Unleash the Archers – Time for ExplorationSunday, 20th October 2019
Downtime in the touring/recording cycle periods of most metal bands is minimal – always seeking to gain more fans and keeping your presence known is key in today’s contemporary marketplace. It shouldn’t be surprising then for Unleash the Archers to come out with a new EP Explorers that features two covers of Canadian artists that aren’t ‘metal’ and have the band give them a solid UTA power metal sheen to things. And also expose listeners worldwide to the wonders of musicians like Stan Rogers and Teaze – it’s a win/win from both sides.
Catching up with vocalist Brittney Slayes, you’ll learn more about the choice of covers, the video shoot for “Northwest Passage”, thoughts on the current visa struggles for musicians seeking to play the United States, plus a hint as to what to expect for the next Unleash the Archers album in this great thirty-minute talk.
Dead Rhetoric: You have a new EP Explorers that features two cover songs. Can you discuss the idea behind this release and your choice of covers – as it’s definitely not two choices most would expect from a band like Unleash the Archers?
Brittney Slayes: (laughs) Yes, definitely not. We actually recorded “Northwest Passage” when we were in Denmark for the recording of Apex, which came out in 2017. It was originally going to be the bonus track on Apex, but sometimes bonus tracks just don’t get the coverage or distribution that the rest of the album does. We were worried that it would get glossed over, so we decided to hold off a bit and recorded “Queen of the Reich” instead – and we saved “Northwest Passage” to be released on its own. Our rep at Napalm said that was cool – why don’t we do a 7” record and then we could record something else for the other side. That’s a great idea – we were sitting on it waiting for a down time for UTA. We were touring for most of 2017 and 2018, we figured why not put it out in 2019 and let it have the spotlight it deserves.
“Northwest Passage” is a Stan Rogers cover, he’s a folk singer from Canada. He’s close to a lot of people’s hearts up here, including ourselves. We love listening to Stan when we are on the road, we are all Stan fans. Why don’t we cover a Stan Rogers track? It may be more popular or the same popularity as that song, but “Barrett’s Privateers” is a song that Alestorm covered It’s not totally unheard of for a metal band to cover Stan Rogers, the song means so much to us that we wanted to put our UTA spin on it.
The way that people consume music nowadays has changed a bit. With streaming services like Spotify and Google Play or Apple Music, you pick a song off a record you like and they suggest recommendations based upon what you just listened to – feeding you new music all the time. It’s really not about having a full album out there anymore, that two song EP is a part of that new wave of listening to new music.
Dead Rhetoric: And the Teaze song, they are a classic rock band from the 1970’s in Canada, correct?
Slayes: Yes, they were in the hair metal phase a little bit, the 70’s to 1980’s. They are well known in Canada, but I’m not sure really anywhere else outside of Canada. We felt that… we wanted it to be another Canadian track to go with “Northwest Passage”. We wanted to match the feeling as well. We looked at so many options, Bryan Adams and endless Canadian artists that we would put a UTA spin on it. When we heard this song from Teaze, we felt like it fit, the right kind of b-side. It wasn’t like… it has an interpretive meaning to the song, it can be whatever anyone wants it to be. It’s not stuck in that 80’s vibe talking about whatever… compared to covering something like a Van Halen piece. It’s stuck in that time – about the context. “Heartless World” I think you can put that anywhere and it will still be a great track.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you surprised by how well the sales have been out of the gate in order to have to repress it – and do you enjoy putting together different types of color vinyl for this release?
Slayes: It was outstanding. It blew us away, that we sold out of the limited edition right away. People like this record as much as we do. There are limitations to what you can do and what you can print. I know Napalm is always kind of ‘let’s just see how it does’… don’t go crazy here. Getting to choose some more colors and have a little bit more options for everyone, that’s awesome. It was actually a little bit stressful, as we were like oh no – we really like the black, white and silver kind of thing. Having to go outside of that whole design aesthetic is like, now what do we do?
Dead Rhetoric: How much fun was it to shoot the video for “Northwest Passage” – as it appears you got to channel some specific acting chops with certain scenes in the video itself?
Slayes: (laughs). We were very worried about that. We are definitely musicians, not actors. I thought we did okay. It was a lot of fun. It was like the biggest shoot that we’ve ever done. We can’t seem to make it easy on ourselves. One of our other videos for “Time Stands Still”, we did 48 hours straight of shooting, and this one was 72 hours straight of shooting. It was Saturday, Sunday, Monday, 9 am to 9 pm. A little bit stressful and a lot of work going on there, but it was also a lot of fun. We were driving around town like maniacs. We rented a van and we got as many shots as we could in different locations, we had a really good time.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the video medium has been one of the best breakthroughs for the band because of the time, effort, and the visual medium lending itself very well to the music you deliver?
Slayes: I’m not too sure. YouTube is a big way of how I consume media now. I sit down to watch tv at the end of my day and I don’t turn on tv- I turn on YouTube. I think it’s becoming a larger part in pop culture in general – watching videos and your favorite shows. It has a pretty big effect on our fan base and our growth. You never what people are going to want and what they are looking for. We did “Awakening” in 12 hours in a studio. We wanted the song to be a single, and we had spent our whole (video) budget on the other videos for Apex. We needed something that we could put out there- and its one of the most popular videos we’ve ever done. Is it all about the epic, cinematic videos or is it all about the simple, focus on the music kind of videos? We are going along with whatever ideas that we can come up with and we hope that people like them.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you’ve had some time to reflect, how do you believe the touring cycles for Europe and North America went in support of your last album Apex? Anything stand out to the good – or bad?
Slayes: I think they were both great. North America we headlined it ourselves, so it was a lot of fantastic shows. We had a really good time, that was uplifting. In Europe we toured with a much bigger band and there was a lot of people coming up to us after the show saying, ‘who are you?’ It was two very different experiences for sure, I think they were both great. We had a lot of people that discovered us on those tours and we had a lot of people that got to see us play their favorite songs finally after waiting for so long. Hopefully on this next tour we can get a lot further and do more than just the North American and European markets.
Dead Rhetoric: How much fun was it to go into a UK bar and perform karaoke with “Queen of the Reich” – I caught the video on YouTube for that…
Slayes: That was a lot of fun. We were drinking in the bar of the venue after the show, and we had some fans that were hanging out with us. They told us about the karaoke bar that was open late – the venue was closing. We were all for it, as usual. So we got in there, and I think it was basically a metalhead doing the karaoke. It wasn’t just pop songs and r + b songs, he had metal tracks to choose from. I said to myself, we are probably never going to play “Queen of the Reich” live, it’s in a different tuning and wasn’t a song that we saw ourselves being able to fit in the setlist. This is probably the only chance I’ll ever get to probably perform this song in front of our fans.
I got up there… I could have done much better. To be honest I was nervous, the place was packed. It was young people, and this was obviously the spot to be at that time. I had a really good time, I don’t know if you could tell or not, I really enjoyed it. As someone who watches karaoke, you never know what you are going to get when someone new goes up there. And then when they can actually sing, it’s always kind of nice.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess where Unleash the Archers is at in terms of a band, brand, and career? Are you at an acceptable place from when you first started to now, and what would you like to achieve next?
Slayes: We never imagined that we’d be here, that’s one thing. But it’s not… we keep taking things as it is. We are going to keep touring, and hopefully keep growing and acquiring new fans. Seeing new places, you always want to be bigger. You always want to be in a bigger venue that can fit everything you do – it’s all about growth, but it’s not like we have this endgame or anything. We are just going to keep doing our thing, and if more people want to come out and listen, that’s cool.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to failure or adversity, how do you think you’ve been able to handle it, learn from it, and grow as a result?
Slayes: I think we’ve done a pretty good job of overcoming a lot of crap. In 2013 when we lost Brayden and Brad at the same time, it was just Scott, Grant and I – and we were kinda wondering if we keep going or do we throw in the towel here? It was a split-second decision of saying, nope- yes, we will keep on going. We worked through it and we had to rebuild the band, and rebuilt our sound because we had a whole new principle songwriter (Andrew) come on board.
That’s what it’s really all about. All bands are where they are today because they’ve overcome heavy shit. It’s all about perseverance and patience. You just have to take the time and stick with it. The longer you do it, the more people hear about you and the wider spread you’ve got, the bigger your audience becomes. It’s not like we are particularly good at it, it’s just what you have to do if music is what you want to do. You have to keep at it, and you can’t give up.
Dead Rhetoric: What has the heavy metal genre meant to you personally? Can you think of a specific memory or two when the music helped you process a difficult or challenging period of your life – and how it helped you through it?
Slayes: Yeah. Heavy metal has always been an important part of who I am as a person. I listened to it quite a bit when I was younger, and when I was junior/high school it was not as much a part of my life. But I discovered it again at the end of high school, and it really helped me be comfortable with who I am as a person. It wasn’t about what is cool anymore, it was about what I like and what inspires me and makes me happy. Finally I was just like, screw it- I think I’m a metalhead. It helped me be comfortable with who I am and be confident in all the things I do. To have the confidence to start a band, to front that band and make it grow.
It’s not just a motivation it’s a part of my identity, and a part I’m really proud of. It helps me stand a little bit taller. I don’t know if there’s a particular moment in time where I can say this song or this band got me through – it’s constant. There are horrible days where you just want to curl up into a ball and die, you put on a little bit of Zimmers Hole or Edguy and it puts a smile on your face. Every day heavy metal has helped me through a lot of hurdles.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve had the opportunity to appear as a guest vocalist on recordings by 3 Inches of Blood, Helion Prime, and Lords of the Trident to name a few. How does your approach on this outing differ from your work in your own band, and what have been some of your favorite moments?
Slayes: I always like to listen to what the band wants. I understand they are coming to me because they want a particular sound, but I don’t want to dictate what is going to happen. If they want me to do my traditional, power metal vocal but if they want something else, I’m open to whatever. If you want a feminine vocal, or operatic vocal, I can do whatever you like. I never try to take over the situation and be in charge of the other band’s music, that’s not my place.
The Lords of the Trident song was the first time I actually got to be in the video for the song I was featured on, so that was fun. They did this cool CGI kind of thing where I stood in front of a green screen singing the whole song, and then made it so I was on fire the whole time (laughs). That was pretty awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: As I’m sure you are well-aware of, it seems to be increasingly difficult for non-American musicians to obtaining working visa status to tour this market – which even includes Canadian artists at this point. Do you believe this has serious consequences for our market, given metal’s live appeal to broaden the message and develop a bigger fanbase?
Slayes: Absolutely. I think the US is the strictest of all the countries, anywhere on the whole planet. We didn’t even have a single issue going into China. It was incredible, the visa application process for China was so positive the whole way there. And they wanted us there, they said they are open to sharing their culture with others and bringing our music into their country. It was the opposite of what you thought it was going to be like. In the states, you are battling the whole way. Luckily as Canadians we have the CFM – they help you, and petition on your behalf. But no other country has that, it’s a US/Canada relationship thing.
I’ve heard horror stories. I’m sure everyone is well aware of how often ProgPower USA has to last minute switch in a different band- that’s how we ended up getting on it because a visa didn’t come through or they get denied at the border, and it’s just ridiculous. We don’t want to live in your country, we want to play for our fans in your country and build a fanbase. We aren’t going to abuse that, we just want to play music – and I don’t understand why it feels like musicians and entertainers especially are targeted. And then not only that, the United States is the only country that forces you to pay taxes on your fees. We don’t live in your country and just because we play there, we have to pay taxes. Lots of red tape, there are a lot of bands that look at this and say, ‘yeah- I’m not dealing with that’. Huge bands in Europe that will never come back to North America because they don’t want to deal with it, it’s not fair to the fans that have been waiting for decades.
Dead Rhetoric: Many people don’t understand not only why these cancellations happen, but the months ahead you have to submit paperwork and get denied at the last minute?
Slayes: And they get pulled along too. What’s going on with this application? Poking and poking, and the day you have to fly, they say no. Why? I don’t get it. It’s not even just metal, musicians in general. It’s just crazy.
Dead Rhetoric: Do people ever talk to you about singing and ask for advice, and if so what do you talk about?
Slayes: Probably about once a show I have someone come up to me that’s a singer too and wants to know what they can do. I always talk to them about singing from their diaphragm. All your power and control comes from your diaphragm and you just have to work it out like any other muscle in your body. I give them some warmups and exercises that I like to do to keep it in top shape. You can do it physically too, I’ll lay down on my back and put a 5 lb. weight on my diaphragm, breathe in and out to tone it as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing you are an avid reader, what have you been reading as of late?
Slayes: I just finished the Joe Abercrombie has a trilogy of books, and it starts with The Blade Itself. It’s awesome, such a cool contemporary story but still a little bit of a Game of Thrones feel with the southern nations versus the northern nations kind of thing, but very unique. I plowed through that. I read a science fiction novel called Sleeping Giants another trilogy. It’s worth checking out. I read a lot of Joe Hill. He’s had a show made out of one of his books called N0S4A2. I picked that book up in an airport a little while back, and ripped through that in two days. The show looks like it could be pretty true to the story. He’s a really cool horror writer.
Dead Rhetoric: Has work begun on the next Unleash the Archers full-length? If so, where do you see the early ideas rolling in relation to Apex – are you content in the direction the band has been going style-wise or do you see possible variances entering the picture to keep yourselves happy and the fans on their toes?
Slayes: We are in the middle of the writing process right now, and we are going to be in the studio before the end of the year. We are flying back to Denmark to record for most of December to lay down all the tracks. We are trying some new things, but we are still staying true to our power metal roots. There will be a little bit of that Apex feeling, but there’s also going to be some changes because we’ve grown a bit since recording Apex back in 2016 as musicians, our style and what we are listening to now. That really influences things, but there will be stuff on here for people that really loved Apex, and some stuff for people that are willing to grow and change with us. As much as people loved Apex, we don’t want to write the same record over again.
Dead Rhetoric: What is on the agenda for the next year for Unleash the Archers?
Slayes: We are going to tour the crap out of the new record for sure. If all goes as planned, what we are hoping to do is tour North and South America in the spring and summer, and then Europe, Asia and Australia for the fall. That is kind of the plan. As close as we’ll ever get to a world tour.