It’s soundcheck time upstairs at The Black Heart, Camden. Equipment and backpacks are littered across the floor. It’s a dark, nondescript room, painted in those classic, seedy rock venue colours: matte-black on black. Folks in prog-metal tees are meandering on and off the modest-sized stage that can’t be more than two feet off the ground.
As they stepped off the stage, Simona and I gathered up the guys, Tobias Keast (Lead Vocals), Luke Keast (Drums), Will Keast (keys), Matthew Diver (Guitar) and Cloud Cerberus (Bass), (Laura Conway [guitar] unfortunately had already made her escape). Meeting these gents face to face, it’s hard to believe they’ve shared stages with the likes of Marilyn Manson and HIM.
Though visibly hyped to be performing, the band are down to earth and immediately friendly. They revel in the kind of banter that only a close group of friends and siblings who have lived the best part of two decades of musical experience together could. They finish each other’s sentences and laugh at incomplete references that would leave any eager eavesdroppers baffled. With only an hour till the doors open, we dragged them down the stairs and over to The Bucks Head for a quick pint and a chat.
When did you form the band?
Matt: Me and Lukey started when we were about 14, so around 20 years ago. Toby was in a band with loads of other people at the time. We went through lots of lineup changes but smash cut to when we were both 18, that’s when we really started getting serious. We started listening to different bands. Originally it was always Metallica, Iron Maiden, stuff like that but then we started listening to A Perfect Circle and Tool and our style changed quite significantly. We had a little studio space where Lukey’s parents were, where we would write. We were just lucky enough to be able to go there all the time. We were practicing, playing and writing a lot. The first album was born from there and it just continued…
Luke: …it was all downhill from there! *laughs*
Luke and Matt from EsOterica chat to Simona at The Bucks Head, Camden – Photo by Jude Benjamin
How would you describe your sound?
Luke: It’s a bit dreamy, kind of alt rocky, a bit metal in places.
Cloud: There’s a lot of passion in it. It’s alternative rock, but then there’s these choruses randomly throughout albums where it’s like “Oh, we also love doing this and here’s the beauty of it.”
You do have some catchy songs. Do you do that on purpose or does it just happen?
Tobias: Songs just happen to you don’t they? Like, you go to bed, you’re falling asleep and you think of a song. You have to get out of bed and go and record it (…) a song sort of starts and then it just grows on its own. It’s own entity.
Luke: I think because everyone in the band writes songs, it’s like it doesn’t matter who scores the goal. If the idea’s good then it lives.
What brought you to Camden today? Did you pick the venue yourself?
Luke: Yeah, totally. We promote all our own shows. We’re playing at The Black Heart tonight and I love the venue. It’s wonderful. It’s one of those kind of small dirty venues where you can pack it full with just 150 people, actually 170 tonight. There’s going to be sweat running down the walls. It’s going to be hot, and it’s going to be loud.
EsOterica live at The Black Heart – Photo by Jude Benjamin
So the single “Silence” sounds quite a lot different from anything you’ve done before. What inspired you to write that song?
Luke: That song is actually a cover of kind of a 90s dance classic. We wanted to do something a bit different, where we took something unfamiliar and made it our own. So I played that song on just an acoustic guitar, just kind of singing it out and I thought, “Yeah this could work, this could be really cool.”
That record went so well for us. It went mad on YouTube and I think it’s got about a quarter of a million plays or something now. The guy from Delirium who wrote the song, Bill Leeb, he wrote to us and he said “Me and my wife we love your version. We think it’s really awesome. Thank you so much for doing our song” which is Just crazy. You can’t ask for more than that really can you?
Can you tell us a bit about the latest video, “Gone”?
Luke: The video was Toby’s idea…
Toby: Yeah, we know so many people who are making music. We’ve been on TV and we’ve had some good stuff happen to us and I just wanted them to get more people to see what they were doing.
Luke: Join forces!
Toby: Yeah and so then I asked around a few people to see if anyone wanted to get involved and people were kind of up for it. Then it kind of grew into this element of, “What do we do with it”? Well, we’ll just make it like a gig, where they’re all playing! I just wanted to involve a whole load of my mates! They’re all bloody awesome musicians as well.
Luke: We’ve done around 15 music videos now and this was the most fun. It was just a big party.
Tobias: It started off with beer, which was the right way to go!
Esoterica live at The Black Heart, Camden – Photo/Gif by Jude Benjamin
What do you like in particular about playing Camden?
Luke: We’ve played Camden a bunch of times. We’ve played the Purple Turtle, The Camden Assembly, the Barfly a couple of times.
Tobias When we first came here we were probably like 15, or 16. You go to Camden and it’s got everything nowhere else has. It’s amazing.
Luke: It’s like a wonderland!
Tobias: …and then you go and buy pretty much anything you can afford and go home and go back to your normal town where it’s all boring, do you know what I mean? But then there’s this other side to it which is the more serious side, the music side and the life, which is really the thing that is a symbiotic part of what everyone is coming to see.
Cloud Cerberus and Tobias Keast of EsOterica Live at The Black Heart – Photo by Jude Benjamin
…a lot of the venues have refurbished and improved their sound systems, but the toilets are still ripe and covered in stickers!
Matt: I think the part of the charm and what attracts you here in the first place. I was actually taking a little wee earlier and I was just really pleased to be having a wee in that kind of venue. I’ve really missed this kind of thing. I know it sounds funny but I just really enjoyed having a piss earlier! *everyone laughs*
What inspires you to write music?
Luke: Well this album is called |n Dreams. One of the tracks we were writing, like Toby was saying earlier, came to me when I was asleep. I woke up and I was like “Fuck, I’ve got to get this song out of my head!” Usually when a song comes to me in a dream, I can’t remember it later. But this time I went to my little studio and I put it down in about 20 minutes and I was like yeah, it sounds f****** great.
Cloud: Absolutely smashed it.
Luke: And then you wake up in the morning and say “Yeah, that sounds good!”, or other times you wake up and you go “Oh, shit, what was I thinking!”
Luke: We get inspired by all sorts of things. It’s National Alzheimer’s Day tomorrow; we did a song on our last album which was inspired by our Grandfather who was mourning the loss of his wife. She hadn’t passed yet, but he was sort of losing her. That song makes me sad every time I listen to it.
Cloud: We actually did something a little different this time. We booked a place and just went there to enjoy writing music and chilling out.
Tobias: A good idea is to go there with plenty of material. If you’ve got loads of bit’s and pieces, when you go there, you’ve got lots to bounce off. Some of us work really well later in the evening, so you find people take over at different times. That way very naturally everyone gets their shout… and then we just turn Matt down… *everyone laughs*
What would your advice be to young musicians just starting out with a new band?
Matt: Have fun! First and foremost, you have to have fun. You have to enjoy it. It has to be the one thing you want to do above everything else. If those things are in place, realistically you’re never going to fail. If it’s about being famous or getting laid or whatever, those things are just going to fall by the wayside. What keeps it going is the fact that you just want to do it and you couldn’t be without it in your life.
Cloud: That’s what slowed us down as well. A few years ago we came off the tour in France with Orestea and it was sort of unanimous that we were just going to chuck it in because we were all too busy, and it was too much like a job. Then we went quiet for a year and everyone at the same time sort of went, “I miss it, though.”
Matthew Diver of EsOterica at The Bucks Head, Camden – Photo by Jude Benjamin
Do you find that people aren’t going to gigs as much as before? They’re spending their time watching stuff online or watching gigs streaming instead of coming out?
Cloud: I think online platforms have opened the horizons for more people to view your music. Some people have anxiety, for example, and they don’t get out to the shows, so it gives them the opportunity to still experience the band and support them.
Matt: The problem now is, the grassroots gig venues where a lot of the young bands can start.
I don’t think these days there is a problem with young bands being heard because you’ve got the entire world at your feet. If you can be a bit clever here and there and write good songs you can get heard.
Tobias: You don’t even need to write good songs! Clever marketing can go a long way.
Luke: I’d say it’s tougher than it used to be. It’s a lot about money and rent and all that kind of stuff. But then, for us on the other side of the coin, social media has allowed us to connect more directly with fans than we ever used to be able to. In the past, you would get an interview in Kerrang! or be on the radio or whatever and it was very much a ‘spray and pray’ type of approach.
Tobias: What I’d say is that there’s a big difference between fans and engaged fans… You could say you have 10,000 fans but that doesn’t mean 10,000 people are going to turn up to see you on the day or buy a T-shirt.
So it’s actually really useful for bands?
I’m not telling you [I’ve got] the answers, because I haven’t. You just kind of do it, it and then hopefully enough material and hard work from your end directed in the right way get those guys too to go, “yeah I want you to make more music, so here’s twenty quid!”
It’s not all about money but the reality is, I’ve never stopped working. I’ve been all over the world and done all kinds of crazy shit. It’s been amazing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’ll probably never stop making music but whether I will always be able to do the next stage it’s really down to having money and time. Time is alright, you can steal time in your life, but stealing money is a bit harder! *everyone laughs*
Who have you never been compared to but you’d like to be?
Luke: Ah wow, Jesus…Jesus! *laughs* I’d say someone like Joy Division…
Matt: Queen of the Stoneage!
Luke: Yeah, we’re nothing like them but they’re a great band! *laughs*
We played with Marilyn Manson, and Gary Numan came round the corner and Matt was like “I know you, you’re Gary Oldman!” … and just [replied] “Numan” in a very unimpressed tone.
Cloud: It was really bad because he made some awesome albums and he was like, “Yeah we’d love to go on tour with you…” but we can’t because Matt’s fucked it!
Will Keast of EsOterica live at The Black Heart, Camden – Photo by Jude Benjamin
Do you think maybe the onus has been put on the bands to do the business themselves now and do you think that affects the creativity at all?
Tobias: It does yeah.
Matt: There are certain things that a band couldn’t possibly do. The promotion, answering constant emails, not in a full-time job anyway. But on the artistic side, I think bands have a lot more control now.
Tobias: The downside is it’s a lot more throw away now isn’t it? I’ve heard some great people and some great songs. They come up, I listen to them and think that’s awesome and then 6 months later there’s nothing from them. 4 years later there’s still nothing. In that sense, I think it can be a lot harder now.
The new single, “Gone” is quite different to anything you’ve released before. It’s full of energy and hard rock riffs. Also lyrically, it sounds like a bit of a statement of purpose?
Tobias: Ok, it’s basically about money and the systems surrounding it. What is money? It’s debt! Every time I’m handing you these pieces of paper, I’m handing you debt. It’s a pocket full of misery and they’re printing it to infinity. Everywhere is doing it and no one is taking responsibility for it. But it’s basically like a paper slave, isn’t it? It’s a chain. You’ve got to work, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. But when you’ve got something else in your heart or in your mind that you want to do but can’t, I can’t help it, it bugs the fuck out of me. The problem with money is, it doesn’t work. Once you realise that, you realise we should be getting rid of all the politicians and just living our lives.
Tobias Keast of EsOterica at The Bucks Head, Camden – Photo by Jude Benjamin
After Globalism, comes humanism. Big civilisations always break and that ends with mass murders and crazy shit. Throughout history, every single time it’s always happened. We should be working the other way round. We should be working for individuals in much smaller places. Everything should be smaller. And the same with money.
Once you realise the issue with money is that when you have control, you can print as much as you want, it really started bugging the fuck out of me and the words all started to fall out. You don’t need money. it’s just someone telling you what to do. We’re chasing zeros. That zero is someone else’s misery cause he’s there paying a debt for a place that’s not his and someone can kick him out of immediately. What the fuck is wrong with people? You don’t need 50 million pounds, you don’t need 10 billion pounds. Why is that house down the road 50 million and there’s a guy sleeping on the road outside? That ain’t right.
Luke: So the song sounds like it does because Toby is pissed off with the government.
Tobias: No, the money system. Because I understand it’s a trap and my children are being born into it. Because they go to school and they learn maths and they’re surrounded by people who are going to tell them how to grow into a clever adult and as a clever adult you’re going to go and pay tax. We’re not going to tell you how to pay tax but when you do, we’re going to f*** you over because you don’t know how to pay it. What they should be turning around to these kids and saying is “This is how you pay tax and this is how rich people avoid it.”
Great! Cheers! And finally…What’s your favourite esoteric word?
Tobias: yeah Fugazi, that’ll do.
EsOterica, Simona and friend, post -gig at The Black Heart, Camden – Photo by Jude Benjamin
If you couldn’t make it to the gig last week, I won’t lie, it was pretty special. Let’s hope they live up to their promises and bring themselves back to Camden soon to fill up a bigger room! In the meantime, Check out the video for EsOterica’s latest single, “Gone”.