Latest release: Worlds Apart (Roadrunner)Website: makethemsuffer.com.au
Following a hefty line-up change and a national tour with The Amity Affliction, Perth’s Make Them Suffer are about to release Worlds Apart, the follow-up to 2015’s #30 charting Old Souls and their third overall. Before they left for a massive worldwide tour, Loud took some time with vocalist Sean Harmanis to talk about inspirations and their latest artistic shift, among other things.
Make Them Suffer is on your third album now and there’s been a real evolution in your sound from album to album that’s been very noticeable.
I’m not sure evolution is the correct way to put it! It’s not to say that we don’t intend on eventually going back to a darker, heavier sound like on our previous releases. I think each album has been it’s own self-contained piece of art, its own self-contained concept and vibe. When your songwriting gets too formulaic, that’s when it begins to get a bit boring. You become less enthusiastic and less inspiring so it’s cool to switch it up.
One of the criticisms that some people had of your music in the past was that the keyboards didn’t seem to be integrated into your sound smoothly. That’s an aspect that seems to have been resolved now.
That’s always been a tricky thing to tackle. Previously when we’d write the songs, we’d write the music and the keyboards would be added over the top as a different step of the process. Now we’re envisioning this thing from the beginning with the keyboards already there or with the keyboards. Some of the songs we’ve written have been based around keyboards parts. It all a matter of finding the right balance with everything and letting one thing breathe when something else becomes a focal point.
You’ve just come off a tour opening for The Amity Affliction and you’re about to do your own headliner now. That’s going to be quite a different vibe.
The venues for those shows are going to be much smaller! Some of those shows we did with Amity were the biggest shows we’ve played in our career so far. It was pretty exciting, but this tour will be in smaller, more intimate venues which I personally love. Being able to be that close to the crowd and being able to connect, I love playing club shows. That’s what I’m all about. The people that are there are the one are the true fans.
You said that each album is an individual piece of art, so is this new one overall stylistically and topically different from previous albums?
We’ve don’t really preach a political or a political agenda, we’re just about expressing ourselves through the lyrics. A lot of the imagery I’ve used in the new album is leaing towards what it sounds like. A spacey vibe. There’s references to a 64K modems and telephones, so there’s an electronic aspect to it as well as being… dreamy, I guess? It’s different once again. On the first album a lot of the words were describing old forests and wizards and a fantasy setting; this one is much more of a modern setting.
Are you taking inspiration from technology or technological aspects or is that just your regular creative process going on?
I haven’t been doing research into phone lines and things like that, but I just think that the lyricsv and the vocal delivery and the phrasing is there to serve the music, first and foremost. Hearing the riffs and how the tracks were coming out suggested a theme that was more fitting in terms of lyrical content. I was drawing on some different influences this time around like Bowie and Eminem and some weird ones like that which I never thought I’d be able to incorporate into metal music so it’s kind of funny when it comes full circle and all the stuff you used to listen to when you were a kid, like the Marshall Mathers LP I was listening to when I was 12, to be able to use some of the phrasing like that in my music is pretty cool.
Obviously broadening that palette makes things interesting for the fans, and for you as an artist to be exploring new sounds and new structures.
I suppose there’s that core of metal fans, especially when they’re still green, where metal is life and that’s all they listen to and then as they get older they might expand their tastes a bit. I’ve been listening to metal for a while now and not to say I don’t enjoy it but I hear enough of it on tour so it’s not what I want to listen to when I want to chill out. So for a while now we’ve been listening to other stuff and trying to find inspiration from other genres, and I think that where you stick out and create your own sound. Because when you start out as a metalcore band and you’re inspired by other metalcore bands, you’re just going to stay sounding like that, so it’s cool to draw influences from other genres.
You said that there’s influences from your early years that you’ve tried to integrate into Make Them Suffer. Are there other things as well that you’d like to try later on?
There’s so many genres that we could integrate into metal. I’m a massive fan of post-rock. Some of the melodies and the layering that those guys come up with… like Deafheaven is an example of a band who’s integrated black metal with post-rock. At the moment I’m super into 90s shoegaze stuff and I think that comes out some of in the layering and melodies on the newest album. You can do anything: 70s funk and disco! It’s all untapped territory. People just have to go for it and experiment and see what comes out.
Do you ever have any reservations about doing that? For example, if you decided to start putting more shoegaze into your music, which is very different from what you’re doing, do you think some people would be scared off by that?
There’s always going to be people that are scared off. But I think that when you do a release like that those people might not have been into that release at the time but they come back to it in a couple of years’ time and say, Well, that was pretty cool. First and foremost, you’ve got to be doing it for yourself. Music is an aspect of our life. I listen to so much music… we all listen to so much music, and at the end of the day we’re a reasonable judge of what is a good song. We wouldn’t let what we didn’t think was good let slide. There’s a quiet confidence that comes with that, knowing how far we can push it and when to push it.
What sort of quality control do you use as a band? Do you run everything through everybody, or is there a producer that you bounce stuff off?
This album was pretty much just Nick [McLernon – guitar] and me, to be honest, collaborating. He’ll send them a file with a fifteen riffs or something on it and some might go into each other and some might not; some might be good, some might be bad. I’ll chop them up into a song structure that seems to make sense with lyrics and vocal passages I envision for that, so it comes together that way. When it comes to quality control, in the past we might have been impacted by what we thought others might view our material. We might write a riff and think, Oh that doesn’t really fit with the branding’, but with this I think we’ve had a much more open mind and not thought about how well it works with the Make Them Suffer branding. Let’s just look at the riff, and if it’s a good riff, let’s use it.
You’ve been a band for some time now, so does that make it easier to feel less constrained by expectations?
Absolutely. That’s what keeps us going and that’s what keeps it interesting. I’m not saying that I don’t want to go back to a darker black metal or deathcore sound on a future release, but to put out three albums that are all in that vein – that’s just not me! I don’t really listen to music like that much now, and I don’t think any of us listen to that much deathcore these days. You have to make so many sacrifices in life, in music, to choose this career path that if you’re not doing it for yourself, what are you doing it for?