As the week comes to an end, hard rock band Like A Storm will cross another milestone in their ever-fascinating musical journey: completing the first headlining US tour. The past seven weeks may have flown by in a whirlwind of club venues and roaring crowds, but for the band, it’s been an adventure nearly seven years in the making.
Brothers Chris, Matt, and Kent Brooks were driven by their passion for music when they moved from New Zealand to the United States to pursue their dream of playing rock ‘n’ roll. By 2009, the band was opening for Creed‘s Full Circle Reunion tour, playing for thousands of people every night. For most bands, this would mark the height of their musical career; for Like A Storm, this marked their first American tour and a interesting reverse-learning experience that would take the band from touring arenas to touring the club circuit, creating a truly unique show of stadium-like proportions for the local venue show-goer.
Musically, the band has incorporated everything from the didgeridoo to delta blues into their hard rock sound. This mixture of influences has gained them much radio play, and in 2015, Like A Storm became the highest-charting New Zealand rock act in American music history when their singles, “Wish You Hell” and “Become the Enemy” peaked within the Top 20. Despite their achievements, Like A Storm insists there’s no pressure to live up to the success. After all, the effect of pressure has everything to do with you attitude, and according the band, “New Zealanders are famous for having a do-it-yourself- anything-goes sort of attitude.”
With a journey like theirs, it’s safe to say Like A Storm has only scratched the surface of their capabilities. And, being the ever-curious music lovers that we are here at Music Existence, there was no way we could pass up the opportunity to witness what it is about this storm that’s causing Category 5-level of didgeridoo destruction on the international rock scene. On December 6th, 2015, we caught up with the band at the Little Rock, AR, stop of their tour and spoke with guitarist Matt Brooks about everything from the band’s evolution, to New Zealand, to 90’s hip-hop, and why 2016 should be the year of a Coolio/Like A Storm collaboration.
ME: In 2009, Like A Storm was the opening act on Creed’s Full Circle Reunion tour. Nearly seven years later and you’re now headlining your own North American tour. Looking back on the past few years, how has Like A Storm evolved to be the band that it is today?
MATT: I think when we got that first tour in 2009, that was just a huge break for us. In fact, that was my first tour ever. The first tour that I had ever went on was in America opening for Creed, playing for thousands of people every night. So I think inevitably as you tour more and more, you find your sound as a band, and you find your style as a performer. I think probably the biggest evolution of the band has been that you grow into yourself as a performer and as a musician. So that Creed tour was an incredible introduction to what we have spent the last six years doing, which is touring America and now Europe, playing rock ‘n’ roll.
ME: One thing that stands out about the band’s journey is your move to America. Trying to make it as a band has its own challenges, but then add on the challenges of moving to a foreign country and that’s another thing all together. What did you do to overcome these obstacles and remain focused on your dreams?
MATT: I think for us it was always just a big adventure, and I think having that attitude is what allowed us to weather some of the obstacles that you come up against. I think if you left New Zealand on the other side of the world and said, “In one year’s time, I’m going to have a record deal, and I’m going to be doing all these things,” it would be easy to be disheartened, because the music business just doesn’t work like that. We just left with a dream of playing rock ‘n’ roll, and as long as we got to play the music that we loved, we didn’t mind what order things came in. What has been really interesting is, like you said, we left New Zealand not knowing a single person. We came here and after playing in clubs for a while, we made our first album, signed our first record deal, and then straight away we were out on tour with Creed, and then we went on to touring clubs. So, things have come for us in a different order then how you would expect, and I think the fact that, for us, it was always just this huge adventure and we had this dream of playing music and however that was possible that was going to be great for us. I think it’s that attitude that has allowed us to weather the ups and downs. Now that we’ve been really fortunate to have songs on the radio and we’re doing a headlining tour, it feels even more special by the fact that we were just doing it for the love of it all along.
ME: The American music market is known for being notoriously difficult to break into, but you’ve managed to do that. Now that you’re the highest charting New Zealand rock act in US music history, do you feel any sort of pressure to live up to your success?
MATT: (Laughs) No. I think whether or not pressure affects you has everything to do with your attitude. It would be possible to go up on stage and think, ‘How am I going to play a show as good as last night’s? Am I going to make any mistakes? Am I going to entertain people the way that I think they deserve to be entertained when they come to a Like A Storm show?’ It’s the same with our music. But ultimately, it’s just a combination of wanting to push yourself to be better, and also knowing that you’ve put your heart and soul into this, so enjoy it. It’s a huge milestone for us to have the radio success that we’ve had, and there’s so many amazing musicians in New Zealand that it is really cool to be able to kind of float the flag up here and say there’s a lot of great music coming out of New Zealand in all different genres. As far as pressure, I think the only pressure we’ve ever had, is just wanting to improve, and I think what overrides that is just a love of doing what we do and that gratitude of being able to do it.
ME: We can’t talk about your success without talking about your sound. I think one of the beauties of rock as a genre is that no matter what music preference someone has, there’s a subgenre of rock that will satisfy their taste. Like a Storm has sort of gone above and beyond and created its own genre – didgeridoo metal or voodoo metal. How did this particular sound come to be and where do you hope to take it next?
MATT: Didgeridoo metal and voodoo metal are just the names that we give to our music when we combine hard rock that we play naturally with the different influences that we have. One of the things that always appealed to us about writing your own music is that you have the opportunity to say whatever it is you want to say lyrically and musically. When Chris learned how to play the didgeridoo, we just thought that was the most amazing sound we had ever heard. We didn’t sit down and go, “Ok, you know what’s going to set us apart? What’s going to be our hook? The didgeridoo.” Musically, we just thought it was amazing and set about trying to incorporate it into our music. It was the same with our songs “Wish You Hell.”
We’d been traveling in the states a lot and had been really into the blues, in particular delta blues, and we just thought it was a cool opportunity to combine this new influence with the style of music we usually wrote. You’re just absorbing influences and incorporating them into your music, and I think where that leaves us moving forward is that it’s left us in a great position creatively where people expect us to do things that are a little bit different. As an artist, I think that’s the most gratifying place you can be where not only are you given the opportunity to keep creating, but you’re also given the opportunity to expand.
ME: How has the reception been back in New Zealand?
MATT: It’s been amazing. The way our career has panned out has been the opposite of what a lot of people would think. For the last few years, we were actually more popular in America than we were in New Zealand. The reason for that is that we were always in America touring and we actually hadn’t played a show in New Zealand for a long time. That’s not for a lack of wanting to play at home; it’s just that we have had opportunity after opportunity up here. After eleven months of touring you need a month off, and that’s when we go home, and if you went home and toured for a month, in between two eleven-month blocks, you’ve basically been touring for non-stop for two years (laughs). So, that’s how we’ve come to be playing up here more than anywhere else. In the last year, the New Zealand radio stations and the music industry down there has really gotten behind us, and it has been really awesome to hear our songs on the radio stations that we grew up listening to. This year we got our first cover feature on in a magazine called Rip It Up. Rip It Up is the biggest rock and culture magazine in New Zealand and that’s literally the magazine I grew up reading. So, that was very special, and in a way, I think that was the way it had to happen for us. We had to come up here and tour and sort of earn this reputation, and then go home and tell people this is a band from New Zealand who are out touring the world.
ME: As a band that has spent the past years continuously touring with other musicians, are there any musicians back in New Zealand you’d love to expose to a more international audience?
MATT: There’s an incredible amount of talent in New Zealand. Even though I have this fantasy of going home and getting away from touring and, well, not music because that’s such an essential part of who I am, but I think I’m going to go home and go to the most remote part of New Zealand and live in the mountains or something, and I always end up going out to shows (laughs). We have a lot of friends back home who are connected to the music scene out there, and there’s just an incredible amount of talent. There’s a band called Devilskin who’ve really started to make a name for themselves both in New Zealand and overseas, and that’s actually a band we would love to play with the next time we go home.
A lot of the bands we grew up idolizing are actually New Zealand bands, so I would say that anyone who’s looking for good music of any genre, there’s definitely a lot of talent in New Zealand. You have a different perspective growing up there, and it doesn’t make you any better or worse than anything else that’s going on in the world; it’s just different. I think that’s been a big part of why we have the attitude that we have. New Zealanders are famous for having a do-it-yourself- anything-goes sort of attitude, and that’s been the attitude we’ve applied to our music.
ME: One thing Like A Storm strives to do is to inspire and empower people through your music, but how has this entire journey empowered you both as a musician and as a person?
MATT: I think it’s probably the most validating thing I could have possibly done. I grew up in a world away from either the US or Europe, which is where all the bands we were listening to came from and where they would tour. New Zealand is beautiful, but it’s very isolated. I think to have come overseas and have, for lack of a better word, tested ourselves against bands we grew up idolizing to now be on the radio alongside people like Chris Cornell and bands like Breaking Benjamin and Shinedown, it’s just incredibly validating as someone who has always loved music.
The other thing is that it’s just the most amazing feeling to meet and talk to people who have been moved by the art that you have created. I think the reason that it kind of strikes me the most is because our music is so personal to us, but some of the most personal songs we have ever written have connected with people the most. When you’re in that bubble of writing a song, it doesn’t occur to you that anyone else in the world is going to hear it, let alone echo the sentiments that you felt at the time. So, I think it’s just incredibly rewarding on every level. It’s rewarding as a musician, it’s rewarding as a performer to get to play for people every night, and as a song writer to think that you have been a part of creating something that has positively influenced someone. It’s just an awesome feeling.
ME: I don’t think we can end this interview without talking about Coolio. I’m a huge fan of genre mashups, and it’s always pretty wicked to see artists from different genres covering each other’s songs. So, since Like A Storm has covered Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” if you could get Coolio to cover a Like A Storm song, which song would you want him to do?
MATT: (Laughs) I would love to hear Coolio do “Love the Way You Hate Me.” I just feel like he would nail the angst and defiance. It’s funny because we grew up listening to all different types of music. We always have been predominately drawn to writing and playing rock music, but we listened to everything and “Gangsta’s Paradise” was always one of our favorite songs when we were little kids. Chris and I went out one night when we were writing our album, Awaken the Fire, and “Gangsta’s Paradise” came on. Without really being aware of it, we both independently started listening to the song through the ears of someone who was in the middle of writing an album. Without realizing it, you start dissecting everything you hear, and that triggers other ideas. We thought, ‘Wow, imagine if a rock band covered this song’ because the music is so dark, and then we were like, well we do play in a band (laughs) and we are making an album so what better time to give it a try.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” became this midnight experiment that we would work on after working on the songs we were supposed to be doing. It was one of the most fun experiences of making the album because certain parts of that song translate perfectly into rock – the intro, for example. But other parts—like the verse—don’t and we don’t rap well (laughs), so we had to completely reimagine it. The funniest thing about doing the verses to “Gangsta’s Paradise” is that when you put a melody to a rap, it sounds like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, which I never realized before. So, you’re just singing this rap and you’re like, you know, this still sounds like R&B (laughs). We probably did 30 different versions of that verse until we came up with something that we felt sounded like something Like A Storm would play, and now it’s probably one of my favorite songs on the whole set to play just to look at people faces as we start the song and by the end of it, the whole room is singing.
ME: I think 2016 should be the year that Coolio and Like a Storm make this collaboration happen.
MATT: We actually met one of Coolio’s friends when we played in Vegas this year, and he said that the next time we come back, he’s going to get Coolio to come to the show. If that ever happened, I think I could die a happy man (laughs).
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