INTERVIEW: Tim Charles (NE OBLIVISCARIS)
When your band name translates as "forget not" in Latin, there's not much room for mediocrity - but for Aussie prog extremists Ne Obliviscaris, their ferocious dedication to innovation has cemented them as both a memorable and groundbreaking force to be reckoned with, both on and off the stage and all over the world.
Starting life in Melbourne back in 2003, this blistering collective of technical virtuosos has continued to raise the bar with their radical brand of extreme metal, calling in influences from the likes of jazz, flamenco, prog rock and, of course, their signature violin that has demanded critical attention and a legion of fans so dedicated to the cause that a groundbreaking membership scheme evolved from the band's savvy foray into crowd funding - a move that has continued to propel them into constant international demand.
With their acclaimed third studio album 'Urn' erupting into the world late last year, NeO are now bringing their blazing live show back home with an extensive Aussie tour kicking off in early February, but before the tour kicks off resident NeO violinist and vocalist Tim Charles took some time out to chat touring, challenging the industry and how a classically trained musician ended up melting faces in one of the Australia's most intriguing and ferocious live acts.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Tim, thanks so much for your time! Some epic times ahead, as of next week Ne Obliviscaris are gonna be performing some very hotly anticipated shows back home. It's been quite a while now since we've seen you guys on Aussie stages, what's the feeling like to be coming back home and busting out the new album 'Urn' live for a home crowd?
TIM CHARLES: Just really excited, every time we come home it's a fantastic thing to be able to play across Australia, to the fans that we have been building up over many, many years. And it is a bit of a different feeling because, you know, we go over to other parts of the world and a lot of people there view us as quite a "new" band. Here in Australia to contrast, we've been touring around the country since about 2006 and here we are in 2018 (laughs). And so there's a lot of fans that we have a long history with, we go along to wherever around the country and there's people we recognise who we've been seeing come along to shows for many years, which is always a pretty special thing to have that sort of relationship with fans. And the vibe in the band at the moment is honestly the best it's ever been, we couldn't have been happier with the release of 'Urn' and the really overwhelming response from fans in Australia and everywhere else to that record. And we're just really excited to get the chance to perform these songs for everyone in Australia!
TIANA: I think we're all just as excited to hear them! It's interesting, looking back to this time last year, so much seems to have changed for you guys...you've pretty much taken the world by storm, and like you said, for a lot of these audiences it's seemingly quite a new thing that's happened quite quickly, but how different are things for the band now compared to say this time twelve or even eighteen months ago?
TIM: I mean, things have changed enormously every year in the last five and a half years since 'Portal of I' came out, and then every year has been a big step-up on the one before. And I guess with this being our third full-length album, we were really looking to try and make sure that it was our best album in every possible way. And we felt like we learned a lot from the first two records in regards to not just the way we compose songs, or the way that we record and produce recordings...the sort of tones that we wanted on the instruments and the way to get the best performances out of each individual member, all that sort of stuff. So we definitely felt like we were able to achieve all of that at a higher level on this record, which was really satisfying. And I guess the big difference now is that we've been a headline act here in Australia for quite some time, but we just did our first headline tour in North America about 18 months ago which was a huge first step for us, and we also did a UK headline tour that year. And then straight after 'Urn' came out we did another headline tour in North America, and then straight after Australia and New Zealand we're going off to do an extensive six week European headline tour, which is really exciting because there's a lot of places like Europe that we haven't headlined before. Just to be able to get to that stage as a band where we are able to go out and do our own shows as a headline act and play a full 90 minutes to our fans is definitely a wonderful thing!
TIANA: I daresay there are a fair few people over that side of the world just dying to see you guys live, so it's nice everyone's getting a turn!
TIM: Yeah, that's right! (laughs) Unfortunately that's one of the things we have sometimes with Australian fans saying "hey, how come you don't play here as much anymore?!" and it's like "well, we kinda just try to take it in turns around the world". It does mean, you know, instead of every few months...I think it's been maybe about 15 months or so since the last time we were in Australia? So it's been more than a year, it's been a little while but we're very excited to be coming back.
TIANA: And as you mentioned, NeO have been on a run in North America recently touring 'Urn', what was the reaction like with this tour and the new material over there?
TIM: It was amazing, honestly it's probably the best tour that we've ever done, just in regards to the size of the crowds and the excitement that we had in the audience. It's always an honour and a privilege to be able to turn up anywhere and have people buy tickets to your show. It was definitely a thrill to have so many people come out and see us, and for people to be enjoying the new songs so much, because I guess when you do release a new album you never really know quite what everyone's gonna think! But we try not to think about that too much, we try to just focus on making sure that we love the new songs and that we think that it's the best thing that we can possibly do at that stage in our career. And then we just kinda toss it out there to the world and hope that people agree with us! And thankfully for us, that's been the case so far!
TIANA: NeO have obviously cultivated some pretty die-hard fans all over the world, and part of that has involved your membership scheme which has seen you outwit what tends to be a very unbalanced industry financially...how different do you think the band's story would be if you guys hadn't launched this?
TIM: Everything would be different, basically. We did the World Tour Crowdfunding campaign in 2014 which paid for our first ever world tour, and that was a fantastic achievement to be able to do that, however the reality was, like with most bands who are trying to break the international market, we were losing $20,000+ on every single tour that we were doing and the reality was that money was quickly disappearing. And we did get to that stage in early 2016 where essentially we were running out of money - and we had that idea to launch the Ne Obluminti using the Patreon platform, and thankfully it was a huge success because at that stage once that tour was finished basically that was it! We didn't have any more money (laughs). So what would've happened if we were just like every other band is that we would've had to spend maybe a year or so just trying to save up so that we could then eventually go do another tour. Instead, what we were able to do was basically get straight back out and go do another tour, and we had that launch in March 2016. And basically straight after, because the launch was such a big success, we booked our first ever North American headline tour and we also had an offer on the table at that time for a tour through Europe with Enslaved and also a headline tour in the UK, which was another thing where we weren't sure if we would have the money for that if it wasn't for the money from the Patreon. So one of the things that we were trying to educate fans and other people in the industry about was the practical realities of where this money was going. A lot of Australian bands don't have the money to tour as much as we do, and basically the Patreon is a large reason why - one, because some of that money directly goes towards paying for things like flights, and so then the other reality is that when you go away you've got bills and families and all this sort of stuff that need to be paid and we'd all been fired from our day jobs by that stage (laughs). And so as much as it's nice to say "do it for the love", which is what we have always done, you also have to make sure that you can pay your rent so your family doesn't get kicked out of home! Just finding that balance, and that's where the Patreon does find that balance - overall it's still less than a full-time wage what we get in from that at the moment, but we're not far off achieving that full-time status as a band. And to be honest, most bands our level are not even remotely close to that, so it's been a pretty incredible thing to have that support and have that connection with our fans. We've been incredibly excited and grateful for the support that we've been getting!
TIANA: It's an incredible thing, and what's especially nice is that it's not just a one-sided adventure, both sides get so much out of it, and fans can see and hear the results. A genius move, and it's seen you catapult well and truly beyond the underground of the Aussie scene. Not many bands can boast a headline tour in Australia with international bands as support, but looking more at the local level are there any local bands in particular that you guys have been digging?
TIM: I think the Australian scene for different types of heavy music, or really any type of music, is one of the best in the world. I've just been busy over the last few weekends involved in running Progfest which has been touring around the country. That's been an event which I've been involved with as a promoter since 2010, and it's been such a great opportunity to give a lot of fantastic Australian bands of a wide variety of different progressive genres a chance to play to a lot of people and discover a lot of people. And this year's actually the first year we've ever had an international act on the bill, being Leprous. It's always usually been exclusively Australian, but there have been so many great bands. I went and saw Twelve Foot Ninja about a week or two ago and they're always incredible live, and I saw sleepmakeswaves in December when they were down in Melbourne, and they're fantastic. Likewise, Caligula's Horse, their new album 'In Contact' was one of my favourite albums of last year. And we had Voyager at Progfest, and I think they're an incredible live band and their new record was fantastic last year as well. And the amazing thing is now, you know, travelling around the world is that I think people all around the world are starting to appreciate a lot more how talented the Australian scene is. When we first started it was quite rare for Australian bands to be doing big things internationally, but now when we travel and talking to other promoters and bands and that sort of stuff they'll be talking about how they had Parkway Drive coming with 1,500 people in that city somewhere in the world in Europe or the US. We were criss-crossing the US a few days here and there just missing In Hearts Wake, and obviously Northlane and Amity Affliction are doing really well in the hardcore scene also...and Psycroptic have been doing amazing things all across the world for many, many years, they were one of the bands that led the way for, I guess, more extreme metal bands in Australia to do significant things internationally. There's just so many bands now, there's such a huge list of Australian bands that are really at that top international level and it's just been great to see them getting some of that recognition now. I think the quality's been there for a long time, but maybe with the internet and social media has made it easier for people to listen and check out all the great bands that we have in comparison to the past.
TIANA: Agreed, we are so absolutely spoiled for choice, I think my jaw was firmly on the ground for most of Progfest! So now NeO are about to jump into another round of a heap of gigs, but I'm kind of intrigued to know what the first ever gig you went to was?
TIM: The first ever gig that I went to....I guess, if we go in the context related to the world of "rock and roll" (laughs)...because technically the first concert I ever would've been to would've been my mum taking me to see The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, I lived in San Francisco for a few years when I was a little kid so I would've been maybe 8 or 9 or 10? Something like that...so that probably would've been the "first" concert I ever went to of any type. But going on towards more of a "gig"....the first thing I ever went to was, I think, maybe when I was about 15 way back in 1997 I went and saw the Foo Fighters play The Roundhouse in Sydney on their 'The Colour and the Shape' tour. That was kind of my introduction, and I thought that was pretty incredible. And it wasn't too long after that then it was Fear Factory and Deftones and all these amazing bands opening my eyes to all these great performances and all I wanted to do pretty soon after that was jump up onstage and be like those people, so it's pretty amazing thing that that's what I get to do now!
TIANA: And here you are now, absolutely kicking ass! And last but not least, are there any bands or artists that you listen to in your downtime that might surprise fans? I mean, obviously you are classically trained as a musician and you would have that classical background as well as the heavy side - but is there anything else unexpected?
TIM: Well, I'm not sure what would surprise people, a lot of people know I have a pretty eclectic taste, but it really is very, very diverse. One of my favourite bands is Sigur Ros, and Explosions in the Sky I love as well. Probably my all-time favourite artist is John Coltrane, I really love his approach to jazz improvisation, just one of the most brilliant musical geniuses of the 20th century and that's obviously something a little bit different to a lot of metal-heads! But, on the other hand I just have a great appreciation of just anything that's well written, I don't listen to a lot of pop music to be honest but I definitely listen to a little bit of Justin Timberlake, that's probably one of the only ones I listen to (laughs). And that's just that appreciation of writing and the way certain things are done with pretty much whatever genre that exists, whether it's pop or rock or hip hop, you know like Nas's 'Illmatic' is, I think a lot of people would agree, one of the best hip hop albums of all time and I absolutely love him as an artist. And I'm a big fan of other hip hop stuff like The Pharcyde or A Tribe Called Quest...as well as listening to jazz and Emperor for black metal and just everything in between! And that's excluding all the classical stuff, which is very, very wide and diverse as well. Really, it just depends what mood I'm in and what I'm doing at the time, but I definitely try to listen as wide as I can and just enjoy music of all different types. I really do believe there is good music in every genre, there are talented people all over the world working in every genre, and everyone's got their favourites but it is that thing of trying to open your mind to appreciate that even if someone is coming from a very different perspective than what you're used to, it doesn't mean that it's not good, it just means that it might be different - and if you give it a chance, some of those things, maybe not all, but some of those things you might learn to appreciate and I've kind of slowly added more genres as I've gotten older basically (laughs).
TIANA: You and me both! Thank you so much for chatting today, and can't wait to catch NeO in action in the very near future!
TIM: No worries, thank you very much!
Ne Obliviscaris are taking their brand new album 'Urn' around Australia with the tour kicking off on Friday 9th of February.
Tickets are onsale now from: www.wildthingpresents.com
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BY TIANA SPETER