The Soundshark Meets… Luke Gower of Cog

If you’re familiar with Dingwalls, then you’ll know how inconspicuous the place is, that you’ll easily blink and miss it. The same could’ve been said for Australian underground rock icons Cog who performed their only two UK dates over a decade ago. It was like a once in a lifetime celestial event. After reforming in 2016 however, they head out on their first ever European tour in their 20+ year career, co-headlining with fellow stalwarts Sleepmakeswaves, and Luke very generously took the time to sit down on a mild March evening atop Dingwalls’ terrace to talk about Cog’s past, their present, and their future:

On behalf of your UK fanbase, I want to say welcome back after 11 years of being away. Just from the limited time you’ve been here, has your experience been any different from the last time you were in the UK, compared to a decade ago? 

Luke: Yeah, for sure, the last time we were kind of tagged on to do the shows with [NZ band] Shihad. It was very quick, in-and-out type of vibe, but this time, obviously there’s four more countries involved. As far as the UK goes, we gave ourselves a little more time before we started with these shows, to give us a bit more of a chance to have a look around, and I’m loving it, especially this area in Camden. I feel like I could stay here for a while. It’s very bustling, very multi-cultural, very happening, and it’s a pleasure to be here. Last time, we didn’t get that much of a look around, we did the sights, but this time it’s a bit more cruisey and we’re a bit more wiser, eleven years wiser [laughs]. 

I’m not sure if you recall, but you also played a festival, Guilfest… 

Luke: Yes! Is that still going? 

It went under new management a little while ago and under the new name Always The Sun Festival.

Luke: I remember an inflatable stage of sorts, or an inflatable something on the side, and I remember we went after or before, was it the Bay City Rollers? 

[Editor’s note: They did indeed play before the Bay City Rollers.] 

Luke: My brother was only here for two days, I was only here for three days but it was a bit of a blur. I do remember having technical difficulties at Shepherd’s Bush, but a great crowd and an awesome venue, I remember the venue very well. I don’t remember too much of the festival, other than we got there, we banged it out and got on a bus to go to the airport. 

Despite being the short in-and-out trip, would you say it holds a place in your heart being among your first international shows? 

Luke: Even though we’re only playing two shows over here again, we were definitely looking forward to coming back to England, because culturally, so much good music and so many good bands and people that I’ve listened to growing up come from this area or these areas in England. You know, as a muso, you just want to get a sense of what it was like for those bands at the time. I think you can relate to it in certain ways, but you’re talking about bands that I idolised. I’d definitely like to come back and play more shows. 

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Credit: Moshcam

Just to use a parallel to this, a band I’m sure you’re familiar with, Mammal, their first international shows were in the UK, around four or five dates or so if I recall correctly. What does it mean for Australian bands to come over and play in the UK? Is there any special meaning attached to that? 

Luke: I think for them, I think it’s one step closer to making themselves more successful and more match-fit so to speak. If you’ve come over here, that’s a big leap for an Australian band. There’ll be thousands of Australian bands that never got the chance to come over here for a number of reasons. For us to do it after this amount of time, it’s a huge deal for us, it’s an opportunity. This could be the difference for us not coming back and spending the rest of our lives playing in our own country, which admittedly is great, but it could also open up the doors to us playing in other places. I think it’s kind of a stepping stone as well as a love affair, you wanna come here because so many fucking good bands are from here, and I think the general gist in Australia is that people from all those European countries say ‘Oh, you should come to Germany, or the UK, there’s so many people that would love your music there.’ Australia is a big country but there’s really not that many people that live there. 

You guys tour extensively and have always toured extensively, what does it mean to you guys to tour so much? What do you get out of touring now as opposed to ten years ago?

Luke: For one, I suppose you get a break from your family life [laughs]. The last ten years for me, there’s been three kids, it’s a completely different life I lead these days than I did ten years ago. [Touring]’s food for your soul. I feel very fortunate that I can work five days a week at home as a carpenter but then I can play shows and tour. I build houses for a living, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do even as an eighteen year old when I left school, that was the crossroads for me. I was working as a carpenter but I couldn’t manage to do Cog and carpentry. Cog was moving at a rapid rate then, I was investing my whole heart and soul into that project, I had to make a decision and so I chose the music. I feel lucky that I’m now able to do both things. I still think I’ve got something to offer musically, I still think people enjoy coming to watch us play and it’s just been such a massive part of my life, about half of my life playing musicI feel the same about it as I did twenty years ago to be honest. I get up there and go into my own little world, and I love that feeling, trying to capture that magic, with my brother and Lucius. If you’re not feeling nervous or getting butterflies before a show or getting excited to play to about ten people, then you should probably fucking stop doing it. 

Absolutely, your heart has to be in it, and if you’re doing it solely for the money then you’re doing it for completely the wrong reasons.

Luke: See, that’s the funny thing, if you get to the stage where your band does reach a level of success where you don’t have to work, you are doing it for the money, you know what I mean? Then you throw in responsibilities like children and paying bills, it’s up to you to maintain that kind of level of drive and motivation. I find it weird when people say that, ‘I’m not doing it for the money, I’m doing it for the love,’ but they have to do it for the money if that’s what’s putting clothes on their back and food on the table. It’s a double-edged sword. For years I used to say I do it for the love, and I do, but when it reached that point for us, where I stopped working and I was paying myself a wage from the band, it was the fucking greatest day of my life. In saying that, that’s also the day I realised, hang on, I’m not only doing it for the love, I am actually doing it for the money because I need money to live! [laughs] 

So you’re on tour with the fabulous Sleepmakeswaves, if you were to embark on another European tour, who would you like to take along for the ride? 

Luke: So many, so many great bands we’ve played with along the way. I’d really like to take a band from New Zealand called Jakob, another instrumental band. Just different, really, really dynamic, I’d love for them to have that opportunity, I think they have played in the UK before but you couldn’t quote me on that [Editor’s note: They played the UK in 2004, 2015 and 2016]. It’s been 15 years since we’ve toured with them, we had such a great time with them, good bunch of blokes, and just really enjoyed their music. We’ve always tried to put together gigs or bills together where, me personally, I don’t really like to go and see a gig where there’s three bands that sound exactly the same. I think that’s too much for the listener, I like it to be different. We’ve had so many different kind of things in place, like documentaries playing instead of a support band. You could run into trouble or shoot yourself in the foot if you got too diverse I think, but just try and mix it up. 

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Credit: Mark Stapelberg/Asagai Images

On that subject, just to name a few other bands you’ve also subsequently toured with, Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus for example, when you guys reformed in 2016, those bands rejoiced and consistently sung your praises on social media at the news. What does it mean to you to be held in such high regard by bands you could consider your peers, and your friends and fellow countrymen? 

Luke: It’s great, it feels very humbling. We were all doing a similar thing at a similar time, we’re all happy for each other, and that we’re all still going and still making music, and still enjoying it. I think there’s a genuine feeling that we all want each other to succeed and do the best we can. [Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus] seemed to have had more opportunities or they’ve created more opportunities, however it’s worked for themselves, to get over to places like Europe and India and America, where we had a bit of a funny run in terms of management and record labels. We probably made some foolish decisions or were just naïve, it just didn’t pan out that way for us. I speak to those guys on a regular basis, I go and watch them play nearly every time they’re in town or in the city. I go to their weddings, my children play with their children, our crew does stuff with those bands and vice versa. It’s become more of a family. It was a really, really exciting time for a young person, when I was touring around with those bands hardcore, in the early days, it was fucking great. There was a sense of what we were creating, this thing in Australia that no other musos were doing, we could change the world! [laughs] For a young country, it’s like a massive melting pot, and I think a lot of Australian bands strive to not sound like other bands, the good ones anyway. If you really break Cog down, there’s influences from reggae, from blues, stoner rock to metal, Jeff Buckley, there’s even dance music in there. 

So to talk about a new album, it would be the first album in over ten years for you guys. You mentioned before that you’ve written new material but also brought back some old material that didn’t fit with Sharing Space, would you say that what you have so far is predominantly more new material or revisiting old music you wrote? 

Luke: I would say 90% new. So [Altered States] was a track we’d already recorded, we had oodles of material from back then and after we came back from the hiatus, there were still things we worked on up until we disbanded, that we thought were too good just to throw away. We did also want to experiment with where we were mentally, our tastes had probably changed in over ten years as they do, and more excited to explore a bit more of that space. We’ve got so much material, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. We dumped everything onto a computer about six months ago now, and got brutal with it. There was so much stuff and we just needed to be honest with each other, so if one person didn’t like it, it could be a riff, it could be a beat, it could be a vocal idea or a melody, it got canned. The Police did a similar thing where they jammed on something for fifteen minutes, and if it wasn’t a song by fifteen minutes, they’d throw it in the bin. We’re not that brutal, but we got about half way going through everything and we all agreed to work on one thing, which ended up becoming The Middle.

In terms of an album, I’d love to say we’d have something out by the end of the year, but I just don’t think it’s a reality for us for so many reasons. Money being one, and also time. Flynn’s got his own business, I’m a carpenter as I’ve said, and Lucius is doing his other things. I feel like I’ve got ten fires burning around me, and all I’m doing is throwing more wood on each fire to keep them burning, and while I love the idea of recording an album, it seems the music industry and the way people buy music and listen to music is moving in a different direction. It’s not like it used to be, people hear a song, they buy the song. I love physical music, you’d have to wait for the album to come out, and go out and buy the album physically, and I love that. I’ve never downloaded any music in my entire life, I’ve stayed away from social media, I’ve accepted it, but I prefer to live my life and not have to tell everyone what I’m doing. I hardly have enough time to live it, let alone tell everyone about it! [laughs] Anyway, at the moment we’ve got our own studio now, we’ve built it, Lucius has moved up to where me and Flynn are living, and we’re happy going in and working on a song, and like Cog’s always done, it takes forever to work on a song, and if we don’t think it’s ready, we won’t give it to anyone. When it’s ready, it’s ready. We’re not a band that writes 20 songs and releases 10, we’re a band that writes 10 songs and releases 10 songs. 

My last question then, with the commodity of downloading and streaming, when you released Sharing Space, the download and streaming industry was very much in its infancy, if you were to release a third album, how would you release it? 

Luke: We would do it independently. I’m not sure how we’d do it, but I’d just like to do it out of our garage. Like ,’This is it, if you want it, come and get it from us’. It’s going to end up out there, someone’s going to put it up there and everyone’s going to get it for free anyway, but I would like to print physical copies and CDs, and that’s how you get it. I just think bands get ripped off for putting so much into an album, and getting no fucking financial gain from any of that. How is it any different from an artist painting a picture, and selling the picture? It’s a bit disheartening, but I guess the upside from putting music online is that anyone in the world can find it and listen to it. It’s a tough one, but now the only means for a band now to survive is through live shows and their merchandise. You can sell a million copies of your album and get fuck all for it, and I don’t see it as very fair to the artist.  

You do also have bands that have made a relatively good living without having a record label too.

Luke: Are they necessary? [Record labels] have their pros and cons, they obviously have fingers in reach of all aspects, like your marketing and your publishing. If you’re Joe Blow off the street and you try to walk in, that’s a lot of phone calls, and there’s a lot of not what you know, who you know, in that industry. A very good pro from a record label’s perspective is that they have that sussed and they have the infrastructure already in place. I think at the end of the day, if you’ve got something good and you’re 100% behind it and you fully believe in what you’re doing, if you build it, they will come. 

Luke, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk you, thank you.

 

A big, big thank you to Matthew ‘Yogi’ Donnan and Volume Touring, and of course to Luke Gower and Cog, for making this happen.

All of Cog’s newest music has been released independently on their Bandcamp page, whereas their merchandise and some previous music can be obtained on their BigCartel.

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The Soundshark Meets… The Qemists

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?

(laughs)

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.

(laughs)

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.

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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.

(laughs)

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.

Warrior Sound is out now on Amazing Record Co. and at all reputable music retailers, so if you don’t own it yet, go get it.

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