By Poppy Tohill
With the anticipated release of New Zealand rocker's I Am Giant's sophomore album ‘Science & Survival,' I had the privilege of chatting to the bands drummer Shelton Woolright over the phone while he celebrated the release of the album at a bar in the middle of London, with a well-deserved pint of beer in his other hand.
"Hey, congrats on the release of the album today!" I began. "How are you feeling now that it has finally been released?" "Thank you very much!" a happy Woolright replied. "You know what, I'm in London, it's about 11pm and I'm just smashing pints back, so I'm doing really good" he laughed. "You've got to celebrate these things. It's my fourth studio album, so I'm pretty stoked," he chimed.
When asked how he would best describe the album in three words, "Science and Survival" followed by a laugh was the answer I received. "I mean that's basically what it's about. The title's not just a title, it actually has meaning to us" he continued. "The records about the science of surviving the music industry in this day and age, society and life and moving to London, so the title definitely sums it up in three words. It's kind of a continuation on from our first album ‘The Horrifying Truth.' Because before that album when Paul (bassist Paul Matthews) and I moved over to London we thought, ‘Hey this is going to be easy to crack into the music industry. We've done it before, it's going to be no problem,' but then the realisation of a different country and a different industry was like ‘fuck," Woolright went on to explain.
In terms of whether he thought ‘Science & Survival' was quite a different album from ‘The Horrifying Truth'Woolright explained that, "It's definitely different. There are themes and phases that we've continued to use, but we've just developed. So it's typical I Am Giant. I mean it's the same guys that wrote ‘The Horrifying Truth'" he went on, "so we've just matured in our songwriting. The themes that have continued are things like the interludes, songs blending into each other, concepts and meanings, the lyrics are partially on similar subjects that we've touched on before too. But we've learnt so much more, we've grown as musicians and pushed ourselves. We definitely wanted to make this album more heavier and more progressive and I think we've achieved that. So it's definitely a different album, but I think that it's important for musicians and artists to change and move, because we didn't want to write ‘The Horrifying Truth Part Two', everybody's already heard that. We wanted to give out something different."
"And you recorded it in France?" I went on to ask. "Yeah! We recorded it in the South of France at the DC Studious in Saint-Jean-De-Luz. We've actually been sponsored by DC Skateboards for quite some time, so they contacted us about the studio there. Then Paul and I flew out to see what it was like and it just so happened to be one of the top five studios in France, so we were blown away. We asked if we could record there and they were like, ‘Of Course, we'd love to have you here!' So off we went in the peak of the European summer, out to the South of France, shacked up at a house on the beach. We were out in the studio six days a week, with early morning starts till about 7 o'clock, then we'd go and eat some French cuisine, go to sleep and then wake up and do it all again the next day. We'd have Sundays off and go surfing and just chill out, it was fucking incredible. I mean I've been doing music for 15 years and it's definitely been the highlight of my entire musical career, we were very lucky," Woolright responded.
Remaining on the topic of recording we began talking about Forrester Savell, the producer they've now worked with for both ‘The Horrifying Truth' and ‘Science & Survival.' "Recording was a lot easier this time round," Woolright began. "With the Horrifying Truth' we had no idea. We'd never met Forrester before, so we didn't know him at all, and then by the end of the album we were best friends. Like kind of any producer you work with, you open up to them because you're giving them your everything from your thoughts to ideas and the heart and soul of your music. We saw him a bit throughout the years and gap between ‘The Horrifying Truth' and ‘Science & Survival' and asked him if he'd come over to France when we saw him in Aussie one time and he was like, "Fuck Yeah! I'd love to do it.' So we flew him out there and it was just like seeing an old friend. We were already excited because we knew how he worked, where as it took us a couple of weeks on ‘The Horrifying Truth,' so this time we were straight into it. Paul and I also co-produced ‘The Horrifying Truth' and ‘Science & Survival,' so we'd done a lot of work prior to the studio and we knew what Forester was expecting from us, so it was a lot easier. I guess everything was a lot more oiled. We knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from us, so there were no hurdles, we all knew how everyone worked and we were straight in there and got the job done," he continued. "Forrester blew our minds away with the first album, as a great musician and producer himself, but this time his skills as a producer, engineer and mixer were even more incredible, we were stoked. He's helped us create a great album and we're really grateful to be able to work with him and we're looking forward to working with him again in the future."
When the topic of touring was brought up into conversation, Woolright filled me in on what it was like touring with New Zealand rock legends, Shihad. "That feels like so long ago now!" he laughed. It was the summer of 2012/2013, so a year and a half ago now, but I haven't forgotten what it was like touring with them!" he admit. "Shihad have been my idols and icons since I was a kid, so we're really hoping that we're going to tour with them again soon. Tom Larkin was up in London about a month ago and I caught up with him, so we've kept up the relationship there and they're about to drop a new album too, which I've been lucky enough to hear a few tracks off and it sounds incredible. Those guys paved the way for New Zealand rock before I was in Blindspott, so I've got a lot of respect for them. I wish them all the best for their new album and I can't wait to see them on the road and I can't wait to share the stage with them again hopefully soon," he acknowledged.
"The drummer of Rage Against the Machine is my ultimate idol though, so I'd love to tour with them some day" Woolright threw into conversation when asked who his dream act to tour with would be.
Spending a lot of time both touring and in the studio, Woolright explained the perks of both options. "You know what, it's really weird," he began. "They're both really different vibes. The live thing is like a drug. Because fuck, you walk on stage and you have people screaming at you and it's incredible. It's also the most amazing view in the world. Everyone always asks, "How's your view?" It's like fuck man - You see what a views like standing on stage in front of 20-30,000 people. You walk out and get goosebumps because everyone starts screaming and it's the best feeling in the world. I love that, but I also love the thing of writing music and hearing it come back through the studio monitors. Nobodies ever heard it, you've created it and you know you've done something great and you're about to share it. So that's another great feeling as well. I love them both just as much as each other but they're very very different and I'm really lucky that I get to experience both of those as much as I do," he remarked.
Back on the topic of touring, we started chatting about what the band are most looking forward to about their upcoming album release tour which kicks off on July 17th in Christchurch. "We're just looking forward to getting home and seeing our friends and family really," Woolright declared. "I'm not just going to say this either, but it's actually true that the New Zealand fans are incredibly excitable. They just love having a good time and moshing. We've played to countries all around the world and they're all very different and great. We're very lucky to have fan bases around the world, but the New Zealand fans really give it their all. I don't know if its got to do with the drinking culture or something," he chuckled, "but they get pretty crazy and loose. It's fucking awesome when we cruise down to Hamilton, Christchurch and Wellington and every night everyone's just having a party and you're just like ‘fuck this is cool!" he laughed again. "It's pretty cool, we're very lucky."
"Any band that comes on the road and supports us we thank them for doing that, it's really cool. Paul's actually recently been doing some work with Setting Fire To Stacey. He just produced their latest single, which got some great airplay, so that's why he chucked them on the bill and we just like supporting local bands and stuff like that. Because we were really grateful when we got support. Like the Shihad tour, It means a lot to you. The rock industry in New Zealand is not that big and it's getting smaller and smaller, so we all kind of try help each other out," Woolright explained when asked about support acts, Ekko Park, Setting Fire To Stacey, Black River Drive and Villainy who are all joining them on different parts of the tour.
When asked what else is in store from the band for the rest of the year after the album release tour, Shelton took a long pause before laughing and continuing, "Oh my god.. there's just so much" he chuckled again. "I go straight from New Zealand to Australia, from Australia I think I get a week off in London, then I go to Germany and Poland. Then another week off and then we do Austria and Netherlands. Yeah... fuck, we're booked up till next year. We've got a couple of big gigs coming up which are in the pipeline and they're all quite exciting but we're definitely going to be back down in New Zealand early next year after this winter tour," he exclaimed.
"The album is quite interesting because its got a lot of different sounding songs on it, but it still holds its continuity," Woolright began when askedabout the singles ‘Razor Wire Reality' and ‘Death Of You.' "We just kind of sent the songs out as demos to our record label and friends and asked them what they thought. They all told us to ‘come up with something pretty ballsy,' so we came up with ‘Razor Wire Reality' and then everyone came back saying they loved ‘Death Of You.' We knew it wasn't going to be a big commercial song, because it's quite alternative, so we just kind of chucked it out there," he continued. "We've just released ‘Transmission' which is definitely more of a commercial song and we're actually leaving on Saturday to go and film the video clip for that in Germany. That's with the same guy who filmed the ‘Razor Wire Reality' video too. We're fucking really lucky to be working with him again, we're all really excited because he's fucking incredible. So we're off to Berlin to do that for the weekend and then I'm leaving to come down to New Zealand on Wednesday. I haven't even fucking touched the ground in ages, I just spend all my time on damn planes. I hate it. The worst part of being in a band is definitely the airports and flying. But it's got to be done. When I say I hate it and complain about it, I'm incredibly grateful that this is my fucking cool job, so i don't really think about it at all, it's the least of my worries," he laughed.
Being slightly nosey, I've always wondered the reasoning behind Woolright's black painted face throughout a number of their music videos and photo shoots. Not so subtly slipping it into conversation, which was received with a great chuckle from Woolright, he then went on to fill me in a little bit behind the reasoning of this intriguing artistic visual. "Yeah I'm not going to speak about that just yet," he laughed. "It's quite interesting, because a lot of people want to know about it and I'm just like, ‘oh yeah, in my time I'll talk about it.' Lets just put it this way, nobody asks The Ultimate Warrior why he painted his face," he broke out in laughter again, reassuring me "that's just a joke by the way. I've got these other videos coming up where I'm not sure if I'll paint my face though," he continued. "To be completely honest it was just sort of a creative vent. I just felt like I wanted to do something more alternative and I did that and it was just a creative decision. Because I style the band and do all the art direction stuff as well. I grew up listening to bands that do all sorts of alternative things like that so it was quite a normal for me," he admitted, "but to see the reaction from people has been quite crazy. Lots of people are taking about it and I just sit there thinking, ‘wow this is really quite interesting."
On that note, I went on to congratulate the band on being so efficient with their interaction with fans via social media. Taking the time to respond to as many of their fans as possible, is a great thing to see considering its something not all artists tend to do. After his thankful response, Woolright went on to explain to me why this is so important to them as a band. "Cheers. You know what?," he began. "Without our fans we wouldn't be able to do what we do. We're very lucky and respectful and we really appreciate them. It's the best job in the world and we respect it. So if it wasn't for people that go on there and say hey. I mean it's the least we can fucking do. Sometimes we're really busy and it gets really hard. They'll be people asking us questions and we'll see the message but we can't quite get back to it, because it is a full on job - We're travelling all the time, we're here, we're there. We've got sound checks and interviews, photo shoots and video clips, so it gets quite demanding sometimes, It's not easy. But every single person that writes to us, we try and get back to them because we respect them and appreciate them and without them we wouldn't be able to do this, so its just our way of saying thank you, we are here, we are real and we're grateful for you acknowledging us, you know. Some of those artists I can totally understand that their schedules might be a bit more demanding than ours and there may come a time where we might not be able to do it, but I hope not and if there does come a time, I hope people understand. But at the moment we try our hardest to do that and we'll always try our hardest to do that," Woolright remarked.
With that sentimental statement the interview drew to an end and the celebrations of the release continued.
I AM GIANT - SCIENCE & SURVIVAL NEW ZEALAND TOUR 2014
Thursday July 17th Christchurch - The Bedford CPSA
Friday July 18th Dunedin - Refuel
Saturday July 19th Invercargill - Saints and Sinners
Thursday July 24th Palmerston North - The Royal
Friday July 25th Wellington - Bodega
Saturday July 26th New Plymouth - The Mayfair
Sunday July 27th Ohakune - Hot Lava
Thursday 31st July Tauranga - Brewers Bar
Friday 1st August Hamilton - Altitude
Saturday 2nd August Auckland - Powerstation