The importance of vinyl, the benefits of illegal downloading, and why DIY doesn’t have to mean sloppy – Ian Maleney talks to London’s angular independent rockers Silent Front who play a four-date Irish tour this week with Jogging and Guns Or Knives.
After a year away, English three-piece Silent Front return to Irish shores this week. Their last gig here made for the one of the best Halloween parties in recent memory with a fancily-dressed crowd wedging into Portobello’s Lower Deck for an unforgettable gig. The venue is different this time around, with Ruta Live playing host to a band that bring a whole new level of meaning to the term power-trio. Their harsh brand of exo-skeletal hardcore is dark, vicious and superbly constructed, as shown to full effect on their last long player, Dead Lake. Touring again on the back of that record, you can expect to hear songs from that as well as some new ones. Local favourites and recent English tour-mates Jogging will be providing support, as will Guns or Knives.
Can you explain a little about how the current Silent Front came to be? I take it you’ve all been involved in music a long time?
Russell: This could be a long and boring story about how many drummers we’ve had, and how we started the band when Phil and I were in school, but I’ll spare you that.
Gareth: I’d been looking to join a new band roughly around the time Russ and Phil had just lost another drummer. I’d known about Silent Front for a while so was keen try out. I was looking for something I could really get my teeth into as other bands I’d been in weren’t as active as I would have liked.
Do any of you work day jobs?
Russell: Phil and Gareth work full time but I’ve recently been made unemployed. If the band made us money we’d be delighted but employment is the only way we’ll ever be able to fund it.
Gareth: It’s ok though, Shellac still have day jobs! And not having to worry about how many records we sell before we can afford to pay our rent gives us a lot of freedom artistically, and means we can be completely uncompromising in our approach. We tour when we want to, write when we want to and play with who we want to. We can’t complain really.
What’s your writing process like?
Gareth: We don’t form many ideas from pure jamming unless we have a starting point.
Russell: One of us will bring a riff to practice then we’ll all build on it. To save money and because we live together we practice in Gareth’s bedroom at low volume. When the song is near completion we take it to a rehearsal room to get it tight and to hear how it sounds when it’s loud.
Gareth: Lyrics will typically go on last.
Phil, you printed the lyrics on the sleeve with Dead Lake, are they important to you? A lot of heavier bands just seem to fill the space with their lyrics but there seems to be a bit more consideration put in on your part. What is your approach lyric writing and how do you decide when something is good enough?
Phil: I think it goes back in part to the whole package type answer as far as the band/music goes. We wanted to include every aspect of what we feel makes a “proper” record, at the same time to put forward every aspect of the music. As a lyricist I feel having lyrics written in the sleeve adds to the feel and intention of the record giving people an insight into the workings, the cogs and wires and to show that it’s not just filling up space materially and musically. I think as a lyric writer you have to be honest and not really give a fuck what people think. If I write something it’s from the heart and honest. Its the only way I can do it or to me it’s redundant and hollow. What people think is secondary as it’s a release for me. We put them on the sleeve for people to make their own mind up. As far as subject matter goes I like to keep it close to home and write about things that affect me or people I’m close too. Dead Lake lyrically is mainly about my time in hospital and things that I went through during that time and the struggle I had in the years afterwards. it would be easy for me to rant a bunch of shite about government this and government that, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but personally I don’t have first hand experience of what’s actually happening in many cases. I can have an opinion, but for me that is not enough to write something for.
How do you find putting out records and touring independently? Is it tiring? You must have to deal with a lot different shit at once. Any particular highlights or low-lights so far?
Gareth: It is hard work, but organizing everything ourselves means we have complete control of what we do. We have help from DIY labels putting out our records, which we are really grateful for, but whatever the arrangement, we always make sure that nothing happens that we’re not completely satisfied with. We’re quite exacting in how we want things done. As for tours, we’ve had a few bad experiences with bookers, so we generally prefer to do that sort of thing ourselves. There’s a lot to do, but we have taken up different aspects to help divide the labour so generally speaking, Russ maintains our web presence (website and tour diaries), Phil takes care of the artwork (records and t-shirts etc), and I book the tours and do the driving.
Russell: It’s all part of being in a band and we’re happy to do it. Touring itself can be tiring, but that’s usually alcohol or driving related – Phil and I do the drinking and Gareth does the driving. Phil and I don’t have driving licences. Tour highlights are generally shows with good attendances and the low-lights are the badly attended shows, or when a show falls through. Earlier this year we booked a two week tour of the continent but had to rearrange it into two separate trips because six shows got cancelled. That was very frustrating. You’ve got to enjoy putting the work in, otherwise you are going to have a torrid time.
Were you happy with how Dead Lake was received last year? Was it important for you to have it on vinyl?
Gareth: We’re completely unashamed of our passion for vinyl, releasing it as a 12″ was a no-brainer. While debates about sound quality differences are a bit dubious, the larger artwork and the enjoyment in the ‘ritual’ of putting on a record is undeniable. We want anyone who buys our album on CD to also have the opportunity to experience this one day, which is why we sell the CD and vinyl together in one package.
The album has sold really well, which we’re obviously pleased with and some of the reviews were pretty good too. Any negative points were generally focused on the production rather than the song writing. The production has really divided opinion, some have commented about how much they love how warm and clear it sounds, but others have said it doesn’t accurately convey the intensity we have live. We’ve been working with a new recording engineer recently and we’re confident our next release will get across the energy of our live performance.
Russell: I’ve noticed on Last.FM, people in parts of the world we’ve never been to, or sent records to have a copy of Dead Lake, which means the illegal download is also doing very well too. We don’t mind that, it doesn’t feel like theft and we are flattered that these people want to listen to it.
The artwork and packaging of your releases to date has always been impressive. Do you put much thought in the visual side of what you do?
Gareth: We all think a lot about how we want to package our records. Phil is the artist, so a lot of the time it’ll hinge on his ideas. The main aim is to make whatever the final product is into something really special.
Russell: And because profits are not an issue, we are able to spend more on the packaging.
Russell, you write the tour diaries on the band’s blog. When and why did you start doing that? Has it been enjoyable?
Russell: I only started doing it about a year ago. I suppose I thought it’d just be a bit of fun, and because so much can happen on tour that if it’s not written down or filmed I would forget. They were originally just meant for me but I had an unusual feeling of self confidence and put them up for everyone to see. Even then, I didn’t expect them to be read by so many people, the reaction has been fantastic and people have told me that they have enjoyed reading them. I’ve just been asked by a Belfast based metal monthly, Molten Magazine, if they can publish the next one. Which is nice.
Silent Front play four Irish gigs this week:
27th Belfast – Aunt Annie’s
28th Cork – Fred Zepplins
29th Galway – Sally Long’s
30th Dublin – Ruta Live (O’Byrnes)