Feeling rather cast out from the rest of the world, Alchemist created a
clever album titled 'Austral Alien', which brings forth 11 intense tales
from the land down under. Having devised a unique blend of psychedelics
and metal, these Aussies plan to finally break out of their home turf and
intoxicate the world with their Pink Floyd meets Coroner antics. Metal
Update had a chat with guitarist / vocalist Adam Agius about thier recent
signing to Relapse Records, their views on Australian living and where
their sound fits on the musical map.
METAL UPDATE: What did Alchemist sound like in the beginning?
Adam Agius: We'll pretty much say a speed thrash metal band in the vein of
Coroner. We wrote our first demos in 1990. We threw in little psychedelic parts.
But they were pretty much thrash metal songs up until a little section that
would be psychedelic and then go through a trippy psychedelic part and
then back into a thrash metal song structure. Pretty much a European
sounding thrash thing.
MU: What initially inspired your sound?
AA: Well, obviously from the metal side of things, bands like
Destruction and Voivod. And then basically in the late 60's early King
Crimson and Pink Floyd. The really early stuff did blow us away and I think that pretty
much inspired us now. The 1967 - 68 psychedelic era made us sort of take that
MU: At what point did your sound take shape into what it is today, and
were there any drastic turning points musically for the band?
AA: I think really from our first album, 'Jar Of Kingdom' in 1993, we
really contrived an album. We really really wanted that one. It was a really
eclectic album. I still think to this day that the 'Jar Of Kingdom' is
one of the craziest things you'll hear from that era. It just grew pretty
naturally from there from the first album 'Jar of Kingdom' to the second
one 'Lunasphere'. 'Lunasphere' was really where we started to find our
sound. That was '95. Then we made a few albums after that which came
really naturally after we found our sort of groove. Around 1995 we
started to really develop our sound.
MU: I know some bands hit a point, see a light and change drastically.
But sometimes it'll be for the better.
AA: It wasn't a drastic change. Lunasphere was just a lot smoother
written album than the first one. It is where our guitarist Roy started to really
come alive as well, and he has a lot to do with our sound.
MU: Does he write the heavy parts or the more melodic parts?
AA: Basically, he writes very little heavy parts. I am responsible for
most of the riff ideas and I'll take them to the band and they're usually just
chord progressions. Usually I will be happy with something but I will be
really blown away when Roy puts his twist on it. That's more of the
hypnotic lead lines that you hear. He does all the sort of
fancywork. He's responsible for the strumming on the clean sounds as
well. He definitely adds a lot of flavor. Usually stuff takes two months
for something that we've written in two days - whatever it takes.
MU: Alchemist clearly has a unique sound. How would one classify
AA: That's something we have trouble doing ourselves. I would say we're a
progressive metal band with psychedelic and old music influences - a bit
of electronica as well. That's about as quick and easy as I can sum it up.
Depending on where you're listening on the album you are going to hear
some sort of different sound. We don't really care too much how we are
tagged. We just hope that whatever tag we are given doesn't scare people
off from listening to us.
MU: In terms of musical styles, where are you most accepted right now?
AA: We've got a wide following here, and it's a cross section of extreme
metal fans, and the alternative thing. We get all sorts to our concerts
whereas a lot of other metal bands just pull a metal crowd. We're pretty
popular with the surf crowd too. It's a large cross section but I would
say it's between the metal scene and the alternative scene pretty much
50/50 these days.
MU: Describe the album title 'Austral Alien' and what it actually means?
AA: Basically Roy came up with that tag for a tour we did in 2001. We
were going to call it the Austral Alien tour - Australian tour. You put the
two words together and it's Australian. We were like, "That's clever.
Let's not use it for a tour. Let's build an album around that concept."
It personifies everything we feel about ourselves and our isolation from the rest of the
world, musically and geographically - our frustrations of being stuck
here and some political views we don't agree with. And because it's our
first world release we wanted to say to the world, "Hey! This is who we
are and this is who we perceive ourselves to be and this is what we feel
is important." Every song is tied to Australia in some way or Australia's
relation to other topics. It's not a complete tight concept but there is
a running theme. That's for sure. We always knew we were unique musically
and we just wanted to personify that into the lyrics and the title. So
far, I've found that international press is being very accepting of the
title and they want to get interested in it, which is exactly what we
wanted to do. We wanted people to be like, "What do you mean by this?"
Our fears, our hopes, and our geographical location could also be a
godsend, but also a bit detrimental as well.
MU: Who writes the lyrics for the band. Would that be you?
AA: I write a lot of the lyrics, but Rodney Holder the drummer writes a
lot of the lyrics as well. So it's kinda 50/50 between him and I. The other
two, they do come up with titles. For example Roy came up with the title
"First Contact" but I wrote the lyrics. So, it's up to anyone. Anyone in the
band can write lyrics. We have no problem with it. What happens is that
sometimes I am inspired by a word and I'll go and write the lyrics.
That's the way I work. But, generally as a rule, it'd be Rodney and
myself throwing ideas back and forth at each other. He'll start some
lyrics or I'll start some lyrics and then we'll chop this line out,
change that line or whatever. And it's never a problem. It's whatever is
going to be best for the song. Then we take any ideas from any of the
other band members. It doesn't matter who comes up with them.
MU: Are the lyrical concepts based on fantasy or reality?
AA: Apart from the song "Older Than The Ancients", definitely reality. I
would say they all deal with some aspect of life or something that
effects our immediate world. There is some fantasy thrown in there, but
there's always a message. There's always something you've got to say.
We've grown tired of the tangible lyrics.
MU: What inspired the lyrical direction on this one?
AA: I think this one really wanted to say something. OK, we've got this
theme 'Austral Alien'. What can we say about ourselves and Australia
that's not going to be hard for foreign people to understand? Basically
we were inspired to say who we were and how we felt. And that inspired us
to write about our politics, the environment, personal issues and stuff
that happens to us personally and not so much fantasy lyrics.
MU: What are the pros and cons of living in Australia?
AA: The pros: clean environment, relatively calm political environment, a
safe environment. We don't have bad gun problems. We have drug problems,
but they are not as bad as some other countries. We enjoy a unique
culture for a 200 year old country. It's a good place to live. It's a
lovely climate and it has beautiful scenery. What's bad about living here
is you're so far away from the rest of the world that you are often
forgotten about. There could be a talented person in Australia and have a
lot of trouble breaking out of here. Also, we've got a very small
population and only about five major cities. It's about three or four
hundred miles between cities. You really have to work hard here to tour.
Really. America's a massive country and at least there are a lot of
places to play. I don't think we'd leave Australia for any other purpose
except for tax evasions. That's another thing too. We have a bad tax
system. We have the highest amount of income tax than any other country
in the world. The government takes almost 30%, depending on how much
you're earning. Americans come to Australia and go, "Wow. It's pretty
much like America." And it is. It is very similar. It's just on a
smaller scale. That's why people in Australia are pretty much turned on
to the rest of the world. They are very educated about what's going on
around them. There's good and bad like any other place.
MU: Would you rather be living elsewhere or are you happy where you are?
AA: Well, I'm pretty happy living in Australia but if I could relocate to
make my music into a full time career, then that's what I'd do. You can
always come home. If someone said, "Look, I can put you on the road for a
year," I'd go. I'd do it. If that was going to pay the bills, that's
exactly what I'd do. At the moment we are looking at getting over for a
month or so at a time. That hasn't happened yet. Who knows. . .
MU: You're guitarist Roy does all the artwork for the band, correct?
MU: What does he use to communicate his ideas? Does he basically use
computer programs like PhotoShop or whatever?
AA: PhotoShop and Flash animation. He's pretty much a graphic designer.
He takes photos and creates it all on the PC. It's pretty much all computer
generated. He can really make album covers that fit the music so we are
really lucky to have his talent aboard for us.
MU: And what better person to have than someone that is actually in the
AA: There's no arguments from us because he gets it right every time.
He'll show us the record cover and we'll go, "Wow, you really nailed that."
It's a lot more work for him but better for us.
MU: Is he employed as an artist?
AA: He does graphic design. He pretty much designs all the metal record
covers in this country at the moment.
MU: So he works for himself?
AA: Yeah. He does contract work. He's actually got quite a bit of work.
MU: What do the rest of you do outside of the band?
AA: I work at a hostel. I am the maintenance man and a carpenter. It's a
rehab hostel so I deal with junkies and general all around fuck ups -
pretty bad place to work but pretty good with time off. I've got to go on
tour and they'll say, "Have fun!" That's the positive and that's why it's
good there. The drummer Rodney teaches music industry theory at the music
industry center just down the road from my house. The bass player Johne
sprays cars. We do all sorts of jobs, but nothing too glamorous.
MU: You gotta do what you gotta do to stay alive.
AA: That's right. We all earn a descent wage so our lifestyles are pretty
MU: Your music is obviously no stranger to effects. How do you achieve
AA: Pretty much what you hear on the record is what you'll hear live -
all the electronics, the keyboards and stuff. In the past I'd stop
playing guitar to play a keyboard solo or a keyboard riff. This time
around we said, "We don't want to limit the keyboard work." So we wrote
the songs guitar based. Then I went back and put it all into my computer
and used virtual instruments to create the electronic segments of
keyboards underneath the music pretty much all the way through on every
song. Live obviously I can't play keyboards for the new songs because
they are intertwined with the guitars so what we have done is employed a
sample artist to come on the road with us live. So that's how we achieve
it. It's pretty much a combination of guitar effects and virtual
instrumentation done on Pro Tools on my computer. That's pretty much how
we achieved it.
MU: Being a predominately psychedelic band, do you guys tend to use
mind-altering substances during the creation of your music?
AA: Maybe on weekends sometimes. Like Saturday I had a good trip. It was
really excellent. That's the first one I've had in many years. On 'Jar Of
Kingdom', I think we did some muckering around at rehearsals, but no way,
not at all anymore.
MU: You've got straight heads while your playing?
AA: We don't even drink beer before we go on and play. We're completely
straight. It takes so much energy. The crowd's not stupid. They'll tell
you to get the hell off the stage. You don't want to piss an Australian
crowd off. You'll get bashed. So we don't. We're in our 30's now so we've
pretty much gotten all of that out of our system in the last decade.
MU: Alchemist is a relatively new band to the masses despite the fact
that you've been around for years. Is Relapse the first major label to take
interest in you or were there others?
AA: Absolutely. Pretty much no one was interested. The little labels like
Displeased in Europe just couldn't give us any exposure whatsoever.
Basically, they are getting us a lot of interviews and press from
overseas and it's all really positive. They are really getting it out
there. They do all a metal label their size can do. They're not Virgin
Records. They're an independent label and they're really working hard.
We're seeing the evidence, you know?
MU: I never discovered you guys before this album and it makes me want to
see what you've done up until now.
AA: We're very happy with Relapse so far. We signed for tour support as
well and we know that they are trying to get us on a tour. That's really
difficult for them. We wanted to be on Relapse for many reasons - they
are not a predominately metal label. They branch out and we like a lot of
the stuff that is on the Release label. They were the first one to pick
it up for a worldwide basis. Unfortunately, no one else wanted to know
MU: Will Relapse be releasing your back catalogue at any time or would
you rather keep the stuff sealed away?
AA: A couple of our albums are really strong records. When we get the
rights off of Shock Records from Australia in 2005 and 2007. . . It's a long way
off. . . Unless Relapse want to license it off them which I doubt that
they are interested in doing because Shock run a pretty hard deal. They
did really well for us in this country. Shock really got it out there and
just re-released every record. Albums on the shelf after 10 years are
still there selling.
MU: Have you ever played outside Australia?
AA: Never. Never even had an offer. We're hoping all that is going to
MU: What is the music scene like in Australia?
AA: It's great. It's on par with everywhere else I've seen in the world.
The advantage is that the crowds are very appreciative. We've got a great
alternative scene. We've got a pretty good metal scene. Like any other
country, we've got really great bands and we have a lot of crap. It's as
good as anywhere else and as strong as anywhere else. With the amount of
people we have in the country, you can sell enough records here if you
are popular enough to make a living. Some of the bigger pop acts sell
100,000 records here. For 16 million people that is a lot of records
MU: If you could tour anywhere, where would be the first stop?
AA: I'd say the States. That's where we are getting most of our positive
feedback from, although Europe is catching up really quickly. America is
where the label is and where they are able to do the best job of
MU: What bands are you currently listening to or music in general?
AA: For me personally, I can't really speak for the others, I am
listening to Opeth, Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, a band called The Music,
Radiohead, Dysrhythmia. That's about my catalogue at the moment.
MU: Opeth and Porcupine Tree just rolled through town.
AA: Did they tour together?
MU: It was absolutely amazing. I was blown away more so than I have been
AA: We played with Opeth on a tour here in April and it was sold out.
Absolutely amazing. Great blokes. Great band live. One of the best metal
bands I've ever seen live around here.
MU: They are incredible. I can see you guys fitting together well.
AA: Yeah. It was a really well fitted tour.
MU: What are the future plans for Alchemist?
AA: Basically we are playing every weekend here until the end of the
year. That's pretty much how you tour in Australia. Day job on Friday, drive
all the way to the venue, do 3 or 4 in a row and then drive home and go
to work. We've just got our minds on touring at the moment. We just have
our eyes set on getting out of the country and playing some shows
overseas. Relapse seems dedicated to getting us over there because there
is tour support in our contract. We are just waiting on the call. It's
not an easy thing for them to place us on the appropriate tour. There's
no point in putting us on a tour with Nile. We're just playing the
waiting game, but we've waited so long that we can continue to wait for
the right reasons. We've got our eyes on the international market and I
suppose after that we'll have our eyes on creating an album that is
better than 'Austral Alien' - to continue to evolve without losing our
review of Alchemist 'Austral Alien'
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