Interview with The Qemists’ Liam & Olly ahead of new album Warrior Sound

Welcome to Nottingham! I’m Luke from The Mic magazine.  How are you both? Liam: Yeah, we’re good, we’re happy, it’s nice to be here actually, I’ve just gone for a quick wander round Nottingham and it’s a lovely town!

So I understand some of you were originally in a rock band, what made you decide to pursue the Drum & Bass path? L: It came from the fact that we started to go to clubs.  It’s what teenagers do, they sneak into clubs, it was part of our right of passage.  The music made sense, we were seduced by the electronics.  It made sense to go to these clubs because a lot of drum and bass gigs back then had rock gigs in them, it was always an eclectic club night.  Lots of different dressing, people into lots of different styles of music would come together for a drum and bass club night so it was an easy-going atmosphere.

Did you last long under the rock genre or did the drum and bass path catch you guys quick? L: The 3 of us, me, Leon and Dan produced a lot of the music, we were in a band when we were kids for amusement value and something to do.  Olly’s been in numerous bands over the time.

Olly: Yeah, I’ve spread myself out, all sorts of things from comedy hip hop to heavy metal.  I share a similar background to the guys, in that up until the age of 14/15, if it wasn’t heavy metal I didn’t care.  There’s lots of synonymous stuff between the two – a lot of angst and aggression.

L: It crosses over in terms of its sonics well, sort of distorted sounds.

O: It happens a lot more than people realise, back and forth from electronic to metal.

Who do you like to draw your influences from when writing songs? L: In terms of writing a song, I think influences filter in but it’s a much less direct approach.  We will listen to as much stuff that’s out there as possible, stuff such as Prodigy records, Noisia, people we hold in very high esteem.  But then, you know, there’ll be all sorts of crazy stuff that comes in, left field kinds of sounds and different records that people listen to.  We won’t sit down and directly say ‘we’ll use them as an influence’ though.

What would you say sets yourselves apart from other artists in a similar genre?  So when we think about our Chase & Status’ and Sub Focus’, what distinguishes you guys? L: Erm, I think our rock related influences are different.  We’ve been compared to Pendulum a lot, but I think the rock music that inspires them is a lot different to the rock music that inspires us, so that gives off a different effect.  Erm, also the level of live playing in terms of our live show.  We’ve tried to keep it as live as possible, looking back at our first tour we ever did was fully live.  We had guitars linked up to pickups, we played every synth sound from a bass and guitar which was cool but it was a nightmare to do. In terms of the crowd, people’s attitudes to what’s live and what’s not now have moved on, I think having laptops on stage, there’s no stigma attached to that anymore, people have understood that computers are involved in live music, and it’s still considered live so that’s an important factor.  You know, having strong vocals, Chase & Status have a great live show, they have Rage who is the MC and we have Bruno, but they don’t have a consistent singer all the time, I think that’s definitely something that we wanted to install and make very clear.

As a group who seem persistent with their sound and style, what’s it like creating music when everyone’s tastes are changing so quickly? L: I think, artistically you’ve got to stick to what you do, what you love making.  I’ve seen it happen to a lot of people where they’ll jump onto a bandwagon and they’ll take a sound and make it part of their thing because it’s cool and because it’s popular.

O: By the time they’ve got it, they’ve honed it, it’s over.  I think it’s also fair to say that in that same vain, the things that you’re listening to are changing and therefore ultimately the influences and what you’re absorbing from that are going to change to so it keeps it evolving, but sticking to a formula helps.

L: Keeping your fundamentals grounded and doing what you want to do is important.

O: It gives you a springboard to dive off too!

Talking about the album now, looking towards ‘Warrior Sound’, what’s been going on in the last few years?  Your last release was 2010, what have you been up to over the last 5 years? L: We spent a good 3 years touring that record, we spent a lot of time in Europe and in Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan, where we have a fairly significant following.  We’ve kind of been headlining festival’s and playing big shows, which is all very well and we loved it and it’s helped us hone our craft, but it did mean we kind of neglected studio time.  But, also, we felt we wanted to take time with the record, there were some sounds in our head of how we wanted this record to sound, how we wanted The Qemists to sound going forward that took time to learn how to do because no one had done it; we were like “Ok, how are we going to make this record work, how are we going to push this forward?”.  With artists, sometimes it’s an unquantifiable amount of time that that takes, and I guess that the combination of touring and doing that is why it’s been so long really.

Well it sounds worth the wait!  Do we know any kind of fixed date yet? L: There’s no fixed date but it will be 2015 and by the looks of it early Autumn.

Why ‘Warrior Sound’? L: The story’s pretty straight forward really, it’s part of a Rage Against The Machine lyric, from a track called ‘Mic Check’.  They’re an influence, it’s something we’ve drawn upon and it just kind of worked, it was just like ‘that’s cool!’.  The name definitely reflects the album that’s coming.

When creating the album, who likes to take control and be the foundations of each track, or does everyone do their bit? O: Everyone does their bit, this is the interesting part of what I’ve noticed of the writing is that we have you 3 guys who can come in and out and take responsibility and lead or fall back whenever people are lagging someone can swoop in, but all 3 of you are so dead set on the same page, I guess it’s because you guys have been playing together for so long.  It then makes mine and Bruno’s job incredibly easier.

L: Our idea is simple, when we’re working with Olly and Bruno, it’s to give very clear direction about where we want to go, but at the same time they bring their own thing and it’s our job to take that on board, produce it and work with it.  We’re very encouraging with that.  We work very much in the same way with guest vocalists, which we do a lot of, there’s no point having someone on the record that you’re just going to tell them every nuance to perform.  You’ve asked them to be on your record because they’ve got something about them that you like.  So yeah, it’s an even boat in terms of production and stuff like that.

What you mentioned then about guest vocalists brings me onto my next question; many would argue your albums introduce fans to a wide range of musical talent, picking out Jenna G and Beardyman as examples, I’d never heard of those guys before hearing your tracks.  Can we expect similar up and coming artists to feature on the new album? O: Of a metric shed load!

Any names, or is that for a later date to reveal? L: No, you can drop some names.  We’ve got Ghetts, who is continuing our theme of developing and working with Grime; Ghetts formally known as Ghetto is very well respected in the Grime scene and is an awesome talent.  We have Crossfaith from the metal scene, the Japanese electronic metal nutters.  They’re massive here and we were introduced to them when they were over in the UK, so they’re very cool!  The other one to mention are Hacktivist; they’re just kind of killing it in the metal scene, but have their own twist on it.  They’re the 3 that we’ll let go for the time being.

Moving onto the tour, how’s the tour been so far?  With the last two gigs, has it been nice to come back on stage to a UK crowd? L: It’s been awesome, it’s been great fun, it really should be known that Olly’s only just recently joined the band so this will be show 3 for him.

Oh ok, that’ll be interesting then to get both perspectives; coming in to do the live shows with The Qemists, do you feel it’s what you expected, is it nice to be doing it to the UK crowd? O: So far, the response and feedback has been pretty cool, really strong and really good!  That just makes me happier to be even part of it, I’ve said before that I admire what these guys are doing and I’ve been a fan myself for donkey’s.

L: We feel Olly’s been what we’re looking for to cement The Qemists.

And so looking back to when you last toured the UK, is the reception as good if not better than before? L: Yeah yeah, I think so, I’d say its better, people tend to be getting what we do more and I think that’s largely down to us presenting it in a better way.

O: They’ve been saying that it’s been a long time waiting for you guys and so far it’s well worth the wait.

The Bodega seems a bit of an unusual venue for you guys, especially as we have Stealth that tends to host the typically electronic gigs.  Do you prefer these more intimate gigs or would you prefer being on a huge stage in front of a festival crowd? L: They’re two different animals; festival stages give you the space and the freedom and the production so that you’ve got the lights, PA and you can really cane it.  But, it removes you from the crowd, big festival, you’re 50 to 100 feet away from the audience and that can be limiting; not always but sometimes.  And then there’s really no greater test of playing than playing a small, sweaty club – and it’s tough!

O: A lot can be said for a nice little bit of intimacy!

L: Having people right in your face and you can really feel that energy from people, that’s pretty special.  And you see other bands doing it, we had Foo Fighters back in Brighton, that was a 600-capacity gig for the Foo Fighters!  But then, they understand the same principal, band’s doing stadiums and arenas, wanting to do a small UK venue tour because they understand what it feels like and what it gives you as a performer, so even at their level it’s pretty special.

Are the rest of the venues of a similar size? L: The hometown, The Concord 2, is the biggest, 600 or so capacity and we know the venue well.

Speaking of festivals, will we be seeing you at any this year? L: We can’t announce …

O: We do have a couple up our sleeve!

L: There’s a couple, heavyweight festivals but we can’t actually say anything about that.  Bits are being added to each festival lineup around about now.

O: It’s definitely a case of watch this space!

You recently toured with Korn in Europe, I was a massive fan as a kid, but how did the crowd take to you guys as support? L: Really, really well surprisingly; I have to say surprisingly but fundamentally you can never tell when you’re playing to someone else’s audience, and with Korn you’re playing to their audience.  But yeah, we had such a good response, it’s kind of overwhelming really!

What’s the song you most enjoy playing on tour? L: I don’t know about you man but I’m digging the new stuff!

O: I’m, yeah, I would’ve said, there’s No More that’s fast becoming a favourite of mine, stuff off more of the Spirit In The System, not to say the new stuff isn’t up there, but obviously I know that stuff a lot better having contributed.

L: Olly’s written those parts to the new stuff, so I guess you have a different view on it.

O: Whereas, I can kind of appreciate it from a third person perspective – the older stuff a bit more.

Looking back, where would you say is the point that’s defined your career so far? L: There’s two things that really come to mind.  First is playing Woodstock in Poland, which is the world’s largest free music festival, which is attended by just over a million people.  We opened in 2012 as the headline act on the main stage to a crowd of probably a quarter of a million, on a million watt sound system.  It really was something else!  You know, you’re looking at a stage that if you walk slowly is going to take you 5 minutes to get across.  We’ve done some big shows but nothing on that scale.  When you hear 250,000 people shout it’s like “Fuck!”.  Secondly, it can’t be ignored, the Korn tour, and the reason being is that we were asked by Korn to support Korn on their tour.  They came to us and said ‘would you support us on our European tour?’, that’s why that’s so special.  They were an influence, we were massive fans anyway, when something like that happens and you’ve got Jonathan Davis and Munky hanging out with you, and they’re like ‘yeah man, we love your records and we thought you should come and do this’ we were like ‘Wow, this is a moment to remember’.

Can you remember being asked by them? L: Well, it came through management but that’s how they communicated with us, but then Munky came into our dressing room on the first day and explained that they wanted us on the tour, they loved our record with Mike Patton and we were just like ‘this is awesome!’  So yes, quite an honour.

If you could do a gig anywhere in the world with three artists (past and present) as support, where would it be and who would you choose? L: This is a tricky one isn’t it, shit!  Erm, well I quite like the weather in Jamaica so it’d be good for the weather.  Erm, right who would it be?  Rage Against The Machine …

O: I managed to catch Snot back in Brighton on their reformed tour, that was good fun, that’d be good, especially with the Rage Against The Machine vibes …

L: And, I think having the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ would be pretty sick!

Thanks for your time and good luck for your gig!  Apologies for keeping you so long. L: No worries! O: Thanks for having us, great questions man!

By Luke Matthews




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