As a wise man once said: “It’s a long way to the top/If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll.” (R.I.P. B.S.) And for punk-rock brawlers Bare Bones, this is something that they’re all too intimately aware of. The Sydney five-piece outfit has been kicking out their Southern rock-infused hardcore jams since 2012, and are only now getting around to releasing their debut full-length album, ‘Bad Habits‘. To celebrate the band taking the affirmative route in the ‘shit or get off the pot’ stakes, Killyourstereo.com put the hard word on guitarist James Dean about the band’s penchant for perfectionism, studio refinement, pulling from their influences, signing to Resist Records and having a rollicking good time at this year’s UNIFY Festival.
Hey James! How are you doing dude?
I’m good man. We’ve already done some other interviews this morning, and we were supposed to have another one, but we couldn’t get through to the girl, so now it’s just you.
Ah, very good. That’s always fun. So, let’s talk about the new Bare Bones record, which is your debut full-length album, ‘Bad Habits’. I understand it’s taken you guys a couple of years as a band to get to this point. To start us off, could you talk a little about the writing and recording process behind the record?
Yeah, sure. We did our first EP’s – ‘Villains’ and ‘Cut Throat Living’ – within about a year and half of being a band, and after those, we pretty much just knuckled down into writing for a full-length. It really ended up taking a lot longer than we’d anticipated because the whole band was involved in the writing process.
Our EP’s were essentially written by myself and our drummer Chris [Blancato], but for this album, we were all involved. Chris actually owns his own recording studio, so we had the beauty of being able to demo the entire album, plus the additional songs that we wrote, and then just refine them from there. The whole process definitely took some time, but I think the end result was worth it.
Awesome. And did you find that with Chris owning his own studio, it was perhaps more difficult to build momentum on the record, due to having so much freedom and liberty with the writing and recording process? Maybe being too critical with yourselves, and constantly re-working tracks for the record?
Yeah, definitely. We weren’t working towards any kind of deadline, and because we had that freedom, we were constantly refining and being perfectionists about the songs. Without that deadline, time really tends to just escape from you. We’d end up demoing songs, and then there’d be a couple of weeks where we didn’t see each other. Then we’d get back together and demo a few more. When everything was demoed, we’d start going through and refining everything. We’d come in and sit together, and we’d take two songs and morph them into one, or cherry pick the good parts out of songs.
So, it definitely took longer because of that freedom. I think if we were recording in a studio that wasn’t owned by a band member, and we had that deadline in front of us, the own thing would be time-lined and a lot faster.
Absolutely. At what point did you guys feel that those songs had eventually coalesced into the form that they are now, with ‘Bad Habits’ as a finished project?
It was probably, I’d say, around about September last year. So, even in that regard, the album has been finished for quite so time. We were picked up by Resist [Records] about mid-way through last year, purely based on our EP’s, as there hadn’t really been much to give to Resist at that point. So, I think that also acted as a major catalyst for us, in terms of us going ‘Right, let’s get this done.’
So, around September, we looked back on the songs that we had, and we all agreed on the songs that we really liked. And then we worked with those twelve songs, and with our producer, Jono Peters, to further refine those and start tracking it all.
Cool. And how did that relationship with Jono come about? How do you guys know him?
He’s been a good friend of ours for quite some time. He helped us a lot with our EP’s, and he’s a very, very talented musician, with a really good ear and can easily think outside the box. Especially with all of us becoming perfectionists over time with or songs, it was really good to have a fresh of pairs to listen to each song, and go ‘Ok, well this is what I think: move this bit to here, or change this part of the song, to something like this.’ So with the band spending so much time with these songs over the years, we all decided that we needed someone to come in, and listen to the record, and help us with the production of it, and that’s really how our relationship evolved with Jono.
That’s interesting. With Bare Bones having had a solid line-up now for many years and working non-stop on the songs for this record, do you think you really needed that ‘outsider’ perspective as a band? Someone who isn’t necessarily as close to the material as you were, to objectively listen to the songs, and give an honest opinion?
Yeah, definitely. Having Jono as part of the album was very refreshing. He also helped to write and refine a few of the lead guitar parts, to really push us out of our comfort zone, compared to the stuff on our EP’s. And I think that’s helped us to push for a more mature sound with the band, than what we had on first two EP’s.
That leads right into my next question, which is perfect. In terms of progression, you mentioned your EP’s previously, and now the progression in writing for the ‘Bad Habits’ material. So, in the time that you guys have been a band James, where has that progression taken Bare Bones? Where do you feel the band sits now, in terms of stylistic and musical elements?
I think the biggest difference, is that the first two EP’s were written as a one guitarist band. When our first EP ‘Villains’ came out, we didn’t have Chris Breedon, our second guitarist, so we played as a four-piece and recorded as a four-piece. Chris only came into the equation, after we’d finished writing ‘Cut Throat Living’. So, for this album, we were able to really push those lead guitar elements: lots of harmonies, lots of solos, and just playing off each other. So, as a guitarist in the band, it’s probably the biggest change for me, just having someone to bounce back and forth off. We also went back to a lot of our early influences: bands like Metallica, Slayer and Pantera. And I think, as a result, it’s those guitar parts that are really a step-up from the EP’s.
Awesome. With Tom [Kennedy] as the lead vocalist in the band, am I correct in assuming that Tom would also be the primary lyricist as well? Do you or other members of the band have any influence on the band’s lyrical content? As it seems to be a rather important and core dynamic to the overall party/rock’n’roll vibe that Bare Bones have…
Yeah, so for the album, that was actually the first time that we’d done something like that. It was mostly myself and Tom, with Tom doing the majority of it. We got together and sat down, and then started passing lyrics back and forth. There were even a few songs, where I wrote out an entire song’s worth of lyrics, and sent them through to Tom, and then he’d add in a few things, some different choruses and stuff like that. I think it was definitely refreshing to do it that way, to really help get a fresh perspective on the lyrical content for the album and it helped shape the overalls themes on the record too.
Would you say then James, that there’s an overarching or central theme to ‘Bad Habits’? What should people take away from listening to a Bare Bones record?
In terms of lyrical themes and the overall tone of the record, it really just goes back to the title of the record: ‘Bad Habits’. With myself being part of the writing process from a lyrical standpoint, I personally went through quite a bad year, with a close family member struggling with drug addiction. So that went into it, but there’s more so a theme of these little bad habits that everyone has, and how they factor into our daily lives. How they can bring us down, and change who we are as people.
That’s cool. Now, you mentioned before about the band being picked up by Resist Records for the album release, and I wanted to dig into that a little bit more. With you guys being Sydney boys, I know that Resist has been an institution for independent music down there for many years, and Graham [Nixon, label owner/founder] has had a huge involvement in the punk and hardcore scene there as well. How did the signing come about, and how did you guys end up working with Graham at Resist?
It was huge. Growing up, Resist Records bands like Parkway Drive and Carpathian were huge for us. And then for a label like Resist to approach us, it was kind of surreal. I actually said to Graham at one point, like ‘Why us?’ [Laughs.] Just because we didn’t really seem like a Resist band. But it all really came from the first time that we played with Every Time I Die, which was a couple of years ago now, and I’d sent Graham a copy of the Villains EP and he was quite happy with how that sounded, as a debut EP from a Sydney band. So, he put us on the ETID show and then just followed our progression as a band on our own. From that, I think he was quite interested in having a relationship with us. And then for us to actually have that relationship, with someone as influential as Graham, and a figurehead in the scene was huge for us.
The way that Resist operate, with putting the band’s first and really having that ‘grassroots,’ punk/hardcore approach, really suits Bare Bones to a tee. We never really got into music to sell it to the masses and makes lots and lots of money; we just want to do what we want to do. Graham’s the first person who’s said that we should just keep making the music we want to make.
That’s sick. It going to continue to be a big year for Bare Bones once ‘Bad Habits’ comes out. I know the band had a slot playing at UNIFY Festival this year, as part of that incredible lineup. How was that for you guys?
Man, it was awesome. So many of the other bands on that bill were mates of ours. Like Northlane, who headlined the first night, they’re really good friends of ours and have been since we were in school together. So, it was unreal to watch them headline, and then get to hang out with your mates, at a festival, that you’re all playing. I also think it was good for us to play UNIFY to a different crowd. Because typically in Sydney, we’ll play to that kind of ‘pub’ crowd, whereas UNIFY is obviously full of UNIFY fans, so it was different for us but we ended getting a really good reaction. It was a great experience.
Nice. I’m interested to know James, was UNIFY the biggest crowd Bare Bones have played to?
No. Back in 2015, we played the main stage at Soundwave, which has gnarly as fuck. We were playing on the main stage, in the stadium there, along with Slipknot and Marilyn Manson. So, that was definitely the biggest show that we’ve played, and I think that definitely kicked a lot of goals for us and put us on the road that we’re on now.
It would be kind of intimidating though, being a band that’s used to playing hometown pub shows, to suddenly being in a stadium and playing to a festival crowd like Soundwave.
Oh yeah, it definitely was. We were all shitting ourselves [laughs]. You get the stage call for the main stage, and then you walk out into that stadium… I mean, UNIFY was huge, but when you’re playing the stadium there with this massive, open area and grandstand seats, you just think ‘Shit! This is real.’ [Laughs.]
Absolutely. Do you think getting that kind of rare opportunity, to play to big festival crowds, caused everyone in the band to step up and lift their game a bit, settling on a mentality of ‘Alright, this is the new benchmark we’re working with here’?
100%. We played that show, and it really highlighted certain things, that we needed to improve on as a live band. Everything is really under the magnifying glass when you’re playing such a huge show, with lots of exposure. It definitely matured our live performance quite a bit, and really pushed us to keep chasing those big slots.
Awesome. Now, ‘Bad Habits’ has its release through Resist Records on May 19th, so to wrap up James, I wanted to get from you where you feel the band is heading. What’s on the horizon for Bare Bones?
So, when the album comes out, we’re going to do a Sydney launch show, as well as a Melbourne launch show. And after that, given the history of the band, and how things tend to escalate quite quickly, it’s hard to make a call now and say what we’ll be doing in six months’ time. I know that Resist really wants us to get out there, and get on the road to tour the album. We haven’t toured for a while now since we toured with Northlane at the start of last year. So, we’re all really keen to tour again, especially with an album under our belts, and push the new material all around Australia. Then hopefully, the next step after that will be getting overseas.
Are there any places in particular overseas, that you guys would be looking to go? Or just anywhere?
[Laughs.] Just anywhere I think. We could play in Europe, or even over in the States. Even just some smaller shows over there would be unreal. I think anywhere that we went, we’d all just be stoked to get out of Australia, playing to crowds who would have no idea who we are, and we can just show them what we’re all about.
That sounds rad. Well, thanks for taking some time out of your morning for me James, and best of luck with the album release.
Good to speak to you man. Thank you for the chat!
‘Bad Habits’ is available from May 19th through Resist Records, and you can pre-order the album here.