INTERVIEW: Bruno Balanta – The Qemists

THE QEMISTS are one of a new wave of rock acts across the globe embracing the use of electronics alongside traditional instruments in their music. Ahead of their show in Liverpool supporting CROSSFAITH, we sent Jack Fermor-Worrell to chat to vocalist Bruno Balanta about life on the road, building a worldwide following and their brand new album Warrior Sound.

This is the fourth date of the tour for you guys – how’s everything been so far?

Bruno: With CROSSFAITH, yeah, this is the fourth show. Our album was released on the 4th of March, so we played a show at the Concord in Brighton and then went straight on the road with ENTER SHIKARI for ten days or so and then finished up in Barcelona with them. Then drove from there to Leeds to meet up with the CROSSFAITH guys. So yeah, we’re four shows in now and the trajectory is good.

How was the ENTER SHIKARI run for you? 

Bruno: Oh it was absolutely awesome. Those boys, we’ve got a relationship already – they invited us out on the road in 2009, so we’ve got a great thing. They were on a track on our second album and we definitely learn a lot from those boys in terms of their live performance. As you probably know, those guys have been doing 200+ live shows a year for a decade or so now. But yeah, we’ve been on the road with CROSSFAITH now for the last 3 or 4 days. Again, I’d never seen them live before – we’ve been a fan of their music for ages and they’re on our new record, Ken features on Anger. So actually getting to watch them live has been incredible, their live show’s absolutely great – it’s up there with SHIKARI for me.

Photo Credit: Todd Webb
Photo Credit: Todd Webb

Your newest album, Warrior Sound, came out about 3 weeks ago now. What’s the response been like so far from fans/critics etc.?

Bruno: It’s been fantastic, we’ve really been overwhelmed with the reaction so far. I mean, we recently signed label deals with Amazing Record, who service us in Europe and the rest of the world, and then we’re signed to a different label for North America so we’ve had quite a broad spectrum of response to the album from different territories. But so far, it’s been incredible, we’ve had some great reviews from people; fans have been getting in touch and letting us know their favourite tracks and what they like about the album – everything, down to the artwork. So it’s been incredible so far.

This is your third studio album following on from Spirit in the System in 2010. Why did it take so long for this one to be released? 

Bruno: Well, I’ve been reading a few interviews where people almost look at it from the perspective that we’ve been totally absent for six years. And while that is kind of true musically, we’ve actually been touring a lot in those six years – we’ve been out in Japan a lot as well as Russia and Eastern Europe. Our presence in the UK has probably been a bit low, but there’s been some tracks and some collaborations. We wanted to take our time in developing our sound, and really putting together an album that we took our time on and we were happy with. So, as you probably know, the boys design a lot of the sounds, before they even get to programming them, so sound design can take some time to perfect. The boys are all masters at what they do production-wise so they take their time with that and I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re all really happy with the product.

There’s a fair few special guests on this record – HACKTIVIST, Ken from CROSSFAITH, CHARLIE RHYMES etc.

Bruno: Yeah, CHARLIE RHYMES put down an absolutely amazing vocal – I’m really feeling him at the moment. Ken from CROSSFAITH – it was an absolute pleasure to have him on the record. You may or may not get a sneak peek at that tonight, who knows? We’ve been really fortunate with some of the collaborations we’ve had. GHETTS is another one, a UK grime artist, who for me is one of my favourite lyricists with regards to wordplay and technicality. So we’ve been very fortunate – some great artists.

How did you get those guys involved initially?

Bruno: I was actually a little bit disconnected from that loop because I was back seeing some family, but the other guys actually got in contact with CROSSFAITH. I couldn’t actually tell you exactly what the channels were, but we’d kind of already known that they were fans of the music we’d already put out. We’re lucky in that we’d already got a large presence in Japan, so they’d heard of us through there. I’m not too sure how they actually did it, but Ken ended up coming to the studio in Brighton and hanging out with us for the weekend and just jamming really.

No More was released as a single all the way back in 2013 – was the plan always to have that on the album eventually?

Bruno: Yeah, that came out at the stage when we were really gearing up to work on the album properly. We had a performance video made and put that out. But yeah, we had label changes and management changes then – because we were at the point where we were kind of doing a lot of stuff in-house, and that kind of detracted from the creativity. As you know, you can’t spend your time behind a desk pushing paper when you’re also trying to create music. So that kind of delayed everything a little while, which ultimately, ended up being a positive thing because we got to put more time and energy and love into the record we were producing. So yeah, No More was kind of a teaser, but it’s been received so well. We’ve been playing it in the live show for some time and it just goes off so well. It could have been replaced though – the other guys in the band, they came up with something like 300 or 400 different ideas for the album. But because it’d been received so well in the live shows we decided to keep it in – at that point it’d only been released as the video so we hadn’t actually put it out in a way that people were able to get their hands on it and that’s partly why it stayed.

Photo Credit: Todd Webb
Photo Credit: Todd Webb

You’ve been a band since 2009 now – where did the initial inspiration for what you do come from?

Bruno: We’ve always just had a massive love for music – the three guys Dan, Liam and Leon were actually in a rock band in their teens, as they were growing up. And then they got caught up into the whole DnB/Dance scene which I was also sucked into quite early. So we’d been performing as a DJ/MC partnership years before the whole live band thing came about. We’ve always had that love and affection for music; plus you’ve got those bands like ENTER SHIKARI and THE PRODIGY – watching those guys do what they do is always inspiring.

Since you got started, do you think that guys like SHIKARI have made it a lot more acceptable to do the whole rock/electronic music fusion thing? 

Bruno: Oh certainly – we’ve been following those guys for years now and watching them, I think it’s definitely contributed to this scene as a whole, it’s acceptable to have these cross-genres now. Whereas perhaps in the 90’s we could’ve come into a rock and metal festival and gotten booed off the stage. Just because they were all a little bit more about loyalty and and set in their ways to whatever particular genre it was. But that leaks across into the dance scene too, it’s reflective in the DnB scene because there was a time where you weren’t getting rock and metal vocals there and weren’t getting these collaborations. So it works both ways, which I think is a beautiful thing.

What have you got coming up for the rest of the year? I noticed you’ve been announced for Slam Dunk recently.

Bruno: Yes, indeed, I believe we’re on the Uprawr Stage alongside SHIKARI SOUND SYSTEM, so again, we get to hang out with those boys. And then we’ll probably try and pressure Rou into coming on and doing Take It Back with us. Rou, I hope you don’t hear this before Slam Dunk – if you do, I’m sorry. But yeah, now that the album’s out, we’re going back into the live shows full-throttle. As soon as we’re done in the UK, we’re off to do a headline tour in Japan, and then coming back to do festivals in Europe. So it’s just going to be relentless touring for the rest of the year now really. Relentless in a good way though – it’s great to be back out on the road.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Bruno: Well, for those of you reading that may have heard Warrior Sound, but haven’t had the opportunity to check us out live, you should definitely try to do that – we’d love to see you. But thanks for taking the time to read this and listen I suppose.

Warrior Sound is out now via Amazing Record. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook page.