Tuesday 23 June 2015

Transmission with OXEN (Interview)

OXEN are the type of band I love discovering on The Sludgelord. A band who come out of nowhere and grab my attention that I make contact with the band to review their new album. And OXEN just did that.

I saw their brilliant video for Transmission and it impressed the hell out of me with it's style of Sludge/Stoner Rock spliced with superb vocals to match. OXEN's debut album – The Vanishing – is an incredible debut album. One listen is never enough as it has a ton of great riffs waiting to be discovered.

I described the album as: “OXEN are a band that I've been keeping an eye on over the last few months or so. So when the band released a stunning video for their new single - Transmission - from their forthcoming debut album - The Vanishing. What can you expect with - The Vanishing. You get 46 minutes of fast-paced Sludge/Stoner Metal that will appeal to fans of Mastodon and Baroness.

The Vanishing demands your full attention as it's one of the years most exciting and thrilling debut albums you're likely to come across. OXEN are looking for labels to release this album. Hopefully someone will release this album as this album needs to be heard by as many people as possible. OXEN have the talent, drive and vision to go a very long way indeed.”
I decided to find more about OXEN and they've kindly agreed to this interview.

Hi guys. Thanks for doing this. How are things with you today?

Hey Steve. Things are great, thanks for the interview!

Can you tell our readers of how the band came about and where it is today?

OXEN came about after I met Hans, whose wife I have known forever. We had an instant bond through similar music interests and work ethic. We jammed a few times and tried some people out, but no one clicked. I asked Chris to play, having known him from working together at a local music store and playing around western mass in the same scene for years.

We rounded out the lineup with a fellow tattooer, Andy Barrett on bass, whom I worked with for a while. We ran with this lineup for a 5-song demo, and our Glass Coffin e.p. After some differences, we parted ways with Andy and found Eric, whom I knew from round the way party jams. Today we are a tight uniform unit with a cohesive vision and mutual respect for one another.

Before we talk about your brilliant new album – The Vanishing – how would you describe your choice of music? What can people expect listening to your music?

I would say OXEN’s music is built around a heavy riffs and melodies with thundering rhythms and dynamic vocals. We try to defy genre and just play what we like, being outside the box is a comfortable place for us all. We have fun making our songs interesting to listen to, not only musically but also lyrically. Each song has some underlying theme, color and tone that tell a story, and riffs to drive it home.

The Vanishing. WOW. What an album that is. Really impressed the heck out of me. Thanks for sending me a copy to review. What is the album all about as it has some really interesting ideas.

Man, thank you so much. The album is a collection of stories, each song a vignette to convey a singular idea. Hans and Chris are pretty much the leads in vocal/lyrical concept department. Songs seem to have a theme of dying in different scenarios. This Cursed Sand is dying in the desert, looking for love. City In The Sea and Tomb Of The Ocean are well, about dying in the ocean. Transmission, dying in outer space. See Me Scream, an insane asylum after being haunted by ghost. Colour Out of Space is in homage to Lovecraft and Waxwing a retelling of Icarus & Daedalus. You get the idea.

Was it an easy or hard album to write and record for?

On the Glass Coffin we had very sparse vocals, as we were all finding our approach to the microphone, but with time we collectively found our voice. Songs kept showing up to the party as we were writing, but it wasn’t necessarily easy or hard, it was a road we traveled together to help coerce the sound out. We were set to record in April ’14, and one of us had a biking accident and broke their collarbone, setting us back for quite some time. In hindsight, we needed that time to refine the songs and concepts and build back up with a hunger I do not think we had prior.

We hit the studio in October and it was a thorough and deliberate execution over a span of 4 months. We took our time with it. We are very lucky to have Chris in the band, he is a great engineer/producer and I think it shows on the record. Really it was a unifying process that has helped us get to where we are and where we are headed.

What is the song-writing dynamic in the band? Is it down to one individual or a whole group process?

We write collectively, each of us works our ass of for the group. I personally am a spazz who never stops writing. I get up regularly at 5:30 am with the spark of an idea and head down to the rehearsal studio. We have the space all miced up and I get a full composition down within a few hours and dropbox it to the guys to see if they are feeling the mood I am in that day.

Chris writes at home, in his studio and with his producing skills, he usually has the structure laid out or pretty close to what you hear on the record. I think our two approaches help balance the ideas we bring to the table. Eric started in OXEN right at beginning of recording the lp and now he is bringing some slamming stuff for the next record!

Hans does a ton of homework and brings a super solid foundation to the songs. At rehearsal it opens up to the group, and that is where it all comes together. Then we record, dropbox and review it all week until the next week. Our idea folder is chock full of a slew of new material and we are off to a great start on the follow up to The Vanishing.

You’ve worked with some incredibly talented people on this record – Jeanne Sagan (All That Remains) on Permanent Residence and Joel Stroezel (Killswitch Engage) on The Matchstick. How did you get Jeanne and Joel involved on the record as OXEN’s sound is very different from their respective bands. And was it an easy task to convince them to appear.

Western Massachusetts has a bevy of talent from singer songwriter to world touring pros. Most of us have been in bands around here for longer than I would like to admit, and the metal/hardcore scene is pretty small so if you are around long enough you meet a lot of people.

Jeanne and Joel are not only amazing metal musicians, with impressive resumes, but also sweet people with big ole hearts. I have tattooed them both, and during sessions I brought the idea of them guesting on stuff up in jest, but it came to reality. Jeanne sang first on a song for a side project of mine called Ghost Smoker, right as she was recording the new ATR record, and she was stoked for more mic time. That led to OXEN keeping that in mind when headed in the studio.

Joel is a great friend, and always pumped to hear new stuff from our camp. It almost didn’t line up time wise as that man is pretty busy, but luckily we were able to collaborate and he rips a really mean solo on The Matchstick!

Plus you’ve managed to get Aaron Harris to mix the album and Chris Common to master the album. How did that come about and did they provide any words of advice when they were working on your album.

That was all Chris. Aaron and he struck up conversation and the rest is history. Aaron brought a lot of creativity to the project; we are all huge Isis fans and had faith that he would “get” our sound. He nailed it in our opinion. He has been hugely supportive of us from the get go, on to today. Chris Common was recommended by Aaron and really made the record shine. Super stoked to have everyone on board!

The main part from your album that impressed me the most were the vocals. Now all 4 members contribute vocals to the album. Is it hard making decisions which member sings which part? As you have a great style of clean based vocals and the harsher based growls. Did you each sing/record the same parts on the album but with different styles?

It all comes natural to us. Everyone has his role, and we are all open to criticism. If someone sounds off or a certain harmony doesn’t work, we identify it together and fix it together. We did a lot of learning in the prep for this record, which continued into the studio itself. Trial and error and trying again helped us a ton. We were talking the other day, and the progression from demo, to e.p to l.p to where we are now has really taken shape and we feel as though we are still sonically exploring everything we can without relegating ourselves.

Why did you choose the name OXEN for the band. Any specific meaning to the band.

We named the band after Hans’ dog.

What is your musical setup when playing live and recording music?

We are all gear nerds, we have the bug, bad. Chris and I play 612 cabinets that Hans built for us, with a few different heads, Orange, Sunn and Verellen. Eric rocks a pair of 4x10 cabs with a Mesa head, but that will probably change by the time this is out, knowing the rate we flip stuff. Hans plays a straightforward dDrum kit and sings his ass off while doing so. Recording, our rehearsal space is outfitted with 16 channels of recording and Chris has a pro rig at Yucky Studios.

You’re looking for a record label to release your debut album. Have you had much interest so far? Which formats will the album be released on. And when will the album be available for people to buy. As I’ve had a few people asking me.

We have rifled out a bunch of stuff to a bunch of labels and have only gotten one response. It was a decline, but a really positive one from a label we really dig. We are being patient and ultimately if there is no response we will move forward with trying to get it out on vinyl ourselves.

Have you thought about starting a crowd-funding project to help you releasing the album physically? As a lot of upcoming bands and artists are using this medium to release their music. Does this appeal to you at all as a band.

We aren’t opposed to it but would rather avoid it. We do everything in house, recording, video production, graphic design, website etc. We have a very strong rooted DIY approach to what we put out, and would love a label to help promote the hard work we do. Ultimately we want to see The Vanishing on vinyl, and I guess the crowd-funding thing is a last resort for us, if there is no label interest.

Do you guys perform gigs on a regular basis? If so, do you perform regular in your hometown or do you have to travel further afield.

We try to limit how much we play locally. We have started reaching outwards from our home base a lot more and hopefully we can get some rotation at some venues in New England and New York, but it has been rough getting people to notice us. Hopefully the release of the album will help change that.

Which bands/artists are impressing you at the moment? Any particular albums that are rocking your world.

I would say quite a few in the local/regional area have been killing it lately. Neon Fauna has a really awesome sound. Warm from CT have a good thing going on. Dead Empires and Moon Tooth both from NY are amazing. Oh, we played with this CT duo called Bedroom Rehab Corporation and they crush! Our buddies in Problem With Dragons are always on fire. As far as national stuff we all listen to a wide range of stuff from Torche to Whore to The White Buffalo to Phantogram to Czarface.

Well guys thanks for doing this interview. Hope your album does get released soon and hopefully vinyl. Do you have anything to say to your fans before you go?

Be sure to check out www.oxenmass.com for video drops, album info and new merch all coming very very soon. We collaborate with amazing artists, Courtney Brooke (www.lightwitch.com) is our photographer, David Salinas (https://dribbble.com/anchorandbuffalo) did our font logo, you should check out their works. We are stoked to get this record heard, thanks for the interview Steve.

Words by Steve Howe and OXEN

I want to thank OXEN for taking out the time to talk to us here at The Sludgelord. Let me tell you when I say their debut album – The Vanishing – is a brilliant debut album and a contender for Album Of The Year for me. If any labels are looking for new talent, sign these guys as OXEN are an awesome band with a bright future ahead of them.

For More Information

Check out the videos for Transmission and The Vanishing.