Interview: BLACK SVAN’s Kenn Bell and Jagger Murray… Posted: 05/02/2015 by John O'Brien
Ireland had it’s name firmy printed onto the Heavy Metal map recently through the release of BLACK SVAN’s debut album, “16 Minutes”, which has has seen critical success both at home and internationally. From humble beginnings, playing the regular pub circuit, to dominating the Irish metal charts on iTunes, the Louth based band have been going from strength to strength since forming in 2009. I caught up with lead guitarist, Jagger Murray, and bass player, Kenneth Bell, in Drogheda to discover the secret of BLACK SVAN.
First things first, it’s not every band that makes a splash like this. I wondered what it was that separated them from the next band trying to break through the industry. So I asked the lads to describe BLACK SVAN’s sound.
“Heavy, melodic, but not too heavy as such. It’s easy on the ears.” Kenneth began. “It’s a fusion of everything. There’s every type of Metal in there basically.”
“It’s because we all listen to different types of metal or music.” Murray stated “We kinda all bring our influences into the band. 16 Minutes is very heavy, kinda Slipknot kind of heavy, and you’ve got songs like Dream Forever with a kinda Metallica kinda vibe going on in it.”
“And the likes of Faith No More with a bit of Kerbdog type of vibe going on” Kenneth said agreeingly.
“Sickness is kinda AudioSlave, kinda Rage Against The Machine” Jagger continues the to and fro.
“Immortal is just thrash or power metal basically. Yeah, there’s a bit of everything really.” The bass player finished up with a proud look on his face.
BLACK SVAN seems like a bit of an unusual name for an Irish band and often leaves people wondering about it’s origins. I decided to get to be the bottom of this once and for all by asking the lads where it came from.
The band’s lead guitarist and founding member tackled this one head on. “It was originally called Black Swan with a W, but when we went on tour with Stuck Mojo and Fozzy at the time we signed a management deal with Dragon Promotions from Germany, and our manager at the time was a guy called Daniel Menthe. He was saying that there were too many Black Swans on Myspace and the internet and things like that. Too many people would be looking at them instead of looking at our page, so he said to make the name different. So he suggested then that we call it BLACK SVAN, he said ‘because your main market is gonna be Germany and they don’t say swan, they say svan.’”
“And the name isn’t gonna be completely different, like a completely different band. People are still familiar with the band, they’re gonna still know us.” Kenneth rounds up.
So the name change had nothing to do with the 2011 movie, Black Swan?
“No!” the two boys said at once, almost anticipating the question. Kenneth then continued by saying “But it could actually get us out of a legal hole. If we did suddenly become overnight sensations called Black Swan, the lads that own the rights to the film could say ‘Hang on a minute; we have a film called this, we have a f***ing book, we have a play, etcetera, etcetera.’”
“So we’re playing it safe” Jagger said giggling a little.
Over the last few years BLACK SVAN have had the pleasure of gigging along side many big names in Metal, including Kerbog and Fozzy. I asked what have been the highlights of sharing a stage with some of their heroes.
“It’s a sense of accomplishments being able to step out on that same stage as them.” Bass player, Bell, exclaimed. “I’ve been a Kerbdog fan… for years, and to play with the lads is just incredible. Like I know they’re not a massive, massive band, but for me that was a personal highlight just to hang out with the lads, and Billy’s [Dalton] become good friends with us now online and stuff. And he’s helped us out, so yeah, it’s been pretty good.” He said while reflecting on the gig in question.
“It’s pretty good, like Kenn said, meeting people you admire.” Wrestling fan, Jagger, said while throwing down his two cents on the experiences after meeting Chris Jericho, WWE Superstar and lead singer of Fozzy. “He [ Jericho] was probably one of my favourite wrestlers, and you know, it was a bit surreal meeting him at first it, and we’re actually quite good friends now. We text each other a lot. We stay in contact. When they’re coming back in March now we’ll hang out with each other. You learn a lot from musicians like that as well because the likes of Rich Ward [guitarist of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy], and people like that, have been on the road like twenty years. They’d teach you a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t learn from a book. Ya know, stuff that you just learn on the road? How to preserve your energy, what food to eat, how to get a good guitar sound live and very important things that you wouldn’t learn in the band room. How to be professional on stage; stage presence. A lot of stuff like that, that I think really helped us develop our live performances as well, especially with Keith [BLACK SVAN’s lead vocalist]. Like the lads helped Keith a lot with interacting with the crowds and talking to the crowd. Because a lot of the venues, we were playing in countries where nobody knew who we were. He [Chris] was giving Keith a lot of advice on how to get the crowd to interact with the band.”
“When you have trouble trying to talk to the crowd like, ya know? Like ‘what the f**k do I say?’ ya know?” Bell said, acknowledging the work how their singer had overcome his issues.
“You might say something to the crowd” Jagger continued “and they mightn’t respond the way you want them to respond, so instead of standing there just going ‘Eh…’ you need a back-up plan. So he kinda gave Keith good advice on how to interact with the crowd. Lessons like that are very valuable that, again, you just pick up on the road. With bands like that who’ve been on the road of twenty plus years; you do learn a lot. A lot of people who are singers need to be front men as well, and that certainly helped us. Even with Billy, he got us a lot of press at the Kerbdog gig. Got a lot of press to come and meet us. I was talking to a good lot of them and a lot of them took photographs of our gig, and gave us online reviews of the gig. Very promising reviews, great photos.”
“We actually shifted a good bit of merch as well at the gig” Kenneth said, coming back in. “People went and bought the album and t-shirts, which was pretty cool as well.”
“And like I was saying with Fozzy’s gig Rich Ward gave us loads of advice on how to work with labels and managers and stuff like that. Stuff that you might get screwed with, but luckily enough because bands like them probably have been screwed in the past.”
“They know” Bell said, agreeing with his band partner. “They’re speaking from experience. And they’re saying to us, ‘Listen, watch out for this, watch out for that’. And it has worked. Bands get emails and stuff, and we’d look at it and go ‘F**k off!’ You know what to spot now, ya know? Like beforehand you might go ‘Look, this company wants to work with us, let’s go and do it!’” Kenneth exclaimed.
“’Where do we sign?’” Jagger chimed in, “But now we’re more reserved because we know what’s out there. We know that the music industry is full of sharks.”
Debut albums are always strange beasts, often accumulating many years of different writing styles and line-up changes onto a single record. Many bands’ core material vary hugely from their first release. I asked Bell and Murray how they thought their record, 16 Minutes, would compare to their later work. Can they see the band changing directions on coming albums?
“I can definitely see it being something that we look back on and be extremely proud of” BLACK SVAN’s lead guitarist said. “I think it definitely has the stamp of our writing style on it. Even now we’re writing new songs all the time, but it does have that groove! I think that what we have in our sound is, it might be very heavy but it’s still got a kind of groove behind it. The songs might change, but the backbone will still be there. You know, like, Metallica, with Kill’ em All, even Master of Puppets; the roots are still there from Kill ’em All. They completely changed their sound with Load/Reload, there’s still some bits in some of those songs and those albums that you can hear…”
“Metallica!” Kenneth exclaimed, confidently finishing Jagger’s sentence.
“Metallica, yeah!” Murray agreed. “You just know when it’s Metallica. I think we have a very distinctive sound ourselves. It’s very hard for anyone to label us as a certain genre of Metal.”
“We’ve been called all sorts.” The bassist said reminiscing on the different styles that people have tagged BLACK SVAN with over the years. “Because the album is so different, there’s not one song on it that sounds the same, but they all have the same kind of groove, if that makes sense. Even live, Jagger and Mo [BLACK SVAN’s rhythm guitar player], guitar-wise, the lads bring their own gear to every gig. The same heads. We’ll always go for the same sound. We don’t just show up and plug into the first amp that’s there and go for it, like. So we always try and maintain that sound live, which we’ve been complimented on many times with the sounds that we’ve had. Especially doing three or four band gigs where lads just show up and use what’s there and we’ll get up;. we might seem a bit f**king arrogant, ‘F**king get off, put our stuff on’ but it works in the end.”
“We need to make our own stamp as well, ya know?” Murray said, backing up his bassist’s statements. “There’s no point in you going in and sounding like everyone. You need people to remember you, and even if we are remembered for those douchebags, as bringing their own gear, who do they think they are. At least we’re remembered for something from a gig.” Jagger then burst out laughed and concluded with “Even if it mightn’t be good, but we’re in the back of their minds then, ya know?”
With support shows to Kerbdog and Fozzy behind them, a hefty stamp left on iTunes and 16 Minutes winning stellar reviews; what’s next in line for this band from Ireland’s east coast?
“… We have the Siege of Limerick gig [Dolan’s, Limerick, April 5th]. We’re playing at that in… April!” Jagger confirmed. “Easter Sunday. That’ll be an excellent gig”
“April, yeah. That’s an all day festival. They actually approached us, which is even cooler” Kenneth couldn’t hide the smile on his face while saying this. “We’re getting a lot of people approaching us, as opposed to us having to ring people and email, scourge looking for gigs. No, we seem to be getting offered gigs. Which is good, like. Beforehand, you know yourself, especially when you’re an unknown band. At least now we have a product that we can sell to promoters and stuff, and say ‘Look, this is our album… we have all the stage experience from gigging, and stuff’, so that has helped us a lot.”
To close, I brought up the album’s iTunes trek, which saw BLACK SVAN accelerating through the charts and securing their name as force to be reckoned with in Irish Metal.
“In the iTunes Metal downloads we got to number 2. In the overall iTunes Indie charts we jumped in at number 20. Which is brilliant, like” Bell said proudly. “Then obviously we jumped back out pretty quick, but it was great for the first couple of weeks to see us checking the charts and like ‘Holy s**t! We’re in the charts!’”
“We didn’t really do much, apart from facebook and Twitter; we didn’t really do much advertising for the album. We didn’t really have a tour to promote anything like that at the time. Which is very surprising.” Jagger said, outwardly happy about the record’s success. “Even the day before the album was released, it was on torrent sites. With torrent sites narrowing album sales down, you know, it’s excellent to see an unknown band getting so far. It been so easy now to download albums and discographies. People actually took the time to support us.”
“We’re still shifting CDs, even at gigs. We’re still selling them. We might sell six or ten CDs at a support gig, ya know?”
“We’re very lucky that way!” Jagger agreed. “We’re lucky in the way that we’re selling stuff, but we’re unlucky in the time that we released the album because now record sales are at an all-time low. It’s very hard to try and compete, but we’re doing well.” He said with a merry sound to his voice, not trying to hide the fact that he was enjoying the entire experience. “Very pleased with how it’s going so far. None of us ever expected to get to number 2, let alone even into the top anything. It was amazing to see us just below Slipknot especially.”
BLACK SVAN’s 16 Minutes is available now on iTunes, and can be picked up at any of their shows. You can also keep up the boys’ tour dates and upcoming releases on www.BlackSvan.com, along with their facebook and Twitter pages…
Interview by Eoghan Murphy
Photos by Andy Murray and AM Photostar