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Based in Bishops Stortford, First.Subject are best described as a post-gothic power trio with metal overtones. With the recent replacement of their drummer by new boy James, and plans afoot to introduce the live performance skills of DJ Nevis into the mix, adding an electro element to their sound, the band’s founding members, frontman and guitarist Dominic and bassist Mark, have recently completed a set of new recordings and will, no doubt, be a prominent local band in 2007.
MZ: Tell us how the band got together?
Dominic: About 18 months ago I wrote and recorded a collection of songs and realised that I just had to get a band together to play them live. Mini (now band manager) suggested both bass player Mark, who she works with at Leventhorpe School in Sawbridgeworth, and our previous drummer, Matt, again through a connection with Leventhorpe. We actually started rehearsing in late summer 2005 and played our first gig that Christmas. It was only then that I realised that we weren’t playing to our strengths as musicians; that we were a better, more powerful band than the material we were performing at the time gave us credit for. So at the beginning of 2006 I started writing songs that took advantage of the energy we clearly had as a live band.
Mark: Things have stepped up a gear in the last 6 months. There was a long period of time between the first and second gig, then from the second to the third was a bit shorter and since then I think we have gained a lot of momentum
Dominic: I think, as a band we really ‘found ourselves’ at the Rock Synchrony gig in Colchester last July, where we started performing the new material and the old songs just didn’t fit anymore.
Mark: Our philosophy has always been that, with the power we have, we can just hit people hard, again and again for the 30 minute set we play, and now we’ve hopefully got the songs to match the energy that we can create as three musicians.
Dominic: That’s what I noticed when we rehearsed, that we had that amount of power, and that’s what wasn’t right at the first gig. We were underselling ourselves with the material we were performing.
MZ: So presumably you’ve been a musician for a while - what have you done musically previous to First.Subject?
Dominic: Yeah, a long time. In addition to being in other bands as a singer and guitarist – one in which I ended up as a label-mate with RunDMC - I also produced electronic music for a long time just working by myself. It was about two years ago that I started writing seriously with the guitar again.
Mark: I think I’ve now played more gigs in First.Subject than all the other bands put together. Otherwise, the other bands I’ve been in have just been noodling around. I’ve really taken it more seriously since my late twenties and bought some better gear. So in 18 years of playing it’s only the last couple that I’ve been playing seriously, which I’m really enjoying.
MZ: Where does the band name originate?
Dominic: Being a musician and a music teacher, my first subject is music – simple as that.
MZ: Describe the sound of First.Subject?
Dominic: It’s a very direct sound; edgy, … rock but with a definite dance backbone. There’s a kind of metal/rock/original goth (-ic) sound to the songs, but there’s also a lot of different elements that you can’t quite put your finger on. We’ve been described as “Goth, but with more colour”!
I’m not a great fan of lead guitarists to tell the truth so when I’m song-writing I don’t put many breaks in the vocals for guitar solos, we’ve all got to be doing something all of the time. No-one has a purely holding role in any song – what everybody does is very important, so there is always something to listen to. It’s a like a tapestry. You could lose an instrument and the song would still hold up, but with all three of us playing it ends up as quite a complex sound.
MZ: What do you think makes you stand out from other rock bands?
Mark: Certainly from the bands we’ve played with recently, the idea seems to be to hit your audience with brute force alone. There isn’t necessarily a lot of song-craft out there to go with it. We’re trying to hit hard too, but more precisely with funkier bass and drums. I think we’re more serious too.
Dominic: I think we’re quite understated. We’re not down people’s throats as performers, but the music is. It does surprise people when they hear it because we don’t act the big “I ams” when we turn up to play. We are confident that we can hold people’s attention for the whole set, whereas we’ve played with other bands that seem to just cruise; bands who haven’t thought about the overall effect of their sound or their set, and the audience just seem to switch off after 2 or 3 songs
MZ: Do you find that you’re paired up with similar sounding bands at the gigs you play?
Dominic: At the beginning of last year it was harder to put our sound into a specific genre. Since then we have definitely put ourselves into the “rock” box as it’s easier to get gigs and play on better nights with better bands. Rock nights are generally on Fridays or Saturdays, and certainly some of the recent newer bands we’ve played with have got some great songs, a more directed sound and are more professional in their attitude. There is a common thread; there has to be, and I think it’s important for a band to exploit that and ride the particular wave that best suits them, otherwise it becomes impossible to get gigs.
MZ: Where are you concentrating on playing and increasing your fan base?
Dominic: We’re concentrating on playing in Herts, Essex and Cambridge at venues such as The Marquee, The Square, The Twist, The Green Room and The Loft. We’ve played a couple of London gigs but that whole ‘London scene’ is a total fallacy – there is no-one there to watch you. It’s a complete waste of time.
Mark: I think it’s arrogant to expect all the people that come and see you in Harlow to travel to Camden and pay to see you there.
Dominic: Exactly – why go to Camden and pay up to £8 or £9 to get in, in addition to any fares for getting there, especially if you’re young and not working. People who want to see you can more easily come when you play locally.
MZ: But do you find those people travel out to Colchester, for example, to see you play there?
Dominic: Yeah, we played last week and we easily filled a mini bus to take over there and other F.S fans from Colchester turned up too. We’re always finding new fans in other areas. We have a technique when using Myspace where we scout out and contact the fans of other bands we’re going to be playing with if it looks like they might also like First.Subject. It works too. A lot of them get back to us and quite a few turn up when perhaps they wouldn’t have before. Especially if there are 2 bands they like on the bill. You’ve got to use Myspace in the right way. We ditched nearly all the bands we had as friends, and also the rubbishy no-hope contacts, and now we use it for local contacts only. And we communicate with them. You have to use it correctly. There’s no point having 13,000 friends on there that you can’t communicate with directly. Most of those are often not even in this country, so what’s the point? We now have an unbelievable local contact mailing list on there, and hopefully these are the very people that want to know about what we’re doing, and will turn up for our live shows if they can.
MZ: Who are your musical influences?
Mark: As a bass player I love the Chili Peppers – they certainly influenced my style. I grew up learning the bass listening to Metallica and Guns N Roses. I love a lot of bluesy stuff too; I use the pentatonic scale a lot.
Dominic: I’m more influenced by individual songs rather than specific bands and guitarists but I suppose I do like rather a lot of 80’s goth and alternative bands like The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cramps, Flesh For Lulu, Gene Love Jezebel, The Cult, New Order and the Sisters Of Mercy. They are what has influenced my song-writing most.
Mark: You’re getting bands now, the Emo genre, where there are elements of that sound..
Dominic: I don’t have to look back to what was happening then because they were my influences anyway, as were their influences. I’m not saying my songs sound like they were written in 1981 though…!
Mark: Like a vintage wine that’s suddenly coming to fruition!
MZ: Are you getting any label interest at the moment, or are you even going after that?
Dominic: No, we haven’t sent out any demos. And we’re not going to either because we haven’t really got anything a Major, or even larger Indie label would want to wrap up and package at the moment.
MZ: So can bands be successful without record labels these days?
Dominic: Yes – but it does mean doing it the hard way – being independent, doing things for yourself.
I do see a lot of lost bands who just seem to get stuck on the internet thinking that’s the way to promote themselves whereas playing live in conjunction with internet promotion, and working on your sound, and trying to attract the right sort of people and trying to get better at what you do – that’s the way to do it.
We obviously want more people to hear our music, but a record label isn’t necessarily the best way to go about it. It’s an industry and a business and your music doesn’t necessarily stay your music. We’ve got to build a fan-base to sell those records to first then see about getting someone else to help out.
Mark: I’m enjoying it too much to worry about all that stuff at the moment. I love rehearsing and playing gigs and I think all that takes the fun out of it. I don’t want to be hassling record labels who then try and tell you what they need you to sound like. It also depends how you qualify success. If you see success as making £10 million, then you need a record label, obviously. But if it’s just entertaining people, or just making the perfect record for you, that’s great. Maybe less people will get to hear it, but it depends what your goals are.
Dominic: I think the industry is in a state of flux anyway isn’t it? It’s being assaulted from all sides. It will change. Nobody knows how new technology will affect how people will consume music in the future. There’s a whole new generation of people buying music again, paying with their mobile phone credits and then downloading it. Of coarse there are still those who are downloading it anyway. Just plain getting it for free. It’s all got to sort itself out before anyone can just assume that you could ever make a living from just being in a band again. There aren’t that many bands out there that reap in the millions from what they’re doing. It might look like that from a public perspective, but that’s part of the whole mystique/marketing of the music business.
MZ: There are record companies giving away music for free with an advert attached to it that you have to listen to first. Would you be happy if your music was marketed in that way, that you become attached to a brand?
Mark: There was a Bill Hicks thing wasn’t there – once you’ve done an advert you’re off the artistic role call – every word you say is like a fresh turd falling…! If I wanted to get into sales and be really competitive and make loads of profits then I’d have gone into another career. There has to be limits, doesn’t there?
MZ: What’s your view of the local scene, having played around the area for the last two years?
Dominic: Yeah, we love playing at the local venues – The Square in Harlow – we had a fantastic time there. The Hertford Marquee, The Twist in Colchester. It’s a shame there aren’t more places to play in Bishops Stortford though. On the M11 corridor there’s nowhere between Harlow and Cambridge to play. That’s got to be fillable a gap in the market if there are any ‘wanna be’ promoters out there? It also surprises me how many really young bands there are, much more so than there used to be years ago. We see them on Myspace and then again out gigging. Some are only 15, 16 years old.
Mark: The people that go to gigs are really young as well…
Dominic: Most venues are strictly over 18s, and ask for ID, but The Twist in Colchester is over 16s, and The Square is over 14s, and its this age group that really love going to gigs. We have to treat the promotion of gigs on a ‘by venue’ strategy. The Square draws a totally different set of fans than does the Twist – and it seems to be the younger ones that are more into their music, and are a real joy to play to. I think by the time people are 19, 20, they aren’t as interested anymore, they want to go see more established acts and they don’t seem to have the same enthusiasm for unsigned or new bands. It’s a shame there aren’t more venues catering for that younger age group.
Mark: Although any club or pub can apply for a one-off licence..
Dominic: I reckon you’d make more money on the door than you’d lose on the bar opening for the 14-16 year olds but the promoters don’t want to take the responsibility for that particular audience. The Square have got special funding for that age group, and they’ve got staff who have been specially trained in dealing with them.
MZ: It’s a pity there isn’t more places like The Square in other areas…
Dominic: There’s a new place called The Venu at Cheshunt’s Wolsey Hall that is catering for the younger age group. The gigs are once every two or three months and the promoters are working really hard to put on bands that their target audience would like to see.
MZ: What other local bands are you into?
Dominic: Bushnut I really like, and Street Sleeper, who we’ve played with a couple of times.
Mark: A Man About A Dog – they’re from Bedford, but they’re really good
Dominic: Gunslinger too – they’re melodic and very heavy. They have a new vocalist and they sound a lot more together.
MZ: Where do you hope to be in 18 months?
Dominic: I think we’ve got to build up the local following. I like to do gigs with people there so if that means releasing a self-financed recording then we’ll do that to build the fan base. At that point, when we can take a decent amount of people, when it’s a good night out for them, then we’ll go to London. The Underworld asked us to play a few weeks ago, but we turned it down. They have a live session and then a separate club session on the same night– I’d prefer to play at the club. Promoters should be brave enough to put live bands in a club situation if their music fits.
Mark: If we can get to a stage where all the gigs are like the gig at The Square, with that kind of turn out and enthusiasm, that would be a great place to be.
Dominic: We’re not overstretching ourselves with gigs because we want people to come. We could play a gig a week, and you do see a lot of new bands doing just that, but it’s not fair to your friends, either to keep asking them to come along and support you, or to pay big money cos you want to play in London on the off chance some passing record exec will see you. We want new people to come, and for that you need time to promote what you’re doing. We leave a few weeks between each gig and it’s usually perfect timing.
MZ: Finally, tell us about your tracks on Myspace?
Dominic: We’re actually in the studio on Saturday … the High Barn, recording together for the first time. The tracks we’re aiming to finish are Melt, which is up there at the moment as a demo, Kriminal and Katch but we’ll do as many as we can in the time we’ve got – cos if nothing else, we are tight as you like when it comes to playing live.
Find the band on www.myspace.com/firstsubject or www.firstsubject.com