Sunday, April 18, 2021

A world held to Ransom, inside the minds of a locked-down DIY band

A year in and I’m sure you are as bored of reading the words Global Pandemic and Covid as much as I’m bored of writing them. When this all started I had hoped that by this point in time I would be using past tense to describe the pandemic but alas, here we are, still locked down, still riding things out.

While there may be light at the end of the tunnel for many of us we still need to hold out just a little longer before things return to normality or the “new normal” and as I said in a recent editorial, “Keep the faith”. Obviously, Covid has ravaged the planet in many ways and severely in terms of business disruption, barely an industry has gone by unscathed and while some may have weathered the storm better than others (looking at you Netflix, Amazon and Nintendo) some have taken huge hits and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that live music and the arts have suffered immensely.

While the juggernauts of the music world may have been less impacted, (I doubt the likes of Metallica are struggling to pay their bills and I know they even donated a large sum of money to charity during the height of the virus) – but there are countless acts out there that very much are struggling, venues too.

This has given rise to the virtual concert and while many bands have adopted this format and generated some revenue from it there are still so many bands out there that aren’t quite at the level needed to be able to fund and pull off such an event. While it may look simple enough on the surface to live stream a gig, you still need venue/location hire, camera hire, technical know-how or access to someone who does, ticketing, web design and merch if you’re looking to do a bundle (something Obituary nailed with their online shows and set the standard for). Put bluntly, some bands just can’t afford that and have had to either find other jobs, get creative on social media or tragically split up altogether or at the least take a prolonged hiatus.

Below that line of small and struggling bands sits another category, bands just starting out. Those bands who had only just or were just about to drop their debut full-lengths or EP ready to introduce to the world when plans were scuppered by the pandemic – set back for an unknown amount of time before they’d barely taken the first step and have endured untold damages.

I thought it would be interesting to focus on such a band, I wanted to get an insight into how small DIY bands have been impacted by the current climate and how they have endured. But most importantly how they had adapted and turned a global emergency into an opportunity, one such band is Ransom.

I was able to speak with the band and get their uniqe outlook,

First up, can you give us a brief introduction as to who you all are?

I’m Matt Fielder, lead vocalist and lyricist for the UK rock band Ransom. My fellow band members are Dave Barlow on lead guitar and Zach Barlow on bass, drum programming and production.

When did you all get your start in music?
Matt: I started way back in the ’80s with a band called Hurricane Jane playing around London, Surrey and the south-east counties of the UK.

Dave: I started gigging when I was 18 with a band called Overdrive based in Northants. I played with various other bands until the ’90s, took a break for 13 years until I realised in 2012 that I need to gig each weekend for my sanity!

Zach: I picked up a bass when I was 13, went to music college at 16 and at the same time Dave (my Dad) was hassling me to join his band, so I was gigging in pubs at 16!

How did Ransom come about?

Matt: That is before my time and above my pay grade as Ransom is the brainchild of Dave so over to him.

Dave: I was playing in another classic rock covers band from 2012 but as they only wanted to play a couple of gigs each month I decided to set up my own band to play as much as possible, I also wanted to play harder rock tunes. In 2014, we started Undertow with a singer I knew, as well as a new drummer and Zach (my son on bass). The original singer got sacked and so in 2015, we changed the name to Ransom. Ransom have had two great singers that we amicably split from (Bun Davis who now sings with Chris Slade AC/DC drummer and Alez D’Elia who now plays the guitar for Doomsday Outlaw). Matt started with us in August 2018 and formed the Ransom we are today.

Zach: I had been hassled to play in Ransom for several months, but on starting music college, I realised there aren’t many opportunities to gig each weekend and so took the opportunity up. Covid has had an undeniably huge impact on the music industry for both recording and performing artists.

How has it impacted you as an independent band?
Matt: Well as a ninety-gigs-a-year covers band all of sudden we had no income or chance to play so yeah massive impact on us as a band.

Dave: It’s been truly horrendous. Music is my family’s life and suddenly we had no gigs and I felt I was going more than a little stir crazy. But it has allowed us to start writing our own material which we are immensely proud of, our attitudes have changed directly from this and we are now bigger better and stronger as a band.

Zach: I started off thinking we were having a short break, so I built a recording studio at home while I was able to. Now it’s almost a year since we last played a gig, and we still are not able to return…

So Lockdown has provideded you with more time to work on your music and write new material?

Matt: So with restrictions in place we decided to write a track called ‘Lockdown in London’ all about it; the reaction was so amazing that we set up a crowd funder to see if we could record more, with what we thought (at the time) was an unrealistic target of a grand (£1000). We got that within two weeks from friends, family and fans! So we finished another three tracks and released our debut EP Halfway to Hell and just gone on from there really.

Dave: I have ideas for guitar riffs and songs in my head all the time, but never had an outlet to play them. As I was unable to release my full potential creativity just doing cover songs, Zach and I decided to try and write our own songs. Its been great (for the band) as I have had plenty of time to come up with ideas.

Zach: After I built my recording studio I was unable to allow anyone to use it! So instead Dad and I started writing down some song ideas and once the song was formed I have been able to record, mix and master them.

It was very depressing last year watching week after week the gigs I had spent ages booking, arranging, PR and admin, all get cancelled.

Have you all been able to still work as a band at all, despite the separation, has it presented any unique challenges?

Matt: As Dave and Zach are father and son and live together it’s just me who has to work under cover of the night ‘covertly in covid’. I am lucky though, Dave is a phenomenal guitarist, whilst Zach is a brilliant Producer and Drum programmer as well as a fantastic bassist. So sending stuff back and forth does offer a few logistical challenges but we manage and the results speak for themselves with the amount of global internet airplay we get.

Dave: It has been a novel way of recording! Zach and I coming up with the main song idea, forwarding the rough idea to Matt who each time has turned it into a song by the next day and sends us back a rough copy for Zach to work on the final song sequencing. I just record the guitar parts.

Zach: It’s been a challenge in the fact we had no access to a drum kit to record. So I have partly used an electronic kit and sequenced the rest. Matt records each song within an hour and then I can work on the rest.

With this progression from covers to original music do you feel the Pandemic has set you back at all or is the plan to come back firing on all cylinders when the times comes?

Matt: Well we have the tightness from playing live together so much, certainly as a three-piece, we have sadly now parted company with our old drummer (a casualty of not being able to play in Covid) as he didn’t want to do originals. However, we do have a great replacement lined up and will be coming back on two fronts. Unloading from both barrels. Doing the covers stuff to earn money ‘Bringing the stadium rock experience to a venue to near you’ as our tag line says – but we are also trying to blag a few decent supports and we are on standby for a few of those and some festivals (if they happen) to play out own material.

Dave: It was very depressing last year, watching week after week the gigs I had spent ages booking, arranging, PR and admin, all get cancelled. However things are looking up, the bookings are now coming back in and it’s going to be a busy second half of the year.

Zach: Obviously missing out on so many gigs has set us back. Getting back to the level we were at will be a process but when we are fully rehearsed with a new drummer we will be coming back even better than before.

Was the plan always for Ranson to transition to original music or did it grow naturally from playing together over time and then accelerated by Covid?

Matt: In my heart, I always hoped personally that one day we might have a go at it as I had initially approached Dave about some Originals stuff with another band. The pandemic has kinda forced our hand and I guess it was either that or nothing!

Dave: If I’m good at one thing its booking loads of pub and small club gigs for a classic rock covers band and going out every weekend to play my favourite rock classics. I never thought we would be an originals band and was happy just playing these types of gigs. Matt loves to write and it was an opportunity not to be missed so I jumped on the Matt Rollercoaster and here we are, quite happy I made the decision to write and be part of the new Ransom 2.0.

Zach: I didn’t want to write originals. I was in a band in college that were writing their own music and I didn’t want the hassle or ego issues that I had to deal with before. This is different though as no one is precious about anything and so each song is enjoyable to make.

We are like the “Millwall of metal” as far as the corporates are concerned

Can you say anything about what is planned beyond the EP?

Matt: Well our Christmas song (‘A Christmas Held to Ransom‘) got us signed up to Heavy Metal Records (part of Revolver) for that track and they are keeping tabs on what we are doing. No one is signing anyone at the moment due to current restrictions, but we are gonna keep on writing, our latest track ‘Killing Time’ might burn a few bridges for us with certain members of the media and establishment. But hell they’ve never lifted a finger to help us anyway so there’s no love lost there. We are like the “Millwall of metal” as far as the corporates are concerned or Korporates as I like to refer to them (see what I did there?)

Dave: I love the songs we write and I’m very proud to be part of the whole process, loads of radio stations all over the world play our music and that’s good enough for me. If you want to come to one of our gigs that’s great, if you want to listen to us on Spotify or buy a CD etc that’s also great. If a company want to sign us up that’s brilliant too but I’m just going where it takes me.

Zach: After the EP comes more music, also different sounding music, potentially gigs where we play our originals… as long as we are back to playing covers on the weekends I will be happy.

Looking at your original tracks, your lyrics are very socially aware, you like to tap into very relevant topics, do you see rock and heavy music as progressive overall?

Matt: I think we all have to write about whatever we want. I could quite happily sing about ‘cars and girls’ which are great and I love both. However, we are living in a time of great turmoil, confusion, upheaval and unrest. As a poet and someone who cares about the world as a whole, I believe it’s important and my duty to sing about the things and issues that concern me or are going on all around me. That said it’s just a personal choice, Dave will always pick me up if he thinks I’ve gone a little too far with the lyrics. But personally, I am very proud of the songs we have done thus far and the messages they send out. They all mean something to me and hopefully resonate with others too…

Dave: Matt is a true wordsmith, he can write like no other I know, a true talent. When Matt writes he does not do ‘I love ya’ and ‘wanna put my thing in ya’ bullshit lyrics, he can write some real meaningful stuff which is usually topical at the time of writing. Just go read the lyrics and find out what’s really going on in the world today.

Zach: I have absolutely zero input into the lyrics, I send matt an instrumental track and he comes back with full lyrics within 12 hours… whatever comes out of Matt mind is a Ransom track to me.

2020 gave me the chance to listen to a lot of new music, which always inspires me to come up with new musical & production ideas.

We’ve all seen some amazingly inspiring things during the Pandemic as well as some terrible things, have you been influenced specifically by the global events at all to write new material?

Matt: Well our last track ‘Divided State’ was all about the struggles of the art industry as a whole not being able to play their trade and being giving advisory instruction on ‘retraining’ in another industry instead, which was as hysterical as it was hypocritical. We do also have snippets of Trump and Boris’s confused rumblings in our ‘Lockdown in London’ track. But as for positives The NHS, Captain Sir Tom Moore and people like Jamie Oliver and Joe Wicks have all inspired me personally and as a published poet I have written about all of them. As for a song? Well, I have an idea and some lyrics that if they do fit anything that Dave and Zach’s creative musical song sessions come back with.. well who knows they might just see the light of day…

Dave: I think this has influenced most people on the planet in one way or another and could write all day and night about it but don’t make me say Influence out load cos I’ll be in stitches all night (sorry it’s a band joke).

Zach: 2020 gave me the chance to listen to a lot of new music, which always inspires me to come up with new musical & production ideas. Dave also had a lot of time to come up with riffs and various guitar parts, which is often the start of one of our songs. Trying to make a full song out of a riff is always interesting.

The UK Government has plans to return the country to a level of normality come late June, would you be comfortable performing live again or is it going to take some time?

Matt: We already have just started booking gigs for late summer, I mean it’s been so long (over a year). We’d all happily play right now, however in all fairness, I  think we are gonna need to rehearse a bit with the new drummer first otherwise, that’s just being selfish on our part and we never want to short change or put pressure on anyone… they either get the full 100% ‘Roar of Ransom’ or nothing at all!
Dave: Show me the stage.

Zach: As soon as we are allowed to gig we will be gigging!

What’s the long term vision for Ransom?

Matt: To ultimately ‘Hold the whole world to Ransom’ and maybe after a while Stockholm syndrome will set in… Hopefully with someone who has the ability to back us! But seriously we always keep our feet firmly on the ground, we are under no illusions, there are a lot of talented bands out there all searching for a break. We just want to do our thing and see where it takes us… It will be a different landscape out there post-Covid, so in that respect, it’s kind of a level playing field. So we’ll just get our heads down and do the hard yards as we always have and hey, who knows?

Dave: Since forming the band my mission was to play every Friday and Saturday night, be it in a pub, club, stadium or wherever, as long as there are people who want to hear classic rock/metal covers or our own material I will be there cranking out the songs.

Zach: Earn some money, play gigs on the weekends, have some fun with friends and get a tad drunk… as long as that still happens I’m down for anything.

And finally, where can people find out more about the band and most importantly hear your music?

Matt: After Crimewatch? Well, ransom.rocks is as good a place as any to start! All 
new ‘Ramsonites and Ransomettes’ whatever their creed, colour, nationality or gender are more than welcome to join our rock n roll family.

Dave: Ransom are on the major streaming services like Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube etc and you can also visit our website which has links to our social media and also to CDs and Merch. Don’t forget to tune in to your local rock radio station to hear us there (if not call the DJ and ask him/her to play our stuff).

Zach: I think this question has already been answered… but down the pub on weekend usually.

A huge thanks to Ransom for taking the time to speak with me, an interesting insight into the working minds of a true blue, British band, struggiling with the evryday issues we all currently share. When the time comes, be sure to keep an eye out for Ransom in your area and show some support.

Jay Brown
Assistant Editor of RAMzine - Raised on Motown and Rock, now with a deep love for all things metal and heavy rock. Veteran gig goer, favorite bands include Slayer, Mastodon, Dopelord & Power Trip among many others. Explorer of subgenres, collector of whiskey.

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