Feature Interview: Mike Duce of Lower Than Atlantis

While Lower Than Atlantis’s Mike Duce sat at his home in West London (the “posh” part of the city) around 1pm during a heavy snowstorm, he was more worried that I’d be pissed at him for doing an interview at midnight my time in Victoria, Australia. But I was more than happy to finally chat with the English rock band’s always brutally honest and cheekily self-deprecating frontman about their history with Australia, industry experiences, moving from DIY to major label then back to being independent, how his life has shaped the sound of their records, and how Duce and the band have taken full control over every aspect of LTA now.  

When Sleeping With Sirens 2018 Australian tour for their latest record ‘Gossip’ was announced, choosing to have supports from The Faim and Chase Atlantic made real sense for the tour package – it just worked. But having Lower Than Atlantis there as well? Now that always felt out a little of place for me. And Mike Duce thinks so too.

“Yeah, it’s a weird one” he muses. “We’ve never really been properly matched on support tours out there. It’s often that other bands or promoters will go “we like you, we’ll put you on this tour” and that’s how it rolls.”

“We did a headline tour in Australia years ago, I couldn’t even tell you where it was. It was on an off-date of another tour we were on [Hands Like Houses, 2015], someone asked if we’d play some kind of club show and we thought “fuck it, why not?” We’ve been to Australia twice before, once for that other tour and one for Soundwave Festival too. But we’ve never headlined or anything, so now we’re just trying to support people who actually have a fanbase out there and try to build it up for ourselves from there.”

Which is an audience that Lower Than Atlantis are slowly cultivating out here with each new Aussie tour they conduct; hopefully increasing their pull after this new run with Kellen Quinn and co. It’s just been a slow process, but with the new material that the English four-piece are already working hard away on, that story that should be changing for the better soon enough.

Many will know of the catchier, polished and super-charged rock that Lower Than Atlantis have become popular for from their last two records – 2014’s self-titled LP and 2017’s ‘Safe & Sound’. However, not as many know that the band were once a more hardcore-orientated group on their first outing, 2008’s ‘Bretton’ EP. It’s this point regarding where these British lads once were when they started out almost 11 years ago and the point they’ve reached now is something that they’re trying to figure out as they move forward with new music.

“It’s weird for us, man” admits Mike. “At the moment, I’m not really sure what we’re doing right now. We want to do something different but we’re not entirely sure what that will be. The last two records have been pretty similar and we don’t like that normally so we’ll be mixing it up now. I’m not sure in what way, though”.

I joke to Mike that maybe the band could just revert right back to the hardcore sound of ‘Bretton’ or the melodic punk style of ‘Far-Q’ and really throw their newer fans through the ringer.

“Yeah, that’s something that we’d do though, isn’t it? Finally get big and have people like us and then just fuck ‘em all off by playing something way heavier!”

One thing that attracted people to Lower Than Atlantis in the beginning – and even now to some degree – was the utterly blunt and honest lyricism from Mike about himself, his friends and three bandmates, his innermost thoughts and his overall worldview. That much is clear from listening to releases like 2011’s ‘World Record‘, and while the frontman has retained the direct lyrical content over the years in the band’s newer records, it comes across the strongest in their earlier body of records. Something that I personally love dearly about their first few records.

“Well, while I’m still depressed, I was more depressed back then, I was broke, I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t pay my rent and I was angry at the world and that’s what I wrote about for the band. But when my life ironed and things went a lot better for the band, so it wouldn’t have been right for me nor real of me to write songs like that and sing about that shit. Cause in my life, I started out as a little fish in a little pond, then I became a big fish in a little pond, and now I’m a little fish in something so much bigger and now I’m miserable and angry again”.

He adds, “but it’s funny you bring that up, mate. We’ve actually just finished working on a new tune, and it’s still melodic like the newer stuff, but lyrically people like yourself will love it. Because I might get in some trouble due to what I sing about on this new track, as it’s about all of the bullshit we’ve endured and we’re just being straight up with it”. [No news on this song’s title or when exactly it’ll drop but stay tuned.]

Mike Duce, 2017.

Some will either see it as a blessing or a curse, but Lower Than Atlantis do have some real variety to their wider discography. There’s the young and pissed-off sound of ‘Bretton‘; the angsty melodic hardcore punk style of 2009’s ‘Far-Q‘; there’s the heart and clean-cut charm of ‘World Record‘, you’ve got the big hooks and glossy shine of the self-titled effort and last year’s ‘Safe & Sound‘. There are different songs and different records for whatever kinda day you’re having. But with that sonic change over the years, and with the lyrics and ideas Mike has put out into the world via his band’s releases, I cannot help but feel if he looks back on their past albums positively. And so I ask just that.

“Of course mate!”, Mike exclaims to me down the phone line.

“This will make me sound like a massive dickhead but I am my own biggest fan. I listen to LTA more than I listen to any other music, as we’ve got more than enough music for one. While they’re all guitar-based, they’re different albums still so there’s always an LTA album or individual song I can put on. When you’re in a band, there’s this idea that you’re not supposed to listen to your own band as its arrogant or some shit. But I’ve always wanted to write music that I would wanna hear from someone else, so if you’re writing your ideal music than surely your own band is your favourite band? That’s just me though”.

Well, after all, no one else is gonna love you until you love yourself, right?

While self-titled and ‘Safe & Sound’ (“the bangers” as I’m told) get the heaviest focus from their sets these days, Mike tells me that they haven’t lost the knack nor the muscle memory of the earlier material. Which brings us both over to the topic of where exactly this change in sound for the band first originated from some four or five years ago and what his thoughts on those changes now are in 2018.

“So, I was writing for other people, basically. Before the self-titled album, we were gonna break up. But at one point I was writing and One Direction wanted some songs from me and that was pretty crazy. And I knew they had to be good. So I got Eddy to play drums for them, put some heavy rock guitars over it all and they kinda become LTA songs.

So what was song meant for One Direction? Turns out, it was actually ‘Emily‘ [written about Mike’s cat of the same name] and as Mike puts it “they didn’t want it in the end as it was too heavy for 1D which is hilarious as it’s LTA’s lightest song”.

This co-writing actually lead to Mike working with the “One Direction of pop-punk”, Five Seconds Of Summer, and it’s these industry experiences of producing and writing songs for other artists like a bid-war that is what lead the singer back down the path of bitterness.

“I wrote a song for FSOS called ‘Heartache On The Big Screens’, a really big pop-song that wasn’t LTA at all. But honestly man, I’m not doing that stuff anymore, as me seeing that part of the music world and how music can be so produced and marketed like any other product bummed me out. Like how in much of society things will go so far one way, there’ll be a revolt against it? Well, that’s what it’s like with LTA: we’ve gone so far one way, now we’re going heavily in the opposite direction.”

“I still like them [the old songs] – they’re good songs – but now I want something different and I want something a bit more real, you know? We’ve been in the band for 11 years now so we have to do more things.”

Lower Than Atlantis slogged it out heavily as a DIY touring band in the early days, sweated under the major labels for a bit before a big falling out with Island Records reckoned forth, and now they’re an indepedent DIY group again. However, despite the up and down nature of their journey, they’re actually in a solid position now regarding much of the finances and behind-the-scenes stuff. For as I’d personally describe it, Mike Deuce and co. have a “sugar daddy”. No, for real, have a read.

“We’re independent now again and were funded by this one dude who made a lot of money and is happy to bankroll us as a label would normally, but we get to do whatever it is we want to do. So there are five people – this one guy plus the four of us – all driving this band and that’s it.”

Lower Than Atlantis also bought back the rights to both ‘Far-Q’ and ‘World Record’ from Wolf At Your Door: “we own those albums again now, and we’ll be doing something with them again. As it’s the ten-year anniversary of ‘Far-Q’ coming up soon, we really wanna do something with them now”, as he informs me.

With all this talk of labels, Mike also gives me some of the low-down on their relationship with Sumerian Records. (Yes, they were on the same label as Stray From The Path, Periphery, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Veil Of Maya at one point. Yes, it is kinda weird isn’t it?)

“Sumerian Records signed us in the States, which is why we were there a lot. It was weird with all of these labels, man, everything they wanted us to do was met with a “fuck you” on our part. They’d say we should dress similar so we can be more marketable and all that, and it’s like, no, I’ve been wearing the same clothes for six months, I ain’t changing them now. Ironically, we parted with Sumerian afterwards and then went onto a major label” laughingly recalls the singer.

This also sparks his memory on a less-than-savoury interaction he and Lower Than Atlantis had with Sumerian while in America, one that ended their business together.

“We were somewhere in American and they came out to a show, and we said we needed to talk with them. So we all went and sat in our van – which they had bought for us for this months on end tour we were doing – and we said that Island Records were really adamant about signing us up. They said “But you can’t, we’ve signed you” and we just went, “Yeah, but we’re gonna though”. And then Island bought us out of that U.S. deal so they could have us worldwide. It sucked, as they offered a deal that Sumerian couldn’t turn down, and I felt really bad as Sumerian genuinely loved our band but we were just fucking cunts about it all, man. We didn’t wanna be big, not on those terms at least.”

Somewhere in our phone call, amongst the chatter of the tumult of labels and the band being stubborn bastards towards such people, Mike mentions that his brand new bed he was sitting has broken, and because he’s had one hand on the phone to talk to, he couldn’t fix it properly and made it even worse. (Yeah, look, sorry about that one mate). But despite his place of rest breaking, I ask if it’s stressful knowing that it’s all on them now – no labels, just them.

“Nah mate” comes the answer from a man now in the middle of fixing his bed, from a man who’s band is happily in their own space now.

“We get to make music for a living, this is the easiest fucking thing in the world. We were poor years ago and in pretty dire conditions, but we’re not now and whatever they [labels] can offer us – money or marketing – we don’t need it, not now.”

Perhaps an obvious point to make, but LTA being independent has given the group full financial and creative control, right down to the mixing and mastering stages of getting new music out the door.

“With this new song, we’ve packaged up all the stems as Ben [Sansom, lead guitarist] and I have recorded and produced it, and we’re gonna spend money on getting it mixed. But Ben and I’s mix sounds better than anything we’ve had done before. So now we’re thinking if we actually even need anybody else or if we’ll just do it all in-house at our own studio? We don’t wanna be on TV nor the radio, so we don’t need much money. Which is also funny because that guy who bankrolls us has all of this dough but we aren’t even spending it.”

“I think the plan for us right now is to just make great records that we want to do, make something different than the last few albums, and just chuck it out there into the ether. Hopefully, people like it and share it and that should be enough. Even if we come back to Australia on the next album, and there are only 20 people there, then great – there are 20 people there. If we lose money doing some of these things, then so be it. Payment enough is us playing music around the world, and we’ll make it work.”

“Like, it’ll be hard work, but we’ve all worked hard manual jobs in the past so travelling the world playing gigs for people isn’t all that hard. This is the easiest thing ever”, he chuckles.

Well, easy or hard, whatever happens next is squarely on Lower Than Atlantis’s shoulders alone. And they’re totally fine with this scenario and the outcome.

Lower Than Atlantis, Brixton Academy, 2017.

Lower Than Atlantis are supporting Sleeping With Sirens on these tour dates around Australia this month:

Saturday 21st April Big Top, Sydney

Sunday 22nd April Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC

Tuesday 24th April Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA

Wednesday 25th April Capitol, Perth WA (18+)

Friday 27th April Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane QLD

Sunday 29th April Powerstation, Auckland NZ

All tickets here. 

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