Latest release: This Is the Warning (Warner)
Band site: www.deadlettercircus.com
Having completed their apprenticeship via extensive touring throughout Australia, Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus blew the proverbial doors open with chart-topping 2010 debut LP This is the Warning. Following more successful local trekking, overseas interest followed for the proggy hard rockers. This has included inking a deal with the usually extreme metal and metalcore-focused American label Sumerian Records and plenty of gigging throughout the US. Taking a break from working on their next full-length, they will embark on a mini-tour of Australia this December. Vocalist Kim Benzie spoke to Loud about the heavier direction of their next album, challenges of breaking into US rock radio, the one question he hates getting asked and more.
Q: How is the new material shaping up compared to the first album?
A: I’d say at this stage it’s quite a bit heavier and darker than the old one. But we’re still writing material for it, so it’s hard to pinpoint at the moment. But it’s definitely a bit heavier. I guess it’s just kinda what came out. We’ve just been sponging our experience over the last year, when we’ve been travelling the world, rather than just Australia. I guess it could be a product of the world that we exist in, but we’ve just been feeling like that. We did do a rather extensive, rather heavy tour of the States, all three tours of America with a bunch of heavy bands, so that could be possible. But thematically it could be the times we’re living in at the moment, how we’re all feeling about this… the system we’re in is kind of poised to fail, and it’s up to people to either stand up, and make a stand against the fat, rich dudes behind the scenes actually running the show and not listening to anyone anymore. It feels like everyone’s kind of at a breaking point, ready to stand up.
Q: You were picked up by Sumerian Records in the US, which was a real coup for the band. Was it a surprise to be approached by an extreme and heavy metal-based label?
A: Yeah, but they definitely, we looked at the back catalogue and at first were thinking that it didn’t really seem like the kind of thing we should do. But then we actually talked to the guys and they’re really positive, go-getter guys. That’s where they made their mark when they started, within that scene, but they certainly didn’t want to be that forever, they want to be able to branch out and cover some other styles.
Q: What was the response like when you played in front of those heavier crowds?
A: Yeah, it was actually really good. We kinda figured out that most of those metal guys, it’s a predominantly male audience that listen to metal in the States, but I think we’re the gateway band for them to actually get their girlfriends to come along (laughs). It’s like, we’re still quite heavy, but I’m not screaming, so I think it’s possible there are a lot of metal dudes in America, making love to DLC (laughs). We’ve only really done about 80 shows there, and we’re still only played the same city twice I think. So we’ve definitely noticed it online; but our next trip back is where we’ll really get to see the snowball effect. We’re lucky enough to be that kind of band, that because the music’s good, if someone sees it and they take the CD home and show someone, generally that seed is planted. It seemed to work for us in Australia and I can definitely see that because of the internet we already had some people who knew who we were over there. I could see that same look in their eyes, of people that really get it, like they get it here, and get it with a passion as well. So hopefully all of those people are telling their mates about us. Telling their bros, they don’t say mates over there.
Q: (Laughs) It seems like the rock radio approach in the US is very different to Australia – a band sounding like Dead Letter Circus doesn’t seem to have much chance of getting airplay over there. That must be a different proposition for you.
A: Oh yeah. It’s actually a little bit daunting over there; it’s a totally different structure. You can’t just get picked up by one place and if you don’t have a major label, you know, paying tens of thousands of dollars for an audience with a music director it’s pretty hard to get on, and that’s what it kinda takes over there. So we’re taking the hard work approach where we’re gonna build the live thing to a stage where it demands that people play it. We’ve chosen a harder road, but yeah, that’s just the reality of the market over there at the moment.
Q: That’s ultimately a more rewarding path to take as well.
A: Yeah, yeah. Fuck yeah, definitely (laughs). There’s a lot of driving, it’s such a big place; we spent a lot of time in the van over there, compared to the touring in Australia. Like when we got back we just realised, it’s almost like, having days off and stuff like that, it makes the touring here feel like a blissful holiday. ‘Cause over there, we did like 29 shows in 30 days on the first tour, including like 24 straight, with eight, ten-hour drives between every destination. So it was fucking brutal. When we’re here it’s like, ‘oh wow, we got Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off, that’s amazing’ (laughs). It’s definitely more of a lifestyle over there. If you’re in a band, especially in this day and age where the music industry’s been kind of brought to its knees, financially… It’s just that people aren’t really making any money off CDs; they make money off the touring. In the States, if you’re in a band and you’re doing it for real, you’re committing to a real type of existence. We made friends over there, they live in those vans; a lot of them don’t have places where they actually go home afterwards. They stay on a friend’s couch in between tours, and go on tour for six, nine months of the year. They literally live that Travelling Wilbury life.
Q: Interesting. Regarding the new material, what’s the schedule at this stage for finishing writing and hitting the studio?
A: Well, we’ve already recorded and then we did a little bit more travelling, so we wanted to write a few more. So for the next month we’re just free-writing, just putting together material so we can have a few more songs in the pool. We finish in the studio at the end of February, and hopefully at about the same time, because we’ve already recorded a bunch of songs, that’s when the singles start coming out. I think we’re back in the studio January 21 for the second leg.
Q: You mentioned it’s headed in a heavier direction – do the members listen to much metal?
A: I guess we were exposed to it a lot on that tour, but when we’re back we’re all, because it’s pretty hectic (writing), we don’t listen to a lot of music outside of what we’re doing. Definitely, rhythmically and technicality wise, I feel like those tours affected us; just seeing the precision with which a lot of those players are playing with over there. You could just be heavily immersed. You could get a metal dude to listen to what we’re doing and he’ll just be like, ‘that’s sissy rock’ or whatever (laughs). But it could just be that the themes, the actual tone of it is a bit heavier.
Q: What’s the make-up of your Australian fan base being like – do you see many typical “metal fans” at your shows? Is it more of a straight-up rock following, or a little of both?
A: I would say it’s definitely not a metal fan base here. It sort of floats over; we’ve got an alternative rock scene here with The Butterfly Effect, Karnivool, Cog and those sorts of bands. One thing you notice when you’re in America is it’s 90 per cent guys that go to those heavy shows. Whereas here, we have a good 60:40 ratio of girls who like to rock out as well, which is always a tell tale thing. Then as you work your way through the genres and you get to the full pop and you go to a pop concert, and it’s like, spot the guy. There’s that guy trying to earn the brownie points with his chick or something like that. I’d say we fit right in the middle of that; it seems to appeal to both genders, which is good.
Q: Are you road-testing any new material during these upcoming shows?
A: Yeah definitely, we’re going to give a couple of new songs a run. It’s a rare opportunity to get to actually play them live before you go in the studio, so you can sort of feel a few things differently when you play them live. What it is in the room, you just get to feel the crowd response and the general, where you take the energy meter, the excitement meter.
Q: The first album was such a success, which must have exceeded all your expectations. How do you feel about following up a hit record?
A: Yeah, there’s a high bar that was set. We didn’t know, we pretty much thought it was a joke when we got the phone call. ‘Cause you find out a little bit before, like a couple of days before the actual (figures are released). We thought the guys at our record company were pulling our leg, but it was pretty amazing (laughs). I think the people that like this kind of music in Australia are generally pretty amazingly loyal people who will go out and buy your CD and support you, rather than go and just download it for free. As for having expectations, we just want to put it out there and see what people think, and hopefully we’ll be lucky enough for it to resonate like it did with the last album. A meaningless chart position would be good, just to say that we came in above some horribly manufactured pop artist.
Q: (Laughs) Your fans do seem to be loyal, but the industry is clearly in free-fall. Where do you see its future heading?
A: I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next ten years music becomes free. It’s all about the live show, the touring and other aspects. But I’d like to address the point that I think what it’s done is it’s taken out of the equation when people get stupidly rich off one song. There’s still those couple of pop artists and there’s the One Directions and stuff like that, which obviously is mind-fucking the populace. But I guess it’s made it that you have to work to be a musician now, and you also have to make choices. If you really want it, you’ve got to be there for the right reasons, because there’s generally not many people getting rich. You’re there because you love making music and you love making that connection live with the people, which is ultimately an awesome thing. And I guess it’s also creating a struggle for people; it’s easy to write intense music for example if you’re struggling all the time, which… I could send you a photo of the car that we’re all driving (laughs).
We’re certainly on the lower end of the middle class, writing music from a financial position lower than where everyone else in Australia is. But it’s good, I’m quite happy; keeping you honest seems like a good thing. If it’s going to take out of the equation a bunch of guys with fancy haircuts and one song that was written for them by some dude, ‘cause whoever makes them as a product is going to eventually fail because they’re only going to have a short time in the sun, if that makes sense. But I think One Direction is definitely proving me wrong, because whoever is writing their songs is doing a good job (laughs).
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Look, I’m really hoping these aren’t my last words. That’s such a doomsday question – am I about to die? Are you about to sniper me or something? (laughs) I think the worst possible question anyone can ever ask you is, ‘what can we expect from the show?’ That’s got to be the stupidest question anyone could ever ask you in an interview. It’s like, ‘fuck, I don’t know – hot pants and fucking fireworks’ (laughs).
Dead Letter Circus tour Australia this December:
14/12: Festival of the Sun, Port Macquarie NSW
26/12: Surfers Beer Garden, Gold Coast QLD
27/12: The Entrance Leagues Club, The Entrance NSW
28/12: Fitzroy Hotel, Windsor NSW
29/12: Waves, Wollongong NSW
31/12: Pyramid Rock Festival, Phillip Island VIC