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Interview

Frontman Tom Emmans Of Canadian Melodic Metallers Odium Introduces Self, Band To U.S. Audiences

Photo of Odium

Band Photo: Odium (?)

One evening in Montreal earlier this month, I dropped in at Piranha Bar, where local underground favorites Endast were kicking off their latest Canadian tour. Providing direct support was Ontario five-piece Odium, who’d won me over with a potent mix of intensity and melody, of modern and old school influences, on recent sophomore effort “Burning The Bridges To Nowhere.” Following the riveting set, I caught up with frontman Tom Emmans for a “man on the street” exchange. Here’s how it went:

Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): You guys haven’t received much U.S. exposure yet, so for the benefit of the Metalunderground.com readers, can you throw me some background on Odium’s origins and what you’re all about?

Tom Emmans: We’re a melodic metal band from Hanover, Ontario, Canada. We’ve been around since 2006, and had numerous lineup changes until our first album “At The Bottom” in 2009. We’ve had a couple member changes since then, but we’ve been solidly doing what we do. We’re playing a lot in the underground right now, and really appreciate all the exposure we’ve been getting since our new album “Burning The Bridges To Nowhere” came out this past April.

Mike: And you’re an original member, correct?

Tom: Yep. [Drummer] Joe Mullen and I started in 2006 just doing demos. It was a studio thing in his parents’ basement, and we just did it for fun. Then we decided we wanted to play live, so we filled out the band with some local guys, and it’s been that way since. All the guys in the band are local guys.

Mike: What’s the story behind the decision to name the band “Odium?”

Tom: It came from a book I read, which used the word to describe a bunch of outcasts and their ability to change their surroundings through their extreme feelings of hate and displeasure. Their ability to change things.

Mike: Would you relate that usage, then, to the emotional catharsis of playing or listening to intense music like metal?

Tom: Oh, yeah. Metal’s great for stuff like that. I think it’s really, really powerful, emotional music. I love working in the genre.

Mike: When listening to “Burning The Bridges To Nowhere,” I was struck by the juxtaposition of brutal and melodic – not just any melodies, but ethereal, borderline progressive, Tool-esque melodies.

Tom: We’d agree with that. We really enjoy doing the heavy stuff, but personally, I have classical vocal training, so having those strings in there, in the singing moments, comes naturally. But we’re all into heavy music as well. It’s a very diverse group of guys. You really hear a lot of those influences in this new record. Everyone other than [bassist Jake Fortney], who joined us this past summer, was around for the writing process. For me, knowing the guys, and then hearing the riffs they bring in, I can see where they’re coming from. It’s really great to see that diversity in the band now.

Mike: How do you feel things may have changed, musically, from “At The Bottom?”

Tom: I think we’re doing what we did on that record, but even better. We’re pushing things. The heavy stuff is a lot heavier, and the melodic stuff is just a lot better this time out. I think it’s an all-around better, more cohesive album with a tight lineup that’s been together since we toured “At The Bottom” in 2009. I think that really shines through this time. We’re basically doing what we did last time, only better.

Mike: Touring is the way to gather a fan base, and I’m curious about that. Every song on the new record seems neatly balanced between its two stylistic components. Do you ever find it a challenge to win over fans of both “brutal” metal and “melodic” metal?

Tom: Not really. I think there’s something there for everyone. Obviously, people who are very into extreme metal don’t like the clean vocals, and some of them just aren’t going to dig it. But we do what we do. We’ve opened for bands like Beneath The Massacre and done fine. I mean, there’s some pretty heavy stuff in there, so a lot of the extreme metal audience IS cool with it. And then there’s the lighter stuff, with all the melody going on, so we just do what we do, and never run into any issues at shows, with people throwing bottles and shit at us. [Laughs] If you don’t dig it, you don’t dig it, but people are usually pretty cool about it. The worst things I’ve ever heard have been a few reviews that weren’t that great, or people saying, “Yeah, you’re OK, but I’m not really into it.” And that’s cool. No music on the face of the earth is going to be for everyone. So fuck that! We’re just going to do our thing.

Mike: Are you a big Scar Symmetry fan?

Tom: Oh, yeah.

Mike: You know, listening to the new album earlier today, a couple growls jumped out at me that made me wonder if Christian Älvestam made a guest appearance. I’m not even joking about that.

Tom: That’s a hell of a compliment! I really worked on the heavy vocals this time. There was a lot of focus on the fact that I’m singing. In the underground group of bands we play with, in the Southern Ontario scene, when I hear people talking about what I do, they tend to put an emphasis on the cleans. And I’m very proud of that. I love doing the cleans. But on this record, I thought, “All right, let’s give them something to talk about with the heavy shit too.” So there was a big emphasis on that. I think I blew my voice out twice, maybe three times making this record. Our producer Greg Dawson at BWC Studios in Brampton really, really pushed me. We decided, before going in, that this was something we were really going to push this time, the heavy vocals. Greg’s a great all-around producer, and produces a lot of different bands, but he’s a metal dude. He knows how to get those takes. So we decided we were going to push the heavy vocals, and we’re pretty happy with how it turned out.

Mike: What was your part in that effort? How do you take care of your voice when striving for those kinds of harsh vocals?

Tom: You definitely have to be careful. There’s a difference between projecting and straining, so you make sure that you’re not pushing in the wrong ways. But going deeper, harder, and heavier is what metal’s about.

Mike: You’re the band’s primary lyricist, and it seems like pretty personal stuff. What off the new record do you feel represents you, or speaks to you, the most?

Tom: The title track, “Burning The Bridges To Nowhere.” I was at a point in my life when I needed to decide… I mean, there were things that I was attached to that I just couldn’t allow myself to be attached to anymore. So the title of that song basically means leaving the things behind that you love because you have to. That’s why we named the album after this track, because it’s an ongoing theme, and that line really spoke to me.

Mike: In metal, a lot of song titles are recycled and become cliché, but sometimes you notice a band getting creative with some rather unique titles, like “Identity Of The Doomed” and “Claw My Eyes Out.” It can make a real difference. As a lyricist, do you place a lot of emphasis on the literary side of making music?

Tom: Yeah, I do. As a band, we don’t write twenty songs and then throw a bunch away. We meticulously go through the material we have, and those ten songs on this album are the ten songs that we worked to death beforehand – not just the ones that “made the cut.” For the past two years of my life, I’ve only had ten songs to say what I have to say, so it’s all about making it count.

Mike: Speaking of the diversity within the band, when it comes to metal, what are some of you guys into now? What’s out there now that’s really doing it for you?

Tom: We’re really liking Born Of Osiris. “The Discovery” is a great record. I’m listening to the new Whitechapel in my car. I picked up the new Katatonia and I’m digging that right now. The new Veil Of Maya too. There are some great heavy bands and some really neat stuff happening right now, and we’re definitely all following that, and really enjoying it as fans.

Mike: What’s your next move, live-wise?

Tom: We’re locking up tour dates for November, and then through the winter months, we’ll be doing weekend stuff, and then something bigger in the spring. Spring and summer of next year, we’ll be trying to tour as much as possible and really push this record to as many audiences as we can before going in to work on a new one.

Mike: I suppose the big export from Southern Ontario would be Threat Signal, and I know you guys and a couple others, but other than that, not much. Tell me a little about that scene.

Tom: Well, there’s a great scene right here in Montreal too, with bands like Endast and Derelict, but back home, we have Threat Signal, Misguided Aggression, Baptized In Blood, Protest The Hero… a lot of really great bands have come out of both Ontario and Quebec. The Agonist is another good one. So yeah, it’s a great scene. We have a lot of fun and a lot of great friends in the scene. We really want to push out to places we’ve never been before, but we’re always very happy to do a lap around Ontario.

Mike: Any plans to try and make it down to the States?

Tom: Yeah, we’re talking about that for the spring and summer. There’s a lot of stuff you have to do – work visas and all that shit – so that won’t be involved in the November tour, but yeah, we definitely plan to do that. We have Asher Media Relations working for us, and our publicists Jon Asher and Barbara Pavone have been working very hard to get us into the States. They’ve done a great job; we’re now on the radio down there. Probably not mainstream radio, [Laughs] but we’re there. They’re playing “Blue Channel.” One of the mellower tracks off the album, with more of a rock vibe. And now we want to be there physically! You can’t just be on the radio and not back it up live, especially for an underground metal band. You have to be there in people’s faces.

Mike: Who are you guys, outside of Odium?

Tom: Well, we have a telephone tech in the band, we have a couple guys working construction, and I print T-shirts and work in a lumberyard. We hang in our hometown with our friends, going out for drinks, discussing music, and always working on demos for the next record. Guys will bring in riffs and keep us all very excited about music. So our personal lives tend to revolve around music, going to concerts, things like that. If you’re getting into making music, especially metal music, you’d better love it and you’d better not be doing it for the money! Because chances are that the money may never come. But if you love it, and you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it shouldn’t really matter.

Mike: I think it tends to show through when people aren’t really in love with what they’re doing.

Tom: Oh, yeah. Some of the situations we’ve run into, even with some of the weekend shows… Last time we were here, we got rear-ended on the 401 and had our window smashed in. You run into some pretty crazy situations, and the whole time that you’re dealing with that stuff, you’re not making money. If anything, you’re spending it and reinvesting it back into the band. So you’d better love it! If not, there’s no point. I think that’s why labels wait to see that you’re touring and self-sufficient before snatching you up. And that doesn’t happen much in this scene.

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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