You may not have heard of The Iron Eye before, but if their latest single ‘Just Started’ is anything to go on, they should be at the top of your music radar for 2016. Before their new EP lands (and is fully announced, mind you) singer & guitarist Nick Lythall jumped on the phone with me to talk about his insatiable lust for destroying amplifiers. Oh, and we talk about the band’s music because it would be weird if we didn’t, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it!?
So first question Nick, and that is, is this your first phone interview?
[Laughs] no, we’ve done a few now. Only a couple phone interviews so far for community radio. So no, you haven’t broken me in man, been broken in before!
Ah, man, was hoping to pop your phone interview cherry! Anyway! I’m curious, how new are The Iron Eye? As I haven’t heard of you guys until just recently when the new single, ‘Just Started’ dropped?
Well, we’ve been kicking around Brisbane for a few years now with only the occasional gig and rare tours. We’ve been playing live since about 2012 but only got really serious about it all in 2014. But this new EP is our first proper release, and we’re really proud to get it out there.
Right on. Musically, I find that the band gives me some massive Royal Blood & Black Keys vibes, am I on the money with those influences? Or is it mere coincidence?
It’s a bit of a coincidence, but we do look to bands like that for those heavier tones, but with that spit and polish to their music; it’s very relatable and approachable with some good hooks. I’ve always enjoyed music with a heavy undercurrent but that still retains a lot of the melody. I’ve always loved Queens Of Stone Age, they’re one of my favourite bands. I think that’s evident in our new stuff; still heavy and gritty, but really sweet in the top end. At the end of the day, I guess that we are pop. I know that’s kind of a dirty word to some, but our music is centered on a melodic motif, a set melodic idea, with a pop structure.
Yeah, that’s a good way of describing your sound. With pop music being a “dirty word”, I find that some people use that as a smoking gun in their arguments, that just because it’s poppy or catchy, it’s immediately shit. Which is some terrible fucking logic, I think.
Absolutely! We used to be a heavier band, and I think we were trying to be something that deep down we really weren’t. I grew up on pop music and those big Aussie rock bands. So it was always important to me, and when I get into metal, I loved the bands that mixed both pop and metal. So I wanted to create something that satisfies both of my musical sides. There are a lot of pop artists that are really clever, and I think that Sia is a great example of that. Guys like The Weekend, that’s pop music fed to the masses with really catchy tunes, and you can’t really argue with a catchy tune. It’s very hard to, at least.
It’s funny you mention The Weekend, I always look at that guy’s music as being the perfect soundtrack to a cocaine binge. And Sia is a great example of clever pop music and I’d also argue that Katie-Miller Heidke was great at that too! Now, you had Tom Larkin from Shihad produce this EP, were they a band you were a fan of growing up?
I remember when they came out as Pacifier and while I was a lot younger than, I remember watching them for hours on Rage. Shihad were one of those big bands that had been on a scene for a while, and you could really admire their longevity. They’re getting close to 30 years now and they released a new album a few years ago and after meeting Tom and the band, they’ve still got the drive and the passion. That’s what is so great about heavy music; that passion I saw in those old music videos is still there. It’s great to work with guys like that.
I bet man! Now, with working with Tom as a producer, that must have been very cool! Did you learn a lot as musicians while working with him as a band and maybe take any leaves out of his book?
Oh, for sure, huge lessons. Things that just seem so simple, things that you maybe looked over and ever paid attention to before. We sent him a bunch of songs, and he said ‘Yeah, it’s good, I want five or so more good ones’. Of course, we sent him songs that we loved and cherished and he would just say ‘Nope, it’s shit!’ He would say to us, ‘Why wait two or so minutes to get to chorus?’ Serve the dessert first’. That was a big part of it; about using the catchy part as a diving board, as a catalyst to take the song into a different direction. You can always go back to your “safety net”, your safe part of the song later on. Working with him, he simplified a lot of things that we were making too complex. He also worked to our means, as we are a three-piece, we don’t wanna hire extra musicians or run a backing track live. He pushed us to run with ideas and one of his biggest phrases was ‘Is it stupid enough to work?’ He made us push our own boundaries and that’s probably why Shihad has been around for so long; they pushed themselves.
[Laughs] I love that phrase, that’s great. You said he worked to your strengths as a trio, so he wouldn’t just allow you guys to double or triple track vocals or guitars.
A lot of people would listen to us and say that it sounds huge, but it’s funny that it is the exact opposite when you record it. Usually, the more you put on to a song, the smaller it can get. We wanted to capture how we sound live, and with the drums, bass, guitar, and vocals, they’re all taking up the frequency spectrum and you really gotta acknowledge the mid-range of the guitar. Some bands will cut the mids or want a bassier tone, but the engineer we worked with, John Grace, he really honed in on that. He said that he’ll make it sound huge, so he pulled out this tiny pig nose amplifier, this battery operated one that was the size of a few match boxes and he handed me this acoustic guitar. So I’d play the acoustic guitar through a few pedals straight into the amplifier and that’s what we used.
[Laughs]. What the fuck? That’s nuts!
Yeah! I know that the production sound pretty big and pretty slick and that’s because Samuel K Sproull did an amazing job with the mix. But it all came down to the trial and error of the recording process and doing stupid stuff. You know, the reason John brought out this tiny amp was probably because I had already blown up three other amps while in the studio. Damage limitation and all that.
…how’d you manage to blow up the amps?
Well, you know, we had stuff running pretty hot and they were pretty volatile amps. There was this old pre-Vox amp and it was one that Josh Homme wanted to buy it and take home with him-
-And you fucking ruined it?
Yeah! [Laughs]. Those amps get a bit old, get a bit cranky, and a lot of guys use them so I was probably the last one in a long line of guitarists using them. I feel privileged to have them blow up on me, honestly.
It’s almost an accomplishment at that point. I am drummer myself and sometimes I see my mate’s drum kits or ones at studios and these drums are just fire hazards waiting to fucking happen!
[Laughs] yeah man, you just got to get those sweet tones before it goes up in flames.
Pretty much! But I think that The Iron Eye is a good example of the chemistry that occurs when you have a good band with good songs, a great engineer to record with and a mixer to make the tracks shine. Samuel actually did the new Storm The Sky record and that mix is just so damn good.
Yeah, absolutely man. With us, I like to call it the ‘creamy crunch’. It’s still smooth and creamy, but it’s got a bite to it and it won’t let go. That’s one thing about working with Tom, Samuel’s mixes and John’s recording’s that we loved. The one thing that’s really hard to do is see where your songs are going and when we got down there to record, we didn’t really know where the songs were going. We felt that we’d just record a bunch of stuff and see what happens, but you have to let go and let the song take its own direction. I’d ask John if I should put another guitar in and he’d say ‘Nah man, just wait till Samuel mixes it. You’ll see. You’ll understand’. So I would have to let go and trust them. The songs sound awesome because of them and they knew exactly what to do. It’s quite hard to be someone who is so controlling and a perfectionist, and just trust someone else with it all.
Dude, that is such a testament to how you should work with the right people. For instance, with you working with Collision Course, those guys do a lot of good work and they really know how to help promote and push bands, regardless of their image or sound. It all comes down to having the right band the right team behind them.
Yes, finding the right pool of people is so important. You’ve just gotta really get on with people, as it is such a personal industry. With Tom, we thought he was this imposing, dark, mysterious guy. Before we went down, we’d tell people we were working with Tom and they say ‘Ooooh, he’s going to whip you boys into shape’. We were shitting bricks, but we met him and he was just the nicest dude. Even with Tim from Collision Course, we’ve worked with him before and just knowing that they have our backs; that they’re doing their job is great. We’re still learning, but you’ve just gotta understand that it’s not about you, and you need to understand their deadlines and that they’re a business, as well. Basically, just don’t be a dick head!
That’s a great life rule, in general, man! I think that’s a really good spot to leave this one at mate. Thanks so much for the call Nick, it’s been real. Hope that your single launch show goes well too!
Thanks a lot, Alex, cheers mate!