Alchemist - Interview
Alchemist have started to finally turn some heads internationally with "Organasm." "Organasm" was nothing short of an exceptional record, and to put it simply, "Austral Alien" tops it in every way. Roy who handles half guitaring duties for Alchemist, as well as the fantastic art work depicted all through "Austral Alien" was kind enough to answer these questions via email in a record turn around time of 5 hours and 20 minutes (completely annihilating any previous records). Opeth, the new record, and metal life in Australia consist of some of the topics covered.
Ok, man before we get onto the album, I gotta ask how the few gigs with Opeth were. Were these guys as unbelievable as every man and his dog keep saying they are? Do you think they enjoyed Australia? Must be a lot more exciting than Sweden for them...
The Opeth shows were fantastic, an awesome way to come back to the live scene for us. It had been the biggest break the band has had from performing and to come back to appreciative sold out crowds was great. Opeth were really, really good, musically the best band we have the pleasure of playing with, the pulled it off beautifully everywhere they went. I think they had a great time here and seemed to be humbled by the reception they got everywhere. Great guys, down to earth, no bull shit at all, Scorpion (the promoter) was great as well. Best support slot we have ever done.
Are you guys big fans of Opeth? Do you think it was a big step in the career of Alchemist playing alongside these huge metal stalwarts?
Yeah, we are big fans of Opeth, Adza has been into them for some time and got us keen around "Blackwater Park" era. Everything I have heard from them has been great. It defiantly was a positive step in our career and a good way to align ourselves with the current metal crowd. It was great to see so many people into a band as diverse as Opeth, maybe things are changing here.
The new record is "Austral Alien," and I really must say it is an absolute corker of a record. I notice this record is a bit shorter than "Organasm." Was this a conscious decision? Were you aiming for "Austral Alien" to be a bit sharper, and ultimately shorter in its delivery to the listener?
Thanks Jack, Yeah it's a bit shorter, it wasn't really planned to be shorter than "Organasm," it just kind of turned out like that. We wanted concise songs, and just keep writing until it felt right. A band like Alchemist is a real challenge to record, and sometimes the more songs on the album the less attention each song gets in the mix. We also have to work within certain constrains – which equates to time in the studio in the long run. We took 2 years to write the material, but you can only leave so long between each record. It felt right to the band.
There is a distinct... perhaps 'indigenous' Australian vibe to "Austral Alien." I can sense Men At Work, Icehouse and Midnight Oil throughout "Austral Alien." Have you guys made a deliberate decision to help further differentiate Alchemist from other acts, and perhaps Australianise Alchemist more so for "Austral Alien" than past releases? I mean, as you wade further into overseas markets the need for uniqueness and creativity is evermore principal and critical to your success...
The whole record was written to the "Austral Alien" concept – which is pretty loose and open to interpretation, but probably encouraged that Australian vibe you mentioned. We have always tried to differentiate Alchemist from other acts - especially other heavy acts. We all grew up with the bands you mentioned and I guess we have Australianised the band a bit from our older material. I think we may have some common ideas with say Icehouse and the Oils. We're not sure how they will take it overseas, but if it sounds unique and creative, that's what we're after.
What are the lyrics about for "Austral Alien?" Does "Austral Alien" follow a loose concept about anything in particular? "Organasm" was about the general creation and evolution of life. Does "Austral Alien" follow this story to a more 'surreal' and 'fictional' level?
"Austral Alien" is a loose concept that embraces all the songs. There are many different ways you can read it, really everyone in Australia is an Alien, even the indigenous people (originally). Fox's, Cain toads; all the imports. Also it has been very difficult for us to penetrate overseas, not to mention tour. So we have accepted that we are geographically isolated from the world scene – making the band the Austral Alien. There is also the weirdness of the band – perceived by people with no understanding of what we are trying to do, like we want to alienate those who don't get it – that's the concept anyway. The lyrics are kind of independent to each song but hopefully fit into the whole scheme of things. Some of the lyrical themes are: Alien abduction, nuclear waste disposal, drought, suicide, human progress, reality, isolation, the future.
Can you tell me about the cover art for "Austral Alien?" Again you guys seem to be following along a psychedelic road (as can be seen through "Organasm").
The "Austral Alien" artwork is a series of panels I created throughout the writing process. It's very psychedelic, hopefully interesting and unique. The actual cover image is the underside of the Carillon in Canberra, which has then been tripped out. I think Alchemist's road will always be psychedelic; we're a psychedelic band.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing for me following the progress of Alchemist is the gradual shift to a more slow and deliberate sound. "Organasm" was certainly a 'spacier' and 'psychedelic' record than what "Spiritech" was, and again "Austral Alien" sees you taking Alchemist to the next level in being 'out there.' Is this going to be a general trend for Alchemist in the future, or are you merely taking each day as it comes?
We don't have much interest in repeating ourselves, so it's all new. We love the psychedelic elements in our tunes and we love being 'out there.' I guess lately different elements in heavy music are more expected so we must also keep pushing it. Personally, I think "Jar of Kingdom," our first record is the most out there thing we have done, every thing else is pretty tame compared to that.
But again, that being said, there is an undeniable link between "Organasm" and "Austral Alien." The two records could have almost been recorded in the same sessions, and merely released a few years apart, such is the vibe that a listener might feel towards both records.
Well they were recorded in the same place with the same guy, (DW) I can hear the difference in the two records. It's interesting you would say that.
There is far more 'present' sound to "Austral Alien" than what was happening on "Organasm." The sound quality is very much 'alive' on "Austral Alien." Where was "Austral Alien" recorded, and more importantly was Gup, the ever cool sound guy, around this time?
"Austral Alien," "Organasm" and "Eve of the War" were all recorded at Backbeach studios (Vic) with DW Norton – guitarist of Superheist. No Gup has become very unwell and is no longer with the band. Gup was a live sound guy, one of the best. Not a studio guy though. DW is fantastic we have been using him for years and we are all great friends, the guy knows what we are trying to do, which is actually hard to find. We are very organised by the time we record, we do our own pre-production, clicks and keys then take it to the studio. Lately we have become much more active in the process, but we will always need an independent ear to work with us.
Any chance of recording any clips for "Austral Alien," or are you guys having to pave the way for yourselves again in terms of video clip budgets?
Yes, there is a clip on Rage at the moment for 'First Contact' we also have another in the wings for 'Solarburn' while a third 'Alpha Cappella Nova Vega' in the planning stage. There is no budget, we have resorted to making them ourselves. The challenge is making them effectively, time will tell. We do almost everything else ourselves so why stop at video, Rodney has great editing skills and I'm working on animations, we have a friend Andy – Morbid films who is also invaluable. We are becoming a multimedia project.
Alchemist obviously takes up a lot of your time. As far as metal goes in Australia, you guys are possibly the biggest icon here. Do any members have much time for any other musical outputs besides the shit you play with Alchemist?
No not really, I think we are all pretty much flat out doing this. Alchemist rehearses consistently three times a week. Our stuff is always there, there is talk from time to time but not much comes off.
Has there been a lot of pressure on you to release a more successful and appealing album than what "Organasm" was? Now that you are gaining some decent exposure overseas, does this sit firmly in the back of your mind, that you need to keep raising the bar?
Not from any external sources, we have high standards for ourselves, and we always try to make a better record than the last – otherwise there is no point. I think Relapse and Chatterbox know this by now and trust that we will do it.
The relationship you have with Relapse Records to release Alchemist products overseas is obviously of paramount importance for fans internationally. I saw some very good reviews for "Organasm" from some big US websites. Has being with Relapse Records opened up a decent amount of anticipation for "Austral Alien" overseas?
Yeah for sure, Relapse are great. "Organasm" was only a license for them. This one is the first under contract for them. So we expect them to push it much harder than "Organasm." Lately our web site has gone through the roof with overseas visitors, that's the best indicator for their initial promotion. The release is June 14, I think, so we shall see how it goes.
Metal for the Brain (biggest Australian metal festival) was cancelled last year due to insurance issues, but seems to be firing again this year. Are there going to be any foreseeable problems for M4TB 2003?
There are many foreseeable problems for the show to continue, but we will try to overcome them, it was insurance that stopped the show. We have secured that, but now it's a matter of paying for it all. We lost our start up capital with the cancellation of last years show. We are defiantly keen to do it. But right now we are focused on releasing "Austral Alien."
Metal for the Brain... any big movers and shakers (ie large international metal acts) that might be coming down for M4TB 2003? Any information you may be able to subtly give out?
No information to give.
Where to from here? You got a fair few shows happening around Australia (of course when I mention Australia, I mention it as a nation excluding a wee state below Victoria – Tasmania excluded again... hehe). After the touring, you guys back to the drawing board for a follow up to "Austral Alien," or going on a mass bludging session?
We are trying to play everywhere, after that tour we are looking for another national support. Hopefully the U.S. No bludging sessions. I expect we will start writing again in the new year.
Any plans for international visits? Maybe as a Relapse package or something...
Yes, Relapse are keen to have us over, but they want to do it right – match us with the right band or a contaminated tour. I guess we have to see how the album goes over there as well. Hopefully, sooner rather than later. They stand to sell more CDs if we go, so it's in their best interests.
This brings me to a close mate. Cheers for answering these flimsy questions. Keep the metal flame burning bright. I hope to catch up with you for M4TB 2003. You know the deal bro... plug yourselves endlessly here.
No worries Jack, thanks for the support. We are keen to get down to Tassie again, so hopefully I'll see you there. Good luck with Metalbite, All the best. Roy.
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