"I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
It only takes one band or one musician to lay the very foundations for a metal scene to flourish, in some countries it's touch and go, but for others? The process is long and arduous. Take the African country of Malawi for example, here is a country bordered by Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania, the first three have one thing in common - they have metal scenes. Tanzania like Malawi has yet to produce one, however it's musicians like Blessings Chisama who are laying the foundations of change. Through teaching aspiring guitarists, he hopes that others may follow in his footsteps whilst hoping to change this negative perception of the metal genre, that is just a form of music and has no Satanic connotations at all. Perhaps may one one day in the future we will see the first Malawian Metal band... for now we have Moto Buu a rock band.
GMA spoke to Blessings about how he got into playing the guitar, the challenges musicians face in Malawi - mostly hardly a solid music industry and what plans he has for the future in music.
How did you first get into metal music? Who are your favourite bands? What do your parents think?
"I started my music journey in a rather not so conventional fashion for most metal guitarists. My uncles have a reggae band, and I used to be around them whenever they were playing their old box guitars at home whilst growing up at my granny’s house. However, as time went by I began to be exposed to rock through the music mix programme on Voice of America, which was aired here at midnight through Capital FM Malawi. At that time, my youngest uncle used to like leaving the radio on throughout the night in the bedroom. At some point they started recording using Fluteloops and Sonar and it was around that time that I also started learning how to record although I only used to play bass with few fingers.
Throughout this time I’ve listened to a lot right across the spectrum, from Christian metal bands (that uncle Evance had on his desktop) such as Seventh Day Slumber, Krystal Meyer, Jeremy Camp, etc. to ‘real stuff’ to get your head banging, bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, Andy James, Dream Theatre, A Day To Remember, Animals As Leaders, Killswitch Engange, Stephen Taranto, The Helix Nebula, Periphery and lots more, with Andy James probably being one of my main influences on guitar because of his detailed instructional videos on guitar playing. In addition, anything shred, prog and djent has lately become my favourite!
I grew up mostly with my grandma which was the time when my uncles were all into music and when I moved to live with my mother; I had switched to hip-hop as it was easy to get tapes in my secondary school days. However, in 2008 I moved again to re-join one of my uncles (Peter Chisama) and that's where I started learning guitar. It was on the morning of 1st November 2008, two days after I moved to the house, when uncle Peter brought his Ibanez Guitar, a Roland amp and a photocopied book called “The Handbook for Guitar” by Ralph Denyer into my room when he was leaving for work.
He told me to start learning and ask him anything that am not understanding so the process was rather self learning. He also exposed me to the Famous Frank Gambale and gave me his pdf books and audio's which at that time I found very had to digest. As such I was left to explore without negative remarks and up until now I think it was the best thing to ever happen to me. However, I should say that mother doesn't really believe one can make a big fortune in the Malawian music scene and as such has been of the view that I should vigilantly pursue my education in something else other than music."
What is it like being a rock / metal musician in Malawi? What are the challenges you have to face?
"Rock music is not a popular genre to the masses and as such the fan base is extremely low. It's mostly comprised of the expatriate community and very few middle class Malawians who at some point had little exposure to pop rock music and video games, which is how I first heard the song “Hand Of Blood” by Bullet For My Valentine.
For me personally, it has been a journey I sometimes feel like giving up and thanks to the internet otherwise, I don't think Malawi is ready for it considering the religious stereotypes attached to it. I’ve however devised a different approach to buying in audience which at this level are fellow musicians within and I’ve incorporated element of music education and guitar learning in particular where I’m offering lessons and showing them that actually they can apply the same techniques into other styles of music. I'm a music major and that has been the path I’ve taken.
We don't have music stores that offer descent equipment so getting proper gear is problematic. Most so-called music shops are riddled with cheap and very poor quality instruments. I'm actually lucky that the equipment that I have been using was bought by my younger uncle from South Africa. I buy quality accessories like strings, music books, plectrums e.t.c. through the expat community based here for work coming in from their respective holidays.
What equipment are you using right now? What guitar, effects box, etc?
"My uncle has been kind to buy me the Boss GT 100 and an Ibanez GiO. My first owned guitar is an Aria STG series which I was given by someone I used to teach guitar who is now in the U.K. I’ve lately got the Cort X6 which I bought from an expat. And in additional I am exploring and investing in a couple of computer amp sims and impulses."
What is the general perception of rock and metal in Malawi? Are you aware of any rock or metal musicians in Tanzania?
"Metal music in Malawi is mostly considered a demonic music culture for the average masses and something difficult to achieve among Malawian musicians since music education is limited for many of the instrument musicians around. Adding to the problem is the lack of proper gear in most studios around. As such it is often times misunderstood and the knowledge of creation is almost non-existent.
I’m aware of a very strong metal community in Botswana and South Africa but I'm yet to come across metal music from Tanzania."
Will you look to release your own material in due course? Maybe form the first Malawian Metal band?
"Yes! But as a solo artist through platforms like Bandcamp. I’m yet to meet the right people to work with in a band setup so my performances for now are mostly through backing tracks whether be it my own recorded material or covers. So basically my computer is my band at the moment. I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
For metalheads visiting Lilongwe, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"I’m Blantyre based since birth so I haven’t heard much of Lilongwe in action with metal music except for the Moto Buu which sometimes perform at 4 Seasons. There’s a pop rock / 80's – 90's cover band in Blantyre called Rusty Nails which perform mostly within Blantyre and happens to be a band I’ve worked with in the past."
What plans do you have for the rest of 2020 and leading into 2021?
"Well, I lost my main job due to COVID-19 and I’ve gone to guitar teaching as my last point of standing financially to survive, so I'm back to studying licks and technique to become better."
Do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc.?
"Shout out to all the metalheads all over the world and to my uncles Evance and Benjamin Chisama for their support and inspiration. I'm also thankful for my late uncle Peter Chisama who gave me his guitar, amp and a book to learn from, he was a music genius that our family will leave to remember."
" 00110000 01111000 01100101 00111010 00100000 01101000 01101001 00100000 00110000 01111000 01100101 00111010 "
It goes without saying that metal music from time to time produces some strange bands, some weird bands and then some bands who are so different they stand in their own league, welcoming to that league is the American Djentcore band 001100110010. Yes you read that right, their name is in binary and if you specialise in this section of mathematics, you'll know it means 818 - still trying to ascertain what this means. Arguably if you crossed George Orwell with War of the Worlds and blended the two with V For Vendetta, in a music context this would equal 001100110010. Not much is known about this four-piece anomaly, let alone their anonymity behind the eloquent masks the 'phantoms' wear, one thing we do know is, they will certainly be destined for big things. Watch this space... 001100110010.exe
The band discuss their time on earth, how they're adjusting to human life and showing curiosity in the humans wearing half-masks, something to do with COVID-19... although they themselves don't know what this is. This is one mystery for the ages.
For those who have not heard of 001100110010 could you give us a brief history of the band, what the band name means (it's 818 in binary) and why the masks?
"We have not been here long, so our history here on earth is short. Since our arrival, most of us have spent time learning to communicate and interact with human forms. We are fascinated by all these auditory waves, and they do assist us in relaying and translating messages. Some of us are better at our communication skills due to our design. The communication channel we have among our form does inject interference and doesn’t always allow for effective translation when it comes to talking to humans.
As a result, we tend to isolate and study ways to adapt. The binary numbers here on earth are fascinating and do have ties to our origin. Converting to decimal is one way to interpret these, but not the only way. The answer is an innate quality we received and, therefore, kept private. However, you are welcome to speculate. We also must mention that it is interesting to see humans wearing partial “masks” now. Do humans use these as shielding between their internal binary design and another world? We don’t quite understand…"
What is the message that the band is bringing to the fore; getting V For Vendetta / 1984 vibes from the lyrics, what are your lyric topics?
"We are interdimensional travellers who've come to share the stories from our world. You'll see the struggle and hardships endured, battles won, and lost over time because meaningful change is painful and can be difficult, and many fear it. We feel there is much to be gleaned from our reality, and we share these stories the best way we know how, through music."
You released your music video "Digital Dictator" back in January this year, what was the reception like and how long did it take to make?
"Yes, we did. In a way, the process felt strange. We aren’t used to being encoded in such a way. The reception... Hmmm, it was quite long actually, and I suppose in a way it was a marriage. I don’t think any of us were aware that this was ceremonial to humans."
You play a finely balanced mix of Djent and Metalcore (Djentcore), who are your influences and do you feel that you've created a new genre?
"Well, thank you! We honestly have no idea where that name came from. When it was encoded and transmitted in binary, the result that came back from the query specified that. We think that these labels and descriptions are odd, but humans seem to understand the meaning better than we do. Influences are a strange word for a phantom to understand. It was encoded into our identity."
Given the masks are a cool idea, will this be a form of merch for fans to buy in the future? What merch plans do you have for the future?
"Again, the word “mask” seems like a strange description for us as phantoms, they are a part of our identity and need it to survive outside of our world. Very odd that humans would want to buy such a thing, but perhaps we may. We do need money to travel the earth with this diesel hungry bus we have. The transport systems here are terrible, and the use of earth’s natural resources to do so shouldn’t be utilized forever. Thank goodness you have Elon Musk here."
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, what plans did you have postponed or cancelled? What plans do you have for late 2020 / early 2021?
"What’s COVID-19? Forgive us; we are not sure what this is. We will try to establish a connection to interpret. Our database has had interference lately, and a diagnosis is still underway."
For metalheads visiting Minneapolis, what sights / attractions could you recommend and what bars / venues?
"Metalheads. We did see these people in our databases and in person but are quite confused. They didn’t have any metallic minerals on their head at all. We did a scan for these, and from what we computed, it has the characteristics of a coconut. Overall, Minneapolis, MN, Earth is intriguing to us, but we haven’t had much time to go out; therefore, we cannot provide a recommendation."
Do you have any hellos or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc?
" 00110000 01111000 01100101 00111010 00100000 01101000 01101001 00100000 00110000 01111000 01100101 00111010 "
"[Melbourne is] definitely the best metal scene in Australia... lots of bands from Brisbane, Adelaide and other cities go to great pains to get to Melbourne to do shows"
They may have only been going a couple of years, but arguably Australia's Ironstone have so far had a really good run - supporting Rhapsody at a small festival, lining up their debut EP at the end of May, gathering fans from Europe, joining up with arguably Australia's finest PR in Black Roos and all at the average age of 20; Dan being the oldest at 22... they are destined to go far with their work ethic and attitude. Watch this space. To fill in the details, lead vocalist Dan Charlton and lead guitarist / vocalist Edward Warren spoke with GMA about said achievements, the Melbourne Metal scene, how they got their unique name and how Lewis Capaldi has had an impact on Dan Charlton.
Don't worry we know this is an interrogation, we didn't spit roast them on a BBQ on the beach... instead we inoculated them with Fosters... good call!
Hi guys could you tell us how Ironstone came about and what the band name means?
"It started quite a long time ago. It was initially a cover band with a couple of mates and I. We were just young kids. We played gigs in pubs; played AC/DC and all the classics and it developed over time until we started writing original music and creating our own sound. It came to a point where we wanted to take it more seriously and really define ourselves as original artists and not just be a cover band.
The singer at the time lived on ‘Ironstone Road’. We just liked the sound of that. We discussed the name and thought we’d leave out the ‘road’ part because it sounded a bit ‘country’. But we really liked ‘Ironstone’ because it's nice and ambiguous. It can mean anything in terms of genre and creative freedom and it sounds pretty cool too, so we just went with that."
Nowadays it's even harder coming up with band names due to names already in use or having to be changed due to legal reasons.
"Yeah one of the criteria of the name was that we could get the web address and social media handles, because some bands pick a really cool name then because a lot of people already have it they have to put 'official' or something after it, blurring the lines between who is actually this band or that band. So we were really fortunate with our name."
Now you've got your EP 'Prophecy' coming out on 29th May, are you doing at-home promotion for it? Would you release it on vinyl and CD?
"Yeah we're just plugging away with our social media, trying to keep as active as we can, which is important because of self-isolation. We're doing everything we can... including PR to help with international coverage which obviously leads to interviews and reviews. We think this is a weird time to be releasing, but might be slightly advantageous because more people are on the internet and the industry is pretty quiet at the moment.
Oh yes we want to release it on vinyl so badly. I love vinyl. If I had a CD right now and you said I'll give you $100 to play it, I would be pressed to find something to play it on.”
"The good thing about vinyl is that it's really coming back, CD's are not going out but a lot of the new cars don't have CD players any more. Everything is online now with Spotify where you can instantly play music, but I guess people some people still want to go analogue, old-school."
With the EP, have you got a favourite track that stands out for you?
"Well the thing is that we generally love all the songs so much. 2 weeks before the EP we will be dropping our new single and music video 'Downpour'. The video was shot just before all of the closures and was edited during lockdown. It's very thematic and has this kind of Middle Eastern, South-East Asian sort of flavour, it's really very exotic and spicy."
How long did it take you to write, record and finalise the EP?
"Half of the songs were written 12 or more months ago, the other half in the last six months since Dan joined the band and started writing with us. The drums, guitars and bass were tracked very quickly…in less than a week. Jack our drummer then sorted the stems out and got everything organised. Start to finish it was no more than a month I think. The whole process gave us confidence and experience that enabled us to push forward.”
"Vocals took the longest, vocals took about 3 weeks or so and then once we had it done we sent it through and had it mixed and mastered by Chris Themelco at Monolith Studios; absolute legend, who managed to do it so quickly. The first revision was almost perfect, apart from tiny nit-picky stuff. It was good as well because Chris really liked the songs and is a big fan of ours. We were rapt about that because we have so much respect for the guy. He is very highly respected here."
Would you therefore say that's the direction metal is heading, by tapping into other flavours to expand?
"I think it's heading in that direction, there will always be old-school, kind of more pure traditional metal, but I think for bands who are trying to be more progressive and cover ground in thinking, it's going to become more prevalent in exploring different cultural influences, scales, etc., I know there's a lot of Japanese scales, Middle Eastern scales that have already been explored. You could get into Bulgarian scales, Slavic scales, there is so much you can do musically because every single culture has a different slant on the scale of music.
It's inevitable that the progression will lead to change, making it something different."
"I think it's also the younger generation. Old-school metal in the 70's and 80's is a lot different to the metal in the 90's and early 2000's. Metal has has changed over the years in the same way other genres like pop have changed."
Outside of metal music, do you take influences from elsewhere?
"Oh for me even though I listen to metal, I'll also be listening to pop music - a lot of the chart stuff, I'm a massive fan of Lewis Capaldi's voice, specifically the tone of his voice which has brought a lot of inspiration to my vocal technique.
Our sound is like what Eddie says. You can show it to your friends who are really into technical metal and they get into the riffs, but then you can also show it to your parents and they'll be like 'Oh that's a nice song, I like that, that's catchy'. That's definitely not something to be afraid of, being commercial. I think it's a great thing; not aiming for super-duper niche, I just want people to listen and enjoy the music."
"You've got the case where a lot of Progressive Metal bands have really clean beautiful male vocals and then really brutal screams. Dan’s vocal style is kind of like a rock 'n' roll, grungy, really emotional voice over Prog which is something that gives us a particular sound that's really unique and kind of hard to place.
I do love movie soundtracks and stuff like that, people like Hans Zimmer for example, orchestral music, ambient stuff... I really get chills when I listen to stuff from soundtracks and video games; such as Battlefield.
Our drummer Jack used to make trap music, he used to make a lot of dubstep and stuff like that so that's crept its way into the band. I definitely appreciate dubstep for build up and suspense. I guess Prog Metal is kind of dubstep played with guitars, you kind of build it up percussively.
I think our music has a particular musicality and palatability at the same time. I love screams and complicated, percussive feels and breakdowns... whereas Dan's got a real mind for pop and structured melodies. When you combine the two, you get this sort of strange blend. You potentially get people who are normally into Meshuggah and Periphery style of music clashing against pop-influence metal."
Is learning music and music instruments encouraged by schools / colleges in Australia?
"I'd say so as much as anywhere else really, there's always school bands, school programs. There's always this constant reminder that it's an option or a path for you to go down, which I think is a really good thing."
Before now have you had any fans contact you from outside of Australia?
"Yeah we get messages on Instagram all the time. Since we started promoting the release internationally we’re suddenly getting fans from places like Latvia, Romania, you know all these places that we haven't considered as potential fan bases. It just makes us realise how big the world is.“
"Yeah we've got quite a few messages either personally or through the band page just saying that they found us over Instagram or YouTube, saying that they really like us and they want want to support us in any way in they can."
What is the Melbourne Metal scene like in general?
"Generally it's really good, it's definitely the best metal scene in Australia and there are a lot of bands from Brisbane, Adelaide and the other cities who go to great pains to get to Melbourne to do shows and gigs. We've been fortunate enough to play some really fantastic shows in Melbourne, so I'd say the scene is great. Unfortunately with the coronavirus everything has shut down, but I'm sure it will all wake up once this is over.
It's going to be a big deal as there's a lot of bands, not just in Australia but all over the world withholding releases and so when this is all over it's going to be insane."
Dan: "It's gonna be huge when it bounces back."
For metalheads visiting Melbourne, bars / venues and festivals could you recommend?
"That's kind of tricky because we actually live in Bendigo which is a 2 hour drive away from Melbourne, so we don't actually live in Melbourne.
Dan knows more about the venues than me. I've only just turned 18 and so I haven’t attended many things as a punter. Dan is 21 so he’s been to a lot of festivals and gigs."
"Venue wise there’s Festival Hall which has had a lot of really big acts play there. That’s personally one of my biggest goals… to play there, it's so iconic.
Another place I do like is Max Watts, it's like this kind of underground metal heaven really... it's just crazy and amazing, playing there was one of the best things ever. We supported Rhapsody there at the Southern Gathering festival which was awesome.
Aside from Download, there's a new festival that's just come out called 'Good Things' which is more towards Punk music, but over the past couple of years it's gotten heavier and had Parkway Drive headline last year; I went to that and it was absolutely phenomenal; there are some really good musicians.
[Edward chips in with Unified] Ahh! Unified is an awesome metal festival, alongside Download and Good Things, they are probably the 3 biggest metal festivals."
What are some of the everyday challenges that metal bands in Australia have to face?
"Certainly the biggest challenge musically would be trying to become well known, it's quite hard with music let alone being an Australian metal band."
"The thing is also we've got a country that's very large, something like 13 times the size of Germany and has a very sparse population. So if 1% of the population likes the music then out of the world's population that's like 709 million people, but with only 24 million in Australia it's considerably less with people being spread out. Plus it's hot so no one wants to do anything. It's just difficult trying to get that foothold and finding good bands to do shows with, finding a band that's within the niche Prog Metal / Djent, that sort of genre which is what we're going for.
The financial aspect also is there, if you're in Europe you'd play a gig and then could just pop through France. But we have to drive 10 hours and we've nearly reached Sydney! The distances here are vast. But we're really lucky, we live not far from Melbourne and it takes about 2 hours to get there for a gig"
What plans do you have for the back end of 2020 and going into 2021? Were any postponed?
"I think the ultimate goal from whatever means necessary is to do a UK / Europe tour (and to get our music out there). We just want this lockdown to end and for this thing to be over... we just want to do gigs."
"Yeah just play as much as possible in Melbourne, might travel up to Sydney and maybe Adelaide, but for now just want to focus on Melbourne and build on our following."
Have you got any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to fans, friends and family?
"Thanks to all our fans for sticking by us at the start, and to all of the new fans that come after 29th May, and to the stadium full of people (laughs)."
"Thank you to the families for supporting us, the band members for always being consistent. We've got a unique case where all of the band members (except Dan) go to school together so we're already absolutely best friends. Then we've got Dan who may as well be my older brother; comes to my house all the time, stuff like that. Great people we work with like Chris Themelco and Michael Lueders from Black Roos Entertainment who make our life just so much easier. Thanks to everyone who helps us out and supports us."
"Prophecy" is out 29th May via an Independent Release