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INTERVIEW: Josh Smith & Alex Milovic – Northlane

When NORTHLANE released Mesmer as a complete surprise back in March, it signalled a growing change within the music industry. As technology surges forward, the ways in which we access music has become increasingly easier and the old format of releasing records seems to be heading towards extinction. NORTHLANE have been at the forefront of this charge and their business methods matches their forward-thinking style of heavy music. Before a headlining set at this year’s UK Tech-Fest (read our review of their performance here) we caught up with guitarist Josh Smith and bassist Alex Milovic to talk about Mesmer and the method in which it was released alongside the appeal of catered festivals like UK Tech-Fest and how streaming services is breathing life back into the music industry.

So NORTHLANE are headlining the last day of UK Tech-Fest, what can fans expect from the performance?

Josh: We’re going to play a fair bit of stuff off our latest record Mesmer and get through all of the back catalogue as well. We’re going to be playing for about an hour or so and we’re really looking forward to it!

This headlining performances comes off the back of appearances at Download Festival for example, where you have had a much shorter set. So how much more preparation did you have to take for a headlining slot?

Alex: We’ve done a bunch of headlining side shows inbetween all the festivals so when we do a production day we prepare for the bigger set and so for Download where we had a thirty minute slot, we took songs from the main set. All the smaller shows are a little bit of preparation for the headline festival shows so we’ve kind of killed two birds with one stone!

So how does a festival like UK Tech-Fest that’s catered for progressive metal compare to something like Download?

Alex: Well we’ve never been here before!

Josh: It’s hard to say, it’s pretty unique. There are a lot of festivals that move around Europe that have the same headiners and a really similar billing and all these bands are just moving through these festivals together. Then you get to Tech-Fest and it’s completely different! It’s definitely got a point of uniqueness to it and it caters to a very specific market, so it is smaller but I feel like the people who are coming here are really getting their moneys worth for who they want to see. If you go to a big rock festival there might only be a handful of bands who they are actually interested in and it is a really expensive ticket.

I feel like with catered festivals, bands like NORTHLANE can really thrive here as festivals like UK Tech-Fest are designed for people who like progressive and forward thinking music…

Josh: Oh absolutely.

Alex: It’s a real positive for us as well, I guess we are nicely in the middle of that where we can play a main stage at Download and have a really awesome show but then we can come here and do a headline slot and still have similar people coming to both. But also people who won’t go to Download, that are coming to see us here or vice-versa so I guess we are lucky in that aspect that we can be in that middle ground.

You are still in support of Mesmer which was released as a surprise, how have you found the reaction for that album?

Josh: I think it’s been really positive right off the bat! We wanted it to be a gift to our fans and that’s why we released it the way we did, so people can listen to it for free right away. Because of that, the record has had a really great response to it and we’ve really noticed that with all these shows we’ve played across Europe, the new songs are being received really really well! People know the words to them and they are enjoying them. I think that reflection in the live environment is the best gauge of what people think of your work.

Yeah definitely. Releasing it as a surprise is a bold move considering that it could of gone one of two ways. Where did that decision originally come from?

Josh: It was maybe about a year before the record came out, we were talking about how we were going to release it. Whenever we release music we aim to do it differently, we don’t like to do the same thing twice. Our fans kind of expect it from us now, to do something interesting, we kind of led them down a rabbit hole! We felt like what can we do to thank all these people who have stuck by us, what can we do that no one in our vein of music has already done before and a surprise release was the right move. We’ve copped a lot of flack from the industry for doing it, it pissed off a lot of people who wanted the inside scoop on the album. In the US, the first week the record sales weren’t fantastic but most of the revenue from recorded music these days comes from streaming services, it’s like 75%. We’ve made more money off that than we ever did off CDs so the explosion we saw on Spotify and all these other services showed us that the strategy worked and it’s been absolutely the right thing to do. You need to have a different approach to what you are going to do throughout the record cycle and there are going to be more surprises to come. It’s definitely something we don’t regret doing, it was right to do it at the time.

Do you feel like you would do it again?

Alex: If we’ve learnt anything from the past, we don’t really repeat things that we do like exactly. So in a years time or two years time when it’s time to release another album, at that point in our career maybe it won’t be the right thing to do a surprise record.

Josh: I don’t think we’ll do it again.

Alex: Yeah, and not because it was bad, if any other band is interesting in doing something different, then just do it. Like Josh said, it could have gone one of two ways.

Josh: Yeah, we backed the record and we backed the work that we did and if we released a pile of shit we would have fallen on our faces.

Alex: It doesn’t matter how many singles you put out or how many surprise drops that you do.

I think releasing it as a surprise captures this change in the industry where streaming is becoming more and more vital for bands…

Josh: It’s beyond that, streaming is doing more, streaming is reviving the music industry! The guy that owns NORTHLANE‘s record label gave this keynote speech at this huge industry convention in Australia and he was talking about the exponential growth in streaming, it’s not going away. It’s generating more money for the industry than anything that has happened in the last ten years. It’s a huge deal and we totally back change, we embrace it. I think anybody who discounts it has got it all wrong. Anyone who says it is not fair, it’s better than some dickhead who is making money off ad revenue on a website that hosts pirated streams.

Alex: If people can go I can just listen to this whole album on Spotify or on YouTube, whatever streaming service you use instead of downloading a half-shit rip of it. They are going to go the positive ones like YouTube and here it for what it is.

Josh: We use it too, we all have paid Spotify subscriptions. If I love a band or a record, I’ll get it on vinyl which is the best way to listen to music, CDs are dead!

Alex: At the end of the day you want people to hear the creations you are putting out there so why not put it out there in the easiest way possible?

Josh: We got into this to reach people with our music, not to turn it into a profitable business, that was just part of the journey.

NORTHLANE have been doing these headlining slots across Europe and the UK as progressive metal has really took off and exploded. Do you feel that the scene is in a good place right now or is there room for improvement?

Alex: I guess there is always room for improvement but it is awesome! You can play like 32 shows or how many shows we’ve played across Europe and like, you are playing to people. And that is not like small crowds, we’ve played festivals and then watched headliners and there is a huge amount of people there to watch all these bands! From the way I take it I think we are in a really awesome time for music.

Josh: Another thing I’ve noticed is all these instrumental bands are absolutely smashing it. We’re about to do a tour across Canada with INTERVALS and they are killing it! ANIMALS AS LEADERS are like one of the biggest acts in the US like period, it’s really really cool. People are embracing different takes.

Alex: We walked past the main stage and there’s that Sarah Longfield and it is just her and a drummer and there is a room full of people loving every second of it.

I really think we are in a time where musical experimentation is really being embraced.

Alex: I had this conversation at another festival and it’s like four or five years ago a musician like PLINI couldn’t play a sold out club in Sydney, it wasn’t a big market. And now, maybe two or three months ago, me and Josh watched him in a sold out club that took us four or five years to get to that point where we sold it out and he’s only been playing live shows for about two years. That just shows how forward thinking or how much it has changed, where 500 people will buy pre-sale tickets to watch an instrumental act.

I think it’s really cool…

Alex: It is, and it’s changed how we are going with the scene.

Josh: There is so much cross-pollination in genres and like at the other end of the spectrum bands like BRING ME THE HORIZON are doing it too. I think it is awesome for creativity and heavy music because heavy music has definitely gone through a period where people were afraid to experiment and things were becoming very straight and narrow. Now, it is blossoming again.

For sure yeah, so just to round off, once NORTHLANE have done this headlining set at UK Tech-Fest, what’s next for NORTHLANE?

Alex: After Tech-Fest we fly to Canada and we’re doing a headline tour with INTERVALS and then from there we do three shows in South America and then back home! That closes up for this side, we’ll be doing more things in the second half of this year but it’s been a nice little three month block we’ve had here.

Awesome, well best of luck for the headlining slot and for the rest of your summer plans!

Alex & Josh: Cheers, thank you.

Mesmer is out now via UNFD.

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