With U.S metalcore act Unearth touring with Dimmu Borgir and Lamb Of God on the Defender's Of The Faith II tour; I got the opportunity to have a chat with singer Trevor Phipps in Manchester. Here's how it went…
First up, your new album 'The March' has been recently released, have you had any feedback on sales or media attention for example?
Yeah it's all been really positive so far. The sales are good, the attention from the fans has been great, response at the shows has been pretty sick and the media has been treating us really good as well.
More so than your previous albums?
Maybe a bit better, the media has been saying that our song writing is maturing and so forth, so yeah they like it, so it's pretty cool.
Do you read a lot of reviews, both positive and negative?
I do read them, but I don't really take notice of them. I mean, it sounds corny but the most important thing is if we're happy with the album and certainly if the fans like it. It's great that it's getting attention from the press, but if the fans are digging it then that's important because they're the ones buying the albums and tickets.
After finishing an album do you feel totally drained, like you've got all your creativity out?
By the time I'm done with the record I'm so exhausted, both physically and emotionally. We put everything into it that we can and I'm spent by the end. It's a process I don't look forward to going through, but at the end of the day it's a good experience. But yeah it's very draining, like putting out a record every two years is about as much as I can handle.
Does it seem strange knowing bands like KISS in the 80's, brought out albums every year for instance?
Yeah but I think back in the day, they focused more on singles and there would be a lot more filler tracks. Nowadays you put out a record every two years and you try to make every single song good. There might be a filler track here and there but our band doesn't want to do that. You try to make ten to twelve really good songs and not any singles. We're not a pop band so there's no sense in putting out a single.
I heard a quote from the film director Peter Jackson, who said, "Perfection doesn't exist, you just run out of time" Do you agree?
I don't know about that, I think if you spend too much time on something, it can actually hurt the process. Like 'Chinese Democracy' for example, I think if that record was put out around the time he started writing it, it might have been a bit better. I think he (Axl Rose) over thought things and sometimes you can break it down too much.
For us, the best the songs are is when we first write them. If it goes past a month of trying to finish it, then it's usually worse off.
Do you ever start a song and then maybe revisit it a month later and tweak things? Or write it once and that's it?
Usually we have the song and try to finish it within a month, sometimes it takes five minutes and sometimes a month but if it gets past that then the song gets trashed. We may take out parts of a song and form something new and be re inspired but yeah there's a graveyard of different riffs with this band, like they were cool but it just didn't work out for a full song.
Do you listen to your previous albums when recording a new one and think "We need less of this and more of that" for instance?
I wouldn't say so, I think we just write about what we feel inspired by at the time.
I think we're always growing and new bands are coming out with new sounds. We all listen to metal and rock 'n' roll and we try to be inspired by what's happening around us and what our roots are, so it just comes out of that.
So it's never a case of: "That was cool but we should try something different".
Not really no, our band will always sound like our and there might be some parts that are similar, but we always just try to write music that we like.
Again, when you record a new album, do you ever hear a band's new album with exactly the same guitar riff/vocal melody for instance? If so, do you change it?
Certainly if it was too similar we'll change something. It hasn't really happened too much, but sometimes after the album is recorded you might notice something. Like on 'The March', there's one song that has a riff that sounds very similar to a Testament song on 'The Gathering'. We didn't notice until afterwards, but we thought, "Wait a minute…that sounds like an Eric Peterson riff". But you know, it wasn't our fault but it happens.
Similar sounds in music are fairly unavoidable these days, what do you think of artists suing other artists over similar sounds? Like Joe Satriani suing Coldplay over the song 'Viva La Vida'. Do you think that's OK?
I think if it's a blatant rip off then maybe, but I don't think it's really a problem in metal and hardcore music because it's not pop and it's not going to sell millions of records. If you're dealing with a pop band that's going to have a major single, then you copy something to a point, then that's obviously just plagiarising. I'm not sure suing is the right option, but it has to be stopped. I don't think it's a huge problem, but if it happens it should be dealt with appropriately.
I think Satriani is the third person to sue now, are you planning to sue Coldplay too for any reason?
(Laughs) Yeah I think they stole something off 'The Oncoming Storm' and made a hit out of it…but yeah I saw an interview with them and they said the reason why is that they're inspired by so many great bands and it's worked its way into the songwriting. They claim it's not stealing, but it just works its way into the song.
It's the same thing with that Testament example I gave before. I mean, it's not exactly the same riff or anything, we all like Testament so it just came about organically.
Onto touring now, when you tour places like Japan and Australia for example, is it sometimes not as exciting as it sounds because all you see is mostly airports, hotels and the venue?
It depends on the schedule, but yeah I do like to get out and walk around and see what that city is about and talk to some people, not just go from the hotel to the venue because that takes the spice out of it.
We've been to Japan and Australia before and they're certainly different worlds for us, so yeah it's really cool to be able to do that. Like, our first time in England we were freaking out over the phone booths and taking pictures of the double-decker buses that we'd only seen on TV.
It's important for us to actually get out and see each city because otherwise travelling is a drag.
I only mention Australia because I'm from Melbourne, but I believe your planning to go down to Oz again for the Soundwave Festival?
Yeah next week actually, the first show is on the 21st so we leave pretty soon.
Talking about crowd reactions, when you're the support band and the audience is being unresponsive or boring, do you have any tricks or techniques to get them more into the music?
Yeah I think my stage banter will work, I've tried to hone in on that over the years. We did tours like Ozzfest in 2004 where nobody really knew the band and you just have to talk to them you know. You have to figure out your crowd too, like we toured with Dimmu Borgir in the U.S and Canada in 2007 and it's not the same audience that we're used to playing for. We weren't really playing for the standard metalhead, but obviously more for people who listen to black metal and a lot of them don't want to mosh, which is a big banter call for me to get people to mosh. So you know, I asked for like 'horns in the air' and 'make some noise', that kind of thing. So yeah you do have to figure out the crowd and feel their energy and try to work with it.
I can't imagine Japanese crowds go that wild for instance?
They do go wild and mosh with circle pits and all that, but it's nowhere near as intense as the rest of the world. They're much more reserved, but they certainly do scream louder than in any other country we've played in. Like when you finish the song, they'll scream so loud like you're playing in a stadium, but once you start talking they shut up, like you could hear a pin drop so yeah it's really weird.
Which show was the easiest and the hardest thus far in terms of crowd reactions? Which show did everyone know the band and which show did you have to really work hard to get the crowd into it?
The show that were the easiest for me so far was Hellfest ages ago. There were thousands of people and no barricade, so it was cool because we were so close to the fans. But the hardest ones are where there's a barricade and the crowd is quite far away, like tonight's show has a big barricade and I really hate that.
Mary (my friend sitting next to me) - It's really controlled in England though because people keep getting hurt.
Yeah, well we toured England in November last year and we asked for no barricade, which is not a problem in mainland Europe but here we have to have barricades in every show. It's a lot like the U.S though, because there's always a barricade, which is unfortunate.
Mary - But kids in the UK go mental most of the time.
Yeah that's true, I'm sure tonight's sure will be awesome though.
Do you find it hard to keep motivated when you're on tour?
If you get run down or sick it's tough to get up for the show, but yeah there's some nights where you might not feel like going on stage, but you kind of deal with it because you have to play.
You always end up having a fun time so it's worth it. I can count on one hand where I've played shows where I haven't really had a good time, which was because I'd been really sick. We played a headline tour in the UK in 2007 and for a while I had tonsillitis, like a really gross, white infection around my throat as well as a fever. I almost cancelled the show but I thought, "Fuck it, I'll on stage", so yeah I've never missed a show. It certainly wasn't the best time in the world, but I fought through it because this is the best job in the world for us, so I can't really complain if I'm tired or sick because we love what we do.
Do you think the music industry changed significantly from when you started up to now?
Yeah definitely, like our first demo was a cassette tape so that's going back a bit. So we sold those for like $2 at our shows and sent them to labels and eventually got signed. Also, our first website was a geocities site, back before the internet was even cool. Now it's totally different with everyone downloading records and bands get big on myspace and not really touring as much. There's a lot more of a 'come and go' with bands I feel these days, like bands that get big for a year or two and then disappear.
I still believe you have to get on the road and tour your asses off if you want to get anywhere in a band. People can like your band for a song or two on myspace but they need to grow with the band on the road, you know, see the band evolve with every record. In terms of CDs, the sales are dropping 25% every year for the entire industry, so maybe CDs will become obsolete not before long and it will be on tours that bands will earn most of their living.
Unearth is from Boston, do you think coming from there affected your sound? Do you think in general where you come from has an affect or is it just the music you listen to?
I would say coming from Boston had some effect on us because of the local bands we got into at high school, like Cave In and Overcast. Those bands were really big in the North Shore, Massachusetts, and we all used to go to those shows in the mid 90's just to check them out, so yeah we got inspired by them.
For the most part though, I think our songs are influenced by what we listen to when we grew up, like Iron Maiden, Testament, Pantera, Metallica, Megadeth, Sepultura and so on. That's where I think our core sound comes from, but of course it changes over the years with bands like Earth Crises having a great effect on us.
Would you say any modern bands have an influence on you? Like similar bands in your genre?
I would say so, I think with bands in any genre there's a friendly competition, such as bands that are our friends like Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, As I Lay Dying and The Red Chord. We do listen to their records and think "Wow, that's amazing", so yeah we kind of have to go one better. It fuels the fire for us when you have that friendly competition.
Do you ever hang out back home and watch new, emerging bands in your area? I believe you have a small record label?
Yeah that's important for us to watch new bands, because if we headline in our home area, I'll always watch the other bands to see if I dig it, that's how I find my bands for the record label. Generally I have to see them live before I can sign them, with only a few exceptions.
Has the record label made any profits?
It stays afloat and pays for itself, but I don't get a pay check from it because the bands aren't selling that many records. One band I signed called If Hope Dies, did quite well for a while but then broke up when they started to sell records. So yeah that was unfortunate but it's fun and a good hobby, I love helping out young bands.
Where do you see heavy metal and music in general in ten years time? Do you see any trends emerging?
Yeah there's always trends, like right now thrash and death metal are back. It feels a bit like the late 80's-early 90's right now, which is pretty cool. It will come in waves, it might sound different but it will never die. Slayer will probably still be around in ten years and will always sound like Slayer.
Probably releasing the same album every year?
Well yeah, but it's good though. I love Slayer, they have their sound and they've stuck to it.
Finally, where do you see yourself in ten years? What do you want to achieve?
I hope people say that "He keeps putting out Unearth records" I really hope so. To have a career like slayer is I think something every metal band would want. Twenty-five years of making music and touring the world is incredible.
OK, thanks very much for your time Trevor.
That's cool, thank you.