2012 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for music! With bands such as Baroness, Torche, Converge and Neurosis all releasing phenomenal albums that will soon appear on my annual “best of” list. Add to that list some mighty fine releases from local bands Wildernessking, The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me and STRAGE‘s debut The Fire in Hell and I’ll have a template for the perfect playlist to the apocalypse should the whole planet implode on 21 December 2012.
Although our world’s demise is highly unlikely, 2012 does however find the music world in turmoil. Constant lawsuits against music fans and file sharing websites & reviewed copyright laws does seem to place the existence thereof and how bands generate an income in a shadow of doubt.
It is in this world that the instrumental doom band STRAGE, fueled by DIY ethics and influenced by bands like Cult of Luna, Pelican and Isis, ventured out to create music void of egos and to record and self-release their debut EP The Fire in Hell as a limited edition CD as well as a free download.
I recently had the opportunity to chat to Brandon, Jono and Matt about all things STRAGE and their upcoming Cape Town shows at the end of October.
M4A: STRAGE is a 3 piece instrumental post-metal/sludge band from Durban, an area recognised more for its coastlines, surfers & great white sharks than its dark brand of slow brooding sludge metal that this band delivers, even though it has produced some decent hardcore bands in the past, such as bands Go-Go Bronco, Crossing Point and Paige of State. Two members of the band, Brandon van Eden and Matt Bedford are from the latter two of the above mentioned bands, with third member Jono Harrison having played in the alternative band Monkey Slutz.
With reference to the above, the inception of the band: How did everyone get together and decide upon creating STRAGE and how has each member’s diverse musical background shaped the sound of the band?
Brandon: After Crossingpoint ended in 2010 I thought I’d try take a break from playing music for a bit (the band started in 1998 and I’ve been in other bands before that). I ended up riding my bicycle a hell of a lot for a year or 2 and then started chatting to Jono about ideas for a new band and the kind of music I’d always wanted to try play. There are elements of this style in bits of Crossingpoint as well, if you listen carefully. That’s where my nickname ‘Doom’ comes from: all the doomy parts I’d try incorporate in Crossingpoint.
Matt: First off, I think any experience from any previous bands has aided us in some way or another with what we’re doing in STRAGE. I’ve played in a few “not-so-heavy” bands in the past, but there are definitely some elements I’ve learned and carried through with me, and adapted to suit our sound. So I guess those things have certainly played a factor in the shape of STRAGE.
We all knew each other from bands and shows over the years, and when Jono mentioned to me that he and Brandon had been brainstorming ideas on a new band and sound, I got involved. I suppose we all shared a similar interest to head in the direction that we’ve gone in, and that’s how it happened.
M4A: I recently read that the word STRAGE is Italian for “massacre”. Is this name completely non-descriptive or is it relevant to a specific theme the band has based itself on?
Brandon: Sometimes it feels like a reaction to what I feel about the state of music in general, and just want to set it and everything alight for being such a load of corporate, money and party motivated drivel. That said, it doesn’t relate to any theme we have. It sums up what I envision happening inside someone’s head every time we play if the sound and volume is right (not often in this country).
M4A: I have found that with instrumental music, especially within this genre, that the driving mesmerizing tone and drone of the music finds the listener wandering to interpret the theme of the songs themselves. Reading through the ominous and somewhat ambiguous song titles such as “May the Bridges You Burn Light the Way”, “The Fire in Hell (Never Goes Out)” and “Pastures of the Fallen”, one does get the impression that there is an intended concept behind the music. Is there a message or a musical statement behind the band and its music?
Brandon: There is no intended concept. The song titles were literally chosen on a rather adhoc basis and sometimes on the fly, kind of the same way we give our riffs odd names when composing songs in order to remember them. So I think it’s mostly a case of putting a few words together that sum up what the song feels like to us. For example the song “Crawling Towards a Hole” has a section that we referred to as “crawling”… The “crawling” part. Once the entire song was done and we were practicing it for shows, we knew it by the name “Crawling”. One word names are boring so I think it was me that added on extra words to pad it out a little for the “Fire in Hell” EP. The album was supposed to be called “The Fire in Hell Never Goes Out” but that didn’t fit on the artwork so a few words were removed and placed in brackets after a song on the album that we used to refer to as “Interlude”.
Jono: I think what we managed to create with this album was a collection of songs that people could listen to and interpret for themselves depending on what mood the listener finds themselves in. There is however a definite “mood” throughout the album one might pick up on. We try to write music that speaks to everyone. Whether it speaks of darkness and sadness or happiness, I think there is something in every song that will speak to every listener differently.
Matt: I’m pleased you mentioned the listener’s interpretation aspect. That factor is probably one of the things I’m most proud of. If we can create music that stimulates thought and emotion in the listener, then we’ve succeeded. Without lyrics, our music doesn’t exactly portray obvious messages, however I like to think it provides the listener with a canvas to paint their own. The song titles may suggest themes, and I think they suit the concept of the songs and our sound. But once again, that could be perceived in many different ways which I think is cool.
M4A: Let’s move on to the music and the songwriting process itself. Was it a choice to be an instrumental band right from the original inception of the band or was it simply a case of three guys jamming and never being able to find a suitable vocalist?
Brandon: We didn’t have a clear vision of whether or not to be instrumental, essentially what happened was we just didn’t know anyone in this town that could sing really well or had ideas to sing about that we’d like to get behind. Our individual playing styles seem to fit really well together. Like any new relationship it took awhile to work through those first few songs and get used to being in a small, loud and sweaty room with each other for a few hours a week. But now we seem to know our individual strong points and naturally work at enhancing those in what we play.
Jono: Nothing was ever planned as far as STRAGE goes. The three of us started jamming and what came out is pretty much what is on the album. It just worked as an instrumental project and the more we wrote the less vocals seemed to appeal to us.
M4A: How has being in an instrumental band affected the songwriting, in comparison to your previous musical projects, and how is a typical STRAGE song written? Who is the main songwriter within the band?
Brandon: I think of our music is rhythm driven so bass and drums are very important. But the recorded songs all started out as a collection of guitar riffs that I brought into rehearsal each time. We just play through them and then piece them all together in whatever way we like them sounding best. Quite simple actually. I find a lot of my favourite riff ideas come out of us just jamming together and making up things on the spot. This doesn’t happen often but when it does the results are my favourite!
Matt: I’d say the majority of our songs are based around an initial riff or noise, which sparks a creative process after that. I think with the lack of a vocalist, dynamics play a huge role in our sound so that’s another element we take into consideration with our songwriting process. But generally once we come up with something we’ll loop it for a while trying variations and allowing it to build organically as we go with it until we start to structure it in more detail. In a three-piece each member is a lot more vulnerable with their instrument and duties in the songwriting. From a drummer’s point of view, I can’t exactly ride behind 3 guitarists and 2 singers etc. and just fill in the spaces in between, and vice versa with the other guys, each instrument in this band is equally important and responsible for the sound. Oh, and volume. When we play loud, we like to be VERY LOUD!
M4A: What musical influences helped define STRAGE?
Jono: There are a few bands that we all listen to and enjoy. As far as influence goes I think we all sort of influence each other. Bands I enjoy would be Isis, Cult of Luna, Pelican, Cancer Bats, Comeback Kid and Converge.
Matt: Explosions in the Sky, Circa Survive, Pelican.
Jono: Just having a release, a way to let go and make a noise that hopefully speaks to other people.
Matt: Probably the pre-band-practice rotis or bunny chows from any of Durban’s finest curry dens.
Brandon: The only way to listen to music is loud, and the only way to experience it loud is to play live. That’s one reason I like creating music, to create a fully immersive experience for myself and anyone else that happens to be nearby as well.
M4A: You recently recorded and self-released the Fire in Hell EP as a free download and as a limited edition CD. Tell us a bit about the recording process. You recorded all the songs in your practice room with limited resources, right?
Matt: The idea was to capture a natural stereo sound image. I’d like to do a full on studio recording too sometime, but doing it the way we did was an exciting challenge on its own. Refer to explanation as per strage.co.za for full insight.
M4A: How have the South African listeners responded to The Fire in Hell EP so far?
Jono: I think the response has been great so far. People seem to be keen on new types of music and very open to the idea of instrumental music as a whole.
Brandon: Surprisingly all our limited edition physical copies are close to being sold out. We’ve held a few back for our shows in Cape Town though. Once they’re gone they will not be reprinted so they’re true collectors items. The free download option though will always be there simply because we recorded it at no cost to us. Being a new band’s first release it’s a lot easier getting music to reach people by giving it away. The results of doing this has surpassed all our expectations.
M4A: Other than The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me, there are not too many bands that play this type of music here in South Africa. How have the gig goers responded to your live performances? Do you find that you’re introducing a lot of people to a new genre of music?
Jono: It has not been anything like I thought it would be. People have been very welcoming and supportive at shows. We have played a few shows with bands from other genres and their fans seem to have enjoyed us. It’s been great so far. People are hungry for live music and seem to be supporting bands more and more these days. As far as introducing a new genre to people I think we just trying to play as much as we can and reach as many new people as we can.
Matt: Yeah, I get that feeling. We’re also making an effort to expose ourselves to new crowds and venues. We like to see new faces at shows, and old ones too. But on the whole, good positive feedback even from people that don’t have a hardcore or heavy music history. If they don’t enjoy it, that’s ok too, but hopefully everyone has felt like they’ve heard something interesting and out of the ordinary.
M4A: You’re performing in Cape Town on the 26th and 27th of October. Personally I’m excited to see such diverse bands as Wildersnessking, Past Haunts, Take Hand, Yes Sir! Mr Machine, With Dawn etc. along with STRAGE all performing together over the weekend. It reminds of the days when you’d have punk/hardcore/metal bands getting together and putting on shows. What are your expectations of the Cape Town performances, and what are your thoughts on underground music in South Africa currently?
Brandon: Cape Town seems to have some great bands right now so we’re really excited to finally make these shows happen. It has taken a lot of work though, many emails and instant messages. If we had done this over the telephone it would have cost thousands in calls!
Jono: Super excited to be playing in Cape Town. It should be lots of fun and the bands we are playing with are amazing so I’m super keen to finally see them live. The underground scene is growing. The music scene in SA is growing fast and the level of great bands is getting higher and higher. That being said there are still a few kinks that need sorting out but in any developing industry there will be problems. It’s all part of the process.
Matt: I’m really looking forward to it and very keen to see the other bands. This will be my first time in Cape Town, so not sure what to expect. I think the underground scene will continue to evolve and change with trends and times. As you mentioned about the mix of genres at gigs, that’s exactly what I’d like to see a lot more of. It’s great to go out to a show and witness various bands from different styles all in one evening. It just helps to bring a mix of people and support together.
STRAGE will be performing at R.O.A.R. on the 26th of October:
And on the 27th of October at Hectic on Hope:
Download STRAGE – The Fire in Hell on their website: http://strage.co.za