THE LONGEST AND BEST INTERVIEW WE’VE EVER DONE: A SHORT FANZINE ABOUT ROCKING #32
At the risk of repeating sentiments expressed elsewhere in this issue, ASFAR has long championed LAST WITNESS, so it’s pretty exciting to see how things have really picked up for the band in the past few months. Hooking up with management a few months ago has helped them to build on the buzz they’d already created since coming out of hiatus back in 2009, and the release of new album ‘Mourning After’ should be the instigator for even bigger and better things. Leaving behind the raw aggression of first full-length ‘An Unfinished Life’, the London lads’ new record is a slick slice of crushing,straight-to-the-point brutality that stands out in a metalcore genre otherwise flooded with uninspiring mediocrity. Just before the album, the band embarked on their biggest tour to date, supporting the bewilderingly popular The Devil Wears Prada. They also found the time to play a headline show to mark the release of the new record, which is where I caught up with singer Theo Kindynis for half of this interview. The other half was answered by guitarist Anthony Sykes via e-mail, but I’ve cobbled it together so hopefully the whole thing flows well enough.
So how’s the tour been? You can be honest – in a careful way!
Theo -Tour’s been great for us. It’s the longest tour we’ve ever done as a band. The Devil Wears Prada are probably one of the best bands we could ever play with cause they’re really heavy, but they’re also very popular – scarily popular, especially in the States. So if somebody was to say ‘who do you want to tour with, you can pick any band?’, they’d probably be in the top five. I think there’s been a lot of kids who’ve never heard of us before.
You got added to the tour pretty late didn’t you?
T - Yeah, I don’t really know what went on behind the scenes. We had an idea we might be on the tour for a while but because it was so late we just assumed we wouldn’t be on it. Luckily we could all play the shows and I think it’s been a really worthwhile tour for us cause a lot of kids who’ve never heard us before, hopefully will check us out.
I guess it’s a new experience playing bigger venues as well?
T -Yeah, some of the caps, like the O2 Academies are huge, all but three of the shows have had massive barriers, so it’s been weird. Definitely we’ve noticed…prior to this tour I always thought having a big stage was the best thing ever, but I think smaller stages and no barriers are the way to go. As much as I feel with this album we’re no longer a hardcore band. We’ve got management, as much as that’s maybe not what we always wanted, but we’re no longer a DIY band.
The big news for you guys is obviously ‘Mourning After’ coming out in a few weeks time. When did you actually finish up the record? Who did you record with and how was the recording process?
Sykes - We recorded the album in the first week of September 2011 at The Ranch in Southampton with Neil Kennedy. The recording process was awesome, we had a whole week in the studio so we recorded in the daytime and we stayed in a converted horse stable next to the studio at night. We were able to try out a bunch of new stuff that we’d never done before, just trying different snares, toms, amps, pedals, guitars etc so that was really cool. Neil was really great to work with and we got along really well with him. The album was mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Music in New York in October and we’ve been sitting on the record ever since.
‘An Unfinished Life’ had a bit of a crazy gestation in terms of the album not coming out when it was done, then the break you took before it was released – I take it things were a lot more straight-forward this time?
S - Yeah it was a lot more straight-forward this time. The first record was a bit of a mess; we recorded in one studio then did vocals and mixing in another studio with over a year gap in-between. This time around we went for the more conventional option of going to a studio and recording/mixing it there.
What lessons do you think you learnt from ‘An Unfinished Life’ – both in terms of the writing/recording side of things and in terms of getting the record finished?
S - I’m not really sure what lessons we learnt other than don’t record half an album and then try and finish the other half in a different studio with a huge break in-between. A lot of bands slag off their first album or whatever but I still dig the record, it’s a collection of songs that we spent a long time writing as young kids in Bobby’s basement and dingy rehearsal rooms in Croydon. I think the paid off and it’s a nice memento of that time. The recording isn’t the best but it’s FAR from the worst!
Did you spend a long time on the writing side of things? Who handles writing duties in LW and do you have a ‘set’ way of working?
S - Well we tried to write in the summer of 2010 but things never really took shape for whatever reason so we scrapped what we had bar a couple of riffs and started writing again in early 2011. Bobby (Daniels – guitar) and Connor (Christie – drums) write most of the songs and then we go through them in rehearsal and the rest of us may have an input depending on who’s there etc.
Listening to the new album, it sounds like a big step forward from ‘An Unfinished Life’ – in what ways do you think you’ve moved your sound forward these past few years?
S - Well we’re all a lot older now and as we’ve grown up a bit we’ve been able to develop our sound from ‘An Unfinished Life’ to ‘Give Up’ and now on to ‘Mourning After’. We’ve taken influence from different genres - perhaps not directly but it’s definitely evident in the song-writing. The other obvious changes are line-up changes, the band has always been me, Theo and Bobby and a mixture of people but now we’re solid with Connor and Adrian (Cecil – bass) - that has helped us refine our sound.
In particular, ‘Mourning After’ seems to have a lot more layers and less all-out-heaviness than ‘An Unfinished Life’ – would you say that’s a fair assessment? Was it something you set out to do when you started work on the new album?
S - Yeah that is a fair assessment! And yeah it was something we set out to do. We didn’t want this newest record to be as raw and straight -p as ‘An Unfinished Life’ or ‘Give Up’ - we wanted some “production” for want of a better word. Little things can make a big different to a recording and Neil really helped us achieve what we aiming for.
Are you still happy with the old album, or are you relieved to have a whole load more new songs to play live now, and not just those on ‘Give Up’?
S - Yeah as I said before we’re still happy with the old album and ‘Give Up’, however we are dying to play these new songs live. That sounds like one of those things bands say when they are trying to promote their album and get everybody psyched on it, however we genuinely are stoked to play these new songs. We’ve been playing the same set-list for way too long so these new songs will be a nice change!
So I guess compared to ‘An Unfinished Life’, this has had a far more coherent process behind it?
Theo - Yeah, definitely.
So has that influenced the lyrics – are there a coherent subject or subjects?
T - I’m moderately happy – everything that we’ve ever written, as soon as record it I’ll listen to it for a week and think ‘it’s really good’ and then a week later I’ll be like ‘I fucking hate it’. That’s why we never play any of the old stuff, cause we can’t stand to listen to it. Kids come to me and say ‘I love the demo’, but we hate it. I know it’s the same with other bands, like BWP, cause we all like the old BWP stuff and they can’t stand it. But lyrically, this is the most coherent album. It’s almost a concept album in the sense that all but two of the songs have lyrics written about the same event, or trajectory of events, in my life. I didn’t want to have it as solely focused on that. I think for my favourite songs on it, I’ve progressed a lot in lyric writing. I think the next release we do will have a real distinctive vocal style and lyrical style. It started to come to fruition on this record but in the end, because it had to be rushed because of time constraints, we couldn’t really do what we wanted to do with it. But I’m still very happy with it.
I know you said about your lyrics being about personal stuff, is it hard to sing about that stuff, or do you try to keep it cryptic?
T - Well, there’s a lyric on the album, ‘metaphor is a poor excuse’, but I think anyone who knows me will pretty much know what the lyrics about, so I think maybe I should’ve been a bit more cryptic. We’ll see how it pans out!
It’s been noticeable over the past couple of years how crazy kids go for your merch (and the same thing goes for other bands like BWP) – do you find it a bit hard to comprehend how quickly it sells sometimes? Obviously the money is important for the band, but sometimes it seems like some of those kids are more excited by the merch than they are the music – do you feel that’s the case at all?
S - The merch thing is a strange one and one that’s not really been addressed as of yet. It is hard to comprehend what’s going on sometimes yeah: we put shirts up one night and we’ll get 50 orders from all over the world - literally (Japan, Brazil, Singapore, Australia, America, Slovakia, Sweden etc , etc). I don’t really understand it in all honesty and I know people talk about us being a “t-shirt” band etc but I mean how stupid would we be NOT to print merch if people want to buy it? Our band is entirely self sufficient, everything band-related (within reason) is paid for by band money. However no one makes any money from the band, it all goes towards equipment, petrol, merch, rehearsals, van hire, strings, drum skins etc. In regard to kids being more excited about the merch than the music - people often tell me how they see a kid out in a shop or a bar or something with a LW shirt or hat on or and when they speak to the kid more often than not they have no idea what band we are. There’s not a lot we can do about that really…if kids want to buy merch they will, it would be rad if they listened to us as well but shit, what can you do? If they are helping to fund our music then I’m down for it.
T - I think you’ve got to dance with the devil. Ideally, in my perfect band there’d be no t-shirts or record covers or anything like that, it’d be pure music. But because we’re in this consumer culture, people now – especially the younger kids – the only way they can create their own self-identity, express themselves and communicate with other people, is through consumption, mainly in the form of dress. But having said that…I don’t think it’s all bad, no, I do think it’s all bad, but at the same time that is a huge part of a sub-culture. A lot of the kids complaining that its style over substance or whatever are the same kids who, when somebody works into a hardcore show and they’re not wearing the ‘hardcore uniform’, they’re like ‘who’s this guy?’. I think what’s important – cause it’s inescapable, cause society is so indoctrinated with this consumerist ideology and it permeates every aspect of our lives – what’s important is to be reflexive and to understand how that works, how you…When I buy a t-shirt – and I try to buy very little – when I do, at the same time as doing it I’m like this is what I’m thinking, this item that I’m buying expresses who I am as an individual. I’m quite cynical about it really but ultimately, yes, it pays for us to record and to go on tour and have fun.
That said, the aesthetics of your merch and records are obviously very important to you guys – why do you think it’s so key to put a lot of effort into that side of things?
S - Well these are the things that people see and judge you on, so rather than do merch that people expect of us we just decided to do something a little different. We generally only print things that we would wear if we weren’t in the band ourselves. In terms of record covers we definitely prefer photos as opposed to illustrated designs, so we always try and find a piece of photography that we feel is impressive and use that.
T - I feel like kids nowadays are a lot more image-literate. Because we live in a 24/7 media age, we’re bombarded with images all the time. So the image in society now is paramount to how we interpret our world. So that’s a big part of it. It’s a good question, cause I’ve never thought why it’s important, it just seems obvious to me.
Well I wear band t-shirts all the time and I know you want to be associated with the band you’re wearing a t-shirt of, but you guys seem to have particularly strong images?
T - People always say ‘oh, you’ve got really good merch’, but I’ve never really thought of it like that. I’d rather just do it myself cause I feel like asking somebody else to do t-shirts, they usually end up just either doing something you don’t like – I think it’s so simple to do it.
You had someone from Dead Swans do one didn’t you?
T - Yeah, I think apart from the artwork for this record that’s probably the only thing. We got Robbie from Dead Swans to do a t-shirt with a vulture on it, which was cool – he’s a great illustrator – but at the same time I don’t think it necessarily fitted with the rest of the band’s aesthetic, which has been quite consistent. It’s all been computer generated, typefaces rather than hand-drawn stuff.
Who did the artwork for the new record then?
T - Our friend Sam took a photo, but it wasn’t taken for the record, we just saw it and were like ‘that’s perfect’. It kind of solved a lot of problems cause we were close to the deadline and we needed to sort out artwork. We knew pretty much that we wanted a photograph cause we thought we’d use it for the last two records. Again, it goes with the rest of the aesthetic, it’s very rare now that I see a hand-drawn or painted artwork on a front cover and think it looks really great, but that’s just my personal preference.
In relative terms, you guys don’t seem to play that many shows – is that purely down to having other responsibilities? Does it frustrate you that you don’t play that often and do you feel like it’s held the band back at all?
S - Yeah it’s due to real life getting in the way, Theo goes to uni and so do I so it’s kinda hard to tour in term time. Last year we were supposed to tour with Xibalba but the tour fell through at the last minute due to the complete incompetence of the booking agency (No Decline). Aside from that we’ve had other members being away for a while on other tours - so yeah it’s been a logistical nightmare. In the summer Theo and I are going to be free from education so we’ll be touring as much as we can.
You’re putting out the album on Holy Roar in the UK but it’s also getting a Canadian release on Distort and an Australian release on Shock – how did you hook up with Distort and Shock in particular? Obviously Alex at Holy Roar was involved in putting out ‘Give Up’ as well, so what’s particularly good about working with him?
S - Well we feel comfortable with Alex from Holy Roar, we like that he’s organised and professional and he genuinely digs us so it was the obvious choice. Distort was something that was offered to us which sort of blew us away and then the same thing happened with Shock and we were amazed. There’s potentially something else on the cards as well which is fairly unbelievable - I got the email and had to screenshot it on my phone!
Over the past few months you’ve gained management, a booking agent and press – did you make a conscious effort to put things on a more ‘professional’ footing, or have things just fallen into place in a more ad hoc way?
S - These things have definitely just fallen into place, we weren’t really looking for management or a press agent but we were approached by someone we know and have seen do good things for our friend’s band so we decided to go with it, the rest just followed on.
With those things and with you actually being able to give the new album a proper ‘push’, are you really making a concerted effort to take the band places in terms of getting onto big shows etc? I hesitate to use the cliché, but do you want to ‘take things to the next level’?
S - In a non clichéd way I guess the answer is yes, however we are realistic. We just want to have as much fun as possible and tour as much as we can. We’re not in this to make money or try and carve full time jobs out it or something ridiculous. We aren’t kids, we just want to act like them and be on tour all the time.
On the flipside, if things are still at the level they are now in a years’ time, would you be disappointed?
S - I guess we would be disappointed, only because we have put in a bunch of extra effort over the past few months so hopefully it will pay off a bit and we’ll get to do some cool stuff. To be honest though that has already started happening, a few of my boxes have already been ticked so that’s cool. That’s not to say we aren’t appreciative of what we have at the moment, we’re stoked that we’ve made it this far and been able exist for this long.
Some bands when they get management maintain the pretence of doing things themselves.
T - It’s a weird one cause obviously we have our roots in that all the way up to this, but it’s purely being pragmatic. Me and Sykes are the main band organisers but Sykes is in his third year at university and I’m doing my masters so we just don’t have time to sort everything out. It makes it so much easier for us. But it’s like, are you selling out? For me, having Leander (Gloversmith, former Hiding With Girls singer) doing our management means we’ll get to play shows we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do. If we do Download this year or next year, we wouldn’t be able to do that without him, cause unfortunately the music industry is based on social networking. For now we just want to have as much fun as possible and we’re not really that bothered about…there are still lines to be drawn, there are certain publications we won’t have anything to do with.
Hmm, I wonder who that is!
T - And the whole sponsorship thing, we’re not into it.
So it’s just about letting someone do stuff for you but still keeping hold of what happens?
T - Yeah, we just want to have as much fun with it as possible. If it means we get to tour and play bigger shows…
I guess cause you don’t play many shows – like you haven’t played much in London at all.
T - Yeah, other than the Shai Hulud tour, which I don’t count cause it was really badly attended, this is the first time we’ve played London since the last time we played here, which was a year and a bit ago.
So you mentioned your next release, and I know you won’t have songs yet but because you guys haven’t been the most prolific band ever, do you feel like things are on more of a straight footing?
T - Definitely; it’s really frustrating cause we’ve been on tour this past couple of weeks and we kind of got thinking, we’ve been doing this since 2006 – I mean we had two years out, but essentially we’ve been doing this since 2006, so six years, and realistically we’ve achieved very little in terms of actually putting music out which, as a band, should be your main function really. Well playing shows, but we hardly play any shows any more. But I think we’re on a roll, now we’ve got a good, solid album that we can tour off. We were kind of happy with ‘Give Up’, but it was a bit of a nonsense – basically its two tracks so we couldn’t really tour that, but we’re trying to keep the ball rolling and write another EP to follow up this record. That’ll be out – we’re aiming for summer, it might be a digital release cause vinyl takes ages to press. But we definitely want to keep writing. I kind of wish, like for this record, I was like we should change our name and start as a new band. But the rest of them were like, no, we can’t. We’ve worked a lot – well, we haven’t…
People know the name though don’t they?
T - Yeah, hopefully we can swap peoples’ opinion, if they give it the time of day. Probably, if I’d listened to the previous stuff, I’d think it was shit and I wouldn’t bother, but I think this record is by basically a different band in terms of how it sounds.
I know you have the release show on February 16th, but do you have anything else lined up over the next few months? Do you really want to support the album in terms of touring etc. or is it a case of playing as and when you can?
S - Obviously we just had the The Devil Wears Prada tour which was really fun. We have Hevy Fest booked we’ll be heading to Belgium for Juke Box festival too along with some other UK festivals which we can’t announce yet. We will tour as and when possible up until summer 2012 but as I said before - after June that’s when we’ll really get into it. We’re also pretty keen to get back in the studio and carry on writing!
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