LOUDER WITH: Sam Machin from Arcaeon
Following the release of their debut LP record 'Cascadance' last month, we sat down with Arcaeon's guitarist Sam Machin to talk about music, gaming and mental health:
This is going to be the first time a lot of our readers have heard of your band, so for their benefit do you just want to give a brief introduction of who you are and what you sound like?
So, we’re Arcaeon. We’re a five-piece tech metal band from the UK. We sound like retro games and movies mixed with progressive modern metal. Some people say we sound like metalcore, some people say we sound like Periphery, which is cool. But we’re always branching out into what makes us happy, which is fun, progressive, challenging music.
And can you tell us a bit about the band’s history? So how you went from the band’s inception to now.
So, me and Rhys (Thomas, guitar) played in bands together and he and Joe (Farrell, drums) played in a band together when they were kids. Myself and Rhys were in a band that wasn’t really doing too well, we were living dangerously, and it was just not a good situation to be in trying to get blood out of a stone. So, we called it a day with that and very shortly after got in touch with each other and said that it was kind of a shame to stop doing what we’re doing. Eifion (Sweet, bass) was in the previous band for a bit as well, and we took it upon ourselves to build it back up again. So, Rhys got in touch with Joe and later on down the line we found Stuart (Sarre, vocals). I spoke to Stuart at the shisha tent at UK tech Fest before I even knew who he was, or even that he was singing in bands and he had the frontman vibe just there. And it was awesome because I said to him “Dude you need to be in a band, you need to be a frontman!” And then a few years later, I’m getting in touch with him to sing for the band, which was quite cool.
That’s a great slice of fortune to find someone with such a great vocal range who can also cut it as a frontman as well.
Sure, yeah. It was one of those great snap decisions, because things weren’t working too well with our previous vocalist. So I phoned him up, because we had to cover two really important dates that we had in the books, and he asked if it was going to be a temporary thing or a permanent thing. So in that moment I had to make that decision and I decided to go for it because it seemed like it would be stupid not to; and he told me later that if I’d said it was a temporary thing, he wouldn’t have taken it. So, it’s one of those really lucky things that I’m very grateful for because he’s an awesome guy and he’s added an extra layer to our sound which is quite irreplaceable, I think.
We’re here today to talk about the new record. How has the reaction to it been so far from what you’ve gathered?
Really good so far. There’s been a few comparisons to other bands in some cases which has led to a few poor review scores, but I’m not really all for scores to be honest. You can score something out of ten if you want, but it’s all in people’s ears and everyone’s got a different ear when it comes to enjoying music. And if one person says to me that they like it, I’m happy about that. We’re doing it for wanting to progress ourselves, not necessarily to meet the expectations of others, but if people do like it then that’s awesome!
This is your debut fell-length album, but you did have your EP ‘Balance’ before then. From the creative side of things, is there a big difference between writing a an EP and writing a full album?
I think so, yeah. With an EP, I think you’re set within the boundaries of needing to keep it consistent in terms of the depth and variety, depending on what you’re doing. But with a full-length album it gave us a lot of space to be creative in terms of the flow and how much of a contrast we could have between the light and the dark. Which is great because pretty much everything I do is like that – I’ve penned it down to being a Libra. But having that scope is awesome, because it meant that I could orchestrate this kind of mirror in the middle with the dark and the light and the different colours of the sepia and the blue. Also, the pacing of an album is very different to the pacing of an EP in most cases. So yeah, it was different. It also took a lot longer; there was one stage where we were able to smash through a lot of the songs and then at the end things took a lot longer, especially when we focussed on the vocals. I think the vocals took as long to write as the instrumentals did, we really focussed hard on getting that down. Whereas with the EP, it was all just crammed in because it was a lot leftover demos from Clockwork (previous band). But for this, it was all fresh material and it was really nice to just be able to have that larger canvas to paint on.
How does the creative process work for you as a band? How do the ideas get formed for you guys?
*laughs* Oh, it’s all over the place! It’s an absolute mess; there’s no conformity to it whatsoever. In most cases, we’ll make demos for ages until something clicks and there’s a Dropbox that we can all put ideas into. Sometimes I’ll write with Rhys over Skype, especially at the moment, where he’ll play some ideas and I’ll kind of sing stuff at him to get the range. Then once we’ve done demos, we’ll give them to Joe with programme drums and he’ll flesh them out on a real kit, I’ll go to his and thumb through stuff really slowly and then build up the speed. We’ll then go into the rehearsal room to write, because it’s easy to do it all sat behind a computer, and a lot of people make really great music that way, but I think for us fleshing stuff out and adding realism to it is so important. People can say yes and no to things and react to them as if it were a live performance and get an idea for the feel and the groove; particularly for the drums. We took a long time in the rehearsal rooms when we could listening to Joe drumming, and he wrote out all the charts and performed his parts flawlessly over four days when we went to record them, which was awesome.
And looking back on it, I really appreciated the time we took on everything, to be honest. For the vocals, Stuart and I would meet up along with Rhys too occasionally because he’s got a really good ear for vocal harmonies, but a lot of the time it was Stuart coming to mine or me going to London. I did spend a wild weekend in London doing vocals for the song ‘Cascade’, which is a very involved song for both of us. So it was very much all over the place and as I said, there was no real conformity to writing the songs; but it was done in a way that we felt best, which was paying attention to details and actually taking our time, seeing each other and not just relying on communications to get things done. Actually being there in person to communicate and talk and have a bit more of a physical connection really helped.
You mentioned the light and dark balance, and I know that this is part of a loose theme that ties the album together. Would you like to tell us about that and what kinds of lyrical themes you touch on?
It was coming from a place that was quite different for us, because I think we all changed over the time of the album being made and I know I reflected loads. We actually rewrote the first Zenith part three times, because there was a chorus in it that I really liked and I realised we could split it up and turn it into a two-parter. And there’s a motif that plays through the album; it plays at the start, the end and in the middle. At that point, that was when it started hitting home that I’d done that thing again where I’d created a yin-yang, which I’m really prone to do. But at the very start, when I first knew that I was going to be writing an album, I was personally in a really bad way. I didn’t have a job at the time, I’d just quit the only job I had and was freelancing, and I was really quite ill, to be honest. I wasn’t well in my head and physically I wasn’t looking after myself, I was mixing prescription medication with alcohol very frequently and I didn’t have any kind of financial backbone. But because we’d agreed that we were going to do this album, I just thought I’d channel everything that I’m feeling right now and just pour myself into it. And even though it went really well, the music went fantastically, it was actually quite unhealthy and probably not something I’d ever want to do again.
Thankfully, I’m in a very different place now and as the album’s come along my life changed as we were making it and I’ve gone from a very dark place to a very happy place. So in terms of the compositional flow from the start to the end, it’s almost a biopic for me in showing what’s changed. If I look at my life now, considering I’ve got a baby on the way and I’m engaged to someone I’m really happy with, it makes it special for me knowing that along the way this music’s been almost like a reflective companion that’s been able to capture that. And we’ve put it into the vocals, we’ve put it into the way the arrangements flow, little motifs that come up and things like that that capture certain moods and feelings. So it’s not just techy riffs with some synths and high-pitched vocals, there is a lot more to it than that from us.
I’m sorry to hear to hear that you’ve been through all of that but I’m glad to hear you’re in a much better place now; and I think that does definitely come across in the music. You mentioned Zenith, and I wanted to come back to that because you’ve released the single of the second part of Zenith. And I never thought this is something I’d end up saying, but it comes with a playable Game Boy game. Please can you tell us a little bit about that?
So, we’re all gaming enthusiasts; we’re nerds, first and foremost. I’ve been playing retro games since they retro games were first around, and I’m really into it to the point of idolising the amount of attention to detail and the restrictions that were imposed on the people making these games. These days you can download the editors to make these games and people are making indie games left, right and centre; but back then there was so much artistry needed to make something so game-changing, pardon the pun. So it really speaks to me on many levels with the art and the music especially for those games was just incredible!
Some of the composers for the Japanese titles for the Super Nintendo Game Boy games were insane, given what they would have had to have gone through to make music like that given the limitations. So I made the music for the entire Game Boy game and every track is going to be on the release, because we’re going to do cartridges for the game, you can just play it online at the moment. The music was next to the whole album, probably comes close to being the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do; putting that kind of dense orchestration onto it. Because you only get four tracks to play with. Four! One is for sound effects and three of them are for notes, so you can only have three-note chords. If you think about how many chords are in a tech metal song and how many notes they have, now you can only have three. And if you want another instrument, that’s just not gonna happen. So you’ve got to think about every step of the way how you’re going to make that work. And then you compile that in the editor thinking it sounds fine, load it into the game and then it just all falls to pieces. It was a nightmare to make, but in hindsight I’m really happy I learnt a new skill doing so.
But Eifion also had a good time making it, he really poured himself into the game. He’d said originally that the video should be something to do with a game, and we were going to commission a Sega game for it originally, but the costs were off the chart for us considering we’d funded the whole record ourselves, so we ended up making the game ourselves as well and Eifion just started doing it. From that point onwards, he didn’t stop working on it until it was done. He was working on it when we were filming our music video, so a lot of time and effort went into it, and we released a playthrough for the video just to show something that we really loved. So it was one of those things that just fell into place without too much planning overall.
Yeah, I thought it was a great creative way to work around some of the restrictions that you’ve got at the moment, and without wanting to put too much of a downer on things. Obviously, you’ve got an album out and the normal thing to do would be to tour, which you can’t currently do. What’s it been like navigating the last 12 months and the restrictions you’ve had and what, if any, plans have you been able to make for the future?
So we’d taken a break from doing shows, we only played one show after Radar Fest (summer 2019) to be able to have our weekends back to meet up with each other and write because otherwise all the time we’d have away from work and away from family we’d be using up doing gig and rehearsing, because you need to stay in shape to play this kind of music. If you’re doing to be doing weekenders here and there, you need to rehearse and we’re one of those bands who will go out on a three-day run without rehearsing and just catching up during the sound check. So that was taking up loads of time when we wanted to finish all the recording. So we’d given ourselves a year deadline, and then lockdown happened which was kind of good for us because it gave us a little bit more time to work on it without having to worry about the pressure of getting it out to tour. We could have waited a little bit longer to release it, but we wanted to release it because we wanted to put something out for people to enjoy; and for us to have the self-satisfaction of finishing it and to hold the CD in our hands and say “this is it, we’ve done it”.
But for now, we’re not really expecting much, we’ve got one loose date pencilled in, which I won’t say because it’s probably gonna change. We did do a lot of mailouts before the release of the record, but we got responses saying that the label’s weren’t really looking to sign anyone new at the moment and I think that’s the same for everybody because nobody wants to take any risks at the moment. And as there’s very little to be made from touring, it’s not a viable thing to find a label. I think managers are focusing more on branding and marketing than they are signing bands to do touring. But we obviously want to if any bands want to tour. But for now it’s just about waiting patiently, waiting for the right thing to come along and being sensible about who we use. Otherwise, we’ll just be doing what we normally do which is working on our music and working on our musicianship and trying to get ourselves out there using the internet.
'Cascadence' is out now - stream the record here:
Check out the video for 'Zenith II: Arcadia' below and play The Game Boy game for the track HERE:
Apple Music: https://apple.co/3k1KSjB