By ANDREW MCKAYSMITH
THE Stranger are prog-metallers from Brisbane. The band recently released a video for the excellent track “Solomon’s Son”, taken from the self-titled album which is available now.
The band collaborated with Adam Merker (Aversions Crown, Lagerstein, Disentomb) from Anderz Debeerz Studio who recorded the album with David Castillo (Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth) from Ghost Ward Studios on mix duties and Jens Bogren (Opeth, Devin Townsend, Caligula’s Horse) from Fascination Street Studios doing final master on the polished, sharp and epic album.
I asked the band a few questions and received extraordinarily comprehensive responses. I certainly enjoyed collating the feature so I hope the reader feels both entertained and informed. Here goes!
(I know we said the last time we interviewed a whole band and allowed them to speak as a collective that it was the last time, Um, THIS is the last time! – ed)
Hot Metal: First up, congratulations on the new single “’Solomon’s Son”! How do you think fans are going to react to the self-titled album?
The Stranger: “Thank you! The general vibe at the moment is cautious optimism. Those that have heard previews have had nothing but good things to say which is very encouraging, so I am really hoping it’s well received. Even if it’s not, I don’t think it could change how proud we are of what we’ve made.”
HM: Is there a theme for the new self-titled album?
TS: “I feel like a first album should serve as a complete introduction to a band – ‘This is who we are, this is our sound’, which is why we ended up going self-titled. One of our core tenets has always been a variety in style and dynamics, and that isn’t always conducive to a steady narrative or concept. However, we did initially set out to write a concept album and some themes/stories from that concept remains. The concept was originally set in the Old West, and was following a shadowy cowboy character through a journey to find and confront the father that abandoned him as a boy. Tracks one, three, six and seven are the remnants of that story. Outside of that, the tracks are about really nerdy things, because our singer is a huge nerd (as are the rest of us).”
HM: Who are your influences and inspirations?
TS: “Numerous. Musically, the big ones that we all share as a band are bands like Opeth, Tesseract, Periphery, SikTh, Dream Theatre, Devin Townsend etc. A lot of the album was written as a result of inspiration drawn from a more eclectic selection of artists however, artists like Al Petteway, Enya, Keith Urban, Clannad, Dire Straits, The Corrs, Fleet Foxes, Chili Peppers, Kortini, Steve Vai… If we’ve wrapped out head around it, it’s influenced us in some ways. You’ve got to work to keep your influences broad to prevent a ‘negative feedback loop’, creatively speaking. As ramshackle and nerdy as a lot of the lyrical content is there’s a running theme of discovery; of the self, of different perspectives, of social relationships, of our own challenges in contrast to the challenges and motives of those around us and the desire to explore different fundamental values. This somewhat incidental theme is largely present due to the fact that the singer, Tom, has never undertaken song writing on a scale such as this and is consistently puzzled, leading him to have to question and tease out unknown values he didn’t know were present.”
HM: What has been the band’s biggest challenge?
TS: “The album itself was a monumental effort. When you’re a brand new band, you have to self-finance everything, which essentially means saving your ass off for long stretches of time. The Stranger was born out of the ashes that was our (myself and Daniel’s) old band Alpine Fault – in fact much of the music that is on the album has its roots in what was supposed to be the Follow up to 2011’s “Iraena’s Ashes”. We always felt like one of the mistakes we made with Alpine Fault was to get a loan to cover all our costs in the making of an album, but the issue there is it tends to disincentive the repayments because you already have the product and it’s kind of dead money you’re throwing in a hole – So with The Stranger, we decided we weren’t going to start production until all the money was ready to go. This has helped greatly overall. Like it or not, the money side of being in a band is massive and it’s something you have to be strategic about. On top of that, it was night after night for three months in the studio getting it sounding right. Overall we try and stay positive and look towards the future. There are many large challenges to being in a band but if you try and approach them as just a reality and don’t let them scare you off or wear you out, It makes things much easier.”
HM: If it all ended tomorrow, have you achieved everything you wanted with the band?
TS: “Hell no haha – I don’t plan to stop before total world domination, though creating an album like the one we have is a pretty substantial tick on the list of major goals.”
HM: Story to share from the studio/ rehearsal?
TS: Probably had to be there, but Daniel our drummer was line-checking pretending to be an angry monkey and screaming into the microphones and we were pissing ourselves……….I’ll show myself out :P”(continued below)
HM: Story to share from the road/ on tour?
TS: “Mainly Tom the singer axing himself in various ways – slipping over on water bottles like they’re cartoon banana peels, getting his hair caught in my guitar tuners and ripping it out by the root mid-mosh… He gives it his all on stage and pays the price.”
HM: What’s your take on the music industry in 2017? What would you change?
TS: “If I had to pick 1 thing only (to make a start at least) the biggest change I would make is to change the way streaming services pay artists. The way these things are supposed to work is that if you pay $X per month (to Spotify or Apple Music or whoever) and after the service provider has taken their cut, the rest of that money gets evenly distributed on a per track basis to all the artists you listened to during that month. However, the current model appears to be that a fraction of that money goes to the artists, and the rest is repurposed for further profit. For example, Kevin Kadish who wrote “All About the Bass” (Meghan Trainor, ’14) got a measly $5.6k for 178 Million streams. This seems neither fair nor reasonable. Streaming services don’t seem to be going anywhere and they’ve given the general public the ability to listen to all the music they ever wanted for next to nothing, whilst not having to feel guilty because it’s legal but legal doesn’t mean fair, just or sustainable. On a more intangible level, streaming services have massively devalued music. Putting a price tag on something forces us to appreciate and respect it. When you pay $16.99 for an album, you’re most likely going to listen to the whole thing, and pay attention… sort of dive in and get amongst it, whereas $9.99 per month for nearly all music that exists is far less conducive to that same experience. I’ll leave it there to spare you an essay.’
HM: What’s working well (in the music industry in 2017)?
TS: “It is easier than it has ever been in the history of music for artists to be heard and get music out to a wide audience. With advances in technology and the internet, if you have a laptop, an interface, and a couple hundred dollars’ worth of software, you can put out records and release them worldwide from your bedroom. This prospect would have seemed insane 20 years ago. It has levelled the playing field in a way that has had the record companies scrambling to stay relevant for the last decade and this can only be seen as a good thing”
HM: Where do you see yourself and the band in 10 years’ time? Is there a grand plan?
TS: “If I reduce ‘The Plan’ down to its fundamental constituent, it can be described simply as “don’t stop”. We all have a bucket list of countries to play in, bands to share the stage with and experiences to have and I won’t be able to stop until I’ve done it. Who knows what happens then, we may get there, look around and realise that what looked so green and lush from the other side of the fence is really only so much AstroTurf and decide to do something else but until we do it all, we won’t know.”
Thanks to The Stranger for a fantastic Q&A!