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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Daysend

By: Justin Donnelly

When Sydney based melodic death metal act Daysend released a debut album ‘Severance’ in 2003, it didn’t take too long before the band was hailed as one of the country’s next big things.

Over the following three years, the five-piece act signed to the mighty Metal Blade Records in the U.S. and Locomotive Records in Europe, toured extensively around the nation (supporting international acts such as Slipknot, Hatebreed, Machine Head, In Flames, Chimaira, The Haunted, Strapping Young Lad, Entombed and Skinlab, as well as playing alongside some of Australia’s best) and the U.S.

But for all the success that Daysend had enjoyed, the twelve months that followed tested the resolve of the band as they parted ways with their management, the record label, their vocalist and guitarist.

Undeterred, the band (now comprising of guitarists Aaron Bilbija and Michael Kordek, bassist Meredith Webster and drummer Wayne Morris) re-emerged with a new vocalist in Mark McKernan (who was once a member of Headcage), and has finally come back with their sophomore release ‘The Warning’ on Faultline Records.

With only days before the band take to the road around the country in support of ‘The Warning’, I caught up with guitarist Aaron Bilbija at home to talk about the group’s new vocalist, the current stability within the band, the group’s second venture into the studio compared to last time and the initial reactions to ‘The Warning’ from expectant fans.

“We’re pretty happy with the way ‘The Warning’ came out. I mean we spent a lot of time working on it, so we should be! (laughs) We’ve been getting a lot of comments posted up on our MySpace site from fans, and so far everybody seems to be digging ‘The Warning’. A couple of people have mentioned how weird things are with the band having a new vocalist. That’s always the case when you change vocalists isn’t it? But the majority of them seem to be really taking to McKernan. That’s pretty cool, because I think the vocalist is always the hardest member to replace. Fans seem to be really digging the music though. Musically, ‘The Warning’ still sounds very much like Daysend. It’s still has our sound, and fans can hear that.”

Upon an initial listen to ‘The Warning’, it’s immediately evident that Daysend still retain their very own unique sound. But after a few spins of the album, it’s as equally clear that the band have also progressed and broadened their overall sound as well.

“If anything, I think we’ve kind of refined our sound a bit more. I think there’s a little more layering in terms of guitars and things like that on the new album. That all comes down to having the time to listen to the songs, and using that time to rework some of the finer points. Everything on ‘The Warning’ was still written the same way. I either wrote everything at home and brought it to the group, or some things would came out of the jam sessions I used to have with Morris. Everybody else would come into the picture a little bit later on. So it all kind of came together in the same way. I guess the more you write songs, the more you learn about the art of doing it. So really, it’s still very much the same sound we had on ‘Severance’, just with the added benefit of having a couple more years to fine-tune the arrangements. I think we have the potential to pick up some new fans with ‘The Warning’. The album does feature a bit more of a polished sound, if you could call it that. But to me, this album sounds a little more together, and I think people will pick up on that. There are also some aspects on the album that really stand out a little more with McKernan’s vocals out front as well. I think that’s one of the things that will appeal to a whole different audience to the one that we had in the past.”

Apart from having the time to fine-tune the songs, the band also had the luxury of spending a little more time in the studio making ‘The Warning’ too.

“We recorded and mixed ‘Severance’ in only took ten days. With ‘The Warning’, we spent about twenty-two days in the studio recording and mixing the album. I guess you could say that things were a little more relaxed, but the main reason for that was because we knew exactly what we were doing. There were a few things that changed within the songs while we were in the studio, but that will always happen when you’re in the recording studio. Little things change all the time. But those changes were only little things because we had everything mapped out in demo form from our rehearsal space. We hooked up the computer and recorded everything, so we did a lot of that mucking around beforehand in the pre-production sense. We didn’t want to experiment too much and waste time when we went in to record the album.”

Obviously much of the four year delay between albums was due to finding a suitable vocalist after Simon Calabrese announced his departure from the group as far back as a year ago.

“We should have really had the album recorded some time ago. I mean, we originally intended to record with Calabrese about a year ago, but it just got to the point where he actually hadn’t done enough to start recording his parts. Because we only found this out when we were just about to start recording, the issue really came to a head at the time. We talked about it, and that’s when he let us know about leaving the band. Basically he couldn’t give Daysend the amount of time and dedication it required, or the same amount of time that we all put into it. He basically chose to follow his career instead. The split was amicable. We’re still friends. In fact, we did a show up here at The Empire Hotel (Annandale) about two months ago, and he actually got up and sang with us. So we had both vocalists up there on the stage trading lines with one another on ‘Born Is The Enemy’. That was pretty cool. The only reason for Calabrese leaving was that he couldn’t put as much into the band like he could at the start. It really wasn’t worth him continuing with Daysend, especially given that we were about to record a new album. So while we found a replacement for Calabrese, we actually had a bit more time to work on the musical side of things. We kind of fine-tuned a lot I think, as opposed to the last album. Most of those songs were written rather quickly, and when we found McKernan, we found ourselves in the studio rather quickly to start recording.”

Calabrese’s departure also meant that the live show that Daysend recorded at Sydney’s Marquee Club to celebrate what was undoubtedly a momentous year for the band is being shelved.

“For the time being, nothing will happen with that. The show was recorded, with the intention of releasing a live CD/DVD while we recorded the album, but not long after we played the show, Calabrese left the group. After it was completed, we just kind of forgot about it, and focussed our energy on writing the songs for ‘The Warning’. We still have it, but it’s only for our own viewing pleasure at the moment. Who knows, we might release it one day as a bootleg thing for fans. That would be kind of fun. But for now, nothing is going to happen with it.”

Although most Daysend fans will be introduced to Mark McKernan for the first time through ‘The Warning’, Bilbija’s association with McKernan goes back some years.

“Back when Morris and I were starting out in Deadspawn, McKernan used to come and watch us a lot. He was about seventeen or eighteen years old at the time. So we kind of knew him from then. We hadn’t really seen him for close to six or seven years, when all of a sudden Morris got in touch with him somehow through the Internet. They ended up chatting with one another, and he mentioned in one of their conversations that if we ever needed a singer, we should let him know. And as you can guess, a couple of months later we needed a new vocalist! (laughs) It worked out quite well. We didn’t actually try anyone else. He’s really cool to get along with, and it worked right from the start. We really dug what he did straight away. Obviously his approach is different to Calabrese’s, but you have to expect that. We really liked his vibe, and what he was doing with the songs, so we eventually went with it.”

One way of Daysend announcing the addition of McKernan to their ranks is through a promotional video clip the band filmed for ‘No Regrets’. But unlike what the band’s bio claims, the location is anything by a secret.

“We filmed that in Melbourne actually. What do you mean by secret location? (laughs) I didn’t even know that they said it was filmed in a secret location in our bio! Maybe I should read that sometime soon. It was just at an abandoned warehouse that we got to use in Melbourne. I guess they used the secret location thing in the bio because it sounds cool! (laughs) I’m pretty happy with the clip. I think it’s a thousand times better than the clip we did for ‘Born Is The Enemy’. I think the production on the clip competes more with the videos that are out there from some of the top international acts. I guess it makes us look world class.”

With McKernan now in place out the front man role within the band, you would expect that Daysend have seen the last line-up change for some time, and that the band finally has a stable line-up. But according to Bilbija, you can never be too sure.

“I hope so! (laughs) Well I guess you can say that as much as you like, but at the end of the day, you just never know. But having said that, it feels good at the moment. Things are always changing though. Good old Kordek has quit and rejoined the band twice! (laughs) About a month or two before we started recording the new album, he went and flew the coup for a second time. But he’s back now. Every time the line-up changes, and you get someone new in, the group somehow manages to feel a little bit stronger. If the person leaving the group is someone who doesn’t want to be here, it’s kind of like a burden has been lifted off your shoulders when they leave. But as of right now, things feel pretty good.”

As mentioned earlier, Daysend are about to take ‘The Warning’ out on the road, with their ‘No Regrets Australian Tour’ covering a large area of the east coast over the next month.

“I think the last time we really did a tour that covered the whole east coast was back in 2005, so it’s great to finally get out there again. It’s been too long, and it gets boring sitting at home doing nothing! (laughs) I’m totally looking forward to the shows. And the great thing is that we get to play all this new stuff as well. After years of just playing material from ‘Severance’, we finally have double the amount of songs we can chose to make a set out of. So it’s going to be fun. It’ll also be the first time that most fans get to see Daysend with McKernan out front as well. Obviously McKernan doesn’t sound exactly like Calabrese, because on the heavier stuff, McKernan has his own aggressive style. But on the clean stuff, he nails it exactly like Calabrese. It’s really cool. I can’t wait to see what people think. With McKernan in the band, we can finally start getting out there and start hitting the road pretty hard. That will be good, because it’s been a while since we’ve done a hardcore tour like this.”

And it’s not only in Australia that Daysend want to tour either. Having already had a taste of US stages when the band played alongside Otep, Gizmachi, Devilinside, Manntis and Suicide City and for six week North American tour in 2005, Daysend can’t wait to return.

“That tour was unreal. That’s something we had dreamed about for such a long time, and to finally be able play to all these people on the other side of the world was unbelievable. That tour was a big success for us. It was awesome. We got to play to all these people that we wouldn’t normally get to play to. The weirdest part was that when we were playing shows, there were actually some people that knew the words to our songs. We weren’t expecting that much at all, let alone finding people that actually knew our songs! (laughs) That was pretty good for the old ego. That’s what everybody in the band is aiming for. We would like to get back there as soon as possible, but we have to sort out a distributor for ‘The Warning’ first. At this point, we’re not sure if Metal Blade Records is going to be releasing ‘The Warning’ in the U.S. Basically there was talk of possibly doing another album through them, but we haven’t really nailed them to a commitment yet. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens there. Until that’s sorted out, we’ll wait. It’s a bit silly to travel all that way without having your new product with you. So hopefully we can get that done and get over there. In the meantime, we’ll also be shopping the album to other places as well. We would love to tour places like Europe, Asia and Japan. There are plenty of bands that I know that have managed to tour Asia, and they’re always blown away by the fans there. We’ll definitely try and make that happen. Of course, it would be great to sell a million albums, make plenty of money that way, and tour wherever we like and know there’s a fan base there. I know that’s not going to happen, but I still find myself doing this. It’s the music industry! You just never know what’s going to happen! All I know is that I do this because I love it. It’s something I have to do it. I really don’t expect too much out of it, but if we can stay on tour as long as possible, then that would be a good thing.”

I would personally like to thank Aaron Bilbija for his generous time, and Danielle Courtney at Shrine Promotions for making the interview possible.

June 21 - Adelaide, S.A. Enigma Bar (with Truth Corroded, Double Dragon & Abandon All Hope)
June 22 - Belgrave, VIC, Ruby’s (with Picture The End, Five Star Prison Cell, Exit Wounds)
June 23 - Melbourne, VIC, Evelyn (with Picture The End, Walk The Earth, Exit Wounds)
June 24 - Albury, VIC, Sodens (with Exit Wounds)
June 28 - Newcastle, NSW, Cambridge (with Switchblade, Black Majesty & guest)
June 30 - Sydney, NSW, Bar Broadway (with Switchblade, Slowly Building Weapons, Scarblind)
July 6 - Canberra, ACT, Green Room (with Switchblade, Gazma & guests)
July 13- Sydney, NSW, Blink Nightclub (with supports TBA)
July 14- St.Kilda, VIC, Gershwin Room (with supports TBA)
July 21- Brisbane, QLD Abducted Festival
Aug 10 - Bunbury, W.A. Odessy Nightclub (with Five Star Prison Cell & Dyscord)
Aug 11 - Perth, W.A. Club Capital (with Five Star Prison Cell & Dyscord)

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