Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Following the successful of their debut EP, Breaking Out, the UK trio RavenEye will be releasing their full length album, NOVA, worldwide on September 23 via Frontiers Music Srl.
Together, Oli Brown [guitar/vocals], Aaron Spiers [bass] and Gunnar Olsen [drums] worked at Water Music Studio in Hoboken, NJ for 25 days to create an eleven-track CD that pushed the band beyond its boundaries and into new ground. From the hard hitting riffs of “Inside”, “Madeline” and “Hero” to the raw sounds of “Wanna Feel You” and “Oh My Love’ to the stark reality of life and death in “Eternity.” Each song is filled with deep, bluesy grooves and infectious hooks that invoke giants such as Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden.
I caught up with both Oli and Aaron to talk about their latest CD release NOVA, the influences that drive them, and how hard work will pay off!
Robert: Can you tell me about the vision you had going into the making of NOVA?
Oli Brown: We went in wanting to make a heavy and intense record. We had so many songs to choose from that we could focus on a particular sound. It’s our first full length CD so we really wanted it to have more front end energy and sound rather than have a few songs that would set the mood back a little. This was meant to be as in your face as RavenEye gets and we feel like we achieved that!
Aaron Spiers: To that, it all started with the songs. We got together and wrote as many songs as possible with no limit to the possibilities; musically or lyrically. If we heard something going in a certain direction, we would follow it. We tried to stay as true to the song as possible. Time flew by, the songs just kept coming and they seemed to get better and better. By the time it came to pick the best songs, we had 20-24 to choose from. We were able to shape the album as an entire entity, not just songs thrown together, songs that fit in with one another and complemented each other. Without really realizing it we had developed a sound – heavy, melodic, great riffs, great lyrics – great moments!
Robert: I’m intrigued by the title of the CD and title track, is there a meaning behind it?
Aaron Spiers: The title came quite naturally. While in the studio we started riffing on title ideas and Supernova was a strong contender but then we decided to shorten it to NOVA as it had a nice visual aesthetics. We then researched the word and found its meaning was quite poignant; “a cataclysmic nuclear explosion on a star, which causes a sudden brightening” and in Latin Nova means “New,” so it almost perfectly ties in with us – a killer new band with an explosive sound!
Oli Brown: What he said! [laughing].
Robert: Was there any difference between making your EP and this CD?
Aaron Spiers: One major difference from my perspective was that I wasn’t on the EP [laughing]. So there is definitely a better bass player on NOVA [laughing]! Oli played bass on the EP but in all seriousness, he can really play bass; those lines on the EP are killer!
What was unique was the amount of time we spent in the studio during the recording process. To have 25 days in the studio like we did was a dream come true for us and let me tell you; we used every second of it! We’re very hands-on in the studio pulling 16-hour days tracking, editing vocals, mixing, listening, writing lyrics etc. We just come alive in the studio. But funny enough, you always seem to run out of time no matter how long you have. We could have used a few more days but that is probably a luxury.
Oli Brown: First off, Aaron is clearly an asshole [laughing]. Luckily he didn’t notice that when he went to bed I retracked all the bass parts and replaced him.
NOVA has a direction. When recording this album, there was a clear direction on the sound and the purpose of the songs, so all the tones that we put down were exactly as we wanted them. We recorded in a different studio and my man Warren Riker at the helm producing this time round. Originally the EP was meant to be my full length solo album with a variety of different songs/styles, but then I found five tracks that changed everything, so I got them remixed by the engineer and that’s what formed the EP – Breaking Out.
Robert: I really enjoyed the song “Hero,” can you tell me some of the history or back story behind its creation?
Aaron Spiers: The riff idea came at the end of a long day of writing lyrics. I think we grabbed a whiskey and a guitar with the idea of chilling out but then Oli came up with that intro riff and so we started working it out! I guess once you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone and we just couldn’t turn off. The lyrics came quite quickly and the rest, as they say, is history.
Oli Brown: I actually forgot how that came about. It’s a funny turn of events really! When we got started writing lyrics we were picking what was relevant to us. Something I really wanted to get out lyrically was my frustration about the old scene I was in. I had some misplaced attitudes that drove me out of focusing of being a solo artist. When I started RavenEye, I wanted the complete opposite. That’s how the lyrical inspiration came about.
Robert: Who and what influences you the most as songwriters?
Aaron Spiers: Interestingly, Oli and I come from very different places as songwriters and funny enough; it’s something we discussed quite recently. I’m from a jazz/university education/built wanting to be a session player where Oli has been an original artist his whole career. We both wrote our own songs and approach them from different ways but when we get together, it just clicked. We’re very blunt with each other; I think anyone listening in on a writing session would think we hate each other. We have a specific idea about what is good and bad. Interestingly, our ideas are very similar. If you want specific influences, we both love Soundgarden, Chris Cornell, QOTSA, Audioslave, RATM, Zeppelin, Band of Skulls, Rival Sons.
Oli Brown: [Laughing] It can get a little brutal in the studio but it’s never personal. I think you know when a lyric sucks and the worst thing as a singer is belting out lyrics that are limp. It takes the weight of the song and can make you cringe when you have to sing them.
My background originally was blues but I also grew up on rock. Audioslave ‘s “Cochise” turned me completely onto rock and fueled my obsession. Then came Chris Cornell’s world which influenced me hugely even more so than the Soundgarden days. But Aaron kind of knocked the influences.
Robert: Does keeping things simple – just guitar, bass and drums – steer you down a certain creative path?
Aaron Spiers: Yes and no. The three-piece allows each player a lot of room to move but we also found that by playing more simply, the groove was bigger and more powerful. In terms of writing riffs there is a very keen focus that when everyone is slamming a riff it just sounds massive! I don’t think it limited us in any way, we focused on writing good songs and they should stand up in any setting whether it’s an acoustic guitar and voice or a three-piece, the song is number 1 for us!
Oli Brown: I don’t ever feel limited as a writer for a three piece. The bands that I love and grew up were 4-5 pieces which was predominantly drums, bass, guitar setup, with maybe another guitarist/vocalist. Yes we can’t get into synth keyboards, Dj’ing etc but that’s not my bag. We find other ways to push the sound out to make it even bigger as a three piece.
Robert: Tell me what gear you used on the CD as the guitar has great attack yet smooth?
Aaron Spiers: We used a whole bunch of gear for the recording. I was using a ’74 Fender Jazz that belonged to the studio and my trusty Union Bass with the P-bass pickups. I was tracking in 3 ways: direct, through a clean Ampeg SVT amp and then a fuzzed out Fender head and cab – just filthy!
Oli Brown: An original Marshall Silver Jubilee through 1 cab in the center of the room, and a JCM 800 through two cabs either side of the room. Then for double tracking we occasionally used a Bogner ecstasy, or for stereo delay setups a Gibson Vanguard and a Fender Concert, but the main thick sound you hear is the Marshalls leading it all the way.
I then played a few guitars, predominantly, my Hofner Verythin and my Hamm-Tone telecaster; we used a Dan Electro Baritone guitar and a Strat with humbuckers. I’ve never been much of a Strat guy, but with the humbuckers, I’ve found a new craving. That might be in my future if I can get my hands on one.
Robert: What does it take to stand out as a band nowadays in an overcrowded market?
Aaron Spiers: It’s definitely something we’re working on because there are so many aspects to being an artist in this day and age. Gone are the days where an artist can just write songs and play music. We are our own tour managers, social media experts, marketing specialists, booking agent, manager, merch producer plus we write and play the music. Thankfully we have a great team assembled behind the scenes and we hope that we can ease up on everything that isn’t music and just focus on that.
In another sense, we try to put on a great show, write great songs and just be ourselves and hoping that will put us over the edge. There is no such thing as overnight success. Success comes from working your ass off and we don’t shy away from that! Maybe one day it will come but right now, we’re just doing our thing.
Oli Brown: Aaron’s right, we run everything and keep track, and reply to everyone all over the socials. We always hang by the merch at the end of the night and speak to whoever comes by until the bouncers get sick of everyone hanging around!
I’m not sure we have the best advice as we are still developing ourselves and learning how to stand out in an overcrowded market. But the core of it lies to what makes us feel good, we started this band to put together all our knowledge and at the end of the day, make music we like and we want to play, if that helps push us out there, then great.
Robert: What do you think has been your biggest challenge, both musically and professionally, so far in your career?
Aaron Spiers: For me the biggest challenge is finding a balance between the playing/touring/performing and the administration side of things. Sometimes sitting in front of a computer can make you question where the music part of it all is. But it’s all very important. Another thing would be juggling tour life with home life.
Oli Brown: The band was definitely been the biggest challenge professionally. I really believed in it and a lot of people were telling me it was a faze and not to lose focus on myself. They missed the point and how I wanted to let RavenEye encompass everything about me and live it. That’s one of the reasons it all began, because I wanted to make a decision for myself and push in something I truly believe in. I had to say goodbye to a lot of things and start anew. I’m glad I did. The best moments for me have been when I’ve gone through the worst, as it fuels my fire to work even harder. I love feeling the challenge and that’s what keeps me motivated
Robert: Are you planning any solo tour dates to support the CD?
Aaron Spiers: We have a headline tour of the UK planned for October/November 2016 where we will hit all the cities/towns we’ve played in the last year plus a few new ones. We love touring the UK and with a new album, new songs, new show, it’s going to be a fun tour!
Oli Brown: We are going to be all over. Let’s make it heavy and wild. We’ve got a kick ass drummer who’s just joined the band called Adam Breeze and he’s helping take this show to the next level for us. It’s going to be massive.