Northlane’s last two records – 2015’s Node and 2017’s Mesmer – each enjoyed considerable success, debuting in the ARIA top five and winning the ARIA award for Best Hard Rock or Heavy Metal Album. But with their fifth album, and third to feature Marcus Bridge on lead vocals, the Sydney band weren’t looking to repeat the formula.
Out in early August, Alien speaks candidly about Bridge’s parents’ heroin and alcohol addictions and the impact this had on him and his sister growing up. Bridge’s lyrics also address the disdain he feels towards his mother, who he’s since distanced himself from. From a musical perspective, lead guitarist and composer Jon Deiley was eager to deviate from what’s expected of the band and make a determined embrace of ugliness.
Music Feeds spoke to Bridge about the album’s revealing lyrical substance and Northlane’s prevailing spirit of defiance.
Music Feeds: You address some incredibly revealing topics on the album. Have you had to brace yourself for being constantly asked to talk about these harrowing details from your life?
Marcus Bridge: I feel like that preparing myself period was the first three or four years of me being in Northlane. This has been a story I’ve wanted to talk about or tell for a long time, but I wasn’t ready until now. All those previous years that I was in Northlane, I think that was all me being able to be confident in myself to tell this story, but also be able to accept people knowing all these details about my past. In the end, it’s still been a very difficult process, but I’m a lot more open to being able to talk about this stuff and share my story so that people can maybe relate to it and they don’t have to be stuck in the same kind of thing that they’ve been brought up in.
MF: Alien draws on the pain, violence and psychological brutality of your upbringing. Was your main motivation to find inner clarity and exorcise those demons? Was it done for your own sake?
MB: I think so. I don’t know. That’s a good question, because I think in the end it has been for me, but as the process has been going on I also had to realise that I couldn’t just talk about all these things and just have all these stories that didn’t relate to anyone else. I think it was important that I was writing about something that was not just dark for the sake of being dark. I also didn’t want it to seem like I was taking advantage or trying to have shock factor with the release of this album. I wanted it to be meaningful and not just something people thought was for a gimmick or anything.
MF: During the three or four years when you were still finding the strength to tell this story, did you think long and hard about the angle you’d tell it from?
MB: Definitely. A song like ‘Freefall’, which is very direct and is literally a story from my past – if you were to close your eyes and listen along and imagine this picture, that’s pretty much what happened. But you can’t have all of the songs be like that or just talk about these awful moments without any meaning behind it. It’s important to make sure that it’s not too self-focused.
MF: You could’ve written these songs, but then stayed mum about the background information. Was being open about the origins of these songs a significant part of the exercise?
MB: I think it’s something that people who have gone through similar things to me might be quite scared to talk about. And I know for a long time I was, but when I did start talking to people who had gone through similar things or people opened up to me about their experiences, I realised how much people are there for you and want to help and want to understand what you’ve been through.
It’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about, drug addiction, and heroin especially. It’s not a nice thing to talk about, but I think to move beyond that and to have an openness that people can relate to, but also just help each other grow out of that – I think that was a really important part of this.
MF: Talking about it seems like a more effective path to healing than just putting on a brave face and pretending it didn’t happen. You’ve addressed it in the music videos, too, which are quite literal accompaniments.
MB: I didn’t want it to be a metaphorical video that didn’t directly relate to the lyrics. I feel like if we’d come this far, it’d be a cop out to censor what the actual songs were about through the video. It’s uncomfortable, but I think people need to feel uncomfortable to actually understand this kind of situation.
MF: On the subject of feeling uncomfortable, Jon has spoken about his desire to merge together disparate sounds and sonic atmospheres and not shy away from ugliness on Alien. Does that deviant impulse reflect where Northlane is at in general five albums into its career?
MB: I think we’ve tried to maybe fit into where we thought we were supposed to be or where people thought we were supposed to be. In the end it didn’t really get us anywhere. Also we weren’t happy doing it – we weren’t having the most fun we could. That being said, it’s not that we didn’t like those previous albums, but everything always changes with us anyway, from album to album. Maybe the closest it has sounded was Node and Mesmer, but we’ve always been pushing and always trying to draw from different places.
This time around we were able to self-produce the album, which meant we were pretty much able to do whatever we wanted. And I think after everything we’ve learnt working with a bunch of other amazing producers, we wanted to take everything we’ve learnt before and do whatever we wanted. We haven’t cut things or made crazy changes to make the whole album sound exactly the same. There’s all these different elements and flavours throughout it. I think that by giving ourselves that freedom we could do a lot more, and a lot more different stuff.
Northlane’s new album Alien is due out this Friday, 2nd August and you can catch them touring it live around Australia this October. Check out the dates right here.