Employed to Serve – Ready to ConquerTuesday, 7th September 2021
Rising UK act Employed to Serve has worked their way up the ranks on a slowly but surely basis. We are now approaching the release of the band’s fourth album, Conquering, through Spinefarm Records. Merging some energetic hardcore while ever-increasing metallic edges, the album serves as the band’s strongest release to date. We were able to talk with vocalist Justine Jones about all of the nuts and bolts of the band’s latest, her work on the other side of the industry running Church Road Records, and what she hopes for the band’s future.
Dead Rhetoric: What drew you into the path towards metal and heavy music?
Justine Jones: I guess just the energy of it really. I had a lot of energy as a kid and I felt like it reflected that. I also liked the community and kind of cult following it had. It felt like you were a part of something, like supporting a sports team. Seeing a band live, you kind of make friends just out of you all supporting the same band.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Conquering continue to evolve Employed to Serve as a band?
Jones: I think this one is a lot more mature. We tried to really push ourselves on this record. We wanted it to stand apart from our previous releases. We kind of felt like we had done our previous sound quite a lot, so we wanted to concentrate on recording more of a straight up metal record.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the impacts that COVID had on the album?
Jones: We had some issues with dates and things like that, in trying to be as COVID-safe as possible. For example, we waited until things opened up a bit more before recording. We technically could have recorded earlier, but we wanted to be as safe as we could be. Apart from that, it was almost a positive impact because it gave us loads of time to work on it. We don’t normally have that luxury to do so. So it was a benefit in a weird way.
Dead Rhetoric: It seems to be that way with a lot of bands. The negative is no live shows, but it gave a lot of time to focus across the board. I’m actually curious to see how it will affect bands going forward, as we get more things opened up and back to normal.
Jones: Yeah, I think it’s going to be a shock to the system for sure [laughs]. They aren’t going to be used to being tired [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel is most important in Employed to Serve’s songwriting/sound?
Jones: I’m not sure really, I guess it’s all in the structure. This album is still an Employed to Serve album despite going in a different direction. I think the riffs make us ‘us.’ But I think we just have a certain vibe as a band.
Dead Rhetoric: Any lyrics you are particularly proud of?
Jones: On one of our records, there’s a line that says, “Rid the rot of mind.” I feel like that is a really good line from the record that sums it up. Getting the negativity out of your brain and trying to concentrate on the positive things you have in your life. It’s about overcoming strife.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s short enough too that you can make a nice t-shirt out of it.
Jones: Exactly, it’s perfect for the back of a shirt!
Dead Rhetoric: In creating Church Road Records and being involved in Holy Roar Records, do you feel that seeing that side has helped out Employed to Serve, or vice versa?
Jones: For sure, I feel like they go hand in hand with each other. Both give me a good overview of how the industry works. It’s good for making contacts and gets me used to some other things. For example, how an organized band can have a successful PR campaign. I have a list of targets to send to our PR people, and having contacts myself. It’s all quite nice. I like that it’s not quite so jarring. I used to work in a shop doing retail and I hated it. It was hard going from playing shows and having a great time to being yelled at by customers. I’m very grateful to be working in an industry I love.
Dead Rhetoric: How valuable has the idea of a subscription club been for the label?
Jones: It’s a lifeline. It’s so hard running a label because you never know what releases are going to do well and what won’t. There has been times where I thought a release would sell out and it doesn’t, or whatever reason. It’s great to have that guaranteed income. It also means that I don’t have to worry about whether or not a band is popular at the time of release – if I love it, it goes to the subscribers. It’s more of a taste-making service I guess. I like it as well because a lot of subscribers message and say, “I never would have picked this up, I’m so glad I have it.” That’s kind of nice, it expands people’s musical horizons. It’s good for the label because it helps with the budget and little things like that. It provides some security.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s early on, but is there any added stress of ‘oh, if people don’t like this, we will lose subscribers’ kind of thoughts, or is it more about passion about the release and just hoping that it is successful?
Jones: It’s a bit of both, for example, we are quite wide ranging. Our tag line at the moment is ‘from the extreme to the serene.’ We have death and black metal bands, but we also have shoegaze bands on the label. So we want to make sure there aren’t too many similar sounding albums or genres that are too close together. There’s a spectrum of things to keep people interested. There’s little thoughts like that that cross my mind, but apart from that, it’s just that if we like it collectively, we are fairly confident that other people will like it too. At the end of the day, we are just glorified music fans. Hopefully that people who have similar backgrounds and grew up with similar bands, we feel fairly safe that they will like to too.
Dead Rhetoric: Employed to Serve has a more aggressive edge to it. Do you feel that anger provides catharsis for listeners?
Jones: 100%. It’s almost like going for a run performing those songs lives. It’s a good release. It’s like letting yourself go for a few hours, or at least an hour or so. As a fan watching heavy music, you don’t think about anything else in the world, which is quite rare in today’s society. I have such a bad attention span. It’s kind of nice for me, personally, as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as the road ahead for heavy music?
Jones: I am hoping that it just continues to grow. I feel like magazines, publications, and festivals are all really trying to get the new wave of bands to grow. So that we don’t have this horrible gap in the headline slots in the next 10 years or so. I’m hoping for it just to grow and stay as healthy as it has been. I can’t speak for other scenes, but the UK scene is a nice place to be in at the moment. People are championing each other, and it’s really nice.
Dead Rhetoric: In that regard, what do you feel it takes for a band to stick out – thinking in terms of Employed to Serve or what you look at in terms of taking a band into your label?
Jones: I mainly look at people who love it. You don’t really get a lot of bands doing it for the wrong reasons anymore, simply because there’s no money in music [laughs]. That’s squashed a lot of that. You can generally tell if a band loves what it is doing. I think bands need to be tenacious these days because there is a lot working against them. Someone who is really hard working and takes the time to learn their craft and hone their skills with songwriting – I do pick up bands on their first EPs and things, because even if they are not 100% there, I feel like they will be given the opportunity. It’s a real mixture of things. More often than not, I have close friends or other people on the roster who suggest bands that they played with, so a lot comes from recommendation as well.
Dead Rhetoric: You have a few albums now under your belt with Employed to Serve. Where you do see the trajectory of the band for the next five or so years?
Jones: Hopefully we sort of keep going up. I feel like we have been more of a slow burn band. We toured almost every single month and working hard at the beginning and were playing the smallest venues and getting around as much as we could. So we just want a slow build and sustainable growth. I don’t think that rising to the top quickly is either healthy or necessary. I think it’s better to have that organic slow growth.
Dead Rhetoric: You get to find your footing and who you are as a band. There’s not as much stress or pressure as those rises tend to cause.
Jones: For sure. Also, there’s the maturity you have as you get older. For example, you play in front of those big crowds at festivals – if I did that at 21 it would have been terrifying to jump from small venues to that. At least now I don’t get nearly as worried because it’s been slowly building up and it’s less stressful to exist that way.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your plans for 2021 outside of the album coming out in September?
Jones: We are hoping to do some release shows over the week of release, COVID permitting. Then we have the Gojira tour, which we are so excited to be on! I have been a huge fan of that band for over a decade, and they are taking us on some big shows. Also, I saw Alien Weaponry at Hellfest a few years ago so I’m really excited to be touring with them as well. I’m really excited to come out of this very long lull of COVID existence and be back on the road and do what I love doing.