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JOHN SANKEY

LEGION MUSIC FEST


John Sankey

With the cancellation of Australia's biggest rock and metal festival that is Soundwave late last year, the country was left high and dry for rock festivals. It left a lot of fans a little angry and disappointed with how it was handled but more importantly that there was no festival to go to that catered for this kind of music. John Sankey from Devil You Know and a few other people decided to take it upon themselves to create a new festival called Legion Music Fest which sprang up really quickly and within a matter of days and now weeks, became larger than was expected. Originally due to kick off at the end of March, it has now been postponed until 2017 so we had the opportunity to have a discussion with John about the ins and outs of organizing a festival and to get some answers that some people may want to know.

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I had chatted to John Sankey last year when it was announced that Devil You Know would be coming to Soundwave Festival for 2016, little did we know at that time in September that the festival would eventually be cancelled. It's pretty amazing all that has happened since that conversation happened just a few months ago as John and I commented at the beginning of our interview today. We also discussed the reasons for starting Legion Music Festival and by now it's pretty clear why as people wanted something to replace Soundwave. But as we all were in regards to Soundwave, John was obviously disappointed.

John: Everyone wanted to play Soundwave, everyone wanted to be on it. It was such a great festival, it was a great time of year in Australia and everyone loves Australia so it was really disappointing I think for everyone when they heard about it.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely. It's obviously been an institution in the Australian music festival circuit, it's one of those things where we are a little bummed out that we don't really have a metal and rock festival to go to now with the Big Day Out gone and now Soundwave, it's unbelievable. I know some of the bands who were initially coming to Soundwave were going to be on the Legion Music Festival, how many bands did you try and get from Soundwave to get on to Legion Music Festival?

John: I spoke to quite a number of them, I put the feelers out to probably all of them to be honest just to let them know of the initial idea. The immediate problem of course was because it was going to be so close and to actually fill the same time that Soundwave was scheduled, that a lot of the bands were already booked at the time were looking at late March so availability was a big problem. Initially what we were looking at doing and what my original idea was, was just to get a few of the bands and do something much smaller scale, just purely so we could still come out there and play and just to give the people of Australia something. It was never intended to be this huge big festival trying to replace Soundwave, it wasn't that at al. But once we kind of got the word out there and the idea as to what we were doing, this thing just completely blew up. It became something entirely different which is great and obviously where we are now, just over a month or 4 weeks or whatever it's been, it's pretty crazy. It's really blown up so far beyond that there's no way with what we're now looking at doing, that March is going to be an option. Now we're looking at planning for a full year and looking at doing a major event! It's been crazy but it's purely because the opportunity has presented itself and we feel like we can see the fans want it and there's industry people who are willing to get on board and take the time and work with us to make this successful and make it something big. So it's great that it's blown up and it's been a good problem to have I guess that it's changed so much, now we're just putting our heads down and we gotta work. We gotta pull this thing together and make it happen.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely and I guess the main reason you decided to postpone it was the time factor. I know there was a whole bunch of other reasons but was that the main reason?

John: Yeah it was and really just because it had blown up into something that was beyond what our initial idea was for the end of March. So really to do something in only a few months that's brand new, it had to be fairly small scale but as every day passed and more people contacting us and they were talking more bands and agents, it really became clear that everyone wants something bigger and people were prepared to jump on board and help with that. But it just was not going to be possible to do anything of that magnitude in a few months time. When I kinda sat down and had a good think about it, I was like well it would be great to get out there sooner or later and put something on but in the long run, wouldn't it be great to take the time to work with the right people and make this something bigger that can just grow and become bigger and bigger year after year. I mean if that's the potential that this thing will have, then fuck that's amazing! That would be awesome but that's the approach that we would be taking.

Andrew: Yeah I think you are right that the benefits long term would be a whole lot better for the fans and the bands themselves as well, to make this go out next year instead. As much as I would have loved to have seen all you guys in March or whatever, I think you are right that it's better for the long run.

John: Yeah that was the ultimate decision and it was really a no brainer when we look at the future and to be honest man, I haven't even looked at any of the social media or anything like that. There's always going to be some form of negativity. Playing in a band, you come up against that all the time and it really isn't something that worries me but from what I have heard so far, most of the feedback has been positive because I think people realize that we're kind of taking a step back reevaluating that we can make this thing really big and turn it into something that can happen year after year and just grow. I think everyone understands why and now the name is out there, we've established some kind of brand so it's just up to us to make this happen and I think everyone is going to be on our side.




Andrew: Yeah I agree, I think everyone is pretty keen on having another festival that's representing the heavier side of music. Have you ever done this kind of thing before?

John: No [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs] What was the most interesting you have found about putting a festival together?

John: Well my role is basically speaking with bands. I know a lot of the internal people from living over here in America so long now and obviously doing the touring circuit for so long and just being part of the industry. I mean I do know the ins and outs of the business I guess as well a lot or probably better than most because it's something I've always been interested in learning about and I think to have longevity in the music business whether you're an artist or whatever it may be, you really have to learn how the industry works and how things operate and you have to get to know the right people. So that's something that I've always done over the years and I guess just through knowing those people, that's half the battle with doing something like this. You're always going to have to bring on a whole production team to handle a bunch of the logistics and all that stuff and we have some great teams of people and companies all sitting there ready to jump on this, ready to go so we do have a lot of that in place. It's going to be a big learning curve once we do get into all that absolutely, but we do have people that are extremely experienced and have done all this stuff before who are on board with us. So it's not like it's just me diving in the deep end and having to pull everything together. This is something that, obviously I still love to play and I guess that's number one for me but this is just such an awesome opportunity! I think to myself, fuck how good would it be to be part of creating and running a major metal festival in Australia? Everything just feels like it comes full circle at that point and what a great thing to be able to give back, it's pretty awesome. So for me it's just take the opportunity, take the chance. If it doesn't work out then that's the way it is but I didn't want to sit back and know that the opportunity was there and not give this everything I've got.

Andrew: Has it given you a new appreciation for how festivals are put together? Especially on people like AJ (Maddah, Soundwave) and people like that who have been doing it for a number of years, has it given you a new perspective on that?

John: Yeah absolutely, even in the short amount of time, yeah definitely. I've been obviously lucky enough to play some really big festivals and I realize you only kind of gotta see behind the scenes of those festivals to [see] just how much of a logistical nightmare it all must be. So it's something I realize from the get-go that it's a massive task but I think that's why you have to have trust in the people that you bring on board. The people that we do have working with us to this point and also ready to work with us as things progress, people that have worked with Soundwave and Big Day Out and done major events, all that is in really good hands. For right now it's just kind of up to us to really deal with the artists initially and obviously the fans and just to get the wheels turning to make sure that we are in a good place as far as building a foundation and then from there, we'll make everything work.

Andrew: So now that you've got a year to work on this, what is the actual plan as far as putting it all together?

John: Now we have the crowd funding campaign extended to 60 days which is fantastic because we realize how it works as far as the mentality of the public and of the fans understandably is, they want to know a lineup, they want to know who is playing. And I completely get it and that is what we're working on, we want to put a lineup out there as soon as possible. That's much easier said than done but we're working 24/7 to do it, we're talking to all the right people. It's just a process and that takes time and that's just the way it is. But also we're really trying to put across the angle of, trust us, we'll have some great bands, come on board, pledge your ticket. There's nothing to lose because if we don't reach the goal, noone is charged a cent. At worst case you're going to have a ticket to a festival. It's all about trying to put that angle across as it's all about going out for a day with your mates and having a good time and being outdoors and listening to great music and having some beers and all that and then we can build this thing and over the years, then we can have a lot more input and a lot more pull as far as the really huge bands and all the bands that everyone wants to see. Not saying that we're not going to be able to do that this time but because it's so time sensitive with the crowd funding, we're really just trying to gain that trust in order for people to dive in and pledge now so we do have that time to...a lot of the bands and agents and management, they're all watching this. They're all just kinda sitting on the fence waiting to see what happens so if the fans sit on the fence as well, we're just in that catch 22 where nothing is ever going to happen. It's a different approach, it's very unorthodox and a lot of the industry people are very curious as to how this is going to work out. So it's an interesting situation that's for sure, we're slowly but surely working things out and working ways around the issues that we have at this point and we're really confident that we'll make it work.

Andrew: Just for the people out there that don't have any idea how this kind of stuff works, what do you think is the biggest misunderstanding the fans have as far as putting on, not just a festival but any kind of show or tour?

John: Well as far as what we're doing, I think the crowdfunding thing is...I don't think people have a full understanding of exactly how it works and people are a little hesitant and I understand that, we knew that coming into it. As far as how a festival is put together and any issues overall, I think it's just not that easy. People are just interested in what bands are playing and I don't think people realize how much goes into it and all the expense that goes into it and all the logistics, there's so many moving parts. Not to get into it as it has no bearing on what we're doing but I know there's been so much negativity with the whole Soundwave thing and the AJ thing and all that and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I won't even give mine but to go so many years doing something like that is a pretty amazing feat, absolutely. Just from where we are right now, it's such a daunting task man! I think the payoff is absolutely there to be able to sit back, if successful, and looking at what you've done, the satisfaction itself would be absolutely amazing. But people these days seem fairly quick to jump in and give negative opinions without realizing just how much work someone is doing to bring them a great show.

Andrew: Absolutely and especially to a country like Australia where we are so far from the rest of the world that these bands have to travel at such a distance and that kind of thing just costs a lot of money.

John: Oh absolutely! I think when we first put out the crowd funding goal which is over 3 million dollars, I know a lot of people who were like, 'You guys are crazy!'. And we were like, 'Maybe but this is a modest amount for what we're doing, this is us keeping the budgets at a bare minimum'. At some of those festivals that happen across the world, that's dollars and cents, that's nothing! So I think even then and there that was a big reason why we did it, is because we want people to know what we're up against and we want people to know that 'Hey this is not going to happen without you guys, this is what we're looking at to pull this off.' I definitely think that it's opened some eyes and made people realize that this is certainly not easy but it's the whole strength in numbers thing, without that we are certainly not going to make it. So everyone has to be on board with this, everyone's gotta support it and if that happens then yeah, I mean we can all turn around and be like, 'Wow we just raised over 3 million dollars, we've got a festival now. How cool is that?'




Andrew: It's a very cool idea to do the crowd funding thing and I believe this is the first festival ever to try and do it right?

John: It is and like I said, some people are like, 'Im sure these dudes are crazy' and I'll be the first to say, yeah maybe we are. But what this has done is it's given a festival that's never been on, it's in the earlier stages of trying to make itself happen yet so many of the bands, big bands and all their agents and management, everyone is aware of this thing. It's like there's notoriety about this already because we're trying to do something that has never been done before and it's so kind of off the charts but in theory, this can work. And if it does work, it can definitely be a game changer as far as how some of that - not just in Australia but worldwide - can be approached and put together. Because it's purely funded by the fans for the bands and that's it.

Andrew: It's somewhat of a similar idea to the crowd funding thing with albums that bands do now which is starting to become a popular thing but I guess this is on a much more larger scale, that's the difference.

John: Yeah and even some of the big movies that you see now are going the crowd funding route. But I guess the big difference is with bands and movies or something like that, they've already been established. We're trying to gain people with trust through past experiences with different festivals that have been held. It is very difficult, we knew from the get-go the difficulty was going to be that catch 22 of getting the bands on board without being able to assure them that we will 100 percent reach the goal or getting the fans to all pledge without being able to give them all the bands, or at least the bigger bands. So we knew that was going to be a problem and it is difficult to overcome but buying ourselves some extra time has definitely helped. Certainly through talking to some of those bigger bands, that we did decide to make that decision because they felt that, Ok we can much more likely be involved if you give us that time. So that's certainly a big part of it but slowly but surely we're kind of ironing out the little issues that we knew we were going to have and like I said, we're confident that we can still do this.

Andrew: I really hope that you guys can pull it off, it's a great idea. I did want to quickly ask you before I let you go, some of the fans in Perth and Adelaide are obviously concerned about what kind of...well it's been put out that there's going to be a mini-festival that you guys are talking about bringing over to that part of the country?

John: Yeah obviously once again, logistically just because of distance it's extremely difficult to bring a full festival. And the other thing is you can't really do it during the weekdays so you have to keep all those band members, all of their crew, everyone else involved basically in Australia for an extra say, 4 or 5 days which becomes extremely expensive. So we would love nothing more than if we can make this thing happen to do it in all 5 cities and that will be the long term plan, absolutely. But we figured for now, what if we just start and have maybe a handful of the bands and we still do Adelaide and Perth with them. Just more of a show of, we want to do something for you guys, we certainly haven't forgotten about you guys and we're working towards making that happen.

Andrew: Would those shows include any of the headliners or would this be smaller bands only?

John: Well that's really going to depend. It depends on who we end up with for the headliners and like I say, we're talking with a number of bands right now and we already have discussed the options of either the 3 or 5 shows. Because some of the bands have expressed, 'Look if we are going to come out there, we would prefer to do all 5 shows. That's going to be much more profitable for us.' But once again it does come down to budget, it does come down to a lot of negotiation and what they're requirements would be. So it's something that all those talks are currently happening and in the works, it's just about crunching numbers at the end of the day and being what's viable for us but we know the fans would obviously like to see big bands and if we can do that, we would love to.

Andrew: I better let you go but I do want to say that I'm quite disappointed that we don't get to see Devil You Know cover that "Eye Of The Tiger" song that we chatted about last time.

John: [laughs] The original song has stood the test of time so I don't think it will matter how long anyone has got to wait.

Andrew: [laughs] Well hopefully you can bring it over when you play, I'm guessing Devil You Know will be at the Legion Music Festival next year.

John: Yeah absolutely! It would suck to pull this whole thing together and not to be able to get up there and play. If this thing does happen then, on the day it's probably going to be the last thing I want to do is actually have to get up and play.

Andrew: [laughs] I can imagine so!

John: On second thought, I don't know!

Andrew: Well it's been a pleasure and good luck on this whole thing. We at The Rockpit completely support you guys and we really hope this thing takes off. I guess we will see how it runs for this year and hopefully we will catch you next year at the Legion Music Festival.

John: Awesome man, absolutely. We appreciate all your support so thanks so much.


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LEGION MUSIC FEST TOUR DATES 2017

January 21st - Perth
January 22nd - Adealide
January 26th - Melbourne
January 28th - Sydney
January 29th - Brisbane

All info on Legion Music Fest can be found at legionmusicfest.com. To make a pledge and support the festival, head to pozible.com.


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Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on January 20th 2016