Interview with MARK THWAITE of NEW DISEASE, who have signed to Universal US - Apr 19, 2004
HitQuarters Artist New Disease Signed To Major LabelBased in London, UK, Mark Gemini Thwaite is the guitarist and one of the songwriters in the rock band New Disease, who were featured as the HitQuarters Artist of the Month in May 2003. They have since signed to Universal US and are to release their debut single “Like Rain” on 27 April in the US, and 17 May in the UK.
Here he tells us about the activities they engaged in as an independent band and about the events that led up to their record deal with Universal.
What is your music background?
I started playing guitar when I was 15, because my best friend at school got a guitar. A few years later, in 1992, I joined the British goth-rock band the Mission (click on artist or track names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.) after answering an advertisement in the press. I stayed until 1996, when the band split up. During my time with them we released two albums through Dragnet/Sony.
I then joined Tricky‘s band in 1998 and recorded two albums with him; “Blowback” and “Vulnerable.” The Mission also reformed in 2000 and I did a world tour and another album with them, “Aura”, on SPV in 2001, whilst I was playing with Tricky. In the end, I parted ways with the Mission, because I was committed to promoting the Tricky record and because there were also some musical differences. I carried on with Tricky for another year and then I realised that I wanted to get my own band going. In 2002 I formed New Disease.
I’ve also played with many other bands. In my sessions with Tricky, I recorded with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Method Man, I've recorded and performed with members of Tool, I’ve worked with Alanis Morissette on a couple of tracks, and I did some guitars on material for Roger Daltrey, the singer from the Who a few years ago.
Have you been able to live off your music?
More often than not, I have. I also do web design; I studied computers at school, so in low periods between bands I've done computer-related work.
How did New Disease get off the ground?
One of the reasons I got frustrated in the Mission and with Tricky was because I didn't get enough musical input. I had been coming up with more and more ideas, complete arrangements minus the vocal; I submitted these to the Mission but they would rarely get used. I couldn't submit them to Tricky because he does his own thing and he also makes a different style of music.
I had known Gary Numan for several years; he was friends with the Mission. He heard my demos in 2001, thought they were great, and suggested that we should start a side-project, which would involve my music and his vocals. This was in late 2001. I demoed some more songs and at the same time I collaborated with Gary on tracks for “Hybrid”, the remix album his label was putting together.
One of the songs I reworked was “Are Friends Electric?”, his famous hit. But as Gary was so busy with his own thing, the seed to format a new band was sown, and I realised that I had to get a singer and get New Disease going.
How did the other members come aboard?
Lee Bane, our singer, used to be in a band called Underdogg, who supported the Mission on a European tour in 2000. My girlfriend reminded me what a great voice Lee had and suggested I audition him for New Disease.
Richard Adams, our bass player, used to be in a band called Daisy Chainsaw, who had some minor success in the early 90s and were signed to One Little Indian. I didn't know him, but we had a mutual friend who suggested him to me. I auditioned Richard and he worked out great; we found that we had a mutual love of a lot of the same bands, like Killing Joke and so on.
Eddie Stratton, our drummer, joined in September 2003. He used to be in a band called One Minute Silence, signed to V2, and he approached us through our website when he heard that we were looking for a drummer. I used to like One Minute Silence, so it was kind of cool that he approached us and it seemed like fate.
Before Eddie, we had another drummer, Ritch Battersby, who had been in the Wildhearts and Grand Theft Audio. Grand Theft Audio were signed to London Records and I did some guitars on their album in 2000, so that’s how I knew Ritch. New Disease gigged with Ritch for about a year and then he decided that he wanted to launch another band himself.
We started writing together in the spring 2002 and we did our first gig in September 2002. We were pretty much like a regular band, except that we had more of a head start than most bands, because we had spent the first six months perfecting the songs in my home studio before we ever set foot on a stage.
How did you get gigs?
We didn’t have an agent, but we were fairly well connected because we’d been in professional bands. We approached venues like the Barfly in Camden, London, where we played our first gig. When we said that we were ex-Tricky, ex-Wildhearts, etc., it was easier to get gigs as they figured that some of the fan base of those bands would come and check us out. We also sent them our demo, which we had recorded in my home studio.
How many people would you generally have played for?
Most places were like the Barfly, which has a capacity of about 150 people, and it would be fairly full.
How much were you paid for the gigs?
With unknown bands, most venues offer a flyer scenario where the band distributes flyers for the show and if enough people, maybe twenty or thirty, pay their admission fee with a flyer, the band get paid. We usually ended up getting paid.
Did you get good reviews of your live performances?
Yes, due to our history in other bands, there was some press interest and our first show got a really good review in KERRANG! Metal Hammer also listed us as a band to watch alongside US band Good Charlotte. We knew people at the magazines and we invited them; I don’t think we would have had press had we been completely unknown as musicians.
However, New Disease bares no relation to any of our previous bands musically, so we couldn’t rely on the press or the fan bases of those bands to actually like us.
Your biggest gigs?
As a headline act, the Camden Palace in London, which is a 1,200 capacity venue. We’ve played there twice. We haven't played that many shows, maybe fifteen shows in the last year and a half. But the biggest audience we've played to, of about 2,000 people, was when we supported H.I.M. at the London Astoria in last year.
How did that happen?
I knew the singer from H.I.M., Ville Valo, through hanging out together playing at festivals when I was in the Mission. We had become friends and I sent him our EP, which we had recorded by that time. It just so happened that H.I.M. were playing a London show and Ville liked the songs, which were produced by John Fryer who also produced their platinum album “Razorblade Romance”, and suggested that we support them.
What does the songwriting process generally involve?
Most of the time, I'll write a complete sequence of music; verse, chorus, middle 8, etc., which I'll demo in my home studio. I'll give that to our singer, Lee, and he will write a vocal. He may suggest changes to chords or suggest a guitar line here or there, because he also plays guitar, but for about 80% of our material I've written the music and Lee the vocal. Lee also writes songs himself, so some songs originate from him.
How important has the New Disease website been in raising the band’s profile?
By pure coincidence, our bass player Richard had worked for several years as a Macromedia Flash designer and, coupled with my web design skills, we were able to come up with a pretty impressive website straight away: newdiseasemusic.com.
We launched it in June 2002 and it has definitely helped to build our profile; as soon as we started getting press reviews—we were in KERRANG! in September 2002 and in Metal Hammer in October 2002—we started averaging over 5,000 hits a month. Our current monthly average is over 10,000 hits and growing every month.
Was it costly and difficult to set up?
Not at all. You can buy a domain name for USD20-30 a year and then you're good to go. Obviously, we were able to keep costs down as we knew how to set up a website and how to maintain it; we didn't have to pay anybody to do that. We were also fortunate enough to have a friend who runs a hosting service and he hosted our website for free. The overheads of the website have been virtually nothing, other than paying for the actual domain name.
How did you meet your attorney Sarah Waddington?
I was introduced to Sarah Waddington at Simkins Partnership by producer John Fryer at a H.I.M. show in the summer of 2002.
What has your work with her involved?
We supplied her with promo packs: the EP, the biography, pictures, reviews, etc., and she passed them on to industry people, including >b>Steve Zapp at International Talent Booking, who is now our booking agent for the UK and Europe. Basically, she was working for free; we didn’t pay her initially, but if she secured us a record deal, which she eventually did, she would automatically get to negotiate that deal. She genuinely loves New Disease and what we're doing.
How did the “Axiomatic” EP happen?
We were demoing with John Fryer in January 2003. I had met John through Ville Valo; John had produced H.I.M. and many other bands, such as Nine Inch Nails. The demo recordings were for James Dewar at Rondor Music Publishing; Sarah had given him our earlier, self-produced demos and he decided to demo us at Universal Music Studios for a possible publishing deal.
Unfortunately, James left Rondor shortly afterwards and Rondor itself merged with Universal, but before that, James strongly urged us to put out a self-financed EP with a printed sleeve and a barcode number through an indie label, rather than sending out a CDR to music industry people. He said that radio stations and reviewers would take that more seriously, which made sense to us.
At the same time, we were approached by the independent label ChangesOne, which specialises in Wildhearts-related releases. As we had Ritch Battersby from the Wildhearts on drums, they suggested including one of our tracks, “In Vitro”, on one of their compilation CDs, which we agreed to, and that logically led to a discussion of putting out an EP through ChangesOne, which we did in April 2003.
We did the artwork, and all the tracks were recorded in my home studio, except for “Hold On (Here Comes The Sun)”, which was recorded by John Fryer at Universal Music Studios. We obtained clearance to include it on the EP from Rondor, who had paid for the studio costs. John Fryer had offered his services for free, but had we at that point landed a publishing or record deal, he would have been the logical person to continue to work with.
What is ChangesOne? Were you signed to them?
ChangesOne is a record store in northern England and they also operate an independent label. They’ve released a number of records by small artists and there are basically no contracts involved. They release the artists they like and the arrangement is that they press the records and split the profits 50/50 with the artist.
When James at Rondor suggested that we should put something out, they seemed like the logical people to do it with because they were offering to put it out without signing us to a contract. We still own the masters of those recordings, but we agreed with them that they could release the tracks and they are free to keep producing the EP, even if we are successful.
Were you heavily promoted?
That was the downside, because ChangesOne weren't prepared to pay for any promotion. They said they had bad experiences with advertising in the rock press and they didn't have a marketing budget; they basically relied on word of mouth. But the EP got great reviews in KERRANG!, Metal Hammer, and Rock Sound magazine.
ChangesOne figured that that was marketing enough and they may have been right, although it was a bit frustrating not to have a marketing budget, particularly as we were all broke ourselves.
How many copies did you sell?
It was a limited run, about 1,000 copies, which were predominantly sold in England, although some were also sold in Europe and in the US. A hundred copies went out to Japan as there was a Wildhearts fan base there who were interested.
Did you send the EP to music industry professionals?
Yes, Sarah sent the EP to many UK and also some European labels. V2, Gut Records, Sanctuary, Roadrunner UK and Roadrunner Germany showed serious interest in us, but although the EP impressed them, they weren't willing to commit.
We have a very transatlantic kind of sound and we are definitely suited to the American market. Many of the labels that approached us did actually say that we should go for an American deal, but we didn't have any American connections at the time. What we needed was an American lawyer or manager to push us, because we felt that there wasn’t any point in sending the EP to American labels ourselves as their rules about unsolicited material would mean that they wouldn’t listen to it anyway.
Did you get any airplay?
We were played on Xfm, the alternative radio station in London. I know the DJ, Ian Camfield, who does the Xfm rock show, so I gave him the CD and he liked it. We also had some airplay in America as well; we get e-mails from college radio kids saying that they have our EP and that they’ve played it. We didn’t get any Radio One airplay, which in England is the most important thing to get, and there wasn't any proper pitching going on either.
Did you make any videos?
Some of our fans offered to do a video for us. They taped some of our gigs and shot some more footage of us, with a regular, hand-held digital camera, in rehearsal. Then one of the fans, Mike Slatter, edited all the footage and we included the video on the “Axiomatic” EP. It cost us virtually nothing; our fans did everything. It has sort of a natural quality to it but it's also quite a professional-looking video.
How did you catch David Bottrill’s interest?
Sarah knew Canadian producer David Bottrill and, on one of his trips to the UK, she gave him our EP. She knew that he was looking for bands for his Mainstation label, which at the time was a Universal US imprint.
I was a huge fan of his work with Peter Gabriel, Tool and his work on the soundtrack to “The Last Temptation of Christ”. I already knew the Tool guys, because I'd toured with them when I was with Tricky, so through them I had met David before, and I’d also met him when I briefly played guitar with Grand Theft Audio, whom he produced a track for.
When I found out he was interested in producing our album, which would in turn lead to an American record deal which was what everybody in the industry thought we should get, it seemed ideal. We really liked him as a person too; he’s a very cool guy. He played “Axiomatic” for Universal US, but they weren’t 100% convinced, so he suggested recording some demos, which they agreed to. David wanted to capture the energy he had seen when he saw us play live.
We had used programmed drums on the EP because we had no possibility of recording real drums in my home studio. The one song which we did record live drums for was “Hold On (Here Comes The Sun)”, which had been recorded in a real studio. We went into Strongroom Studios in London with David and recorded “Like Rain”, and we re-recorded a revised version of “Song of One Word”, which had originally been on the “Axiomatic” EP.
How did Bottrill affect your sound?
David captured the live sound of the band and made some great suggestions regarding the arrangements of the songs. I'd definitely say that he’s had an input on our sound. He made us look at certain aspects of our songs, which was very interesting.
Of course, the recordings with David were always going to sound different to the “Axiomatic” release; what David got was the whole band performing in a very organic way in a high-quality studio, as opposed to working in a home studio with programmed drums. The new recordings sound much more like a real band.
What did you agree with Universal?
The agreement was that Universal would pay for the recording and we would give them three weeks to decide whether they wanted to sign us or not. If they didn’t say anything to us after those three weeks had passed, we would have been free to play the demos to other interested industry people. We wouldn't have owned those demos, but we would have been allowed to play them to other record labels.
After three weeks, Universal came back and said they wanted to enter negotiations for a record deal, so we agreed to wait another two weeks while they formulated an offer. Two weeks later they delivered an offer and we went into full negotiations with them.
Who listened to the tracks at Universal?
Monte Lipman, the president of Universal Records, and Avery Lipman, the president of Republic, which is a subdivision of Universal.
Did you sign with Mainstation or Universal?
The structure of the deal is that we’re signed directly to Universal Records, but we work with David Bottrill and his Mainstation label under the Republic/Universal umbrella. We were happy with it; we get to work with David Bottrill and Universal is obviously one of the biggest American labels.
Republic also has Godsmack, Bloodhound Gang and 3 Doors Down, all bands with US platinum sales. We felt very comfortable with the idea of signing to a major label as we see ourselves as a major label act.
Who will own the masters?
How did you meet your manager Larry Mazer?
We met Larry through David Bottrill. David was producing Flaw, a Universal band that Larry Mazer manages. David knew we were looking for management, so he played our recordings to Larry, who loved them and offered to manage us. We definitely liked the idea of an American manager, because we’re primarily aiming at the American market and, as we’re signed to an American label, it made sense to have US-based management.
We also liked the fact that he already knows the people at Universal as he deals with them with his other bands. Larry is a veteran of the US music scene and has managed or co-managed many leading US rock acts, including Megadeth, Kiss and Anthrax. He also currently manages Stone Sour and 36 Crazyfists. David recommended Larry highly as a thoroughly trustworthy manager with a tremendous track record.
What do you plan to do in terms of publishing?
We are open to a publishing deal. We've had a number of UK publishers interested in us, but no one has taken it further yet. It’s also in our interest to wait until our album is released, as we will then secure a bigger advance.
What will you release first?
“Like Rain”, the single, will be released to US radio on 27 April . Universal hadn't planned to release it in the UK at this stage, so David Bottrill has decided to release it through his Mainstation label in the UK, 17 May, under license from Universal.
It's basically still Universal, but David’s Mainstation team are arranging the release here. Being a British band we have a fair amount of interest in the band from the UK press, so it seemed a bit odd not to release it in the UK too.
What kind of marketing and promotional activities are planned?
We have radio pluggers and a press agent on board, and we're talking to a few artists about doing some support tours. We also have a UK tour planned around the UK release in May.
Will you relocate to the US to promote your records?
We’ve discussed this in the band and we will definitely be happy to spend a lot of time in America if things pick up there.
Will you tour in the US?
Once the single gets US airplay, definitely. It's going to radio at the end of April and it will be a while before we can expect them to pick it up as it’s a big country. I would imagine that about four weeks after the radio release we’ll have an idea of whether they're going to want us to go over to promote it.
If you break in the US, what will you put it down to?
I think we're a radio band; we have some very radio-friendly songs. We'll obviously tour to back it up, but great songs will be the key to the band's success.
When and where will you record the album?
We're hoping to start recording it soon, we're just waiting on David’s schedule. We’re currently in pre-production with David when he’s in the UK. We've been talking about recording in New York City and David has mentioned a few studios there. I know that he's keen to mix it at Soundtrack.
What are you currently working on?
Pre-production for the album tracks, and playing more live shows. We’ve demoed over thirty songs, and we're collaborating with David on refining the arrangements and shortlisting the album tracks, so that when we actually do commence recording, we know exactly what we're doing.
What have been the most significant events for New Disease so far?
Recording with top producers like David Bottrill and John Fryer has been great experiences for us. Also, performing live with H.I.Mwe played to a sold-out crowd with them and that’s when we found out that we had major appeal, because we played to an audience who didn't know us and nevertheless we went down incredibly well. We could tell our future was going to be bright.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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