I Decline doesn’t really say too much about you and your sound. What was it in the name that made you stick with it? What is the meaning behind it?
-It’s interesting that you would think that it doesn’t match our sound, I think the band has always surprised folks with first impressions. I guess it’s in the nature of the name “I Decline”… as if to say, we’re not going to bow to anyone’s pre-conceived thought of what we’re supposed to be. The name, in and of itself stemmed from a letter that our bass player, Pat McLaughlin received from the government back in ’95, inviting him to join the military. He politely “Declined”, choosing to live a life of music instead. It’s like music was the answer and everything else was heresy. We all kind of felt that way. The name also kind of invokes the spirit of punk, which is where our music is really rooted in. When Pat, Pez, and I formed the band initially, we were called “Bloody Blood” and were kind of a doom-y band with very tongue-in-cheek lyrics, poking fun at the violence in metal lyrics. “Bloody Blood” was really just a joke band but it inspired us to take a more serious approach to metal but with the attitude of punk and prog. We thought, why not bring that rebellious attitude and more driving energy to a metal band. I think that the name kind of has evolved with the band too.
You got a sound that to my ears is borderline thrash/stoner. What led you to this sound?
-Well our sound has kind of evolved in much the way our name has. We began with a more stoner / psychedelic / acid rock vibe and just kept pushing further and further into our metal roots. When we first demoed Drug Prophet back in 96, we were heavy into Pink Floyd and Danzig. Those early demos are so raw and unforgiving but I think we somehow captured something new: taking the elements of dark metal and the lighter / trippy elements of psych-rock and melt them into one, sort of a much heavier and darker version of Monster Magnet. That kind of laid the foundation for what we ultimately are now. We went through a lot of experimentation in between. Our first record, Soundtrackfortherestofyourlife is probably the most experimental of all. We were just breaking off the crust of the egg, so-to-speak, to see what was inside. Because of that, there’s some more psych stuff like “America Take 2” and then there’s some more metal stuff like “Dragonsong” on that record. A lot of that psych vibe came from our 1st guitarist, Tommy Bucina. He was heavily influenced by Hendrix and King Buzzo. The heavier stuff was from Pat. Over time, we just found that the heavy stuff got more of a reaction from fans and press and it just felt right so the band parted ways with Bucina. He appears on our second record, The Ides of Riffdom, on a few tracks but by that time we were already moving in the direction we are now. That being said, his influence on us has had a residual effect, kind of like some acid-trails hahahaaha… anyways, that stoner vibe will always be a part of our sound.
When you go for a broader sound do you open up for people not getting your music and staying far away from it? What kind of reactions have you had so far?
-Sure. I think whenever you open the gates to other styles and cross-over to other genres, you always run the risk of alienating people. The thing is that, since we never really were a part of a specific genre, we never really feel like we are alienating anyone. I mean, take a look at a band like the Police, who started off in the genre of punk and ultimately landed in the realm of pop but mid-way were borderline reggae / dub. Ultimately, they defined who or what they represented simply by creating the music that they thought up. I don’t really think they ever sat down to say “lets write a pop song” I think they just did what was natural for them. That’s what we’ve done all along and its really up to the people listening to decide if it suits their palettes.
All things considered, we’ve actually been getting pretty positive reactions so far from the new record Time To Shine. A lot of critics notice the cross-over of styles but they have mainly focused on the song-writing and production. If anything, I think some critics are getting too tied-up in the production saying that its really well produced and that this may be a turn off for some but really, I think the band comes from the school of thought that we want to put out the best product we can. We love a lot of raw stuff out there and if that’s where we decide to go with another record, we will, but this record’s subject matter and the songs really needed that finesse that goes with a large-scale production. We wanted it to explode in your speakers.
How democratic can you be in a band before it ends up a mess and you go nowhere, just standing still?
-Well, that’s really what happened to I Decline pre-Ides of Riffdom. We were very democratic prior to that record, all ideas and all possible scenarios being explored. It worked, kind of but it also made for a bit of a hostile environment with too many emotions flying around. There just wasn’t enough direction. That might work for some bands but most would find that, in order for a group to survive there almost has to be a central focus. Democracy becomes a failed approach in most bands. I’ve read that some bands like George Clinton’s Funkadelic might have worked like that initially (and thus created their best work) but most bands have to find common ground. For us, it was with our bass player, Pat. He brought the most material to the table and had his head in the game the most so we trusted his tastes and direction.
How does the title Time To Shine fit with the cover? To me that cover shouts extreme metal but the music is far from extreme.
-To be perfectly honest, the cover was a difficult process for us. We had a rough time as we’d never spent a tremendous amount of time on artwork before. The idea came about from working with three different artists: Tom Denney, Jody Reno, and Bart Powers. Jody is a local artist in Chicago that we’ve known for a number of years and we commissioned him to do a piece for the album but we really didn’t know what we wanted and he gave us a piece of artwork that was really cool but just didn’t fit the theme, yet. It was just too dark and evil. Bart Powers also gave us some really cool artwork that we’ll use eventually but just didn’t quite fit the themes of the songs on this record. We wanted something that spoke of the stories told in Time To Shine: chaos, desolation and fear in the aftermath of 9/11 but we also wanted to give the listener a sense of hope, rising above the ashes. We also wanted this to be represented symbolically and not literally. So, we took what we got from Jody and Bart we approached Tom Denney with some visual concepts: a hero surrounded by zombies and wolves in the horizon of a collapsing city. What he gave us actually just worked really well with Jody’s piece so we combined them and that was the result. Bart was kind enough to help us out with the design of the logo for our label “Horns Raised Records”. I think the end result is effective, sure it is extreme but I think that’s what the lyrical content is about, the chaos and the hope that’s rising out of the chaos.
Is the DIY ethics even more valid in today’s downward spiralling music business? What are your views on why the music business is in trouble now?
-Everything we do is DIY. The only difference being that it’s more of a DIYS as in “Do It Your Self Smart”. Back in the Black Flag days, those guys had to work so hard to make an impact and of course we all know it paid off for that band and many others but nowadays, it’s so much easier. You don’t need a ton of money to put out a great record. You can put out your own records, book your own tours, sell your own merch, etc. The market has gotten smaller and more niche so less hands have to get thrown in the mix. This cuts the middleman out but it brings the fans that much closer to the bands and it brings the bands that much closer to the fans. It just makes for a more intimate relationship all around. I don’t feel that the music business is in trouble I think that the big cats on top are in trouble. The folks that make the music are in the best position possible because they hold all the cards. They have the power and that’s the way it should be. Think about it, you have easier access to the music you like with tools like Spotify while at the same time, bands that submit their music to that outlet can have a direct link to who’s listening to their music. The paradigm of the record industry has changed but there will always be people willing to spend money to see a good concert, buy a cool t-shirt, and download the latest track.
When you release an album on your own how do you go about getting it distributed to metal fans all over the world?
-Our first priority is to get it distributed digitally in as many outlets as possible and after that it’s just approaching different distributors about consignment deals at the moment. We’ve been fortunate enough in securing some consignment deals and to distribute our records through CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon and other smaller distributors. Eventually, we hope to secure more physical distribution through a smaller label so that we can keep it organic. We really want to take a grass roots approach to our music; we’re trying to build our reputation brick by brick.
Is it enough to just release albums to get noticed?
-No way. In this day and age, there are so many artists you’ll get lost in an ocean of bands. The best thing you can possibly do is to get your music in as many hands as possible but that is no small task and we’re still learning how to accomplish that feat. The other thing is, once it’s in someone’s hands, you want it to capture them, again not an easy task. Our approach now is to just put out the best record with the coolest artwork that we can possibly afford to do with all of our hard work and faith behind it. After that, you need to get it out to the right people so that they can start talking about it. It helps to have visuals and we hope to put out some videos soon to accommodate that end of things. Really, you just need to spread your reach far and wide.
What kind of work have you done to get noticed and how far would you go in order to be discovered?
-That’s a tricky question. We’ve been working on improving our choice of shows, for one. In the past, we would play anytime and anywhere. That approach worked for us then but it also killed the passion. It’s important to know who you’re gunning for audience-wise. I think this is the first album for us where we sort of stood back and said, “ok, who’s going to listen to this record?” or “Who are we trying to inspire?” Knowing your audience is number one. Sure, we’re aiming for the stoner, doom and metal crowd but we also want to give them a challenge, like, hey songs are important too ya know? It doesn’t have to be all about heaviness and riffs without any attention to that.
So, that’s the first thing. The second is, what can you do to get noticed? Well, stand out. Find something about what you do that no one else is doing and emphasize that. Look at your favorite bands out there, most of them have something unique that distinguishes them from everyone else and they found a way to exploit that uniqueness. For us, I think we still haven’t fully realized that yet. In the past, we’ve spent a lot of time hitting the streets with fliers, trying to get noticed that way. That works on a small scale but our goal now is to get our music in the hands of services like Pandora, where the power of suggestion can help tremendously in spreading the word.
When do you know that you’ve taken things too far and there’s no going back but to stop and start all over again? Is there something you’d never do just to get the band noticed? When do you know it is over?
-I’m kind of the wrong person to ask this question because, as a fan myself, I really dig hearing about all the crazy hotel trashing stories. That being said, there is a thin line where an artist’s antics can overshadow his or her art. When that line is crossed, it’s really hard to win your fans heart back ya know? I mean, case in point, Ozzy… I love his amazing musicianship and artistry but when a guy like Ozzy gets reduced to buffoonery on a daily basis on a show like the Osbournes, it takes away from the art. Sure, he’s a household name now, but let me ask you this, is Paul McCartney a household name? He is but he never participated in a reality show such as this. On the flip side, John Lennon exposed the world to his personal life with Yoko Ono but it was almost an extension of his art. It was really more of a social commentary or even a sort of performance art. I think that its all over when whatever it is your doing to get noticed has somehow cheapened your art. Someone, preferably a good producer or manager, should just slap you in the face at that point and say “Dude, WTF? You’re ruining it for your fans man!”
How bright is the future for I Decline?
-Vibrant! It’s our Time To Shine is it not? Seriously though, the band has never felt so alive as it is now. We’re already working on new material, fresh off the road from a tour with Metal Blade artists, Gypsyhawk. We have a lot of plans for the next couple of years. In the immediate future, we’ll be supporting our friends in IKlatus, featuring Time To Shine cover artist Tom Denney, John Bomher (ex-Yakuza) and Chris Wozniak (Lair of the Minotaur) at their vinyl release party in Chicago. Hopefully, we’ll have a venture overseas to Europe planned along with another record that we’ll be tracking in a forest cabin in the North Woods. It’ll be a Silver Future!