Chuck Schuldiner Project

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interview with Birds in Row (English translation)


After putting up an incredible show at Throatruiner festival, which celebrated the labels’ 5 year of existence, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with one of France’s leading hardcore acts, Birds in Row, which resulted in an absolutely fascinating discussion about their past with Throatruiner, their philosophy and their insights and perspectives on the french music scene and the record industry. 

-       -  So here we in Paris for the Throatruiner Fest. To start things off, could you tell us a bit about your relationship with Throatruiner and Mathias Jungbluth and how you came to sign on his label?

Well right now we aren’t signed to Throatruiner anymore; he simply continues to press the records he released with us back in the day. Nowadays it’s Deathwish Inc. that handles the distribution of our records. However, we’ve always had a strong relationship with Throatruiner and Matthias because he’s a good friend first and foremost, a friend we met from touring and playing shows together.
He released one of our first Eps and our compilation Collected.
So he’s the one that replentishes our stock with Collected, because even though we’re with Deathwish Inc. now, we want our friends to continue benefiting from our releases.

To get back to our beginnings with Throatruiner, we started Birds in Row 6 years ago and at the time we would play more one-off shows than full tours. So there was one time when we were supposed to play 3 shows with Matthias’ old band Pigeon. On the day of the 3rd show, we loaded up our gear in the bar and as soon as we started soundchecking, the owners kicked us out sayng “this is gonna be too loud, piss off, we don’t wanna see you”. So we ended up with a last-minute cancelled show. We called up some friends left and right, squats and so on… we tried to rebook the show at the last minute and it turns out we had a friend that had a farm in the middle of the countryside that was offering us to play in his kitchen, which we did. We sent out MMS photos of scribbled papers for flyers at the last moment. In the end we got 40 to 50 to show up in the middle of the countryside in Mayenne, which means that these people must have made about a 20 to 30 minute drive to get there.

After this story, Matthias, who was just starting his label (he had probably only put out one record at the time, Quartier Rouge),  was saying : “holy shit, nobody has even heard of these guys, they show up to play with us and even when the show gets cancelled they try everything to play the show anyway”. There weren’t any financial stakes involved; we were just here to play. So that created a thing around Punk, DIY… we found that we shared the same mentality about putting the music on the foreground, serving the bands…

So little by little we started talking, but Matthias has always had this policy of never putting out his friends’ records, because he wanted to keep his business and his friends separate to avoid any conflicts. It just so happened that at the time, we were looking to release an EP titled Cottbus and As We Draw were about to release their 1st album Lines breaking Circles. So we sent both of them to Matthias and he dug it so much that he decided to break his own rules and release them anyways. He did it and he did an insane amount of promotional work. With his old band he had prepared a list of blogs, webzines, a list of about 5000 of them, a huge repertoire… but since his band had just split up around the time we wanted to release our stuf, he used that list for his record label, which gave us a huge boost and an incredible amount of exposure. All of that thanks to him. If we’re with Deathwish Inc. today, it’s largely thanks to him, because he put us on the forefront on the internet. He really helped to put the spotlight on us

- How did you get in touch with Deathwish Inc.?
Deathwish actually got in touch with us actually. With that kind of label, you can’t just send out your demo; they get so many of them that they can’t listen to them. They’re the ones who contact the bands if they hear about a band that they like. That’s what happened to us. Jacob from Converge heard about us from a blog from downloading music like everyone else. It turns out that at the same time, Trey, the 2nd cofounder of Deathwish Inc. had heard of us from Jeremy of Touche Amore, who handed him our demo even though we didn’t even know each other. He’s such a huge music fan that he’ll try to hook people up with bands whenever he can. So Trey and Jacob finally ended up meeting together to talk about us and they tried to get in touch with us. They couldn’t find our contact info for some reason so they ended up contacting Throatruiner to tell them that they’d like to work with us. Considering that Deathwish Inc. is simply the best record label in the world to us… like for example we came to realize that most of the bands we listened to were with them. The same goes for Matthias, who is a huge fan of Deathwish Inc. from Converge, from their way of dealing with business… For a while we thought that it was a hoax. So that’s how we went from Throatruiner to Deathwish Inc. We also realized that it was exactly the same thing, that’s what is so cool. That’s why we’re still on very good terms with Matthias, because it’s exactly the same world, it’s just that one label has a little more visibility than the other. So in a way it’s better for us, and Matthias understands that. He also knows that we’re going to share whatever visibility we have with his label, by releasing stuff with him as well for example. We should be releasing a split soon with Throatruiner to bring a bit of our visibility to his label, even though he may not necessarily need it that much anymore. The idea is to release a series of splits to give some exposure to people we like that supported us before Deathwish Inc.

- So you could say that you came to Throatruiner Fest as old friends I guess.
That’s right, and then they also keep repressing Collected, which is a collection of all of our first songs. There’s not “signing” per se, there’s no contact or anything like that here. We can’t really say that we’re “signed” to Throatruiner but we’re affiliated with the label because we put out one of their most successful releases.

- It’s a story you both share.
Exactly, in the same way that we’re very close to As We Draw, now more than ever because Quentin plays the bass in our band. There’s also the fact that their drummer, Amaury Sauvé, recorded all of our music since the start of the band.

- Speaking of which, could you tell us about your relationship with Amaury Sauvé, who also records the large majority of Throatruiners’ bands in France?
First of all you need to understand that we come from a small town. Laval has 50 000 inhabitants, so needless to say that there are no hardcore shows and amplified music like metal music is rare. So we ended up making music and forming bands around the same time. Our drummer Timothee was already playing in a band with Amaury and Quentin from As We Draw. Our former bassist formed a band with them before playing with us. It’s very inbred in a way. We all know each other. When we started Birds in Row, it all got set up very quickly and Amaury was already more or less looking to record stuff. He offered to record our first song “Phoenix”. He did so, then we put out an EP so we asked him to do that one too and little by little it because his job. Today he’s one of the best that I know of in France for this style of music, so it comes to no surprise that you find all of the guys with Throatruiner recording with him. He clearly is extremely gifted at what he does.

- We could almost consider him as being Frances’ Kurt Ballou in a way.
Something like that yeah. It’s funny because a lot of people make that comparison. It’s interesting because on one hand you’ve got Kurt Ballou who’s close to Deathwish Inc. through Converge and on the other hand it’s the same deal Amaury and Throatruiner, through his band and his work. As We Draw are our best pals. We toured several times together, we spend all of our time together in Laval talking, going out… So it only makes sense for us to work with them. We’ve always had this way of doing things, especially when we’ve got gifted people like Amaury. Whatever we do, we know that we can have absolute trust in him.

- Regarding your policy on merchandising: your merch is sold open-priced and from what I understand you make all of it yourself.
That’s not the case anymore, but until now yes. When we started out, it was an important aspect to us. We’re not criticizing other bands or anything like that, it’s more of a personal choice and point of view, but we found it hard to imagine ourselves selling something we didn’t make ourselves. For example if we got a disk from the pressing and just sold it as is, we’d just be retailers in a way. Even if it’s our music, there’s something weird about it. So from the start we told ourselves that we’d do our own prints. We bought all of the material and we did a horrible job but at least we made them ourselves. We made our cover art ourselves; we’d cut them, fold them, glue them… all 500 copies of the stuff we made were made by hand. We made prints for CDs, Vinyl, we made our own shirts which were of terrible quality, but at least they were made by us.

The same principle goes for our open pricing. We’re not here to sell t-shirts, maybe a little more to sell records but really we’re here to play music because we’ve got things to say. Whether there are 3 people in the room or 300 it’s exactly the same deal for us. We have a need to put out stuff. Its’ a way of purging certain things, and if it speaks to some people then that’s great. The bottom line is the music, not the financial aspect of things. Then again we do have to sell shirts to pay for the gas, the van and so on… but if we could spare all of that we’d be glad to do so. So we got to a point where on one hand we HAD to sell shirts and CDs’ but we were bummed at the idea of selling them for 10 or 12 euros and having a commercial ethic. We then asked ourselves “Why do people sell shirts? For gas money.” So in a way it’s a sort of donation that people make to the band, so we told ourselves why not leave the fans the choice of how much they’d like to donate. With that being said, you still need to be reasonable: if someone hands us 2 euros for a Vinyl, we tell them that we’d be the ones paying them and that it wouldn’t work. There’s a kind of exchange on the purpose of merchandising in this kind of music, because it’s a style of music that goes against the whole business and commercial aspect of things, so the merch has somewhat of a weird spot. All of this allows us to talk with the fans about it and we realized that the people are really super generous because they understand how it works, that the idea isn’t to sell as much as possible to buy nice things but that we simply need it. We don’t have any online merch except with Deathwish Inc. because that’s part of their business, but don’t have an online store because we’re not a clothing store. People respect that and it works wonderfully so we can’t complain. It inspired a couple of other people around us apparently, other bands have started to do this and I find it really cool, because it’s a great way of doing things.

- Speaking of which, what is your opinion on the state of the music business today as a band that maintains a strong DIY spirit but also as a band that needs to stay economically viable?
The record sale crisis in the music industry only hits the mainstream market. It’s been hitting major record companies like Sony amongst others because they’ve been selling shit to people they’ve been selling singles coupled with 10 other shitty songs and charging 15 euros for it, and people are sick of it, they’d rather pay for their food rather than go broke for a record. Our music is very passionate, which means that the guy in the audience watching our show probably has a band, meaning that we might be the ones watching his show the next day or maybe he’ll be the one booking our show or spreading and distributing our music, this whole subculture… These are 2 completely separate worlds. That is not to say that the record industry crisis doesn’t affect the DIY scene, but we don’t really feel it that much. We actually sell a lot of records for a band our size. We’ve sold over 4000 copies of You, Me and the Violence, which is quite a lot. We’ve sold over a thousand copies of our first EPs… which is considerable for a band our size, especially considering that we come from Laval in the Mayenne. Other than that, we don’t really give a shit whether or not pople buy our records or not as long as they listen to it. We haven’t been taking great care of our website lately so this might not be true anymore but initially all of our stuff is up for free download on our webpage, because the most important thing is that people listen to our stuff. If someone likes it, and we’re the first ones to do so, we’ll buy the record. There’s a “collecting” aspect to it, another aspect where you “support the band” which you don’t have in the mainstream world, which is cluttered with middle-me, distributors taking a fair share of the money… What people need to know is that an artist signed to Sony will receive about one eighth of the price of the record, so he’s not even the one getting most of the money; it’s the distributor, the label, all of the shitty middle-men poisoning the whole point of music. So actually the record industry is doing just fine for us, it’s doing clearly well enough for us to be able to pay for our gas. We can’t complain

-        - Could you tell us about your logo (which you can find on the cover art for the Collected compilation)? Is there any particular meaning behind this symbol?
       Actually this has been our logo since the start of the band. When we first started the band we wanted to have a logo, a strong visual symbol we could put on lots of different mediums. We all got together to come up with it. It’s related to our band name : Birds in Row, which should be “Birds in a Row” normally (we got rid of the “a”). It’s a way of saying that we live in a society where you can very well chose to be free, leave everything behind and live your life as a pariah and live happily but there’s always going to be that social pressure that will cause you to always get back with the rest and sit at the same table as other people. It’s like with birds, who could very well fly on their own, yet always end up flying together in formation.
So basically you’ve got the V at the bottom of the logo, which represents the shape of the birds flying together. The V is breaking a circle, which is considered to be the “perfect shape”, perfection, which represents happiness, fulfillment… The V, which represents social pressure, is breaking this figure of perfection. And then you’ve got the 3 dots on top that represent us, because there are 3 of us. When we formed the band the number 3 just kept coming back.

-       -   Regarding the French Hardcore scene, in what way did you see it evolve since you started out as musicians?
We don’t really know. It’s kind of difficult to talk about a “scene”. We all know each other; there is no “established” structure or anything. We’re all simply friends. For example, if we want to play a show in Toulouse, Montpelier or Paris we know who to call. It’s a network but nothing structured, I don’t know if you can really call it a scene. It’s hard to define.

On the other hand, the reality is that we’ve got load of very good bands in France, you’ve seen proof of it tonight, bands that deserve to have at least the same level of exposure as us. The thing is though, is that French bands don’t tour. There are loads of bands that think that it’s not possible or are maybe not looking for the same thing as us when we first started touring. Travelling, even if that means sleeping on the floor every night… there are certain constraints that certain bands may not be ready to put up with. As a result there’s this sort of ambiguity between the quality of the bands and international recognition. There are few people that know French bands, and that’s basically where Throatruiner comes in and holds such an important spot, because he tries to put this “scene” in the foreground on an international level. That’s how a band such as As We Draw manages to sell records despite not touring that much. There’s the actual “hardcore scene”, we don’t know if it still exists anymore, but as to the post-hardcore, black metal scene etc.. There’s a huge uprising.

- People even tend to say that the post-hardcore scene is oversaturated
There’s a bit of that but really it doesn’t really matter that much. As long as there are good bands, every one brings something different to the table, future generations are going to have such a large panel of influences to base their sound on that I’m sure they’ll create super interesting things. It’s better to have too any bands that too few of them.

-       - Your album You, Me and the Violence was released 3 years ago. What is next in line for Birds in Row?
So we switched  bassist this summer, which led to a change of plans. We were supposed to release an album but we ended up recording an EP that should come out through Deathwish this summer or a little bit later maybe. We’re then going to release a series of splits with the intention of working with the people who’ve supported us all these years; small labels, bands we’ve toured with… People that were always there for us, even before Deathwish. It’s a way of showing our gratitude, in the same way that our album included a poster with people we met on tour, photos of friends that have always supported us. We don’t forget that before all of this there was Throatruiner, there was Alerta Antifacista and even Jeremy from Touche Amore that helped us out…
So we’re going to release these EP splits little by little to show our gratitude while we prepare for a new album.

-       - To close off this interview: could you name some of your favorite albums, movies and movies?
I’ve got a billion bands that I worship. For example, we just toured with Modern Life is War, one of the bands that got us playing hardcore in the first place. So we’ll say Witness by Modern Life is War.
Other than that there’s also You Fail me by Converge or also the latest album by As We Draw, Mirages, a monumental album.
You’ve also got the latest album by Plebeian Grandstand Lowgazer, an album we’ve been selling and selling over and over, telling people “you may not know this band but buy it, it’s the darkest, most brutal thing out there”.

The people we have as friends today are people we respected even beforehand as musicians in bands. So there’s this this sort of attachment to the album from that, like with You Fail Me by Converge. There’s also a special bond due to the fact that we remember our first show and our first tour with Converge, the fact that Jacob helped us out with Deathwish Inc. … We’re lucky to be able to mix our idols with our life as a band.

As far as films that floored us, you’ve got the Dallas Buyers Club for example. Otherwise there’s also Control and The Broken Circle Breakdown… mostly music-related films really.

In terms of books, we’ve lately decided to learn a bit more about everything related to anarchism. It’s a philosophy we happen to be very close to without really knowing it because we’re influenced by people who were anarchists. So lately we’ve been reading “The anthology of anarchism”, and it’s really interesting to learn about anarchism beyond the simple “A” symbols you find on backpacks.


-   - There’s that same sense of community, self-management…
Exactly, there’s this idea of freedom of thought, freedom of expression. For example, in France there’s been a huge debate about freedom of expression lately, and the debate was completely misled by people’s feelings; it wasn’t okay to attack Charlie Hebdo, yet somehow it was okay to say to people “if you’re not with Charlie, you should go die in the gutter”. These are the kind of interesting subjects that you find in anarchist philosophy. We don’t know enough about the subject yet, but we enjoy reading this book bit by bit. It makes us dig deeper on certain subjects, because our “scene” was actually founded on this philosophy. It’s not just about the music. It’s also an idea, and that idea gives meaning to the music, which allows us to be able to play a brutal song while at the same time making people cry because it speaks to them. Like for example during As We Draws’ set earlier tonight, we were crying on one of their songs because we see our friends that we’ve known for 14 years now. The things they’re talking about… that’s exactly what we’re going through, together. There’s something really powerful in this “scène” that we absolutely must not lose, and you can find that very same spirit in this book.

- We also get thrills when we listen to Birds in Row.
Why thank you very much! That’s one of the best compliments you can give to a band, especially when people say “I don’t know what it’s about, but it speaks to me” *laughs*. People have already told us that. A long time ago, way before these recent events, we played with a band from Nepal (note: the band was most likely Rai Ko Ris). The singer actually started crying while we were playing, right in front of us. Backstage we had a talk and she told us about the living conditions in Nepal. Punk is virtually inexistent over there, so they’re really on their own. There’s this sort of population isolation set up by the government; for example, people aren’t allowed to gather in the streets or else they get their face kicked-in by the police. When we asked her why she was crying during our set, she explained “it’s because we’re fighting this physical fight, but in your music we can feel this inner-struggle, which is so much tougher”. Right now with our current generation in the west, we don’t really have any struggles, we don’t have a third world war going on right now, we don’t have any “real” physical struggle to fight. In our western culture it’s about this inner-struggle for human liberation, a humanist struggle in a way that is in fact extremely violent. These reconsiderations question so many things that it’s oppressing and you can thus feel it in this kind of music, which is why this is one of the best compliments someone can make,  when people tell us “you blew my mind”, “seeing you play really struck a chord in me, I was floored”… It’s what’s most important.

-        -  Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us!
Thank you for the interview!

Interview by Robin Ono
Photos by Rémy Barbe

Once again thank you to Birds in Row, Matthias Jungbluth and the whole crew at Throatruiner fest, without which none of these interviews could have been possible!


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