A RUDE AWAKENING
There is one thing worse than making a wrong decision - and that is not making any decision at all. Maybe this might be an oversimplified formula for a successful career in Metal but it does offer a clue that Awake possess the right attitude in aspiring for greater things. More importantly, the band possesses talent and an innate passion for music.
But who is Awake? The answer has its roots in Cambridge, the English city otherwise well-known for its academia. At the turn of the millennium a group of Cambridge friends decided to form a band and named it 'Humanity'. Eventually this moniker was changed to 'Awake'. The band's music could best be described as Prog Metal (at least to this interviewer's ears). Recently Awake went to Sweden to avenge Britian's Viking invasion (well that's a dramatic way of putting it!) and recorded its 2nd album with production duties entrusted to none other than Thomas Englund, Evergrey vocalist/guitarist. Ironically, at the same period the band found themselves without a label to call 'home' but such a moment of uncertainty might just be a case of déjà vu for Awake.
At this point in the band's career, guitarist Richard Hall found the time to answer a few questions I had e-mailed to him. Here's what he said:
THE BAND MADE FLESH
Chris: How did Rock music find its way into 6 hearts from Cambridge?
Richard: Rock music finds its way everywhere and anywhere! Seriously, at the time we were just six fans who met at Music College and started the band we had always wanted to be in. We had all been in other bands previously, so we all knew what we wanted. I think at the time I was in two other bands and doing sessions for another one. It was great because we all listened to Rock and Metal, although different genres. Alex [Townsend - drums] was well into Black Metal, Simon [Shedwell - vocals] was James Hetfield's [Metallica vox] no.1 fan and I was on a Van Halen and Def Leppard trip. Using all these angles just seemed to work.
C.: What input does each (current) individual member put into Awake, instruments aside?
R.: We try our best to contribute an equal input into everything. But there are some things some of us enjoy doing more and are better at. Craig [Burkett - keyboards] and myself are the two main music composers although in the end it's a total team effort. I like to be involved as much as I can in the recording and mixing aspect of things. Whereas Chris [le Mottee - bass] is great at talking to press and fans - he can talk to a complete stranger for hours!
C.: Is Awake something you do on full-time basis?
R.: Well I've come to realise that these days you have to be selling a lot of CD's to be doing this as a [full-time] job. It's surprised me that some of the famous people Iv met still work or have part time jobs. Doing this full time is what every musician wants, but you have to work bloody hard to get there! We're working on it though.
C.: Would you rather listen to the roots of Prog Rock (ELP, Yes, King Crimson, etc) or is your affinity with the more modern bands (Shadow Gallery, Dream Theatre, Mercury Rising, Symphony X, etc…..)?
R.: I'm gonna have to be totally honest here - as a band as a whole we're not really into Prog Rock! We all like Dream Theatre a lot, and I'm really into Rush and Pink Floyd. However, generally we are more into the likes of Pantera, Disturbed, Paradise Lost and In Flames. Plus, odd as it may sound, our keyboardist Craig isn't really into stuff with keyboards. And he fucking hates keyboard solos! So if you ever hear him play one he's probably been smoking way too much weed.
C.: What difficulties did you face when working on "Reasons For Rebirth"?
R.: There were no real difficulties in working on the album at all. We just all knew it had to be good so there was some pressure in that respect but on the whole the writing went smoothly. The real challenge came when we were recording in Sweden. We had to be so much on the ball as musicians. Being around and working with the guys from Evergrey - who are all such fantastic writers and players - we didn't want to look like a bunch of dicks!
C.: What was your first reaction when you got to know Thomas Englund would be producing the album?
R.: For me it was like a wet dream come true! We are all fans of Evergrey and in order to make the sort of album we wanted to make we knew Tom was the guy we needed to go to. To have someone with such natural ability as a musician and singer produce you is amazing. Plus Arnold Lindberg is a wizard and the nicest guy in the world so to have him engineering was a major plus.
C.: Do you think having worked with Thomas has changed Awake's sound in any way?
R.: We think it has, as we all hoped it would. It's always great to have another person give his input on your music. As musicians we can sometimes drive ourselves totally blind to anything other than our own opinion. So to have someone with so much experience work on your music would almost definitely have an impact.
The music on the new album is shorter and more to the point, with more focus on the vocals and the song as a whole and not trying to satisfy our own personal egos - which is where so many bands trip up these days. Trying to be the next Yngwie Malmsteen or the next Bruce Dickinson and falling flat on their arse!
C.: What did you learn from the collaboration with the members of Evergrey?
R.: We just learnt how to do things we did before, a lot better. I'm not saying saying we were shit before, but working with those guys and seeing how they go about even stupid shit like rehearsing is interesting. Being around a band like that means you're playing with the big boys so it affects us without us even knowing it.
C.: It must have been demoralising to get to know that Carbon 13 Records, your then label, was being liquidated. What was the mood of the band then and what convinced Awake go ahead regardless with its plans?
R.: Shit like that happens all the time in this business! It was hard at the time because we really started to feel like we were getting somewhere only to be kicked in the bollocks! We were all pretty down but you can't let shit like that stop you. We all believed in the band and the issue actually did us a huge favour. Looking back now we just think 'Shit happens'!
C.: When still called Humanity the band had parted ways with original guitarist Steve Wallace. So until what degree is Awake ready to compromise the band's career with the individual demands of the band members?
R.: One thing we had made very clear to ourselves from the beginning is that if someone is unable to do the job to the standard required, then it is only fair on everyone that they move on. This is not to sound unsympathetic to someone's personal needs but we always leave personal stuff at the door when we walk into rehearsals. We are like brothers so if anyone has a personal problem we deal with it like best mates down the pub! However the problems with Steve were both professional and personal and it just wasn't working anymore.
C.: How do you think that your life's experiences affect the songs you write with Awake, if at all?
R.: Awake's music is all about life experiences. It's what every one of us is an expert on. What we all actually go through in our day to day lives. We have no interest in writing about stuff that has no relevance [to us] or about which we know nothing. I don't know about you but I know fuck all about Dragons, or being in a Viking battle! Who the fuck doesn't!
IMAGES AND WORDS
C.: Who writes Awake's lyrics? What are they inspired by?
R.: Simon and myself write the majority of them - but everyone contributed lyrics to the new album. As I said we all write about stuff we have been through or that we feel strongly about….politics, religion, drugs…..we're not afraid to write about relationships either. A couple of us went through some real shit break ups in the last couple of years so why shouldn't you write about them? It might not be cool but who fucking cares.
I often think that if some bands actually read their lyrics they wouldn't have a clue what they were about. As long as it has Evil or Satan in the title it must be metal! Yeah right!
C.: Several Prog bands have written concept albums focused on the future (such as Queensryche's "Operation Mindcrime", Demon's "The Plague", most Ayreon albums…..); others have focused their concepts on the past (Symphony X's "The Odyssey", Magellan et al 's "Leonardo").
If Awake's next full-length would be a concept-album do you think the story would be based in the past or in the future?
R.: Even though "Operation Mindcrime" is one my favourite albums, as a band
we have a clear stance on concept albums…to get Awake to do one you would have to offer us the keys to Buckingham Palace and have the Pussycat Dolls waiting in the queen's bedroom for on orgy! With Girls Aloud waiting in the next room in case one of the Dolls gets tired!
We just find them a touch pretentious [concept albums, not the Pussycat Dolls!]. It seems like it's almost expected for Prog bands to make at least one. If that's what some bands are into then that's cool but it's not for us. I've heard Judas Priest were gonna do one about Nostradamus! Interesting…
STAGING THE DRAMA
C.: Do you think technology such as the Internet and podcasts could reduce the need for a band to perform in front of an audience in the distant future?
R.: I've talked to a lot of people about this subject in the past and I just don't see how the Internet can replace seeing a live gig. If it's a band you love then there is nothing like going to a show at a big venue or festival. If live music stopped you would never get classic moments like Dave Lombardo from Slayer playing with Metallica at Download for fuck's sake. It's never gonna happen!
I've even been to Pop and Drum and Bass gigs and there is still an atmosphere you can't get on your ipod or computer. Its funny how it's only musicians who are concerned about their money that are really worried…
C.: As Humanity, the band had performed at Bloodstock-Open-Air. The festival has grown tremendously these last couple of years. What future do you envision for this event?
R.: I think that if Bloodstock Open Air pushes itself in the right direction and gets the right bands to play in the future it could be one of the main Metal festivals in the country [England]. It could be the British Wacken!
Download is different - that's mainly for acts that are big right now. BOA could be the main event for long running European bands to play in the UK. Doing the Evergrey tour showed us that it's very hard for European bands to tour here, the venues here compared to Europe are a joke. The market is there but it's just that English promoters have a very warped view on how gigs should be run. Spending money on the correct bands is the key for BOA,I think.
C.: Don't you think it's risky to tour without the backing of a record label?
R.: I do, but it's only a financial one. Touring is a very expensive thing to do, especially in Europe. Without label backing it makes a huge dent in your wallet. However any sort of touring is good for you as a musician and for the band…..so it's well worth it.
THE END OF THE BEGINNING
C.: What prompted the change of moniker from 'Humanity' to 'Awake'?
R.: While we were recording in Sweden we had a couple of comments that 'Humanity' maybe didn't have the right impact. Then when we parted ways with Steve during the recording we decided that we needed to make some changes. New line up, new album, new start, new name. To put all the crap we've been through to rest.
C.: What are the possibilities of a record deal before the festivals of next summer?
R.: I hope the chances are high. We are talking to a few [record] companies at the moment about a spring 07 release. But stuff like that will get decided in the New Year .
C.: Has Awake been writing any new songs lately? If "yes", how would you describe them?
R.: We started jamming new stuff about two months ago. We have a couple of aspects materialising and I can tell you that it will certainly be a heavier album. A lot less progressive I'm afraid, but with us what comes out comes out. We try not to consciously write songs to sound a certain way. Its either 'hey I have this fucking cool heavy riff' or 'I have nice sounding chord progression' and we go from there. We're thinking free jazz with full brass band for the last track!
C.: Let your heart out! Is there anything you feel you should say that hasn't been mentioned in this interview?
R.: Yeah it's been a pleasure. I hope I've said 'Fuck' enough in this interview, sorry if not. Always use a condom, only eat KFC when you're high! Any other time it's not worth the risk…. and stay Awake… literally! Oh, and the whole Buckingham Palace Pussycats Dolls thing is my fantasy. I'm sure the others have their own price!
Chris Galea - luciferlament[at]yahoo[dot]com
Vocals: Simon Shedwell
Guitars: Richard Hall
Bass: Chris le Mottee
Drums: Alex Townsend
Keyboards: Craig Burkett
"Reasons For Rebirth" - coming soon.
"When Silence Calls" - 2004 (as Humanity)
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