Latest release: Slow Dissolve (Independent)Band site: www.facebook.com/CONTRIVEofficial/
Melbourne metal act Contrive have returned from hiatus as a two-piece outfit, and with a new album, Slow Dissolve, their first in seven years. The Haug twins, Andrew (drums) and Paul (vocals/guitars) have crafted a record containing a loose concept about the “varying options we all now have to communicate with each other, but also creating a catch 22 that the digital age is also turning many people away from real connection or creating a fear anxiety of it”. Slow Dissolve was produced by the Haugs and mixed by Mike and Dave Young of Young Bros Productions in Vancouver, Canada. Dave is also the guitarist for The Devin Townsend Project.
Throughout their career, Contrive has shared stages with the likes of Opeth, Stone Sour, Sepultura, Soilwork, Machine Head, Testament, Cavalera Conspiracy, Coroner and more. Loud talked to Andrew about the new material, his late father’s influence, his 24/7 online metal/rock radio station at andrewhaug.com and more.
Q: So, the band started writing this album two, three years ago now?
A: Maybe four, give or take – we take our time (laughs). Life got in the way, things happened, but we always have taken our time writing stuff. It’s been a hell of a journey.
Q: How far were you into the writing process when the situation with your father arose?
A: I’d actually tracked my drums and the album was pretty much written. There were still finer details of samples, a couple of keys and all that sort of stuff. But I’d tracked drums, I think it was May 2015, then I took a few weeks off and went to the States. And the week I got back our father suddenly passed away.
It was a whirlwind of an experience that none of us are taught as far as grief, and I know everyone deals with things differently. But again, we’re not taught to deal with something that serious. (So we) just put things on hold. When I was in the States, Paul was doing guitar and so was (bassist) Tim (Stahlmann), so the process was moving pretty quickly. Everything just went on pause, that’s kind of where it was, and I think maybe three or four months after going through that process, Tim was lagging a bit. Not lagging as a negative, just that he’s got kids now, and life was changing for him. So we ended up having a discussion to just say, ‘hey, we think we’re getting in the way of this, getting in the way of your life, with the band’. ‘Cause his commitment levels were just sort of waning a bit, which we understood. So he just said he’d finish all his bass stuff, and sort of bow out. It was a sort of win-win, lose-lose, ’cause he said he felt like he was in the way of this for Paul and I, and our desire and drive to do all this.
So at that point, the album was kinda completed, we obviously had Dave Young – who mixed the record with his brother Mike – do the keys. But it was just kinda on pause, we took our time. We weren’t analyzing it, we just weren’t in the mood. I think mentally Paul and I just were not even thinking about it. As much as we always loved playing music and being in this band, it was just literally, no motivation, on pause, while we both dealt with this loss. That’s why it’s a pretty strong feat to actually have this thing out now. People say, are you happy with the result? It’s not even the result, I’m just happy that we got it finished and got it out there. Now it’s like, wow, the songs sound really good, we’re happy with the whole thing. But to look back on everything that has happened, we were just thinking, there was a possibility it wasn’t even going to get finished, because we just weren’t in the head-space to do it. That in itself, getting it done, is massive.
Q: Was there any re-tooling of the music or lyrics after he died?
A: Some of it, a little bit. Paul hadn’t done vocals at that point, and so I presume there were some emotions there in songs and things. But most of the lyrics and the concept was kind of already written. I had a couple of ideas of putting some recordings of Dad laughing that I found on a voicemail, and I think Paul was not too keen on that, it’s a bit too personal, which is something I wanted to do, but that’s cool.
So we just felt like it’s just a tribute, where we found our passion. He found it through football; we were shit at it (laughs), so we just got into skating and music. I think that’s what he’d be rapt with; that we continued staying together and making music. He came to a small amount of shows over the years, and I think the best thing for us is to continue on and do what we’re passionate about. I just think parts of Paul’s vocal delivery and a few melodies might have done something. It’s a hard circumstance at the time and I think Paul’s definitely hit his stride on his vocals and pretty comfortable with where he’s at with his delivery on the album. So that certainly would have had some impact, absolutely.
Q: You’ve made a living for much of your adult life via heavy music, whether it’s hosting radio programs, writing about it or working at a record label, and indulged your passion by also playing in Contrive. Did he come to understand what you loved about heavy metal? Or did he just support you anyway?
A: He was super proud. Obviously most parents as they say, they want their kids to follow the footsteps. I mean, we tried, but we were just shit at football. My Dad had played 420 games for his team, and held the record of the second most games played in the history of the club. I think there was an expectation that we’ll never be as good as him (laughs), and this is when we were playing when we were 12 or 13. But way before that we were already into heavy music and skating, and (there was) just the encouragement of parents; ‘get out there and play’. We were like, ‘Okay, we’ll play footy’. I just think over time, kids just change and they don’t follow what their parents push them to do, or some rebel or whatever. I remember Dad always used to say, you don’t want to play football, or play a team sport because you don’t want to share. I’d be like, ‘What do you mean? When I go skating with my friends at the ramp, we’re sharing’. And he said, ‘But it’s still an individual sport’.
I think as they say, kids will be kids and they’ll find what works for them. We started playing instruments at a later age, we weren’t banging on drums at age six (like) when people put those photos up of them playing on saucepans and stuff. We didn’t even consider playing, we were just obsessed with heavy music at a really young age, and just followed that. I didn’t plan on the radio thing, the playing thing. It was just sticking with a passion I think that’s instilled in Paul and I of my Dad’s passion for football. An obsession, Mum would say; ‘Oh, he was obsessed’. We go, ‘Yeah, he was’, but hey, I guess that’s rubbed off on Paul and I of being obsessed with this music.
I knew my Dad was super proud of where I got myself by just sheer dedication to the cause of riffs. He used to listen to my show every week on the J’s at the time, and obviously he would turn some of the music down because it wasn’t his thing. And he’d critique some of my language, pronunciations and presentation. (He’d) ring during the show and things like that. Of course he was very proud of me, he came to see us play with Opeth. I think over time parents just accept that their kids just do what they’re going to do and they just support them. So I always knew that he was really proud. He used to tell all his friends and people he knew when he’d go to Bali; ‘my kids are deep into heavy metal, they play in a band and my son does radio’. A lot of people said he was always proud and we all knew that. He would always tell us that too… I think Dad’s proud that we’re still at it.
The hardest thing is not being able to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve done’. ‘Cause we’d play him the albums when they’d be finished. So there was that kind of moment after we played our first live show (as a duo) last week, we did an invite, private celebration launch kind of deal, more to just celebrate this milestone of getting back out there. Going out as a two-piece and learning the ropes of dealing with that side of it without having to get another member. I think the hardest thing was when we got home and unloaded the gear, I normally would have rang him and told him how it went, ’cause he was always a bit of a night owl watching TV and stuff.
That hit home, because all this had led up to that event; getting through what we’d been through, then getting the album finished and now we’re finally starting from the bottom again, getting out there and just playing a gig. It wasn’t like a big homecoming or any of that sort of stuff, it was like, ‘alright, now we’re back on ground level again, and let’s just start climbing back up’.
Q: So besides Tim playing the bass parts and Dave on keyboards, was that the extent of the outside players on Slow Dissolve?
A: Yeah, pretty much, then we just run the tracks that way. On (2010’s) The Internal Dialogue we did have some keys on there anyway, and I was triggering them live and hitting sample pads. So when I kind of put the idea to Paul about the two-piece approach, he was a bit apprehensive at the start, ’cause after we had that dreaded discussion with Tim and again it worked out in a good way, but a bad way… Not in a negative, we’re still buddies. We get to continue playing music without holding him up and his family, and he gets to spend time with his family, but he was frustrated that he can’t continue doing this because he hasn’t got the time to do it.
Paul just said, ‘Who are going to get?’And I thought, ‘Man, just to go through that audition stuff…’ And we had the same problem before Tim joined the band. Our first ever live show we played as a two-piece ’cause we couldn’t find bass players. So we’re thinking, ‘Shit, it has gone full circle, we’re going to have to do the old, “Hey, does anyone wants to play bass for us?”,’ and then go through, ‘Yeah, I played in this band, blah, bah, blah’. It’s a lot of dicking around just to get members into bands. I see a lot of bands just have members change like a revolving door and I’d rather just stick with one person then just (have), ‘I’ll help you out for six months’ and then someone else takes their place.
So that’s when I said to Paul, the music’s changed, it’s evolved, listeners don’t care if you’re a ten-piece band or a two-piece band, they just want to hear good music. I just said, ‘Why don’t we just do a two-piece?’ I’d been running keys and trigger pads and samples for a few years now, and that’s never been a problem. We’ll just run Tim’s bass backing tracks, I’ve been on a click for years anyway, so that works. We don’t use laptops either. He was a bit apprehensive at first at just how it was going to look. I said, ‘Well, visually we can really play with this,’ because I don’t know of a lot of other two-piece metal bands that have twins. I guess it’s a marketing angle in some respects, although not contrived, pardon the pun (laughs). But I just said, how about we play side-by-side? I like seeing bands trying different things, just breaking the mould and whatever. That’s when I went, ‘Let’s try this’.
It’s worked out really well. People that saw the gig last week were just like, ‘Wow, visually it looked really cool’. We’re running our own light show now that matches that, and kind of stepped it up in a production sense as well, just to put on a show I guess. And ’cause we rehearse so much it just feels second nature now. I can’t imagine having another member in the band. I’ve had friends say, ‘I’ll fill in on bass for you guys live’, and we’re like, ‘nah’. I don’t know, Paul and I have got this thing, being twins, you’re just in-sync. The feedback has been really good as far as just the visual aspect of it live and the new songs. So that’s when we decided to stick with the two and we’ll see what happens.
Q: Previous albums covered a broad range of musical territory, as does the new record. Because of this, as others have pointed out, Contrive exists somewhat on the periphery of various off-shoots of the metal scene in Australia.
A: Yeah, I think we’ve always just done our own thing and tried to find what works for us and our sound. Everyone borrows from everybody, but we just try not to emulate too directly by choosing one or two main bands. We just try and pick a tonne of stuff that we’re kind of inspired by (that) we might not even listen to directly, but this part has a bit of this kind of a feel. We never plan it; we just see what happens. But ultimately, from hereon we’re going to try and, not so much rush the next album, but we don’t want to take another five years before we put another album out.
I’ve been talking to Paul about this idea of doing some soundtrack stuff as well, more just some of our favourite films and just toying around with a few ideas of… Just ramping this up and going out there, instead of the two-year cycle, play a couple of shows, go back and write another record, then come back out. I think the old model’s dead. You’ve got to evolve, try different things. I don’t mind bands putting out an EP or a couple of tracks at a time. I think we’re just competing with people’s attention spans now, purely because there’s so many more options than ever before, and everyone has more things that they could be checking out than listening to your stuff on Spotify or going to see you play. So that’s kinda what everyone’s competing with, people’s time and attention.
Q: It seems like that within the Australian heavy music scene there’s much segregation among both the bands themselves and the fans. Bands of one sub-genre sometimes only want to play shows with acts of a similar ilk, for instance. I went and saw Thy Art is Murder play recently and there were a few hundred people there for what is essentially a death metal show, but if a bunch of more “purist” death metal bands, whose music is very much in the same vein, were to play the same venue it probably would have attracted a fraction of the crowd, and also a different demographic of punters. What do you see as the key to cross-pollinating audiences and breaking down some of those barriers?
A: I think that’s a tough one, because people want to feel like they belong to a movement or a scene. If I played you Thy Art and Cannibal Corpse or Hate Eternal or whatever back-to-back, and didn’t show you photos of the groups, you’re just going to say ‘This is awesome death metal’. But once people see an image and a look, they feel associations to it and that’s what I don’t get. When you go to shows and it just attracts a different look and a different scene, and I agree, you’re basically listening to the same style of music. People are just drawn to, I guess peer pressure in some respects, and also the wanting to belong to a scene.
Whether that’s going to change, good question. I don’t know, I wish I had the answer. I’ve been encouraging it for years to break down the barriers and all that sort of stuff with sub-genres. But unfortunately there’s just going to be scenes within a scene. Like the Parkway and Amity scene, that’s a scene within a heavy music scene. It’s all metal, but it’s all divided by mainly now fashion and a look. ‘Cause again, if you never saw what these bands look like and you played (someone) their music, you’d just go, ‘Wow, this is cool metal’ and you’d either picture someone with long hair, a beard or whatever. And then you see them and they look like Calvin Klein models with neck tattoos and full sleeves, and you just go, ‘Wow’. It’s different times and different approaches. But I just wish people were just there purely for the music and not just the image factor of it, which does happen. So you go there and support the music, and not worry about what you look like or what you’re wearing. But some are going to fall for that, so let ’em, who cares?
Q: (Laughs) The Australian scene can sometimes feel a little akin to the American one, whereby it seems often trend-driven and fashion-oriented. Whereas from my experience, you go to European festivals and there’s more loyalty to the bands they love, and it’s not uncommon to see acts like UFO or Foreigner play the same stage as say, Cannibal Corpse and Slayer.
A: Yeah, I totally agree. We’re just in that country that people want to associate with a movement. Whereas as you mentioned, going to (European) festivals as well, people are just more broad. They don’t judge on that. I remember my first time at Wacken and I did some vox pops with a few fans for a radio program. I met these 13-year-old kids and asked them who they were there to see. They said Grave Digger, and they’ve been around for centuries. I was like, ‘Wow’, the music just appeals to those people. Whereas in Australia, ‘Oh, they’re old hacks, I want to be down with something hip and cool’. We’ve got more the American attitude of just trying to be hip with the now, and belong to something, to say, ‘That’s my scene’. Whereas in Europe it’s just all about good music, and they don’t care whether the bands are in their 60’s or their 20’s. It’s just music. I just don’t think Australian culture is that broad enough to have that attitude. I wish they did. I would encourage people to travel, go overseas, check out the festivals and you’ll see how much people just embrace music over image and look.
Okay, it’s great that you wear your favourite band’s shirt, you’re proud, that’s kind of your battle armour. But that’s not the most important thing, it’s just there to respect and enjoy the music. So I don’t think Australian culture’s ever going to adapt that way at all, I think we’re just going to stay in a sea of sub-genres where people want to feel like they’re part of a little clan and a group of like-minded people. To say that, ‘I feel welcome’, instead of being out on their own. They don’t want to feel like the odd one out. So I can see why certain scenes attract certain types of people, and certain types of looks. But ultimately, when you break away all that stuff, you’re just listening to a metal band.
I remember when hardcore started adding in double-bass and everyone’s like, ‘It’s hardcore’. I go, ‘That’s metal’ (laughs). Hatebreed were one of the bands that kind of melded that whole thing together, but all these bands just started adding in blast-beats and double-bass. Yet I’d go to a hardcore show, and I’d get looked at and I’d be wearing a Kreator shirt. All these guys in Agnostic Front up there, one dude’s just doing double-bass with a double pedal, and adding in blast-beats and thrash. I’m like, ‘This is metal’. But it had a different look, and you were kind of made to feel like you shouldn’t be there because you don’t look like them. It was just stupid. But like I said, I don’t care about movements as far as a scene, I’m just there to check out the music. And if it’s great, that’s what I’m there for.
Q: Indeed. Shifting topics, what’s the latest on your online radio station?
A: It’s going great. It’s just grown so organically I believe. It’s not one of those things that is an overnight success at all. It’s been a really, really good gradual, organic experience and learning along the way. I had a friend say the other day, because there’s a lot more other people having a crack at this in the online world now and the technology’s there. He was saying, ‘You were kind of ahead of your time, at least in this country,’ because Australia can be a little bit behind. But I’m just super proud that there’s a really good community that I feel like I’ve built through this.
I tell people that it’s just one fan who’s continuing to share a passion for heavy music. And it’s great. It’s a lot of work, but when you love what you do, it’s not work.
We’ve got a lot of things we’re going to roll out later in the year or early next year. It’s just keeping flying the flag for all styles of heavy music. I just try and give everything a fair shake. I can’t like everything of course, but there’s an ocean of music out there now and even (operating) 24/7 you’re not going to give everything a fair shake. Sometimes you’ll see eight versions of one power metal style band and you’ve got to pick the best of the bunch, maybe two or three, and the rest will just be B-Grade or C-Grade versions of that. We get stuff sent from all over the world, all the time, and unfortunately it’s very easy to be in a band, it’s very easy to write and record music now and put it out online.
But it’s a matter of what’s going to resonate, what’s going to stick and that’s why we’re pretty fickle about what we get on there as far as quality, style and all that sort of stuff. We’re not completely opening the floodgates and going, ‘You play in a band? We’ll play ya’. We’re not stuck for content in any way at all as far as music. There is stuff where you go, ‘Hmmm, not bad’, but then you get a band from Poland and it’s just amazing. ‘Wow, I’ve never heard of them before, but let’s give it a go’.
It’s an absolute privilege to be honest, it’s awesome. I still get a lot of people saying, ‘You’re still introducing me to so many good bands, past and present’. And that’s what I tell people, we’re there to celebrate 40-plus years of all styles of heavy music. And just keep it broad. It’s definitely here to stay, and I think that it’s been an organic ride. More people are catching on, and that’s obviously a positive. So I can’t complain there.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: I think we’re writing our best stuff now, and it just feels really fresh. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been going as long as we have, because obviously it’s not a full-time thing, we’re not playing 300 shows a year and all that sort of stuff. So I think that we’ve probably done seven years of good, hard work as opposed to 15 or whatever. So it doesn’t feel like that kind of veteran, we’ve been out for years slogging kind of thing. It’s like, I can’t wait to start this again and get out there. ‘Cause it’s different, we’re going to be playing with different bands at different venues. It’s new and fresh, and that’s how I’m approaching it.
As for the listeners out there, keep an open mind and hopefully it sticks. If it doesn’t, well, maybe send it to a friend who you think might be interested and see what happens. There’s so much music out there and it would be a shame for this one to slip through the cracks of certain people’s ears.