Saturday, March 4, 2017

My day with The Birthday Massacre…

Welcome TBM fans!

My name is Jared, and I’m one of the 24 people who got to listen to the band’s new album “Under Your Spell” this past Saturday in Toronto.  First off, I wanna say how incredibly grateful I am to have had this opportunity. Huge thanks goes out to Terry McManus (the band’s manager), the crew at the studio, and of course: Chibi, Rainbow, Falcore, Rhim, Owen, and Nate! You guys really went over and above to make us all feel welcome and an integral part of this experience.
Thank you all SO MUCH!!!

To the 2017 first listeners: Rodney, Lee, Corey, Cheryl, Jordan, Hillary, Star, George, Kyle, and Sam. It was really great meeting all of you & hearing your stories about TBM.  You guys came from all parts of the US & Canada to be part of this special day. True fans & even truer friends! I hope to see you all again on the tour.

The Experience:

This was truly a dream come true for me! Not many people can say they got to hear their favorite band’s new album months before it releases. Even fewer can say they were able to listen to it alongside the actual band!!

The day itself was full of amazing moments & unexpected surprises. I felt just like a kid on Christmas morning 🙂 These guys really over-delivered on their PledgeMusic campaign. Any expectations I had going in were definitely exceeded.

This was not your standard “meet & greet” where you stand in a long line and are rushed through by security staff in yellow t-shirts. I’m sure many fans can relate to such an experience with other bands. But this was not the case at all this weekend.

Instead, the atmosphere was very laid back & casual. By the end of the day, we all got to hang out in the studio, chat, take pictures, and even have dinner with the entire band. How ridiculouly awesome is that? This was one for the history books. Absolutely top notch in every way!

Again, this experience was worth far more than I pledged. And I would encourage all fans to consider coming to a listening session in the future. I knew I’d be absolutely kicking myself later if I didn’t jump on this unique opportunity.

In 2014, I got to be a part of the first listen for Superstition. That is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. These guys have really raised the bar not only for creating extraordinary music, but for interacting with their fans. Other bands should be taking notes, lol.

So here’s basically how the first listen works. Listeners meet up in a downtown Toronto hotel lobby, then the group walks over to the studio with Terry. Despite the chilly Canadian weather (20 degrees F), we received a warm welcome from the band when we arrived. Hugs all around, like seeing old friends again 🙂

The group then sat around in the lounge area of the studio talking for a short time while the studio rooms were being prepped. That’s right, plural. There’s a small studio & a bigger one, each with different acoustics. So we actually got to hear the album twice!  Once with Terry in the small studio, then with the band in the larger one.

We split into 2 groups and listened simultaneously in each room. I went with Terry, Sam, George, and Corey into the small studio. Before we started the album, Terry talked about the history of TBM & how he came to be their manager. He talked about the music industry changing with the advent of digital media & how TBM has successfully adapted to new challenges & technologies. He also mentioned the huge success of the Pledge campaign, and how the fans have been responding worldwide. Then, he pushed PLAY…

I have to admit that this was my favorite part of the whole day: The 5 of us sitting in our chairs closely huddled around the awesome speakers above the soundboard, really taking in the experience & sharing our thoughts throughout. To me, this is the essence of music & why I fell in love with TBM in the first place.

I’m so glad I got to go to the smaller studio first. There you can really hear every rich detail of each track! Like being immersed in a pair of high-end Bose headphones. Total sonic nirvana. I could have ended the day right there & gone home happy. But there was much more to come. Our groups then switched rooms & I got to hear the album a 2nd time in the larger studio with the entire band! Kind of like finding an extra Christmas present hidden behind the tree, lol.

The atmosphere of the larger studio felt more like we were at a live show. The sound was still distinct, just fuller. Each listen seemed to have a different kind of intamcy.  But after each experience, we all looked at each other again thinking the same thing: “Wow!” The band’s talent & creativity knows no limits. Perhaps the album should have been called “Spellbound” instead, because that was the shared feeling among all of us. It really captivates you at an emotional level, leaving you wanting more…

The Album:

Hands down, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years! Really. Now it takes a lot for me to say this because I’m a pretty tough guy to impress when it comes to new music. In fact, I hope you are just as discerning with your own musical tastes as
well. That said, TBM fans are really in for a treat when Under Your Spell comes out in June.

Like Superstition, the big question everyone will be asking in the meantime is “What previous album can you compare it to?” Well, Terry mentioned that it has a similar sound to Walking With Strangers. After hearing it, I would agree… but definitely add a few

During the listen, the words “more mature sound” seemed to come up a lot. Well, it’s been 2 1/2 years, and a lot can happen in peoples lives in that time. Yes, it does have a similar feel to WWS. But, it is far more complex – in both it’s musical structures &
in its overall theme. Kind of like growing up, right? Things always seem to get more complicated as you get older.

And without a doubt, we can all agree that feelings are complex. And this is exactly the type of emotional journey that the listener takes. I don’t want to call this the “heartache album”, but I could definitely see it being choreographed to the ever-present
ups & downs of any human relationship. Like a constant tug-of-war between love & hate.

The playful 80’s vibe is still a mainstay of the album, flirting between bouts of sugary dancebeats & melancholic ballads. Lots of synthesizers & electronic drums with pulsating sequencers. Combine this with the crunching guitars, haunting keyboards & lush vocals, and you’ve got quite a recipe.

So I think the best word to describe TBM’s sound in 2017 and certainly this record overall is “sophisticated” (Thanks Terry!).           I definitely picked up on this after only a few minutes of listening. Each song I absorbed had a ton of levels to it, like a giant layer cake. There’s so much going on, even in the empty spaces.

At just under 42 minutes, Under Your Spell has 11 tracks…

1. ONE
8. HEX

So for obvious reasons, we weren’t allowed to get any snippets, samples, or any other recordings during our listen. But here are several things I remember about some of the tracks…

“One” is the transition song that bridges this album to Superstition, and sets the stage for the new story about to unfold. “Under Your Spell” (the title track) is a very catchy piece which gives you a glimpse of TBM in 2017. You’ll find yourself singing this one all day. “All of Nothing” definitely took me by surprise with its dubstep-like beats and hard rock punch. Be careful, this one definitely packs some heat!

Sam described the first 3 songs as a hook that grabs you & makes you want more. He’s right on the money with that, because it is that addictive.

Tracks 4-8 gradually build in intensity. And just when you think they’re at a peak, they find ways to climb even higher. This is so true on track 9 “No Tomorrow.” I feel like this is the eye of the storm, where all hell is breaking loose. It hits you like a train coming through the wall. A devastating assault that will definitely leave a mark. Also, we hear the return of Chibi’s imfamous “Snakeman” voice.

“The Lowest Low” brings your blood pressure back down with it’s slower pace & dreamy vocals. (Think Julee Cruise singing under blue lights in Twin Peaks; like floating on a cloud) This song reminds me of just after the storm, as you take inventory of the damage left behind. Time to pick up the pieces & come to grips with the devastation; acceptance. Perhaps find peace in the melancholy.

And just when your ears expect the album to fade out with the previous introspective piece, “Endless” bounces back with its new-wavy, sugary beat – leaving you filled with hope & optimism for the future. Kind of like a rebirth. Corey mentioned that this final track felt like the album’s encore. I totally agree!

Bravo TBM, so much depth on this album! Very personal, and also very cinematic. Imagine this playing with the sound turned down on your favorite movie. Quite a treat indeed 🙂

Random bits of TBM trivia:

-Owen created the cover art for Under Your Spell – fantastic job!

-Falcore told us the album mastering was done at Fader Mountain in Vancouver (where Metallica recorded their Black album)

-Terry also does artist management for Les Stroud from Survivorman

-Rainbow mentioned the scrapbook will have photos going back to the band’s Imagica days & should be coming out very soon

-Chibi also writes crime novels & would win hands-down in a food fight, lol

-Nate is currently in the Canadian wilderness trying to stay away from bears

-Rhim also plays in a surf rock band & can do magic like David Blaine

-Toronto rapper Drake records in the same studio as TBM

-TBM was originally named “Hootie & the Blowfish”, but had to change their name for legal reasons (OK, not really!)


Once again, I’d like to thank everyone involved in making this special day come together.  I also really enjoyed meeting the other fans who came to Toronto. Hearing their stories and getting to know them was also a very memorable part of the experience.

In addition, I want to recognize the sheer amount of time that went into making this amazing record. As fans, we tend to see a record release as more of an event than a process. This was a chance for me to see what really goes into making an album.

After talking with Terry, Rainbow, and Falcore, you begin to realize just what a long & complicated process it is to actually make an album. From inspiration to concept to recording to editing to mixing to final product, it really reflects on their hard work &
dedication. But above all, the band’s talent & creativity is what has kept them going 7 albums strong!

All the best & I’ll see you on the tour this summer 🙂