Monday, August 10, 2015

Interview with Mike Russell of DIVIDED WE STAND by Dave Wolff

Interview with Mike Russell of DIVIDED WE STAND

You recently played a show at the Blackthorn in New York; it was your first performance in that area since the band began actively performing. Describe how the performance went and how the band was welcomed by those in attendance?
We had a great time touring the city and meeting the locals. The venue was hospitable and the bands we played with were all incredible (The New York Rock, Deepstate, and Pralaya). We met several new fans last night and moved a good deal of merchandise. We are excited to set up a return trip.

How was your first show in New York booked? Describe the trip the band made from Tennessee. Before your scheduled show did the band get to visit NYC and sample some of the underground culture?
Our first New York trip was booked by our agent Eli Parker from A-Team Entertainment based out of Miami, Florida. We left the night before so we could get there early enough to enjoy the city. We got to see a lot of NYC. The guys rode around on the subway visiting several places. I am a germophobe so I walked around Queens Blvd until I found a music shop to chill in.

What was the music shop you visited on Queens Boulevard? Did you find anything of interest while you were there?
I can't remember the name of the music shop I hung out in but it was off from Queens Blvd. I can spend all day in a music shop. I didn't buy anything because they didn't have the 5b sticks I was looking for.

How much merchandise did you get to move at the Blackthorn? Was this mostly shirts or promotional releases or both? Describe the hospitality the band was shown. Do you think playing there again would contribute to your NY fan base?
We don't like to get specific about financial matters, but we did fairly well on merchandise. There should be quite a few people walking around in DWS shirts. We sold a few patches and stickers. New York was slightly above average for what we normally do on the road. Blackthorn and its staff were professional and hospitable to us. They gave us drinks and extra money to eat before we played. Often when you are on the road you are at the mercy of the locals to help push the show to make it a success. The bands that were on the bill did a good job of bringing a crowd that stuck around so I believe that those people that were impressed will come out the next time we are there and maybe even spread the word. You never really know until you make the return trip.

Did you get to meet the other bands on the bill with you that night? Are these local bands from the NY area or elsewhere?
We got to meet and hang out with all the bands on the bill. All of them were great but Pralaya's style was very impressive to me. Every band on the lineup represented New York extremely well.

As for the songs you played, did you do mostly older or newer material? Were their more similarities of differences in how you were received here and how you are usually received back home?
We try to always play a good mixture of older recognizable tunes as well as hot new ones. We feel that we are constantly progressing so it's important to show our diversity and wide array of skill.

Name a handful of the older and newer songs from that night? In how many different ways has the band’s songwriting and composition style improved?
A couple of older favorites we played were Intimidation, Witch, Breathe Me In, and Saboteur. We usually play those songs in every city we travel to. Some of our newer songs we played were Open Door, Baptism By Fire, Shred The Memory, and I Love Lamp. That song is actually called Eye Of The Lamp according to our singer, but I have vowed to call it I Love Lamp in tribute to The Anchorman. Our composition has improved by tremendous amounts in the last two years. We have all fused a signature sound that can be applied to multiple styles. Our transitions into other parts are less abrupt, yet not too predictable. Our vocalist Joseph Turner has really progressed into a well-rounded frontman. Even though we mainly use lead guitarist Phil Zimny for screams, Joe has added that to his arsenal.

What other shows has the band played in this area following the Blackthorn date? How did you anticipate your return to Knoxville would be?
Most of our demographic back home is well aware of our music and live performance so it's different how we were received in New York as well as other untapped markets. I love playing for all of our fans back home and it's a big step out of our comfort zone to visit a new area where you are unheard of. The reward is meeting new fans with newly dazzled looks on their faces. It really sucks when you travel 500 miles to play with Gaping Shit Pussy and their fans think you’re not metal enough. Then you travel 500 more miles to play with Across Ovarian Skies and their thinks you way too heavy. Then you travel 500 more miles to play with that djent band that sounds different from the other djents and their crowd doesn't like that you don't do a base drop in every transition followed by that one breakdown that really separates you from the pack. I enjoy a wide variety of genres but it sucks to be on the wrong bill and I had a bad habit of it when I did the booking. Since we began working with Eli, things have been significantly better for us on the road. We haven't previously played anywhere in the New York area but we are looking forward to playing up there a lot more in the next year. On this last trip we stopped in Chesapeake, VA on the way home. We are taking the rest of the month off to gear up for a busy month on the road in August. Our next show in Knoxville is on August 13 at a newer venue called Whiskey River Wild. As always it will be epic. We will be bring tour mates Plvnet (Chattanooga) and Bonz (singer of Stuck Mojo) along with two of our favorite Knoxville powerhouses VanKale and Omega Down.

When you should return to NYC, which locations would you most want to visit?
I know that the guys from Blackthorn 51 are excited to have us back, but it really depends on what shows Eli puts together for us in what regions. I would say that we will probably return with six months. We would love to visit around Queens some more and if we get there early it would be cool to visit a little more of Manhattan.

Is the Blackthorn the band’s first out of state show or were their others beforehand? Has the band gotten equally encouraging first impressions playing outside Tennessee?
Aside from Blackthorn 51, we have had a lot of shows outside of Tennessee. Since our last interview we have played in Hickory, NC, Asheville, NC, Winston - Salem, NC, Cloud Springs, GA, Huntsville, Al, Madison, Al, Shreveport, La, Slidell, La, Dallas, TX, Casper, WY, Omaha, NE, Joliet, IL, Akron, OH, South Bend, IN, Detroit, MI, Battle Creek, MI, Muskegon, MI, St. Joes, MI, Lansing, MI, Saginaw, MI, Jackson, MI, and Chesapeake, VA. We have had an equally great response to most of the out of town crowds since joining with A-Team Entertainment. He does a really good job pairing us up with groups with similar appeal.

Of the locations you listed above, which are your favorites to play? What bands from those areas do you especially like?
Port City Tavern in Muskegon, MI was my favorite of all of the places we have played because of how hospitable everyone is. The promoter Mike Driver treated us like gold and the place was packed. Some other places that were incredibly awesome were Samford's Pub and Grub in Casper, Wyoming, Cheers Pub in South Bend, IN, and The Loft in Lansing, MI. I forgot about Ground Zero in Spartanburg, SC but it was really awesome as well. My absolute favorite band that we played with on that run would have to be the band from Lansing that we did most of our touring with. They are Heartsick (formerly known as Know Lyfe). They are an awesome bunch of guys and we learned a lot from them. There was a heavier band called Martyr The Tyrants that we played with in Battle Creek, MI that were really awesome too.

It seems you most prefer playing clubs where you’re shown hospitality. Do you consider this better business for clubs and keeps bands coming back to play more shows?
If a venue treats us well, we will do everything in our power to see that venue succeed. I have noticed that clubs that just do the dance thing usually have a shelf life of three years, then all of the hip kids decide somewhere else is the cool spot. It seems to me that metal and rock clubs become more iconic and sentimental to people when they have a consistent showing of good bands. That being said, good bands won't stay loyal to a club that treats them like scum.

How many clubs have you seen thrive because they treat their bands well?
Cheers Pub in South Bend, IN has become a popular destination for many traveling bands because of how they treat everyone. Plus their pizza is excellent. Some others would have to be Capone's in Johnson City, TN, Daisy Dukes in Nashville, TN, Corner Pub in Sliddell, LA, and 11th Frame in Madison, AL. There are many other great venues, but these are the ones that we have played at and noticed their rise.

How long have you been working with A-Team Entertainment and Eli Parker? Did you contact them through mutual acquaintances or searching independently?
I was introduced to Eli Parker after a conversation with a friend in Houston, TX, Scott Bayou of Lonestar Entertainment. I was impressed with his work and was explaining that DWS had evolved beyond what I could do for the band. He said his plate was full but that he knew a guy that was really good that might be looking to add another act. After showing Eli our official video for Saboteur he was impressed. After our first tour, we were also extremely impressed.

How much work does Lonestar Entertainment do promoting bands? Have you and they collaborated together or have you recommended any bands to them?
Lonestar Entertainment is run by a good friend of mine, Scott Bayou. The stock of his work is rising fast and many industry people will soon be very family with them. We have not collaborated with them, but Scott is a man with an opinion that I respect and he has always been gracious enough to offer good advice when I have needed it. I haven't really recommended any bands to him because I understand that his plate is extremely full. If he ever asked me, I would have an overwhelming amount of talented acts to throw at him.

How long have you and Scott Bayou been friends? How much has his company grown of late and how beneficial has his advice been to you?
I have known Scott for a couple of years now and Lonestar has grown a lot recently due to the rise on the charts from the group Artifas. They are really starting to take off and he is becoming a force as a result of it. If gets a couple more acts like Artifas, I will be bumming money off from him. We wouldn't be where we are right now if it weren't for him explaining certain techniques for booking and giving me lists of good promoters in different regions. He also introduced us to Eli. Before that, we had a lot of trouble getting booking agents to even respond back. Now that we have Eli, it is our mission to make all of those assholes regret not even contacting us back, and to make the one that did look like a genius for taking a chance on us. I would say that Scott and Eli would account for over half of what I know about their side of the industry. I owe another thanks to Chris Casteel of Night Owl Music out of Knoxville, TN. He really helped us understand how to improve ourselves early on and groomed us to be the five dicked, shredding machine that we are today.

How would you describe the metal scene in Knoxville compared to our previous interview? How many new bands have appeared since then? Are many of the older Knoxville bands still active?
The scene back in Knoxville is as booming as it has been in recent memory. There are several bands just waiting to break out. If we are the first of these to do so, it is our goal to help others from our area as well. I have a dream of making Knoxville a mecca for hard rock and metal. Night Owl Music has done an incredible job of creating opportunities for locals. There are so many bands that are very talented and I couldn't name all of them but some of my favorite new acts are Shadowed Self, We Were Myth, A March Through May, and Victims of Euphoria. Some of my favorite older bands that are still active are Belfast 6 Pack, Scent Of Remains, VanKale, Warclown and Omega Down. And even though they aren't Knoxville bands, I have a lot of love and respect for regional acts Seasons Of Me (Johnson City) Roman Riot (Johnson City) Bent to Break (Greenville) and Plvnet (Chattanooga).

What would you think of the idea of a compilation CD featuring Tennessee’s active bands to represent the scene there to the rest of the country? If you like this idea, which bands would want to take part in it and who would want to put it together?
I love the idea of making a compilation CD of Tennessee bands. Off the top of my head, I would personally put Warclown, Scent Of Remains, Belfast 6 Pack, We Were Myth, Cult Of The Flag, Plvnet, Roman Riot, Tears To Embers, Seasons Of Me, Shadowed Self, Omega Down, Vankale, Straight Line Stitch, For Lack Of Lithium, Bent To Break, Vahalla, And Piranah on that. It would be a dream to have Roadrunner put it together and distribute it.

Do you think the bands you listed would ever be interested in being included on a compilation CD? If something like this was ever released, how well do you think it would do in the States?
I think that every single band would jump at the chance to be on one because they are all passionate about their music and would want to share it with everyone. It is really hard to say how well something like that would do, because it’s hard to promote stuff like that these days. I feel that things like that do better when they are part of promotions that make them easily and widely available. I have always thought that DWS as well as a slew of others from our area would do very well overseas. They seem to appreciate the craftsmanship of music still. A majority of people in the States just want the same four pretty chords to soothe their brains into OMG sludge.

How many different shirt designs does the band currently have out? Which of those have received the biggest response so far?
We have four, but we are currently working on one of the Riot Fist. That design will play a big role down the road when we have solidified our brand. Of the designs that we have now, the white Georgie Boy design has sold the most. It’s a white shirt with a dollar bill design on the front. It has been popular with a vast amount and variety of people. Some are not even our target demographic. They just really liked the shirt.

Who came up with the idea for the Riot Fist design? How would you describe said design to people who haven’t seen it?
I came up with the concept for the Riot Fist. White people have white power. Current trends are associating the confederate flag. Black people have black power. Current trends are associating #blacklivesmatter. Both sides of this struggle are doing hateful and embarrassing things that are driving a wedge between our nation. We want to create a symbol that will provide unity and insight to people to combat all of the tension that the media and hate mongers are breeding. The symbol is two hands crossed and breaking through chains. These hands do not have color, because the fight we are fighting must not discriminate. We believe that all of this recent chaos has been deliberately set in motion. It makes it much easier for a tyrannical government if the people are fighting each other and distracted from the way of life that they are gradually losing. The frustrations of every person are legitimate and that's why it’s so easy to play us against each other. We can either evolve or kill each other. That's pretty much the message behind the riot fist.

I know exactly what you mean about how people of different cultures are kept fighting each other and how it’s tearing the country apart. How much have government and media contributed to the problem?
Much like modern times, the Civil War was fought by mostly good loyal people, for corrupt greedy people. When it meets their demand, such as now, they will even pit their own citizens against each other. If cops killing and abusing their authority was truly an important issue, justice would be swift. Big business controls the government, which controls the media. By that logic, I would say that they bear a lot of blame for certain tensions. Then you have your sides of media that specifically cater to agendas. There is a peaceful neutrality that will always be just a dream until we can avoid being dumbed down by Fox News and World Star Hip Hop.

Do you watch any independent news channels on the internet, and get anything out of them you don’t see on TV?
My favorite news channel is The Onion. It’s mainly satire, but I would rather watch something that is deliberately inaccurate versus something that's deceptively inaccurate. If I see an issue floating around that peaks my interest, I usually do the research and go from there.

What drum equipment are you currently using? Have you always played with the same equipment or have you diversified over a long period of time?
I use a DW/PDP fusion kit. I really like the tone it keeps even when the heads are tuned down. I have actually modified quite a bit. I used to play with a strange stacked 7-peice configuration which is when a 10" and a 12" tom are stacked above a 14" and a 16" tom with the lower 18" and 20" floor toms. I then moved them to a straight across setup. When we started traveling a lot, I bought a rack system and went to a 5 piece setup for easier travel. It is a 14" and a 16" with an 18" floor tom. I have always used the same 8 cymbals setup. Hihat, 14" mini china, 16" crash, 18" crash, 6" bell, 8" splash, 18" china, and a 20" ride. I mix and match my cymbals based on the sound. When Sabian wants to endorse me, then I will only use Sabian. Until then, I will just use the best one for my kit.

How long has it taken the band to develop your signature sound? How much does DWS stand out from other bands?
We are still exploring with our sound, but it took a solid year for everyone to get comfortable with their dynamic. I feel like you aren't really sure what your signature sound is until it’s made famous and you have a wide range to critique it. As for now, we just want to keep pumping out material and see what happens as the world discovers it. One thing that will always stand out about us is our singer's unique voice. I feel like a lot of people are detoured from heavy music because of the style of vocals. Joe has given us the flexibility to still play heavy and still be pleasing to the ear of someone who normally like our style of musicianship. For that, I would have to say our versatility it what sets us apart. It’s rare to find a singer with clean vocals who isn't overpowered by the live presence of dual guitars.

Between clean vocals and aggressive vocals, how do you choose which style goes into certain sections of your songs?
Our vocalist has a very soulful approach to our music. He honestly amazes me with the vision he has during the song writing process. I usually write a basic outline of a song and as we go through it, we all brainstorm ideas to make the song better. Each member has the ability to make solid contributions to the process, but we usually go with the hot hand. Other times, someone will write a legendary riff and we will go with the ebb and flow that it takes us. Since Joe has added more aggressive aspects to his arsenal, he is beginning to master his timing of when to distort his voice based on the progression of the music. In the end, we play it all by ear.

Does playing the songwriting process by ear benefit the band, as opposed to a forced songwriting process?
I definitely think that playing and writing by ear is the best way for us to keep writing amazing stuff. Some might say that we are destined to always be diamonds in the rough. That's ok with me. I like the rough part. I think listeners do as well. That's the benefit of being an independent artist. When we have put together songs with the anticipation of being an industry hit, they usually don't do as well as when we just let it flow from our hearts. If we get signed, I hope that we get to work with a producer that is progressive and knows how to work a band's strengths, even if they are eclectic.

At what point did you realize that trying to write a “hit” wasn’t working for you? Was this liberating for the band as a whole?
I think we all hit a point that we decided that most of the hits in this era aren't very good. There are a lot of songs from every decade that are timeless and I personally don't feel like this decade has produced very many iconic songs that will be notable in time. It is our goal to be that iconic band that drives a right through all of the bullcrap. This realization made it much easier for us to just do what we love to do instead of worrying about whether Universal will dislike how unformulaic our style is. True story, Pandora said that they don't have a category for us to fall under. We weren't even mad. We will always aim to be entertaining, yet nowhere close to that box that the industry wants you to be in.

Discuss the promotional video you made for Saboteur. Why was this song chosen for a video? Was this video produced independently or did you work with a professional filming company?
The video for Saboteur was chosen by us because it was one of our first original songs that was on the backburner for about two years. When we started playing it again, we restructured the song and it laid out beautifully. We felt like that song it perfectly in the middle of our range. Not too heavy and not too soft. It also portrays a lot of what this band is all about so it was a very easy choice to lead off as our first video. We put the storyboard together and had Jacob Boyd with Post Retro Productions produce it. We had seen some of his work with another Knoxville group Deconbrio and fell in love with his style and approach. He was our first choice and luckily after a pizza and a few beers, he agreed to do it with us. We felt that it was a worthy investment to get a great quality video first our first one.

What is the song Saboteur about and how does the video fit the lyrics? Describe the experience working with Jacob Boyd and how he helped represent your song.
Saboteur in simple form is about how media in multiple forms is used to manipulate people. People tend to see with their eyes, but not their minds. The video accurately portrays how the media controls people with fear, paranoia, and desensitizes them from things that should never be accepted as normal for society. The opening line reads, "Getting caught up in the web of deception", which pretty much sums it up. The chorus reads, "So if we lose our minds, the void would never fill, got catch between space and time, these wounds would never heal". To sit back and look at current events, it definitely seems like everyone is losing their minds and it definitely seems as though wounds will never heal. The same issues keep holding us back. Even if we got past these issues, without fixing this flawed logic, we are still doomed against the next series of issues designed to cause animosity and division. Our driving point of this video and the EP in general is not to fight ignorance with ignorance and/or violence. You fight ignorance with wisdom and knowledge. When we sat down with Jacob and explained our mission statement and ideas behind the song, he was very excited to be working on this project. It was incredible for us to have someone as talented as Jacob take our thoughts and bring them to life through the art of videography. He is a very creative guy that knows how to provoke deep thought and he can relay a lot though a single shot.

Bands were describing media manipulation as early as the 80s. The fact the media uses the same tactics and techniques to this day seems to prove your point. What methods did Jacob Boyd use to translate your lyrics into imagery?
Most of the video for Saboteur was projected to be a fabrication of the mind based on the television. It really came across with how the media manifests paranoid thoughts in everyday life. When he pitched the story board to me, I was blown away. I couldn't think of a better way to convey that point. The first time I watched the finished video, it made me think of how many biases and stereo-types are implanted by the things that I watch. I don't want to hurt feelings but the average person is pretty damn impressionable. Advertising wouldn't pay as well as it does if this weren't a fact.

Are you hoping to open people’s eyes so to speak about popular media’s vested interests? Do you think the video for Saboteur will have a similar effect on fans who view it?
We can only hope that our views and message will show through to our listeners. We don't have to agree on everything. We don't want people to think just like us. We just want them to think. Our newest song touches on the fact that we are a generation of people who lack original thought. I have had several fans talk with me about the Saboteur video and from the feedback, I would say that it’s off to a great start.

What plans does DWS have for their next full length and beyond? Anything else you’d like to mention in this interview?
Full length albums are almost obsolete now. Our business model is more focused on releasing EP's and singles to just keep the music flowing out there. People are very forgetful and so we are gonna put out a smaller amount but more frequently. This may change if we sign to a label, but for the time being this is our course. I would like to tell everyone reading that we will be touring a lot more now and we hope to meet you soon.

-Dave Wolff

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