For those that are in the know on the Australian metal and rock scene, Andrew Haug is a name that is pretty much synonymous with the Aussie music industry. An industry slawart working in radio, TV and record labels, his time on Triple J as the host of The Racket cemented him as a leading figure on the metal scene in the country and currently he runs his own online radio station at AndrewHaug.com but his band Contrive that he plays drums in with his twin brother Paul Haug on guitar has also allowed him to be a creative force in music.
Contrive have had a very prolific career, sharing stages with the likes of Opeth, Stone Sour, Sepultura, Soilwork, Machine Head, Testament, Cavalera Conspiracy, Coroner and more. They have had their previous albums shaped by the hands of Devin Townsend and Fredrik Nordstrom. Their third album “Slow Dissolve” is a deeply progressive album with hooks, melody, atmospheric nuances and a slab of chuggy riffs that are a blend of Sepultura and Devin Townsend combined. I spoke to Andrew Haug to discuss the new songs and the creative process, the change to the band as a duo plus the music industry as a whole, the use of technology in society (a theme that runs through on the new album) plus a whole lot more.
Andrew: I was just listening to the new album ‘Slow Dissolve’, great work, fantastic stuff. You must be pretty happy with how it’s turned out.
A.Haug: Oh absolutely, it was one of those records we didn’t think would ever get released. We had a lot of ups and downs through out the process leading up to it so for us now it’s kind of a huge sigh of relief in some respect in that we got as far as getting it finished and now it’s out. Reviews have been overwhelmingly good which we’re not really used to so yeah, just stoked about it.
Andrew: That’s good to hear. So how long did the whole process go from inception to recording and all that take?
A.Haug: We’re always a band that takes our time writing stuff. We started writing around 2013-2014 I think and then around 2015 I went into the studio and laid down my drum tracks in May and then went off to the States for a break and during that time my brother was laying down his guitar and then sadly when I returned, within a week our father had suddenly passed away and that put a huge pause on everything. Our life turned the family dynamic upside down forever and that’s when Paul (Haug, guitarist) and I were just sort of in free fall dealing with grief in such loss and we weren’t even sure about finishing the album and a few months into that we ended up having a discussion with our bass player Tim whose commitment level was, I wouldn’t say lacking but just changing as he just had a young family and that changes a lot of things. Paul and I dug deep and said we gotta keep doing what we love doing, Dad always encouraged us to follow our passion and things like that and that’s when we said let’s try and get this album done and we gotta have a chat with Tim because we didn’t know if he was in it for the long haul even though he’s been with us for a while, we could see the change in that. So we had a get together with him and said, ‘Look we think we are getting in the way of your new life’, and he agreed and also said he felt like he was getting in the way of what we want to do. So it was kind of a win-win, lose-lose, we get to continue finishing and making music and Tim gets to spend time with his new family and sadly not to be with the band. But live we just run with his bass backing track which means he’s still being heard live and not someone else’s recordings so that’s when Paul and I decided to just be a 2 piece and we sort of toughed that out for a year while we were finishing the album and getting bits and pieces done together. Kind of fast forward now and it just feels normal, the 2 piece is working out fine so that’s a long winded answer about how long it’s taken us and all the other things that have happened along the way that you don’t expect, that’s what life does.
Andrew: Is there maybe plans to get another bass player in the future?
A.Haug: Well we discussed it at a time where after Tim said he had to bow out and Paul just said, ‘What are we going to do? Who are we going to get?’ So we just thought we gotta go through the scene and find who plays with who, who’s available and then we gotta work out their schedule, are we going to get along, are our personalities in sync. There’s so much more to just getting on stage and playing music with other people, people don’t realize there’s so much more to it. I’ve always kept an open mind about where the music – I guess if you can still call it an industry – where it’s gone and how it’s all sort of changed and bands are just doing whatever the hell they want now. There’s no real restrictions anymore and you don’t have to follow the mould of 2 guitars, 1 plays solo, the other plays rhythm, have a bass player and a singer at the front and a drummer as a 5 piece. And I just went, ‘Let’s try the 2 piece’ because the last record we’ll be running backing keyboard tracks anyway and I’ve been triggering samples live and I figured it’s one extra track that we can use – and we don’t actually use a laptop by the way – and Paul was like, ‘OK how’s it going to work?’, and I said, ‘Well leave the technical stuff to me and I’ll dabble in the world of that sort of stuff’, and figuring out what’s the best way to do it and the easiest way and one that will cause less problems because I know a lot of bands that use laptops live and you just hear nothing but horror stories and you see them live as well and you’re like, ‘Ouch!’. Technology is great to a point but you gotta make sure you are still kind of ruling it as opposed to it ruling you so we obviously found a few good solutions and got all that stuff together and we just started rehearsing it and now Paul and I jam nearly every day because we got our own studio and he lives near my house and it feels second nature now. So he was pretty happy with it once we started moving and getting along with it as a 2 piece and we’re trying to create a different visual as well, I mean there’s not a lot of twin brother 2 piece bands kicking around playing the sort of stuff we’re doing so that’s a good marketing angle if you want to say that. Plus Paul and I end up playing side by side instead of the drummer at the back on a riser being hidden and guitarist at the front standing in front of the drummer. We thought let’s go the whole hog with this, let’s create something different. We’ve always been different, we’ve always been, ‘You guys are kinda doing something different’, and even then not everyone gets it. I figure we’ve come this far, let’s go the whole hog and change the visual aspect too and that’s when I said, ‘How about we play side by side, kind of like inward angle where I’m not having to turn my neck 90 degrees to stare at him. So that’s what we’ve done and it works out great, I can’t imagine somebody else in the group to be honest.
We played our first live show a few weeks ago, a bit of a celebratory showcase gig for friends and whatnot and people have said, ‘Man I get it, it looks great’ and others have said, ‘Oh you need a bass player’. Tim our former bass player was there and he said, ‘Mate it was surreal watching you and hearing the songs that I’ve played and hearing my bass but not being up there’. It was surreal for him but he said visually it just looked great! He’s not going on about it saying he missed it, that’s the choice that he made and that’s all cool and so for him to say that was massive and I guess a good stamp of approval as well. So visually getting another member in, nah it just makes it so much easier to manage and I’ll tell you, I’m seeing a lot more bands doing this. They’re kind of booting out the keyboard player and the drummer is running the tracks. I think people gotta realize that your band is still a business and your members are the employees so it’s a matter of, ‘How many do you really need in he group in order to sustain what’s going to go in versus what goes out expense wise’. I’m hearing stories of other bands removing members just because they can use technology instead, kind of sad in some respects for some bands but for others it works out perfectly. I’ve talked to a lot of friends in bigger well known bands and just said, ‘That’s great, more left for you than the crumbs for the rest of the band because there’s less members. Again it’s all about the cash of course but yeah long winded answer about getting a bass player, at this point no we’re happy with what we’ve got.
Andrew: That’s good that it’s working out. You mentioned about that show in Melbourne recently which was the first show in quite some time right?
A. Haug: Yeah absolutely, we haven’t played since I think we supported Coroner in 2014 and like I said at that time we were still writing the record and obviously everything else that occurred after 2015. There was so much leading up to that show, it was nerve wracking and because we don’t play all the time it’s a feeling you don’t get used to unless you do it a lot more and Australia is so limited when it comes to opportunities to play a 30 date tour back to back. So it was soundcheck felt great and then, ‘Oh god there’s people coming in, ouch!’ You just get those nerves and you’re just unable to lose that kind of feeling and it just feels different to the way it sounds when you look back at footage or an audio desk version of the show and stuff like that. But that was just good to finally get out there and do it and now we’re starting to book more shows and just get back out there like we always have and see who wants to do some shows. Obviously this new record is a bit more proggier and a bit more broad and dynamic so we’re really kinda looking for more proggier acts to play with, nothing against the super heavy metal but you gotta figure out to a point not so much where your niche is but again we’ve always fallen through the cracks of rock. ‘You guys are too heavy to be rock but you guys aren’t metal enough to be metal’ and I’m like, ‘What!?’ So I guess we’re just looking for bands that will compliment, I mean for us to play on a 5 band bill with death and black metal bands is probably not going to work. OK the audience will probably see something different but most are there to see that one style and that’s the problem with the scene today. There’s so many sub-genres that it gives the audience a chance to take a pick of 41 flavours versus years back there was only 6 or 7 and it’s segregated a lot and people just funnel into one specific group that they want to be associated with, they won’t listen to anything else outside of that. So for us we’re kind of a scene bouncing band in some ways, we can kind of play with the heavier stuff but now I believe we can play with the more proggier bands. It’s just a matter of if the audience is going to respond to it and I guess we won’t know until we get back out there and do some shows, we got a few things on the cards so that’s the full plan. Just throw it out there and see what sticks.
Andrew: Yeah definitely, we’re looking forward to seeing you guys back on the road again. You mention the prog rock scene, what’s your take on the rock and metal scene in Australia at the moment? Obviously you are heavily involved in the music scene yourself and you got your radio station and that kind of stuff so do you have any idea on music scene in Australia?
A. Haug: Oh absolutely! I do an Australian show on the station AndrewHaug.com and it’s on every Monday night called Heavy At Home and just the Australian bands…I mean I’ve always told people Australian bands is world class and you hear more people say that now and you go, ‘Well yeah it has been for quite some time, where have you been?’ but there’s nothing wrong with catching up. I think it’s thriving and again there’s still a bit of segregation though, you got your different various sub-genres linked within the heavy scene or there’s heavy scenes within a heavy scene and I guess for most people you just gotta find your niche group and see where you can slot in and that’s what we’re doing now. I guess the beauty of building the station, I have the opportunity and the privilege of getting sent so many great bands that now I’m checking out all these bands going, ‘I want to play with them, they sound amazing’. So now when we’re doing the door knocking of ‘Hi how you going, it’s Andrew from Contrive. I’d love to play some shows with you guys if you’re keen’, just because I’ve had the access to hear their music and like I said, there’s so much music out there you can’t keep up with everything. A lot of bands are active and do send stuff to the station so having that ear to the ground is definitely a good advantage and a privilege at the same time to see who’s doing what and how they are sounding and how they are up and coming and hopefully get a chance to play alongside some of those groups which is obviously something we’re looking into now. Most of the bands we’ve played with in the past have split up now so it’s great that there’s so much new stuff out there and having the ability to pick and choose is really cool.
Andrew: Yeah and while crowd-wise it may be a bit of a hit and miss kind of thing, it seems like the quality of the music and the quality of the bands at the moment is astounding. Obviously some of these bands are getting out of the Australian market and touring internationally as well so it’s good to see that Aussie bands are getting a name for themselves out there.
A. Haug: Yeah you’re definitely right about hit and miss with crowds, I mean I think that’s the biggest problem. We as a society I guess are just spoiled for choice now with options that people would rather sit at home and watch a TV series binge on Netflix and that’s the thing, I think there’s so many bands making the best music they have ever made and OK the tools of technology have enabled that to make it easier and that’s why most people’s output is kind of a lot more frequent now than it used to be. Bands can put out an album every year if they like but it’s just getting people to go out to shows and things like that is the hardest thing. I think if anything, everyone is in the attention game trying to get people’s attention, that’s what we’re trying to do, period. Whether it’s on Facebook or finding ways to get people’s attention is kind of the game that a lot of people are trying to strategically play now because that’s what we’re competing against. Not just bands competing each other musically , it’s competing against people’s time and their attention. Obviously things change over time, people’s lives evolve, change of jobs, change of careers and interests and things like that. I’ve always told people get out and support the scene because there’s some amazing bands releasing amazing music and so sometimes seeing them play to 30 people is like, ‘Man this is so unfair’. Sometimes I guess it’s just either the sign of the times or the Australian music scene. I mean for us we’re trying to do a lot more stuff overseas, we want to try and get to Europe next year if we can because I just think there’s a lot more opportunity, maybe a lot more open mindedness possibly towards us musically. The reviews have been quite overwhelming wth this new album for us surprisingly, maybe people are going to give it a go. We won’t know until we get back out there but obviously Australia is still very small and limited in opportunity and at the same time it’s also, again competing with people’s time and that’s the biggest factor that I think a lot of people are struggling with. Even with bigger international bands, I went to Dream Theater last night and even that show wasn’t fully sold out and you think a 25 year career and you realize some of the fans are a lot older and they have the jobs, the mortgage, the dream and they don’t have that extra $150 or whatever the cost for the ticket is to go and the younger generation might not be keen on it because they might see it as Dad rock or whatever. ‘Different bands and I’m not going to be a part of that because I won’t be able to mingle with like minded people my age.’ There’s so many generational gaps now that’s happening that people have forgotten to just enjoy music because I can see that people want to be affiliated with a group – peer pressure – noone wants to be on their own and be the weirdo over there in the corner which is kind of how it started when people grew up listening to metal, you were the outcast and now it’s just, ‘I gotta belong somewhere’ and that puts more pressure on people and possibly people are communicating differently as well. This album is a bit of a loose concept in the way people are communicating and having the options, there are more options now. Noone will ring now, they will just text and when you call they don’t answer and you know they are seeing the phone ring…OK not everyone can answer all the time, they are busy, but people are having more options to communicate the way it suits them and sometimes face to face or even a voice conversation has kind of become secondary which is really scary when you think about it. It’s causing so much more anxiety today and depression and all the other things that’s going on in the world boils down to people’s lack of understanding how to really communicate because we got a billion different devices to do it on now. Some people are born into just chatting on text and not calling because, ‘Oh I never call, I just text’ and you just go, ‘Wow’.
Andrew: Yeah that’s what they are used to.
A. Haug: Yeah it’s just crazy and a sign of the times. I mean don’t get me wrong, I love all the technology but at the same time it’s just having the awareness of how you go about things versus letting the computer do all the work. Again like I said, people are becoming slaves to the system or the machine so to speak. Us humans have built this, now it’s taken over. I do a lot of reading in the A.I. world and what’s happening and the fact that it’s kind of already happening, a lot of humans are being made redundant in some respects when you look at the self automated culture that we’re just accepting without ever thinking about it. Self check-outs and things like that, is that because we don’t want to talk to another human because we’re in a hurry? And that’s the thing and I can open a whole can of worms with this topic [laughs].
Andrew: [laughs] I think it comes out of convenience and they want something to do all their work. You mentioned about time being an issue for people, I think it cuts out the little things that take up a lot of time overall maybe. Obviously there’s a lot of different factors but I think that’s partly what it is.
A. Haug: Yeah I think so and like I said about convenience. But it’s weird because even that word can be a bit of a hypocrisy because I talk to so many people who say, ‘Oh I’m so flat out’ and I go, ‘What are you doing?’ And I think most people are flat out being caught in overwhelm and I lived that life for years where I managed multiple careers. At one point my Mum would say, ‘You’re going to have a heart attack, you gotta stop’, and I just couldn’t because I thought I was just being caught up in ‘I got so much to do’. I had a lot on my plate, absolutely I did and I kind of managed it quite well considering but there were times when you can stand there and look at this mountain you gotta climb and just freak out the whole time when you just gotta go, ‘Well hang on, let’s just get on with climbing’ instead of, ‘Oh god I’m so busy!’. I used to hear that from so many people who had a quarter of the amount of work that I managed on a daily basis and I realized that most of where they were coming from was caught up in an overwhelming state in what they thought was a lot compared. But the everyone can manage different workloads at different times, it’s not a competition. But like you said, that convenience, yeah it definitely helps but it makes people add more things on top and then all of a sudden you’re caught back in that trap again of, ‘Oh I’m just so flat out right now, I’m texting and I’m doing internet banking, I’m doing all my stuff’. All these tools are great but you’re still freaking out, why? Aren’t they supposed to make your life easier?
Andrew: Yeah it’s supposed to!
A. Haug: Yeah but it’s not because it’s given us more information that we think our brain needs so we just keep adding more stuff on top with layers and layers and you wonder why we just stand there and freak out. So it still shows that we’re being led by the machine that we’ve built and we’re just wanting more of it because people talk about being so busy. I’ve seen that now, I mean I used to be like that. I was never aware because I was trapped in that sort of I guess, rat in a cage kind of approach where you spend most time talking about how busy you are but not doing anything except talking about it. Just get on with it so it’s done, then you can sit back at the end of the day and go, ‘I had a massive day, this is what I did’ rattling off but not while it’s happening because you won’t do anything. I watch a lot of Bruce Dickinson’s seminars on Youtube which are absolutely amazing and he talks about the fact that more would get done if people rang or communicated directly than all this texting world and he would come out with his speech and hold out his old Nokia phone and say this is held together by a piece of sticky tape and people look at his phone and they laugh and he goes, ‘This battery lasts 4 days’ and he’ll pull out his smart phone, ‘This will last me 8 hours, maybe. We’ve got all this extra stuff we don’t need’. He talked about how much more work does get done in productivity when people actually communicate, otherwise you can sit there and wait for an email to come in your inbox 6 hours later and it could be solved if you just rang the person. Unfortunately people are not working that way, a lot of companies aren’t doing things like that anymore. It’s all automated, send us an email and you’re like, ‘I just need you to tell me really quickly am I supposed to press this button or that?’ And then you gotta wait 4 hours for a response and this is what’s dragging productivity I think a lot of the time because of this automative approach and it makes you think, ‘How busy are these companies? Is that why they have laid out these automative approaches because they are that busy or is it just an easier way for them to cherry pick the most important jobs’. I guess every corporation does things differently but when I saw Bruce talk about that, it really hit the nail on the head that there are so many things that you could definitely achieve a lot quickly if you actually rang somebody and said, ‘Hey just a quick one’. Or when you read an email and you freak out that someone is shitty at you because they’ve given you a 2 word reply, you don’t know if their child is sick or something is going on. People stew on that and you go, ‘Just ring them’. ‘Oh no he looks like he’s really pissed off’. ‘Why? Is that your perception when reading the email?’ Sometimes you could be right but just call and then you’ll get the reality and you won’t be stuck there all day worrying about something you probably misperceived.
Andrew: Yeah exactly. It seems like a lot of the texting and emailing and facebook and that kind of stuff, people assume they know what the other is thinking until they actually talk to them or see them in person and then they go, ‘Oh so that’s what they actually meant’. There seems to be a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding through the digital world.
A. Haug: You are totally right and that’s the thing, I learned that when I had my boss in Germany for many years running a label. He wasn’t always easy to get along with and there were times I would get a couple of emails from him and I would stew on that because I would be worried about giving him a call because I don’t know what he would say and I would waste 2 or 3 days worrying about something and I thought, ‘I could of just rang him’. But I worry and I was concerned and that comes from my own emotinal baggage that I tie in with my perceptions and then you have wasted 2 or 3 days worrying about something you probably couldn’t control except the emotion to it and possibly might of made it easier by making a quick phone call about it. So all these sort of things I think a lot of people need to hopefully be a bit more aware of because most people aren’t and I’m seeing how, especially when I hear it in conversation with people who have got the office world jobs and I just think, ‘Man if I was running that company, I would fire so many people or I would give weekly classes telling people this is how you should communicate’. And you realize it’s so simple but it’s becoming a rare commodity because of all these extra options that are given out to pick and choose and I think as a society we are so spoiled for options now. You look in advertising everywhere you look, you can do what you want, when you want, the way you want, how you want and everyone is like, ‘Me, me me, it’s all about me’ but you’re rarely getting stuff done. You’re still getting your way but is it productive? Anyway we’ve gone down a rabbit hole with this topic!
Andrew: [laughs] It’s a very interesting subject and I agree with all the points that you have made and with Bruce Dickinson with what he’s been doing. A very fascinating world especially with how the music industry is at the moment, we don’t know where it’s going to go at this stage. So it will be interesting to see where it goes in 5 to 10 years. I spoke to Brian Slagel from Metal Blade Records recently and he said the way he sees the music industry going has almost come full circle in that the physical stuff is starting to sell really well again and obviously streaming is obviously the next biggest thing but the music industry will come back around again and be strong again which I think is a very optimistic and cool thing to see.
A. Haug: Yeah I always find it funny, I ran a label for 16 years and seeing what I once did to how it’s all gone, I’m kinda glad I’m out of it now because the last few years were just taxing and ended up having to work 3 times as hard for quarter of the result and now when people talk about full circle with vinyls coming back, it will never be the way it was because people valued music a lot more. Now it’s just a pick of the bunch and what they don’t like they discard and devalue because everything is free and the sub- conscious believe everything should be free and that’s being programmed today and bands give their album away for free and I’m like, ‘Why are you doing that? There’s nothing wrong with putting a price tag on something you believe’. But then you get the ones that go, ‘Oh but we’re not in it for the money’. I say, ‘Well you would like to possibly make something back from it’. There’s always a double-edged kind of argument with that whole approach but it’s always hilarious because people jump up and down about a chart entry and all that stuff. New Behemoth at number 10 on the Billboard US charts and people just go, ‘Wow that’s amazing’ and you think ‘That’s because metal fans are the only ones that are buying music, no wonder it’s going to chart’. If anything I find charts completely redundant because what does it really mean? It makes the label look great and they celebrate but what are they really celebrating? They only sold 2000 copies in America and it’s half a million copies or a million copies. Those days are gone, I just don’t think they will ever get back to that. They are starting to move streaming into charts which I guess is pretty good as long as it’s correct data as opposed to forged stats which you can see a lot of out there these days, so it’s hard to know what is legit. But Brian is obviously quite optimistic, especially him running the business for over 35 years. You have to be, it’s your life!
So I think metal will never lose that dedicated core fan base and again you’re seeing a lot of younger generation going out and buying vinyl and most of them don’t even have a turn table to play it on but are wanting to recreate that experience that they have never grown up with. And that’s why I always think it’s cool because encourage it, don’t knock it because they are trying to recapture something that you lived through so encourage it and don’t knock them for it. We’re seeing bands releasing stuff on cassette and people think it’s so cool and nostalgic, yeah great! If that gives you that feeling that you’re in a certain era that you weren’t born in, great that’s what it’s there for. It’s all about a feeling, everything we do is related to a feeling and it’s all to do with if we buy something and we want to feel good and we do for 10 minutes until something else comes and distracts us. So in saying that whole thing, I think it’s cool that we will still always prevails when it comes to physical copies but again I just don’t see a mass influx of people queuing up to buy a new record at midnight. I think those years and that time is gone, it’s a different world that they were in and there will be new ways and I think it’s good that people are developing new ways. I don’t think we need to go back to trying to recreate the past, you can’t because all you are doing is recreating something that isn’t and just for nostalgic purpose that a lot of other people want to feel. I understand some of these bands like Dream Theater last night who were doing their 25th anniversary Images & Words which was such a monumental record for their career so I guess they are looking on that but it’s also, are they falling prey to giving fans what they want because fans are so demanding now because it’s all about them as opposed to what the band wants and to a point it kind of goes that way. That people are just wanting the classic stuff because they are not interested in what’s happening now because they want to re-live a feeling they once had and is now no longer. I get that but it’s a short term thing, can’t stay there long term otherwise you get depressed and sit there and go, ‘Oh man those days were great’. I see that with friends now and you just go, ‘Cool man but it’s all about the present’, and that’s what’s exciting because it’s great to not know what’s coming next and that’s what is cool. Like I said I love the technology, I wouldn’t have built my own radio station if I didn’t. I can’t sit n the hole and complain and wish it was what it once was because if I stay that way, it won’t enable me to move forward to do this. So I think to a lot of people it’s all about being in the present, nothing wrong with being nostalgic from time to time. Get on a trip and reflect but don’t stay there too long as it can be pretty dangerous, sitting there and just complain about the world and, ‘Uh everything sucks today’, and blah blah blah. I hear these conversations all the time when you go to shows and it’s just not a great way of thinking personally but anyway that’s just my take on it.
Andrew: Yeah I agree, I’m more of a present and future kind of person instead of relying on what happened. Whatever happened in the past, that’s all well and done so leave it there and enjoy what you are doing now. Anyway it’s been great chatting to you, I really enjoyed it! Thanks for your time, really appreciated.
A. Haug: No worries, thanks!
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