Latest release: Vela (Myriad Records)
Band site: www.facebook.com/TheSchoenbergAutomaton
Assembled from the scrapheap of several prolific Australian metal bands, Brisbane’s The Schoenberg Automaton is a mouthful as well as an earful of technical death metal. Following the release of a debut EP in 2011, they recently unleashed brutal debut LP Vela. The band also won the prestigious opening slot at the Brisbane leg of this year’s Soundwave Festival via triple J’s Unearthed competition. Guitarist Damien Boorman chatted with Loud about the reception afforded the new album, hanging out with Killswitch Engage and the state of the music business.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the band’s history?
A: We’ve been around for about three years now. The band kinda formed when a few local Brissy metal bands broke up and started as a bit of an internet project. Then we slowly started jamming with a few more members. It started with Shayne (Johnson), the other guitarist and Nelson (Barnes) on drums, and we grew to have another guitarist, myself, and a guy on bass and vocals. The name comes from Arnold Schoenberg, who was a composer in the ‘40s. He used to play around with something called the twelve-tone scale, which is an atonal kind of scale and a lot of the early music was based on that music theory, I suppose. Well, not a lot of it, we used some of it. So that’s kind of where the name came from; automaton just because it’s robotic and spazzy.
Q: It sounds like the name of a Fear Factory song actually (laughs).
A: (Laughs) Yeah, totally. I guess early on it had that slightly more punishing industrial vibe, which we’ve kind of moved slowly away from. The newer stuff is a bit more organic kind of death metal sound now. It’s just been a natural progression. Some of the early stuff we put out on the internet had that real flavour to it. Really mechanical, stop-start, dissonant, almost like a djent-y – when then that was blowing up – sound to it. That helped us get noticed a bit. Over time I suppose we’ve just matured a bit more and different influences in the band. We’re starting to write for the next album now; we’re actually about four or five songs in, or we have the skeletons of them anyway. So we’ll continue to evolve the sound a bit I suppose.
Q: Who are some of your main influences these days then?
A: I would say bands like Psycroptic, Ion Dissonance and Dillinger Escape Plan. Also Between the Buried and Me; more tech-y, brutal and punishing bands. I guess you can kind of hear that through the sound. A lot of people say we sound like The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. So they’re the main influences for this band. We all listen to different stuff as well. I get into indie (laughs), some of the other guys like dance music and whatever. So we’re not really genre snobs or anything like that.
Q: I find a lot of tech-death bands these days place far more emphasis on complexity or impeccable production values than actual songwriting. Is that something the band is mindful of when writing?
A: Yeah man, totally (laughs). Like, I really agree with you on that. I guess that’s a bit of a thing for us in the band. Although we are pretty tech-y, we all practice and things like that, we didn’t really want it to be a showpiece for how good we think we are on guitar or whatever. We really want to write good songs; have good riffs and hooks and things like that. That’s what we’ve really tried to do, and hopefully that comes through in the songwriting. It’s made it more fun, interesting and good to listen to. If it’s just punishing tech wank over and over it just gets really boring, and it’s shit. So we want to move away from that.
With the production on the album, again we want to keep it, say, a bit real. A lot of the stuff these days I think is a bit over-produced, like it’s really super tight, unnaturally tight. It’s really edited and that kind of stuff. All music these days it edited to an extent, but we didn’t want to edit the shit out of it. And that’s come through in the recording; we’ve gotten some good feedback that it sounds nice and punchy and tight. But it’s not really over-the-top, over-produced, so that’s kinda what we were aiming for there.
Q: Inhuman would be how I would describe the production on a lot of technically proficient heavy bands’ records these days.
A: Yeah, it kind of sounds like they recorded it at half-speed and sped it up (laughs); reinforced all the drums and that kind of stuff.
Q: The liner notes for the album include a notice that, “unauthorised reproduction of this CD and its contents is illegal and lame. Buy a shirt”. Is that an accurate reflection of the band’s collective view on illegal downloading?
A: I probably can’t speak for the whole band, because I think we have slightly different views. My view is that I don’t really care. I would just prefer people listen to the music and get something out of it. I think like everyone downloads music these days (laughs), nearly, as far as I know. Hopefully if they really like it they’ll buy it. That’s what I do; I download a lot of music so I can listen to lots of different stuff, and if I really like it I’ll buy it. Music these days is going for like five, ten bucks usually online to get the digital download or whatever. I think the internet has been a real leveller for our band; it’s been a real leveller for a lot of different bands. We would never have done as well as we’ve done without the internet and without illegal downloads. I keep finding our album popping up on blogs everywhere. I kinda like it, because it makes me feel like, ‘well, somebody cares’ (laughs), someone is listening to it because people are downloading it. So I don’t really mind, man. If people come to the shows and buy a shirt, that’s really cool.
Q: You seem to have built a sizeable following online, particularly via Facebook.
A: Yeah, we’ve got a pretty good following on Facebook. We started the Facebook page years ago when the band first started and did a few viral things and whatnot. It seemed to generate a little bit of hype and then we got on to Myriad Records, who are based in Europe. They’ve really helped us with our reach and all that kind of stuff. So we’ve got a lot of fans, or a lot of ‘like’s I suppose you’d say, from dudes in the States, Europe and places like that. So that’s really cool. If we ever make our way over there hopefully people come to the shows.
Q: You’ve also recently enlisted Lochlan Watt (host of triple J’s The Racket program) as manager as well. How did that come to be?
A: Yeah, Lochie is going to look after management, promo and all that kind of stuff. We’re really keen to have him on board. He obviously knows his stuff, has been around the scene for ages and he’s a cool guy. We all work full-time, so we don’t necessarily have the time to dedicate to doing all our own stuff. So it’s really good to have someone there who’s gonna chase things up and keep the momentum going.
Q: Indeed. On the topic of triple J, the band also landed the opening slot at the Brisbane Soundwave via their Unearthed competition. How was that experience?
A: It was really cool to get that. We didn’t find out until, it was the week of Soundwave. We were all going anyway, but we had applied for the spot and we just didn’t hear anything, so just assumed we hadn’t got it. Then we found out on like the Tuesday night that we were playing it. We were freaked out and it was really cool. It was a really cool experience. Just the experience of us playing such a big stage and working on such a professional production. Everyone was really nice and helpful. It wasn’t at all what I expected; I kind of expected everyone to be really abrupt, short and grumpy, working on such a big production. But they weren’t, they were really helpful. It went over quite well; we got good feedback from the crowd and all that. There were probably more people there to see us than I thought there would be, because they opened doors a little bit earlier. It was just an awesome experience and it kicked off a really, really good day. We had heaps of fun on the day.
Q: Getting a show like that would be a priceless networking opportunity for any young band.
A: Yeah, it is, man. We got a lot of kudos on that night. I remember one of the weird things was we were hanging out with some of the guys in the other bands, like the guys from Killswitch later that day, and the guys from Shai Hulud. At the end of the night we were all drunk (laughs) and that kind of stuff. Anyway, some random dude came up to us and said, ‘You guys were the best band I saw today, I had no idea who you were,’ and all this kind of stuff. That really, really surprised us, ‘cause I don’t know if he was just drunk and talking shit (laughs), but it blew us away. During the set, Jake (Gerstle, vocals) did a shout-out to the crowd, and asked who was seeing us for the first time. You know, 70 per cent of people put their hands up. It was also an opportunity to get out there and keep exposing your music.
Q: You’ve got a handful of gigs coming up, including your first ever Sydney show. What plans does the band have beyond that, though?
A: We’ll spend this year playing shows when we can, good shows that come up. Hopefully we’ll start getting on bigger shows and a couple of good supports and things like that. From a writing perspective, we’ve already started writing for the next album. The stuff you hear on Vela is actually relatively old material. We tracked drums on it in August 2011, just to give you an idea. It took us a year-and-a-half to finish the whole thing (laughs), with vocalists leaving and all that. So we’re keen to get some new stuff out there. We want to keep the ball rolling and hopefully be in a position to release something again early next year, which will keep us pretty busy all year. With shows and all that, it’s gonna be a good year. We just want to keep the momentum going and see where we can take it.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: (Laughs) Just check us out on Facebook if you haven’t already. Come along to a show, buy a shirt and if you’re into death metal, hopefully you’ll be into Schoenberg.
You can catch The Schoenberg Automaton at the following shows:
5/4- The Basement, Canberra (with The Levitation Hex & Nobody Knew They Were Robots)
6/4- Venom Nightclub, Sydney (with The Levitation Hex & Nobody Knew They Were Robots)
24/5- The Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne (supports TBA)
25/5- Fowlers Live, Adelaide (All Ages- playing as part of The New Dead Metalfest with Psycroptic, The Amenta, Truth Corroded, Frankenbok and more)