Courtesy of Travis Barker’s cultural renaissance and the prominence of artists like Machine Gun Kelly …
There are not many artists who are ascending the Australian heavy music scene at a rate that rivals The Last Martyr.
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Following the release of their emphatic new single Sugar and its accompanying music video, Hysteria Mag met up with Monica Strut (vocals) and Vin Krishnan (drums) from the band to debrief on the journey so far, their upcoming shows, and all things music.
Here are some of the highlights from our chat …
HYSTERIA: Everything feels like it is happening so fast for The Last Martyr since coming out of the pandemic. The band is getting circulation on mainstream radio stations and prime-time TV, you recently opened for an international powerhouse in Black Veil Brides, and to top it off, you have a string of festival dates lined up. Have you had a chance to stop, sit back and just appreciate where you are as a band and what you have achieved thus far?
Monica: I feel like all of this has been building for a long time, but recently it has gone from zero to a hundred really quickly; particularly as we are from Melbourne. For me personally, I am trying to take little moments to absorb it all in. Achieving milestones like supporting Black Veil Brides and playing BIGSOUND have been on my bucket list for years. We are still a self-managed band, so there is a lot of admin that goes along with writing and performing, but despite being busy, we recognise that it is important to take those moments to appreciate how far we have come and to be grateful for everything.
Vin: This is even more important when coming off that back of a string of shows and being mentally and physically fatigued. It is easy to dismiss an event as ‘just another show’, but I like to remind myself of what my old self would have thought if he had known the success we were experiencing now; he probably would not have believed it was real.
Playing live after the Covid hiatus must have been quite a shock to the system. Do you feel like you are firing on all cylinders yet? Or are there still a few things to fine tune?
Monica: We have definitely put a lot of our work into our live act this year. The upside to playing so many different shows to such diverse audiences is that you really learn how to either sink or swim when it comes to performing. I am really happy with how the live show is progressing, and I think we are in a good spot to put on the tightest performance possible. Of course, in a couple of years time, hopefully we’re going to be at an entirely new level again; I just want to keep on growing and to continue refining as a live act.
I now think that everything happens for a reason and we are all right where we are meant to be.
[ Monica Strut ]
What is your songwriting process as a band? When you write, do the lyrics come to you first or the music? And in regards to themes, do you have one in mind before you begin a song, or does it come to you naturally as you write?
Vin: Essentially, Ben [Rogers] or Ricky [Andres] usually come up with a demo version of a riff or a musical idea for a song, and will silo away to work out everything that they think should go in there. The two will then bring that idea back to the rest of the band and we will collectively work on it from there. Once we workshop the riff and figure out how it should sound, I’ll put drums to it. When working with a producer like Chris [Lalic], he will also contribute and challenge us to get more longevity and reach out of our ideas; he gives that external perspective which helps elevate the song. All throughout the creative process, Monica will be absorbing and creating a story for the song’s lyrics.
Monica: Our producer has a little ‘black book’ that he shows absolutely no one. He will be scribbling down ideas as we are demoing new songs and will come back with comments. Once I know the songs that we are keen on recording, that’s when I will assess the vibe of them and try to trust my instincts as to what the songs should be about, guided by what emotions they are evoking. It sounds really nuts to be starting lyrics from scratch when you are already in the studio, but I have notebooks and phone memos filled with pages of lyrics before I go in.
Melody and hookiness is a key element of what makes your songs so great. How do you balance the need for a song to be heavy, with the pop sensibilities that are so integral to your songwriting?
Vin: The melodic sound comes out really nicely as a bit of PR for people who would not usually listen to metal. You can sort of grab them in with catchy hooks before they even realise how heavy the music actually is. I really enjoy that element of the songwriting process, and it is something that has become part of our sound. Sugar was a real test of our melodic tendencies; we went heavier than we had ever gone before in the ‘heavy’ sections, but also ‘poppier’ in the lighter sections. The song really pushes both ends of the spectrum.
In Sugar, you guys really expanded your sonic palette; it felt like a huge leap forward in a songwriting sense for the group. The music sounds like a chaotic and eclectic blend of horror-pop, doused with a heap of heavier elements. What music were you listening to at the time of writing this track?
Monica: One of the direct influences would be Poppy. I love the way that she’s a little bit weird. Back to your earlier point, that blend between the melodic and heavy elements; that is my favourite type of music; and she does this really well. I remember also listening to Grimes and channeling her energy in our own songwriting; like how fucked up can we make this part? What is the weirdest thing that we can do here, and let’s just try it. We have worked with our producer for the last few releases, so we are not afraid to push ourselves and see how out-there we can get. Sometimes, it is better to be too ambitious than to play it safe.
Sugar was a real test of our melodic tendencies. We went heavier than we had ever gone before in the ‘heavy’ sections, but also ‘poppier’ in the lighter sections. The song really pushes both ends of the spectrum.
[ Vin Krishnan ]
Vin: All of us have such different tastes in music. For me, I listen to a lot of EDM pop and industrial electronic pop; not much heavy music at all. I tend to lean towards more ‘colorful’ music if that makes sense. When we get into the more ‘colorful’ sections of the songs, I enjoy seeing that come to life. Sugar is an example of that; where you can almost sense the ‘colour’ in the song.
Monica: To add to what I was saying around willingness to experiment, I had a preconceived idea for the vocals of Sugar that they would be 50% cleans vs. 50% screams, which we had never done before. That was daunting, but becoming more confident in knowing who we are as artists has helped us take these creative leaps. Hopefully this trend continues into our future songwriting.
Speaking of Sugar, you guys released an accompanying music video to go along with the single release. Did you take the lead in creative control, or did the artistic direction primarily come from the visual team you worked with?
Monica: There was a bit of a mix. We had already worked with the director David Owen Blackley from ‘Her Name Is Murder Productions’ on quite a few of our previous clips, and he is someone who has a lot of ideas. We like working with directors that have their own unique style, where we can bring our concepts to them and see what they come up with. It also depends on the video clip though. For instance, I have a really strong concept for the next video that we are going to produce. There is going to be a lot of fire if we can afford it! At the end of the day, our favourite way to work is collaboratively with all involved.
I’ve seen your song Fear aptly described as ‘dark rock’. I get a real Deftones vibe from it; ominous with grand soaring melodies that feels reminiscent of early 2000s metalcore and the 90’s nu-metal sound.
Vin: It really is upbeat Deftones.
Monica: That song took so long to write. I remember receiving the demos when I was overseas road tripping through an American desert. The music was completely written from start to finish and I remember thinking that it was such a cool song, and therefore felt a lot of pressure to get the vocals right. I remember listening to Korn and taking influence, especially in the first verse. It is interesting that you get that sort of reference, because it is spot on!
The title to the song Freaking Out feels like an onomatopoeia, in the sense that the music sounds as if it is actually ‘freaking out’. Monica, you mentioned that this is your favourite song that the band has written. Is this still the case, or have other songs overtaken it as you have played them live?
Monica: It really depends on the mood. I feel like I am definitely in the Sugar era now, but it can even change from show to show and what is resonating with audiences. At the time, I did not think we were ever going to be able to top it; I just love the chorus. Vin also loves the drum intro.
Vin: It is definitely one of the most fun songs to play. There are just so many moving parts to the arrangement, but it all feels very cohesive. It activates me when I’m playing; I’m not on autopilot when I’m performing, that’s for sure.
Hindsight is both my favourite song and video that you guys have released to date. It has a bouncy, danceable rhythm to it; definitely something that would get a mosh pit going. How did you come up with that rhythmic feeling? Vin, I feel like you lead the charge in that aspect of the song.
Vin: It’s all in that intro where the opening chug is followed by a hi-hat, creating a sort of disco vibe. Then all of a sudden, the riff kicks in and the feeling changes. From here on in, the riff no longer lands on the ‘one’ beat, and this creates an off-time rhythm, but it is still in 4/4 time-signature. It displaces the whole 2 and 4 downbeat feel, because the accents do not line up to where you think they are going to traditionally hit. All of these elements culminate to create a track that is very easy to dance to.
Monica, I read in one of your other interviews that Hindsight is about the breakdown of a friendship. Does the emotion of the lyrics still hit raw when you play the song live, and if so, does it contribute to the overall power of the performance?
Monica: The song has transformed and taken on a different meaning to me now. When I first wrote the lyrics, the song meant one thing to me, but it has since done a lot for us as a band. It was the first track that we put out that really opened up a lot of opportunities. Now I don’t think of the song as having its original meaning when I sing it live. I enjoy it when we play it now because it seems to be the song that we are best known for and the one that people sing along to. It’s nice that the song has undertaken a metamorphosis from quite a negative experience into something that is now positive for us.
Vin, the guitar in the intro to Out of Time has an indie-rock / beachy sort of vibe, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before on an alt-metal track.
Vin: Ben and I call it ‘Maroon 5-core’.
Monica, the thematics of the song are centered around the fear of getting older, in particular you have noted that there is extra pressure on females in the music industry in regards to age. Flipping this all on its head, do you think that there is a strength that goes along with getting more mature as a group? Also, that being a female fronted band gives you a unique point of differentiation in an otherwise male dominated scene? For example, you can do stuff with your vocals that a lot of other bands with male singers cannot.
Monica: Thank you for saying that. I like to remind myself that with age comes experience and there is no way that I would have been ready for the opportunities that have presented themselves to me when I first started off. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 13, and of course I wanted to tour the world right from the get-go. But I now think that everything happens for a reason and we are all right where we are meant to be. The industry is starting to shift, with bands like Spiritbox leading the charge. They have only just started to peak despite having been in other bands for years. The industry is evolving and there is not as much bias with age. It is still a mental shift that I have had to get over personally from all the societal conditioning, but I love what you said about flipping it on its head and just remembering that we are right where we were always meant to be.
Do you have plans to make a full length record? If so, is it going to be a concept album, or a collection of creatively independent songs?
Monica: I can’t even imagine doing a full length at the moment.
Vin: With the way music is being consumed these days, through streaming and whatnot, unless you are signed to a label or have a fan base that is demanding a full-length release, there is more value in releasing singles and accompanying videos. That is what is being done in the rap and r&b circles where music is circulated the most.
Monica: I think we will know when the time is right to release a full-length album. It is something that I would love to do, and it will be a step that we will have to take in the next few years, but we are in no rush. As mentioned before, it comes back to the point that we are right where we are meant to be.