Infinite Ceiling: An interview with Tides of Man

Tides of Man soundcheck dunk!festival 2018
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I befriended Florida-based Tides of Man last year when they played a handful of shows with the band Ranges, who I was on tour with. We fast became friends, and hearing them play unreleased songs every night raised my expectations of upcoming album, Every Nothing.

They gave me the nickname Baggins – a New Zealand/ Lord of the Rings reference – and we shared some great times on the road. It was a ridiculously fun week involving lots of beer, Taco Bell, sleeping in tour vans and listening to great music. I was fortunate enough to see them again half a year later, when they played dunk!festival in Belgium this May.

Their last album, Young and Courageous, stands as one of my favourites. And Every Nothing follows suit as a well-crafted, emotionally charged masterpiece.

I interviewed guitarist Spencer Gill to find out what Tides of Man have been up to in recent years, and to learn a bit more about the new record coming out.

Spencer Tides of Man dunk!festival 2018

Spencer at dunk!festival 2018

Joseph James (Baggins) – Will Not Fade: First up, congrats on the new album. I know you’ve put a lot of time into Every Nothing, so it must feel good to see all that effort coming to fruition.

Let’s go back a bit to start with. Tides of Man started off as an entirely different sounding project. To me, your earlier albums sound like Coheed & Cambria. Then Tilian (vocals) left, and after failing to choose on a new singer, you decided to continue without one. How did your old fans react to Young and Courageous being an instrumental album?

Spencer Gill – Tides of Man: Our old fans were very open to our new sound. We had overwhelming support on our crowdfunding campaign from our existing fanbase and a lot of people were very happy with the transition. Of course there were people who didn’t appreciate the transition, but that’s completely natural in any big change I think.

How does writing instrumental music compare to writing music that features lyrics?

It’s definitely different. You can’t rely on a Verse/Chorus structure, and you have a lot more space to fill than if there were vocals there. I think each part has to be chosen carefully and you have to keep the melody interesting. The feel of a build, or the tone of an individual instrument suddenly becomes very important when it’s not sitting back in the mix underneath vocals. 

Does your music have a message? What inspires the songwriting process?

We like to be subtle with our message. We feel that music (especially instrumental) has a lot to do with the listener’s personal connection to it. We definitely have a certain theme in mind for each album, but we like to leave a little interpretation there for the listener.

Inspiration for us comes from so many different things. Dan could be listening to a new record and really like the tone of some guitar and then we kind of pull from that and write a whole new song. We could be jamming in the practice space, and all of the sudden Alan and Josh just lock into some cool groove out of nowhere. A lot of our songs start off like this, then we quickly record them and rework them until we are completely happy.

I know that a lot of people I’ve talked to discovered Tides of Man through Audiotree. Tell me about the experience of recording an Audiotree session.

That was full-on nerve racking. But the guys at Audiotree made it so smooth, and were very nice to us. They guided us through the whole thing. 

We thought it turned out great, and the recording quality was unreal! We are super thankful to Audiotree for having us on there, and we have definitely noticed that as one of the top ways that people have discovered our new music.

It has been four years since you released your last record. Talk me through what you’ve been doing since then.

Writing, jamming, re-writing, scratching everything all together, fully second guessing all of our ability to write anything again, then re-writing again. In the end, we are finally happy with our new record and proud to put it out. We have put a lot of late nights into this album and we made it a point to never compromise if we didn’t like something. We kept working at it until we were happy.

Dan Tides of Man dunk!festival 2018

Dan at dunk!festival 2018

This is your fourth studio album. How have things changed since you released your first EP ten years ago?

Ha! We are better musicians for sure. We know our way around a studio now, and can really focus on getting great tones and making the studio make the song even better. Before, we were scared of the metronome, and had no idea what we were doing as far as amp selection, drum selection, production, etc. But I think every band goes through that transition of getting familiar with the studio and then using it to their advantage.

Are emo fringes ever going to come back in fashion?

Did they ever go out of fashion? Is this because we used to rock that haircut? 

Haha maybe…

You used crowd funding when recording Young and Courageous. Why didn’t you opt to do that again for Every Nothing?

The last crowd funding campaign was awesome, but we always intended to make the band support itself as a business. Putting out Young and Courageous on our own without a label allowed us to make that a reality. We wanted to make the band do Every Nothing on it’s own dime. It forced us to make decisions with our money and be responsible not only as musicians, but as a business.

Alan Tides of Man dunk!festival 2018

Alan at dunk!festival 2018

On a related note, how does recording and releasing an album independently compare to when you were signed to Rise Records?

There’s a lot more work involved to be short. When you are on a label, you get booked in a studio and show up to record your album. They take care of marketing, packaging, design, distribution, etc. That’s all on us as an independent band. 

We are involved in every aspect of the release of the record, right down to arguing about what exactly should be on the center label of the vinyl.

A Thousand Arms are awesome, and I love those guys so much, but is there an easier option for ordering the record for those of us who don’t live in America?

We are in the works of setting up European distribution of vinyl.

Every Nothing sounds a lot heavier than Young and Courageous. Was this a conscious decision you made when songwriting?

I think it was a natural progression that just sort of happened. The quiet parts are quieter, and the loud parts are louder. That’s how we felt at the time of writing these particular songs.

Tides Of Man setlist from their US tour last year

Tides Of Man setlist from their US tour last year

I notice that the song names written on your setlist from tour last year differ from the new album track names. Have you renamed them, or are there some b-sides in the works?

We have horrible working titles for our tracks, and we have them for so long that we tend to remember them as that title rather than the actual title on the record. A B-Side or two may be in the works, but no promises.

Joel Frieders discovered that on your last album, the track “Hold Still” starts like the Yo Gabba Gabba song by the same name. Have you hidden any Easter eggs like that on the new record?

Ha! That was an absolute coincidence. Someone told me the other day that it apparently has a train noise in a section of it too. 

As far as we know, there are no similarities to any children’s tv shows in our music, but we would be happy to find out after the fact that we accidentally ripped off Barney.

Many of you work as studio musicians. Which has more pressure: playing for other musicians, or working on your own project?

Playing for other musicians is definitely a job in and of itself, and we always want to deliver exactly what each client wants, so there is pressure for sure.

But writing your own music has so much more. It’s hard to explain why, but it feels like you are laying your identity on the line with each note, and if you mess it up you’re done for.

I know that the artwork was one of last things that you sorted out for this album. Would you care to talk about the album cover and general art direction? I know that Dan does design, and Alan is a photographer, so the visuals must be important to you.

Design is definitely important to us. As an instrumental band, all we have to communicate the feel of the record is the design and song titles, so we spend a lot of time throwing ideas back and forth on the direction and how it fits the album. On this one we wanted something that showed mundane everyday existence against pure nothingness. The album is really about the interplay between our fixation on mundane, meaningless things and the bigger picture that we forget to look at.

I should also add that the video for “Static Hymn” is great.

Thanks! Stephen Mlinarcik brought that idea to life! He was awesome to work with.

Tides of Man is based in Tampa, Florida, but Josh lives in London, and last I heard, Alan lives in LA. How do you make it work with such big distances between you all?

Luckily we all enjoy traveling. We always have a home base in Tampa, and Josh and Alan never hesitate to fly in and stay for a while. We’ve never had a problem with the distance.

I’ve seen you play at dunk!festival in both the US and Belgium and you have Arctangent coming up. Does your approach change between playing festivals and standard shows?

We try to simply play our music well and feel it with the crowd. I don’t think that should be any different between festivals and standard shows. 

You’ve played with some great bands during your career. I can imagine that the Karnivool tour would have been incredible. And you were all buzzing when I last saw you in Europe after playing with EF and aswekeepsearching. Which bands have you most enjoy playing with, and who do you still to aspire to share a stage with?

Karnivool was definitely a treat to watch every night. We also really enjoyed playing with Rare Futures (formerly Happy Body, Slow Brain). Of course, touring with Covet and Vasudeva was awesome! Those guys are super talented. Ranges was also awesome to tour with. There’s too many good times to pick and choose which tour we were most grateful for. We have made amazing friends from all over the world because we are able to go out and tour. It’s just been amazing from the get go.

In the future we’d love to tour with This Will Destroy You, Russian Circles, Mogwai, Circa Survive, Thrice, and many more.

Vinny with Tides of Man dunk!festival 2018

Vinny Capitani playing with Tides of Man at dunk!festival 2018

We’ve all spent our fair share of time sleeping in vans. Do your wives/girlfriends get jealous that you sleep beside Vinny Capitani on tour?

They were absolutely jealous until he removed his beautiful locks. Now, not so much.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learnt about touring as a band?

If you don’t constantly try to improve as a band, and tackle something bigger you end up nagging at each other over stupid shit. We’ve learned this from personal experience. You always have to be pushing yourselves towards being better as a band, and you can never get stuck on the losses.

You’ve all eaten a lot of taco bell in your time, having been sponsored by Taco Bell through the Feed The Beat program. What are your top tips for making the most of the Taco Bell menu? I’m happy to hear vegan options too, seeing as a few of you are vegan.

  1. Order anything grilled “extra crispy”
  2. Add a lot of Fire Sauce
  3. Get that creamy jalapeño sauce too
  4. If you’re vegan, get on that Fresco menu. It’s great.

    Exploring the Gates Of Hell in Clifton, NJ

    A post shared by Dan Miller (@tidesofdan) on

My favourite memory of the times spent with Tides of Man was when we went on an adventure in New Jersey, exploring the “Gates of Hell” during the time between load in and sound check. What are some other memorable adventures that you’ve been on as a band?

So many amazing memories as a band! Driving all night to see Moab, Utah at sunrise. A day off at Cedar Point Park back in 2010 when we rode coasters all day with the entire tour party. Sky Diving at sunset on the coast of California. No A/C in the van for 5 days in Texas. Holding up signs at shows to find a place to stay for the night. Seeing Europe and the UK for the first time. Taking shots of “Red Death” in Tours, France. These are just a few.

Every Nothing is due out in August. What upcoming plans do you have for the band?

We are playing Fete De Lion festival August 3rd, and then ArcTanGent festival August 18th, and we plan to do a Europe/UK run in-between the two. Later in the fall we will be doing a US run.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m enjoying the new record and I’m sure that you are excited to share it with the rest of the world shortly. Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

Yes, thank you Baggins. Only other thing to mention is that you can pre-order our album now over at A Thousand Arms website. Check it out.

Tides of Man pre-order options at A Thousand Arms: https://athousandarms.store/collections/tidesofman

Josh Tides of Man dunk!festival 2018

Josh at dunk!festival 2018

Tides of Man links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tidesofman/
Bandcamp: https://tidesofman.bandcamp.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tidesofman
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tidesofman/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGu5lp7dVJNbsYCEjN2Mk_A

All photos by Joseph James (aka Baggins) except a few embedded from Dan’s instagram.

Album Review: Alien Weaponry – Tū

Alien Weaponry Tū
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Mythical Māori figure Tūmatauenga is known as the god of war, among other things. That should give you a fair idea of what to expect when considering that metal trio Alien Weaponry have named their debut album after him.

 commences with “Waikōrero”, a haunting welcome recorded in some Waipu caves. The air hisses and hums as a purerehua [Māori bullroarer – literally translates as moth/butterfly] spins around overhead, while koauau [traditional flute] pierces the atmosphere with shrillness. Henry de Jong recites a welcome in his native tongue. This is how you set the mood.

Which makes the hard-hitting aggressive nature of first song “Rū Ana Te Whenua” all the more powerful by comparison “Listen up!” they cry: hear our message! Cue savage riffs and frenetic blast beats as they chant about the forces of nature unleashing. Death is coming! They reference caves where the dead lie resting, possibly similar to the caves where they recorded the “Waikōrero”. All this mention of death and destruction works in well with the heavy nature of the music, especially considering the warrior-like cries that the band emulate. The boys derived inspiration for the track from the stories of their tupuna [ancestor], Te Ahoaho, who fought the British at a notable battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) in 1864.

I should mention that most songs on this album are not sung in English. New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori, and NZ Sign Language. [Surprisingly English isn’t an “official” language of NZ, although may as well be considered so by default]. Obviously sign isn’t going to feature in audio music recordings. And Māori is criminally under-represented.

Which makes Alien Weaponry unique, even within New Zealand. Sure, we’ve got a few token songs sung in te reo that charted here and there. Taika Waititi’s film Boy brought “Poi E” back to public conscious in 2010. I still remember the goosebumps I got when watching Tiki Tane perform “Tangaroa” at the NZVMAs as a teenager. Personally, the only use of reo I had in my music collection before Alien Weaponry was Kerretta using a karanga on “Kawea Tātou Ki Ngā Hiwi“.

This is obviously a big point of difference for the band. And it’s done with authenticity. The haunting mournful cries reflect karanga, and the strong chants could be compared to haka and war songs. They even use traditional instruments, which are effective in setting the tone as well as adding cultural value to the music.

Don’t let this put you off. You may not understand it all (I don’t), but this does little to detract from the music. I think it enhances the music by adding unique elements. Half of the tracks on the album are written in English anyway, with many songs also featuring dual languages.

Alien Weaponry

Lewis de Jong playing in Porirua on Waitangi Day. Image: Joseph James (Will Not Fade)

They touch on some heavy themes. “Holding my Breath” looks at struggling with anxiety, “PC Bro” explores the effects of social media, and how we can create false realities through it, and “Nobody Here” also explores the addictive nature of it. Fighting racism and retaining cultural identity are themes woven all throughout.

There’s also more than a few nods to their whakapapa [family history], with references to pre-colonial times and New Zealand historical events that happened once the European settlers arrived. “Kai Tangata” – the name a reference to war parties and cannibalistic practice – looks at how one Ngapuhi iwi [tribe] slaughtered another iwi with the use of muskets, which obviously outmatched traditional weapons that Te Arawa possessed. “Urutaa” tells a tale of how Europeans brought illness that Māori had no immunity against, which led to misunderstanding and paranoia.

“Raupatu” – the standout track on the album – is heavy, memorable and features a brutal breakdown. It translates as “Confiscated”, and discusses how the colonist government stole the lands from the native peoples, and set about trying to destroy Māori rights and identity. For many years Māori children were beaten at school for speaking their own language, the language that Alien Weaponry sing. But the message from the bridge is unmistakable:

“You take and take 
But you cannot take from who we are 
You cannot take our mana – (dignity)
You cannot take our māoritanga – (cultural identity)
You cannot take our people 
You cannot take our whakapapa – (family heritage)
You cannot take, you cannot take 
Raupatu!”

One criticism (if you can call it that) is that the sample at the start of “Whispers” is an interview with prominently racist politician Don Brash. The problem with this is that he is a lazy and ignorant man, and mispronounces the word ‘Māori’. I just wonder if international listeners would think that this is correct pronunciation, considering that they’d have no reason to know otherwise.

The production is decent. Tom Larkin from Shihad played a part in production, which earns them bonus points from me. I could certainly see an extra guitar coming in useful for filling out the sound, but they trio sound damn good for just a a three piece. And although it is thrash metal, they use dynamics well, as well as the traditional Māori instruments already mentioned, so it’s not all just a chug-fest that gets tired quick.

Put simply – this is an incredible release. A strong statement both musically and thematically, and all the more impressive when you consider that three school boys are behind it all. I am proud of Alien Weaponry for what they have achieved to date (including raising over USD $12,000 to record this album, and signing to Napalm Records), and can only see them gaining more success as they introduce their strong cultural identity to the world.


Alien Weaponry links:

Website: http://alienweaponry.com

Bandcamp: https://alienweaponry.bandcamp.com/album/t-2

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/alienweaponry

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlienWeaponry

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlienWeaponry

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alienweaponry/

 

Joseph James

See also:

NGĀ TAMATOA WAIATA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALIEN WEAPONRY (November 2017)

Album Review: Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Frank Turner Be More Kind
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I consider myself lucky that I got a sneak preview of this new album when I saw Frank Turner play in Vancouver last year. He’s been a favourite artist of mine for many years now, to the point that the very idea of a new record is super exciting. I’ve held out for it for a long time.

Was it worth the wait?

First up, I must mention that this album feels different. The last album signaled an upturn in mood – the very name denotes a shift to a more positive mentality. And following on from that, Be More Kind certainly boasts a happy-go-lucky vibe.

Admittedly, I was unsure about this record at first. It signals a fairly drastic change for Turner. But then, thinking about it, he has always drawn influence from many places. A hardcore kid gone singer/songwriter, dipping his toes in folk, country and rock along the way. And although this record sounds more campfire than punk rock, it’s still a great listen.

For most of this record, Turner has dropped the punk sound, but raised the punk ethos. It is a political record, albeit gently. Turner copped flack in the past when he flirted with political messages, receiving attacks because of his privileged background that included an education at Eton, and because his message didn’t align with that of many of his fan base.

But recent world events have been catalysts that shifted Turner’s stance, drawing him back to political songwriting. He implores us to fight injustice and hatred, to reclaim identity and join in solidarity against the rising face of nationalism. “Sand In The Gears“, Turner’s last release prior to Be More Kind, was the sound of defeat. Trump had just been elected, and Turner’s response was wanting to hang out at the bar or a punk show and forget about the world.

Thematically, “1933” follows on from “Sand In The Gears” with this desire of wanting to escape realities by hanging out at the bar, but slowly emerging from such a passive stance with a call to action – this time drawing parallels between the rise of Nazi Germany and current world events.

On the whole, Be More Kind compels us not to escape reality, but confront it. This is never more obvious than the track “Make America Great Again”, which takes Trump’s slogan and uses it against him, examining the aspects of America that make it a great country, and highlighting that those elements should … er… trump (?) the negative things that we’ve been associating with the USA in recent years.

It’s a weird call to action, considering the man who wrote it is a Englishman with a history of clearly patriotic songs. What right does he have to comment on the state of America? But I get it. I’m a New Zealander, and I love America too. I don’t blame the country as a whole for the actions of their government – much like I don’t often stand by the actions of my own government, even though they are supposed to represent me.

I can see this being one of the more divisive songs on the album. I enjoy both the music and the message, but picture it rubbing some people up the wrong way.

I don’t love Be More Kind as much as some of Turner’s other albums. I have no issue with the pop songs, but too many tracks are slow and drag down an otherwise catchy and fun album. Title track “Be More Kind” is just too tame for my liking, as are “Going Nowhere”, “The Lifeboat” and “Get It Right”. “21st Century Survival Blues” gets a borderline pass from me – almost worth skipping but with a redeemable chorus. It’s the folky songs that bring the side down.

That said, I’ve absolutely adored “There She Is” ever since I heard Turner preview it in Vancouver last year. It’s a slow burner that still sustains energy throughout.

I feel harsh saying this, but I have my critic hat on. I like Be More Kind, but it really is a case of singles that stand out, with filler sandwiched between them. “Don’t Worry” is a fun, carefree number – Jack Johnson meets “The Bare Necessities” complete with hand claps. “Little Changes” is a catchy wee ditty, with an infectious beat and horns. “Blackout” and “Brave Face” are both upbeat and enjoyable, as is the calmer “Common Ground”.

The verdict? Not a strong cohesive album, but still good enough that I’ll keep listening to it. And I’m still super excited to see Turner and The Sleeping Souls play when they come to New Zealand in November.

A cheesy quote springs to mind. Recent Star Wars film The Last Jedi featured a new character Rose, who says something that left me reflecting long after the film had finished:

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

And I think that line sums up the message of Be More Kind. Fight injustice with kindness, make the racists ashamed, show compassion, celebrate life… Be more kind.

 

Joseph James

Album Review: The Sun Burns Bright – Through Dusk, Came The Light

sun burns bright through dust came the light
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Bear with me when I try to explain The Sun Burns Bright.

The Sun Burns Bright is a solo project from Chris Garr, of Birmingham, England. It is also a Coastlands side-project.

Wait… what?

Garr contacted Coastlands guitarist Jason Sissoyev when he was writing this album, just discussing music in general. The two became pen pals, trading recordings back and forth as they collaboratively wrote an album over the course of 6-8 months. Coastlands drummer Richard Keefer added his beats, and then other Coastlands guitarist Jordan Patrick created the album art.

So we have a trans-Atlantic collaborative solo side project. Got it?

Through Dusk, Came The Light is an exercise in serenity. Tranquil notes, picked with care and precision.

As one has come to expect from the genre, there are serene passages, later with added percussion, which crescendos later in the piece, only to return to the calm soon after. It’s post-rock by numbers, but that isn’t always a bad thing. We find comfort in the familiar, and the warm tones found within Through Dusk, Came The Light only add to that homely feeling.

It’s a beautifully recorded album written with deliberate, exact notes and gorgeous tones. Which is surprising when you consider how it was recorded. That is, on iPads.

Now I know that most serious musos use Mac computers. I’m not a serious musician, so I couldn’t tell you why. But as a teacher, I’ve got very strong opinions about iPads. They’re cameras that don’t capture an image as well as a cheap point and shoot, computers with less functionality than a laptop, and overall horrible devices that create addicts of children in the name of “education”.

I can’t ever see myself changing my mind on this argument. But I cannot argue with the results here. This record sounds great. You won’t ever find me advocating for the use of iPads, but if Garr can create an incredible album like this through the use of Garageband and an iPad then I’ll accept that they have their uses.

Garr proves more then adept on guitar and composition. He explores aural textures with dynamic awareness and subtle layering. And Keefer’s deft drumming perfectly complements the music, adding thunderous energy without overpowering. 

Through Dusk, Came The Light takes the listener on a journey. From the epic climax of album opener “The Glass Is Always Full”, to the sweet melody of “Never Departing Shadow”, past the grandiose “Sky, Wand and Waves” to the sweeping solos of “Home Is Not A Place, It’s A Person”, to the final glitch infused pads of “Silhouette In The Shade”, this is an album that continually moves forward and treads the path of beauty.

The Sun Burns Bright isn’t the most original. But nor is it a tired imitation. It’s a solid début that appears to have already earned Garr a decent following from what I see online.And those fans have a lot to look forward – Garr is already working on album no. three, before even releasing his second one!


The Sun Burns Bright links:

Youtube album link: https://youtu.be/JoDhgwX7CsU

Joseph James