DVSR | Matthew Youkhana & Andrew Stevens

During a rainy Sydney day in early November, DVSR’s vocalist Matthew Youkhana and the band’s guitarist Andrew Stevens give me the full rundown on the process, story and themes of their latest cracking, self-produced EP, ‘Therapy’. Of course, no chat with DVSR would be complete without discussing rapping, nu-metal and that ol’ Hacktivist “beef” from yesteryear, and the pair and I get into all of that and more in this new interview with the Sydney-based crew. 

So guys, with this EP being suddenly announced and released a week later, how long had it been finished before you made that first announcement?

Andrew: Great question! It wasn’t very long at all; we had it finished just under a month before announcing.

Matt: With this EP, it was a real slow, evolving process until we got to the final point where we were all happy. We did have an original date for September but we pushed it back to get it to 100%. We just didn’t want to release it in 2018 and lie to the fans too.

So with that being said, you wouldn’t say that you rushed it out to keep fans happy and make good on that promise of new music in 2017?

Andrew: We spent a lot on the recording and production and making sure that was all finished. Once the EP was done and we had the music video for ‘Slave to the Beat’ back in our hands, that was when we went for it. It was also similar to how Kendrick Lamar dropped the ‘Humble’ single on a Monday and then released the full album on Friday.

Matt: Yeah, make it all very sensory overload!

Fair enough. But what would you say to people that it’s a bad move to have dropped a new release on a Monday? As that does affect where one could potentially chart on the AIR or ARIA charts.

Andrew: That is one thing we spoke about, that if everyone is releasing shit on Friday at the same time, we might get overlooked. So I checked the upcoming releases and there was a bunch of stuff dropping on that Friday, so we aimed for the Monday instead. Plus, we’re independent, we’re not really chasing the charts, we have most of our interest from overseas and most of our success has come from the Internet. So we’re not too concerned about it.

Matt: It has worked for us in the past and it’s still working for us now.

Well, that’s how DVSR got off the ground too: the Internet. I remember even before you played your first show, you had those three singles out – ‘Life and Death’, ‘The Forked Tongue’, and ‘Unconscious’ – and that first show nearly sold out too. All through an online word of mouth and solid promotion no less. 

Andrew: Yeah, that first show was good –about 10 or 15 off from selling out.

Rad! And that furthers the point here about doing it your own way. Same for how ‘Shutdown…’ was premiered by It Djents too, which was massive.

Andrew: Yeah, they had something crazy like 100K+ subs on YouTube.

Matt: It was a really good for us in the end, as it’s all just djent in the end [laughs].

It all worked really well and I do dig that kind of approach. With the exception of that Earth Caller tour back in late 2015 and the release of the ‘Bad Company’ single last December, you guys have been really quiet this year minus this EP, of course. So does that mean that you’ll be touring much more again?

Matt: Yeah, we will. You’ll hear a lot more from us in terms of tours, shows and merch as this EP rolls out.

Andrew: This year was all about writing and reflection as our first album has approached a year and a half old. We just spent a lot of time figuring out we were going to push forward as we had a lineup change and needed the time to work it all out when we came back.

Matt: We wanted to use our silence to brew some genuine interest and to then drop it all and show people what we’ve been up to.

Well, the hype worked well I think!

Now, to get right into the EP, I put it this way in my review but I feel that the ‘Therapy’ EP is just that – a therapy session for the band in terms of themes and lyrics.

Matt: Each song wades through a very different emotion and to go off what you said just then mate, take every song as its own therapy session. There’s actually no condensed topic on the release. It’s just more something that I wanted to bring up with each separate song on this EP.

Okay, well if you’ll indulge me, I do want to ask about some of the songs here. So, with ‘Slave to the Beat’ its quite clearly a criticism about the suits and ties that own record labels that try to manufacture artists. Is there a personal experience in there for you two and the band as a whole?

Matt: I’m not completely against labels, as we just want to know if there could be more help for us in the future. Because all that we’re seeing is that bands are struggling despite being signed to these big labels. We do it for the love it and we’d love to make a real living out of it but that doesn’t seem to at all be the case now.

Andrew: If you think back to the 80’s and 90’s, bands could spend a year or two writing and recording and hit back with a killer record as they had the large financial support from the labels. Now… I see bands who are on tour for 10 or 11 months out of the year just trying to make enough money and they’re stressing so much. Despite being on well-known labels.

Matt: Also, as an independent band, we’re making money now so why would we go onto a label and ruin that? One of the lyrics I put in the song is “fuck the record labels, tell us otherwise”. It’s a statement saying, “Okay, tell me why and how you can help us because I can’t see it”. We’re not bringing any angst towards labels – we just want to know if they can truly help us.

Right, I getcha. So after the release of the debut album, what happened with label talks for DVSR?

Andrew: We actually took the debut album to UNFD and through the help of Josh Smith (Northlane guitarist) got it sent to Luke Logemann. I think he even saw the show we supported Northlane at too, which was their first Australian show with Marcus [Bridge, vocals]. We were in talks with them… and then they signed Hacktivist… and then that Hacktivist album [‘Outside The Box’] was a bit of a flop, to be honest. And that was it, really. After that, two or three months later, we realised we were glad we stayed important.

Matt: It’s working well for us and we’re going to embrace it to the best we can. Just until something better comes along, bro. There are no hard feelings towards labels and the industry, but we value ourselves enough to know what we’re worth in the end.

Well said. Another song that sticks out to me is ‘Detox’. Is it simply about removing toxic and negative people from your life, actually battling with alcoholism or addiction, or is it both? What’s the real story there?  

Matt: Ah, that’s good, I’m really glad that you asked about ‘Detox’. It’s a bit of a tricky one. That’s me personifying alcohol as a woman. If I read the lyrics to you, you can maybe see it’s about both. [Rapping like he would in the band] “The percentage of fear I get, when I awake with no memory, but your scent envelopes me clear”. So, you know when your hung-over and you don’t remember what you did last night with the taste of alcohol on your breath?

…I’m actually straight edge but I have had friends relate that experience to me, so I can imagine.

Matt: [laughs] sorry mate, my bad. But yes, that’s what I’m trying to say here with these metaphors. My hope is that it would be a bit of a riddle. Me and the boys do drink and it is a vice but its something we don’t do all the time though. It’s one of the things I could level with our fans that we all our own issues and our own addictions. As for me, yes, sometimes I may drink a little too much but we’re all human and none of us perfect. I’m so glad you asked about that song, though.

No worries man, I think it’s a very poignant track on the EP and those varying levels of reliability work well.

Perhaps similarly, who is ‘The Devil in 95s’ about? Because judging from the song’s lyrics that seems more rougher and darker than a bad break up and something far viler…

Matt: Ah…. well the “devil in 95s” was someone who had a really bad impact on my life when I was 16 or so. He got me through a lot of bad times in my life, a lot of ups and downs where I was doing some really stupid shit and was having a lot of substance abuse. He was the mainly the cause of it, as he lured me into those avenues. I don’t wanna mention his name here but he truly is the devil in 95s.

Andrew: To add to that, from my perspective, as I was friends with him at this point too, Matt had cancer at 15 or 16 and when he came out of it, he had to leave school. Finishing up chemo, there weren’t that many people for him to hang around with.

Matt: Yeah, my circle of friends was very small then.

Whoa, I didn’t know that about the cancer…

Andrew: Not many do. So, in comes this guy to exploit Matt’s weakness – goes and uses him for drives, money, attention and so on – which is why the lyrics are so deep in that song.

Matt: Yes, they are very heartfelt about him because I have now realised just how bad he was for my life and it’s something I reflect on all the time. And of course, the 95s in the title being the Airmax shoes in this instance.

Oh, dude, way ahead of you on the shoe reference. But also, just quickly. with going through cancer Matt, I take it that that’s what ‘Remission’ from the debut album was about?

Matt: Yep, you’re exactly right! That song was all about my history with cancer. There’s a lot of metaphorical lyrics in that song so that you might not know what I’m actually on about. Which was the main idea for it. As there are times where I want to be direct lyrically and other times where I wish to be really indirect.

Moving on, with the mixture of metal, djent and rap/hip-hop, do you ever worry about getting the balance just right? That being said, I really do think the new EP nails that balance.

Andrew: When we started, ‘Unconscious’ was the first song we wrote. There was no song before that – there was no trial and error.

Matt: I think it is worth mentioning that all of us were good mates before the band started which helps so well when we’re doing something as creative as music.

Andrew: Yeah, we’ve been friends for about seven years now. Our drummer [Matthew] and I have been playing together since we were 13.

Matt: There’s never been any conflict; just always had a smooth process.

Andrew: And with the balance you mentioned with songs like ‘First Degree’ and ‘Ready For War’, you could say that 80% of our music is metal and the rest is just the vocal. That’s how it felt with the first album but I want us to move into a better mixture. Since it’s been all metal from the start, we thought it was time to do a straight hip-hop track [‘Ready For War’].

Right on. With the vocals: Matt, do you think that the thought process and approach of a rapper in hip-hop is different to that of a rapper in a metal band or do you feel is it very much the same?

Matt: Nah, it’s completely different. When I first did ‘Unconscious’, it was so different to anything I’d done at that time. Those kinds of riffs and rhythms are just things that you’d never hear in a 4/4 hip-hop song. Of course, I’ve grown fully accustomed to it since and it’s at the point now where it’s as easy as doing normal rap songs. In fact, when I go back to basic rap songs, I can spit right over them with pure ease as I’ve worked in something more complex and more difficult for so long.

Interesting! Though, I can’t really say I’m surprised. So tell me, what is it about DVSR’s sound that you think makes your band stand out so much from your Gift Giver’s, Darke Complex’s, Sylar’s, and Hacktivist’s out there? Cause, let’s be honest, you do stick out. 

Andrew: Hmm, well, I find that those other bands come from the nu-metal background more than we do.

Matt: Yeah, they’re emphasising more of the true nu-metal form with the singing and the screaming. I think we’re way more inclined towards the 90’s rap, hip-hop style mixed with the metal.

Agreed. So, have you considered adding screaming or more cleans to your music down the road? 

Matt: No, we’ll never do screaming [laughs].

Andrew: We have had Matt from Novelists guest on a song and there is some singing in the background of ‘Detox’. But we’re never gonna force those things into a song because we can. Plus, I tend to write the lead parts in the choruses of what a clean vocalist would have sung, so as to compliment Matt’s rapping.

And that shit works really well! Now, I just want to bring this up for my own amusement and curiosity… the old Hacktivist “beef”. From when I interviewed their guitarist/singer Timfy back in late 2015, who said that fucking comment about you guys being the “meat and potatoes” version of them. Then I Probably Hate Your Band got wind of it when you put up that Ableton video exposing their song ‘Hate‘ as a cut-and-paste job. 

Matt: Yeah… Look, that was a bit of a burn job for us, we didn’t like it. We’re all about supporting one another out here, you know?

Andrew: He said we were the techier version of us, but I don’t really agree with that. Anything outside of metal, I’m referencing off people like Philip Glass and Max Richter and a whole bunch of things that are minimalist piano type stuff or very wide, high leads and basic bass approach. Whereas as their music has more weirder transitions and way more jumpier sections, like just the snare placements in the bridge of ‘Elevate’.

Matt: “Meat And Potatoes”, that will be the name of our next album [laughs].

Andrew: And I love that it happened to be me or found that Ableton demo that sounded exactly like their song. I got the free trial of the program as a mate said it was decent and I opened it up and hit play on the demo. I left the laptop and let it play through and then that Hacktivist section started playing and realised where they’d got it from.

Matt: It’s a complete fluke that it got by. My reaction was “Are you serious, man?”

Man, it’s just so goddamn funny to me. And then you tagged each other on Facebook as well.

Andrew: Yeah, cause we posted the interview as well and people we’re tagging Hacktivist in it so we commented saying “reckon we gonna tour soon Hacktivist?” Then, they sparked back on their own page, which was the best thing as their so much bigger than us, and they commented, saying something like “How does it feel knowing you ripped off a complete genre from someone else?” Implying we ripped them off. I replied to them under the DVSR page with some jokey, Aussie banter and they then deleted their own Facebook post. But not before they posted a love heart on our wall. Which we never replied to [laughs].

Matt: It then died in the arse there. We knew our place and they knew theirs which is what it came down to.

As these things so often do. And hey, just saying, I think it would be best for both of your bands to never tour together…

Andrew: Well, we’re not against it.

Matt: If it comes out, we will… think about it [laughs].

[Laughs] fair enough. So, anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?

Matt: Expect more shows and some surprise tours from us.

Andrew: Without saying too much right now, we’ll be going international for the first time for a certain show. [Since revealed as their spot on the U.K.’s 2018 Tech Fest with Jinger, Voyager and more].

Fuck yeah guys, I wish you all the best with that. And of course, cheers for chatting with me today. 

Matt: Sick, thank you Alex!

Andrew: Yeah, cheers man.

DVSR’s ‘Therapy’ EP is out now and you can stream it in full below:

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