By Kris Peters
The pressures of releasing an album are difficult for even established bands, but when you have critics and reviewers labeling your debut offering ‘album of the year’ and among the best debuts of the decade it can be almost overwhelming and potentially suffocating.
It does help when you have some older, experienced heads in the line-up, but there is still enormous pressure on an outfit when still finding their niche in the market.
Alliance of Thieves, the debut album from Australian band Meshiaak, was released last week to glowing reviews and vocalist/guitarist Danny Camilleri admits that while flattering, the accolades do place added expectations on the band from the outset.
“Those sorts of comments were pretty unexpected,” he says sheepishly. “When we wrote the album we thought it was a strong album that sounded good but having publications call it album of the year and say it’s the best debut album they have heard in a while…it does apply pressure.
“You tend to think to yourself ‘we need to live up to something now’, whereas before it was just this is the album and we hope people like it. All you can do really is let the music speak for itself. It is what it is and if it’s well received, fantastic.”
“It is flattering,” adds lead guitarist/backing vocalist Dean Wells, “but we just do it because we love doing it. There’s no other reason. If people are really liking it or not it doesn’t really change what we are doing. It’s great and it’s humbling but it is important to have that good start to your career.”
Meshiaak is a basically Australian band, featuring Camilleri, Wells and Nick Walker on bass, but also has an X factor in the form of American Jon Dette on drums, former sticksman for Anthrax, Slayer, Testament and Iced Earth.
While the Aussie threesome have primarily enlisted the talents of Jon for his drumming expertise, the small matter of who he is and who he has played with certainly adds an extra dimension.
“It’s definitely helped.” Dette admits of his past success. “I think the benefit of someone like me is with my contacts and using people that are in my circle to help. We’ve got the person who manages Anthrax now managing Meshiaak so there’s things like that that help, but I think it’s more that I’ve been doing this for so long and it’s really my first time being involved with a label on the other end of the table so to speak.
“When I joined Slayer and Testament back in the 90’s I was just an employee of the band, I wasn’t a partner and I’m certainly not now with Anthrax either, I’m strictly filling in for Charlie. There are some differences with me being at the helm now so to speak, but again, over the years meeting a lot of these label people and agents and things like that helps me clear the waters a bit better. You have a better compass of what to do and what not to do.
Dette is quick to point out that Meshiaak is no passing thing, or just session work, for him.
“The thing I like everybody to know – a lot of journalists will ask me ‘how’s the new project going?’ – and I’m quick to tell them that it’s not a project, Meshiaak is a full band and everybody in the band is equal,” he insists, “It’s not my band, I’m a part of this band and I very much want it to be that way. I think you’ll get some chatter in the beginning with my name because people need something to attach it to but I hope in time that will dissipate. I’m just a part of the machine.”
“Jon comes from a different place to us,” Wells chimes in. “He’s a little bit older than us but at the same time he’s done so much touring with Slayer and Testament etc so he brings experience on that side of things. He’s American and he’s different to us (laughs). With Aussies, we work really hard but I find that we’re a bit modest where the Americans aren’t. He’s got a different sort of confidence where we are all so carefree.”
“A band is just a band,” interrupts Camilleri. “It’s all about how you connect. It’s all about how you work with each other and we like to consider ourselves professionals. We all get along well and connect well and are striving for the same thing. I think on any level you need those key elements in place – be it on a local level or an international level; with someone who’s famous or someone who’s not famous. It depends on the chemistry that’s with the band and we all gel really well.”
With Dette based in San Diego and the rest of the band in Australia, the logistics of recording the album could have caused difficulties, but Camilleri and Wells said this provided more of an opportunity than a hindrance.
The Aussie contingent packed up and set off for Oakland, California, home of Green Day’s Jingletown recording studios, and also the place where some legendary metal bands have rehearsed and recorded in the past.
“Danny, Nick and I went over for a couple of weeks,” Wells explains, “so we got to spend a bit of time together on the other side of the world. Where we were in Oakland is a pretty full on place! There’s lots of crime and a lot of shit goes on there that we had no idea about so it was a little bit uncomfortable but that kind of made it cool.
“We were there to do a job and we were rehearsing at Soundwave Studios where Testament and Machine Head and Exodus and even Metallica used to rehearse and we were in the place where thrash basically started and these cool things helped bring the band together and added to the story and the album.”
“I think Dean and Danny wanted to capture that vibe of the Bay Area Thrash bands,” adds Dette, “and Machine Head in particular have recorded several of their records there. I think the guys wanted to capture the essence of that sort of metal.”
The drums were tracked and recorded there before the rest of the album was finished at Wells’s home studio back in Australia, and the end result is very much rooted in the old Bay Area thrash sound that the band was trying to emulate.
The music is almost a slightly commercialised version of that era, while still maintaining its connection with the energy and the rebelliousness that made the era radio-proof in the first place.
“When Dean and I got together we had an idea of what we wanted,” Camilleri says, “but it took on its own form as we were writing because we are both individualistic when it comes to the styles we have and bringing those styles together is what has been the strongest part.
“It wasn’t really as if we were going for that old school vibe. We wanted to recreate that feeling that you had when you first got in to metal and found Master of Puppets for the first time. In saying that we didn’t go for the old school feel and try to commercialise it, that wasn’t an intended plan. We pretty much wrote what we felt and that is how it came out.”
Meshiaak’s Alliance of Thieves is out now.