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Darker Half's Steven "Vo" Simpson: "…you go into a bar and talk with someone who lived before 'the event', while most write him off as crazy or paranoid but there's a ring of truth to his warning that he's seen this all before."

Interview with Steven "Vo" Simpson & Dom Simpson from Darker Half
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 20 March 2020, 2:06 PM

With all the things going on worldwide, one cannot ignore that things are still going forward in terms of musical releases. The more interesting thing is that around the world, bands are still trying to get to the center mass, which is Europe. Darker Half, from Australia, recently signed with the German Massacre Records for the release of their new album, "If You Only Knew", taking a path into a darker future of music. Steinmetal had a chance to talk with the Simpsons, Steven and Dom, about the new album, the new taken approach into Europe, musical progress and more…

Greetings guys, it is great to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how has life been treating you mate? I guess that a lot of things happening concerning Darker Half that keeps on edge?

Vo: Hi Man, Thanks for having me for the interview! Overall life's been good. Yeah, we've been really busy the last couple of months getting everything in place for the Album release for "If You Only Knew" and our upcoming (now postponed unfortunately) tour of Europe with Geoff Tate. We were comparatively quiet last year so it's been a pretty hectic!

After largely being an independent band, since your inception, Darker Half made an important move in its career, and got itself into Europe, starting by signing with the German label, Massacre Records. Well, that is quite a strategic step. Did it feel that it was the right time to do so?

Dom: I think being from Australia It was an especially important step when you consider that type of metal we play is consumed by just as many folks who prefer to buy physical releases than a digital download and who still discover new band through mediums other than Facebook, Instagram or streaming services. Of course those platforms are just as important for us as any other band in the modern era but having a European based label is like having a person on the ground for us. We've seen the opportunities that touring in Europe has brought us. Now we need that person on the ground to continue to spread the word.

Vo: pretty much what Dom said, no matter how much things move online, you can't do it all yourself and need people who understand how things work locally.

What influenced you guys to go along with it? Any connection to you being the vocalist of Night Legion, which are already part of Massacre Records roster?

Vo: Not in the beginning, Massacre was always on our radar, having Night Legion there too was a consideration, but I didn't want to go in expecting a deal because of that. A big reason is having signed a few Australian bands in the past, they have an idea of the different difficulties we face being based so far away, which really helps in planning. So far it's been a great relationship and it can only get better from here. I'm really stoked with the work they've done for us.

Through Massacre Records, Darker Half is about to release its fourth album, “If You Only Knew”. What is your appreciation of how this release is being promoted by the label? Do you feel a certain change, even currently in a small extent, regarding Metalheads acknowledging Darker Half more than before?

Vo: Yeah, I do, I think this album is a genuine step up for us and it's getting noticed. I feel like Massacre has made us bigger priority than I expected, and the response to the single releases has blown me away! Lastly, having a vinyl release is something we always wanted to do so I can't wait to get that out there

Dom: Massacre have definitely helped us connect with a wider audience on your side of the pond and I think it's an important connection to have moving forward to allow us to continue to spread out music to you beautify hairy Metalheads.

Speaking of promotion, since marketing a release nowadays offers various options for labels and bands to promote their product, what do you think is the best method to spread one’s music?

Dom: I think your music needs to be available anywhere people might want to consume it and more than ever bands need to be proactive about making sure that it's heard. The internet and social media gives us the ability to do that to an extent that was not possible a decade ago and it's also a great opportunity to be able to connect with the people who are listening to your music.

What would you suggest newcomer bands do in order to take their music forward in terms of distribution to the world?

Dom: Of course the digital world helps but nothing is ever as good as getting out there and playing shows. You just have to play and play and play until your worth listening to. Hopefully at that point people will start to take notice and listen.

I must say that a title such as “If You Only Knew”, other than sparking a notion that it was taken from a Horror movie, or could have been a great title for a Horror movie, raises an interest, a mystery, and of course, questions. What is needed to be known by the listener? Who is the one being referred to?

Vo: Excellent! that's pretty much what we're going for! There's no specific setting, but the idea is some sort of dystopian future, take your pick, you go into a bar and talk with someone who lived before 'the event', while most write him off as crazy or paranoid but there's a ring of truth to his warning that he's seen this all before. It's not meant to refer to anyone specifically but with the current scare I'm worried it's me! Haha

It appears that musically “If You Only Knew” presents a sort of a crossroads for Darker Half, it clearly shows maturity, it is somewhat dark and gloomy in its feeling, groovier, yet ascertaining to reach out of the catchy lines, in order to create those jewel hits. What had been going on within your minds while writing the album? Is it natural progression or was it stepping out of bounds because you felt the necessity to go forward with your music?

Dom: Yes, it's definitely a bit of a darker subject matter on this album. Vo and I wrote the entire album together in a pretty short space of time so as much as we strived for great performances when recording the album, we didn't give ourselves too much time to overthink the writing process which resulted in an album that is pretty honest in its subject matter and arrangement. I think as songwriters and as music appreciators our tastes have gravitated naturally towards catchier melodies and more accessible tempo's so while we still get excited by new musical concepts and ideas, we have a decent pallet of styles, sounds and harmonic knowledge that allow us to convey the appropriate emotion for the music we're writing quickly without going down too many dead end roads which can really stall the creative process of writing an album.

Looking beyond “If You Only Knew”’s musical demonstration, where do you see Darker Half going, are there stones that you wish to unturn on your way? I know it is a bit of nut cracker, yet it would be interesting to know your state of mind on the matter

Dom: When we released our first album "Duality" one of the biggest points of criticism was that the album was too varied stylistically containing speed metal songs, power metal songs, melodic death metal elements, thrash metal etc. I think partly the metal world is more open to genre cross over now days but I think also because we have progressed as song writers we are able to combine these influences in a more natural and honest way. I think "If You Only Knew" is a step in that direction so looking beyond if you only knew I think listeners can expect to hear more of the different musical elements that excite us that maybe we haven't been able to effectively work into our music just yet, haha

Vo: Dom talked about the technical side, so I'll leave that there. But I think the fact we wrote a lot of the album (lyrically at least) just after coming back from touring with RAGE and FIREWIND in Europe, meant there's a sense of frustration of being stuck back in Australia after this crazy experience, the realization of the level we needed to be at to move forward, so there's a real hunger. Personally, I started as a guitar player and wasn't intending to be a singer at all, touring in the last couple years has forced me to focus a lot more on vocals which generally leads to better songwriting. Also, writing the songs in the studio as opposed to rehearsal lets me work the vocals out better at the writing stage (even if it's a pain live later on sometimes haha). I think there's also a sense of finding our own style within our influences.

Which elements in your core music came into better notice on “If You Only Knew”?

Dom: I think there is definitely more mid paced songs on this this album than previous releases. Songs like "Into The Shadows", "Thousand Mile Stare" or "This Ain't Over" allowed us to inject a bit more Rock into our music which is of course the building blocks of heavy metal so it was cool to be able to bust out a Gibson Les Paul and play some big chunky chords. It also gave us room to really push the mid-range of Vo's voice rather than trying to play faster, sing higher and shred harder on every song. With that said, the album is still pretty genre diverse with songs like "The Bittersweet caress" which showcases our Thrash Metal roots, "Sedentary Pain" which is heavily influenced by melodic death metal. I don't think any particular elements come to the front that weren't already present in our music but I do think we were able to combine them in a very natural way this time rather than writing for a particular style.

Vo: As Dom said, there's a bit of a shift to more mid paced tempos, but overall I think it's probably heavier than most of our other releases. Slowing down a bit really does give vocals more room to breathe (literally) and lets the good melodies come out rather than feel rushed. I think we felt a bit freer to try new things this time around, we knew we had management/booking/label etc. to help with the release before we started, we'd gone on tours and knew what to expect to some extent. So we could just try write a good album with no bullshit.

How did the written music integrated with lyrical concepts displayed on the album? How did you find that edge without going insane over it?

Vo: It was a close call! haha, But I think from the start, we knew we wanted this to be a little more somber/dark than fiery/explosive over all. So just trying to find that balance between too much and not enough. There is a lot of personal stuff on this one so you got to kind of just block it out and put it out there. hopefully people can see it for what it is

What changed in your songwriting perception, method wise, in comparison to your previous works? Did these new thought patterns created a sort of a conflict within the band, perhaps stray cats that wanted something different in general?

Dom: This was the first album where all the songs were more or less co-written in the home studio together. On previous releases Vo and other bands members who have contributed songs over the years would write songs more or less to the point of being finished then bring them to the band to rehearse and maybe tweak a few parts but the bones were all more or less in place. On "If You Only Knew" Vo and I each came in with ideas that ranged from just a single riff to a completed song without lyrics, completed lyrics without music and sometimes just an idea or theme of what to write a song about etc. I think the fact that this writing process was new to us meant that the results are naturally going to be different too. We dabbled in this approach a bit on Classified which was the first release that I produced and engineered myself but still most of the songs from "Classified" were written before recording any demo's. On "If You Only Knew" it was a combination between being comfortable running these sessions without the production getting in the way of the writing and also just the fact that the writing approach was new to us that breathed some new life into the resulting album.

While listening to the final product, did you experience any forms of dilemmas or battles within yourself of things that you may have missed in the writing or recording sessions?

Dom: Of course there is always times where you think "Oh we really missed a chance to do X, Y or Z there in the bridge" but overall I think we explored most avenues we could have during the writing and recording process. Any ideas that may have come to light since can be exciting new additions when we play the songs live. I think a good song can survive a bad mix and sometimes even a bad performance but I don't think a good song can survive a bad arrangement so we really tried to be as thorough as possible when arranging these songs.

When you look at the Metal market, you see mainly an utmost flow of bands, bearing full length albums and EPs, sometimes there are those that try to invent the wheel while others simply are dedicated to preserve a flame. Where do you think Darker Half is within this spectrum with “If You Only Knew”? What do you think that makes this release special?

Vo: I think we're a little bit of both, I got into metal through 'Big 4' thrash bands who were already 'old' (i.e. St. Anger era Metallica), when I first heard bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, I'd never heard anything like that before, it didn't seem old, it seemed new to me. So I think it's a matter of perspective in some ways, I think it's important to 'keep the flame alive' but there's no point making the same album 100 times either. you got to try make it your own somehow too.

When I listened to “Thousand Mile Stare”, it knocked me where I was sitting. Other than the feeling of late Savatage / Circle To Circle that I experienced, truth be told on most of the album, it is like an endless stream, I wanted it to continue on and on. What can you tell about this tune? What is its background? What is your appreciation of this groovy and mellow direction of Darker Half within this song?

Vo: (Thousand Mile Stare) Interesting comparison! This one about PTSD, from a war vet perspective in the song. He's either on patrol or having flashbacks, your choice. I try to keep things somewhat vague lyrically, most of the stories can be put in different settings so to speak. It's one of my favorites on the album and came together super quickly too. I think with this one there's not much to it musically, so it's all about having the right tempo/groove and have it feeling good, can you tell we never managed to write an ending….

Another monstrosity, which is highly varied, is “Sedentary Pain”, going a little into the extreme path with both blast beats, grinds and growls. From what I could gather it sounded like a person battling with his own demons. What made you tread in the fields of the extreme for this one? Mainly in order to enhance the feeling?

Dom: This song was interesting because I think it's the only song on the album where Vo wrote pretty much all the music while I wrote pretty much all the lyrics. We each tweaked each other's contributions a bit during the process but that was more or less the division of labor for that track. As far as the lyrics and getting Dave Lupton (Flaming Wrekage) and Giaccomo Mezzatesta (Halfhead) in to do guest vocals. The song is exactly as you say, about a person dealing with their own inner demons. The inner demons themselves can be left to interpretation but there was definitely two distinct characters present in the chorus so we wanted the vocals to reflect that which is why there is this call and response between power vocals and death metal vocals in the chorus. Once you've got death metal vocals in the chorus it stands to reason you should have a blast beat in the bridge.

Being an Australian band must have its setbacks, though your local scene is quite big. Other than your biggest challenge being far from Europe, though, if it won’t be cancelled due to the Coronavirus, you are on your way to tour with Geoff Tate, what are the challenges that Darker Half is facing in the coming future?

Dom: Since receiving these questions the tour has indeed been postponed due to the coronavirus so right at this moment the challenges are fairly obvious - We Aren't able to tour to support the release of the album. With that in mind we'll really need the full support of our fans and the metal media to spread the word on this one. Moving forward though we will definitely attempt to continue to push our music to both our Australian audiences and European audiences

In terms of production, how did it feel to record on your own? Would you recommend the home recording for any band out there?

Dom: Although it can be pretty time consuming to write and produce a solid album ourselves the benefits it brings in being able to follow any avenues that interest us and be able to hear it back immediately really helped to create this album. I'm really passionate about audio and production and while I'm a player at heart and will always put my drumming first, recording is something I enjoy almost as much as playing live so for me it's great to be able to do that with our music.

As far as recommending self-recording to other bands, I wouldn't recommend it unless you are willing to get your production skills to a point where it doesn't stop the flow of the writing or recording sessions. You can't let your lack of ability with a computer program get in the way of your creation. So many great songs have been written over the years by recording a riff into a Sony Walkman, a Dictaphone or an iPhone and fleshing it out later. If that's what you're doing and it works for you I'd suggest to keep it that way. If you happen to have a passion for production and are willing to spend the time to learn the craft well enough that it's not getting in the way of your productions, then I think you should do that. I will say that in the modern age it is a very handy sill set to have but I don't think it's necessary for every band to be able to record this way

Guys, I wish to thank you for this interview, you have inspired me, you guys really came forward with class. All the best!

No problem, thanks so much for having us, hopefully we'll be in Europe sooner rather than later!



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