On a chilly night in Glasgow (-2 degrees Celsius), the Fear Factory circus pulled into town. Part of the cavalcade was Once Human, a project formed partly by Machine Head co-founder and now predominantly producer Logan Mader (it rhymes with Vader, BTW). Armed with a chilled beer from the tour bus fridge (well, Budweiser, but close) we enjoyed a very pleasant chat with a guy who’s been through all ends of the music business…
You’re part of the core duo of Once Human alongside Lauren Hart, an Australian singer/guitarist. Where’s she from and how did she find herself in the Bay Area?
She’s actually spent half her life in Australia – Sydney – but she was born in America. She’s a US resident, but she’s more Australian than American. She considers Australia “home” more than America.
Once Human is a young band – just over a year old?
Yeah, May 1st 2014.
And unusually for some people, Lauren us the focus of the band rather than yourself – the member with the longest history and who’s much better known.
She’s the reason the band started, yeah. Monty Conner from Nuclear Blast is a friend of mine. He used to be with Roadrunner and signed Slipknot, Machine Head… a legendary A&R guy. He was at Roadrunner for twenty years. He’s as Nuclear Blast in America now. He hit me up one day and sent me a clip of Lauren playing guitar – some metal riffs. He asked if I might be interested in doing a production deal and forming a band around her. As a producer I’ve done some development projects where I’ve taken a singer, co-written songs with them, produced masters and then help them put a band together and get them signed. I’ve had a few signed to labels and Monty is one of the people who signed one of those projects. He said I was the first person he thought of to send the recording to and I’m glad that he did!
What was it that grabbed you about Lauren and dragged you back into the live environment after a decade?
For ten years I had been quite comfortable thinking I wouldn’t play in a band again ever. I was happy doing my producer and composer thing. But in 2013 at the Golden God awards in LA, Ivan Moody from Five Finger Death Punch came up to me out of the blue. I worked on their first album and met him a long time before that. He said “I want to do a side project with you.” With me on guitar and him singing. I thought about it for a couple of days and it seemed like a pretty cool opportunity so I said yes. I started writing some music, but he was on the double album tour cycle that lasted over two years.
He was busy but we’d communicate by email. I’d write music and he brought John Moyer, the bass player from Disturbed into the project. I did some writing with him which was fun. But when it really came to Ivan making time for recording, it just never happened as he was a bit over-committed. He may have time some day, but FFDP are so busy and he has a big family. He actually booked a flight and a hotel at one point – it was that close! – but at the last minute there was a family emergency that he had to tend to.
After a few months we decided that it was a little unrealistic at the moment, but no hard feelings. It wasn’t a waste of time because we wrote some good music. One of the songs got rewritten for Butcher Babies. More importantly, it inspired me to play again. I was like “fuck, I was ready to go!”. That’s right when I met Lauren. I’m not going to stop producing – I don’t want to – but it’s really good fun to be out playing again and I’m glad I decided to do it.
When Lauren and I started writing music together we had immediate chemistry. I really liked what we were doing right from the start. She asked me to play in the band and at first I was reluctant, then I said I’d play bass… maybe I thought it was just easy to play bass, but it didn’t feel write. So I picked up a guitar and it just felt right. It’s a passion project. I really love the music we’re doing, that I can play again, that we’re on tour with bands like Fear Factory. We did twenty dates with them in America before this and tomorrow will be twenty-three across Europe and the UK.
We’ve had a great response so far and the band we’ve put together has been awesome. It feels good!
There’s quite an international feel to the band. You’re Canadian yourself?
I was born in Canada, but my parents are American. I’m pretty much American but I do have Canadian citizenship.
Handy in case anything goes wrong and you need to run over the border.
Shit’s about to go wrong, let me tell you! I’ve thought about it! I also love Australia, too. That was my favourite place to tour when I was with Machine Head. I toured thirty-three countries with that band and when we got to Australia it was just amazing. The cities and the people…
You have a Frenchman in the band as well.
Yeah, but he’s cool!
Dylan and Skylar are both from the US?
Dylan’s from the desert in Southern California. Skylar’s from down south – North Carolina when we met him. We played in his home town of Wilmington with Fear Factory recently.
So how did the bunch of you get together?
Well, Lauren was introduced. Damien I’ve known for maybe five years already. He moved from France to work with me in my studio. Sort of an apprentice who turned into an assistant, then a freelance engineer and mixer. He’s also a really talented drummer and bass player. When it came to putting this band together he was an obvious choice. He worked on the new Fear Factory record, actually.
I saw the video where he was “interviewed” by Dino with the interesting subtitles.
Lauren did that! It was great! He’s speaking English but we put in subtitles that don’t make any sense at all!
There’s lot of talent in the band. Lauren sings, plays guitar, also keyboard?
Yeah, she plays piano and she’s an amazing writer. Damien did keys and drum programming on Genexus, and some engineering.
Lauren also has this great growling vocal style that I didn’t know when Monty sent me the demo. When she told me that I just knew she was going to be lead vocalist. Her voice is amazing. She taught herself how to do it when she was younger. She was hanging with a band when she was younger – in California – and they wouldn’t let her join in with them because she was a girl. But one time they let her sing and she taught herself how to scream and growl. She’s worked on her voice a lot with voice and acting coaches. She does it in a way that doesn’t hurt her throat – she can do it every night. It’s a very guttural / diaphragm kind of scream but she really warms up a lot before every show.
She’s never performed before Once Human. Our first show was her first time on stage – the first Fear Factory gig in America! It was amazing, a great milestone for the band. I knew she had it in her, I have a good intuition for this kind of thing but it’s not an easy thing to do. She just killed it. It was Flagstaff, Arizona and the place erupted into one huge moshpit. When we walked off stage, the crowd were chanting our name and I was thinking “What?! They’ve never even heard us before!”
It was a week or two before the album came out. The only thing out was the lyric video for “Life I Remember”. Maybe the video for “You Cunt” as well, I can’t remember.
You’ve been through this whole process before twenty years ago – starting a band off, getting signed, those first tours… How does it compare now to then from an industry point of view?
It’s a million percent different. It’s not easy. It’s never been easy – I guess you need a lot of luck and good timing and talent. But today compared to fifteen years ago, it’s very difficult to consider starting a new band, especially in the genre we’re in, to become successful or even sustainable. But that doesn’t stop me. I’m a bit of a gambler and I believe in this project. It’s all about live performance. You’re not going to sell a lot of CDs, no-one is unless you’re Adele [Who? Mosh]. It’s all about building a fan base through touring, social media interaction…
For me, though, I have an advantage over other new bands because of my history, contacts and experience. Also, my life doesn’t depend on this band to there’s less pressure. I don’t care about being famous. I have other income streams through production work. I’m our own band’s producer which saves money when we’re making a record. So it’s all about having fun. Little by little it’s growing and the crowd response on the tour so far has been amazing. It feels good.
A question we ask a lot of bands, and I think what you’ve said just now will come into your answer, is: if you met a young band just starting out, say like you were when Machine Head was forming, what advice would you give them?
I guess – be diversified. If you want it bad enough you’re going to do what it takes to make it happen. No-one’s going to make it for you. You have to do it yourself. Persistence, self-belief and hard work. You really have to get out there and prove yourself. A label won’t invest in a new band without them having some kind of track record.
Do you think labels are still important these days? A lot of bands are going it alone with Pledge campaigns and so on.
Yeah, they still have a lot of influence. There are some labels that offer stability and good marketing – the kind of connections that you might not have. They don’t have a monopoly on the marketing of who gets to be famous like they used to. That control has gone. It’s only a couple of clicks now for people to find something new to listen to. Kids aren’t force-fed who’s cool and who’s not cool any more.
What’s the stand-out moment on the tour been for you?
Since the first date we’ve been doing a Machine Head cover each night, and that’s been a special moment for me. Playing “Davidian” every night is really fun – nostalgic. And it gets these kids into a fucking frenzy every night!
The other thing is watching my bandmates. They’ve never toured Europe before. It’s an exciting adventure for them. It’s nice to share that.
That first tour for you would have been with Slayer?
Yeah, it was incredible. We couldn’t believe that album was so instantly popular. People knew our music. We were playing to actual fans. That’s the kind of shit that just doesn’t happen.