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Churches, DIY And Web TV: Stereoboard Talks To Your Favorite Enemies

Thursday, 27 June 2013 Written by Huw Baines

Your Favorite Enemies like to do things their way. From buying an old Catholic church to turn into a studio, to producing a web TV show, to self-releasing records and making their own merch, they're into everything and have built a devoted following as a result.

The Canadian band are gearing up to release their new EP, 'Youthful Dreams Of An Old Empire', on July 8 and we caught up with frontman Alex Foster to discuss everything from DIY, to artistic expression and why fire stations make good home studios.

You recorded 'Youthful Dreams Of An Old Empire' at an old Catholic church, how did that come about?

It was a crazy idea we had a couple of years ago, and it didn't take long before the crazy idea became crazier as we got into the resilient determination to buy that church. Trust me, crazy can have a whole lot of different meanings and consequences, depending on how deeply committed you are to that very crazy idea. It took us a year to negotiate the acquisition, another one to renovate the whole place and another one to convert what could have ended as a very bad type of crazy idea into the studio we were envisioning.

A little piece of advice: if you're going to buy a church, and the person testing the acoustics of the place does so by snapping his fingers, make sure that person never gets involved regarding the feasibility of such a crazy project. When the cost of the quotes issued comes and punches you right in the face, it's enough to shake any strong friendship! Well, our friendship managed to survive the knock down, so I guess it's a good sign after all.

In fact, regardless of the craziness of the idea, craziness that quickly turned into madness, we had always envisioned getting a place of our own, where it would truly be home, where we would completely be independent, and where our other crazy ideas would be totally free from of any type of structural limitations. So we managed to turn a church into our personal home studio. And here we are! Honestly, it's the most important decision we had to take as a band. The artistic freedom of the EP comes from that resilient spirit we nurtured in the dissident ways we had to create our own mess. And if you have to choose a place to build your own studio, simply buy an old fire station. You won't be seen as having your own personal cult going on. And well, let's be honest here, everyone loves fire stations, right?

You have a strong DIY ethic, is that something you feel has been lost from modern music?

Honestly, it's hard for us to say, especially from our perspective. DIY might sound like a pretty cool thing to brag about during interviews, but it can feel as sexy as an STD when you realise what it truly requires on a daily basis. You need discipline, you need to work like crazy, you can't count on anyone else and you can't blame anyone. In other words, the typical rock star life, right? It needs to be something you strongly believe in, to which you are strongly devoted and dedicated. Otherwise it can be a disaster.

I find it quite difficult to talk about the state of modern music. As artists, we feel like we can do whatever we want regardless of what's considered "cool", or what's being portrayed as a "hit" or seen as the next big "buzzing" thing. But also being the ones managing pretty much every aspect of our business, the "everyone can do it… anyone can make it" factor can actually be the biggest make-believe of all. Terms and semantics might have evolved over the years, but it seems to me that the same mighty rules apply to this business.

I've seen very close friends who were playing in amazing bands sign with indie labels that make the worst major label look like Mary Poppins compared to their "indie" way to deal business, just like I've seen very OK bands on the A-list of major labels but not wanting to do anything. "What? Facebook, fans, Twitter, videos, what? We are being mysterious by not being out there," type of thing. They thought the money and the business attention would be forever for the very, very special self they thought they were. Boom! Welcome to the cruel world, the real world. And those very same bands are those despising major labels now. Go figure.

What inspired you to take on such a grassroots approach to getting your music out there - from your recordings to your in-house merch?

As naively simple as it might sound, the band's fans have been the inspiration from the very beginning. We didn't start this with a five year plan to conquer the world, no-one studied marketing nor clicked on any magical link teaching us how to make $5000 daily. We all come from financially challenged backgrounds and didn't grow up with any "I can be and do everything I dream of" type of mantras. We were friends, a band before having any instruments, a bunch of outcasts looking for trouble and to feel alive. I don't call that a career plan.

But somehow, when we started sharing our music, writing blogs and simply allowing ourselves to "be", people started paying attention. They wrote to us, shared with us, as if we were in any way meaningful enough for them to stop and cheer us on. One message turned into 10, and so on. What we thought would be only a sympathetic phase of our nonsense lives became way more serious when people requested albums, when they started making their own merch. We didn't have money to buy t-shirts for ourselves, so the concept of having band merch was pretty unlikely at that point!

They asked us to visit them. Before that, the closest we had been to Asia was in some cheap Chinese restaurant we used to steal food from in order to divide it later. Touring was a theoretical concept only real bands could do, or so we thought. Everything kinda originated from these relationships. No rich daddy, no powerful manager. An old collective computer, broken instruments, half of a cool song. And one thing we never thought would be in any way necessary, which was, and still is, a profound understanding of what it truly means to have nothing to lose. We started with that.

After, we had to learn everything. And I mean everything. From sending an email to what was the difference between an agent and a manager. We found out pretty quickly that we had naively signed with some crooks who were more into major label interests (aka their money) than us, so we also quickly learned what a lawyer was and why we definitely needed one, a very good one! And once we put out our first album on a little personal web store, we found ourselves in the need of learning how to manage a shipping operation, a very busy shipping operation.

We invited friends to join us and help, and that ultimately became a proper record label. Then a recording studio, a video department, and recently a merch company. Everything we do is based on the very same naivety of sharing everything we have with our fans. We only do projects in which we not only believe in, but those to which we are ready to fully commit ourselves to. That's the only requirement for us. It needs to be real.

We truly owe everything to our fans. They are the inspiration, the people who taught us how much value we had and how we were estimated. We are privileged and honoured to have such amazing people reminding us what home feels like. Such a crazy life can't be planned and such singular bonds can't be faked. It's a communion.

Your Bla Bla Bla show gives you direct access to your fans, how did you get that out there?

Again, it started with another one of our crazy ideas to bridge everyone, regardless of their language, religion, social status, generations, even their time zone and internet connection speed! We wanted to invite everyone home, so we built ourselves a very unique TV station. The Bla Bla Bla is in real time and translated into seven languages. We have a set for the interviews and a set where the band performs live, all in real time live streaming, with exclusive content. We present the news, premiere videos, share crazy pictures of band mates, do contests for those chatting with our co-host during the show.

Again, it started with a simple desire to connect and now it's a multi-camera, HD, live broadcast show. All without any commercial support whatsoever. It's only fun. Well, it needs to be fun, because in order for people living in Europe and Asia to join us live, the show starts at 8am on Sunday mornings. Have you ever tried to look cool that early on Sundays? HD cameras aren't friendly with anyone at that time. Even One Direction would look pretty funky. Except for Harry, he's my favourite.

And quite frankly, despite all the amazing elements of entertainment we share during the show, it's the band members' interaction and complicity that makes it special and unique every time. You can package a great show, but you cannot package fake into something that real. It goes back to the fundamental essence of the communion we share. No HD camera can turn coal into gold. Not even the new Instagram video can do it.

Can you give us an insight into how your fan-to-fan record sales system works? It's allowed you to tour extensively we're told.

I think the system we're applying to everything we do is based on the authenticity of every project we share with our fans. That's why they always insist that we offer hard copy versions of the projects we release (singles, live bootlegs, live performances on Bla Bla Bla: The Live Show). It's a celebration for everyone, so there's no marketing plans involved other than the assurance it will be genuine.

The rest of it is really simple. We manage every step from the songwriting, the artwork, the duplication, up to the packaging and the shipping. That's why it's so special for everyone involved. It's only for the "fan". We have a blast packing up vinyls as well as printing t-shirts. Otherwise it would be just another job, which would be pretty sad actually. And touring allowed us to meet most of the people we talk with. There's nothing like it. We all grew up together in so many ways, so every moment is precious and unique. We are living every single one of them as such.



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