Melbourne’s Arkive have been getting around the local live circuit a lot over the past two years, and just last week the band wrapped up their final three shows for 2016; a headlining set at Your Local on Thursday, a support slot on Saturday for Blind Oracle in the arvo and then a second show supporting For All Eternity in the same evening. Despite Your Local only starting up in June of this year, Arkive has already played the venue twice, and in a cab ride to the venue for their third show there is where I hear from the metal band’s two vocalists, Court Walters (screams) and Mitch Burgess (cleans).
“Keen is the right word”, states Court on how they’re feeling about the night’s show. “They give us beers and food beforehand. It’s also a great venue to play at”, with his co-pilot, Mitch enthusiastically adding in “It’s always great to get a free dinner before you play!” It’s hard to argue with good vibes and free shit (plus, Incentives were on the lineup and they’re becoming a better band with every single show they play).
As our interview is taking place prior to the band’s set, I ask the duo if there are any vocal warm-ups that the singers do, or if they don’t warm up at all? After all, some vocalists like Slaves‘ Jonny Craig rarely warms up before a show. “It’s quite a system that goes on with Court and I before we step on stage and everyone else in the band is annoyed with us for 15 or so minutes”, states their clean vocalist, with the screamer adding that “there’s no real classical structure to how we warm up; we just do what works for us both.”
The group – which is rounded out by drummer Tom Clarke, guitarists Josh Meulman and Sam Armstrong and bassist Chris Zahn – are all scattered around the Melbourne area, with Court being located out in Fairfield and Mitch hailing from good ol’ lock-your-car-doors-all-the-time Ringwood, which isn’t that far off from where the six-piece is playing tonight in Knox. And with having two singers in the same band – a band position that often carries some of the most clichéd stereotypes and stories – I wonder if the two ever argue or bicker over which one will be singing or screaming certain parts during the writing process. But there isn’t any trouble in paradise for these two, and according to Walters, how they and the band write is very “organic”. “Quite often in the studio, we’ll actually record both parts and then vote on which fits that section better. It’s pretty organic and the dynamic between us is blending in the middle now with our vocals”.
Blending, you say? Well, if the singer starts lending to the screams, and the screamer starts lending to the clean vocals, would the reverse of the two’s respective positions in Arkive be true: that Mitch can scream well and that Court can sing? Kinda. “See, Court can sing but I honestly cannot work out screaming”, laughs Mitch. “Screaming just baffles me”, he also admits. Well, it’s handy that you can sing really well then, mate!
At this point, the band are set free from the confines of their taxi cab as they make their way to the venue and so we can continue our discussion.
Arkive really hit the ground running when they recruited Walters into their folds, and without a quick stop to breathe, they went straight into bringing their debut self-titled EP to life in 2014. But that lent to their debut EP almost feeling rushed. Not that they were bad songs per say, just that those four tracks paled in comparison to latest single, ‘Everstorm‘, and that creation process is something that they’ll be taking more care of in the future.
“The band was already established and I came over here from New Zealand about five years ago, and I just wanted to get back into music. I applied on Melband, and Mitch was already established in Arkive with a bunch of lyrics all ready to go for the EP. I then recorded that EP three weeks after joining the band”, recalls Court. “One of the problems with the EP was that I hadn’t had the time to gestate with the band and grow into it”
“He walked into something that was already pretty well constructed. Whereas everything we’ve done since had had Court’s input”, adds Mitch, loosely hinting at where the band may go next. If that’s the case with latest single, ‘Everstorm’, then good things should be afoot for Arkive’s next release in 2017. But that brings up another question – did Arkive really feel that to have their “complete” sound, they needed to recruit a new vocalist?
“…I think we did” ponders the clean singer. “That’s what the band wanted and I come from an indie background so for me to walk into the band and play with another screamer, was new for me. But it was so vocally straining for me to scream and sing that I would physically be unable to get through an entire song. But now, I can use fifty to sixty percent and still be fine. That element has always been important”.
Nowhere is this element – these screams, this vocal duality – more present than in the band’s latest and greatest work, the aforementioned ‘Everstorm‘ single (which was tracked by Beau McKee and then mixed/mastered by Brian Hood ay 456Recordings, hence why it sounds tight as fuck). This is our next big point of discussion.
“We recorded that song about 18 months ago, and only did the video for it recently. That track was going to be an EP we were going to record. But with doing so many shows around the country and playing here in Melbourne a lot, and with us just being normal guys with jobs, we needed to decide whether we went all out and recorded and released this EP or just wait, and we waited. We put out the single and then we recorded our next EP with this new sound.”
Adding to their release timeline, Mitch mentions that “we shot the music video for ‘Everstorm’ around the same time that we recorded this six-track EP that we’re about to release. So after getting some traction off the single, we’ll be releasing this EP in the next two or so months.” The sonic jump from their self-titled EP to ‘Everstorm‘ is indeed a big one and it shows a band that’s getting better with time, and the singers both agree with my sentiment. “I think that’s just the result of us being in a band together for a long while now; that it’s just through us practising religiously. People tell us we’re really tight live and that’s because we practice so fucking much!”
Practice does make perfect, after all.
Musically speaking, Arkive could be quite lazily considered as an Australian version of Periphery and while ‘Everstorm‘ has echoes of that band and that sound, there’s room for expansion and musical growth outside of this current ‘progressive metalcore’ template. As with their screamer coming from New Zealand (and not saying that NZ doesn’t have heavy bands, as acts like Antagonist A.D. prove otherwise) and with Mitch’s indie music background, there is actually a rather varied musical background of the entire band. As he himself puts it, “we’re about as far from ‘metalheads’ as any band could be”.
“It’s one of those things where we just write music and that…this is what comes up”, Court follows up with. “I personally would like us to become more progressive, as well really like The Contortionist and the Tesseract [that “new sound” mentioned earlier] – bands like that – and we want to focus on that style of music, vocally at least.” He also admits that “the EP is a step in that direction but it’s not fully there. I think that when we do our first album, you’ll hear more of that sound.”
In keeping with their love for non-heavy music, if you look carefully during the ‘Everstorm‘ clip, you will notice that Mr Burgess has a few bars of music tattooed on his left arm (see below). When I first noticed that, I wondered if maybe the band had gone balls deep down the rabbit hole of self-indulgence and the singer had tattooed the melody from ‘Everstorm‘ on his person. Thankfully, the singer and the band are nowhere near that self-obsessed and it’s actually a melody that most Star Wars buffs have would have heard many times. “The melody is actually the reoccurring theme that’s used in the Star Wars movies to represent The Force. As I am a massive Star Wars nut!”, he laughs. And according to his co-vocalist, that’s an understatement. “He [Mitch] has a seven foot tall Storm Trooper statue, in full armour, just chilling in his lounge. The walls are just covered in Star Wars stuff”.
Peak levels of Barney Stinson have been reached, people.
Star Wars fandom aside, this six-piece are still in the early days of their band’s lifespan, but like all good bands and businesses should, future goals have been laid out and the band are working towards them, and learning as much as they can from the artists that they tour with.
“I think in terms of the sound we’ve got right now, and we get told this from promoters and our management, and that’s that this sound we have will only go so far in Australia” states Court, adding that “we’ll eventually need to go overseas to gain some traction. I do feel that we as a band are still in our infancy but going on tour with Buried In Verona and Capture The Crown was a boost for us and it also gave us some perspective.”
Now, I’m not a fan of Capture The Crown’s music, but I do respect that band’s hustle. Likewise, the tour that Arkive performed with those bands was, of course, Buried In Verona’s final tour in late October/early-mid November, with Foxblood also supporting at select shows. Yet Court mentioned previously that the band gained some “perspective” from playing with bigger acts such as BIV or CTC. Upon hearing this, I wonder if one of the perspectives gained was one of their own band’s mortality, seeing what was once one of UNFD’s fastly rising bands now calling it quits…
“Well, I would say that they had their fun, right?” chimes in Mitch. “Seeing them go out didn’t make me think ‘Hmm, maybe we should reconsider this’. As I’m sure the last couple years have still been fucking amazing”. Following on from his co-singers comments, Court adds that comparing yourself to another band in terms of when they start or when they end, is a “very backwards way of thinking about music”, saying “you may skyrocket as a band and then have to figure out your personal issues, or you might be slow and then figure your band’s personal stuff out and you become such a tight unit that nothing can really break you.”
Which is all perfectly fine, and it’s still unclear which fate may yet befall Arkive, but one issue that most certainly plagued BIV (and many other bands) is that of the much sought after Benjies. Well, in Australia it’s the John Monash’s, but you get what I mean – money. On Arkive’s Facebook bio page, they have Bandcamp and YouTube links to their music, but they also have a free Mediafire link to the debut EP as well. So… is it safe to say that while the band do want a successful run financially under the Arkive banner, turning it into a real career, they’re perhaps more interested in you simply listening to their music? You betcha.
“I would rather people listen to the music, then having to pay us to listen to it” asserts the screamer. “Once people know who we are, and they wanna buy our music – that’d be fucking awesome. But if you don’t have the money, then that’s fine too”. He continues, “The money thing is a real issue. We all work really hard and our bosses and HR managers scream at us for taking leave at random times for our shows and tours, but we do it because we love it. If this works out to be financially viable, then that’s a very big plus as well!”
Obviously, I can’t help but agree there, and it’s at this point that the mission statement of the band is summed up perfectly by Mitch: “We just wanna play music, man”.
And that is perhaps one of the simplest and noblest goals that an artist or a band can have. So here’s to 2017 and Arkive’s next release!
PC: Martin Wood Imagery (seriously, this dude’s work is dope. Check it out).