The last time I interviewed vocalist Chris Murray and the rest of Illuminate Me I made them do the ice bucket challenge outside of the New Jersey venue Dingbatz (#sorrynotsorry). This time around Murray was a safe distance away over the phone, but I still got to ask him questions about new single “Lost Art,” his battle with Facebook, and the chaos that is an Illuminate Me live performance.
Recently, Murray has attracted some serious attention in the underground community for launching an online petition against Facebook’s current advertising policies. The petition, which now has nearly 50,000 signatures, calls for common sense action: “We want Facebook to remove having to pay to reach fans and followers.” Murray’s views are shared and supported by many, including bands like A Lot Like Birds and Scale The Summit, who have also found paying for followers they already have to be frustrating.
When I spoke with the vocalist, he had just been told his meeting with the social media mega-giant had been rescheduled. “I would love to keep on getting higher up into the higher representatives in Facebook to someone who can have a serious conversation with me about it,” he says, getting the sense that he may be given the bureaucratic runaround. “If anything, there has to be some sort of change done to where people can just get their stuff reached out to their own fan base in a more fair way. What they’re doing right now is just making people pour money into a social media account that already has people connected to it…I don’t get it.” He adds, “I get if you want to pay for followers you don’t have and you want to get more followers, that makes sense to me completely.”
“I would love to see bands who get weird get more notoriety”
Connected to the Facebook problem is Illuminate Me’s new single, “Lost Art.” “Can you hear me? / Am I getting through?” are the first lyrics of the unforgiving track, and amongst other issues, speak to the apparent voicelessness of bands online.
“I feel like a lot of bands and a lot of artists–and not even just art, but small businesses for example–they really don’t get their voice heard because of this, because we’re being so limited. Granted, I understand we can get on Instagram, we can get on Twitter, we can get on wherever else that’s not Facebook, but Facebook is the main social network and that is the place to be if you want to connect to the right people. So in a way it is a call out to that situation.”
“Lost Art” is about more than just Facebook, however. Being forced to pay for the attention of your fan base creates other troubles for an underground music scene; namely, the concept of “image” in a scene that is supposedly meant to avoid that altogether.
Murray notes, “I feel like there’s more of a pressure nowadays, especially with the whole idea that we have to put money into making people be aware of us. There’s a lot of pressure now to all flock to the same image or style. I just see so many bands that look and sound alike. It’s cool to see that if you like what you’re doing and you’re happy with what you’re doing, by all means do what you do. But a lot of bands do it for the sake of people paying attention to them. You could try to be a little different.”
A bit dismayed, he adds, “I feel like the creativity spectrum is becoming more slim.”
His observation reminds me of a line from HXC‘s recent interview with Davey Muise of Vanna, in which Muise expresses the same frustration: “If you’re reading this interview, your beanie sucks, your hoodie sucks, nobody cares. Just listen to the music you want to listen to.”
Murray laughs. “Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. This environment [is] to be self aware that we are outcasts, that we aren’t supposed to be part of society. It’s not supposed to be a trend, but I guess once you have major record labels looking at ‘Oh wow, they’re making money. Let’s bank on this and let’s make it a trend,’ it happens that way. But my favorite bands are the bands that continue to be themselves and not fall into the whole trend bandwagon. Vanna is one of them, for sure.”
He counts out other bands that inspire him: Every Time I Die, Glassjaw, At The Drive In.”I feel like that whole kind of era of music is over and now we just see bands that are like ‘How heavy can I get my breakdown?’ [laughs] I mean, I’ve heard a breakdown before, can we try something else?”
Then he concedes, “But at the same time, we have breakdowns in our songs. We’re not the most original band. But I think as long as you’re self-aware of that, then you’re not showing a false side to you. I feel like a lot of bands who come out and say ‘We’re the voice of a generation’ or ‘We’re changing the game,’ and then you listen to them and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, not really…’ As long as you’re not saying that then you can do whatever the hell you want. But if you have these bold statements like ‘We’re revolutionary,’ then I’m gonna call bullshit.”
Delving deeper into the meaning of “Lost Art” Murray says, “I would love to see bands who get weird get more notoriety; people [to] kind of, like, appreciate the art a little bit more, but at the same time I can’t tell people what to do or what to think.”
“I thought he literally lost his eyeball!”
If there’s one band who likes to get weird during a show it’s Illuminate Me. A standard practice for the band, for example, is to take the entire drum kit off the stage and reassemble it on the floor in the center of the crowd, standing on top of the instruments and then just kicking the pieces all around the room. But with such an animated live show comes a poor track record for self-preservation. I recall one show (picture above) to Murray in which he apparently fell through a ceiling during their set.
“Oh yeah,” he remembers. “That was the one at the indoor skatepark right? Across the room from where the stage was there was this little room that has a ceiling that you can get on top of that’s like, inside the skatepark. So during the last part of our set where we take the drums down, we take them apart and get into the crowd…I climbed up there on that ceiling thinking ‘Oh, this will be able to support me,’ and right when I put my foot in two or three tiles just came crashing down.”
“I had to pay for that,” he recounts.
The list of mishaps doesn’t end there. Murray reminisces about a show in Georgia that quickly got bloody.
“Our drummer at the time—it always happens at the end of our set—he was like jumping off the drum set and our guitarist was spinning around or something, and I guess they just collided and our drummer got hit right on the nose right in between his eyes by the guitar stock. There was blood everywhere. He actually passed out for a good five seconds. Everyone in the room including us were just dead silent just like ‘Shit, is he ok?’ He got back up and he tried to get on the drums and everyone was just like ‘Nah dude. Just end it.’ We ended the set a bit early. Our bass player at the time [Kevin Hatton], he came up to me and he was like ‘He got hit in the eye! His eye’s falling out!’ and I was like ‘No fuckin’ way!’ So I go run to see if he’s alright and he just got hit in the nose. ‘I was like dude! You scared the shit out of me I thought he literally lost his eyeball!”
Murray insists that a crazy live performance is what makes Illuminate Me the band it is, and as someone who has seen them live, I completely agree. You don’t really know Illuminate Me until you’re in the same room with them, watching them topple their own merch table out of excitement.
“Personally,” he says, “I think we got even crazier with the new sound. We just played this show not too long ago and our guitarist, he like, hung upside down from the ceiling. He jumped—I think he cut his foot open?—there was just blood all over the fucking stage. I looked at me and there’s just blood all over my shirt—I guess I cut my thumb open [too]—and there was blood running down my shirt.”
Despite the bloodshed and the aggressive sound the band have become known for, the new album is set to take them down a slightly different path musically. According to Murray, “Lost Art”sets the tone for half of the album, but the other half “might catch people by surprise.”
“It’s definitely not heavy,” he says. “Our last album [I Have Become A Corpse] was mostly…we slammed out song after song just fast, heavy, angry, pissed off, and now we’re like ‘Okay, let’s take a step back and look at what we have and let’s try to add in a new element to what we’re doing.’ And that’s what we did. It’s progression.”
While picturing what a not-heavy Illuminate Me song might sound like is a bit like trying your hand at a Rubik’s cube for the first time, Murray sounds excited by the prospect. The new album, he says, will probably be released by the end of this summer. Let’s just hope they survive their own set long enough to play the new material.