“The reality is that none of these songs are about substance abuse. However, all of the songs are written about the cause and effects of substance abuse.” – Josh Collard, Earth Caller.
When I first heard the album title for Earth Caller’s second record – ‘Crystal Death’ – my first was ‘crystal meth’ due to all of the heavy issues I know that frontman Josh Collard had had with drugs over the years; not necessarily what their new record is about, but perhaps where many of these songs originated from. As that was my first thought about the record itself, so too was my very first question for the band’s vocalist as we sat across from each other at a pub in North Fitzroy, Melbourne just days before the album dropped. And Josh was straight up with me when I mention this.
“You put it perfectly. The reality is that none of these songs are about substance abuse. However, all of the songs are written about the cause and effects of substance abuse. At one point, I was very worried that Earth Caller wasn’t going to be a thing for much longer, and those were unbeknownst to me at the time, due to decisions that I made when I was high. Granted, I held myself quite well at the time, but if you make nine decisions that are good versus one bad one, that’s gonna overshadow the nine. There’s also a lot of other issues on the record, a myriad of different relationships I’ve had that were affected by drug abuse.”
Whereas their debut album, ‘Degenerate‘ was external and outspoken, the singer has taken the band’s musical knife and turned it inwards on himself for ‘Crystal Death‘. Yet he’s in a much better, much stronger place in his life now to make such introspection and he’s now self-aware of what the old Josh Collard was like.
“This record was a way to address all that and try and put that part of my life behind me, and the place that I’m now is excellent. I’ve got a really great partner, she’s a squeaky clean person and she keeps me on the right path.” Collard laughs here, saying he’s not fully squeaky clean now as he sips on his pint of beer. “I’m all about truth and transparency, as anyone would’ve heard with my more political music. So I thought to myself “There are questions about me now”. As I’ve written about holding other people accountable for their actions, I need to address myself now”.
Now, Earth Caller have had more band members then I have had waiters in my life. This laundry list of former band members isn’t necessarily because of the drug use, says the vocalist, but more because of how he was while he was inebriated. As he himself puts it: “Interestingly enough, it never caused that much of an issue within the band. But, as a leader of the band, there were just certain things, that when I was high a lot, I’d be a productive leader but then I’d fall short cause of the drugs. The extended but longer than it needed to be journey to get here where we have a solid and right lineup, that took a lot longer cause of my drug issues.”
Josh and I first met back in April of 2015, but before he arrived in Melbourne’s CBD for our interview, one of the band’s old guitarist Lachlan Monty (who many will know from his many years providing riffs in Make Them Suffer) mentioned that much of 2015’s ‘Degenerate’ was written and basically done a year or so prior. As for the vocalist, Josh was very stoked but also very cocky about that record as it took so long for him and the band to get to that point. Of course, he brought up me the writing history and creation process of ‘Crystal Death‘ and what really motivated him to sort out his life.
“We experienced that with ‘Crystal Death’ too. As soon as that first album was done, I wrote for this record in late 2014 and early 2015. It has felt like years in the making again, but for different reasons too. We’re now signed with a major label in the States – Entertainment One – and we were all waiting for the right time to drop this one. What really brought about the final straw of sorting my shit out was looking around and seeing what I had. I had good band members who were ready to really put in the time and effort. We also had this record deal Entertainment One and a booking deal with Artery. I looked at all this and realised how much I had to lose. That fucked me up for a bit but then I took the reigns; I took accountability for the shortcomings. There was enough evidence to suggest that for as high-functioning as I was, there were places where I’d fall short. I thought “Do I wanna be the guy who overcomes his issues or the guy whose issues overcome him?” and I chose the right path.”
Which I am truly glad to hear, personally. As I don’t wish to see a mate throw it all away. Plus, while I myself am straight edge, I have friends in my life and have known people who have had their friend’s lives utterly destroyed by drugs; their lives fully consumed by their addictions. On this topic, Josh mentions how he was able to escape that life and deadly fate.
“I come from the Northern/Northern Eastern Suburbs, an area where a staggering amount of kids whose intentions are, right now as we speak, to finalize stuff in school so they can get onto drug dealing. That’s a lot of people like that and part of the reason why I was able to escape that is that I could take good things with me, like my hobby of music that’s turning into a profession. I think the sad thing is that if I didn’t have something as extraordinary as Earth Caller in my life, then I’d probably just be another statistic.”
It’s clear from listening to this new record that much of the album’s core crux comes from the past romantic relationships that Josh has had. To me, the track listing of ‘Crystal Death‘ felt like it was a play-by-play story of a relationship starting and flourishing only to bitterly end in tears; it starts hopeful and things become direr as the record goes on. Which I, of course, bring up to him to much success.
“Dude, that’s so fucking funny. Nothing gets past you, aye?” is Josh’s first response. “But the one thing that you missed is that not all of these songs are about the same relationship. But they are chronological in order of relationships I had. “I was thinking about this with ‘Fall’, in the bridge of the song, my friend Sophie [Jest] who guests on the track, she sings the lyrics from the chorus right back at me. When I was writing it, I didn’t think of this, but maybe subconsciously I wrote that to say I was as guilty as she was. Who knows…” he briefly ponders.
Regarding songs here like ‘Fall’, ‘Never In Never Around‘, ‘May 16th‘, ‘A Ghost‘ and ‘Mirror’, I ask if he’s received any contact from an ex-girlfriend or an old mutual friend of who feels scorned by him putting their issues onto a record for all to hear. Turns out, nothing that dramatic has happened yet.
“I haven’t gotten a text or message from her as we don’t talk, but I loved her a lot back then and I wish her all the best”. [Something that Josh echoes on ‘A Ghost’, more or less]. “From what I’ve seen and heard, she’s built a good life for herself now and I’m really proud of her. Those intense feelings that you feel – disappointment, sadness, anger – you can put them on the page, on a record, and release them from yourself in a way. We both made mistakes but it’s not worth throwing everything away over, nor worth holding any grudges or bitterness over. I truly do wish her all the best”.
Exactly right. And all up, that’s a very mature response from a man who maybe two or three years earlier, would’ve responded very differently. Because in a lot of ways, this second record is almost like a coming of age story for Josh, who couldn’t agree more with that descriptor once I bring it up.
“In the first lyric to ‘Dying Beside You’, I say, “I’m starting to feel like I’m getting older”. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot. In the ‘Degenerate’ era, when it was coming out, you could not have told me that it wasn’t going to be the shit. I was an arrogant son of a bitch about it. This time around, I like myself a lot more and I like the music a lot but I don’t have that same level of confidence. The first time around, I was like “I know this is gonna happen” but now it’s more “I hope this will happen.”
One stand out song here is ‘May 16th’ and I had to know: what does that particular date hold such significance for the singer? It’s quite a lot actually.
“Well, for those who don’t know, May 16th is actually my birthday. I remember back on May 16th, 2015, the woman I was with that ‘Fall’, ‘Mirror’ and ‘A Ghost’ are about, we were having a weird break period. It was my birthday, I was sad I wasn’t with her, and I had nothing much to do and so I sat at home and wrote a song – ‘May 16th’. That was a huge factor on this record, that feeling of loneliness. If you look for it, you’ll that throughout the whole album.”
From my perspective, those low moments in the singer’s life were all brought on by his old habits and past addictions, which I also mention to him. “Exactly! And no disrespect taken, bro. I was disrespecting myself for a long time there!” he adds.
Okay, so I know I said this in my album review but a lot of Earth Caller’s musical extremes have been amplified on this album: both the heavier and lighter elements of their sound have been given a real kick in the ass. Josh’s screams are more aggressive, his clean singing is more prevalent, the riffs and chugs hit harder, the melodic lead guitar work is arguably the band’s best yet, the breakdowns are bigger, and the choruses are more driven and bigger than ever before. “It’s Earth Caller, just loaded up on some heavy steroids” is how I put it in my write-up.
“I think it’s because those two extremes – the light and the dark – were at war within me for this record”, says Josh. “I think that’s what ‘Crystal Death’ is actually about; the constant battle within all of us. I feel that the reason that it was so heightened to you, Alex, is because you were really perceiving what actually was going on when we wrote this record. And I really have to give a shout to our guitarists, Zach [Noble] and Justin [Murphy]. Zach is the master of heavy and Justin is the master of melodic. Having them in the band has also been a great asset to Earth Caller because they compliment each other so well. We’ve also been writing the follow-up to this record [it never stops] and I’ve gone through with those two and our bassist Harley [Hadden], writing songs with each of them one on one. With the band’s lineup now, I feel so honoured to be in a band with such great musicians”.
Music aside, the political side of Earth Caller shines through on this record. So: will it always be present in the band’s music? Not really.
“Honestly, I wrote ‘No Forgiveness’ and I wrote lyrics while we were recording the music. This was early on in the ‘Crystal Death’ process and it was going to be another political record. It didn’t have a name at that point. So we wrote this song – while I was on a bender – and I realised at the end of the lyrics that I don’t need ten songs this time; I can fit it all into one. Since then, I’ve been thinking, “do I have anything else to say about politics?” That world is such a shit show right now – it’s just such a joke now.”
Also on the lyrics, Josh adds that he was worried how’d he approach the lyric writing process down the line now that he’s released so much into the band’s music.
“I actually was worried that I wasn’t fucked up enough to write lyrics, but since then I have. Life goes on and while I may not be able to do what I’ve done in the past – write the instruments and then write the lyrics right afterwards because of the abundance of fuckedness within me – I think that what’s changed now is that lyrics might not come the same day the song is written. But the lyrics will eventually come out and just like anything, good things do take time. I’ve shown people the new stuff and they’ve loved, and it’s coming more from a pensive, more contemplative place. It’s deeper.”
To be a little bit self-indulgent for a bit, when the vocalist and I first met back in 2015, I was actually heading out to see Funeral For A Friend at the Corner Hotel afterwards. As he’d enjoyed the chat so much, Josh drove me over and he showed me a new song in his car on the way. Turns out that song was ‘Never In Never Around’ as he tells me.
“Man…I haven’t thought about that moment in years! ‘Never In Never Around’, that was the song I showed you back then. It was actually the first song we actually wrote for the new record. Three years later, it made the record!”
Similarly, Collard had also sent me an early demo of ‘Dying Beside You’ back in mid-2017, of which I immediately caught (and loved) the Comeback Kid lyrical reference on the track: “So run a little game on it/just like Andrew said, “it looks better with a stain on it”.”
“Oh, I just had to shout out to my boy Andrew on it – he’s a fucking great dude. You know, if I didn’t meet him in 2013 or whenever it was, I wouldn’t have had the strength to get this band going. He just keeps on getting better. He’s in his 30’s now, he’s getting on, but he’s really getting on with it!” laughs the vocalist.
To wrap up our time together, I ask Josh what his family thinks of him putting so much of his personal life into a public work.
“Honestly, my family are fucking incredible, and I know that they don’t like it; they’d prefer I keep that shit in-house. But it’s also no shock to them that a musician would want to do drugs”, he laughs.
“I know they’d prefer if I didn’t let this all out, but my mum has acknowledged the bravery in putting myself out there so much. Essentially, I just thought of another time in my life when I was losing hope, and that was before I wrote ‘Degenerate’; before Earth Caller. And I just thought how writing ‘Degenerate’ helped me get over it. So right then, it was substance abuse, so I had to get it out there and address it properly and passionately and self-correct. People do respect that, as everyone struggles with something, and I feel that open-minded, decent people – whether or not they’ve encountered these things – they can still understand and relate to it. I’ve started to share my story now and I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support I’ve been shown so far. It’s just beyond a dream come true to be here right now”.
Earth Caller Crystal Death Tour:
With Supports Advocates & Heists
Friday 23rd February – Melbourne The Workers Club
with Special Guests Dregg
Saturday 24th February – Sydney The Burdekin Hotel
with special guests DVSR and Free Souls
Friday 2nd March – The Brightside Brisbane
with special guests Sensaii and Uni/Vs
‘Crystal Death’ is out now, stream it below: