It’s just a few days Northlane officially drop their third studio album Node. The disc will officially ring in a whole new era for the Sydney-bred heavyweights, showcasing a new dimension to their sound, and unleashing the full might of new vocalist, Marcus Bridge. And to mark the milestone, the band are preparing to announce their most ambitious national tour to date.
Amidst all the excitement, we got the chance to chat to guitarist Josh Smith on what he thinks could be a “polarising” new album and dealing with the ongoing evolution of the band itself.
Music Feeds: So it’s the final countdown ’til the new album drops. How are you feeling this close to the release date?
Josh Smith: Yeah, I’m feeling good. We knew it was gonna be a polarising record… But I kind of feel like, over time, the feedback we’re getting has become a lot more positive, as people sort of understand the direction that we’ve decided to take – and we kind of expected that. I just want people to be able to hear the record. It’s getting to that point where it’s frustrating because it’s so close, but not quite out yet, and we just want people to hear it.
Watch: Northlane – Obelisk
MF: Obviously there’s been some big changes for the band between Singularity and Node, what do you think is going to surprise fans the most about the new album?
JS: I would say probably how diverse it is. It’s definitely got the biggest dynamic of any record that we’ve done before, both within the songs and between the songs – it’s a lot more varied than everything on Singularity was, and Discoveries too – so I think people should listen to it without any expectation.
They should just put the record on and listen to it from start to finish and see where it takes them. I think there’s gonna be songs that appeal to different sorts of people – like I said, they’re all quite varied – so we sort of feel like there’ll be something in there for everyone who’s listened to us before and might be interested in what we’re doing now.
MF: And needless to say now with Marcus on board you’re ushering in this whole new era… and I can’t help but draw the comparison to AC/DC after they lost Bon Scott and recruited Brian Johnson. Do you see Node as kind of being like Northlane’s Back In Black? (Obviously not in terms of sound!)
JS: (Laughs) Well I never compared it to AC/DC but it’s a nice way of putting it! I guess, you know, there’s been a couple of bands who’ve gone through this change and come out on top, like Killswitch Engage with Howard Jones and Van Halen with Sammy Hagar – and those bands were kind of the thing that kept us going through this whole tumultuous process, because we were terrified that everything we’d worked really hard for might be all going to waste.
But we believed in ourselves and backed what we were doing and just worked as hard as we possibly could. So I’m just happy that my band’s still together at this point and that we’ve made it to where we are, and we’re looking forward. I don’t have any expectations as to how this record’s gonna do. I kind of feel like it’s probably not even gonna have its biggest impact straight away. It’s probably gonna be a grower.
MF: As opposed to a show-er?
JS: Yeah, it’s anticipated I guess, but it’s also quite polarising, so it might take a bit to catch on. I don’t know, and I guess only time will tell if it is our Back In Black or our Chinese Democracy (laughs). Don’t put that in the interview! (ED: Sorry Josh!)
Watch: Northlane – Rot
MF: So flashback to that point in time when you first lost Adrian, and how you were feeling back then. Did you imagine that you’d ever be able to get to this point again?
JS: It was really rough. Especially when he left, like before we’d even started auditioning for vocalists, we were really doubting ourselves, we were not in a good place. And it really slowed down the writing process. We all felt like everything was really grinding to a halt. We weren’t motivated, we weren’t happy, we weren’t optimistic. But I think a really important life lesson is to be able to see the opportunities in everything bad that happens to you, and we saw an opportunity.
You know, we’d already kind of figured out the direction that we were gonna take our band in musically, so we saw the opportunity of being able to choose the perfect voice for that, and being in a lucky position where – you know – we went and did those auditions we had over 2,000 people apply so we knew we weren’t leaving any stone unturned in our search for a new vocalist, and it was really hard.
But being on the other side of even just getting a singer and being able to uphold our touring commitments and record a record that we’re really proud of is kind of testament to our tenacity as people, and stubbornness as a band to just do what we think is right and be the band that we wanna be.
It’s gonna be an experience that I look back on when we’re completely out of it and say, you know, “I’m proud of us for making it through”. But people still need to hear the record – that’s all we really care about now. I don’t wanna talk ourselves up, I just want people to listen to it.
MF: And you guys are going to be announcing Aussie tour dates on July 27th, can you tell us how big is that tour going to be on a scale from one to Godzilla?
JS: (Laughs) One to Godzilla? I don’t know how many people would come out to watch Godzilla! Yeah, look, it’s by far the biggest tour we’ve done in Australia – at least twice as big as our last one, and it’s got quite a big lineup too.
The thing that we’re most excited about is being able to play headline shows at home to our fans in venues where we can bring in a lot of production, and put on a show that’s really exciting, and do a couple of things that we haven’t really done before.
Look, I can’t give too much away, but we’ve really had a hard think about how we present ourselves live, and what we want to do with our live show, and we had all these crazy ideas about what we wanted to do with this tour and then cut a whole heap of them out to fit it within our budget.
But it’s definitely stuff that you wouldn’t normally see in our vein of music, and we wanna be one of those bands like Tool or Nine Inch Nails that people just go and watch purely for the show, you know, not even just for the music.
Every time that we tour we always try to outdo ourselves. But now I think that we’re a lot more comfortable with who we are musically… as artists, we’re paying a lot more attention to the visual aspects of our show, and its definitely going to be head and shoulders above what people have seen us do in Australia before.
I think if [fans] want an indication, they should watch a video from Unify [The Gathering Festival]. I guess that’s a bit of a teaser. I wish I could tell you [more] but I just can’t!
Listen: Northlane – Leech
MF: You mentioned Tool so I can’t help but hazard a guess at pyro?
JS: No pyro (laughs). Na, couldn’t afford that. But interesting nonetheless.
MF: And you guys previously put your hand up for Soundwave 2016 and AJ [Maddah, promoter] seemed pretty keen on it. Has that all been officially locked in yet?
JS: Na it hasn’t. It’s definitely something that we want to do, I guess the discussion just hasn’t really come up with AJ yet (laughs). We’ll just have to see what happens. I can’t really confirm or deny anything at this point, but the dates are free.
MF: So let’s get back on the topic of Node – did having Marcus join the fold change up the writing process in a big way?
JS: The way it worked was – traditionally Adrian had done all the lyrics and the phrasing and melodies and stuff – but I shared that role with Marcus where I was primarily taking care of the lyrics and he was primarily taking care of the phrasing and melodies and all that sort of stuff. So it was a cool dynamic to be able to bounce those ideas off someone, and kind of express my outspoken voice a bit (laughs).
It’s not an opportunity I normally get being a semi-public figure, I’m not allowed to say a lot of the things that I want to say in a public forum because it’s a bit controversial and I think this is a really cool way of reaching people with what I want to say in an artistic form, and I haven’t really had that freedom of expression before.
MF: And what are some of those ideas or viewpoints that you’ve gotten to express through Node?
JS: There’s [the song] Leech – it’s fairly obvious what that’s about [global warming] – and something that is really frustrating me at the moment. Especially what the government’s doing with renewable energies – it’s fucking disgraceful. Yeah… I’m kind of too angry to talk about it (laughs) just listen to the song.
MF: So lyrically, would you say Node treads some very new terrain for Northlane?
JS: I think lyrically this album looks a lot more outwards than it does inwards, and I think that – when I was kind of looking for inspiration, with lyric writing – I realised that a lot of the songs that I kind of identified with did that. But there are still some inward-looking songs and inward-looking aspects to a lot of the songs too.
It’s kind of like a narrative of my world-view, with the overwhelming message of self-empowerment, which I think is something that’s really important. It’s what got us through the vocalist change, it’s what got me through a mental illness that I had when I was a lot younger, and people need to realise that if they want change to happen they have the power to do it.
Watch: Northlane – Obelisk Nic Pettersen drum play-through