They say that you never forget your first time, and while that phrase applies to a lot of situations, this instance may surprise you a little. You see, I have never interviewed a band before in my life. So starting your resume out with a renowned Brighton drum ‘n’ bass crossover outfit, riding the wave of success high in 2016, is setting your standards pretty lofty. No pressure then.
After creeping in through an unguarded back door, wondering if at any moment I was going to get thrown out on my ass for trespassing, The Qemists were slap bang in the middle of their soundcheck. MC and all-round nice guy Bruno greets me like an old friend and apologises that they are still soundchecking, and asks if it it’ll be alright to do the interview when they’re finished. I’m working on their time, so I happily agree and perch upon a ladder nearby, while a happy medium is deliberated upon with the soundsystem. A balance is struck eventually, and Bruno, Olly, Dan, Leon, Liam and myself step inside the venue’s dressing room, which I’m sure doubles as the cleaning facilities on weekdays and sit around the coffee table. I’m straight up with them and say this is my first time interviewing, to which the response was that if my nerves got the better of me and the questions were sub-par, they would derail the interview to question me instead. We laughed about it, yet part of me thinks that would’ve made for more entertaining reading. But after a deep breath, I press play on the voice recorder, place it down on the table and we talk the past, the present and the future, of The Qemists:
So prior to March, you guys hadn’t had an album out for about six years (the last being Spirit In The System), how did it feel to finally release Warrior Sound?
Leon: Yeah, it was quite an achievement.
Bruno: A relief?
Leon: Yeah, it was a relief. I mean, we do take a long time over albums, that one took about three years to write, Join The Q took about three years to write. When you’re programming everything from scratch and then writing as well, and with performing in mind… We take our sweet time over it. So after all the work in the studio, the time that was spent on it and the polishing of the mixes, then checking the mixes and the mastering, checking them in clubs, it was a pretty good achievement and feeling. We’re quite proud of it.
Dan: We spent a lot of time gigging leading up to it, which mean that for the first time we could really test those tracks leading up to release, rather than just finishing a record and taking it out live, actually playing tracks out live and changing them etc. But yeah, it was really, really good to get that third album out of the way, I feel like three is a much nicer number than two.
Bruno: Three’s the magic number!
So because you’ve had so long to road test the new material before and after Warrior Sound’s release, what would you say are your favourite songs to play live and which songs do you get the biggest reactions from?
Leon: The response to Run You has been amazing.
Bruno: Run You definitely stands head and shoulders above the rest because it’s something that people have identified with from the lyrics and it’s something they’re singing lyrics back in any country we’ve been in the last… well, since the release of the album. Obviously it’s grown show after show.
Dan: The video has been pretty successful too.
Bruno: Some of them fluctuate between shows, like Anger was something we were unsure of for the first couple of shows and suddenly it shot up and started to get more popular.
Dan: When we were touring with Enter Shikari and Crossfaith, we had quite short sets and we kept asking, ‘Should we play Anger or We Are The Problem or Let It Burn?’ Different places and different countries really go for different tracks…
Leon: In Tokyo, we played Anger with Ken [Koie] from Crossfaith doing the vocals, and they have a huge Japanese following, and that got the best reaction we’ve seen to that track.
Bruno: But yeah, different songs, different gigs, different countries all lend themselves to different crowds, but as far as which songs are enjoyable to play, all of them really!
Leon: We do change the set every night pretty much, write it on the back of a napkin before we go on.
Olly, you were formerly in another Brighton crossover band Collisions, how did you come to join the Qemists family?
Bruno: We killed the rest of them.
Olly: Everything exploded, everything was on fire… No, well, I’d been doing a fair bit of consultation work with 7pm Management, who’d taken on The Qemists unbeknownst to me actually, and I’d been doing some work with [The Qemists’ manager] and he’d been helping me out, putting me in touch with some people for the furtherment of Collisions. One of the things he suggested to me was working with the boys on a couple of tracks, which at the time would’ve obviously been fantastic promotion for Collisions. We went and worked on Run You and New Design, and I had such a great time working with these guys, it seemed to transpire afterwards that they ended up looking for a new vocalist and I jumped at the chance to get involved, especially after putting these two tracks together, seeing how they operate and wanting a piece of it.
Leon: I think it was a result of how well those two tracks came together, that made us realise that we needed another singer, a full-time permanent member. We always used to have featured vocals here and there, but it got to the point that there were so many tracks that Olly was working on on the new album, that it was like, ‘Well this is the sound of the album now, this is the sound of the Qemists.’ We needed a rock singer, it happened pretty organically in the studio and we haven’t looked back.
A lot has changed in six years, not just in the Qemists camp, but on a global scale too. From a critical perspective on your albums, Join The Q is you guys putting your stamp on the musical landscape and Spirit In The System is more experimental in its output. Warrior Sound really represents the first album with a consistent sound and having an overall message, what was the reason for this?
Liam: It was a conscious decision to be honest, to have a thread of continuity running through the album. I think we felt that although there was some good material on the first and second albums, there wasn’t that continuity and we wanted it, and that was another reason for having permanent members vocally. That continuity was a result of having those permanent members and working together on tracks. Bruno has been part of the live band for the first two albums, but he hadn’t had a lot of studio time with us, and it was high time that that happened. So it was a conscious decision, but a byproduct of us bringing these guys in.
There are some great collaborations on the album with Hacktivist, Charlie Rhymes, Ghetts and obviously you’ve mentioned Kenta Koie from Crossfaith, but there’s also the least amount of collaborations on a Qemists album so far, again was this a conscious decision or the result of writing over a period of six years?
Liam: Yeah, it was kinda conscious again, we were building tracks with Bruno and Olly and they were writing vocals that worked and fit, and there wasn’t necessarily a need to go out and seek different people. Also, if you go too diverse with it, you start deleting that continuity again.
Leon: When we have a featuring on this album, it’s somebody featuring the five of us. Bruno and Olly almost feature on every track that has a featured vocal as well, so it was about bringing a featured artist in not to replace the members of the band, but to work with them and be what a featuring artist should be, to enhance the sound of your act.
So focusing on changes once more, you guys separated from long time label Ninja Tune some years ago and you signed with the amazing folks at the aptly named Amazing Record Co. but around the same time, you signed with FiXT, one of the biggest independent electronic labels in the world. What’s it like working with Celldweller and the FiXT team?
Leon: They’ve been great.
Liam: Admittedly we haven’t had a lot of one-to-one time with them, when we joined we had a really cool Skype call with everyone and that says a lot about the label because they went out of their way to make that happen, so the new artists they’d signed could meet everybody, talk to everybody, know who everybody was…
Bruno: It was very warm and welcoming.
Liam: Yeah, very family orientated, which is not dissimilar to some extent the experiences we had with Ninja Tune, and we’re still on good terms with them.
Leon: But the difference is with Ninja Tune, we were different to everything else on their label and that was probably the reason that we went our separate ways after our contract was up. Whereas with FiXT, it makes total sense to be there with Celldweller and Blue Stahli and the other acts on that label. We just got a remix of Jungle by SeamlessR as well, these guys all just have great sounds that really appeal to us.
One of the things that FiXT are quite big on is their licensing, they have a lot of their music on TV, commercials and films. I personally discovered you first from Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, that had Stompbox and the On The Run VIP on it. Would you say that licensing has played as big a part as your live performances in your exposure and success?
Dan: Oh definitely, if not more really.
Liam: Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do what we have done.
Leon: And if you look at the YouTube comments on any of our videos, you’ll see comments saying, ‘This game brought me here or this movie brought me here.’ We’ve done cinema trailers for Thor, did one of the Star Trek movies, Terminator: Genisys recently and things like that. We just love doing that. We are studio musicians as well as live musicians, and those projects just give us such a scope and again, another reason why we identify with Celldweller because he’s a master at it.
Another thing that FiXT are quite big on is their artist synergy, they have everyone collaborate with each other and remix each other’s material, as you’ve said with SeamlessR’s remixes of Jungle and Warrior Sound as well. But at the same time
you were snapped up by FiXT, The Algorithm were snapped up, who you’ve toured with in the past and are also one of the hottest crossover acts on the planet right now, is there any chance that we could see an Algorithm and Qemists collaboration?
Liam: Ooooooh, we did talk about that, studio time to collide, but he’s pretty busy…
Leon: Yeah he’s always busy touring, but we’re up for it! Over to you Remi, if you’re reading this, we’d love to!
Do you guys have a bucket list of who you’d like to collaborate with or if you could have a dream collobaration, who would it be with?
Leon: Zack de la Rocha’s just put out a solo album and he didn’t come to us to produce it. He went to his mates in Run The Jewels instead, but I love the records they produce together.
Dan: I’d say Twenty One Pilots.
Leon: We’ve been listening to Twenty One Pilots a lot recently.
Liam: I’d like to sit down and make some disgusting noises with Noisia for an afternoon.
Leon: I had a fun experience sat on a sofa with Nik from Noisia and Jonathan Davis from KoRn, I was sitting in the middle and they were playing their new collaborations, what they’d been working on in the studio, you know like one of those YouTube gatherings except there’s people playing demos and stuff… but yeah, there’s some pretty fantastic people to collaborate with right there.
Bruno: KoRn would be a good one.
Leon: We’ve just done a cover of Blind by KoRn and James [‘Munky’ Shaffer] emailed us and said he loved it and he was gonna play it to the band, so that’s absolutely awesome, that’s what you want to hear when you do a cover, for the person who wrote it to say it’s worthy.
You guys have done some eclectic remixes and covers in your time, of Coldcut, The Damned, In Flames, Roots Manuva… Are your remixes ever planned or does one person come in and say something like ‘I had a dream that we covered Careless Whisper,’ and you take it from there?
Leon: No, they’re requested.
Liam: The artist normally gets in touch and says, ‘Can we have a remix?’ and we go, ‘Yes,’ and then we work out how we’re gonna do it. They’re pretty diverse those artists, and doing an In Flames remix versus a Roots Manuva remix takes a different approach each time.
Dan: We’ve kinda cut down on the amount of remixes we’ve done recently because they take a lot of time.
Leon: Yeah, you’ve got to be an act known for their remixes, like Noisia or someone you know whom a remix could be a huge track for them. Whereas with us, with the live performance and we release full albums, not every dance artist who does remixes releases full albums, and it started getting a little bit too much for us and we’ve refused a lot of remixes, but it’s always great when you get a good opportunity.
For the amount of remixes and covers that you guys have produced, have you ever considered making another Soundsystem- style CD where you stick a compilation of all those tracks together?
Liam: Yeah, as that body of work builds, which it has relatively recently, when you have that body of work sitting there, it would be a miss to not do something cool with it like that. So I think when that opportunity presents itself, and the material is there, absolutely it’s something we’ll do.
So, the end of the year is coming up, what are the plans in these last few months and into 2017 for The Qemists?
Dan: First up, is the shiny new Jungle video.
Leon: It’s about time to get a new video out. We’ve actually just finished a new EP, as kind of a follow-up to Warrior Sound, and we’re gonna put that out and stick a couple of new tunes on YouTube.
Dan: We’ve worked on a collaboration with some Russian guys called Teddy Killerz, who were signed to Ram Records, so we’ve got a track coming out on Ram Records which is really cool.
Leon: We’ve made a lot of music recently with not necessarily a purpose in mind since Warrior Sound, but we should keep this up, we should get back in the studio and keep writing. So we’ll do something with it all, it’s sounding really, really nice I think! We want people to hear it.
My last question then, though it is a little way off, say two-three years time, but it seems crazy to think that Join The Q is nearly ten years old, do you have anything pencilled in or on paper for a potential anniversary tour?
Liam: You know what? I hadn’t thought about that, but since you kinda mentioned it, it is gonna be that soon.
Leon: We signed our deal in 2006, didn’t we?
Dan: When was Join The Q? 2009?
Leon: It was in 2009. Early 2009.
Dan: February 2009.
Leon: Yeah, we’ll totally do that, good plan.
Olly: You could be our manager!
I won’t take all the credit for it, honest!
Bruno: Well, you can have you plus another on the guestlist!
Thanks very much gents, an absolute pleasure.
A big shout out to Libby from The Noise Cartel, Jenny from Amazing Record Co., and of course The Qemists for making this all possible.
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