Interviews : The Eternal (Mark Kelson) – 01/02/2011
With the release of their new album only days away, Metalobsession had the chance to meet up with The Eternal singer/songwriter Mark Kelson in his home studio to find out the latest about their new album, what it was like to work with the Tea Party’s Jeff Martin, and their plans for the future.
Metal Obsession: Your new album “Under a New Sun” is out now in less than a week. After working on it for about a year, and having gotten a great reaction at your most recent gig, how are you feeling about it?
Mark Kelson: It’s been an interesting feeling I guess, because we finished it in the studio in May, so we spent a year and a half on it, and we didn’t know really where it was going to go, so we kind of sat on it for a while. We had some ups and downs about how we felt about it, but in the end we knew it was really good. And just now that other people are starting to hear it we’re feeling that it is something good.
MO: So you’re still pretty confident after six months of listening to it?
MK: We know that it’s very honest and very real. We’re not trying to be anything we’re not. Jeff (Martin) came in at some point but the whole music writing process was us three, four times a week, jamming in a rehearsal room. In that respect The Eternal has never done anything like that. It feels more like a band than ever, so I feel pretty good about the material on it. It’s got a lot of substance, and I do feel good about that.
MO: There’s been another big change in style from the previous album. It’s definitely more of a rock sound, and there’s obviously more of an eastern influence that we first saw on the last album. Was this down more to Jeff Martin coming on board, or was he brought on board because that was the direction you wanted to take?
MK: We picked the producer, and were willing to invest the money, because we knew what we wanted. We wanted someone who would help us achieve the sound we were aiming for, and being a big fan of seventies rock myself, and Dave aswell, and Marty not so much but a big modern rock fan, we wanted more rock. It’s not that we dislike metal, but it’s not true to who we are. We want to make a heavy record but not in the metal way.
MO: I guess you’re also fortunate then that you are predominantly a hook writer, and that that really transcends genre, as you can do it in rock just as you can in more doomy metal.
MK: With the Eternal’s first record, the thing that shone through the most was the hooks. Down, and songs like that, they’re the songs that have stood the test of time and we’re most known for, the songs that had the hooks, and it’s easy to follow that path. I think that’s where the Eternal was always heading. I used to be in a band Cryptal Darkness, when I was about 20, that was a doom band. I’m 34 now, and that makes a big difference. The Eternal formed because I wanted a change to what I really wanted to play. The first album was kind of a transition, but we probably associate ourselves the most with this and Kartika. I think Sleep of Reason is a really cool record, once again it’s got those hooks, those Everlastings, and we just focus on that.
Jeff, he’s a hook writer. His songs are hooks. He can write a song like Halcyon Days that goes for like seven or eight minutes, but it’s hooky and memorable, and he’s the master of that. Being a huge fan of his for ten, fifteen years, in my heart I just knew he was the guy that could help us push to where we wanted to be as a band. I don’t think in any way we’ve abandoned what we’re about, because Kartika still represents what this album is about. It’s a shift also because we became a three piece, and we wrote more in that method.
MO: Getting Jeff Martin on board was quite a big step up for you guys, he was one of the rock superstars of the 90s with the Tea Party. How did you come to work with him?
MK: I sent Jeff a copy of Kartika. It all started on New Years Eve of 2009, I said “I want Jeff Martin to produce our new record”. The guys kind of looked at me like you’re a bit fucking crazy, but I knew he was doing some production work. So I tracked down his manager and I got him a copy of Kartika, and then Jeff rang me up and said “I like what you’re about, let’s make a record. This is when we have to do it”. And this was at the start of 2009, when we had our first contact with him. I had one song, Eclipse, which was called something different at the time, and we were about to go on three months of touring, and he said we had to do it in September. That was a different thing, in that I had a deadline, so I had to get the material together over an eight month period pretty comprehensively.
MO: Obviously you have vast experience, three albums, one which was still quite fresh when you first made contact with Jeff. What do you think he brought to the band?
MK: He brought a lot to the record. He performs on most of the songs in some way or other. He got involved in it fully when we got into the studio. He brought his flavour, his textures, his guitar tones, his method of getting the drum sound. He brought the whole organic rock thing. Previously we were very methodical with the way we recorded. Layer guitars, do drums in session, it was all very planned out, and I went into it with that kind of thing, but that’s just not the way he works. He’s pretty frantic. Sometimes it can get pretty wild, and it keeps you on your toes. You’re recording at weird hours, it’s a very different method of recording. He’d even cook dinner, cook up some Moroccan chicken, we’d sit down o eat, and sometimes it would be ten at night before anything is really happening. Luckily, we had a production team that was willing to work to Jeff’s hours. He wasn’t as much working to our hours, as when his creative thing was working, but we had to adapt to that.
The arrangements of the songs didn’t change that much, but in relation to the vocals and the hooks, he could hear which were the hooks in the original demos and we could shape that and focus on that more. He brought the hooks that were already there to the surface more. He’d say, “You don’t have to do that extra thing, this is the hook, let’s focus on this”. In that respect he did produce. We did go head to head on stuff, I didn’t just let go of my baby of the last eight years and go, “Here it is, do whatever you want with it”. I had to in the first few days in the studio really stamp my own authority on the project and say, “I know what I’m doing”. And once we’d had our little stamp off at each other we worked pretty well together after that.
MO: You’ve worked in the past with big names on the production side, but never anyone with as higher profile as Jeff Martin. Having done it now, is this something you think you’d do again in the future?
MK: It’s an expensive project, and it’s not something we can maintain financially. It was something we wanted to try to do, and yeah, if the opportunity were there and we could afford it we’d get jeff involved in some level, but from my own experience now of many years, and also co-producing this record to a degree, I was involved in the production decisions, I feel like what I’ve taken from him and what I’ve taken from Endel (Rivers) and the other people I’ve worked with I feel pretty confident in myself to take more charge of the production. So that’s our intention, to take it more on ourselves, and to take the things that we gotten from everyone and focus on that.
On that same point I’d love to get Jeff involved in some level with the vocals and bring out the hooks and stuff like that. It is great to have that outside input at the same time, and we’ve definitely learnt a great deal from him.
MO: I can see what you’re saying about the hooks. Just listening to it now, it does sound like a fuller album from start to finish.
MK: The last albums were searching for what we wanted to do. There were consistent moments with a few inconsistent moments thrown in because we wanted to try things. Kartika is longer than it needs to be, and has a few songs that don’t necessarily have to be there, and maybe some other songs could have been there instead, or it could have been shorter and more structured, but that was a really hard time for the band when it was really just me keeping the band afloat because we lost a lot of guys. And songs like Blood with 170 tracks, it got crazy, but with this one, because of the deadline, and knowing we were working with Jeff from day one, it was very easy to make just a more cool, rocking record, and we just did.
MO: So do you think you could do this again, backing up one album with another just a year or so after the previous one?
MK: I don’t know. We’ve got some plans of what we’re going to do next. We have a couple of studio demos for the next record but we’re still kind of searching for where we’re heading next. We’re planning to maybe do a live album when we’re in Japan, and we’re also planning to look back at the back catalogue and do an album, or maybe not an album, that references some of the songs off the previous albums and reworks them in some sort of way. A sort of ‘in-between albums album’, which is just something we want to do, a mellower reworking of the songs. We kind of have the idea of doing three songs off each record. Some songs off our first album which we haven’t ever played, reworked in a different way. I think that’s the plan for this year. We’re not going to push the next one out too quickly.
MO: Since your last release you’ve done a huge world tour, including Japan, Europe and North America. How did that go?
MK: That was one of the most rewarding experiences and one of the hardest. We booked that whole tour ourselves, we organised the whole thing. We were pretty much downtrodden and the band got rebuilt. Dave came in and brought some fresh energy to the whole thing. We still had this guitarist hanging on who wasn’t kind of into it, and we ended up losing him half way through the tour. He left us in Finland, one morning we woke up and he was gone. That was a real awakening, as the had to play with Katatonia the next day.
MO: It never really came out publicly what happened there. Can you go any further into it?
MK: He had a lot of problems. There are a million things I could say and I’ve got to keep it diplomatic, because I don’t wish to insult him as a human being. But basically there were three of us working as a team and one who wasn’t, and when he was confronted about that, instead of dealing with it, he packed his bags and left. He didn’t pay for anything on the tour, he didn’t organise anything, he was just there. We actually decided we weren’t going to take him on the tour, and we were going to do it as a three piece, and he kind of just begged us to stay on the tour. So we gave him the benefit of the doubt. He’d decided he was going to leave anyway after the tour, and we agreed, because he was kind of dead weight to us in the end. But the timing wasn’t great. We had a big festival the next day, in the country of our label, so it was a pretty difficult thing. And there has never been any confrontation, we’ve never spoken about it and we’ve never seen him ever since. He’s gone, but it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We just became the strongest band we’ve ever been. We said, “Alright, we have to play the rest of this tour as a three piece”, and we pieced it together. We did have a Finish guy play with us for three gigs. Antza Talala, who’s a friend of mine. We played the festival with Katatonia as a three piece, we didn’t get to rehearse, we just had to do it, and I spent the day in the hotel putting together some backing guitars down, because I hadn’t had a chance to work out the parts I wasn’t playing. But Antza came in for the rest of the Finish dates and the Hungarian dates. That gave us a little time to adjust, and then we went on to the American tour as a three piece. We played in New York, and we knew it was just right from then. The New York crowd was unbelievable, and we pulled it off really well. And it’s just stayed that was ever since, a tight knit unit of the three of us.
The Eternal are touring nationally and through New Zealand and Japan through February and March. Catch their album launch at the East Brunswick club in Melbourne on February 4.
Questions: Mathew Boelsen
Answers: Mark Kelson (Guitars/Vocals)