The vagueries of the telephonic communications system can still be a mystery to me, even in 2016. How can I speak to my Dad, on the other side of the world, and hear him answer with as much clarity as if he were sitting opposite me, and Yet when trying to speak to an earnest and engaging young man – WHO IS ONLY IN MELBOURNE, FOR FUCK’S SAKE – have the answers come back to me sounding as if he’s in an echo chamber at the bottom of a particularly full well?
Only white-coated boffins can answer this question, and I don’t have time to interview them too, so we proceed with the interview whatever. The engaging and earnest young man of whom I speak is Elm Street’s Ben Batres, and we’re attempting to commune about his band’s rather excellent new long player, alluring entitled Knock ‘em Dead… With a Metal Fist.
So, the album’s been out a little while now – are you pleased with the reaction thus far? “It’s been really great. You know we’ve worked hard for many years, with a lot of dedication going in to this album. But I think it shows with the final product and the good news is a lot of people have been receiving it that way. It’s a bit arrogant to say but we thought it’d be met this way because it’s everything we’ve got across ten songs; It’s good to see though and hopefully it continues”.
It’s been a while since the last album Barbed Wire Metal came out in 2011– has that been frustrating, the fact that you haven’t been able to release something sooner? Or does it take as long as it takes and you’re not too worried as long as the finished product is exactly as you want it? “We’re perfectionists, and this is why the album took so long. The first album was our debut album, so this time we wanted to show that our music has matured. So we were happy to give it some time, so that we were able to come up with a product that was going to advance our careers, rather than taking a step back. We wanted our fans to see the improvement and also to be inspired to look forward with us to see what we can present in the future; It can be frustrating because obviously we’ve been sitting on some of these songs for a long time but it then is a great release for us when they are released to the public. It’s cool to get some payback for all the hard work that’s gone into it”.
I should imagine it is. You’ve used Ermin Hamdovic again as producer – You used him on the first record. Having achieved a good modus operandi with him in the studio do you think you’ll continue to work with him on subsequent records or do you see yourselves branching out in the future? “We’re still a bit young in the studio, you know? This was only the second time we’d been in a recording studio. We’re happy to grow with people. We were happy to run with the same producer because he had grown as well, and we were happy, having seen what we could do together with the first album, what we could do with the second. We recorded in a more analogue fashion this time too. For the first album we went down the digital route, which so many young bands do, because it’s cheaper; there’s not much money to be made from recorded music! But this time we invested a bit more in the type of studio we used, and we invested a lot more time ourselves in the studio, employing different techniques. We spent a lot of time micing up the guitars to try and get a unique sound for our band, not just using those sampled sounds that hundreds of bands around the world have access to. So it was time consuming, but also you are able to enjoy it more, to explore that creative side that makes you a musician. It was a lot of fun creating the album’s sound”.
That work has certainly paid off – I said in our review of the album that the tone of the guitars is fantastic – It’s one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard in a long time. “That’s really cool to hear! Such a lot of effort went in trying to create a unique sound; obviously we wear our influences on our sleeves – you don’t see the album sleeves and think you’re going to get a pop album – traditional sounding heavy metal is what we are and we’re not going to hide that. But obviously bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest have moulded that genre and it’s hard to not make reference to that. So It’s cool that people appreciate the sound and the music we make. But I’ll definitely relate what you’ve said back to our lead guitarist (Aaron Adie) who was responsible for getting a lot of that sound”.
Excellent! You actually pre-empted my next question then – I was going to ask about influences, and the absorption and reuse thereof… Do you reject many riffs because you detect, say, a bit too much of the hand of KK Downing or Glenn Tipton in them? “I can see what you’re saying, but I think it’s a matter of our part in the evolution of heavy metal. We’re young guys, between the ages of twenty six and twenty seven, so we’re not going to write The Trooper or anything like that, we’re on a journey and so I guess part of that is the fact that you can’t really reference any specific songs from other people in our songs. At the same time we obviously like to jam out covers together, and so one or two things might enter our music that way, but I think that’s the same for all types of music. But it’s cool for us to be related to those bands; if someone says they hear some Judas Priest or Manowar in our songs that’s cool because those are artists we like, but we’re just trying to tell our stories of our lives with our music”.
There seems to be a big emergence of bands at the moment operating in a similar area to Elm Street – Bands with their roots firmly in traditional eighties heavy metal, bands not really using too many harsh vocals or thrash parts – I’m thinking particularly of Striker but there are many, many more- Is that good for Elm Street, are you happy to be bracketed with those bands or is it a bit tiresome to be connected with what might after all be just a trend? “I think we’re in a tough position. You can relate our album to the Strikers or Holy Grails, although you couldn’t relate us to them or maybe Skull Fist who have those high pitched screams; we use a more aggressive vocal style, maybe like Warbringer or someone thrashy like that so it puts us in a weird pocket where you can’t really say ‘oh, we’ll put them on a tour with Striker or Skull Fist’ or ‘we’ll put them in a thrash package with Suicidal Angels’ because our music is a bit more dynamic than being just thrash. So maybe in that sense it’s good because we are drawn away from that I’m not saying that people playing that music will ‘grow out of it’ but once you are in one of those pockets there’s a public expectation that you will present that to them, and it’s hard to move away from that style because that’s where your fan base originated from. But our music has AOR influences in it, it’s got thrash metal, power metal, stuff from all around – and that puts us in a great position to gain a fan base. And even on tour it makes it a bit easier for us because we love the whole scene and want to reach out to fans whatever styles of metal they like”.
And there’s going to be a fair bit of reaching out too – Batres says the band have set aside the whole of 2017 for touring – with a short North American tour in support of Brit metallers Grim Reaper alreay confirmed – so all of you will likely have the chance to see this most excellent of bands in the flesh in the not-too-distant future. Don’t waste it!