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Interviews : “The music industry landscape has changed…” – (An interview with Andy Marsh)

By on November 13, 2017

Thy Art Is Murder – Andy Marsh

Thy Art Is Murder shouldn’t exist. Not as they do, at least.

According to conventional wisdom, they should be a weekend warrior band, taking their extreme and commercially unviable music to Australia’s major cities over two weekends, and using the annual leave they accrue each year at their real job to tour America or Europe, but certainly not both.

And yet, [10] years in, this deathcore band from Sydney, Australia, who’ve never had a melodic vocal hook, who’ve never had a catchy single, who’ve have never missed an opportunity to add blast beats to a song, are occupying a burgeoning new niche in heavy music – the blue collar, working class, full-time heavy band, from Australia. Apparently, that even includes annual leave.

“We had a fill-in drummer for a while so Lee (Stanton) could get married, and he was fully prepared to come back after a few shows. But we said ‘we’ve got this guy filling in, we’ve got him for the whole tour, go have a honeymoon or a holiday dude.” Andy (Marsh, guitars and general Thy Art mastermind) is telling me about the ins and outs of being a touring band in a day and age where touring isn’t just the most important part of a band’s income, it can sometimes be their only source of income.

“The music industry landscape has changed a great deal over the last two decades,” Andy says. “With music sales at an all time low, it means artists have to take touring to an all time high to carve out even a sliver of their former earning capacity. Once upon a time bands could be far more self-serving in their touring schedules as the consistent cash flow was less of an issue, whereas now if we miss a tour of a special event like a birth, wedding or funeral (and we’ve missed all of these), that could negatively impact the whole band as a business, and the other members of the band and our crew who rely on Thy Art for their income.” And this means that the idea of a “band” has shifted from “greater than the sum of its parts” to “separate from the sum of its parts.” Not only has Andy had fill in drummers and vocalists, he’s also filled in numerous times for Parkway Drive, because even bands at that level can’t slow down a touring cycle. The show must go on! Even if industry forces are pushing bands to adopt the Wiggles approach to branding.

But the music industry isn’t the only thing that’s changed; the entire culture of heavy music has shifted. If you were to tell a 15-year-old Mitch that he was going to see KoRn live, but that one of the members, let alone the singer, wasn’t going to be performing, I probably wouldn’t go. When I was growing up, half the appeal of a live show was seeing, in the flesh, the personalities the band was made up of. KoRn without Jonathon Davis? Every Time I Die without Keith Buckley? The Dillinger Escape Plan without Brock Lesnar? Fuck off out of here…

But these days, it’s not only normal for bands to regularly replace members and keep on trucking, but it’s standard to replace them for a tour or two, welcoming them back into the fold when they’re ready and able to rejoin. This would’ve been “a thing” when I was younger, but due to the changing economics of the music industry and the world more generally, fans seem to be plenty accepting of this new paradigm, where bands are a brand with employees tasked to deliver an experience, not themselves.

Thy Art is Murder is currently promoting their fourth studio album Dear Desolation, out now via Nuclear Blast Records. 

This new forgiving zeitgeist has been particularly fortuitous for Thy Art Is Murder, after the recent departure and subsequent return of their iconic and lauded frontman CJ McMahon. Like it or not, CJ is a unique vocalist and personality, and there’s an argument to be made that there’s no Thy Art without him. Plenty of keyboards have been scorched by blistering hot takes on the CJ debacle already, enough for me to not bother re-hashing it here. I bring it up, however, to highlight how ultimately, the hypothetical I smugly proposed above turns out ultimately wrong – there was a Thy Art without CJ, and they didn’t seem to lose any ground without him. His return seemed like another step up for the group, and not a scramble to regain what was lost. Fifteen years ago his departure might have split Thy Art harder than the Manhattan project could’ve calculated, but combined with their frankly terrifying work ethic and some tragic missteps by other more established bands of the genre like Whitechapel and Suicide Silence, Thy Art has managed to become a premier and dependable deathcore outfit. Andy has managed to navigate these choppy new industry seas for Thy Art, and all credit to him and the rest of his marketing crew – Thy Art have never seemed in trouble, or even like they’ve slowed down.

But none of this is to say that the changes to the industry are beneficial; the forces still working against Thy Art’s success can’t be understated. Even in it’s late commercial Hair Metal or Nu-Metal heyday, metal “success”, metal stardom, was reserved for the most accessible of bands. While Limp Bizkit were busy putting the final nail into the coffin of the 90s from a Woodstock mainstage, extreme bands like Cannibal Corpse were milling about in the background, not so much languishing as much as getting on with shit. There has always seemed to be a natural ceiling to even the biggest European and American extreme metal groups, probably because most of their music sounds like cutlery and wet ham chucked into a cement mixer. Metal success, by most any metric, just isn’t a thing unless you’re able to be played on Video Hits.

Given that Thy Art are effectively performing the twenty-teens equivalent of 90’s death (popular, but in that scene, not in general), and given that they’re from Australia (which, valid or not, is seen by many as a four letter word when it comes to living off of heavy metal), this should be enough to relegate their expectations to that of a head pat and a “well done on your Max Watts show, young man.”

And on top of it all, Thy Art Is Murder exist at a very new and scary time for the music scene in general, as Andy is well and truly aware. Record labels don’t mean shit, access isn’t gated anymore, and streaming services mean I can still get my music on demand, for free or near enough, with none of the moral guilt surrounding torrents (NB – you’re still complicit in the death of the music industry even if you pay for Spotify or YouTube Red).

But despite all this, Thy Art are a band. A “real” one. They play shows on weekdays and visit multiple continents inside of one year. On the other hand though, they aren’t rockstars. They’re not going to fill a stadium and not a single person would tolerate even a two-hour delay cause they’re passed out drunk. They are carving out their own niche, like a deathcore ant colony, and not only that, they’re dragging new bands along with them.

There’s an old school thought that big bands should help little bands, that a rising tide lifts all ships. That seemed to be fine in the heady days of stadium tours and profits from record sales, but since the internet decided to royally fuck that all right up, bands across all strata seem to have calcified in place, staying pretty much as big as they have always been. Some bands have been lucky enough to breakout and breakthrough, but it seems like an impossible task without some type of divine or algorithmic intervention. That is, unless you’re a band like Australia’s freshfaced upstarts Justice For The Damned (who might have released my Nu-Nails AOTY). A little brother to Thy Art’s “super cool cause he’s the manager at a Maccas and even has his green Ps” working class older brother, Justice were hand picked to open all of Thy Art’s shows on their recent tour of Europe. That’s fucking massive, and I’m not just writing about it because I want as many people as possible to know how fucking cool Andy and the entire Thy Art crew are for doing that for them (though that’s part of it). The main reason I’m mentioning that is because Thy Art aren’t just letting the system, which was never supposed to work for them, buffett them around on the whims of money-makers. These guys are using their relatively limited influence and success to fucking build a god damn scene, and give bands a hand up to the next level. But not a hand out, mind you.

“We’re giving Justice the opportunity to come out and play some good shows, meet the right people, and set themselves up for their future. They might blow it, and that’s fine. I can’t help that. But all I can do is put them in a position where if they work hard, and actually try, they’re going to get somewhere.”

Andy talks about Justice For The Damned, and the Australian scene, and even Thy Art’s position in it, like a fan. He goes on about this whole thing for longer than I can print, but at no point does his enthusiasm wane, and at no point does he sound like a dickhead. Which would be almost forgivable; despite everything, he’s gotten an Australian deathcore band into a position so successful and secure they can determine who opens their European tour, and they can take a punt on relatively unknown bands. But he’s not a dick about it. He speaks with the same confidence all moderately successful people have; never did they ever think they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in, and all the insane amount of work they put themselves through was always going to pay off. He says as much, when I ask him if there was any “aha!” moment in the last decade when he realised that he’d “made it.”

“It might sound a little cheesy but almost everyday. You get to a new city, take a walk around, grab a coffee and think ‘This is time I’m getting paid for’. Its definitely a dream come true. And I never had any doubt I’d be in this position.” His conviction makes me think he’s either never heard, or never given a fuck, about conventional wisdom. And all the better for him, his band, and the Australian heavy music scene.

Thy Art Is Murder will be performing exclusive shows across Australia in February 2018 with special guests  Emmure, Fit For An Autopsy and Justice For The Damned. See below for full list of tour dates.

Tickets on sale now via www.thyartismurder.net/tour.

About

Mitch is a 26 year old vegan, socialist, atheist, utilitarian, reductionist metalhead, stand up comedian and philosophy major that hates labels. When he isn’t being politely ignored at dinner parties he’s being politely ignored on comedy nights around the country.