Northlane are an unstoppable force, an ever-evolving musical mutant that refuses to let up or slow down. Their fans, too, have been bred to expect the unexpected, through the band’s dogged tradition of never doing things the standard way, and their new album Mesmer is possibly the biggest example of that yet.
After busting our brains with a variety of cryptic hints (including a sphinx-like jerk of a chat bot) over the past few weeks, the Sydney riff-crushers have pulled a goddamn Beyoncé and side-swiped us by dropping a brand new album this morning out of the damn ether.
Music Feeds had the honour of catching up with a couple of the fellas – guitarist Josh Smith and frontman Marcus Bridge – to discuss all of the ins and outs of their mysterious Node follow-up, which was produced by US big-shot David Bendeth (Paramore, Bring Me The Horizon) in New Jersey.
What we learnt was that the band managed to craft their most personal album to date through an emotionally and psychologically challenging – yet also therapeutic – process, which saw them deal with issues and tragic events in their respective personal lives in the studio, guided by a producer who also happens to be a trained psychologist.
The metalcore legends have continued to push boundaries, push people’s buttons and push themselves to their very limits with Mesmer, and – as you’ll learn – it’s not something they’re planning to stop doing anytime soon.
Catch our full chat with Marcus and Josh from Northlane below.
Music Feeds: Very devious of you scamps to surprise-drop this album on us all today, what prompted the decision to chuck a Beyoncé this time around?
Josh Smith: Well we never really release two albums the same way ever. Every time we’ve dropped a record, we’ve tried to do something new and interesting and exciting and make it a bit of a different experience for our fans – it’s what they’ve come to expect now. And this time around we wanted to keep it a secret because we wanted it [to be like] a gift when it came out, we wanted people to be able to listen to the record and access the record as soon as they found out about it.
MF: You guys have gotten pretty good at keeping fans on their toes… case in point: that chat bot (who was kind of an asshole BTW), whose idea was that?
Josh: That was Kate from our label [UNFD]. She showed me this chat bot thing and I thought it was so cool. And the thing is, the prompts in it have been updated as time’s gone by too. So when ‘Citizen’ came out, the responses all changed. And there’s been a lot more to this process as well, like we actually had the release date of the album in the header of our Facebook profile for about a month now.
MF: *brain explodes* What?? How did we not notice this??
Josh: And since ‘Citizen’ came out there’s been a countdown on our website, but not many people have realised.
MF: Well now the cat is officially out of the bag… can you tell us if there were any other clues that we might have missed – with the chat bot or anything else – so that we can learn from our mistakes?
Marcus Bridge: [So many of] our fans who go snooping – they’re so on it so, so quickly. Like I saw this Reddit post with a list of – literally – all the commands that you can do, and what happens – and that was within a day or two of the chat bot happening. Our fans are very, very quick to try to figure everything out.
Josh: The chat bot had a bunch of lyrics in it from the record and before ‘Citizen’ came out, it had all these stills from that video clip and hints about the record. Really, it was just there to mess with people [laughs like the evil genius he is]. But it’s been a whole lot of fun.
MF: So let’s talk about the album… starting with the name Mesmer, is that a nod to the German dude who came up with the theory of animal magnetism?
Josh: Yeah, you’re right. I was reading about a bunch of weird stuff while I wrote some of the first songs on the record, and learned about this guy and what he did with animal magnetism – which was debunked – but also hypnotism as well. And when we were thinking about a title for the record, nothing really stuck, and then I was like ‘hang on, why don’t we just call it ‘Mesmer’ that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?’ and everyone was really into the idea, because it leaves a lot up to the imagination.
There’s nothing really about him on the record but it’s a very inter-connected record – like, every song plays into the next one seamlessly – if you listen to it from front to back and there’s a theme of connectivity in what the lyrics are kind of exploring with every song. There’s definitely a continuing theme of loss, and while that may be a bit far removed from Franz Mesmer, we thought the name was really cool and we were really into it.
MF: You guys have a rep for lyricising outwardly about the world and reality with tunes that often convey complex ideas about both. You’re still doing that here, but there are also a lot of songs on Mesmer like ‘Fade’ and ‘Heart Machine’ that seem to be looking inwardly at yourselves as well. Would you say this your most personal record to date?
Marcus: Absolutely, I think that this time around we delved into trying present something a little bit more personal. And whether it be ‘Heart Machine’ or ‘Fade’ or ‘Veridian’, something that kept popping up was [the theme of] loss, which is something that everyone can relate to and something that I think should be expressed. I think it’s something that a lot of people can keep pent up and don’t want to get out there.
I dunno, it’s definitely a release to be able to express yourself in a personal way, and hopefully send a message to other people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how hard things may seem.
Josh: The way this kind of came about was – while we were writing, and then when we went into the studio to record the record, a lot of really – for want of a better word – bad things happened. We lost a lot of people around us, two of us experienced a break down of a relationship, like, when we were just about to go into the studio or actually in the studio. So it was like immediately relevant to us and it was such a difficult thing for us to fight through, to get out what we needed to and keep our minds focused on the job, that writing about it almost became therapeutic. It made a lot of sense to us at the time and after the amount of experimenting we did with our last record, we weren’t really afraid to go there and try telling our own story this way, which is something Marcus did quite deeply.
MF: Would you say that going through those negative life experiences and working through them together during the album process helped you guys bond as a group, more than ever?
Marcus: Absolutely, I think – with a lot of these songs – whether it has been a recent or past experience, everyone has sort of dealt with these things, so everyone really knows where we’re all coming from. In the studio, working with [producer David] Bendith, he was really able to open us all up and really make it easy for us to all be very, very open with each other in presenting our ideas and presenting our thoughts. Everyone was very, very supportive but it was definitely hard!
Josh: Dave is a trained psychologist, not just a producer.
MF: Whoaaa, legitimately?
Josh: Yeah, he uses his psychology skills to break people down and build them back up again to get the most out of them. And Marcus definitely suffered that worst out of anyone. But he also pointed out our flaws in the way that we operate as a family in order to bring us closer together and get us working together better than ever and to kind of realise what our shortcomings are between each other. Like, the first day that we spent at the studio we didn’t even do anything that we would consider productive…
We recorded at a place called Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey, which is absolutely gorgeous. It’s where all the rich New Yorkers go for their summer holidays, but off-peak season it’s like this really quiet little town, and our house that we stayed at was one side of a lake and the studio was on the other side, and David had a boat there. And the first day he took us out on his boat just to drink beer and hang out with him so he could get to know us, so that was fun. Then on the second day, he brought us into the control room and started doing all of these psychological exercises, and within about half an hour had figured out and explained to us in great detail what the power dynamics in our band were and how we all feel about it, without us even thinking about it once in the last five or six years. Just completely figured out, it was unbelievable.
MF: Bendeth sounds like a real Mr. Miyagi type character, getting you to wax-on, wax-off before you got to actually get to go in and start kicking musical ass.
Josh: Yeah, I guess you could say that. A chain-smoking, hardass of a Mr. Miyagi… who’s way better than anyone I know on guitar.
MF: He sounds like he’d make a great movie character!
Josh: Oh they should definitely make a film about him.
MF: And for those who don’t know, Bendeth has a rep for working with some of the world’s biggest heavy acts like Bring Me The Horizon, Paramore and A Day To Remember… what motivated the choice to get him on board this time?
Josh: Well I don’t think a band should do more than two or three records with the same producer, ever. Bringing in fresh ideas is always really important, or else you just start to try to recreate what you’ve done in the past, subconsciously. It’s not pushing you in a different direction or teaching you anything new about yourself. We looked around and we loved a couple of records that David had done. Can you remember the Underoath one Marcus?
Marcus: Yeah, he mixed Lost In The Sound [Of Separation] and he did Riot! By Paramore, just all of these classic albums that we grew up listening to.
Josh: And we talked to the Of Mice & Men guys about him because they’d worked with him in the past and he really got the best out of them, and they told us he was extremely hard-nosed and would really really push us, and we felt like – at this stage in our career – that’s what we wanted. We wanted someone who was really gonna take us to our breaking point, because we weren’t really sure what we were capable of. Like, Marcus is comfortable and kind of more than settled into his role and we thought it was time for the rest of us to be pushed out of our comfort zone like he had been.
MF: One thing I immediately loved about this record is how much light and shade there is from start to finish. Like, there’s these beautiful contemplative moments that inevitably smash into these opposing moments of absolute crushing heaviness, and that contrast seems to make both things more powerful. Was that strategic songwriting or did it just kind of happen?
Marcus: Yeah I think it’s something we’ve always tried to do – and we tried to do on Node – I think that Bendeth really just honed in on it, he really understood the dynamics of everything we’re trying to do. You know, he’d strip back songs and take out parts that he didn’t think were necessary to bring out that light and shade. And he definitely helped us do that, because I think we’d gotten into the habit of just trying to cram lots of stuff in.
Josh: He showed us that less is more sometimes [chuckles]. As far as the dynamics of the songs, that was extremely important to him. And obviously we’ve always written fairly dynamic music for the style that we do, but he was really into – like – stripping back the quieter parts to make them more centralised around one or two elements, rather than five or six. And that made those elements more effective and also the dynamics of Marcus’s vocals were something that was extremely important to him too.
Marcus: Yeah, when it came to tracking the vocals and stuff he was very much about getting you into that headspace that would get the best performance out of you. And I guess some of the more personal songs – we spent like a couple of days talking about one of them, literally just talking about the ideas behind it and how it made me feel, and just being able to talk to him about that and really think about it. You can get stuck in the habit I guess of just going through the motions when you’re tracking vocals, if you’re singing the same thing over and over again, it’s very easy to slip into just doing it and not necessarily feeling it 100%, so he was really good at really getting the best out of me – I think out of everyone, really, when it came to tracking, he was very good at that.
MF: When any band changes their sound even slightly, there’s always inevitably some kind of backlash from some fans who aren’t happy. I know you guys have definitely experienced it with the release of even just these last two singles [‘Citizen’ and ‘Intuition’]. What are your thoughts on that sort of closed-minded negativity and how do you deal with it when you’re confronted by it?
Josh: Well I think what a lot of people don’t know is [laughs] from the inception of this band – like, before we even released an EP – there were a lot of people that would do anything they could to cut us down. And we’ve faced backlash for everything that we’ve done ever since we started this band, so it’s nothing new. I think that if you’re trying to push the boundaries of what you’re doing, some people aren’t going to want that, some people are set in their ways, and that’s fine. They might have one record that you did that really connected with them and if they really like that, they’ll be vocal about it and nothing else will live up to their expectations, which is fine because that’s their taste. We don’t really care, we wanna push ourselves as musicians and artists and I think – if you’re not pissing anyone off when you release a record – you’re just gonna fall into the void of anonymous bands who’ve just done the same thing over and over again. Not taking anything away from that, but it’s not who we are.
Marcus: It’s funny as well, because it’s nothing new really, even for me – ever since I joined it’s always been [there]. But in the end, it also just shows how passionate some of our fans really are, that they’ll be…
Josh: Yeah, just furious [laughs]
Marcus: It’s kinda cool to see, and hopefully we can bring them back around. But in the end, it is just passion, which is good I guess.
Josh: Yeah, it’s pretty funny.
MF: And you mentioned you guys have been dealing with that kind of negativity since you first started out, what do you think motivates that kind of mentality, is it just tall poppy syndrome?
Josh: When we started it was that, definitely. But it was also because we were different. So we were playing in a scene that was dominated by hardcore bands and came up against a lot of resistance because – kind out of nowhere – we were gaining traction and we were doing something totally different to any of the other bands in the scene. And people didn’t like that. People don’t like change either, they’re afraid of it. But – you know – change is what drives humanity forward. Like, I read this really interesting quote that I guess I can tie back to this, which is Henry Ford saying that before he created the Model T, which was kind of the first kind of commercial car that most people could go out and buy in a Ford, he said that if he’d have asked people what they wanted before he created the Model T they would have said “a faster horse”.
He revolutionized transport with his ideas, And the funny thing that I’ve seen too is we’ve put out records that were heavily criticized at the time, which people look back on now and go “Aw, that record was genre changing” or “one of the best metalcore albums ever released”, but at the time nobody gave a shit. So we’ll keep pushing the boundaries doing what we do. People can catch up to it when they’re ready.
MF: On the flip side, though, what do you think of a band like Linkin Park who we’ve just seen change their sound so dramatically that it’s like they’re a completely different band?
Marcus: Yeah, well that’s the funny thing as well, they’ve been ever-changing since Meteora as well, their last couple of albums were just as weird, like I guess this is more poppy stuff? That’s why – I guess – people are losing it, but the last couple of albums were even weirder, just like ambient, obscure music. And I think people just kinda dropped off with Linkin Park and expected that – when they came back – for some reason that they’d be heavy again? I dunno, people like to hold on to that nostalgic feeling with a lot of those kinds of bands, I think I’ve even seen Linkin Park joking about it [laughs] Like with [their new single] ‘Heavy’ the other day I saw this video of them playing like a nu-metal version of it. That was weird.
Josh: I think that what people don’t understand is that, when a record gets created it’s a reflection of where the artist is in a certain place in time in their lives. When Linkin Park released Hybrid Theory there was obviously a lot of angst and a lot of anger within that band and that’s why that record’s so pissed off. But people grow, as musicians and people, and then their music becomes a reflection of that. So even if you tried to recreate the same record again, you’re never gonna get there because it’s all about the mindset that you had when you wrote and performed it on record.
MF: Yeah, you’d just be trying to manufacture a feeling that wasn’t authentic anymore.
Josh: Well yeah, exactly. And that’s why a really good example for this is Architects because they kind of found their sound three records ago, they really kind of honed in on what their sound was. But the reason All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is such a cathartic record for them – and so powerful – is because of the headspace Tom [Searle, guitarist] was in when he wrote it, because he knew that this was gonna be his last record and that he had to leave his mark on the earth. That’s why that record is so fucking powerful. [It’s the] best example I can give of recent times.
MF: So when it comes to Northlane, casting your eyes into the future, could we ever see you guys chuck a Linkin Park? Or in other words, is anything off limits for you in the way you see yourselves evolving musically?
Marcus: Yeah, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I guess with every record – it’s like Josh said – it’s you in that moment and a reflection of what you are going through at that time, so who knows what could happen in the next five/ten years? It could bring a lot of positivity into our lives or the opposite.
Josh: I think as well – like – we’re not the band that’s ever going to release the same record twice. We’re always trying to evolve and develop, so who knows where that’s gonna take us? I think it’s pretty open-ended.
MF: So switching gears, you guys are playing the mainstage at UK’s epic Download Festival this year, which is huge! Is this the point where you look around and say “Yep, we’ve made it”, or has that happened already?
Josh: I think it’s a constant climb.
Marcus: Yeah, for sure.
Josh: I’ll let Marcus speak for himself, but for me personally – I’m always fixated on what the next goal is, for what we’re kind of travelling towards and shooting for next. And occasionally when I’m on stage, I have these moments of reflection when I realise “Oh I’m actually really happy with where I am, I’m really at peace with myself”. They’re fleeting moments but they’re really beautiful and they happen every now and then when we play a really, really cool show. But generally we’re always looking forward, we don’t have time to sit back and put our feet up [laughs].
Marcus: For me, it’s been quite a whirlwind since I’ve joined. It has been hard to stop and kind of take it all in, but as Josh said, there are those moments where you are just on stage and you realise where you are and – you know – it can get a bit emotional, in the best way. You think “wow, I’m so lucky to be where I am and doing what we’re doing”. So yeah, having the opportunity to play mainstage at Download two years after we played our first Download ever – it’s pretty insane to see. It’s very exciting and yeah, I can’t wait.
MF: That was beautiful, you guys. So what are your thoughts on the news that Download could be coming to Australia soon? Is it safe to say if that happens, you guys will play that festival here as well?
Marcus: [laughs very cagily]
Josh: We’d love to do it if it happens, but that’s all I can really say. We haven’t been asked to do it, so I don’t even know if it exists yet. But there are rumours that it will come. I’d love to be a part of it, but I don’t know if we will. So much of it comes into what our schedule is and what the promoters wanna see on the bill and – like – it doesn’t even exist yet [laughs] so we’ll just have to wait and see.
MF: You guys have already announced the ‘Intuition’ tour for May… can we expect a bigger tour for the album to follow that?
Josh: Hmmm… I’d rather not address this at this point in time [chuckles].
MF: OK we’ll leave that up to everyone’s imagination. Also, we heard you guys might be having a crack at triple J’s Like A Version during the album cycle as well. Have you chatted about what song you might cover?
Josh: Are we?
Marcus: [Laughing] I don’t know, we have talked about it in the past, but it’s always kind of fallen through. It’d definitely be something that’d be cool to do, but we haven’t really… we’re very focused on Mesmer at the moment, we haven’t really had the chance to even think about that! It definitely would be a great experience, though.
MF: How about hypothetically, if you were to do it? Marcus I know you’ve recorded lots of awesome covers just as a solo artist…
Marcus: Ummm… when it comes to doing those things it always something very random that just pops into my head, and then I’ll just be like “OK I’m gonna do that”. And that’s just me. So I guess it’s gotta be something that’s still representative of Northlane in some way and can be translated in that way. But yeah, nothing off the top of my head that I can really think of! But you know, maybe a song’ll pop up out of nowhere and that’ll be the one? Who knows [laughs].
MF: Well I guess we’ll just have to play the waiting game. Which we won’t be doing for your new album Mesmer because it’s out right bloody now! Thanks so much for the chats guys, is there anything else you’d like to add?
Josh: Just enjoy the album! [laughs]
Well, you heard the man. Northlane’s new album ‘Mesmer’ is out now. Catch them live across Australia on their ‘Intuition’ tour this May.