Interview with Steve Merry of BE’LAKOR
So your new album, Vessels, came out on June 24th. Congratulations! For those that have not had a chance to listen to it yet, what is this album like as opposed to your previous records?
We’ve used more sounds and more riffs that we’ve probably never used in other realms. There’s a wider range of things that people may not have expected to hear from us, but it’s certainly still got the core sound that we would normally try to have. Very melodic. Very dark. That sort of stuff.
It’s been about four years since Beneath The Bone. How has the band progressed in that time?
I’d say mainly we decided to branch out a bit. Our third album, we felt we didn’t want to do another album like that, so I’d say we probably progressed in that we opened up to some of the ideas to try to get a bit more progressive influences into our music and maybe some more black metal influences and just a bit more variety really.
Vessels is a concept album. What prompted you to go into that direction, and what is the storyline?
Sure. On all of our previous stuff, we’ve always written stories, and the stories have been basically contained within a song. I suppose we just figured, “Why not try making the album as a whole tell one long story?” That was, I suppose, the starting point. The concept itself is very much inspired by nature and life in general. We write things that we can get drawn in from the album in most cases, and we don’t get drawn into politics and stuff. It’s all kind of very old world or science and nature and that sort of stuff.
This story, it basically tracks light from the sun. Track one and track two are describing the formation of light in the sun, and then it’s journey to Earth. Then the remaining tracks on the album follow the way that that energy passes through different living things on Earth and the struggles that the creatures face and the way that’s everything’s connected. Then, towards the end of the album, it finds its way into a human, and then I suppose humans can have the capacity to reflect and perceive their own existence in the universe and think about all that. Really, just tracks the interconnectedness of all life on Earth.
Wow, very complex.
It was fun. It was challenging, but it was fun. That’s the sort of stuff that we like. We like watching science documentaries and reading, and I’ve studied philosophy. Just a bit of a mix of that sort of stuff. History. It’s all very interesting stuff, yes.
Living in Australia, must be very inspiring. So much natural beauty.
Yeah. I crave nature. I live in the city in Melbourne, so I would like to be living on a mountain but currently I’m not. We do have a little bit of nature in Australia, but there’s certainly pockets of urban density as well. It’s something that we, as a band, probably would like to have more access to than we do.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I think when we started about ten, twelve years ago it was just some of those really well known melodic death metal bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquility, At the Gates, Opeth. Definitely Opeth. It’s probably a lot of the bands that people who like melodic death metal, or I suppose progressive death metal, all those bands that people would know really well. Then, in intermittent years, it’s diversified a little bit more beyond that starting point.
It’s been documented that bands for most Australian bands it is difficult to tour Europe and the US. Are there any plans for a US tour perhaps?
Yeah. Well, when I say, “Yeah, there’s plans,” we want to go there. We want to get to America. It’s probably been about two years now that we’ve gone from saying, “We might do it,” to “We really want to make sure we can do it.” You’re right. The barriers are probably just money being the biggest one. All the guys in the band we work jobs that keep us busy as well, so it’s just a matter of balancing all that so that we can find some time is each of our jobs. I think it’ll probably happen, but it might still be another year or so away.
Well hopefully soon that can be a reality. In New York City there is a big demand to see Be’lakor live.
I would love to. We’ve only ever been to Europe outside of Australia. We just played Europe three times over the past, what is it, six years or so.
You’re playing festivals too, right?
Yeah. In fact, we’ve only actually really played festivals in Europe. We’ve played a few club shows, but we’ve never done a tour where we go fifteen to twenty club shows around. That would be the next thing as well, to do a more traditional tour where you are doing that sort of thing. We’ve only ever gone for two or three week tours where we might play three or four festival shows and then come home again. That would be cool.
You mentioned jobs. What do you do when you’re not making music.
I’m a teacher in a primary school.
What grade do you teach? I’m a teacher too.
Cool, I taught grade one through four, so about six through ten, for about five years. The band is a hobby really for us, and we like to try and see how far we can take it and keep a bit of a balance in our lives as well.
I’ve been teaching pre-school for two years. I’ve been teaching for nine years. I’ve taught all subjects and grade levels but my heart is in Early Childhood.
Oh nice. It’s quite exhausting isn’t it.
When you spend most of your days surrounded by little ones, it can be. But it is rewarding at the same time. I think you just need to have a lot of patience no matter what grade you’re teaching. But when you see your students’ progress, it’s all worth it in the end.
Anyway, outside of work and music what are your hobbies and interests?
At the moment, we’re very busy with the band so we’re all finding that we are struggling to have much time beyond work and the band. When we do have time, for me it’s getting out into nature and just going for walks or hikes. I like writing music outside of Be’lakor as well, so when I can I try to write some of my own stuff. Just piano music and stuff. I think the guys like to play some games, like to do gaming, when they’ve got time as well. Us all feeling a little stuffed to be a sport. Going to watch footy. Australian Rules Football. For us, I think the band is definitely the most exciting of our hobbies.
From one educator to another, I think it’s pretty admirable to be able to balance your career with music, and not mention family responsibilities as well. Us teachers need something to keep us sane at the end of the day whether it’s music or conducting interviews.
Yes, and thanks. It is a juggling act. In the last few years for us it’s become more of a juggling act. Like Shaun’s got a young family now, and just things change like when we started we were obviously nineteen and now we’re in our thirties. Things change, and it’s just a matter of rolling with it. Because we’re all good friends, it seems to work well because the friendship still comes first, I guess. The band adjusts to the needs as it can, because we’d rather stay friends first.
How would you describe the Australian music scene? What are your favorite Australian bands?
My favorite Australian band probably is a band that isn’t a metal band. You might’ve heard of Tame Impala. I really like their stuff, but, in terms of metal, probably bands like Sarcoptic. We really admire King Parrot. It’s an Australian band who were touring really hard. Any time we see an Australian band getting over to the US touring together long tours and work really hard, that’s pretty awesome to see. There’s a lot of bands in Australia. It’s hard to keep track sometimes. There’s a lot going on.
I’m really liking Ne Obliviscaris at the moment.
We know those guys.
They’re going to be playing in New York City soon.
Yes. They’re doing a tour soon. They’re another good band like King Parrot.
Well, hopefully you guys are next.
Yeah. We’ll see how we go. I think Ne Obliviscaris has probably gone through a similar thing to us in terms of deciding how to juggle all of that, and they have decided to really throw everything into it. I think a lot of those guys have quit their jobs or lost their jobs because of the touring, and that’s … I suppose it takes balls to do that. You got to really put it top of the list. I think they’re doing really well.
Going back to the new record, what are your personal favorite tracks on the album?
For me, it’s “An Ember’s Arc,” “Withering Strands,” I think that’s track three; and “The Smoke of Many Fires” are probably my three favorite songs on the album. I think those are like … If someone said, “What do you guys sound like these days?” I would say probably listen to those three songs.
Visually, each album that you released, you’re using this really fascinating imagery for your cover art. What drives you to pick out such striking images, and do they reflect the themes of the album?
Definitely. I think the first question like in terms of why we picked those pictures, we like to try to find art that is already existing artwork that we like rather than go and find artists and describe to them what we want them to make. Often, it just may not be what you hoped it would be when you get it back. We spend a lot of time looking through various websites and finding artwork that we think is cool or photographs that we really like, and then when they tie in with the ideas of the album obviously that’s even better. Then we’ll usually just ask the person if we can either buy it off them or just get permission to use it.
We try to pick pictures that are interesting and memorable and not just your average metal album cover, because you see a lot of stuff that looks kind of similar so we something that’s a bit different.
Thank you for your time and I hope you have a great weekend ahead. Any parting words to your fans?
I ‘d like to just say that anyone in the US, if you’re a fan of ours, thanks for waiting. I know it’s been a few years, and I think some people have come to see us, so thank you for all hanging out there until we’re able to get across to the US.