NE OBLIVISCARIS – One of Australia’s Finest
One of the items in my news feed, long time ago, was praising this amazing band from Australia with a Latin sounding name and apparently with very good music. I searched them in my music player and I was hooked up rather quickly by the multitude of sounds coming out of the speakers, and kepp playing their long beautiful songs ever since then and always thinking that it must be a cool live experience. Eventually I got to even experience that this year at Tuska festival in Finland and then two more times in two other countries in Europe. The band never disappointed (although one of the times brought some technical issues with one of the guitars and a very blinding light), so I was really thrilled when I got the confirmation of an interview with Ne Obliviscaris during their visit to Oslo.
Tim Charles, the band’s violinist and singer of the clean vocals part found some time in the post-concert madness to sit down with me and answer my questions. I felt a bit guilty for the many fans or friends who were trying to get hold of him but had to wait for me to finish my interview, but I hope they will find the lecture enjoyable and so will the rest of the fans out there.
I’ve had the chance to see you guys this year at Tuska, in Finland, then at Rockstad Extreme Fest in Romania and now here, on a tiny little stage of John Dee venue in Oslo. Does it make you more comfortable on the bigger stages or you prefer to be more intimate and not able to move, like tonight?
We definitely ended up getting a bit spoiled over the summer, cause we were playing so many big festival stages and we got used to, I guess, a certain type of performance and stage presence and movement that you can do on those big festival stages. For me, personally, I love running around and engaging with the crowd a lot, which you can’t do as much on a small stage. But at the same time, a small club like tonight gets almost sold out and it ends up being a great atmosphere. Everyone is packed in together and people are closer and not as far away, a very different kind of show but I love this sort of close up atmosphere that you get with club shows in general. My favorite is maybe in between, a little bit bigger than tonight, but not as big as festivals.
I’ve seen you doing crowd surfing in Romania. Was that the first time you dared do it or you do it regularly at festivals?
No, over the summer I think I did it at almost all festivals. But only if the crowd is responding very very well, because otherwise they might not catch you. You have to make sure there’s a lot of your fans there because if they don’t really like you, they might not catch you so that’s one thing that I’m always conscious of. There was a couple of times over the summer when I almost got dropped. I felt a bit of a giving in from the crowd, but so far it’s worked out ok.
So you’re an Australian band with like 12 years of existence, according to various websites. But I guess people have started hearing about you only in the past few years. What happened for so many years of existence and inactivity?
I’ll try to give you the short version. Band started in 2003. We took about almost 3 years to play our first show. We had a lot of lineup changes in the early days after the band started, so it was a slow start in putting together the band in the first place. We put out a demo in 2007 which had a few songs that eventually ended up on the album ‘Portal of I’ and then we lost our guitarists and it took us about one year to find a new guitarist that was suitable for all the stuff that we do in the band. And then we finally got Benji over from France to play in the band. And then his visa expired and he got deported and we had to wait for 18 months, fighting the Australian government to try to get him back to Australia. Thankfully we won and then by that time it was December 2011. So basically, the first 8 years it was always two steps forward one step back, continuosly, over these years. Finally, when we hit May 2012 we put out our debut album ‘Portal of I’ and since that moment, everything has clicked with the band and we have only gone forward every month ever since. Thankfully, the last three years people have show more and more interest and now we finally managed to get the band into a position where we manage to tour internationally and we can get albums out on a semi-regular basis.
So it was not a stop on purpose in your activity…
We almost broke up so many times, but once we made it and got our first album out, since then everything has been great and everything went really smooth from one album to another, we’ve been touring a lot. So there’s almost like these two stages of the band – one were we stood in our corner in Australia and no one really knew who we were and then everything else from 2012 onwards.
What decided that you needed to be a six members band?
A lot of metal bands might end up with five, if they have two guitarists and a singer who is not a guitarist, which is where we actually began. As a side note, Xen was the person who was putting the band together in the first place. So it was his idea to try and find a violinist or cello player or something like that. He came across me online, on a metal forum where I mentioned that I played the violin so he contacted me, saying that he was starting a new band and if I’d be interested in coming along to have a rehearsal. So in that sense it was what you can call a normal metal band, but then with me thrown in over the top. Originally, we had a female soprano as well, for 6 or 9 months. At that stage I wasn’t singing in the band at all and we even auditioned a bunch of female singers after we parted ways with our original singer, but we weren’t very happy with either of them. After a while I said ‘I can sing a little bit, if we want some clean vocals some times maybe I can just do it’. If you listen to the early songs, you’ll hear that some have no clean vocals at all or if they did, it would be in just one section but not very often. But as I became a better singer, we started using clean vocals more.
Were you into metal at all when you were on this forum from which it all started?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I was a huge metal fan. But I was pursuing a career as a classical violinist, studying at a conservatory and thinking I was gonna play in an orchestra and tour the world.
You are, actually
Yeah. From about 17 I decided that I was going to be a world famous classical violinist. That was it, I made the decision and I was really determined, worked very hard and practiced a lot, studying both composition and classical performance. But during my years at university I started to get really interested in alternative styles of violin playing, like jazz and rock and I ended up joining Ne Obliviscaris. Basically, by the time I finished studies, I ended up being a bit distracted from my goals and here I am touring the world playing in a metal band instead, which I am very happy about. And even though I was pursuing a career in classical violin, I was a huge metal fan and listened to lots and lots of different types of music starting with high school and most of my favorite bands were from the metal genre. I was more of a metal head than a classical violinist back then. I had’t really thought about the fact that you can be a violinist in a metal band and I’m very happy that I met Xen. It took me a while to work out how to make violin work in metal, but I think it’s starting to sound ok after a while.
When it comes to making music, do you come with ideas yourself or do you just have to follow what has already been written?
A little bit of both. On our new album, ‘Citadel’, the first and the last track on the album are just compositions of mine. I did take composition classes at university, but since I play a little bit of guitar, but quite terrible, I’m doing more work with our guitarists and other guys in the band when it comes to visions that I might have on certain sections. I am trying to utilize their skills on instruments to get the visions that I might have work out. On other parts, Benji might have his own vision that he brings in to us, so sometimes there might a section where all the guitars have been written first and there’s no violin at all and then I would work out over time with Xen mainly on where to put the heavy vocals, where to put the clean vocals, where the violin goes. But on other songs, like for example this new one that will probably come out on the next album, there is a two or three minutes of violin music that I wrote and around which we are building guitar parts. So it can go both ways.
Does anyone else in the band, besides you, have any sort of musical education?
Benji has some musical education, yes, but aside from him most of the guys are self taught.
Unrelated, but why did you put the two lefties on the same side of the stage?
Because if we’d had a leftie and rightie on the same side of the stage, they would hit each other with the guitars.
Depends how you place them.
Yes, we had it figured out after a few trials that it works better this way. It also looks good.
Indeed, it looks good at the photos. Took me a while to figure out what was odd in some of the photos I took of the band. Usually, a leftie and rightie together would make it easy to spot. But like this, it wasn’t obvious at the first sight that their guitar necks were inverted.
You said you’ve been touring a lot during the past years. How is your real life handling this? What are the sacrifices you have to make to be here tonight and tomorrow somewhere else, and so on?
It’s been tough for us, like surely for many other bands out there. We are at the stage in our career where we have a lot of amazing opportunities to further our careers as a band but not a lot of financial remuneration for doing those things. We do something like this tour with Cradle of Filth, to come all the way from Australia and be here for six and a half weeks and we’re honestly losing money. We won’t get paid one dollar and this is because we are not big enough yet, but this is an amazing opportunity for us and we have made thousands of fans across the countries we played in Europe. We have seen a huge change this year in the growth of our band and this is really exciting for us. We know we have the potential to be a lot bigger than we are if we keep doing this – if we keep touring, if we keep coming back and perform and try to impress people with our shows. The difficult thing is that you go away for six weeks, you don’t get paid, you still have bills at home and no money to pay them.
Is is sustainable to do this?
Not forever. What happens to most Australian bands (and even other places, but particularly with bands from Australia) is that you have a time frame to make it or go broke.
True, so you have those extra costs that European bands don’t…they just rent a bus and can simply drive there, most of the times.
Think that it costs 10-15 thousands to just get here in the first place, and then the other costs are starting. I normally work as a violin teacher at home but I had to say goodbye to all my kids because I’ve been touring too much and it’s not possible to be a good violin teacher when you are literally away for seven months the whole year. In the second half of the year I’ve only given them four or five lessons, that’s how little I’ve been home. Basically, at the moment, our guitarist Matt is the only one left with a fulltime job. Our drummer had to quit his job prior to this tour, as did I, as did Xen. I have a three year daughter at home with whom I try to skype as much as I can, our guitarist Matt has two kids and a wife back home, so we have a lot of people that are very understanding of what we are trying to do and that we are trying to pursue what we want to do with out lives. But it is not easy for everyone. Sometimes people, things and relationships fall apart because we are never home and this happens to lots of musicians because it is very difficult and you need someone very very understanding to put up with such a crazy lifestyle. But we get a lot of amazing stuff in return. It is a lot of trading, that’s how I look at it. I have to give up a lot to be here. The time away from my daughter breaks my heart sometimes. I worked out that I was gonna miss almost half of the fourth year of her life being away on tour. But at the same time, if we can keep going further and start make a living from this, it will be what I always dreamt of since I was a little kid, so…
Do you get to do any sightseeing at all?
Sometimes. On the festivals I got to do quite a lot since we often had a lot of time off between festivals. And that was amazing because I’ve never been to Europe before. We had days off in Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and in France and lots of different countries. On this tour it’s different cause almost everyday you arrive in a different city in a different country and we maybe have anywhere from 3 to 5 hours free before we have to do soundcheck. So we have very limited time so if you spend all of that time sightseeing, you would eventually end up not having any rest. So some cities I have seen nothing at all because I just had to relax. But sometimes you take the time to walk around and see what you can. Today in Oslo, I didn’t have a lot of time but I spend about one and half hours walking around the city and trying to get an idea of where you are in the world. I guess you see a little bit each time and hope to come back again and again to see a little bit different everytime you go somewhere.
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
Since what happened in Paris on Saturday (today being Wednesday or so), do you notice any differences in border crossings or security checks? Is there anything obvious?
We were playing last night in Copenhagen, in Denmark and we had two policemen with machine guns guarding the back entrance to the venue, when you went into the backstage. I’ve never seen that before. This was a huge thing for us. When the Paris tragedy happened, we were in Czech Republic and heard about it towards the end of show and when Cradle ended the show and heard it, told us how they’d played there last year and knew some of the staff. It turned out that the merchandise guy from the Eagles of Death Metal’s show was from UK and a friend of Cradle so rather sad. Rob, who was on this tour with Cradle also had a friend who died there, our guitarist Benji is French and his brother lives in Paris, not far from where it happened and from where we actually spent some time in June. When you are in Australia, things are very very far away but this time it had a different impact.
I don’t want to start a two hours debate on these incidents and any aspect related to them, so let’s get back to Ne Obliviscaris. Is there any new material in the making? Do you even have time for that?
Yes and no. We started writing in February/March this year. We have one song that we have written seven minutes of and another one that we have few minutes ready. And then at the beginning of June we left on tour and we sort of haven’t gone any further. We have been talking about that we need to learn how to write on tour cause we’re always on tour now. But we have a couple of songs in the works. But the again, our second album was only three songs
It’s not like you have the shortest of songs out there
We have a lot of ideas and basically in between ours we are going to be writing and we are going to spend the next year writing and recording the new album in between concerts. Hopefully it will happen by the second half of the year.
Thank you very much for your time and we best stop here since the concert probably ended and the load in load out madness is about the begin.
A dialogue outside the bus has revealed the fact that the guys in NeO were excited to encounter snow. And even if I wished them to not meet any snow storm for the remaining of the tour, I hope they got few minutes of nice white beautiful landscape, somewhere on their drive from Norway and towards the last location of the tour.