Interview with Brian Fair of Shadows Fall: In Control

Two-time Grammy Award nominees Shadows Fall are gearing up for yet another outdoor summer metal fest. This time around, they’re playing Mayhem Fest, an appropriately named festival for the type of debauchery the band gets themselves into during the summer tours. Shadows Fall are not only a band, they are business partners. They have their own label through Warner Music Group called Everblack Industries. The band oversees budgets, touring plans, marketing plans and everything else that goes into running a record label. Brian “Shit, those dreads are long” Fair took some time to speak to me from his home in Massachusetts to tell me more about the label, the band’s plans for the summer, and a bit about his side project.

How are you guys feeling about this year’s Mayhem Fest? Do you think this is the new Ozzfest?

It’s a very similar format with the parking lot second stages and the main stages and the number of bands. I think they’ve tried to bring more of an underground vibe to some of it as well. Ozzfest was always a mix between really big established bands as well as some up-and-comers. For bands like us, these summer festival tours are without a doubt the most fun. It’s not only a bunch of your friends, it just turns into daily barbecues and just kinda hanging out so you get to play a shorter set and get into all kinds of trouble, so it’s a lot of fun.

Our first Ozzfest, we did 2003 on second stage the first metalcore invasion of Ozzfest. In 2005 we did the main stage with Maiden and Sabbath. This is our first Mayhem though.

I feel like Mayhem Fest is trying to pickup where Tattoo The Earth left off, do you agree?

I think the biggest band on there was Slipknot, then there was Hatebreed and some others. I think Mayhem Fest definitely has the same vibe as Tattoo The Earth. But especially now, with the economy and with fans having difficulty coming up with money and it makes sense to do that and have a bunch of bands on one tour. It’s giving people more bang for their buck. You know people have to take a whole day off from work, it’s tough. This is a stark lineup. You got Rob Zombie to bands like Lamb Of God, who are right now the reigning kings of the post underground metal and a bunch of other great younger and established bands. Mayhem Fest has the same organizers as Warped Tour. You gotta keep it current and stay up on what’s happening and make it a less corporate feeling for the bands as well. You gotta feel like you’re doing something that’s fun and kind of associated with the scene you’ve always been in.

Playing the sheds is great, and I actually like playing the second stage because there’s no seats. As a front man in a metal band when you can get the crowd involved it just makes it so much more fun. We’ve done both main and second stage—for me I’d rather see people go crazy on the concrete than people just sitting in their seats eating nachos. Not that I blame them, 90 degrees, all day festival, but at the second stage there’s no option.

What’s your off dates looking like for this tour?

We’re doing a few to start the tour with Chimaira to get out to California. Then we’re doing to do a few with Winds Of Plague in-between shows. With these big tours, there’s always days off. And days off are like the devil’s tool. All you do is spend money or get wasted for no reason, so we like to play as many days as we can. We need a day off here and there, but aside from that, there’s too much downtime on those days off so we try to keep busy.

Switching gears, let’s talk about your label. What role do each of you have with it?

It’s an imprint through a distribution deal. When we signed with Atlantic Records, it was a one record with an option deal. And instead of the option, we renegotiated with the parent company Warner Brothers to come up with a distribution deal. With labels in such a state of flux and panic and the music industry in such chaos, we wanted to change the business model a little. And what the bigger companies do well is manufacturing and distributing. So we kinda turned around and we own the masters, have control of our budgets and have them as our distributor.

We brought in the people from Ferret Records to do the day to day stuff, and we’re able to stay on top of every dollar spent and now the bottom line is in the band’s best interest. Now we’re at the top of the pyramid, so everything we do now comes back to us. The only other options is signing a 360 deal where you give up your merch, publishing, everything. This was the best way for us to not only get our record out everywhere we needed to, but to have the control as if we self-released it. We’ve been very lucky business-wise a few times. When we signed with Atlantic, that was at the end of labels giving advances. Advances is a word now stricken from the music industry language. It was nice to get something where we made some money at first.

Do you make decisions on budgets?

Everything from video budgets to ad budgets and what we’re spending on art work, so it’s a lot more day to day work, but it does come down to just a bunch of emails and staying on top of things. For us, it’s totally worth it and it means so much in the long run. Luckily for us, we’ve done everything ourselves since the beginning—we self-released our first record, booked our own tours—so instead of annoying the label for that stuff, we’re now annoying each other. We’ve been living out of each other’s pockets for a decade now, so it’s a long standing marriage.

How’s things going with your side project Transient?

I’ve been jamming with a few guys since the time I joined Shadows Fall—since Overcast broke up. It’s kinda ambient spacey rock—kinda early Radiohead and old Pink Floyd vibe. For me I get to play guitar, but I get to sing occasionally. It’s mostly just guitar work. When I get off the road I get to jam with these dudes just for fun and to make different noise and kinda clear my head from the metal after a long tour. Everyone in the band has like a real hardcore pedigree but we definitely do not play hardcore. Our drummer is the guitar tech for Dropkick Murphys, but when we get together we just like space out and go to ‘60s psychedelia. The bass player, Scotty Code, was the guitar player for Overcast. We just recorded five new tunes and hopefully we’re getting them online pretty soon. We’ve only played like six shows ever. It’s tough getting everyone home at the same time. But when we are all together we try to sneak in shows here and there.

Have you ever lost yourself entirely in a performance whether by intoxication or just the overwhelming power of the music and fan interaction?

Definitely! There are those moments where everything is so insane. It’s those usually tight packed clubs where the energy is so insane. They usually do result in some sort of injury, but it’s always a good time. There’s a few shows that will always stand out from the earlier days, before things got to a level where there wasn’t any professional aspirations, when you were doing it just to do it to have a good time. I remember the first time we played Download Festival, there was 70,000 people and that was overwhelming in a different kind of way, and you just can’t believe that sort of group energy is almost impossible. It was also the first time we shared the stage with Maiden, and that was just for me, the pinnacle of, ‘It doesn’t get any cooler.’

Where do you find your greatest inspiration to create?

Usually, a lot of it comes from the creative energy from the guys in the band. Matt and John come up with these great riffs and these great song ideas that really inspire me to put my best lyrics and vocal lines to it. To live up to what I think those riffs deserve. As far as lyrical content, it comes from everyday experiences like picking up a newspaper, I never really know where that’s going to come from, but the creative energy really comes from when we’re all in a room together, and we’re still coming up with such crazy great new ideas, that’s really what inspires me to step up my game as well.

What’s the relationship and chemistry like with the other guys?

You’re gonna have your tension, but at this point after this long, is really know when to give people their space and know the little things that will set someone off. When we come off the road, there’s like there’s two week period where there’s no phone calls, but afterward, the time comes to start jamming again and get back on the road. But a lot of that comes from when to know to allow someone to blow off some steam. But you’re living like brothers on the road, like family. But you learn what lines not to cross, and feeling that out takes time. There’s definitely a give and take. Unfortunately, we’ve never had a good physical blow up that we caught on tape like Lamb Of God, but if we do, I hope there’s a camera (laughing). We might just fake one WWE style.

Our world has suffered some serious losses recently, did you have a relationship with Peter Steele or Ronnie James Dio?

I met Dio very briefly a few times, but honestly, I was always in awe of that man. I’d been lucky enough to see him a lot recently. His voice and his energy hadn’t waned in decades, especially as a singer, I’ll get tired and I’ll say, ‘Man that guy’s got 30 years on me, I gotta buck up.’ He was definitely an inspiration for me. And Peter was someone I always ran into when I was out in Brooklyn. When someone like that is no longer around, it’s so bizarre to think about. It’s like a presence that’s always sort of been there and isn’t there anymore. In today’s day when there’s not too many rock stars left, even when they were an underground band, that dude had the full persona of a rock star back in the day.

Shadows Fall perform on the Jagermeister stage at Mayhem Fest on July 28 at PNC Bank Arts Center.