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6/14/2013

Reflections: I Am The Agent



These past three months I have been obsessively indulged in music. It's been an incredible year thus far for rock music as some truly incredible (and historic) albums were released by some of my favorite groups, namely Deep Purple, Alice in Chains, Megadeth, and of course Black Sabbath! Each and every one of those releases is a work of aural art. I feel fortunate to be able to indulge in so much new, fresh, and exciting music....all at once!

2013 will be a year that I will fondly remember as the most important and memorable year for rock music (period). There is one more 2013 release I am looking forward to and it is by a band, which unlike the other industry heavyweights I just mentioned, is one that literally hits close to home. I have been meaning to write about them for a long time, and with this recent surge in musical passion and indulgence, I now have the right inspiration and drive to put together a post about them....this band is I Am The Agent.

I Am The Agent is an Australian rock band hailing from New Castle, New South Wales. They have been touring, performing, and recording professionally released EPs for many years now, and in 2013 the band will release their very first official album, titled Stay Drunk.

I have known about the band since early 2010, more importantly I have known the band's lead singer and guitarist, Michael Gale, for a lot longer. He was an active forum member at a now defunct Australian video game website, and I was a staff writer there at the time. We interacted passively in various gaming related threads (he loves his Pokemon), and when the site revived its podcast program, Michael came on board as our podcast editor and became one of us. He'd share his candid opinions on each episode as he patiently edited them, and he was far too kind to be honest, as me and the rest of the guys on the podcast were pretty much talking crap the entire time! He would take all our separate voice recordings, clean them up, and put it all together, all while repeatedly hearing our grating voices over and over (You're a patient and kind man, Michael. We still appreciate your hard work during those days!). It's funny because he was listening to our recorded voices long before we all learned that he had a voice of his own, which unlike ours, was a talented one!


I still remember the day he proudly shared his band's first EP disc on the forums, showing the complete packaging and artwork. We were always in friendly terms with him, but I personally never had a chance to really get to know him. I was quite intrigued by this album, because the artwork really caught my attention, and a few private messages later he and I started talking about his music. I was introduced to some of the band's early recordings which I genuinely liked, and it sort of just went from there. We spoke a fair few times about music in general over the years, and of course video games.

It didn't take me long to order a physical copy of the EP itself, titled Volume 1. I appreciated how well made it was, featuring artwork that was drawn from scratch for every single copy. The sound of the first EP is very much alternative rock of a lighter grade. It has some really angst filled vocals by Michael, which complements the mellow,depressing, and irony-filled lyrics. Leave is the song I like the most from that EP. When I first heard the CD back in the day, I wasn't the biggest fan of the musical style but it was good for what it was. More importantly, I felt that the best was yet to come. 

Roughly a year later the follow up EP, Volume 2, was complete. I was pleasantly surprised not just by how much better it was, but also how musically different it was. The first song on the EP, Blood Brothers, took me by surprise as it is musically a lot heavier than the material in Volume 1. The song starts off with a bang and Michael introduces a more aggressive style of singing in it. The rest of the songs in Volume 2 carry a similar mellow vibe as the songs in Volume 1, but are noticeably a lot richer and mature, especially in terms of the lyrical content as it is a lot more poetic and metaphoric. The song that demonstrates this musical progression the most is Trees, a 12 minute progressive epic which exhibits a lot of creativity and maturity. It's one of those songs that invokes a strong feeling of escapism and creates this believable atmosphere in your mind (best enjoyed late at night). The song ends with this sudden up-tempo eruption where the entire band starts jamming with a lot of swing and energy.


Roughly another year later, the band released Volume 3 and I picked it up at one of their live gigs. The music here is noticeably heavier than the other two EPs, and in songs like Anchor and Hands you get to hear angrier and louder vocals, backed by some melodic guitars. Long before Volume 3's release I was given a very early version of one of its songs, Alaska. Even now as I write this, it is easily my favorite song by the band. It sounded great in the early demo version, and even better when I heard the finished product in Volume 3. The song structure is quite similar to Trees but is a lot more focused and well defined. It may not be as daring or lengthy as Trees, but it is the song I find myself listening to the most. The vocal melodies and lyrics stick to your head a lot easily, the musical arrangement is a lot more loose and relaxed, and my favorite part of course being the heavy jam which closes the song. I am a sucker for random improvised jams in songs. The overall progression feels just right too, as the tempo slowly and surely builds up to that grand finale without it feeling jarring. I was also lucky enough to hear this song performed live and loud! It sounded so much better in all its raw purity.

The first (and so far only) time I saw the band play live was when they came down to Sydney to perform some gigs last year. The one I attended was quite the peculiar one, as it took place in some old hipster bookshop! I didn't quite like the crowd, but the band sounded really good in that almost studio-like environment. It was cool meeting Michael in person too, had a good talk and some laughs, and he told me how he fell in a hole during the tour (proudly showing off the bruises too). This story would subsequently inspire him to write the song titled...umm...I Fell In A Hole.

Michael would take some time off from the band to work on a new music project called Hells. Very cool band with a raw improvised style of playing, but it still didn't stop me from bugging him about a Volume 4! It didn't take long for it to get announced, but even better news came when the band announced that they would be releasing their first official studio album sometime in 2013, which as mentioned earlier, is titled Stay Drunk.



Well that is enough talk from me! Why don't we let the man himself tell it like it is?

Take it away Mr. Gale!

Interview with I Am The Agent's singer and guitarist, Michael Gale



VirtuaMuser: First off, thank you for agreeing to do this interview! How are things going for you and the band at the moment?


Michael Gale: Thanks for asking me about an interview! It means a lot to us that you’ve held such an interest in the band over the last few years. We’re just getting back into the swing of things with our band at the moment. Slow and steady.  



VM: How did the band first come about? Was it a challenge to assemble that ideal group of like-minded musicians?



MG: Challenge is absolutely the word for it. It has taken Daniel and myself about five years to find that ideal group, but I think we’re finally there with our current line-up. We’re essentially made up of the same melodic and lyrical half, with the rhythm section taken from a defunct Newcastle band called Bats & BattleshipsI like to think of it as a kind of Vanishing Twin syndrome. The stronger twin absorbing the strongest parts the weaker twin.



To answer the first part of your question – to me it’s like the band has only just started to properly form and take shape and grow into what it is meant to be.






VM: I can't quite place a finger on what sub-genre of rock music I Am The Agent falls into. There seems to be traces and fusions of a lot of different styles. How would you describe the band's sound?



MG: We call it post-rock, or post-hardcore depending on our mood. But yeah, I like all kinds of music and I like to have that show through in the stuff I write. It has completely ruined us to be honest – we don’t fit in with any crowd or scene. It’s weird. I think eventually we will figure it out together and tighten our sound.



VM: What bands/musicians influenced you the most?



MG: For me – I've been most influenced by Noughties emo bands. If you know your emo/post-hardcore bands well, you’ll be able to listen through our EPs and figure out who I was listening to at the time. Bands like Brand New, mewithoutYou, Thrice – older noisy grungy stuff like Nirvana. I really like Kurt’s weirdness.



The cool thing is that if you ask this question of the other guys in the band you’ll get weirder, more eclectic and probably better answers. I’m just an emulator when it comes to music, and that’s a gaming term so I hope you’ll understand what I mean.


VM: How does the song writing process work in the band? What is the starting point for a song?


MG: Traditionally, I've done it all. Lyrics, chords, drum parts, bass parts, melodies. I tend to write my incoherent ramblings separately to my guitar wankery – and somehow they meet in the middle. That’s when the song becomes a song...and that’s something we’re looking at changing for the new album. We’re finally at a point where I’m preferring to work with everyone rather than do everything all in a big bulk lot and saying “here are all the songs we need to jam on for the next while”. 

We’re working toward a more democratic song-writing approach.  Jamming in the room, making things up, improvising. It is heaps better. It makes us tighter and happier.



VM: Some of your lyrics are quite poetic and abstract (For example: Trees), how do the lyric ideas come about?

MG: Thanks. Trees is probably a good example to talk about.  

Obviously I use metaphor a lot. I try to think of really good metaphors, or descriptive words that put a picture in your head. Some parts are really vague, so you’re forced to put your own meaning on it, that’s a fairly old and well known song-writing trick though. Sometimes that is just lazy on my behalf – not picking a subject properly and dancing around themes and imagery instead.

Trees turned out really well because of Daniel’s weird whale-noise guitar playing. It fits the lyrics really beautifully. You can use the sound to half-tell the story for you sometimes. Kind of like a cheesy drama TV show – moody background synth-pad tells you how to feel without having to think too much.

With Trees I think I stumbled upon my own comfortable song-writing formula, and ever since I've been competing with that and simultaneously avoiding it for fear of being repetitive. I've never been able to match it and whenever I try I end up writing something dumb. So that leads me to try all sorts of different things when writing new sets of lyrics.

Man, none of that answers your question!

Lately I've just been filling books and books and books with random stories, free-thought ramblings, picking a topic and running with it, doing title-first writing, thinking about puns, incorporating weird internet references. Anything to make it feel fresh.



VM: I really loved the hand-drawn and painted artwork on the EPs. If I remember correctly every copy was tailor made! What do you look for when deciding artwork for an album?

MG: I had a fairly non-restrictive set of instructions for the artist (Vanessa Mccurry) for those EPs. Simple, delicate, interesting to touch and feel, hand-made, silk-screened. She went away and designed it after listening to the music. 

I wanted her to make a piece of artwork that would look different to everything our peers were making. It had to be different to the Laser Ink Jet printed demos and the Myspace-only streaming releases. They turned out perfect, and also imperfect. Which worked in their favour, I think. 

My mum told me that when she opened her copy of Volume One, it was like unwrapping a new-born baby. (This is where I get it from!).

VM: You guys have a debut album coming out in 2013. How is it coming along? 

MG: I guess you could say it is half-written and half-rehearsed. I’ll send you some of the demos and you can tell me what you think.

VM: I also noticed the current album art (Note: Referring to the concept cover for Volume 4) isn't the usual style you had on the EP covers.

MG: We haven’t really talked about the album art yet, I don’t think it will be the same style though. I want it to look like a departure, and not part of that same EP set. 

Maybe a special edition silk-screen version will pop up somewhere down the line and it can pay homage to those EPs. Not that anyone would notice.

VM: You have a side project, a two piece bluesy punk rock band by the name of Hells. I still remember the day you described its sound to me, after a lengthy explanation you ended with "IT'S LIKE BLACK SABBATH". Any current or future plans with that band?

MG: Hells need to jam soon. I want to write a Hells album.



VM: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions! Wish you and the band all the best with the upcoming album release.

MG: Thank you Jahanzeb. You’re a babe.

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I Am The Agent


Michael Gale - Guitars, Vocals

Daniel Lambert -  Guitars

Jason Breen - Bass

Dylan McCrae - Drums


Official website and blog



Official Bandcamp page (psst...you can try their music here...FOR FREE)

http://iamtheagent.bandcamp.com/







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