Friday, January 7, 2022

Interview with Thunder S Hawk of Cosmos Astrum Radio Network by Dave Wolff

Interview with Thunder S Hawk of Cosmos Astrum Radio Network

You are the creative force behind Cosmos Astrum Radio Network’s Thunder Cave Radio Show on which you air independent artist submissions as well as albums on CD, cassette, and vinyl. Did your love for multiple genres and experience as an amateur indie musician have a bearing on the show’s format?
I would say so for sure! I've always had a very diverse taste in music thanks to my parents, haha. I eventually found my way with my own taste via metal and hip hop. I felt as an independent musician that there needed to be more help getting the music out there and in my opinion there seemed to be more indie artists than people willing to play them, at least at the time of me starting my podcast interviewing various musicians, independents and majors. This ultimately led to my love affair with live radio on SLE radio thanks to the man Jay over there for my first shot at it. I've now found a home at Cosmos Astrum Radio network, I felt like there was a huge disconnect nowadays between consuming and appreciating music, maybe it was the pandemic but I found I really missed liner notes and inserts and CD booklets and having something to hold onto while actually listening to music. I had acquired a fairly decent vinyl collection so I thought wouldn't that be fun to play vinyl on the air in the year 2021. Then it became "well wouldn't it be fun to play cassettes! CDs! Why not indie artists and major artists too?!?!" And thus Thunder Cave was born. A lot of love for listening to music and an understanding of the thankless amount of work that goes into being an indie artist and a splash of ADHD and that's what you get when you listen to the show. I hope people enjoy themselves but more than likely won't as it's a hell ride of mixed genres and mindless rambling, haha.

Metal and hip hop have been crossing over since the mid-80s and early 90s, though to this day people still seem to create division between them. What do you think are the reasons for this, and are you doing anything to thin the lines between the two genres?
Honestly, I don't know why there's a divide between the genres. Obviously, people have different tastes but it seems metal fans are vehemently against hip hop and vice versa. I'm glad I'm not like that because I'd miss out on a lot of great stuff, haha. I've always been of the opinion "if it's good it's good". There are plenty of metal bands and hip-hop artists I don't care for but still love those genres. As far as my own music I've been fortunate enough to always find people who would give me a shot at vocals. I can’t carry a tune in a paper bag singing wise but I can rap and growl fairly well. I had a project called The Promised Land Band that goes from Spanish flamenco guitars to reggae to pummeling synthesizers to hip hop all in one with great powerhouse vocals (not me) and then me with my hip hop-esque flavor. Have another project now called Dark Matter Will Flow and it's basically a mash-up between Pink Floyd some black metal and hip hop all in a blender. It's a cool worldwide collaboration with me in Canada the main songwriter Jeff in Finland, JB on bass guitars and additional vocals from Virginia and finally, our man Craig aka Zero Point Projects our mad man extraordinaire of all things drums and low end related. Each member of DMWF is a phenom in their own right so to join forces has been truly awe-inspiring at least for me. I've always wanted to sound different. I once remember telling a friend of mine after recording that I hated my voice so much, he asked why I said because I don't sound like anyone else... he stopped me and asked "well isn't that the point"? That's always stuck with me. I've taken that approach to every project I've been a part of since.

Do you watch any vocal coaches at Youtube demonstrating the techniques of singing death and black metal vocals? They show there are different styles by which you use your vocal cords so as not to damage them.
I have watched some videos for curiosity's sake. I watched a great one called “The Zen Of Screaming”. I don't think people take into account how much work goes into screaming safely without shredding your vocal cords. “It's just screaming” after all heh. I have never applied any techniques; I'm sure if I ever did anything more substantial with music I would certainly use any tools possible to stay at the top of my game.

Voice Hacks is a Youtube channel offering a lot of information about using your vocal cords and applying the different techniques to death and black metal vocals. More channels like it are appearing on social media; do you think they’ll further validate extreme music?
I'm not so sure it needs or wants validation to be honest hahaha. It's tried tested and true, it works. I hope that yes maybe people who are checking out the genre for the first time will think it's more than just noise and understand and respect the talent needed to be an extreme musician.

Did you have support from your family as far as becoming an independent musician? Did they also support you in expanding your own horizons and developing your tastes?
My family's role was just always exposing me to every genre of music possible from Michael Jackson to the Eagles, they've always supported everything I've done. They came out to a show one time and that meant a lot to me that they were there. They may not have been my loudest cheering section but they weren't holding me back from trying either. My mom still listens to my stuff, hahaha.

Given the different genres your family exposed you to, how accepting are they of you pursuing metal and hip hop as a vocalist?
My parents don't really care about my music or radio show, haha! I still send my mom stuff to check out every now and again which she says she enjoys but let's be honest all moms say that, haha.

How do you account for vinyl and cassette formats remaining relevant in the early 2020s? Do you have rare releases on vinyl and cassette to air on Thunder Cave? What reactions do you receive from your listeners?
I honestly don't know why cassettes and vinyl withstood the test of time. The media itself is clunky and the equipment needed to play this stuff isn't as portable as a cell phone and it can be quite expensive, but I think in a massively digital age that is exactly what people missed. I know I did. In particular, during the pandemic, I had many instances of just reading old CD booklets or record liners. Really just sitting and being in that moment with a good piece of music is very therapeutic for me and I think for a lot of people too. There are guys who are just discovering this world of hi fi, some have never seen a cassette or a CD or even know how to use a record player. There is nothing like putting your fav album in whatever form of media you prefer on the big stereo and jamming out. I put out a call for people to just donate their old media to me rather than throw it away. Some didn't want to take their old memories to thrift stores or no one would buy them whatever the reason but many were generous enough to trust me with their old collections. I've been very fortunate. I know that. I love everything I get. I have had people message me saying how cool it is to hear the spools on the tape deck or the needle drop on the vinyl. Vinyl comes with its imperfections for sure the cracking and popping and occasional skip is all authentic and a huge part of the experience. I hope it makes everyone as happy as it makes me.

Name some of the bands you air on your program that other radio and net radio shows don’t usually air? How much does Thunder Cave rely on giving exposure to indie artists?
I am trying to think of a list of indie bands I play there are so many! I doubt I'm the only show playing them as they are hardworking and supremely talented but for sure some indies I play are groups like Twelve Years Today. (Such a full-sounding band for only having two members. Great riffs, great vocals) Amphibious Assault, Titanosaur, Chris Scheler, Void Stare. I could go on and on. I would say the Thunder Cave show is a place to hear your favorite artists with a great mix of "unknown artists" mixed in. I try to do an indies only show once a month. I respect everyone who's working on their craft and trying to find their audience. I'm happy to be a part in the fight to be noticed.

Between your program and the others airing on the internet, how much more of a chance are indie and unsigned bands getting to be heard compared to traditional rock and college radio? How much is this changing the game?
I think the huge push for Internet radio is leveling the playing field left and right. I know the station I am on now "Cosmos Astrum" people have flat out canceled their Spotify subscriptions and solely listen to it. I think it gives indies one more place to exist. Of course nowadays with the music business being how it is numbers are driven by streaming and units sold. No one is buying physical media as much as they used to and Spotify "pay" is a joke. I had a friend tell me he got around 200,000 streams on a track. That worked out to about 25 bucks. I really hope Bandcamp continues to gain ground. Selling even one unit on their site at even a "name your price" model you have the potential to make money hand over fist over the streaming services alone. I hope it's putting the commercial stations on notice. We don't have corporate sponsors telling us what to play. We play whatever we want and that makes us dangerous to the mainstream. Haha.

Back to the bands you’re currently working with, The Promised Land Band and Dark Matter Will Flow, have these bands been actively releasing material for some time? If so, where can it be streamed or ordered online?
I have been releasing music through various projects since about 2010. The Promised Land Band released our first album “Limbo” in 2019. We played shows locally quite a few and we were set to hit the festival circuit right around the time the pandemic hit. It's slowed down a bit but we are still active. The Promised Land Band can be found on all the streaming platforms and Bandcamp. I don't have any physical units left, unfortunately.
Dark Matter Will Flow materialized around the same time, in 2019/the beginning of 2020. We've put out two full-lengths and are about to release a brand new four-song EP. These are exclusive to Bandcamp. If you wanna check it out let me know! I'm happy to send a link your way.

How has “Limbo” been received through the pandemic, and how soon do you expect to work on another full length?
I like to think it was fairly well received! It’s very much a genre-bending album. For only having two members it's pretty crazy, we recorded much of it in my friend’s car and we actually did all the mixing before we sent it off for mastering in the same car. That's not to discourage anyone from listening but in true DIY Indie musician fashion we are all resourceful and do whatever whenever to put music out. We've got a couple tunes in the works but no real plans as far as a deadline goes at this time.

Why did you decide to make Dark Matter Will Flow exclusive Bandcamp releases? When is the new EP supposed to be released?
We did it the first two DMWF releases to Bandcamp simply because it was the cheapest with most return for us if we sold anything. We make no allusions as to the commercial success of this project. It's not realistic to think this music we make would ever turn a profit and we aren't in it for that either. We wanted to make music that was "Slow, heavy and uncompromising”; that's from our leader Jeff.
The new EP is done at this point. We are waiting for the final artwork and then we will put it on Bandcamp and the other streaming services in an effort to try to find people to listen. There seems to be a divide between average listeners and Bandcamp for some reason. People don't take you seriously if you aren't on Spotify these days. It's unfortunate but we will be there soon.

Does releasing your material independently help your bands reach more listeners? How hard is it these days for a band to find a label to sign to?
I doubt it, haha, that's the biggest challenge for any artist is to find someone to listen. In my opinion record labels are all but obsolete nowadays. Many indie labels have popped up and they are a great help getting artists in the right direction but the million-dollar recording contracts are long gone.

Besides The Promised Land Band and Dark Matter Will Flow, what projects of note have you worked on for the last ten-plus years?
I've had various other projects probably the most notable at least locally was a project called None Shall Sleep Tonight which later became Revenge Of The Fallen. It was a straight-up hip hop effort with amazing vocal hooks (in my opinion) and passable rapping (I did the rapping, haha) I was just starting out and I've gotten way better I think. That was my longest-running project; about seven years and three albums. As good things do they often come to an end, I was on my death bed in a hospital in the middle of nowhere Canada seven years ago now and I've never really looked back. I'm still proud of the tunes we released and the pile that never saw the light of day. It's always a nice reminder to see where you came from.

What is some of the subject matter you incorporate into your raps? Is there any kind of approach you use while writing verses? Is it easier to write beforehand or do you make verses up on the spot?
Most of my subject matter is about inward struggles and injustice. I have a hard time writing fantasy lyrics about money and cars or even happy shit. I'm a fairly dark person so the content is definitely on par with that. I pretty much just sit down and free-write then I go back over it and “trim the fat” as I say. Cut out extra syllables or add a couple that sorta thing. I don't have any special techniques or secrets hahaha. Usually, I just sit there and stare at a page until I get in a mood and away I go. I can write verses fairly quickly but I can also drag my ass, hahaha. Sometimes I can write a verse on the spot when recording sometimes I don't write shit for five months; hahaha it ebbs and flows. I usually have something written or can write something quick but I can’t freestyle on top of my head and record as I go I need it written down.

Quote some of the lyrics you’ve recently written for your hip-hop project. What social or societal topics inspired them?
Here's a quick quote from a new Promised Land Band song called “Window”: “Skin color doesn't matter we're on the same rotation, ask yourself what you would do in the same situation.” The song on a whole has to do with refugees and why people are such assholes about giving people a shot at a better life free from their war-torn countries and persecution. Also about how that's the first thing they find when they move to the land of dreams...persecution, racism, etc.

Do you often showcase your projects along with the indie bands you air on Thunder Cave?
I don't showcase my stuff maybe as much as I should. I try to use my platform for other artists but I've definitely snuck the odd tune in for sure! I just feel sleazy doing it for some reason hahaha.

Which of your projects and which of their songs do you occasionally give listeners a chance to hear?
Lately, I've been playing Dark Matter Will Flow “Malediction” and Promised Land Band “Ghetto”. That's probably our most popular. I get a pile of submissions from all over the world. There is a great group called Munatix that sends me their stuff from The Netherlands. They are upbeat pop/dance-type stuff; not my usual go-to but I enjoy it. Titanosaur from New York. JD Eicher has sent me a few most recently one called “Back To Me”. He's a fantastic singer songwriter from Ohio I believe.

How often do you accept submissions from your listeners who play in bands? Do you prefer physical copies or streaming links?
I have a ton of submissions constantly from my friends and listeners. I will always take them. I prefer either physical or a link where I can download an mp3. I appreciate that everyone is on Spotify but I get tired of seeing Spotify links in my inbox. I can't use them for airplay because of several copyright issues. Spotify is a big jerk. Just send me mp3s, CDs, cassettes or records; hell I've even got an 8 track player!

As Cosmos Astrum continues to move forward with more bands on its roster, would you consider hiring additional deejays for airing time? Would this be less or more complicated as an option?
Great question! I don't think I'd ever hire anyone to do what I do hahaha I do it for the love of music big and small and I'm not ready to pass the reins over yet.

Considering you’re in contact with so many bands, would arranging special events like music fests be something you’d do to gain more exposure?
I had never thought about it, part of me would love to do a concert where the station is based only to really give the community here something to enjoy. That said there are a lot of logistics to sort out etc. I'd do it maybe for the sake of doing it but I'm not too worried about gaining listeners per se. People know where to find me and they are either gonna tune in or not I'll be there either way ha-ha.

Would you like Cosmos Astrum to break aboveground in the near future, or are you generally satisfied running it independently, and keeping creative control of your own program?
Honestly I have to maintain creative control. I'm very fortunate to be a part of Cosmos Astrum with Matt and Alyson running the helm but only running it in a way that they want each show to be something the respective host is totally proud of. If we are happy they are happy and I've never been happier with a station or show.

-Dave Wolff

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