There is nothing weak or ambiguous about the phrase “awaken the fire.” It is not only an apt title for Like A Storm’s new album, but also a descriptor for the band itself: Music that has exploded on the hard rock scene with songs on the charts, currently on a nationwide tour of the U.S. supporting HellYeah, and soon to embark on their first tour of Europe supporting Black Veil Brides. Pretty heady stuff for three young brothers from New Zealand.
One of the first comments put to guitarist Matt Brooks is that the album is distinctive because of its diversity. Hard rock, a touch of blues, a cover of a rap song, two different types of ballads, and a closing song with spoken-word phrases in Latin. Sometimes bands try so hard to appeal to everyone that they end up appealing to no one, but in this case, it works. The whole record ties together so very well.
With his distinctive Kiwi accent, Brooks booms out “Thank you, dude!”
“Well firstly, you know, we’re hugely honored that you like the new record. We got really lucky with Awaken The Fire. We had a vision for the kind of record that we wanted to make and we were able to kind of realize that vision by getting to write and record and produce the album ourselves. So my brothers [Chris, lead vocals/guitar and Kent, bass] and I really wanted to make a record that stands the breadth of music that we love and the music that we love to play. You know we’ve always loved heavy, hard rock and we’ve always loved really melodic stuff and the kind of haunting vibes that you get from an acoustic ballad, for example. And we also really wanted to include all these other elements that we’ve been so inspired by in the last few years.”
One of those elements includes an instrument not familiar to many outside the Southern Hemisphere: The didgeridoo. The first single and video from the album is Love The Way You Hate Me, which incorporates the instrument in a dramatic break mid-song. “One of our goals was to include the didgeridoo more and more into our music. You know, the didgeridoo to us is just one of the most primal and hypnotic sounds on Earth and the fact that Chris can play it–and play it so well–gives us as musicians a lot to work with in terms of working it into our music in different ways.”
Wish You Hell is the album’s second single, and starts with a bluesy, acoustic intro which leads to a full-on hard rock guitar assault. “That song was the product of us getting really into the blues in the last couple of years, and we came up with the phrase ‘wish you hell.’ We just thought it sounded so much like the title of an old Delta blues song and we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity for us to bind our music, which was kind of melodic hard rock, with this new genre that we’d gotten so into.”
“All of that blues music that sounds like a sample we actually wrote and created ourselves. We thought it would be cool to start the song out with an old blues recording and then kick it into this super heavy rock song, and rather than sample an old song like a lot of people do, we decided to write and record that music ourselves using these crazy authentic blues instruments. So I played a mandolin and Kent played a jaw harp and Chris played a slide guitar and then I did my best sort of Samuel L. Jackson old blues guy impression and that’s the singing you hear.”
The album was written, produced, recorded and mixed by the three brothers over the course of many months. “We recorded it in a couple of stages because we’ve basically been out touring the last few years nonstop, which has been amazing. We were literally recording overnight after shows on tour, so we had a mobile studio that we would take with us and we’d go and play shows and then when we’d go back to the hotel instead of going to sleep like a normal human being, we would stay up and write and record these songs, and what was cool about it is that we really wanted to make a new record and we really wanted to tour. And we couldn’t choose between which one we wanted to do more so we decided to do them both.”
“The musical freedom to be recording ourselves and not defined by a regular studio day meant that we got to take a lot of risks and try a lot of crazy ideas. And the ones that worked, the ones that we’ve kept, the things that we would have never stumbled across probably in a regular studio, such as to have Love the Way You Hate Me transition from sort of a hard rock anthem into this kind of prog-middle- didgeridoo break down, I think we never would have come up with that if we hadn’t been recording the way we did.”
The focus of the conversation turns from music to merchandising. In years gone by, “merchandising” would consist of a couple of different tour shirt designs. These days merchandising is clothing, jewelry, albums, signed photos and setlists, musical instruments…basically, anything that a fan wants can be had. Like A Storm takes this concept further with the VIP Bus Pass, which allows a loyal fan (for a price, naturally) to party with the band on their tour bus. Sharp marketing opportunity? Without a doubt. But Matt sees it as more.
“I mean…our feeling is we always try and put ourselves in the shoes of our fans, because ultimately we are just fans of music. That’s how we got to the point where we decided we wanted to play music for our entire lives. And so for us, we thought what would it be like if you were the fan of a band…for example, I would have loved if I could have gone on Linkin Park’s tour bus and hung out, or the bands that I grew up idolizing. So it’s just thinking what would be cool for our fans to be able to experience? You know, maybe that we wish we had had the opportunity to experience that when we’re growing up, and then to make that possible for people. We also enjoy meeting with our fans in that setting.”
“We’ve always really admired Metallica who just had . . . it wasn’t just the music for them, it was a whole lifestyle you’re getting into and we’ve always really admired that. We’ve always loved cool merch and having cool t-shirts, and actually Kent, he designed all of the latest merchandise as well so we’re really lucky to have his kind of creative talent that he can design the stuff as well as the music.”
So what’s it like for three brothers to be together 24/7? Do they get along famously, do they bicker and argue, or something in between?
“You know, you think three brothers on a tour bus would murder each other but we actually get on really well,” Matt laughs. “And I think a big part of it is we’re getting to do what we love. We actually grew up playing in different bands. We’re all kind of obsessed with music and just like loving rock music and loving writing songs and that was kind of all we ever wanted to do. And so for the three of us to be able to do it together and do it up here in the U.S. and now into Europe as well, I mean it is literally is a dream come true for us. So, you know things do come up. I think when you spend 24 hours a day with anybody things will come up, but the best thing about family is that nobody holds back. People say exactly what’s on their mind and everybody moves on and it’s fine. It really is the way that it has to be to be out on the road.”
“We’re really excited about the way the tour is going. I mean for us, coming from New Zealand to be touring in the U.S. is an absolute dream come true. And to have our record come out here is amazing, and then when we heard that we’re going to Europe and the album’s coming out there as well . . . I mean for us…for a musician you’re like a kid in the candy store every time that this music you’ve worked so hard on is going to get released in another part of the world. It’s just incredible.”
“We’ve been hearing for years from our friends and bands that we play with how amazing Europe is and how awesome those huge festivals are and how awesome European rock shows are. And so to be heading over there on our first tour and actually be there when our record gets released in Europe is just amazing.”
As the first band on the bill, Like A Storm is allotted a mere 30 minutes to make their best impression; which leaves time for only seven songs per concert on the current tour. When they do have the opportunity to headline, they really enjoy stretching out. “We actually have a headline show coming up in Chicago which we’re doing for a radio station there and we do an acoustic part of our set where we’ll play Ordinary and then probably an acoustic version of Break Free, which is another one of the songs on Awaken the Fire. And you know, we’ve done a lot of acoustic stuff over the last couple of years and we really enjoy it, so it’s cool when you get more time on stage and we can play more of that music. You know, we can play heavy stuff and then also do some of the ballads as well.”
Usually, interviews end with the usual formalities such as “you really made a great album; best of luck on the tour.” This particular conversation ends with a turnaround–praise for the journalist and Screamer, which is not expected, but certainly appreciated: “Thank you so much man, and honestly from the bottom of our hearts thank you for your kind words and for the amazing album review. Man, we were just . . . I sent that review to my mum and dad and they were just absolutely stoked.”
How cool is that—a rock musician who can’t wait to share good news with his parents, and whose parents in turn are proud of their son? How absolutely cool is that?