With the release earlier this month of Time Stands Still, the third album from Vancouver melodic power metal quintet Unleash the Archers, the stars have aligned to mark the band’s impending rise to international prominence. As a recent signee to Napalm Records (an enduring European label that is home to both new and veteran top acts like Alestorm and Candlemass), the band has announced upcoming tours of Asia, North America, and Europe on the heels of video releases for three new tracks (General of the Dark Army, Tonight We Ride, and Test Your Metal). Adding to the already impressive news and kick-ass album, last month guitarist Grant Truesdell launched Test Your Metal Records, a label that aspires to support and cultivate the Canadian metal community and provide a local liason for international touring acts.
On the evening of the band’s record release party at The Red Room, Factory Worker Media met with Truesdell in the building’s old vault to discuss challenges to songwriting, community-building, and navigating the roiling channels of the music industry. True to the spirit of the band’s music, the conversation itself was epic in scale and scope, and entirely worthwhile to present below in its entirety.
FWM: In terms of songwriting and collaboration, how has the dynamic changed since you and Andrew (Kingsley, guitars/vocals) joined – has it improved, is songwriting handled differently? With you all contributing feedback has that grown and have you grown as a result?
GT: Andrew and I we usually both come to the band with a full song, or up to a bridge. Personally I like having both of us each write part of a song because then it’s not just one person’s idea and like anything, more than one mind ends up creating something a little bit better – but then there’s the line where there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. We have wrote a few songs from scratch all in the jam room together, we start with a focused direction that we wanted to bring it to and we kept it simple. But Andrew and I used to play in a band, we’ve been playing guitar since we were both 12, so we’ve been in bands our whole lives together…I think it’s always going to be growing, we’re always redefining our own style, we’re always going to be pushing the envelope. Any band development, any personal development, you should never be at the top, you should always be pushing for more.
With this last album it is a whole new dynamic for Unleash the Archers. One, because the main songwriter (Brayden Dyczkowski) is no longer with the band, so half of the album is written by myself, half of it’s written by Andrew, and when we come to the jam scenario with a song, nothing is set in stone, it’s a start – I know both of us are never attached to the way we wrote anything. Someone has to come up with an initial idea, and then we dissect it: we change parts, we take parts out – this part doesn’t fit so let’s completely rewrite it – we;ve even gotten to the point where we’ve gotten to the end of a full song and it’s like, “Nah, it just doesn’t work, scrap it.”
FWM: Did you learn the process that you use now through trial and error or is the flexibility you need for the collaborative process something that you grow into?
GT: I’ve always been in situations like that and I’ve always liked it that way. There are a lot of bands who work one guy writes it and that’s it, you can’t have any changes, and I just don’t enjoy that, I don’t think anybody who’s in a band who isn’t writing or have a part to put their own spin on it would enjoy it as much. It makes everyone feel just a part of each song, it gives them motivation to write something cool to it, it’s not like “ah, I’ll just play what you give me”.
When I write a song I’ll tab out the drums, as an idea, to what kind of beat I see behind it. In business too, when people feel like they’re not just doing it because it’s a job, but because of their own personal development and their name is on it, essentially by part owners, you want to do well for the company. In songwriting too, if everyone is invested into it, even when you play it that emotion comes out, when you play it live you’re not just going through the motions, you put your own emotion into it.
FWM: How does that work for this new album? Because it seems that all of the elements really click, and in a big way – the sound is huge! – it’s epic, it’s fast, it’s aggressive, but everything clicks, everything is constantly firing on all cylinders which is amazing to see – is that something you go into the process saying, this is what we’re heading for, like we want Judas Priest Painkiller?
GT: I don’t know, I think it’s just a natural thing that happens – making those choices when writing a song, that one part that obviously ends up being the good choice when you hear them all in succession. It’s dissecting the songs one by one and it just so happens they all kind of fit together. No matter what it’s all going to sound the same because it’s all the same individuals writing every song. I think it’s more of just a natural outcome.
FWM: The chemistry of the band – again, because everything is clicking – did you have to work at that?
GT: Like I said, Andrew and I, we’re pretty connected as far as guitar-playing goes, the first third of this album was written just as a three-piece – one guitarist, Scott on drums, and Brittney, we didn’t have a bass player – so we got a few songs done and then when Andrew came in, he had a whole – because he hadn’t been playing in a band for about a year, so he had a backlog of written material – we went through and finished writing the album with him there, and added parts to the existing songs. If you have to really work at it and think about it too much, it’s not meant to be.
FWM: There has to be that flexibility, like we talked about.
GT: Yeah, when you come in with a riff, we’ll jam it every way we can think of it, half-time, double-time, throw blasts in there, and we put everything down to a vote because there’s five of us, three votes wins. No matter what, you’ve got to accept it if you’re part of the losing vote – but usually when it’s the right way to do it, it’s unanimous.
FWM: In terms of the logistics of being headquartered in Vancouver compared to Victoria, it changes the interactions you’re having with your community; in terms of being able to grow the band with a community, does being someplace like Vancouver, having added social responsibilities and obligations – how do you balance those obligations with the creative side of things, or the business side of things, to make sure there’s a balance and you’re not doing too much of one or the other?
GT: Vancouver’s a little bit of a harder scene to break into. We came from Victoria, and we played there last night, and it proved to be our home town – sold out show, okay we’ve got this town locked down. When we moved over here, originally it was to cut out ferry costs to doing mainland shows but really any time we do a tour we’re out for a while, that ferry cost is pretty minimal in the grand scheme.
But being in Vancouver it’s been a lot harder because we’re a lot more distracted, we’re a lot further away from each other to get to jam, but everything\s pretty central. When we first moved here we were all living in the same house so jamming was easy, you just knock on each other’s bedroom doors and okay, let’s go to the living room and jam. Now we usually crunch; right now we’re in the middle of preparing to write the next album because we want to record it next spring. That involves a lot of personal writing time. The way I like writing is not just locking myself in a room for hours and forcing something out, I usually come up with my riffs in the middle of a barbecue or something like that, just grab an acoustic and you’ve got all the emotion of the day packed into one little melody – the old Elton John method – if you can’t write a song in a night, he would scrap it.
It is a hard thing to balance, pleasure and work, making sure in that one day you focus enough on the business end, you focus enough time writing and practicing, you focus enough time on your family and just on yourself. You’ve got to make sure you do that every day and then it doesn’t matter what happens, you’re good to go. It’s not like you’re working too hard or not practicing enough, or vice versa – you’ve got to be stern about it – it’s up to me to tell myself to work. I could take every day off if I wanted to, but that would be detrimental. But then again it’s like I’ve got a million things to do, I could work 24-7 and then just be run down. As long as you get enough done, or something done, each day, then I’m happy. I’ve got pretty low standards to be happy – heart’s beating, I’m not starving, I’m not cold, that’s about it – human needs – and then when you’re happy with that you can focus on being creative, not worried about what you’re going to eat.
FWM: Now, was that something – again, in terms of learning these things over time – did you gradually realize that you needed to be able to look at that bigger picture?
GT: Yeah, it’s just maturity – it’s a hard thing for anyone to balance – and when I started this record label I was working for someone else, doing a trade that I enjoyed because I like building things,but it’s something that wasn’t rewarding, it was a revelation, like “Okay, fuck this – stop school mid-semester, I’m crossing this off as a possibility and retook control.
FWM: It’s almost like you’re not even crossing something off, you’re making room for something that really needs the space.
GT: Yeah, just focusing all my time and energy in what really matters to me.
FWM: Launching a label is not only beneficial to your own creative endeavours but is also an opportunity for other acts to build a community with you; but where does a band find most of its support, or where should it be looking for that support?
GT: Within itself, for us (Unleash the Archers) we’re self-managed, it’s still completely up to us. We\re on a record label but all they really do is promote and supply us with our product. They don’t manage us, they don’t really book our tours, everything is still up to yourself. Most labels will look for that, they need a band that can do it all themselves. This day and age, you need to be able to create your own story, like Hollywood is starving for a story because they’re all written up the big labels, they can’t write your story for you, you have to do that for yourself. So, you show self-discipline,your own hard work, so anyone on the outside will appreciate that and see that, any other support – just surrounding yourself with supportive people – good friends – if you have a girlfriend, she’s happy that you’re going out on tour and doing what you love, she’s not making you feel guilty for it, that’ll create an inner conflict – I want to go on tour but I don’t want to piss off my girlfriend.
FWM: How does that work with building your fanbase, coming from going on tour, and from having a local following, being able to build that up – do you have to put work into that as well, where you’re always responding to messages and touching base with people?
GT: Yep, I think all of that is completely crucial, to say connected and in contact with everyone who enjoys what you do love, that’s one of the biggest compliments, if somebody loves what you love just as much as you love it. It’s important to keep those people happy – if you admire this musician or artist so long and you meet them and they’re a complete asshole, it really is a turnoff. I really strongly intend to never become like that. I personally hate egos and anyone thinking they’re better than anyone else for something that they achieved is – it should be rewarding for yourself, it shouldn’t be a gloating, “Hey I did this, fuck you.” We wouldn’t have any success without any fans, we wouldn’t be able to tour if nobody came out to the shows. We owe everything to that. I personally think a year between playing a town is too long or, well, just perfect. I like to tour everywhere once a year, because you have to keep reminding people and you have to keep cultivating that relationship.
FWM: Is it a challenge to do that within Canada, just given the vast distances that you’re talking about?
GT: Yep! It sure is.
FWM: Often for a North American tour you have to do a bit of both, where you’re hitting the prairies and then you’re going south, hitting the northern states – but are you finding you have a different fanbase within Canada, that you really want to keep that tight, and then for the rest of North America it’s just part of a business schedule?
GT: I personally would like to get out as much and as many places as possible. It’s all dependent on everyone’s schedule, you can’t overplay – like just doing Canada – you can do that maybe once a year, twice a year at most, but if you start playing too much people get a little tired of seeing you every time. I like playing a show or doing a tour around a release, or something new, not just the same old thing, so it has an incentive appeal to it, like okay, they have this new feature. Like I think our next move is to start incorporating some theatre elements and some more stage production, because you get to a certain point where it’s like, okay, how can we keep pushing the envelope? We can keep writing songs, but that’s always going to happen; all the bigger bands, back in the day that’s how they pushed the envelope as well.
FWM: That’s true, making it more of a show.
GT: You had to back then, you had to run with your own crew, you had to bring in your own P.A., it was already a part of being in a band. Here (at the venue), in this day and age, we come here the the lights are already set up, P.A.’s already set up, you just have to come and play – so I think bands have gotten pretty lazy because of that. Because everything’s already set up. That’s one thing I’ll be trying to incorporate more with us and with every band on Test Your Metal Records. The more we grow the bigger any community gets, should be able to put more into it. That’s the plan, with the record label we can start doing things on a bulk scale so it’s more worthwhile, so we can all benefit from it.
FWM: I don’t know if that’s something you can talk about yet or if you prefer to wait until it becomes a production and then everyone’s wowed by it when they see it, are there certain elements that you’re going to be focusing on, like having screens and a video element that way, or costumes…?
GT: Yeah, costumes, like swordfights and fire; there’s a production team we’re talking to here in town who does full theatre, theatrical, Cirque de Soleil type stuff. They have big giant costumes like Eddies and stuff like that, my next goal with this band is to incorporate stuff like that.
FWM: It definitely fits, with this album in particular with what you’ve already done with the videos, and also just the big sound of it, it’s got that epic, dramatic…
GT: Everything should be epic, if everything’s epic it’s going to be fine! (laughs)
FWM: With the collapse of the traditional music industry, self-promotion has become more of a budgetary necessity – we talked a little bit about that – along with several other aspects of music business, things that were previously being handled by record companies, many of them they can’t afford to finance themselves so they just hand that off to the bands and say you guys figure it out yourselves, and that way you get complete control anyway – but having all that extra stuff to do takes away from your creative time so, for you personally, clearly having an interest in the business side of things, it’s great to be able to do both; but are you finding for the creative end of things if it does take away from that, does it become problematic?
GT: Yes, totally it can. But I think there’s enough jobs within the industy now that even non-musicians can be a part of it. You can have a management team, you can have a whole back end – that’s what a lot of bands don’t have these days, including us, we haven’t even got around to that point, it’s another mouth to feed – but I think there should be.
FWM: A lot of bands if they have friends who can work that for them, that’s their resource, but if they don’t have that at all, are you seeing bands saying, if there was just that guy they would pay him to do that, or is it more just trying to figure out how best to juggle these things with minimal resources?
GT: Well, it’s a very project-dependent situation, but there’s enough time in the day to do all that yourself and still – you could work 9 to 5 on the business end of your band, 8 hours a day you get a lot done, and you have all evening or all afternoon to be practicing. If you want to make it your own full-time job, it’s completely possible. Hiring someone to just do that – there’s a lot of people who would just do it for free, for the foot in the door. If you’re a good band, most managers start on because they see the vision, they see where the band is going, so they believe in the band just as much as the band does. That’s what I’m trying to do with a lot of the bands on the label, too, help them out on that end, any of the local ones here, but it’s time-consuming for me, we do need more managers for bands, like any good company has a general manager to keep everyone in line because most musicians are not really good on that end, it’s hard to get them motivated and on-time.
FWM: Also it’s just where your train of thought is.
GT: Yeah, it’s not where you’re focused on, and you shouldn’t be.
FWM: So with Test Your Metal having launched recently, and this coming not too long after you guys signed with Napalm for the most recent record, and the timeline is interesting – signing on with the record label happened in January and then TYM has blossomed within the past couple of months – was it that you’d always wanted to start your own label, or was it more reactionary, where you saw how other people were doing it and wanted to take more of that on yourself?
GT: It’s definitely something that I’ve wanted to do, I guess in the back of my mind, for a long time. Maybe not exactly start a record label but I’ve always done a lot of the booking and correspondence that way for all my own bands, so I’ve always been in the loop and in contact with all the promoters in that sense, and then when we finished recording this album in the fall of last year, we were shopping around for labels and we had a few responses, nothing major, and I was almost considering starting our own label and putting it out, but then we thought nah, let’s not do that and then we got the offer from Napalm. We got signed on and I thought to myself, you know, I’m going to do it anyways, and I think it’s going to mean more for myself not doing it around my own band. I think it’s going to come across a lot more genuine, because it’s –
FWM: Not just self-interest.
GT: Yeah. Through Napalm I was able to see a lot of how they run their company, and they’re a phenomenal label, awesome structure, and I just realized that Canada has no main label support and the rest of the world needs a hub in Canada to bring bands in. That’s my forte, booking tours, so even besides the label, I’m going to have a booking division that we book tours for North America. My goal with the label is just to further progress the Canadian music scene and the global music scene, to add to it.
FWM: It’s big-picture thinking, it’s not, “I want to do this just for the sake of doing it.”
GT: Oh no, of course not! There’s already a lot of attention coming to Vancouver, but it’s just to add to the hype –
FWM: It sort of focuses it too, it funnels.
GT: Yeah, exactly. The guys in Napalm have been very supportive of it, it’s never a competition thing, there’s a lot of bands out there, there’s enough bands for everyone. There’s almost not enough labels to take up the bottom end of it. It took us until our third album to get noticed. It’s like I wish I had met myself earlier on, because I want to be able to bridge the gap between not getting signed and then having to wait until your third album.
FWM: It’s a long time to be investing time and money into something that you’re not even sure if everybody else is getting it.
GT: Yeah. But that’s why I think that Canadian metal is getting so strong now, is we didn’t get focused –
FWM: No spoon-feeding.
GT: Yeah, you have to keep on reinventing your wheel, keep pushing – like, “Okay that album didn’t quite work, so -” you get more original, you put more into it, it\s like if you’re in a small town and you’re not getting noticed, if you keep doing it, you’re just going to keep getting better. Most people get discouraged at that point and they give up, so the bands that have kept going and kept developing themselves have just gotten stronger.
FWM: It often has a defining effect on your sound, like Fuck the Facts doesn’t sound like anybody else.
GT: Yeah, because any album that is good you can feel the hunger in it – like anything, if you’re hungry for it, you’re going to be pushing harder. If you’ve already got it you can sit back and coast and not as much goes into it.
FWM: Do you think there’s a danger of that happening if you are helping bands a little bit earlier, so that there’s a safety net for them – are they going to get complacent?
GT: Yeah, I guess that’s a good point, it’s something I’ve got to think about – keep the whip cracked! – but the system that I’ll be introducing is called Test Your Metal Heavy Metal Loyalty Club, you’ll be able to sign on for $6.66 a month, you’ll get an album from the label every month, so as that grows, essentially it just guarantees presales or sales for that – so it’s incentive for any band on the label to put out another album – it’s a good point. I’m letting the artists retain a lot of the rights, putting a big emphasis on touring, I’m going to have to find a way to keep that hunger going, though.
FWM: It sounds like the subscription system is probably a good way to do it, because you’re plugging them into something that requires that it rejuvenates itself.
GT: Yeah, and the thing with that is, it’s very community-orientated, because the bands get their normal royalties off the physical sales, but then the remainder is split up between all the bands on the label. So if one band is doing really well, bringing a lot of people into the club then everybody benefits. Everybody wants to work for each other, so we all benefit from it, and the more that comes in, the more we can put into all the shows so we can give the public even bigger, better shows.
FWM: Now, when you were approached – the offer from Napalm was on the table – was there anything for either you individually or collectively as a band that sealed the deal for you, where you were able to say, “Yes, this is definitely what we want”?
GT: Getting over to Europe. That was the deal-sealer, that’s been a big goal for us, and if being a Europe-based record label that’s very established, if these guys can’t get us over there, then it’s a lost hope. They told us that they could get us over there and we are going over there, in the spring. That was a big milestone and big goal that we wanted to, we’ve been wanting to hit for a long time. We’ve been a band for seven years now so I think it’s past due.
FWM: The milestone, going to Europe, is something that, for metal bands in particular, given the way the scene works there, the population density given the geography, is it a necessary step for a band, to be able to continue being a band?
GT: Yes, I think it is, definitely. My goal with Unleash the Archers is to be able to tour multiple different countries every year, because you can’t just tour Canada year-round, you have to split it up. So, Europe is a very big key to that – and, for our style, it’s warmer reception over there. We’re looking at recording our next album over there as well, so we’re going to do a tour and then stay over there and get two birds stoned at once.
FWM: With Hibria as the first artist signed to the label, what is it that you look for when you’re considering signing a band?
GT: Passion, number one – that they want to make this their number one goal, they’re not just doing this as a side-job. They’re wanting to get out and make this a career for life. That’s number one. Anything else can be fixed – getting people on track to finishing an album, that’s just motivation. I’m essentially here to be the motivator, crack the whip, and give people hope. But what I’m looking for is solid musicianship, solid songwriting, previous experience touring always helps, an already well set-up public image – you know, there’s a lot you can do on your own, that you should do on your own before coming to a label, so that when I see it, okay these guys have a badass video, songs are awesome, they’ve already toured a bit and they want to tour more – sealed deal.
FWM: In a recent interview you guys were asked to name a support act for a dream tour with UtA as headliners. What I found interesting about that was, for most of the answers to that question, you were, you in a collective sense, were saying more from the other things, who you would want to support – why do you think that is?
GT: Lack of ego, I guess? Staying humble – not thinking that we’re big enough yet to be headlining and picking our own support acts. I guess all the bands that we really want to tour with are bigger than us. My dream act to play with is Iron Maiden but I can never see Iron Maiden opening for us.
FWM: In the same interview you guys were talking about places that you really enjoyed playing, and Edmonton came up. I found that interesting because they’re comparable to Vancouver population-wise in terms of their metropolitan population, but their outer-lying areas, the larger suburban surrounds are several times smaller there than it is here – do you think that plays a contributing role in the strength of their metal community?
GT: I don’t know what the element is that makes it such a good metal community, but the individuals who are there just love classic heavy metal. They love everything that we play, everything that we love. They’re a very traditional heavy metal style crowd. There are a lot of cliques and scenes around everywhere, but Edmonton, that’s their clique, traditional heavy metal – everybody’s got the patchy vests, high-tops and long hair – it’s like “Okay, yep, this is our crowd.” Edmonton has always been awesome for us. Maybe it has to do with the oil field, industry, there’s a lot of money so a lot of people can come out. Vancouver has a lot higher living expenses, less income, so people have to pick and choose shows a little more.
FWM: Is that something that you’re looking at for the label – in terms of how best to bring people out to shows, knowing that’s a challenge?
GT: As an entrepreneur you have to think about those ends, of course, you’ve got to make it as accessible and available to everybody. There’s a very fine line there – you don’t want to undersell yourself – you want to make it so fans want to see you. Usually our shows are only $10-$20, we only play in town every six to twelve months. If you can’t muster that up, you’re not really wanting to see the show. And that’s like the label too, paying $6.66 as an entry level, with a few different tiers but, I think anybody can spare $6.66 a month for unlimited music. I’m trying to find a line where you get as much as you can out of it, for a price everyone’s willing to pay. It essentially just helps everybody, there’s a new leaf being turned here, with the grandfathers of heavy metal nearing the end of their life expectancy – maybe not for living, but for playing; it’s a hard pace to keep up. In a way it’s kind of scary to me, these are the people who started it, who kept the torch going, that’s why I want to make sure the torch stays lit and heavy metal stays in the foreground of art and culture. All this dance and dubstep coming out, and Apple completely dominating the industry – if they buy everyone out then they have full choice to decide whatever they want, if it’s in or not. They need a competitor – it’s a big competitor to go against, but they need somebody else there to keep things fair.
FWM: With what we saw in the video for Tonight We Ride, that sort of Mad Max theme to it, and what we’ve just experienced with the forest fires, and the news about droughts in California and the impending collapse of food supply as a result, with all of these things on the horizon given what we know about climate change, there’s the potential there for entertainers, bands who want to be able to tour – the price of gas is probably going to go up again, and it could get to the point where it’s just not feasible for bands to do that – so, in the absence of being in a band and the traditional means to build an audience, do you have any other ideas, testers to see how it goes, to broaden that so you’re not just dependent on touring?
GT: I personally love touring and live shows, I think that is the only way to really engage your audience and create new fans. Despite whatever happens in the economy with gas vehicles, that is a must in my books. However way it happens, who knows what’s going to happen in our lifetime with vehicles. If the powers that be decide that with combustible engines it’s time to turn the page, who knows what will happen. I’ve got a lot of big dreams and plans to help the community as a whole. Another thing I want to start in the next couple of years is a Test Your Metal Academy of Art and Music that we can open up in a couple of different cities, if possible. Supplying the musicians with jobs to teach the next generations. I think with technology advancing there are more labour jobs being taken up, so there’s going to have to be roles filled in the creative end. I think we’re living in the most prime time for that. Everyone thinks music might be gone but I think it’s the opposite, I think it’s just about to kick into high gear.
FWM: It’s almost more that the old model is dying and we’re trying to figure out what to replace it with.
GT: Yeah, people will never stop creating music, it’s just finding that new way to get it to them. Maybe a new form of listening to music will be invented, who knows, I’m not much of a technology guy, I like human interaction and being in the dirt and living life like that, that’s why touring and roughing it out that way is…that’s what being in a band is, for me. You can lock yourself in a room and play scales til the sun comes up, but it’s more rewarding to make other people happy with what you’re doing, everybody can enjoy it.
GT: Keep supporting your local scene, if you don’t want it to die, it won’t die. It’s up to each and every one of us to go out and see as many shows as you can, buy merch, play music yourself – there’s a lot of jobs in the industry besides playing, that are still equally creative and equally rewarding. I get just as much joy developing a band’s career or booking a tour because it touches thousands of people and helps thousands of people. When you’re at a show and you see a band you like, it’s elating, like meditating, one of the greatest points of that day – to be able to make that happen every night, somewhere around the world – it’s up to all of us to help each other out and do that. One person can never do it alone, so essentially what I’m doing is just trying to get everybody to work together more.
Unleash the Archers is playing tomorrow night at Iron Kingdom’s double-album release and tour launch. See below for details of their upcoming Asian and North American tours, and follow the band on Facebook for updates regarding their spring 2016 European tour.