Interview – No Anchor

Brisbane’s No Anchor combine big sludgy riffs with a sense of seething menace, reminiscent of bands like Big Black. Bassist and vocalist Ian Rogers spoke to M3 about why the internet is “the most efficient music distribution mechanism ever created”….

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Ian – For the most part, I’m a popular music studies academic. I’ve only just recently finished my thesis so I’m still what they call a ‘highway academic’ i.e. I spread my time across a few Brisbane universities.

What inspired you to start No Anchor? What are your own musical backgrounds?
That’s a hard question to answer. I’ll start with the second one. Alex (drums) and I knew each other from shows and one night, at a club, we decided to get together and make some noise. I really really never thought it would go anywhere. I was in a mildly popular indie band (Iron On) at the time and, no disrespect to Alex but he couldn’t really play back then. He did have a style though: he beat the living shit out of everything like a compacting machine. We practiced together for months (close to a year) and we pretty much sucked the whole time. In 2008, my other band folded and about two months later No Anchor played it’s first show.  I don’t remember much about what we trying to do musically except that we both liked the Melvins and we were both kinda into punishing people with volume and repetition. Our second bass player Donovan joined about two years later and you could (easily) argue that this was the official start of the band as it is now. He was also a member of a more successful indie-rock band at the time of joining No Anchor. So, that’s pretty much what No Anchor is about: rescuing people from success.

What was the reasoning behind making some of your recent releases available for free download?
We’ve always made our records very cheaply so the decision to experiment with giving the music away for free was not burdened down with having to earn back giant studio costs or marketing budgets. When we did experiment with it, we found it worked for us: about 10,000 people downloaded the last album and we’ve nearly sold out our second pressing of the double-LP version. All the other metrics are also up, things like merch sales, back-catalogue sales, site traffic, etc.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
The main advantage is that, years into this, we’re all still completely (nay ridiculously) stoked on being in the band. Why wouldn’t we be? We get to do exactly whatever we want, record whatever we want, release it whenever we want AND still cover costs AND still maintain our otherwise ordinary lives. We’re like kids in a candy store. The disadvantages? We don’t tend to engage with the music industries a great deal. We don’t have an indie label telling the blogosphere how wonderful our latest album is or anything like that or a booking agent getting us on tours. So we’re pretty much just out in the wilderness with every other dipshit band hustling for coverage and shows. It’s an incredibly small price to pay for all the other benefits. I’m not even sure we’d opt out if we were magically given the choice.

On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
Not many, truth be told. And that’s the wrong question. It’s not about measuring pay/download. The downloads cost us nothing. The albums cost us a couple of hundred dollars to record and that’s easily recoupable out of a few decent live shows. Thus every dollar made on digital by someone who volunteers it to us is (virtually) profit. And here, it really becomes about the smaller group of people who pay TWICE what we’d expect for the digital album as an act of patronage. Sure, those people who give us $2 for the album are wonderful and that adds up over time but the real gains are in the people who – when given permission to become patrons of the band – step up and do it.

Would you say this method is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
It’s the most efficient music distribution mechanism ever created. There’s no physical stock. No postage. It’s delivery system (the internet) was designed by the military to withstand a nuclear strike. Is it the future? Argh, yes, it’s the future. Meanwhile, CDs are over (and CD distribution was a blight on humanity anyway) and while vinyl records are wonderful, physical monuments to creativity they’re also made out of one of the most ecologically disruptive compounds ever created so they will never belong to our long-term future. Going forward, it’s all about digital distribution.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I like MP3s but I want them to sound better. I’m hoping I live long enough (and probably will) to hear digital mediums that far exceed compact disc and vinyl quality audio.The technology is kinda already there if you think about it, we’re just waiting for storage, streaming and bandwidth to catch up.

Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
A little but I think the issue is completely overstated. I mean, where is this happening? Pop music has never been about a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish. It’s always been about singles, even when they’re interspersed between filler tracks on crappy albums. Alternatively, where are the artistic bands that are ONLY releasing single MP3s? They don’t exist. From the dawn of popular music academia, theorists have noted that there are fans who drift on the surface (which is totally legit. I know almost nothing about ballet, for example) and there are fans who go deeper into something. People have literally been talking about this since the advent of bebop and it hasn’t changed.

What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I have mixed feelings about it. Of course I don’t want the internet to become this bland piece of garbage that serves corporate and/or elite interests. But, to be honest, at the moment a lot of the internet is already really bland and serves corporate and/or elite interests. Let’s not kid ourselves. That said, I wish the big end of town had invested all that lobbying money into product innovation. I mean, in Australia I don’t even have Netflix, I can’t buy music on Amazon. We’re almost two decades into the internet and a decade into wide-scale iPod use and the industry is STILL trying to put the air back into this burst balloon of theirs? I don’t get it. If you want my money, don’t shut down things Megaupload. Give me a system that works better than Megaupload. Give me something that enchants and intrigues me and makes a fan out of me.

Finally, what does the future have in store for No Anchor?
We’re quite a ways through writing a new album and we’ve just finished a new EP called ‘Rope/Pussyfootin’. You can buy it direct from us on 7” vinyl (with a download code) or you can have the digital files on pay-what-you-want via noanchor.bandcamp.com. Apart from that, we’re just doing what we normally do: hanging out in a room, next to an auto repair shop, playing riffs at high volume, trying to impress each other.

For more information about No Anchor, you can visit their official website and follow them on Facebook and Vimeo. Head over to the band’s Bandcamp page to hear their music and download copies of their new EP ‘Rope/Pussyfootin’ and their last album ‘Real Pain Supernova’.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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