“Don’t change too much. Don’t make compromises and sell out.” Mike Burrough on The Raven Age and how to succeed

Interview with Mike Burrough by Adrian Hextall

Live Pics 2017: Robert Sutton / Robert Sutton Photography

Live Pics 2014: Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media

Fresh off the back of a European tour with Anthrax that saw The Raven Age play The Forum in London to a great reception, things could not be better for the band. Positive critical reviews to their debut e.p. and great feedback about latest single ‘Salem’s Fate’ lines them up nicely for their full length debut ‘Darkness Will Rise’. MGM spoke to lead vocalist Mike Burrough as the band were about to catch the ferry for more European shows. 

MGM: How did you land the Anthrax tour? You’re managing to secure some fairly high profile support slots at the moment. 

MB: Well, I think it had a bit to do with the fact that we met the guys on the Maiden Tour, had quite a few conversations with Mr. Bello and we both talked about what we were doing. We just said yeah, let’s do the tour. We knew about it for a little while but it wasn’t until a month or so after one of the final festival dates, and then, that was it. It was all happenin’.

MGM: Decent-sized stages, big crowds to play in front of as well. It’s definitely another profile raiser for you, isn’t it?

MB: Exactly. It couldn’t come at a better time either with obviously the album release being one day after this little stretch ends so… yeah, really really cool.

MGM: As far as your setlist were concerned, did you take a bit of a gamble to play mostly new songs from the album or stick with the older stuff that you’ve been playing previously?

MB: We’ve actually stayed fairly sort of strict with the setlist because obviously we don’t wanna reveal everything that the album has to offer because that would be a ridiculous move.

MGM: [laughs]

MB: As soon obviously as the album is out, we’ll be able to have a look at that and maybe include some of the other tracks that you know people haven’t heard yet. But there are… I mean our setlist as it stands, includes ‘Trapped Within the Shadows’, which is on the album, and a lot of people have heard because I believe it was available for download at some point. So people have already heard that song. The Merciful One is on the album which is in our set at the moment. Salem’s Fate is, Promised Land is. Eye Among the Blind and Angel in Disgrace are also making an appearance on the album again. They’ve been sort of slightly messed around with and changed since the original EP.

MB: So we’re not revealing too much of the album at the moment.

MGM: Enough to say get a little familiar sound out for the audiences that have heard you before and have heard the EP, of course, whilst just changing it round a little bit to keep them interested.

MB: Exactly. Yeah, and you know, it’s like I’ve said before with bands, the idea is even though the content is fairly dynamic and all of the songs are different, there’s still a familiar… there’s familiarity with the music that makes you go, “Oh this is the Raven Age” you know.

MGM: Yeah.

MB: The same way you would say, “Oh this is Disturbed. This is Trivium.” You can pick out certain sounds in the guitar and there’s the vocal and the melody that just sort of linking together and you know tell you who it is.

MGM: You mentioned meeting Anthrax on the back of the Maiden Tour as well. It’s no secret that obviously you’ve managed to get a little bit of support early on in your career.

MB: Yes.

MGM: Is it now the opportune time for you to fly the nest and stand up on your own two feet as it were? Presumably, the album gives you that ability, doesn’t it? Go out on your own and make your own name now.

MB: Yeah. Well, I mean obviously that’s very much the goal and that’s what we would hope for. As you would expect, you know this question comes up quite a lot.

MGM: [laughs]

MB: But the truth of it is, we would be absolute idiots not to at least use some of the contacts and the help that having Steve there would, you know [inaudible] as a band, but it’s not somethin’ that we go out of our way to do and we sort of proven time and time again that we can stand on our own feet. And actually, for Steve, I think taking us on the Maiden Tour was probably quite a gamble, you know. You have to believe in the band and believe that we can win the crowd over, which luckily with did. Many warnings that they were brutal and they were only interested in Maiden. We actually made quite an impact and not too many people sort of booing. You get the occasional person standing in the crowd with their finger up the whole time because they just wanna see Maiden. But you know, we try not to lean on that. We’ve got some extra help potentially yes, and I mean, to be obviously be releasing a debut album for a label is totally incredible and maybe sort of fast passing as it were. But the truth is if the music wasn’t good enough on its own, if people didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t matter who was trying to help you out. 

MGM: Whilst connections matter, it doesn’t make up for talent, does it?

MB: Yeah. Exactly, and that’s it. You know I have to say at this point that George and Dan, they do the writing. I actually joined the band at sort of a later date when most things were done. Not to say it’ll always be just those guys. They’re very open to any sort of suggestions anybody has, as long as they’re good ones. But it’s just something that George and Dan have written such good music. Dan writing a lot of very good guitar riffs. George and Dan writing guitar riffs. George does mainly I think the actual written lyrics, and together, they work on the vocal melodies. But they’ve come up with some really good stuff and some catchy stuff and people seem to love it so you know.

MGM: And on that side, that’s one area where you do stand out, isn’t it? Because you’ve got the melody in there as well. You’ve got the brutal heaviness at times when you need it, but there’s also the melody which does set you aside from other bands in your genre.

MB: Yeah. Well, that is the hope. I mean people have different views on that. There’s people that say “Oh, you’re not real metal because it’s just mellow singing.” But for me, metal is more based on the riffage and the actual guitar. The whole metal aspect is the fact that you’re playing metal instruments, you know what I mean?

I really love that about the band. I mean I listen personally to some sort of scream music but I always like there to be mellow parts as well. I don’t really like sort of real metal or just scream scream scream. I think by deliberately not adding scream to it, even in places where maybe it would work, we’re actually widening the target audience because there are many more people in the world that would listen to the scream vocal and just immediately turn it off because they don’t like that style. So you’re appealing to a much wider audience by not including screamin’ in there.

MGM: When I first saw you guys play, it was at The Underworld on the back of the Voodoo Six Tour. One of the things I noted in my review was that you’re clearly going to appeal to the US audiences because it’s the sort of sound that will get air play out there. Have you had a good response in the US?

MB: Yeah, I mean there was a couple of small hiccups on the Maiden Tour in the States, specifically where the doors weren’t opened until quite close to us going on stage. The door barely just been opened and they had a few ticketing issues and just didn’t get full capacity in there before we started playing. But apart from that, the actual response from the Americans, yeah. I mean as soon as we post anything up on Facebook, we usually get people saying “Oh come back to Florida,” come back to this place, come back to that place, so people seem to like it. Again, you know, it’s people of all generations which is what you want really.

MGM: The generational thing… when you’re touring with Maiden, they still manage to get everybody in their 50s and 60s all the way down through to teenagers. To be able to capitalize on that as well and be able to hang onto, as you say, audiences from all generations, that’s pretty rare these days.

MB: Yeah. Well, hopefully, that’s gonna be one of our strong points. I mean I think that Maiden, you know it’s almost a lifestyle. It’s like a cult if you like. You’ve got full families who go to the show and you got 4-year-old kids that are wearing Maiden shirts and they grow up surrounded by Maiden stuff and it just becomes a part of their everyday existence. I’m not suggesting that at this stage that that’s how it’s gonna go for us, but just because the music actually appeals to the youngsters and the older people who prefer the more classic melody-driven stuff. It’s hopefully the key to hopefully our success.

 

MGM: Looking at the new album then, as you say, as part of the tour, you’ve not necessarily given too much away so there’s an absolute appetite for it. But aside from more tracks than the EP, what are we expecting? Is there a shift in the way you’ve done things? Does it show a gradual maturity? Because it’s three and a bit years now since the EP came out, isn’t it?

MB: Yeah. Well, I mean even the album itself was fairly in a position where it was nearly ready to go quite a while ago. I’ve guested in a couple of interviews but I think it was probably around May 2015 that my vocal was pretty much done on the album.

And you know, things keep happening to push us further along like the Maiden Tour come up and it’s like, well it would make sense to release this album afterwards and hopefully, we got a bit more of a hype. So that happens, and then, we were gonna release it in the end of December. We’ve done this huge live release video kinda thing when we played in Maiden Luxembourg, and then, the label was suddenly interested so we couldn’t actually tell people why we have to delay the album again. You know people have pre-ordered it and stuff and it was like, “Oh dear.” I think that the fans have been amazing and they’ve understood that this album will come out when it’s ready because we won’t be rushed into it that we’re just throwing it out until we are totally happy with it. As a result, they are okay. Some stuff has been revisited and changed slightly. But I think what you can expect from the album, a catalog of real diverse tracks. You’ve got a lot of dynamics. There’s some heavy stuff. There’s mellow stuff. It’s nice because it all sort of still keeps within that theme. Like I was saying, you know, when you listen to a track and you go, that such and such a band I can pick up. You won’t listen to any of the tracks and think “Wow, that doesn’t even sound like them.” But at the same time, you will listen to tracks and think “Oh, this is interesting. What’s this about?” All the tracks have got stories behind them. There’s a couple in particular. There’s one called Dying Embers of Life, which on a personal level, I enjoyed recording because it was very different. I was singing in a very low register the majority of the track, which is very unusual. I always get irritated with George because he writes vocal melodies that are in the clouds and I find it very difficult. A lot of the stuff when we’re onstage, it’s very physically demanding. I’ve got to run around and jump around like a lunatic whilst singing all these things that probably 70% out of my comfort zone most of the time. It’s very very sort of difficult, especially on a schedule like we are at the moment. But now, it’s somethin’ that’s good and dynamic and I’m looking forward to the fact that Dying Embers might be that little bit softer enough to maybe get in some mainstream radio shows, as well as just the rock ones you know.

MGM: Is this the sort of song that like Disturbed managed to do, where they pull one out of the hat, that doesn’t necessarily reflect the rest of the album but it gets them the exposure they need, doesn’t it?

MB: Exactly, and as you know, I’m not saying by any stretch that I hope for one song to be massively successful and none of the others to do anything, but exactly, really. Just to get your name about, you only really need to hit it really hard with one track. And then, if that lifted enough, people go “Oh, this is interesting. I wonder what else they’ve done.” I actually have that experience with Five Finger Death Punch. I always tell people that I like them. That the first track I heard was Hard to See and I thought “Oh I quite like the sound of that. I’ll have a look around and see what else they do,” and I discovered Far from Home and thought “This is amazing.” Truth be known, the rest of their stuff, a lot of it is very sort of aggressive and there are quite a lot of sort of screams down in vocals on it, but they’ve always got that mellow hook and that’s what I love. So I totally discovered them because of one song, which weirdly was on Guitar Hero, I believe.

MGM: [laughs] But it is something as simple as that isn’t it? You do find in this particular sort of genre, fans become very loyal very quickly. It only needs that initial hook, doesn’t it? And they’ll hang on to you from that point onwards.

MB: Yeah, and that has been somethin’ that really… It fills you with sort of a feeling of just being totally proud and happy with the way things have turned out. You go to shows and you think I already know the names of a few of my fans that are gonna be there because they never let us down. They’re always there. They’re wearing the t-shirt. Even last night we played, there was a couple of guys in t-shirts you know, which is just brilliant. When we played in Munich the other night, there were two guys that travelled all the way from Milan just to watch us. Obviously, they’re gonna see Anthrax as well, but they had solely came to watch us.

They’re wearing Raven Age t-shirts and they’ve even made us a flag, which was like a combination of different images and with the Raven Age logo in the middle. They’re obviously gonna come to the Milan show seeing as they’re from Milan and they said they’re gonna give us the flag afterwards. To see the amount of people wearing the merch, going after each show, people singing lyrics back at you, that is really where the fun really comes from and the drive to carry on.

MGM: It makes all worthwhile for you at that point.

MB: It does. We really you know… you can really feel that you just make a difference to someone. You give them two minutes of your time to say, “Hi.” Sometimes, people are shy. I’ve seen people that have their phone there. They clearly want to come and approach you and say, “Can I have a selfie?” If I see someone like that, I’ll just smile at them and say, “Hi, how you doing?” just to start the conversation because a lot of people would just walk up and ask, which is fair enough. But if people do a lot struggling, I always sort of say, “Hey, how you doing?”

MGM: That’s a nice touch. Just talking to those two fans that you mentioned as well, the ones that came up from Milan to Munich to see you and the artwork that they put on the flag I mean. Your artwork is pretty special as well. When the EP came out, there was a clear design and the direction you are heading in with the artwork there. How did that all come about?

MB: Well, it’s interesting. George knew a guy that had done some bits and bobs for various other band in the past. A guy called Gus. George had a concept in his head of the kinda tone of everything that he wanted and he went to talk to different people and then he found this guy and he just hit the nail on the head and immediately brought him back and we just went “Yes, that’s it. You know that’s really cool.”

He had done the majority of the artwork that’s actually in the album as well. But when we were on the Maiden Tour, we actually met another guy, called Adam, Adam Ford and he came up with this concept with us.

This raven at the front of the album. I don’t know if it’s necessarily immediately apparent. But if you look at it again, I’m sure you’ll realise that it’s a raven skull with suit of armour on it. I don’t want to give too much away but you’ll see a theme. When you actually get a copy of the album and you open it up, you’ll see there’s something in there that directly sort of goes with the front cover. That was his little input and we were delighted that we sort of just bumped into him, so that was kinda a last-minute change to the album in terms of the artwork. But we actually got approached by a couple of smaller labels, they didn’t seem to like the artwork and they kinda said that it seemed too heavy, too dark in comparison to the fairly light music in terms of me not screaming my guts out. So it was kinda, well, this is the artwork that we’ve chosen. This is the theme. This is how we want to go. And so the advice that Steve passed on to George a long time ago and the rest of us, was just to stick to your guns. You know do something what you believe in and stick to that and don’t alter things. Don’t change too much. Don’t make compromises and sell out, really, I guess. Just stick with what you’re doing. That’s what we’ve done and it’s worked out because obviously BMG have come along and said, “Yeah, we like what you’re doing and we want to support you with it.”

MGM: If you look at the artwork for the latest single as well, Salem’s Fate, that’s a very dark, moody picture that you’re looking out there. But again, it’s the lyrical content there rather than the anger or lack of anger in your vocals, isn’t it, that makes it wholly appropriate.

MB: That’s exactly it. You know because the way that George write this song, a lot of them have story to them and sort of on a personal level to him. A couple of the songs have various vibes. There’s like one that’s about leaving home almost and leaving the place that you know and you have known for such a long time. That’s that’s Winds of Change, which we have played live once or twice, here and there. We used to play that. Some of these songs, even when we played them live, have changed in format. I mean Salem’s Fate, for example, because of the 40-minute slot that we get at the moment, or 45-minute slot, we play a compressed version that instead of being like 5 minutes, it’s more 3 minutes. We take the middle verse out and chop a chorus in half, that sort of thing. So it’s also cool from our angle that people will get to hear these songs as they were supposed to be in their full versions. Yes, obviously, there’s gonna be radio edits and things because in this day and age, that has to be the case on some radio stations. But it is a really good thing that all of the songs have this story behind them. Dying Embers, for example. Again don’t wanna give too much away, but when you get it and you see the artwork and you read the lyrics while you’re listening to the song, it will become very apparent what the song is written about. I didn’t even know. I recorded the whole song, didn’t really think about it, and then, when I listened back to it, I thought, “Ah, I know exactly what that’s about,” and that is an incredibly written song. It was just brilliant to be part of the whole creation of it without even being part of the creation of it. It was very bizarre to just suddenly click what it was about and like the song even more as a result. So hopefully, the fans will be doing the same thing when they’re checking out the artwork whilst listening to the songs.

MGM: And that really takes you back to the approach that you should have with an album, doesn’t it? Because it should be the whole package. It should be the artworks, the lyric sheet that comes with it, and then, the earphones on and just listening to it, start to finish. But the combination of the three is what makes the experience.

MB: Yeah, and that’s exactly right. My understanding of the world at the moment, people downloads and digital and stuff, which not to say that isn’t a great thing, but the only way you’ll really gonna shift physical copies is if there is really something worth having. And that’s exactly it. So these people that are gonna sit down. They’re gonna listen like you say, wack their best set of headphones on and read through the lyric books, as they’re listening to the music to really experience it at its full. That’s fantastic and that would be great when we you know get feedback from people who have done that.

MGM: Looking at the original EP and the live shows, opening with Uprising. It’s an unusual choice for the opening track when it’s such a soft intro, for the best part 2 minutes. Why did you choose that one? Because it felt like it should have been the closing track not the opening one.

MB: You know, it’s really strange because there’s also a song on the album called Darkness Will Rise, which is a very similar sort of tone of intro track. I’d say it’s fractionally heavier than Uprising, but it’s originally, that was how we were gonna come out. But I think the whole point was that… I mean the fan said to me the other day, he said, “I just wanna ask about Uprising.” He said, “When do you start singing?” Because quite obviously, we’re not on the stage for the first beginning, which is the lower octave on vocal. And then, I come out and we crash in with it when it repeats. And really, it was just to set a scene and just to set a mood. You know, get the lights down dark and dim. Get some smoke on the stage. And then, we’ll walk out and just have that massive impact right at the beginning. But bizarrely enough, we’ve got fans that said Uprising is their favorite track, which is weird because I would think it’s a very short track. It’s only an intro but people like that because of dynamics of it. It’s just kinda what we got into the groove of doing and become the everyday thing. You know I’ll be behind the screens or backstage waiting to come on and I’ll just hear the [guitar intro] and then I’ll know that that’s it. There’s no going back. It’s showtime. You charge out and “bam” you hit it. It’s full speed from there really.

MGM: That intro almost acts like your adrenaline rush for you then, just to tease you up.

MB: Yeah, exactly. I mean it’s quite difficult because I have to come in with quite a powerful note. So it’s always a… once I’ve got that, that little section out of the way then I feel better about the whole thing. But yeah, it’s just to create a mood and kinda make people go what’s going on? What’s all this? Because they don’t expect it. I think even when we come out and we start the track properly, and obviously, the actual recorded bit turns off, like people are still in shock. They’re like what’s going on here? And then, you know, we go straight into Promised Land, which is a nice riff in, which is what will happen on the album, Darkness Will Rise instead, replacing Uprising, goes into Promised Land. Probably, before long, you’ll find that we’re playing a different intro track anyway which is a little bit easier.

Darkness will Rise is released everywhere on Friday March 17. Click on the link below to pre order: 

https://www.musicglue.com/the-raven-age/

 

 

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