looking back on '4', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? ‘4’ was a success we had two number 1's on the album and it bridged the gap between the old and new sound. We currently still preform the singles, ‘Right Direction’, ’It Was You’, ’California’.
Was there anything that you learnt from the creative process of '4' that you maybe applied to approaching 'The Awakening'? Yes, after working with Angela as lead engineer on ‘4’ I was able to make the decision to put her as coproducer on ‘The Awakening’. Best decision I ever made, she's like our secret weapon.
How did the artwork for 'The Awakening' come together, and what does it mean to you? I wanted to make something using an app like the kids these days do, so I used Adobe Spark. I then shot that idea to Angela who tweaked my original concept and we came up with the final piece together. I wanted to show people that they don't have to spend thousands of dollars to make something cool, I believe we did that.
What else can we expect to see from Red Jumpsuit Apparatus as we head towards 2019? The album is less than a year old and still kicking butt here in the US so we will continue our world tour throughout 2019. We don't get much love from the UK major rock outlets or radio but that doesn't seem to bother our fans there much or us. We have a dedicated fan base in the UK, when we come they show up and only the old people yell ‘Face Down’ all night. The smart kids know the new stuff and for that reason we will keep coming back.
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Interview with Sonny
Ok, so firstly your new record ‘Circles’ is out now, this is your tenth studio album, how do you keep things fresh between each one? I think as far as P.O.D. goes we’re a little different from most bands, I mean we’re still the same guys living together, playing together, jamming together and touring all the time and we have a different mindset. We took some time off and we chartered the cost and instead of just rolling along with the music industry machine we’re now just putting albums out when we want. We’re calling our own shots and have tried to avoid the nonsense of the industry.
You worked with an L.A. production group called HEAVY on this one, is this the first time you’ve worked with the group and how did you find the experience? It is the first time we’ve worked with them and the experience was awesome! They’re still fresh and they’re young and they’re still excited about the recording and writing process, and the beautiful thing is that they’re not as dated as we are!
Did you write a lot of the music with their input or did they take the reins a fair bit with this record? They didn’t take the reins as such, but we definitely went in open-minded whereas normally we just go in with completed songs and we produce as we go. This time we went in with just a couple of riffs and some ideas, so it was a learning process for us because we’ve never written with anybody. We did ask a lot of questions, but we allowed them to have input as much as we could.
When you were penning down material for this record, did you have a set sound/style in mind for it, and did you know that you wanted to take it in a different direction? We were being asked to write a record for so long and we always had things in our mind but we were touring all the time, we’re a working band and if we don’t tour, we don’t eat! We did plan to write and then planned to record and then all of a sudden, a tour would come up and so we had just been jumping back and forth. We had been piecing stuff together and at the end of the day whether we only have a handful of songs it’s just what it is, it’s not like we had to sound like this or it’s got to be a certain way. We got to the end of our writing and realised that the record wasn’t that heavy, and it was definitely different from the other records but it’s the songs we wrote and the songs that we were digging.
The new record hints back to your roots with the old style of your music coming through on some of the tracks, but was this a conscious decision – you didn’t want to jump too far out of the box with experimentation? We are open to anything but a lot of the time we’ll sit on a record and decide that we don’t want it overproduced because we want to be able to duplicate it live but this time we decided to throw some programming in and not really worry about the live situation until we get there. I watch bands now and you can hear these massive drums but then you look at the guy and he’s not even playing them!
Over the years you’ve tried other avenues with your music, putting out an acoustic record in 2014 and a concept album in 2015, is there likely to be another acoustic album in the future? We’re always jamming acoustic, it’s something that always comes naturally when you’re on tour and you hit a radio station, it’s the first thing they ask us to do – play some acoustic. It’s always something we enjoy doing. We would like to do that but maybe it would just be a free download or something.
How does the recording process work for you guys; did you have demos down before you went into the studio with this one? Mostly just riffs; it usually starts from a guitar riff. Marco and I would just lay down stuff and even just put rough electronic drums in the background to keep the tempo and hold the form, then we would add as we go. For me lyrically it’s always kind of what I get out of the music, so we tend to write the music first and then see what that brings out. This time with the heavy style we would sit there and think of some vocal ideas or some melodies and it really was just hit record and let’s just go for it and see what happens.
Has the writing and recording process worked the same way for each of your records or do you like to change things up with each one? We’re old school, we’re used to going in and having a rehearsal session for 2 weeks then going into a studio for 3 months and living in L.A., but nowadays you can record out of your bathroom! Even with a lot of the demo material we did, if there was a really cool sound we came up with, we kept all the files and then reworked or added it in. With some of the demo vocals we preferred them so we used them instead.
Compared to the original demos for this record, were there a lot of changes made before hearing final mixes? Yeah definitely, obviously live drums; with a demo you can just sit there on electronic drums to keep the structure and ideas but then because we’re old school we are big on big drums in a big room and not these mechanical drums that you hear now on records. The only original things we kept were probably some demo vocals or programming.
Are there any tracks you’d say might shock or surprise fans when they first take a listen? I don’t think there is anything shocking on the record, like if you listen to it you can pick a record or a song that it sounds similar to. If anything with ‘Circles’, there is a lot of programming in there but nothing scary that’ll make someone think we’ve sold out, just a few things that perhaps make it sound more polished.
Lyric wise where did you draw inspiration from and was there a set theme or concept in mind for this record? A lot of the time the music inspires the lyrics and a lot of the time if we’re sitting around I’ll ask the guys for ideas or if anything’s on their minds but ultimately, we have always been that band. We’re trying to make people smile, we’re not trying to depress people with our music we’re just trying to inspire people with it. The tone of our lyrics for 26 years has been the same and when I come across people I don’t need to be told, “dude, you guys are awesome” or “you guys rock”, but when someone says, “dude, your music changed my life” or “your lyrics, they spoke deep into my soul”, well that’s powerful. If we were just going to be some bubble gum, say what you want, sell a record type of band I would have quit a long time ago!
You’re heading out on the road next spring alongside Alien Ant Farm and ’68 what can fans, new and old expect from your set for this tour? We definitely want to play some of the new record and we tend to always play something everybody knows just because we’ve been around a while and we have a lot of fans and we have hits that people still love and play on their radio stations, so we can’t do a show and not play those. Alien Ant Farm have been doing so well overseas so it’s kind of a co-headline. ’68 are awesome, they’re so energetic and they’re going to blow people away. At the end of the day, with P.O.D we just look forward to everybody participating and having fun with us.
Sounds like a good plan, you’ve actually toured with Alien Ant Farm recently, are you all good friends? We’ve known the guys for a while, but we were never tight, we went over to the UK a few years’ ago with Hoobastank and the Alien Ant Farm guys and we became friends and then we did some state stuff and took them over to South America, so we’ve toured a lot together and we’re not sick of each other yet! I love those guys, they’re so talented as musicians go.
So ‘Circles’ is out now! What else is in store for you guys for the rest of the year? We tour through to the holidays and then we’ll come home and enjoy time with our families and then head back overseas and most likely tour, tour, tour! We have plans to tour Russia and we do great down in South America. With any new release you have to plan the next 2 years of touring your butts off!
Interview with Chris
As this album reflects on the story of Saves The Day, then I wanted to start with some really old questions. So here goes. How did Saves The Day initially get together? When I was 13 I learned how to play the guitar over the summer between 7th and 8th grade. When I came back to school, my friend Bryan Newman who played drums, said “I heard that you learned how to play guitar, do you want to come on over and jam?” I went over to his house that weekend, and we started playing music together. Four years later, we turned into Saves The Day, after a bunch of different name changes. Bryan was the only other original member. He is the only reason I am even in a band. I wrote the song ‘Side By Side’ on the new album about him. That song tells the entire story of how we first started. It all started with a song about Bryan, after he learned that I learned how to play guitar. On April 17th 1997, we had saved up 500 dollars to go spend one day in Trax East in New Jersey with our favourite producer Steve Evetts. We made a nine song demo. Only eight of those songs ended up on the tape, but we went into the studio with one name, and came out with Saves The Day. A friend of ours was there that day, who played in hardcore bands like Mouthpiece and Hands Tied in New Jersey, he said “You know what guys, this is really good, you guys could totally play hardcore shows, but your name is a little weird” we were called Sefler which is a typo in computer class. He said that “I always thought Saves The Day would be cool!” It came from his favourite song from a band called Farside (a punk band from Southern California). They had a song called ‘Hero’, where the lyrics are “I want to be the one that Saves The Day.” It all started like that.
What was it like to be an upcoming band in Princeton, New Jersey? It was a blast growing up and playing shows. We’d play on the sidewalk, or at the Princeton Arts Council. Sometimes, just in basements or backyards. We just played for friends. You’d meet a couple of bands, put together a show on the weekend, then one thing lead to another. All of a sudden we were taking trips to Massachusetts or Connecticut. Starting to branch out a little bit. By the time we were juniors in high school, we had this demo tape that got heard by Steve Reddy at Equal Vision Records. He had signed the band, Hands Tied (our friend who suggested the band name!). He called Sean McGrath and said “Hey! I heard about this band Saves The Day, I’d love to come and see them play” Then Sean at that point had joined the band, so he told Steve where we were going to be playing the show. It was somewhere in Pennsylvania with Ten Yard Fight, Floorpunch. Steve showed up, and we couldn’t believe that he was there watching us. Afterwards he said “I really like the tape, let’s make a record” Bryan and I were only juniors in high school at that point. It was quite a wild ride.
So, let's fast forward now then. It's been five years since your last release. Why did now feel like the right time to put together the next record/chapter for Saves The Day? Or did it just happen in a natural way? Yeah, it was just a natural process really. We were just playing festivals, colleges. We just kept getting offered tours. I had made a record with the side project I do Two Tongues, and I’m a dad, raising a daughter. The years go by faster as you get older, and time flies when you’re having fun. So it didn’t feel like five years to me. It must of felt like two and half years. It was just circumstances of being out there on the road. I feel like we had only just finished promoting our self-titled album when we had enough time to go back into the studio. After our last tour with Coheed & Cambria, we had a bunch of time off in front of us. So we just thought “Great, now it’s time to go and put a record together!”
"when listened to together, '9' tells the story of the band from your perspective", so can you tell us about how this concept idea originally came together, as well as a bit more about lyrically what we can expect overall from the album (read on for one of the best Stencil Mag interview answers of all time)? Yes, it was interesting. I tend to just let my instincts, sort of tell me what to do. I trust my intuitions. The first song that I wound up knowing was going to be on the album was the very first song called ‘Saves the Day’. That song came to me one day, it was just one of those songs that wrote itself. As I was sitting there, learning how the song was supposed to go. Which I was hearing in my head. There were lyrics that were attached to it, which were “Turn it up, we’re Saves The Day” so I thought “Gosh, I guess I’m writing the Saves The Day theme song, that’s cool!” One of my favourite songs ever, is the first track from Wilco’s selftitled album called ‘Wilco’. So I thought, that’s cool, I’m going to write a song called ‘Saves The Day’! It’s going to be about what Saves The Day is all about. Another one of my favourite bit of musical history is when Led Zeppelin put out the record ‘Houses of the Holy’, but then on the next record, ‘Physical Graffiti’ there’s a song called ‘Houses of the Holy’. Our last record was a self-titled record, and on this album there is the track ‘Saves The Day’. I just got a kick out of that. Once I had that going. The next song that came to me, which I knew was going to be on the record was the second song, ‘Suzuki’, that song completely wrote itself. In as much time as it takes to listen to it, it was there. It just floated into my head, I put the pedal to the metal, drove home as fast as I could so that I could record it into a voice memo. The lyrics were just showing up with the chorus and the melody. I was sitting there on the black and red couch at my studio which we call The Bug, the words just poured out of my head. “On a black and red couch playing a burgundy Les Paul I played on ‘Can't Slow Down’ so many years ago. Writing album number 9 right now!” When that line came out, I thought that this is where the album was going. It was going to be autobiographical about the band. When I knew which song was going to be the third song, all I had was this cool guitar riff, and cool melody, along with one phrase “Side By Side”, that kept coming up over and over. Then I knew the concept. I thought “How am I going to fit this lyric “Side By Side” into the concept of the album?” So I wrote it about Bryan, who was my friend who called me up that day and said “Hey! Do you want to come over and jam?” -
- From there it was just one thing after another. I like to put albums together in order. I really like sequencing a record. So then after ‘Side By Side’ the next part of our story is that we got in a van and we went on tour. Then the next part of that is that it is such a beautiful world, we’re flying all over the place, getting ready to sky dive to a show. Then after that we started to blow up. There’s a song called ‘Rosé’ which describes the time when certain rock star elements started to show up within the band. I’m a really humble kid from New Jersey, and that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s a bit of a dis-track, towards rock star egos. The next song ‘1997’ is about remembering what it’s all about. So I go all the way back to ‘1997’ to when we were just kids playing shows. Going to Sunday matinees, demo tapes. Then after that, now I’m lucky enough to have the band mates now that I would never do this without, Arun, Rodrigo, Dennis. We’ve been a band together for a long time, Arun and Rodrigo have been in the band for ten years. Then Dennis has been in the band for five years in April. The longest I ever had a band line-up together before that was two and a half years. So after I sort of reconcile myself and remember what it is all about with the song ‘1997’, the song ‘Rendezvous’ is about us going over and having an international tour. Being the best of friends. Side by side on stage. We look together to the future, standing side by side. So then, that finishes side one. Then on side two, the song ‘29’ I take it all the way back to my first memory of waking up to the heart beat in my head. As a kid trying to fall to sleep. It was music, it was a drum beat. Right away, I was just obsessed with music from my very first memory, then I heard the birds outside singing in the blue sky. Then I heard songs on the radio. Then I was just so in love with music. It sort of tells my life story from day one, in the song ‘29’. Eventually I wind up in a band, that part is called ‘So In Love’ putting a record on, and driving all night. It’s sort of a tip of the hat to the spirit of the shoulder to the wheel. Getting in the car, and we just go, “Let’s drive!” Right after that, early on in the band’s career, we had a van accident, we flipped our van. So the song ‘432’ is about that harrowing experience. Then I started to see that the band was coming apart at the seams. We were always going through line-up changes, but as I mentioned with the song ‘Rosé’ there was a certain element within the band that was really heart breaking to me. So the song ‘Tangerine’, within ‘29’ is about that. Saying “Come on? Please can we just remember what this is all about?” At that point I was very lonely. I was totally alone within my own band. That’s about the point when I met my daughter’s mother. Out on tour on Halloween in 2002. That’s the next song in ‘29’. When I met her I felt like it was finally going to be OK. At that point I was a rock star, I was on the cover of magazines, etc. However, I was a lonely person. She brought me back to life. She helped me feel like it was going to be getting better. Then we had our daughter Luella. The next song is called ‘Angel’, it’s about how Luella completely brought me back to life. She is the light in a heartbroken world, and I was a lost cause. Then, once I’m fully back to life, I remember all the way back to why I ever made it in the first place, which is because of my parents. The last song ‘New Jersey’ within ‘29’ is about my mum and dad, and how they give me the gift of joy, and the gift of gratitude.
What do you think you learned the most about yourself by reflecting? I guess I’ve learnt that I’m grateful to get to do this. I’m never going to stop. I’m thankful for our amazing fans, I’m thankful for family for friends. I’m grateful to be alive on this great planet earth. I just have a hope and a prayer in my heart for humanity. I’m glad that I get to contribute music and words to the conversation, because I truly love life. I want it to work out.
So, I've got to ask you about the track '29' which is 21 minutes long! How did it come together, and how important is it to you to the overall structure of the album? It’s cool that the entire second side of the album is one long song. My favourite piece of recorded music is the second half of ‘Abbey Road’ (The Beatles) where it is 16 minutes of consecutive music. I could listen to that every single day, all day long. I never get tired of it. I love it. It just speaks to me intellectually, and emotionally. It’s fun to listen to. My first attempt at writing a really long song, was the first song on our album ‘Daybreak’ which is 11 minutes long. It’s five songs within one song. I did attempt to do that on the last three songs on the record before that ‘Under The Boards’ which is the second part of a trilogy. The last three songs go into each other. On the album they are tracks 11-12-13. I thought that it would be a lot more fun to just make that one song, and then in the linear notes you could specify which song was which, just in the notes. So on ‘Daybreak’ I tried that out, and it was just so much fun. It was probably one of my favourite songs to write, or pieces of music to put together. It’s just one of my favourite things to do. When I construct set lists for the band, when we play live, I like the entire set to run together, like from one song to the other. I want them all to be connected thematically, musically, lyrically. So, it is just one of my musical fascinations as an artist. This time I just thought “Let’s see how far we can push this!” It’s a bit of a mini rock opera.
Interview with Andrew
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We have been touring. It’s been great. We’ve done the US a couple times and Europe too. Really excited to do proper UK shows in a few weeks. Highlights for me was driving on this current US tour - we are in a van and driving from Utah to California. That was such a beautiful drive. American scenery is breathtaking.
So, how did you get to the album title ‘Beside Myself’, and what does it mean to you? We were spit balling song name ideas and I was giving out themes from songs and this idea of self-reflection kept coming up and it was one of the ideas that fit that topic that we all like the way it looked and sounded.
We've read that “‘Be Here Now’ is about how hard I find it to feel content with what I’m doing, when I’m doing it." So if possible, can you elaborate on that, and a bit more about what we can expect from the lyrical approach to the album? That’s pretty much it. It’s part of human nature to just chug along and not really pay attention to what you’re doing. This is the idea of how nice it would be to be above it all looking down on what you’re doing and really understanding how lucky you are and how you need to be grateful for the things you have. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that for your own personal perspective.
How did you end up working with Colin Brittain, and how would you say he helped shape the album? The label suggested him and we decided to demo ‘Stigmata’ and ‘BHN’ with him while on tour and the demos sounded incredible - so we took a bit of a gamble having not worked with him or knowing anyone who had before. It was a great decision. He helped with subtle changes that had big impacts - doubling choruses, cutting middle 8s, shaving parts of verses etc. He also has a great ear for tone and overall sound and had some great ideas to make the songs sound full.
What was the hardest song to put together on ‘Beside Myself’, and why? Maybe ‘Nothing Left’ - I think maybe the bridge is stolen from another song? I can’t remember. I do remember Colin suggesting the drum roll for the intro which really lifts the song for me - the start was kind of sluggish before that suggestion. Thanks Colin. What a legend.
How did the music video for 'Be Here Now' come together, and what was it like to work with Mason Mercer? Alex and Mason came up with the idea. I thought the idea of someone not being allowed to enjoy a moment because they were physically being pulled away from it was a great metaphor for how we all sometimes don’t allow ourselves to enjoy moments as they present themselves. That plus the actual pulling someone out of shot was so visually strong that I knew it was going to be a great video. Mason was great. Everyone put so much effort into it and worked insanely hard. We cut every corner we could to afford to make this video. You have no idea ha.
So, how did you end up signing to Warner Bros. Records, and what have they been like to work with so far? They approached us, we asked for advice from RFC, they said we should do it and so we did. They have been great. So supportive in every way and they let us do what we want. I love Run For Cover but Warner/Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic just has more man power and more resources so it was a good and positive move for everyone.
Looking back on the release of 'Promise Everything', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Basement? I don’t think about it, I’m not too happy thinking back. It reminds me of a stressful time in the studio and some rushed efforts on our part. I love some of the songs and forget others even exist. That’s not important for me right now. What’s important is what is happening with ‘Beside Myself’. As a band I think it is our greatest work and it is the most proud of anything I have ever been a part of musically.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'Promise Everything' at the moment, and why? ‘For You The Moon’ is one of my favourite songs to play. It just has this relentless pushing rhythm that I think is really strong. It also sounds really heavy live which is awesome.
Is there anything that you learnt from the creative process to 'Promise Everything' which you maybe applied to ‘Beside Myself'? You can never be too prepared and that being kind and supportive to those around you during the creative and recording process is incredibly important if you want truly great results. Thank you to the guys and to Colin and Alex for being so positive and supportive during the recording of ‘Beside Myself’.
What else can we expect to see from Basement as we head towards 2019? Shows.
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? It has been an intense year of touring for the band. European festivals this summer, Graspop, Nova Rock, and Mighty Sounds were all huge shows. Our American tour with AFI and Rise Against has been one of the best tours we’ve ever done. We’re very grateful that at almost 25 years as a band to have new opportunities and righteous shows.
Looking back on 'American Fall', how happy have you been with thre response to the album so far, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Anti-Flag? It’s been the best reaction to an Anti-Flag record in about a decade. I think politically the world expected it, musically we’ve pushed ourselves out of a comfort zone and into new territory and overall have found a way to be true to our initial goals and agenda of the band but not rehash old ideas.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'American Fall' the most at the moment, and why? ‘American Attraction’, ‘Trouble Follows Me’, ‘The Criminals’, ‘Racists’, all of those go over very well. Hopeful to add ‘Digital Blackout’ and ‘I Came. I Saw. I Believed.’ to the headline set this fall.
So, how did the idea for 'American Reckoning' originally come together? Just as a way to bookend this chapter for our band. To revisit some songs from ‘American Spring’ that may have been overlooked but still carry political relevance. To demonstrate the varied musical influences that brought energy to our songwriting for the ‘American Spring’/’Fall’ albums.
You've said that the release is kind of a "cessation" for 'American Spring' and 'American Fall'. So how rewarding has that been for you to have that sort of natural evolution over those three releases? It’s something we’ve never done. So again, to find new things to do at 25 years, to find creative ways to share empathy, put optimism of cynicism, that just feels good. Makes us feel less like a nostalgia act, and more like a relevant voice in Interview with Chris 2 the discourse for empathy.
What do you enjoy the most about taking your songs, and turning them into an acoustic version? Demonstrating the harmony in our vocals. Showing that melody is a huge part of Anti-Flag. We want to hook you in. We want you to be humming or singing along, that’s the subliminal part to our infiltration to people’s psyche. Before you know it you’re humming something that is about changing the world, challenging the status quo, and you’re having a good time doing it.
What was it like to work with Justin Francis once more? He is one of my best friends. He and I speak the same language musically. He knows how to make what we create sound right. I only wish we lived in the same town so we could make the entire records together. But that said, his ear is perfect, his ability to support and find the driving melody is impeccable.
How did you end up working with Doug Dean once more for the artwork, and what does it mean to you? Doug was a HUGE part of the trilogy of the records. He was detail oriented and thoughtful for each piece. There are a ton of Easter eggs hidden between the three albums and a connectivity artwise that is smart but also beautiful. He is another person I consider to be one of my best friends, someone who also speaks the same language, luckily we live in the same town and can go to our favorite Thai place and brainstorm these ideas for each record!
The covers that appear on the release are of course what influenced the current era of Anti-Flag. So how important was it for you to work on those tracks, and how did you go about giving them the Anti-Flag spin! We wanted to show the influence, not hide it or try to cop it in anyway. You can hear the groove in ‘For What It’s Worth’ and know that’ Digital Blackout’ wouldn’t exist without being influenced by that. Or the melody in ‘Surrender’ and ‘Set Yourself On Fire’ being so melody driven as a song. It’s ok to be inspired by things for your art. We shouldn’t hide from those inspirations. We should share them.
It's been ten years since the release of 'The Bright Lights of America'! Looking back on that record, what do you remember the most about putting it together? It was an intense experience. The largest take away was working with someone like Tony Visconti who is a legend. And pushing ourselves out of the punk rock songwriting book. That scared and shook a lot of our audience but I think in retrospect those are some of our best songs. They didn’t quite get the look we would have hoped. But the beauty of record making is they last forever and can be found by people when the time is right. More and more folks are finding that record now than even when it came out.
What did you love the most about touring with the guys in Cancer Bats & Silverstein recently? And the people in Worriers! Well all of the bands have a history. And that history intersects in a lot of cool places. When you have friendships and admiration for each other as long as we all have there is no need for the petty things to come up. We will build the show so each band has a chance to share their agenda and art as loudly and clearly as they want. No ego. No bullshit. Just a great show amongst community and friendship.
What else can we expect to see from Anti-Flagin 2018? We aim to finish strong with headline shows. It will be the end of one of the busiest years of our band's life and we wouldnâ€™t have it any other way!
Interview with Matty
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We're actually on tour with Atreyu & Ice Nine Kills right now! My favourite part about being on the road is getting to spend time face to face with the amazing people that support our band! Our fans mean the world to us.
So, how did you get to the album title 'Broken', and what does it mean to you? The common thread throughout all the songs on the album is to be honest about struggles. To not be afraid of seasons of pain, but instead to learn from them, grow, & become stronger versions of ourselves.
Can you elaborate a bit more about some of the main themes and influences that run throughout 'Broken'? Most of the songs on the record are specifically about my own journey, anxiety & depression, losses & victories. It's always been amazing to me to see how many people can relate to something that feels so specific to me.
How did the artwork for 'Broken' come together, and what does it mean to you? I really wanted the album cover to represent the "beauty in the brokenness" so to speak. It's simple, but I think it does a great job at depicting that.
'The Old Me' is one of the first songs you released from this album cycle. Can you tell us about how it came together, as well as how important this track is to you? We felt like ‘The Old Me’ made a great first single because it really sets the tone for the album as a whole. The song is important to me because so many people that struggle with anxiety & depression need an outlet & someone that understands what they're going through. It's weird to say, but I'm actually thankful for what I've been through because it allows me to connect with people on a much deeper level.
How did the music video idea for 'Virus' come together, and what was it like to work with Caleb Mallery? I love Caleb. He's amazing at taking the concepts of our songs & turning them into a full blown cinematic experience. The video for ‘Virus’ is a very literal take on a metaphorical concept but I think it worked perfectly.
How did you end up working with Kane Churko, and how would you say that he helped shape the album? We decided to work with Kane because we were fans of a few albums he had done for other bands we knew personally. It was definitely cool to work with someone we've never worked with before & get their opinions on the writing & structure of our songs.
We read that the writing process for this album wasn't rushed. Can you tell us about that, and maybe how working on this album compared to anything else that you'd done before? This is the first album we've ever written in the studio. It was definitely cool but it's not something you want to do if you don't have the luxury of time. We purposefully set aside a big chunk of time for this recording process & it worked out well!
Looking back on 'This Light I Hold', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Memphis May Fire? I'm definitely still happy with ‘TLIH’. Each album in our discography has played an important role in the growth & progression of the band.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'This Light I Hold' at the moment, and why? The title track is still one of our favourites to play live. ‘Sever The Ties’ has a great live energy as well.
As you played it a lot over the years, then we wanted to ask, why do you think Warped Tour became so iconic? Warped Tour was iconic because it was a one stop shop for so many people to see all their favourite bands in one place. It was equally as beneficial for the bands that played! We got to do the tour four times before it was finished & those four summers were some of the best of our career!
What else can we expect to see from Memphis May Fire as we head towards 2019? A whole lot of touring! We can't wait to get back to the UK!
Interview with JB Brubaker
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We’ve had a pretty awesome 2018 with regards to touring. We started the year with a lengthy North American tour to promote ‘Phantom Anthem’. It was the biggest headline tour we had ever done, and was very encouraging for all of us to see the band grow with the release of a new album. Directly following that tour, we flew to Europe to do a month of dates supporting Heaven Shall Burn. The HSB tour was awesome. We had the opportunity to play a lot of bigger venues we’d never played before as HSB draws a big audience in Europe. We also got to share a bus with the guys in Whitechapel and became good friends with them. In the summer of 2018 we played the final week of the Van’s Warped Tour which was special for us as we had done that tour many times in the past, and it was the final year the tour would be running. Then in September we toured North America alongside Parkway Drive and played the biggest non-festival shows we’ve done in North America since supporting A Day To Remember back in 2010. We are very happy with how this year has gone on the road!
Looking back on the release of 'Phantom Anthem', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of August Burns Red? I’m still really pleased with ‘Phantom Anthem’. I feel like this record takes the heaviness of our earlier work and mashes it up with the more artistic/creative things we’ve done on our past few albums. I feel like it’s the union of our roots and our modern years as a band. I can’t recall spending more time or effort on the writing or recording of an album. During the process I was definitely discouraged at times, but I’m really proud of the finished product we created.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'Phantom Anthem' at the moment, and why? I love to play ‘Invisible Enemy’, ‘Float’, and ‘King of Sorrow’. ‘Invisible Enemy’ is such a heavy song and the crowd tends to really get into it, which makes it a lot of fun to perform live. I also love the bridge/solo section of the song. It’s fun to play and is a unique sounding part for us. ‘Float’ is a more uplifting song and I get to play this repeating tapping part throughout the song, which is really fun for me to play. I think this song stands out on the record because it has a proper chorus and is more traditionally structured than the majority of our music. ‘King of Sorrow’ makes the cut because of how menacing and dark it sounds. We’ve been opening with this song a lot this cycle, and I think it sets a very brooding tone for the show.
Can you tell us about some of the main themes and influences that run throughout 'Phantom Anthem’? I can’t say there are any main themes. On ‘Phantom Anthem’, like all of our albums, we set out to write the best songs that we could. Each song stands on its own. We didn’t try to write a concept album of any kind, nor are there any lyrical themes that weave in and out of the songs. It’s simply eleven of the best songs we could write.
How did you originally meet Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland, and what do you enjoy the most about working with these producers? I first met Carson when he was recording demos for local bands in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area. Carson was responsible for the demos that got us signed to Solid State records, and he also did all the preproduction for ‘Messengers’. Grant was the drummer in a bunch of local bands from back home, and he eventually teamed up with Carson in the studio as his interest in the production side of music began to grow. I think my favourite thing about working with Carson and Grant is that we have such a solid relationship and understanding for how each other work. There’s no “Get to know you” phase when starting a new project. We get in there and we get down to brass tax. They get the internal dynamics of our band and they know how to get the best out of each of us in the studio.
How did the music video for 'Dangerous' come together? In late 2017 we were approached by our label about doing a music video for either ‘Dangerous’ or ‘King of Sorrow’. We read the treatments for both and ultimately went with the ‘King of Sorrow’ video because at the time we believed it to be the more popular track. Fearless decided to table the idea for ‘Dangerous’ until the summer of 2018. At that point we went over the treatment again and made some changes to the narrative. Originally the treatment had Bigfoot getting killed at the end of the video, which we felt was a little morbid for our tastes. We rewrote the ending and the director, Sam Halleen, went to work. This was a particularly easy video for us as the band didn’t actually have to do anything. It tells the story of a kid and his father who are both looking for Bigfoot in the woods outside their house. The kid wants to befriend Bigfoot, while the father sees Bigfoot as a threat and wants to kill him.
The artwork for 'Phantom Anthem' is really cool! How did it come together, and what does it mean to you guys? Our drummer, Matt Greiner, is responsible for the artwork idea. ‘Phantom Anthem’ simply means a song or sound that grows roots deep down in the heart of a person and resonates through every bone in their body until it naturally gives that person purpose and value. It's often at times a silent sound, a quiet song that isn't easily noticed and is overlooked. The black silhouette represents the faceless person, the Phantom. In other words, no one special. This isn't a person of any particular status or in any particular place of power. The flower/vine/root systems represents the Anthem. The song or message that gives a person value.
Have you guys started on any new music just yet, if so, what can we expect? I’m in the early stages of writing. It was really nice to take some time off to recharge my creative juices, but I’m getting back into the swing of things these past few weeks. I’m not sure I have enough material written to even begin to describe what we’re trying to do. I just want to gather ideas at this point and see where they may lead. I think fans can expect us to deliver a sick record, though! Haha.
You guys did a tenth anniversary tour for 'Messengers'! How fun was that, and were there any tracks in particular that you maybe just found really rewarding to re-visit? The 10 year anniversary for ‘Messengers’ was a lot of fun. It was so nostalgic! There were a lot of songs we hadn’t performed live in years, and even a couple songs we had never played live. It was interesting to go back and learn all that old material and look at how far we’ve come as a band. I love ‘Messengers’ for what it is, and for what it meant to us at the time. I’m grateful we had the opportunity to celebrate that album in its entirety after so many years had passed. The song that stood out to me the most upon revisiting the record is ‘Black Sheep’. I think that song was a little ahead of the rest of the album in terms of creativity. It was the song that pointed our sound forward.
So, how excited are you for your upcoming UK tour, and what can attending fans expect? Very excited! It will have been well over a year since we’ve performed in the UK, and the last time we were there we were playing ‘Messengers’ in its entirety, so this time around we’ll have a lot more time to play songs from a larger variety of our catalogue. We picked our setlist carefully for this tour, and even listened to some fan feedback online. While we are playing a bunch of tracks off of ‘Phantom Anthem’, we aren’t ignoring our older records. Expect 80 minutes of sweat and metal.
What else can we expect to see from August Burns Red as we head towards 2019? In 2019 we will wrap up the ‘Phantom Anthem’ album cycle and look towards whatever may come next. It will be time to dig deep into writing and possibly even recording. 2019 will be the start of the next chapter for ABR.
So, how did you get to the album title 'Disease', and what does it mean to you? The album title ‘Disease’ was to me the best one word to capture the vibe of the entire record. I always try to do that on our albums, and I came up with this title when I was on a tour in Europe. It was actually the ‘Aggressive’ tour. It was the middle of winter, and I was feeling pretty low. I was just having a really hard day. That word just kept sticking out in my mind, so I just wrote it down. Then I went home and wrote the song ‘Disease’, and that’s where the album started.
'Disesae' is "the next installment chronicling your battle with your own demons" so can you maybe elaborate on that, and what we can expect from the lyrical approach to 'Disease'? The whole record really is an inner monologue of me trying to work through what’s going on in my head, and figure out who I am. How to overcome it. The lyrics are very dark, raw, and honest. I just tried not to hold anything back.
You've said that "This record isn't about winning anything. It's about trying to even begin to learn how to deal with things" so can you also elaborate on that, as well as maybe what you want the listener to take from the record? Yeah, I mean that really is it. This is really me just facing myself in the mirror and saying “What is going on with you?” How do you get better, or learn to start dealing with these things. Coping. I guess for the listener, I want them to know that this is somebody who doesn’t have any answers, trying to figure out what is going on with themselves.
How did you end up working with Nick Raskulinecz, and how would you say he helped shape the album? Well really, Nick and I met in LA, and got breakfast, talked about music. Talked about records. What he loves in a rock record, and what I love in a record. It was a really cool breakfast, it was a cool hang. I ended up going out to Nashville, we hung out for a couple of days. The first day we just did nothing but really talk about music, talk about what the record means, how to approach it. What my vision was for the album, and how he could help. Then we ended up cutting the song ‘Used and Abused’ at his studio. He handed me a guitar at four in the morning as I was leaving to go to my hotel, and he said “Yeah, write me a song!” So I just kind of threw some stuff together, and we ended up doing ‘Used and Abused’ that morning. It just really took off from there. His real involvement was for five days before I went into Blackbird to create the album, we took all of the demos. We just chose which songs made sense to be on a record. Which songs weren’t good, which songs were. We just worked on little pieces, drum grooves, maybe a guitar riff. Little things to maybe change it up, and give it a little more spice. Then yeah, I went to Blackbird did my whole Interview with Caleb thing, then brought it back, and mixed it at his studio. Where we then did some more layers, and finishing touches. It was fantastic.
Also, what did recording in Blackbird/Nashville bring to the creative process of 'Disease'? Blackbird brought absolute and utter freedom when it came to sounds. There was nothing that was not possible there. They had every piece of analogue equipment that you could think of. Every single microphone. Every guitar, amp. They really had it all. It was like a playground, and the options were endless. So that was what was really fun, spending all of this time, just making different sounds, using different drums. Just exploring.
How would you say the sound of Beartooth has changed/progressed since the release of 'Aggressive'? I think it’s got more rawness and reality to it. As in it’s just a less processed record. The drums aren’t sampled, and it’s a lot less digital guitar stuff. It just feels a little more honest, and eclectic musically. I think there was so much more time to write, that it ended up just being a lot more cool songs.
What was the most challenging song to put together on 'Disease', and why? Probably the song ‘Disease’! I had been sitting on that song for so long. I was so used to the demo, so when it came time to actually record it, I was just so particular that it was hard to get all of the tones right. All the takes right. It was just a real pain. However, to me, it ended up, probably being one of the most important songs on the record.
photo credit: Matt Downing
How did the album artwork for 'Disease' come together, and what does it mean to you? We worked with a company called Tension Division. A guy named Brandon Rike, and another called Joel Cook. They are incredible at what they do. They have worked with some friends of ours, and some people that have just made really really awesome and impactful records. We basically talked with them over the phone for a few hours just about what the record means, and what the emotions are behind it. Then they really took it and ran with it. They came up with some ideas, some colour schemed stuff. We all just decided that that was the way to go.
How did the music video for 'Disease' come together, and what was it like to work with Drew Russ? We have been working with Drew Russ for many years. I’ve known Drew since before Beartooth. He is just a great director. He knows the band, he knows what we do. He is never going to make something that doesn’t feel like us. Or change the aesthetic too much. He is super talented. The music video was really, a depiction of what the song means. I know that sounds corny and thin, but yeah we were just trying to come up with a more artful way, that wasn’t outrageously heavy. Or too shocking that it would take away from the song. That’s how the video came about.
Looking back on 'Aggressive', how happy are you with this album still, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Beartooth? To me, it was more the singles that were the important part, at least like for the record campaign, and for what people got from it. I have some things with that record which I wish that I could change. It’s very minor though. Just little stuff that the average person isn’t going to notice, or know because it’s just me being a total perfectionist. I do like the record, and I think that it was a good record. I much prefer ‘Disease’ to ‘Aggressive’. That’s just me personally.
What songs are you still enjoying performing live from 'Aggressive', and why? We are still doing ‘Hated’, ‘Aggressive’, ‘Sick Of Me’, mostly the singles! We do play a few deep cuts. We do like a VIP thing, where if you pay a little bit extra you get a bunch of exclusive merch, you can come to a sound check. We get our equipment set, make sure it sounds good for all of us, then we play some songs which people aren’t going to hear in the live show. Just kind of put on a mini set for these 75 people. We do play some deeper cuts from ‘Aggressive’. We just think that they’re essential to the catologue. What would a Beartooth show be without ‘Hated’, I think that it would be kind of weird!
What else can we expect to see from Beartooth as we head toward 2019? Architects direct support, playing crazy rooms. We are beyond excited and honoured to be on that tour. We are huge Architects fans, and have been for a long time. I can’t say enough about how excited we are for that. It’s kind of a dream come true. The first show is at Wembley, which is going to be amazing. Then a bunch of stuff that we can’t talk about yet! But, we’ve got cool stuff going on.
Interview with Alex
So how pumped are you for your upcoming touring commitments? Oh man I can’t wait. We started writing this record and recording it in Summer of last year. We’ve been sitting on it for over a year now so yeah we are pumped and ready. It’s hard to just sit back and be relaxed about it. I want to play.
The album has just come out, how do you feel it’s being received by the fans? It’s great! It’s pretty much what I thought it was going to be, and even a little bit better, a little more positive which is always surprising. Atreyu is a band that take risks, we don’t sound the same on every record. I think we establish that even more on this record, you really don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s going to sound like us, but you don’t know exactly, you know? I think that doing stuff like that all the time pushes your audience, and to have our audience go with us and support us the way that they do, it’s super awesome.
When you first started releasing records there wasn’t anything like social media, so if you had to get fan feedback it would be at shows whereas with Twitter and Facebook you have that direct line to fans. Do you think that influences how you write and how you make music? No I don’t think so, we just always go about our music in the way of making art and making a creation and we kind of just do it that way. I don’t know if we necessarily make it for anybody else. We want other people to like it, we want our fans to like it, but I don’t think we try and stay in any one box to cater to anybody.
What would you say are the main themes and influences within ‘In Our Wake’? I think the main theme is like a legacy vibe. Not like Atreyu has this legacy, it’s not like that. It’s more like the legacy that we as an individual person leaves behind. As we get older we lose more of the celebrities and friends and people that we grew up with, and in this case this kind of ties in also with what the record is about, to me at least. The death of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington were really fresh for us around the times of working on the record. We had grown up with their voices, we were lucky enough to tour with them a little bit, both guys respectively, they are wonderful guys and the interactions we had, and the music spoke to our hearts too. So it got us thinking about legacy and like how those guys inspired us. It’s about how it affected us, and not necessarily about how Atreyu is going to touch people, but how you in any way can touch people, like your actions. This is stupid but I make it relevant so that people can understand in this day and age. It’s as simple as maybe you like a friends photo or leave a positive comment on Instagram or something, or you could go on there and say something snarky and sh*tty. What leaves a better wake? What’s affecting people in a better way? What do you really get out of being an ass? Even as simple as holding a door for somebody you know, helping an elderly person. Just being a decent person, what does that do to people? How does that affect people? So on a broad focus, that’s what the record is about, our legacy, your legacy as a person, how do you affect people, what will you leave.
Absolutely. You want to be someone who people say, “Yeah, that was a good, caring person.” That’s a great legacy to leave. I had this boxing coach, I don’t think he was a very good boxing coach but he told me a great salty story, or a good proverb/adverb, I’m not a scholar man so I’ll let you figure out what it is, but a good story and a good way to think. He said, in ten years if you saw me walking down the side of an abandoned road would you pull over and ask me if I needed help or would you speed by and be like I hope he didn’t see me or I’m glad I didn’t have to stop for that guy? I would like to be the person that pulls over and asks if they need help, whether they needed it or not. It’s a simple way to look at life, but I think it’s a good one.
It is a really good way to think about things, throughout your life there’s always those people you will lose contact with. It’s the ripple effect man, I’m too old to get caught up in any negatives anymore. I’ve got kids, I’m seeing things a little bit bigger picture these days. I’m by no means wise, but I’m not the same person I was when I was 21 or 22.
Back to the album, you worked with John Feldmann again, and you hadn’t worked with him since ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’. What made you decide to get him back? I think every record we’ve gone to a different producer, and with Feldmann we learnt so much about song writing as a craft and about making yourself uncomfortable in order to make art that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to, to push your limits. I think John does all those things as well as he’s such a positive influence to be around. He’s like spiritual cocaine, in a good way. He juices you up, he makes you feel like you can do things. For me on this record, I try to challenge myself as a vocalist more and not just stay in one box, and John would definitely not just let you even try things in that box, but a new box to push you to the limit of whatever you’re going to try and you’re going to do. At least for me as a singer, and I don’t have very big limits anyway so it was fun. I like challenges, if you can’t challenge yourself then you’re not really accomplishing anything, you’re just sitting in the mud.
Before this album you had ‘Long Live’, that was the first album you wrote and released after your hiatus. Was there ever a point where you thought it may be the last album? No, every record could be our last. If we didn’t like how this record came out and the cycle was just brutal and we weren’t into it and didn’t want to make music, we would just stop making music again.
From ‘Long Live’, what songs do you most enjoy rehearsing and playing live? On this tour we’re playing a lot of songs! Of the top of my head I know we’re going to play ‘Do You Know Who You Are?’, I think it’s a rad song and it comes off great live so I know we’ll definitely be playing that. We are playing a big mix of all our records, at this point we have seven records. ‘Long Live’, the title track itself, is also a blast. It’s a lot of fun to play and has a cool beat. Those two come to mind immediately.
When you look at going back on tour and you look at a setlist, is there ever any point where you think, “I don’t really want to do this but I know the fans will love it.” No, I think we just don’t do it [laughs]. If there’s been things that have held Atreyu back as far as our career, we’re not real good panderers. We don’t really kiss ass all that well. And with our fans, we don’t see them as fans, we seem them as people who support our band with their hard earned money, they work hard and we treat them with respect and try to treat them like we want to be treated.
Back to ‘In Our Wake’, I got the press release and it said that you’d “never written a fresh idea from scratch every day”, So can you elaborate on that, and how it applied to the record? It was awesome, like I said John fires you up and charges you up. We drank a lot of coffee, he has an awesome designer coffee maker in his house so I was nailing probably six shots of espresso a day and three or four regular coffees. I would get up at home and work out and stuff then I would go up there and jam with them. We would work from noon until ten o’clock at night or something like that. Every day was rad, we would get tons done. This band, we’ve been together so long and we’re at such a good place with each other communicatively and we work so well with John that it was a good environment. We were producing a minimum of two songs every session, we had maybe eighteen to twenty songs with choruses and music of some sort and little verses too written by the time it was all said and done, then we had to get it down. We whittled it down to fourteen, then we whittled it again to the twelve that were on the record.
I guess that’s got to be difficult. Yeah it was a bummer! There are so many different types of songs on the record, and there’s so many different types of songs that you guys didn’t get to hear too for whatever reason. I’m just making up an example but like, this is a super awesome heavy song but the chorus wasn’t good enough, which is rare, ‘cause we write good choruses. You just get to the point where you’re like, “Ah I’m just not feeling this”, or “This song is terrible but the guitar solo is amazing.” There’s definitely those moments. These are the twelve most interesting, or fourteen most interesting songs if you’re in America with the special Target release, we took it in a different direction. This record was supposed to be not all over the place, but we wanted it to be diverse, we wanted to push our sound. ‘Long Live’ was meant to be a compartmentalised aggressive record, I didn’t want any clean vocals, I said that in all the prep. People asked me if that was the Atreyu sound forever? And I’d say no it’s just an Atreyu sound for now. Then this record sounds like this, and the next record we do we might go straight up death metal, like we want to sound like bohemic meets Cradle of Filth, and if that’s what we want to do then that’s what we want to do. It’s so much fun.
Where you’ve had to cut down songs, is there ever a point where you want to get rid of a song but the others say “If we tweak this, we can make it work?” Or do you all agree on the same things? For sure, there’s definitely those moments where we figure things out and compromise. I think the fourteen songs, or the twelve songs that ended up making this record were the product of compromise. Maybe there was a part of something that wasn’t going to make it. Let’s say ‘Safety Pin’ for example, we wrote the vibe of all the verses and the guitars at the beginning of the intro of the song, but it wasn’t the right vibe so it didn’t sit, and that song wasn’t going to make it. But I think John or myself or somebody wanted that song in there, something about it you know. So we figured out a way to change the things about it so that it worked.
What does the artwork mean to you? Is it weird for the sake of weird, or is there something behind it? If you look at the front cover for instance, it’s just super trippy. If you really really really really look at it, there are little guys walking around in the eyeballs and in the interior shapes there’s like M.C. Escher type art. Also around it there are some Latin phrases that mean certain things which I’m not going to give away, I’ll let people look up those Latin phrases and figure out what’s going on. I think it makes it a little more fun, it’s got the gold tooth. As far as it being relative to the music on the record, well dude it’s art. If you look at it and take it there, I could definitely see how someone can arrive at that. Our man Porter, in our band heads all this sort of stuff, the interior design and lyrics and typestead and photography and everything, and even the font. He spearheads everything and he really does a great job. Porter is a smart dude and he has a real cool vision and I think on each of our records you see a bit of a different take of his vision, more so on the later releases. The original stuff was just like bad photoshop.
You guys have been doing what you do for so many years now. What for you would be a personal career highlight? It’s hard to give you a career highlight but I think for me, coming back from our hiatus and like being together and spending time together and playing music and being in each other’s lives so much more than the couple of years that we took off. That was a highlight and how we were received when people came back and supported us, that means a lot. We went away when there wasn’t Instagram and there wasn’t really social media stuff and we just jumped back in four years later and I think it’s like jumping into a new world. Our fans came out and still embrace us. It’s awesome.
Yeah social media has changed things for a lot of bands I think, someone can just post a video of yours, someone else likes it and out of nowhere you’ve got a new fan. Yeah it’s cool but in a way it’s hurt us. Not that aspect of it, that’s great but being gone for that period because we missed so much. There’s people who have been building followers and using it since the beginning. We sold a fair amount of records and have a decent fan base so it’s interesting to see that for us it’s a slow grow. I think if we’d have come back to fifteen million followers on instagram that would have been awesome but we missed all that. We came back and jumped in, Dan (guitar player) signed me up for instagram. He was like “Dude you’ve got to use this” I didn’t use it for the first six months. Now I dig it, I use it and it’s a cool way to hang out and talk to people who enjoy our music. Before I didn’t get it, I’m not going to lie, I was like “What is this, and why should I care?” Back when I was younger I worked at a record store, my boss and the guys who worked there were cool and had good taste in music. They would pick like ten records and tell people to check it out when people came in and that’s how it used to happen a lot, or they’d read a review in their local magazine or a physical printed magazine and now things are different. Those things are kind of obsolete in a way, you can go and listen to ten seconds of a song on itunes and decide if you’re going to like it or not.
Yeah definitely, and there are a lot of bands out there who have taken influence from the same bands and they just merge into each other. People will listen to ten seconds and just forget them and say “I won’t support them.” It’s interesting times when there’s so much available stuff too, you can just click on six other bands right below it. It’s a weird world.
So as I said there are tons of small bands just starting out, what advice would you give them? Okay, it’s two fold. One: Figure out your social media stuff ASAP and get that in line. Two: Go and play those shows, go out there, struggle a bit, eat some sh*t, don’t worry about the social media stuff as much. let that go and put in the footwork. I think if you just get out there and put in the work and you have good songs, they don’t need to be great songs just good songs and you’re passionate about them you can do it. I think that’s a good recipe for success.
What else can we expect from Atreyu in 2019? We’re going to do some shows, and tour. We’re ending this year with the US version of the ‘In Our Wake’ Tour and I know in February through March we’re going to be coming over to the United Kingdom and all of Europe. It’s not all locked down yet but it will be happening so that’ll be something to look forward to. We’re playing ShipRocked with Papa Roach and Skindred, it’s an awesome lineup. We’ve got some great stuff coming up! Ideally we’re going to be rock and rolling a lot more than we did with ‘Long Live’. There was a lot of bullsh*t going on behind the scenes with ‘Long Live’ and our business. We hadn’t been a band for years and things weren’t running smoothly in our lives, our personalities were fine, we were all getting along great but yeah, there was some business stuff that wasn’t right. We got all that ironed out and we’ve changed some stuff behind the scenes and it’s just a different, better vibe overall now. I feel pretty relaxed when I’m talking about it now. So if I’d asked these questions back during ‘Long Live’ it would have been a much
different answer? ‘Long Live’ was a “steam” release after years of me personally not making any music, it was a full force ride. When you live that and play those songs every night it’s aggressive. I’m a character actor when we perform live so I can be aggressive, but on this new record I feel more in control of what’s going on.
Is there anything you’d do differently with ‘Long Live’? No way. You can’t look at it that way, it’s like art. You could look at a painting and think I wish I’d done this and I wish I’d done that but musically I don’t look at things that way, I paint and every so often I’ll look back like ‘maybe I shouldn’t have done that’ but I think with ‘Long Live’ I’m stoked. It was a rad record.
Interivew with Dennis
Touring wise, what have you been up to this year, and can you give us a couple of personal highlights from your time on the road? We have been touring a lot this year. Europe, US and South America. We did three tours with the Dropkick Murphys! I think those were my favourite. It has been a long time in the making and I was proud that we did it and did it all over and are still talking about doing more. They are an incredible band and people. It’s a real honour and pleasure to share the stage with them. Also, South America was pretty awesome. We played a few countries we’ve not done before, Bogota, Mexico City, Santiago, and Buenos Aries.
Looking back on 'Life Is Good', how happy have you been the response to this album so far, and what do you think it's done for the representation of Flogging Molly? We're still showing the world this record and I think the response is evident when we play new songs. ‘Hand Of John L. Sullivan’ had a pit from the first time we played it for example. I think it’s done what all records do or at least our records. It’s a representation of the band at that time in our lives. You can go back and hear it in songs. Dave’s mother died while we were writing it and I think you have many lyrics that touch on that.
What songs are you still really enjoying performing live from 'Life Is Good' at the moment, and why? The song ‘Life Is Good’ I really like playing because it’s a song Dave wrote about his mother passing. She told him as she was dying to “Enjoy himself because I surely did.” That line is in the song and it’s a perfect sentiment to live by. It’s a great way to honour her. It’s also a different sort of song for us musically.
According to the press sheet for 'Life Is Good' "Life Is Good thus serves as a wake-up call to those who have simply stood by while far- reaching political decisions were made that had serious impact on them." So can you elaborate on that, and about what people should maybe be more aware of in the political world right now? The song ‘Reptiles’ is a good example of that. Some really surprising events took place like Brexit and the election of Trump. I can’t say what exactly people should be aware of but be aware or more aware. I think more civil discourse, more time on issues and trying to understand where someone who doesn’t think the same as you is coming from. All of these seem like things to be aware of.
What worries you the most about the current political climate? Major media outlets, Facebook.
Ultimately though, this album does have a theme of hope behind it though right? That's what you want the listeners to take from it? Yes, if you listen to our old records the same will be true. Dave is really good at showing the bad situations and then shining a positive light. You have to have some sort of darkness or despair to desire some sort of hope or desire for better.
Leading on from this, when you look at the album. How would you say the sound of Flogging Molly has grown/progressed on it? We have been a band for over 20 years now, toured a lot, lived and experienced many many things as a band. You come out of that more experienced and more aware. We know each other very well personally and musically. It’s like any 20 year relationship you stay together and meld into this solid thing. We play with as much if not more passion.
What would you say was the most challenging song to put together on 'Life Is Good', and why? I think ‘The Last Serenade (Sailors and Fisherman)’. I was showing Dave some ideas and I had this riff that he liked and he recorded it and I went to the bathroom and came back and he wrote the bulk of the song. He then over time finished it added parts and chords etc… He showed it to us and it never repeats anything structure wise. If you listen close you can hear it. It was an odd progression but in the end when you sit back and listen to it it doesn’t feel that way. It just takes you on a journey.
It's been ten years since the release of 'Float'. Looking back on the album, what do you remember the most about putting it together? We decided to work with Ryan Hewitt. He did an incredible job. Loved working with him. He pushed us to record a song a day. We were very productive and inspired. Recording it in Grouse Lodge in the middle of nowhere in Ireland created a vibe for that. It all came together.
How excited are you for your upcoming UK tour, and what can attending fans expect? I’m always excited about touring the UK. We’ve been doing it for years. It’s a beautiful place with lots of history, cask ales, fish and chips, great pubs, and we’ve made a lot of friends we will get to see again. The fans are in store for a night of debaucherous raucous rock and roll. The Bronx, Face to Face, Flogging Molly and Lost In Stereo is an exciting lineup.
What else can we expect to see from you as we head towards 2019? More touring. A cruise. Perhaps new music.
We're going straight into a tough question now. I know that you guys of course do not regret 'Night People', it's a cool album. However, you have spoke out saying how there were tough moments surrounding it. So for you, when you look back, what would you personally say were some of the challenges behind this particular album cycle? For us, it was when we had that pause after ‘Cavalier Youth’, that time out. We developed writer's block, to be honest with you. Going into that record we had to write a lot of songs to get our energy going, and to find our feet with writing songs again. We kind of dropped the ball a little bit. We got the record that we did, and we were happy with it. I think it was just other things that were going on around us behind closed doors. That were kind of making it a little bit more difficult, and we couldn’t focus properly. Our heads were not really in the right place, creatively. There were a few things that let it down from a record label side. It was a bit of a hard start to a record campaign. Without ‘Night People’ I don’t think that we would of made the record ‘Six’.
How would you say it was maybe important though, when it came to shaping the mindset of the band over the last couple of years, as from that process maybe you learnt what you wanted to do differently leading up to the release of 'Six'? Definitely. I think that we took risks and challenges on ‘Night People’. When we were writing that record we wanted to push our sound in a little bit of a different direction to keep it fresh for the listener. Make it more contemporary. It was also to challenge ourselves, develop new ways of writing songs. That mentality really bled into ‘Six’, sort of being fearless. We did different things on this album cycle with ‘Six’, Dan and I got behind laptops and started writing music in a different way over the last couple of years. Instead of just playing a guitar in a room together all of the time, we could do it on our own. We could develop ideas for songs that were really exciting, that felt fresh for us. It sounds like we are having fun as well. I think that has really come from the music. You can hear it, we are all having a great time playing, and the energy is a good one.
Interview with Max
So, looking at 'Six' when would you say the initial vision for the album came together? I mean, was there a particular song that maybe set the tone for it? We started with three songs. First of all there was ‘Straight to My Head’ which was a jam that we all did together at Dan’s studio, it was really fun and set a bench mark. Then the next two that came were ‘Fast Forward’ and ‘Losing You’ from a session that we did with Eg White. I think that energy from working with another songwriter was really fresh, and exciting. We learnt a few tricks with our songwriting skills that we didn’t realise before. Those three songs formed naturally, and they were the light and shade of the new record. We were like “Right, this is the tone, this is the colour palette that we are playing with here.” There was a lot of dynamic, and the colours were so exciting. We just thought, let’s fill in the gaps now, and have some fun. Be a bit more experimental.
How did you end up working with Dan Austin, and how would you say he helped shape the album? We actually worked with Dan Austin before on the song ‘The Swarm’, it was him and Gil Norton, which was really nice. When we started to record this record we wanted to do it in England/UK, because we hadn’t made a record in the UK for the last three albums. The last one we did was ‘Hold Me Down’. We wanted to do it in the UK, with a UK producer. We had done records in America for the last three. So the idea of working with Dan just came up, and we were like “Let’s give it a try. We worked with him before, and got along with him”. We went to a place called Vada Studios, in Alcester in the Midlands. That was the studio that Dan worked at. That really worked out, and we had a good time. So, we went in and recorded three songs in January of this year. We tested the water, then instantly when we recorded the first song ‘Fast Forward’, it set the tone, and it was all coming together. We all looked at each other, and we were all just really buzzing to be working with Dan. We could tell pretty much after the first day, and that was where we were at. We just thought, let’s make the record. We wanted to have somebody that was a co-producer. We had all of these songs ready beforehand that we knew where we wanted to take them sonically. What we were creating showed that we were on the right track. Dan was the perfect person, he was so up for co-producing the record. When there was times in the studio when we were onto winners he would forefront it as much as us and be the leader in the room. Then there would be times where we weren’t getting that vibe from a song, and Dan would be like “Well, what’s not going right with this song?” We’d explain, and he’d say “Let’s just start again!” That mentality, we’d never come across before in the room. So I think that did spur us on to be like “Right, we are going to push this song as much as we can do. Take it to the next level” Working on the sound, and just going really hard at it. Recording new ways. Dan was playing drums in sections. He would only play the snare for a bit, and then he would only play the hat, the kick drum. It was like creating music in a new way, then blending it all together. It just felt natural, and it was also exciting.
You guys co-produced alongside him. So what was that like for you guys, to just really have that kind of creative control over the album? We’ve learned that from like doing all of those American albums. Working with amazing producers. To be honest with you, I think that Dan is one of the best producers out there. He is known but not known at the same level as some of the people we’ve worked with before. Learning from people like Jacquire King, Neal Avron, Garth Richardson. It was like “Right, we know what we are doing now!” We’ve been in a room with people engineering and producing records. Then having Dan there with the knowledge to basically record and glue it all together. It was an exciting experience. We all look back already, and feel like it was one of the best times that we’ve ever had.
How did the The Big Lebowski influenced music video for 'Back Again' come together, and what was it like to work with Daniel Broadley? We worked with Dan Broadley on the ‘3AM’ music video. It stemmed to us throughout the whole entire campaign, even from the start. We had all of those little movie teasers, going out on our social pages, just to get the idea out there, to have people go “What’s going on? What’s this all about?” The first video for ‘3AM’ was taking influence from The Wolf of Wall Street. There was a reoccurring theme throughout the video. ‘Back Again’, being quite like an upbeat, contemporary pop song. We were like “Let’s have some fun with it!” Growing up, I remember watching music videos from Foo Fighters with ‘Everlong’ ‘Learn To Fly’. They were just having fun, enjoying themselves. That’s the experience we had with this record, so we wanted it to be visible with our videos as well. Then obviously The Big Lebowski is a cult classic film. It’s one of the best out there, of like the last couple of decades. It’s the Coen brothers. They have such iconic styles and looks. We thought “How do we make our own twist on this?” The bowling alley is like their little gang spot. For us, we paid homage to The Big Lebowski. We had a bit of fun with it, and gave it our own spin.
When you look back on 'Take Off Your Colours', what do you remember the most about putting it together, and how excited are you to be performing it in full for your UK tour? It’s been a nostalgic trip, going back and re-visiting it. It showcases that we were very young, what we were doing there. We were having fun, idolising our idols. Re-creating what they were doing. I think why it stuck around is because there was no one in the UK making that kind of music. That’s been one of the most exciting things, going back and seeing the reaction with all of the shows being sold out. Everyone is excited to hear the songs again. It’s been a long time since we’ve played them. I think it’s a trip down memory lane for some people. It might have been the soundtrack to their youth. It’s a bit of a homecoming for UK bands in general. For my output on it. I’m just so excited to be going back and playing these songs for the first time in years. We’re going to be playing some songs for the first time ever. We’ve been sitting there laughing, feeling like, we would of never of thought that this would of happened. On our first record. We were just five lads from just outside of London. It’s the dream when you’re that age. You want to do it. It happened very quickly for us. In the day of MySpace. If it wasn’t for MySpace, I don’t think the band would be where it is today.
Have there been any songs that you've really enjoyed re-visiting when rehearsing for the ‘Take Off Your Colours' shows? If so, which ones, and why? To be honest with you, it’s just playing it all again. There are songs that we never thought we’d play again, songs like ‘Gossip’. You are sitting there going “Actually, this is quite fun!” I think we’ve been a bit grumpy over the years, feeling like “Oh, it was just our first record, etc.” Songs like 'Tigers and Sharks' we play it now and it still feels like a song that our band could write today. That for me, is probably one of the more exciting ones that we’ll be playing on the tour. I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction from everybody when we play the record. It’s something that we didn’t think we’d ever do. That’s the exciting part of it, that we are going in and playing all of the songs. We’ve never done that before. It’s going to be exciting for everybody.
On this tour you’re also playing another show with a different You Me At Six setlist right? Yeah, but that’s been the most exciting thing. Obviously we’ve got a few records under our belt now, so it’s made the other shows exciting when it comes to putting a set list together, as there is just so much to pick from now. It’s definitely the most we’ve had to work towards a tour for a long time. There’s a lot to learn. I think that it’s going to be so much fun to have the variation. There is definitely going to be people who are coming to both of the shows. If we are doing double nights in their city. If they are coming for two nights, then they are getting two, totally different sets. I’ve not seen a band do that for quite a while now. I think for the fans of You Me At Six, hopefully we are going to give them as much as they want, everything they always expected to hear.
What else can we expect from you as we head toward 2019? Touring! A lot of touring. We’re going to America, Europe, festival season next year. Hopefully, more music. We’ve got other songs in the locker, that people maybe don’t expect us to have.
Interview with Billy
There was a long journey to the release of 'Eat the Elephant'. However, for you, when did the initial vision for the album actually come together? Little things have been here and there for a few years. Pretty much (I’m getting my years mixed up), 2017 was kind of the time that we decided to do it. It was really in those twelve months that the record came together.
Over this time, what would you say was the most challenging bit for you, when you were sort of just waiting for all the pieces for the album to come together over the years? It was challenging. We had this break between the two records, and then all of a sudden we’re ready to do this one. We decided to go on tour to get the juices flowing, and remember what we do live. How that energy translates. So going on tour, and dusting off the cobwebs off all of the gear, it certainly distracted us from making the record, but it also informed the record. It was a challenge, but a good one. It was put in place on purpose. That was certainly the most challenging, because we had somewhat of a deadline. We wanted to be done making the record by January 1st, So it was a year of touring, and making a record.
For the first time in the band's history you decided to work with an outside producer, Dave Sardy. So how did that decision come about, and can you tell us about what he was like to work with? Our manager had worked with Dave years ago on different projects. I had always engineered and produced all of the APC records. I thought it would be good to have an outside perspective, but also help in not being too bogged down with all of the day to day tasks that go with producing a record. To just be able to play. To sit in that musician seat, instead of wearing two hats. It was good, but it was challenging also. When I’m letting someone else take the reins, or I’m giving up control, it’s a little harder for me to communicate about music as well. My strength is not to be negotiating, and bartering my thoughts and ideas verbally. Usually we’ll just lay it down musically. I think with someone like Dave, who was used to it in both ways. It taught me how to defend and communicate my position more so. Verbally let’s say, than musically. I usually just say “You know what I’m going to do, because I’m going to show you in a song” Other than talking about it. What was good is that it gave Maynard musical legs, through Dave to communicate. I told Dave that Maynard wasn’t going to be here for the record, it was mostly going to be erview with Billy Dave and I. He was there to honour his request, and get his two cents in there.
You yourself of course produce a lot of the music by the band. So, how did that originally happen, and how rewarding is it to have so much creative control? I love it, but it came out of necessity, and out of shyness. Necessity, and finance to begin with. When I started doing it, it was the late 90s, and our first record came out in 2000. People were still very much making records on two inch tape, and then making records in a more traditional sense. I remember doing a lot of press, and it was quite a story that I made this whole record sort of in my garage, my home studio so to speak. Using Logic, but using pro tools hardware. It was great, at the time, I could just do whatever I wanted to do. I could focus on it. I had been writing songs for a long time, on a four track, or on gear that wasnâ€™t so great. Then I saved enough money to do it right. Thatâ€™s what production became. But it also became, finding a band, getting them to come to rehearsals, buying them lunch, buying them gear. Organising budget, and timetables. Things like that. Also learning really how to make good sounding records. I worked at it, and I had friends who were very talented engineers that gave me tips. I was also just looking over their shoulders, trying to find my own way through that. It was I would imagine, what gave those records their sound. I didnâ€™t necessarily do things perfectly right, it was by having just enough information to be dangerous.
Some of the tracks went through many different versions, including the track 'Eat the Elephant' itself, which was initially for your solo band Ashes Divide, as well as also being worked on with Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. So can you tell us about its journey, and maybe how it found its feet to become A Perfect Circle track? I had it, like you said, as a possible Ashes track, for the next record. Chester had text me asking if I wanted to collaborate on a new Linkin Park record. I said sure. So I thought we’d go into a room, sit down, using the piano, or guitar, and just see what happens. However, that song, ‘Eat the Elephant’ in its initial demo state was going to be my fall back, ace in the hole if things went terribly wrong. We all know what happened next. So I honourably finished up that song, from a bit more of a loose sketch to a realized song when Chester passed away. It will always be somewhat of a special song to me in that regard. So once I finished it up, after he passed away. I kind of handed it off to my manager and Dave Sardy. I didn’t know if it would really fit on this record. Dave took it and kind of quantized it. He simplified some of the notes, and some of the rhythms. He put it into an aesthetic that Maynard and I were into. He sat down and talked about the things that influenced us, that we like, that were inspirational. I think that he did a really good job of approaching it in those terms. Maynard quickly responded to it, and the rest is history. He put down the lyrics that he had.
For this record most of the songs were originally composed on keyboards by you, so can you tell us about that process, and why it just works so well for you? It’s complete. It’s nice to be able to sit down and write something complete immediately. Even though I’m not much of a keyboard player. Having a left and right hand on it, it’s such a different thing than picking up a guitar, finding a melody I like, and then finding the bass accompaniment to it on the bass guitar. I think that it’s just that classic songwriter approach which I really wanted to try, that I have never done before. There are very few songs from APC that you can kind of play on an acoustic guitar, without modifying, where you’d still know what you’re hearing. I always try to layer things more, and have them be more complete. So this record was taken from more of a complete writing stance, from the beginning.
This album is a slightly different direction to what some fans may be used to. However, for you, when you look at the album, how do you think the sound of A Perfect Circle has grown/changed since 'Emotive'? Quite a bit. I felt like there was 14 years that had passed, but it’s not that I was working on this record for 14 years. So I tried not to get too wrapped up in the expectation of what people wanted, or what it should be. Any of that. That’s a foolish thing to chase. I don’t think that your best efforts come forward from that. The growth is just where we are today. Growth is a funny thing in music. It can really grow in a day, or it can grow in ten years. Those gains, or losses can be the same. It just depends on what hits you, and what is inspirational at the time, what has an impact. Musically, another reason why I wanted to bring Dave Sardy in, is because we wanted to give a fresh approach from an engineering stand point, rather than me doing catch up, and figuring out what I wanted it to sound like in 2018.
How did you end up working with Steven Sebring for the film companion version of 'Eat the Elephant', and can you tell us about what he is like to work with? I don’t know where my manager had worked with him before, or found him. He has this amazing photo studio in midtown Manhattan. It’s just this amazing camera array. We really just went in there to do the album cover. In the first shoot, he had multiple angles with every photo that he took. He let us pick and choose from these interesting effects. He is a bit of a mad scientist. So it was just great, to get in there and see what he can do.
How excited are you for your upcoming UK tour, and what can attending fans expect? Very! I love being on tour, and playing. The two Brixton shows that we did a couple of months ago, are some of the best memories that I’ve had playing ever. Just definitely felt the love in the room. It was hot and sweaty, the whole thing. I look forward to getting back there with our full show. We are on an arena tour here in America, so to be able to bring our production to a proper venue there (not that Brixton isn’t a proper venue!) but a bigger stage. I’m looking forward to that. It’s a great set, and I feel like ‘Eat the Elephant’ live is dare I say, better than the record. It translates really well live.
So, as we are talking about 'Decades' in this interview, I want to start with an older question. How did you end up joining Nightwish, and what do you remember the most from working on the first album that you did with them? Well I ended up in the band because Emppu Vuorinen actually called me and I was living like 100 metres away from his place. He told me that they needed a new singing bass player because they had to get rid of the old one, so I went over to the guys and I had a few cups of coffee to talk about some things. They said “Let’s try you out!”, so then a couple of months after that on the way to their rehearsal place I drove past a gas station and bought loads of beer.. So, that’s how it started in 2001 and it felt pretty homely immediately.
You released the ‘Decades’ compilation album in March this year, what made you decide as a band to release this album of remastered tracks and how did you go about picking which songs that you'd like to be on 'Decades'? Well to be honest I think it was more from the record company side, the idea of putting out a compilation at the same time we would be doing a tour. As we didn’t have a new album we were going to concentrate on putting songs from possibly all of the albums on it. To make an even and equal presentation of all the material that has been happening during the years. Nuclear Blast thought that the compilation was a great opportunity as well, so that’s how it went. I didn’t take part in choosing the songs, it mostly went with Tuomas and Nuclear Blast. They came up with the bunch of songs that are on ‘Decades’.
You are currently on the ‘Decades’ World Tour to promote the compilation album, how has the tour been so far and can you give us some personal highlights from your time on the road? We did a lot of nice festivals in the summer time, we did a really good US tour and now we are on the European tour which also seems to be starting out really nicely. We have been having good crowds and shows. Everything is good!
Interview with Marco
Following on from that, as we come to the end of 2018, what have been some other personal and band highlights? Let me think…they might still be coming, like when we come to the UK! It’s really hard for me these days to pick out special highlights because the band is a steady line-up with a good personal chemistry and good crew and everything, so the shows seem to be going almost always really well. It’s hard to pick out highlights when you tend to do too good, that might sound smart but I’m serious, it’s been a great year, let’s just say that!
Here's another older question. Nightwish were already successful when you joined, so what was it like to become a part of that journey, and see that success continue throughout the years? Yeah, Nightwish were already going pretty well when I joined. The first album that I did ‘Century Child’ we toured after that in different places and it was very successful. Of course one of the biggest outputs we did was ‘Once’ which was the second album I was on, and it has one of our biggest hits on it, ‘Nemo’. We had some other really nice videos out there, but that really jumped out and made us bigger than we were before. It was a great time, and I cannot complain.
Have you begun work on any new material for the next album yet and if so, what can we expect from this or is it too early to say? There is material. Tuomas has a lot of new music already and I guess lyrics as well, I haven’t seen or heard that much just little bits and pieces but he has got plenty of music. I have a few riffs, it means that when we are starting our traditional band camp in July we will (maybe) start rehearsing and arranging and eventually recording. We have a lot of content to sink our teeth into.
How do you usually approach the writing process for a new album? Since we have three vocalists in the band, we tend to go over vocal and harmony material. As a band, we can create pretty impressive arrangements. We have a lot of ideas when it comes to figuring out how we can compliment the music. So, that’s probably what we will do for our next release. I think it’s going to be open-minded, it’ll be quite heavy music with a lot of different varieties and atmospheres. Progressive, folkish and symphonic.
How excited are you for your upcoming UK tour, and what can attending fans expect? I am excited about the UK because it’s usually a market where bands, singers with a different native language have found it hard to break through. We managed to do it, I guess there is some common thread in the musical styles where British and UK artists were a big influence on me and in rock. We know that from the 70s with Zeppelin and Sabbath and prog bands like Yes. From my part I kind of count ourselves as a progressive rock band, as there is so much variety and different atmospheres, different styles that we are playing. So there might be a connection there and this is what I like as British people have always been not so much tied to the mainstream. We don’t really care about the mainstream.
What do you remember the most from touring in the UK for the first time with Nightwish and do you have particular highlights from over the years to share? Yeah, the first tours we did in the UK were great, it was really nice to see that we could actually get people into our music. Of course, filling out Wembley Arena the last time we toured there was special. Also getting Richard Dawkins on stage, not many bands have done that.
What else can we expect to see from Nightwish as we head towards 2019? In July we start our band camp and start working on the new album, otherwise the first half of the year we’ll probably just be taking it easy. I’m going to be lurking in my cave!
So, when and how did you come across the initial idea for 'American Animals'? I basically read about it on a flight, in a magazine. Got in touch with the real guys, who were in prison at that time, it was really the communication with them that made me think that it was more than just a caper story. It was about something else, this rather lost group of young men, who were raised on this expectation that they were going to be a “somebody”. It’s that thing that happens to a lot of us, realising that we’re probably not going to be special and extraordinary, we’re just going to be average. A lot of things that were in their letters talked about a need to be different. So, I guess that felt like a relevant idea to me, that idea we’re increasingly inhabiting a culture where being average is not really acceptable, but you feel you have to be a somebody. Yet, most of us can’t be. What they were doing was looking in all of the wrong places for a way to be different. It was an extraordinary story, but I didn’t necessarily think that it was more than that. I thought that it was a fun heist movie but in speaking to the real guys I began to think that the heist was a way into a more timely and relevant story.
On paper, they really do just seem like regular young adults? Was that part of what pulled you in to telling their story? That’s absolutely right. That was it. How normal they were. It felt like they were very ordinary and yet quite privileged young men, who had taken a very bad idea too far. Anyone can do that. Not everyone will allow a bad idea to reach that level, for it to go as far as it did. Obviously, if they were experienced criminals or if they had been less sort of representative of their kind, then I guess, that it wouldn’t of felt like as important of a story to tell.
According to the press sheet, they said that the first two years in prison for them were the best years of their life, can you elaborate a bit on what they said here, and maybe why you think this was indeed a somewhat freeing time for them? That may have been something they said – I’m not sure how true that is. If you get locked up for a long time, you have to find a narrative that makes sense of that. In a way it’s very difficult to admit that you’ve made a mistake which is going to cost you eight years of your life. Your 20s, which are your prime in some ways. I’m not sure that they would say it was the best years of their life, you’d have to ask them. I do think that they felt liberated, bizarrely, from a lot of the expectations of things that they found themselves rebelling against. They were suddenly removed from a society, and a system, that was stifling to them, or that they were rebelling against in a misguided way. They did say things like they’d found a way in prison to be free from all of those external pressures, the expectations of their parents, teachers and all of the rest of it. Suddenly that was all gone, and they were in a very different place, where they could probably begin to think about who they were and reflect on what they’d done.
So, how did they, and their family react when you said that you wanted to make a movie out of their story? They weren’t ecstatic about it. I think the guys themselves to this day are still deeply ashamed of what they did. They weren’t desperate to revisit the whole episode. It had been devastating for their families, and quite shocking for the community. The most devastating thing for the families was that they were discovering that their sons were not the people that they thought they were. They raised them to be young men, and here they were involved in this crime. They had no idea, it was just totally shocking. One of the mother’s in the film says that it was “Like waking up in a nightmare.” So they didn’t really want to re-visit that immediately. At the same time, I think they understood that what I was trying to make was very much going to be a cautionary tale. They knew that they weren’t going to come out of it looking especially heroic. They were going to come out of it looking flawed and naive, at times idiotic. They probably agreed that they were. They probably felt like if they were able to explain a bit of the why of it, then maybe that might be helpful. Maybe it might dissuade people from doing a similarly misguided thing. Now they want to start showing the film in high schools and colleges, so people obviously do see it as the cautionary tale.
Looking at the slogan for the film "nobody wants to be ordinary", it really feels like people are maybe more pressured than ever into achieving something special with their life. Is this one of the core ideas or maybe themes that you wanted to put into the film? That’s one of the main reasons that I thought it was a story worth telling. You’re absolutely right, there is more pressure than there ever has been to be a somebody. In some ways it almost doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you leave a mark on the world. That might not be a good mark, it might be a negative mark. In a way it seems like that is not as important as just getting noticed. I think that because of social media, we now have a kind of measurement of how interesting, and how important, or how valuable we are. We are measuring that in followers on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, whatever it is. That definitely does lead to a sense that celebrity is tangible, graspable, and just closer than it ever was before. Being average has become synonymous with being a loser. Yet, the real truth of it is that most of us will be average, that’s just how it is. That’s just what it means. Average is what most people are. That’s the definition of it. So, if we’re in a culture where being average is not OK, then people are looking in all kinds of misguided ways to see how they can avoid that. So that is certainly one of the things that is at the heart of the movie. It motivated the crime. I don’t think that they really ever thought they were going to go through with it. If they were going to go through with it, I don’t think that they thought they were going to get rich and ride off into the sunset. They just got addicted to this fantasy that they were living in. They didn’t pull the ripcord in time.
We read that what the real life people said in their initial interviews once they were outside of prison was slightly different to what they’d said in letters/emails etc. So can you elaborate on that, and maybe what kind of impact that had on the script? In order to get the film financed I obviously had to write a script. When you write a script, you are putting in the words of real people, as that was what was going to be distinctive about it. With actors you know that they are going to deliver the lines that are on the page, but with real people, clearly you just know what they are likely to say based on the conversations that you’ve already had. Some of those conversations were over the phone, emails, letters. So, I had written in the script, a version of what I’d expected them to say. Then on the day, I think there were lots of reasons why they felt differently about saying certain things, what they had thought about previously, they had changed their perspective on. What I hadn’t anticipated prior to doing the interviews, is that that they regretted it almost the millisecond they had made physical contact with the librarian. They regretted it instantly. With Warren, he had crossed a line that he couldn’t cross back over from. I was surprised I suppose, by the level of remorse that he still felt, and how emotional he was about that. That came through in the interviews. That is what’s magical about documentaries. You don’t necessarily know what’s coming. When you’re making a fiction, you know what’s coming because you’ve written it, it’s in the script. Of course, there are other things that are going to come up, that actors are going to throw in there, that are going to be unexpected, magical, and spontaneous. With a documentary, that’s really what you have to preserve, you have to leave the door wide open for something that you didn’t see coming. The last thing that I wanted to do was turn the real guys into actors, give them lines to read just because I had written them in the script. I wanted it all to be very honest. I wanted you to look at those guys, and feel like there was authenticity there, which adds to the whole fabric, and your emotional engagement with the story, and with the characters.
- Right in the middle of that dramatized scene. To question whether the story that they are dramatizing is actually the true story. Of course, what happens is you have the real guy in a scene from his own memory. Or from the memory that we are dramatizing who turns around and says, “No it wasn’t exactly like this” So all of those came out of just putting the audience in the picture. Inviting the audience in on the game of movie making, in a way that you haven’t really experienced before. The moment where Spencer watches himself go past, he is looking for omens. At the same time, it’s his real sense of looking back on this thing that he did, and that he probably wishes that he could stop if only he knew what the consequences were going to be. So, they were ideas that came to me during the conversations we’d have during the writing of the script. Often you don’t know whether they’re going to work in a way that you anticipate. Probably more often than not, they do work. It was that thing of reminding the audience that we’re not in a movie “Movie”. I was trying to borrow elements of what a documentary can do when it came to giving you a meaningful connection to the story, because you know that it’s true.
Looking back on The Imposter, was there anything that you learnt from the film, which you maybe went on to apply to American Animals? I probably learnt that documentary and fiction/narrative could quite seamlessly be interweaved. One doesn’t detract from the other, they can compliment the other. I don’t think that that is always the case. There are certainly situations where you’ll feel that the documentary dilutes the drama. Or the drama conflicts with the documentary. In The Imposter I thought that those things could sit together quite comfortably. And also add that you can make a movie which is a documentary which is just as gripping as the best thriller. Then with American Animals I felt like there was another version, a way of telling a true story that hadn’t been done before. That wasn’t a drama doc, or documentary with reconstruction. It was something else. It was this movie, but with elements of documentary that will completely root you in the experience. That was the thing that I felt excited about experimenting with. That was the big gamble. Will it work, or would the (as a lot of people who read the script thought) documentary parts bump you right out of the movie, you’ll end up with something where both the drama and documentary suffers. My instinct was that it would do the reverse. From the response it’s had so far, it’s seemed that that gamble has paid off.
Congratulations on your 11 BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) nominations. It's early days, but for you, when you look back on the film, why do you think audiences and critics have reacted or even built a connection with this film so much? It is something that people feel is fresh, that they haven’t seen before. They’re having a connection to the story and the characters. Given who these characters are, and what the story is about, it would be hard for a straight fiction film to do that. So, because you see the real people, you look them in the eyes - you know that wherever they’re going, and however far they are going to allow this story to go, in terms of however far they’re going to allow this bad plan to evolve. Whatever the consequences are, they are going to be real. When you’re watching it, your heart is pumping, your pulse is changing. You feel that connection. I think that’s why. I definitely wouldn’t of bothered making this film as a straight narrative/fiction. Scripted. It wouldn’t of worked in the same way, it would have been too disposable. Whereas when you see those real people, you know that actually the truth is we hadn’t made them up, they weren’t really only interested in the money. They were interested in this need to be a somebody. That’s what makes it poignant. It would have been harder to do it without the documentary part. So that’s my guess as to why the audience and critics have been so positive about it.
What else can we expect to see from you as a director, as we head towards 2019? What I’m working on now, will be the first thing that I’ve done that is not a true story. It won’t be a mashup, it will be more of a straight fiction. It’s very exciting. The things that I’m looking at now, are largely feature films that don’t have a documentary element. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking for ways to make the audience participate in the film, rather than just watch it.
American Animals is available on the 31st of December via Digital Download and then on January 14th via DVD & Blu-ray!
How did you get involved with Wishmaster, and can you tell us about what the make up process was like for playing The Djinn? Absolutely. To this day I’m ever thankful to John Esposito, who is a writer. He wrote ‘Graveyard Shift’, an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story. He was a friend of Robert Kurtzman and had mentioned me. Robert coincidentally was a big fan of the movie Toy Soldiers. That is kind of the cool thing about my career. I enjoy the fact that 20-30 years later, people still say that they had no idea that it was me in that film. I like being sort of a chameleon in the shadows if you will. Long story short, I think John spoke with Robert, then Robert called me in. I went in, and we talked. At that point, I had absolutely no idea of the voice. Together, Robert and I spoke. We considered everything. “Do we do a Brit accent? What is the tone of the voice?” Once the voice came about. It was really quite amazing. It blew me away. The moment when he picks up the cigarette from Buck Flower, who runs off. That was the first night of shooting. From that moment on, we established it. The make up was fantastic. I believe that it was twelve different seemed pieces, that were all sort of glued together. Make up (department) did their thing and made up the seamed prosthetics to look like this organic, coming out of the earth monster. That was beautifully done. The one pain in my back, was that I had this RC motor, that was the size of a lunch box, on my back. That ran the tentacles on my head, that caused them to move. It was a really cool treat, that they went over and above to achieve. I really appreciated that. They could of not moved, and that would have been fine. The fact that there was this little extra, that was the class of that team for Wishmaster 1. As we progressed into Wishmaster 2, a little bit of that love and respect for that monster was lost. We got along. By the time it came to 3-4, I just saw that there was absolutely no love for the monster. I must say, that the make up was fantastic. Just all of these years later, being able to look back with a smile, makes me feels quite good.
Also, why do you think that these films went on to become such cult classics? I think it was that new twist on the Genie theme. For one, The evil trickster was really the attraction there. What’s this genie going to do with your wish, how is he going to twist it? The absolute joy that he gets out of twisting people’s wishes. Twenty years ago, that seemed like wow, really far out. It seems that even these days, every-bodies wishes are spoiled in one way or another. There is a perverse glee that people get out of that in the real world. So seeing that on film, you could enjoy that, get that glee, and travel along in this suspended reality for a while. So I think it was that that attracted people. Of course, the wonderful make up. Peter Atkins writing. So all of those elements conspired to bring us to today, and I speak for myself as well. We have a place in our hearts for that trickster genie.
You played Boris Bazylev in Air Force One around the same time. What was it like, switching between these two completely different worlds, and also, can you tell us a bit about what it was like to work with Wolfgang Petersen? The agent let me know, saying “Hey look, they’re interested in having you do this. They really want you for the fight! Mr Peterson wants to interview you!” So being this cocky, newbie actor I thought “Oh, great. We’re going to talk about the role, maybe amplify it” So I go in, and Mr Peterson says “So, we have a very important fight with Harrison Ford, do you think that you can do it?” He got right to the point. I said “Yeah!” I thank the fact that I had the language skills, and that I was physically adept. Were it not for those two reasons, I don't think I would have been lucky to of worked for as much as I have. I began to expand on this character Boris. Saying “Maybe we could have him be a more integrated part of Mr Oldman's team there” He stops me and says “Yeah! We have a very important fight with Harrison Ford, can you do it?” so I said “Yeah!” the third time I heard it I said “Shut the f*ck up dude, just answer the question. I said absolutely!” I was amazed to find out, that there were a few actors who had turned it down, because Mr Peterson made it very clear that in those fights if we were to tag Mr Ford, that would of stopped a 2 million a day production, and it would all be on that person. So there were literally people who came in, and said that they couldn’t do it. However, I was thrilled, are you kidding. I must say, that Mr Ford, was wonderful to work with. He really gets into the action, and the stunts as well. As he should. That is the nature of the broadest part of his resume. It was just so cool to have him on the set. Once a camera goes over the shoulder of one actor in a fight scene, essentially it comes in between you and the person you're fighting with. You end up fighting the camera as if it were your opponent. He was right off stage, on the sideline. Being the greatest cheerleader. Like “Okay, Andrew, now throw that right!” It was just absolutely wonderful to work with him, and then of course to see him again down the road. He has always been a gentleman. He had no reason to remember me. I remember showing up for a friend, who did K-19 with him. I was approaching, in a group of people, about 20 feet off. He looks up, and says “Andy!” I just said to myself “Holy crap, you just made my decade dude!” I went up, and gave him a big old hand shake, and a hug. Just told him that I wanted to come say hi, you know. See how he was doing. He was wonderful. The extras would ask me how did I start, and what can I do? I would say “You’re in the right place! I started as an extra. I’ll tell you what, every time Mr Ford comes on set, and you’re not paying very close attention to what he is doing, his work ethic, and how he treats the crew, you’re missing a wonderful free lesson.” I have nothing but great memories of working with Mr Ford. Mr Peterson was there, and I was, as they call it in baseball the clean up hitter. The guy who comes in for the fight. That was six months down the road. Until that day I was anonymous on set. Then on that day it was like wow, the top of the set. Which was a really nice feeling, because we put together quite a nice fight. In fact, in one of those takes, he put me down, I was unconscious. That choke hold, it works!
So, what attracted you to the part of Mikhail Bakunin in Lost? Wow. The show had been on for two seasons at this point. It was talk of the town. It literally changed the structure of what’s expected in a TV episodic. To be able to come in again as a Russian and use that physicality. To be on that beautiful island, with beautiful people. I do say all of the time, the Hawaiian people were the unspoken character to the show. The character in the shadows, if you will. I don’t mean that to be derogatory. Just the vibe that they brought to the set, their work ethic on the set, they kept everyone mellow. I mean, 18 hours a day in the jungle can be a really trying situation. It was on occasion. Just the fact that we were in paradise filming this wacky show. I must say, it truly changed my life. To this day I appreciate the supoort from Carlton Cuse. He has been supportive from the first time he wrote a part and cast me in a show called The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. It was a weird cowboy spinoff, done about 25 years ago. I got to play this land pirate, who comes ashore and steals this stage coach. Causes all sort of havoc. It’s these quirky characters that are definitely not the mainstream, but viewers need that character, that bit of oddness. Never the less, this great spirit that comes through, which he writes. So, here again he did so with Mikhail. I was in seventh heaven playing him, really being able to use the languages. I’ll never forget episode Enter 77. To that day, and to now. I consider that one of my happiest, and most accomplished film days. It was two days of filming certain scenes that really stood out. I got to meet the cast, and they were all very supportive. I’ll never forget that, and Stephen Williams who directed it. The show and the character/s is loved worldwide. I’m a lucky guy.
We must ask, what do you love the most about playing villains? We need them don’t we. You have to have the guy who is willing to come in there and kick everything down, and make people hate him. To elevate the character of the “good guy.” Every character must believe in everything that the villain does/manifests, that it’s for a reason. There is a foundation for it ultimately. Such as in Toy Soldiers. Where his drive was all about his father going to prison. Having been sort of mistreated by people that he trusted. Within the villain, the bad guy. You can find a code. A code of morality if you will. Morality among thieves by extension. To be a villain is one thing, but there has to be a complexity. It has to be grounded in a code, that that “villain” carries. I’ve always made sure, that the villains are grounded. Not to just throw a punch. Where does that punch come from, what was boiling/simmering in that person to eventually cause that punch. It’s not just the punch that tells us that he is a villain.
So, how did the idea of Three Marm Brewing come together? For five years now I’ve been pouring beers at a convention called Rock and Shock, the band GWAR would always be at the venue. The year I showed up with my beer, to pour for charity, around March 2014, Dave Brockie (GWAR) passed away. One of his foundations was for up and coming artists, singers, bands. To support them in their endeavours. Then there was the Pat Brody Shelter for Cats an effort that I support. The smile train, pro bono, doctors go around the world fixing kids with cleft palates. The beer was brewed in Colarado. I went out there, and met this master brewer, Adam Draeger, He has a brewery in Wincousin called Inventors Brewpub. He came up and said to me, “You know what, the Wishmaster needs to have his own beer!” The most amazing thing to me was how easy it was, to raise money. You can tell the story all you want, about the goodness of a charity/foundation, but if you hand them a beer, tell them that it’ll be 10 dollars, and 100% of it goes to charity, it’s an easy thing. It’s just natural. It just seems to be a win/win. I did that in 2014, then decided that it was a wonderful way for me to give back. I’ve been doing acting for about 36 years. I spent the first part of my career being selfish, not that I was rude, or went out of my way to be. Just in the final analysis, that is what I was. With the beer we raise money for scholarships, for local high school kids, for a foundation that I started, called the Mountain Film and Theater Arts Committee. I finally got the letter from the tuition board, saying how this young lady was going to be following her dreams, and getting into singing/performing. I’m presenting that to her today. After a while, I poured a beer at all of the brewfests, and I just decided, you know what, I’m going to make an honest brewer of myself, and start up a brewery. I’m still in the process of doing so, fighting local regulations, and zoning codes. Things that would have me wait an extra few months, here and there. It’s coming along, we have a building. This month I introduced my variety four pack. I’m very proud to tell you that on the last label, I did the artwork for it, it turns out that the olmecs, an ancient American civilization were among the first societies on the planet to drink stouts. They discovered it, and I’m sure that there were a few smiles, happy moments for those people. So I’m very happy to be bringing that out. We hope to have a little tasting room, and to brew on site. I’m very excited about it, and to contribute more hands on to the community.
What does it take to create a unique craft beer then? Can you tell us about that process? Inspiration. As I told you, Adam Draeger is my mentor when it comes to the beer. He took it down to the common denominator. He asked me what my favourite beer was. Mine was (at the time) a Belgium strong ale. He said OK, what are some of the spices that I like? Then it went from there. The one thing that I would say about craft beer, it is a self fulfilling prophecy. Some of the people that start craft breweries, intend to take it to a point where they can sell it to people who have no interest in craft beers essentially, the big boys. They mass produce. Craft beer is not that, it’s hands on. I spent at least 16 hours a day working on the Belgium strong ale we have. It comes in at about 7.5% alchohol. It’s hands on, it’s love for what you’re doing, and the anticipation of watching somebodies face contour into a smile or a “I didn’t like that!” It’s the thrill of watching it happen from A-Z. Bringing out your own beer, and handing it to somebody, saying “Taste that, see what you think?” There’s nothing more immediate/wonderful than to see the reactions to that. I hope we’ll be open by February/March 2019!
What else can we expect to see from you in acting (and your brewery!) as we head towards 2019? I have a thing that I want to produce in line with the brewery. I’ll lead with this, I don’t want to give too much away. It’s one of those woodland creatures, that is more lore than fact. He comes into the town, he is accepted, becomes a truck driver, and then turns into a serial killer. It’s really a tongue and cheek kind of thing. It’s in line with, a commentary, wanting to throw a brick through your TV, that kind of thing, we’ve all wanted to do that at some point, for this or that reason. I want this sort of literal third person/being to comment on it. That’s an effort that I will undertake myself, and get the resources together to do. Other than that. There’s a film called Vault. A true story about a Mafia heist back in 75. These low level mob guys figured that they weren’t getting the respect they deserved, so they decide to rip off the bank. The bank that housed the Ill Gotten goods FOR all of the families. There was this place in providence, Rhode Island. The basement of a furrier, a store/front company that sold furs. I’ve seen a rough cut of it, and I’m very pleased with it. I got to play a wonderful character, a knife wielding French/Canadian. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that!
How and when did you get into graphics/illustration? I've always been interested in creating some kind of artwork, but really didn't know where it could take me. I graduated from University with a visual journalist degree and started working in newspapers creating information graphics (maps, charts, explanatory graphics and some illustrations). It was during this time I was able to hone my style, which leaned more towards the graphic nature of illustrations rather than the painterly.
Who were your main influences in this world when growing up, and why? My uncle and cousin are both fine artists so I would see their work growing up. Initially I wanted to do sci-fi and fantasy illustration so artists like Frank Frazetta, Larry Elmore, John Harris, Michael Whelan and Gregory Manchess were the ones I looked to for inspiration. Then I rediscovered the vintage travel and advertising art from the early-to-mid 20th century. There was something about the bold, flat colours combined with text that really spoke to me.
What was your first major project, and what yo you remember the most from this time? Aside from my personal projects like the space travel and the arcade propaganda series, my first major paid project was creating the Minnesota State Fair poster in 2011. The Fair had an open call to artists and 88 applied. I made it to the final 5 and then was ultimately chosen. I guess what I remember most about that time was that 1) I had made the correct choice in focusing less on sci-fi and fantasy artwork, more on commercial/marketable illustration and 2) I had found a genre that was - at the time - somewhat untapped. That genre being to take a vintage style and apply to current themes and pop culture. I'm not saying it hadn't been done before, but it has seemed to explode over the last decade or so.
You got to work on a lot of Star Wars prints! What did you find the most rewarding about taking on that iconic franchise? I was three when Star Wars came out. I saw it in the theater, although I don't remember it, but I know I was there. So, I grew up with it. From many halloween costumes to bedsheets to all the toys I was immersed in Star Wars from an early age. Fast forward 25-30 years - I had never let the fanboy in me die - I looked for an opportunity to create licensed artwork. I had the idea to take travel posters to the systems in Star Wars and finally found a place that could print and sell the prints. It was a dream come true, really. What I think is most rewarding is talking to the people who come up to me at shows or email me and find out they have the same nostalgic feelings towards the franchise as I do. Star Wars artwork has also taken me to San Diego Comic Con and Disney World.
Also, with something as well known as Star Wars, how do you go about giving it your own approach? So that when people see the work they know it's your style? First and foremost I try to do something that hasn't been done before. I don't want it to look like production art so I give it the vintage graphic style. And I think that's what people recognize the most.
From Jedi Cola to Darth Maul's milkshakes. There's some really creative work going on. This is a tough one now. Which print have you enjoyed doing the most for Star Wars, and why? It was the Rebel Cola image. It was the start of the vintage beverage series and came together so well. It's also a silk screened print, which adds to the authentic quality I was going for.
Also! Which National Park poster did you enjoy working on the most, and why? It would probably be the Yellowstone Nat. Park image I did for Camelbak water bottles. I was forced to work with very few colours and in such a way that would be easily printed on a cylinder. Having those restraints actually freed me somewhat from what I normally would do. It's always fun to push your limits to see what you can do.
Which National Park would you still like to do as an artist that you haven't done so just yet, and why? Zion National Park. Aside from the natural beauty that would be amazing to capture, to be honest it's the one I get the most requests for at art fairs and via email. "Have you ever done a Zion image?"
How did you get involved with Marvel, and what did you find the most exciting about again working on such iconic material? There is a website, WeLoveFine.com, that had a license to print Marvel related artwork on shirts. They reached out to me to see if I was interested and of course I said yes. I wasn't ever a huge comic fan, but I knew enough about some characters to get me started. Unlike Star Wars, which I grew up with, I was most excited about having another licensed property in my portfolio. It doesn't sound as glamorous but it's definitely something to be proud of. Since then Marvel has exploded in the movie scene.
You've worked with a bunch of really cool bands over the years, one of which that sticks out is Pearl Jam. What's their community been like to work with, and which print would you say really means the most? The Pearl Jam community is amazing, AMAZING! I can't stress how great they are. The first print I did was for a show in Brazil (in fall of 2011 on the heels of the MN State Fair poster), which is probably the one that means the most to me since it was my first, and I really didn't know what to expect. I had put my artist proofs up for sale and they sold out in minutes! It speaks more to Pearl Jam rather than my artwork, of course, but it was still incredible. After the unexpected speed of the sale, I was a bit overwhelmed with the orders and packing/shipping. The Pearl Jam fans were patient and supportive even when they received a print that was damaged in transit. I did my best to accommodate and also got some great advice for future sales. One of which was a couple of years later. A Boston/Fenway Park Pearl Jam concert. My website oversold by almost double of what I had. Again, the fans were understanding when I had to refund them.
The Vegas print you did for blink-182 is very, well, Vegas! How fun was that to work on, and how would you compare it to anything else you've worked on before? The Blink Vegas image was very fun and is a bit of a departure from my usual style. Still very vintage and still very location driven, but it's mostly made up of lines and circles. And fewer colours than I normally use. It's based on a shot of the strip from the early days, all lit up in neon. Vegas is so iconic in-and-of-itself that the poster would have been recognizable even without having put LAS VEGAS at the bottom. But I like putting words on all of my posters so I would've felt something was missing.
What's been the most challenging project that you've worked on, and why? I would have to say it was the first Pearl Jam image I did. The challenging part was to come up with a concept that fit the venue/city and that I thought would be well received. That and the fact that Pearl Jam is one of the biggest bands in the world, which sort of added to the pressure of getting it right.
What would you say you've learnt the most as an artist? I've really come to know and understand what I can and what I can't do. For instance, I recently finished a children's book (https://www.amazon.com/Visit-Space-SteveThomas/dp/0692105646/). I had a blast writing it (I've always liked to write) and the sketches came together so well and quickly that I was energized to complete it - which took about a year. Initially I wanted to paint the entire thing in acrylics. I've done a few paintings over the years, but not consistently enough to give the book the look I really wanted for it. Halfway through the first page spread I had to put down the brush and take it to the computer where my strengths lie. Perhaps one day when I have more time to experiment with paint I can finish a book in that style. There are other things I know I wouldn't excel at if given the opportunity and projects have come my way that I've had to turn down because I know I wouldn't produce exactly what the client was looking for. It's a very hard thing to admit because I really believe you can do what you put your mind to, but sometimes you have to realize where your weaknesses are and accept that or revisit at another stage in life.
What else can we expect to see from you as we head towards 2019? Definitely more Star Wars artwork. I tend to stick with the original trilogy, but as they expand the storylines and universe and as more and more fans are born each day, I'll be sure to keep up with that expansion. More children's books. I have 3 kids who are quickly getting out of the picture book age, but I'm taking what I've learned from the many years of reading other authors to them and applying it to my work. And I hope to be asked to do more concert posters as well.
So how and when did you first get involved with graphics/illustration? Going to The San Diego Comic Con was where most of it started, by presenting a lot of "spec pieces" in the hopes of being noticed by art directors in the industry. I had been working on a portfolio for years, having no formal training, so I just jumped out there to see what could happen! The convention circuit is still the main way to attract potential clients. Also, back in the day around 1998, I employed acreative agency for a few years.
Who were your main influences growing up, and why? Main influences were mainly the books I learned to love early in life, such as master story-tellers like C.S. Lweis and of course J.R.R. Tolkein. These authors wrote in ways that left you with a sense of longing for others worlds where things were different than our own. As a professional artist now, my goal is to do the same with my art in a visual way.
What was your first major project, and what do you remember the most from that time? The â€œPower of the Jediâ€? action figure packaging with Hasbro was my first offical Star Wars project, as well a s my first major job. Kind of fun to still see that packaging floating around; brings back memories of that job! What I remember most is the thought that millions of cardboard backings to these action figures are going to be everywhere! Still a lot of fun to see those Hasbro POTJ action figures with my art at the shows.
Can you tell us about how you first got inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, and what you've loved the most about working in this iconic world? I first heard of Tolkein (at around age 10) after first reading the Narnia books and learning that these two authors were dear friends. Of course, I had to read work from a friend of C.S. Lewis! I began to notice (not at age 10, but years later) that Tolkein's world had Eternal Themes woven into the story that (although Tolkein himself did not like allegory) made it obvious that his writings derived somewhat from his Christian beliefs. If you look, it is pretty obvious. That atracted me and is a great part of what I love most about his work. As for inspiration, Tolkein has such a rich visual style with his work, that it leaves an artist overwhelmed with ideas. talk about TMI!
Your work on Rivendell is outstanding. What do you remember the most about putting that one together? Whew. And thank you. One of my best sellers. I remember seeing fall-coloured trees in my sleep, as there were many in the art itself. the original was HUGE, so it took several weeks, about 7-8 weeks as I remember. As I was creating it, with the LOTR score often playing in the studio, I was concentrating my thoughts on how elegant the elvish architecture is. I was very aware that my approach needed to show how the buildings work with the actual landscape, as the Elves would build, being aware of the "living earth" all around them. I have never painted so many Fall-coloured trees before, so I started to get the hang of painting them after a while!
Which Lord of the Rings piece has been the most challenging for you to work on, and why? Aside from portraits, all others each have their own unique set of challenges and problems when it comes to acheiving the look you have in your mind. Translating what is in your head to the art is super challenging. Most of the time, my ideas are based on things or events we do not see on film, but we know have happened or exist. Gathering or creating the reference for each projecy can often be harder to pull of than the actual painting. Sometimes both are really tough. As I push myself, to dig into more details and story-telling visually, I make it harder on myself, but I am always striving to push my limits when I can.
So, how did you get involved with the HUGE Star Wars franchise, and how do you go about bringing your own approach to something that is just so well known, and established? San Diego Comic Con is where my connections to Star Wars first began, after an art director from Lucasfilm liked what he saw. Work with Star Wars has been going on ever since. As for my approach, I mainly try to stay true to my ideas, without ever worrying about being original. If your goal is to tell a visual story, 9 times out of 10 you will be original indeed by way of your efforts to be an artistic story-teller.
Which character has been the most rewarding for you to work on in Star Wars, and why? Every Character in Star Wars is unique, so I try to delve into each character's themes when occassion arises where I am painting them. Vader has to be the most intriguing as well as possibly rewarding to me. There are still a lot of things I want to explore visually to fill in the many gaps I have for myself about him, especially between films.
The Millennium Falcon. You got to draw that! What was that like, and how did you go about taking on one of the most iconic ships in the sci-fi world? It is one heck of a task! The Falcon is a ship that has a million doo-dads on it, some that are "timeline sensetive" depending on what film it is based on, unless it is between films, then there is a continuity issue that can come up. It is a labour of love. I love classic muscle cars and hot rods in my other life. The Falcon is sort of the hot rod in space. It may not look like much, but it has it where it counts. Although, not looking like much, is what actually makes it so appealing visually. It has blast marks, dents and patched panels that show this baby has been through a LOT and is a survivor! The whine of the engine, the blue engine light, youâ€™ve got to love it!
If you could pick any scene in Star Wars that you haven't done as an artist just yet. What would you go for, and why? Well, I can't go telling you that now, can I? It would spoil what my next possible piece would be! All I can say is that there may be some lava, black leather and some blinking chest panel lights.
If you could pick another franchise to work on, which one would you pick? Middle Earth and Star Wars are so big, with a ton of possibilities in them, enough to keep me busy as far as I can see, but if another franchise were to come up, it would have to be Game of Thrones.
What would you say a "typical" day involves for you as an artist? Typically, I work 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. Coffee first thing! Sit in the chair in front of the easel, sipping the 'ol jo, and staring at the work, trying to think of my next move. After that, it is paint away all day. Sometimes I sign several various art prints I have sold to customers, answer some emails (or interviews!) but mostly paint all day. If 80s rock is not playing, I listen to movie themed music or a much need online sermon! One of my cats is usually always there to steal my chair, but I also have my secretary/wife in the office next door as things come up that may need my attention. That's pretty typical around here.
Can you tell us a bit about your set up as an artist. What pencils/equipment etc are just absolute essentials for you? A good heavy duty easel, for those big paintings. Plenty of coloured pencils Regular pencils including mechanical pencils Full supply of Hilbein areoflash and liquid Ink paints Iwata airbrushes - one for details another for general background work Magic rub eraser Krylon 1311 matte varnish (critical) Good lighting - 6500 k lighting (colour corrected) Music!
For anyone looking to get involved in this world, what advice would give to them? Have a portfolio ready to be looked at. Be ready for criticism. Attend as many conventions as possible to show art directors your portfolio. Try to get an artist's table to get your feet wet. If a good art school is an option, take it!
What else can we expect to see from you as we head towards 2019? I have a new Middle Earth related piece on the easel now Here is the link to a teaser https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5yCJPKxCvE Also, I hope to attend the Star Wars Celebration event in Chicago 2019! More Star Wars, more Middle Earth!
How and when did you first get involved in illustration? Iâ€™ve been drawing my whole life, since I can remember really. Star Wars and comic books are what really inspired my imagination to draw growing up and I took private art lessons as a kid all through grade school and high school and ended up going to art college. I received a degree in illustration while I was there but I actually began illustrating professionally and getting published in college drawing for some role-playing game companies and independent comic book studios too.
What was your first major project, and what do you remember the most from this time? My first major project was breaking into the comic book industry when I was nineteen years old. I was just illustrating for a smaller independent studio but it was a huge deal for me since I was still in school at the time. I was getting published doing what I loved already which gave me an edge once I graduated and jumped into the real world as a professional freelance illustrator. I remember drawing pages for this studio on their comic book series during some of my art classes all of the time. Some of my instructors were very supportive and really happy and excited to see one of their students already doing professional work but I remember my Art History professor not being so excited about it when I should have been paying attention and taking more notes.
How did you get involved with Star Wars, and how do you go about bringing your own approach to this iconic franchise? I started doing official Star Wars artwork for the original Star Wars Role-Playing Game from West End Games back in 1996. Those Star Wars gaming modules and books and magazines ended up opening doors for me to illustrate even more Star Wars artwork for Lucasfilm directly and for many of their other licensees eventually. And then that ended up opening doors for other properties and publishers along the way. I remember getting that first phone call from the art director at West End Games and my knees were literally shaking when they asked me to contribute new Star Wars art for them. I was already a hardcore lifelong fan at that point so getting to create official Star Wars artwork someday was a big goal and a huge priority of mine. For a few years I was just illustrating and creating a lot of Expanded Universe artwork for their books and games and I remember how I just couldn’t wait to work with the major movie characters eventually on any project. And then once I started working for Lucasfilm Publishing I was illustrating the main characters all of the time so it was really thrilling. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to illustrate Star Wars officially in the mid-nineties’s other than for Dark Horse Comics and covers for Del Rey books but getting any chances wherever I could to work with these characters and the films I loved so much was a huge deal for me and it still is. Once the Special Editions were released in 1997 it was like a second Star Wars renaissance had arrived and then opportunities to illustrate Luke, Han, Leia, Vader and all of the main characters for different projects started coming along pretty regularly. I originally was trained as a comic book artist and was simultaneously working so my style of artwork for Star Wars at the time had a strong graphic design and cinematic feel. My Star Wars art felt more animated too since I was drawing straight from my imagination more often. But as my career with Star Wars began to take off I wanted to push for more realism and an even more cinematic feel in my work which I knew licensors and publishers were responding to more favourably since accurate likeness work for the biggest and the most loved franchise in the world was and still is pretty important. Besides many comic book artists some of my biggest influences growing up were artists like Drew Struzan and the Hildebrandt brothers who were doing work for movie posters and many film properties and they really set the standard for the realistic but illustrative feel for Star Wars. Once I began working completely digitally a few years back I realized I could push the realism and the detail in my work even farther which opened up new opportunities for me with publishers and film studios like Disney.
Tough question time. What character in that world has been the most rewarding for you to work on, and why? That is a tough question especially because I’m a fan of so many properties and I love so many of the characters I’ve been able to work with. But growing up and being such a huge fan of Darth Vader and Boba Fett as a kid and not only getting to work with the characters in my artwork professionally for Lucasfilm eventually but even hanging out and becoming friendly with the actors that played them in the films at various comic cons and events was personally an incredibly rewarding feeling. Especially since I grew up immersed in Star Wars every day as a fan since I was a four year old back in 1977. Vader is rewarding for me to work with as a creator because I was so fascinated and even terrified by him from the very first instant he appeared through the smoke of the exploded blast doors on the rebel blockade runner. Getting to draw him, even just as a kid, was almost like therapy for me because I was facing this fear of this truly frightening villain head on who scared me yet fascinated my imagination so dramatically. Boba Fett was different because when he was first introduced he was already so iconic and mysterious. His visual appearance was also so unique and dramatic and it inspired legions of fans and Star Wars authors and artists back in the day to create stories about his character. You have to remember this was back before George Lucas made the Prequels twenty years later and before the character became so demystified. But he’s still one of the coolest characters for me to work with and there’s still so much storytelling opportunity there for him. The animated Clone Wars series that ran on Cartoon Network definitely proved that. I would have loved to see where they were headed with the young version of the character before the series was cancelled.
You've done some brilliant work for Lord of The Rings as well. It's a far step away from Sci-Fi, so how does illustrating characters/scenes in that world compare to anything else you've done so far? I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fantasy fan though I absolutely adore very specific fantasy driven films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Willow and Conan the Barbarian. And Star Wars of course is much more fantasy driven than science-fiction so there really isn’t a huge difference subjectively storytelling wise between it and Lord of the Rings. The obvious difference is the visual languages for those franchises especially in a broader sense with sci-fi and fantasy in general. But because my style is always cinematic and very realistic I just approach both properties from that standpoint. What I found interesting early on was that I was taking what I learned as an artist doing Star Wars artwork, studying certain styles, techniques and even compositional designs and concepts and I was applying it to the Star Trek work I was doing professionally a few years later. It wasn’t because they were both sci-fi influenced but it was out of necessity for artistic consistency and for atheistic reasons. And it ended up working and looking cool and made things much easier for me when I needed to shift gears between franchises.
As an illustrator, what is your standard set up when approaching a piece? Most of the work I’ve been doing the last number of years has been fully digital but I always start out every project old school by sketching with pens or pencils, whatever is in reach really, when I’m designing a new composition or laying out scene or character design in my sketchbook. It really depends on the project. I’m trained both traditionally and digitally as an artist and I can adapt for whatever the project might need or call for. Sometimes I’ll end up finishing off a digital piece with hand embellishments on a canvas print like some of the fine art work I’ve done on Star Wars for Disney recently. There are definitely certain pens and pencils and markers or paint brushes or paints I gravitate towards but usually anything that makes a mark will work for me. I see them all as just another viable tool, just like a computer. As far as my digital work goes I use a Wacom Cintiq with a pressure sensitive stylus and I work on my iMac using Adobe Photoshop primarily. I also use Corel Painter and if I’m working remotely I can use my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with an app like Procreate or Sketchbook Pro or I can even mirror my Photoshop to my iPad locally with a program called Astropad which is pretty handy. The Apple Pencil has a different feel on the iPad Pro versus working with a stylus on my Cintiq. It’s a slicker, looser feel drawing on the glass of the iPad which can be a little more freeing weirdly when I’m rendering certain techniques. It’s just more convenient to work at my desktop on my Cintiq though usually.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to make it in illustration? Some advice would be to find out what drives you to create as an artist, what’s your passion and what you want your calling to be and pursue it. Let it inspire you and motivate you daily. That allows you to be true to yourself and that’s what helps you create your best work possible. It’s much more competitive being an illustrator commercially and successfully now than it ever was because I think technology has leveled the playing field for what it means and what it takes to become a valid artist professional. Much of the mystery and the magical veneer of making art and being an illustrator has been pulled back because of the internet so there’s really nothing to hold anyone back from wanting to pursue it as a hobby or a career. Obviously having an eye for composition and design, an aesthetic for storytelling, having any actual formal training can be really helpful and make a huge difference too and there is a necessity for some natural talent and ability.
What else can we expect from you as we head towards 2019? I’ve got more Star Wars artwork on the way coming from Lucasfilm and Disney at the end of this year and hopefully some more that will be coming out at some point next year which will be exclusive to Disney Parks. Some of the illustration work I end up doing for Star Wars is sometimes conceptual and I’m unable to show or talk about it until after the projects are released and announced officially by the studio or the publisher. I am hoping to have new artwork for Star Wars Celebration Chicago coming up in April. I do have other comic cons and events coming up next year that I’ll be appearing at and signing. Hopefully I’ll have some more publishing and studio projects coming down the pike next year which usually keeps me busy in-between traveling too. JoeCorroney.com.
Bring Me The Horizon - Wonderful Life (single review) Back in October of this year, BMTH released a new track from their upcoming album due out this January, ‘Amo’. This is a very different change of pace for the band as the track feels like a commentary from the thought process of ones mind and feels less formulaic in terms of composition lyrically and instrumentally. While the song was meant to be co-wrote with Limp Bizkit , the song writing venture never exactly worked out. Thank the rock gods they decided to still use what they wrote to create one of the best songs the band has come out with within recent years. Featuring vocals from Cradle of Filth’s Dani Filth, it’s a different kind of rap-rock heaviness that I hope is featured throughout the album. The music video is also very well done as it is a jarring metaphor for the ordinary things we do in life being just as important as the glamorous life of a rock star. It’s a thing that some in the music lime light take for granted. ‘Wonderful Life’ seems to be promising a fresh and different musical experience for new and old fans alike, and is obviously leaving many with baited breath for ‘Amo’. Until then, we still have this little treasure of a tune to listen to. For those that are looking for something that goes against the grind of a typical heavy metal experience, give this a try. Clearly, BMTH have written another hit and one can only hope that the next chapter for this band is just as bright and exciting. SA
Basement – Beside Myself English alt rockers release their fourth album and first release through Fueled By Ramen. The first single released ‘Disconnect’ opens the album and has a hopeful light-hearted sound, with good bass and guitar riffs throughout and a soaring stand out chorus. Latest single ‘Be Here Now’ follows and keeps the momentum high with its energy and anthemic catchy sounds. ‘Nothing Left’ is a must hear, it has a great solid rock sound, with memorable great guitar riffs making it hard-hitting. ‘Changing Lanes’ sees a “change” in pace and tone, in a stripped back short acoustic which keeps the album more well-rounded and offers another layer and depth to the evolving sound of the band, whereas the second single released ‘Stigmata’ has a welcomed darker sound and again offers up more diversity and nods at their roots. ‘Reason For Breathing’ follows on well with its big heavy dark presence, making for a powerful listen.
The last song ‘Right Here’ takes a different direction, being slow and sombre which is unexpected, taking us on a mixed journey as we reach the end of this well-crafted rock release. This is the most straight up rock album to date for the band, as they explore their sounds beyond what they have before and cover new ground but in a good sense, it is bigger and ambitious, with upbeat sounds paired with gloomy lyrics, ‘Beside Myself’ offers something for everyone. CL
Atreyu – In Our Wake The title track and first single ‘In Our Wake’ immediately grabs you with standout vocals especially from drummer and co-lead vocalist Brandon Saller and as always they get a perfect balance of dark and light with the two vocal contrasts. Alex’s fierce vocals give it that fire that you expect from their characteristic Atreyu sound. This is extremely catchy and powerful, you couldn’t ask for a better start. ‘House Of Gold’ keeps things strong with brilliant melodies and a soaring chorus and resonant riffs, with more superb clean vocals. The latest single ‘The Time Is Now’ sounds very “mainstream” with its chant opening and shows a very different side for the band but it is equally as powerful and highly anthemic, something there is no shortage of throughout this album. ‘Nothing Will Ever Change’ is the heaviest offering with more of a focus on fierce screamed vocals, a good nod to their metalcore elements which is cool to see. ‘Blind Deaf & Dumb’ again has a different sound with a nu-metal vibe and although it is a bit odd, it does add another layer to the album. Speaking of layers ‘Terrified’ is a beautiful ballad-esque song, it works wonderfully. ‘Safety Pin’ picks up the pace and brutality again, with an extremely catchy chorus and their tried and tested vocal battle dominating yet again. Closing song ‘Super Hero’ features striking guitars and has a massive sound, largely aided by two popular guest vocalists Aaron Gillespie (Underoath) & M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold). It is very emotive and powerful, packing in one last punch to leave a lasting impression, and a very good one at that. This is their most experimental release to date but it still has their signature sound at its core. They have moved away from their melodic metalcore more so and now possess an almost classic rock sound mixed with many other elements, making them more accessible to all those that listen. This is a very well composed album which features glorious rock anthems which are hard to resist and need to be played excessively. CL
Normandie - White Flag Initially, I thought that this album was a heavier rock situation. Then I thought it might be more electronically driven. Then it kind of seemed like heavy pop. And in all honesty, even as I’m writing this, I still don’t really know what it is but I like it! ‘White Flag’ from Normandie definitely stands apart and that’s all you can really ask for in any release. These guys have a remarkable talent for filling the ambience and space in all of these tracks. It quickly became very apparent to me why the release title track was ‘White Flag’ because it seemed to fill a rich and whole space with pristine riffs and ridiculously clean vocals. While all of these songs seem to be electronically influenced hard rock, I would’ve loved to hear a few backtracked screams to just amp up that heavy energy. With such a pristine clean vocalist and a tight backbone from the band overall it would do wonders to just have a hint of dirtiness and aggression. Despite this though, this was a great listen and I definitely hope to be seeing and hearing more from them soon! LD
Fractal Cypher - Prelude To An Impending Outcome Fractal Cypher seems to be paving their own way. Their release of ‘Prelude To An Impending Outcome’ brings about every kind of influence under the sun, and for the most part, instrumentally it works. My only real formal complaint is that initially, the vocals struck me as mahogany, tender, and well matched to the tone of the piece but as we progressed into the tracks the vocals became flatter. While this may not be a big deal to some, for me it is a rather ear sore especially because it appears that the purpose of these tracks is to be an aural story. Normally I would be all about that but the risk with these kinds of tracks and releases is that everything has to be perfectly balanced and tight otherwise the integrity of the story disintegrates. Unfortunately, that’s what happened here for me. Instrumentally, I think these guys are balanced and well put together but vocally I think it ends up taking more out of the story than giving to it. LD
WINDRUNNER - MAI Windrunner are a progressive metalcore quintet from Hanoi, Vietnam who formed in 2015 and ‘MAI’ is their debut full-length album and will be their first release under recently signed Famined Records. Opening song ‘Mulan’ is confusing and sounds like it is malfunctioning, making for an alarming and intriguing start that leaves you eager to hear more. ‘Oleander’ features creepy synths with contrasting nice clean melodic vocals from vocalist Duong Bui which stand out, especially paired against the screamed vocals and make this a powerful crushing track with Djent elements. ‘Sakura’ has soaring clean vocals yet again and the slick guitar work is resonant and far reaching throughout, making it a stand out song. ‘Marigold’ is a hardhitting brutal offering with dancing ambient riffs and sounds, giving it an exotic and interesting style and the clean vocals again help elevate it further. The atmospheric ‘Orchid’ follows and is the longest offering yet with some of the best clean vocals and features a massive guitar solo, it is a must hear and it is clear to see why they released this as a single. Title track ‘MAI’ has an enchanting sound especially in the tuneful beautiful intro before the brutality is unleashed with fierce vocals and distorted crushing guitars. This is a good representative track for the album and their unique sound.
Closing song ‘Lotus’ has the perfect balance of dark and light and therefore acts as a fitting and well-rounded way to end the record. This is an exciting and refreshing debut album, their unique mix of rhythms and melodies which are full of ambience, beautiful (and yet deadly) guitar work, with the clean soothing vocals making for some very catchy choruses. This release is intriguing, intricate and has a lot of depth aided by the atmospheric sounds making for a high impact and crushing debut that they should be proud of. CL
Dire Peril - The Extraterrestrial Compendium Breaking away from the repetitiousness of its power metal influence this album has more mellow instrumentals and hints of 1970s classic rock to create a diversified listening experience which can be appreciated. However, as these innovative and new ideas are bought to the forefront throughout it still also makes the full-tilt presence of Power Metal a prevalent piece of its makeup. Moments like ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Roughnecks’ are a great example of the layered elements at play, which is sure to make fans and even new comers delighted. While the album itself is very much a heavy experience, moments like ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Journey Beyond the Stars’ engage in heavy and softer ballad elements that keep the listener interested for the hour and six minutes that this has to offer. It’s a musical experience that embraces a science fiction cinematic journey, but can function as a stand alone album without these contexts in mind as there is enough going on vocally and instrumentally to keep a listener invested in this experience. Vocally, this is some of John Yelland’s best work as this really gives him the chance to flex his vocal muscles throughout, and he does a fantastic job at handling this effortlessly. Overall, this album thrives on the unpredictable and organic soundscapes with its amazing use of heavy and melodic guitar while vocally John’s use of mid-range to heavy and powerful vocals creates an intriguing, epic, charismatic, thrashing masterpiece that is sure to put this band back on the map. This is a must listen. SA
As Everything Unfolds – Closure As Everything Unfolds has only been out for a short time, but their recent EP does everything but fall short in terms of quality and uniqueness within the post hardcore genre. From Buckinghamshire, this unsigned band are now almost two years into being a part of the music scene, and are already showing promise as the next new amazing female fronted band to keep a watch out for. It’s just the right kind of spice that is needed with today’s modern post hardcore climate. The 16 minute ‘Closure’ EP starts with ‘17:10’, an explosive and inventive track that combines a beautiful heavy metal riff by Adam Herr and Owen Hill accompanied with synthesizers by John Cassidy to further open up the soundscapes of where this EP will take us. It’s pretty evident that the extraordinary talents this band has instrumentally stretches out far beyond the boundaries of what a post hardcore band can accomplish with only so much time to make a lasting impression on a listener. Charlie Rolfe also adds to their flare, with her exquisite vocals peppered with energetic, lively unclean vocals that pack a powerful punch from start to finish. Her vocal excellence is what ultimately sets this band apart. Moments like ‘Despondency’ and ‘Divided’ further show that the band harness a technical prowess. Overall, it’s the glimmers of musical genius that will really make a listener want to stick around till the end. This short musical experience ends with ‘Centuries’, an awe inspiring piece that is a change of pace from the rest of the hard-hitting contenders on the EP. It’s an impactful finish that shows just how layered this band is when it comes to crafting a simple, intricate piece while still maintaining its heavy themes throughout. ‘Closure’ shows off some organic and creative elements that function outstandingly well both vocally and instrumentally together. This can only mean great things for As Everything Unfolds if they continue to make music as fantastic as this in the future. While it isn’t set in stone where this band will go, this proves that a band can put so much into so little if done right. Sometimes smaller is better, and in this case they ultimately proved that point. SA
The Joy Formidable – AAARTH The rock and roll sound of this album is really good and with the opening song ‘Y Bluen Eira’ they show their intent after a somewhat odd, almost hypnotic opening. With the lyrics being in Welsh (the album title is Welsh for Bear as well!) the first big riff of the album drops like a bombshell. The band never look back from then on with some real riff-driven moments. ‘Go Loving’ being one of the stand outs with the drive of the guitars and drums that combine so well with Rhiannon "Ritzy" Bryan’s vocals and it becomes something that you want to listen to again and again. ‘Cicada’ carries on from ‘Go Loving’ and keeps the album moving in the right direction mixing the rock riffs with an acoustic undertone together with a few different instruments to create quite the unique song as only this band can. ‘All in All’ has a very slow but nice sounding build up as it bursts into life and flies with raw emotion. After this with ‘What For’ and ‘The Better Me’ the album takes a little bit of a dip in my opinion. ‘What For’ takes far too long to get to its big ending, and when it does I expected more of a bang. With ‘The Better Me’ it’s a lot more mid-range in terms of tempo and it falls a little bit flat after a number of top-notch tracks. ‘Absence’ makes a nice change of pace and I think it is a song that people will love for its unique atmosphere. With ‘Caught on a Breeze’ the band give up one last amazing riff driven song that once again has everything working so well together, I could feel a bit of a grunge vibe mixed with a dash of funk in the bassline. A very experimental sound, but a strong way to end a strong album. ‘AAARTH’ is a blend of rock-driven riffs and experimental sound that The Joy Formidable manage to pull off very well, with a statement to boot. LS
Hands Like Houses – Anon. The album starts off with ‘Kingdom Come’, which scarily enough was a bit of a slow burner for an opening track and a prelude for what will follow. For some this would be a reason to stop listening as it doesn’t generate enough anticipation or energy to further listen to the rest of it unless one is a die hard fan of this great band. However, if one sticks around good news arises that it only gets better from this point onward. ‘Monster’ helps us to breathe a bit easier as its unique sound generates enough of a buzz to keep you invested in the experience. The theme of this is also fantastic as it’s something that most will be able to identify with in some shape or form. Many of us toil and deal with the inner working of the metaphorical demons that lurk deep within our psyche, some of which can be too much to deal with on a daily basis. ‘Monster’ fits these emotions and aesthetically it’s a song that packs a powerful and insightful kick. While there are some songs that become forgettable by the end of the first listen, ‘Monster’, ‘Sick’, and ‘Overthinking’ are by far some of the best moments to come out of ‘Anon.’ They share a universal message of the uncomfortable territory of abnormality when it comes to the process of brooding self-analyzing our inner selves. These are definitely worth a listen.
‘No Man’s Land’ drops us into a more depressive note. While musically this wasn’t their best work, it lyrically sends out a very poignant message, and it is very relevant for today’s current social culture. As we progress with the grunge like appeal of ‘Black’ the level of ingenuity doesn’t falter. We then end with ‘Tilt’ and ‘Bad Dream’, both fantastic songs to end on as we drift from the weighty and untamed approach from the latter. Both are infectious in terms of lyric ability and musicianship and are sure to bring in new fans. They play around with some pretty interesting riffs, crafty lyrics, and overall great percussive elements are brought to the table thanks to the talented Matt Parkitny and his dedication to his craft. While Hands Like Houses have created better work in the past, one can appreciate the risk taken to go with a faceless theme combined with experimentation throughout. SA
I Am Pariah - Procreate/Annihilate At the top of these guys’ press kit, there is a small but extremely important note that reads “FFO: Avenged Sevenfold.” ‘Procreate/Annihilate’ is very much so indeed for fans of Avenged Sevenfold. I Am Pariah have perfectly channeled ‘City of Evil’ into their four track EP. ‘Heavy In Japan’ most definitely does not disappoint when placed into this context, and is definitely most in line with the cartoony- riff-heavy nature of ‘City of Evil’! In all of these tracks, just as in ‘A Place to Belong’, it appears that they have a lot of promise with their technical knowledge, however they do not always have the lyrical quality that I’m looking for. ‘Cult Society’ and ‘Big Shot’ are the strongest songs on the EP in my opinion with very theatrical and aggressive riffage. Although I am impartial to anything that sounds like Avenged Sevenfold, I do think that the animated qualities to this EP is what makes it. Excellent work guys! LD
Our Hollow, Our Home – In Moment // In Memory Since 2015, Our Hollow, Our Home has become one the most interesting bands to have come onto the Metalcore scene. They write and produce all of their own music, and are proving that you don’t need to deal with record labels to become successful in the business. From the get go we get this huge borage of emotions pouring from the gate accompanied by some pretty acerbic riffs and breakdowns booming throughout that perfectly capture the pain and sadness the listener gets to experience along with the artist instrumentally and lyrically. This track sets the bar for what’s to come from the rest of the LP and the musical journey we are about to embark on. We then get into ‘In Moment’, which is something more akin to what we have seen on past works from this band. With its heavy quick-paced and infectious guitar work that transcend over a hard hitting lyrical approach, it’s the perfect way to set the tone for the album. Jumping into ‘Disconnect’, we go back to the feeling of irrationality. While the theme is consistent throughout, it is still raw and moving from start to finish. Moving onto ‘Anger’, the LP is reaching a heavier point and becomes a great transition piece for what we will hear on the next half, although this feels very antagonistic in its musical nature, there is a part of it that feels like there is something better on the horizon despite the obstacles.
‘Wraiths’ and ‘Bargaining’ stand out on this LP, as the songs clearly differentiate from each other with the chaotic guitar riffs of ‘Wraiths’ to the atmospheric orchestral elements featured in ‘Bargaining’. While it seems like the main center of focus is the different use of instrumentals featured throughout ‘In Moment // In Memory’, this is by far the perfect example of showing how talented and diverse this band really is. While the rest of the album goes into a depressive mood with ‘Weight and Carriage’, ‘Divisions (The Exchange)’, ‘Depression’, and ‘Father & Ghost’, each one is a relatively different experience with ‘Divisions(the exchange)’s terrific percussive elements and sing along atmosphere that will be a great live experience to ‘Depression’ and ‘Father & Ghost’ being the most honest moments on the whole LP. ‘Acceptance’ and ‘In Memory’ close this musical journey in style, as it feels like we are coming to a suitable ending after an emotional roller coaster but extraordinarily written album. SA
Slipknot - All Out Life (Single review) American heavy weights from Iowa make a much anticipated and thrilling return with new single ‘All Out Life’ taken from their upcoming sixth album due out next year. It has an ominous and suspenseful opening and sounds like it is malfunctioning before fast distorted riffs and synths kick in, giving it a huge sound, aided by frantic fierce vocals from frontman Corey Taylor. It is very heavy and features a good balance of old Slipknot and new, so should appeal to many. It is blistering throughout and acts as a rally cry for all to embrace things that matter and what’s real! CL
Perfect Score - Endless Summer It seems like the “Do It Yourself” attitude in Pop Punk is starting to make quite the comeback within recent years. You no longer need the music business to land a record deal as technology has been making it easier for artists and bands to make their own music and sell it online. It seems like bands such as Perfect Score are no strangers to this, as the 2018 EP ‘Endless Summer’ was produced and written by themselves. ‘Endless Summer’ can best be described as a perfect post summer EP with its bright guitars and energetic drums that seem to be integrated throughout. For a short EP we get a glimpse at a kind of sound they want to show. For a fairly new band this EP is showing some great promise for them. The EP starts off with ‘High Street’, a high energy moment in the EP surrounded with punchy guitar riffs accompanied with gang vocals interspersed though out. What makes ‘High Street’ so unique is the poetic stanza towards the end that is talked to us rather than sang to us. It’s a cool little juxtaposition in the track that shows the band is playing around with form lyrically, and surprisingly it works. We then quietly change to ‘Doesn’t Matter’, a different kind of atmosphere than was advertised in ‘High Street’. While a bit of a slower and sadder change of pace, the passion in the vocals still sustains the EP’s energy. The EP then jumps back into the fray with ‘Just Breathe’ to light a spark and liven things up. With its infectious beamy guitar riffs and vigorous drums, the gang vocals is just the icing on top of this cake as it’s one of the best tracks on the EP. ‘Just Breathe’ will get the crowd going and singing along from start to finish as it very much feels like something that is meant to be enjoyed in a live setting. ‘Endless Summer’ ends on a song that is conveniently named ‘Endless Summer’, after the title of the EP. ‘Endless Summer’ feels from start to finish like an ending track, as we come back to a much more dialed down atmosphere with a stripped down acoustic beginning which is then eased into more exuberant guitar work, then slowly back down to where we started in the beginning with shimmery acoustic overtones to keep the song fresh and unpredictable. Overall, this is a great listen. SA
Muse - Simulation Theory With their rich and huge musical sound the band has come out with another album this November that strays off the beaten path of their predecessors and gives us an innovative, fun future rock experience. While the album is ironic and slyly humorous with dark undertones, this 80s like retro sound is the shift in music this band needs to invigorate their return into the rock music world. The album delves into the social political territory of the world being overthrown by technology written over interesting, light and catchy retro synth rock. It’s a different change of pace for the band lyrically as it doesn’t delve into the usual political and dystopia-like concepts we are accustomed to, but rather digs into wanting to break free of the modern world and its technological advances that seem to run everything and everywhere we go. Moments like ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Dark Side’ really capture these themes fantastically as well as ‘Something Human’ which is one of the most beautiful tracks on the album. Muse have never been the type to sacrifice sound for quality. Their music style choices have been known to be very grandiose and deep in their meaning as their last few albums have proven over the years. So it was not very surprising that the band decided to scale things back a bit and go for a more stripped down approach this time around. If a band has been around for as long as Muse has, there eventually has to be a ceiling somewhere down the line, but in a good way. Despite the style choice, the electronic infused riffs over a backdrop of bright synth orchestrated sound isn’t that bad of a trade-off. While some might think this is just a mainstream attempt to engage with a wider audience, nothing could be further from the truth. Muse still has the same lyrical and instrumental formulas integrated within. While the album is still as inventive and engaging as most of their others, this isn’t really an album that is trying to reinvent the wheel and that’s okay. ‘Simulation Theory’ is still very much an engrossing album that plays with sound and production and keeps listeners waiting with bated breath for their next full release. SA
Hole Hearted - Hivemind Sometimes great bands can be born from other bands that just don’t quite work out, and from that something amazing emerges. This is what seems to have happened with Las Vegas band Hole Hearted when band members Logan, Mason, Jace, and Sam decided they would settle on a project named Hole Hearted. Since 2016 the band has been trying to come up through the ranks to prove themselves as one of most unique downtempo bands out currently, and surprisingly this EP is bound to make a few ripples in the waters of the heavy metal scene. ‘Hivemind’ starts off with an explosive first track ‘Contact’ that starts with a slow echoing guitar solo that makes one feel like they’re in this big empty space as the acoustics in it are spectacular. The echoing clean and unclean vocals also help as it pushes us into heavier territory. It’s an impressive first impression for what’s to come for the rest of ‘Hive Mind’ and it’s one exciting ride. We then go straight into ‘Habit’, something that is vastly different from ‘Contact’ with its agitated guitar style and chaotic use of unclean vocals and heavy hitting percussive elements. This only propels the energy for ‘Forlorn’, in which we hear some impressive pig squeals from the vocalist, something that wasn’t introduced in ‘Contact’ or ‘Habit’. Vocally, Logan really pushes himself to show within the first few tracks that he has a varied organic range on the heavier side as an artist, which is needed so badly currently in the scene right now. On the technical side, This EP definitely strives to have a chameleon like approach as no few tracks sound quite like the other. This makes the listening experience very interesting and engaging. ‘Cause and Effect’ and ‘Lilac’ still continue to bring on the heat despite not moving into a different territory like the last few had done previously. But this only prepares us for ‘Divide’, which is worth the wait as it takes the EP’s organic energy back to where it needs to be with its atmospheric guitar solos and effects immersing us back into the fray of other brutal gems like ‘Tattered’ and ‘Weep’. Weep stands out among the rest as it has more clean vocals than what has been given to us so far and has this really stripped down quality to it, as it gives up a lot of the heaviness with guitars and replaces it with jazz infused piano keys and a denuded drum style. The EP ends on a heavier note with ‘Sullen’, while it wasn’t a terrible track to end on, one might have felt that we could get something a bit more varied like ‘Contact’ or ‘Weep’. Overall, it goes without saying that this is a great start for the band if they are looking to get noticed in the heavier rock categories. Their attempts to mold and create something new and exciting is all there and can only get better with time. It’s worth a listen if you are looking for heavy original rock that melts your face off.
SA LANDMVRKS - Fantasy I have a feeling I’m not the only crazy person out there that’s blasting their ears out with this new release from LANDMVRKS. These French metalcore powerhouses brought the heat on this new release. Although ‘Fantasy’ as a title track was a great beginning, I think that there are a few gems hidden in this album that might be getting overlooked. ‘Dead Inside’, in my opinion, outshined ‘Fantasy’ and made great use of stripped down tempos, percussion, and riffs over the outro to really wrap it up with a twist, and a strong twist at that. ‘Alive’ made use of a soft track (and featured female vocalist Camille Contreras) to break up the otherwise ultra-heavy album. ‘The Worst of You and Me’ took on a slightly Volumes-esque tone that I think in addition to being much different than the rest of the tracks expressed a different side and capability to these guys that we wouldn’t otherwise see. The intro takes on a slightly rap-like tempo while stripping down to just percussion. They killed it on this album, and have done a tremendous job. LD
Twenty One Pilots - Trench 'Jumpsuit' starts off with a heart rattling bass riff before drummer Josh Dun comes in with a hard hitting drum beat that evens out when the first verse comes in. Frontman Tyler Joseph sings the verses softly, until building up to the final chorus, where he screams the words, which makes fans reminiscent of the song 'Car Radio' from 2013's album ‘Vessel’. 'Levitate' continues the outro from 'Jumpsuit' in a smooth transition, although the two songs are entirely different as 'Levitate' is a quick tongue twister as Tyler raps over an electronic beat, and Josh's fast paced drums match the speed of the song. 'Chlorine' is one of the longer songs on ‘Trench’, clocking in at 5 minutes and 24 seconds. The falsetto vocals in the pre-chorus really catches the listener's attention, and the consistent drum beat during the verses makes it a calming song. However, this song definitely shows off Tyler's vocals, as he switches from singing to rapping and then switches to falsetto vocals. 'Smithereens' is the sixth track, and is a sweet song that's an ode to Tyler's wife.
‘Neon Gravestones’ is exactly halfway through the album. It’s a piano led spoken word song, and the drums are again mid tempo, just like the last output. The vocals in the chorus echo, making the listener think of a long dark tunnel. It’s about the media’s glorification of mental health. The instrumental after the bridge is truly haunting, and Tyler’s vocals during the first verse sound like he’s chocking up. As the song progresses, his vocals feel more powerful as they get louder in confidence. There are many highlights throughout the album, including the beloved ukulele being used in ‘Nico And The Niners’ and ‘Legend’, which is an ode to Tyler’s late grandfather. Then, there’s the somber ‘Bandito’, which builds up to an amazing instrumental that would sound brilliant in a live setting. ‘Pet Cheetah’ is a highlight, and not just for its interesting name. From the eerie synthesisers that start off the song to the fast rap in the second verse to the unexpected beat drop at the end, it’s a rollercoaster that would get everyone moving if the band were to play it live. In conclusion, ‘Trench’ is a superb album from one of the biggest bands in the world, and - despite some of them not standing out much on a first listen - with more spins, all 14 songs can become a “must hear”. KB
The Virginmarys - Northern Sun Sessions Well well well, it looks like The Virginmarys are back at it again. And this time, better than ever. ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ is their third full length album to date and to be honest, it’s a little bit of a behemoth. At eleven tracks long, this release is undeniably The Virginmarys. These guys amped up their lyrical content game tenfold, and it shows. Each track packs a punch, and somehow seems to fill a space that makes it sound like the track is playing to a large audience and not just your own ears. These guys have always seemed to be able to meld rock and punk very well, and we see this in ‘Step Up’ and ‘Get Me Back Home’. ‘Northern Sun’ was of course, in typical Lia fashion, my favourite track - the minute I see an acoustic track on a punk album it’s like I have a tractor beam on it. I’ve got to hear it. But of course, if the rest of the album was any warning towards it, I loved it. Overall, I think this was a tremendous release, and undeniably an album that IS The Virginmarys. LD
Ice Nine Kills – The Silver Scream Ice Nine Kills are no stranger to concept albums, their last effort ‘Every Trick in the Book’ was based on classic literature and now they’ve taken it one step further and have adapted songs for horror classics. The end result is a ferocious metalcore speed train of references and call backs that will make you appreciate not only the horror genre but also the way this band operate. They go after all the big names in this album kicking off with ‘The American Nightmare’ a nod to the Elm Street series, you can tell the album is going to be good when you reach the breakdown of “all your friends are f*cking dead” and the spine chilling rework of the Freddy’s coming for you chant. Jason is on the chopping block with the screams being the Ki-Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma-Ma followed by ‘Stabbing in the Dark’ which captures the very essense and terror of Halloween. I could go through this album track by track and write essays on why they’re all so good in their own way. From the beautifully catchy chorus in ‘The Jig is Up’ to all of the Jaws references in ‘Rocking The Boat’, proper nerdgasm over here. Even including the killer dur dur dur in the breakdown, just beautiful. Lead singer and lyricist Spencer Charnas has managed to harness his love of all things horror and create this spectacular album, so much so that it’s made me want to watch every single horror film referenced and it certainly adds to the listening experience. It’s also nice to see that these guys don’t just focus on “How loud can this go?” “How many big beefy breakdowns can we do?” though they don’t pull punches. ‘The World in My Hands’ is an incredible way to describe the events of Edward Scissorhands, even if it’s not classed as a horror. It’s absolutely beautiful. The chorus of “How cruel to be exposed to everything that I can’t touch but still feel” is heart breaking. Christmas comes early in the merry metal jingle ‘Merry Axe-Mas’, even including a lovely carol singing part too, though when the day does come around I don’t think you’ll listen to it as you unwrap presents with your family. “My parents were butchered by Santa Clause” doesn’t send a great message of yuletide joy. Last but not least ‘IT is the End’. Spencer Charnas pays tribute to one of the scariest bastards in fiction, we hope he’s fictitious anyway. The circus music introducing this is enough to scare anyone and the mini conversation between the dancing clown and Georgie before everything kicks off is actually quite terrifying. What follows is the ska metalcore song you never knew you needed. With the assistance of two members of Less than Jake, Ice Nine Kills manage to create complete pandemonium. The end is a chant back and forth of “It cannot be faught. We all float down here” and then silence. It’s the end to an album that pushed boundaries and gave dedication to some terrifying films. Ice Nine Kills have been around for a while and their last album helped them build some bridges into the mainstream. This cornucopia of horror filled breakdowns and screams is a poignant representation of not only scary movies but also what this band are capable of, dramatic, hardcore and loud. RO
Sick Of It All - Wake The Sleeping Dragon! Sadly, this is one of my first encounters with Sick Of It All. Needless to say, I wish that I had had this encounter much earlier in my life. ‘Wake The Sleeping Dragon!’ definitely does not disappoint in any regard, and beginning with ‘That Crazy White Boy Sh*t’ most definitely made my night. This track satiated every deep desire I have for heavy grooving punk, and I can foresee this track becoming the new jam for my early morning gym training. My trainer will probably hate me, but it’ll be worth it. ‘Bull’s Anthem’ had a fantastic folk jig like quality but it kept the same heavy set moving groove, and of course, me being me, I loved it. A pro tip to anyone who will ever be reviewed by me, that is the key to my heart. ‘Hardcore Horseshoe’ had a pleasantly beatdown-eqsue tone to it which of course, made me want to get revved up enough to start kicking trashcans. I’m not going to, just yet. But still. These guys absolutely nailed the grooving riffs mixed with an obscene amount of heavy aggression that could only come from what is the culmination of years of seasoning in this genre. Props up to these guys.
Catch Fire - Karma Owes Me A Lifetime Of Happiness British alternative rock has evolved so much in the past ten years. Bands like You Me at Six, Lower than Atlantis and even defunked bands like Kids in Glass Houses paved the way for newer acts and changed the way the industry looks at the genre. Enter Catch Fire, they’re here with their debut album ‘Karma Owes Me A Lifetime Of Happiness’. A raunchy, feel good, almost pop punk esque ride ready to take its place next to the big boys. First track ‘Petrifaction’ definitely introduces what you’ll be getting on this album, angst ridden vocals and thought provoking lyrics that will get your brain working overtime. This is definitely a band for the younger generation of pop punk fans. Carrying on into ‘Malignance’ is where this album truly comes alive, the introduction really demonstrates what the talent these three guys have. Yes like blink-182 before them, there are three members in this outfit. ‘Bad Behaviour’ really stretches the boundaries of the main vocals, while it’s still rooted souly in pop punk the ranges that he reaches in this track are beyond that. It makes me think they could even go down a heavier route if they wanted too. In contrast with the next track ‘For Those Who Fear Death’, this is a much more sombre song. While it does have a loud chorus the majority of the song is very much a softer affair.
‘Hostage’ goes a bit deeper in terms of song writing for this band, it speaks of the protaganists (unsure if lead singer or character) inability to speak to anyone. Being a hostage in one’s own head is a truly horrible thing and something a lot of people go through. I think this band can really help people who are in that situation and that’s always a good thing. The album finishes on ‘Third Person’, a slow burner of a track that ends with a massive kick. Catch Fire have just released their debut album and they’ve constantly toured the UK for the past few years. If there’s one band to keep your eye on, it’s these guys. RO
In The Woods... - Cease The Day Well to wrap up 2018, we have yet another fantastic release on the radar from In the Woods. Their new album, ‘Cease the Day’ is what I can deem, one of progressive music's most beloved brainchildren. In three words I would describe this album as attentive, haunting, and atmospheric. ‘Empty Streets’ opens with a hymn-like intro and a deep groove to follow which continues with impressive vocals. The vocals are a smidge Five Finger Death Punch-esque in their volume and tone however I actually quite enjoy it and find that it really adds to the overall ambience. ‘Substance Vortex’ plays with screams and explores the versatility of the vocals here which, to me, are one of the more shining elements of this album. Not that there are any “Debbie-Downer” parts of the album, and to be frank I have trouble finding fault. ‘Respect My Solitude’ teeters between delicate notes and deeply entrenched groove in the intro, and if there's anything about me, it's that there is no better way to catch my attention. That being said, of course this was my favourite track. There are tons of hidden little extras on this album, and if you listen closely, every track is built to fill its space. It's shown in the meticulous attention to detail. Prog fans everywhere need to hear ‘Cease the Day’. LD
Delayed Departure – Your Colours ‘Neon Lights’ is how the EP opens, the track begins with some nice drum work before launching into the catchy vocals of Mike Harland and the excellent lead guitar. Harland displays just what a powerful and emotional vocal range he possesses, the only downside of this track is the drum work, which starts well, but as the song goes on it seems to lack something, some element that would have given it that little extra. ‘Who Are You?’ kicks the tempo up another notch, and again shows how strong Mike’s vocals can be. On this track all the various elements of the band combine together a lot better than on ‘Neon Lights’, making the choice of that song for the first single and video quite perplexing. ‘Better way to Be’ is where the band is at its best music-wise, as it has a very relaxed feeling to it, even with its breakdown. Harland’s vocals have an almost haunting quality to them which is most noticeable in the chorus. The title track ‘Your Colours’ is very much the band at its pure, indie rock best. Featuring amazing vocals once again, and the guitar work of both Charlie Bluck and Jamie Hooks is on point and sounds absolutely stunning. For me, this is the best track on the EP. Delayed Departure have outdone themselves with this EP. Clearly having drawn on events and experiences from their own lives to fuel the lyrics and the music, they have made something that will speak to their audience on every level. LS
Drug Church - Cheer Drug Church are back with their third LP ‘Cheer’ on Pure Noise Records. The band have become a famous combination of Black Flag style vocals and grungy instrumentals, both elements can definitely be heard throughout ‘Cheer’. The album opens with the funky ‘Grubby’ the erratic yet super catchy riff is matched by a difficult life situation described in the lyrics, it’s a fast number and sets the subject of the record. ‘Strong References’ brings back memories of their more recent works with the groovy Nirvana like riff and gritty vocal style, the lyrics describe frontman’s Patrick Kindlon’s stint in male modelling, the subject gets lost amidst the powerful instrumental. The cleverly titled ‘Avoidarama’ is a much more melodic number, and is one of the better tracks on the album, the chorus is executed perfectly with the gang vocals - it needs to be listened at a high volume to appreciate the awesome drum sequence. ‘Dollar Story’ shows their writing skills - it’s a very polished number and the use of acoustic guitar really mixes well with the emotive chorus. ‘Unlicensed Guidance Counselor’ is the most powerful number on the record, this track discusses the challenges of life insisting that “If you live long enough, You'll do something wrong enough, That you feel shame enough, To say enough's enough” an intriguing yet disturbing thought. 30 seconds into ‘Weed Pin’ ya really start headbanging with the perfectly time explosion of drums and incredibly rhythmical riffs, again it’s a really personal number - “Hard to choose a career, when you're bad at everything” the music appears to give Patrick Kindlon the freedom to voice these issues. ‘Unlicensed Hall Monitor’ is the craziest number on the album with the arrangements being all over the place. ‘Foam Pit’ is one of the most exhilarating tracks on the album with its bouncy and energetic riff combined with a high pitched desperate vocal style reflecting the difficult and angry subject in the lyrics. The moody lyrics continue on ‘Conflict Minded’. The addition of Carina Zachary (Husbandry) is a welcome addition to break up the endless anger and despair felt in a lot of the tracks thus far. The band are famous for their experimental side unlike any other band in the punk scene, this is emphasised by the final track ‘Tillary’ which starts as a slow pop number before launching into a minute and half of Kindlon’s usual passionate vocals. Whats clear to hear from their previous works is their ability to mix up the sounds while still maintaining the “Us against the world” theme in the lyrics, so often bands now copy the same style but Drug Church are very much unique and continue to push the boundaries of alternative rock. JP
Saves The Day - 9 As far as concept albums go this one is pretty special, the New Jersey rockers have wrote an album based on their career as a band. This is their ninth studio album so naturally it’s called ‘9’, bet you can’t guess how many songs it’s got on it? You guessed it 9 tracks and It’s quite a journey through their history. “Turn it up for Saves the Day” is the chorus of their first track sharing their band name, it doesn’t feel like it’s a polished professionally recorded song, I imagine this is to add to the whole idea of “This is where we started from” it’s a good upbeat track and it sets the album up well. One thing I love is songs that are over in just over a minute, usually they’re absolue banging tracks and ‘Suzuki’ definitely fits into that category. This track is the first that focuses on Saves the Day originally getting together and attempting to play songs. It’s a rollercoaster of a listen and it’s finished as soon as it begins. Carrying on with the same theme ‘Side by Side’ describes how the band got together and “Plugged in their Les Paul’s for the first time.” What’s clever about this is in addition to the riffs there is a feedback as if it’s being played far too close to a speaker, it does pick up into a kick ass ballad though. It’s clear they’ve really thought about what they want this album to say. If the melody doesn’t get you addicted to ‘It’s Such a Beautiful World’ then the lyrics will definitely burrow into your subconcious, you’ll find yourself humming and singing it without even realising. It’s just an all out rock track and demonstrates how dedicated these guys are to their music and their fans.
Inkeeping with the theme of the album ‘1997’ focuses on the year that Saves the Day were conceived as a band. The vocals from Conley really show that he finds all of these tracks quite emotional. The idea that this band have been around for twenty years is mind blowing. Instrumentally this is definitely the best song on the album, the riffs are awesome and the drum work is next level! In an odd choice for any band the penultimate track is single ‘Rendevouz’, I can see why they wanted to release this song to promote this album though. The melody may be simple but the lyrics of touring the world definitely show off what this whole album is about. It’s awesome that Saves the Day have managed to almost condense their career down to nine songs on this album. I had only ever heard ‘At Your Funeral’ and now I see that they’ve had an incredibly successful career and this album shows that they’re not done yet. RO
Silent Carnival - Somewhere There’s something oddly soothing, and simultaneously goosebump raising about Silent Carnival’s new release, ‘Somewhere’. The vocals are strangely mahogany, haunting, and comforting, all in one. ‘Endurance’, to me, wraps the summation of this album into one track. It takes on a strolling pace, and a quiet serenity to tendrils of acoustic notes that hang in the air ever so slightly. Being able to perfect simplicity is a true sign of mastery, and in my opinion, this is absolutely true. I think these guys have crafted that simple instrumentation and vocals into a true art form. ‘Arles’ makes use of female vocals to layer in another element of dimension, which is definitely successful albeit I was a little surprised by. I dig and appreciate the fact that this release is obscure, and quite honestly, odd sounding. They have perfectly placed the most subtle notes, in the most well timed places that it shows a true sign of craftsmanship. Bravo to Silent Carnival. LD
You Me At Six - VI I’ve always had somewhat of a soft spot for You Me at Six, from their humble beginnings supporting Elliot Minor around tiny venues in the UK to breaking main stages at festivals across the world and even playing Wembley. Though their last few albums haven’t been my cup of tea this new effort shows they are more than a far cry away from the go lucky chaps that bought us ‘Save it for the Bedroom’. It’s clear that the Surrey rockers went away and really thought about this album and how they want to be perceived. From opening track ‘Fast Forward’ the tone is darker and a lot more intense than their previous efforts, there’s certainly something else there but it’s not as much maturity as it is an evolution of their former selves. They were always great at writing hooks and getting the crowd moving anywhere they went and they’ve kept that tradition well, tracks such as ‘Straight to My Head’ and ‘Back Again’ have those funky beats that the veterans of You Me at Six will absolutely love. As bands grow and change there’s almost a fear of losing the thing that made them special, however Josh Franceschi’s incredible vocals have adapted to this new style of writing and it doesn’t feel out of place. On the contrary this is probably the biggest range we’ve seen from the dynamic frontman. ‘3AM’ and ‘Pray for Me’ really solidify this. Traditionally they’ve always had the slower track to show off their diversity for making songs and this album is no different. This time it comes in the form of ‘Losing You’, the lyrics are beautiful and the melody is extremely relaxing. This new album is a diamond, it combines what made them unique in the first place but doesn’t live in the past. This is their future. RO
Minus The Bear – Fair Enough Seattle mainstays Minus The Bear have called time on their career, planning on ending things with one final tour. The band has also issued a brand new EP called ‘Fair Enough’ to go along with the tour. It’s sad that this band have called time on their career after 17 years. The EP opens with ’Fair Enough’, a song that has a rather sad tone to it, as if it’s a metaphor for the band coming to terms with the fact that soon they will be no more. The vocals also have that sad tone and you can feel the raw emotion in Jake Snider’s voice. The guitar of Dave Knudson keeps with that reflective tone. The words “I Can’t feel Love Anymore, I can’t feel you anymore” repeat themselves throughout and it kind of brings you right down but given the circumstances that this EP came to be it’s clear to see why, and thematically it’s appropriate. ‘Viaduct’ is up next and it’s a much livelier listen with a more traditional Minus The Bear sound. With its very nice guitar style that has a solid kick to it and the solo towards the end, this feels much more like the band we all know and love. ‘Dinosaur’ starts out with what sounds like a rap beat but with more of a synth sound as the song moves along, each member adds in their own element to create quite the catchy sound. It’s an almost reflective look at their past as well as a change to their sound, with a repeating guitar riff throughout that compliments the synth beat of it. The bass and drums being very much faded into the background, they’re almost unnoticeable, but having a subtle effect on the overall sound. The band finish up with ‘Invisible (Sombear remix)’ from 2017’s ‘Voids’. It’s a nice way to finish the EP as well as a nod to all of the collaborations and remixes they have done over the last 17 years. Minus The Bear are going to leave a large hole when they are gone, could it be filled? Only time will tell but I personally doubt it. Minus The Bear have decided against one last album together in favour of this EP to tell their fans goodbye and thanks for the memories. They got it spot on in every way. LS
Cursive - Vitriola With their new album ‘Vitriola’ the band turns their attention towards politics. Thematically the album plays like a soundtrack to the struggles of daily life, and describes a bleak interpretation of modern day living. Sound-wise it comes across as an attempt to bring back the “classic emo” sound. In a strange way the band manage to pull it off. ‘It's Gonna Hurt’ is the best example of this, where the band even implement the use of a cello to great effect. ‘Pick up the Pieces’ highlight is Matt Maginn and his heavy bass line that work so well with Kasher’s guitar and aggressive vocal work. ‘Remorse’ takes a different tone, with the piano and cello working together to give it a reflective haunted dream kind of sound. It feels like a flashback scene where a hero has to come to terms with a huge loss. The tracks ‘Ouroboros’ and ‘Everending’ seem almost full of self-hatred, with lines like “I am a parasite, I am a shill, I am a cannibal, eating my words”. One of the stand out lines for me is verse two of ‘Ouroboros’, “We were blessed with an enlightened intellect, Enlightened intellect made the internet, The internet gave the world a mouthpiece, that swallowed our enlightened intellect. The voice of man has been exposed as vitriol, don't gotta read between the HTML”. Which perfectly sums up one of the main things wrong in today’s high tech reliant society. ‘Everending’ carries that same bleak tone as it talks about not wanting to live forever and not being able to “bear the agony.” Once again it is able to highlight the problems with the human race and how “we are uniquely on the brink of extinction.” The band work hard to give both these songs their own unique style and do it flawlessly. ‘Life Savings’ is a full-on attack on society and its obsession with money. Kasher has you believing every heart spoken word. As he says, “there’s no future only money.” The song ends with a weird instrumental fade out almost like something from a bad dream before you wake up screaming in a cold sweat. Cursive are back with a bang, in particular Tim Kasher is on top form, and the band look set to continue to make songs that challenge and criticise society in their typically fearless fashion. ‘Vitriola’ may not be as...vitriolic as some of the band’s previous efforts but it’s by no means a bad album. To me the album has a clear and important message to convey. LS
Stand Alone - Falling, Faster ‘Save You’ opens with a solid riff to drive the track, however there is hardly any dimension in both the vocals and the overall instrumentation of these tracks which is what takes this release to a sound that makes it seem a little unseasoned. ‘Never Stand Alone’ gave a good attempt at building progression, and to their credit, did take a completely different rhythm and key than ‘Save You’ did which is a good thing! ‘Repose En Paix’ sparked hope in the intro, and brought in a heavier groove and a little more energy into the vocals. I would have loved to hear this track first, because it appears to be the strongest on the release. I like that it does give a more solid attempt than the first two, and there actually is some substance to the instrumentation, but the vocals remain as less than perfect. That being said, I don’t think that it is ultimately necessary for perfect pitch all the time. Especially in the genre of melodic hard rock, a little grit could actually go a long way for you and enhance the music! I’d love to either hear a little more pow in the vocals or hear a little more fine tuning - this would take this release just a little step further. Overall, it’s not a bad attempt per se. With a little more work these guys will make bigger steps towards a sound that really represents them! LD
Doomsday Outlaw - Suffer More Doomsday Outlaw have been known in the southern rock genres for being the band that takes influences of classic rock and finds someway to take heavier elements and combine them in a way that is both engaging and different from other bands. When hearing these guys, southern treasures such as Buckcherry, Halestorm, and Black Stone Cherry come to mind. What sets this East Midlands band apart from the rest of these southern hard hitters is their ability to totally shift focus from an old sound to put their energies into a listening experience that’s really new and fresh. Though this album is a re-release from an older album back in 2016, the time and energy that this band has put into this re-release really shows. ‘Suffer More’ has 15 tracks, one that some may feel is a bit long for album standards. But for those that enjoy heavy rock with a bit of a southern flair, this experience will be exciting from start to finish. From the first half of this album, tracks like ‘Walk on Water’, ‘Pandemonium’, and ‘Bring You Pain’ bring so much energy to the table while other moments like ‘Standing Tall’, ‘Blues for a Phantom Limb’, and ‘Tale of a Broken Man’ really bring home that stripped down country blues peppered in that really show why this band was signed.
Their effortless mixture of the various musical genres greatly suggest that this re-release is much more than just a re-production of the same album. It’s an album that shows creativity and determination with heavy riffs and bang up vocals that showcase the varied vocal intricacies that the new vocalist Phil has to offer. From start to finish it brings together elements of classic rock & blues flawlessly. Fans of the genre and band are in for a real treat. SA
Phoenician Drive - Self-titled Phoenician Drive is a band that are on the rise, proving that being different in the music scene isn’t always a bad thing. A classic rock sound infused with the international sounds of the Middle East, African, and notes of Mediterranean flavours mixed in. This band takes its very impromptu approach to this new selftitled album and sucks you in for this short eight track experience. From the beginning with ‘Almadraba’ we are transported back to 1960s groovy psychedelic rock influences with a punch of culture clash that hasn’t really been seen in a lot of modern rock bands to date. From this point on isolated instrumentals accompany almost every listen that makes one lose their self in all its grandiose unique percussion and guitar distortions. It’s clear that Phonecician Drive knew what they were doing when they composed a short masterpiece that would dazzle the listener and keep them interested and invested in such an original sound. At first it takes a bit of getting used to, as with anything that goes outside of its jurisdiction of the status quo. After about fourteen or so minutes in, one can become so immersed in all the flavours that they forget that they are listening to an album, but rather witnessing a work of auditory art. Among all its great moments, ‘Kraken Doesn't Crack a Crocodile’ and ‘Musselove’ are some of the best musically complex moments on the album as they really show the kind of sound this band wants to showcase to the world. Overall, this is a beautiful, mainly instrumental experience that takes many different styles from all over the world and mixes them into a breathtaking and mesmerizing musical journey. It’s definitely worth the listen. SA
Against The Current - Past Lives Over the last few years, Against The Current have been one of those bands who have successfully straddled the fence of the rock world and the mainstream. Their debut album ‘In Our Bones’ brought them huge success and has left their ever growing fanbase eager for the follow up, ‘Past Lives’. What is apparent from the first listen to ‘Past Lives’ is that almost any sense of the pop-rock sound that has brought them to where they are now has been jettisoned. This is 90% a pure pop album, a fact that on its own there's absolutely nothing wrong with as Against The Current are quite entitled to take their sound in whatever direction they want. The album starts promisingly with ‘Strangers Again’, a blast of catchy alt/synth pop with a big chorus. Chrissy Constanza's vocals are wonderfully clear in the verses, yet feel almost electronically muted in the chorus, nonetheless it's an enjoyable song. The following tracks, ‘The Fuss’ and ‘I Like The Way’ unfortunately don't keep this up, by-the-numbers synth pop songs that fade from memory almost as soon as they've been listened to. ‘Personal’ is a much stronger track, with a style that could be described as gentle synth meets mild R N'B, though the style of the track may not sit well with some Against The Current fans. ‘Voices’ is a track that a band like Girls Aloud would have killed for early in their career. It could be a huge dancefloor filler and has commercial success written all over it.
The album suffers another dip after this until ‘P.A.T.T.’ hits, which is another hugely enjoyable upbeat, fun pop song. The next couple of songs pass by without making an impact before ‘Past Lives’ concludes with ‘Sweet Surrender’. Chrissy's most impressive vocal performance on the album by some distance takes place here, showing fully what she’s capable of. Ultimately ‘Past Lives’ is a very frustrating album, because there are flashes of real quality on display, but too often they are surrounded by tracks that feel like filler. The style change hasn't hurt Against The Current for the moment, but if they are going to continue with this new approach, they need to try and zero in on what kind of sound they want to have. This album has a feeling of "let's throw lots of different things at the wall and see what sticks." It may turn out to be an important step in their evolution in years to come, we will all just have to wait and see. JG
Reel Big Fish - You Can’t Have All of Me (single review) As one of my first ska-punk loves, Reel Big Fish have once again ignited my love of the genre with this flurry of trombones and infectious style. ‘You Can’t Have All of Me’ is a singalong anthem that you won’t be able to get out of your head! It’s for all the draining forces in our life that make us want to fall asleep at an obscenely early hour at night. Or maybe that’s just me. These guys have hit us with a perfectly jiggy tune that captures the epitome of ska-punk and all the goodness it has to offer (which if you don’t like, I may say that you are probably certifiably insane). It offers a sarcastic note that there are only so many things the forces in our lives can take before there’s nothing left to take, and I think that’s a notion we can all get behind. LD
Architects - Holy Hell It's difficult to know where to start with ‘Holy Hell’, the eighth studio album from Brighton metalcore titans Architects. ‘Holy Hell’ is the first full album to surface from the band since the passing of founding member and guitarist Tom Searle. The band have commented that Tom "is all over the album", but aside from the smash hit single ‘Doomsday’ that was released last year, they have chosen not to be too specific about what form Tom's input takes. Aside from any musical contributions, Tom's presence is clearly felt throughout ‘Holy Hell’ in the subject matter. The opening ‘Death Is Not Defeat’ takes the subject head on, outlining that for all they have been through, Architects are still very much here and not going anywhere. Sam Carter's clean vocals, first brought in by ‘Doomsday’, are present across the album but only sparingly and to good effect like the intro to the pulsating ‘Hereafter’. Dan Searle annihilates his drums with metronomic precision and Josh Middleton shows here, as he does throughout the album why he was the band's only choice to replace Tom, with some gigantic riffs, the perfect counterpoint to Sam's more usual thunderous vocal style. As much as the entire album has a tremendous impact, nothing quite prepares the listener for the sheer venom of ‘The Seventh Circle’. Clocking in at under two minutes, it is an outpouring of pure rage and vitriol not heard from Architects in quite this fashion in many a year. Sam Carter is a phenomenal vocalist, but this is quite something, even for him. ‘The Seventh Circle’ is the perfect lead up to the far more melodic but equally brilliant ‘Doomsday’, which most readers are likely to be familiar with already as one of THE best metal songs of 2017. While Architects fans new and old will remember Tom Searle throughout this album, ‘Doomsday’ is the track that captures the emotion of what Architects have been through better than any other and it is this that makes it the stand out in what is an album of immense quality.
‘Holy Hell’ concludes with ‘A Wasted Hymn’, which is possibly the slowest and most melodic song of Architects career to date (though it still retains their trademark heaviness at the same time). It's a considerable change of pace at the end of the album which helps it to stand out, as does the fact the lyrics are some of the most memorable of the record. The Parallax Orchestra (of Alter Bridge and Bring Me The Horizon fame) also add some lovely string touches, which add to the grandiose feeling of it, providing a fitting end to the album. Some doubted whether Architects would be able to follow up the power and emotional depth of ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’. They need not have worried. ‘Holy Hell’ isn't always the easiest of listens, but it's one of the best metal albums you'll hear all year. Architects have just reached arena level in the UK, and this album should keep them there for many years to come. JG
Clutch - Book of Bad Decisions The opening thunder of ‘Gimme the Keys’ shows that once again, Clutch aren’t going to make an album which doesn’t bring the fore mentioned thunder, it is a big opener in typical Clutch fashion. Clutch have built themselves a fine reputation since 1991 of bringing groove drenched riffs and supreme examples of song writing with no compromise on what they are trying to do. It is a well worn saying that they don’t make bad albums and, well, it’s true. They have made albums that I love, albums that I like but I can safely say there isn’t an album they’ve made that I’d skip past and it is still true with ‘Book of Bad Decisions’. In fact, this one could be my favourite in a long time from them. ‘Spirit of ‘76’ has a nice vintage feel to it with the fuzzed up bass going right through you, the horned up grooves of ‘In Walks Barbarella’ bring the weaponized funk and the Hammond organ brings an extra depth that shows the band always have something else to tap in to. ‘Vision Quest’ and ‘Weird Times’ are amped up rock n roll bangers that keep up the high energy levels in the albums opening songs with plenty of swagger, in fact you wouldn’t be surprised to see some moon stomping on the latter in the right venue. With an album that clocks 15 songs at just shy of an hour, the pace had to be slowed at some point and the superb ‘Emily Dickinson’ does that nicely, dropping the BPMs but still managing to keep a huge sound and great dynamics at the half way point. Overlapping with some outlaw country, ‘Hot Bottom Feeder’ is another slower burner, the bass line again keeps everything ticking along with some great country licks to add yet another arrow to the Clutch bow. This could be the most complete Clutch album to date, one saying, as mentioned earlier, is that Clutch don’t make bad albums. Another saying is “all killer, no filler”, again, it’s true here. AN
Kikamora - Masquerade Big riffs, big choruses and a sound that is equal to both. Kikamora have played with some big names in the past couple of years and with this E.P are sure to be playing with a few more and gain some bigger shows themselves. It is good, old fashioned rock n roll in a lot of ways but some of the solos on the opening ‘Alibi’ borrow heavily from the more classic rock end of the spectrum. Well executed and memorable. With ‘Wrong Place, Right Time’ they show how much more there is to their arsenal with horns taking a prominent role with some great hooks, it is a little more laid back than the opener but no less heavy hitting. The melodies and vocal range are to the fore on ‘Sat Around Living’, bringing some emotion to the proceedings and an ending that wails its way into the infectious rhythms of ‘Off The Cuff’. This one is a real banger, chopping between time signatures at will with poise and ease, it is a big song, moving between tempos. In these five songs there is a range of styles, each one with its own signature attached. They are all different but not so different that they sound chopped in and random. Each song has earned its place and has a reason for being there. By the time ‘Said & Done’ has faded it is clear these guys are good, very good in fact. Get enough ears on them and keep up the quality then who knows. Until then, this E.P would make a welcome addition to your collections. AN
Oxygen Thief - Confusion Species Four years on since the second album, Bristol’s Oxygen Thief are back with an album that is chaotic, riff packed and dripping in attitude. A band that began as Barry Dolan himself is now a three piece and firing out aggressive fiery songs that hit on numerous topics such as Bristol’s past with ‘Suspension Bridge Of Disbelief’, Brexit with ‘Graffiti, Irony; Lists’ The music itself is heavy, there are plenty of elements of hardcore punk, moments of metal and even some RATM moments with the odd solo taking that Tom Morrello signature. The vocals are almost chanted at times, you’ll often hear screaming vocals with this style and it’s great that Dolan avoids that. It gives the band something unique especially with the regional accent. I do like the subtle plays on some of the Britpop eras top songs, ‘Rubbish Life is Modern’ carries a swirling riff that has a ferocious feel to it, the bass sound is exquisite, and the guitar melodies in the spoken word breakdown are seriously catchy as they move up the octaves.
Oxygen Thief has come a long way since its inception, the move to a full band has proved to be a master stroke, this album just reinforces that. They have a sound that on one hand is a well worn one but there is a stamp put on it that sets them apart from the rest. Politics has started arriving back in music in a big way in recent years. It is bringing some very good music with it at the moment and this one is a welcome addition. AN
Mad Apple Circus - Designer Music Starting with words being fired out right at you comes ‘Winds Of Change’, a tune that sets the tone straight away with its catchy ska jives and insanely catchy beats. Bristol’s Mad Apple Circus are taking the ska genre and dousing it with psychedelic sounds and grooves as they add in hip hop elements along with some very Latin grooves on ‘Hold On’, ‘Coming Up Empty’ is very chilled and not as word heavy as the opener. It makes for a nice one-two punch to open the album before ‘Hold On’ changed the tone completely. There is a little bit of everything in here, some of it goes beyond my taste, ‘Big Roman Balls’ just doesn’t do it for me, that’s the problem reviewing a style you don’t listen to a whole lot. I have to admit my ignorance of much of this style bar a few exceptions. However, I know what I like, and I like this for the most part, those who have a greater knowledge will be better placed than I to tell you how good this record is but from my amateur ears I enjoyed it very much. These guys have tapped into something infectious, in a genre full of great bands they have something a little different, something that might resonate with people that perhaps wouldn’t listen to this style. There is enough to keep me interested with foot tapping enjoyment. A fine moment from Mad Apple Circus. AN
Saxon - Portsmouth Guildhall - 20/10/18 Despite Saxon’s career nearing the 40 year mark, the heavy metal band from Barnsley shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Earlier this year they released what is unbelievably their 22nd studio album, ‘Thunderbolt’. Their latest offering, produced under the Militia Guard label broke the Top 30 in the official UK charts in February, peaking at 29th; the achievement is their highest chart position since 1984’s album ‘Crusader’. Recent touring has seen the band team up with UFO in America and Europe, Saxon recently returned to the UK for the final leg of it alongside support acts FM and The Wayward Sons.
The Wayward Sons were the opening act of the night, the room steadily filling as the band played tracks from their own new album ‘Ghosts of Yet to Come’. Over the course of their set, the audience got more and more into their music, ‘Killing Time’ being their standout song, and for an opening band they were a very solid outfit. Up next was FM, who were replacements for the originally slated to perform Y&T. The British classic rock group re-formed in 2007 after a 12 year hiatus, and have since then been a band I have known about but never had the chance to see play live. I was unsure what to expect from them as they took to the stage, but I was certainly not left disappointed. FM opened their set with ‘Black Magic’, which garnered a pleased reaction from the crowd. The highlight of their act was the classic song ‘That Girl’, which Iron Maiden has covered in years past. They closed out their set with more recent creations, ‘Wildside’ and ‘Killed By Love’ standing out from the rest. For a band that was simply filling a void, they did a very good job at warming the crowd up for what was to come. The last time Saxon headlined in Portsmouth was October 1982. It’s staggering to see the band back in the naval city 36 years later. Saxon hit the stage like the titular thunderbolt, bursting out to the title track from the new album, and with the headbanging starting this early from lead singer Biff Byford and the audience...you knew that it was certainly going to be an interesting and entertaining evening. Saxon has always managed to keep the classic new wave of British heavy metal sound throughout their career, and it’s something that has defined the band through the decades, even more than Biff’s trademark vocals. The set was a blend of old and new, the early part of the show drawing mostly upon old favourites like ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, and ‘Power and the Glory’. Between songs Biff talked about the last time Saxon played in Portsmouth, and as I glanced round the audience I realised that most of the crowd might well have been there on that night. Biff told us that 2019 marks Saxon’s 40th anniversary, and dropped a teaser that the band are planning some big, big shows to commemorate the occasion. The band kept the classics coming with ‘Dallas 1pm’, before the mood took a different tone as they played a tribute to Motorhead’s late Frontman Lemmy Kilmister with ‘They Played Rock and Roll’. Biff kept the audience engaged throughout the show, asking the excited crowd what they wanted to hear next, tearing up the set list for the night after much back and forth with the fans. ‘Never Surrender’ blasts our ears before we are treated to an all-time classic in ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’. The band changes the pace again as they give us another track from the new album with ‘Sons of Odin’ and an old favourite ‘Crusader’ before finishing the set with ‘Princess of the Night’ to the backdrop of an almighty roar from those in attendance. Saxon came back to the stage with a 4 song encore, starting with ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ before the dulcet tones of ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ graced us with their presence. Following on from this was the song that I had been waiting for all night, ‘Wheels of Steel’, which got the whole audience singing at full volume. This continued into the closing track ‘Denim and Leather’. As the song says, “Denim and leather brought us all together.” Their experience and raw talent allows them to keep on going, and I have no doubt that they’ll be delivering brilliant gigs for some time to come. Their fan base has only grown over the years, and in my opinion the demand for Saxon’s music has never been greater. I cannot wait to see what they have planned for their upcoming 40th anniversary, and what “Heavy Metal Thunder” they will rain down upon our ears. LS
In my opinion Disturbed have never produced a bad album, always bringing their crushing signature anthemic groove with each record and their seventh album ‘Evolution’ is no exception. It does offer this but it also offers so much more and does in fact show an evolved sound for the band, being their most diverse and unexpected release to date too. You have the must have dominating fast hard rock/metal tracks that will be enjoyed by the masses such as the first single ‘Are You Ready’ and the incredibly catchy ‘Saviour Of Nothing’ which fall into their ever growing list of top Disturbed anthems that will go down a storm in the live setting. The real gems on the album come in the form of the softer more stripped backed songs that show another layer to the band, with delicate, intricate acoustic guitar work and impressive vocal capabilities from frontman David Draiman, who really gets to shine and show off his expansive vocals in emotive and beautiful tracks such as ‘A Reason To Fight’, ‘Hold On To Memories’ and the most heart wrenching track and closing note ‘Already Gone’.
The mix of hard-hitting in your face songs and vulnerable moments make this a must hear album that takes you through the motions, leaving something for everyone to enjoy and admire, as well as offering a rich and satisfying experience. Every output is well-crafted and collectively adds to the epic feel that exudes from this release and for that reason I can’t stop listening and appreciating the songs over again. It stands out and shines as the album of the year for me. CL
Coheed and Cambria have long stood the test of time as one of the most progressive Sci-Fi rock bands to ever grace our ears since 1995. When most thought that concept albums would never really make a return, in came this little gem ‘The Unheavenly Creatures’ which debuted in October of 2018. And, what a ninth album this was. Coheed and Cambria came back with guns blazing and quickly showed us again that they are one of the best in rock music today and why they have continued to stay at the top for all of these years. What makes their work at the core so interesting is the use of their unique story which has come up again and again over the years. However, what makes listening to them so amazing is that you don’t need to follow the story lines to really enjoy their music. The same holds true with ‘The Unheavenly Creatures’ as, Claudio’s vocals and those emotionally charged guitar riffs really take us places. Where these musicians dare to go, some musicians only dream about, and it’s one of the reasons why this album is so interesting.
Moments like ‘The Dark Sentencer’, ‘Love Protocol’, and ‘The Gutter’ show us glimmers of their previous albums, but don’t rely on such formats to dazzle us with the magic they can capture with lyrics and their gifted sense of instrumentals featured throughout. It’s hard to find a band that really takes us, and immerses us in the same way that ‘The Unheavenly Creatures’ does. With its clever and unforgettable lyrics and creative use of intricate guitar riffs, the band has not only created something special but also a magnificent work of art. It’s an engrossing escape love story told through varied distinct vocal ranges, diversified percussion and guitar. The way this band is able to control the twist and turns of story through song is something that will never be matched, and is something that few bands can do with such power, emotion, and effortlessness. It’s plain to see that this band have grown so much and this album is a testament to that. Once again Coheed and Cambria have succeeded in taking the crown in progressive rock. One can only hope that the next album will take us for another journey, just like this one did. SA
Guess what everyone! It’s that time of year again - the time of year where I get to look back at all the reviews I’ve written, and my big list of noteworthy releases. I get the fantastic task of picking just one to feature for best album of the year. Of course, for the rest of you it’s probably as easy as holiday pie and wrapping presents but for us music journalists it’s enough to drive us to drink. That being said, after many glasses of tea and pondering the world’s most elusive questions, I settled on Amber Lamps’ ‘On the Lamb’. These guys seemed to have perfected the art of taking the likable-ness and accessibility of pop punk and turning it into soulful, punchy, and raucous punk that drives a harder, and quite frankly, more like-able bargain than pop punk. My favourite track by far was, ‘Sola Catuli’ because it expresses a softer side of Amber Lamps with an acoustic track. The vocals on this release seem to have a knack for delivering just the right amount of tone and energy throughout, and here we’re given a lullaby-like melody. As much as I love their drive on this album, this track is definitely my favourite purely for the stark contrast it shows from their traditional sound. Not only is it starkly different, but if given only this track, it is completely believable that this acoustic-signer-songwriter style is what they perform and record on a day to day basis.
The opening track, ‘Catastrophe’ digs a swing beat that hits a blues oriented rhythm. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I absolutely could not love this track any more. If I could have an entire album full of tracks that pack a punch like this to review then I would walk across hot coals for it. My favourite Pam Beesly would help me out by saying that my feet would be a tender medium rare but I think it would be worth it. ‘Hindered Spirits’ closes out the album by slowing it down and getting into a deeper, and more driven groove. Amber Lamps absolutely nailed it on this EP, ‘On The Lamb’. For all of you craving that diggable, down and dirty punk – these guys should be number one on that list.LD
When it comes to doing what you want as a band on each album, whilst still retaining the attention of the fan base at the same time, this can be a very hard thing to do. However, it's something that Thrice have achieved with ease over the years. Every album is completely different in its own way, and at no point have they followed outside pressures, ensuring that what they create is always fresh, new, exciting and most importantly honest. Their tenth album 'Palms' sees them continue this trend.
After one of the best come backs in modern rock with their album 'To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere' I have been waiting patiently for the next installment of Thrice, 'Palms' did not leave me disappointed. Kicking straight into 'Only Us' we are instantly captivated with an almost "Stranger Things" type sound, before being hooked back into the "new" Thrice that we already know and love. 'The Grey' reminds me just how technically gifted both Dustin and Teppei are on guitars, as it hits you straight in the face with its impressive melodic approach. As you grow older, and the more records you put on your shelf, you really do discover what kind of sound you like in music. For me, it's always something that has a huge atmosphere to it, with a dash of mystery and "realness" at the core (Circa Survive/Manchester Orchestra). With the track 'The Dark' you get everything I just mentioned in one listen, with its haunting guitar tones, and fantastic lyrics, there's just no fault to be found. 'A Branch in the River' reminds me of the days when people didn't have phones at a Thrice gig, seeing every fan in the room shout the lyrics as loud as they can, with chaotic crowd movement and no screens to be seen. This is a tune that requires you to at least nod your head, and is simply the most raw/earth like sounding track on the album. 'Hold Up a Light' is the 'Blood on the Sand' of 'Palms', it's a song where you can imagine a wave of people jumping along to the track in slow motion, like it's the "Smells Like Teen Spirit' music video. An absolute anthem, that is made for the live setting. Get your lighters (or mobile phones) out, it's time for the beautiful 'Beyond The Pines' to end this album in a way only Thrice know how. With excellent lyrics, surrounded by the outstanding musicianship from the rest of the band, they bring it right down, and provide a mellow and stunning conclusion, "I will meet you there, beyond the pines"! What. An. Album. AD
It’s time for album of the year 2018. Every year it’s hard to pick just one album as top of the pile, there have been some fantastic releases such as Ghost with ‘Prequelle’, Architects’ ‘Holly Hell’ and ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ by Immortal. I have been going back and forth for the last month, knowing I had to pick one, and I’ve changed my mind several times on who I thought should be number one this year. In the end I finally settled on an album by an established band that have made some absolute gems over their career. This album debuted at no. 5 on the Billboard 200, the band’s highest ever position for an album and sold 49,000 copies in its first week of release. My album of the year is Judas Priest’s ‘Firepower’. It has rejuvenated the band after numerous lacklustre releases over the last 10 years or so. The band re-enlisted the help of Tom Allom and Mike Exeter to handle its production, as well as adding Sabbat and Hell guitarist Andy Sneap to the fold, additions which gives the outfit a real fearsome punch. The vocals of frontman Rob Halford sound absolutely on point from the first notes of ‘Firepower’ to the last notes of ‘Sea of Red’, he might be 67 years old but on this album he proves he can still scream it with the best of them.
Guitarist Richie Faulkner’s influence on several of the tracks is obvious, he helped shape the album’s overall direction and with the twin guitar sound on tracks such as ‘Firepower’ and’ Evil Never Dies’ it only adds to the newfound heaviness of the release. ‘Firepower’ really shows all the members giving 110%, and that creates something outstanding. Judas Priest have been in the music scene for the better part of five decades now, they have pretty much seen it all and done it all and in all that time they have always stayed true to their metal roots. At this stage of the band’s career, they could very easily just keep making album after album and just take the money and be happy. With ‘Firepower’ however, the band have made something that could very well rank up with some of the all time Judas Priest classic albums. Not many bands would be willing to take the risk of re-inventing themselves at this point in their career, but Judas Priest did that, and it’s paid off. I’m sure anybody reading this will have their own opinions on the album, and it’s not every fan’s cup of tea, but I want you to put personal tastes aside for a second and just appreciate the fact that after all this time Judas Priest are still putting out albums of this quality. if it is their final release, it would be a fantastic signing off for any band. That is why Judas Priest’s ‘Firepower’ is my album of the year. LS
I've always loved music. Growing up with rock stars like Bruce Springsteen or Oasis playing in the background. My first real music love that wasn't influenced by my parents was as cliche as it sounds, due to 12 year old me falling in love with One Direction. After a year or so, I began to like 5 Seconds Of Summer, whom I'd seen support One Direction on tour. 5 Seconds Of Summer introduced me to bands like Green Day and All Time Low, but I never properly got into those bands on the level I liked One Direction (and 5 Seconds Of Summer) until one cold day back in December 2015, I stumbled upon a duo called Twenty One Pilots, whom I quickly liked as their music was unlike anything else Iâ€™d heard. After having the opportunity to see them live in November 2016, and after finding comfort in their music during a particularly hard time in high school, I only liked them even more. When they announced they were going on a break, I have to admit, I felt a little lost without them, which sounds a bit silly now, but made sense at the time. Luckily the break ended after a year, and they definitely came back with a bang.Â
Getting caught up in the vague but detailed story surrounding 'Trench' reminds me of why I became interested in the band in the first place, and all of the songs that were released before the album came out only excited me more. Finally it came out, and I listened to the album entirely (and then repeated it for the rest of the day). The song 'Smithereens' instantly became a favourite of mine due to me just adoring a good love song, and 'Pet Cheetah' really surprised me with its heart racing beat. 'Morph' wasn't a favourite of mine at first because it was VERY different to what Twenty One Pilots had released before, and I was worried I wasn't going to enjoy it, but by the second listen, it became another favourite. The instrumentation on this album is great, especially the strange synths on the outro of 'Levitate' because they somehow calmed me. 'Trench' is by far my album of the year, not only because it is by my favourite band of all time, but because it is built from a deeply rich backstory, and yet can be listened to casually by anyone. It's one of the more relaxed Twenty One Pilots albums, and although that means not all of the songs stand out as much as previous album 'Blurryface', it's not necessarily a bad thing because there are a lot of hidden gems with meaningful lyrics on this album that have quickly become ones to remember. KB
It’s that time of year again. I always look forward to this time of year, just so I can see year-end lists. It’s nice to see other people’s thoughts on what they thought was the best that year. And nowadays with social media around, everyone now posts their lists. It’s just not writers and critics. With that being said, over the last few years, I myself have not done this. I just became too tedious in my mind. And how does one come up with such a list? What is it based on? Etc. So how did I come up with just one? My album of the year. Quite simple, it was the album that made me feel something. While there were a lot this year that made me feel again. One Stood out above the rest. And that is, ‘Made an America’ by The Fever 333. As one that is/was a fan of all three bands from which the members came from, I knew I was going to love this project from the start, even before I heard a single note. Once I heard that first song, I was hooked. I was a fan. One of the things I said to some friends when Trump was elected was, “well at least punk rock is about to become good again”. Besides a release from Anti-Flag and Stray From the Path, this really had not been the case until this release. This is punk rock in 2018 and I love it. They are showing no signs of slowing down, as they have continued to release singles as well and recently announced plans to release a full length in January. Earlier I mentioned feelings. Here is why I picked this album, it simply made me feel and think about the world in which we live in. All the injustice that is around us. We need to be aware and wake up to all the chaos. This band is bringing it to the forefront, and because of this band, I have become more aware of what is going on around me, I want to know what is going on. I haven’t thought this way since my teens. Which is weird that I cared more as a teen than I have as an adult. The common factor is music. As a teen I discovered puck rock and I liked what I heard. As I got older it became watered down and I grew away from it, until now. The Fever 333 have ignited a fire in me and others all around the world. They have inspired a generation. We will no longer be quiet. Our voices will be heard. It’s not just about the music with this band, it’s a way of life, a movement. They talk a lot about the three C’s. Which are community, charity, and change. If that isn’t punk rock, then I don’t know what is. They believe that those things are vital to a better world and I for one agree with them. Musically the album is amazing. I like to think of it as Voltron. The three members can and do stand an their own but when they came together, they form something awesome and powerful. Something that can’t be stopped. Jason Butler brings the same energy and showmanship he had in letlive (RIP), Stevis Harrison brings the same chaos he displayed in The Chariot (RIP), and Aric Improta further shows us why he is one of the best drummers in the world (In my opinion, the best). And with all that, you don’t need a bassist. This EP is 7 songs of pure aggression, emotion, and fury. From the time it starts until it ends, it doesn’t let up. There is no time to breathe, and that’s how I like my punk albums. The future is very bright for this unit. I for one look forward to seeing what they can accomplish in their time together. They very well might be the change that not only punk rock needs, but the world. RC
When I do the album of the year it’s always a toss up between several great artists that have really outdone themselves, however this year it’s a straight winner. ‘The Silver Scream’ didn’t as much blow all the other albums out of the water rather than stalked them in the night and slit their throats, ate them and chopped them up with an axe. A whole album with the subject matter being the golden age of horror films. The intricate and subtle lyrics that lead singer and horror fanatic Spencer Charnas produces are wonderous and blood thirsty. You can tell he doesn’t just love these characters he lives for them. This being coupled with the amazing drops and incredible guitar work just makes this an album that I hope will be revered in years to come. Ice Nine Kills brand of metalcore is something of wonder and they’ve taken it one step further with this album.
The little references in all the songs are subtle but effective from “Don’t overlook the past” in The Shining inspired ‘Enjoy Your Slay’ all the way to “It’s more than just a costume and red balloons” for the ballistic track ‘IT is the End’. The way that all the songs relate to their subject matter is proof of what an incredible song writer lead singer Charnas is. The music is insane, from the hard hitting ‘Stabbing in the Dark’ to the softer melody of ‘Love Bites’. Charnas’ vocal range is tested on this album and it pays off well. I’ve been loving this band for two years and they created an amazing album with ‘Every Trick in the Book ‘but I truly think this is their ticket to the big time. ‘The Silver Scream’ is a masterpiece. RO
2018 has been another stellar year for albums, I always struggle to choose a single album as album of the year. With that in mind I have a few honourable mentions this year. Behemoth, The Bad Flowers, Monster Magnet, A Perfect Circle, Coheed and Cambria, Ginger Wildheart, The Struts, Barbarian Hermit, Devildriver and Cypress Hill have all released albums that have been on heavy rotation on my turntable and through the car speakers, but one band have been on more than any of them and that is pretty much how I’ve picked them above all the rest.
The fourth album, just like the third, just like the second was always going to be a big one for Ghost. They are a band that just have it, they’ve built an image that makes them one of rock n rolls most recognisable bands and have evolved it album to album with Papa Emeritus taking a new persona on each until Cardinal Copia took on the mantle. ‘Prequelle’ is soft and tender in parts, heavy and bleak in others, ‘Rats’ hits hard and the closing ‘Life Eternal’ is bleakly and beautiful with the half way point ‘Dance Macabre’ dripping with 70’s rhythms. The live show has taken on the aura of a west end show as the production has grown. This is a band growing from album to album and if they keep going the way they have been, then they could be taking on permanent headline arena shows shortly. AN
When I looked at my most anticipated album list of 2018, ‘Time & Space’ was not at the top of the list, nevertheless I was intrigued with the band signing to Roadrunner Records and getting Will Yip (Title Fight, Balance and Composure) to produce the record. I had been slightly underwhelmed since the release of their brilliant EP ‘Pressure to Succeed’ in 2011, however, ‘Time & Space’ has surpassed every other release in their discography. It’s twenty five minutes of incredible energy straight from the start especially ‘Generator’ which was hugely popular on their recent UK tour and sent small venues into a frenzy. The incredible hard hitting drum sequences and Beastie Boys like vocals is such an incredible and addictive sound in the opening ten minutes of this record.
The silky ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Blind’ is a huge anthem and one of my songs of the year, it reminds me of some the best bands in the 90s like Madball with so much attitude. There is never a dull moment on the record, so many changes of pace keep you headbanging throughout and the guitar skills are equally impressive. ‘Can’t Get Away’ is one of the longest tracks on the record, the vocals are superb and the hooks are so catchy. It’s just a non stop, smash mouth record which has everything to keep you interested, it’s easily the best hardcore record in the last five years, ‘Right To Be’ is another huge anthem with so many unique sounds and riffs. This is an outstanding record which will propel the band to success worldwide. JP
There has been so many outstanding albums and EP's this year, possibly more than I can ever remember coming out in a single year before. But for me there is one clear stand out, and that's Alter Bridge's magnificent Live At The Royal Albert Hall live album / DVD. Featuring the phenomenal Parallax Orchestra led so brilliantly by Simon Dobson, between them Alter Bridge and The Parallax Orchestra crafted and conjured a re-working of all of the band's biggest hits and some very choice deep cuts. The fact that they did it at all is great, but to then put that on as a pair of very special shows at London's famed Royal Albert Hall, meaning around ten thousand very lucky fans (including myself) got to witness it firsthand produced memories everyone there will treasure forever. It seemed a no-brainer to release the event as a live album and DVD and thankfully that's exactly what Alter Bridge have done.
I could go on almost indefinitely about how good this album is (and have done in other publications already), but if you ever imagined how Alter Bridge might sound with an Orchestra, you would have wanted this to be the end result. Of the big songs, ‘Addicted To Pain’ sounds more thunderous than ever, with the main riff (already among the heaviest in the Alter Bridge arsenal) sounding extra powerful when topped up with brass and strings. ‘Cry Of Achilles’ sounds equally massive, especially when the bass section in the bridge is topped up by the Parallax string section, while ‘Ghost Of Days Gone’ By has never sounded as uplifting as it does here. The chance to hear rarities like ‘Fortress’ and ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’ (the latter played live for the first time ever at these shows) is special enough for devotees of Myles and co, but the orchestra just makes it all the more special. The's band signature song ‘Blackbird’ is likewise as majestic as it has ever been, and it is an album that you just never want to end, much as it was seeing the show in the flesh. These versions of these songs will likely become the default way to listen to them for an awful lot of people, I know they will for me. This album has gone straight into my top 10 of all time, and that's why it is my album of the year. JG
Spider-Man fans haven’t had a good web slinger game since the one for the second movie way back in the early 2000s. Many games have tried to replicate this magic captured in a bottle but failed and now Insomniac have created not only the best Spider-Man game but possibly one of the best games of modern times. I think the most important thing about your friendly neighbourhood hero is the swinging. When a Spider-Man game is released you want to feel like the wall crawler, it shouldn’t feel stiff or difficult to maneuver it should feel free, smooth and more than anything it should be fun. I mean it looks great. This game captures it perfectly, the variations of swinging, the pace, the acrobatics, the fact that you can only swing if there’s a building nearby, it’s just perfect. Plus there’s little details about it, for example swinging through the gap in a water tower. The first time that happened I lost my sh*t. This would fail miserably though if it weren’t for the perfectly realised imagining of New York City. On its release I remember reading an article calling this game “the perfect New York walking simulator ruined by being a vigilante.” That much is true, New York is without being cliché a “marvel”, it includes several cheeky landmarks too such as Grand Central Station, Empire State Building and then other fan favourites like Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Santorum. Being given a little side challenge to photograph all of these landmarks is not only fun but also interesting. The citizens of New York are either really for Spider-Man and will high five you or will just hate on you for no good reason, although it’s probably because of J. Jonah Jameson’s podcast. Next to the swinging I suppose it’s best to go straight into the fighting aspect, Spider-Man has always had a comic way of fighting the bad guys, he’s not the stern brutish juggernaut but instead he godes his enemies and outwits them with his humour. It’s refreshing to see that these bouncy one liners make it into the fighting. The Arkham style combat is fantastic and having destructible environments really adds to the experience. Unlocking new abilities as you go keeps the fights feeling fresh as well.
Okay onto the story, we join Peter Parker when he’s been doing the crime fighting thing for eight years and somehow still hasn’t figured out the perfect balance between his two personas. MJ is fully aware that he’s Spider-Man and this has broken their relationship. Usually in superhero games the parts about the alter ego feel forced or even dull but with this I genuinely wanted to know more about him as a character. He still holds high esteem and love for his Aunt May, he’s hopelessly in love with MJ and he’s happy to help anyone, including working for free for Doctor Otto Octavius, his mentor...WHAT?! Yeah, Mentor. The story progresses well and there’s not really a point where I didn’t want to play on and find out what else was awaiting me. One reason I didn’t was because the side missions are so damn fun! Everything about this game is entertaining. I will say that playing this game until the end is highly rewarding, the different enemies that come out of the woodwork are awesome and the city changes in regards to the story’s progress. I’m very old school when it comes to games, I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve been talking to someone about games and they’ve said “the graphics are amazing” to which I’ve retorted, “I don’t give a sh*t.” I grew up with Super Mario Bros, Tekken 3 even now I play Worms on PS1. Graphics don’t make a good game they just enhance it, it’s like the whole 3D argument for films but I won’t get into that. The fact that Spider-Man is fun to play, engaging in its story and is beautiful to look at is why it’s probably the best game I’ve played this year. The graphics are a small bonus to me and it does look stunning I won’t lie. The small details on the characters faces are incredible and the photo mode in the pause menu has allowed me to create some incredible shots while swinging through New York or fighting some bad guys. Quick selfie while battling Vulture, obviously. This game did everything it promised and more, aesthetically it’s beautiful, the story is one of magic and wonder, the gameplay is magnificent from the web slinging to the many different ways you can engage in combat and there’s even a choice of Spidey suits. I may never get bitten by a radioactive spider and be able to swing from buldings (though in the Midlands that would be rubbish) but playing Spider-Man on PS4 brings me that much closer to the ultimate dream of being Spider-Man. Insomniac have also said this will be the first in their branch of Marvel based games. Maybe we’ll get another Spider-Man or perhaps Iron Man, only time will tell. Until then we’ve got the DLC for Spider-Man and I can’t wait to break into it! RO
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Features interviews from the following: Nightwish, A Perfect Circle, You Me At Six, Flogging Molly, Atreyu, Beartooth, August Burns Red, Mem...
Published on Nov 29, 2018
Features interviews from the following: Nightwish, A Perfect Circle, You Me At Six, Flogging Molly, Atreyu, Beartooth, August Burns Red, Mem...