Latest release: From Darkness (Resist)
Band site: www.facebook.com/iexistcbr
Infusing sludge, doom, blues and hardcore into their own distinctive concoction, Canberra’s riff-heavy juggernaut I Exist are about to unleash their monstrous new LP From Darkness. They will also launch their third album via a series of upcoming shows. Axeman Josh Nixon (also of stoner/doom veterans Pod People) talked to Loud about the new material, influences and favourite releases of 2013.
Q: Firstly, the new album’s artwork is absolutely killer. What can you tell us about its creation?
A: To be honest, I don’t actually know exactly who came up with the concept, but I remember Jake (Willoughby, vocals) talking about a general visual concept with the themes being war, death and rebirth. I’ve kept out of the visual presentation/design stuff for the most part in I Exist as this is really their baby. I was a lot more involved with other aspects of cover design in the past with other bands. But I do admit to cringing a little bit as I thought that sounded a bit generic or clichéd at the time.
Then Richey Beckett and the guys got together in England where Richey lives, took that concept and delivered just a stunning piece of work and showed once again that I haven’t really got much of an idea about generic or clichéd ideas. He took the brief and destroyed any negativity I thought I had toward the design. I think he kept us on the edge of our seats a bit, as the art wasn’t delivered ‘til a touch past the agreed timeframe we needed it for printing, but the end result was absolutely more than worth the wait.
If you like Richey’s artwork, I strongly suggest following his Instagram account @richeybeckett. He is constantly posting amazing work for all sorts of projects, from a 40th anniversary image for the movie The Wicker Man to a Phantom Lord image for Metallica. The guy is obscenely talented and we all couldn’t be more stoked with the result for both the vinyl and CD pressing.
Q: I understand you had more songwriting input on From Darkness compared to the first two records. Can you tell us about how the writing process differed this time around?
A: I guess that’s a bit reflective of what I said above about the artwork. I try my best not to butt in too much. I guess it comes down to that on this record I couldn’t help but throw a few more ideas into the mix. My context on those first two records was trying to either complement the material or in the case of the second record, add another layer of dynamics to the more brutal assault of the rest of the stuff on there, with the acoustic song and ‘Wretched Earth’, which I wrote. Really in the past I was more doing a bit of riff editing.
This time around, I think it would be fair to say that this was a pretty difficult process for us. Azzy (Aaron Osborne, guitars) has been in Melbourne for a couple of years now, so in terms of writing and doing the editing on the songs that we talked about before, there was a lot more too-ing and froing getting people on the same page.
The thing is that there are six of us and we’re all striving to write the best I Exist record we can. We all have pretty complementary, but different ideas and tastes in music. So along the way there was a lotta tense talks, riffs coming and going and changes being made all the time.
Personally, my contribution is just a little more overt ‘cause I’ve been around a bit longer and feel more comfortable to share ideas now. Jake was also a lot more vocal in terms of structures and edits to riffs, and I would try and offer something to that process by amending a riff or a feel to fit with those ideas. Some stayed, some went.
Murph (Simon Murphy) our drummer is also kinda the final say as his drums determined a lot of the feels and “vibes” of the songs, for want of a better word. He also wrote and played all the parts on the last song, the long instrumental tune, which once again shows that the best guitarist in the band is our drummer.
Al (Young, bass) and Sam (Provost, guitars) also had a lot of input into structures and writing parts. But really I think the answer to the question is that this record, more so than the first two, is a lot more of a whole-of-band effort in that the original songs Azzy gave us were more heavily edited than the first two records. So what you get is an album that encompasses six people’s musical vision. Hence why we had a lot more fights finishing the writing off.
So far the majority of feedback has been really positive, so I guess maybe that process helped weed out a lot of little issues. I think ultimately it bodes well for the next record as well, as we’ve been through the fire a bit now and I reckon we’re stronger for it.
Q: You mentioned how Aaron lives in Melbourne now, while the rest of the band remains in Canberra. Does this create many logistical issues?
A: There are little things, like it takes us a show or two to tighten up having all six of us jam together. Along the lines of the above, having Azzy around does make for a more decisive approach as he is pretty quick and decisive as he doesn’t smoke a bunch of weed and dick around on decision-making. If anything, I think I probably present a more detrimental logistic issue because I’m older and have kids, which means there’s times I can’t tour or be available. This was part of my own issue and made this album one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to work on as I had a second child in February this year.
That and I’m borderline spastic. Like on the Melbourne Black Breath show where I booked a flight from Melbourne to Canberra rather than the other way around. You would think I have learned by now, but I did something similar in Blood Duster and Pod People before. I am high maintenance, more so than having Azzy in Melbourne. The situation isn’t ideal, but thus far we’ve made it work and the way we’ve evolved to write has played a part in shaping the band we’re evolving toward.
Q: You’re on a hardcore label, play many hardcore shows and have numerous hardcore fans, but to my ears, the new album is the most metal-sounding thing you’ve done yet. Is that just a natural evolution?
A: The word “hardcore” doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ve heard the other guys in the band say that we’re a hardcore band and I don’t really relate to what that means. But I respect them if that’s what their view is of our music, as I’m just not qualified to make a call on it as hardcore to me is DRI or GISM or Agnostic Front. I don’t really hear that in us. But what the fuck do I know?
The thing is, Azzy listens to a tonne of metal and always has. Jake listens to a lot of metal too. Al, Murph and Sam do listen to a lot of the same stuff as us. But when one of us drives the van and gets control of the iPod, you pretty much hear the divide in who is into what.
I think we’re evolving into I Exist, a better I Exist than what we started with and is a summation of the musical influences we have. That gives us the freedom to have a doom or metal section interspersed with d-beat sections or fast triplet feel guitar bits that are in modern hardcore a lot. Maybe this record is a touch more metal than the rest.
But it’s cyclical to me. I’m old as shit, that fast triplet guitar feel that is a hardcore staple is ripped straight out of 80’s thrash – it’s just the drum beats have changed. The thing I love about playing in this band is that we do not play cookie-cutter breakdowns that make a lot of that music sound like the same band.
What I appreciate from the “hardcore” list in the question though, is the support of Resist Records, our Aussie label. Graham, Dani and Mel have been an absolute treat set of people to work with, are entirely professional and take care and pride in what they do on the label and do what they say they will do. That is something that a lot of metal labels I’ve been involved with in the past could learn from.
Q: You trekked to Melbourne’s Goat Sound Studios to (be abused by and) work with Blood Duster’s Jason Fuller on From Darkness. Obviously you’re long-time friends with Fuller, but how was that experience?
A: The thing I love about recording with Fuller is that he knows me, he knows my limitations and he knows how to communicate with me to get me to do what I gotta do in the studio. Yes, the mockery is flying thick and fast, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The tough part was the timing and there was a sense of pressure for me this time that I have not dealt with on any other recording before. Tia, my youngest daughter, was only a couple of months old and Europe was encroaching for the boys ever closer and I couldn’t make it down for the first session at Toyland Studio’s in Northcote where we tracked drums and bass with Adam Cal and Fuller.
While the lads were doing the parts, certain tempos and riffs changed a bit and as I had been jamming them for a while, there were a few curveballs to deal with in the studio. I tracked all my parts in about six hours which is why there is probably a few less licky bits on this record than the past two, and I also consciously went less wah-wah crazy than I did on the last record.
Everyone in Australia playing any flavour of heavy should record with Fuller. He’s fast, efficient and his ear gets the right sounds quickly. From King Parrot, to Kromosom to the new Clagg record, the proof is in the work and he doesn’t cost 301 money. Great gear, good studio, engineer is a jerk – self-aware – but a jerk (I love him).
Q: The mixing was handled by Phillip Cope and Jay Matheson at The Jam Room in South Carolina. How satisfied are you with the finished product?
A: I am slightly irked over two elements of the record. Normally post-mix and mastering I am considerably more irked, so I can only say that this is a testament to their good work. They were very responsive to us and considering the mixing reviews were handled in a van driving around Europe with patchy Wi-Fi, I am impressed with the end result.
Q: You’re undertaking a launch tour for the new LP. What touring plans do you have beyond these gigs?
A: Well, as I continue the work/life/band balancing act I am going to try and tour more with the boys next year. But as ever we’re adaptable to shows from Eyehategod to Every Time I Die and everything in between. We’re available for Soundwave if AJ (Maddah) needs a quality local act with some overseas touring experience.
Q: I Exist have played a diverse range of support slots, yet always manage to morph musically to be able to fit whatever bill you’re appearing on, from Hardcore to Bastardfest to Frenzal Rhomb, Eyehategod and Every Time I Die. What is about your music that translates to such a wide range of heavy audiences?
A: (Laughs) This comes down to my answer on the hardcore thing. We’re the sum of many parts and can tailor our set to suit the gig we’re playing. Personally, I reckon we go down a bit better with the metal crowd as some of our weirder elements tend to leave the hardcore crowd a bit cold on the surface. But that is entirely based on my own perspective and the metal scene is used to me being a dickhead. We like riffs, so no matter what your preference on heavy tunes are, if you like big riffs, the chances are we’ve got a couple that you can get down with.
Q: You have played some shows with four axemen in the past. Is there a new fourth guitarist we don’t know about yet, or are you sticking with three for the time being? Have you copped much flak for incorporating so many guitarists?
A: There was one show when we played first at Groovin The Moo a couple of years ago and the stage manager and crew were setting up at like 9am or something, having been there for a few hours and driving down eight hours overnight. He asked us what our set-up was and was like, “you guys are fucked”, with a half smile and I don’t think he was joking. It makes it a bit tricky organising backline and stuff at times with the three of us but yeah, no four guitarists for a little while, but that can always change pretty quickly.
Q: I Exist signed to Prosthetic in the US and have toured overseas recently. Are there further plans for world domination?
A: Well, as much fun as the lads had in Europe that certainly soaked up all the available leave the boys had with their respective jobs. Jake has just qualified as a sparky, Azzy is at uni and working and the rest of us all have full-time jobs.
I’m not saying we’re not keen to play overseas, we are, but there are limits for all of us on the practical side of getting there and doing it. Again though, totally willing to discuss with any promoters willing to back us on the journey! I get the sense from talking to the lads as a group and individually since they got back that there is a pragmatic understanding of being out for a month on the road. It’s great fun, but there’s shows that had 18-hour drives between them and that’s the hard slog stuff. Fun but!
Q: We couldn’t let you go without asking about Pod People. Is the band over for good, or could some further shows happen at some point in the near future?
A: Yeah, I reckon we’re done. I’m still kinda keen to finish the trilogy off, but I doubt it is gonna happen. I have been writing a new doom project I have had in the back pocket for a few years based on Zoroastrian burial rites, which totally lends itself to brutal imagery called Dakhma. That translates to “the towers of silence” in English.
I’ve got some folks lined up to help me once I’ve finished my writing, which is about three-quarters done and once I demo it I plan to record it. It’s heavier than Pod People, but not quite at a Whitehorse level of sheer ball tearing-ness. But that is as close to Pod that there will be for a while. I think I am going to invest in printing some covers and putting the last album out on vinyl though; will be ultra, ultra, ultra limited though.
Q: On a more personal note, what have been some of your favourite releases and gigs of 2013?
A: Portal’s Vexovoid record was stunning. As far as extreme metal goes, this album captures and evolves that level of Lovecraftian disturbia hinted at on early Morbid Angel stuff like Altars of Madness. They contemporise that extremity that Morbid Angel impacted with in ’89; check the video for Curtain on YouTube and get the record, those guys just push all the buttons for me. I think it’s my album of 2013. Otherwise, Church of Misery, Clagg, Orchid, Solstice, Windhand, Cathedral, Exhumed and Skeletonwitch records were all rad. I didn’t mind the new Sabbath either. Gigs wise, what an Oz year for doom. Sabbath, Vitus, Sleep, Church of Misery and Melvins at the end were all amazing – Sleep was probably the best. Black Breath was also tonnes of fun.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Please buy our album so we can record another one, and come see us in December for beers and good times. Thank you very much for the interview.
You can catch I Exist on the following dates-
30/11 – City Magpies Club, Canberra (18+)
6/12– Sun Distortion, Brisbane (AA)
7/12 – Hermann’s Bar, Sydney (18+)
13/12 – Bendigo Hotel, Collingwood (18+)
14/12 – The Metro, Adelaide (18+)