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The first full-length interview with Perth nu metal revisionists 生 Conform 死

Metalheads and the media have spent the past four years playing Whac-A-Mole with Perth band 生 Conform 死.  The nu metal revisionists have been popping their heads up to release music and play shows since forming in late 2015, but not long enough for people to get to know the members or their story.  Their time in the limelight consists of a few album reviews and fewer, brief interviews, which take some time to find. 

Conform removed some of their camouflage with the release of the first EP, ‘Vol 1: Cigarette Lullaby’, in 2016.  Then came the 2018 single, Blood Eagle, and along with it, their first LP, ‘Circa ‘94’.  This was the first real period of visibility, with Blood Eagle making its way onto triple j’s The Racket and Home and Hosed.  It was also added to rotation on triple j Unearthed, hit number one on the Unearthed metal charts, was added to rotation on The Faction radio, and was added to official Spotify playlist, Homegrown and Heavy.  As of 2019, they have played alongside international and national heavyweights such as Born of Osiris, Chelsea Grin, Protest the Hero, Make Them Suffer, Saviour, Ocean Grove and Polaris. With over one million total Spotify streams, it has become increasingly harder to hide.  In their first full length interview, Conform shed light on the five members, their DIY ethos, perfectionism, the contradictions and contrasts, the brutal honesty, the weird humour and why nu metal inspires them.

“The way it seems to us is that we are the child that no one wants.  It feels like no one would even fucking piss on us if we were on fire,” says Conform’s engine room Jeremy Pickett, who is pondering record deals, fitting in with a label’s ‘brand’, and if that’s part of the band’s future.  “I think I like that. It’s a good thing because we’re doing something different and we’re not falling into this fucking category, like: ‘Let’s get signed to whatever; let’s just fall into this metalcore shit’.  I feel like our DIY sound is just going to get watered down if we do anything like that. It’s going to lose its potency.” Pickett says a prime example of this rough around the edges approach is early Slipknot. “…When they started, you just hear pure, unfiltered aggression from everyone in the band – it’s just an onslaught of angst.  I think that’s why I like them so much. The aggression really hooked me, so that led me down the track of Korn – all that aggro stuff…”

Pickett, 24, was five-years-old when Slipknot released their self-titled debut album.  He was seven when follow up ‘Iowa’ came out, and it was around that time that he started playing guitar.  Though, it wasn’t until much later in life that he ever thought about being in a band. It was during his time at university, where he was studying graphic design and creative advertising, that he felt the need to fill a void.  “I was like, ‘I need an extra hobby’, so I started learning how to produce metal strictly. I was really loving it, so I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to start my own band’, so I picked up all these people and I wrote a couple demos.”  

The band found their first vocalist, who then led Pickett to bassist Vincent Robinson.  Then in 2015, when they were throwing song ideas around, they split with the vocalist. Pickett came across their current vocalist Troy Van Der Meer the following year.  Conform’s original lead guitarist also left because he needed to focus on his job, Pickett says. Then they picked up guitarist Jackson, who departed because he wanted to be a touring artist, according to Pickett.  “He got picked up by some local Perth bands like Iconoclast and he’s got a bunch of other bands he plays for. We interviewed, like, 20 guitarists after Jackson left and we picked (John Klinger) up because he just fit in perfectly.  He’s got the right attitude for it and he’s malleable with his time.” Drummer Ben Murray, who rounds out the five-piece, was looking for a hobby band to play with and wanted to make original songs, so he was added too. “He was a diamond in the rough,” Pickett says.  “He’s seriously one of the best drummers I’ve ever met. He’s just nuts. …There’s been a couple of replacements in the band, so I think we’ve settled now; hopefully,” he laughs.  

The majority of their demos went into the ‘Lullaby’ EP and Pickett says the other members loved the energy, so despite all having full time jobs, they decided to become a band and start writing properly.  Next, they needed a name. Having been living and breathing graphic design and ads, Pickett wanted to play with that concept. “We wanted to do a piss take of Obey, the fashion brand … so we’re like, ‘Fuck it’, let’s just do ‘Conform’, and they (band members) were like, ‘No, that’s really boring, we need something else on it’.  So we’re like, ‘Alright, let’s be even more edgy and we’ll add the Kanji on the side’. No one else has fucking Kanji in their name,” he laughs. The Kanji translates to Live. Conform. Die.  

Contrast is the name of the game for the WA band, who regularly like messing with conventions.  Pickett, for instance, is a graphic designer who does branding for big companies, so he’s always in a suit.  “It’s funny – I have a band called Conform and I’m just like the biggest fucking conformist,” he laughs. “I think the band is all about contrast – live, die.  …We look up to those high fashion brands for aesthetics because we find it funny that we’re this DIY band from the middle of fucking nowhere…”

The Perth lads also had to find a space to rehearse and record music.  They chose an unused shed at Pickett’s house, which, with Robinson’s carpentry skills, they converted into a studio and installed soundproofing.  Pickett, along with input from the others, was to handle the song writing, production, posters, merchandise and social media. The only outside help they needed was some PR and a manager.  “We try to make music that is so good you can’t ignore it. If you’re not fucking trying to get every little nit-picking thing down to a science, why even bother making your bland metalcore shit?  It’s not going to go anywhere. You’re wasting your time. Let’s just make something different and bopping. I get passionate about this shit,” he laughs. “Everyone’s so boring.”

Pickett wanted to channel the 1990s nu metal feel and modernise it to make it their own, citing System of a Down, Korn and Slipknot as his top three.  (That’s) just what I grew up on – that aggro nu metal era of, ‘I’m sad and I’m angry and awwww’. I love that shit. I read a comment on Reddit a couple months back and someone said we sound like Ocean Grove’s pissed off evil half twin or some shit and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s about right,” he laughs.  Pickett says he takes inspiration from everywhere, including hip-hop and Swedish death metal. “This new single, I took it from Iggy Azalea. The guitar tone is this disgusting HM-2 and even the bass has an HM-2 on it, so it’s all just that buzz saw, gross sort of sound. All the guitars are slammed to shit and they’re all really gross and aggressive.  I wanted that DIY guitar sound … but I wanted this contrast with luxury. I think it’s really funny. I don’t find solos very intriguing, if there’s a guitar solo and they’re just shredding over the top. I’d rather have a groove or something hooky, something you head bang to, rather than shred over the top of it. I’m all about feel and I’m all about groove and finding that perfect balance.  I come up with my riffs when I’m driving or in the shower but I base the riff off a drumbeat, so I wouldn’t write a riff then write drums to it. I’d write the drums and then the riff to the drums. Rather than having a fucking stuck on plastic guitar riff with this plastic chromatic drum pattern over the top, it’ll be the whole thing ties in and has got its own feel and it’s got its own energy, otherwise it’s just such a boring shitstain.  The majority of the riffs I write, I just delete them. I’ll write a song and show it to Troy and he’s like, ‘Man, that’s fucking garbage’, and I’m like, ‘Yeah I know, I’m going to delete that’. He helps me a lot. I’ll write some edgy arse, horrible lyrics and he’ll be like, ‘We need to ditch that, that’s fucking terrible’.”

Being in one of the world’s most isolated cities hasn’t helped their band, but it hasn’t hurt them either.  “There was talk early last year of us moving to Melbourne to start really getting it along and I was like, ‘That’s such a huge gamble and what is it really going to do for us?’  I think that scarcity and that rarity is part of what makes us so sought after, apart from our sound. I think because we’re hard to reach, we’re hard to read, and in between releases, we take our fucking time.  We have this thing – our manager calls it ‘Conform time’, where it’s like real life time, times four, so anything you want done takes four times longer because we want it done properly,” he laughs.

Conform’s newest music, single Luxury Let Down, (November 22) took a lot of time and a lot of money.  The new track and its video are a scathing attack on social media and fashion brands and the lives and lifestyles portrayed there – and the supposed expectation that we can all live in that hyper-perfect world.  “We had a whole team.  We had a cinematographer, we had everything to get these shots of the girl perfect.  There were a lot of reshoots. We reshot the green scenes with the girl, with her and the rose and the slime shit.  We didn’t want to put band shots in it and watched the first cut without band shots, and I’m like, ‘Fuck I’m so sick of these glamour shots, we need to put something energetic in there, it’s just fucking boring’.

The response to Luxury Letdown has been positive. “The response to this last single has just been absolutely insane, it’s crazy – 20k in a week, probably more – 50k in a week. It’s fucking stupid.  (Collectively for digital streams) I think it’s 60k now. I’m not sure how much PR helps us but I’m sure it does. I’d say word of mouth is probably the strongest thing when it comes to sub genres like our nu metal shit.  Word of mouth is probably the strongest, marketing-wise. Nothing beats you sitting next to your friend and being like, ‘Hey, I like this song and I wanna show my friend’ and he … (is listening) to it and going, ‘Holy shit’.”

While the music side of his life has been somewhat of an early success, Pickett has spent 2019 dealing with a serious health issue.  “My right lung collapsed a couple months back, so I had to get preventative surgery, and my left lung collapsed, so I had to do my left lung.  So they had to cut all this shitty lung tissue off my lungs and then staple it shut and then they had to glue my lungs to the front of my chest. In case they do collapse again … they’ll be pitched open.  I had pretty bad throat damage from when they shoved this shit down my throat so I didn’t swallow my tongue when I was under. It scraped me up pretty bad, so I was pretty buggered for a couple of months.”  He said being six foot five and lanky meant he was more susceptible than other people. As always, he turns things into a positive. “I was sampling the sucking noise that my fucking bucket thing’s making from the side of my bed.  It’s gurgling blood from the side of my chest and I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m gonna take that noise’. You hear all the medical beeping in the background and I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m gonna take that’,” he laughs. “They’ll be in the new EP somewhere.  I’ll fit them in.”

With Pickett on the mend, the band are gearing up for a huge two months of shows. December will see them support Thy Art is Murder and Gravemind on December 14 at Perth’s Badlands Bar and then they will be supporting The Amity Affliction, Ocean Grove and Antagonist A.D. on January 9 at Dunsborough Tavern and January 10 at Fremantle’s Metropolis.  “We’re pumped,” Pickett says.  “Because I’m the head dick, I have to do all the stressing about everything, but the boys are absolutely stoked.  They love Thy Art; they grew up with it. I grew up with it as well – like ‘Reign of Darkness’ is fucking insane… I know when I get there I’m gonna throw my guts up, because I do every single fucking show.  I’m sitting there like, ‘Everything’s gonna be OK’ and I walk out and there’s a fucking thousand people and I’m like, ‘Ughhhh’, here it comes,” he laughs.

In the way of music releases, Pickett says patience is key, kids.  “We’re hoping to get a new EP out – five to seven songs within the next six months I’d say.  Let’s say that generously. We’ve got like three fucking songs,” he laughs.

Tickets are available now for their show with Thy Art is Murder/Gravemind/Daybreak at thyartismurder.net and for their supports with The Amity Affliction/Ocean Grove/Antagonist AD at http://theamityaffliction.net.

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