Paul Kerr has an in-depth chat with A Breach of Silence's Blair Layt.
Brisbane’s A Breach of Silence has a new album – Secrets – being released on February 24 through Eclipse Records. I’m talking with Blair Layt – bass player, clean vocalist and co-founder of the band to bring some knowledge of ‘powercore metal’ to the Sentinel Daily masses…
Secrets was my first taste of A Breach of Silence but it is your third album, what’s it represent to you as a group? And, after listening to the previous offerings, Secrets, is at times, quite different to those previous albums, how has the band evolved since those tirst two records? “So you haven’t really heard us before? Ok, so Secrets really represents change. We changed our style up, we took some of the better parts of the first two albums we’d like to cherish and thought we might add a bit of a progression to it. I know it’s a little bit of a generic excuse for changing style – but we’ve matured but it’s true. We started out with our first album Dead or Alive as basically text book metalcore with a bit of power metal screaming in there, kind of like what we’d been experimenting with. But also there has been a change of personnel in between the albums. Rhys Flannery our screamer came on board and recorded the second album – The Darkest Road – so we changed up a bit as well but it was still quite textbook ‘metalcorish’ for lack of a better phrase. The change was really because Rhys could sing a lot more and so there are a lot more harmonies on it, whereas Dead or Alive was me doing all the clean singing and Corey (Staples) doing all the screaming. Then for the third album we got a new drummer, so we had a bit of a fresh vibe, with a different drumming style. We are all now two years older too, so we wanted to come out with something fresh. With the music game, it’s very difficult to please everybody. Everybody has their own opinion and… everyone is entitled to that. There are some bands that stick to a specific genre, and style, that works for them and you find them not venturing away from that as long as they’ve been in existence. That builds loyal fans, lifetime loyal fans, but we are on the other side of the coin, we like mixing it up. I’m not saying those bands do it wrong, because there is no right or wrong way to do things, it’s just we like to take the other approach. When we write an album, we like it to be a snapshot of our lives, feelings and creativity at that stage in time. Obviously everyone experiences a lot of different things over that period, some more than others. The past 6 years both personally and professionally has been a real roller coaster ride and we like to emulate that in each album. We don’t like to keep our style exactly the same as we have already created that album. So Secrets represents change and it represents maturing, it’s a reflection of experiences and creativity since we’ve written The Darkest Road”.
For mine I like progression, I don’t want to hear the same thing every time, one of my faves – Iron Maiden (Blair says it one of his favourites too) started out more short and sharp bit, punkish (really a sign of the times) with Paul Di’Anno, though they showed a glimpse of their future with songs like Phantom of The Opera hinting at the Maiden of today. Another band who has really progressed on an amazing scale compared to others are Asking Alexandria. Each album of theirs is totally different. “Yeah, I traditionally don’t listen to that style of metal, but I really like that band. I’m usually more a straight down the line power metal fan, Iron Maiden fan but since forming A Breach of Silence with Cozzy (Mat Cosgrove) years ago my taste in heavy music has grown. I now listen to an expanded range of genres and I really like Asking Alexandria for that reason that you said that every single album is different. You can see their singer, Danny (Worsnop), go on this roller coaster ride of life experiences. He started with the band and had problems, drugs or alcohol, I don’t know, but then he fixed that up. That put him in a mindset of writing music a certain way, then you saw him evolve up to where on the last album (From Death to Destiny) the song Moving On. It’s one of my favourite songs of theirs, but it’s so far away from the Asking Alexandria genre, it’s almost like an eighties ballad, which is something we like to do as well. We’ve always put like a ballad, a softer song on each of our albums. So that song is so far away from A Prophecy or Not The American Average and it just really shows their progression. That’s cool and you’ll get your keyboard haters on change but for us it’s like water off a duck’s back”.
Another band like that is Bring Me The Horizon and they have worked with your producer, Fredrik Nordstrom. This is your third album with Fredik at the helm. You’ve obviously built up quite a rapport with him, what does he do in the studio that brings the best out of the band? “I could talk all day about Freddie, he’s become one of our mates. We have built up a great rapport with him both professionally and luckily, personally. We did things a bit differently when we got Fred over, he’s got this State of the Art studio setup in Sweden. That’s where he does all his work from, Studio Fredman. We decided to do things a bit different, you know we’ve got a studio here that we can work from and all the things here. Why can’t we bring him, and his engineer Henrik (Udd) from Sweden to Australia, for an Australian working holiday. It’ll also work out a bit cheaper for us. So we took a stab in the dark, a bunch of nobodies, before we wrote our first album. We still kind of are, it’s a perception I guess. But we were lucky enough to get a response from him and he came out and had a great time. We’ve done that three times now. He loves coming out here, he’s always saying how warm it is and it’s a real novelty for him. We really hit the jackpot that way. But to get more to your point of your question – especially with our first album, we had never written an album before, we were complete novices, almost like beginner level musicians. He came in and he was relentless, I mean really relentless. He’d listen to our songs and he would go ‘his part is shit, do it again’, ‘Restructure this this way’, ‘do this’ and it went on. He really became a sixth member of the band, he’s not one of these producers that just sit behind the mixing desk pressing buttons. He’d give us input, ideas and he’s very stubborn with it too as he’s obviously got a reputation to uphold. I mean he’s not going to produce the next Wiggles album, but you never know, he might… (the kids could do with a dose of metal). When we’ve been with Fredrik and Henrik, they’ve told us about other bands they’ve worked with and the vibe we got was that they don’t care how big or small you are, you’re paying them for a service and they’re passionate about that. So they are going to give you 100%. Any other person who produces Bring Me The Horizon and then a couple of months later does a smaller band would be forgiven for thinking (even subliminally) that I don’t have to put that much effort in with these guys as they’re nowhere near as big. Fredrik is not like that, he gives it a 100% and the proof of that is in his work. That’s why he is who he is and why he is one of the best in the world at what he does. He’d be putting in big days with us while out here in Australia as he was outside of his normal routine, he’s keen. He’s probably more strict in his routine at home because he’s got a family, but here it’s like we’ve got his undivided attention so we were really grateful for that as when he’s in the studio he’s really full on. That’s what you need, you’re not just paying for a producer, you are paying for the whole experience. Really going back to that first time, I learnt more in a month with Fredrik than what I did playing music for twenty years. It was money well spent and a priceless time’.
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you found yourself playing bass and singing clean in a powercore band. Was music always in your blood? “Well it’s not the most exciting story on earth, but it’s a story nonetheless. I’ve played music and sung in choirs in school, you know all that boring stuff. I played cello at school and picked up the guitar and ended up playing in the school jazz band. I finished school, kept my guitar and my singing up, but didn’t really do too much with it for a few years. I’ve been friends with Cozzy for many years but in 2009, after playing in many different bands he wanted to start a new project with a screamer and a clean singer. As we already had another friend of ours at the time, Callum who was a bullshit good guitarist and Cozzy plays guitar and it was his idea… Well because we were going to be predominantly a screamo band so I needed to be able to do something else as we couldn’t just have me up on stage to sing for about 10% of the time. So I just took up the bass, as I’d been playing guitar for many years I was able to transition. Well not really a transition, it’s just bigger strings, same chords, at least we tune so that’s how it is… that’s how I came to be playing bass in A Breach of Silence”.
Coming from singing in the choir in school to playing bass in A Breach of Silence is ends of the spectrum isn’t it? “It is, but in my case especially, it was inevitable. I’ve been listening to heavy music since grade 6. My brother first showed me Iron Maiden and Metallica and they are still two of my favourite bands, clichéd as that is. It’s been that way since 1996 or 1997 so when you get to school there’s not that much opportunity to join a heavy metal band, but let me tell you if there had been I would’ve been there. I played in a jazz band at school and I do love that kind of music as well but it’s mostly metal what I am passionate about”.
You can bring so much more to your style by listening to other genres. “Absolutely, any heavy metal person who doesn’t listen to jazz or blues or at least have an appreciation for it is kidding themselves. That is because heavy metal is a progression from blues, you get a recording of any fantastic blues guitarist and turn it up and distort it with a metal distortion, all of a sudden you’ve got the world’s best heavy metal solo. Heavy metal is basically blues sped up and distorted. At least in my opinion, and there’s a heap of others that I’ve talked to who think the same. So it’s good to listen to those styles as you can bring learning and incorporate that in what you do”.
The vid for Falling Away talks about subscription music. I remember growing up in Newcastle, basically spending craploads on albums at the imports store. The way people have access to music has been changed so much. There are services like Spotify, Apple music etc. which makes so much legal access available and the impact on bands is often overlooked. So tell me more about the reason for bringing it out front and centre? “I could talk for hours about this too as it is something I am really passionate about. Like you said, music has changed and in our opinion it has been cheapened. Technology and the digital age has made it so easy to access music, it’s only a couple of taps away. That’s all well and good as convenience is key. We got a lot of feedback about the clip and it was about 90% positive and 10% negative. What seemed to happen in the negative feedback side was a misconception that we were making a lot of money. People don’t realise I’m a plumber by trade, I’m not out there driving my Lamborghini to my mansion because of the band I’m in and I never will. Gone are those days, unless you’re someone like Taylor Swift or Jay Z, you’re not going to be doing that, you’re doing it for the passion, doing it for the love. That’s all well and good, but when someone else is profiting off your hard work, you have to step in. Now in saying that we are not saying that a streaming service or a streaming business model is bad, what we’re saying is one part of that business model is bad and that’s the free side of it. Anyone can log on to Spotify and have a month free and when that month is up just create a new e-mail address and there you have it, another month free. You’ve got no idea how many people do it. I think that is only mobile based too, as on my apple computer Spotify was free – indefinitely and (I guess this makes me a little bit hypocritical). I didn’t even have to sign up or subscribe, just put up with the occasional add. That’s cool if that’s how Spotify wants to run their business, but they need to pay the artists that are in their catalogue. But we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place because as a band that’s trying to break out and get their name out there we’re obliged to put our music onto those platforms so that they can be heard as that is where everybody listens. Only big artists like Taylor Swift, for example have the power to take their music off a certain platform because they’re not getting paid enough and she did that with Apple Music. They obviously negotiated a better price… But with us little artists, we don’t have that power, we don’t have that loud voice. Falling Away isn’t us talking about A Breach of Silence, it’s us talking about the whole bloody music industry. In that 10% I mentioned above, some of the negative feedback come from people we know in the industry and we had to explain to them that the song was going into bat for them too. But in the end we’re trying to get the word out, the streaming business model, as it currently is, is broken and needs to be fixed because the music value gap is becoming larger and larger. The business group are getting paid quite well. The bands that create their content, they are not being paid well at all. Check out the clip for the monetary value per play – Your song literally has to be played 100,000 times to make $10 or something crazy like that. That’s just one part, those people who subscribe, my hat goes off to them. As that is a different level of pay per play. It’s like 0.5 of a cent per play but it is the right way to do it. So the word we’re trying to get out is “go and subscribe. If you like music, like listening to all kinds of music you can literally listen to every song, ever”. People go out and aimlessly get Netflix and that is awesome, but do the same with music as that music costs a lot of money to make and it’s people’s (the artists) Intellectual Property. A lot of time effort and emotion went into every song… Ever!”
I’ll happily say I am a subscriber. “But before you watched Falling Away, before you were talking to me just now, did you know that at all?” I had heard that people weren’t being paid well but wasn’t aware of the detail. I just thought it can’t be great as the subscription price wasn’t high and a lot of business people only do things if they are going to make a good amount of money. “That’s true. That’s the Spotify policy, but what people are doing is misusing that and then Spotify don’t reimburse at the same rate. But funnily enough, without Spotify, musicians will still flourish; but without musicians what would happen to Spotify?”
The band has had a relatively stable lineup over the years since Rhys came in as lead vocalist in mid-2012. What is it that makes the band work well? “The line-up has changed a bit throughout the albums, Cory Staples leaving after Dead or Alive, replaced by Rhys and then Sticks (Andrew Cotterell) leaving after The Darkest Road and was replaced by Tricky (Daniel Tricket) who undertook the drumming on Secrets. Unfortunately now Tricky has decided to move on and we have a new drummer (I’m leaving out the name to allow the band to announce officially) who has been playing with us for several months now. So there you go, bit of a scoop. So what makes it work? Well I often liken being in a band to a being in a relationship with four other dudes who you are not having sex with, so obviously you need to find something other than sex to keep the relationship close. So its communication, tolerance and finding a common bond. We are on the same wavelength to get through things”.
There are a couple of surprises on the album (especially after going over your back catalogue) – Shameless and Sugar and Spice? It’s a bit tongue in cheek and harkening back to the decadence of the eighties, so was there a tribute behind it, or just done for some fun? “That’s a reflection of the many different influences we pull from, I’m not going to lie, I really love The Weeknd but it was actually Rhys’ idea to cover Shameless as we really liked that song. We thought it would rock as a heavy metal cover and it put a bit of diversity in there to mix up the album a bit. Sugar and Spice, that was me and Cozzy, he came to me knowing that I am very fond of that style of music and as a lot of our songs have some pretty deep and heavy themes this really reflects in real life that we are a bunch of jokers. We wanted to make it as cheesy as possible to get a laugh, I’d like to think that worked”. (Oh yeah, it worked. Trust me).
You’ve undertaken some pretty big tours in the US with Drowning Pool and Like A Storm, what’s the reception like in Australia compared to there? Obviously the States has a bigger population and probably a bigger metal movement? “America (all politics aside) is a fantastic country to a tour, we did not meet a horrible person, every single city you go to they welcome you with open arms. I guess the real difference is in America, every three to five hundred Kilometers there is a major city, give or take. In Australia you’ve got Brisbane, 10 hours away it’s Sydney, four hours is Canberra, and nine hours is Melbourne. There are only 5 places or so to go on the Eastern seaboard (including Adelaide) and Perth, it’s cheaper to fly to New Zealand so it’s just very hard to tour Australia. Don’t get me wrong we love it and it’s our home country, it’s just so easy in America. Obviously we had our hurdles along the way but it’s just set up to make it easier. Playing with Drowning Pool, the reception they were getting was just insane and we were getting that as well. We’ve got Eclipse Records working for us in the States and the work that they do for us really shone through when we played over there. We were getting people turning up to these shows wearing our merch as they’d ordered it online. Our first show was San Antonio, Texas and there were these people who ran into us out the back, they were really excited to see us. Our reaction was just like “What? We’ve come across the other side of the world, we’re just bloody drongos from Brisbane and people are hard out sweating us.” We’ve got some really hard core fans in Australia and that’s awesome, but it was just so cool to see that people on the other side of the planet are digging our stuff. So that vibe never left us for the entire tour there. The scene over there is very big and flourishing”. (I can say I’ve noticed that in gigs I’ve been to in the States compared to here, so I do understand that feeling conveyed by Blair.)
So speaking of touring I was looking at the band Facebook page, it’s a bit quiet on your gig info. Are there any touring plans are in place to support the release of new album? “Definitely, we’ve done that on purpose. We recorded the album a year ago and played a couple of gigs with our new drummer but we’ve been just laying low waiting for the album to be launched. There’s a host of gigs coming up here and we’re trying to negotiate some time over in the States again”.
What from the new album are you most keen to play live? What do you reckon will resonate with the punters best? “The stuff I love playing is Falling Away, Broken and Nightcrawler. Sugar and Spice is fun to play live. The crowds seem to love Falling Away (been out there a while now) and Nightcrawler (fast and furious).
I’ll look forward to catching it when A Breach of Silence hit the road. Blair it has been an absolute pleasure. Thanks!