Latest release: II- The Broken Passage (Resist)
Band site: www.iexistmusic.com
Eclectic collective I Exist have very quickly become one of the most promising bands within Australia’s metal/ hardcore/ crossover scenes. They’ve just unleashed their new slab of heaviness in the form of II- The Broken Passage, and have a hefty bout of touring lined up in support of their new release. Loud chatted with guitarist Josh “JJ LaWhore” Nixon (also axeman for Canberra doom metal/stoner rockers Pod People and a former member of grindcore favourites Blood Duster) to talk about the new record, working with acclaimed producer Billy Anderson, what Pod People are up to next and the current state of affairs in the Australian heavy music scene.
Q: The new album II- The Broken Passage is out now and seemed to be winning rave reviews. In what ways do you feel it’s a step up from the band’s debut?
A: Definitely. The band has had a very sharp trajectory due to the hard work ethic of the lads. Aaron (Osborne) is the band’s main songwriter and he cannot sit within 20 feet of a six- stringed instrument without penning four or five songs’ worth of riffs. I was asked to join the band when bassist Alex (Young) was over in South America on an extended holiday. The whole first album had been written only a matter of a couple of months after their demo and seven-inch release. We recorded the second album almost a year to the day after the first and doubtless Aaron has half-a-dozen or so new songs on the boil now.
This burst of creativity and the fact that we’ve all been rehearsing and playing a lot of shows together over the two years I’ve been involved just shows that all the guys are getting better at their craft and finding it easier to get ideas down. Playing the bastardised mix of styles that we do, incorporating a fair few genres of heavy music, I think that the songs on this album are a step closer to getting to a place where those styles kinda fall into a more “signature” sound. With every recording I’ve ever done, my personal goal is to do better than the last one. I think Aaron coming into his own as a songwriter and the level of performances by everyone, especially Jake’s (Willougby) vocals, demonstrate an improvement on A Turn for the Worse.
Q: Did the band’s songwriting process differ at all on this record and how much involvement did you have in this process?
A: In part, the process was a bit more collaborative in that everything was written for A Turn for the Worse when I joined. It was also a bit more isolated in that a few months after A Turn for the Worse, Aaron moved down to Melbourne to be with his lovely lady and joined 10 or so other bands to be an outlet for his riff-addiction.
Aaron came back with a lot of tunes and, personally, my involvement was more suggesting structural change here or there or adding or alternating a riff on say a song like ‘White Girl Black Unicorn’ or ‘Acid Strain’. Generally the bulk of the record was as Aaron intended, but Murph (drummer Simon Murphy), Alex, Sam or myself might suggest varying the lengths of a riff for example. Aaron had a basic riff for the acoustic tune ‘The Riders Ode’. Murph and I took that and built that into the version heard on the record. I wrote the music to ‘Wretched Earth’ which was written with the intention of putting a dynamic contrast to the rest of the record, it builds up a little bit more to the big punch riff that most of Aaron’s songs lead to. In that regard, I was trying to write a song like Aaron would, but to complement his style with something a little bit different and perhaps with a tad more space.
It was a fun record to write. Jake’s lyrics on both albums I worked on were a bit like my school days in that all my assignments were done the night before they were due. The bulk of the lyrics were written in the studio, and not being there for the vocal part of the recording process, the band’s interpretations of what was being sung when we started getting rough mixes made for great entertainment. Jake is a funny bugger.
Q: Interesting. How was the experience of working with producer Billy Anderson (High on Fire, EyeHateGod, Sleep, Mr. Bungle) on this record?
A: The last few records I’ve done were recording with (Blood Duster’s) Jason PC who generally sits there, hits record, folds his arms and taps his foot along and tells you if the take was crap or not (plenty of the former in my case). The first take I did with Billy I believe was the intro to the record. Well, let’s just say Mr Anderson is a bit more “animated” than Mr PC. Hair flying, neck thrashin’, horn-throwing, gesticulating the forearm out of the crotch area mimicking a giant dong could all be expected over the course of a single track. At first I found it a tad distracting, but it also helps build confidence and put a bit more vibe into the track.
Seriously though, working with him was ludicrously easy. He and I were very much on the same wavelength musically and philosophically in approach to recording, and I was very open to suggestions from him on the tonal palette front as well as styles. Of course tonally I was a bit cheeky and just decided to paint wah-wah psychedelic lines over much of the record. In between takes we smoked it up and I hammered him for stories from all the amazing albums and bands he’s worked on. Generally I couldn’t have had a better time or felt more comfortable recording with him.
Q: Great stuff. The word “hardcore” has been bastardized at times in recent years, largely due to a lot of cross-pollination with other styles of heavy music. You have a band like Parkway Drive – who are very good at what they do, mind you – who have their roots in the hardcore scene and are embraced as such, yet are almost a purely metal band. Do many people’s misconceptions of the hardcore genre irk you and how do you define the word?
A: I am ridiculously older than most of the guys in the band. I really missed the boat on when “hardcore” and metal more or less started sounding very similar, so that said, I feel pretty unqualified to comment on the question, but that won’t stop me from providing an overly wordy response (laughs).
To me, the word and genre “hardcore” conjures up DRI, Agnostic Front, Cro Mags or Bad Brains – supercharged punk rock. I kinda missed the part where Hatebreed, early Converge, etc incorporated a lot of Slayer-isms into the style as I was way more into death metal, doom metal and stoner rock at that time. In Australia, Mindsnare, to me were probably the best Aussie hardcore band, and I’ve been seeing those guys play back in the mid 90’s. (They) have always been a very thrash metal influenced band, but they’re a “hardcore” band by scene labels it seems.
I was familiar with Parkway because they played on the last couple of Metal for the Brain festivals and I had seen I Killed The Prom Queen at a couple of festivals I had played on the same bill as them and on a shallow surface level appraisal, Parkway were by far the best band of that kind of syncopated double-kick breakdown thing that I had seen. Really though I don’t hear “hardcore” when I hear those bands at all, I guess they would be more “metalcore” or whatever.
Again though, The Hard Ons and Mass Appeal are the hardcore or punk bands I grew up with locally and the ever more marginal dissection of musical genre has just rendered the whole labelling exercise painfully tiresome. That irks me way more than what a group of people who care more about the label a band’s music sits under before passing judgement on the quality of their songwriting and performance does. You cannot control how people think; you can only do what you like.
I kinda find myself more attracted to bands playing something that doesn’t sound like a cookie-cutter version of another band’s style, and joining I Exist to me came down to whether or not the A Turn For The Worse demos had any of those double kick breakdown bits on it. It didn’t so I thought I’d give their style of “hardcore” a go. One thing I will say for this genre, Resist Records have their shit together and support the bands on their roster pretty much better than any label I have been involved with.
Q: Fair enough then. How has I Exist’s unique, doom metal-influenced take on the genre been received by some of the genre’s younger and more recent converts?
A: Judging by the merch I’ve seen worn in most cities around Australia, I can only assume it’s done okay. I think we offer something a bit familiar to them in some of the more “hardcore” riffs on the record, but we don’t fall into the same overly generic songwriting that a lot of other bands do. Hopefully we can turn some kids onto some different ideas; more music is always a good thing, as opposed to narrowing your taste to one single genre or sub- genre. As for its reception, that’s up to the listener and I just hope people dig that we’re having a fucking great time writing and playing the riffs.
Q: Well said. What touring plans does the band have at the moment?
A: We have the Doomriders tour in New Zealand and Australia in late July which the guys are greatly looking forward too. I am more familiar with some of their other projects, specifically Old Man Gloom who I really love a lot, especially the Emissions series of recordings. We’ve then got Bastardfest coming up which is a great domestic showcase for all tastes of heavy music through most of Australia in September this year with both I Exist and Pod People. Given that Soundwave’s organisers seem to have some kind of aversion to booking Australian bands, it’s a great chance to remind punters of what’s available on their doorstep.
Q: On the Pod People front, in the kindest way possible, you’re renowned for doing things slowly (laughs). What is the latest on a new album from the band?
A: I’m midway through writing the next album; DD (Drynan) our bass player has also been writing some riffs and we’re getting it together for Bastardfest. I was tossing up playing a tenth anniversary of Doom Saloon show, but we’re pretty over the older tunes and keen to move on. I would imagine it will be recorded in spring/summer this year/early next. We’re a doom band man – we do things at a more measured pace.
Q: (Laughs) Where do you envision the next album going musically – more doom-oriented? More of a stoner rock influence ala your last record? A rap/metal concept piece?
A: Doom. I’m sure we’ll have some rock riffs as we’ve always done, but this record will thematically follow the last chapter of Dante’s Divine Comedy, following on from Inferno and Purgatorio from the last two albums respectively.
This one is the Paradisio (Heaven) chapter and we have a slightly different twist on the story that I’m currently putting into some loose structure for both artwork and musical themes. Pod is a labour of love, it will be the best and heaviest album in our history and I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with my brothers and sister to get it done. We’ve all had some full- on stuff to deal with in the last couple of years and I think that life’s hardships help lead to create better music and deeper blues, which is really the root of everything I play and write. Hopefully it will help us forge our best ever album; so far the riffs I’ve been writing, for me, are a pretty big step up.
Q: Good to hear. I understand the band has had a few vinyl releases in the works for some time now. What is the latest on that front?
A: The vinyl itself exists, and has done for a while. The looooong overdue vinyl has been pressed, so doom gods willing, we’ll get the covers back in time for Bastardfest and have some new songs to boot.
Q: I understand you have other musical pots on the stove as well. Can you tell us about those?
A: I’ve done a super primitive d-beat band, which to those unfamiliar with the term from the metal fraternity is basically Motorhead-esque punk. That band is with two of the Vee Bees, an I Exist bro and Foetus from Boonhorse on vocals. It’s fast, thrashy and a lot of fun. We’re called Disavow.
I’ve been learning gypsy jazz with Marcus (De Pasquale) from Looking Glass over the last couple of years. We’re late to the game, but Marcus’ devotee level of practice is seeing dividends and he will only continue to solidify his position as one of Australia’s greatest ever guitar players when people here this.
Of course being acoustic music based on the tunes of Django Reinhardt of the 1930’s and 40’s, it couldn’t be less heavy. That said, the skills and time it takes to practice and do the style justice, from the guitars to the fifteen Euro picks we use to play it translate well to any discipline of guitar you might be interested in playing. It’s also opened our ears to a bunch of music and musicians that I would never have dreamed of investigating in my late teens when I started to get really interested in the instrument. I’ve got a couple of other projects on the boil but they’re in the early stages and I have too much on before I get into that.
Q: You’ve also said in the past that it’s not about the “rock ‘n’ roll dream” or trying to make money from playing music for you. Is it still solely a labour of love?
A: Mate, I would love to earn a crust from music, but in this country where even the big international touring metal fest can’t even put an Aussie metal band on the bill, it kinda goes to show you where the scene is in the eyes of the wider industry. I’m happy for Parkway in that Deep Blue and all their hard work on the festival circuit must put them into a position to maybe spend more time hanging on the beach than anything else. I am racking my brain, but other than Destroyer 666, who backed themselves and took their music to Europe on a permanent basis, I can’t think of an Aussie metal band person that I know that makes a living only off of music. I should point out I do not know anyone in Parkway or Destroyer personally either, for all I know Winston (McCall) does the milk run in Byron and KK (Warslut) delivers The Eidnhoven News newspaper in Holland or something.
As a scene we are criminally underrated and ignored for the most part by the wider music industry, and it follows that we don’t have much of a “business” sense or anything. It is good that the ARIA’s finally started acknowledging the heavier bands of Australia last year with their awards, but it would be really good for Metal for the Brain to make a comeback as I feel a bit like the annual gathering of the tribes has stopped and the silo mentality is creeping back in again. Hopefully Bastardfest will help fill that void a bit. I still work 40-50 hours a week to feed, clothe and educate my five-year-old little girl and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.
I think it’s a little bit disparate and splintered, but at the same time, it’s soooooo healthy music-wise. There is a lot of music being made around the traps now and recording music to get a decent sounding product has never been easier or more affordable than now. Melbourne still sets the bar, but Brisbane isn’t a great way behind either and I think Sydney actually seems to be getting a bit more interesting again. The new album by The Kill from Melbourne when it comes out will utterly decimate everything you’ve ever heard in terms of pure unrelenting grind. The new Looking Glass record is probably the most amazing string vibrating performance by both Marcus and Lachlan (Paine, bass) that you’re likely to hear on any guitar focussed record in this country and there’s just a ton of music being made in every region, nook and cranny the country over.
I just think there’s a lack of focus. Be it a TV show, a national radio show or even a web presence that draws the splintered cells together and gives the public a more palatable product. Bands wise, Looking Glass, Whitehorse, The Kill, The Day Everything Became Nothing, Clagg, Fuck… I’m Dead, Boonhorse, d.USK, Worms, Captain Cleanoff, Portal, Fattura Della Morte, Sex Wizard, Mindsnare, Stolen Youth, Pirate Satellite, Life & Limb, Phantoms, The Levitation Hex (new forthcoming project by Adam Agius from Alchemist), Blood Duster, Burn The Hostages, Extortion, Teargas, Nunchukka Superfly, The Hard Ons, Witchskull, Chinese Burns Unit, The Vee Bees, Boonhorse, Mytile Vey Lorth, Futility, Super Happy Fun Slide, Shellfin and a bunch of others are always bands I want to hear or see more of and that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s a ton I forgot.
Q: Long list there (laughs). On a more personal note, are there any new releases you’ve been enjoying lately?
A; This year, the as-yet-unreleased albums by The Kill and Looking Glass, the new Autopsy record was a welcome surprise blast of old school, the new Earth record, Thou’s newie, the new Gates of Slumber record, Ramesses’ Chrome Pineal, Argus’ Boldly Stride The Doomed, Sourvein’s Black Fangs and I’m really, really looking forward to the new Yob record.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: God no, but please come to the upcoming tours, especially Doomriders, Bastardfest and the Church of Misery-headlined Doomsday fest this year. Thank you very much for your time and my best to Brian and the rest of the Loud crew.