An interview with Raul Bianchi from The Expendables
The Expendables are a metal-rock, surf, punk-reggae band that has been taking the reggae-rock scene by storm with their unyielding energy, and wicked shows! Though they just completed their Winter Blackout Tour with Seedless and Stick Figure, The Expendables took some time to talk with Top Shelf Reggae about a new album, current music, and how the band has progressed in their own style of music. Read on to find out what Raul, lead-guitarist of The Expendables, had to tell us about their musical insight!
After the Winter Blackout Tour, what have you been up to?
We've been doing some work on our new album, and been on the road for about a week. That's what we're doing.. for about a couple weeks, and then we fly to Hawaii.
So tell us about your latest album Gone Soft.
Gone Soft was our most recent release. We did it ourselves independently. We didn't go through our label. The new one, we finally settled on a name for, but I don't think we've announced it yet, so I don't think I can say the name of it, should be coming out in the next few months, like by August/September.
Will the new album be a blend of reggae and rock, or will it be split up as rumored?
It's still blended. We haven't even decided. We recorded about 20 songs and we haven't even decided what's going to make it on the album. There are a lot of different styles on there. There's sort of jazzy, clean stuff. There's some heavy rock stuff. There's some straight reggae stuff. There's a lot of different ska stuff. We've got some horns on the album. There's a lot of really cool stuff on this album.
What are your thoughts on the reggae scene in general?
For us, we look at reggae just like any other form of music in the sense that it's just a heavy influence on us and, you know, we try to incorporate lots of different styles in our music, and obviously the reggae scene itself is very popular right now- more so than I think the rock-reggae scene. The straight reggae scene has really sort of taken off. (It) had resurgence in the last few years, which is great. For us, the driving bass, the kick drum and reggae beats, we really love that kind of music and try to incorporate it and mix it with our rock stuff as much as possible.
Speaking of independent music, what are your thoughts about producing music nowadays? Any advice to the independent up-and-comers?
I mean, we recently just started putting our own studio together in a warehouse that we rent, and we've been practicing and rehearsing in that for a couple years now. So, we finally started getting our recording gear, and financially, it was a really smart move because we have so much more free time and discretion on when we want to record, and how long we want to record for. So, it's great. So, any band that's coming out, I recommend investing in some recording gear, whether it's just simple Pro Tools rig, and some microphones so you can start recording and get used to recording so that you can record as much as possible and feel comfortable with it, because, for us, we've always been a live band. (We) never really felt comfortable in the recording studio, but now, having bought our own equipment, it's made it a lot easier for us to feel comfortable recording and it's been very beneficial for us financially too.
So now we have a question from one of your fans. He asks, "How you keep going and what keeps you guys motivated?"
I mean… this is all we know. You know, we really have nothing else, so basically this is our job - this is our career, and we want to see it succeed. So, we work hard just in that sense to try to always constantly strive as musicians, and as people, to write better music and become better musicians. In terms of just our career and just what we do, we motivate ourselves to keep going and writing different material because we're musicians that write about our own experiences and our own life. That's what we write about (because) it's always in front of us. So, the topics that we write about will change over time, but always going to be there to influence us and keep us, hopefully, creative.
So, you would also say a strong work ethic?
Absolutely. I think a lot of bands need that, and (for) some of them, it's missing from them. You know, you can kind of just become static and ‘oh, we're already playing music, (so) we don't need to get better as either musicians or songwriters'. There's so much out there with music to learn no matter who you are… a lot of bands lose sight of that and they need to realize that you should always be learning, whether it's just to be a better songwriter or a better musician.
What is your perception of rock music in the 90's versus what's currently out there now?
I think back then, a lot of the music was a lot more polished, a lot more radio-friendly, sort of geared towards album sales, and charting, and radio music. Nowadays, music that's out there is a lot, at least from our standpoint, more raw. And because there are so many independent bands out there, there are a lot of bands doing their own thing, and not trying to follow such a formula to be "radio success" because that's not even really a thing anymore. Mainstream radio and MTV don't really exist for younger musicians and bands that aren't sort of on the radar for major labels and stuff like that.
What genre do you guys consider yourself as?
I think we've always sort of been more underground in terms of our fan base and we haven't really had any mainstream success in any way, so I think it's sort of modern, independent, do-it-yourself. Not following that old model of trying to do a demo and getting on a record label and do MTV. I would say that we're more kind of do-it-yourself, underground, reggae-rock scene that's kind of blown up over the last few years.
What do you think about the current reggae-rock scene and what's popular now with the genre and crowd?
Well, I think there's a lot of great bands out there, but the only one problem with that is a lot of bands that achieve success, like Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution, and Iration…bands like that, what happens is when those bands gain popularity, then they have younger bands that look up to them that try to emulate them. And when they play their music, then you get all these bands that sort of sound like copycat bands and try to sound like the other bands. And, they don't look past the band that they love to see their influences! They just see the band that they love, and they creatively are not doing anything new. I think, for a lot of young bands, they need to realize that if you love a band and it's in this genre, that's great, but really try to look past the band that you love, and see who's influenced them all the way back to the early reggae artists or rock artists, or hip hop, or anybody, and see what they were listening to, to create the music that you love so much. Otherwise, you're probably going to have a harder time creating an original sound, because most music has been done before. You know, it's all about trying to put your own spin on it (nowadays.)
What about worldwide? I mean, I'm sure you're familiar with SOJA, and they're pretty global - even Alborosie. It looks like reggae-rock is trying to get to that point, and SOJA seems like the one who's trying to actually push it to that global scale. How do you feel about that global scene? Has the band ever thought about that scale as well?
I mean we've definitely played internationally, and I think that’s the great thing about reggae, and for artists like SOJA and Rebelution, and bands like that, that have gone out that have done a lot of stuff across the world. Reggae, to me, is something that I think can be sort of like a common language and it is very easily understood by people all throughout the world. I think the reggae-rock scene in itself is a little bit harder to sell. I know when we went to Germany, they were just: ‘We don't understand you. You know, you guys are mixing reggae and rock. Oh, we know who you are- you're the band that can't decide whether they want to be Iron Maiden or Bob Marley.’ And I think, for us, that market is out there, but it's a little bit harder of a sell initially. We would love to play everywhere in the world, you know, for us, that would be a dream! We haven't done too much internationally, but we'd love to keep doing it. But yeah, I think, for us, it'd be a little bit harder to sell.
So, any chance of going strictly reggae?
No, I think for us, you know, we look at reggae as an influence, not our identity, and we look at heavy rock and metal and other music like that not as our identity, but as another influence- Blues, surf and jazz. So, for us, we've said this years ago that we have what we call musical ADD, and I don't think us, as musicians, really could stick with just one sound. And that's one thing we always say! You know- we're not great at one type of music. We're just good at a lot of different ones. So, for us, it's always fun to kind of mix different styles, so I don't think we'd ever want to just go one direction because, for us, that's just not who we are.
So, the rumors of you possibly just doing a reggae album would be false?
Yeah. It would be fun one day. We've talked different times about, you know, doing reggae versions of our rock songs and rock versions of our reggae songs, or even doing a split album of ourselves, but as of now, we haven't had any concrete plans to do anything like that.
It seems like what you guys are doing is working great. I mean, like you said, your music is your identity. Plus, that's why your fans love you.
How did the Winter Blackout tour go?
It was great, with the exception of the weather, which was disastrous- it was really bad! The worst winter tour any of us on that whole tour had ever done. But it was great because, Stick Figure and Seedless were great bands to have on that tour, and it was really successful for us, and we had a really good time! And yeah, it was a really fun tour- just very cold, icy, slushy, snowy, blizzard!
Definitely a winter blackout, then?
Yeah, it was definitely a winter blackout. By far the worst road conditions too!
I guess that’s why they call them whiteouts too!
Yeah - the whiteouts, and then the alcoholic blackouts!
Anything you would want to say to your fans right now?
Be patient! Our new album is almost finished. We're in the halfway point of mixing, and it should be out in the Fall. So, thank you so much for coming out to our shows and buying our albums and our merchandise, and we hope to get some new music out to you soon!