After a brief misunderstanding that leads to our chat being postponed for twenty four hours, I’m finally on the phone to Meshiaak’s Dean Wells, who is safely ensconced in his studio and ready to chat. This is undoubtedly good news, since regular readers of Sentinel Daily will know that we’re rather keen on this band and even keener to find out a bit more about them beyond the mere fact that they’ve released something of a corker in debut album Alliance of Thieves.
Actually, the last bit of that sentence is wrong – the album actually comes out through Mascot Records on August 19th, but it’s been a firm favourite in the SD office for some time now, so it feels like it’s been released to us. But what do you care about that? You, like me, want to know more about Alliance…, right? So let’s stop the waffling and start the questioning…
Dean – can you tell us a bit about how the band got together? “Danny and I spoke about getting something together a couple of years ago. I knew he was leaving 4Arm (we’re talking here about Meshiaak singer/guitarist Danny Camilleri –Ed.). I was actually working on the demos that would have been 4Arm’s next album, and just from being friends with him I knew he was thinking about leaving. A little bit of time after that I said ‘let’s just do some stuff together’, because obviously although I’ve also got Teramaze which is a more progressive band, I’ve never really been in another band where’s there’s another strong songwriter, like Danny is, so it would be different for me. Basically we were just demoing songs here in my studio, figuring out what we wanted to do; there were no rules. I have a different style to Danny, so we thought ‘let’s blend our styles and see what happens’. That’s when we put our first song online, a demo of Alliance of Thieves. The response was crazy good! Especially with no promotion – we came up with a band name and thought ‘let’s make this into something’.
You’ve got a pretty well-known drummer – how did that come about? “We were looking for a drummer, and we spoke to a mutual friend of ours called Chris Maric, who does PR for a lot of bands in Australia, and he mentioned Jon Dette. Luckily Jon was in Australia at the time with Iced Earth, so we went and had a chat to him, sent him five or six almost completed demos… he like the stuff so much that he said ‘I want in!”, right at the start. It went from being a project to being something pretty serious very quickly. Then I got Nick (Walker) in on bass, another mutual friend, and that was that. Once we’d decided this could be a pretty cool thing it came together very quickly. It was very natural”.
You say that response to that first track was amazing, but I’ve yet to see a bad word anywhere about the album. Were you surprised by the response so far? “Yes, what we’ve seen so far, and what the label have heard… obviously this next month is going to be very review-heavy… but everything so far has been amazing. There seems to be a buzz that probably surprised us a bit. Like I said this was just something we decided to do and let’s see what happens, but we’ve created something pretty cool I think, and people will like it who are into straight-up metal, I think”.
For sure, it’s certainly one of the best albums of the year of its type I think. What I like best about the album is that it doesn’t seem over worried about modern metallic mores, or what labels or the mainstream metal media are pushing as being cool in 2016. It’s very much its own record. “That was the idea. Personally, if I was going to do something else, I needed it not to be like Teramaze. That’s very different to Meshiaak, a bit more in line with instrumental music, more progressive. With Meshiaak it was just the music we wrote. There was no other motive, we didn’t stop and say ‘this isn’t trendy enough’, or ‘that’s not fast enough’, so it’s very good to hear your response to the music written in that spirit”.
It also means you’ve not painted yourself into a corner for the next album, doesn’t it? You’ve the freedom to move wherever the mood takes you with it. “Exactly. We want to keep it exciting. I think that’s the only motive we had. We went to back to our influences as kids – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Annihilator – all those sorts of bands – and now of course our drummer plays in most of those bands! Which I think is probably why he found it so appealing, because of that sort of influence. It’s an easy flow at the moment”.
You say the next month is going to be review-heavy; You’ve been in the business a little while now – is this the time when you get nervous, still, or do you very much just take these things as they come? “Probably not nervous. I get excited, and more so about the fans. No disrespect but reviews and all that sort of stuff are cool, but I’m more concerned that people who like this sort of music are getting it. With Teramaze it’s the same thing; if people like what you do as a songwriter, then really that’s the essence of playing music. Everything beyond that is a bonus. So I get excited more than nervous, especially with Meshiaak. If people don’t like it then that’s cool too. I’ve done this before, Danny’s done it before, Jon’s done it before. You can’t please everyone”.
You certainly can’t! Now, you alluded to the fact that Jon is very much an in-demand drummer. How will that impact on Meshiaak’s touring aspirations going forward? “To put it in its most basic form: He’s the Meshiaak drummer. At the moment he’s on tour with Anthrax, as a fill in for Charlie Benante. And those dates move from day to day as to what he’s going to do. But we also have the same manager – Tom Maher who manages Anthrax also manages Meshiaak, and he also manages Teramaze now so we’re all sort of parts of one family. So we can tour and organise things under the one roof. It’s the same with the label – Teramaze and Meshiaak are both on Mascot. We had other offers but it made sense to be there. So it’s as good as it can be in terms of trying to schedule things”.
And at least you’ve got one bloke who knows where everyone’s going to be at any given point. “Exactly”.
The press release that came with the album singles out Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Machine Head as influences; Given what you’ve already said about fashioning the band from your early influences sonically, would you say those four bands form the cornerstones of Meshiaak’s sound? “Yes and no. For me early Metallica and Megadeth are what I first started learning to play – Master of Puppets and Rust in Peace, and it’s the same for Danny. But we didn’t go back and listen to those albums, we wanted songs that had that energy and initial excitement to them. For me writing and producing the album, I had to put my metal hat on as opposed to my prog hat. Both our styles come from that era, but we’re very different players so we were almost judging each other’s parts. He would hear a riff and add a tail to it, or he’d hear something else and say ‘there’s too many notes!’ Listen to the album – I Am Among You is more me, whereas Danny is more something like Chronicles of the Dead. That’s how it came together. It’s quite a natural process which is really cool”.
So when are we going to be seeing you live in Australia? “Realistically we’re going to be playing overseas first rather than Australia, because that’s where the opportunities are. If we play in Australia it will probably be on the back of touring with Anthrax or someone like that, and how it ties in with Jon.”