Colonel Blast

Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – Colonel Blast

As part of a new series of interviews EspyRock commander-in-chief Michael Hughes, who has just written a dissertation on the effect of the internet on the music industry for the University Of The West Of Scotland, will be getting the views of artists on the internet’s effect on the music industry. The interview series will cover what is currently going on with the band at the moment but will also feature a questionnaire ranging from topics as to illegal downloading, social networking, technology and the future of the industry.

Next in our series are Ben Whitfield (guitar) and Mike Lovatt (bass) for English metallers Colonel Blast. Having released their debut album ‘For The Greater Good’ in June 2010, the band will be back this year as part of a special five way split album titled ‘Split Roast’ with Diascorium, Magpyes, Cancerous Womb and Dyscaphia on 23rd May.

Read on as Ben and Mike talk about the band, their debut release, the new split album and of course their thoughts on the internet’s effect on the music industry.

Be sure to follow the band on Facebook, check out their website and listen to their debut album below. If you like what you hear then support the band by picking up your copy at their store.

Interview

Colonel Blast formed in 2008, how did you all get together?

Ben Whitfield: Well the three of us were already in a band and writing the beginnings of what would be Colonel Blast’s music and when other members of that band left, their attitude and reaction to us carrying on led us to switch up and take on a new name. It made life a lot simpler and allowed us to really concentrate on writing music rather than deal with all the petty shit that comes with massively egotistical people who feel they have been wronged in some way. The album was already written and recorded when Andy joined the band, we were looking for someone we could really get on with and who could play the stuff and he fit in straight away. We’d toured with Hecate Enthroned, his other band, with our old band a few years before so we knew what a dick he was already haha! Then Matt left the band for an opportunity he couldn’t turn down and Darryl stepped in. We’d known Darryl a fair few years through his band This is Turin and he offered to help out and we haven’t let him leave.

Colonel Blast is all about the three C’s; Converge, Carcass and Cryptopsy. What is it about those three bands that are so important to your music?

Ben Whitfield: People are always asking us who are your influences, what style would you say you were and blah blah…so we picked three bands that would instantly give people an idea of what we were like without boxing ourselves in too much. Every band says they have loads of influences, and I would say it is true of ourselves, but if you know what those bands are about, both musically and in a sense of having DIY mindset and seeing music as an art form and expression, then you get a little about where we come from as a band.

Mike Lovatt: Colonel Blast has quite a varied style, so to say we were one genre in particular would be selling us a little short. It’s always a messy business pigeon holing a band so we chose three bands, which have elements of “The Blast”. This way people can get a better idea of what to expect, if they like any of the 3 C’s then they will most likely appreciate our music. These three bands in particular have influenced us over the years and it’s a coincidence they all start with C.

Colonel Blast For The Greater Good ArtworkWhat did Andy bring to the band when he joined in 2010? Did it change the way you write or think about music with someone else in the band?

Ben Whitfield: Andy brought shit blues guitar licks in between every song at rehearsal when you are trying to talk about what went well or wrong. He also brought his love of interrupting poignant moments by playing AC/DC out of his phone. He also brought a hatred of animal cruelty, which to be fair is a good hate to have. On a musical note so far the way we write music hasn’t really changed but that is probably more down to the location of the band members and the logistics of getting us in a room for long enough to share riffs. The lion’s share of the new stuff so far has been written by the original three piece, it hasn’t really changed the way we write but we go through every riff someone in the band writes and if it fits it fits, if it doesn’t we sack it off and move on, so sooner rather than later you’ll start hearing Andy’s influence on the music no doubt.

Mike Lovatt: “For The Greater Good” was mainly written at home. The process would be to write basic song structures and riffs then go to practice with the general idea of each tune. Then work it through as a whole group and fine-tune it. But since the arrival of Andy we have a more free-flowing approach, a lot of the time writing riffs at practice and writing more as a whole.

Your debut album ‘For The Greater Good’ has been out for almost a year now. Has it been received as well as you hoped? Did it help open up some new doors for the band?

Ben Whitfield: It has certainly been better received than I thought it would be. We have played some amazing gigs off the back of it too. I didn’t really have any expectations though, we don’t write music to please a certain section of people, or to get famous (whatever that means these days) we write it because it is what we love doing. During the process of creating the album and all the time we spend working on the band in general we are so wrapped up in creating the music that when we put it out there it’s always a nice surprise when people get it.

Mike Lovatt:When we wrote the album we wrote it for ourselves, not wanting to follow a trend or please others, that’s how we have always written material. So when it was released we were overwhelmed by the positive response from reviewers and fans, it is pleasing to read good reviews of something you have worked so hard on putting together, knowing that people actually get what you are doing.

The upcoming release for the band is part of the new 5-way split album. What made you get involved in the split?

Ben Whitfield: As it happens I’m releasing it on my record label haha! From our point of view it started with a conversation I had with Mike from Cancerous Womb. The idea of doing splits has always appealed to me. We discussed the idea of doing a 2 way split with them and Condate releasing it and then one day from out of no where I saw Paul from Diascorium had posted an announcement on Facebook about a 5 way split between Diascorium, Colonel Blast, Cancerous Womb, Magpyes and Dyscaphia. I’m still not sure how the leap was made really, but I’d look a right dick if I didn’t go with it so I did haha! Turns out it was a great move because I’ve heard the whole thing and it is ridiculously good. There isn’t any shit tracks at all and I’m not just saying that either! A good mix of styles and strong songs throughout, why wouldn’t you want to be involved?

Mike Lovatt:Doing a split is a great way to increase your fan base and split costs of the release, so we ended up with “Split Roast”. There are 5 of the best UK underground Metal artists on the E.P. I am personally shocked at how good each bands contribution is. It’s a fantastic amount of material (over an hour) and it’s only £5!!

You’re featured first on the album with two new songs, ‘Power By Proxy’ and ‘The Crime Is Passion’, what can you tell us about these new songs?

Ben Whitfield: “Power by Proxy” as a title is a little band in-joke that kind of sums up a situation we found ourselves in a while ago that got out of control but it bears no relation to the lyrics. It’s quite good in that it’s the first track we had Darryl write lyrics for; it’s the first track on the split, a track of firsts! “The Crime is Passion” is just a beast! The title matches the lyrical content this time round and hopefully people will love it as much as I do. Darryl has really outdone himself with the vocals. That’s definitely the track I feel most satisfied with at the moment.

Mike Lovatt: These songs are a progression from “FTGG” they are faster, heavier and have the usual “pain in the arse to play” riffs too. It is the first time we have recorded with our new Vocalist Daz (Also in This is Turin) who has added a new flavour to the music and it’s really great to have him on board.

Do you wish you had a little more involvement on the split than two songs?

Ben Whitfield: We had a few other song ideas kicking around but we are definitely a quality over quantity band. FtGG had 8 tracks from 10 or 12 and our contribution to the split, although small, is enough to say what we have to say musically at this time. There is no point rushing out something that you will always look back on and be annoyed that you hadn’t let it mature a bit. Besides if we hadn’t only put two on the Diascorium wouldn’t have been able to fit their entire album on there hahahaha!

Mike Lovatt: The 2 songs really do stand up for themselves and we are proud of them, we would rather have 2 quality tracks on there than a few not as good rushed ones, basically it’s about quality not quantity. When it came time to submit material that is what we had ready, although there is a lot more where that came from and plenty of new stuff in the pipeline.

From what I have read about the band, there is a lot of good words about your live show. How would you describe your live performance?

Ben Whitfield: A lot of the time, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, I personally don’t realise that there is a crowd there at all until you hear the noise at the end (or no noise which is just as obvious ha!). Playing metal is a massive release for me, the feeling you get from playing as hard and as aggressively as you can for that 30-40 minutes is unattainable in other areas of life. I think it’s this attitude that translates to the overall stage presence. The rest of the band get their own thing out of the music, it’s reactionary and obviously a good crowd feeds that intensity, you can’t help but notice if people are bowling over on to the stage after all.

Mike Lovatt: I would say that we give it 100% when we play live, we just go for it, the music just takes hold and away we go, it’s just something that happens by itself.

You’re playing in a sort of mini-festival soon in Manchester, the Metal/HC Alldayer 2; looking forward to this performance with many other bands on the bill?

Ben Whitfield: Festivals and all-dayer’s are my favourite gigs to play, you get to see loads of new music and it’s usually quite a relaxed affair because you usually rock up early and get set up and then you can watch bands and chill till you play. Manchester is the closest city to the majority of the band so it’s nice to play there where some friends can get to come and see us play. Plus Manchester’s metal scene is famously cliquey so getting a gig in Manchester is like the holy grail anyway haha!

Mike Lovatt: We love to play all dayers and festivals, it’s great to be a part of the whole day and you get the chance to play with a load of quality Metal acts. There is more of a range as there are more bands than a regular evening gig with maybe 3 bands on the bill; it’s a cool way to check out new bands too. You really get your money worth. It’s also a great way of making new fans and sometimes surprising people that might not have expected to have such a “Blast”.

Colonel Blast LiveWith your debut under your belt and plenty of live shows now, what are your aims for the rest of 2011?

Ben Whitfield: Once the split is released we are doing a few gigs to promote it with all the bands on the bill, which should be mint. We’d like to be getting on a few festival bills and build on last years Damnation appearance, which was amazing. We are working on new stuff so hopefully expect to see a new album before the year is out and plenty more gigs. Come and see us please.

Mike Lovatt:We have started writing new material, which will manifest itself in the form of a second album. So this year we will be writing a lot and gigging to support the release of “Split Roast” with the other bands on the record. I can’t wait to see them playing their stuff live. We are going to push the release as much as possible and get as many people as we can to give it the attention it deserves because it is something special.

Internet and the music industry

The biggest issue with the internet for artists is of course illegal downloading and there has been a rapid decline in value of the industry as the internet expands throughout the world. Several artists I have spoken to have stated that it has become part of life and that now selling albums is no longer a profitable business; money is solely earned from touring. What are your views on the matter of illegal downloading?

Ben Whitfield: Illegal downloading hasn’t changed anything for me as a musician. Music is art first and the idea of it being produced as a commodity doesn’t enter my thought process. While I understand that certain musicians feel people should be buying what they produce, regardless of its quality I might add, I think those musicians are missing the point of what creating a work of art should mean. They buy in to the old business model of “get signed, get rich, tour the world” and that becomes their focus, rather than creating something worthwhile in the first place. There was a time when musicians had to struggle and fight and genuinely be the best to be heard by larger audiences and that idea doesn’t exist in music any more. Every band feels they deserve to be heard, feels they are owed something, well you aren’t and your shit second rate bedroom recording does not entitle you to an income. Those of us who do this out of a need to create something will always continue to do so regardless of whether we are getting money out of it. I also think people will buy products, music and merchandise if they truly like a band and it’s music. Hopefully it will eventually have acted like a filter and only the truly hardworking and committed artists will get whatever dues that are appropriate.

Mike Lovatt: I think it’s something that can’t be stopped so we should learn to live with it, on the plus side at least people are enjoying your music and are more likely to come to a show and maybe buy a shirt or even the album if they feel it’s worth it.

Do you feel that any of the current methods such as watermarking or streaming based models which have users paying a fee to stream music will take off and help stop the illegal sharing of music files? Or do you see any strength with the idea of giving away your music for free, having it shared around the world and again relying on touring to make money?

Ben Whitfield: I honestly don’t think that anything will stop the illegal downloading of music. It’s a business model that has no bearing on how I conduct myself as a musician. The only people bothered about illegal downloading are the people who have made obscene amounts of money off other people’s talent (or substitute in pretty face, good image etc…). They are worried that the bubble is going to burst, well it already has so all these stupid attempts to control how music is heard are futile whether you agree with it or not. I’ve never written music with making money in mind and I’m not going to start now. The sooner people realise that their music is going to be free regardless the sooner they can begin to control the quality of it, let people know about it and get them involved with the band on a personal level. We have downloads up on iTunes, we have physical handmade packaged albums that are a little bit more than your average jewel case, people buy those and we appreciate it like you wouldn’t believe but I also realise that downloading is an unstoppable force.

Mike Lovatt: Both are good ideas and a lot of people still pay for music, but as long as it is at a fair price, especially in a recession, I mean who is going to pay £14 for a CD when they can get it cheaper in a download, or even for free? There is still something special about having a physical thing to hold, like Vinyl for example, so physical formats will never completely die.

The global recorded music industry saw a 31% decline in value from the years of 2004 to 2010 but the digital music market has seen a 1000% increase in value over the same period. Do you see the internet’s influence on the industry as the sole cause of this decline or do you believe there are any other factors which you consider an issue?

Ben Whitfield: Whether the music industry is on the rise or falling at a rate that bottoms out the bowels of Mr Big Label, I have never seen a parallel with my own earnings from music. As a result it is hard for me to draw any real conclusions. Objectively I can see that as the internet’s influence has risen that people are interacting with bands and musicians differently, it has put more power in the artist’s hands and maybe the decline is mirrored by an increase in sales direct from bands themselves. Does anybody know that? I think pulling stats from a decaying business model is irrelevant either way. People want things quicker and with a minimum of fuss, getting music online is a logical progression from heading down to your local record store and carrying a bag full of CD’s home on the bus. It’s sad in some ways but that’s where we are currently and it is only going to go further.

Mike Lovatt: I would say the internet is the biggest factor; it has changed buyer’s behaviour. You have a world of music at your finger tips in an instant, so it’s no wonder why people aren’t travelling to a shop to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a CD. I think the internet is a good thing for music as it allows you to find new artists and form your own tastes easier, you are not dictated to by magazines what to like or not like as much.

With such a growth in the digital music market, many artists have already stopped creating physical albums; the most notable is Rob Zombie who stated his most recent release would be his last physical album as the growing popularity of iTunes and Amazon is now controlling album sales. The IFPI recently published findings that 16.5% of internet users in the United States purchase their music digitally than physically.
Firstly as an artist and music fan, do you still buy physical albums or do you download from digital music stores? Secondly, do see the digital music markets as something positive for the industry and your career as a new and cheaper distribution method?

Ben Whitfield: I still buy physical albums, mainly vinyl and mainly from live shows direct from the bands themselves. I have purchased albums from iTunes and other digital retailers but I prefer the packaged product and I think that is true of most lovers of underground music. Being able to put your music on some of these online stores in some ways adds legitimacy to your band, but again, in a year or so when all the bands out there realise they can pay someone a cheap amount of money to get their stuff on these sites then we are back to square one, over saturation of average music.

Mike Lovatt: Yes I still buy physical albums if it’s something I really dig, but mostly download music as it’s faster and cheaper.

Like I said earlier I think it is a positive thing and people need to adjust their mindset and change with the times.

As the digital music stores assist in distribution, other factors that come into releasing an album are marketing and promotion of any sort. What are your views on the ability to use the internet to promote and market yourself?

Ben Whitfield: Good PR and marketing are the reasons that Colonel Blast made the leaps and bounds they have over the past year or so. It is directly attributed to hooking up with Lisa at Hold Tight! PR. You can cross reference the rise of our Internet presence with her involvement, promoting, whipping us in to shape and working tirelessly on our behalf. These distribution methods are just that, methods. People still need to be told it is there and that is where humans come in!

Mike Lovatt: The internet is a great way to promote yourself if you do it right, but a hell of a lot of bands are out there screaming for your attention and it can be difficult to make yourself heard.

Social networking has naturally become a massive asset in the industry for labels and artists to be able to interact with fans on an everyday basis from anywhere in the world. Do you feel that if the social networking boom hadn’t taken place that it would effectively hinder careers as there would have been no direct route to communicate with fans?

Ben Whitfield: I think if social networking boom hadn’t happened there would still be more of an in-built quality control over what got heard and the bands that worked hardest and were actually talented would rise to the top. It would only hinder the careers of the people who wouldn’t have had the determination to make something of them selves in the first place. It has happened though so we deal with the spam and event invites! Ironically at times what is meant to be a community becomes even more “every man for himself”. For instance I recently had 27 event invites from a venue that is miles away from where I live, irrelevant to the type of music that drew me to their page in the first place within the space of around 30 minutes. I agree it is easier to interact with fans and I have to admit, getting gigs and promoting yourself is insanely easy but you also have to try and strike a balance between being relevant and targeting the right people. I’d hate for people to think that we were one of those spam bands haha!

Mike Lovatt: Oh yeah, otherwise people would still be in fan clubs and writing letters to their idols and more than likely never get a reply. No it’s so much easier to interact with fans and idols alike. Instant updates on tours and albums etc

Colonel Blast LogoA big development in recent years has been the hardware and software that has been created for anyone and everyone to purchase. We now find aspiring artists building their own home studios at their computer by purchasing top of line software, sound cards, microphones and such. What are your views on the technology advancements in recent years from software, hardware and even to the MP3 itself? What positives or negatives if any do you see from these advancements?

Ben Whitfield: The advancement of technology and its accessibility has obviously opened a world of possibilities for musicians in recent years. Its affordability means anyone can get in to recording their own music. I run a studio of my own and teach the techniques at a local college and it is hugely positive on the one hand that the ability to express your self creatively is more and more in the hands of the artists themselves. Taking creative control of your music is hugely important but the opposite to this openness and availability of technology is the fact that you still need to have a level of talent and an ear for what makes a great production before you can truly take advantage of it. You still need to be able to step outside your ego and objectively view what you have produced against your peers and your influences and honestly say whether you are hitting that mark or falling short. Unfortunately a lot of musicians are unable to do that so we have a huge amount of extremely average bands releasing mediocre music recorded in a few hours in a bedroom acoustically treated with porn magazines and rotting underwear. I’m not saying that I place Colonel Blast’s music up there in the greatest recordings of all time by the way! I’ll still ship out our music to someone else if I feel I can get that little bit extra I can’t get out of a track from them.

Mike Lovatt: It’s great that virtually everyone has the ability to record their own music and do it yourself, that’s exactly what we have done. The downside can be that the industry is flooded with music and it’s not always that easy to find the good stuff.

While purchasing hardware/software and recording in your own home studio is a method of removing big studio costs and staff costs, recently fan funding in return for incentives has become a new way forward. Recently in the UK bands such as Madina Lake, Funeral For A Friend and The Blackout have used Pledge Music (Kickstarter in the US) in which fans contribute towards the cost of the studio in return for signed albums, special gifts and more. Do you think this method of involving fans more intimately in the creation of an album and offering them incentives to do so could be a way forward to combat the losses through piracy?

Ben Whitfield: I personally would never dream of asking fans of the band to contribute towards recording costs. Colonel Blast are lucky in that we have access to several studios as well as my own, with decent equipment and people around to help with the process. Our obsession with control over our music means we rarely pay for services to do with recording, mixing and mastering. And going back to an earlier point, we create music as an expression, as an art form and because we feel we absolutely have to do it so regardless of whether fans pay towards that or not, we would still find a way of getting our music out there.

Mike Lovatt: Yes if you can build a personal relationship with fans in this way then you will earn trust and loyalty so it’s a great way to build a solid long term following rather than one hit wonder flash in the pan type of fame.

In the United States from 1999 to 2009 there was a 17% fall in the number of people hired as a musician and in Europe, while not directly musicians, the estimated number of jobs likely to be lost due to piracy in the creative industries will reach 1.2 million by 2015. Do you worry as an artist that you will ever be swept by this wave and be forced to leave the industry you love in order to provide a better living for yourself?

Ben Whitfield: I for one am lucky in that my living is made out of music in one way or another. Whether it is the studio or teaching or sessioning for other bands I make enough money to be comfortable. Getting to this situation hasn’t been easy and there have been some shit jobs along the way but I do believe that if you want to be working in music enough then there is only one way to do it and that is get on with it. Think of what you can do and do it.

Mike Lovatt: No, we all have day jobs to fund our music so there is not insecurity for us of that nature

When you consider the industry previously to the time before the internet and to now with the internet in full swing, what do you see for the future of the industry?

Ben Whitfield: The future of the industry is truly for the first time in the hands of the artist. It’s about fucking time too. I hope to see that, as the onus is put back on the artist to get involved and engineer a career for themselves, the people who didn’t have the heart or the stomach for it in the first place fall by the wayside and the artists who are dedicated to creating and expression first and money second start to see an increase in popularity and success, whatever that may mean to them.

Mike Lovatt: I think we live in an ever changing world and just as we adjust ourselves to change new things will come along and smash everything we know, we must remain open minded to the future and look for new ways to survive

     

About Michael

Michael is the owner and creator of EspyRock. He is your general all round geek; sports fan; TV show fanatic. You can find him sharing his thoughts on his personal Twitter account. Contact Michael on Twitter or via Email.

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