Very few releases this year, have blown me away like Outcast’s self titled did. For me, this EP, so far only released on tape, is one of the best releases of 2014, perhaps even the best one. I grabbed the phone to talk to the main man Chris Fong, currently living in Oslo, Norway, for what I believe is the first interview ever with one of the finest newcomers of 2014.
– Thanks a lot for your compliment. Do you like the new Tarot too? That’s a great one.
What is an Australian doing here in Norway?
– Good question actually. I am trying to figure out myself. Previously I have been travelling to Europe for gigs and to hunt records, especially in Stockholm. I just decided it was about time to make a break and try to live in Europe for a least a year or two. Try to see all the bands I wanted to see, many of them will never be playing Australia. Most of all I am here to enjoy life, I guess. I haven’t been working for seven months now, so there haven’t been a lot of record hunting lately. At the moment, I am not doing anything else than partying pretty much every weekend. I just came back from a five week trip travelling around Europe where I went to four different festivals.
Since I don’t know much about your musical background or whether you play in other acts apart from Outcast – did you visit these festivals just to be in the audience, or have you performed at any of them?
– I have never actually played live before in my life. I’m just there as part of the audience. I’m just another metal fan, being upfront for your favorite bands with your mates are amongst the best things in life for me.
What are your impressions of Norway and the Norwegians so far?
– The Norwegians… You have some interesting bands, obviously a lot different from the Australian ones. Musically there aren’t a lot of heavy metal bands in Norway at the moment, at least that I know of. There are a lot of heavy metal fans here in Oslo though.
Little is known about Outcast. There is no website or no Facebook page…In fact I had to ask Will from Heavy Chains for some information, and he didn’t exactly drown me in facts either…
– I am just too lazy to do any promotion for the band and I can’t bother doing a Facebook page, but at least I did put the email contact on the actual tape, so that is probably the only way to contact the band at the moment. And because I am currently living in Norway, I couldn’t include a snail mail address on the demo. In fact I consider it to be an EP, cause it’s actually recorded in a professional studio,. You see, the songs were recorded the week before I left Australia, the first week of December I believe, and since I didn’t know where I would be living in Norway at the time, an email address had to do. I’ll definitely like the music to spread on its own, at least that’s the way I encounter all good music. Those into heavy metal looking for music that they like, should be able to find the Outcast material. This is the way I like to push music. That said, I will set up either a WordPress page or a Facebook page for Outcast in the near future. That will be the fair and right thing to do as anything we would personally communicate out would not reach everyone that might be interested in hearing any future updates for Outcast.
When did you form Outcast, and are these four songs the first you have recorded?
– The band was sort of formed between me and my drummer Kirk early in 2012. He just got off playing in a few different punk bands, and we just agreed on trying to do a heavy metal band togheter. We came up with the first song, “Spiralling Down”, and we started jamming, just between me and him. We soon found out that we might have something, and started looking for a bassist. That’s when I actually contacted Harriet and heard if she wanted to play the bass. She’s been a friend of mine and is definitely into metal. I sent hear the rehearsals and she were interested. I think that’s when Outcast first started. The songs we wrote during 2012 were “Spiralling Down”, “Cold Blooded” and “No Tomorrow”. At this point in time, no lyrics were written, simply because we didn’t have a singer. Because singers are hard to come by in Melbourne, I tried to get a friend of mine from Hobart singing and playing the second guitar. The original plan was to do a three song demo recorded live, but it was just really difficult to find a second guitarist and a vocalist to pull it off. We actually did make one attempt when my friend flew down to Melbourne and tried to record the three songs live using a four track, but in the end it didn’t really work out because Hobart is pretty much an hour flight away from Melbourne. It wasn’t easy to organize a constant rehearsal with him. At that point, we sort of left it until one day, I think I was drinking at a pub, as I usually do, and I met this guy who said that he was listening to a lot of heavy metal and also that he can sing. This was Jake, the singer we have right now.
He has a quite unique style and voice and fits your music excellently. He seems like a very good choice, in my opinion.
– Yeah, but there wasn’t really a choice at all here. Haha! I never heard a single note from him prior to this.
Has he been in other bands before?
– For heavy metal, no. He is definitely into heavy metal, but it’s not exactly easy to find people to play good heavy metal with in Melbourne. You get a lot of people that play in gay power metal bands, but when it comes to good, honest heavy metal, there aren’t a lot of musicians available.
What about the other three members. Have any of them been involved in something I should have heard about?
– No, not for metal. None of us have actually been playing metal before. For me personally, I’ve tried to do a few bands during the last six years in Australia, but nothing really got off the ground.
“Not metal”, you say. Does this mean that you have been in bands playing other types of music?
– No, I’ve always been trying to play metal, I’ve tried starting bands in the past, but it never got off the ground. Sometimes we just prefer to party, you know that’s the Australian way.
Did you set out to create something you felt were missing in today’s scene, or what were the ambitions for Outcast?
– My ambitions… You know what? I got no ambitions for music actually. I would like to do the kind of heavy metal which I enjoy listening to the most. And yes, I do take much of my influence from obscure or lesser known bands since I am a bit of a record collector. I mean for Outcast I’d say it’s mainly, British heavy metal, Japanese metal from the eighties and Swedish heavy metal from the eighties. I do think a lot is missing in today’s scene actually. However such opinions are best kept to myself. Haha!
What would you name as your main inspirations?
– I guess, from the top of my head my biggest influences are bands like Trespass, Gotham City, Dark Heart, 220 Volt along with a Japanese band like Sniper. Also the song “No Tomorrow” is influenced by a Pang Records 7” done by a band from Sweden called Nattsvart, they did a single with the two tracks “Vargarna” and “Drakens Öga”. I am also into classic, seventies bands like Thin Lizzy, Scorpions, Wishbone Ash and Dust. My biggest influences come from seven inches, compilation records and EP’s, not albums. It’s simply what I have been listening to mostly over the last 4 years.
Why do you prefer these formats over albums?
– It’s just what I like, I guess. To play A-sides containing the kind of songs you get into straight away. After collecting seven inches, I also got into lots of compilation records, bands that didn’t do any official releases apart from those compilations. Even in Norway you got the “Norway Rocks” compilation, in fact, it’s one of my favourite compilation records.
Oh yeah, those two tracks by Anesthesia are the best Norwegian heavy metal ever put to tape…
-Yeah, Anasthesia is great, but Manitou is actually my favourite. And yes, another one of my biggest influences, that you probably also can hear in our music a little bit, is the Slander-record. “Careless Talk Costs Lives”…
Yeah, that’s one of my favourite albums as well. I have the LP standing in this very room I am doing this interview.
– Cool. I got it too, with the insert. Haha!
Another band I was thinking about when I heard your tape, is the British band Shocksplit who released the excellent EP “Under Wraps” in 1989. Do you know them?
– Yes, of course. Yeah, maybe a little bit cause they had that punky thing going on to especially with the first song. I used to have a dub of the EP on tape, but I never managed to find the record. It’s a bit expensive and it’s not really worth that kind of money in my opinion, although I like it. It’s good, but it’s no Slander.
While you are living in Norway, the three other members are located in Melbourne, Australia. Where does that leave Outcast for now?
– Outcast is actually on hold until I return to Australia, and at the moment I don’t know when I am returning. It can be a year or two from now. I don’t know. I haven’t actually been playing guitar for six months, but last week I actually wrote a new song, so the writing for Outcast has started again. I will wait and see how many songs I can write, I might even be interested in doing a recording project here in Norway, but I haven’t really spoken to anyone about it yet.
Could be a cool thing, but first and foremost I long for some new stuff from Outcast, cause as I said, I really love the EP. If I understand you right, there are no plans for recording right now?
– Right now? No, no there isn’t any actually. Going back to when the songs were written, if we actually did a three songs demo with the songs I mentioned, the song “Dreamer’s Wake”, which was written a full year after the band started, would probably have ended up on some split recording, a ten inch or something. In the end I made the decision to relocate myself to Norway for now, so I wanted to record everything we had. It’s now or never, I thought.
The demo was recorded towards the end of last year. Was it just a quick visit to the studio, or did you spend a lot of time on it?
– We spent about two days recording the EP, about 16 hours all in all. I think we did another four hours the week after just to do the final mix and touchup. I am not sure if that’s a lot of time, but we definitely could have benefited from more recording time, but of course, we don’t really have a large budget. The studio, Goatsound, was recommended to me by a friend of mine. The guy who owns it is called Jason, and he did this band called…I forgot… a popular grind core band from Australia anyway, but he knows his eighties metal, and I am pretty happy about how everything turned out. I can’t really complain.
Only a few copies of the demo left (probably none by now), are you surprised by the reception?
– Yeah, I guess I am a little bit surprised. I haven’t done much promotion for the band, except for when I am drunk and maybe mention it to someone. But then I really struggle to put a few sentences together. Haha! Apart from that I haven’t done much, and I was not really expecting it to sell as much as it did. The interest really came when the preview track was put up on YouTube. I think it helped us a lot.
How do you feel about the fact that the demo so far is only available on tape?
– I can’t complain, you know, we just made music for ourselves. There will be a tape repress in the future on an Irish label, and I think after that I’ll probably hold on to represses in hope for a vinyl release. I think that should cover all the bases that we need for the recording.
Some people are a bit frustrated about the fact that they can’t get music they really want on a format they can play at home…
– Yeah, that’s true. But I guess, if you are a fan of metal music, you should be a fan of analog recordings too, or at least music being on an analog media. Also, the Outcast tape is available for download for free, so I don’t think we are limiting ourselves that much. In Australia it’s not a good financial idea to release a twelve inch, because postage rates are really high, especially when most of heavy metal fans are located in Europe, Japan and USA. Moving twelve inches from Australia simply doesn’t work.
Have you already been approached by labels wanting to release it on other formats?
– I have gotten, maybe one offer from a label, which wondered if we were interested in doing a full album. I won’t promise anything to anyone yet, but we certainly hope to have “Outcast” out on vinyl one day.
What can you tell me about the cover art of the demo?
– It’s actually done by Will from Heavy Chains. He is an old friend of mine, since eight or nine years ago. When the recording was done, I was more than happy to have him releasing it. He did the artwork, but I had the idea of a lonely street myself. I am pretty happy about how it turned out.
– I wouldn’t say it’s a lot happening. Back in Australia you always get a lot of black and death metal. A lot more compared to heavy metal. There are good bands in Australia, don’t get me wrong, I am talking about acts like Johnny Touch and Convent Guilt for instance. Johnny Touch in Adelaide and Convent Guilt are in Sydney, along with Zodiac in Brisbane, but Australia is a big country and there are not more than one or two good bands in each city, so no, I wouldn’t say there is a lot of heavy metal going on. There is definitely a lot more going on in Europe for instance.
But even though the Australian bands are not that many, there is almost always quality involved…
-Yeah, yeah…I do agree with that. I guess, in a place like Australia, people tend to be really dedicated. That’s really a good thing about the country. Once in a while you get a few individual that are really into the music and can create great music. We don’t actually depend on scenes or trends, because in the end there are not many people there you can have anything in common with musically. All of us just tend to do our own thing.
What can you tell me about the songwriting? I understand that you are the main guy behind the music and perhaps the lyrics as well…
– I write all the riffs and the guitar solos of course, and I wrote the lyrics for one of the songs, “Spiralling Down”. The lyrics for the other tunes are written by the singer, Jake. He has done a great job.
How important are the lyrics?
– Well, they are obviously very important for me, because they are all very personal. I am inspired by all these bands, especially Thin Lizzy, which actually did a lot of personal lyrics. There are stuff about emotions and putting life experiences into the music and lyrics, the roads that we travel and the roads that we don’t travel in life. I guess that pretty much sums up the aspect of Outcast lyrically. Putting life experiences into the music and lyrics, that’s how I’d like the band to be.
As we already mentioned, the songs have been in the works for a while, why has it taken such a long time to get the thing released?
– It took a while before we found our singer, Jake. I think that was in early 2013, if I remember right, but I don’t remember too much. Haha! Also, sometimes, I’ve been travelling to Europe for like a month and then I’ll come back to Australia and I haven’t been playing or touching the guitar while I’ve been away. And we are just really lazy, I guess. In the end all good things come to those who wait, and I only really want to write music when I am inspired. I am not gonna be sitting down with a guitar trying to create something. That’s extremely boring, most of the time the music will just come at me. Also when we did the recording in December 2013, we had not even prepared a band logo at that point. A mate was going to help out with a band logo but he did not have the time to do it. Finally Jake created the Outcast logo and it shortly went to press soon after.
What inspires you then?
– The records I listen to, I try to put my own emotions and my own life experiences into the music.
So it’s more about listening to music than watching movies, reading newspapers or something like that?
– I think a lot of the music comes from my own personal experiences in life, and obviously all the records I’ve been listening to. Sometimes ideas come by when I am working in the office, in fact that’s how it normally happens.
You mentioned that you just wrote a new track. Is that the only unreleased Outcast-track that exists at the moment?
So we will have to wait a while for a new EP or an album?
– Oh yeah, definitely. There are very few modern bands that I actually respect, but bands like Solstice, Gorgon and Magnesium are all bands that can do good songs but only puts out a release when the time is right. They’re not actually looking to make it in the music business or any bullshit like that. Bands like Gorgon kept on putting out seven inches non stop, and they have a good idea of where the music actually comes from.
Solstice have indicated that they will pursue the EP format and not the album format in the future.
– Yeah, I think I read something about that too. I guess it makes sense, because their lineup is also spread around. It also makes sense, because they’re concentrating on writing good songs and that’s the most important thing.
So the album format in itself isn’t that important for Outcast?
– At the moment, no. I guess I am really more inspired by seven inches, EPs and compilation records. I haven’t really tried sitting down and writing songs that fits in the concept of an album. To be honest, I don’t think I have it in me yet, and want to take it slow anyway. I believe as a band its best to do an album when you are truly ready to do it. No one wants to listen to an album with fillers for instance. An album has to be perfect really. For example I really respect Gotham City, they did a really good job, doing those early demos, a seven inch and an EP, before topping it off with “The Unknown” which is a great album. Obviously they haven’t done much, but every song stands apart on its own. That’s an influence for Outcast too. I don’t want to repeat myself for every song. Only time will tell, it can take five or ten years to do an album. I guess, most importantly, as a fan of metal, I’ll do it when I am ready to do it.
But you hope to be able to do one one day?
– Yes, I definitely love to do it one day.
Let’s talk a bit about the individual tracks. “Spiralling Down” is a straight ahead opener, catchy and with a clear punk-inspiration. A real “hit” that should go down great live.
– Yeah, the way we play our songs, the way we plan and the way we record is done in a way we can reproduce live. I didn’t intentionally put in any punk influences for the song actually, I guess it’s just the way it turned out. I was thinking more in the lines of Trespass’s “Stormchild”, with its rhythm guitar! Haha!
It was the first song you wrote, is that the reason why it is also the opener of the EP?
– Yes, pretty much I guess. It sets the tone for the rest of the recording. It fits really well as the first song.
“Cold Blooded” is a heavier and darker tune…
– I would definitely say it’s heavier. It’s very intense and heavy, that’s also what I had in my mind when I tried writing the riffs for the song. The lyrics are pretty easy to understand when you listen to it, because Jake’s vocals are pretty clear. It’s pretty much about a killer, stalking someone. A heavy metal song about street violence.
The song “Dreamer’s Wake” is quite different than the rest of the material. Much longer, slower more diverse.
– Outcast can be both slow and heavy as well as fast and intense. I don’t put any rules on what I want to write, because in the end I could be influenced by anything I am listening to at the time. I haven’t been hunting any records or discovering any new music for the past six month, but normally I am discovering a lot of stuff, and any new music I am listening to might inspire Outcast. I pretty much play what comes out.
Are there any special inspirations for this particular tune?
– For “Dreamer’s Wake”? Let me see… I guess I was listening to a lot of bands …like Rajas from Japan, a female fronted band that had three songs on a compilation and an EP after that in 1984. I was also listening to a lot of 220 Volt, Warlord and Wishbone Ash. I think you can hear a little bit of that in this song.
This tune was the one we spoke about earlier, that was made available on YouTube prior to the release of the tape. Do you think people got a false impression of what the band is about? I am asking, cause this tune is quite different from the other three…
– Oh yeah, I guess people would expect what Outcast sound like based on that particular song. If you look at modern bands today, take a “doom” band for instance, it seems like every song has got to be slow and boring. There is this trend going on, where you do one song and then copy yourself over and over again. That’s not what I like Outcast to be. Listen to some of the bands from the eighties, and their material is so diverse. 220 Volt is just one example. If you listen to a record, you can hear all sorts of songs and influences coming through. I want to write songs without rules, anything goes! Will from Heavy Chains was the one who suggested “Dreamer’s Wake” as a preview, I was cool with it. After all it’s the last song I came up with on the guitar, and it’s my personal favorite.
When you listen to the EP, it’s also really cool to have that song like a break in there. It’s something completely different and fits in well.
– Yeah, it does. A few faster songs, then something completely different, and then the faster song comes as the last one. We wanted to end the EP on a fast and aggressive note, that’s a good way to end the recording. In fact, my initial idea was to put “Dreamer’s Wake” last, but a few months before we sent the tape to press, I changed my mind. With “No Tomorrow”, the EP ends on a high note.
I really love the guitar solos on the EP.
– Really? Haha, it’s funny what you mention, because prior to doing this recording, I’ve never done a guitar solo before. I didn’t write them until a month before the actual recording. It took something like two years to get all the songs done, but we only had like 20 percent of the guitar solos at that time, so I had like one month to do everything, and I had never written a guitar solo before. Everything came together quite easy. Even though I had never written a solo before or played one, I am a big fan of guitar solos. In fact, I am one of the guys that can actually listen to a song for a guitar solo and keep on listening to it on repeat all day. I do like my guitar solos and I like it to be an aspect of Outcast. In the future, if I choose to play something different, there will always be guitar solos.
Even though the material sounds heavy and a bit rough around the edges, the melodies are really strong… Is that important for you?
– Oh yeah? Okay! I guess so, I guess it’s just the way I write. There wasn’t a lot planning and thinking involved at all. All of the songs came out pretty quick when I felt inspired.
You haven’t performed live yet. Are you looking to do it? If you were to play a couple of cover songs to show where your inspirations come from, which songs would it be?
– I actually never played a cover in my life. I am not against the idea, but sometimes when a new band plays a cover, it’s just so much better than their own music. So I don’t think it’s good for bands to try to do that. Obviously I get a lot of my inspiration from listening to music, but I don’t have the patience to learn a song, not to say someone else’s guitar solo. Anyway namedropping is fun, so say if we do actually cover songs I’d probably like to do tracks like Persian Risk’s “Calling For You”, Reincarnate’s “Take It Or Leave It”, Sergeant’s “Connection”, Bitches Sin’s “Livin’ On The Highway” or Mendes Prey’s “On To The Borderline”….. well it’s endless really. Simple, raw, catchy, rockin pop structured songs with guitar solos from the heart.
So if you’re gonna do a live show someday, it will be self composed material only?
– Yes, definitely. We got 20 minutes of stuff already, so I guess when I am back in Melbourne, we can definitely start to play live doing a 20 minute set. Whenever I do return, we will definitely be working on more. The future looks bright!