INTERVIEW: Mark Tronson (FIGURES)
The thriving underground Aussie heavy scene is the world's worst-kept secret, with a horde of incredible bands pumping out blinding riffs and seething beats day and night - and primed and ready to roll with a brand new EP out this Friday, Melbourne hard rockers Figures are set to explode with a 5-track masterpiece in the form of 'Chronos'. But just before they drop their new creation, vocalist Mark Tronson took some time out to chat words, writing and what's next for this epic quintet.
'ALPHA' FROM NEW ALBUM 'CHRONOS'
TIANA: Hello Mark!
MARK: Hello! How are you doing?
TIANA: I have to say straight up - after a sneak peek at the new Figures album 'Chronos'...it's, for lack of a better word, incredible! Each song I just kept thinking "oh I love this one" but then the next one starts and I'm like "oh, I love this one more!"
MARK: Oh wow, so it just ramped up for you. Awesome! (laughs) Well I'm glad you liked it.
TIANA: But enough about me. Let's talk Figures. You guys apparently came together online, and over the years you've picked up new members with bass-queen Jen and Simon on guitar. But how much has your sound changed since those early days before the change compared to now with this new release? Do you feel that it's changed?
MARK: Well, I guess so? I wouldn't be exactly able to describe how its changed, but it definitely has. And something I've said in the past, you're really just the sum of the ingredients that you put into the band, and the ingredients are the people. Everyone has their own personality, everyone has their own style. And we've been through a few members over the last three years with the exception of myself, Paul (Paul Callow - Guitar) and Josh (Josh Sforzin - Drums) being the more "founding members" and it was a different sound back then. When you start off in a band you don't really know what the sound is supposed to be. I think when we first started we wanted to be a really techy/proggy band. Paul put out an ad on this thing called 'Melband', and he was interested in things like Tool and Deftones and Karnivool, and even now we still sound like a lot of those things, which I'm happy about. But initially we wanted to be a bit more of a techy/proggy band, more of a Karnivool sounding band. And I think over the years we just realised what we're good at, what our influences really are and that's just big, heavy, riffy kind of bands - early 90s-esque bands, definitely early Deftones and bands like that. We get lumped in the prog category a lot, and I'm totally happy to be there but if I'm being honest I'm really not sure if we super fit in there? I guess there's elements of us that do, but I think we're just more of a heavy rock band with some prog influences for sure. When Jen (Jen Fletcher - Bass) came along, she's just such a monster bass player and Simon's (Simon Edgell - Guitar) an incredible guitarist, and it does change the sound a lot. And even when we recorded 'Chronos', that was sort of the end of the older material and the introduction of the new material as well. So there's probably a transition you can hear, there's a few more rocky sounding songs versus some more experimental songs. It's definitely a transition period on the album, which is quite cool.
MARK: As far as specifics...we talk about it all the time, we'll throw around a riff or a song idea. We've actually started doing the next project in the last month or so because we don't want to wait around we want to just keep moving forward. So we've been working on a bunch of demos and even now we're still like "what kind of sound are we going for?", what kind of this or that? And at the end of the day we'll write something and be like: "that sounds like a Figures song". And we don't really know what we mean by that, but we know what it should sound like.
TIANA: You've made up your own niche sound, that's the coolest thing coming out of all of this. Which I find really interesting since, and I don't know how you feel about this, but in the past you've been compared to the likes of The Butterfly Effect amongst others. But I agree, you guys seem to be carving up something truly unique, which is awesome.
MARK: Well that's cool, I think that we've definitely had comments that we fit into that real Aussie heavy prog metal scene, and we're totally happy to, hopefully, be one of the flagship bands of that - cos it's just got a huge fanbase and a huge following and a huge passion for that type of music. And I think Aussies just really kill it, and getting comparisons to like Karnivool and The Butterfly Effect as well. I'm not sure if I super agree with The Butterfly Effect one. I mean, I like Butterfly Effect a lot and I'm happy to be compared to them, absolutely. But it's an honour, and I think a lot of bands try to do that and it's cool to be given the thumbs up - like "yep, awesome, You're one of them now" (laughs)
TIANA: That whole "heavy" scene just seems to be massively thriving right now. Especially down in Melbourne where you guys are, and up in Brisbane as well, those cities are completely dominating. And there's obviously a heap of underground stuff going on around the country, but it just seems that more and more people are listening to it and know about these bands now, and it's just so exciting.
MARK: For sure! In Melbourne all of the bands know each other, there's tonnes down here. And obviously Caligula's Horse from Brisbane are just the coolest dudes and as far as the underground goes they're probably at the top of the pyramid, they're flying the flag. And soon, pretty soon they're about to release a new album I think, they'll probably be out of that scene as far as the underground goes - like where Karivool and Voyager and all those bands are going. So it's time for the next phase of bands to come through, and Melbourne definitely has a lot of them for sure. We're always finding new bands in Melbourne that are just crazy good and it's super exciting.
TIANA: And speaking of, obviously you've played with Caligula's Horse, as well as one of my absolute favourite bands of all time Twelve Foot Ninja. But what's been your biggest standout live show so far? Has it been your own headline shows, or has it been sharing the stage with some huge bands?
MARK: I reckon the Twelve Foot gig for us was amazing, we had a lot of amazing opportunities that sort of escalated up to that. We had our first EP launch which was amazing, we packed out the Evelyn and it was such a great response. And from that we got offered to do Progfest (2016), which was just again a packed out gig and it was such an amazing support from prog fans. I mentioned it onstage at the time, we played at like 5:30 in the afternoon...I think we were the third of twelve bands on and it was pretty early in the day. And the place was packed out from the first band - we'd thought "oh, we're playing pretty early, we'll get a few people there, but they'll probably come a bit later" cos that's what lots of people do now they come at 8 o'clock, they'll come for Circles or We Lost The Sea, all those bands and we'll get a few of those...but no! Everyone was already in there. And then after that we got the Twelve Foot support, and again we opened and we were supporting them and Ecca Vandal as well who are incredible, and a sell out house as well. And we were just super humbled.
Mark onstage opening for Twelve Foot Ninja 2017 (Photo: Paul Taddy, Metalwani.com)
MARK: That was a funny day actually. It was at The Corner (The Corner Hotel, Melbourne)...I don't know how many people you can fit in there, at least 400 or 500 people at least. But the airconditioning had actually broken that day or the day before and they had hired all of these giant fans just all around the place. And it was, like, the most. difficult. gig. ever. It was honestly, I'm not even joking, about 44 degrees onstage. It was just full heat wave. And we only did a half-hour set and it was so much fun...but I'm turning around looking at Josh on drums and he's just got this face like "I'm about to pass out, I'm gonna die". And I was chatting to Kin (Kin Etik - Twelve Foot Ninja frontman) afterwards and I said "man, I could barely survive through half an hour in that heat. How did you do over an hour?". And he said, "oh, I was just doing these ones.." - you know how the singer will sing and then just put the mic into the crowd and get the crowd to sing? He was just doing those ones, but instead of being like "yeah, sing along!" he was just using it as a chance to catch his breath and trying not to faint. The audience participation was just to get him through - he's a smart guy.
TIANA: I'm always going to suspect that move now.
MARK: Yeah, next time you see that maybe it's partly because the singer's about to pass out (laughs).
TIANA: Seriously a genius move.
MARK: Yep. We're stealing that, Kin! And so to answer that earlier question, the Twelve Foot gig was easily the coolest thing we've done. Collectively...I mean Josh our drummer has been in bands and one of his old bands opened for Bon Jovi years ago, and Jen has been in bands that have toured the world, and I've been in a lot of bands and have had a few good gigs...but not to that degree.
TIANA: I can't even imagine. Those boys are just insanely awesome.
MARK: Speaking of Twelve Foot, it's interesting, I actually met Simon for the first time at the Twelve Foot Ninja gig the previous year, they played The Croxton and at the time we were looking for another guitarist. He used to work in a music store with Josh...and if you've ever met Simon, and I hope you do one day - he's a bit of a talker, he's a bit of a swindler, he's a bit of a salesman. So he bullied his way into auditioning for the band, and the rest is history I guess! I think he kind of wore Josh down that day, he was like "all right!!! you can audition, dammit! Just leave me alone" (laughs)
TIANA: And there you guys all are a year later supporting that band. So perhaps all the bullying paid off.
MARK: Oh, it all just came full circle!
TIANA: So onto the exciting topic of the new album - and not to be a total dork about it, but obviously with the word Chronos, there's a hint of Greek mythology there, Chronos being the personification of time. But another interpretation I've always known about that word is things happening at exactly the right time. Is that a total coincidence, given you guys seem to be massively hitting your stride right about now? How did you go about settling on this title?
MARK: Well, we wanted it to work thematically, and I just really like the aesthetic, mainly, of the title Chronos. It's just super massive, and the album's massive. And to be honest, there's things to do with time going on throughout the whole thing. But - sorry to burst the bubble - but with us especially...naming things is the hardest and most gruelling, stressful process ever! Even song names, I write all the lyrics and vocals for the songs, but as far as naming the titles go, I'm just sitting there and I just don't know what to call the song. And I'll just throw out suggestions, and the rest of the guys will be like "oh that sounds lame", "that sounds dumb" and it's just this mess of going around in circles. And at the end of the day I'll say "well we have to call it SOMETHING?!" And it's the same with band names as well. Not necessarily with our band name, but I've been in bands before where this happens - the story of the band name just becomes "The Thing We Called The Band That None Of Us Hated The Most". (laughs). And then you get used to it. And then that's the name. I really championed the name 'Chronos' from the beginning, and a few of the other guys did and it just ended up sticking, and it just became so appropriate. The theme is natural.
TIANA: Since you brought it up...how did Figures get its name? Was it totally random?
MARK: Well what we did, we were just like "right, we need a band name. What should we call ourselves?", and we just all started throwing stuff around and we were like "ok, this is all dumb. Go home, do some research, find 20 names that you like" and then we did a battle of the band names-type thing where we throw names out and go through the "oh yeah, maybe, I dunno, nope, nope, NOPE". And I think one of the guys had said 'The Figures' or something Figures something. And I suggested maybe just 'Figures' by itself is quite cool. And we all went "yeahhhhhh....that's cool....I guess". So we put that aside and we continued to process, and we kept eliminating other names, just using Figures as the placeholder til we could find something cooler. But we never did, and we always knew even when we started the whole final elimination game, we knew that Figures would be the name.
Figures onstage (Photo: Zo Damage Photography)
MARK: The thing I like about the name Figures is...people always ask me what it means. Is there a meaning? And my answer is always that it's always what you want it to mean, it does mean multiple things and I think that it says a lot about the person who's trying to guess what the name means. Take me for example, when I heard the name Figures I thought of shadowy silhouettes in a dark forest. I don't know what that says about me subconsciously, but that's what I thought and some people might think of hieroglyphics, or some people think of bank statements or statistics. I think it subconsciously brings out something in you that you're projecting. Which I think is really neat. And it's a word you hear a lot, you know, it's not some random half a sentence like a lot of those metal bands have, like As I Lay Dying. That's not a full sentence! Even though I like that band.
TIANA: Well HOPEFULLY as I lay dying not the start of a sentence people say a lot?
MARK: Yeah, exactly, I really hope you don't hear that very often. (laughs)
TIANA: I actually really like that. You guys are like the Rorschach Test of band names.
MARK: Yeah, I like that! I'm gonna use that. The Rorschach Test (laughs). It might sound pretentious, but, it's good.
TIANA: And in terms of Figures and songwriting, you mentioned previously you do a lot with the lyrics particularly, is it a smooth writing process overall between the five of you?
MARK: Yeah, we all sort of nut out what we do, we're pretty democratic. But it will always start with the riff. So it'll either be Josh or Paul mainly that will bring a song idea or a riff, or maybe 30 seconds of a song and we'll all riff to that and decide if it's something we wanna work on or not. But they're good songwriters so they usually just whack out five or six in a row and then we'll all sit down and decide whether it's something we wanna work on, then we'll bring it into the jam room and try to structure it. And once that's all basically blueprinted I go and write some vocals, and I might have to change something, but it's all pretty streamline now. We've had a lot of time in the last three years to figure that out. It's really hard for a lot of bands to get a good creative flow going, and we're still learning and trying to figure each other out, especially with the inclusion of Jen and Simon in the past year. It's just a trial and error thing, and we have a pretty good home recording set-up where we can demo things and try and get the sound that we want. It's really exciting, as I mentioned at the start, we are working on whatever the next project is going to be, but it'll probably be a full length album I'd say.
TIANA: Aaaand you already just answered my final question, you must be psychic. Well before that next one comes along, 'Chronos' is out this Friday, it's going to be HUGE, and I can't wait to see what you all have in store next. Thank you so much Mark!
MARK: Awesome, thanks so much for chatting.
'Chronos' is out this Friday 16th June - get your hands and/or ears on it on Spotify, iTunes, or any of the other music usual suspects. More info below:
BY TIANA SPETER