Despised Icon was one of Montreal's marquee deathcore acts, and had a firm grip on the scene for nearly an entire decade until the band's split in December 2010. After everyone went their own separate ways to do things like spend time with family, etc., vocalist Alex Erian wasn't content, he wanted to get back out on the road - thus, Obey The Brave was born. Even though Erian is the band's lone lead vocalist, don't make the mistake of thinking the intensity level has dropped; the band's first full-length record Young Blood is a hard hitting album from front to back, leaving no room to breathe.
I spoke with Alex Erian inside the Hawthorne Theater in Portland, OR, and talked about their time supporting Whitechapel and Emmure, the band's debut - Young Blood, and more. You can follow Alex on Twitter, as well as Obey The Brave on Twitter, and Facebook. You can watch the band's music video for "Get Real" (feat. Scott Vogel of Terror) here.
[Photo Credit: Jeremy Saffer]
So you've been supporting Whitechapel and Emmure on this tour, how's it been going for Obey The Brave?
Alex Erian: Dude, so far so good, we're alternating with The Plot In You. Some nights you're first up, some nights you're up second. We do see a big difference, it sucks being that opening band but good reactions regardless. We were on the All-Stars Tour last summer, and compared to that we're getting a better response, better merch sales, etc. Everyone who is reading this and supporting us, thank you, because it's making a big difference and it's helping us stay on the road. I'm just having a great time, I feel fortunate to be back on the road in the U.S. and doing what I love; I've been doing this for my entire adult life and granted I was on a hiatus for two years between bands. I'm very happy to be out on tour with friends, I've done a few tours with Emmure, Whitechapel, and Unearth, I've done anywhere from 2-4 tours with those bands, it's like a reunion time!
Is there an "ideal" tour for Obey The Brave? Would you rather be out with Terror or Hatebreed?
Alex Erian: I just heard the new Hatebreed track, pretty good! I toured with Hatebreed and Black Dahlia Murder back in 2006, and I haven't toured with Hatebreed since; I would be honored to do so again, I feel like Obey The Brave would be a right fit for an opening slot on an upcoming tour. I've been supporting them since Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire, and I have a lot of respect for them. As far as an ideal tour, we're all over the place, we listen to all types of shit, whether it's myself or the rest of the band. I'd love to do something that's not so narrow musically, maybe open for a punk rock band like Pennywise or Millencolin or NOFX.
You know, that's funny that you say that, because Stick To Your Guns is doing that type of tour real soon, supporting Pennywise and Lagwagon.
Alex Erian: They are, and they are fucking lucky! We're doing a festival in Belgium called Groezrock, there's lots of punk rock bands on there, I think Bad Religion and Rise Against are headlining this year, so it's definitely an honor to be on that. You know, I'd tour with Jay-Z if I had an offer, haha.
You know I've always wondered what Ghostfest is like compared to Groezrock.
Alex Erian: It's in the United Kingdom. I've done that once, but it's much smaller. This guy Toyan St Hilaire who books it every year, and he's done it at least 5 years, and it features some of the U.K.'s finest. But yeah, Groezrock is humongous, the biggest festival in Belgium alongside Ieperfest, I'd say there's close to 10,000 people in attendance.
Who would you say are the some of the bigger hardcore bands in the U.K. right now? I know there's TRC, etc.
Alex Erian: Yeah, I'm not really sure since I don't live there, but I just saw the new Your Demise video and seemed good. I also saw the new Bring Me The Horizon video, and they've really stepped up their game, although they're not hardcore - the video was pretty good, I'm curious to see what else is on that record. As far as hardcore in the U.K., there's Brutality Will Prevail, if you're into traditional hardcore mixed with doomier parts, then they're definitely worth checking out.
Do you consider Obey The Brave to be a melodic hardcore band or would you classify it as something else? I remember Scott Vogel of Terror claiming that a band like The Ghost Inside isn't a real hardcore band...
Alex Erian: I dunno man, hardcore is so cool nowadays, it's the new deathcore. All these kids pop out of nowhere, and they're like "Oh man, I fucking love Biohazard and Madball", and six months ago they had absolutely no clue who those bands were. I started listening to that stuff in the late 90's/early 00's, I'm old as fuck - I'm 32. I bought Set It Off (Madball) when it came out, I bought State Of The World Address (Biohazard) when it came out, but who cares, I love hardcore, I love metalcore. As far as Obey The Brave is concerned, we are a melodic metalcore band; we love metal and hardcore and we mix it up. To each their own, I see a lot of elitists out there who want to be nazi's about music; I'm all about diversity, I'm all about the whole "live and let live" mentality - whether you love pop, or if you love Suffocation and Devourment, that's good too. There's no wrong or right way to listen to music as far as I'm concerned.
Young Blood came out on Epitaph Records about 3-4 months ago. Was Epitaph the only label that was interested in what you were doing after Despised Icon broke up?
Alex Erian: To be honest, there was half a dozen labels out there that were animate about signing us, it was definitely flattering. At the end of the day, we decided to go with Epitaph. I remember being in high-school listening to albums like Punk In Drublic (NOFX), and Unknown Road (Pennywise), and Let's Go (Rancid), those are some of the names that I grew up with during my adolescent years. And to be on a label amongst those bands or more recent bands like Parkway Drive or The Ghost Inside or even Bring Me The Horizon, it's unbelievable, and it's something that I don't take for granted. Being on this label pushes me and pushes the band harder to work and get our name out there as much as possible, we're just grinding this shit everyday.
How long did you spend writing this album? It's pretty straightforward for the most part.
Alex Erian: It took us a good six months to write this record. We spent the second half of 2011 talking and exchanging lyrical topics, writing riffs, and it slowly took shape; there were no deadlines, no label pressures, no demands to put out a particular single or be on a certain tour, none of that. We just took our time, and when it was ready, it was ready. But by the end of of 2011, we thought to ourselves "Hey, we have more or less the equivalent of a record in our hands, we're jamming and having a great time, let's give this a shot". And after we announced our band a little over a year ago, we've been working hard at it, playing every show we could get our hands on - small shows, big shows, every weekend, until the spring when we finally started touring, and we've been doing that ever since.
What was the most significant struggle when making this album?
Alex Erian: My struggle was just getting back into the game. Here I was in Despised Icon, creating music and touring with that band for 10 years, getting all these great touring opportunities and making somewhat of a decent living out of it, and suddenly most of the guys wanted to move on and step away from the game, and I wasn't ready to turn the page. But I didn't want to keep the band alive for selfish reasons. As far as I'm concerned, keeping that band alive with a bunch of new members wasn't the right thing to do; once you do that, you become a pale copy of yourself, a cover band. No disrespect to the bands out there, but that's what a lot of the bands are doing, and that's not the path that I wanted to go down, so I decided to call it a day. Everyone in Despised Icon was jumping on a new train, trying something else - trying out the family life, trying out new career opportunities, and I kind of felt pressured at my age nearing 30 to do what the rest of my boys were doing, and so I did; I got an awesome marketing job for a clothing retailer, was working the office job 9 to 5, a steady paycheck and great team, but I wasn't happy because I felt like I was stepping on my own toes with something that I wasn't ready to do. And it really came down to me questioning what I had to do to become happy in life, and the answer was simple - play music. So I quit everything and put everything on the line - stability, security, etc. So I started a new band, called it Obey The Brave, and here we are, and I'm happy I took that chance, because it wasn't necessarily a done deal.
So really the lyrical content is a celebration of you breaking through that transition point in your life, right?
Alex Erian: I wrote "It Starts Today", which was the first song we wrote together as Obey The Brave, and it was about me coming to that realization and me doing everything I could to get back at it again. No matter what the obstacles may be, this is what I'm going to be doing.
You've mentioned that you're not trying to "re-invent the wheel" musically. With that being said, what is the greatest thing about what you and your musical contemporaries are doing right now?
Alex Erian: When we started making music together as a band, we didn't think "Oh, we want to sound like this band, or play this type of music", we just simply started writing, whether it was music or lyrics, and it took a shape of it's own. And I believe that's the right way to go about it, not trying to jump on some bandwagon or anything, just writing something from the heart. "We're not trying to re-invent the wheel, we keep it simple, we keep it real", this is what's coming out of us, so this is what we're doing. We're just trying to please ourselves. We play music from the heart and do it for the right reasons; if people tag along, great...if not, so be it, I'm just trying to be happy in whatever creative outlet I have.
You know, I'm really curious as to how that Pantera cover came together. It threw some people for a loop, they really didn't see that coming.
Alex Erian: The response for that was all over the place, from people saying "This is AWESOME!" to people saying "Who the fuck are you to touch Pantera? They're untouchable! How dare you!". We're just paying homage to one of the bands that got us into this scene in the first place, we're just trying to make music and have fun, I can't stress how important that is. I purchased Vulgar Display Of Power back in 1992, I was 13 or 14 at the time and I had a few friends who were playing guitar that were into stuff like Megadeth, Sepultura, stuff like that. Pantera was that band that got me into metal, and got me into playing music; my friends were playing "A Mouth For War" or "A New Level" on guitar, and was like "Hey, I want to play music, I want to be in a band. Nobody is playing drums? I'm going to pick up a pair of sticks and play music with you guys". And then one thing led to another and I started playing more and more music, playing in different bands and going out to shows, and discovering new bands - the more extreme, the better. And here I am, 14-15 years later and I'm still just as passionate about it, if not more. Thanks to that band, I actually saw Down the other day, and here he is [Phil Anselmo, lead vocalist, Pantera/Down] on stage after all this time, so much respect. He has the same passion and energy, and it gives me butterflies, and the fact that it makes me feel this way is the reason why I'm still doing it, simple as that.
Can you describe the Montreal music scene? To me, the immediate bands I associate with Montreal would be bands like Despised Icon for one, then stuff like Blessed By A Broken Heart, etc. I keep hearing about Skip The Foreplay too.
Alex Erian: Brett Gurewitz LOVES Skip The Foreplay. During my two year hiatus, I actually helped those guys get a record deal and have booking/management stuff sorted out, etc. I support my friends no matter what, some people were like "What happened to you, man? You used to be a metalhead, and here you are encouraging these guys". It's not necessarily the stuff that I'd listen to, but they're down to earth and they're doing it the right way, and I'm proud of them. They did Warped Tour last summer, and they're doing a lot of things, so good for them.
As for the metal scene in Montreal, I feel as though it's an in-between zone right now. I am very nostalgic of those days where Despised Icon, Ion Dissonance, Beneath The Massacre, and Cataclysm were constantly on the road. These bands aren't really touring much anymore, still producing music in certain regard. I'm proud of them, I'm proud of my scene, and It's time for the younger people from Montreal to take the flame, it's their turn. There's a couple of younger bands out there that are good, there's this metalcore band called Beheading of A King who just dropped a new music video, they're pretty good, check them out. If you're into death metal, check out a band called Beyond Creation, they just got announced on some big tour, very happy for them. If you're into very traditional hardcore, then you need to check out the Lifers Crew, which consists of: Enforcers, Plus/Minus, Harriers and a bunch of other bands from Montreal. Hopefully shit pans out for the new bands, and I'm sure it will.
Touring, we have tours confirmed in 20 different countries right now. We're doing America/Canada right now with Emmure and Whitechapel and Unearth, and then after that we're doing Europe for close to 5 weeks, even doing Russia on that run, I'm very excited to get back out there. Aside from that, already writing; not because we feel obligated to, we're just excited about playing music and being in a band. We have these ideas, these words, we're just trying to put them into a song. Hopefully record this summer and release a year and half after Young Blood tops. We're working on Australia and Asia right now - if it happens, good. If not, it's all good.
What's the most important thing to know about your band?
Alex Erian: If you think about my band or any other band as a life lesson, it's about perseverance. I see people that want to tour and be in a band, but they just get discouraged. If you really want this, do anything you possibly can, knock on any door out there. If it's not working out with a set of people, move along and find people more aligned with what you want to do. Never ever stop. If I can do it, you can do it. We all start from scratch, I just wanted to tour.
Excellent Interview first of all. Alex is the man, one of the nicest dudes Ive ever met. Im from Montreal and my band is trying to establish our name in the metal and hardcore scene. Obey the Brave actually shared our song on their facebook and Alex always checks out our songs and gives feedback. If the hardcore scene had more people in it like Alex it would be a much better place aha