RSJ is arguably the biggest band on York’s metal scene. The five-piece champion heavy music and have supported emerging talent and entertained crowds globally since the early noughties with their progressive metal onslaught. Fortunately, this has earned them a solid reputation that, despite numerous life-changing setbacks, has allowed them to perform in front of thousands with the likes of Slayer, Enter Shikari and, on massive heavy music bills at Sonisphere and Ibiza’s Hard Rock Hell. Now, in 2012, with the release of the ‘Higgs Boson’ EP coming up, and a host of well-attended shows under their collective belt, we sit down for an epic interview with RSJ’s members to discuss just how far they’ve come, and what we’ve got to look forward to. The band is is made up of: Dan Cook [vocals], Matt Gamblin [bass, backing vocals], Guff Thomas [guitar/backing vocals], Dan Kentley [guitar] and Greg Parsons [drums].
“I think York has an awesome music scene” – Guff Thomas
S] What have been some of the highlights of 2012 for you guys, so far?
Dan Cook] “Hammerfest, Ibiza, Golden Gods Awards, Our recent York show for GO Beyond, in fact I don’t think we’ve had a bad show this year! 2012 has been a good year for RSJ, Crazy crowds everywhere, It reminds me why I love being in this band!”
Dan Kentley] “Going to the Metal Hammer Golden Gods!”
Guff] “I don’t think Matt’s quite understood the question!”
S] How was playing a metal festival (Hard Rock Hell Road Trip) in Ibiza?
Guff] “It was that good I nearly died from partying! Which Dan kindly photographed for our Facebook!”
Dan Kentley] “We all survived! For me, it was great making new friends and playing somewhere different whilst getting to hang out with the rest of the RSJ guys!”
Dan Cook] “Ibiza Rocks was a blast! Fleur and Terri, who organise the festival, certainly do an awesome job! It’s not just a festival, its a full on holiday. Crazy rock boat trips, crazy bands, crazy people and DJ Krusher to top it all off! I met some amazing people, had some of the best laughs and I’ve certainly never spent an entire week drunk before, wish I could remember most of it!”
Matt] “I can’t remember. A metric fu** tonne of Vodders Redders [vodka redbull] was consumed so it was a bit of a blur to be honest. From what I do remember though, it was a load of fun.”
Greg] “It was certainly an experience! I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Ibiza scene but it turned out to be awesome!”
S] How do you feel about York’s alternative music scene, in general?
Guff] “It amazes me that people always think York is a bit off the beaten track for bands and music. I think we have an awesome music scene. Look at some of the bands coming out of York at the moment Glamour Of The Kill, With One Last Breath, The Fallen, The Fear all doing really well across the UK and Europe. Plus there’s so many up and coming bands that I could list but it would fill half this interview up.”
Dan Kentley] “It’s great that all the bands from round here always help each other out, be it with gigs, gear or just good old boozy nights out!”
Dan Cook] Yeah. I’m really proud of the York metal scene right now and proud to be a part of it. It’s certainly coming alive.”
Greg] “There is definitely a great feeling of community in the York music scene, as Dan [Kentley] mentioned, everyone is always helping each other out and supporting each other in what they do. Dan [Kentley] and I also dabble in numerous other bands which is great and for my part, gives me an outlet for other genres of music that interest me as well as metal.”
S] Do you think that living in the area makes it more difficult for bands to achieve mainstream success?
Guff] “No! Not these days. It doesn’t matter where you come from when you can reach anyone in the world with the internet.”
Greg] “I think Guff is right, with the internet as it is, everyone is always connected no matter where they are. On the other hand, the internet means literally everyone can get their band out there and it’s harder to find the really good bands that stand out. I just don’t have the time to go through and check them all.”
S] As one of the standout metal acts from the region, who are some of the other bands from Yorkshire (from any genre) that people should check out?
Guff] “Thank you! Other than the guys I mentioned before Boss Caine, Mitzi’s Revenge, Shot Down Stay Down, The Bastard Sons, River City Ransom and Beyond All Reason!”
Matt] “One of the most original bands I’ve heard in recent time are We Sleep In This Machine. They’re like a really raucous indie-punk band who were pretty bad ass when they played with us recently.”
Dan Cook] “I think Guff and Matt have just about mentioned most of them but I’d like to stick another couple in, After Your Betrayal, Tomorrow We Radio, Mantra and Epidemic. To be honest there is probably too many to mention. It really does surprise me though how talented some of the young bands are.”
S] You’ve been going for years now, and steadily working hard at building a reputation by performing with everyone from Slayer to Enter Shikari – how do you stay motivated and driven to keep creating?
Guff] “It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. We’ve been so lucky to meet, gig with and drink with some amazing people and bands over the years. That’s all the motivation you need and I do think that truly creative people will always be creative.”
Matt] “It’s my creative output – if I didn’t have RSJ to vent, I’d go batshit. I still love making a load of horrible noise with these lads and it’s kinda like my social life at the moment so it works out pretty well.”
S] How do you look back on ‘Gain To Nothing’ as a record now?
Guff] “[laughs] It’s ironically titled! Due to a lot of situations beyond our control, it never really got properly released which is a shame. There’s a lot of difficult memories for me with that album from a period in my life that I want keep in the past.”
Greg] “For me, having joined the band after those releases and, although I think the older stuff is great material, I’ve been much more focused on bringing my own influences into the band as much as I can. Stepping into someone else’s shoes was always going to be hard but I’m really happy with how the band have evolved over the last couple of years.”
Dan Kentley] “We started writing ‘Gain…’ just as I joined the band so, for me, it’s great to see how we’ve progressed and changed musically since then whilst still keeping the elements to our music that keep it RSJ!”
S] Like you hinted, you went through some very difficult moments back then, with Hangman’s Joke dissolving, how do you look back on that period of your existence?
Guff] “That really was a massive learning curve.”
Dan Kentley] “I think we’ve always managed to maintain a philosophy of ‘if we get through this, we can get through anything’, not just with regards to that stuff, but with all the setbacks we’ve experienced over the years. If anything all the shit we’ve been through has made us stronger.”
Matt] “We were at such as low point back then that I remember having a conversation with Guff outside Fibbers around that time, and we said: ‘Do we want to even do this anymore?’ From what I remember, we didn’t practice for a good few months! The positive outcome was that a lot of what is on ‘Higgs Boson’ was the stuff we started writing straight after that period.”
S] Would you agree that newer tracks like ‘Higgs Boson’ take more influence from the djent scene in modern metal – was this a conscious choice?
Guff] “To be honest, I don’t think they do at all. We seem to get labelled with a lot of new terms, like mathcore, and metalcore as well. I consider us to be a straight-up metal band.”
Greg] “I would say our influences are so varied that we are bound to achieve certain ‘familiar’ sounds but I don’t believe any of it is planned, we just get together and jam stuff out, stuff that we would love to hear ourselves; stuff we can stand back and say, ‘yeah, that’s fucking heavy!’”
S] How does your most recent EP ‘Higgs Boson’ move things forward for RSJ as a band, in terms of the themes and ideas behind this material?
Guff] “When writing the songs for the EP, we really wanted to strip it down and simplify things. It’s great having complex time signatures and crazy riffs, but sometimes just a straight 4/4 beat and a simple riff can sound huge. The ‘Higgs Boson’ title thing for me is going back to the basics of what makes a song heavy.”
Greg] “I agree, stripping it back and focusing on what really hits hard. For me, it’s never been about how technical you can be, I’ve always focused on the impact you can make and the emotions you can bring out with what you do.”
Dan Cook] “Lyrically, it’s pretty much an insight into everything that I/we have been through in the last few years, life, love and the music scene. It’s the material I always wanted us to record and the only one I personally can actually listen to and be really proud of! I don’t dismiss our older stuff but I think we have finally got the right ingredients and like the title ‘Higgs Boson’ to me this is the start of RSJ! We’ve had many theories over the years but now we’ve finally found it and I think that ‘Higgs Boson’ is the real birth of the band, and were ready to prove it!”
S] The video for ‘Collectively We Are Tall’ is incredibly popular – is it simply a ‘Take On Me’ spoof, or do you actually enjoy a bit of lycra every now and again?
Greg] “Put it this way, I didn’t have to buy any lycra for the video shoot…”
Dan Kentley] As a life long Eric Prydz fan it was an honour for me to be part of the shoot!”
Dan Cook] [laughs] Actually, since the video I’ve discovered the benefits of Lycra! I would never just wear it to walk around the streets but when its cold I wear it under my jeans and it keeps me warm. It feels strangely comfortable too!”
S] Is there a track you are working on at the moment that feel defines where RSJ are at, musically?
Dan Cook] “I love all the new stuff for very different reasons, but I think ‘A Nice Day Out’ really defines our sound for me at the moment. It’s one of the tracks I really look forward to playing; it just has that ‘yes!’ factor and lyrically it’s about why we get up on that stage every night and do what we do!”
Dan Kentley] “I think we’re constantly evolving as a band. Every track feels different to the last. Obviously there are stylistic similarities, otherwise it wouldn’t be RSJ but I think the tracks we’ve written since ‘Higgs…’ definitely come into their own and they’ve had a really good response at live shows.”
Greg] “With the new tracks that we’ve written since recording ‘Higgs…’ I definitely feel I’ve found a way of playing that I’m really comfortable with. It’s a lot more raw and energetic. It’s a lot of fun to play!”
S] You unleashed some pretty entertaining video diaries of the recording for that EP – how important is social media within the RSJ machine – using video and Twitter to interact with fans?
Guff] “It’s hugely important and if we had the time, there’d be a lot more of it. It’s a great opportunity for me to make the rest of the band look stupid!”
Matt] “That said, we do a pretty good job of that without you, son!”
Greg] “It’s as great opportunity to open up a bit of our lives to the fans and show people that we are really down to earth. At the heart of it all we just want to have good times and create some great lasting memories. The videos we put together are as much for our benefit as others too. For Guff, I guess it’s often a way of remembering what actually happened!”
S] Given your experiences within the rock music industry, how would you offer advice to emerging musicians to approach developing a reputation?
Guff] “Be yourself, be friendly, be positive and never give up.”
Greg] “Agreed! Hard work, positivity and determination. Enjoy yourselves, every day is important and if you’re not enjoying what you do then there isn’t any point in doing it.”
Matt] “And, if you’re serious about it, don’t do it for the money. We’ve been going 10 years and haven’t made a dime from it.”
Dan Cook] Yeah! You have to be true to yourself and enjoy what you do! Take influences from your favourite styles or bands but don’t just copy and rip them off. If you do then your just always going to be left behind. Prepare for a long hard slog and yeah most importantly if you believe in what you do, then never give up.”
S] How would you like RSJ to be remembered?
Dan Cook] “As five crazy, noisy bastards that make you want to throw yourselves around and forget about the daily grind.”
Dan Kentley] “As a really fu**ing heavy band!”
Matt] “As five down to earth guys who just like making awful racket over a few beers.”
S] In the event of a zombie outbreak, what weapon would you use to defend yourselves and why?
Dan Kentley] “Can I have Greg as my weapon?”
Dan Cook] “Coldplay! Or Adele; if she didn’t depress everyone then they’d at least have enough of a feast to give me chance to leg it!”
Matt] “My bad moods. They’d knock anyone for six.”
Guff] “A sausage…everyone likes a sausage, even zombies.”
S] If you could build an RSJ Frankenstein from out of your influences, (for example the head of Slayer, the left arm of Meshuggah…) what would it be, and why?
Guff] For me, the head of Josh Scogin (vocalist from The Chariot) – the guy’s a fu**ing genius! The left arm would indeed be Meshuggah, then maybe I could actually play the guitar properly. The right arm would be a mash-up of beer, partying and friends. The left nipple of Converge, right nipple of Ion Dissonance as they’re not a direct influences but there’s definitely a whiff of them in there somewhere. I’d break the body up into sections because to me, the body sounds like a ‘main’ kinda influence so Dillenger Escape Plan for the buffed out chest and Will Haven for the stomach. Left leg of a sausage. Right leg of Devil Sold His Soul; I like they’re melodies. And the penis of Lady GaGa!”
S] What are your plans for the rest of 2012?
Dan Cook] “I will get my haircut at some point! I’ll also visit Monkey World again – love that place – and maybe a day out at Alton Towers!”
Matt] “More noise, more parties, more music.”
Guff] “After Ibiza…rehab, I think!”
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