Melbourne progressive Metal outfit Ne Obliviscaris will release their third full-length album Urn this Friday, with the support of an 1,100-strong Patreon membership. Clean vocalist and violinist Tim Charles opens up about the thought processes behind Urn and Ne Obliviscaris in general, telling us, “Essentially what we’ve done since the band first started was to continue to try and keep an open-minded approach to our song writing. And so we try to make sure there’s not any boundaries or barriers to what our music can sound like,” he muses. Charles chooses his words precisely, knowing his exact meaning as he speaks. “And as a result, there’s just been this natural progression in our sound because people come up with ideas that might be a little bit different, and then that just gets slowly added into what is considered acceptable to be part of Ne Obliviscaris’ sound, in an ongoing basis.
“After Portal of I, probably the biggest difference we had going into Citadel was just the increase in influence of Benji in the band, because he joined partway through writing Portal of I. He had a significant impact on the writing process for Citadel. I think that then this was the first album where we had basically the same people writing music as the album before. And it was just about, I guess expanding further what we were doing. We never really talk too much about it, we never try to think too much about how we want it to sound,” Charles points out. “It’s just challenging ourselves to keep pushing the limit of what we do. There’s a few things on the record that are a little bit different to Citadel in regards to the song writing. There’s some more use of string sections, and cellos, other things like that. There was a bit of a different approach to some of the vocal melodies, the clean vocals. But aside from that, I think the biggest difference from a listening perspective is probably in the production and the mixing, because that was a kind of conscious decision that we made to depart from the production and mixing style that we had on the first records, and make this a little bit less clean and clear, and we wanted to make it sound a bit heavier, a bit darker, but also really bring out those beautiful melodic and progressive moments, to sound a bit more organic instead of being so crystal-clear, as it had in the past.”
Urn is a complex album, and when it comes to the song writing and composition, Charles highlights that, “All the songs vary quite a bit. ‘Intra Venus’ for example was actually the first song where one member basically delivered it to the band almost complete, and that was actually Benji’s song, which only got added to the record a couple of weeks before we hit the studio, and that was something basically he’d been working on and hand-delivered it almost in its finished form, just without vocals and bass and solos and things like that. But in general we write in a very collaborative fashion. To contrast from the way that song was written, which is a bit of an outlier, a song like ‘Libera’ was originally about four minutes of music that Benji had written, which then got an acoustic section that Matt and I had been working on, the structure of the second half which is basically a re-working of some of the first half with some ideas that I had, so it was really this very collaborative approach. A lot of it is basically just people doing demos and sending it through to the rest of the band, and then whoever’s got ideas to add or change then sends them back through. Other times, when we’re on tour we try to write a bit.
“The song ‘Eyrie’ was mostly written on a day off in Dublin last October,” Charles reflects, “and that was something that Matt and I were just sitting down, Matt had a few ideas that we were working together for quite a lot of that day just putting together. And then from there we actually had most of the song written from a guitar riff, structural perspective in the one day while we were on tour in Europe, and then after that it was several months of fine-tuning basically all the way up until the time that the violins were recorded at the end of April. So just making sure that every bit was in its exact spot. But I generally feel that any Ne Obliviscaris song doesn’t really sound complete until it’s had that little bit of an impact from each member of the band, so we’re definitely a band that is better when we work together, the sum of our parts combining to create something special.”
Charles wears his gratitude for the support of the fans on his sleeve, particularly the members of the band’s ground-breaking Patreon, as a result of which, “Things have really changed in almost every way, because the reality for the band towards the end of 2015 was that we could see that we had a finite amount of money. Most of it had come from the world tour crowdfunding campaign in 2014. We’d started to make a bit of money on Australian tours, so that was helping to extend how long that money was lasting. But we knew that it wasn’t going to be there for too much longer, and we were all going broke. Everyone was getting fired from their day jobs because we were on tour all the time, and it’s not that easy to come home for maybe six weeks or eight weeks and to find work, and get paid enough money to be viable to then leave and go away on tour, and we weren’t earning enough money to actually pay ourselves while we were away on tour,” he explains frankly. “So you’d come home, scramble to find whatever work you could, and then leave and not get paid, so everyone’s savings were basically disappearing, we were racking up credit card debts, and it’s the story of a lot of bands, I guess, who are trying to break it in a big way internationally.
“Now, what the Patreon did,” he says with his tone brightening considerably, “was it had an immediate impact because we came back from the US, we launched it just before we finished our first US tour in March 2016, and the launch was such a success that we straight away went back to the US and did a headline tour in July that year. And the only reason we had the money to do that was because of the Patreon. So there was a significant and very real result there for our fans in North America, and to expand further on that, we then had a situation where we’d been offered a tour with Enslaved in Europe at the end of last year, which we were able to accept, and expand further where we added an extra couple of weeks of headline shows in Scandinavia and through the UK, and once again that was basically because of the Patreon money that we were able to do such a lengthy tour and play to as many different people as we were. And from where things are at now, it’s been really quite extraordinary,” he finishes with an audible smile.
For bands wanting to try a similar approach, Charles has some sage advice. “I think the most important thing is to invest in your fans with your time and your energy. One thing that we’ve done for more than a decade is spend an enormous amount of time trying to connect with our fans, whether it be on online Metal forums, or MySpace, or Facebook and now on Patreon. The fans really appreciate the attention to detail that is simply responding to them. It’s amazing how many times we get comments from fans being surprised that we actually respond to their comments or messages. You know, just in the last couple of days, we’ve had enormous amounts of people signing up to the Patreon with the excitement of the new record, and when people have been signing up I’ve been sending personalised messages to people welcoming them on board, and you get sometimes an enormously surprised response from the fan who didn’t really consider that you’d be talking one-on-one in that personal way with fans. So I think that’s a thing that our fans have responded to the most.”
Fittingly, Charles’ wrap-up focuses squarely on the fans. “Thank you everyone for all your amazing support. I hope you enjoy the new album Urn, and we’re really looking forward to catching up with everyone on tour in the near future.”