With two E.P.’s to their name (2001’s ‘Finally!’ and 2003’s ‘Prosper’), Australian trio Contrive (Consisting of brothers Paul (Lead vocals and guitars) and Andrew Haug (Drums) and Tim Stahlmann (Bass and Vocals) are set to make the leap into major league status with the release of their debut full length album ‘The Meaning Unseen’.
Taking time of his relentless schedule, I finally caught up with drummer Andrew Haug to discuss the undeniable step up in progression within the band, working with renown Swedish producer Fredrik Nordström, Taiko drumming and Armoured Angel.
But first, I decided to take the conversation a step back to find out if after two years, ‘Prosper’ was, as the name suggested, prosperous.
“I think it was another step up for us in regards to have people recognise us once again after ‘Finally!’, and it also helped the band get out there playing more shows, and getting more international support slots. When we released the ‘Finally!’, it was simply a case of us saying, ‘Right. We’re a new band on the scene. Check this out’. Two years later with ‘Prosper’, we really felt that it was a step up for us from ‘Finally’, but not really anything to really boast about. It was just another comfortable step for the band’s career so to speak. We just went out there and did our thing, and a few more people started to notice us with ‘Prosper’. We received a lot of feedback from other countries, and people seemed to recognise what we had achieved with that release. We felt that we were starting to make our own mark with our own sound, and it had sold reasonably well too. So yeah, you could definitely say it was a prosperous release, with an equally prosperous outcome for us.”
Contrary to Andrew’s comments in the past, Contrive decided to go all the way with a full-length release this time, rather than follow through with a third E.P.
“We’ve never doubted our ability, we just felt that the scene wasn’t ready for a debut album from us. We initially planned to do another E.P. and see what happened, but when we talked to Adam Calaitzis (Who recorded the album with Contrive at Melbourne’s Toyland Studios, and who also worked on ‘Prosper’), he mentioned that if we wanted to shop anything overseas, labels tend to take album’s more seriously rather than E.P.’s, and look at them as a taste of what’s to come. So we could have made a third E.P., and while it would have been our best yet, the questions from labels would undoubtedly be, ‘So when is the album coming out?’ It was going to be end up being a complete waste of time. Calaitzis encouraged us to go ahead and release an album. We obviously had six or seven songs to go at that point, so really it wasn’t really all that much extra work. In fact, the last couple of songs we wrote came together very quickly.”
While the release of ‘The Meaning Unseen’ is still some weeks away (September 5th), the feedback that Contrive have received so far has been nothing but positive so far.
“We’ve been surprised big time. We know we’ve put together something really good. We think we’ve got created something that’s very special in our own eyes. As far as feedback from industry types and close friends, it’s been overwhelming. Everyone has said that we’ve moved on three steps instead of one. So we’re totally pumped with reactions so far, and looking forward to seeing what reaction we get when we start playing the stuff live. I think that people will start to sit up and take notice a bit more this time.”
While Contrive releases in the past have reflected simple themes and expressions, both the title and the lyrical content within ‘The Meaning Unseen’ shows a deeper, and more thought provoking side of the band than ever before.
“A lot of ‘The Meaning Unseen’ comes from Paul. He writes most of the lyrics on the album, and he draws that from his own life experiences. Paul gets very analytical about things in life, and I guess you could say that he’s a deep thinker. I suppose we both are considering that we’re twins, but I guess he tends to ponder his thoughts more. We like to think of ourselves as a band that thinks. Not just in terms of the music we make, but also the lyrics that go accompany it. Rather than just write any words that fit, we try to put those thoughts together, and we hope that people will hear that and realise there’s some real thought put into this stuff. ‘The Meaning Unseen’ isn’t really a concept album, but it does have a loose connection because some of the topics that Paul has chosen are based around his thoughts and perspectives around his own experiences, and they do have a sense of connection. It’s stuff that everyone can relate to.”
Obviously one of the big selling points associated with Contrive’s new album is the fact that ‘The Meaning Unseen’ was mixed by none other than Fredrik Nordström, who has managed to finally give the band a quality to sound to go with the music.
“We still find it hard to believe ourselves! (Laughs) People have asked us how we managed to get someone like Nordström to mix the album, and I tell them the truth. I checked out his website, rang him up! (laughs) It happened so quickly. When I went back to the other guys and told them about getting Nordström, they were like, ‘Fuck!’ I didn’t even expect him to answer the phone, but he did. I introduced myself, and expressed an interest in him working with us, and we kind of hit it off very easily. He told me to send him some of our earlier work, and he would let me know if he was interested. That was fair enough, he has a business to run, and he wanted to make sure that he had the time to check the stuff out first. We sent him ‘Prosper’, along with some press that we had attained so that way he knew we weren’t some band without merit or talent, and he really enjoyed that. It sounded cool for what it was, and he was obviously aware that it had a lower budget. I told him that our new material was pretty far removed from what was on ‘Prosper’, and a whole lot stronger. When he got back to us, he told us that he was very heavily booked up, so we had to be totally flexible with him the whole way through. I mean he’s got record companies with signed bands that are paying him. We’re just a shitty unsigned band that he had to slot in somewhere in amongst his busy schedule. Initially he said he would be ready in December, but then his wife had a baby. That was cool because in January we were still finishing vocals. But then he couldn’t do it until April, because he was working with Dragonlord for two months. So we were had to wait until he was ready. So we had to wait for five to six months, and all the while say nothing about who was mixing the album! If you shoot your mouth off, you end up looking like a tool if it doesn’t come through! (Laughs) But the wait was worth it.”
Theses days albums are as equally recognise for those who write and perform the material, as much as the people who produce and mix, and Contrive aren’t afraid to use Nordström’s name to help promote the Contrive cause.
“That is a big selling point, and of course we’ll run that fact up a flag pole. He’s done some amazing work in the past, so why not share that with everyone? When we heard the end result, the proof is there. He knows what he’s doing, and just about everything we asked him to do, was done. He had his own suggestions, and we listened to him more than ourselves. He has the trained ear, not us. But as far as big noting, we’re totally proud that we managed to get a professional of that calibre and status to take an interest in an unsigned Australian band. He hadn’t heard our material before, let alone any Australian bands at all. He was worth every cent! We’re totally happy! We would like to think that we would sell enough of the album to recoup the cost of using him, and I think there’s a very good chance because we feel that ‘The Meaning Unseen’ is a world-class product, and there’s a lot of hard work and effort that went into it’s making. We know that we’ve put out something very strong, and hopefully people will catch onto that too. If it doesn’t happen, that’s fine. Maybe a year down the track it will. I think ‘The Meaning Unseen’ is a really big step up in solidifying our name a little. Not just nationally, but internationally too.”
Andrew reveals that Nordström’s name wasn’t the only they considered either.
“We toyed with a whole bunch of mixers names here in Australia. People like Lachlan Mitchell. I love the sound he’s produced over the years with Brace, Henry’s Anger and In The Grey. There was also Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Helmet and The Butterfly Effect) and D.W. Norton (Daysend, Five Star Prison Cell, Walk The Earth and countless others) too. I think he holds his own very well. Those were the main guys we had considered who had really put out some great sounding Australian releases. On the international front, we checked out Andy Sneap, but he was booked up for like the next forty years! (Laughs) He was also quite pricey as well. But really, Nordström was really the first and only name that we went with. O.K., he was a lot more expensive, but we just thought ‘Fuck it! If we can get the chance for him to do it, why not?’ And I think it’s worked out great!”