Since talking to The Fill Ins last year, the US rockers has dropped one treat of a new album which is really beginning to stir attention the way of the Charlotte, North Carolina outfit. It reinforces their reputation of being a rising force on the rock ‘n’ roll scene earned through previous encounters and a live presence which has seen them share stages with the likes of The Reverend Horton Heat, Koffin Kats, GBH, Total Chaos, Joe Buckyourself, Wednesday 13 and numerous more. We had the pleasure to catch up again with the band to talk about their new release and more…
Hello and thanks for taking time out to talk with us again! When we last spoke, you all were releasing a vinyl 7” and gearing up for a new record. How did it all turn out?
ADAM: Thanks for having us, and it’s going great! The writing and recording process was really easy and fun, and I’m really happy with these tunes.
ALEX: We were so happy to get the Hit The Gas single pressed on vinyl. I personally think it was a hit, at least in my eyes! We’ve finally had a new record come out on June 30th titled The Time Is Now and it’s released through No Profit Records. 6 brand new tracks, plus 2 bonus tracks; Hit The Gas and a remix / re-master of Saturday Night (our other digital single from 2016). It really speaks for itself; it’s just raw rock n roll in many forms.
Taking a recap, was there any specific idea behind the forming of the band and in what you wanted your sound to offer?
ALEX: Pure and simple, I wanted to form the band I wasn’t seeing around town; a straight forward rock n roll band. That town was Roanoke VA and that version of the band didn’t last long only playing about 3 or 4 shows before splitting up. Once I moved to Charlotte NC, it was the same attitude and mind-set; make a killer rock n roll band. It took a while and the right group of musicians by my side, but I think we’ve got something special right now and I’m so grateful to be part of it.
Since its early days, how would you say your sound has evolved?
MIKEY: Our sound is definitely starting to really show what each individual has brought to the table. We have a unique blend of punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll with a little bit of country twang coming from Alex and Capp, with just a touch of metal and aggressiveness coming from Adam and myself. It makes for a unique sound that is fast, loud and powerful.
JAMES: We’ve all gotten better as musicians and we always strive to make our songs better as our creative juices get flowing.
ALEX: The Fill Ins have always had a rock core with a punk edge, especially once reformed in 2013 and started writing the Hipster Killers album. When 5th Time’s The Charm came around, we found a new studio and collectively decided to move forward in a more aggressive rock sound. I think that album has a lot more hooks than Hipster Killers and more thought through song writing. Once we lost our long time drummer, Adam joined us and it was a whole new dynamic sonically; really giving me a window to kick the group into high gear. Out of that came a new logo, sound and Hit The Gas, that was the most well received song yet so I felt we had hit something good. This new record just expands on that.
Do you deliberately go out to push your sound into new areas or let it organically evolve?
ALEX: If I’m being honest, it might be a little of both. Whenever you get a new band member in the fold, things will change. Thankfully it’s so far been for the better! Out of that, naturally you’ll start writing songs with this new member’s strengths and styles in mind. That’s why I say it’s organic and a bit of a deliberate act by nature.
MIKEY: I’d say it’s been a little bit of organic evolution of the band as well as deliberately writing in a different style. I like to push my metal influence over the songs as much as I can until the guys pull me back into “our sound.” We have also acquired new gear over the years. We started out playing single speaker lunch box sized amps and have progressed to 150 watt half stacks. We’ve also grown a lot as musicians, especially myself. There’s always practice to be done, new things to learn and developing a better sense of time, rhythm, phrasing and overall song structure.
JAMES: I’d agree with that! We’ll get in a room and hash out songs relatively quickly, but every now and then, a “what if?” scenario will present itself. Sometimes those work, and sometimes they don’t, but we’re never scared to try different things.
Do the same things still drive the band when it was fresh-faced or have they too evolved over time?
ALEX: Oh for sure, in many aspects even more now than then. It’s never been about money, it’s never been about “making it big”; it’s always been about making an impact with our music. It could be that be the guy that picked up a record and he has a new favorite song, or a live show that made someone forget about work or whatever could be weighing them down. I don’t care if there are 5 or 500, or even 5,000 people in front of me, the passion I have for this band and the music we make pushes me harder and harder to be the best we can be. Whatever comes out of that is the icing on the cake.
JAMES: For me, playing music is always a blessing, but as more opportunities arrive, certain goals occur along the way, but we always approach everything within reason.
MIKEY: can’t speak for everyone as to what moves the band. I just want to have fun and play music with my friends and as many other people as possible. It’s a huge community and family I’d like to think I’m a part of.
Tells us about the inspirations for the members of the band, presumably a wide range with your different backgrounds?
JAMES: We all come from different backgrounds, so where I’m sitting, as far as the creative process goes, I base my creative impulses on something somebody else in the band leads off with, whether it’s a riff or a beat. We’ve gotten so comfortable and reliable as a unit, that knowing what they’re going to do next is pretty inspiring.
ALEX: I wouldn’t say one single artist or group has heavily influenced us more than the other. We really are a blender full of so many different inspirations and influences; I can’t really put a finger on one specifically.
MIKEY: My inspirations for playing and writing change as I get older and more experienced. That’s not to say that my old influences no longer influence me, just that new things pop up that I dive into head first and spend a while deconstructing it and learning from it. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of video game soundtracks and writing similar sounding riffs and melodies. Mainly from the Dragon Ball Z franchise or old school Megaman and Final Fantasy melodies.
How does the songwriting work within the band?
MIKEY: Usually songs are born from jam sessions or by building off of a riff or tune that someone brings to the table
ALEX: Starting out, I wrote the bulk of the songs to set a baseline of style and form. Songs would be brought up and it would be a great tune, but it just didn’t really fit the rest of the set at all; and not in a cool way either. Once we recorded Hipster Killers, everyone had a better understanding of the style and Mikey started really shining as a songwriter for “5th Time’s The Charm”. With this new record, everyone has had their fingers in the cookie jar in one way or another and it’s really created a cool collection of songs.
How about inspirations for the lyrical side of your songs?
ALEX: I’m one of those people that cannot sit and decide I’m going to write lyrics. I could be sitting at work and all of a sudden think of a cool line and start expanding on it in my head. I have to write it down almost immediately or I’ll forget it later on. Same thing with guitar riffs; I one time was out running errands and a riff popped in my head, so in the middle of the store, I had to do a voice recording of me humming the riff so I could figure it out later. I may start with a concept, a Point A to Point B idea of where I want it to go, but that’s sometimes the most I can get out of it until later. I’ve been known to re-write verses minutes before cutting the track in the studio… haha
I’d say the only lyrical theme I actively try to avoid is politics. Some of my favorite bands made an impact without being preachy, and I want our music to be a release and not have a political message behind it. I think bands should stick to making music and leave the political talk to people that are smarter than us.
Could you give us some background to your latest release; The Time Is Now.
ALEX: The Time Is Now was recorded at Fithman Studios under the guide of Steve Coleman, Jeff Thrice, and Justin Campbell. It was recorded over the span of a week or so and another few weeks of mixing and mastering before it was complete. We actually held on to these recordings for a while before releasing them, mainly because we wanted to make sure we did it right and not just toss it out there for folks to consume and digest. It really is a perfect storm of killer songs at the right time in our musical endeavor.
MIKEY: The Time is Now is also our first full release with our drummer Adam. It’s definitely a powerhouse of songs meant to be louder, crunchier and riffier than our normal tunes. We spent more time on the recording process this time around and came out with a product we’re all pretty stoked about.
How about its themes and premise behind its songs.
MIKEY: Just keeping rock ‘n’ roll alive in a word of Biebers and Kanyes.
ALEX: The same thing that has driven us from the start; it’s just rock n roll baby. We sing about love, hate, fun, troubled times, just no politics as I mentioned before. We rarely have a running “theme” for our records; just pure, punch you in the face hits.
Do you attack the studio with songs pretty much in their final state or prefer to develop them as you record?
ADAM: When writing songs typically there’s a root idea and we just get in the room and start bouncing off ideas and trying stuff. Typically the first couple run-throughs go great and the songs usually 90% done, then we go into the studio with pretty much 98% of the songs ready. We might tweak things a little here and there but we pretty much know what we’re going to do.
JAMES: Normally, we go in with songs complete for the most part, but if there are minor suggestions here and there that make the songs better, we take advantage of that.
MIKEY: Everyone in the band goes into the studio with the motive to get the songs knocked out asap… except for me. It’s annoying for the rest of the guys, but I’m too much of a perfectionist and my own worst critic. I’m never happy with anything I do and eventually settle on a best take. I also enjoy the studio atmosphere much more than writing by myself at home with subpar equipment. We’re very fortunate to have a studio producer who allows us to take as much time as we need to make sure we get what we want out of the song.
ALEX: For me personally, I hate not being prepared heading into the studio. We usually practice our asses off the weeks leading up to it so everyone can have a firm grasp on the songs we’re doing. Though with as much prep as we seem to do, there is always a song or part of a song that ends up making us slow down a bit and really take a look at what we’re doing. Over the years, I’ve become a bit less high-strung when it comes to “get in there and knock it out”, but I also hate wasting time because my favorite part of the process is mixing and mastering…That is the part I don’t mind obsessing over.
Tell us about the live side to the band?
ALEX: I like the fact that we don’t just stand there and play our instruments; we move around and give you a show. We also love audience participation even if it’s just yelling when instructed.. We want to make an impact; what that impact is I’m not sure, but you’ll sure remember us at the end of the night.
MIKEY: We try to be as loud as possible when we play live. Loud enough to get people’s attention without sacrificing tone. We’re used to playing in Charlotte where people would rather pay entry to stand outside the venue, smoke cigarettes and talk. Gotta crank it up so they can hear us out there!
JAMES: It’s just a big party. We have fun playing and encourage our audience to have fun with us while leaving whatever agenda they may or may not have at the door.
ADAM: I would say that live we very energetic, loud good ole in your face high octane rock n roll. We put 100% into our live presence.
We asked you this the last time but interested to see if anything has changed in the opportunities for new bands to make an impact on your local scene let alone nationally and further afield.
JAMES: A lot of factors have provided opportunities that work well for us, but may not for others, so there really are no right answers to that. All I can say is that as long as you have a strong support around you, opportunities will present themselves, no matter where you are.
ALEX: We’re still a “spit and duct tape” band and we’ll probably always be that band in most aspects. The most important thing a band like us can do is market yourselves the best way possible; good graphics, great live show and the music to back it up. It’s not just about writing and playing music, there is so much more to it than that. The odd thing is that people outside our Charlotte NC bubble seem to dig us more than some of the clubs we’ve played since the start. The rock scene in NC and SC seems to be rather exclusive, and we don’t fit in any sort of “category” or specific “genera”, so we kinda float around the different “scenes” until we find the people for us.
The internet and social media is still a big part of pushing The Fill Ins forward?
MIKEY: These days it’s all about the social media outlets and using them as tools to get yourself out there and recognized. That goes for any kind of business, music based or not. You gotta sell not only your music but yourself. People have to want to know you and trust you before they become loyal fans of what you’re doing. It takes time to build that up and you just gotta keep pounding away at it. All of which I have no patience for, I stray away from any screen as much as possible. That’s why Alex handles all that for us.. haha!
ALEX: Social media has been the one thing keeping us alive and going today. I’m always thinking of new stuff we can do online that can set us apart from the rest or to provide something fun for everyone that checks it out. Music doesn’t sell like it once did, so you have to find new ways to reach your audience. We will always make music because we have to, it’s in our blood and I will personally not be the same person if I didn’t have music to play…but for the public, the music is just the soundtrack to the “brand” they support. We’ve sold more shirts this year than we have CDs and that is the first time for us. There is a definite shift in musical consumption and a lot of indie artists like ourselves that do not have money being thrown at us to really promote our music to the world; we have to become a lot more creative in promoting. Part of that is making sure your physical music is packaged and looking great; which is why we opted to get digipacks for the new record since it’s a lot better packaging than the traditional plastic cases. One thing I see people doing is rebelling against streaming services because of the small royalty pay out and to me as a fan; that is a really shitty move. I have a Spotify account and I use it for all my on-the-go music and then my vinyl when I get home, if an artist wants to take their music off the service, more than likely I’m not going to make an effort to go and get it another way, instead they just lose out on people learning the music and sharing it with their friends. In no way do we want people stealing the music from us, but I’d rather 1,000,000 hear it for free than only accept payment for every download. Pick your battles and find new ways to keep the band growing.
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Pete RingMaster 24/08/2017
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