Managing to turn the heads of heavy music fans and industry professionals throughout their career, Justice For The Damned are making their way to the top. As they are currently preparing to release their sophomore album, Pain Is Power, I grabbed vocalist Bobak Rafiee to discuss the album and the process of its creation, COVID-19, the band’s appearance at Invasion Fest and their plans for the future.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Bobak, I hope you are safe and well in these uncertain times. Congratulations for recording your second album, Pain Is Power, I’ve had a chance to listen to the album a few times now and I think it is a fantastic demonstration of what you have to offer. How have you managed to prepare for the release of this album while the world is in lockdown due to COVID-19?
My pleasure! The funny thing was, there was never a conversation of ‘should we not do it’ or ‘should we hold back’ because of a few reasons. One being that we really wanted to get the music out and also when we dropped the first single, lockdown hadn’t started yet, it was only a rumour. So we dropped the first single, announced the album, people were pre-ordering the record and everything was looking really good, then literally seven days later was when the first lockdown came into effect and then its rolled on from there. It has definitely made us more hungry as a team, we all wanted to smash this release because we have a lot of faith in the record so we haven’t allowed coronavirus to stop us in any way.
Also, people are stuck at home so I feel like they would be more inclined to listen to the album as they have more time to do so. There are a lot of pro’s and a lot of con’s, with the biggest con being that we had tours ready to announce with a big international support act, which coincides with the album’s promotion. We have the European tour announced, which we are glad we announced early and should still happen, hopefully, everything is okay by that point and the world has recovered. The business aspect of this release has suffered a hard blow but musically, as individuals and as a team it has actually made us better in a way.
You travelled overseas to record this album with Will Putney. He is known around the globe as being one of the best metal producers around. How did working with him come to fruition?
So in 2017 when we released Dragged Through The Dirt, Andrew Marsh (Thy Art Is Murder) heard of us and he was talking to Ash Hull (Greyscale Records) and basically said to him ‘I would love to take care of the Justice boys, I see their potential’ and we agreed and from that day onwards he pushed us to go to Will to record our next album. So it was really Marshy on that one, however, we all wanted to do that anyway, we were already fans of Will’s work before the opportunity even came along.
If anything, I am the biggest Will Putney sweater ever, when I was young I used to google his discography and I would just listen to his records, that is no joke. I told him this when I first met him. I don’t usually freak out about celebrities, but when I met Will for the first time my first reaction was ‘holy fuck!’, other than that I was pretty much speechless. The crazy thing is he is the nicest guy in the world, he is not producer stereotype-esque at all, he is so chill and in my experience, he is very open to compromise. He is amazing.
How was the experience of working with a producer who has so much experience of working with such high calibre bands guiding you through the process of creating this album? Was it completely different from anything you have ever done before?
It was definitely completely different from anything we have done in the past, it was a brand new experience for us. For myself personally, the cool thing about Will was I started seeing his recommendations and knowledge come into power after we left. So when we went into the studio and the lyrics we had prepared were kind of like the sad boy, over poetic shit, similar to what we did on Dragged Through The Dirt and I was very hesitant about that because I wrote most of it and doubted whether I wanted to sing about this, this is going to be permanent. I was constantly second-guessing it and on day one Will’s first producer move was telling us to delete all the lyrics and phrasing and I was very happy because at that point I wanted to do that but I didn’t want to tell the other band members and create a massive stress.
We went over all different topics and settled on pain is power, which was Will’s suggestion. When we left the studio, I noticed that a lot of records that have come out in the last twelve months have been pretty sad and I noticed that he obviously had such a big eye on the industry and records a lot of bands himself so he already knows what is going to come out in the next twelve months, he had basically looked ahead and realised this everyone is following this current trend so he encouraged us to go a different direction. I get so excited when I listen to the song ‘Belleville’ by Knocked Loose because that song is where it is, I wish I did that first.
Lyrically, Justice For The Damned have always been a step ahead of the majority of metal bands when it comes to personal subjects while still delivering them with a punch, is that something that the band does cognitively or do these topics seem to find their own way into your music?
Whether the topic is personal, direct or not, the only thing we try and do cognitively or consciously is that we try to make it relatable to anyone as much as we can even though we can get pretty specific on songs like ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ or ‘The House You Built Is Burning’. It’s not like we sit down and specifically think we want to write about this or this. It’s more topics that we like talking about and there are a lot of things we want to just put on paper. Then again, there are a lot of topics that don’t make it.
I was lucky enough to witness you play at Invasion Fest, it was without a doubt the best I have ever seen Justice For The Damned perform. You played ‘The House You Built Is Burning’ for the first time to an Australian audience, what sort of response did the band receive from that?
Within our circle of friends and people, or even some fans, that was the most spoken about part of our set. We saw a friend the next week and he could not stop mentioning how much he loved that song, particularly the breakdown and how excited he was for it to come out. They were the type of conversations that were happening and I think it was cool that hate56 released his live recording the week before the single was released. He was meant to release that video the same day that ‘Guidance From The Pain’ came out and we asked him to push it back.
When we played that song (The House You Built Is Burning) at Invasion Fest when the drop line and breakdown came in I saw someone in the barrier pull the biggest ‘stank face’ and they started laughing, it was clear to see they were mind blown. We were a little bit accustomed to that though because we played that song throughout all of Europe on the Knocked Loose tour, which was sick.
Every time I watch you perform I am blown away by just how much projection your voice has, did that come naturally to you while you were learning to scream?
When I was around fourteen years old, I used to be a big Michael Jackson fan, I had all of his albums and I would sing it around the house, same goes with bands like Wolfmother and Panic at the Disco! As I got a bit older, the first metal band I got into was actually Escape The Fate and I wanted to be exactly like Ronny Radke. I would try my best to sing and scream along to the music and obviously, I was doing it wrong the entire time. I just grew up trying to sound like all my favourite vocalists, I used to lose my voice a lot.
I feel like I get my projection and the strength in my voice from conditioning. I didn’t always do the right thing, I have lost my voice many, many times. I have never lost it to the point where I have permanently damaged it but I pay a lot of attention to my voice.
It is so weird that you ask that question because I had this conversation in the studio when we were recording Pain Is Power, I was talking to the boys about how I was trying to find a middle ground between technique while also trying to sound real. When you put on your headphones you want the listener to feel like you are having a conversation with them. Think about your favourite record or your favourite artist, when you put on the song you want it to feel personal as if they are in the room. So that personal touch is something I have been working on for the past two years, I guess every day I wake up and think ‘How can I be better?’.
Your debut album Dragged Through The Dirt really put you on the map in a global sense as you began doing full European tours with big international acts. With your new album Pain Is Power, what are the bands’ goals to achieve once this album is released?
We want to tour every continent if possible, we want to do Asia, we haven’t toured in America yet, it is super difficult to get to America and now with COVID-19, it is four hundred times worse. Some of us have been to Asia on holidays but we haven’t had the chance to tour there yet, which would be amazing. It would be unreal to tour some less common places bands go to like Russia or Mexico. A personal goal of mine which seems quite farfetched is I want to book twelve consecutive months of touring. I would love to be able to leave the house in January and only come home a couple of times a year, that’s just a personal goal though and I know it is a little bit too farfetched but I was trying to get Justice booked out from July to January. Christmas would have been the only break for that tour but then COVID -19 came in and there was nothing I could do.
Interview by Adam Rice @adamrice1994
Pain Is Power is out June 12 via Greyscale Records.
Pre-Orders are taking place right here
Justice For The Damned – Pain Is Power tracklisting
1. Guidance From The Pain
2. Pain Is Power
3. Final Cataclysm
4. No Peace At The Feet Of Your Master
5. The House You Built Is Burning
6. Machine Of War
7. A Crimson Painting
8. Sinking Into The Floor
9. Blister Of The Plague
10. Die By The Fire