INTERVIEW: Josh Stuart (BEHIND CRIMSON EYES)
For many, it's been a long, long, LONG time coming - but as of last week the hard rock renaissance officially kicked into overdrive as prolific Oz heavy lords Behind Crimson Eyes made their return to the fray with their brand new single 'Stardust'.
With nine years in between new music and a tantalising countdown to the unveiling of 'Stardust' there was a whole army of expectation breathing down the neck of this new release. But not only have BCE returned with invigorated focus and drive, they have also pulled off a sparkling return to form, embracing what endeared them so dramatically to their fans over a decade ago with the natural evolution that accompanies some good-old-fashioned growing up; 'Stardust' is a sharp and biting trip that shreds and soothes across an exhilirating three and a bit minutes, but with a distinct fresh tone that has come from the band stepping out of the spotlight and reconnecting with their own roots and sense of self.
From a genre laden with attitude and politics, Behind Crimson Eyes have managed to transcend the shackles of success and the burden that can come with the territory and in honour of the epic new release for this iconic group, front-man Josh Stuart took some time to chat inspiration, innovation and how one of the country's most iconic heavy bands has managed to stage (we're calling it) the comeback of the decade.
TIANA: Hey Josh, thanks for your time today. So I suppose the most exciting thing to start with is the news that as of last week the countdown officially ended and we all finally got to hear 'Stardust', Behind Crimson Eye's brand new track - and the first sign of music from BCE in over nine years...how does it feel now that it's finally out in the world?
JOSH: It's great, I mean we started this whole process in about April, so it's been a good six to seven months before it's been shown to everybody so it's been a decent process. But I guess that's nothing in comparison to, like you said, nine years (laughs). But it's great, the feedback that we've got has been all super positive, not only are people enjoying the music but they're enjoying the message so that's fantastic.
TIANA: Listening to it, it's got a very anthemic quality to it, and hearing the little foreward that came out with it too, there's a lot of concepts from that that's echoing in the track itself lyrically. And prior to release you came out with the statement where you mentioned the realisation that came between your last releases and especially the idea of time on Earth being precious...has it just been a general realisation that has come with time or has there been a specific catalyst that has been driving this message?
JOSH: I guess with age comes more wisdom, and more experience, more failures...and from that you obviously take a different perspective on what you're doing. And for this release, or for the Behind Crimson Eyes comeback or whatever you want to call it we actually started with a mission statement first. So we started with "what do we want to achieve, what do we want to get out of this?". We didn't want to release music again just for the sake of it because we've been fortunate enough to have a lot of success - many years back now. But we got to play with fantastic bands, people we've looked up to since we were kids, so we didn't want to just come out and do the same thing that we did 10 years ago. And individually we each came to the same conclusion, over the last ten years everyone's had their trials and tribulations and everyone realised what was actually important. And that's the moment, the relationships you have and the people that you care about. So we just wanted to try and spread that idea a bit more, use whatever platform that we have to try and make whatever impact we can in a positive way. And I guess we weren't as naive to think that we can, on our own, make a lot of change but maybe we can change people's minds who do have that power to make a lot of change or influence a lot of people. So that's the whole idea and that stems from the mission statement right at the very beginning before we wrote any music. There's a lot more in the backstory that I could go into, but it's elaborate and winding like every story in someone's life of how you get somewhere.
TIANA: It's definitely a bit of a universal truth, growing up and valuing those things more as you go. There's obviously a bit of a personal aspect behind it all, but there's definitely something for everyone...
JOSH: Yeah, it's also coming from a point of view that, you know, a lot of people are religious and that a lot of people place a lot of value on the afterlife, or something beyond what we have right now. Whether or not that exists, no one really knows so why not value what we have. And we know that that time is finite so, as it says in that foreward, you gotta make that count. So, that's what the idea was around it.
TIANA: And another amazing side-note to the release is that you guys are donating 25% of all the royalties for Stardust to charities, I believe cancer and dementia research. For you guys being such a prolific band, it is something truly inspiring. Was there a particular motivation for these two charities?
JOSH: So, first off...I was in two minds about whether or not we should publicly state whether or not we were donating whatever to charity because it can be perceived as a bit of virtue signalling and kind of make people think we're doing something good. But at the same time I think it was important for the message that we're trying to get across as well, and then hopefully again it inspires other people to be charitable if they can afford to be. Those two particular charities...cancer has an affect on a lot of people's lives, and it has on pretty much everyone in the band, and even as recently as a family member of one of the guys passing away while we were recording, within the last month...it sort of made sense as a bit of a tribute to him and other people who had been affected by it that we put some money towards cancer research. And dementia as well, both dementia and cancer are things that relate to broader themes in the song and the message of the foreword about making life count - if we lose our memories, what are we but our memories? So, there were some things there that we wanted to tie into the whole message of this song and the foreword, and then the bigger message of just trying to do positive things to help other people and to make life better for everybody so that's where that goes.
TIANA: So after a fair few listens, Stardust seems to see BCE coming back with a bit of a heavier vengeance...your sound's evolved so organically over the years, and notably being the first new music in a long time it's easier to pick the change between then and now...but was there a conscious effort to go in a different direction with this new material?
JOSH: Yeah, I guess the last release on Roadrunner, the last album we did was self-titled and it was an interesting time in the band...it's actually, looking back, pretty cliche that there was turmoil within the band, there was somewhat of an identity crisis because we'd had success but at the same time you're always chasing bigger success. Some of our peers like The Getaway Plan, Kevin and Cam (previous BCE members Kevin Orr and Cameron Gilmour) who were in the band at the time were really good friends with...they saw those guys get a lot of success by maybe going a bit more mainstream you could say, so I guess there was a lot of conflict or a lot of conflicted views about the direction of Behind Crimson Eyes at that stage. And I think it's reflected in the music that it was...I'm not gonna say not our greatest stuff, but I didn't feel as emotionally connected to it as say Revelation (A Revelation For Despair - 2006) and before and now Stardust. It's just a bit more natural what we're doing with this blend of heavy and melodic elements...it also helped that we we've had a new member since the start of this year, Liam Hennessy who had played in a band that was similarly heavy and melodic and he brought a lot of that to the table as well. So there was no real conscious effort to be like "hey, we need to go back to our roots" and be heavy or be whatever...that's just what we wrote.
TIANA: And jumping back, not too far back in time, but for such a long time now Behind Crimson Eyes has been quite a dominant force in the industry. You've had so many albums, singles, EPs, tours...and what I can only imagine are countless hours in the studio. But has there been a true highlight so far, considering it all seemed to happen so quickly early on?
JOSH: Yeah, you can always paint a rosier picture looking back, it always seems better than it was at the time. We did accomplish a lot. It was a shame that when we were doing so well, social media hadn't quite come along yet. We were sort of at the start, or middle of Myspace days, but there were no iPhones kicking about so there's not a lot of footage and photos from back in the day. But some of the things, obviously supporting Iron Maiden - that's a band that when I talk to people who don't know who Behind Crimson Eyes are, if I say "we supported Iron Maiden", pretty much universally people know who that is. And that's a band that we listened to when we were all younger as well so that was a real big highlight. And we got to play all the festivals, like Big Day Out before it folded...
TIANA: Actually that's the first time I saw you guys! Big Day Out 2008!
JOSH: Oh yeah, that year of Rage Against the Machine and Bjork! That was exciting in itself, I listened to Rage Against the Machine when I was in high school so that was cool to meet Tom Morello backstage. We've done a lot of cool things, I think you can bias the present as well, but I really think this new stuff that we're doing, with the whole broader mission and purpose...it is starting to be a highlight that it's been received so well. We weren't sure what the reaction would be - when a band ever tries to do something a little bit different or tries to impose their world view or change people's minds it can backfire, so I'm pretty proud of how this is going and hopefully it'll continue to grow.
TIANA: Well earlier you almost pre-empted my next question, back in the day Myspace is where a lot of people were discovering new music, and you guys were involved in that and you also only had radio support from triple J back when A Revelation for Despair first came out...considering you were releasing demos on Myspace and things like that, a lot has obviously changed between then and now - but what are you feeling with the whole social media thing and the music industry now?
JOSH: So, my day job is in I.T and to a larger extent it was in marketing and I.T so I've sort of seen this grow up over the last several years. But I haven't had the experience with how social media influences music and vice versa, so this is a bit of a new thing for us. I tend to think now though it's net positive overall...people might say that with the streaming services there's lower royalties but I see it that the distribution costs now are zero, whereas when we put out CDs we had to pay a fee of like $7 per CD, that was the base cost and then you'd sell it for $20 but the record label would take 90% and then you'd get left with 10%. So everything's changed that little bit and it's great that people can hear new music, and as a band you can get music out to people really cheaply, you can record high-quality music, get high-quality clips and reach a lot of people really quickly now, so that's cool as well.
TIANA: It just amplifies that reach, hey. I know some bands I've spoken with mention they have fans in, say, Brazil and they've never even stepped foot in Brazil. It's kinda wild...
JOSH: Exactly, it's interesting to see, again, our peers that continued on after we had stopped, so people like The Amity Affliction and Parkway Drive, just how much easier...actually I don't want to say easier, but back when we were on a label it was very difficult to go overseas and tour without label support in those territories. And now it seems like you can build, as you said, a following in Brazil or Europe or America before you've even visited...and the world's just a smaller place now because of social media and how connected everybody is. And that's a really cool thing.
TIANA: Over the years Behind Crimson Eyes have dabbled in a lot of styles, you've always kinda had that hardcore or hard rock label following quite closely behind you, but along the way you guys have thrown in a bit of everything, some more straight-edge rock, some pop punk...I know you mentioned earlier growing up listening to bands like Rage, but were you always listening to this sort of music growing up?
JOSH: So the first band I really identified with was Green Day, the Dookie CD. When that came out I was just like "ok, whatever I've been listening to before"...and I was listening to, you know, whatever was popular but still on the hard side...I would listen to Guns N' Roses and N.W.A because that was the music you shouldn't be listening to as a kid (laughs). But then the first band I thought "oh, this is me" and really identified with was Green Day's 'Dookie'. And then Blink-182's 'Dude Ranch' after that. So for me personally, I can't speak for the other guys, but it's always been pop punk but then that just progressively got heavier as it went along as well. Then hearing The Used for the first time was like "oh ok, that's cool, it's melodic and it's heavy". It was sort of pop punk but it's metal-y, harcore-y, you know what people came to call screamo. But, I mean that's continued to progress along, over the past five years I probably haven't listened to a lot of heavy music. The only heavy band I've listened to consistently would be Parkway Drive, but they've progressed a lot as well into less metalcore and more rock metal kind of stuff, a different thing now. But personally because I spend a lot of time on the computer working it's mostly contemporary classical or white noise. So I don't listen to a lot of heavy music, it surprises people when I say that. I enjoy playing heavy music, but I enjoy listening to lighter stuff more so.
TIANA: I think if you're immersed 24/7 in it, it might get a bit much so I think it's always nice to have a little outlet somewhere.
JOSH: Yeah, that's the thing. And when I was younger I'd listen to heavy music all the time, and punk all the time. But, yeah, things just change when you grow older. It's such a cliche, but that tends to be what happens. And it's funny because you think when you're younger you won't be one of those old people listening to old people music...still listening to the cool kids stuff. But, yeah, I can't explain it but that's sort of what's happened. I'm getting old (laughs).
TIANA: Nothing wrong with that. But back to the present, you started off this year supporting Alexisonfire, which I was supposed to go to but I accidentally stepped on a piece of glass so I couldn't come, great fun for me. And 2018 will see BCE take the stage for UNIFY alongside the likes of Parkway Drive, The Amity Affliction and Architects to name just a few. In the past your festival and tour roster has just been ridiculously star-studded, but are there any local up and coming bands on your radar at the moment now that you're officially back in business?
JOSH: That sounds painful! But also, I've been so out of the scene that I can't really say...I know Liam and the other guys in the band are much more in touch with that's sort of going on. But I think what's been good stepping away from, I guess, the music scene and particularly the heavy music scene was obviously perspective. You get caught up in your own little world there and everything mattered and there was a lot of...I don't know how to explain it...jealously or bitterness or whatever, but there was always a lot of animosity within that scene and if you liked a certain band you weren't cool and if you didn't like a certain band you weren't cool. But stepping away from that, you start to appreciate everything and you don't get caught up in that minutiae as much. But I guess now, we've got UNIFY booked, we don't have anything else booked at the moment. If we do tour, I'm not exactly sure if we will or not, but that'll be more immersed but with a new perspective I think, and not getting caught up in the politics of the scene.
TIANA: It's always nice to step out away from bureaucracy, and now you can come back and do whatever the hell you want and not have to play the game.
JOSH: Yeah, it's weird. Can't quite explain it, but bureaucracy's a pretty good word for what was going on. But there was always some standoffishness that you'd kind of get within the scene, or as I said bitterness that we'd get support slots over another band. And on occasion when you're younger you feel that jealousness and bitterness yourself, so it's good to step away and say "that's great, I'm happy for when bands I like and people you like do well". It's not a zero-sum game here, everyone can do well.
TIANA: It's a very healthy place to be! And to nearly wrap things up, I know it's quite a lame question to ask, but I'm intrigued to know what your favourite BCE song is to play live?
JOSH: Right! There's so many bits of songs...I love playing 'Shakedown' for the crowd part, the "don't fuck with us!" part is awesome because everyone...they just get it, they love it, that part is awesome. I like playing 'The Black Veil' though, the way we recorded it and the way we play it live is slightly different, it's played with a bit more bounce and heaviness, so I really like playing that live even though it's an older song. And I'm keen to see how 'Stardust' goes live. As you said, there's sort of a few anthemic parts in there, hopefully people will pick up on that as well. So we'll see at UNIFY.
TIANA: UNIFY, look out! And final question, if you could go back in time and play with any band at any point in history, who would it be?
JOSH: Wow! Um...so there's selfish things about who I wish I could've seen. We might not have been a good fit, but I wish I could go back and see Jeff Buckley play live, for example. But obviously Behind Crimson Eyes supporting Jeff Buckley probably wouldn't work out so great.
TIANA: I would actually go and pay money to see that. Just saying.
JOSH: (laughs) Yeah, just a bit of a mixed line-up. But, would've loved to see him live. Unfortunately when I got 'Grace' he'd already died before I'd gotten that album and discovered him, which is a shame. But in terms of Behind Crimson Eyes support....I would've loved to have played with the original Blink lineup, or even Green Day, whether or not again we'd be suited to that kind of lineup. But that would've been cool because, again, they're the first bands I identified with, and really kicked off me wanting to play music. So those two...but probably not so much Blink now.
TIANA: Lucky for us I've got a time machine, so it's totally ok, we'll go back to the original lineup.
TIANA: Well thank you so much for your time, and can't wait to see Behind Crimson Eyes own it in 2018!
JOSH: Thank you so much!
The brand new Behind Crimson Eyes single 'Stardust' is out now:
BCE will also hit the stage at UNIFY Gathering 2018.
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BY TIANA SPETER