Things have changed a lot on the Northern Ireland heavy metal scene over the last 15 years or so. At the tail end of the 1990s, the musical landscape was a lot different than it is today. Local metallians often had to wait for the occasional big name touring band to take the risk of visiting this corner of the planet we call Mosh… more frequently, however, they had to travel to see their heroes in action. As for a “local scene…” “What local scene?” would instead have been a more pertinent question… after the heyday of the late 1980s/early Nineties, apart from one or two venues and a handful of bands, it seemed to have died on its feet.
Then, in 2001, things seemed to change. Almost overnight. Perhaps inspired by the dawn of a new millennium, a handful of fans and friends started to shine a light on the seemingly dormant scene, with the formation of a promotion by the name of The Distortion Project, who took the bold step of staging weekly gigs in a small pub which always has been synonymous with Belfast’s metal crowd: Katy Daly’s (now simply known as Katy’s). Bands seemingly started crawling out of the woodwork, and the scene suddenly started going from strength to strength… It’s a legacy that is more than evident today, with Belfast now enjoying one of the most vibrant and exciting rock and metal scenes around (if still suffering from a distinct lack of live venues!) – as evidenced, perhaps, by the fact that three bands from NI are playing next month’s Bloodstock festival.
Turning the clock back to 2001 again, outside the Northern Ireland capital, things were also starting to stir and coalesce, with the genesis of a band by the name of Sinocence… Over the years, bands have come and gone, but three demos, two albums and two (soon to be three) EPs later, despite numerous trails and setbacks, Sinocence are still there flying flag for no-nonsense heavy fuckin’ metal, and have come to be regarded by some as the godfathers of the Norn Iron scene. Later this year, the band will mark its 15th anniversary with a special show at the Limelight, the club venue next door to the bar where those first gigs first relit the flame and which now has become the spiritual home of what started out as ‘RocKD’…
The band have just released a new video, ‘Ascension Code’, taken from their last ‘No Gods No Masters Volume II’ EP, which PlanetMosh has the pleasure of premiering – right here and right now, mofos! After the video stream, Sinocence guitarist Anthony McCaughley sets about the task of answering 15 PM questions – one for each year of the band’s existence…
Video Credit: Andy Pilkington (verymetal.co.uk)
When you first started the band, did you think you’d still be doing it all this time later?
Fuck no! haha… then again why limit yourself? Why put a barrier up? When we write we get a good feeling. It’s about the four us in the room. That’s our barometer. Whenever that vibe isn’t there, or the writing stops being productive, we’ll know when to stop. That hasn’t happened – and, if anything, the ideas are increasing. [It’s] all good at the minute.
What was the original ethos behind forming the band?
Moro (guitarist/vocalist Gareth Morrow) formed the band. There were a few line-up changes before we started putting in 10 year stints lol. From what I can tell it was just friends jamming… Back then, playing Katy Daly’s, the mythical place that did metal gigs in Belfast, was it. That was as far it was looked at. Remember the band was formed in Lurgan. There was nothing going on there band wise. The odd cover band in the Corner House was about it. Once we started playing Lurgan though it became integral to us.
And does that basic ethos still apply, or has experience changed your perspective on the band?
That’s a really good question. At times we’ve pushed it hard. Trying to get signed, doing European shows and raising money to record. Putting pressure on ourselves. Now it’s kind of going back to the way it started in a way. There’s kids/family life involved now, so if we didn’t enjoy it or want to be there, we wouldn’t do it. The fact that it’s four friends playing music now because we all want to be there is cool. We’d just be more realistic now as to how things work with all that comes with being in the band.
You underwent a line up change earlier this year, with Ben ‘Blademan’ Simpson joining behind the kit. I saw his first couple of live performances, and I must admit that my initial impression was “WTF?” He seems to have brought a new energy to the band… is that a fair assessment?
Yeah, 100 per cent… We were forced into a position just before Xmas and beyond frustrated with it. It was going to take something special to breathe life back into the band. There was a lot of anger and a real case of “fuck this”! There was so much negativity. When Ben came in, with his work ethic and drive, it was hard not to be inspired by it. He really gave us a much needed kick in the ass. I think when we finally did get out playing you could see the difference. He’s a heavy hitter and his style is a great fit. He gives the band way more power now.
Has he changed the dynamic of the band in any way?
Absolutely, [especially] in terms of bringing a real work ethic and focus. He has a sound musical mind and is knowledgeable about recording and writing. We are recording practices now off the floor and demoing at this stage – which is a first. Sometimes we just laugh at his professionalism! It’s great though.
I referred to your ‘No Gods No Masters’ EPs, and you’re about to start writing the third and final part. Why did you decide to go down the route of doing three, linked releases in this way?
It’s something we’ve had an idea to do over ten years ago. I just think its gets the music out faster and is more affordable for people. It was to be an EP and a music video for each. We got side tracked being signed a few times to shit deals so we decided to take control back ourselves and it’s been the best move. It’s also something I hadn’t seen too many bands do and it maps out a great body of work. Something we could all really sink our teeth into.
I know you’re now going to take a few months off to concentrate on writing and recording Part III. You did the same thing during the gestation of Part II. How important is it to you do this, without the distraction of playing live or touring, but just sitting down together and concentrating on getting the thing done?
Yeah, sometimes you just need to focus. It helps not to have any distractions for a bit. There is an element of the final instalment and we want to do it right. We have our way and methods for writing and this is something that gets everyone going.
Over the years, a consistent lyrical theme – and especially in your recent ‘No Gods No Masters’ EPs – has been one of being anti-religion: what first inspired you to translate your dislike of organized religion into your music?
We are an atheist band, no doubt about it. Our views on organised religion are pretty clear. Moro writes a lot about systems of control and seats of power are a large topic on this trilogy in any form. The idea that you are not in control of your life I suppose is hard for us to handle. The Catholic upbringing some of us had probably didn’t help either. Basically the “feel guilty about everything and burn in hell unless you worship me” message fell short!
Some of the material on ‘No Gods…II’ was also very personal. Have you any themes emerging for III or is too early to tell what direction it is going to go in?
We wrote a song for a good friend of the band that passed away. That one was written with a lot of respect as we knew his family/wife and kids would have to hear it. It was different for us: we even had a violin in there, as a nod to Paddy’s love of Irish music. At the minute though, we are just getting the ideas and songs together. In light of the horseshit we went through last year, I’ve a feeling Moro’s going to vent some of that…
Looking back over your career so far, what have been the highlights?
That’s more of a personal question. The ‘Scar Obscura’ album was a real highlight for me… and Volume 2, [that was] a great time in the studio. To me, though, it’s been the relationships with the bands we play with. We’ve met so many fantastic people over the years. We’ve been pretty humbled as far as building bills for gigs and attracting bands from the mainland/Europe. Some great friendships and craic has been had. To me that’s been the best part of the journey.
And what have been the low lights – the regrets if you will?
Member changes have been real low points. In hindsight we should have replaced people who didn’t even deserve to be there a lot earlier. A hell of a lot earlier!
You briefly dabbled with being “signed” to a record company, but now plough your own, independent furrow. Do you think it is more difficult to get recognized – or, in your case, retain that level of recognition – without the “support” of a record company? Is it more difficult, or more satisfying, to do things by yourselves?
Those deals were awful to be honest and a complete waste of our time and money. No, we work better by ourselves. As far as recognition goes I’m not too worried about that. We are playing with some of the best rock/metal bands in the UK and Ireland at the minute. Anything we’ve ever got we did it ourselves and working with other driven, likeminded people. We would prefer that any day of the week.
There are several, shall we say “younger”, Northern Ireland bands – I’m thinking WarCrux and Donum Dei for starters – who have cited Sinocence as among their influences for getting out there and doing it themselves. How do you feel about a new generation of acts looking up to you?
We’ve definitely helped a few bands out in terms of putting them on bills, encouraging them to believe in themselves and get out there. We are all aspiring to doing the same thing. I wish someone was there to tell us not to take those deals and give us a few pointers. They only look up to us until they realise we are the same assholes they are, all be it a bit older!
Placing yourself in the shoes of these newer bands, but using the benefit of your experiences in the business, what advice would you give to them – and, indeed, a younger Sinocence just starting down the road you have travelled?
The landscape has changed so much since we started. I’d say stay away from DIY deals, no money up front – forget it. When you first start out, you need to build a fan base, get out and play as much as you can. I know it’s harder now but there’s no better place to learn than a stage. I really respect the kids that are doing it nowadays. Taking the time to learn an instrument these days with a generation stuck to their phones is something. Social media is great, but get out and get stuck in.
Finally, do you see yourselves doing this in another 15 years?
Probably not ha ha… We’ve a few years left in us yet though! ;)
- Sinocence’s 15th anniversary show takes place at Limelight 2 on Saturday 2 October. Support will come from Two Tales Of Woe, Gasoline Outlaws and So Long Until The Séance. Doors will be at 5pm and admission £5.