Longtime Shadows Fall frontman Brian Fair is involved in a new project, Downpour, who just released their self-titled debut. I spoke with Fair about the delay between the recording and release of the record, why they chose the independent release route, the state of the music industry, Shadows Fall’s future and legacy and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: Downpour was already in existence when you came on board a few years ago, right?
Brian Fair: Yeah, mostly in the jam instrumental stage, though. Derek (Kerswill, ex-Unearth) and I had originally gotten together and started writing songs, and then as things progressed we just knew, we’ve got something here, we’ve got to see if we can do something with it. Unfortunately at the time everyone was either starting families, new jobs or new something, so they knew it probably wouldn’t be a full time band situation, but these songs are too good to just sit in the ether.
You recorded the album a few years ago, correct?
Yes. Once they had recorded some instrumental demos and sent those to me originally I was just absolutely blown away by the material, which is funny because at the time I didn’t really know if I wanted to get into any sort of band scenario. I had just started a family, Shadows Fall was playing a couple shows a year, but I had already decided not to really tour, so it was a weird spot. And then I heard this stuff and was like, oh man, I’ve got to get in on this. Vibe-wise it was something I’d always wanted to do, something a little more a groove oriented, a little more atmospheric that had a little darkness to it. It checked a lot of boxes of things I’d always wanted to do.
The writing side for me happened real quickly. As I was listening to demos, ideas were popping in my head already. So I hit up Derek and said it’s going to have to be a long distance relationship, but I’m totally in if you guys are down to make that work. So I started writing on my own, in my little home studio, trading ideas back and forth, and then went back to Massachusetts for a little while. We jammed for a day and then recorded the vocal demos that night. We sat on that for a little bit, then I flew back and spent a few weeks there and then we did the whole album. So, it happened really quick at the beginning and then we had to sit on it for awhile while just due to life.
Is this one of the more vocally challenging projects for you?
Definitely. I didn’t want to do anything that felt like I’d done before. I really want to push myself dynamic wise and even approach wise. If it was a really heavy verse, I don’t want to just do the normal scream along to the chugs and then get pretty on the chorus type of metalcore for a paint by numbers sort of vibe. I wanted to try and do something a little different. I also wanted to bring in a lot of vocal effects and just have some fun. I’m a super space rock psychedelia fan. In Shadows Fall it didn’t really work in the thrash sort of environment, and to force it in would have felt like putting something in it that didn’t belong. This music really lent itself to that. So I was able to experiment a little more with that. And even lyric wise, with Shadows Fall I really had a very philosophical sort of angles of things, and with this I was going to bring from a more personal kind of place. So all those things are a little different. Challenge might not be the right word, but just just branching out and expanding upon things that I may not have touched on before.
The song “Mountain” sounds a bit Voivod-y to me.
What’s crazy is that that’s actually a cover song by this awesome band Great Northern that has female vocals and it’s super stripped down indie rock, no heavy guitars. The drums were really minimal and the singer has this beautiful voice. I brought that idea to the band and reconstructed it in a demo form hitting real heavy and we went into a whole new atmosphere. If you heard the original, the melody lines are there, but that’s really about it. We took it into a total new direction. It’s funny you mentioned Voivod, because Nothingface, that record to me was such a huge influence and showed me about the potential that you could do within heavy music that didn’t have to be just brutal in your face all the time. You could bring some textures and some interesting global idea to it, and so they’ve always been an influence. That song was one of those happy experiments that went way further than I even thought it was going to and it definitely adds a different element to the whole recording. I think it stands out a lot. We got to play with some synths on that as well as some real layered vocals and I had a blast recording that one.
Since this album has been finished for a few years, have you written anything since then?
Yeah, they’ve had some ideas. There’s also some unfinished stuff that we had been working at the time that we never got to fully realize. So we do probably have enough material already to do either another EP right away or an LP down the road, and honestly, in this day and age with the way music is distributed and consumed, the idea of doing a few shorter EPs over the next little while probably is the most appealing way, with attention spans what they are and the way people listen to stuff and just single songs. That, and the fact that it took us four years to put out the full length, releasing a couple of EPs over a shorter period of time is probably something we have planned for the future.
What led you to go down the PledgeMusic crowdfunding route?
We knew we didn’t want to go traditional record label style release because we weren’t going to be a touring band, which honestly turns off a lot of record labels right away knowing that this was going to be not necessarily a studio only project, but something where we weren’t going to get in the van for two years and go out and promote. So that’s a tough sell to a traditional kind of label and everything is becoming so much more fan centric in that way. It made sense to get people who are behind this project since it was sort of a passion project for all of us, to tap into some of that from people who may be feeling it the way we were and also a cool way to give some different package options to people, but without having to make people pay for a deluxe only release. You have options, so it just seemed to make sense.
You’ve had to build a fan base for new bands in the past. With today’s resources, especially social media, does it make things easier, or is it just different building an audience for a new band?
I think it’s different. It would be easier if there wasn’t such a massive amount of music flooding the world. You can get direct to people. I love the fact that people have surprise release albums and do things like that and really connect with fans directly. But there’s so much traffic it can get almost overwhelming. It’s so hard to find something new that you can concentrate on. I wouldn’t say it’s easier. It’s definitely different than the traditional old school way that either Overcast or Shadows Fall came up. But for us it’s perfect to be a band where we’re not going to be able to get in front of tons of new people by traveling and playing shows. We’ve wanted to take that even further, like maybe live streaming performances or things like that down the road to tap into some of that accessibility that exists now that didn’t before.
Downpour has played a few shows here and there, but it’s been awhile, right?
It’s been a minute. I think we played three shows. We did New England Metal Fest, we did another small festival that Shadows Fall headlined and that’s really been about it. But we do want to do some shows down the road. Right now it’s a logistical issue more than anything else.
Talking about promoting the new album, with Overcast and Shadows Fall, it seemed like there was more mystique back then. These days every bit of the process is out there on social media and there’s really no mystique left. Do you think that’s a positive thing?
I don’t know, because I don’t think you can have a rock star anymore. I don’t think you’d have the the imagery of a Jimmy Page and Robert Plant where they seem like demigods who were probably doing sorcery in their spare time or whatever. And then you realize, no, they’re just dudes hanging out the bar. So some of that has definitely gone. When we first started talking about this with Downpour, we talked originally about, let’s go Tool style and not even have band photos or anything like that. But of course you start to realize when you’re trying to promote something, it’s hard when you don’t have any promotional materials. (laughs) We at least tried to keep things at the beginning, at least a little mysterious where we were leaking some music and then that would lead to lyrics on Twitter posts that had no sort of context, things like that. Because I do think that is an element that’s missing, that mystique and that mystery. That larger than life thing you could create back then is really hard to do now.
It’s also harder these days to make a living because basically with streaming, the royalties are just pennies compared to even the physical product.
Totally. I think I saw some posts from Peter Frampton saying 500 million streams and he got like 1700 bucks or something insane. That became a reality at the end of Shadows Fall days where we realized if we can’t stay on the road eight, nine months out of the year, it’s really hard to survive full time because you don’t have anything subsidizing that time off the road, like record sales or anything like that the way we used to. Even in 2007 or 2008, when the industry was starting to shift, you could still at least see some of that in a tangible way and then it just got harder and harder and you saw labels starting to lay people off and things getting smaller and smaller. And if you don’t want to go and grind it out and play every night, it was just really hard to make a living.
What do you do in these days to pay the mortgage?
I work for a guitar company, Alvarez Guitars, and we also own a couple violin companies and other stuff like that. So just still staying involved in music but just in a different kind of way these days. For me just being away from my kids on tour was just getting to be too much where I was missing too many things and feeling like a ghost in my family life and that was just getting tough to balance out with the fact that it was a struggle to stay financially secure even on the road. So, I didn’t want to miss things. It’s different when you’re on a Metallica level when you can fly the whole family to a hotel in Paris and then you fly to each show from there. It’s definitely a different experience than being on the road and barely breaking even, but not also be home to enjoy any of it
You now live in St Louis?
My wife is originally from here, so I moved here about six years ago. For a while I was splitting time between here and Massachusetts, but then made the full time move. Once my son was born we bought a house and got more settled in here. My daughter just started school so we’ll be St Louis bound for awhile.
Are you still in Hell Night?
Yeah, that’s a local band from around here. My wife was friends with their original singer and I started skateboarding with the guitar player and they were the first local band I saw and I was blown away. It was this crazy mix of Black Flag energy but with some sludginess and downtuned weirdness. And I was like, damn man, this is awesome. And once the singer quit, they asked me if I wanted to try and jam and I was like, this is the only band I probably even thought about joining. So it worked out perfectly and that stuff’s fun. It’s agenda free music. We write real quick and record even quicker. We play a show every other month or so, maybe even less. It’s full on raw energy. It’s a blast.
Living in St. Louis and being a huge baseball fan, have you adopted the Cardinals yet?
Hell no! I am a Red Sox fan through and through. These so called best fans in baseball? I’m not feeling it, my friend. If it’s them versus a national league team, fine, but I’ll always be a Boston sports fan masshole through and through. My first year living here, we beat them in the World Series again. I kind of forgot how many times Boston teams have ruined a season for St Louis, whether it was 2001 in the Super Bowl against the Rams or a couple of World Series in a row.
Now that you’ve had a little bit of distance from Shadows Fall being a full time band, have you thought about the legacy of the band and what you helped develop?
I think we definitely had a hand in maybe bringing back a little life into American metal at a time where it was either heading in such a nu-metal direction or at least away from the style that we grew up loving. We showed that a metal band could not only get surprising things like Grammy nominations and major tours and all that, but that sound was still very much well and alive in the United States, it had just been pushed underground. We still all stay in touch and we’ll probably do some stuff here and there in the future. I don’t know if we’ll ever record new stuff or anything like that, but we’ll definitely always talk about trying to get together and play some shows.
It’s funny because now everyone’s in classic thrash bands, whether it’s John in Anthrax or Jason playing in Overkill. Once they have some time off of their busy schedules maybe we’ll try and get some stuff together. It went way further than we ever imagined in the beginning and took us to places we never thought we’d get, so looking back, it was a crazy ride. At the time it felt like it had been so long then, but now that I think about it, it went by so fast.
It has been said by some that once today’s superstar bands like Metallica decide to call it a day, there’s nobody that could step in and fill that void. Do you agree?
I don’t think there will ever be a band the size of Metallica. I don’t think it’s possible really logistically to ever be that big. Plus they were at a time where they were completely creating a sub genre that hadn’t existed where nowadays it seems like it’s more adaptations of different influences where they were making stuff a little more fresh and new. So I don’t know if that’s possible. I don’t think you could ever get as big as them because there’s barely any other bands as big as them ever. But as far as the next generation, I mean, between the Lamb of Gods and Mastodons of the world, there’s always going to be incredible creative energy in the metal scene. There’s going to be incredible musicians, but it is crazy how long those bands have been able to stay energetic and viable through it all.
Slayer I guess is finally calling it a day. I just went and saw that tour about two weeks ago and the energy that Testament and Anthrax and Slayer were still bringing to this day and Napalm Death who have been doing it for eons is still out there just killing it, reminds you how powerful that music can be. So I don’t know what the future will hold, but there’s always going to be creative musicians pushing things in new directions. I don’t know if it’ll ever be as big as it was that way commercially. But I think there’ll always be that those bands that are just changing the game and inspiring new generations.
(interview published September 7, 2018)