» N. J. Biggs - Sonic Syndicate
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Interview conducted October 10 2016
Interview published October 212016

"There's gonna be doors opened for us and doors slammed for us."

Swedish/British outfit Sonic Syndicate has almost completely changed the sound and direction on the new album Confessions [Release date: October 14th]. I was personally quite surprised when I listened to the album for the first time and without a doubt I personally support this change of style from light death metal/metalcore to today's electronic hard rock/electronic rock.

Most bands that find totally new ways tend to alienate their audience and what will happen to Sonic Syndicate remains to be seen. Metal Covenant met a pretty sleepy, yet excited, Nathan J. Biggs before the band's gig in Stockholm to listen to the vocalist's point of view on this regeneration.

Tobbe: You have really changed your style on the new album, musically, and what led up this change of direction?

Nathan: It just felt really, really good and really right for us to do. We've had a very turbulent past as a band, you know, and we're not hiding anything. We've had member changes, members leave, members had family. We've had tours which have been grinded to a halt in the middle, because members have had children and things. So yeah, it's been a turbulent band in its general existence, but finally now it's like the smoke is cleared. We even have a new record label [Despotz Records] and it's just like "What do we want to do now?".

Everything is kind of neutral and calm again and we've got great people behind us. It's just me, Robin [Sjunnesson, guitar] and Michel [Bärzén, bass] and it feels like when you're a kid starting a band. It's like, you know, when you go and practice with friends after school kind of thing. It's got that kind of energy, and that kind of innocence about it, and that kind of creativity, just trying things out. So that had a lot to contribute to the new kind of sound, you know. Just not being scared and just trying new things and exploring the tastes that we're into genre-wise.

But the big things was: is that we wrote pretty much a whole album and we did pre-production for an album with Nuclear Blast and they didn't wanna take it with us, and we really had to analyze why. It was good and it was some great songs on there, some cool riffs, some catchy stuff, but it would be more of what you'd expect our album to sound like. You came to me and said "Wow! Change of direction." and there's like a smile on your face. It's a surprise, and Great! If you'd have come and said "Oh, the new album. Talk us through it. It's more of the same stuff.", that would have been boring for us, that would have been boring for the public, the fans and that would have been boring for you.

I just think we were starting to repeat ourselves a little bit, with the self titled album [2014] to some of the older Sonic material and if we want to separate ourselves and not be compared to another band, then now is the time we have to do it. You know, if we did another album we should have been part of this melodic death metal genre or metalcore genre and then we would have never escaped it.

I can speak for the others as well, 'cause we all agree with each other, but if I would have done another album like that it would have blocked my creativity, our creativity, and it would have been our last album, most likely. We would have finished as a band. 'Cause that's what it had come to, so it was this time to rejuvenate it and most of all have fun and just try different things and that's how Confessions started.

Tobbe: So for people who haven't heard the album yet, how would you personally describe the new album, in comparison to your older stuff or the rest of your stuff?

Nathan: In some respects it's night and day, like it's a completely different record, a completely different style and energy, but at the same time, you know, we've got this click of fans who have been following us through our evolution. You know, we tried to do a step with We Rule The Night back in 2010. That was kind of me and Robin steering the ship with our new influences and letting them out a little bit more.

And we got this great group of fans that were really into it, from that, and I think that they've almost been waiting for us to open ourselves up and see what else we can do. So how to describe it, differently from the other stuff? It's hard, because we were a part of this melodic death metal genre before. You could lump us in with that and if someone asks "Who do your band sound like?", then I had no choice almost but to say "We sound, like, a bit like In Flames, or we sound a bit like Soilwork, or Mnemic, or Threat Signal", you know. And I don't wanna be like that. If someone asks me "What does your band sound like?", I wanna say "Listen to it!". That's what I want to say.

I want to be able to stand up for ourselves. I mean, there's a lot of pop, there's a lot of hooks, there's a lot of electronics going on in there now. I was reading some review earlier today and they call this "Modern electro rock" and I was just like "Whatever makes you happy, dude.". [Laughs] Put a label on it, if it makes you happy.

Tobbe: I would personally call it, like, electronic hard rock, or even electronic rock.

Nathan: And I'm more happy with that, because electronic is kind of what's going on with the modern kind of technology that we're using. A lot of synths and samples and things. And rock, for me that is an attitude and an overall style. I'd put metal in rock as well. You know, there's so many sub-genres now, but metal is just a sub-genre of rock'n'roll.

Tobbe: But is the change of music style so extensive that you even thought of a name change?

Nathan: At one point, yeah. I mean, we've been through all the emotions. We thought about stopping music all together. We thought about it and then we realized we can't waste this, because we have so much fun playing together and creating together and we got so much more to give, so that wasn't an option.

And then we were just like "OK, shall we change the name?", 'cause it essentially is, you know, Robin just from the original Sonic lineup, and then I joined the band later. So it's only the two of us, really, from the Sonic Syndicate that people have come to know. So we thought about it, but then we were just like "No.", you know. We know we've got this great fanbase that come to our shows all over the world and they love us for what we're doing, what we're trying to do and what we stand for.

There's always gonna be this clique of, you know, the old school, that grew up with the first couple of albums from Sonic. And that's fine! They can enjoy those album and they can love or hate the new stuff, but we know that we have got this great fanbase of modern music listeners that are with us, so to cheat them, by starting a new band, I think, wouldn't be fair to them and it wouldn't be fair to us.

Tobbe: About the lyrical content. Is it really your Confessions?

Nathan: God, yes. It's almost uncomfortably honest. And then I know people are gonna ask me about it and it's just like: I want to tell people, because it's honest emotion and I know people can identify with it. But at the same time it's like a lot of my life on there and some stuff you need to bury a little bit. [Laughs] Obviously it's gonna come back now, but I guess that's cathartic. I guess that's good.

Tobbe: Can you interpret the lyrics in 2 ways, like what is truth and what is fiction?

Nathan: Before, my style of writing, I would always have an emotion and I would kind of use personal experience to kind of build a story out of it, that represented the emotion and therefore make it general so people could kind of interpret it how they wanted and have a bit of kind of mystery about it. But this time it is literally just…blood. Everything has happened, all my emotions, everything that we've gone through with the band and, you know, personal stuff on there, like a hundred percent honest. No bullshit this time.

Tobbe: Maybe it's easier for you to sing those lyrics?

Nathan: Yeah. I guess I tried to be poetic more before, where now I just did not care. I just wrote whatever came from the heart and has really made sure it was a hundred percent me and hundred percent genuine.

Tobbe: And the vocal performance is obviously much lighter than it used to be. You know, clean singing, so what were thoughts when you were thinking about which singing style you would put on the album?

Nathan: I wanted to explore what I can do with my voice a lot more. I never pretended to be the best screamer in the world. I enjoyed it and I love, you know, heavy beatdowns and things, and doing some high-pitch screams. It's a lot of fun and it adds this visceral tone to the songs. And I always said "I'm not gonna not scream.".

If we write a song and it calls for it, then I'd be happy to put screaming down. But just as we kind of got more into the emotion of Confessions and the theme, it didn't call for it, so I just wanted to concentrate on my clean and melodic vocals and really try to do different things with my voice and the harmonies and whilst it's, you know, very clean, very melodic, very poppy, I've paid attention to my vocals and tried to do more.

And whilst it's not screaming I've been doing this technique, called "Singing on the edge of cords." and it kind of has this sound where the voice is cracking and if you put that underneath, like, a clean vocal, like perfectly in pitch, and then you do this thing, it's kind of like it's cracking in the throat and it makes it sound kind of heavy without being heavy. You know, it's been fun to play with.

Tobbe: Wasn't it just a little bit strange to put the aggressive vocals away for this album?

Nathan: No. The album just seemed to come out of all of us. Normally when you record an album there's some point in the production process when you hit a kind of wall and it takes some sort of, you know, real push to just make the songs sound finished. There's always like "Oh, this isn't right.", you know what I mean? And you've gotta change something here and… I don't know what.

It could be any instrument, or anything, or just a general feeling. Or just the fatigue of being in the studio, that makes you, you know, get to the point where "Is it good enough?" or "Is it finished?". But with this album, we made the decision to, you know, just write from the heart and see what came out. Even from, like, writing the songs to recording them in the studio, it was just like it just flowed. It was just so natural and seamless.

Tobbe: The record was just released and you've had some songs put up on YouTube, or whatever, and I've seen fans who welcome the sound and I've seen disappointment too, so what kind of reaction do you expect from the fans, now when the album is released?

Nathan: Exactly that, you know. There's gonna be doors opened for us and doors slammed for us. I don't see us headlining, you know, Summer Slaughter Festival any time soon, or going on tour with Whitechapel or Upon A Burning Boy, which are bands that I love, but, you know, it's gonna change certain things for us.

And I know there's gonna be a big chunk of fans that are gonna love this and it's gonna grow and more people that weren't into the band before are gonna love it and there's also gonna be a demographic which are gonna shift. Maybe a few of them like it, maybe some of them don't, or maybe a lot of them don't. But I can't control that. The only thing that I control is: this is the album that we had to make, because it's us honest. We couldn't write something for the fans. That would have been wrong.

I think a lot of these bands, that have got 4, or 5, or 6 albums out, they're writing for the fans. They're not writing for themselves anymore. They won't admit it in an interview, but I know plenty of these bands, that are friends of mine in big bands, and "Is this your favorite album?" and they're just like "It's more of the same.". Ah, I do not wanna be like that. Complacent over my own music. No way.

Tobbe: About your live performances. Will it contain a lot of new stuff now and just a few old songs?

Nathan: Obviously we're focusing on the new album and it's a big change in sounds. So it's gonna be a lot of new songs, but we're picking, like, a bunch of the old songs, which kind of work really well with it and also some of the, like, you know, the hits and the classics are still gonna make it in there.

The thing I like about being a bit more diverse as a band, like if you've done some heavy albums and, you know, you've done some, whatever, let's call it mainstream albums, when you put your live-set together it's gonna be a lot more of a frantic roller coaster for the audience, as opposed to, you know, AC/DC, and you know the whole set is gonna be like [Draws a straight line with his hand.]. It's not gonna have peaks and valleys, which works for some bands, and it's great, and it gives that energy and momentum there, but I like the idea of throwing people off in different directions and then bringing them back together. It's like a ride.

Tobbe: So… my last question. If this career move, with a lighter type of music, doesn't work out in the end, what will your next choice be?

Nathan: I think I'd still be doing music. I can't do anything else. I've been doing more stuff with music video and film production in the past and script writing and things, so I'd probably enjoy doing something with movies or music videos, but it always comes down to music at the end.

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