Friday, 23 September 2011

Dan's thoughts on 'North of Nowhere'

Ok so here goes. I haven’t written a blog for the band before. On the course I was studying last year the class was encouraged to keep a kind of online diary so we could stand back and reflect on what we had done the past week, be it related to the course or otherwise, in order to reflect on what had happened; weigh the pros and cons of it, see if we could learn anything from something that had happened, or just have a general rant about something that pissed us off. Well that’s how I used it sometimes anyway. I actually began to enjoy just typing out these little rants and observations, they were only small and focused on one thing really, and here is where I get to the point of this opening section. I’ve never attempted to do a proper blog (other than little myspace updates. You remember that crazy site don’t you?!) for the band because I find it quite difficult to get my thoughts and feelings about the band and all things related to it down into a comprehensible statement. So if you read this please try to endure the tangents I might veer off into from time to time.

The reason I’ve finally decided to do this blog is that recording for our first full-length album is drawing to a close, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the experience and shed a little bit of light on what to expect from it. As well as this, the album probably isn’t going to be released until some time early next year now, what with mixing, promoting etc. So this blog will hopefully whet some people’s appetites enough that they’ll stay interested about it during the wait. We’ll definitely be ramming the promotion down your throats. I also wanted to share some of my opinions about the band in general as I’ve never really gotten to talk about this thing that I am so passionate about in great detail other than to those who are involved in it.
The first thing I should probably talk about is the amount of time we have spent working on it. We began recording this album in early March, it is now nearing the end of September, and it is still not completely finished. To be honest, possible a third of that time has probably been spent laughing at the most ridiculous shit. But I’m glad of it though. Not only has it helped the environment become quite relaxed, that relaxation has made the environment quite creative; no stress. Fair enough, we could probably have released the album by now, and finally been able to play some new songs, but fuck it. It’s been worth it to get the best possible result, which I do believe we have achieved. If you’re fed up of hearing the songs we play live, I won’t be offended if you would rather go and listen to the newest Justin Bieber album while we do our thing. The other lads might be though.

The effect this time has had on our musicianship, especially my own, is quite stupendous. I don’t class myself as a great guitarist or vocalist, or even a good one for that matter. “Average at best” is probably the best statement I can think of for my level of playing. But the solos that I’ve recorded on this album I can finally listen to and say “yep, that’s me”. They’re not amazing, but I believe they’re actually passable as guitar solos this time instead of just Slayer-esque fast noise. The two people to thank for this are Peter Delaney of Pastel Jack fame (or notoriety) and Gary Wainman, the genius who has recorded this album for us. I view both as really good friends, and they have helped me immensely in my ongoing quest to be a decent guitarist. Pete gave me a couple of guitar lessons a few months ago, and just those two lessons have helped me improve immensely. Gary was great in helping to get the creativity flowing. I’ve never written a guitar solo before, I usually just play the first thing that comes into my head, which is why they all end up sounding the same. But Gary was brilliant at pointing out the bits that worked, the bits that didn’t etc. I would recommend everyone who wants somebody to not just record your album, but put the same amount of passion, time and effort into it as you, to go to him. He is brilliant, and worth every penny. In fact, you should just pay him double up front. Right now.
This has already turned into a dissertation.

Anyway, I’ll crack on. The songs on the album will surprise some people I think. Since we started XIII way back in the spring of 2007, people (including ourselves at first) have labelled us a thrash metal band. I think at first we were aiming to be a thrash band. Maybe because I wasn’t listening, or just because we weren’t plugged into and aware of Hull’s metal scene, but nobody that I knew of was doing an old-school thrash thing at the time, and I was getting sick and tired of the stuff I was hearing: Drop tuned, muddy guitars with screaming vocals you could barely understand. Or bands singing about being dumped by their girlfriends. So I thought “I want to do something that has the attitude and balls that some of those thrash bands had.” And that’s what we set out to do. Nowadays though, probably since Mark joined the band and as we’ve grown up and our tastes have changed, I think we have a more rounded sound that isn’t just limited to the high speed thrash sound, so I would like to state for the record that I don’t believe we are a thrash band now. Fair enough our roots are in thrash, and we have a few up-tempo songs, but not all of them are, and not many of them are fast enough to be labelled thrash. I think speed used for a purpose is a very good thing. Listen to “The Beaten Path” when our album comes out and tell us that’s a thrash song!
Anyhoo, where was I? The songs on the album. Right. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the tangents. If you’re still reading this, that is. Maybe you’ve got the night in by yourself and are waiting for a takeaway. Let me know what it’s like. I digress...
I’ve tried some new things on this album. The aim has been to try and do something a bit different to everything else people are hearing these days. The same guitar sounds, the same production etc. Fair enough it won’t be completely different, I’m of the opinion that there aren’t many things new to be made or heard. We have the token slow song, in the form of “Retribution”, but I think people will still like it. We have another slow song, “Forever”, that is completely acoustic. I can’t wait for people to hear that one. As well as the band trying to move in new directions, I myself have tried to do some new things. As I mentioned before, I actually sat down and thought about my guitar solos. I’ve gotten well into my guitar harmonies and scales now. Perhaps most exciting for me, though, is that I’ve actually done some clean singing, complete with harmonies, and worked hard on them so that I can actually bear to hear them (*cough* “The Ballad of Marv, Pt. 1” *cough*). I’m still far from being a good singer, but as I say, I can actually listen to them now without being ashamed. We have a pretty progressive song called “Fahrenheit”, that I wrote about a year before XIII kicked off, that we’ve learnt for this album. I’ve tried to do something different with the vocals; I’ll just say that Apocalypse Now was a big influence. Whether it worked or not is another matter. Probably not going to be one that we play live, but I hope people will like it on the CD. The really big one that I can’t wait to show off, though, is “When God is Gone... The Devil Takes Hold”. Formally known as “The Ballad of Marv, Pt 2”, this is another one that I wrote before XIII began, but we have gotten our heads down, learned all 8 minutes and 50 seconds of it, tweaked and perfected it. This one is going to be the epic of an album already overstuffed with epic songs. It’s got pretty much everything, and I would probably say is the best song that shows what we’re aiming for in XIII; the aggression, the epic feel, a bit of speed, a bit of that slow head-wobbling groove, clean vocals, shouting vocals, guitar solos, a bass interlude, a clean section. Everything.

As I said before, everything I was hearing at the time that we got XIII together had drop tuned guitars. So everything on this album is in E standard, except “Forever”, because I think acoustic guitars just sound so much more badass in drop D tuning. It also helps with the singing that it’s not that low, because I don’t have lowest or most powerful voice. I’m trying to go for a more unique guitar tone as well, which I have only started taking a real interest in since the album started. The biggest influence for me has been the guitar sound on “Revolver” by The Haunted. One of the most aggressive guitar sounds I’ve ever heard. We’ve re-amped (a recording technique that I think helps to be more flexible with the guitar sounds) the album once, using a Peavey 5150 head and a Line 6 cab, (that was the only cab available to us at the time) with a scooped guitar tone. We’re planning on re-amping the album again, using the same Peavey 5150, but this time with a Marshall 1960 cab. Also going to try and get hold of an overdrive pedal (possibly a Biyang OD8, I’ve heard some good things about it and it’s in my price range LOL) so we can really get that chainsaw, go-for-the-throat, visceral guitar tone. I’m being a bit biased with this stuff; guitar and vocals are the only thing that I know anything about, albeit very little. I’ll see if we can get Alex to do a bit about the drums for you skin-beaters out there!

I’ve already mentioned two of the people who have been instrumental (Eeeeyyyyy!) in making this album the beast that I think it is going to be. I’m going to mention Gary Wainman again. I can’t really put into words how awesome the guy has been on this album. He doesn’t just sit and press record, he puts his heart and fucking soul into every detail of it, while still letting you be the creator. You can’t get any better than that. I still don’t think that statement does him justice, but it will have to do for now or he’ll start feeling my shoulders follow my head up his arse.
The other two people who have been equally important in making this album what it is are Simon Jacques and Paul Brady, who are as important members of XIII as us four musicians who play the gigs. Most of you know who Paul is, what he’s done and is doing for us. The guy is a fucking legend. His knowledge of metal music borders on intimidating, and he’s one of the nicest and most honest guys you will ever meet. Not many of you will know who Simon is. He’s the quiet dark horse guy who works more behind the scenes for us. This guy has been hugely important in organising the recording schedules, getting me to recording sessions (unfortunately I can’t drive and happen to be a massive control freak who has to oversee everything), giving bits of music advice here and there, and being (again) one of the nicest and most generous people in the world. We’re incredibly lucky to have them both on board. You might be thinking “Why do these tossers and their scrawny choirboy singer have two managers?” Well let’s get down to the nitty gritty. The stuff people read these shite, bitchy magazines for to get their daily dose of drama. Things have not been smooth sailing in the XIII camp for the last year or two. I don’t actually know if we would still be a band (I’m even more certain the line-up wouldn’t be the same. Speaking of the other guys, they might not appreciate this little section here, but tough shit. I’m trying to be honest!), if it weren’t for these two brilliant guys who have somehow managed to focus and whip the hyper-active, energy drink-fuelled, shit storm that is us four guys, into shape.

I think I’ve finally ran out of things to say. That doesn’t happen very often. I’ve just tried to be as honest as I can about how obsessed I am with this band, our new album and what we’ve accomplished. I’ve have probably crossed the border into ponce territory more than once. One thing I will say is that the support we’ve gotten is far beyond anything I could have imagined. I often find it difficult to show my appreciation when people compliment us, beyond a simple “Cheers mate, thank you very much”. So I will say this. We know we’re far from being the best musicians, we won’t be winning any awards for what we do, but the things you guys have said to us are just fucking amazing. Yes we’ve had our criticisms (“They sound too much like Slayer” “they’re not really metal”, “They’re shit”. I can think of “Emo, poser and arrogant” that have been aimed personally at me! LOL), but criticism is par for the course. I expect people not to like us, I don’t want everybody to like us because the haters drive us on and only make us more defiant. So thank you to everyone, on behalf of all the guys in XIII. The people who love us, the people who like us, the people who hate us, our families and friends. Everyone.

Also a big fucking Thank you to the other guys in the band, everyone has worked so hard to get to where we are today and its all showing tenfold with this album! Like we always say "This is just the start of it all"

Guess I didn’t run out of things to say just yet. Thanks again for reading this. I hope this self-indulgent and narcissistic essay hasn’t put you off the band too much.

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