The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Ben Batres Elm Street - Interview
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Elm Street

Melbourne rockers Elm Street have been enjoying some great success over the years since their inception over 10 years ago, touring with the likes of Iced Earth and opening for legendary acts such as Sepultura and Accept. Their first album "Barbed Wire Metal" gained attention not just for hard hitting groove rock and metal that screams early New Wave and thrash but also for it's great album cover by the legendary artist Ed Repka who has worked with bands like Megadeth and Municipal Waste. This year they release "Knock 'Em Out...With A Metal Fist" which continues that signature metal sound they are now known for. We speak to guitarist/vocalist Ben Batres about the new album, the current trend of digital music and the impact touring has had on the band.



Andrew: So you have the new album that just came out, how is the band feeling about the new release?

Ben: Yeah pretty good! So far we've had some pretty good reviews, it came out a few weeks ago on June 24th and we started a tour around Australia last Saturday in Brisbane. It's been years in the making so for us it's good to finally get it out there and see what people think, it's a bit of a step up from our previous album, our debut album "Barbed Wire Metal". So we're feeling pretty good about it and more so excited to see how people like the material or if we can reach anybody and connect with the similar themes that we sing about.

Andrew: I remember discovering you guys a few years back when "Barbed Wire Metal" came out and it wasn't through the music funnily enough but actually through the album cover which was done by the famous Ed Repka, so some fans probably discovered you through that album cover I suppose.

Ben: Yeah I think we wanted to put some pride into everything that we did, not only with the quality of the music or the production but also the physical artwork that we would release as well. So everything that we wanted to release was of some sort of world class quality and I think in terms of thrash metal or the themes that we sing about on that first album, the icon for that was Ed Repka. You can't really get any higher than that and moving into this new album, we chose Ken Kelly which is somebody that is even more so looked up to. He's only worked with a handful of bands, you would only say maybe 4 or 5 bands in total and out of that 4 or 5 bands you could include Kiss and Manowar so you can't really get more famous than that in terms of the rock or even the heavy metal world. So hopefully some people can discover our band through his artwork as well.

Andrew: Yeah I guess you place a fairly big importance on the artwork which is something that is probably something that is starting to disappear a little what with the digital music I guess.

Ben: Yeah it's a bit sad. I remember when I was a lot younger in my teen years and I used to go to JB or Sanity at those times and I used to just choose heavy metal CD's based off the artwork. If the artwork looked cool, I would buy the album. You didn't really have Youtube or you couldn't stream music so easily back in those days so that's all you could really go off. And it's sad that nowadays that the physical CD's are getting obsolete so artwork doesn't really matter that much but when it comes to presentation, you sort of want to release something that you're proud of and it also allows you to opens doors to work with a live show. We have the new banner up on the live show and we can showcase the artwork there and we can do some cool things with the video clips as well which is also cool.

Andrew: Just with the new artwork on the album, was the concept of the artwork your idea or Kens idea?

Ben: It was a bit of a joint decision. So the cool thing with working with artists like that is they obviously want to make their client happy but also they've got some good knowledge in terms of what would work on a CD and what would work on canvass in this sense. We sort of already had the idea with the fist coming up and the whole theme for the album was coming over adversity, us versus something so we decided to do it in a cave and have the fist come through like a volcano was erupting and also you have the reaper of death there who is trying to take somebody away which is taken by what could be said as the dominant woman! So that's the theme and he thought it was cool and he sort of whipped something up as a quick sketch and we said yep, go along with it and within a couple of months we had the finished painting.

Andrew: Cool and the reaper ties in with the first track on the album "Face The Reaper". When putting these songs together, how important is the order of the tracks? Did that take a lot of time to do?

Ben: Yeah I think so. Once we had a quarter of the album which took almost a whole year to finish the recording of the album, we sort of knew what would work first. Like I said again, it's not really as important nowadays because rarely are people sitting in their home and putting in a CD and letting it play from start to finish, you put it on your iPod or on your phone or whatever it may be and you just hit shuffle and the last song could come on first. But we wanted the CD to have a flow like we dd for the first one and we wanted it to make sense because there is a consistent theme through out the whole album so it's quite important to us, and we also worked with the timing between songs. So for example, if you listen to I think the 8th song on the album titled "STWA" which is an intro prelude to track 9 "Blood Diamond" and it basically goes in simultaneously. So we did those sort of things on purpose so was pretty hard to make the album flow as well as possible.


Andrew: So this is the second full length album for you guys so what was some of the things that you maybe learned from the first album that you improved on this time around?

Ben: I think song writing in general so when we first wrote our first album, we were between the ages of 16 and 18 so we were quite young and had never written songs before and we all picked up instruments and learned them together, almost like a team. And we just wrote those songs so those 8 songs on the first album were the first 8 songs we had ever written, so through out obviously we went through different life experiences. We got to tour the world and play a lot of shows so we sort of grew as a band and we matured in our song writing in what would work well so I think that was one of the main differences in the way we tackled the second album, so I think that was a good step for the band.

Andrew: You mentioned touring around the world, you've supported some of the biggest bands around. How much of an impact has that had on the song writing as well?

Ben: I think it does and obviously our song writing matured because we were on the road so often. I've read a few reviews that references some rhythm guitar playing to what Iced Earth would do and some history on the band, we toured with Iced Earth in 2014 across Europe. I think we did a total of 45 shows with them and then we went on and toured with them in Australia as well, so I think just learning off them and seeing their live show and the quality of the show and the quality of the song writing every night for almost 2 months straight, it sort of rubs off on you when you go home and start to write songs. But then again we wear our influences on our sleeves and we wear our colours proudly and we don't try to hide our influences even though we are trying to start something original and have our own identity. At the same time you can look at our album covers or you can press play on our music and you identify us with the band that we are influenced by immediately. So it definitely has a big impact but at the same time, I don't think it's a negative impact.

Andrew: Yeah listening to your music I hear a lot of the 80's style a little bit on the hard rock and metal side of things. Who do you consider to be some of your biggest influences?

Ben: I think the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was a big influence for us growing up. Bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or even going further like Grim Reaper but over the last few years as you mature, we've been listening to everything from thrash metal to AOR through to glam metal, even some hard rock bands I think we've started to incorporate that into our song writing. I think those are our biggest influences and with this album, life in general was a big influence because we have gone through so much in such a short time frame by moving countries, we lived in London for a year and then we came back. Going through a few different bass players as well where we have learned a few life lessons so because of that, it's sort of the main influence for the album.

Andrew: What have you found to be the most difficult thing while being in the band so far?

Ben: I think just breaking through all the other great bands that are all around the world. Going overseas and playing alongside some bands which are smaller than what we would be considered or have been playing less to what we have been playing but just seeing the quality and saying, 'Shit, well we have to raise our game here'. Whether that would be the song writing or the live production or the physical album, I think that's the hardest thing, is to break through and say, 'OK well these guys are going to outshine these guys or they are going to break through and make a positive impact in the scene'. But I think we've got some strong products on our hands at the moment and hopefully we can eventually achieve that.

Andrew: It's very cool to see a band like you guys get the success that you have. I saw you guys for the first time and only time in Melbourne about 2 years ago when you opened for Sepultura and also Desecrator were there who are another great band. I've never seen you in Perth so I don't think you have been to this side of the country, have you?

Ben: No we have never made it out west unfortunately. I don't know for what reason because we have played in most places in Australia but I do know it's on the cards, hopefully later on this year we can make it over there in Perth.

Andrew: So what do you have planned as far as touring goes?

Ben: So we've kicked off our "Knock 'Em Out With A Metal Fist" tour in Brisbane this past Saturday (July 2nd) and we're moving through to Newcastle this [past] weekend and then down to Victoria and Sydney later this year. So just grinding it out the old school way playing a lot of live shows in our home country in Australia, and then next year we've got South America booked for January and then we look to making our return to Europe in the mid-year and also in the USA. So definitely a lot of touring, we're confident in this product that we're releasing. We're happy and we want to show the world that this is what we have, this is who we are and to enjoy our time as well and play on some stages, so hopefully a lot of touring in the next few years.

Andrew: Sounds good! Congratulations on the new album, it sounds killer so I think our review will be nothing but positive by the sounds of it. Thanks for your time today, it's been a pleasure and I hope to see you in Perth some time.

Ben: Yeah thanks for that and thanks again for the opportunity!

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on July 6th 2016