Shortly before the release of their new album ‘Insects,’ we managed to catch up with the Breed 77 frontman Paul Isola to discuss the album’s themes, the current state of the music industry, the future of the band and most importantly the North of England.
“This album has got no low point, not even a brief respite from the action, it’s all go”
S] Can you tell us about some of the best moments of the last year have been for the band, music or non-music related?
P] Besides recording the album and all that, we did a tour of Japan with Megadeth which was a blast and a real culture shock you know? It’s always great to travel but you don’t often get the opportunity to travel to a place so madly different to what you are used to. A few months after that, we toured Mexico for around a month, and that was “blinding.” That’s probably been the highlight of the last year. It opened up our eyes to a whole new market and a part of the world that we hadn’t tackled and it’s really great to go and play to crowds that are absolutely brand new. They really take you into their hearts over there.
S] You must have had a great reception from them?
P] Yeah, it was amazing. It was a big tour, we were supporting a band called Mago de Oz. We got to meet so many different people, in such a massive country. It’s like travelling across a continent, and it’s mad. They are not as spoilt as we are, over there it’s not often they get to see bands from far away, they do not take it for granted and really appreciate it. Whereas, I think here in Europe and more in the western world there’s a commerciality to the whole business now, everything costs money and it all comes down to a profit margin and sales. Over there, it’s all about the music. It was really nice to somewhat simplify.
S] So it must have been nice to get “back to basics”?
P] Yeah pretty much. I think that’s what we have really been doing over the last few years, really getting back to the basics of what it is to be in a rock band and to play live and make music that lends itself to where you thrive. I think that’s what has fed this whole album. It’s just been figured out as if it was a set for a gig. It’s much more lively, more dynamic and exciting – the same qualities that you might look for in a stage show are what we have tried to translate and put on a record. We tried to not get too clever because when you are in a studio and you have the luxury of the recording setup. I think we just want to enhance and keep on enhancing music. We have taken that whole concept. We needed to capture what people really go for, what speaks to them about the sound? We wanted the energy and the passion of the live show, we have tried to put all that on a CD, something that you can put on the radio and share a bit.
S] We read that the whole album is geared toward live performance; will you be putting any special touches to your live show?
P] I think that the theatrics always have a place within the live show. You need to give people so much more than what is on the record. You really need to share the energy between the band and the crowd. The live show always has to be special. With this new album being called ‘Insects’ it emotes already all kinds of imagery and stuff that we could use, we have a thousand different crazy ideas regarding you know, how we are going to dress up the stage. It’s going to be very visual. I mean, the whole ‘Insects’ thing is kind of like a portrayal of the state of the world right now and the direct relationship that there is between insects and the way that we live. For example, an ant colony has a very strict hierarchy and they are always working for the good of the Queen which in our case would be government and humanity.
We are trying to emote all these feelings we have nowadays about politicians and bankers in particular, looking at how “creepy crawly” they have been about investing our money and other themes like government going to war in our name and treating people as lower level ‘ants’ who really don’t have a say with regard to the way the world is handled and what’s going on. Big business and politicians are the ones in control and we are made to feel insignificant. It’s a pretty simple analogy but I think it certainly resonates, especially with the current climate. It’s really hard now, not to be slightly political in anything you write because in this day and age everything that is happening is affecting you directly. Now we can’t get away from the “credit crunch” or shops closing down. There’s just so much going on, so this album had to be current and something that affects everyone and looks at how these themes are affecting everyone alongside the way that things are done “in our name”.
S] The songs have always been heavy and at times dark – would you say that you guys were in a more positive place when writing this new album, or has the negative mood in the UK at the moment fuelled a darker Breed 77?
P] Yeah, I think it is pretty dark as opposed to the last album [‘In My Blood – En Mi Sangre’] where we picked up a lot on the beauty in our sound, and we haven’t completely thrown out the textures and the sounds that make our work, but rather the intention and the vibe of the record is pretty angry. I think anger is one of the only emotions that we [society] have left. We have been releasing albums for the last ten years but we’ve really felt the way that the world has changed what with digital coming in and the way war has affected the economy and the way economy in turn has affected the record industry. The mere fact that there are less and less record shops now where you can buy physical albums, I mean it has all been affecting us. I think [as an artist] you get to a stage where you don’t really control the vibe you have when you are writing and you become a victim of consequence. By consequence, I think we have ended up writing a much angrier and much darker record.
S] Your songs are characteristically intense and emotive, with that in mind – what song are you most proud of from ‘Insects’ and what does it represent to the band?
P] I think as far as making people think you can never really control that, all you can do really is put out a message and you can’t really control in anyway shape or form how people receive it. If we were writing something to procure a particular resonance in people it would be propaganda (laughs), it would be the same thing you’re constantly trying to fight against as an artist. You put it out there and leave it for interpretation. I mean song-wise, you have different favourites every bloody day. We only just finished recording this a month ago and it’s super-fresh right now. It’s got no low point, not even a brief respite from the action, it’s all go and there’s no slow stuff on there. It’s all pretty kicking and it will all come together to produce a really exciting and refreshing package.
S] Are there any personal experiences that inspired the record?
P] It happens in moments, a lot of time it’s when you are picking up a paper or when you read the news and then a thought or a line comes into your head. Basically, we have just been putting stuff down, names and lines for songs about stuff that has really been pissing us off. Then, we have just been trying to tie subjects together pretty loosely regarding something that is going on. It’s more a case I think of the sentiments in the songs being general in the sense that they encapsulate a mood that has been niggling for us since the end of 2007. This has manifested itself in various ways this year and towards the end of last year when everything “hit the fan” – things that we wrote before everything happened [with the “credit crunch”] rung true and everything that came after just fit into place.
S] It looks like you guys were having fun in the studio – what were a couple of the best moments the band had in the studio together?
P] It was a pretty cool adventure, it was the first album we were financing completely ourselves. We got to record at a place that was most practical, nothing too expensive and it was all about just getting in there. We did some really hard work. I think towards the end of the recording, we had a bit of an incident where we were suffering some kind of “cabin fever” and people’s minds were a bit wasted to say the least. Of course most things that happen in the studio you can’t really repeat! There was a real grassroots work ethic at the beginning which slowly turned to a bit of madness towards the end, after the sleep deprivation set in and we just put in so many hours. I mean towards the end there were loads of random mad things going on – there was this random guy with an axe walking around the studio! Of course, our reaction was not to find out who the guys was but to stop him and take pictures which we will probably get up on the net at some point, but there were no casualties.
S] The album was co produced along with Will Maya – what were some of the real positives of a) working with Will and b) sharing control rather than taking on production duties on the whole thing as you have done previously?
P] I think we had just noticed that on all the other records we had done we had always had a lot of control over, and the co-produced thing ends up just being a credit. An album is always kind of a team effort by everyone involved; even though the credit will change [to co-produced] the situation stays the same. Will engineered on a few of our records and we have done loads of stuff with him. Besides being a great Engineer and Producer he is a great friend. We wanted someone who knew our stuff rather than bringing in a big name producer – we didn’t have to go through that whole ‘getting to know you’ period. We all got together as a team right from the word go [on the record] we produced it together and did the same for the engineering and mixing, so it was pretty ‘tight nit’ and I think it was easier because we had a tighter sounding board for ideas and direction. We are over the moon with how everything is sounding. It’s our baby now; nobody else has had their hands all over it. It’s not been the typical route where you have to present to record labels and you have other people’s opinions. This is very much the band’s and Will’s album. I think that’s great for delivering the message musically. Everybody involved knew what it was about and everybody delivered accordingly.
S] You have always been about taking some real up and coming bands with you on tour and this time you have Illuminatus (from Nottingham) and Sworn Amongst (from Hull) – what attracted you about these groups?
P] It varies from tour to tour. We know the Illuminatus guys from having played with them before. We are always in touch with people and we always try and keep everything in mind. We meet new bands and we are constantly working with people whom we want to work with again, for us it’s a really good experience. Going on tour is the most exciting thing to do when you are in a band. We enjoy it completely. A tour is made up of its components but there is no hierarchy on ours. There’s none of this headline band and support act crap. It’s a bunch of bands who are on the road together and we make great friends and have great times. We’ll never let anything spoil that, it’s sacred. It’s the only part that nobody else can have a hand on, when the band goes out and plays live. You meet at the start of the tour and then towards the end you are like family. You share time on the road it’s like “dog years” one month is like spending seven years with someone.
What do you think of the current music industry and the “pay what you like” scheme created by bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails – do you agree or disagree?
There’s a lot of media spin on this, it’s a different thing for a band who’s established and has already made tens of millions to go and say ‘we’re a band of the people and we’re giving away our album.’ That’s kind of like saying ‘I’ve already made enough money off you , so I’m going to give you my album for free.’ Usually with what they are giving away – there’s no overheads, it’s a digital recording and you’re just downloading something so it’s not costing them any money and they’ve already made their pile. I think those kind of schemes should be treated as they are, like ‘publicity stunts’ more than anything else. Nowadays more than ever bands really need people to support them by buying the CD’s because that’s what makes a band grow. If that didn’t happen ten years ago bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails would not be in the position they are now. Also, you must always read the fine print, because the CD is free but the gig costs £30. The money is always made back somewhere.
S] It’s worth noting you are playing a lot of dates in Northern England for the Insects tour, in Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool – being based down south, have you always had good memories of playing to Northern crowds?
P] Hell yeah! We always have a great time in places like Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle. There have been so many great gigs we have had up North. London is fine but everybody in London is ‘too cool for school’ and everybody in London is about going to five or six gigs a week and you are spoilt for choice. It’s a different scheme of things. Every time we play a city in the North it is appreciated and it’s treated with the respect it deserves. A concert should always be an event, no matter where it is or what day of the week it is, it shouldn’t be something like ‘going down the pub,’ in the North people have a great event and we love it.
S] We do believe that people appreciate live gigs here a little more…
P] It’s a damning indictment of the state of the country, for so many years people have been spoilt for choice in the south and the south east and the North it’s the real England. Right now, in the south east it’s all a bunch of foreigners including me (laughs) I think the North will always hold a place in every heavy metal bands heart. The countries metal history starts in the Midlands and goes up. London has got Maiden and that’s it.
S] As much as you can tell us can you talk to us about some of the most exciting plans that are lined up for Breed over the coming months?
P] We want to play everything but we need to stay tight-lipped because a lot of things are going on behind the scenes, but we want to be playing live a lot this summer. We’ve got a couple of huge European Festivals lined up, so all we need now is to close in on some in the UK.
S] It’s looking good though right?
P] Yeah man, it’s looking good.
For more information visit the band’s Myspace and website.
The band’s video for ‘La Ultima Hora’ can be viewed below: