Poison The Well

author PP date 15/03/07

Florida hardcore/metalcore hybrid Poison The Well has been through a lot in the last couple of years, including signing to a major label only to find out they wanted to control their music, and having revolving doors on the bassist and second guitarist positions. This is a band that was at the forefront of metalcore according to many publications just when the genre was about to blossom, but since then have somewhat diminished in status due to the four years that it took the band to record their new album "Versions" because of a number of difficulties they encountered during this time. The band had elected to come over to the UK a month before the release of the album to promote it and to say hi to old friends, so we grabbed the perfect opportunity to interview them, and Ferret Records sent drummer Chris Hornbrook into a corner with us at backstage Islington Academy, London to have a long chat about pretty much everything regarding the band.

RF.net: First of all let me thank you for doing the interview with us.
Chris: No worries, anytime.

RF.net: Could you please introduce yourselves to the readers:

Chris: My name is Chris Hornbrook, I'm the drummer for Poison The Well

RF.net: Lets start with the past of the band. You've had more bassists and guitarists than any other band I know.
Chris: [laughs] Yeah, kind of embarrassing.

RF.net: How does that affect the band?

Chris: Well it doesn't. Whatever point in our band whether its four guys or three guys that are actually the core of the band. When Derek, our old guitar player was one of us four dudes, we never really considered the bass player to... to affect us, because we had gone through so many. Now, the three of us we have our friend Mike playing bass for us, and he's cool, but it's always gonna be the three of us.. thinking about how many bass players, it's really weird because they're either really cool and they can't play at all, or they can play, and they're not cool. It's really been both. We're really fortunate with Mike because he can play and he is a great dude. So I think he might last a while. But for the most part.. [laughs]

RF.net: But right now don't you have Brad Clifford and Jason Boyer from Candiria?

Chris: No not Jason Boyer, It's Mike MacIvor from Candiria. Jason Boyer used to be in a band called Target Nevada from Florida, but he got married at the end of 06/beginning of 07 so he couldn't tour, or didn't wanna tour, and that's where we had Brad come in and fill in a spot.

RF.net: So these two are they going to be permanent or just touring for now?

Chris: Just touring for now.

RF.net: You've gone through a more underground-appealing label Trustkill Records, and of course the major label Atlantic Records, and now you're on Ferret. Can you describe the journey and how it was to work with each label.
Chris: Well we gotta even earlier than that with Goodlife out of Belgium, we were on that when our first EP was released, and there's this guy John who had Eulogy in Florida and he said you guys can sign to Eulogy or you can sign to Goodlife. The first EP we're like lets go for Goodlife [Slams fist in hand] we did it, we got hooked up with them, they helped us out in Europe or Belgium, or I don't even know how many people it hit but it helped us. And we went to record "The Opposite Of December"...it was potentially gonna come out on Goodlife, but we had developed a kind of a... very...[thinking] casual relationship with Trustkill. They knew who we were, we knew who they were, we sent them "The Opposite", and they're like: "Cool, we want this", took it, put it out, we signed a deal of two records with them, released "The Opposite", released "Tear From The Red". At that point we had been touring for a long period of time, and then you start getting courted by majors, and Atlantic was one of the labels that came to us and gave us the deal that we wanted. It was supposedly at that point telling us 100% control over our music, artwork, all that crap, but obviously that changed. So we signed with them, released "You've Come Before You" on them, went to start doing the second record, and obviously the whole creative control shit didn't really work. It was out the window and no-one knew what the fuck it was..

RF.net: So basically the label told you what kind of music they wanted you to write?

Chris: Nooo.. they weren't straight up telling us, but they were gesturing. You know they were like "it has to have chorus" or "it has to have this" or "it has to do this" you know.. "top 20 single" blah blah blah blah

RF.net: So would you say that sort of fits with the major label nightmare stories that we hear from a lot of bands these days?

Chris: Pretty much. Definitely a major label nightmare. The only nightmare that we didn't get to experience was that they were cool for letting us go. They realized that we'd worked for a long time, and we were a band that had built a fan base, and respected us enough to say: "Hey, we'll let you go".

RF.net: Well you are on Ferret now. Would you ever consider signing to another major label?

Chris: No chance

RF.net: Not even if they offered you $5 million?

Chris: Essentially if they offered you that much money they're gonna have an incredibly large debt over your heard, and you're going to have to do whatever they want you to do. And at that point you better take that $5 million and do something with it, invest it somewhere, because most likely when you don't deliver what they want you to deliver, they'll shelf your band. And your band will be done.

RF.net: Back when you signed with Atlantic a lot of people said you had sold out. That kind of criticism can often get to a band - how did it affect you guys?
Chris: It bothers me a little bit but not that much because it seems like everybody that voices some sort of opinion and they think they know what they're talking about when they don't. At that point when we had written and recored "You Come Before You" that was all in our terms. And to me selling out is if we're trying to craft songs to go on the radio or trying to do or sell ourselves in a different way. The only reason we signed to a major label was because they had more money and more distribution, and more of the means of getting out there. And who wouldn't take that opportunity? If the label is like "hey you can do whatever you want", you have this huge cheque book and we have these means to get true music at that time, who wouldn't take that? I mean who wouldn't do that? When we had that opportunity we thought well, if we are allowed to do what we do then sure, but to me the whole sell out thing.. I look at it like kids don't know what they're talking about. Kids never know what they're talking about.

RF.net: Lets go all the way back to your debut album. Guitar World magazine ranks it as their "8th best hardcore album of all time".
Chris: That's awesome, that's flattering, very flattering.

RF.net: It's a rare find these days especially here in Europe, internet or non-internet. Do you have any plans of reissuing, re-releasing or doing anything with these old records

Chris: I don't know actually, I'm not sure. I know that with "The Opposite.." and "Tear..", the first and second record.. I don't know if Trustkill, the original label that released it over here and have the rights for the record in the US, if they have some sort of office over here. I assume that the distribution was kinda good but I guess not. I guess it just depends what country you are in. But if any kid really wants the record they go on an online site and order it and get it, or download it. Either or.

RF.net: "8th best hardcore album of all time". Does that kind of rating affect your songwriting or put pressure to you for your albums?
Chris: Not at all. Because the fact that matters is that the record is what it is and it did what it did, and we have to be honest with ourselves and write music that we feel is important. If it doesn't do anything, then it doesn't do anything. But I wouldn't feel right trying to recreate that record over and over and over. That, to me, is selling out. That to me is cheating yourself and cheating people what potential really cool things you could do musically.

RF.net: Looking back over the years of Poison The Well, you've been in since the beginning, what have been some of the ups and downs during your career?
Chris: Ups and downs, wow.

RF.net: Some of the biggest memories maybe?

Chris: Up's, biggest ups is.. [thinks] releasing the first record "Opposite". It being kinda weird, crazy, people freaking out saying it's this really great record when at that point it was like five dudes, no five kids who wrote this record, and we were just like 'cool... we made a record!' and selling it is a big deal. That was definitely a very cool moment. Another cool moment was when we signed to a major label and we were apparently at the 'forefront of metalcore', whatever that means. I don't know what exactly that means but you know, it's a nice feeling and it was a nice time. Low times.. when Derek quit and in the past three and a half years we've been doing a lot of things as a band, you know. But if we never get to reach where we were before, that's fine, but.. we just gotta do what we gotta do, things happen for a reason.

RF.net: Would you say then that your status as a band has gone down since then?

Chris: I don't know. I couldn't tell you. I don't pay that much attention. All I do is play drums and do what I love doing, I don't really pay attention to what kids think or what the magazines are saying.

RF.net: Lets move onto the upcoming album "Versions". I guess the first question to ask is how come four years?
Chris: Four years? A lot. We definitely didn't want it to be four years but it was like, we started off with preproduction for another record where the old guitar player Derek was on that we'd written. He quit, and we had to scrap that because it was all his material and the three of us weren't really sold on it so to speak. He quit, then we had to find another guitar player. We toured with Dillinger Escape Plan in Europe, this is about two to three years ago, long time ago.

RF.net: In 2004.

Chris: Yeah it becomes a blur after a while. Basically had to find other people, start writing material again and we went to go record it. We recorded all this material and Ryan's dad died in the midst of doing this. So he had to kind of attend to that as well. When the recorded material came home, we realized we wanted more material, we had to tour, because obviously if we're not touring, we need to make money to survive, so we did this tour called Sounds Of The Underground in the US. Came home from that, wrote, started the new year. At that point we were supposed to record the record in the beginning of 06, and that's when the Atlantic thing happened, which took about six months to get out of the contract, and then it took another three or four months to get into the Ferret contract. So it was like one thing after another after another. When we'd get over one problem, another problem would come. I couldn't even tell you how many times I thought of quitting, because it was like when is this gonna stop, when are we going to be able to release this, when are we gonna be able to record this, and when is this actually going to come to reality. And luckily, it has!

RF.net: The album was recorded in Tontenik Recording Studios in Umeå, Sweden. That's a long way to travel from Florida.
Chris: [laughs] Yeah to say the least, it's definitely very far. But it was cool, it was cool to get away and put yourself into a different environment that maybe you're not fully comfortable with, but because you're not comfortable it brings out certain things in the music, you know what I mean?

RF.net: Now I've had a good chance to listen through "Versions" already, and parts of it sounds quite different from anything you've done so far. How do you think your fans will react to the material when it's released?
Chris: I think there will be some that really embrace it and some that won't. For the kids that don't embrace it and don't like it, there'll be other kids that will like it.

RF.net: The people who cried "sell-out" on the previous album are probably going to do it here too, because "a bigger and more comprehensive sound" to some people means "I can't listen to this anymore, it's not as tight etc". I understand you've had some critical opinions in the past - what do you think today?
Chris: Of..? Wait, what exactly..? Of kids' opinion so to speak?

RF.net: Kids who just won't listen to the new album because, you know, they say "oh it's not The Opposite of December".

Chris: I don't know, I mean it's kind of hard to say because I know when I was a kid, lets say 17-20 years old, I didn't have exactly the most open minded scape of music that I have now. Maybe this is going to be a record that when kids get older, they still have it around them and they'll listen to it and appreciate it, because there are records that I listened to when I was a kid, I couldn't understand them. And the older I got, the more my taste of music opened up, the more I appreciated it. I'm not saying that's gonna happen with this record but that's kind of the way I look at it. Kids who don't like it either they're not gonna like it at all, or eventually it will grow on them.

RF.net: Just out of curiosity, can you name an album that had that effect on you?

Chris: Effect on me, umm.. The Beatles catalog. When I was a little kid I didn't understand it, now it's great pop music. David Bowie.. some progressive rock bands like Yes and Mavavishnu Orchestra. You know when you're listening to very simple pop music.. and present pop music, and try to listen to the old stuff, you know sometimes it just takes a little bit to grow on you to appreciate it.

RF.net: You've chosen to include a lot of interesting sounds and instruments to your album like banjo and horns. How did that come about?
Chris: It just worked in the studio. Someone suggested lets put horns here, lets put banjo here, and everybody was like 'cool lets see if it works' and it worked.

RF.net: Is this as experimental as you'll get with the band, or can we expect you to transform to a ska-hardcore band or something by the next album?

Chris: I don't know, it'd be really funny because I could see our next album, I'm not saying this is going to be but I can just think of very fast, in-your face like. That's the thing with us, every record's gonna do something different, which I think is cool, and I appreciate that out of bands who don't release the same record over and over again.

RF.net: The album in general is versatile. There are lots of slower atmospheric songs coupled with in-your-face aggressive hardcore tracks. What was the inspiration behind such a varying album?
Chris: No inspiration. Just Ryan or Jason or whomever came with a riff. [slams hand] 'Cool, lets go with it'. The inspiration was the riff. Now as far as the actual guitar riff, you'd have to ask Ryan about that. But for me, it was like 'that riff, super super cool, I hear this behind it'. Then they would put more stuff and do different things like 'oh I could do this or I could do that' and so fort.

RF.net: Another interesting fact about "Versions" was that it was leaked to the internet almost two months before the actual release date. Would it be wrong for me to assume that this could've actually been a marketing trick by the label to cause hype because it's been four years?
Chris: If they did, none of us know about it. We found out about and we were just like [silence followed by laughter] 'fuck'.

RF.net: So what do you think about albums leaking early in general? Especially yours now?

Chris: It's weird. It bothers me but it doesn't. Like it bothers me because I'd like to wait to April 3rd when it comes out, but then it doesn't bother me because who cares if a kid gets a copy of the record and they really like it, that's cool.

RF.net: Especially now that you're touring almost a month before the release of the album, do you think it works to your advantage at the shows?

Chris: I think to a certain degree, because it is such a multi-dimensional record. I think it's going to take a while for people to fully embrace it. It's not going to be that record that right off the bat people will know it. I think maybe after us touring for like four five months kids will really start to get excited about it, you know when they've listened to the songs 50-100-200 times.

RF.net: You've just embarked on your first European tour in many years, what kind of expectations will you have on this tour?
Chris: Just to play and to travel. There are really no expectations. Like I said, we're essentially touring on a record that's not released yet. So this is kind of like building. This is like the pre-before we come back later in the year. And hopefully it will be better. Not better but bigger, you know, more in depth. We're not just gonna be doing the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and France, we're going to be doing the entire continent!

RF.net: Denmark?

Chris: Hopefully. I've never been to Denmark before, I'd love to go.

RF.net: What kind of setlist are you going to be playing, considering how the release of "Versions" is still almost three weeks away?

Chris: As of now we're playing a little bit of everything. I think it's three of "The Opposite..", two of "The Tear..", three new songs and then three or four songs off "You Come Before You". So it's just trying to get everything, but we don't really play super long setlists and we don't take a lot of breaks in between, so it feels kind of short. But it's like song after song after song after song.

RF.net: Isn't it weird playing a song everyone knows and rocks out to, and then playing a new tune and have people almost stand still wondering what to think of it?

Chris: Nah you can't really look at it like that, because I know for me if I was watching a band and they broke out a new song, I wouldn't be freaking out, I'd be paying attention, and hearing what's going on, seeing what's going on and listening. Because they're not freaking out doesn't mean that they don't like it, it just means they're absorbing and they're taking it in.

RF.net: Your fanbase is known to be frighteningly passionate about Poison The Well. Why do you think Poison The Well gets such a dedicated following whereas another band like, say your label mates Every Time I Die gets a much more casual fanbase?
Chris: Um, I don't know I mean.. all I could say is that we really care about what we do and we're really passionate about what we do and we believe in what we do, and I think to a certain degree that comes out in the music. Either some people can see it or some people can't, I don't know. It's hard for me to say because I'm not a kid. But I know that for me, if I see an artist or a band who really genuinely cares about what they do, like a band like Fugazi. They really believe in what they do. To me, that makes me more passionate about their band. These people are on stage touring and doing what they believe in. And there is not a lot of people who do that. So to me that's kind of a special thing.

RF.net: Apparently this shows live, too? They're supposed to be crazy, is that true?

Chris: They can be at times. It depends. Like I said for our newer songs they're usually there but maybe for older, more established material they kinda go ape shit, which is cool.

RF.net: We're approaching the end of my long list of questions now, so I'm going to ask some largely irrelevant questions here in the end to get a nice finishing touch to the interview, to get some broader thoughts out of you. Firstly: If I define you guys as a hardcore band, are you happy with that, or does that restrict your sound too much?
Chris: Nah I'd be happy with it because maybe musically we're not a hardcore band, but idea-wise, what we believe in as a hardcore band, you know, we try to keep our shows all ages, we try to sell our merch for reasonable prices, we treat our band and the bands that we're on tour with like hardcore bands. There's no rock star bullshit going on. So I definitely wouldn't take offense to that, but musically.. yeah there's definitely hardcore influence but it's a bit more than that.

RF.net: Secondly: Do you follow 'The scene' at all?
Chris: Little bit maybe. I don't know. Shoot whatever question you can, I'll tell ya!

RF.net: What is your opinion on the current state of the hardcore scene and the music scenes in general?

Chris: I have no clue. [laughs] I guess it's really popular, because there's people capitalizing off of it, doing huge tours and making money and stuff. I guess that's cool, whatever your agenda is.

RF.net: Thirdly: If you were able to take control of any label and take it to your direction, which one would you choose and who would be your first signing if you could sign any band in the world?
Chris: I'm not good at this, because I would definitely pick a label that had tonnes of money, and I'd pick bands that wouldn't sell a lot of records but that I really liked. I would take over a label like Atlantic, lets say Atlantic, I'd clear the roster, which would be the stupidest thing to do because that just generates money but whatever. I'd clear the roster and sign a band like Cult Of Luna that I think is a fucking brilliant band. That might not sell a lot of records because their songs aren't compatible. Or I'd sign Isis or Neurosis.. or I'd sign like weird pop bands. [laughs] You know I'd sign these weird bands that I like a lot, that probably wouldn't sell a lot of records. But I would have this huge fucking payroll to go on tour, make records you know, 'take this money and make a brilliant record'. We'd probably go under in a year. [laughs]

RF.net: So what bands do you listen to right now?

Chris: Let me think of my iPod... I listen to the new Blood Brothers, it's a pretty good record. Cult Of Luna I like a lot, I heard the new Neurosis is really really good, I haven't heard it yet, listen to Isis.. I listen to a lot of David Bowie, The Beatles, listen to the French band Air.. progressive rock bands like Yes and Mavavishnu Orchestra.. I like The Mars Volta, they're a good band. I think the new Mastodon is pretty cool. Kind of all over the place. I love jazz, like I love Art Blakey. I have an iPod and ADD, so I listen to one song at a time. Like last night I started on listening to Art Blakey, and then I went to The Bronx and then I went to David Bowie. It's like you can't listen to complete records when you have an iPod because your mind just wonders.

RF.net: That's all from me today. Once again I'd like to thank you for the interview, congratulate you on a great new album and wish you the best of luck on this tour and for the album to sell well. Any last words for the readers?
Chris: "Versions" comes out April 3rd. If you wanna pick it up, please, or you wanna download it, do that too. Just listen to it and give it a chance.

RF.net: Thanks again, and congratulations on the album!

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