Northlane: To Infinity, And Beyond!
It’s been a while since we last caught up with our old mates in Northlane. Since polarising the world with last year’s game changing Node – essentially a reboot for the ambientcore mainstays – they’ve hit the US, UK, Europe and Canada; not to mention the biggest homeland run they’ve embarked on to date, which was followed, of course, with a cheeky ARIA win. Though 2015 looked damn near impossible to beat, 2016 is already shaping up to be an enormous year for the Sydney quintet. New tours have been announced for Europe and the UK, they’ve already hit Japan and are in the midst of wrapping up a regional tour Down Under. And believe it or not, they’re already hard at work on their fourth studio album (which we’re desperately hoping is given the title Fourthlane). BLUNT gave rhythm guitarist Josh Smith a call to dive a little bit deeper into the inner workings of Australia’s strongest alt-shred exports.
Right now you’re wrapping up the Howzat tour alongside Bare Bones – how has the first tour of 2016 been so far?
So much fun, man! It hasn’t even felt like a tour, it’s just felt like an extended holiday [laughs]. We had, like, three days off at Airlie Beach – we went swimming on most days, jumping off waterfalls… Some of the guys in Bare Bones are really old mates of ours too, so it’s just been really easy and a lot of fun. There’s no pressure and not much to worry about. I mean yeah, Tassie was a bit cold, but besides that, we’ve only really been in North Queensland, and that’s definitely not a bad place to be!
One of the shows coming up, of course, is Hyperfest in Perth – which Northlane are headlining. Three years ago you were opening Soundwave, and now you’re leading a 50-band lineup. Obviously that has to feel pretty insane!
Yeah, it’s cool man. I don’t know what to say about it! We’ve been through a lot of shit as a band, and the only thing that’s really ever helped is us just putting our heads down and working as hard as we can, instead of just whinging about it. That’s how we’re still here today, and I guess over time persistence pays off!
Northlane is a pretty big unit now, headlining venues like the Roundhouse in Sydney and hitting Europe up every other month as well, but you still keep it real from time to time and hit the regional sticks as well. How important would you say it is for these places, and even places like Perth and Adelaide, to get the occasional non-tribute gig?
So important! And it’s funny you bring that up because playing shows all around the world is really fun; playing huge festivals is fun; playing places like the Roundhouse in Sydney is pretty fun… But I don’t have more fun than when I’m playing small towns in Australia. There’s no-one in the world who appreciates [these shows] as much as they do, because they know that we’re trying to do this for a living and we’re not really earning a whole lot by hitting their town – we could be playing anywhere else in the world, but we’ve chosen to play for them. And so they come out, and they’re never shy to have a really good time. That’s how our band started, really. Back in the day, we knew that what we had to do in order to grow Northlane was to play country towns – we knew we had to tour to get our name out, but the problem was that none of the city promotors were interested in booking us. So I just used to book these really long regional tours for us, and we used to play in all sorts of random places like youth centres and pubs, to maybe 20 kids or whatever. Whenever we go back and do it again, it’s really nostalgic. This is the first time Marcus [Bridge, vocals] got to experience it as well, and I don’t think he’s ever had more fun on the road either.
It was also announced just last week that you’re gonna be hitting Slam Dunk in the UK. I know Marcus is pretty big on Panic! At The Disco; I’m guessing he’s absolutely frothing over the tour?
Ohhhh yeah [laughs]. A lot of those bands have Marcus written all over them. But I’m going to see Norma Jean, which I’m fucking stoked about! I used to froth them back in the day! You know Redeemer? When I first heard that record, I listened to Bless The Martyr, and I liked that, but Redeemer was just like, “Holy shit, what is this?!”
“Node was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my whole life; I’ve never felt that much stress or pressure before.”
It’s been a few months now since Node absolutely destroyed us, and obviously you’ve been keeping busy with a metric fucktonne of tours, but away from the stage, behind tour bus tours and in Jon’s anxiety cave, what have you guys been up to?
Writing! I mean, we’re actually getting really stuck into it; taking a much slower, more drawn out approach to it this time. Node was really… You can hear the anxiety in that record, because it was such a rushed, grind-y sort of process for us. But this time, now that Marcus is really comfortable in the band, we’re getting along better than we ever have and enjoying this more than we ever have, we’re really taking our time with the creative process and diligently working on it whenever we can. Even when we go over to Europe for this Impericon stuff, Slam Dunk and a bunch of other dates that have not yet been announced, we’ve actually allocated a week to just writing somewhere nice in Germany. We’re actually going to have a fair bit of time off touring this year to just hone in and focus on [a new album], and try to come up with an even more special album than we have before.
Are you guys looking to drop anything in 2016 in particular that fans should start getting pumped about?
Well there’s definitely going to be material coming out from us this year. We do have a lot of plans that I can’t exactly tell you, but we may have already recorded something… I can’t say what it is, but… Yeah!
You hit #1 on the ARIA Charts with Node, and then took home the award for Best Hard Rock Album. Is there much pressure on the band now to keep that momentum going, or are you all just taking things as they come?
To be frank, those awards and accolades are a nice pat on the back, and something I’ll probably cherish when I’m older, but they don’t really mean a lot to us. We just want to do something that we can be proud of for ourselves. I feel as though at this point in our band, there’s less pressure on us than there ever has been, because we’ve made it through Node. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my whole life; I’ve never felt that much stress or pressure before. Just the fact that we held this band together and delivered that album is something that we can be proud of. So for me, whatever comes next is going to be easy.
“We’re definitely bringing the riffs back, that’s for sure! We want our next record to sound BIG and we’re not going to be shy about it.”
The last time we caught up with you, you were talking about how you wanted Node to build on Adrian’s lyrical themes, but also bring some new ones into the mix. Do you think the next thing you do will be a further evolution of that, or do you want to explore completely different topics in the future?
Well, the stuff that we’ve written so far – for our new record – is actually a lot more personal, which kind of goes back to the Discoveries (2011) days almost, and what we were doing back then. I don’t want to count all of my chickens before they hatch and tell you what the next record is going to be all about, because we just don’t know. But we’re always looking ahead, and we’re always looking behind too. I think there’s merits to writing about all of the things we’ve written about in the past, because writing music about the world in a geopolitical sense is something that I think is very important, but at the same time, writing stuff that’s very personal has a certain way of grabbing people’s attention that’s unrivalled. I would say you can expect flavours of all three of our last records, and then whatever else inspires us at that time. When it comes to music, it’s the same people, so staying true to your roots is far easier in that respect – we can’t really do that for vocals or lyrics anymore, but you can never place enough importance on the past. You can’t forget about what got you to where you are. Every time you do a record, it’s a product of what’s going on at that moment of time.
You took things down a notch with Node and traded those frenetic bursts of crushing heaviness for more intricate melodies and warmer tones. Where do you want to take the auditory feel of Northlane from here?
We’re definitely bringing the riffs back, that’s for sure! I mean, I think a lot of that actually comes down to the mix on the record, but we want our next record to sound big, and we’re not going to be shy about it. We definitely want to take a look back to what made Singularity (2013) such a big sounding record; definitely nod towards a bit of that, and Node as well. I guess for us, Node was a lot about testing the waters and kind of seeing what we could do and what we could get away with, approaching songwriting in a fashion that we hadn’t really done before. And we learned from that. I’m not going to discount the possibility of anything, but we definitely want our next record to sound pretty heavy – to an extent; I’m not going to say that it’s going to be a metal record, or it’s going to be a super heavy record, but we want the guitars to sound big.
I saw a couple of days back that you announced your line of signature guitar pickups with Bareknuckle. Tell us about those, man. Did you have much of a hand in developing them?
Yeah, we’ve been working on them for over a year! I received the final prototypes at Download Festival – the first prototypes I got were actually when we were working on Node, but we’d started designing them three months prior to that. It’s been a very long time in the works – I’m really excited about them dude! I think they sound unbelievable, I love them. I was pretty surprised when Bareknuckle hit me up, because there are so many people that use their pickups that are way more proficient guitar players than I am. But I’m very interested in the nuts and bolts of what I’m doing, I’ve had a longstanding relationship with Bareknuckle – I’ve pretty much used their pickups exclusively for the last… seven years, I think. And not just with Northlane, too, I’ve got a bunch of Stratocasters at home that I love to play that have got one of their vintage pickups in them – I’m always recommending them to my friends, getting them to play my guitars so they can hear how they sound. I love the company’s philosophy and the way they do things: it’s all by hand to a vintage spec, and they’re not afraid to kind of redefine that and take on some more modern designs with a vintage philosophy.
Northlane / Bare Bones Tour Dates
Friday February 19th – Studio 146, Albany (18+)
Saturday February 20th – Hyperfest, Perth (AA)*
Sunday February 21st – Leisure Inn, Rockingham (18+)
* Bare Bones not appearing