Interview: Employed To Serve
You never know who that one person might be, that could be a lifetime fan and they are the people that keep you going because although you have your own drive and stuff, but sometimes when you are really knackered and things are going bad in your personal life it's those people are asking when are you coming to my town next...and like almost have a sense of purpose.
In a few short years Employed To Serve are fast becoming one of the UK’s most exciting post-hardcore acts, their frenetic and unforgiving live shows have earned them adulations from crowds across the UK and Europe. Although they describe themselves as brutal-hardcore 2017’s sophomore effort Warmth of the Dying Sun shows a breadth of influences, from the groove of metal acts such as Pantera and Sepultura to the raw-tinged brutality of modern post-hardcore bands like Code Orange, Conjurer and Oathbreaker. Jody Dunstan spoke to Justin and Sammy before a stunning live show at ArcTanGent 2017 to discuss influences, motivations and the less glamorous side of being a touring band.
E&D: So how was your ArcTanGent?
Justine: Oh, it’s wonderful. every single band on this bill is such high calibre, even the band’s first on are just incredible.
E&D: I notice that, even at 11 o’clock you can turn round and there are people outside the back of the tents.
Sammy: Yeah, people just want to check out the bands, it’s a proper music fan’s festival, everyone’s here for the music.
E&D: I wanted to ask you about your new album, I had a listen on the way down. What is the inspiration behind it?
Justine: Lyrically, it’s about doing what you love in life and not getting bogged down, sort of, like expectations from other people and doing stuff you are proud of doing.
Sammy: It’s like you encounter so many people, who are like working a job or doing something they hate and they are just like, dedicating their whole life to it and I know that it’s easier said than done, I know you can’t just quit your job, but some people don’t do anything about their situation.
Justine: Just moan really…
Sammy: Yeah, it talks about that and trying to find a situation in life that you are happy with and how important that is. For the album title, that’s kinda on a personal level, not to be like super, putting a downer on everything but it’s that kind of thing like, we love doing music and we love doing the band and there’s always that part of your brain that, going like, shit, how long can we keep doing this for and stuff. So that’s one thing the album is talking about. We love this stuff and not to be too shitty about it and is live going to get in the way at some point.
E&D: Do you find you get messages from all over the world?
Justine: Yeah, massively, we get lots from Australia and America and we’ve never been there before, so it goes to show how far the Internet can reach people.
Sammy: I think it’s cool that, even if some people can get hold of the music, from an download or whatever, we’re just happy to check it out and like you say it’s incredible that people form the other side of the world can check our band out when we’ve never been there before, you know what i mean, people are very supportive, they pick up t-shirts and stuff like that. I feel like the way you support bands has shifted in a way, like turning up to the show and and picking up merch.
Justine: Yeah it’s all about the ticket sales and merch, in terms of music, because you can stream it and stuff like that there’s not much in terms of making money from it.
Sammy: But, yeah, it’s the coolest thing getting an email from someone from like America or wherever just saying…
Justine: Yeah, some actually care about our band!!
E&D: I’ve tried to do that more, I have sent Facebook messages to bands and often get a really nice reply. I think it’s nice that bands do take the time to reply!
Sammy: That is the one thing about the Internet that it’s very easy to be like, you know, blasé about it and stuff, but I feel like if anyone’s reaching out to you.
Justine: It’s awesome to get a person emailing, going, thank you so much for what you do. It’s really means a lot.
Sammy: It means a lot that they take the time to even message us, you know.
Justine: Yeah, I mean, as much as we love it and will always do it, it’s cool a lot of the time you are sleeping on floors!
E&D: It’s not glamorous, is it?!
Justine: No, it’s not for the feint of heart. Ha, we’ve got an old Royal Mail van that’s making weird noises.
Sammy: Part of you just has to love it and you just have to accept it. I remember going on our first tour, I mean, after a while there might be some days, oh man, i’m done in! But sometimes you are like, cool, we’re staying at someone’s house and sleeping on the floor and awesome, we’re eating cold beans out of the tin!
E&D: …hopefully one day they will be hot.
Justine: Haha, yeah, maybe we won’t get scurvy.
E&D: I wanted to ask you about your tour experience, have you had any particularly good experiences or dire ones?
Sammy: We’ve been pretty lucky, for the most part. Touch wood! I mean most of the tours we’ve done. Well, I mean there was one long tour back in January we were playing over in Germany, in Leipzig and we played in a place that was freezing and this place had no heating and it was this big old sort if abandoned building and t was like, ah it was Baltic, wasn’t it? Times like that is can be pretty difficult.
E&D: What, when you have to huddle together for warmth?!
Sammy: Yeah, I slept fully clothed with my shoes on that night.
Justine: Haha, yeah then we found that we’d actually left the window open. We were all complaining it was so cold and someone (probably drunk) left the window open.
Sammy: Stuff like that makes it tough, but we’ve been very lucky, all the bands we’ve been away with.
E&D: You have done quite a few place round Europe, haven’t you?
Justine: yeah we did that with Mare.
Sammy: Yeah and the last time we were out in Europe we were with Palm Reader, who are really good mates of ours.
E&D: They’re awesome, aren’t they?
Justine: Yeah, I’m so into them! It’s sick, they’re from the same town as us and we went to school with a couple of the members.
Sammy: Yeah, so it’s really cool.
E&D: Sure, there’s people like you, Palm Reader, Black Peaks, you know, like there’s this little group.
Sammy: Yeah, they’re all from the same area.
Justine: Like a little posse, it’s nice, we are work very close and we try to see each other when they play in the local town. It’s really nice, there is a lot of comradery in this scene, there’s no egos like when when Black Peaks headlined we all shared stuff.
Sammy: It’s so important though.
Justine: Yeah, it makes the difference, especially, if unfortunately, it isn’t a great turnout when you’re with a really good touring group it doesn’t matter.
Sammy: Exactly… I mean you like the music they are playing as well.
E&D: That seems to be the way that this festival is, people kind of just help each other out. I known the guys from Alpha Male Tea Party lost their keys or something and everyone’s running around to help.
Justine: Shit, that’s my worst nightmare.
Sammy: You can sympathise, being a band and that.
Justine: Did they find them?
E&D: I don’t know, I haven’t seen them again yet.
Sammy: Justine, you’ve got the keys haven’t you?
Justine: Errr, yeah. (patting all her pockets)
Sammy: Cool, just checking!
E&D: I mean, with all this going on, how do you keep the intensity up?
Sammy: I don’t want to sound corny or anything, it’s just, but when it comes, you know like, well half an hour before we play and whilst we play and half an hour after all the energy comes and you’re just so pumped up and you’re ready to do it. Sometimes for me I actually like to actually feel really tired and burnt out because that’s when I am not thinking. I’m not over-analysing stuff, you kind of go into this like…
Justine: …primal way.
Sammy: Like this vegetative state while you’re on stage and it all just comes naturally and you know, it just sort of happens and then literally 20 mins or half an hour afterwards you just fall to bits, as soon as that adrenaline wears off.
E&D: Like a drop?
Sammy: Oh massively.
Justine: They way i think of it, you know when you’re a kid. You’d get full up on your main meal but you’ve always got room for pudding…. that’s what I think playing is like, I always have room for pudding, er, playing, I’ve always for energy for that.
E&D: How is it going from playing small shows and then suddenly getting bigger and bigger. Does that just become normal or are you like, wow shit all these guys have come to see us?
Justine: Well we always step back and go wow, people care!
Sammy: That’s cool, yeah.
Justine: When you get to a point where it’s not just your mates coming to see you play and it’s people never heard of or you’ve had people travel over three hours to see you, well just us, it’s like wow, and it makes you feel like we really need to practice now.
E&D: So, in a way, almost like you owe these guys?
Justine: yeah, sure.
Sammy: Yes, you do.
E&D: Put in that bit more of an effort?
Justine: I literally hate the old school, yeah, let’s get fucked up before playing because I get so pissed off when my favourite bands are too drunk to play their songs and they forget stuff, it’s no, it’s like, I love your band and I’ve gone out of my way to come and see you. Yes, it’s like customer service in a way.
Sammy: Yeah, well people have come to see you so you have to deliver the goods and sometimes you will be playing to like five people and even in that situation it’s so important that you still play that show like you like you’d play any other show.
Justine: It doesn’t matter if there is only one or two people, it doesn’t matter.
Sammy: I think it looks really bad if you are just like, oh, I’m too good for this.
Justine: Because that person made the effort.
Sammy: To be honest, as a spectator if I go to see a band, if there’s not many people there and i’m not really taking notice of it, I’m just watching the band and Palm Reader being a great example, in the early days of their, when they were starting out they we’re playing to like three or four people and absolutely kill it and that was something that I though was always so cool it’s like, no matter what, just give it the beans! Don’t be like, well it’s just a shit show.
Justine: Just write it off…
Sammy: We’ll just rein it in.
E&D: So yeah, it’s like if you see someone and they were awesome, even with the likes of the Internet and Facebook most music you hear about is someone saying, listen to these guys they are awesome.
Justine: Ha, and yeah, the classic story ‘I saw them play to like, two people’ and they smashed it.
Sammy: Yeah, like sick!!
E&D: What, and then they sold out?!
Justine: Ha, yeah, got fans!
Sammy: Well in those situation you have to try to get them pumped up and stuff.
Justine: I You never know who that one person might be, that could be a lifetime fan and they are the people that keep you going because although you have your own drive and stuff, but sometimes when you are really knackered and things are going bad in your personal life it’s those people are asking when are you coming to my town next… and like almost have a sense of purpose.
E&D: So… your voice, how do you sustain that?
Justine: well, I don’t sing along to metal songs in clubs anymore! That blows my voice and that and talking loudly over music is the worst thing you can do for your voice. I do warm ups, I drink a lot of tea, I have started incorporating steam. I can literally lose my voice and then use steam and it comes back. Also, I try to stay healthy, I eat fruit and just try to look after myself. It’s like, you should treat it as if you were playing sport because you are literally exercising for 40 mins.
Sammy: Ha, yeah, it’s cardio.
Justine: Ha, yeah it’s a lot of cardio. If you are too drunk then or something you aren’t going to be able to sprint or play football, so you have to treat it like that. Warm down and warm up and just, you know, be nice to yourself.
E&D: So is the whole adage of rock n roll excess not that common?
Justine: Well, that was when there was money in music as well.
Sammy: I feel like if you a band that went successful super quick it would be easy to have that attitude, but I kind of feel that we are just starting out and were just playing a few people.
Justine: Yeah…haha, you’re not doing heroin before playing to two people!
Sammy: or getting absolutely drunk before playing.
E&D: So, what are your hopes and dreams for the next couple of years?
Justine: We just want to play for as many people as possible, we’d love to go to new territory, we’d love to go to America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, you know, I just want to travel with the band. At this point we love touring Europe and the UK, but it’s getting to the point where we want to know where we can take this.
Sammy: Sure, so main goals, keep releasing music, we’re already writing for album number three, and playing new territories and just having fun with it. I think you should just keep your goals like that rather than thinking I want to sell out this venue or doing this or that before this time next year, otherwise you miss the really important stuff.
Justine: Yeah well we do have those sorts of goals in mind but they’re not the be all and end all… it’s important to keep pushing yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone and let’s try to sell this venue or you can just stay at the same level.
Sammy: Yeah, we do want to advance not we don’t want to loose focus of the main goals and all the other stuff that kind of comes into place, that a bonus.
E&D: Do you see the music growing organically? When I was listening it’s dark and complex, it must take lot out of you to do that and where do you go from there, some bands get mellower…
Justine: We want to be like Pantera, and just get heavier with every record. I admire that band so much for what they did, even at the height of their success they still horribly heavy.
Sammy: To stay abrasive and heavy is so important, not forcing yourself to do it, but we love heavy music, it’s sick at the moment, we have our friends Venom Prison who are killing it and stuff and doing really big things and they’re a super heavy band and Code Orange are getting really big.
Justine: Oh yeah, that band work so hard, well they both do. But Code Orange are sick, I mean they’re still really young… like, I want them to be the next Slipknot.
Sammy: Abrasive music, in a way, is cutting more into the mainstream. I don’t want to harp on about that old days of yesteryear, but you’ve got to look at the new stuff, bands who are as aggressive as Sepultura, Machine Head or Slipknot.
Justine: Like the old days of Roadrunner…
E&D: You’re going all misty eyed now! I do wonder, I’ve seen bands like Boss Keloid, and where is all this going… is this post-doom or what?
Justine: Yeah, like what is it? Just awesome? I do wonder if the mainstream knows where to put all these bands. I love that though, stretching people’s palettes.
Sammy: It’s like the lines are blurring now, it’s not like well, I’m a death metal head or a hardcore kid. Like the tour we did with Milk Teeth and Wallflower, three bands completely different than each other… and it worked. We saw people people rocking one of our t-shirts whilst singing along to Milk Teeth and vice versa.
Justine: I see kids in Balance and Composure t-shirt moshing along to us…. It’s like sick!
Sammy: It’s not like you are on or the other now.
Justine: I think that the metal elitism is such a small part, maybe Iron Maiden fans that only listen to Iron Maiden and nothing else
E&D: Like a previous generation?
Justine: Yeah, the newer generation are way more open minded.
Sammy: It’s nice to have something to identify with and belong to but elitism and stuff, you know, it gets very boring.
Justine: Well, there is one thing, you know like Dillinger, they are a band that sound like Dillinger, that’s the dream, not a genre just to be the band that sound like Employed to Serve or the band that sound like Milk Teeth.
E&D: Well, you mentioned a few earlier, but who should be watching out for?
Justine: Venom Prison will be doing and album later in the year, but also Conjurer, Idols, they are a new Holy Roar band and they sound like Pissed Jeans.
Sammy: Also, Wallflower, they have a new record, that came out I last Friday.
Justine: Palm Reader’s record is coming out.
E&D: Well, I hear good things about that.
Sammy: Oh yeah, it is good, I’ve not heard the whole thing, but i’ve heard is killer… we’re really spoilt for choice, there’s Ithica.
E&D: It’s a conversation we have (within our Echoes and Dust group), how an earth do we cover all this stuff?
Sammy: Yeah, totally. There is also a band called Artemus.
Justine: and Cursed Earth as well.
Sammy: They’ve just started a band called Absentees, so that’s one to look out for.
E&D: Wow, it’s going to cost me a fortune after this festival!
Justine: Yeah, totally check out Cursed Earth, that’s been on repeat.
Sammy: Sure most people have heard of them, but there’s also Frontierer, that played yesterday.
Justine: Yeah, I love that band.
Sammy: Well they levelled the place.
Justine: We’re trying to nick them for Holy Roar!
E&D: Well, there is one question we always have to ask from Echoes and Dust, what is your favourite biscuit?
Sammy: Oh well, latest, biscotti.
E&D: That’s a bit fancy isn’t it?
Justine: It’s fancy and it’s not because you get it free with coffee.
Sammy: I went to a really stingy place once and they gave me half a biscuit, I’m like i’m not coming here again! I mean, you probably get these for free!
Justine: Mine are Oreos, it’s all I eat on tour.
Sammy: Oh, really you got me.
Justine: No, you can’t change!
E&D: Yeah, that’s it…
Sammy: Oh well if that’s the only biscuit you I can eat until the end of time it’s that! And you have biscotti spread.
Justine: Oh shit, that stuff is like crack.
Sammy: I mean it’s spreadable biscuit!
Justine: Our drummer and his wife have arguments about it, one of them would finish the jar.
Sammy: One of them would come down in the middle of the night….
Justine: When they went food shopping they had to miss that aisle so they couldn’t buy any more. It got bad it could be a marriage ender, that stuff.
E&D: Alright, awesome, thanks for your time and enjoy the rest of the festival and you’re set later on.
Both: …thanks, you too!