Melbourne ambient rock group The Ascension rose out of the ashes of The Bright Star Alliance in 2010 to bring a new sound to the ears of Melburnians. The band are currently putting the finishing touches on their debut EP. With a melodic direction closer to Circa Survive than the heavy technical metalcore that Bright Star played, expect the unexpected with this release. I had a chat to Mitchell Barker, vocalist, founding member and main song-writer of The Ascension about the band’s plans in 2011, playing Parkway acoustic covers, and his plans for the album’s worth of un-released Bright Star material.
How far away is The Ascension EP launch?
We’ve had a setback with the vocals. I’m going back to my studio to finish off the vocals. We’ll then ship them off to the US to be mixed by Jeff Schneeweis. Jeff produced the latest Secret & Whisper album and he’s in a band called Number One Gun. Fingers crossed for a late July release. It’s going to be a six track EP. We don’t have a title yet, we are still all trying to agree on something. It’s annoying when you have four other dudes who all have other ideas and you’re trying to agree on something *laughs*.
Are you going to do an EP launch show?
We’re definitely doing an EP launch. I don’t know where yet. It’ll be in July / August. We’re planning to do an East Coast tour before the end of the year.
Why did you choose to split your writing into a heavier band (Dearly Divine) and an ambient focused band (The Ascension)?
When Bright Star toppled over for the last time, I wasn’t finished with heavy music as far as I was concerned. I still had a lot of material I wanted to get out there. As opposed to me singing in The Ascension, it’s a different role. It’s not the same thing so I can concentrate on each project. If it was two heavy bands, or two rock bands it would be incredibly hard to stay focused. I’ve got a lot of heavy stuff that I think is still worth getting out there. I think a lot of kids and a lot of people will dig it, hopefully we’ll have a track released from Dearly Divine by June.
Why did you choose to take on lead vocals in The Ascension instead of playing guitar?
There’s a massive shortage of vocalists in Melbourne, I don’t know about the rest of Australia. There’s plenty of musicians who can play instruments, but not many who can sing into a mic half decently. I was confident enough to step into the role. I always said I’ll do it unless someone better comes along. It’s just stayed that way for now. I ended up getting a good mate of mine to take on the rhythm guitar spot (Leigh from The Antique). I’ve fallen into that place where it’s pretty comfortable for me to be doing vocals for this and I can concentrate on doing heavy guitars for my other band. It works well, hopefully people dig what I’m doing. Obviously I’m not a vocalist who has been around for a while, I’m still growing, just as the music is. I’m pretty confident that by the time we get an album out I would have got my shit together and everything should be pretty tight.
How is your solo work going?
I’ve had to lay that off a bit. I’ve always thought you need to focus on one thing at a time, otherwise you separate your talents, and the effort gets split as well and it doesn’t work out. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my music, it’s the only thing I’ve really stuck to over the years. I want to get The Ascension EP out first, then I can concentrate on getting Divine ready as well. After that I’d like to get onto my solo stuff, before the end of the year if I can. I’m really keen on releasing an EP for that as well.
Are you using the material written for The Bright Star Alliance LP in any way?
Yes, in a way. Some of it will be re-written obviously. In late 2009 we were meant to go over and record with Fredrik Nordström and have it all done by early 2010, but certain complications stopped that from happening. There’s a lot of tracks there that I still really dig. If the fans are still out there for Bright Star then they are really going to dig this. Hopefully they’ll get back on board and we’ll make some new fans as well. It’s a little bit heavier than Bright Star, but you can still tell it’s obviously me writing this stuff. As far as the music goes, I’ve recycled roughly half the album.
Would that material be seen in the Dearly Divine recordings (as opposed to The Ascension)?
Yes, definitely. As far as Bright Star goes, the newer stuff we were writing was a lot different to the Oceania EP. I could never use it in The Ascension even if I wanted to. I listen to so many different styles of music, and I’m always writing music, and it feels great to take music from one project and push it into another, if it fits. The Ascension is completely from scratch, while Dearly Divine is more of a love child of The Bright Star Alliance. I’m keen to get that stuff out man.
How did the Luke Barrows (vocals) get involved in Dearly Divine?
After Aaron Jameson left Bright Star for the last time, I really wanted to release a song that was floating around in the Bright Star catalogue. We were waiting to release it and play it as a new song. I couldn’t get Aaron to do the vocals on it before he left. Luke put his hand up and said ‘I’d love to do it’. I was like ‘well I’ve got all the vocals written out here, and the lyrics, all you have to do is learn them.’ I feel that he fits really well with the music that I write, and the direction that Divine is going. I dare say he suit Dearly Divine even more than The Rose Line, though I’m not too sure. Coming from my perspective I think his voice suits this stuff really well.
How did the Dearly Divine recording session go? Was it just for the one track?
Yeah, it’s only one track recorded so far. We’ve been working on several others as well. We’ll release a new Divine track in late June and see how it goes.
Do you want to gig on the Dearly Divine material?
Oh definitely man. Divine was originally concepted to be mainly a studio band, with a few gigs here and there. If offers pop up we’d love to play them. I think we’re going to take it a little more seriously and not to play too many shows that won’t benefit the band. I hate saying that… But I guess if you are putting in the time for a second band you need to utilise your time wisely. We’ll take some gigs that will give us some exposure early on. Hopefully people will like it and we can pull a tour together in early 2012. It’s a long way away, but I want to get some decent material together and make sure we’re received well by the public before we put it out there. There’s a lot of heavy bands out there at the moment, I guess it’s about what were offering that’s different or what we can do to get people on board.
A couple of months ago you asked people to vote on which cover you should do, which included Lisa Mitchell’s Coin Laundry. Did you end up recording a cover?
I did. I ended up recording two covers, and they’re sitting in my studio, I just never released them. I’d love to hold my word up and release them all because it was a bit of fun and I don’t want to keep the people who voted waiting. I’d like to knock this stuff off one at a time and hopefully I can get my solo stuff back up and running by the end of the year. I ended up doing Coin Laundry, and an acoustic version of a Parkway song, Carrion.
Do you know if (former Bright Star vocalist) Aaron is still singing for bands?
I don’t believe he is. I think he’s concentrating entirely on his tattooing job. We still stay in contact from time to time. He’s still interested in doing vocals. We said maybe in the future, if circumstances allow we could come back together and write some stuff. All the stuff I was writing, it really did suit his vocals and we’ve been working together for years. If the time’s right I guess we can get it working, otherwise he’s up there doing his thing in Queensland. It’s a right shame because I always held him in high regard, as one of the best lead vocalists in a heavy band in Australia.
How did you find (The Ascension’s drummer) Mark Levens?
When me and Tom (lead guitar) first started The Ascension, we were looking for someone to design a Myspace. This was when Myspace was still kind of half alive. (Mark) was playing in this really shitty band and I saw potential in him, and I kept him in the back of my mind if I could ever snap him up and cut him a break I would. When Bright Star got back together briefly, we weren’t really keen on getting the same drummer back. We were working towards finishing the album and we needed to look at our options in order to make that happen. The drummer we were working with at the time wasn’t fitting the bill. I suggesting Mark, and he ended up learning all the songs and coming to prac. That’s how I met Mark, he took on the role as the new Bright Star drummer and I said to him ‘do you want to do a side-project as well’ and he said ‘yeah I’d love to keep working on music with you.’ And he’s stuck by me ever since, we’ve been a solid unit, me, Mark and Tom.
Has Mark had any formal music training?
Yeah, he has. He’s been taking lessons for ages. He’s still young, he’s only 20 this year, only a young buck. I think he’s been doing training since he was 12, maybe 8 years. He’s done theory work and I believe he’s working with some pretty good drummers, and toured and done that sort of stuff. He’s only going to get better, and I’m sure he’s going to do really well with the Divine stuff as well. He’s adapted extremely well to our music. He plays exactly to a click. He knows his theory. I’m not used to that, I’m used to a guy playing drums and he’s kinda decent at it. It’s really good to have someone with a history of learning theory and all that, it makes a really big difference.
Are you the main song writer for both bands?
Yes I am. Basically, I construct the drums myself. Then I record bass and guitar over them, which creates a solid instrumental. I burn it to disc and take it to the guys and say ‘let’s listen to this’ and I hear their feedback and we just change it up according. It’s pretty much what I’m used to with my entire history of playing in bands. I did it with Bright Star. I’m doing it with Divine. I’m doing it with my solo stuff. I’m just used to taking on the burden of that. I think things don’t function properly unless a band has that one person who does that. I’m used to it. A lot of people prefer to write as a collective unit. It’s a lot easier for me to write the entire song with drums and bass and we can strip it back and change fills and progressions and that. It’s a lot quicker and a lot more professional. We can come out with a new song way faster.
What songs will you be playing at your acoustic session? Is it mostly The Ascension’s material or do you throw in other tracks?
It’ll definitely be songs from the Ascension EP. We might throw a cover in there if we’re feeling it. Otherwise we’ll just showcase the EP as much as we can, as long as the music suits the mood of it, obviously you can’t do some things acoustically. We’re keen to chill it out a bit and see how it goes.