Before their first festival performance, Frontierer had never been in a room together. Pedram Valiani and Chad Kapper, the band's founding members, corresponded between Scotland and the United States for years. They were trading concepts for what they intended to be a side-project to their main bands, Sectioned and A Dark Orbit. However, the duo would go on to recruit three additional members, gain thousands of fans, and land a Rolling Stone "Best New Artist" feature 一 before ever setting foot on stage.
Their debut album, Orange Mathematics, has been described by Rolling Stone as "the world's ugliest math problem." Featuring whammy-powered sirens and fuzzed out production, it sounds like Meshuggah fed through a broken hard-drive: glitchy and savagely technical.
We spoke with the band about their unique sound, their first show, and their upcoming projects.
I know you guys have been teasing not only live performance videos, but also a potential second album. How are those coming along?
Pedram Valiani [Guitar/Production]: I’m actually 12 songs done. They’re about a whole new album. Album Two, which I actually have a title for, but I’m gonna leave it for a bit before saying much else. It might be a similar sort of length, maybe cut down, I’m not really going to say yet. When it’s going to be out, I have no idea, but it’s definitely not going to be out for another year, probably two years. I’m going to have it, it’s going to be done, mastered, mixed - Chad’s going to do all this stuff on it - and then I’m just going to sit on it for a long time. Until the right circumstances come around.
What I’d like to do with the second album is make sure we have enough going behind it in terms of publicity and merch, so I can afford more things and print more things that are worth making. I don’t like the idea of merchandizing absolutely everything because it feels a bit tacky, so I’d like to do the right things like vinyl, vinyl combos and things, but not have too much crap like vape pens. I mean, people might buy them, but I’m not gonna print them. At least not now.
So in terms of PR and promotions and merchandising, last I read, you guys are still doing that all yourselves?
What has that been like?
Valiani: Well, currently, the online side of it has been what I’ve done, because these guys weren’t in the band when I released the album, so it was just me plugging it all online. I like it, it’s really good fun. That’s why I’m really excited to just not release Album Two for a good year, two years...and just take my time over it and then reflect on it and think, “Oh no, that bit sucks, I need to go back and change this little bit of the song,” and get a bit of perfection with it before it comes out. Last time I just wrote the album in two weeks, and I had a bit of time to PR it myself, then it went off to Chad, who spent a good few months just writing vocals. Everything seems to have happened by chance. I’ll continue doing stuff solo, but I would like to reach out to somebody, an agency, maybe. Depends if the fees are right, but so far, everything has been free and good. It’s showing me that if you can make an impression on someone to the point where they’re willing to give you a service, like Rolling Stone giving us publicity for free, it’s there for the taking. But these guys are going to get more involved in that. Dan probably will initially, since he’s doing the shows.
Dan Stevenson [Guitar]: Yeah, I’ve got a real DIY sort of thought process on PR. I work in music management and a lot of the bands I work with pay so much money to PR companies to essentially get what we get through Frontierer for free. So I think as long as you can do DIY you’ve got more control over it. For me, this whole band is about being self-sufficient and doing as much as we can on our own. I feel like it’s a really abrasive style of music, and it’s like, you want to carry that into every aspect of what we do, whether it’s management or touring or stuff like that. I’m happy to keep it DIY as long as possible, and it’s amazing what has come off the back of one album without having to pay a penny for it.
Owen Hughes [Drums]: We have more control over what’s happening with the PR itself, and going back to Dan about the abrasive nature of the music, having control over who that goes to is really important. I think building up towards the second album there may be some sort of change in the thought process, but I think at the moment having it as DIY as possible is really what’s most important to the group.
Valiani: I don’t think it’s necessarily “DIY or die”, but I think there’s a lot you can do yourself if you have the right decision-making process in order. I’ve spent a lot of time on online forums where I was actually contributing. So I wasn’t just going there to spam my music, but had some sort of affiliation with that user group, so I used that to my advantage by posting music and people just happened to like it. So things have kinda come off the back of that.
I’ve heard a lot of the musical influences that you guys have mentioned, but in terms of the glitchiness and fuzziness and production, what inspired you to go in that direction?
Valiani: For me, it was a lot of discussion and collaboration with an old bassist, Mitchell, who was the bass player in Sectioned at the time. We used to chat about putting weird things and weird shit in songs that we just wanted to hear. Sometimes we just got really extravagant ideas that then would get incorporated, and it was always about how that came across. So that helped me be really self-critical about the quality control process over doing things like glitching and stuff. Because I never wanted to do stuff like that, writing-wise, that was constant. Doing too much of one thing can kind of spoil it.
At the moment I’m writing all of our material on our own. So when we’re in the practice space, Owen will change stuff up to suit him if it sounds better than it did on the record. When it comes to writing stuff with glitches, it’s normally just stuff I want to hear, rather than the mistake of just having a weird noise. I listen to a lot of breakbeat music, drum and bass and jungle, so it’s literally like, “I’m going to put a D&B bit in here.” It’s not like, “Ahh, I’m deliberately going to offend everyone.” I can’t describe it because if I’m writing, I want to listen to the thing as a listener rather than what I’m writing. I want to get a kick out of it when I listen to it and think, “Oh yes, whoever’s written that was fucking on it.” I get that reaction to my own songs. Like, when people aren’t here and I’m writing my own songs, I get that, “Ohhhohhh!!” reaction myself. And I get really excited, as if I’m listening to someone else’s band.
It probably sounds really arrogant to say that. It’s the truth though, I’m not going to shy away from that. I get excited about my own songs. I’m probably my only real fan. That’s kind of what inspired it. It’s so insular to me and it seems to work for other people too, so it’s just a coincidental overlapping.
Stevenson: No specific band inspired the sound. Literally just a texture adding to a song or a moment to a song. No other hidden agenda or meaning. Have a guitar, have a bass, have a drum kit, I wanna add a two-octave whammy with my floor pedal. Purely for effect. I mean, musical influences and that? There are people I listen to, but I don’t say that it’s this one particular guy that made me wanna write this.
Does the sound of the band change at all when you have to translate that style to live performance? And how?
Valiani: Yeah, it does change. The thing that most people said when they came to see us was that they could differentiate the parts in songs a little bit more, and I think they could sort of hone in and lock in the sounds that they didn’t get on the record, because of the production. The thing that people said is that it was “grooving more.” So I think it was more discernible and people could kind of understand things a little bit more. For us, at first we kind of changed things up. We mostly played stuff to record as far as I’m aware. It’s as it is on record. It might not sound exactly the same because you don’t get the dynamic of recording when you’re playing live, so you don’t get the exact identical impact dynamic that you do when you listen on the record. But you certainly get some impact from live performance, which I hope was delivered when we played UK TechFest. And which we’ll continue to work on, more importantly, for the upcoming shows, because we found out what works and what doesn’t work.
Hughes: I think from the record, one of the main things for me, being drums, is obviously that Ped wrote all of the drums for Orange Mathematics. So translating those grooves and feels onto an actual fully functioning kit was a little bit tricky for me. That’s why I think we spent so much time in the practice room, really making sure I was comfortable with some of the little changes I was making changes just to make it flow a little bit more. Some of the grooves were kind of too MIDI, too programmed. So having time to work on that really helped. I think, you know, from a live performance, as Ped said, you do get an impact from that. And although the record might honestly deliver that, changing up these little things, trying to stick as close to the record as possible, that’s important to us. It is to me, because I know people like the music that was put out, so I want to deliver on something that people like.
Valiani: That’s the thing, a record is quite robotic. And music will be quite robotic, and that’s what it is, but the human element comes into it live, and that’s what was kind of showcased for me when we played. So the drums were MIDI. But Owen picked stuff up quickly. He knew the songs because he was listening to the songs as a listener, not someone who was even in the band, before he even joined. He knew them and then he picked them up quickly because he had memorised the grooves. But for Dan, it was maybe slightly different?
Stevenson: I found it really interesting learning these songs on guitar. And I felt a little bit of pressure, because with the other instruments, like a drum kit, respectively, the drum kit remained a drum kit, and the vocals were still aggressive vocals. But the guitars were doing something that not a lot of guitarists really do or have. So we have seven string guitars, and we use an onslaught of two separate whammies each, and separate switch pedals. I feel like there’s a lot of new things happening, so for us to make sure that came across from CD to live really well, we had to work on that and make sure it was as tight or impactive as it should have been. It was really cool to try and mimic some of the sirens and to try and learn some of the parts. I think I just about had Ped beating me up, he had to show me every part seven thousand times. But it was cool, we got there in the end. I was so happy with the result. I think we had a really massive stage sound.
What was the anticipation like before playing your first show? Not a lot of bands go into a first show with that amount of hype.
Valiani: It was like Dan was on cocaine for a week. He was like, “Holy fuck we’re going to die!” I’m glad he didn’t jump out the van window. No, we were really looking forward to it. Having been in other bands, it felt like we were coming in at a high level. Not playing any other show before that as this band, but yet, the first show is this festival, and on the back of that we have festivals planned. [We had] only ever played one show. Expectations [were] put on us in very early days. We had one show, a few practices or whatever, and all this stuff is kinda happening. But we’re excited to get to actually do stuff that we never got to do in our previous bands. For most of us, we had situations where members were kind of non-committed, or just couldn’t find a balance with their personal lives and actually do music. Whereas all of us in this band, we can work a 9-5 but still have time to do all the other things that make it functional. Despite the fact that when you add the geography to it, it’s another kettle of fish to make it work. We’re excited for round to and still excited to do more. It’s essentially the same thing happening again when we go and play in the Netherlands and I’ve never played a show outside the UK. Neither has Owen, so, it’s gonna be really really fun.
Stevenson: Yeah, the anticipation was real. I think we had forgotten about it for so long because we were just in the practice room making sure it sounded big. Then, I think it was the morning when we all got in the van, and we were like, “Holy shit, we’re on our way to a festival.” Then we got there and you could see Between the Buried and Me’s stuff after they have done the sound check, and we were like, “Oh man, we’ve gotta fill that room and make sure it goes off.” I feel like we were off on a really strong foot. Like, there were people queueing up to get in apparently, and it was literally a circle pit from start to finish. I dunno, when I play guitar live, it’s like a redness, I don’t really know what happens. But it was chaos from start to finish. The good chaos. I mean, it could’ve went better I guess. But it could always go better, so it was awesome. We had a really good time. I can’t wait for Holland, because I feel like there’s going to be more hype when they see what the online show was like. There’s gonna be something online soon about that. So yeah, when people see it, I hope that there’s more anticipation and there’s more nerves and there’s more big opportunities, and it feels like that’s the direction.
Hughes: I mean, for me, TechFest and the other show represented a whole new level of performance that I had never got to do. Coming off all the disappointment and other stuff with the last band and previous music and projects, having the opportunity to come and do this stuff at this level felt a little bit surreal for me. But considering it was just the same as it always was with me and Ped in the practice room for a long time, and then you see Dan come in and add to that dynamic, it just made it all feel more real. And looking forward to 2017, I’m sure there’s gonna be some really exciting stuff to come. Live performances, and just getting to play drums to more people and more countries is what the music is all about to me, so having the opportunity to be in this band and do that is really pleasing.
Valiani: Seeing people at the show who were singing lyrics back and knowing the rhythms. It was nuts.
Stevenson: Near the end, at one point, there was a guy who was screaming parts back, even just the whammies, not even notes. And if you look at that video, you see me point at that guy in the crowd, and he was screaming every word of “Bleak”, and it totally blew my mind because no one had even seen this live.
Keeping all that hype from the first show in mind, what do you see as the direction for Frontierer in the future?
Valiani: America? We’re just trying to get as many shows and as many opportunities that match our day to day lives as we can. Even if I run out of song ideas, I have three albums worth of material. I still want to play shows until I get bored of playing shows. So the plan for us is, I think if we can do some European shows together, and see how everyone gets on for more than just a couple days or whatever. America is really the goal.
And that’s another reason I’m kind of holding off the release of the second album, because I don’t want to blow my load a little too quickly, so to speak. Because if it gets released it may inhibit opportunity. Orange Mathematics, people are still listening to it for the first time. I’m happy with the progress it’s made, but I don’t feel like it’s completely exploded to the point where it’s out of control. But there are people still picking up on it, which is awesome. And I’m not really in any rush to release new music too soon.
So, yeah, America will be the goal, especially having a member that lives in the States. It’s just visas, really. Getting the performance visas to come over is a bit of a pain, getting approval and stuff, aside from the fact that you have to get the shows confirmed and the distances for travel are nuts. It’s just a completely different experience. And with these shows and maybe a couple of shows in America under the belt, it’s a constant iteration, it’s the same thing over and over again at different points in the year whenever it suits us. Like with limited merch, I much prefer to do quality rather than quantity. So I’d rather play like, five, six, seven shows in a year, where people can listen to us, rather than doing three months touring and playing tiny shows where we’re losing money.
Because we want to be realistic about it, you know what I mean? We all have jobs, we’re all learning and stuff like that, we don’t want to pour the money down the drain just because we like music. We want to be sensible about it. I think we’re all on mutual agreement on that term, but I really try and drive that home as much as I can, and it seems to work for us. So we’re just kind of continuing that way.
Hughes: We don’t really know obviously what’s going to happen with the second album and stuff. But in terms of what we’ll see in the future, like the next of couple of years, I think playing more shows, getting tighter musically, and generally just, for me as well, playing more drums and actually getting a bit more direction myself. I think that’s kind of a cool goal to have as a part of this element of Frontierer as well. But in terms of shows, Every band that I listen to or know of, USA seems to be where all of this goes down. Those tours just look like a whole lot of fun. And you know, with the realism as well, because we all have jobs and all that. It would be nice to do it as a holiday-based kind of thing, once a year or whatever. America is pretty cool, and then, you know, just basically playing as many shows as we can within our limitations, really.
Stevenson: Obviously, America’s up there, for sure. But I mean, for me, I’d really like to get to places like India, or South America or Russia. I’ll watch a lot of bands like Architects and Meshuggah go to these places and the responses are insane. Like, Napoleon are in China right now, and obviously the shows aren’t massive numbers, but the experience and the culture is just so different. I’d love to get over to those kinds of places if we could get that somehow. But, same as the other guys have said, it’s more shows in conditions that suit us. That’s kinda the idea.
Valiani: I dunno, like...the more offers, the more we can do. Going back to the PR question, everything is sort of being independent, and the show’s we’ve got offered to play and that we’ve been playing are people that came to us. I have reached out to some festivals I’d like to play. People haven’t gotten back to me, so I can kinda ask, and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Having new music is a way to burst new life into a project and get people to look at what you’re doing, so that’s another reason I’m holding off releasing any music for now.
So just the usual band stuff. Releasing music, play shows, releasing merch, play shows, new music. Nothing revolutionary, really. Just simple, whatever suits our plans. If there is an opportunity to play shows that make sense two or three months in the year that suit us logistically, financially, I’ll do them. I’m working towards stuff like that. I’ve tried to see if we can get into places like Summer Slaughter, Warped Tour, or whatever, but again, maybe it’s not the right time for them, or .they haven’t gotten back to us. I mean, these places deal with loads of bands. Loads of good bands, loads of shit bands. It’s luck of the draw really.