Start the New Year Off On Fire with THE WORLD WILL BURN
What started off as an unlikely pairing has turned into a partnership that has overcome the kind of challenges that many bands don't survive. What do you do when one half of your band lives in the United States and the other half lives in New Zealand?
You learn how to make it work. Vocalist Dale Thompson, best known for his work in Bride, and songwriter Alan Zaring have figured out how to make it work, and the payoff comes in the form of the band’s newest recording.
With the release of their new album, Nothing’s as Real as It Seems, The World Will Burn have hit their stride. Alan and Dale were kind enough to take time out of their holiday schedules to share their thoughts with me on a variety of topics including long distance writing and recording, why they don’t sound like anybody else and the spiritual message of the new album. (For more information on “Nothing’s as Real as It Seems”, check out my review from November 27 th ) Thank you for taking the time to talk about your music and the new album with us. What you guys are doing, especially with Nothing’s as Real as It Seems, has been a breath of fresh air for me and I hope that many others will give it a listen and find this to be true for themselves.
This is the third album that you have worked on together, and it seems that you have hit upon something pretty special. When an album like this is coming together, do you get a sense of it being special during the writing process, or is it something that you don’t fully realize until you’re into the mixing and production phase?
Dale: Alan was sending these killer pieces of music, so it was easy to write lyrics and melodies, and when this happens, you know it is going to be good. Troy, my brother, and I knew when we wrote for Snakes in the Playground that we had an epic album in the works. Very coalescent.
Alan: That is an interesting question, especially as it relates to Nothing’s as Real as It Seems. For me, I was really struggling with this album at the beginning. I wasn’t happy with the songs, and felt a bit overwhelmed with what we were trying to accomplish. We were writing a concept album, and there were a lot of moving parts that had to interconnect for it to work. We were also experimenting with our sound, and wanted to stay intense while moving into a more complex and varied space sonically. So, lots of pieces had to come together and we couldn’t really see it all at the same time. When we finally finished the last few songs, and I could listen to them front to back, that was the first time I realized it all fell into place perfectly. After the first time I listened to the finished demos, I was almost speechless. I guess I was in a little bit of shock that we pulled it off and how powerfully the album flowed. So, to answer your question, I was a basket case until the very end! Since then I am extremely happy with the album!
How would you describe the progression from the first album, Severity, to what you have done on Nothing’s as Real as It Seems?
Dale: First for me, I had to get used to recording myself. Severity was the first project that I recorded where it was just me recording with no one around. Since Severity I have recorded over 300 songs. So, I became fairly knowledgeable with the gear and the fact that I had to be my own critic. I was recording all by myself, writing in this exclusive environment. Now I've become used to this solitary way of adaption and assimilation that it feels more natural. I am no longer at my wit's end trying to figure out the mechanics of recording. I simply click “record” (laughs). Severity was a lot of trial and error, or we call it research and development. By the time I got to Nothing's as Real as It Seems, I become a competent acoustician, a fine recordist in my own right. Take me away from the machinery that I know, I would be lost.
Alan: To be honest, we really started with absolutely nothing. We knew what we wanted to do, but had no idea how to do it. We moved fast on the first album, maybe too fast at times. We both got some cheap recording equipment and just attacked it. It was raw, but we loved the intensity of it. RuiNation was a continuation of what we started, and we got a lot better on the technology side, resulting in a much more polished album. We also had found our “sound”, which really helped with the song writing. Not wanting to do the same album again, we really pushed ourselves musically and artistically to be true to ourselves and also to grow in new directions. Nothing’s as Real as It Seems is a much more mature and complex album.
The World Will Burn has a unique sound. For those who have not heard you, how would you describe your sound?
Dale: I think we are a little bit of everything. At times it is serious and at times just plain fun. No matter how we twist it, it is just rock. Alan: Thanks for noticing, because that is the most important thing about the band and the thing that makes us stand out from everybody else. I think the key is that we sound totally different, yet strangely familiar. You will hear some classic rock elements in our music, and a lot of experimentation. We also have a lot of modern hard rock sounds over the top. This album has more 70's pop or thematic rock influences as well. Think Bowie or Pink Floyd.
That is a great way to describe it. Those elements are definitely there, but the songs also sound very new. Alan writes the music and Dale writes the lyrics. Your music, especially on the new album, features a lot of different sounds from the guitars while using unique chords and arrangements. This gives everything the feel of having a very fresh take on how to approach heavier music. Is this something that you purposely set out to do, or was this something that just came about naturally through your approach to writing?
Alan: Thanks James! That’s a great compliment! I am really a hack musician to be honest. But you nailed it when you talk about intentionally trying to sound different than other heavy music that’s out there. We really started writing music for this exact purpose. So, it is very purposeful. We write more like we are painting an abstract piece of art. I use my instruments to create texture and color. The guitar and bass and keys are merely tools that I use to create a sonic picture. Dale does the same with his voice. We “paint” these songs using our tools, and try to make them vibrant and colorful and emotional. Thanks for noticing that.
For those who don’t know, you guys aren’t operating in the same way that most bands work. Alan is in the U.S. and Dale is in New Zealand. With this being your situation, how does the songwriting process work?
Dale: I sit staring at Gmail waiting to see a WeTransfer. When I receive one from Alan, I know it is time to get to work. I download the music with my book of lyrics in hand. I listen through it once. I immediately rifle through the lyric book until something strikes me. I know when I see it. I do not rehearse or practice the song. I push record and start singing what I have written on the page. Seldom do I do retakes and if it is, it is a simple line because I thought, “I think I can do it better.” So, what the listener is getting is organic, first impressions. I can, from start to finish, with all main and backing vocals, have my part complete in less than 2 hours. This is how I am working with all of my other projects as well.
Alan: I echo what Dale said. When I get into a creative spirit, the songs usually come very quickly for me. The devil of it is in getting all the music just right, which is very time consuming. It is all the details where the real work begins. The tiny adjustments. However, Dale and I have a really close connection through these songs that make the distance fairly unimportant.
Not being able to work together in the same room would seem to be quite a challenge.
Dale: Indeed. It doesn't hinder me as a lyricist or melody maker at all because a person can produce the beauty out of a song. I am very happy with my initial thoughts, and even more so after I apply them. I have no doubt that this gift I have is from God and I can literally write, sing and record an album every two weeks if I have that opportunity.
Alan: Like I was saying, we work really well together but it takes more time to get things right. We aren’t in the same room where we can be spontaneous. It is all about emails back and forth. One day it would be amazing to be in the same room together and really collaborate even more on some songs.
With the physical distance between the two of you, have you ever had the opportunity to perform live with one another? Is there any chance of a tour in the future?
Dale: I am retired from touring. I miss the stage a lot and if I were to get back on stage at any time, I think it would be with my brother and some sort of Bride classic rehash. But I do not see that happening any time soon. I think that The World Will Burn would translate incredibly live, and I would not be opposed to playing live shows if a tour was ever financially feasible.
Alan: We would love to do it one day but the logistics seem very complicated. Since I play all the instruments except drums, we would need to get musicians to learn all the parts and it would be difficult to rehearse so far apart from Dale. I can’t help but think of how much fun it would be! Who knows? If the Lord wills it, it might happen one day.
The music and vocals on this album are outstanding, but I also loved the production and sound of the recording. How much of a role did Tim Bushong play in what you arrived at as the final product?
Dale: Tim adds another layer to our work. He is our fifth Beatle, or our third man. He adds so much ambiance to the projects, like the metal keyboardist who has to perform under the stage and never is seen. Yet, if you take it away, the expression of the band is not truly heard. Would not want to record The World Will Burn without Tim.
Alan: Ditto what Dale said! Tim is a truly important part of our sound. From the beginning we wanted to release music that was sonically beautiful and powerful, and could compete with the biggest names in heavy music. Tim gets the sound we want and exceeds what most major record labels produce. We love Tim!
It would be wrong to go any further and not mention what Aaron Bushong brought to this recording. His performance on this album really stood out and seemed to add a spark across the board.
Dale: I met Aaron back when we recorded Tsar Bomba with Bride, and he was a little fella then. He has grown into quite a musician. A good live drummer makes the music explode in every direction. It swells the sound and fills that headroom that electronic drums cannot achieve.
Alan: Having a real live drummer was a first for us and a little scary for me. We write some strange music and I was slightly concerned Aaron may not have the same vision of the songs that Dale and I did. I was wrong. Aaron brings a new excitement to our sound. He really gave the music a kick in the pants. And his drums sound soooo good on Nothing’s as Real as It Seems!
Many people are familiar with Dale from all that he accomplished with Bride. On The World Will Burn’s website, Alan is described as “a new- comer to the genre”. What other genres or projects have you been involved with previously?
Alan: I had played in some cover bands and a few original bands back in high school and college, but had really dropped out of the music scene as an adult. Oddly, I just felt called to start writing songs a few years ago. Dale and I tripped into each other one day and The World Will Burn was born! I like to think that God did that. Anyway, I also have an alt-folk band called Enemy of Promise with some really great musicians and we released an album called Dry Bones this summer. It has been a good experience to see what I can do away from the heavy music scene. On the subject of Bride, they have always played a huge role in my walk as a Christian, as far as entertainment goes. One thing that I love about this album is the nostalgia that I feel in hearing Dale’s vocals combined with this fresh approach that the music is taking. I would think that nostalgia, and being linked to a pioneering band like Bride, could be a challenge at times. Does it ever feel like this band is tethered to Bride’s shadow, or do you feel that the fans have embraced you as something entirely new?
Dale: I do not feel that there is any real connection between Bride and The World Will Burn. Alan and I are not piggyback riding or trying to sound like Bride at all. Matter of fact, I am not sure what Bride sounds like because, as a whole, there are so many different sounds. With The World Will Burn, Bride never came to mind as I fashioned my vocals and weaved them throughout Alan's music. I think someone might say "Oh, isn't that the singer of Bride;" but we really have never got that comparison.
Alan: I will admit that I felt a ton of pressure! Bride is such an iconic band. Dale and his brother Troy have released so many important albums with Bride that I was concerned I couldn’t do Dale and his voice justice. There are some people that may be disappointed that The World Will Burn isn’t Bride, part 2. However, most of the Bride fans that have given us a chance have become big fans of The World Will Burn, and we really appreciate them getting behind us. The World Will Burn has developed a strong secular following as well, so maybe we bring a few folks into the Bride camp. But to echo Dale, totally different bands and totally different sound.
Very different indeed, and I would hope that people wouldn’t put that expectation onto what you are doing. Dale, your voice still sounds incredible. If someone would have told me in 1990 that you would still be singing this way and sounding as great as you do, I would have been shocked. How blessed do you feel to still be able to deliver your message and perform at this level after all these years?
Dale: My voice has nothing to do with me in any way. I do not take care of it at all. I never warm up, practice or give it a thought. I just sing when the music starts. My prayer to God daily is that God uses me as an instrument of His love, and peace, and send me in the anointing of the Holy Spirit into all the world to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. He has been faithful to me when I have not been faithful to Him. This voice is not perfect but it is a gift that I am thankful daily for.
Getting back to Nothing’s As Real As It Seems, this recording was written as a concept album. What is the central message to the lyrics on this album?
Dale: For me the message is that Jesus emptied hell, took the keys of death and hell and took captivity captive. That is the message I want people to get from it because it is all about the love God as a father has for us. No theology involved, just faithfulness and honoring my Savior's victory over death, hell and the grave.
The lyrics to every song on this album really inspire the listener to think. You guys just released a video for “Sins and Tragedies”, the lead off track from the album. What are you hoping to convey with the lyrics from this song?
Dale: Hold on, let me find the lyrics (laughs}. The song is about the divine protection of God as we live our lives daily. It shows the madness of Adam as he lost his way and that it was God that came looking for Adam, not the other way around. Regardless of our situation, no matter how bad we have made things for ourselves, God still walks through our garden in the cool of the day calling to us.
This album is full of great songs and hooks, and you also seemed to take a few chances with a couple of really unique tracks. “Boxing Ring” is a song that I keep going back to because it is so unique, both in the music and the lyrics. What was the inspiration for each of you, musically and lyrically, with this song?
Dale: This is one of my favorite tunes on the CD because it suits my comedic side. I wrote it with the attitude of a 19th century poet who just happens to see everything as half full and half empty at the same time. There is no real pertinent message that I was trying to convey. As an artist I took some liberties to throw the lyrical colors on the canvas and let it drip down, until the listener could see as many hidden faces peeking through the edges as I did. It is a bit of balderdash but has a meaning if one digs deep enough.
I think about that 19th century poet and the story he is telling and I can’t help but smile. What a character! The music in this song is infectious, and striking in the change of direction that it takes.
Alan: I hope people listen to this song carefully. It might be some of the best writing Dale has ever done. I think it is just a masterpiece of lyricism. It really does serve a purpose in the overall scheme of the album, but that is for the listener to figure out how and why it belongs. I wanted to come up with a basic background track that didn't take away from brilliance of Dale's lyrics, but at the same time I didn't want it to sound boring. I have a heavy background in jazz, and I wanted to bring some of those influences into the song. The song started with the jazzy drum shuffle and the slightly funky bass line. The horns and twangy guitar are vintage 60's R&B and blues. Overall, I think the music is a perfect compliment to the song and really fits the character that is telling the story. This guy is way too interesting to have him talking over a quiet, somber tune. This cat has some oddities and the music had to translate this fact.
“Lead Balloon” is another track that plays out in a similar vein, with the spoken word delivery and musical departure from the rest of the album. What were the inspirations for this song?
Dale: Everything that goes up must come down. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. It is a lesson in life told through imagery and nonsense. When you make a mistake learn from it, don't continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. This is what I would define as a ripsniptious rant set to music.
Alan: Another brilliant work from Dale. I wrote the music to be a “goodbye” song for the album, as the song to close out with. It really puts a bow on the album.
Is There a particular meaning or reference to the album’s title, Nothing’s as Real as It Seems?
Dale: Yes. There is a spiritual world that most people are oblivious to, and a terrestrial world that people live and suffer in. If people would only draw closer to God, they would drag that unseen world of beauty into their own lives and the colors become more vibrant and real, and things are not taken for granted. God's world is truth and man's world is lies, and we as Christians ought to have our eyes wide open instead of turning from the spiritual things that go against our human nature.
Alan: I hope everyone gets something a little different out of the title and how it applies to their life. For me, our life on earth is so temporary and superficial, and yet we worry and fret so much about it. At the same time, we ignore the permanent and critical elements of our spiritual lives. A really cool aspect of all three of your albums is the cover art, and I understand that this has become a passion for Dale. All of the covers stand out as separate works, but they also seem to compliment one another. Do each of the covers tell their own story, or are they designed to connect the albums in any way?
Dale: The World Will Burn art is different than most of the other art I paint and create. The paintings are to reflect the chaos and loneliness of the world or the artist. They are actually sad pieces and the light is in the music, not in the art. I find the sorrow of the world easier to paint as a novice painter.
Alan: If I have learned anything, it is that Dale is an artist. The only variable is his medium. Voice, paint, works, you name it. I just love the album covers. They fit the band perfectly. I really appreciate both of you taking time out of your schedules to share your thoughts with our readers and I hope we hear much more from The World Will Burn in the future. Before we wrap this up, do you have anything else you would like to add?
Dale: I am grateful to God that He has kept me around and active for such a long time. When I have left the scene, after I absquatulate and or de-dodgement, maybe not in that order, I am not interested in being remembered, but I hope the music, with the reason I shared it, lives on. That reason is Jesus.
Alan: First, let me thank you so much for your interest in what we are doing and giving us a chance to reach out to your readers. I hope people will give Nothing’s as Real as It Seems a listen. We did not really make an album, but we created an experience. I hope folks enjoy it, and that we have entertained a few. God Bless!