Rosetta – Independently SuccessfulWednesday, 15th July 2015
When a band decides to ‘alter their format’ after they’ve established themselves, it takes some real effort and energy to ensure that fans new and old are happy with the results but at the same time be true to what you want to achieve and accomplish. Many bands fail at this, and a number are downright disastrous. Rare is the case in which a band is truly successful. Rosetta’s latest offering, Quintessential Ephemera, is one such instance.
Adding some prominent clean vocals to the mix, as well as softening their approach (while making it more guitar-driven), lead the way for Rosetta’s sound. But because it was done so well, and the band was genuine in their resolve, they’ve managed to appeal to their fanbase, as well as expand it. With this in mind, we got ahold of guitarist Matt Weed to discuss said changes, their use of the Bandcamp model, and the number of “untitled” songs on the new album.
Dead Rhetoric: The album is out now, how’s the response been so far?
Matt Weed: Fantastic. It seems to be doing something we thought was impossible, which is making our old fans and more recent fans equally happy. There’s always a significant risk when you change direction, but this one seems to have paid off.
Dead Rhetoric: After all these years as a four piece, why add Eric Jernigan to the band at this point?
Weed: He’s been a friend for a long time, and he had toured with us enough (playing in City of Ships) that he and we knew what we were getting into. He sang on “Hodoku” on The Anaesthete, which was a great experience. So as we emerged from the mental and emotional black hole that created The Anaesthete, we were open to basically anything. Having a new creative voice invigorated the writing process, made it really fresh.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think that adding more predominant clean vocals to the mix will alienate a part of your fanbase or have they been okay with it?
Weed: For the most part people have been ok with it. We’ve experimented with clean vocals in the past, but the problem we had was that Armine’s and Dave’s vocals are so radically different and apart. The contrast was really jarring. Eric managed to bridge that gap and cover the middle ground. That meant that we were free to try basically anything vocally – but I think that the album isn’t really about the vocals, it’s mainly about the melodic counterpoint in the guitars. It’s definitely the most guitar-forward record we’ve ever done. Because of that, I think that people who aren’t as stoked on the vocals can look past them. But there are in fact a lot of people who love the new vocal diversity.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the purpose behind leaving most of the tracks “untitled?”
Weed: Mainly it was just to keep heavy-handed titles from overly influencing people’s experiences of those songs. If a title was immediately evident, we didn’t add one. So two of the tracks do have titles, but for the ones that don’t, there just wasn’t anything that presented itself. It seemed a little bit contrived to try and think something up and slap it on there.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you explain a little about the cover artwork of Quintessential Ephemera?
Weed: The concept that we gave artist Mark Price was “technology promises us utopia, but costs us humanity.” So he took that and used a bunch of photographs from his archives (both his own work and found photographs) that all suggested mechanization and homogenization. Overlaid on those is a lot of glitched out digital noise and crud… art made out of artifacts if you will. The green color scheme suggests old CRT monitor phosphors. I loved the way the whole package had this tension between being sort of trippy but also really menacing at the same time.
Dead Rhetoric: Quintessential Ephemera is rather guitar-driven compared to your previous work, did the idea for three instrumental pieces develop naturally?
Weed: Yeah, there wasn’t a specific plan to do three instrumentals, it just happened that way. “After the Funeral” is pretty much continuous with “(Untitled I)” so they form a relaxed/intense binary on their own. “(Untitled IV)” was actually recorded at home and tape-traded, not during the recording sessions, and I mixed it at home. Just an opportunity to have fun and create some different textures. With “Nothing in the Guise of Something” we just felt that vocals could compromise the vibe of the song and take away from what is otherwise a very meditative piece.
Dead Rhetoric: Since you severed ties with Transition Loss, you’ve worked independently. Have there been any downsides to this approach?
Weed: It’s a lot more work, for sure. You’re responsible for all the stuff the label would normally take care of, like licensing, coordination, promotion, production budget, etc. It can be overwhelming sometimes. But I think the freedom and direct connection to the fans more than makes up for the extra work. And of course it feels good to be able to do whatever you want whenever you want and not answer to anyone for it.
Dead Rhetoric: How much blood, sweat, and tears does it take to work all the band operations?
Weed: It takes about 15 hours a week during an album cycle to manage everything. So without even picking up my instrument, it’s a part time job already (one that I don’t get paid for, haha). Adding in all the other stuff, like practicing, writing, recording, touring – it’s a lot. And I have to work full-time on top of all of that. I’ve come pretty close to burnout a few times but there’s something about doing music that I don’t think I could ever really quit. I feel compelled to do it.
Dead Rhetoric: Both Quintessential Ephemera and The Anaesthete are available for a “name your price” download at Bandcamp. Do you find this to be a good marketing strategy?
Weed: Well, it’s at least good for us. We found that with The Anaesthete, 25% of the people downloading the record actually paid something for it. The average price they paid was $9, which is quite high for a NYP release. With Quintessential, we found the number of people paying went up, to 30% of all downloaders. Ultimately we want our music in as many people’s hands as possible, and we know that it will end up being shared anyway. That’s not optimal for us, but it’s the best option we have in the current climate. So I think people are getting the message that while paying is optional, their contribution is what allows us to make more music. So we’ve been MUCH more productive under this distribution model than we were when we were signed to a label.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that more bands will flock towards the Bandcamp/”name your price” options as things continue to move forward?
Weed: It depends. I’m less concerned with optional pricing than I am with fair artist compensation in general, and that’s where Bandcamp is absolutely superior. They seem to be the only digital platform that’s not out to screw artists. But I also know that big corporations can throw their weight around by intimidating artists into believing that they can’t reach people unless they cave and use Big Digital. There needs to be a critical mass of bands willing to say no to Apple, Spotify, etc., to be able to reverse the power dynamic. You can’t eat ‘exposure’ for dinner.
Dead Rhetoric: Any current touring plans for the summer/fall?
Weed: After our record release shows in the northeastern US, we’ll be in Europe in July/August, then in the Pacific Northwest in October. We have a few other things in the works but none are announced just yet. Looking to go abroad quite a bit more in 2016.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that the album is out, what’s next for Rosetta?
Weed: We’re participating in a Helmet tribute album this fall, and also planning to release a B-sides album at the end of the year with a bunch of super rare unreleased stuff, live recordings, remixes, and lots of other good stuff. We’re not getting off the crazy productivity train just yet.