Last year, Australian metalcore outfit Northlane introduced new vocalist Marcus Bridge by means of comeback single Rot. The months which followed have been an absolute whirlwind, encompassing relentless touring, intriguing visual projects and the release of new album Node. Guitarist Josh Smith took some time out of Northlane’s busy schedule to dicuss Marcus, the new album and its imagery.
You acquired new vocalist Marcus through YouTube auditions. How did you come by the idea of letting anybody audition, and how easy was the selection process?
There were a few reasons. First and foremost, we believed that in such a precarious situation it was best for our fans to be fully informed of what was going on. We also realized it would be important to leave no stone unturned in our search, and the only way to do that would be to have completely open auditions. The selection process was difficult in the aspect that we had over 2000 applications, but easy in the way that as soon as we saw Marcus’ rendition of Singularity (2013) we knew he was the right guy.
Your latest studio album, Node, is quite a sonic transition in many ways (in particular due to Marcus’ addition). How did the recording process pan out for Node, and how different was it to the albums you recorded pre-Marcus?
The sonic change you speak of was already underway prior to Adrian leaving. We had this direction mapped out prior, and Marcus just enhanced it in a way we never would have imagined before. Most of the record was written on tour so it was more collaborative than our previous works, with more of an ear to how the songs would translate live. Additionally, instead of Adrian writing the lyrics, I took on the bulk of this responsibility with Marcus assisting me in mapping out the lyrics and writing the melodies. In the studio we recorded the drums last which was a new approach for us, as this allowed us to easily make more changes to the songs throughout the process (as it’s usually harder to change the drums than any other instrument once recorded). We also recorded many longer takes and tried to use as little digital trickery as possible. Most of the effects on Node are analog; all the guitar and bass tones are from real amps and the drum tones you hear were captured live in the studio.
What influenced the album instrumentally? This is hard for me to boil down, as almost all of the music is written by Jon and it’s a product of everything he’s ever enjoyed listening to. This record definitely pays more homage to some music from earlier in our lives, namely what was happening in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
Some of the songs on the record cover quite important lyrical subjects. Was there some sort of pre-determined concept you decided on, or did this come naturally? I had a number of things that I thought were important to share with people, things that I’m passionate about but topics that I feel weren’t properly covered on a Northlane record before. It was important for me to not tread where we’d already walked, so to speak. While the record is a commentary of the flaws I see in our modern world, it’s also a highlight of the power of the individual and a call to self-empowerment.
Two songs I want to focus on in particular are Rot and Impulse. How did these two songs come about in the studio? Rot was the first song we tracked with Marcus as a single towards the end of last year. We’d in fact already marked a different song to record, which became Ohm. However, we figured it wasn’t the right track to introduce Marcus with. A week out from recording the single (and two weeks since Marcus joined) we started working from a 30 second idea that would become Rot. We spent over a week tracking it in the studio, making small changes to get it right because there was so much hanging in the balance. We then re-tracked it at Will Putney’s studio when we recorded Node, and it was a breeze that time around! Impulse came a long way from its initial form; it’s almost unrecognizable from the first demo. It was recorded in the same fashion as the rest of the record when we tracked Node. Although it was one of the first “ideas” written for Node back in 2014, it was one of the last songs to be completed. The lyrics were written in the studio.
And what is the concept behind the video for Impulse?
I could tell you but I can’t sum it up better than our director Jason Eshraghian has, so I’m going to quote him:
“The video isn’t a total bash of the digital media age, it’s symbolically trying to look at both sides of the coin. The pros are pretty obvious – eg communication is made easy, loads of online resources for research & educational tools, Northlane’s able to spread its reach. On the downside, people tend to abuse it, they get super obsessive over it, end up isolating themselves (aka anti-social network)… And what i personally reckon is probs the worst is that it’s legit made people dumber. Peoples attention spans have become shorter and we can’t take in info like we used to. So all of what I’ve just said there is symbolised by the greenscreened digital world, and that there are pros and cons to it. It’s quite a beautiful looking scene on the surface (so there are pros to it), but there’s something not quite right about, with all the glitching and surrealism. When the buildings all come in, it starts getting super busy and a lot’s going on (kinda like a Facebook news feed, it keeps ticking… And the video keeps glitching). And then at the very end, Marcus literally ends up ‘all alone in a digital world’ (which represents that self-inflicted isolation). Besides that, it’s not a very literal clip: I’m not trying to force on anyone how bad the digital media problem is, because there are obviously many pros to it. It’s just that people do abuse digital media, and there definitely IS a problem. That there is probably the most important stuff, everything below is just explaining the filler things. So the people hovering unconsciously are people who are already trapped in their own digital world (which is going on in their minds if you hadn’t caught onto that). So they’ve already been afflicted, and the ‘curse’ is contagious. Instead of running away (like the rest of the people at the start of the clip), Marcus is curious and walks towards the floating people which ends up in him turning into another floating unconscious person (while he’s trapped in that digital world in his head). Kind of like, if all your mates are getting a snapchat account, then you better jump on that too. It’s contagious. Now onto all that triangle imagery, A bit of maths talk – in vector calculus, an upside down triangle is the Del operator, which denotes a derivative (ie it calculates the rate of change). An upright triangle is Delta, which implies change – aka, if I lose weight, went from 80kgs to 70kgs, then Δ(weight) = 10kgs. It’s all about the change So this triangle represents change. The SAVE US graffiti at the start (with the delta & del symbols in the text) is saying ‘people need change’. Marcus giving up his triangular pyramid pendant (ie, he gives up his own symbol of ‘change’) turns him into another robot, and he ends up being another one of those floating people affected by that digital curse.”
Node is a very imagery-heavy record. How are you planning on adapting this to your live show? In Australia we’ve been using some pretty striking live visuals on an LED wall that looks really, really cool, but unfortunately we don’t have the budget yet to do this everywhere. We’ll be doing our best with our light show everywhere else.
Australia currently has a very healthy metal scene, and Northlane are working their way to the top quite quickly. How important do you think it is for a band like Northlane to stand out in this saturated metal scene? In Australia, it’s important to stand out more than anywhere else. People here don’t settle for imitation and it’s a small place so there’s only room for one Parkway Drive, one Karnivool, one Thy Art Is Murder etc. This forces bands to really think outside the square and do something unique, which is why there’s such a relatively high portion of Aussie bands that are doing so well abroad. It’s a real tough place to get a leg up so it brings out the best in our acts and forces them to work hard.
Finally, what can we expect from Northlane for the rest of the “Node” campaign and beyond? If you knew what to expect, we wouldn’t be able to call ourselves Northlane!
Node is out now via UNFD Records. Check out Rot below.