Over the past year and a half, Mt. Gambier locals, Sierra, have been going from strength to strength. After supporting the likes of Being As An Ocean, Vanna, Hundredth in 2013 and In Hearts Wake on their massive national tour earlier this year, the quintet drop their new EP, ‘Reality Redefined’. It’s yet another solid release that’s filled with energy and passion. Killyourstereo.com caught up with the band’s vocalist, Brett Kennedy, to talk about the EP, and all of the touring that has come their way.
How are you going today, Brett?
I’m pretty good, just kicking back at work, you?
I’m just chilling at home in between uni right now.
Oh, easy man.
So, are you nervous at all about the new EP coming out this week?
Not really, we’re pretty excited more than anything. Now that people have heard a bit of it, they can sorta see what’s to come. I was probably a bit nervous before we dropped the first single, but now I just kinda want it out there so everyone can hear it. It’s been a while since we’ve released anything substantial. So I’m just keen to see what people think.
How was the reception for ‘Suburban Fame’ when you first released it?
The overall feel was that people enjoyed it. It was a bit different from our other stuff, so I think there was some adjustment there for some. Some people obviously weren’t happy with it, but we knew in the studio that we might lose a few people who enjoyed the last EP. But we probably gained some new fans due to it being a bit different, I mean, it’s impossible to please everyone.
With the exception of ‘Imagery’, all of the songs on the self-titled EP did sound quite similar, but this time round each song is quite different from the last, why was that?
For this EP, we originally had about nine songs, and with the four we didn’t choose we felt that they didn’t fit, that they didn’t suit the EP. These five all sound different, but they do also have some connections and some similarities between us writing them. So that’s why we choose those five for the EP.
Do you think that some people will be surprised when they hear a song like ‘Memoirs’?
Again, it’s something different. Recording this time was really fun. We kept our minds open and wanted to try anything. But the recording was all done separately, which wasn’t really ideal in the sense that we weren’t all there at the same. Christian did the drums by himself, Logan and Jordan then did the guitars, Lorenzo had a bit of a transfer over for bass, and then I went in and did the vocals. So I guess we put a lot of faith into each other to make the right decisions. Like, it all starts with the drums, so whatever the drums do, we had to follow that. So we couldn’t go back and change anything so we had to make sure we got it right the first time.
There’s a lot of experimentation through it, and ‘Memoirs’ is a good example. There’s some congas in there, even some maracas, and in the other songs, there’s other instruments and techniques that we’ve not tried before. Everything on this EP is real. The drums were miked, they weren’t triggered or anything like that. All of the guitars as well, and obviously there are effects on them, but it’s not like all of it was done digitally. Everything was tracked to sound how it is. The vocals haven’t been put through too much compression or anything like that, which is rather typical with vocals these days. That’s why they have this raw sound to them. It was something we talked about heaps prior to recording, to keep a really raw sound. We listened to a few bands who do have a very raw sound and we knew that it might not work for us so we knew we had to have a polished product, but with all of those raw aspects.
Once the EP is out, will there be any plans for a headline tour for this year or next?
We’ve been talking about it now. We do have a couple of shows lined up for the end of the year. We originally had plans to tour then, but it’s just getting pretty busy with other bands already touring. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously, we wanna be out there as much as we can but we’ve all got lives at home so it’s good to just sit back and look at touring early next year. That way we can actually play with the bands we want to play with. At this point, all of our friends bands are pretty busy so if we were to tour now we’d be limited in the sense of sharing those experiences with them. So it’d be good to hold off for now and tour early next year.
In terms of touring, since this time last year, you guys have supported a lot of big bands, how have those experiences been for the band?
It was a big learning curve. The good thing for us is that we’re used to travelling so the she other as we love about five hours from the nearest capital city. We recorded the first EP in Sydney, so we all went to Sydney together mid-2012, so we’re kinda used to travelling long distances with each other. We also did some shows around then that kind of taught us some good manners. It was really our first tour with Vanna, we had Pees, whose a well-known tour manager, and he did In Hearts Wake as well. In the first shows, we probably weren’t as professional as we would have liked to have been, and he gave us some good guidance. He didn’t come down hard on us, but he just told us what he expected. I guess Pees was the catalyst for showing us how we should prepare and act as a touring band. As much fun as it, you’ve got to meet strict times to make sure it all runs smoothly. Like the show might run from 6 to 9, and you’ve got a thirty-minute set, well there’s a lot more that goes into that small time. You do learn a lot about each other too, the good and the bad, but when you look back, you just remember the good times.
With bigger bands like Being As An Ocean, they tour about 300 days out of the year, so they only go home like a couple weeks at a time. Touring with them for a couple weeks gives you an idea of the life that they lead. Touring, just in a national sense, does have a big appeal and it is fun. But it’s not all fun and games and it’s not as glamorous as it seems to be. But at the end of the day, it’s your choice to do it and it’s obviously very worthwhile. Vanna was our first tour and just us getting our name out there. Since Being As An Ocean and Hundredth, we’ve really grown in popularity which makes it seem more worthwhile. So it’s a good feeling when you play a good show or sell a fair bit of merch, you really do appreciate it. It also helps give off a positive energy so when it comes to the mundane things, like driving, you know that the effort you’re putting is being rewarded.
Does the band aspire to be a band like Being As An Ocean, with having massive touring schedules and what not?
Probably not. If that was to happen that would be unreal! But I feel that a few us have found our life partners and we’re making decisions in our lives that permanently tie us into location and jobs. We never thought we would get to this point. We’re kinda on the cusp of having to sacrifice more to go ahead, to get bigger. It’s a bittersweet time in a sense that it’s amazing that we’ve reached this point but it’s hard to know what to do next. Music, obviously, has brought us a lot of things in the three and a half years we’ve been a band, but at the same time we all have a lot of aspirations in life, whether that be in a family sense, or in a career sense. We’re in a real juggle phase in terms of what comes next.
Aside from any money made from touring and merch, how else do you and the rest of the band support yourselves?
Well, I’m a full-time journalist, Lorenzo and Logan are in retail. Basically, we’ve all got jobs on the side. When we make money off merch, it usually only covers what we’re doing. For instance, we’ll put in money to organize a tour, to pay for flights, or for a van. We do rely on selling merch at the shows so we don’t have to really pay anything for the rest of that trip. So we can give ourselves money each day for food and stuff like that. This band is definitely not anywhere near being self-funding, it does require some money from ourselves. For instance, we paid for about 80%, out of own pocket, for the latest release and we’re obviously giving it away for free. But you just do it. You can’t get too hung up on the money. The money we spent we could have been used in other parts of our lives, but I definitely think what we have achieved is worth more than a bigger T.V. or a new a car.
With all your music available for free from your Bandcamp page, what’s your opinion of sharing and downloading free music, Legal or otherwise?
I remember back when we were doing the last EP, I pushed for it to be free. We did have a cd in our earlier days when we were a different style, which we sold at shows for pretty cheap, for like $5. We just all spoke together and really wanted to put something out for free. We couldn’t charge someone to listen to our music, we needed to get people to enjoy our music. The idea was the flow-on effect where they come to shows and buy merch. Music is hard to sell enough as it. People will still buy CD’s, but a lot of people will just illegally download as you said. So you might as well offer that up in the first place, so people can just come to you to get it for free regardless. You want to get people involved, you don’t want them to go elsewhere outside of the band to find what is ultimately your product.
I remember Geoff Rickly of Thursday once said that “Music is an idea, and ideas are free“, which I thought was a good way of looking at the subject of sharing music for free.
Yeah. That’s a pretty rad quote!
Yeah, I thought so too! Genre-wise, do you think that melodic hardcore is a rather restrictive label for a band, that they have to force a certain sound out?
With the last EP, we felt that we needed to place ourselves under a banner so that it would give people an incentive to listen to us. This year, we still get labelled as melodic hardcore because that’s what we originally called ourselves. I do think it’s hard to label yourselves sometimes. But people can put us into whatever category they want. On our social media, we just list it as alternative, because we definitely don’t confine ourselves to a certain sound. Hundredth and Being As An Ocean we do listen to, but we don’t listen to much melodic hardcore orientated music. Like, we don’t listen to bigger bands and try to emulate what they’re doing. These five songs just come from jamming, or one of the guys will write the full song and bring it to the rest. That’s why on the EP you see different instrumentation and jazz drumming, things we wouldn’t have tried if we were trying to have a certain sound.
It is good that the genre is getting more and more recognition but it goes both ways. It can become a bit saturated. I don’t think bands should try to emulate what already exists. If the fans like it and you just want to play that, then that’s fine! But for us it was about creating our own thing, rather than trying to produce something that already exists. The writing process this time had nothing to do with what we’d previously done or how we were perceived. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s pure melodic hardcore.
Would you agree that there is a strong positive vibe running through in music?
This EP, lyrically, isn’t really centred around that kind of vibe, it’s not as positively focused as the last one. As far as we go as people though, we are pretty positive guys. We always strive to have the best outlook even if something doesn’t go our way. We always lift each other if one of us has had a bad day, and we just band together. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re friends first and bandmates second.
Is Sierra the only band from Mt. Gambier that has been able to go this far?
In the hardcore scene, yes. The last musician from Mt. Gambier that got well known is about fifty years old. And he was back on the early days of Triple J. I guess you could say that we were one of the first bands to have a real, proper go at it.
What’s it like when you guys come back home to play at home?
Yeah, the shows are pretty receptive. Mt. Gambier used to have a strong scene, and there’s still plenty of people here who enjoy the music. But it’s not as strong attendance-wise. I remember when back in the day when you’d get about 100-150 kids at a show, and at our first EP launch we did manage figures close to that. I guess people just get older and their interests change. When someone gets out of the music scene, you can’t really expect someone else to just pop into it. There are still lots of people who keep up with Australian and international bands and who appreciate the music. It’s not as strong as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s no less enjoyable.
Finally, do you see many Sierra tattoos from the fans?
A few people I know personally have them. It’s weird, but it’s cool in a good way [laughs]. I know Joel from Being As An Ocean said he wanted to get one of the lyrics from one of the new songs, which he heard when he was down here, and that is pretty crazy. Anyone who wants to go to that length to permanently to acknowledge the band, it’s unreal! I know there’s a strong tattoo culture in the heavy music scene, but as a band, you just don’t really think that it’ll become normal or something you’d expect to happen once, let alone multiple times. It’s definitely very flattering!
Well, I think I’ve taken up enough if your time for today, Brett. Cheers for talking with me!
It’s all good mate, I’m always happy to have a chat!
‘Reality Redefined’ is out now.