I, Devotion on the EP that almost broke the band, the state of metalcore and how people can support the scene

I, Devotion on the EP that almost broke the band, the state of metalcore and how people can support the scene

Yesterday, local metalcore/post-hardcore septet I, Devotion  dropped their second, long-awaited EP, Broken Home, and a music video for two songs, ‘House Without a Name’ and ‘Unwanted Souls’.

I, Devotion is known as one of the larger metalcore bands out there  – they have seven members, Saiful, Nazri, Farid, Sean, Arif, Rory and Zahri. The 2015 Baybeats budding band has grown a substantial following due to their unique sound: an amalgamation of sound effects, metal and hardcore, as showcased on their first EP Our Loss, Our Hope. Besides that, the band has a penchant for writing real, emotional lyrics that resonate with their audience. 

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Fans will get to hear the EP live soon – the band is planning a launch show, tentatively earmarked for 29 September. In the meantime, check out our interview with Nazri (vocals), Farid (guitarist) and Sean (rhythm guitarist) about their new EP, what they're listening to now and what we can do to support underground bands. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

How much have you changed or matured since the previous EP?

Nazri: We wanted to write songs that people can relate to and that's why when we sat down for the second EP, I actually talked to everyone and we wanted to be honest with our music and we wanted to be true. We wanted to tell a story with our music.

Sean: Actually there's a lot of change. When we were recording Our Loss, Our Hope we didn't have a keyboardist at that point, so it was just me writing standard string sounds for the EP, but we got Zahri in right before we released Our Loss, Our Hope\. 

Farid: It changed the game.

Sean: So our new songs were a step up on the whole keyboards game. Because for this EP, me and Zahri worked on it together, for the sound effects and the keyboards. So we really decided "Okay, let's go all out. Let's go Crossfaith/Enter Shikari style with this EP” and then that's how it is. We wrote Our Loss Our Hope in 2015 and we took 3 years to do this EP because we wrote some stuff, we threw it away. We wrote like 10 songs altogether – we only came up with 5 because the other songs were not good enough. We were actually recording some of the songs halfway then we were like "Fuck it, don't want." We stuck to the 5 that we have at the moment. The first song in the EP, 'House without a Name', is something that we've never done before but it's something that we've always wanted, so that's something very different for us. It's not heavy, it's slow, it's chill, it's emotional, it's what we were aiming for, something different from us. 

So for the five songs, how did you guys come to a point where you realized a song would make it to the EP? Do you decide it together as a group?

Sean: We knew 'House without a Name' was going to make it to the EP because it's something different and we felt that we should have it. The rest of the songs were basically measured it on a head-banging meter. Basically which songs that were like "Oh shit, yeah." That kind of thing. We had skeletons for all the songs then we measured it on the head-banging meter and then we worked on it from there and we changed the arrangement, the composition from there on. 

Farid: And how many times we listened to the first draft… If we keep listening means it's going to be good. 

Nazri: I remember we stayed overnight at Sean's place to actually write the songs and try new effects that they bought and all that. We tried to play around with the sounds for the second EP.

How was the recording process like for this EP and how long was the whole process? 

Nazri: It was very, very, very long. 

Sean: Too long actually. We wrote for a year, we recorded for another year, we basically fine-tuned, mixed and mastered within another year. Because we released Our Loss, Our Hope, right before Baybeats 2015, so in May 2015? Yeah. So it's been three years and two months, but the recording process for this year was really long and precise and there were so many things we were trying out. There were some songs where we used real pedals, we recorded the drums instead of programming it, we tried out a lot of different things. There was a lot of time spent at my place, it was a lot of time spent at Typhoon Studios.

Farid: LiveAMP.

Sean: LiveAMP. It was just a whole long process. Like the one year we were writing, we were just going back and forth between ideas and then we were just super indecisive because we wanted it to be perfect. We didn't want to stop at "Oh, this one can already la."  We wanted it to be exactly like what we wanted. So we took the entire year writing it and another entire year recording it.

Farid: Recording process could be quicker because we re-recorded the vocals again.

Sean: Because I'm not very free, Nazri will go down to the studio and record vocals by himself, then Xiang will send it over on Whatsapp and I'll be like "Naz, it's not good enough. Go back again." and then he'll send again and I'll be like "Naz, sorry, do it again." It came to a point where I was like "Okay fuck it, I'm going to come down." This is a very ‘loser’ part because there were some points where I made Naz cry. I made Naz cry because I kept telling him "No, no, no, cannot".

Nazri: I wanted to give up halfway. I was like "Sean please, I want to stop." But he kept on pushing me and it came to the point where I kind of burst out and I just cried.

Sean: We argued so many times. There was one point like I was listening to it and was like "Fuck la cheebai! Naz, this is how you're going to do it."

Nazri: And I was like [crying voice] "Sean, I'll try my best."

Farid: Tough love.

Sean: I'm very perfectionist when it comes to this band, especially. I wanted everything to be perfect so every single time when Naz sends over a half-fuck recording, I'd be like "No, no, do it again."

Nazri: There was a point of time where Xiang had this vocal coach. He actually came down and worked on my key or something like that. For example, we were trying ‘Trojan’, so we sang my part in a key that I don't usually sing in. So I'll just try and we'll send it over to Sean and there's a point of time where he actually liked it so maybe we need to use it more.

What are some songs from this EP that really struck a chord with you? 

Nazri: Actually, I kind of like 'Half-Hearted' because it explains a lot about what I went through in 2015 and 2016. I took a longer break during that year to focus on myself. So when I actually sat down and wrote this song and I called Sean to say, "This is the kind of song I want it to be." He helped me a lot in writing the song as well. 

Farid: In 'Closer Than Before' we have guest vocals, Young XS. It's something new. I've always been a fan of Linkin Park. So for my band to pull off something like this it's a dream come true. I look forward to performing it live to see the reaction of the audience.

Sean: To me, it's hard to choose because I worked on every song equally but I would have to choose 'House Without a Name' because that song is very different for us and it was really outside of our comfort zone. Plus the lyrics from Nazri were very real. There was this one incident – he called me up and we talked about it. We have this relationship with each other - we're not just bandmates, we're very very close. He gave me a call and I talked him through it, how to handle it then and the next week when we met up, I told him to write a song about this because it's the only way to release his emotions. So we wrote 'House Without a Name' as an output for him (Naz). If you come to the EP launch on the 29th of September you'll definitely see him crying because this song is very real.

What do you think people can do to support the scene?

Sean: It's very simple. Wah, I'm emotional already.

Farid: Share on social media, share like a thousand times.

Sean: Spotify pays us per play so if you like the music, listen to the music, buy the songs. Just support the music by listening to it. If you really like the music, buy it on iTunes or what. Buy the music, buy the merch, come to shows. I'm sure everybody has too many things in their life to do, we live in a very fast-paced environment. So if you can't come to a show, never mind, don't come, do your own thing. Coming to a show is a privilege, it's not something you have to do to support the band. You can support the band by buying merch, you can listen to them on Spotify or buying their music on iTunes, Bandcamp also. You can choose your price on Bandcamp some more. If you don't like the music then you force yourself to listen then no point, what. You need to like the music. Everyone has their own taste so go ahead, do your thing. 

Where do you think metalcore is at in 2018?

Nazri: Metalcore is asleep right now but once they listen to our EP, we will wake metalcore up. 

Sean: Actually we talked about this in our previous Bandwagon interview, about how metalcore is not a particularly popular genre.

Farid: I know where metalcore is at in 2018:  Few days ago at Ignite. Villes - that is metalcore. 

Sean: Yes! Villes were really fucking good at that set. 

Nazri: They even had the stage security to help them out. 

Sean: But the visuals though? What the fuck! The whole BMTH visuals thing. Anyway, we can only name a handful of metalcore bands in Singapore. Of course we're not going into the whole in-depth discussion about what is real metalcore and what is not that kind of thing. But when we talk about our kind of metalcore, there are only a few bands. I can mention Of Thrones, Seavision, Emily in Denial, Burning Infants. These are bands I can think of at the top of my head, you know? If you go to a show organized by a metalcore band, you don't see the same turnout compared to other genres and that is something that metalcore bands have to deal with. They have to understand that this genre that we play is not popular-

Farid: In Singapore!

Sean: Yeah. The only way we can step up is to be different. I hope that our EP changes things, if it doesn't then yeah, we tried. But if it does, that'd be great. Our hard work will pay off, for the other bands and the other bands that are about to form. 

Bands who rise up from the underground are often labelled as sell-outs. What are your thoughts?

Sean: I think I mention Villes too many times in this interview but I’ve heard people say, "Eh Villes sell-out already sia." But honestly, if you love music so much and you want to make it a career thing right? You have to make money with music. If selling out helps you make money with music, then to me personally, I would understand. I might not rock out to your music as much as I would but I'm happy that your band is sustaining. So if you're going to sell out and your band decides it's time for y'all to sell out then go ahead and do your thing. I'm happy for you. 

Farid: There's nothing wrong with making money. 

Sean: As a band, would you rather play to the same 20 people that come to every show or you sell out but your 20 people become 30, 40, 50, 100, 200, 1000? Would you rather play to the same 20 people you see every month, or would you want to see your band pull more people to your show? … If you do your job well, you can pull people who are not into local music to come to local shows and they feel like it's such a nice place to be and your market becomes bigger. More people come to shows, more people buy your merch, more people listen to your music. Isn't that a great thing?

What's the next step for I, Devotion after this EP?

Sean: The band is at a standstill at the moment we're not sure where we're going to. The thing about everyone in this band is that we all listen to different things. If I ask Nazri now what he wants for our next EP, this fucker would probably want dream-pop. If I ask Farid...What would you say?

Farid: Next EP? Something heavier and darker.

Sean: Exactly. Do we want to do another EP or do we want a full album? Do we want to do singles? We really have no idea because everyone wants different things. I think it's quite impossible for us to come to an agreement about it. Honestly within these three years, I wanted to leave this band like three times. I'm going to be real honest - I’ve fought with everybody in the band before. Nazri and I run most of everything in this band, so I deal with more of the production side and a bit of the marketing. It gets very tiring when I need a response and I don't get it. We are very unsure with where we are going but I know we're still going to be a band, we're still going to make music, we're still going to play shows. We're still writing stuff. We wanted to do an album initially, we have six songs out of 10 so maybe that's going to happen. 

How do you deal with the members not having the same energy as you, as a band?

Nazri: Every time before we start jamming we will have this conversation: Where do we want the band to be in a few years time? We gave different answers – surprisingly, there are only a few people who want to continue playing the type of music that I, Devotion is playing right now. Every time we have a debrief after playing our set or after or jamming sessions, we discuss I, Devotion's future. 

Sean: To rephrase everything very well, we're a very democratic band. If there's something we have to discuss we will put it in the Telegram group and we will be like "Okay guys, we're going to do this. There are three choices. Choose 1, 2 or 3." So that's what we do in this band because there is no way we can get a common ground. We have to do a voting system for everything and we only come to an agreement through a unanimous vote. It's a lot of convincing and give and take in this band. It's tough having seven people, but yeah.

Any last thoughts?

Sean: This EP took three years to make. It was a lot of hard work from every one of us. We spent nights overnight at my place, writing these songs and we put in a lot of effort and when you listen to it, it might sound like just another metalcore EP to you and I'm fine with that. But I personally hope when you listen to it, you really like it. We went through a lot while making this EP. This band almost broke up in the middle of writing this EP, so any form of support from you would be great. Even if we see the play count rising, it's a big thing for us because that's what we want. We just want people to listen to our music and listen to the message we are giving. The lyrics in this EP is very personal, these are things we've experienced as people so if you relate to it, we did our job.

Nazri: We want people to understand what other people felt and went through, through our EP as well. For example, if you've gone through depression or anxiety attacks. We want people to understand that there are people out there who need help and they are afraid to speak up about their problems. We want to support them. 

Sean: 'Trojans' was written about a person who committed suicide in a National Service camp. 

Nazri: ‘Half-hearted’ was about a failed relationship that's very toxic. We want people to listen to the lyrics and actually help others who are going through that process of a failing relationship.

Sean: 'House Without a Name' is about being sad about being in a broken home but 'Unwanted Souls' is about being angry about being in a broken home. So, two different emotions about a similar story. 'Trojans' is also about substance abuse. We know people who got involved with drugs to deal with emotional issues and just as friends, we feel it's not worth it. These people have gotten caught, criminalized and convicted for these things, so it sucks. You're throwing your life away just to deal with an emotional issue. There are other ways to deal with emotional stuff. You can talk to people, there's even a suicide helpline you can call. 

Nazri: Yeah, I think that's about all.

Sean: Check out my other bands Fader, Safeguard and Summations. 

Nazri: I, Devotion: Dream-pop 2020.

Stream I, Devotion's EP, Broken Home, here: