Monday, October 11, 2021

Interview with Topon Das of Fuck The Facts by Dave Wolff

Interview with Topon Das of Fuck The Facts

We were keeping in touch in the 1990s when I published the printed version of Asphyxium (Autoeroticasphyxium) zine and wrote The Dungeon column in Good Times. It’s been a while and I don’t remember what I reviewed last for you. What has Fuck The Facts been doing since then?
Yeah, man, that's a long time ago. I honestly don't remember the last thing you reviewed for us either, but you were definitely one of the people back in the day that was regularly giving us a lot of support and encouragement, which is still much appreciated. Fuck The Facts started as a recording project of mine back in the late 90s, and in 2001 is when the first incarnation of the band started. From then on, things just started to pick-up steam and in 2006 we signed with Relapse Records for three albums ('Stigmata High-Five', 'Disgorge Mexico' & 'Die Miserable'). That led to a lot of constant touring and steady releases, and in 2015, we released our first independent album after our record contract ended, which was called 'Desire Will Rot'. We toured for that album until the summer of 2016 and then took a bit of a break to focus on other aspects of our life, like family, other businesses, etc... We were still working on music and getting together, but at a much slower pace. Just last year, we finally released a new album called 'Pleine Noirceur'.

Were there other zines besides Asphyxium that consistently supported the band prior to your Relapse Records deal? How much work was needed to promote the band compared to today?
You're really putting me on the spot here, and I'll be honest that I really don't remember all the names of the different zines from back in the day. I still have a lot of those old magazines stashed away somewhere, but I'm not even sure where at the moment, so I'll apologize for my lack of name-dropping here.
Promoting your band back then compared to today, is just different. I wouldn't say it's any easier or harder. I will say though that's probably less expensive in the way that I used to spend hundreds of dollars on postage regularly back then. Just tape trading, sending out promos and flyers. Even when we released our 2015 album 'Desire Will Rot', we were still sending out physical CDs to radio and certain media outlets, but this time around it wasn't needed.

Have audiences for grindcore and deathgrind etc grown since the band started? How has streaming and social media helped? Do you keep up with any new subgenres of grind these days?
I think extreme metal, grind, etc. has really exploded over the years and seems to keep getting bigger as it reaches a wider audience. Social media has helped a lot for sure, but I think that goes for a lot of different independent artists and underground scenes, and not just metal, grind, etc... Everything is so much more accessible now, so it's easier to get the ball rolling if you're a band / artist, but it might be more difficult to stick out or get noticed, because there's so much more out there now. I do check out what's new every once in a while, especially when a friend recommends something, and I'm always crazy impressed at the quality of extreme metal that's being released nowadays, but I'll admit that my heart is really stuck in the 90's & early 00's when it comes to extreme metal & grind. I think it's just because that's what I grew up with, and I have a very deep connection to it. I'm sure young people now will have a similar connection with the music that's being released nowadays that they fall in love with.

Would you say social media and streaming is helping unsigned/underground bands more than label signings? And are labels helping bands by streaming online?
I think that's like comparing apples to oranges, and also depends on a lot of different elements. Some people are much better than working social media than others, and the difference between the different labels is huge as well. I don't think signing to just any label is a good thing, but getting the right fit for your band can be very beneficial. Love it or hate it, music streaming is just a reality that's here to stay, so I think it's important for artists to find the most beneficial ways to use it to their advantage. All that to say, I think the focus should always be on creating fun, interesting and in general, amazing music. That's much more important than social media and record labels.

Does the band still advertise by postal mail today or did you shift toward advertising on the web?
Yeah, more just on-line and a few print ads here and there when we put out a release. When we did 'Desire Will Rot' we were still sending out physical promos, but when it came time to do 'Pleine Noirceur' our PR guy (Asher) told us it wasn't needed anymore.

What did you do with the physical promos you still had of “Desire Will Rot”? How much has web advertising helped expose the band?
The promos where the same as the actual CD release, there was no special slip card promos or anything. I was more cost-effective to just press more CDs. They're all gone now. Jon took what he needed and those all went out, and we sold our last copies a long time ago. It's tricky to know how much web advertising actually helps, and I'm referring to ads on web-sites. I know you get all the click or whatever that you pay for, but I'm actually pretty skeptical about how many new people we actually reach with that stuff. The same goes for when we put an ad in a magazine or something. I think it's more to just keep the visibility up and let people that are already into our band know that we have something new out. We also play a pretty niche genre of music, so regardless of how many ads we put out, we're never going to appeal to the masses.

Do you still have any copies of old demos or independent releases from the 1990s?
Yes. I keep a copy of everything we've every released. I have a couple of boxes filled with CDs, tapes and records of all the FTF releases as well as other projects that I've done over the years.

Of the material you have saved by Fuck The Facts and your other projects, what do you still listen to most often?
I love it all. I don't really sit back and listen to all the music I've made over the years, unless there's a reason to revisit it, like I'm relearning a song, or for a re-release, etc... but when I do, I'm always pretty stoked. Even the shit that I would find embarrassing before, now it makes me think of the time when I created it and what was going on in my life, and where I was as an artist.

How much older material by FTF and your other bands has been re-released to date? Do you re-release them independently as well as your newer material?
We recently re-released the 'Grindtastic' recording, which is basically the very first recording I did that would end up being released as Fuck The Facts back in 1997. I've been kind of looking back recently with the idea of slowly getting all the old FTF recordings at least on-line, so people that are interested can hear them. Like, a week or so ago I put up a recording from our very first live show back in 2001, that was previously released on a CD compilation. There's a lot of really different stuff in the FTF discography, but I think it all plays a role in the band that we are today, so even personally, it's been fun to look and listen back to these recordings from the early days. Everything we've released since 'Desire Will Rot' has been released on our own independent label Noise Salvation.

How much recognition did Relapse help Fuck The Facts achieve in the US and abroad from 2006 and 2015? Did the label help the band with live performances? Present some examples.
So when we first signed with Relapse and released 'Stigmata High-Five we hit the road pretty hard, doing the Relapse Contamination tour, as well as tours with Misery Index, Psyopus, etc... these are all things Relapse helped us with and there was definitely a push to keep us on the road as much as possible. It was tough, as a lot of those early tours weren't that great, but it definitely helped us reach more people, especially in the US. Later on when we released our 2011 album 'Die Miserable' we got to do a tour with Black Dahlia Murder, and that's probably the one that helped us the most. I think we actually gained a bit more of an audience from that tour. Basically, being on Relapse in general, got us out to a much bigger audience than I think we would have been able to reach on our own. They're an established label that had some pretty big bands at the time (Mastodon, Dillinger, etc...). Being advertised next to bands like that can make a big difference.

What was the Relapse Contamination tour like? What kind of a transition was it when Relapse pushed the band to tour extensively? How much road coverage did you get?
It was a strange tour. I think it was our first legit US tour, and it was with Facedowninshit, Unearthly Trance & Minsk. I love those bands, but it was a weird fit, with us being the odd ones out. They were all more doom, stoner, party bands, and for us at the time we were taking this shit pretty seriously. I remember we would have to hide beer because if we didn't, all the rider beer would be gone before we finished our set. Also, when we got to Las Vegas we were the only band that actually showed up for the show. In general, none of the shows were any good, and if it had been a few years later, I probably would have followed along on the party bus as well, but at the time we were hype focused and doing things as professionally as possible. For Relapse wanting us to tour, it was great, because that's all we wanted to do anyway. It did start to take its toll on us eventually, though, because none of the tours were good. We did Contamination, then toured down south to hook up with Misery Index and then a few more shows on our own again. I think it was 52 shows in 53 days for that chunk. Then we were back home for a few days and straight into another month's worth of Canadian dates, small break for X-mas and then more touring. Speaking of coverage, we have CAA (Canadian version of AAA), and we used it, a lot.

How readily would the band tour again to promote future releases?
That's kind of up in the air right now. I don't think doing any sort of extensive touring is in the cards for us anymore, but you never know, I guess. At the moment, we're thinking of just playing a small handful of shows a year, but even then nothing is really concrete. In 2022, we're going to play a few regional shows and go down to the US to play MDF as well as a couple of US shows around that. Nothing else planned at the moment.

By MDF do you mean Maryland Deathfest? How often has the band performed there in past years? At what other festivals has the band appeared over the years? Given the state of the music industry, how important are festivals when it comes to supporting established and unsigned underground bands?
Yea, Maryland Deathfest. We've played it twice before, once in 2007 and then again in 2010. We were booked to play it in 2020, but then there was a pandemic, so obviously it got cancelled and then cancelled again in 2021, so we have our fingers crossed for 2022 to happen. We haven't really done a crazy amount of festivals. We played Obscene Extreme in the Czech Republic, and then again when it happened in MTL. Trois-Rivières Metalfest is another one we've played that used to be pretty big in Canada. Oh, and we played Rockfest in Montebello, but that's before it was really that big, and the Scion (was it also called Rockfest?) a few years back as well. Now I think I might be forgetting some. Festivals are fun mainly for the atmosphere, and you get to hang out with a bunch of friends from all over the world, but the playing part is often a bit of a pain when you're a band at our level. You're often rushed, forced to use weird backline equipment, and the stage sound is probably not great, that being said, I love festivals. Invite us to play more festivals!

Describe some of the good and bad experiences FTF has had at the festivals you’ve played. Are there any overseas festivals you’d like FTF to be invited to from this year onward?
I'd love to be invited to any festival really, but it is a bit tougher for us now, because we're not really in a position to tour. So getting out to some of these festivals, especially overseas, as just a one off isn't realistic. There's been a couple of invitations that we had to turn down because of this. In general, every festival experience has been a lot of fun. I'm talking about real festivals here, not just a show with too many bands that calls itself a festival. So yeah, faux-festivals usually aren't very fun.

How are you usually able to tell an actual metal fest to a show outing itself across as a fest?
I was kind of joking, but there was definitely a trend back in the day (maybe still now?) where shows had 5 - 9 bands on the bill. It was brutal. I like shows with 3 bands max, and that's from a playing as well as a watching perspective. Let's say for that for the kind of scene we're involved in that, if you're "fest" has less than at least a few hundred people attending, then it's really just a show with too many bands.

Was there a reason the band didn’t seek a new Relapse deal after the previous deal ran its course?
We did try to find another deal after the whole Relapse thing ended, but there wasn't anything out there for us that we were interested in, so we decided to release 'Desire Will Rot' independently, and it went quite well actually, but we were all pretty burnt out at the time, so it all came to a grinding (pun intended) halt once the touring for the album was done. For 'Pleine Noirceur' we didn't shop it around or anything, we just wanted to get it out there.

Were there other independent labels the band considered before going independent?
Yeah, but I honestly don't even remember which ones we approached for 'Desire Will Rot'. It wasn't a lot or anything, as we didn't feel desperate to find a label to release it. The album was done, and we had the money to press it ourselves. I think we were pretty much ready to go independent, but wanted to quickly see if there was maybe another option else worth exploring.

Since ‘Desire Will Rot’ was your first album released after your Relapse contract ended, what resources did you have to promote it independently?
We hired Asher Media to do the PR for the album, and that was basically it. I think it actually went quite well as far as releasing an independent album. We had a decent amount of media coverage and even got nominated for a Juno. All without the help of a label.

How did you hook up with Asher Media to promote ‘Desire Will Rot’ and how much publicity resulted from this collaboration?
Jon worked on both 'Desire Will Rot' and 'Pleine Noirceur', and he might have done some stuff for us before. I don't remember exactly where I met him, but he's a great guy and has always done a great job for us. Though, he didn't get us this interview. Bad, Asher.

How many zine and web interviews has Asher hooked F.T.F. up with since you started working together?
A lot. It's a thankless job and I would never want to do it. Having someone like Jon is really helpful for any band that wants to get their music out there to the media.

Where did Fuck The Facts tour to promote ‘Desire Will Rot’ following its release? Do you remember how sizable the turnouts were?
We had long tours in Canada, the US and Europe. We knew going into this album tour cycle, that it would most likely be the last real touring that we would do, so we went and full out as we could. As for the size of the shows, it's always been all over the place for us. We've played house shows to a dozen people and then gone to play a festival to a few thousand.

When you returned home from the last tour, how much do you think the band accomplished visiting all those continents? Was the extensive traveling exhausting, and if so was it worth it?
Well, that was our 5th or 6th European tour, so it wasn't really anything new for us, and I think that was part of the reason we needed to take a step back. It was starting to feel like we were spinning our wheels and not really making any progress. Put that with getting older, and it just felt like it was time for us to focus on other parts of our lives. Was it exhausting? Yeah, touring usually is, especially when you're doing it at our level (the drinking and partying doesn't help either), but I would say it was worth it. I got to visit some pretty crazy places and have an insane amount of amazing memories from all those years of touring.

What are the advantages of releasing your albums independently and through indie labels as opposed to seeking exposure through mainstream outlets?
The main advantage is probably the control you have over all aspects of how your band is put other there. Also, all the money goes directly back to you, but you need the money in the first place to be able to record and press your release. The downside would be all the work involved. I know for us, we don't even have distribution or anything like that, so when you buy an FTF album or shirt or whatever, it's coming directly from us, and we're packing all those orders. When you're on a label (depending on the label) all that stuff is taken care of for you, so you can focus a bit more on playing and making music, which isn't a bad thing. It can also be really beneficial visibility wise to be on a bigger label. I know we definitely gained a lot of our audience from our days on Relapse.

Describe the making of 'Pleine Noirceur' and how soon it was released after completion, or when you plan to release it.
It's a bit of a weird one, because there was no plan. Right after the 'Desire Will Rot' European tour, which ended in April 2016, we basically took a break and all went our separate ways. It wasn't until about a year or so later that I got together with our drummer Vil over a beer, and we decided to just start jamming again. There was no real plan, we just started getting together once a week to jam and work on some ideas. Eventually we decided that we had material for an album and the gears slowly shifted towards putting together 'Pleine Noirceur'. At the time, we were all really occupied with other things in our lives, I was managing a music venue as well as running a recording studio. Vil had just opened a bar with some friends, and Mel was now working full-time, so it was a really slow process. We recorded the drums in 2018 I think, and then we were slowly tracking the guitars, bass and vocals over the next couple of years. Once the pandemic hit, everything in my life got cancelled, so my schedule opened up and made it the perfect time to finally finish up the album. Who knows, if there was no pandemic, we might still be sitting on this album.

Was the process of writing lyrics as long as composing the songs? What subject matter has FTF come up with for the new album?
Mel doesn't start writing her lyrics until the songs are completely done. She really spends a lot of time coming up with interesting subject matter and dialing in her vocal patterns. I don't think I've met a vocalist that puts as much work as her into researching her lyrical subjects. I don't know what 'grindcore' lyrics are supposed to be, and it's not something we'd ever concern ourselves with. Just like how we want the music to be engaging, we feel the same about the lyrics. We want people to read the lyrics and take something from it, whether it's something they can relate to their own lives or just a story they can escape into.

What are the songs on ‘Pleine Noirceur’ about and how much research went into them?
Pleine Noirceur is probably the darkest album we've ever released from a lyrical standpoint. Mel touches on a lot of different subjects, from world issues like the opioid epidemic to very personal stuff, like her grandmother passing. I never met a vocalist that puts as much work in their lyrics and vocal patterns as well. She's very meticulous and doesn't accept anything except the best from herself. Right now we're working a couple of new songs and Mel has already scrapped her lyric and vocal ideas twice. It'll take the time it takes to get it right, and in the end it'll be worth it.

How much experience does Mel have as a vocalist and lyricist, with it in mind that extreme metal and grindcore vocals are often disparaged as screaming?
As a vocalist, it's been 20+ years. She was the vocalist in a few different Montreal bands before joining FTF, but I don't think she really started writing lyrics until about 2003 or so. The vocals are screaming, that's basically what we do. It makes sense that you probably won't understand all the words unless you're sitting there with the lyric sheet in front of you, but we don't see that as a problem. The vocals help generate the intensity and basically work as another instrument in the band, all while telling the story. It probably definitely seems crazy to anyone not familiar with extreme metal and grind, but for those of us that have been doing since we were young, it's all just par of the course.

I meant to say I’ve watched tutorial videos showing different approaches to death metal and grindcore vocals. Does Mel use any techniques to sustain her voice as frontwoman?
Oh yeah, definitely. You can't just start screaming and yelling at the top of your lungs and expect to have a voice that will last you through a full show, let alone a full tour. I know when Mel started doing vocals in bands, she quit smoking right away because she realized quickly that it affected her breathing and vocal endurance. You'll often also see Mel drinking tea (usually throat coat) before and sometimes during our shows, and she'll avoid any dairy products complete when we're playing live. All that to says, those are the tricks and tips that she's found work for her over the years. Everyone is different and has their own ways of keeping their voice in top shape. I've seen people pound a glass of milk before doing vocals and smoke like there's no tomorrow, and still rip through some great vocal takes.

Name some of the bands Mel worked with before FTF, describe her range as a vocalist and describe how her experience helps the band.
When Mel first started with us, her vocals were very high. As time went on, she was able to develop a wider range that sat somewhere between a high mid to low mid scream. She's not doing death metal guttural style vocals, and her voice is much less high pitch now. Pleine Noirceur has a few different vocal approaches that I would say are more "hardcore" yelling than her usual mid-range growl. You can hear them on the title track, as well as the song "Everything I Love Is Ending".
Some of the bands she played in before joining FTF were Hands of Death, Disjonction, Racaille, and Mort Au Combat.

Is any material from Mel’s former bands still available on physical or digital format?
I don't think so. I know she did a couple of recordings with old bands, but I don't think any got released. Keep in mind this was 20+ years ago, so things weren't being put on the internet the same way they are now.

Tell the readers about the two new songs FTF is currently working on and what they’re being written about.
That's still way too early to get into. We always have tons of ideas, demos, half-finished songs in the works, and recently we have a couple of tunes where the music is about 90% done, so Mel is getting started on her part of the songs. They might be ready for a possible release as early as next year, but again, it's all too early to say.

How would you say FTF has grown as a band, and what opportunities for growth will exist on ‘Pleine Noirceur’?
I started this all as a recording project in the late 90's in my dad's basement with a bass, drum machine & a 4-track. A lot has changed since then, as not only is it a full band now, but we've grown a lot as people, artists and musicians over the past 20 years. Pleine Noirceur is just another chapter in the FTF story, but obviously I think it's our best release to date. We're back to being a 3-piece on this record with the same line-up that we did our 2008 album 'Disgorge Mexico'. I think having things more stripped down and limited, enabled us to create a very focused yet diverse record. The barn doors were wide open when we were working on this one, but it all worked into a very cohesive piece of work. I'm curious myself of what the future will hold for our next releases, but that's kind of the fun of being in a band and making music.

How actively do you hope to promote ‘Pleine Noirceur’ through advertising and performing in the near future?
We had hoped to play a few shows for the release of the album, but the ongoing pandemic put the kibosh on that idea. It's not something that we're overly concerned with, as we're kind of at a point where we don't really want to play a ton of shows, but it would have been nice to do something for the release. Right now, we're just focused on playing some shows in 2022 and working on new music. Pleine Noirceur will be a year old soon, so I think when we start playing out again, we'll probably have something new out.

Where is the band planning to play to spread word some more? How soon do you expect to start work on a new release?
I would love to eventually get to play some countries that we never visited, like Japan, Russia, Australia and South East Asia. Besides that, I think a few shows that are more within weekend warrior distant are what's realistic for us at this point in time. We're always working on new music in some capacity, and we do have a few different ideas in mind for releases, but it's all too early to say that we have a solid plan. We'll just keep working on stuff and when the time is right, we'll put it out there.

-Dave Wolff

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