Category Archives: Interviews

Interviews with the people who make the music.

Interview: Black Cobra

Black Cobra

Black Cobra are guitarist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafael Martinez.

Since coming to university I have been lucky enough to meet people with a vast range of music tastes and loves. Some of the bands I’ve been introduced to have been absolutely terrible, but there have been a few fantastic diamonds in the rough. One such example is Black Cobra, a stunning two piece that put the likes of the White Stripes to shame, with a sound akin to that of being punched in the face repeatedly by Joe Calzaghe. After seeing them at the Underworld in London, I decided to learn a little bit more about Jason Landrian and Rafael Martinez’s pet project.

How did you two form Black Cobra, and what were your aims in doing so?

We formed Black Cobra in 2002. Jason [Landrian, guitarist and vocals] was living in New York and I was living in Los Angeles. We had known each other from Miami Dade Community College in Florida so we kept in touch throughout the years. Our aim was to create music we wanted to hear and play.

I was introduced to you guys via a friend who’s taste in music is anything but accessible. A lot of what he recommends I really struggle to get into, but having listened to Bestial a few times it’s really grown on me. Do you find the accessibility of your music to be a bit of a hinder sometimes, and find that people don’t give you enough of a chance?

It depends, many times people know what genre we are so they have an idea of the nature of our music but other times people find it hard to digest right off the bat. We don’t feel it’s a hindrance at all.

What would you say to those who don’t consider this kind of thing music?

Whatever.

What inspired you to begin making this music? Are there any bands or artists in particular who motivate you personally?

From playing in our previous bands Cavity and -16 –, we were exposed to a certain style of hardcore and metal which had a big impact on our style and approach towards heavy music. Some of the artists that motivate us include Iron Maiden, Harvey Milk, Ennio Moricone, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.

Jason, how do you manage to coax that bellowing growl out of your vocal chords? Have you ever run into any problems vocal-wise?

It was a lot of experimentation with vocal techniques and it eventually developed into what we have now. No problems as of yet.

For only two members, with just a guitar and a drumkit, you make a shitload of noise. What’s the working relationship between you two like? Is it easier to compose songs with fewer members to dilute the original ideas?

Having only two instruments has challenged us to approach our writing in a more strategic fashion by maximizing the usage of our instruments and the equipment.

‘Sugar Water‘, from their debut full length Bestial.

I’ve also read that, in your early days, you had quite an interesting method of piecing together your songs by emailing riffs to each other. Although I doubt you work like this today, how did you find this method of literally trading off each other? How do you feel it affected the music that came out of it?

It forced us to work at a slower pace than what most bands are used to. We would write the basic structure of some of the songs and we would listen to them sporadically. Here and there we would make changes, with sometimes weeks, of elapsed time before we would continue to work on them. This process was very interesting and also different from anything we had ever been involved with. We don’t feel it hindered the process, in fact it allowed us ample time to make all the necessary changes we wanted until we were satisfied.

You released two albums last year, Bestial and Feather and Stone. Are Black Cobra going to be quite as prolific this year?

Due to our heavy touring schedule we won’t be putting out an album this year.

Black Cobra live

Live, they are an unstoppable force, a show of pure sweat, energy and noise.

You recently came over to the UK supporting The Sword, how did that go?

It was a great experience touring with The Sword and Saviours! We have been there twice before and it’s been getting better and better every time.

Are there any plans to return to the UK in the near future?

We would love to return to the UK this year but as of right now we have no plans. However, we are touring Europe with Saviours in May and June.

As music artists you are intrinsically embroiled into the heated debate over record labels, music piracy and the relevancy of physical media to today’s music buying generation. Have you ever thought about where the music industry is heading as a whole, and does it concern you?

We have witnessed for the past couple years that the world of independent music has been growing consistently. Underground metal specifically has always depended on live shows and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon. We have been able to continue touring because more and more people are showing up at the shows from increased exposure of our music scene.

What are your plans for the future?

To continue touring and releasing albums.

Once again, thanks for letting me pick your brains, and best of luck for the future. I’m hoping to see you guys come back to the UK very soon!

As they said, Black Cobra will be touring around Europe in the next few months, so if you have the chance to go see them then it’s definitely one you do not want to pass up. If you’re a fan of Boris, Goatsnake or the brilliantly named Indomitable Iron Sloth then Black Cobra are sure to be right up your street.

Interview: Flies Are Spies From Hell

The whole post-rock genre usually carries with it a lot of negative connotations. Pretentious, soulless and plain boring are a few adjectives that can be attached to a lot of bands who choose to carve out their niche with a strong focus on instrumental performances and songs that last for more than five minutes. Certainly the genre is not particularly one for the faint of heart, with some of the most popular examples of post-rock musicianship clocking in at half hour lengths.

But one band who have no qualms in accepting their position in the post-rock stable are Flies Are Spies From Hell, an imaginatively named band hailing from the seedier parts of the south east of England, all brought together by attending the same school in Petersfield.

The group, consisting of Chris and Will on guitar, George on bass, Watty on drums and Fred on keyboards, initially came to my attention after I was handed out a leaflet featuring their Myspace address (a technique that seems to be doing good for them) after an ear battering performance from ISIS at Concorde2 in Brighton. After checking them out I was hooked, incredibly refreshed to hear a band that could compose a song full of the epic scale that the best representatives of post-rock offer, all packed into digestible five minute lengths.

With a new self released EP under their belt, ‘Mountain Language’, and plans to tour the country later this year, I decided to drop the lads a line and find out a little bit more about what made them tick.

First things first – Flies Are Spies from Hell. Where’d that come from then?

Will – That’s a question we often get asked and we always enjoy answering it. I was away in a place called Nimbim {Australia} a few years ago with some close friends at a cannabis festival. We met an elderly lady sitting at the bar of an old pub and she was dressed in her finest garments as if waiting for her long lost husband to return from the sea. I got talking to her and soon realized she was barking mad when she told me that at night she often received visits from banshees who would scream at her till morning. She then swore to me that flies are spies from hell. They come to her room at night and buzz around her head driving her insane and in the morning she had the arduous task of sweeping up their dead corpses. I found this concept an interesting one, even more so when three months later, a close friend of mine said his father has often endured the same experience, sharing the old bats view that in fact, Flies Are Spies From Hell.

You guys have been together for about three years now, how did things all get started? Is there any particular reason you chose to play the music you do?

Will – Well, I think we all believe that this band exists due to circumstances. We all went to school together and from a young age {in the early days we were a cover band with a singer called Oz} played together. When our singer left the band we decided that in fact we are capable of producing better music without him. That happened at a time when we were listening to albums like ‘The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place’ (Explosions in the Sky), ‘Young Team’ (Mogwai), ‘Effloresce’ (Oceansize) and ‘Slow Riot’ (Godspeed You! Black Emperor). The thing is we are all really strong friends. We get on extremely well and playing music is the manner in which we socialize together, other than getting catastrophically pissed. So, we started jamming a lot and came up with very basic but colorful ideas which we eventually turned into songs. I’m not quite sure how people who are not friends manage to make bands.

What do you consider to be your inspirations?

Chris – The big ones are a familiar list I suppose – Explosions, Isis, Pelican, Oceansize, Silver Mt. Zion, Mogwai, 65 Days of Static, Godspeed. I didn’t really know what music could do until I heard Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada, it blew my head off. Sometimes we play with bands and they just make you have to pick up your game live and that’s pretty inspiring – They Don’t Sleep, Our Own Devices, UpCDownC spring to mind. Playing with Russian Circles was pretty amazing too.

We just try and make every section of the songs worthwhile and not meander about “building atmosphere” for ages and ages.

The music you play draws a lot of comparisons to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It can be quite difficult to find a fresh sound in a musical spectrum that often is criticised for being rather uninventive. What do you feel makes your music different?

Fred – I think the most obvious difference in our music is that our songs are a lot shorter than the average instrumental track. We’ve been described as writing “mini-epics”, which I think is fairly accurate. We also put a great deal of emphasis on song structure and making sure no part of it is just a gap filler, but aim to keep the audience interested with new melodies bouncing between the keys and guitars. I think also the fact that our guitarists and keyboardist (me) come from such different musical backgrounds leads to some quite interesting ideas.

Chris –
We’ve played with and heard a lot of post-rock and instrumental music and some bands can be a little uninventive, and think they can get away with it. I’m actually listening to a band now which sound so much like Explosions it’s a little embarrassing, but I’m still enjoying it. We just try and make every section of the songs worthwhile and not meander about “building atmosphere” for ages and ages.

You recently announced plans to tour in March alongside Red Paper Dragon, including a performance at Aeon festival. Do you feel you’re beginning to get some real recognition for the music you write?

Chris – If people turn up for the tour then I suppose we’ll be getting recognition! I don’t know – Oxford has always been really good to us – good Nightshift reviews, BBC Radio Oxford playing us, promoters putting us on good bills. I suppose we’ve picked up quite a few fans by now in the places we’ve been playing.

Being in a band myself I know how tough it can be to stay committed to writing and performing music, especially for quite a lengthy period. What keeps you guys together? Are there ever days where you just feel it’s not particularly worth it?

Chris – We had a bit of a shite practice yesterday actually. Someone mentioned the pub and that was that really. But this weekend we played a couple of gigs which went really well (and to decent crowds) and that’s when you feel the hard work is worth it. We’d gone for months without playing a gig and we were starting to get very itchy to get on stage again. We’ve played gigs that were such an effort and so badly run and promoted that in hindsight were probably not worth doing – but we’ve always have a laugh, even when we were playing to empty rooms.

‘Rows of Moving Cages’, ‘Siding with the Menaces’ and ‘Mountain Language’: just a few names of your songs. One thing I’ve always wondered concerning music that is primarily instrumental – how do you come up with these names?

Chris – Lots of different ways – often there’s a story behind a name. For instance, one night I got together with a mate for some mushrooms and a jam. We recorded it and when I listened back I got the main riffs for “You’re making me nervous; you’ve got to stop this” and the title – which is something my mate said to me when I was obviously freaking him out somehow. Another one would be one of our new tunes – we were drinking some foolishly strong Belgian beers with our Belgian mate and he basically said we were going to get so pissed we’d be “Swimming in the streets” which we thought was quite funny.

“We get on extremely well and playing music is the manner in which we socialize together, other than getting catastrophically pissed.”


Do you ever feel you’re missing out on anything without having a vocalist?

Chris – No. Next question…..

Will – …..

Fred – Of course, not having a vocalist does restrict us to a certain extent to what kind of audiences are likely to enjoy our music, but we know that the kind of tracks we write is what we’re best at, and so that’s what we should stick to. At the same time though, we’ve constantly been surprised in the past by the kind of people who have come to us at a gig and said they really enjoyed our set, people who never even heard of instrumental music before. I think the relative shortness of our songs gives us a commercial element and gives us a more general appeal. It can be frustrating though when promoters automatically overlook you for gigs and festivals simply because you don’t have a vocalist, but there are definitely signs that those times are changing.

You’ve played with some great bands in the past year, including Russian Circles and *Shels. What do you take from these experiences?

Chris – Mostly being grateful to see excellent bands for free. But we generally play with such good bands these days it’s always a pleasure – like seeing Kumiss was great the other night. And Witches and Frank Turner were especially good.

2008 is set to be an exciting year for the band, with new tours and the possibility of new recordings. Where would you like to see yourselves in a year’s time?

Chris – I’m extremely excited about the tour but also feel a sense of trepidation. We drink quite a lot as a band as it is, especially after gigs, and putting us in a van playing every night for 8 days is unlikely to be a very healthy situation. Presuming we survive we’ll be getting a new EP done, gigging lots over the summer, and then planning an autumn tour. Every year is better than the last for us so we’re just going to keep rolling on….

Any final words?

Onomatopoeia, Trapezium, Skull-duggery.

If you’re finding the whole post-rock label a bit tedious at the moment, or are looking to find something a bit fresh within the confines of the genre, then you can do no wrong listening to these guys. Their new self released EP is practically piracy at a mere £3, and is available from their Myspace.

Interview: Planet Brain


The three members of rock group Planet Brain remain some of the most enigmatic musicians I’ve met. My first encounter with the band, hailing all the way from Italy, was at a splendid show put on by Function Records at our Student Union in Farnham playing alongside Shield Your Eyes and Munroe Effect, a long way from home for Marcello, Nicola and Claudio.
I find it quite difficult to really state what intrigued me the most. Be it the etheral atmosphere of their music (which captured an entire audience who had probably never even heard of an Italian band) in complete awe, the sheer confidence of their performance in a completely foreign country, or the frankly terrifying facial grimaces made by drummer Claudio Larese Casanova (yep, that’s his real name) as he gave every last drop of sweat, and probably a bit of blood into his performance.
It was hard to leave after seeing that without thinking that these three Italians had found a pretty special sound, so I spoke to guitarist and singer Marcello Batelli to find out a little bit more about the band.

You recently made a little trip around the UK, playing 5 gigs in 7 days. How did you feel that went? How did it compare to playing shows around Italy, where people are more likely to have heard of you? How did you find the experience of playing on foreign soil to that of playing back at home? Would you come back?

It was amazing. We had such a great time. It’s always a good challenge
playing in front of people you don’t know, trying to get in touch with them. But doing that miles away from home, in a foreign country, was probably the best challenge we’ve ever had. Not only because in the UK there’s a different ‘culture’ and attention on rock and indie music, but also because there was a different excitement between us on stage that made every gig special. We hope to come back soon for a longer tour, maybe next year.

How are you finding the whole band experience? Is it a dream come true to be playing in other countries?

In a way, it is. We would love to play more around Europe.
We spent all the time in UK telling ourselves “unbelievable, we’re here”, all the weeks before the tour thinking “how would it be?”, and when we came back to Italy we were just saying “when will we be back?”…and then everything happened so fast that…yes, it could be something similar to a dream.

How did you feel British listeners took to your music, considering the popularity of ‘indie’ music here?

That was the most unbelievable part I think. We were really surprised that lots of people liked our shows and came after the sets to talk to us or buy the
album. They didn’t care if we were Italians, or if we play a different kind of music from the bands they expected to play that night. They also didn’t mind to classify us as ‘pop’, ’emo’ or ‘alternative’. What happened was: we came on stage practically unknown, played our songs that no-one knew, in a country that we don’t know, and got nice feedback from the people. That’s magic!

The group are hoping to return to the UK next year.


If you were forced to describe your music to someone who had never heard it before, how would you do so?


I’ve never been good at this. I used to start making comparisons, but it always leads to mistakes. Generally, I would say we are a three-piece band, guitar/voice,
bass, drums, and we play rock, but then, if I am asked to, I can add some details about the melodic side of our music, the psychedelic and 70s/90s stuff, the emotional and spontaneous compositive process, the improvisation and the feelings above all.

Those who have heard you have drawn comparisons to a little band called Radiohead. How does it make you feel to have such a comparison put upon you?

Too big, maybe, or just too quick and useless. Radiohead had deeply influenced the music of our last decade and many bands took inspiration from them, Planet Brain too. Comparisons are often taken in a negative way, as they seem to subtract the personality of an emerging band. But I don’t feel there is anything wrong with
them, even when we get compared to a bigger band we dislike. Once you are aware of your influences and you like what you do, you don’t have to care about comparisons. Anyway, to be compared to Radiohead is a honor.

Why did you make the decision to sing most of your vocals on the new album in English, as opposed to Italian?

Simple as it is, I always listened to English music, and it is more natural for me to hear English lyrics on a song than Italian ones.

One song title on your new release, Compromises and Carnivals, has me very intrigued: Gash Discipline. Could you explain where that name came from?

I think that Shane or Steve from Lebatol invented that title. When we supported them, during their short Italian tour in 2005, we played that song live
twice, but we still didn’t have a title. I remember they liked that song since our first soundcheck, and a few days later they came out with that “Gash Discipline” idea. I thought it was great, and so perfect for the mood of the rhythm and the vocals, that we decided to call it that.

Recording an album can be a long and arduous process. During the recording of Compromises and Carnivals what did you take inspiration and encouragment from?

It was, definitely! We recorded guitars and vocals in our own little studio, and it was longer and harder than recording in a professional studio. But the
atmosphere was more relaxed, and this helped us a lot. We’d been listening to many bands during the recordings, I remember we told the engineer we loved the drums sound of Porcupine Tree, but that was just to achieve the best sound we could. There wasn’t a single band we focused on or took inspiration from, actually. We tried to work on the album as a whole, to preserve the concept of an ‘album’ instead of the concept of a simple compilation of songs.

You may or may not have heard about it, but there is a lot of talk within the music world concerning the fall of recording companies and the traditional structure, what with massive artists now experimenting with free online downloads for example. How has your own relationship with Function Records been?

The market is flexible and has its own rises and falls. I was just reading an article a few days ago about “the long tail”. In a few words, within the global
market, major labels sell more but in a short time, by sudden ways or odd strategies. Indie labels sell and earn less, obviously, but constantly. They represent the “long tail” of the music market, what keeps it alive and flowing, not bumping. Our relationship with Function Records is a friendship, before a partnership, and it developed slowly in the past 2/3 years. I think that they ‘believe’ in what we do as Planet Brain, and that’s more important than anything else.

What are your plans as a group for the immediate future?

We are rehearsing and recording new songs a
t the moment. We would love to have some stuff out next year, maybe an EP, and to play live as much as we can.

What was your favourite album release of 2007? And are there any bands, perhaps from Italy, who you would encourage readers to check out for 2008?

Hard to answer! I would probably say ‘Frames’ by Oceansize for 2007. But I also loved ‘Heima’ by Sigur Ros, especially the film. And for 2008…I don’t know,
really. All the majors will be closed by that time, we will have 400 GigaByte iPods, just to listen to the first minute of each song! But I’m optimistic.

Thanks for taking the time out to talk Marcello. I wish you guys the best of luck and hope to see you back in the UK soon.

Cheers Mike! All the best Ciao!
x

I really recommend you purchase Planet Brain’s debut album ‘Comprimises and Carnivals’. It’s a fantastic sounding album, and one that shows a lot of promise for the group. You can get it from iTunes, Emusic, mTraks, Audio Lunchbox or direct via Function Records.