Just several years into their career and Auckland Hard Rock / Metal outfit SONIC ALTAR already have a ton of achievements to their name. Last year the band supported OZZY OSBOURNE, KISS, ALICE COOPER, WHITESNAKE and POISON performing on both nights of Rock2Wgtn. The band was also on the line-up for The Axe Attack’s 21 year anniversary celebrations featuring legendary Kiwi Rock/Metal bands such as STONEHENGE and STRIKEMASTER. As well as that, they’ve managed to find the time to record new tracks for an upcoming release. 2009 sees the band eager to clinch the support spot for IRON MAIDEN this February. SONIC ALTAR have already made it into the top 11 artists eligible for this opportunity in a competition run by The Rock FM / The Axe Attack. Vocalist/frontman Kane Bennet tells us about the competition and SONIC ALTAR’s story so far…
NZRock: Congratulations on making it into the top 11 artists for the IRON MAIDEN NZ support competition! What do you think gives SONIC ALTAR the edge over the other bands in the top 11?
Kane: Thanks a lot! Well first of all let me say that all the other bands have something special about them, they all deserve it in different ways. But for me our edge is that I think we really compliment IRON MAIDEN in many areas. You read a lot about bands influences then listen to them and they sound like something completely different. We’re a band that sounds exactly like it says on the box so to speak. We’re not out there trying to re-invent the wheel or anything like that, we’re out there to play the best show and write the best songs we can within what we want to sound like. It’s obvious we’re influenced by old school metal bands but at the same time we have our own sound and our own style. And that’s the ticket for us I think. Being original within a reminiscent platform of sound. Because in my opinion at least, the old school days were the best days for metal and the ones that will be timeless. I honestly think, as an IRON MAIDEN fan myself, that every single IRON MAIDEN fan at the gig will find something in us that they can relate to… That and we’d do our best to fucking rip it up opening for our heroes!
NZRock: How long have you been a fan of Rock / Metal yourself and how’d you discover it to begin with?
Kane: I grew up with some pretty unlikely music actually. My parents would blast pre 90’s pop all day, every day. Stuff like the BEE GEES etc. In my early teens I saw the light you could say… Or the dark. But in some ways some of the old school pop stuff must have had somewhat of an influence on me because I really enjoy melodic stuff and theres a lot of that in our music… Not fucking BEE GEES melodies mind you. It’s weird you know because BLACK SABBATH were (somewhat disputeably) the first heavy metal band and they were actually the band that got me crazy back then and changed my life. After that came OZZY then MAIDEN and so on.
NZRock: You have an awesome classic Rock voice which is something that’s quite unique here in New Zealand, how did you learn to sing like that?
Kane: Thank you! Well I actually started playing guitar when I first got into rock and metal. The singing thing sort of just came out of nowhere. I used to (and still do) love fiddling around recording covers of ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Iron Man’ etc but it was always a little boring without singing. So around when I was 15 I started doing vocals on the covers I was doing and some people started telling me that my voice sounded pretty good, which to me was a little offensive because I thought I was a guitarist… So from there I started a long distance internet recording outfit with a couple of dudes in America. They’d send me the music and I’d lay down some vocals and send it back. We did that for about two or so years and just recording song after song helped me learn some basics. After that during my latter years at college I started doing some theatre stuff and really got into that. I loved doing that stuff because it challenged me technically and taught me how to use my voice live. Then the year after seventh form we started up SONIC ALTAR. Voice in my opinion isn’t that much different to most instruments… You just have to practise and practise and practise and practise. And you can do it without voice lessons, I’ve only had two and they didn’t help me. Learning yourself is how you get your own style.
NZRock: When did you decide to form SONIC ALTAR and how long did it take to get the band established and out on the gig circuit?
Kane: SONIC ALTAR was the by-product of a band that myself and our ex-guitarist created during 7th form called EUGENE’S AXE. We had a few different members in the beginning but later that year Rowan (guitar) and Chris (drums) joined the band. At that point I was playing bass and singing but I really wanted to get out from behind the bass and focus on being a front man. Early the next year (2006) we found a bass player and changed our name to SONIC ALTAR. Our first gig was at a tiny local pubs open mic night where they informed us of how the kick drum and bass were meant to work together… We really didn’t know shit. After that we started playing at the old Hysteria bar (upstairs) on K Road in Auckland. Bloody awesome bar and I miss it terribly. Later in the year we did the World Battle of the Bands which got us up to speed very quickly. We ended up taking out the national final and going over to compete in Hong Kong for the world final where we placed 3rd. So in our first year as SONIC ALTAR we did pretty damn well.
NZRock: You guys had some great shows in 2008. I saw you perform at Rock2Wgtn and also at the Axeman’s party at the Transmission Room. What were those experiences like and what have been some of the highlights while being in SONIC ALTAR so far?
Kane: The Axeman’s party was a fucking great two nights. Paul Martin’s a top dude, just look at what hes done/doing for real rock and metal music in this country. Its bloody great. Rock2Wgtn was simply amazing. It was our first big support and we got both nights… We just couldn’t believe it! There aren’t any words to express what the experience was like. It almost felt surreal or like it wasn’t even happening. We were stoked to be there and loved every minute of it. So the Rock2Wgtn experience is obviously the biggest highlight I can think of. We also did our first nationwide tour in 2007 to support our first EP. We went almost everywhere and it was a real eye opener. Thats when I learnt I couldn’t rock all night and party every day… My throat felt like broken glass and I couldn’t sing for about a month afterwards. So in other words, it was a fucking blast!
NZRock: Did you get to meet any of the international artists at Rock2Wgtn?
Kane: We met members of WHITESNAKE and some of the ALICE COOPER dudes. The ‘celebrities’ amongst them were pretty tricky to find. Most of those guys just turn up a little beforehand and do the gig then go to bed. Can’t blame them really. My personal goal was I HAD to meet OZZY OSBOURNE as he’s one of my favourite entertainers/vocalists of all time. And luckily enough I ran out the back of the stage entrance before he was set to play and had a brief chat with him. He was a really nice guy too actually. No bats blood on his hands.
NZRock: SONIC ALTAR has been recording 4 new tracks to go with another 4 that you recorded prior to that. Who are you doing your recording with and where?
Kane: We’re actually recording it with a friend of ours. His name is Alex Selman. Aucklanders may have heard of his band MICROFICTION who are very cool. He’s just started up his own recording studio on the Shore. He’s got a real musical ear so its been great doing stuff with him. We also practise in his studio as well so its really good for us keeping all the creativity contained to one area! But yeah its been cool because we’ve managed to get a sound out of there thats quite different.
NZRock: Have you decided whether you’re going to have a long EP release the tracks as a full album yet?
Kane: Good question. In short; No. Only reason being is that we know how important first albums are and the songs we’re working on at the moment are really exciting. We don’t want to put them all on album and not do it right leaving the songs to fade away in the dust. Whatever we do with them, we’ll be doing it properly. Here and now I would say it will probably be an EP but things might change.
NZRock: On your Myspace page you mentioned you had a couple of problems which held up recording but now you’re back on track. What were the problems?
Kane: We started the first 4 in July last year and finished them in December which was a ridiculous amount of time spent on four tracks. It was obviously not every day, usually only a couple of days a week. We just kept facing problems and would end up going backwards and redoing things etc. So basically we were a little held up because we had to stop and do some better planning for the next ones as we didn’t want to take so long this time. These new four should be done by the end of February though.
NZRock: SONIC ALTAR had a bit of a line-up change last year. What happened to Daniel Costello / Mark Lowe and where did you find your new members Daniel Kilhams and Tom Duffy?
Kane: Daniel Costello was in it at the beginning along with myself. He was integral in starting this band. In about June last year we started discussing moving into a new sound which is what we have done now and he wasn’t comfortable doing that. None of us blame him for that, it was purely up to him. I still talk to him a lot and he’s started another group who are just in rehearsal stages I think. Mark Lowe was the bass player I mentioned that we found in early 2006. He was a solid player and a cool dude. Unfortunately he was a little older than the rest of us and had a career behind him which he felt he should follow. Once again there was no hard feelings and he’s doing really well. So by about June last year we had two holes in the band which needed filling. I scanned through my memories of guitarists in Auckland that I thought were really good. The first one that came to mind was Tom who played in a band called AXIS MILE with us a couple of years ago. I asked him if he’d like to come over and maybe write a song or two. That night we wrote In the Night and the next day we did Love in Anarchy. It happened really quickly and felt amazing to have someone who knew exactly where I wanted to go musically. He definitely took my idea of changing our sound and hit the ground running with it at full speed. So after talking to the rest of them we asked him to join. We then asked if Tom knew any bass players that could fit in with what were doing now and he suggested a friend of his which was Daniel. At that time he was playing in the Auckland based group; Solomon. It felt a little weird asking someone already in a working band to jam with us but Dan loves heavier shit and wasn’t entirely happily musically with SOLOMON (who are very good I must say). He came and jammed with us one night and we played an older track My Name is Sin and the newly written In the Night. At that point we all knew it had to happen because it sounded great and everyone got on like a house on fire. It’s been fucking brilliant having these guys come in!
NZRock: Have you guys thought about taking your talent overseas?
Kane: Almost every day my friend! Its common knowledge that its hard work here to get your feet off the ground without ‘selling out’. We’ve had some lucky breaks so far but I don’t know how many more will come our way over here. We’re looking at trying our luck in Europe or America but we won’t do it unless it’s done right. But New Zealand will always be home for me, it may have a fucked up music industry but its still a wicked place!
NZRock: What’s on the agenda for SONIC ALTAR in 2009?
Kane: Well I’ve already mentioned the recordings so thats the first thing on the list. We’re then looking to do a national tour sometime this year and are planning to do something a little different… It’s actually quite exciting but I can’t give out any details yet as it’ll ruin the mystique. So through these first few months of 2009 we are going to be working on our live show. I’m tired of playing 30 – 45 minute sets which we always try and push to an hour. I want to go out there and say “We’re playing for an hour and twenty minutes and none of it will be boring!” If that means only having two bands on then fine. Sometimes when your at a gig and theres like four bands on it just gets a bit ridiculous waiting through change over times and then playing at 2:30AM. But hey its rock n roll I guess. Theres a giant list of things to do this year and I don’t want to go into all of it right now so the best thing to do is for people to keep in touch with our myspace page and our website which we’re working on. Oh and by the way, our new music video is online in support of this IRON MAIDEN competition. So head over to Youtube and search for ‘In the Night by Sonic Altar’! Shameless self advertising right there!
Thanks for doing the interview!
Anytime! And thank you.