In this episode of The Rock Metal Podcast, we're chatting with Charlie Dawe of the band Ventenner about their new album ‘Signal Collapse’ out now via Syndicol Music.
During our chat we touch on a lot of great tips for musicians, such as using music as a creative tool to deal with trauma.
'Signal Collapse' was produced and recorded by Charlie Dawe and Max Dobson Browne, mixed by Max Dobson Browne, and mastered by Greg Chandler.
For fans of Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, Failure, Tool, Filter, Alice In Chains, Massive Attack.
Ventenner.com - Connect with Ventenner!
3 Heavy Hitters
1. Commit to try something new when producing a record; a new tuning, a new instrument, a new approach.
2. Using music as a creative tool to deal with trauma by becoming vulnerable in order to express yourself - no hiding behind screaming, too much distortion, or lyrical prose.
3. Defining success with a bucket list of goals, experiences, creative achievements.
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Show Notes // Transcript
Jon Harris: Charlie, welcome on, go ahead and say hello to all of our beautiful listeners.
Charlie Dawe: Hello, beautiful listeners.
Jon Harris: Okay, Charlie, I want to get into this. So we have here in the EPK, I've Got it in my hand, the latest release, Signal Collapse. First album since 2012, a more efficient stripped back line up. I guess we'll get into this a little bit. I'm guessing that means fewer band members?
Charlie Dawe: Yes.
Jon Harris: Okay. And then sonically paving the way for a more direct and mature sound. So, first question, what was the greatest moment for you producing this record? And did it help, I guess, to have fewer band members involved? Is that why there's a more direct and mature sound?
Charlie Dawe: Yeah, I think it's nice being in a room with musicians and playing around with ideas, and I certainly appreciated that over the first couple of records because from like the Distorture and Invidia and onwards, I learned a lot from other people. I was working with producers and different people that were in the band at different times. But there was always this sense of like, I come up with an idea and then you've got three or four other people in the room and they're like, yeah, but I think that sounds a bit shit. What about doing it like this? And I was like, yeah, okay, I'm not going to be a dick about it. If everyone is saying, let's go that direction, sure, maybe I'm the guy in the room that's wrong. But this time around I was like, no, I'm not going to second guess myself when I've written something and I go, that sounds really cool. There's no one over my shoulder going, I'll do it differently. I was like, no, it's going to be exactly how I want it. And that was just really satisfying. And I think it's the first album I've enjoyed making in a long time because normally they're a slog and there's usually arguments and tensions and they're exhausting and this just kind of it was as easy as making a small jelly. It was just very simple. It was like, TADA, it's done. Yeah, it was nice, it was good, it was enjoyable for once. For fuck's sake. It's supposed to be fun, right?
Jon Harris: It is supposed to be fun. I mean, for everybody listening in right now who is maybe going through a particular band dynamic in the studio and is not feeling that fun, but you mentioned I'm not second guessing myself. If it sounds cool, it's going on the record. First album you've enjoyed making in a long time, which I'm sure resonates with some people that either they're having that liberating experience right now as they're listening in, or conversely, they're in the middle of that dynamic themselves. But I guess it can't all be roses. I mean, was there a challenge that came up on this record? What was challenging for you on this record?
Charlie Dawe: There was a couple of things that were challenging. First of all, vocally, I definitely went in a different direction. I think I screamed maybe once, maybe twice in the whole album. Like, it's a very, very clean vocal approach, which was kind of vulnerable and a bit difficult. But I felt it was the right thing to do on this album. And I mean, not only like I said, I'm just not that pissed off anymore, but I just felt with the mature sound like you can't just keep screaming and being angry at your parents forever. There comes a point where you're just like, I'm just going to sing this song and I want it to be a good song. So that was tricky because I had to kind of really sort of show my vocal chops and I couldn't hide behind too much stuff. And I mean, I suppose ultimately it kind of came down all on me as well. I thought the record was good and luckily everyone else has said it's good and probably the best one so far, but I was still a bit nervous. I always wait up till like 1 minute past midnight on the Friday of the release and watch it go live on Spotify and Apple Music and play it. And then I was like, if this is shit, there's no one else to blame. Like, that's definitely it's all on me. So I was like, there's going to be some hard truth here, because if this is a failure, then I'll be like, oh, okay. So I was quite shit all along. I did need other people, but luckily, I don't know, it seemed to work out the way I wanted it to and I suppose it's really easy. You hear a lot of bands who say stuff like, oh yeah, just stay true to your vision and all the rest will come along. And I'm like, well, that's okay for you because you're the fucking Foo Fighters like, yeah, it doesn't matter. People on the way up still need to play the game a little and need to kind of be accessible in a certain way. But yeah, I kind of circling back to what you were saying about musicians that maybe need to hear that, about enjoying it. It should be an enjoyable process. You shouldn't worry about the numbers so much and whether you're in the right magazine. And this is the first album I've done probably ever. I was just like, I really like that. That's just exactly how I wanted it to sound. It came out, it was eight tracks. No one was telling me they needed to be eleven. It was just done and it was great. And also weirdly, the color of your backdrop matches the album cover, which I'm very grateful for.
Jon Harris: Yeah, well, I didn't want to have any signals collapse here.
Charlie Dawe: Oooh, You! You and your Canadian puns!
Jon Harris: I know, I know. But yeah, for everybody listening in, vulnerability, I think, has always been tied to what I'll call massive music success in whatever way that that can be. And for anybody listening in, you know, addressing people who might be working on a project right now, thinking, I'm going to hide behind lyrical prose rather than just coming out and saying it, or I'm going to hide behind screaming rather than actually just showing the world that I have a beautiful voice or I'm going to hide behind as a guitar player. Too much distortion. As opposed to some of the heaviest brutal sounds I've ever heard as a guitar player who can really freaking play. And he's just about got a clean sound. But it's because the band has worked out their song and their sound so well that we're hearing authentic, vulnerable musicianship and I think that there's a lot of value to that.
Charlie Dawe: Yeah, no, 100%. And it also causes you to take a few risks and go down a few paths that you might not be overly comfortable with. And that makes for some really interesting stuff. A lot of the stuff that came out on this record was experimenting and a work in Progress. And because I hadn't used a seven string guitar before, or I hadn't used like a particular type of piano before, and I was like, well, I kind of have to use that, so how do I use it? I have to make it sound good. Rather than trying to go back the way I came and fix it and go down the tried and tested route, I was like, I need to make it work. Yeah, it forced the hand creatively quite a lot and I'm going to make sure I carry that forward to future projects.
Jon Harris: Experimenting, work in progress, the desire to make the new ideas work. And speaking of the ideas on this record, in the EPK here, it says that there is the theme of death and rebirth, rebirth obviously being the new thing. And we're going to get back to that instrumentation later on because I really want to talk about like, the 7th string and the piano and whatever else, but getting back to the core of experimenting, new ideas, death and rebirth. Take us through the themes on this record.
Charlie Dawe: Yeah, I felt like Ventenner as a thing did die somewhat, in a sense, and this was a new beginning for the band. People that had been there for a very long time were gone. And musically styles, themes, there was a change. It felt like something had come to an end and this was a new beginning. But also a lot of the themes on this album were dealing with trauma, past trauma. And that echo that goes runs from, you know, decades, maybe previously kind of ripples through this lifeline of yours all the way through to present day. And I think confronting that as well, dealing with trauma, I think it's something that a lot of people don't do until they get a bit older and they kind of wish they'd done it sooner, but they didn't really have the tools or the objectivity to be able to do it. And again, that is the death and rebirth. You're saying goodbye to someone you were there is a definitive before and after and it's not pleasant and it's difficult and it can be very painful. But knowing when you come out on the other side of it, you're like, yeah, no, this is a new thing, something has changed, something has shifted, this is a new thing. And, yeah, that was definitely a very prominent theme in the lyrics and the title and even the style of playing, like the instruments chosen, the way, the tones, the tuning, everything, it was all very much to do with something old and now something new.
Jon Harris: Is that the signal collapse?
Charlie Dawe: Yeah, it was this idea of messages running like a signal kind of coming from somewhere else and letting that collapse, letting that kind of process stop and die. And you can move away from it.
Jon Harris: Dealing with trauma, but without the tools or the objectivity. And to say goodbye to the person that you were or still holding on to or should let go of and aren't letting go of. I mean, how many people listening in right now can resonate with that statement and might be using music as an escape? And I think something that we could probably dive into just a little bit deeper, Charlie is, it almost sounds like you were using music to cover up rather than to escape, and all of a sudden have discovered the objectivity and the tool of music to now finally use that as not necessarily an escape, but as a release.
Charlie Dawe: Very much so. I think the band, even as a whole concept, was used as a release, but I guess masking the problem and just kind of going, I'm angry, I'm on tour, I'm going to drink loads and I'm going to do this and I'm going to make angry music. And I don't know why I'm angry, but I am. Now, this felt more like, I guess, kind of peaceful resolve at the end of whatever the last decade has been. And it can take a little while because obviously a lot of people use their creativity to vent their feelings and anxieties and fears and whatnot, but takes a while to kind of really get to grips with what they were and what they are and finding out what kind of person you are. It's very easy to just keep saying, I hate this, I hate that, fuck the system. But kind of finding out why you feel that way and then putting that into art, that's a lot more vulnerable, but a lot more rewarding and a lot more cathartic, I think, in the long run.
Jon Harris: Absolutely. How many people right now listening in resonate with what Charlie said? Go ahead and raise your hand, baby. I mean, going on tour, drinking loads, being angry, not even knowing why I'm angry. Easy to say F the system, but figuring out why we feel that way, putting those feelings into our creativity and producing something that, yeah, it's vulnerable, but it's cathartic. And I think that's why we're here as artists, as musicians, as creative people, to express ourselves and then going with what Charlie said as well, if we're dealing with with trauma, we're going to have to express, because as someone very wise, wiser than myself once said, if we don't express, we depress.
Charlie Dawe: Yeah.
Jon Harris: And that's where things start to get really ugly. So find out what kind of person you are and put that into the art. How would you define success at this stage of your career?
Charlie Dawe: I mean, it's a good question and it's something you definitely need the time and the hours and years put in to be able to reflect back on it. I think when I first started out, I just wanted to get what I wanted to say out in a creative way and I wanted it to resonate with people and I guess in a very narcissistic way, I wanted people to think I was fucking cool for doing it. I wanted people to go, hey, he's really good at that. That's awesome. I like his band. And yeah, sure, I still like that. But I think my definition of success is very different now, like what I used to think of as arena sized bands and stuff and what their level of success was. And it's very different now when I've been on tour with smaller bands and going to see smaller bands and I'm like, you put out a great album, people really love it. That's going to be there 50 years from now when you're dead. That's a way higher level of success for me than any amount of arenas and stadiums could ever provide. And this is the first time, this album is the first time I've got to in my life where I thought, and this is going to sound really morbid and dramatic, but it isn't. But if I were to get squashed by a big red bus tomorrow, I'd be like, I'm good with what I've done. I feel comfortable with what I've made and put out in the world and that is a good legacy for me. And I haven't really got to that point yet. I kind of almost touched on it through various different records, but I've never like, I haven't got there yet, I haven't done it. And this feels like I'm at a completion point now where I could be like, if I have to stop, I would be okay with that. Not that I'm going to, but that early, that first album, I was like, this is like, here's a bunch of songs, but fuck, I've got so many more I want to make. And I want to make that album that sounds like a Smashing Pumpkins album. And I want to make the album that sounds like a U2 album. And I want to do my German techno album, and I want to do all this stuff. And it's just nice to get to that point where you start to actually tick some of those boxes. Like, to me, that is the greatest level of success you could ever have.
Jon Harris: Being okay with what you've done. If the big red bus comes and hits you, then you're okay with it. Having things that you've got on your list that you can check off. So having a list, that's important, the bucket list, as a lot of people like to call it, so that you can see like, yeah, I did do that. I have the memories of that. I've got shared experiences with other people with that, which is super cool and getting to a point where, yeah, success isn't about selling out an arena, nothing against that, by any stretch of the imagination, but defining success outside of that. And it was something that you had mentioned earlier on in the conversation that I wanted to turn our attention back to, which was playing around with new instruments, seven string, piano, and committing to trying something new. Speaking of new memories that you can create, take us through that.
Charlie Dawe: I deliberately, I mean pretty much every Ventenner song up until this has been written in the key of C sharp, like pretty much every single one. That's my go to key. I knew that I was going to be singing this rather than screaming it, so I was like, well, that's going to have an effect on it. And I wanted to convey a crushing heaviness like a weight, like the sucking vacuum of a black hole. But at the same time I wanted to have this like, counterpoint to that. So a lot of higher parts and I wanted to not have really anything in the middle. So that took a lot of playing and finessing of trying to figure out how to make these bottom end sounds so huge and then this higher up stuff not sound tiny and terrible. And that was like a certain amount of it was like worked out, just trial and error and figure out what sounds go on top and what things work. Little things, like in most of the guitar solo there's actually a piano part and they're making the same notes in the background. You can't really hear it until you take it out and then you go, okay, yeah, that was there. I can hear that now. Also, the idea of thematically, this idea of an echo coming from your past, I used a lot of delay and echo on the guitar parts, the piano parts, even the bass lines. I used the word echo and delay a lot through the album. So even if you're not picking up on it, it is there, it's going in. There is this idea of this constant bouncing signal going somewhere and I had to get to grips with a lot of new tools. Like, I had to use I had to figure out how to use an octave pedal to get that deep crushing tone on my guitar. Playing around with different synths as well, like going away from the usual stuff, nothing industrial. I was kind of using synths that you'd use for film soundtrack composition and things like that. So lots of ethereal, kind of nice floaty sounds and I think I'll probably, again, move away from that on the next stuff. I like to make sure that everything I do and release, it's a little snapshot of time so it sounds like it sounded at that point and it wouldn't sound right in two years time. It worked at that point. Advice to musicians would be if there is a theme of if there's something you're trying to get across a message, then think about, okay, well, what does that mean? Like, am I angry? Am I frantically furious about something? So maybe speed is something you should be playing with. Maybe going very fast, very slow, but kind of tapping into that creativity and using pitcher boards. Really immersing yourself in the sound and the message you're trying to get across and it will all seep in and eventually you will be able to get that thing in your head to come out to speakers. It just takes a little time to do.
Jon Harris: Wow, there are so many things to unpackage there for everyone listening in right now. Number one, do you resonate with trying something new? A crushing low end, having that high end come out beautifully, but not brittle, making space for things in between, such as the snare and those vocals, especially because you wanted to sing on this record more than scream the middle is so freaking important. And just to hammer home the heavy hitter that, Charlie, you had given to our beautiful listeners is defining the theme of the record and then using your musical tools to creatively enhance that theme. So, for example, you had echoes going throughout and sounds of signals and really emphasizing the theme of signal collapse and emphasizing the theme of going back into the past and reliving things and maybe having that bit of death and rebirth, which is super dee duper freaking cool, am I wrong? Am I wrong? But anyway, Charlie, what is the number one thing that you want everybody listening in right now to do?
Charlie Dawe: Go to the woods and you should enjoy nature. But no, for me, yeah, go to Ventenner.com. You can do all the stuff there. You can drop me an email and you can buy my records and wear a nice T shirt if you wish and come see us on tour. We're on tour in May in the UK. So that'll be fun. It's going to be a bit of a it's a little scary when you go out on your own when you have a headline band. It's not like when you go out and support and you're like, you play to a few thousand people and you're like, well, no one comes. It's not my fault. Whereas you have a headline band. You're like, shit, I really got to make people show up. But it's the first time. Soon as we announced the tour, people were like, messaging and commenting, going, I've got my tickets already. I can't wait. And I'm like, oh, that's pretty cool. You never really get used to that. That's a nice feeling. But yeah. Go to my website, subscribe to my newsletter, and I will tell you the mysteries of the world.
Jon Harris: All right, so go and head over to Ventenner.com. They're going to be on tour in May in the UK, that rhymes on purpose. Go ahead and sign up for the newsletter on their website. All the secrets of the world will be revealed to you. And then also as well, you can head over to TheRockMetalPodcast.ca, where the show notes will be available for today with some extra goodies that I'll make sure Charlie sends over my way so that you have everything that you need for today's episode. Charlie, thank you so much for coming on today.
Charlie Dawe: Good, thank you very much for having me. It's always a pleasure.
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