By: Gilbert Potts
Interviewing music folk you soon start to notice two rather common traits – they are often at once passionate dreamers, yet hard nosed realists, none more so than Dan Presland, drummer of Melbourne progressive metal unit Ne Obliviscaris. I was lucky enough to catch Dan before the start of the next chapters in their life as a band – the release of the highly anticipated second album (Friday 7th November), and the Australian launch tour (Starting Sat 8th November).
(((o))): Why do you think there’s so much beauty in darkness?
I think it can be any way you take it. I don’t see darkness as a negative thing or even a positive thing, but darkness and dark music can give you feelings and emotions that a bright poppy song might not give you. It’s just different explanations and just another means of exploring in art.
(((o))): Speaking of art, what other forms of art are you interested in?
I do enjoy looking at visual art, especially photography. I like a photographer’s take on a specific moment in time of a landscape or whatever it might be that they’re capturing. I like short videos. I’m not necessarily a film person but I don’t mind short videos even if it’s a ten second clip on facebook – if it’s well put together I enjoy it. But yeah photography I’m a big fan of, and I like cover art and the collaboration between music and the artwork is quite appealing to me.
(((o))): From interviews I’ve read you seem to have a hunger for continually improving your drumming but also other parts of your life. In getting there you seem to make a point of acknowledging those who have helped you so far.
Yeah I’m a very open minded person and I like to learn one thing and cross it over to another part of your life whether that’s drums or how to conduct yourself as a person I reckon, it’s as simple as that. And you’re right I am pretty quick to credit a lot of people who influenced me or assisted me in my drumming journey, for sure.
(((o))): And this seems to carry over to sharing your thoughts on drumming with others?
Yes definitely! At shows I’m always talking drums or technique with other guys and trying to learn from them as well. I’m always pretty keen to talk about drums, I’m a fairly big nerd so to speak.
(((o))): I hear the new album has some cello?
There’s a few moments where there’s cello. Tim got one of his buddies in from his uni days and between he and Tim they came up with some really, really cool parts. It’s really tasteful – it’s not really long passages, but I think it’s a few really tasteful moments that it’s in there. I haven’t heard cello much in a metal context but I quite like the ideas Tim came up with.
(((o))): It’s a great metal instrument sitting between downtuned guitar and bass – have you heard of Helen Money? And of course Apocalyptica…
…yeah they’re very cool (Apocalyptica), I can’t wait to see them in February. We’re playing with those guys at Soundwave.
(((o))): Is it fair to say that the typical NeO song tends to write itself in its own sweet time however it wants to do it?
Pretty much. We don’t have a set way we begin a song. Some are just started from randomly jammed improvs in the jam room to someone actually bringing forward a section and we just work on it from there. I guess it’s a really organic way of writing – we get together and see what comes out and we just progress in that kind of fashion. The really long track on Citadel, about 22 minutes, we’ve probably been writing for about three or four years, but the other two, probably four to six months to write, so it’s not an overnight process.
(((o))): Your music is full of complexity and layers, of contrasts and opposites, and in a way that’s reflected between the band members and even within each band member, so there’s different dimensions at different levels. How does a band flourish in such a complex environment?
I guess it’s our collective reason we’re together and that’s to make music we all love – we put our egos aside and we don’t say “Ah, you can’t do that because I need a solo there” – it is what the music needs, and we’ve been going so long now, we’ve all gotten along so well we all enjoy the music we make and that’s why we do it. Someone comes up with an idea, doesn’t matter who it is – even I’ve written guitar parts, we give it a go and see what happens. record it, listen back, and give each other feedback.
(((o))): Seeing you on stage I get even more appreciation of the complexity and technicality of the band members, like Cygnus for example does much more that I was hearing on Portal of I. You also give each other a lot of room…
…we don’t like to clog things up. there’s no one person who takes the limelight, like you will never see me doing a drum solo or anything like that. I know it’s very cliched but we’re very much for the music so whatever the music needs to speak its language is what we give it, and if that means Cygnus going crazy on bass lines while Tim does the crazy violin fiddling stuff that he does, then that’s how we do it. There’s no real conscious decision that we need to give someone a bit of space – we all know our boundaries within each section so I don’t think it’s something we’re doing, it’s just how it came to be.
(((o))): You’ve built a local fan base over the years in Melbourne – how would you characterise your relationship with them?
I’d like to think it’s a pretty strong one. I’ve been going to local shows since before I started playing drums so I’ve met a lot of people over the years just being a punter – I still am a punter. We engage quite a lot with our fans, we generally reply to 99.9 per cent of message we get on facebook and in emails and stuff. It takes up a lot of time but we always think people give us the time so we really like to give them the time. At shows we always hang out at the merch desk and happy to talk and catch up with people, and meeting new people is one of the most exciting things about playing in a band in foreign places – people from different cultures.
(((o))): Does playing to unfamiliar crowds put new pressures on you?
I would say it’s more expectations on each other to bring your A game to every show. We expect every member of the band to bring their best performance every night. But I love it when (the punters) come and talk – especially drummers. I love it when drummers come up and want to talk, we always end up back on the stage looking at my drums and stuff.
(((o))): You’ve got a fair bit of touring coming up?
Pretty much, I daresay the first third of next year is gonna be reasonably busy. We’re starting to plan and tentatively book things up until August and September next year so almost twelve months in advance. We’re getting organised for the European summer festival circuit – we’ll see what happens with that, if we’re successful with what we’d like to do, and then basically fit in some club shows. We’d love to get to the US next year as well.
(((o))): What does the result of your crowdfunding give you the scope to do? (The band recently raised $86,132, more than twice what they were seeking)
The whole crowd funding has blown us all out of the water and that has basically allowed us to go from “alight, maybe we can afford to do two weeks in Europe and two weeks in America in the space of 12-18 months” to as much as we can in Europe and as much as we can in America for as long as we can. So believe it or not the crowdfunding will not cover every financial aspect, but it’s given us that leapfrog – the means to go for it. Before the crowd funding we couldn’t fund a four week tour of the US and Europe – it’s ridiculously expensive with seven of us, but that’s now given us the means to look at options. So yeah, we’re extremely stoked. Absolutely stoked.
(((o))): How important is Soundwave festival to an Australian heavy band?
I think Soundwave is probably the pinnacle for every Australian heavy band to be a part of. We were gobsmacked when we got in, we were just so happy. I’ve never been to Soundwave personally as a punter, so I think it’s exciting to go, to walk around as an artist. I think it’s massive for any band, especially a small band like us, it gives you the image that you’re bigger than you actually are. It gives you so many connections to other avenues, whether it’s meeting all the other bands at Soundwave or dealing with all the PR people, and just learning how something on such a huge scale works – we’re on a steep learning curve.
(((o))): Being a more mature group I imagine the chances of locking horns with AJ (promoter of Soundwave and famous for not suffering fools gladly) are considerably less?
Ha! Yeah look when we’re performing and on tour we do our best to present ourselves as a professional unit. There won’t be any hijinks from us – we’ll just stay in our little corner…
(((o))): With all that’s going on do you feel more like a cork at the mercy of the ocean or an icebreaker crashing its way to the Antarctic?
I try not to put a tag to it, speaking personally music is something I’ve always wanted to do and I believe very passionately and positively in what I do, and with music it’s like life and if you’re passionate and positive and you put everything you have into what you want to do, you’re going to be achieving what you set out to do, whatever it is. You might want to just play a few shows around the traps or you might want to be the next Megadeth. For me, I just want to make the best music possible for me and share it with as many people as possible, and the more people who like it and dig it, the better.
(((o))): You did leave the band for a few months at the end of 2011. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah sure. At that point in time I was teaching drums, I was playing in four bands – two session bands and two original bands – and I was practically burnt out as the Portal of I process went on for years. I was tracking the drums two and a half years before and it was just going on and on and on and on. I thought I’ve just had enough and I needed a break, so I stopped teaching, I basically stopped playing drums for about ten to twelve months and had a break.
I organised other parts of my life, got a few things into place and once I was more comfortable with everything else in my life I started getting the urge to play drums again and I went over to Matt’s house – our guitarist – just to hang out and we had a jam and he started playing NeO songs and I started playing along, and he’s there “oh this is cool, what are you thinking now?” a I said I was enjoying it but needed a bit of time off. Eventually I wanted to play music again and it just worked.
They had a drummer playing for them – Nelson Barnes – and he was from Queensland and he’d have to fly down for rehearsals and fly out for shows and the logistics just weren’t there. I’m in Melbourne so obviously it was easier for me so we just did a switcheroo then and I started playing again and haven’t looked back.
(((o))): The success of Portal of I has been a slowly building one over the last couple of years to the point where things are really taking off. Will you ever be able to give up your day job?
I’d like to do music as a day job so to speak. The reality is with heavy music is that there’s probably two handfuls of bands that actually do it to the extent where they have the quality of life outside of music as well, and by that I mean they probably have enough money to pay their mortgage, pay their bills, and be able to provide for their family or whatever their needs are.
At our stage, right now, absolutely not. But who knows what the future may bring if we keep working hard? I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of the band being my bread and butter, but at this stage and looking into the next twelve months it wouldn’t be feasible, but yeah, who knows what happens.
(((o))): Of course you’re limited in Australia as to how many places you can play.
In Australia you’ve got the six major cities and if you’ve got a hardcore or deathcore band , get a few regional shows too, but if you tour the same places every two or three months you’re just going to flood the market. Your shows aren’t going to be as big or as exciting and people won’t go to this show because they know they can catch you in three months time.
In America and Europe you’ve got millions of people and it’s just hard to flood the market and you can do more shows. So I guess for bands based in the US or Europe it’s a little bit easier. But we don’t want geographic reasons get in the way of what we want to do, so I guess that’s one of the reasons we did the crowd funding – we can reach out to more people in more places and not have the financial hindrance.
(((o))): You could announce a hundred shows and you’d still get a hundred people on your facebook say “Hey why don’t you come here?”…
…yeah I’d say honestly every single day there’s someone gets at least one email or one Facebook message from someone saying “are you coming to here” or “when are you coming to here because me and my mates want to see you”. I honestly wish I could go everywhere but there’s always going to be disappointed people.
(((o))): What impact has the internet had on metal?
Oh it’s huge! A lot of people take it in a negative way and a lot think it’s positive. Personally I think it’s positive because it gives the means for more people to hear your music and share your music than perhaps before. Yeah physical CD sales are down and stuff like that but I think at the end of the day more people are hearing your music and experiencing it and enjoying it and having a good time and that’s what I think is the most important part.
(((o))): If you were an animal, what would you want to be?
I really like big cats – cheetahs, snow leopards, stuff like that, so I’d be happy with one of them.