Earthside – Creating a Full Album Experience

Sunday, 20th December 2015

Earthside must make for press release nightmares. Are they instrumental? Are they orchestral? What defines their version of progressive? There are so many different shades that appear on the band’s debut, A Dream in Static, that it’s truly hard to spell out what they do with a quick blurb and band comparison. But that’s all for the listener’s benefit. Indeed, A Dream in Static is a fresh and invigorating album, because it doesn’t go “by the book” by any means. Instrumental tracks, songs with big-name singers like Lajon Witherpoon (Sevendust) and Bjorn Strid (Soilwork) at the helm, orchestral songs, progressive songs…you name it, the sky seems to be the limit for what Earthside can put into a track.

Recently nabbing a very last-minute position on the Soulfly/Soilwork fall North American tour, the band is also looking to take their music to the next level on the live scene as well. DR was able to chat with drummer Ben Shanbrom about the recent opportunity as well as all of the things that make A Dream in Static such a unique listen.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently filled in some of the dates on the Soulfly/Soilwork tour. How’d it go?

Ben Shanbrom: It went really, really well. But there was a lot of stress, just getting there in general. Bjorn [Strid] sent us an email, detailing that a band [Decapitated] dropped off this tour and that they needed a fill-in as soon as possible – and wanting us to do it. Of course, that very conveniently ended up in our spam folder for four days. When we saw it, everyone’s eyes were popping out, wondering how did this happen? How is Bjorn spam? There were a few little bumps, as it was such a last minute operation getting us on there, but once we got on the bus and figured out the logistics (equipment, etc), things really came together.

We were really pleasantly surprised by the reception that we got at most of these shows. We expected, that if you were there to see Soilwork, you’d be more likely to dig Earthside. But surprisingly, Soulfly fans were very receptive to it as well. When you go to a metal concert in which all four bands are super-heavy – having a fifth band somewhere in the middle that is more of a palate-cleanser, is appreciated by an audience. I think that was how people took it.

Dead Rhetoric: Absolutely. I think a lot of times the packages try to be so one-dimensional, it’s nice to get a little diversity in the bill. It goes a long way.

Shanbrom: I think that really is the case. Some of the more successful packages we tend to see, as avid concertgoers ourselves, are the ones that really tend to capitalize on that diversity and create an overall, impressive experience instead of 4-5 bands trying to out-heavy each other.

Dead Rhetoric: Did Bjorn sing the song he had done with Earthside [“Crater”] on stage during the tour?

Shanbrom: The one aspect of this tour that we regret, is that we were not able to play with our multimedia. We have a special, visual/multimedia experience that we do at our shows provided that we have room in the trailer and the assistance to get it up and running. But it was so last minute. We actually have a way in which the multimedia accounts for all of our guest singers. We also hope to put together a piece of content for “Contemplation of the Beautiful” as well. It would have been awesome if Bjorn were able to do that. If you talk to Bjorn himself, he’d admit that this is one of the more challenging songs to sing on. Not just as far as the notes that are present, but there are so many odd meters in it. It’s not a “listen to it once and get it” kind of song. It would have been an unfair burden to put on him, especially when it was so last-minute. We are currently trying to research some other ways that we could collaborate, in having a living human being playing with us live in the future.

Dead Rhetoric: There are a number of high profile singers that you used on the album. How’d you go about contacting and getting them for a specific song?

Shanbrom: It was a logistical feat in some ways and a nightmare in other ways. I think it kind of comes back to the fact that at the ground level, we know what kind of a band we want to be. We were honest with ourselves and said that we don’t just like instrumental music, or vocal music, or heavy music or pretty music. This is the collection of sounds that is representative of us. To go one way or another, it’s not creating an honest representation of the band we want to be. There’s a lot of people that have a hard time swallowing that, but it is what it is. There’s enough bands that don’t do it that way that we don’t feel we are depriving people of their choice listening by being this band.

But coming back to the question, just the way that we write made it pretty difficult to have one singer that could nail all the vocal parts on the album. If you listen to some of the stuff we wrote for “A Dream in Static,” and you had the wrong person go for it, they’d end up in the hospital or something. And having a song like “Mob Mentality” with Lajon Witherspoon on the other end, that’s a totally different timbre that we had in mind with articulating the notes. We knew that we either had to find the greatest singer of all time, under our nose somewhere, or we had to make it a more collaborative project. We explored all of the relationships that we had.

I approached Dan [Tompkins] pretty shortly after he left TesseracT a few years ago. I noticed he was looking to do some freelance work at the time and grow his own brand as a professional vocalist. We started talking on Facebook and things escalated from there. With Bjorn, we had a relationship with members of his production team that we had worked with in Sweden. It was just something we checked out and tried to see if he was into it and if there was a professional relationship there. With Lajon, that one was really Jamie’s network. He’s a pretty active person on the Sevendust boards and was growing a relationship with their rhythm guitarist, John Connelly, who is also very active on Facebook. He asked him if Lajon would be interested in doing a 10-minute opus and it went from there. A lot of what we did was just not being afraid to send that first email and say what we as Earthside are all about. The answer is always no if you don’t ask the question.

Dead Rhetoric: With that in mind, if this had been 10-15 years ago, do you think you could have gotten that collective pool of talent without the Internet and Facebook?

Shanbrom: It would certainly be much harder. There’s a way in which we all adapt to the environment we are in, as far as the music industry is concerned. There were resources then, that are not as available to musicians as they are today, and there are ways in which we have a greater reach and more opportunity now. I think there’s a way in which you can make your music more accessible to an audience that is “your audience.” It’s not like you are just a band that is in some state, playing “Joes Pub” and its mostly just barflies, not people looking for lofty progressive music.

Being able to grow that community ourselves on our social media…there are plenty of bands that have a lot more “likes” than us. We don’t really like that as an indicator of where a band is at. There are bands we’ve played with that have 50,000 but they are click-farmed. But people that tend to like our page, we have a good engagement. People who take the time to like it tend to be really tuned in. Being able to build that excitement and create a community around it, that was something that was underdeveloped ten years ago…having this openness that anyone can send us a message and we can get back to them pretty quickly. I don’t generally sing the praises of Facebook, but there’s definitely opportunity now in that aspect of the music that wasn’t there before.

Dead Rhetoric: You also used the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra. What was the goal of using the orchestra, and why chose this one in particular?

Shanbrom: The Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra was not chosen because we wanted to have the widest, most annoying itinerary for recording this project as possible. I didn’t actually go to the session, it was our guitarist Jamie Van Dyck along with our keyboardist Frank Sacramone, who went to the session. They were in Sweden at the time recording the record with David Castillo. It wouldn’t have been saving us miles to go home and find an orchestra around here.

As far as how it fit into the creative mission of the record –we all enjoy the fusion of heavier, modern music with orchestra or world music influences. If it’s done well, I think it can be very powerful. I think the problem with a lot of experiments today is that it has been churned through a process that removes a lot of the impact of it. It’s like, “we are a metal/rock band, and we need a lot of strings.” That can be great in places, and the technology is improving rapidly. But the idea of this song was to go with the opposite approach. Instead of writing the song [“Mob Mentality”] and throwing a layers of strings on it, going for the “the Creed/Scott Stapp effect,” Jamie took the route of writing the score, and writing the rock band element around the score. It has a very different effect in how the song unfolds. It has multiple movements, like an orchestral piece. It took him four years or so to write it. This was his undergraduate final project as a music major. He only finished about half of it for his final project, and he got away with an A minus. The other guys in the group, myself included, said he had to finish it. It would have been such a sham to have left it to sit on his MacBook and do nothing with it.

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