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INTERVIEW: Tim Charles – Ne Obliviscaris

Australia has become a hotbed for metal in recent years. The land from down under has been exporting some of the most innovative and exciting talent that metal has been craving for some time now. NE OBLIVISCARIS are just one such band. Since forming in 2003, the band have been forging a unique blend of progressive extreme metal and the response has been emphatic. 2014’s Citadel put the band on the map and opened the door to world touring and a subsequent Patreon campaign to change the dynamics of funding a band, an industry first, set NE OBLIVISCARIS apart from the competition. 2017 sees the arrival of the band’s hotly anticipated third album, Urn, and the pressure is on for NE OBLIVISCARIS to continue their soaring trajectory. We caught up with violinist and clean vocalist Tim Charles to lift the lid on their upcoming album, alongside reflecting on the band’s rise in status and how their Patreon service will evolve alongside the band.

So it is just under two weeks until your new album Urn is released. What can fans expect from this new album from NE OBLIVISCARIS?

Tim: Well like our last couple of albums we try not to think too hard about it, we’ve just tied to be ourselves and write whatever came out. What we find is as time goes on and you grow, change and adapt as a person that comes out in your music as well. So, whilst it is definitely similar in some ways it’s also different in some ways, just like fans would have noticed the differences on our first two records. I definitely think that in some ways this record is maybe our heaviest and most extreme but at the same time it probably has our most melodic and progressive moments yet. I think that the production is quite different, I think that having Mark Lewis on board mixing and mastering the record had a significant impact, we really love how it came out, more than anything we are just really excited and think it’s the best thing we’ve done so far.

When I listen to Urn it does feel like an expansion on the groundwork that Citadel laid, it feels like NE OBLIVISCARIS have progressed and evolved. Was that always the intent going in or was it something that was just natural to you?

Tim: I mean it was something that was definitely natural, there were things that just came about organically. We never really talk much about style, genre or anything like that before we write. We just write music that we like and basically when everyone in the band agrees that it’s good it goes on the record, it’s not really more complicated than that. We really try to not think too much about what fans, media or anyone else might expect of us, we really tried to not think about any expectations and just tried to be ourselves.

Going into that, Citadel really put NE OBLIVISCARIS into the spotlight. Going into Urn, were you aware of any expectations or pressure from your fanbase to deliver?

Tim: We knew there was a lot of expectation in regards to the quality of the record that was needed but I think, to be honest, I felt more pressure on Citadel because we spent years doing Portal of I. The band had been around for about six years before we looked at recording and then the whole recording and mixing process took a couple of years for Portal of I. It was nine years from when the band started to when we released Portal of I. So, we had a lot of time to do it the first time and we were really proud of what we did, whereas on Citadel it was like can we do it again? After having spent years writing those original songs then for Citadel we spent about six-twelve months writing that second record and it was that kind of nervous moment of I know I love Portal of I so I just have to make sure I love this new record as well and then hopefully everyone will agree. When Citadel came out a bit different it was definitely that worry of “well I love it but I don’t know what anyone else will think” and when it was received really well I think what that did, for me in particular, it gave me the confidence, my judgement of what was good music in regards to if I really loved it and if I thought it was the best we could do that other people would like that. I felt that with that record and so that really gave me this confidence and you know what, as long as I love it, as long as we love it, it will be a great record. So that was the focus, forgetting what everyone else thinks and just going am I happy with this? Do I think this is the best that I can do? As soon as we were satisfied with ourselves we just put a tick next to it and kept moving. I think we’ve developed that confidence now where as long as we’re happy then people will like the record.

I guess that is the most important thing, as long as you are happy with the music you are making and that you will confident, it will show up in the music to the fans…

Tim: Absolutely! You can’t do anything that’s not genuine, I think people pick up on it. You’ve got to make sure that you are happy and that you are doing it for yourself in regards to the music that you are creating because as soon as you start creating music for other people, I really find that starts coming out in the music in a negative way. As soon as bands go “oh we’ll just shorten the songs a little bit, maybe we’ll add in a bit more of this style, maybe we’ll get twice as popular” often when bands do that it often backfires and the music is just not as good. You can’t artificially manufacture some elements in a way that doesn’t sound contrived very easily, so yeah, we prefer to just ignore all of that and just make ourselves happy and like you should when you create a piece of art. This is the art I want to create, you put it out to the world and then you trust that if it is worthwhile then people will become attracted to it.

Following the release of Citadel and how well that album was received, it really opened up the world to NE OBLIVISCARIS, you were able to undergo world touring. With Urn, what are you hoping to achieve with this record?

Tim: I guess with Urn it is just about everything bigger and better! On the last album cycle we got to do almost everything we had ever dreamed of doing in regards to touring to different locations around the world, playing major European festivals, we even managed to do a headline tour through North America which we hadn’t had the chance to do before. Headlining shows through the UK and a couple parts of Europe as well, I think we’re a little bit of a band in the middle. We’re quite a big band in some places and we’re still a pretty small band in other places and I guess what we’re hoping with the new record is to even it out a bit! For the career that we’re trying to forge we want to be able to tour all around the world and do headline tours because they are the most fun for us. We get to give the fans the best version of the band with a full ninety minute show. But you do need to wait to be big enough in the market so enough people turn up to make those things worthwhile. So like in some markets like Australia we’re already a pretty big band here and hopefully we grow a bit further but sometimes it’s hard to imagine how big a band that’s as unusual as us can get! We have a lot of different markets, like last year we did a US headline tour and we’re going back there in a couple of weeks and we know what the tour was like last time and it was amazing and we had so much fun! Our hopes and expectations for this upcoming tour are just to be bigger in any way, 5% bigger or 20% bigger, whatever, just so that we keep growing. If people like the record I’m sure that will be the case.

So the hope it just to keep this growth happening naturally?

Tim: Yeah and I think that we’ve been working so hard to give ourselves the opportunity to step up and I think that we’re definitely ready for anything that comes our way. The band has been pushing to do this as a full time career and I guess that’s the aim on the business side of this album cycle, to get everyone in the band in the position of we can live on tour and to make it viable to keep touring. Otherwise you have to take breaks to go back and earn money in some other ways before you have enough to go out on tour again. That’s the reality for most bands but thanks to the Patreon we’re running and other things that we’re doing, our situation has gradually been changing which is really exciting so now we’re just looking forward to moving forward more and more in the future!

I was just about to bring up Patreon. It was first set up by NE OBLIVISCARIS back in March lat year, looking back now, would you consider it a success so far or can you still see development for that service?

Tim: There’s always room for development when you are doing something new and something that no one else is really doing in this way because you are still learning as you do it. But, it has definitely been an enormous success! The whole point of launching this membership campaign and getting that ongoing connection and support with fans was to try and build a more consistent financial base because what a lot of bands at our level were doing were occasionally crowdfunding to make ends meet. We did that back in 2014 and we had a successful crowdfunding campaign for our world tour but when the money started to run out, it was like what do we do now? We can’t just do another crowdfunding campaign. I was trying to work out how do we get our fans to commit to supporting us in an ongoing fashion. We wanted to tour all the time, we wanted to be doing NE OBLIVISCARIS full time. If we can show that sort of commitment to our music, to the band and to our fans we had a feeling that they would reciprocate it and support us in return. And that’s really been the case, as it stands today, we’re just a few dollars short of $12,000 US a month that we’re receiving on our Patreon. That sounds like a big dollar amount but I think when we hit November 1st we go over $200,000 US that we brought in through Patreon which is really an extraordinary amount of money, so in that regards, it is very successful! But when you split it between a six piece band over 18 months it’s actually not a lot of money for people to live on but what it has done is that it has created a scenario where we went from being an absolutely dead broke band that was going to have to scale back our touring to being in a position where we could go and do extra tours last year. Like our North American headline tour, we had that European tour with ENSLAVED and that extra money we had from Patreon enabled us to add a headline component of a couple of weeks which was through the UK and Scandinavia. Those things happened because of that support we had from our fans on Patreon, so it has had real and meaningful effect. Now, everyone in the band gets paid a part-time salary to be in this band and that means we have that opportunity to go out on tour and know that everyone is going to get paid something. I guess that sounds kind of crazy because some people thing bands get a lot of money and then on the flip-side the reality is that most bands never get to pay themselves unless they are really big headliners that are playing packed venues all over the world. So it’s definitely been an ongoing process and it is something that we have been learning about, like what has worked and what hasn’t, but it has definitely been a game changer for us.

I guess as you keep going with NE OBLIVISCARIS and continue to make more music the Patreon service will only continue to grow and develop…

Tim: Yeah absolutely and that is what’s happened. There were things that we offered as rewards as part of our Patreon that didn’t really work out, too difficult or too time confusing to do it as often as we said. So we adjusted and we tried to be really honest and forward with our fanbase, to basically say this is where we are at and this one didn’t work that well so we’ll get rid of that and we’re going to do this instead. As long as we’ve been really honest with our fans and as long as we’ve been putting the work in and making sure that are prioritising them as a really important part of our career, the response has been really fantastic so far. We really do feel so fortunate to have such amazing fans to be supporting us in such a big way and we really feel this is the way forward for bands in the future and changing music industry landscapes.

It’s almost creating superfans. As some people pay the top level of the service, I guess that really shows the impact NE OBLIVISCARIS have had on their lives?

Tim: Absolutely and I think that is one of the things from a business perspective. If bands are looking at doing something like this, it is partially about pitching this to all your fans but the reality is the type of fan that is most likely to jump on this is what you would call a superfan. These are the people who wear probably their favourite band or at least one of their favourite bands and they are really passionate about what we do and when you offer these extra things it’s something they feel that is really worthwhile. In addition to that, it is that love and passion about the band’s music and wanting to be involved, there’s a lot of fans who get a great deal of satisfaction from being part of the Ne Obluminati and knowing that the money they are providing does help us come and see them on tour. We see people turn up to shows wearing exclusive Ne Obluminati t-shirts that you can only get through Patreon, it’s like being part of this secret club! You turn up to the shows and we can spot them in the t-shirts or the lanyards they have which we know that means they are part of it. Often it means we can go up to them individually and give them a special thank you.

It bridges that gap between band and fan…

Tim: Absolutely and I think that the bridge between band and fan has been slowly disappearing thanks to social media and I think that this is the final step in some ways. The old way of running the music industry with that image of the rock stars being put up on a pedestal that the fans look up to, everyone is a bit mysterious and you try to make sure that no one really sees you before you go on stage on the show, all that sort of stuff, that was the way bands used to do it, and some bands still do that. But, for us, it was like let’s cut out all the bullshit, we’re not fucking rock stars. We’re just a bunch of ordinary guys from Australia that like doing music and if people like our music, they can support us. We’re just like ordinary guys that have bills and rent to pay, ordinary concerns. These ordinary concerns that we have were the issue. I remember one fan actually commenting after we first announced the Patreon, they didn’t think it was a good luck for us to be playing to thousands of people at festivals in Europe and then to be putting our hands out for money. And that is exactly the point! The point is that we are playing these big festivals and some of them were paying us jackshit because we’re not really that big yet. We’re big enough to get on the festival but not big enough to be one of the higher acts on the festival. We pay 15,000 dollars to fly there from Australia and then the money we were getting paid was maybe just enough for our internal travel between festivals or something like that. A lot of it was trying to educate fans on the reality of what it is like to be a band in 2017. We think as time has gone on and information about the reality of being a band has spread a bit more we’ve had more and more fans who are keen to be part of it.

Yeah, and really just to round up and close off, we know that NE OBLIVISCARIS have an upcoming North American tour with ALLEGAEON coming up, what’s next for NE OBLIVISCARIS following the release of Urn? Do you have plans in the work to return to Europe and the UK?

Tim: We will definitely be back in Europe and the UK in the first half of 2018, hopefully it will be pretty early in the year as well, that is definitely something that is in the works. We’re hoping we will have something to announce pretty soon because we love touring everywhere! Anywhere where people show up to see us play, it feels like an obligation to come back, no matter how big or small the city, or country. After the US tour we will be going back to Australia, the UK and Europe, hopefully touring through Asia as well. Then filling in the gaps with anyone else who will have us basically! That’s what we think is the best way to experience NE OBLIVISCARIS, to hear the music and then come see it and hang out with us live. That’s definitely how we want people to experience the band but in order to do that you’ve got to give people the opportunity to come and see you play so we’re going to put out this record and then hop on the road and tour as much as we can to as many places and people over the world as we can. To get as many people as we can to fall in love with this crazy, weird music that we create.

Yeah, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Distorted Sound Tim, thank you.

Tim: Cheers, thanks.

Urn is set for release on October 27th via Season of Mist.

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