Interview in Dominion Magazine: By Sean Palfrey – 12th January 2012

In a few short years, indie newcomers Broken Links have generated a lot of buzz, not only in their native Eastleigh, but as far flung as Berlin picking up comparisons to the likes of Killing Joke and The Manic Street Preachers along the way. Quite impressive for an unsigned band who have gone the DIY route in the face of a dying music industry.With their debut full length debut currently in production to follow up a run of three innovative EPs 2012 could be the year that Broken Links attract the attention they deserve. Dominion caught up with Vocalist/Guitarist Mark Lawrence to talk about finding their sound and the problems facing unsigned bands.

Dominion: What is the background of the band and how did you come together to form Broken Links?

Mark Lawrence: Although we were in different years at school, we all knew of each other, but probably never spoke. Phil is one of my friends brothers, and we were all playing in different local cover bands back then so unwittingly bumped into each other now and then. But it wasn’t until early 2008 that we all properly met each other, after the band I was in split up after several years of gigging, and Phil had just finished University. Phil’s brother suggested myself and Phil should get together for a jam. I had a pile of songs I had written over the years, so we met up and started out just playing them. After a month or two Phil asked Lewy (his old school friend) along to one of the jams to see if he wanted to play bass. Something just sort of gelled, we were making a HUGE sound in a short space of time. We all agreed we should start up a proper band, it just felt right, it was really easy for us to flow out ideas. So we spent most of 2008 just practicing, song arranging, messing around with effects, making sure we sounded as huge as we possibly could and capable of putting on a big show before we started gigging. At the same time I was producing our first EP at home, ready to release in time for our first batch of gigs and that we had some songs on our MySpace (which was huge back then!).

Dominion: Where did the name Broken Links come from and how do you feel it represents the band’s sound?

ML: We had a struggle coming up with the band name. We went through the whole process of writing as many names we could think of onto sheets of A4, some were awful, some were disgraceful, and some were darn right rude! We eventually eliminated the ideas all down and agreed on the name ‘Links’. After testing to see how easy it would be to put our first EP on iTunes, we found out there was another band in the USA called ‘Links’, so we dabbled with the idea of calling ourselves ‘Links [UK]‘ online, but after a few days, we felt sick calling ourselves that, and went back to the drawing board. We then came up with ‘Broken Empire’, but didn’t like the word ‘Empire’ as it was a bit grand, so we stuck ‘Links’ in there instead, we liked the ring of it. So at the time, there was really no meaning to our band name, though of course, we have to make sure our website is fully functional to avoid the jokes! I like the name now though, as I think it fits well with our song ideas.

Dominion: Your sound is quite a varied one incorporating indie, post-punk and industrial yet there is always a strong dark edge present your songs, what are the biggest musical influences on the band?

ML: The biggest influences on the band are Nine Inch Nails, and Manic Street Preachers. ‘The Holy Bible’ is my favourite album of all time, so I’m often trying to make our music as intense as tracks off that album, though they often go off in a very different direction! The lyrics on that album had a massive effect on me, I guess a few of the topics we write about have come from the influence of that album. Another album that had the same effect on me was ‘The Fragile’ by Nine Inch Nails, and then of course ‘The Downward Spiral’, I don’t think I need to say how great a composer Trent Reznor is!
I mainly grew up listening to these, as well Metallica, Gary Numan, Joy Division, Radiohead, Chemical Brothers, Smashing Pumpkins, Rolling Stones, Suede, Bush, RATM, The Cooper Temple Clause, Nirvana, Placebo, Deftones, Ladytron, Feeder, and Hell Is For Heroes…..I reckon the mix of listening to all these is what’s given us the varied mix in our sound! Though we all do try to listen to as much music as we possibly can though! And of course there’s some great new bands coming out now too!

Dominion: You’ve quickly developed a strong live presence in the UK, and have even made your way to the continent for gigs, how do you feel unsigned bands are received in both markets?

ML: I think it’s very difficult being an unsigned band in this day and age. We’re still 100% DIY, from making our website to booking gigs, and we’ve found it a massive struggle. In terms of the music industry, there’s loads of unsigned bands around, but to ever gig anywhere other than your local venues is hard. This is mainly due to the costs of running venues filtering down to the bands and promoters to shift X amount of tickets so that their gigs bring in a profit, and that’s difficult to do in the cities/towns out of the a band’s area meaning they can’t get out of town gigs easily. I think this is the same in every country in Europe to be honest. We’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years trying to find venues that’ll put us on in the UK without demanding we sell tickets a large amount of tickets, because the reality is, we’re unsigned and unknown, meaning we can’t sell many in areas we’re not known. We had to put even more work into finding venues in Germany for much the same reason, but luckily managed to find some great ones in the end. The reality is, if we can’t gig, we can’t gain new fans. Therefore, without the backing of a label, or a vast amount of money available to spend on band promotion, it’s a struggle to be heard by new fans, that could potentially go to out of town shows, meaning we could commit to selling tickets. Not having a booking agent doesn’t help either! But saying all this, it’s the struggle that’s the most fun part of being in a band!
In terms of the music listeners, based on the shows we have played, people on the continent are more inclined to go out to music venues and listen to unsigned bands. We’ve picked up many fans in Italy and Germany, just by playing there and putting hardly any effort ourselves into promoting the gigs. The venue promoters have either done a big campaign for the gigs, or they’re club nights filled with people wanting to watch live ‘unheard’ music. That isn’t really the case in the UK, it’s only really signed bands that people want to see, aka pop tripe. I think this will change in the near future when the current ‘label’ backed bands die out and the norm is for new bands to completely promote themselves and new ways of finding new music is introduced. New bands could pay for a huge PR campaign, but many can’t afford it, and there’s no guarantee that a campaign will bring any results….or maybe it’ll change when people tire of being spoon-fed the warm diarrhoea the top brass of the ‘musical mainstream’ release!

Dominion: What have been the live highlights for Broken Links so far?

ML: So far, playing White Trash Fast Food, Berlin, and playing KME 2011, Italy have been our main highlights. It was great having the opportunity to play two sheer class venues on the continent packed with people! We’ve also had the opportunity to play some small regional festivals in the UK which we massively enjoyed. We really thrive to play on larger stages and like to use all of it….there’s lot of rooms to go nuts on those stages seeing we’re only a three piece! Also, we of course love playing our local venue The Joiners, Southampton. We had our first gig there, the sound system is incredible, and everyone goes nuts at those gigs!

Dominion: Given the ‘goth-friendly’ side to the band’s sound, what is the typical audience like at one of your gigs?

ML: We’ve always had a varied mix of people at our gigs. From Chav to Goth, from old to young etc. There’s not any scenes in our local area, and we’re still unknown to everybody across the world, so it’s not really obvious to us who our target audience is. It just seems so far that everyone in the crowd appreciates something different in our music. The biggest shock to us was finding out that some free CD’s we handed out at a local festival we played were being passed around and mass copied amongst 13/14 year olds at a nearby school, I didn’t think we would be accessible enough for the younger generation, but I was wrong!

Dominion: You are currently working on your debut full-length album, how does this lead on musically from your EPs and how do you typically approach song-writing?

ML: The debut album is really a collection of songs from the EP’s and a new one, all re-recorded, re-mixed and re-mastered. There’s been a lot of re-arranging taking place to make the songs as interesting as possible. We’ve used the past EP’s really as a means of finding our true ‘sound’, and now we feel we have that. We felt that before we could move on to releasing new material, it would be best to draw a line at this point and make a full debut album of our best songs to date, and get a producer in to get them sounding the best and as polished as they possibly can. We don’t feel the previous EP’s do us justice anymore, so we want to phase them out and call this debut album our first ‘proper’ work. At the same time we’re also looking to change ourselves from an EP band, into an album band. We’ve written enough material to record three new albums as it is, and it’s a bit soul destroying that we’ve not been able to record it all as it takes so much time and money to release an EP.
We’re already working on the 2nd album, which we’re approaching the same as we always have done. The songs come from either ideas we have jammed out in rehearsals and are later developed at home on computer, or they’re songs which I’ve made on my computer at home and bring in to rehearsals to start learning as a band. Previously the EP’s have been mainly made up of songs I’ve written at home, but for the 2nd album it’ll mainly be ideas we’ve come up with as a band, due to the sheer amount of great ideas we’ve jammed out recently.

Dominion: You’ve released three EPs so far which all show substantial progression in song writing ability and have as a result gained critical praise, how does that affect you when writing for your debut album?

ML: It’s always great to hear positive things said about our EP’s, but they don’t have an impact on the way we’ve written new music, whether this is a good thing or not, time will tell!! From the very start we wanted to improve, and we still want to improve now, we know what areas we need to improve on, so we’re glad more than anything else that people are saying that our EP’s are getting better.
Upon completing each EP, we already had an idea of where we wanted to go with the next, we always make sure we have a new range of ideas to try, know the risks we want to take, and find some on the way. The way we work is that any new song has to be better than anything we’ve done before. We also take into account any constructive criticism from reviews when writing new material and to some extent unconstructive criticism! The main thing is, we don’t take anything to heart, music is one of the arts where you cannot please everybody. If something is criticised and we agree with it, and we feel it is possible to improve on it, then we will. If we don’t agree with it, then we don’t. The main thing is, we write songs we want to write. Our plan for the 2nd album is for it to be a lot angrier and darker.

Dominion: What are the themes and ideas that you explore within your music, and what would you like listeners to take away from your songs?

ML: I think the best way to sum up the ideas in all of our songs is that they’re all about life’s disasters/failures and the revolt against them, I like the music to complement those ideas. I think it works quite well at the moment as we write the music first, and then lyrics are added later, so there’s time to think about the ideas the music conjures up. I suppose it sounds a bit serious or pretentious saying that, though in some cases the lyrics are just free-association, some fragments are just collections of words I thought sounded great together, words that help the general mood of the song. It’s whatever the song needs really, as it’s the song that is the most important thing.
I would like all listeners to be moved by our songs in someway though, whether it be live or recorded. If a new song is played live and the crowd doesn’t start moving, it gets scrapped, a heavy on-the-beat nod will suffice! If we can’t raise a few peoples Goosebumps here & there, then we really wouldn’t see any point in us carrying on.

Dominion: How has the reception to your EPs been from record labels, are there any potential deals on the table for the album?

ML: Sadly, we’ve not had any interest from labels so far, all the labels seem to be in a different universe than we’re living in, we’ve not even had the opportunity to get negative feedback from a label! It feels like some bands get lucky, play great gigs and get signed, and some bands just have to do the long difficult slog in the underground scene and maybe get noticed one day. We’re the latter!…….we’re not bitter though, we love what we do, and we’re enjoying ourselves, which is always the most important thing.

Dominion: Do you have an expected release date for the album?

ML: The album should be complete by the end of January and maybe released in April after promoting it. Hopefully it’ll be released as a free download on our BandCamp page.

Dominion: You shot some very different videos for a few of your songs, what were those experiences like for you and were you happy with the end results?

ML: Making music videos is a lot fun, despite what some bands say! We’ve worked with different people for each video so far, and we’re filming another one for ‘Within Isolation’ early 2012 with someone else. Each video has been very different, our first one was very raw and involved us having to break into a derelict factory at 5am on a Sunday! That video only took two hours to shoot. The second was very different again, we worked with an awesome production company called Hanover Pictures who did an entire video full of narrative using actors, there’s only a few glimpses of us in the video, which is for the best! They staged a car crash, and the video shows a badly injured chap seeing his whole life flashed before his eyes, it ends a bit grim! The third is a completely green screened video done by our friend Sam Frewer and his crew, it’s still in production, but will hopefully be finished in time for the album release. We’re going back to basics with the new one to be shot soon, nothing fancy, just a black room and some good use of lights.

Dominion: The video for ‘What Are You Waiting For? Has been out for a while now, but when can we expect to see the videos for ‘We’re All Paranoid’ and ‘Electrik’?

ML: We’re planning to take down the ‘What Are You Waiting For?’ video and releasing each of the videos as a single in the lead up to the album release, using the new album versions of the tracks. So from February keep an eye out for our new videos.

Dominion: What are your plans for the band going into 2012?

ML: Once the album is finished we’re going to try & attract some label interest, if not we’ll be promoting the hell out of the album ready for its release in April. We’ll hopefully do a long UK tour around then, and will try to head over to Germany around May/June. The big plan is to start recording our 2nd album in June though, ready for release at the end of the year. Hopefully a few people will like the sound of us along the way!

All three of Broken Links’ EPs ‘Resisting Movement And The Almost Advisory’, ‘The Fine Line Between Choice / Decay’, and ‘Prototypes::Cause + Effect’ are available to download free at the band’s bandcamp page.

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