What happens when you put members of Saviour, Temporal, and Storm The Shores together? You get I Am Zero, that’s what. The quartet combine the standard ideas of metalcore like In Hearts Wake and Dream On, Dreamer and infuse it with the hip-hop and rap elements of bands like Hellions and Hacktivist, coupled with the heavy riffs and grooves of bands like Periphery and TesseracT. This makes the upstarts feel very familiar yet still quite fresh. As the band’s debut EP, ‘Dark Sky’ drops, we chat with bassist/singer, Michael Barr about the early days of this budding group.
Hey, how are you today Michael?
Yeah, good dude, you?
I’m not too bad man, thanks. Thank you for doing this interview, I’ve been really wanting to talk with one of you guys since I heard the EP a while back.
Yeah, it’s all sweet man, thank you too.
So what are you up to right now, dude?
Just chilling at work now, at the Subiaco Football Club.
Cool man, cool. So first proper question – did you guys get the band name from Code Geass?
No, unfortunately. Bryant [Best, vocals] came up with it and he might have some super secret idea to what it stands for. To what we know, it’s just a cool name that he came up with. I like it though, it’s kind of new-age, kind of fruity.
And it’s not one of those Verb The Noun or I-comma-random-word names either.
Yeah, it’s pretty straight out. People can sort of make their own definitions of it.
What were the details of the band forming? Who approached who to help get it all going?
Well, when Saviour called it quits in early last year, Urvin and I had just gotten off tour from our own band [Temporal] and our vocalist had just left so we were thinking, “We might as well take a different direction”. Now I’ve known Bryant for five, six years now and we’ve played in bands for yonks now. He’s a sick bloke. So I hit up Bryant to see if wanted to do some stuff with us, and he was really keen. It was meant to be low-key, and we just wanted to do something new. Later down the track we picked up Matta [Michael, drums] who’s been a really good friend of ours for ages now. So yeah, that’s basically how we created this band.
In my review of ‘Dark Sky’, I likened the band to groups like Hacktivist, do you take influence from those dudes, or even older bands in the nu-metal genre?
Our music is basically whatever you’re feeling on the day. We usually hook up at Urvin’s studio at night to flesh out some ideas, and we have pretty broad influences too. The more groovy element wouldn’t really come from Hacktivist, it’s more from TesseracT, Periphery, The Contortionist, from more of the progressive, technical side of metal. Not that we are technical (laughs), but the nu-metal side comes from Bryant, he just loves it. He loves Korn, Limp Bizkit and bands like that, he really wants to put more of that sound into the mix.
With the whole nu-metal aspect, are you personally into it or do you prefer it when you’re playing as opposed to listening to it?
I think everyone was a fan of nu-metal when it was the new thing. My favourite bands from that era were definitely Linkin Park and the more emotive bands. I was a big Linkin Park fan as a kid, so you can probably hear that tone in my voice. It’s probably how I learnt how to sing.
All of the vibes on this EP I really enjoy. It’ s probably the first music release I’ve done that I would actually sit down with a glass of wine and listen to (laughs).
(Laughs) I agree dude. For the EP, you went with Roland Lim and he’s mixed and produced releases for all of your bands so was it a bit of a no-brainer to work with him again?
He’s got a great mind for music, a great ear for composition and for what songs can become or where it can go. He’s more of like an extra member for a while to bounce ideas off. So he was the no-brainer option. We have worked with him in prior bands and we know how he works and what he brings to the table. He did a really good job on this EP. We came under a shit load of scrutiny for the production on the first single [‘The Winter Sun’], and everyone’s got his or her own opinion, but we probably didn’t put enough attention into the mix as we should have. He came out and was determined to show what he could do, especially with the grungy, nu-metal tones. Some of the stuff he pulled out was pretty world class.
Yeah, definitely. I likened him as being the Will Putney of Australia in the review.
Yeah, I actually sent him that quote on Facebook and he loved it (laughs), so good job on that one.
(Laughs) Sweet, thanks man. With those five songs, where they the only ones you had for the EP, or where there others that you scrapped?
We wrote about 10 or 15 songs for the EP, and then cut it down to the five that we really liked. We’ll put those other ideas into the graveyard now just wipe the slate clean so we can bring in any other elements for the next single or album. We’ll sort of re-evaluate things once we get through this run of EP launch shows.
Sounds sweet man. In regards to signing with UNFD, how did it come about?
Well I didn’t really expect that to happen. As I said, I Am Zero from the beginning had very modest intentions and we still do. We’re just in it for ourselves really. But, one day Bryant came to us and told us he sent Unified our first two songs, and he said that Unified were really interested in representing us. It was a pretty good offer, one that you couldn’t really refuse. It’s one of the biggest labels in Australia at the moment coming to you wanting to help you out, so we were stoked on that. They’ve been great so far, and they’re all good blokes at the label and it’s been a really good journey so far and hopefully it’ll be an even better one in the future.
Glad to hear dude. How was first live show for the band?
It was really surreal. None of us had played a show in a year or so. The last shows I played were on the Temporal tour in December 2013. The last shows for Bryant were the last Saviour shows and Matta, his band was about a year and a half ago. So we got plunked on this stage at Metropolis, Fremantle in front of a 1,000 plus people and it was like, “Here you go boys, have a good time.”
It was a sink or swim moment for us, but I felt like we really embraced it. It felt really natural to be up there with those guys, more so than any other band I’ve been in before. So after the show we had a big grins on our faces because we know we’ve still got it for a bunch of old boys (laughs).
(Laughs) Was that show with The Amity Affliction and In Hearts Wake?
Yeah, we just did the WA shows with Amity, In Hearts Wake, Confession, and Antagonist A.D. and it was amazing. It was really humbling to be a part of that journey and to see bands so well drilled and who have done so many things operate at that level. Hopefully we can connect more with those bands in the future.
Well you’re on the same label as some of them so who knows, a tour may happen down the road…
Yeah, that’s it. We’re label mates with a couple of those boys, which feels weird to say but if we keep sticking to our guns, then we don’t know where we may end up. You don’t want to predict it, you just wanna go about your work and whatever happens will happen, but it would be sick to be affiliated with them on a line-up in the future.
Yeah, of course, that would be sweet. This is kind of vague I know, but do you see I Am Zero as being the most successful of all your previous projects?
We’re just in a very fruitful position, none to our own accord, but Bryant had a lot of hype around because of Saviour, and so we were dropped into a band that was quite hyped. But we just wanted to make it a band where we all got along, played music that we liked, and to just be honest and funnily enough that’s kind of turned into the most successful thing we’ve done.
The music is very free, and maybe that’s the key – to have the freedom to go wherever you want.
With songs like ‘Dark Sky’, that are quite different and varied, to something like ‘The Ocean’, which is the commercial side of the band, it’s all very free, for sure.
We just threw in whatever we wanted on each track. People might find a nugget of gold in one song that they didn’t in another. We’re literally doing this for ourselves, if people start digging it, then they’ll dig it.
I spoke with Urvin recently and he mentioned that he was getting married in the later half of this year, and that tour dates may be happening towards the end of 2015, is that the plan for you guys?
We don’t want to rush the touring. We may even try and get some more music out before we get into it. In November, December, and a tour came up we’d be looking around to kick it around Australia. Touring is the best part of being in a band. Urvin has gotta get married first, so I’m going to Mauritius to watch him get married. We’ll get through that one first and then we’ll see about getting on the road.
Regarding ‘The Winter Sun’ video and its Mortal Kombat theme, are any of you big into the game, or games in general?
That was Bryant’s idea again. If you see anything super weird that’s coming out of the band, that’s all Bryant. He comes up with these little rat cage ideas. Because we want to make it an unrestricted creative expression of ourselves, so we just run with it. At first I had a giggle of it, but I thought why not. Then it turned out really sweet, I was really happy with that video. There could be a sequel in the future…
We definitely do play a bit of Mortal Kombat, but I suck at it. Matta and Bryant are definitely the best at it though.
Don’t worry man, I suck at MK too, I just get my ass handed to me most of the time.
I can’t get the combos, and I can never get the finishing moves. You know the ones where they give you the real awkward moment when you have to hit the buttons in a couple seconds to karate chop someone’s head off. It’s so uninspiring. But the others can do it fine every single time; it just frustrates me (laughs). At least Sub Zero was in our video.
As you mentioned earlier, you’re a big fan of Periphery. What did you think of their latest dual album?
I don’t really dig the poppy side of it, which sounds weird coming from the clean singer of a band. The poppier tones in Spencer’s voice I’m not a 100% into as he has a sweeping hard rock voice and the harsh vocals are the best in the industry at the moment. So the heavy side of the album I really liked, and the clean stuff was beautiful music wise and I did like a lot of the songs, but some of the singing elements I didn’t really like.
Urvin’s actually from the same place as their guitarist, Misha [Mansoor], so whoever thought that Mauritius would produce two awesome guitarists. Maybe there’s more soul in that place than we all think. Urvin’s a very groovy musician, and if you saw him in his own element, he’s nothing but groove. He should be playing bass in our band, as racist as that sounds, but he just shreds it.
(Laughs) that’s awesome! I think we’re gonna have to leave it there Michael, picked your brains enough for today.
Fantastic man, thanks for the chat. And thank for you the groovy review. I did not expect anything as glistening as that. It really brightened my day, I read it in the morning at 8am, all groggy, and I just thought we’d get punished in the reviews but the first one was really good. So thanks for that.
Oh, that’s okay man. I really do love that EP, and it feels so fresh to me. So when you guys announce Melbourne shows, I’ll be out there for sure.
Oh sick dude, come have a chat and we’ll hang out.
Sure thing, and with that, we’ll have to leave it there.
All right, thanks for the chat man.
‘Dark Sky’ is out now via UNFD. Read our review here.