Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): Congratulations on the release of your new album “Hold High The Flame” last year! Let’s go back to the beginning. You guys formed a few years ago (as per Metal-Archives). How did everyone in the band find one another?
Shawn: Thank you so much! I have known Kevin (drums) since 1996. He and I played together in a band called Trampled Underfoot (Pony Canyon Records, Japan 1998). Before that, Brian (guitars) and Kevin played together in a band called Obey Bizar. Beginning in 1999, Brian and I played together in a band called K-Octave (Hellion Records, Germany 2001). I also did a very short tour of duty in Brian’s main band October 31, playing a couple of shows. More recently, I think Brian and Howard (bass) played together in a cover band, but I am not 100% sure about that. I do know they’ve known each other for a long time. So, we’ve all known each other and been buddies for the better part of 20-plus years, at this point. Brian and I in particular get along really well and, since K-Octave ended, have always wanted to work together again. In 2013, he called me up and said he had an entire album ready, and he just needed a singer. It was good timing, so I came on board. Brian cycled through a few guys before settling on Howard and Kevin in 2014, so Final Sign was officially born in 2014.
SFM: Final Sign is comprised of quite a few musicians who have been in numerous bands before. How have your collective experiences in other bands shaped what you do in Final Sign?
Shawn: Collective experience is the key there. Combined, we have over 100 years of music-making experience under our belts, some of it with each other. Brian and I share a very specific chemistry when it comes to music. When goes in to “Hellstorm” mode (Brian’s nickname is “Hellstorm”, both for his playing and writing), there’s just something there that strikes a chord in my creativity. It checks all the right boxes is my brain and triggers the techniques I employ on the album. Having all played together at some point, we have an intuition between the four of us. We understand how each other plays, we understand where we want to go, and we all quite naturally fall into that headspace when we play together. We all know each other’s talents and abilities as well as limitations very well, so that makes it a very comfortable, painless experience when it comes to putting together new material or rehearsing the album.
SFM: When did you go into the studio to record your debut, and what was the experience like?
Shawn: The album was recorded over time. The way it worked was Brian and the band got their respective parts completed before I wrote my parts. I don’t need to always be in the room with Brian for our chemistry to be activated. All I need to do is hear his riffs and his songs. While different parts were being fixed, overdubbed or in some cases rerecorded, I was constructing the vocal parts. Then I went in and completed my vocals. My experience in doing that was very comfortable. Our engineer, Canaan Longworth, is very relaxed and intuitive. He made my experience quite comfortable and my vocals were completed quickly as a result. After that, there was some more fixing, rerecording, etc. The mix is what took the longest. So, parts of it were quite stressful, but mostly the waiting. Actual tracking, for me, is fun. I love being in the studio.
SFM: When I listen to your music, I get vibes of “Painkiller” and Riot’s “Thundersteel”. Would you say these records are your primary influences? If not, what bands/albums do you guys worship?
Shawn: Well, Judas Priest and Riot are both well-established influences on us, but I would not say those two particular albums are “primary” influences. I love those albums, for sure. I can’t say any particular albums are primary influences on what we do. But, obviously, we adhere to the traditions of who we consider our forefathers; Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Dio, Judas Priest, Slayer, Metal Church, etc. One of my favorite aspects of the band is that we incorporate influences from various forms of metal in what I feel to be a pretty seamless way. We have NWOBHM, US power metal, thrash metal and even hints of doom metal influences permeating our songs. For that reason, I feel that the best descriptor of our band would simply be “heavy metal”. It is what it is. Personally, we were all influenced heavily by the music we grew up with, from Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Angel to Dio, Maiden and Slayer. It all culminates into our hearts and minds and makes its way into the songs.
SFM: One thing I really loved about your album is that even upon first listen, the songs stood out as being quite catchy. What is your approach to songwriting, and how important is it to write great hooks?
Shawn: Hooks are what people remember. Some hooks can be formulated, and some can happen quite naturally. But it’s the hooks that stick in people’s memories and sustain those memories over time. It can be a guitar hook, a vocal hook, a chorus, or even a bass line. That being said, none of the hooks on our album were planted or pre-planned. Haha! They just kind of happened. It all goes back to that natural, organic chemistry between, particularly Brian and I, but all the guys in the band and our collective experience. We never once said “we need a hook here”. We all just did what it is we all do. All of our songs start with Brian. He is the catalyst for everything and is a relentless riff factory. He is the “Hellstorm”, after all. From there, the band begins laying the foundations for the arrangements. Once those are in a comfortable place, I’ll begin placing lyrics and, based on those, make some arrangement tweaks. That’s how we work on new songs these days and it’s also how Brian and I have worked in the past. On this album, the music was 100% complete and the arrangements were pretty solid before I ever came in. Once I did, I added lyrics and structures and made some minor arrangement tweaks.
SFM: “Hold High The Flame” was released on one of my favourite labels, Divebomb Records. That label has been known in the past for reissuing a lot of classic metal records, but it seems like they’re increasingly releasing more albums from modern bands such as yourselves. Can you speak a little bit about your experience with the label and the support they’ve given you?
Shawn: Divebomb Records has been incredibly supportive. I cannot say enough good things about them. What I love about them is that Matt, the owner, is truly a fan of metal. He loves and collects metal in almost all its forms and has since he was very young. So, he understands what it takes for metal music to translate to fans and how much metal fans cherish the music they love. Divebomb puts a lot of time and care into not only the reissues they choose, but also in the new bands they choose. Lots and lots of time goes into the sound quality, the artwork, the layout, the packaging, etc. I really love the dedication Divebomb shows to the scene and to the fans. Their unofficial motto is “for the fans, by the fans”, and I think it shows. So, not only do they reissue classics like Reverend and Chastain, they also unearth lost gems like Enertia and Intrinsic. They have their Bootcamp Series that resurrects local and regional band demos that deserved more attention like Manta Ray and Savage Choir. Then they also have their ears to the ground for new bands like Everthrone, Wulfhook and Zephaniah. I’m very happy to be a part of the Divebomb Records family of artists with Final Sign.
SFM: In my experience, Divebomb and similar labels tend to have a fanbase that is largely from outside the US. Is this true for Final Sign as well?
Shawn: We certainly are gaining some fans from outside the U.S., but we also have a pretty strong following growing in the U.S. as well. The U.S. is home to a large section of the global heavy metal culture. The internet and social media has played no small part in that. I have received messages from many different parts of the world, the U.S. included, telling me they love our CD and some even send me pictures of them holding the CD. But, as you know, the world is a big place.
So, while I think it’s fair to say that there is a very large metal fanbase outside the U.S. that Divebomb and Final Sign are a part of, it’s also fair to say that metal culture is alive and well in the U.S. underground.
SFM: Your entire album is up for free streaming on Divebomb’s bandcamp page. You’ve encouraged fans to “try before [they] buy”. Can you speak a little bit about why you’ve gone with this approach, as some bands seem a little too selective in terms of only putting up a track or two from their album?
Shawn: These days, there is so much music from so many bands in so many parts of the world, that the choices can be overwhelming. I can’t speak as to exactly why Divebomb chooses to stream all or mostly all of the songs from their releases. But I can speak to why I think it can be a good thing. First of all, as you pointed out, the “try before you buy” thing. I’ve seen the analogy comparing stealing music on the internet to stealing a car. You can’t just walk up and take a car, so you should not be able to simply log on to your computer and take music from the internet. The flip-side to that is you also would not even buy a car before you first took it for a test drive. Right? I see this as something very similar. Having our album streaming on Bandcamp allows people to hear the entire thing before they buy it. If they hear it, and they like it enough after that to make the choice to hand over their hard-earned money for their own copy of it, then I feel like I have earned their money. How many times, before the internet, did you hear someone say “I bought the CD but it only has one good song!”? That CD ends up lost, under the sofa, traded in to a used music shop, or given away. I don’t want anyone to feel cheated if they only hear one of our songs, buy the CD, and then hate the other seven songs. I don’t want to hold my music hostage, basically, and tell people you have to give me your money before you can even hear it. Music is meant to be heard. Music is meant to be emotionally and mentally digested. It’s not meant to be forgotten. I don’t want someone to buy my CD then lose it or hate half of it. If they can hear the entire thing, legally, for free, then make the CHOICE to buy it, I feel like that’s money that I earned. I feel like that’s a CD that the purchaser will keep, and cherish, and listen to. Plus, if it’s up there to hear, for free, you don’t have to steal it. You can just listen to it. If you don’t like it, you have not wasted your hard drive space or your time AND you haven’t stolen anything from me.
SFM: Final Sign has announced their first live show for March 13. What can fans expect for this show? Do you have any further touring plans coming up soon?
Shawn: It’s actually on March 11. We’re playing in Raleigh, NC with Widow. The guys in Widow are good buddies of ours and we’re really excited that our first time on stage will be with them. We are definitely, actively seeking out more live opportunities for 2016. Actual touring is most likely not in the cards. Brian is still an active part of October 31, and they are planning some recording and shows this year as well. I’m part of a band called Livesay based in New York, USA and I am recording with them and playing a few shows too. But, Final Sign is definitely going to be playing more shows, and hopefully we’ll get offers to get on some of the metal festivals that take place over the course of the year. We are not going anywhere, that’s for sure. We’ll be playing live as well as working on new material for what we hope will be our second album. So, stick around! It’s going to be fun!
SFM: Any last words for the fans?
Shawn: I cannot thank the fans enough. Their reception has been overwhelmingly positive and their enthusiasm and love for our record has been tremendous! So, from all of us in Final Sign, we say THANK YOU! Thanks for listening to our music, thanks for buying our CD, thanks for telling all your friends about us, and THANK YOU for contributing to the global heavy metal culture with your dedication and unwavering pride! We will hopefully see you soon on stage! Until then, find us at our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FinalSignOfficial) and drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you!