by David Feltman
For 17 years, Spoken has never been happy standing still. The Arkansas quartet has transitioned through multiple sub-genres in their career, from rap metal, nu-metal, hard rock, post-hardcore, metalcore, etc. At this point it seems trivial to try to classify their current incarnation because it contains a little of everything that came before (except for the rap) and it’s sure to shift again. The only constant is the band’s trend toward an ever heavier and more polished sound.
After four years and losing their label, the band’s new album, Illusion, looked like it might be true to its name. But the band’s tenacity and utilization of the crowd-funding site, Kickstarter made their seventh album a reality. The album was worth the wait.
Illusion mingles the melodic with the heavy and hardcore. Arena-sized post-hardcore tunes like “Remember the Day” sit side by side with the fast and heavy baying of metalcore numbers like “Beneath the Surface.” Even the heaviest songs on the album frequently oscillate between hard and soft. There are definite themes of resurrection on Illusion that speak volumes. This is a new beginning for Spoken.
Despite a hectic tour schedule, vocalist Matt Baird, bassist Ryan Pei and drummer Oliver Crumpton found some time to talk to us about making their new album and what it takes to hold a band together when times get tough.
Between the butterfly cover art and the phoenix imagery on “Through It All” there seems to be a sort of “new life” motif on this album, what inspired that?
Crumpton: We took so much time writing and recording this album. It was like a “rebirthing” process. We feel like we’re almost introducing a new band at this point. It has also been so long since we have had an album out, that releasing this record is like new life to the band.
Why did this record take so long and how did you stay motivated during such a long hiatus?
Pei: Even though we may have took a long break between records, we definitely did not take a break from staying busy and consistently being on the road. This record took longer to come together because we we’re in a place after the last record had come out to make a choice about what we wanted to do. The consensus was that we wanted to make a record that would change the face of Spoken and start a reinvention of this band. We wanted to make sure we had the best new set of songs we could possibly offer to people at this time.
Also, being in four different states and still trying to maintain a consistent tour schedule didn’t help. Our motivation is always to stay busy and tour as much as possible to make your band known to new people and keep that foundation of fans knowing you are still going.
Considering the fact that you guys live in different states, what kind of obstacles do you have to face when recording?
Crumpton: You know, it works for us. It’s all we know really. We don’t get to sit in a room and jam out ideas. We have to record ideas on our own and send them to the others for their input. We’ve gotten used to this process though, and it really let’s us evaluate the ideas and mold them into what they need to be.
Your sound has consistently changed, for the better I think, what drives you to keep tinkering with your approach?
Baird: There are a few different reasons really. As a band you’re supposed to always be growing as musicians individually and as a band. We have teamed up with some great producers over the yeas who have taught us a ton about songwriting. Also, with each new person that has come along in the band, it has brought something new to the chemistry of Spoken.
What drew you to try out Kickstarter?
Pei: When we were in the early stages of making this record we were in the position of not being signed to any label and didn’t really know where our future was going to be. Our only option at that moment was to finish the record on our own and put it out and go from there. Kickstarter was brought up to be able to raise the support we needed to do this record.
You guys had some pretty interesting perks for your Kickstarter investors, do you regret any of them?
Pei: I think we strategically chose packages that we knew would be special to people if they decided to get them but also not a completely headache to fulfill on our end. Our biggest package included going not the road with us for a few days on a tour, and I would say that had the most potential to be a complete disaster because who knows who that could have been. But in the end, the person that got it ended being a cool dude so it worked out.
When you first started out, how did you guys build your reputation locally? What advise would you give other bands looking to make it in this business?
Baird: When we first started out, we would play anywhere and everywhere. Much like we do now. We’ve never only given half effort on a show. We play to 20 people the same way we would play to 2,000. It’s all or nothing. My advice to other bands would be, don’t take your talent for granted. Don’t always assume you have talent. Never act like you deserve something. We’re all just truly lucky to be able to play music. Make the best of it.