Latest release: …Without Reserve or Regret (Independent)
Wollongong metallers Nekrofeist have just unleashed their new album …Without Reserve or Regret and have a series of shows planned to promote its release. Bassist Rob Giles spoke to Loud about the record’s creation, the band’s critics, the current state of the music industry and being proud of where you come from.
Q: The new album has been in the works for a little while now. Can you tell us about the writing and recording processes?
A: If you rewind to late 2009, we recorded our four-track EP for Gadigal but it didn’t see the light of day until mid-2010 because of the label’s agenda – whatever that was, who knows, but it was very frustrating for us. By then we had a few new songs and we were aiming to record a second EP at Flashpoint (Albert’s Studio in Sydney) via a mutual friend of the producer we were working with at the time. All was locked in and ready to go, when a fatal meltdown at the studio caused us to cancel the recording indefinitely. We had a title for the EP, pre-production sounded exciting and everything was in place, but it wasn’t to be. Three of those four songs eventually made it onto …Without Reserve or Regret (the fourth being a Midnight Oil cover). The longer we waited, and the more we worked on writing it became apparent that we may as well just refocus and broaden the project into a full-length album. We also wanted to raise the bar in many aspects, showcase our musical abilities and make a more polished product. We weren’t aiming to make the Black Album by any means, but it just had to be a step up. You have to set a goal to aim for.
As far as the length of time it takes to write is concerned, there were a few factors at play. Firstly, we have day jobs to support our families which must take priority. As much as we all wish Nekrofeist could be a full-time affair, the reality isn’t even close. On top of that there were a number of unfortunate family events, immediate family that passed away unexpectedly. It was a tough time for everyone but we came out of it a stronger and tighter unit. A lot of that pain and frustration translated into the music on the album, the darker musical moments definitely came from that timeframe.
On one hand you certainly can’t rush creativity in those circumstances, which is why it took as long as it did. On the other hand, Nekrofeist is a band that really thrives under pressure. We’re becoming much more aware of the influence pressure has on the process, so by the time we entered the studio with Jenk the music was ready, our vision was clear and we were very excited about the new music we were going to record.
The recording process was another beast altogether, because there were yet more issues involved with that; personal crises, epic gear failures and such. Jenk started giving us funny looks, asking if we were cursed or something (laughs). But Jenk and I agreed that a great product can come through adversity, just look at a few Classic Albums documentaries and you’ll see what I mean. We stuck it out through the tough stuff and now there’s a great album to show for it. That’s the important thing. Maybe we’ll make a documentary about it someday.
Q: Interesting. As mentioned, you worked with renowned producer Darren “Jenk” Jenkins on the new material. What did he bring to the table in terms of boosting Nekrofeist’s sound and approach?
A: Renowned is an understatement! Jenk is a professional, his CV is jaw-dropping and he’s very good at what he does. Prior to approaching him I did a little research, looking at his background, and I thought “we’d be lucky if this guy gives us the time of day”. It’s funny looking back at how nervous I was, because now having worked closely with him we have a good rapport. The majority of our material for the album was mapped out meticulously in advance; in fact some songs had already been in the live set for almost a year. That’s why you see a dual production credit, “Co-produced by Nekrofeist and Darren Jenkins”. Everything was demoed and passed onto Jenk prior to us starting the recording process, so his influence on the songs was fairly limited to immediate decisions on the day, as well as post- production stuff like edits and mixing.
That’s where Jenk really helped us by making the final product sound polished and professional, a great sounding recording that can stand up to all the other metal out there. We had a fair bit of studio experience as a band, even more as individuals, but working with Jenk was a whole other tier from what we were accustomed to. It was a steep learning curve, but I’m sure we all agree that working with Jenk was a great learning experience. We all walked out of the sessions as better musicians; that’s for sure. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.
Q: Good to hear. In what ways do you feel the album is an improvement upon your EP?
A: In every way. We cranked every aspect up a notch or two, from the songwriting, to the production, to the instruments we used. For the EP we were essentially a three-piece band with a vocal, aside from some sitar overdubs I threw in for colour. This album project was much more ambitious; we have endorsements now, better equipment, and a broader vision. I played piano on one track and crystal wine glasses on another, so there’s a certain depth to the production that goes beyond your average metal recording, I guess. There was also a distinct focus on contrast, particularly between Damon (Bishop, guitars) and I as the musical focal points, we wanted to use the album length as an opportunity to show light and shade, really push those counterpoints both melodically and dynamically. I strongly believe we achieved that, and brought the mosh as well (laughs).
Q: Many of the lyrics on the record focus on themes such as national and personal identity. Was there any concern that, rightly or wrongly, using song titles such as “Between White and Wrong” and “Australian Made” may potentially alienate some audiences, particularly overseas?
A: The album is named …Without Reserve Or Regret for good reason, and it’s not something we take lightly. Composing “Australian Made” was a watershed moment for us in terms of preparing the album, because we knew we liked what we had written, but that sense of, “what will others make of it?” really set in. It’s the first time we hit that hurdle to be honest, and it really caused us to pause and consider what we were setting ourselves up for. It was the subject of much discussion, for sure. In the end we decided although it was a risk, it was a necessary one. Time (and reviews) will tell if our instincts paid off. I think as long as the message isn’t misinterpreted we will be fine, and that message is that regardless of where you’ve come from you should be proud of where you’re living right now.
“Between White and Wrong” is a different message altogether, being about Dave’s personal identity and inner conflict. Can you blame him? He is as much German as he is Aboriginal, yet day in and day out he has to live with that preconceived stereotype because of his appearance. It’s complete bullshit when you think about it. It’s a good thing he has this outlet in Nekrofeist.
As far as ‘alienating’ listeners is concerned, I don’t believe that will be an issue. Testament has a new song called “True American Hate” that’s been doing the rounds on Australian FM radio of late, and that doesn’t seem to have stopped them pushing it over here. You could take it even further and look at Lenny Kravitz – did he baulk at releasing his cover of “American Woman” outside the US? I don’t think so.
Q: Vocalist Dave Tinelt is allegedly Australia’s first indigenous metal frontman and the band has received criticism in the past for supposedly using this connection as some kind of marketing tool. How did the band feel about this?
A: A lucky break is a lucky break – it’s as simple as that! We earned the opportunity to record the EP with the Gadigal label via Arts NSW, based on the strength of our self-produced music video for “Kills Everything” (released in 2009). Some time has passed since then and in hindsight I think a lot of those detractors were just envious of our achievement, nothing more. I mean, it’s not like I went out and drew dot paintings all over my bass (laughs).
Q: Do you feel you’ve more or less silenced those detractors by now?
A: To suggest we were milking the indigenous thing is really silly, and we would never have done anything to do with that if Dave hadn’t been comfortable. In the end he’s the one who would feel the wrath from his peers if we made arses of ourselves, and that didn’t happen. Besides, I think we’ve moved on from that and certainly with this album we’ve put some distance between us and the older material without changing too much. Either we’ve silenced the detractors, or they’ve become bored and moved onto the new One Direction album. Maybe we’ll never know.
Q: (Laughs) Where can punters buy a copy of the new album?
A: For the time being we’ll be selling CD’s through our online merch store (nekrofeist.bigcartel.com) and at gigs. The album is also available digitally via our Bandcamp page (nekrofeist.bandcamp.com). We’ll get it into the shops very soon.
Q: Many bands are choosing to sidestep labels in favour of self-releasing their music through various means, both online and physically. Do Nekrofeist plan to sign to a label for a wider release or are you content to take the DIY route?
A: We’re DIY just now briefly to get things started but we are seeking a label, yes. Mainly because of how strongly we believe in the album, we want to push it around as far as we can. That includes overseas too.
Q: What are your views on the current state of the music industry – can it successfully reinvent itself in the wake of illegal downloading and the like, or has that ship already sailed?
A: What started as a temporary transitional phase in the industry is taking decades (laughs). It’s an interesting debate and something I follow with great interest. The ship is yet to leave dock, but in my opinion reinvention has to occur for the industry to survive. Forget the suggestion that nobody wants to buy long albums anymore, or that teens only buy single songs. We need a new strategy and I believe the future for established acts is in Pledge Music. The success of this platform proves that people are more than willing to pay a fair price (or even a premium one) for music they love. I’d really like to try that approach one day, but we need to build on Nekrofeist’s fan base first.
Q: The band already has a handful of shows booked to launch the album. What other touring plans do you have for the rest of 2012 and beyond?
A: We want to travel the country far and wide; we haven’t played live in a while and are really keen to get back into it. Agents are working with us and a lot is still in the planning stages at the moment. We have the Lucky Australian Tavern in St. Mary’s on August 31st and The Patch, Wollongong on September 1st. In October we have a number of shows with Warbringer, a thrash band from the US. After that, we aim to be going interstate through November to January, so Melbourne and Brisbane are on the cards with shows in between. It’s all happening.
Q: On a more personal note, what new releases have you been enjoying lately?
A: The new Gojira album L’Enfant Savage has been getting a serious spin in my car of late; I really enjoy it a lot. I’ve also heard a number of tracks from the new Testament album and I can’t wait to get it in my hands, I think it will be one of the best metal albums of the year. My whole family is addicted to the Black Keys at the moment, so when I’m cruising around with them we have that one cranked up. It’s awesome.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: I just hope everyone enjoys the new album and comes out to see us play live. We’ve worked so hard to get the album out there, now it’s time to rock out and have some fun with it.