Metal from Canada can never go wrong and STRIKER come to confirm this with the solid “Play To Win” album. METAL KAOZ got on the phone guitarist Timothy Brown to learn everything about the making of the album and how going DIY is probably a great way to release and promote your own music. Check it out.
Hello, this is Dimitris from METAL KAOZ.
How's it going?
Great, how are you, man?
I'm doing good.
So, let's start right away; this is the third album in three year’s time, right? How have you managed to keep up at this pace? It's almost an old school pace.
Yeah, yeah. I think, for us, the biggest thing is that we just really love music. I mean, that's why we started the band.
[interrupting] Well, it's not enough sometimes...
Yeah, but I think a lot of bands get together for all kind of reasons; not necessarily for the love of music but, for us, the big thing is when we come home from work, some people like to watch TV or play video games, and we like to work on our music. Pick up the guitar and have fun; that's all about.
Awesome! “Play To Win” is the third STRIKER album being independently released. So, first of all, Record Breaking Records is just a label the band has created to release only for STRIKER or are there any thoughts of including other bands as well?
So far is just us, but that's one thing we're thinking of expanding to. We're pretty experienced in the music industry so we are thinking to share our knowledge and help other bands, our friends who are involved in other bands and put great music out. The reason we started this label is because we didn't believe that the way the labels are currently working is fair; I mean, why would you sign your right away – would you give up basically everything just to put an album out when you could do that yourself, so we were looking for a new way to do it. And if we're to start working with other bands we definitely want to figure out a new way to move forward with everyone.
So, this was a decision that you made back when you're were about to release “Stand In The Fire” or was it after?
After “City Of Gold” was finished, it was the end of the main part of our contract with Napalm Records so we had some optional albums that were in the contract that we might have been able to do with Napalm. We started negotiations with them of the options of that contract and then, it was just like “what's the point of even trying this record deal”. I mean, they basically were giving us nothing and they were taking all the rights away, a huge part of royalties for sales and we had to buy the albums from them in a ridiculous price so we were like “why would you do that?”. You're setting yourself up for failure; there's no way you can succeed in that environment. Also, they're in Europe, so you had to wait for them to get back, conversations would take weeks so, we had to figure out something and basically, after a while there's no way... [interrupting himself] we can definitely do this better by ourselves. There's no way that someone else could do a better job for us than we could do. So, for us, that was a big thing; we just said “hey, let's go to the bank and see what they will offer us in terms of loan”. The sad thing is that if you go to any bank basically, anyone can get a way better loan than what we could ever get from a label in terms of what a label is willing to give you as an advance. For us, this is a no-brainer choosing whether to sign with a label and, basically, get nothing or to get a loan from a bank and invest in yourself.
In theory, the record label provides the man-power, the proper media channels, connection and so on, right?
[laughs] well, the record labels have been shrinking as it has become a realy tough market out there and therefore, they are trying to do more with less and – I think – all of their staff is overworked. For example, their marketing guy may have to work with 15 or even 30 bands, I don’t know, and they are basically putting out fires 24/7. Just because the labels do not have the resources and the man-power, they wait until there is an emergency before doing something about it.
I guess, this is also the reason why we have all these PR agencies taking a chunk of this work; although, I cannot say that this is always better, but it is something.
At least with PR agencies if you are not happy with them, you can go and work with a different one. But with a record label you cannot do that.
So, being independent sounds peachy but, I am sure there must be some downsides when going solo.
I think the only thing that is more difficult is, because you have to do everything yourself, you need to be motivated and be able to prioritize. And if you do that, you will realize that you are more efficient and, in most of the times, you are doing things cheaper than a record label would do. For example, you may need to register your music in CD Baby and you ask the record label to do it for you, but it may take then weeks whereas, if you'd do it on your own it would probably take just one hour. There are always things like that so, as long as you are motivated and you are willing to learn then, I would say that there is no downside in going independent.
Again, I think what you are doing is not for everyone because I have seen bands out there that only know how to write and play music and have no idea about the rest.
You are right but that’s what I am saying; you need to be motivated and have an interest to learn how this market works. Otherwise, going independent is not for you.
From what you are saying, STRIKER are playing to win, right? [laughs]
How did long it take to write “Play To Win”?
The writing started in the Summer of 2017 and then, we had the North American tour, which lasted five weeks I think, and when we returned from that, we finalized the album and started the recording session. We worked on it until December 2017, and we had the masters ready at the beginning of 2018. We sat on it for a while making sure that it would be the best release possible. When you spent so much time writing and recording an album you should spend the same amount of time, effort and resources on releasing the music to make sure that people will hear the album, make sure that you have a tour and proper promotional material etc. Once we had the album ready, we decided to do everything we could to get it out.
The album’s credits have the band as being responsible for the production; was this a team effort or more like a Tim effort? [laughs]
[laughs] We’ve been doing the production for the last three albums and sending them off for the mixing and mastering. This is similar to being your own label; I mean, if you are willing to learn and put time and effort to get things exactly the way you want them. You can really split hairs and get things perfect because sometimes when you’re paying someone to do this for you, you say “eh, that’s good enough” just to move on. For example, I recorded all the guitars by myself in my house and there was no “that’s good enough”; I would do the solo as many times as I needed to get it perfect. Studio time is expensive, sometimes the engineer gets bored or whatever… It is really nice to sit down and work to get it the way you want it.
And you chose to work withHenrik Udd for mixing and mastering, correct?
Yeah, we had worked with Henrik for “City Of Gold”; he used to work at Studio Fredman with Fredrik Nordström. Fredrik did “City Of Gold”, “Stand In The Fire” and our self-titled album. For “Play To Win”, we wanted to get a more modern sound and an “in-your-face” mix so since we knew Henrik’s work and since we had worked with him in the past, we decided to ask him if he would be available and he said ‘yes’. It’s been a pleasure working with him. Originally, the plan was to fly to Sweden to work with him but we had a tour planned so we had to stay home. The tour did not work out but thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we were able to do this by sending emails back and forth, tweaking things like the delay on the guitars or the reverb on the vocals or, you know, really small things. We are really happy how it turned out.
It is kind of funny to hear you say that you wanted to add a modern sound in the album because, my next question was about the 80s vibe of “Play To Win” but now, I am kind of confused. Also, I think there are songs with Hard Rock elements like “The Front” or the groovy “Headfirst”. Am I totally wrong?
Well, I think a lot of the 80s music was focused on being good music. I mean, with bands like IRON MAIDEN what you are left with, is good music; it’s catchy, the melodies are great, it’s interesting and, I think, this was the basis for the 80s Metal. If you fast-forward into the 90s and the 00s especially with the Nu-Metal stuff, you know, with all that weird Metalcore, Hardcore kind of stuff, a lot of that kind of splinters away from focusing specifically on the songs and the melodies and shifts on to other things like, how technical I get be, how brutal and grim I can make it all sound. I think, all of these things do not serve the song and for us, it is all about adding stuff that will make the song better for people to enjoy. And that’s, where the similarity with the 80s comes from. We are huge fan of all the different bands from the 80s. There is also interesting music coming out these days because it has become so easy to record and release stuff on your own these days.
Yeah, but at the same time it has become extremely hard to follow. For a music fan like myself, it is almost impossible to stay on top of things.
Yes, it is almost like a tidal wave of music; there are all kinds of stuff. But there are ways to help you with this, like Spotify or just rely on your friends because everyone is on the lookout for good music. It has become a huge part of our life; I mean, we used to have walkmans, then portable CD player but nowadays, with the smartphones everybody is listening to music all the time. Music is more popular than ever. But yes, you are right, because it has become so difficult to find your music due to amount of new releases.
As we wrap this up I wanted to ask, is Randy Black, who recorded the drums in “Play To Win”, the same guy who played with ANNIHILATOR and PRIMAL FEAR?
That is correct, he also played with us in “Stand In Fire”.
What do you need to say or do, to convince him to join STRIKER on tour?
[laughs] Not too much. Unfortunately, Adam [Brown] had broken his arm so he could not play on this album. Randy, who happens to be a family friend of Chris Segger’s, agreed to step in. He is awesome and an amazing drummer.
Thank you Tim for your time and hopefully, we’ll see you live here in Chicago.
Thank you too, Dimitris we will definitely see you in Chicago.