Production Manager and Writer
Mike Duce, Singer, Lower Than Atlantis, (Photo Credit: Kate Snowdon)
Checking out our questions for the Lower Than Atlantis Interview we had in twenty minutes over a cuppa in Nice n Sleazy’s, Oliver Wardell said to me: “I think Lower Than Atlantis might be behind you.” Turning round very subtly, I could definitely see the bassist and drummer tucking into classic Sleazy’s fare, and as we left, I hoped it wasn’t them we were interviewing. Just across the street outside Garage, the queue for LTA was halfway down Sauchiehall Street, and mostly comprised of very enthusiastic fangirls. “If they only knew..” Oliver laughed, and we walked round the back of Garage to loiter by the tour bus for the band to turn up. Guitarist Ben Sansom came out of garage and looked surprised as we hailed him and explained we were there for an interview; “I’ll just go get Mike (Duce, singer).. And maybe tell Tom (the tour manager).” Ten minutes later, nestled in the dark but homely tour bus, we got chatting gigs, rigs, radio and rock.
Glasgow Guardian: How’s the tour going so far then? How many dates have you done now?
Mike Duce: Yeah it’s been awesome, four shows, five dates now, we had a day off. The whole thing’s sold out, the whole tour, every date. You don’t have to think about how many tickets are left on the door, it’s just every date is completely sold out, and there wasn’t any presale, we just literally put them all out there.
GG: So who are the support tonight?
Mike: We Are The Ocean, and PVRIS, from Boston.
GG: Everything seems to have been going really quickly for you, especially with regards to ‘Here We Go’, we know you banged that out and had it on radio within 48 hours
Mike: Yeah it seems that way doesn’t it (laughs). Yeah, we’ve been in this band for 8 years now, and things have only just started really picking up in a big way, so this kind of feels like the start.
Ben Sansom: It’s been long, like the band’s been going for years, but it’s been slow and it’s only now, like the last ten months that it’s really taken off.
Mike: ‘Here We Go’ was actually meant to be a B-side, and we never thought it would be any more than that because it’s so heavy, but Radio One were like, ‘This is it, it’s a single’.
GG: ‘Here We Go’ sounds really polished in comparison to your old albums, yet you recorded it all yourselves, whereas everything before sounds more ‘punk-rock’, why is that?
Mike: Yeah, we have our own studio, and it was the guy who we recorded our first album with, Dan Lancaster, did it with us, and it was mixed by Neil Albert, but ‘Here We Go’ was mixed by Dan
Ben: We spent loads of money getting a guy to mix it in America, and he just smashed it out the park.
Mike: We love it.
GG: How was your tour with A Day To Remember by the way?
Mike: It was really good but it was kind of weird, I’ve never listened to them ever. It’s not our thing, we kind of missed the boat on that.
Ben: When they came around we were out of going to gigs like that as a punter.
Mike: When we were on the tour we were kind of thinking, ‘how are we going to go down after them?’ because they’ve got all those breakdowns and that, but it was really beneficial, really nice to walk out on stage and seeing everyone go ‘who the fuck are these guys, and then towards the end, you’ve won them over, and they’re all cheering and we were getting loads of tweets like ‘this is the first time we’ve heard you, we’re going to check you out’, and that’s what a support tour is all about.
Ben: People are scared of support tours a lot as well. Bands of this level, not tiny but not massive, you can pull a crowd, they just want to headline all the time.
Mike: I think sometimes you’ve got to go back to where no-one knows who you are and just try and win them over.
GG: The tour with ADTR seemed like a really good mix of bands, do you feel it worked well?
Mike: Yeah I do, people these days, they don’t just go to see the headline band, they want a package, more for their buck, why would they spend £15, £20 to go see one band when they can go buy a festival ticket for however much and watch literally like fucking 40 bands? So getting the package right is the key thing, because I think people who like music like music, I think that’s the key thing. When we were growing up, if you liked metal, you just liked metal, if you liked punk rock, you just liked punk rock, and it’s not really that way any more. Kids like Bring Me [The Horizon] and kids like You Me At Six, they just like music these days.
Ben: When I was a kid as well, I wouldn’t know the support until I turned up, but now you see the posters, with like, two or three bands on it and it’s a package it’s sold as.
Mike: You’re going to be sick of hearing about PVRIS in about a year’s time by the way, they’re going to be everywhere.
GG: I’m already sick of hearing about them.
Mike: I’ll be honest, when our manager said, ‘how about this band called PVRIS’, I’d never heard of them. I knew about them because last summer, the guys from The Ghost Inside were asking did I like PVRIS, and as soon as I got home I got a text with a video link and their manager said if you’ve got any tours coming up that’d be great, because they need to get into the UK, and we thought, yeah that might work.
GG: Off the back of the ADTR stuff, I was looking at your wiki and it describes you guys as ‘post-hardcore southern-rock’, how do you feel about that? Do you feel like your genre has evolved dramatically?
Mike: Anyone can edit a wikipedia and clearly an idiot has been at ours.
Ben: It might have been edited about seven years ago as well.
Mike: We just say we play rock music, and why would you play the same thing over and over again, like I said, people, if they like music just like fucking music and I think especially with iTunes it’s the song generation these days rather than the album generation. You need to have an eclectic mix on an album. Bands that have stood the text of time, Smashing Pumpkins, stuff like that, they have some really fucking heavy songs, but also some ballads and stuff.
Ben: In demo form as well, it always sounds a bit mad and the songs can sound really far apart.
Mike: But at the end you have a cohesive sound.
GG: In terms of identifying as a rock band, obviously ‘Here We Go’ went straight out onto Radio One, and it went massive really quickly, do you feel radio’s still an important medium for rock?
Mike: Yeah we heard it in McDonald’s and stuff, it was so weird. I think it’s important definitely, and bands like Royal Blood, who have such massive first albums, and You Me At Six, who were at number one, I think that all helps.
Ben: I think we’re lucky in the UK to have such an easy way to get to the general public. If you think, in America, they’ve got different radio stations for every state, every state has its own rock station, to it’s really hard to appeal to the whole country.
Mike: Whereas here, you get on Radio One, that’s pretty sweet isn’t it?
GG: Speaking of America, you appear to be having more success in America than your initial tour?
Mike: They didn’t go well at all, no. We are looking to go back soon, and we are going to invest anything we make from now on into getting into other territories, and getting out there and doing the long hard slog. I think it’s what we tried to do before but we didn’t have any capital. It was too early, and we were touring with death metal bands and stuff, and they were big tours, some of them were a few thousand people a night we were opening to, but you could put Meshuggah on tour with Dolly Parton and there’s going to be loads of people there but no-one’s going to fucking like it. So we’re going to pick wisely tour-wise. Maybe we’ll get PVRIS to take us out.
GG: Speaking of expanding into other territories, you guys just played Soundwave Festival (Australia), and tonight you’re playing the Glasgow Garage.
Mike: Yeah, the main stage as well! It was really weird, our first time in Australia, and we had signings booked, and we thought, are we really going to put ourselves through that, no-one’s going to turn up, and you have to pay for signings at Soundwave, but loads of kids turned up, with homemade merch and all kinds of stuff, it was the same in Japan. We need to keep going back to these places, there’s obviously people there who like our band. We definitely picked up loads of new fans in Australia. And Australian people, they just want to drink beer, stand in the sun and listen to some music, and we play music and drink beer, and the sun was out so it went down well.
GG: Have you played other festivals abroad?
Mike: Yeah, but not really abroad. We played a few in America, we did loads of pop-punk all-dayers.
Ben: We were doing a metal tour, which would then go onto an all-dayer with loads of pop-punk genres, and then we would manage to creep onto a different stage!
Mike: We’d hang out with those bands too.
Ben: Then the next day we’d be going back into a metal venue.
Mike: Kids would literally push to the front of the crowd to spit on us and put their middle fingers up at us cause we were like ‘pussies’ cause we weren’t heavy enough. It was just like, grow the fuck up man, practising your mosh moves in your mum’s basement, who’s the more unreal here, you know what I mean?
GG: So you guys have had that explosion of popularity, and a lot of the interviews I’ve seen, you’re not being asked serious questions about your kit, but you do videos of your rig rundowns and studio tours, so is it important to you to be seen as a serious technically-savvy band?
Mike: I don’t think it matters to be honest, we have an interest in studio and guitar gear because we’re musicians, that’s what we do, but I don’t feel the need to let everyone else know.
Ben: If they want to know they can find out.
Mike: As long as they’re listening to the music, we’re happy. If someone’s mum listens to our music and wants to come to a gig that’s cool, but if some muso comes to our gig and likes our music for a different reason then that’s cool too, as long as they’re coming.
GG: Most of your interviews do seem very general, but if you look harder I think you can find more in-depth stuff.
Mike: Often you get if someone’s a fan of the band doing the interview, then that’s when you get questions that are a bit more in-depth and specific, but it’s not often the case.
GG: So why do you do the rig rundowns?
Ben: We’ve been asked.
Mike: Total Guitar magazine always want to know what we use cause we chop and change our gear so much, and pedals and stuff like that, Eddy [Thrower, drummer] does a lot of drum stuff, I don’t really know what he does.
GG: Are you getting towards getting a sound you’d like to stick with?
Mike: Nah, we’re constantly changing amps and stuff.
GG: What amps are you using currently?
Mike: JCM 900 for my dirty but with loads of pedals in front, and then a Fender twin 68, with a split signal.
Ben: Mine’s kind of the same, but I use Axe-FX for distortion, which goes to the power amp, which then goes to the cab, and the clean goes to a combo, so the same sort of principle.
Mike: Dec uses Axe-FX as well, going into his spaceman.
GG: How are you finding Axe-FX in different venues?
Mike: For flying man, if you can afford them, touring wise they’re the best bet. I had one, didn’t get on with it, but we’re lucky to have really good sponsors, we all have, like Fender and Marshall and stuff will just show up in Japan or whatever, so all we have to do is bring our pedal boards and rigs, it’s fantastic.
Ben: For consistency of tone, it’s great, our sound guy just takes the DI out the back of it and then he puts cabs on the mikes WHAT DID HE SAY HERE
GG: You guys have a good mix actually, we saw Periphery last week, and all of them are on Axe-FX.
Ben: They’re obsessed with Axe-FX!
Mike: They’re such a sick band.
Ben: What I want to do is figure out how to bypass the cab simulator and go straight to the cab. On stage I’ve got the Axe-FX on the cab, so it’s essentially a cab simulator on a cab, like a double cab, which just sounds a bit muddy.
Mike: It’s like if you had a cab around a cab.
Ben: I’ve just got to remember my stage sound is not how it sounds out front, cause it doesn’t really affect it.
Mike: Probably read the instruction manual mate. Although it is like that thick [holds up fingers a few inches apart]. I swear you spend like an hour in soundcheck every day.
GG: I know you’ve probably been asked a tonne about it, but do you want to talk a bit about your transition between labels?
Mike: What happened was we signed for five records with Universal, we were with Island Records, and you have to sign a new contract for each album, and there’s the whole stigma with a DIY band signing to a major label, that they’ve sold out, so we had to make an album that was kind of similar to what we’d been doing before, and the whole thing was rushed just to get it out in time, to keep up momentum or whatever.
GG: Is that pressure from the label?
Mike: Yeah, and our manager, who’s not with us any more. So basically we released this album, which didn’t do as well as the label had hoped, because they thought we were going to be the next Beatles, which was never going to happen, cause we’re not Justin Bieber, and they wanted to drop us but couldn’t, because they’d signed this contract for the next option, and they said, ‘we can either put this album out but we’re not going to put any effort into it, or you can take the money and run’, so we said ‘see ya!’, took the money and then signed to Sony. We didn’t have a label when we wrote and recorded the album, so it was just freedom to do whatever the fuck we wanted.
Ben: It was scary though cause we didn’t even know if it was going to come out.
Mike: It was horrible, we were all thinking, ‘do we get jobs now, just call it a day’, but we thought nah, we’ll finish the album and just make it as good as we can and then decide. We took on our current manager, who me and Ben have been friends with for about ten years, cause he said ‘I’ll manage you, it’ll be great’, and we were like ‘well we need a label’ and he said he was just about to sign to Sony and start his own label, so we got a manager and back on a major label, and we have the best songs we’ve ever had. The stars aligned. We were just getting the B-sides together when ‘Here We Go’ took off, got five weeks on Radio One A-list and we were like ‘ we’re bigger than we’ve ever been’, when in about a week we weren’t even going to be a band any more, it’s fucking nuts.
Ben: It’s weird cause we sat with our manager in the pub, and he said, I want to get it back to what LTA was about before we lost our way, and it was great. That was about 18 months ago now, and it’s pretty much done exactly what he said would happen.
Mike: It’s great, he’s a mate as well.
GG: Do you think you’d ever want to go independent?
Mike: You know what, you’ve just got to look at a label as a bank. They pay for stuff that you wouldn’t have the capital for in the band bank account. A Day To Remember have gone independent now, they’re free of victory, but their cash flow is enough to afford to take a year off, write an album and pay for the studio and the producers and the promo.
Ben: And you still have to employ people to do it all, and to run it all. What do you get out of that, you’d have to employ two or three people on full-time salaries just to work it all out, to get the fliers, the videos, whatever out, a manager couldn’t do that by himself.
GG: You mentioned your influences there, and on your Facebook page, your influences are listed as ‘Fucking up, binge drinking, poverty and wishing you were still 15 years old’, are those still influences that you draw on a lot?
Mike: We’ve gotten so ‘Dad’ recently, for the first time I brought pyjamas and slippers on tour. You have to know what you can’t do to know how to do things properly. We now know we sound a lot better when we’re not drunk and when we haven’t stayed up all night partying.
Ben: It’s a long set too, like an hour and ten minutes.
Mike: You’ve got to take it seriously and think that a lot of these people are young kids and they’ve saved up their money, people spending their hard-earned money to see your band, you’ve got to put on the best show you possibly can.
GG: So you feel a lot of responsibility towards your fans?
Mike: Yeah, it enables us to live the way we do, we get to play music as a job and that’s fucking great, so don’t fuck it up basically.
Ben: I think we could go out there tonight and say ‘oh, I wasn’t feeling it, didn’t really get into it’, walk off and it’s just one day that you weren’t 100%, but you have to think that those kids might go away thinking ‘I didn’t enjoy that, I’m not going to go again, I don’t like that band any more’. People can tell, you can put it on as much as you want.
Mike: People aren’t idiots.
GG: So you’re aiming to give 100% every night, have you got any plans for afterwards, to recover?
Mike: More than 100%. We have a week off, then we go to Europe, then we’ve got some radio stuff, then we go to Spain, we’ve got loads of international stuff coming up, but nothing’s really been announced yet.
GG: How about new albums?
Mike: Not even thinking about that yet.
Ben: They tried to make us though.
Mike: Yeah, they said, we need an album by this point, and we were like ‘ do you fuck’.
Ben: You’ve got to give it time to be out there, we hadn’t even toured the album until now.
Mike: We want to just milk it, and travel everywhere with it, and get the word out with this album. I think this album’s really good, so we just want to get it out there and let everyone hear it and give it the time it deserves. Each song will mean less if there’s too many of them out there.
GG: How do you feel about your old stuff then?
Mike: It’s all part of the journey, we started this band when we were 18, and you can see the natural progression, it’s the same with loads of bands, and it’s cool to see, to look back. We have heavier albums, we have faster albums, but we might go back and do something heavy again, because we still like that stuff.
Ben: Listening to the new songs live as well, they are heavy and they sound fucking heavy.
Mike: I love the dynamic in the set, cause we play from all the albums, so some of the people who have just heard the new album and bought a ticket will be like ‘what the fuck’! We are a heavy live band.
Ben: I remember I saw Coldplay, at Emirates, and they were so heavy, some bits were like a metal band!
Mike: Madonna has a metal guitarist, doing pig squeals and shit! A really saturated guitar tone, it sounds great. If you want to hear what it sounds like on the cd, just listen to the cd. It’s cool to have the live version and the record version, it keeps it interesting, for us as well, it gets stale otherwise.
GG: I think you’ve moved on lyrically too, is that fair to say?
Mike: I think lyrically, we’d rather have content that means one thing to me, but, for want of a better word, is more vague, that covers a broader area, that could mean different things to a whole bunch of people, and that way the music just gets out there more.
GG: It sounds a lot like you’ve been trying to find your love of music again.
Mike: We’ve found it. It became a job, and it was horrible seeing it from that whole industry side, where music had become a farce, it had been turned from something we were so passionate about, and that we just loved, we were broke as fuck but we just wanted to play music, we didn’t care, and to have a label, to see that it’s created and sold and bought like a fucking Mars Bar is horrible. I think we were really bummed out for quite a while, but if you can’t beat the cunts, join them. If you want to do it as a career, you need to strike a balance.
GG: Is that where you’re at with the label now, where you can concentrate on the music and they’ll just package it for you?
Mike: That’s where we are now, yeah.
GG: Do you feel like it’s important to communicate these sorts of things to your fans?
Mike: We’re renowned for being a totally honest band. Some girl said to me the other day on twitter, ‘you looked really tired and miserable in my picture after the show, why is that?’ and I said ‘because I’m a normal fucking human being like you are, I’d rather not bullshit you, like some fake boybands, I’m in love with a stranger’ or whatever, no, I was tired, so I’m going to look tired, it is what it is you know.
GG: Do you ever feel like your honesty could hold you back in any way?
Mike: We’ve always been honest and that’s who we are, we’re not bad people, so why should we try and pretend to be someone else.
GG: There’s a dying breed of rockstar attitude now, everyone’s become completely transparent.
Mike: You can’t get anywhere like that any more.
GG: Do you think there’s been a rock revival even still?
Mike: Maybe in the mainstream, yeah, people like Radio One are starting to realise that this is what people like. There is a rock revival and we’re at the fucking forefront of it.
GG: Is that intentional or has it been right time right place?
Mike: I don’t know, but we’re going at it all guns blazing. Rock is such a broad term, there’s so many subgenres, but rock is just the simplest. We say we’re a rock band and people say to us, ‘what kind of rock’ and we’re like ‘ I dunno, Foo Fighters or something?’ and they go ‘ohhh, alright then!’
GG: I feel like there’s elements of pop-punk in there.
Mike: Yeah, don’t say pop-punk. Don’t ever say pop-punk. Pretending you’re American with your hat on backwards, and it’s like, shut up, go move to America if you want to be like that, we’re an English rock band. It’s so faux man, it’s like, you’re not that, some bands sound like that because they’re from Orange County and grew up skating, but you’re not that. I fucking hate that shit man. It’s a fad and it will die out. Anything that gets that big overnight will die out. It’s like flares in the 70s or A Flock of Seagulls in the 80s, that shit is going to die.
Ben: We’ve been around so long, we’ve seen so many bands come and go.
Mike: We’re not worried about it, it’s not a threat.
GG: So, you despise pop-punk, okay, where do you draw your influences from?
Mike: We listen to everything. It sounds like a lazy answer, but we listen to chart music, we listen to metal, hip-hop, whatever we think sounds good, we’ll take it and we’ll Lower-Than-Atlantis it, that’s how we work.
GG: Okay, last thing before we let you get ready for the show, what attitude do you have on this tour, are you taking it laid-back? Has anything mental happened
Mike: [points out the window at a mascot] Look it’s a Nando’s chicken!
But we’re taking it a lot more seriously, back to our other answer, for aforementioned reasons, but we’re just trying to have fun, because you never know, when you’re in a band, this could be it for us, we could never get any bigger, we could get smaller, we could break up, you just never know, so we just take each day as it comes, enjoy playing music and hanging out with our mates.
Ben: I think, we did a tour in October 2012 and that was really successful and really popular, and the whole time we were just looking forward to the next tour the whole time, thinking ‘when we get on the next tour, we’ll do this and we’ll do that’, and the next tour was nowhere near as popular as that tour, and we hadn’t taken in the tour before properly, hadn’t sat and thought how wicked it was.
Mike: [still looking at the chicken outside] Look, it’s got a pair of bollocks on its chin! Walking down an alley. Why did the chicken cross the road eh?
GG: (laughing) Is there anything else you’d like to say before we leave you?
Mike: We’ve got a single coming out soon, give it a listen, and when you hear it, nod your head.
Lower Than Atlantis’ self-titled album is available now on iTunes. Check out our review of their Glasgow gig here.