Interview with Nathan J Biggs by Adrian Hextall
Aware that the bands “new start” may cause a lot of listeners to raise their eyebrows Sonic Syndicate are a band that doesn’t fear the changes nor the future.
Returning after a period of silence with a new album and record label, the band took a deeper look into themselves which has led to some changes of the sound. On the new album Confessions Sonic Syndicate allows the listener to get an in depth insight into their vulnerability through total uncompromising honesty in their songwriting and sound.
With stints living in various countries, part time Brit, Finn and Swede, Nathan J Biggs has one of those warm accents that’s not entirely easy to place but immediately makes you feel welcome. As we sit in the
basement dungeon ‘interview suite’ that is the heart of the Duff Press operation in central London, Nathan offers a warm handshake and the Sonic Syndicate vocalist and lyricist opens up about everything that the band are currently working on.
Explaining the slightly nomadic accent and residency status, he tells us about his three and a half years in the beautiful yet cold city of Helsinki.
NJB: Minus 35 and extra windchill factor on top of that next to the sea.
MGM: But of course, in the middle of summer, down by the beach, water’s edge. Beautiful.
NJB: Oh, it’s beautiful. Yeah, it’s really nice.
MGM: Good music scene. Helsinki has The Circus venue as well, I assume you’ve played there?
NJB: Yeah, we played there. We actually just– we played there not long ago. Late last year, or early this year, it was with Fear Factory. It was cool.
MGM: Your time with the band has seen you on lead vocals for two albums so far. The last one was described by the rest of the band as a look back over the history of the outfit. Having drawn a line under that one with Confessions coming out, is that one now looking to the future?
NJB: Exactly. When I joined the band in ’09, we introduced some more poppy and digital and more rock n’ roll attitude kind of elements into this Swedish sound that was existing. And then– we’ve covered a lot of this metalcore genre, and we did our thing with We Rule The Night, and then with the self-titled album we wanted to, as you said underline, but put a cap on another end of the sandwich so to speak.
The top layer as a nod back, a herald to all the influences from the band, and just show how much we love the genre, appreciate the genre, and have a good time writing that music. And now Confessions is all about the other end of the spectrum, looking towards the future. Taking everything that we’ve learned from songwriting, and certainly the attitude that’s instilled in us from being a core metal band, and using that energy to explore different musical avenues within the rock, metal genre.
MGM: Before you recorded the last album [Sonic Syndicate], not long after you joined, the band decided, “We’ll have a breather for now.” That must have come as a bit of a shock to you as well. That wouldn’t have been expected when you decamped to Sweden presumably. “I’m in the band, we’re doing this, we’re doing this – yeah, we’re going to make a break. Come back three years later [chuckles].”
NJB: Yeah, of course not. As i am sure maybe talking to a couple of bands here, and the bands throughout history, it can be difficult. We’re all people, we all have our own opinions, and some people have similar opinions on music, and even as people attitude-wise, and other people are the best of friends, and other people can start to clash further down the line. It’s a living, breathing, clusterfuck of a family sometimes.
MGM: You’d all be in this sort of
basement dungeon ‘interview suite’ [gestures at size of room with 2 sofas included] enclosure, and you’d be very confined.
NJB: Exactly. I don’t care whether you’re playing the O2 or the Underworld, or whatever, this is bigger than most of the backstage rooms you get. So yeah, you clash horns and people go their own ways. We’ve had our fair share of hurdles and changing members with Sonic. The thing that’s remained true ever since I joined in ’09, the bond I formed with Robin, the guitar player.
MGM: I was going to say, you and Robin now seem to be the core of this.
NJB: Yeah. We’re a three piece now, we’ve introduced Michel [Michel Bärzén] into the fold now because Karin [Axelsson] had her children and stuff. But it’s totally been a blessing in disguise, because I’ve never been in a band where you’ve been exactly on the same wavelength. It’s almost like, we don’t have to have conversations almost. We are just all focused on exactly the same goal and exactly the same direction. It’s got this energy, this connectivity where it feels almost like we’re back in your first band when you’re in school, and the excitement of going home after school to jam in your friend’s basement, or bedroom, or garage, or whatever.
MGM: When that buzz is still there.
NJB: Yeah. I thought after being in music for so long, I didn’t know that kind of feeling still existed, in that purest form like that. Of course I get– I’m addicted to being in a band, I have such an adrenaline rush anytime we played any show anywhere. But to get back to that really high school feeling. I guess it’s because we’re treading new ground, and it’s so fresh, and it’s so new, and we’re all such good friends. It’s all come together for this awesome feeling.
MGM: With Karin having to go off and– well, not having to go off, but deciding to go off and start a family and that sort of thing. Do you feel stable again now?
NJB: Yeah. Karin and John, it didn’t happen overnight. With their significant others they became pregnant. We knew it was coming, they say they love music so much still, and they’re going to find a way to carry on touring. It was another– I don’t want to use the word setback, because bringing children into the world is one of the most amazing things you can do. But there’s no denying it was a setback for the band. We had to take time off from touring because the children were so young, we could only tour so much in between at that period of time. It works for some bands, and other bands it doesn’t, and ultimately their decision was to put the family before the music. That put the brakes on the band again. The self-titled album was almost dead in the water, so to speak. If you can’t tour it, you don’t have a livelihood these days.
MGM: That’s where the money is these days, to actually have a living, isn’t it?
NJB: You don’t tour, you don’t get paid. You don’t get paid for the shows, you don’t sell your merch, and people stop clicking online because that’s the fastest way to get more people to know about you.
So yeah, it’s been a blessing disguise in a way, just that we can have this security that we’re all goal-orientated for exactly the same thing in this band.
MGM: With you all at your age, the last thing you can do is really slow down. You’ve got the energy sill at the moment, and youth on your side, as it were.
NJB: We’re all give or take– Robin’s the youngest member of the band, but we’re all around 30. We’re in our prime now, or in a couple of years time we’ll be approaching our prime, so now is the time to really get serious and really make a difference.
MGM: Those world tours are going to be less painful for you at that age bracket, aren’t they, than they would be in 10 years time for example.
NJB: I don’t think we’re running out of time by any means, but I think now’s the time to really dig in and to show something that nobody’s ever seen before from the band. If we want to make a stamp on the music scene, and we want to make a difference, and we want to be not compared to every other band out there, then now’s the time to do it. Which is why Confessions feels so right right now.
MGM: Confessions, that’s the sort of album title that’s going to get your fan base just all talking definitely.
NJB: Begs the question.
MGM: Doesn’t it? What’s the story behind it? Or are you guys just keeping– you’ve got that smile that says, “I”m going to keep quiet about this one.” [laughs]
NJB: Not at all. It’s just the opposite. We just decided to lay it all out there. Let’s be real, in this day and age– gone are the days of this Axl Rose kind of figure or something we’re you’re just a God on stage, and nobody can touch you. You don’t want any blue M&Ms in your M&M jar, and you’re in there with your shades, and you don’t make eye contact with the audience. I think that untouchability as a rock star is gone.I think that what fans want, just because there’s so many bands out there now, is a band to be real as possible, and one they can connect with. And they only way you’re gong to do that is be yourself, show your true colours.
We’ve actually done that. Not only with this record, with the lyrical content, and the reasons behind why we’re doing it, and just being honest to ourselves what we want to write is music, that’s all there. We’ve also showed another side of ourselves. We want just to be real with the fans because they’ve been so truthful with us, with some of their fan mail and stuff. On our YouTube we’ve actually done a mini documentary series about not only Confessions, but some of the personal stuff we’ve gone through as people in this life, which has helped shape this album.
MGM: Therefore it’ll have things on there that your fan base can relate to, potentially draw strength from as well. There’s messages in there that they can take to heart, isn’t there?
NJB: Definitely. You want to talk about the album in that respect– the first song, Start a War.
MGM: That’s the lead single from it as well, isn’t t?
NJB: Yeah. It’s a metaphor for the band, and where we’re at now. With the music scene that we were more associated with before, we knew what was behind every corner, we’ve trodden every path. We love it, but it’s almost like you become a passenger in that life rather than a driver.
MGM: It’s just constantly moving, and you’re all just heading in the same direction.
NJB: Yeah, just constantly moving, and you’ve done it before, and it becomes– not easy, but it becomes comfortable, and you know what to expect. If you’re not surprising yourself anymore, then how the hell do you expect to surprise your fans?
MGM: Then your lyrical content’s going to suffer, isn’t it, because there’s nothing really new to talk about.
NJB: Maybe not the first time it happens, the fans maybe don’t see it, because it’s the style that they’re, “Oh, I want to hear more of that.” The second time, they’re like, “This isn’t as good as their last album.” And then the next album after that, they’re just like, “It sounds the same, but I want to listen to that first CD again.” I don’t think, if a band’s treading this comfortable path, that they’re ever going to make their masterpiece, or the album that they’re going to go down in history for. They’re just going to be remembered for their first or second release, when they came on to the scene.
MGM: With you guys though, you say it had gotten comfortable. The band’s constantly changed and evolved throughout, hasn’t it? When you came on board as well, as you say the style changed again. With you now being the core member with Robin as well, Confessions is a different sound again compared to Sonic Syndicate, for example.
NJB: We tried.
MGM: Yeah. There’s an element of additional commerciality to it, it’s only a softer sound for the first single off the new album. Fans will be intrigued to hear the rest of it just to understand where are you going next?
NJB: We’ve always tried to push the envelope a little bit. I always think I’m very proud of everything that we’ve done, and I’m proud of the history of Sonic before I joined, I think they’re a great band. But I never think that they were going to go down in history. In 10 years time, no one’s going to say, “Sonic Syndicate were the leader of that movement.”
MGM: They were a good player in the movement, but, yeah.
NJB: Yeah. We threw some punches, but people are always going to say it’s just Soilwork, it’s your In Flames, it’s your Dark Tranquility, when they refer back to the Swedish metal scene at that time. I’m glad we contributed to it, I’m glad that we had a good time doing it, and it’s always going to be a part of me, and I’m always going to be a fan of it, and we’re always going to include it some elements of that in our music. But like you said, if we want to make a difference, and we want to put our stamp on the music scene, then now is the time to do it. I want to be able to stand behind an album and say, “This doesn’t sound like other bands out there. We have our own sound.” I’m not saying that we’re 110% there yet, but I think we’re getting damn close to it”.
MGM: Certainly pointing in the right direction.
MGM: From the single alone, it’s an arena-filling sound. You can picture the tour of America, selling out the bigger venues with that approach, I’m sure. That’s got to be a desire, hasn’t it? You always want to be able to point to the back of 10,000 people, don’t you, rather than necessarily the back of 100 people and pretend it’s 10,000 [laughs].
NJB: Of course you do. I’m just a total junkie for being on stage. It’s a genuine feeling whether there’s 50 people there or 30,000.
MGM: If the reception from the crowd’s right, as you say, 50 people can make it an enjoyable night, can’t they.
NJB: You’re on fire, but at the end of the day music is all about connecting with more people, and transferring an energy. For me, at least.
There’s no feeling like it. It sounds cliche as hell, but sex, drugs, whatever – nothing compares to that moment.
MGM: It’s interesting, you mentioned as well the genre leaders that you think of when you go to Sweden. Almost by drawing a line under the last album, you got Björn [Björn Ove Ingemar “Speed” Strid – Soilwork] on as well, as a guest vocalist, which almost is you guys saying, “We recognise our contribution to that genre, here’s one of the greats from it.” It was quite a buzz point. It was the first time you guys have had a guest vocalist as well.
NJB: Yeah. It was a nice nod to the past of Sonic as well, because we used to be a two vocalist band, and I’ve always enjoyed the back and forth between two vocalists, it was a cool thing.
MGM: What are you doing now when it comes to live? Of course you do sing some of the older stuff. Are you having to very cleverly handle everything? Or have you got the guys backing you up there with…?
NJB: Yeah…I sing a lot [laughs].
MGM: [laughs] That’s got to be tough though. When it was the two voices almost battling against each other at times, your having to handle everything. That’s got to be tough on you.
NJB: Robin… We separated some of it into backing vocals, with Robin doing it live, so it works out.
MGM: With new album, what about guests on that? Or is it just all you guys this time?
NJB: We’ve got some cool guests. Like I said, we wanted to really see what we could do as songwriters this time. One of the things I’ve never done before is write vocals for a female voice, and I just love rock music fronted by female vocals. I think it’s so beautiful, and so I wanted to do that. This one song, Crystalize, I wrote these lyrics that are back and forth. It’s more than a love / loss relationship between two people. There’s this underlying tone that one of them has passed away, and it’s like a reflection from beyond the grave between this girl and this guy. That called for a female voice, so we told our label, and we started looking around for people that we thought it’d be cool to feature on it. Our label Despots got back to us with this girl called Madyx. I was like, “Okay, let’s hear some stuff.” We listened to it, and she’s got this grungy, pop-rock kind of vibe. Actually sounds a little bit like Hayley Williams [Paramore] sometimes, and Pink. Kind of a rocky chick.
MGM: Can easily do the genre crossover between the pop and the rock market, because they’ve got that gritty, gravely component to them.
NJB: Then we researched her, and it turns out that she was in this band called Life Down Here, and they did the whole Vans Warped Tour scene in the US. They went on tour with Paramore, and toured with The Used, and bands like that. Starting to make their stamp on the West Coast at least.
MGM: If you can get on the Vans tour as well, that’s a huge market, isn’t it?
NJB: Not an easy thing to do. She’s doing her solo thing now, under her name Maddox. We flew her over from LA to Stockholm, and she spent the weekend with us, and did this song called Still Believing.
MGM: It’s nice to hear she did it in person with you as well. It’s too easy almost these days to pass the instrumental, and then get the vocal track back, but to do it in person.
NJB: Maybe I would’ve done it like that if it was more something that you know, and confident of what the result will be, like let’s say with me and Björn. But this was something completely different, something new that we’re trying, so I wanted to be there and feel it myself. Also, the song is so personal.
MGM: I was going to say, you need almost that personal, close face, don’t you, to get the intensity of the song. If it’s that love loss type scenario, the two of you need to really be singing to each other, don’t you?
NJB: Yeah, we did. We had some good talks about it, and she totally understood the song. She related it to her dad passing away, that feeling of love for somebody. She got very emotional connecting with it in the studio.
MGM: I presume you can hear that on the performance on the album.
NJB: Yeah, definitely.
The other guy on the album, my buddy Ryan Roxie, always have to talk about him. He’s on the record. He’s a guitar player for a little band called Alice Cooper. We’ve known each other for a good few years. We actually met at a Gibson event at the Hard Rock in Helsinki. We just kept in touch ever since, always hooking me up when they came to town to play, hangin’ out, havin’ a few beers. Cool guy. I got in touch saying, “We got this song, and we want a guest guitar solo.” And he said, “Okay, send it over.” And he’s like, “This isn’t new.”
NJB: “This is odd, but I like it.” So he came into Stockholm and did the guitar as well. Which is great for me, to have a friend on the record, but Robin, he’s actually the biggest Alice Cooper fan on the planet. And it turns out Ryan is actually one of his favorite guitar players ever. It’s one of the reasons he really started playing rock music when he was a kid.
MGM: Did you reach out to Ryan before you mentioned it to Robin? Was it a real surprise for him when this all came up?
NJB: Yeah. Ryan came into the studio, and Robin– he’s very confident. He’s a kind of– I don’t want to say arrogant, but he’s a cocky kind of guy sometimes.
MGM: Yeah, he’s got a swagger about him.
NJB: He’s got something [laughs]. He’s got a lot of mouth, he’s never afraid to voice his opinion. Ryan came in and he just shut down. He couldn’t speak, he was like a little school kid. It was hilarious, but brilliant as well, and he was so, so happy. Made a little dream come true.
MGM: Did he manage to come out of his shell in the end, and enjoy it?
NJB: He did. I was like, “You both have loved playing Gibson guitar. Just go talk to him, go talk about your guitars and stuff.” And he’s like, “Okay.” then they hung out for like, a half hour. It was really cool.
MGM: That’s the sort of thing you want, because then the album becomes so much more personal to you when it’s friends and family playing on it almost as well. Brings it all together, doesn’t it?
NJB: Yeah, it’s not just hiring someone to come do the job, it’s somebody that wants to come and do it, somebody that’s going to put their love into it. If you’ve got a friendship bond I think it makes it really makes it special.
MGM: What about on the production side? You worked with Roberto, I believe, last time. But if that’s the album then that he’s looking to draw pout what was great about the band, draw a line under it – this is all about looking at the future. Have you got someone different this time?
NJB: We have. It’s a guy called Kristoffer Folin. We’d never worked with him before, and up until we were looking for producers for this album I’d never heard of him before. He plays in this band in Stockholm called Plan 3, and he’s actually friends with Michel, our bass player. Michel’s like, “He’s done this band, this band, this band.” It was a lot of hard rock stuff, and a lot of punk stuff, and some metal, and I was just like, “Dude, that’s not going to compliment this new album.” And he’s like, “No, he’s just done this new album, this production for his own band Plan 3, and it sounds exactly what we need.” And I’m like, “Whatever, we’re going to meet with X and X producer next week, but sure I’ll come down if you arrange it.” So I go to his studio in Stockholm, and he’s– first of all, his understanding of music was just amazing. He really seemed to care about vocals, which almost– for especially metal producers that I worked with is almost like an after thing.
MGM: It’s all about the crushing sound of the band as opposed to the vocal.
NJB: Yeah, and especially when we’re exploring so much melody on this, I really wanted to know the producer was going to be able to handle the vocals responsibility on this album. His understanding of different music styles was great, he had such a relaxing persona about him. And I was like, “Okay, this is cool.” And he played me the stuff that he did for his new band’s album, and it was– I think the songs were cut quite cool, they’re a good band, but I could just here how this could be applied to the stuff that we had written. It was really fresh, really modern, and crisp and clean sounding, but at the same time huge, had a weight to it. Definitely had an impact, which was exactly what we needed to do with this record. It’s got so many nuances and delicate elements with these melodic vocals, and these keyboard lines. You can pick everything out, but at the same time it’s got to sound huge.
MGM: Definitely. As you say, impact, it’s key these days, isn’t it? A lot of your audience have, for want of a better description, a short attention span. It’s too easy to do a single track rather than an album. You’ve got to have the impact to get people to buy in from the off, don’t you?
NBJ: Definitely. Everyone’s sat there with their Beats headphones on, if it doesn’t go boom [laughs], then they’re going to skip to the next one.
MGM: Mine might be in my bag, let’s move on.
NJB: We’re going to do a headline tour in Russia, then on the 25th or the 20th of October we fly to Germany and we’re starting the Maximalism tour with this Swedish band called Amaranthe. That’s going to take us up till Christmas basically.
We’ve got a great fan base in Russia, and it’s not just through showing up, it’s hard work. We’ve been back there, this’ll be the third time, and it’s not like we’ve just been going– like, a lot of bands just play Moscow and then they fly out.
We spent three weeks at a time in Russia before, just playing a lot of the minor cities as well. It’s cool to go back there, we’ve got a great fan base that wouldn’t have been there unless we tapped into it. We just got back from China.
MGM: I was going to say, what about the Chinese market?
NJB: That was the first time we ever went to China, it was a great response. We had a lot of people come out to see us who knew the songs, and knew who we were, we were very surprised.
MGM: What are you guys doing for the album launch?
NJB: Yeah, we’ve got a few cool parties. We’ve got a very exclusive pre-release party in Helsinki. Helsinki’s always been a great market for us, or Finland. We’re doing a meet-and-greet, signing session, and then we’re going to listen to the album in full, public for the first time, and then we’re going to play live. Full live set with a bunch of the new songs, and some of the old songs. And then me and Robin are going to get drunk and DJ [laughs]. Play all of our favorite bands. And then we’re doing the same thing a bit later on the 14th and 15th, in Gothenburg and Stockholm.
MGM: I was going to say, there’s got to be something special taking place in Sweden as well presumably.
NJB: Then we’re off to Russia and it’s the Amaranthe tour, which is going to be awesome. That’s a great package for the fans.
CONFESSIONS IS RELEASED VIA DESPOT RECORDS ON OCTOBER 14TH