Belgium's Chain Reaction popped up on our radar late last year with their impressive 6 song EP titled "Figurehead". Their take on 90's era hardcore comes off fresh as well as memorable for all the right reasons. They got their start in 2016, have a few releases under their belts and a lineup filled with scene vets. "Figurehead" was by far one of our favorite 2020 releases and we are really excited to get this interview out to you in hopes that they pick up a few new fans from it. Below is a November 2020 interview we did with their singer Bjorn and drummer Murph. Photos by: Kevien Pictures with graphics by John Franko. Make sure to check out Chain Reaction’s “Power Corrupts” music video as well as the rest of the “Figurehead” EP… tons of links to all things Chain Reaction are at the end of the interview.
IE: What's up guys? Where exactly are you right now and what would you usually be doing this time of the day if you weren't answering these questions?
Bjorn: What’s up Chris? I’m at home, listening to a bunch of records and answering these questions. It’s raining right now. If it wasn’t raining, I’d be outside hiking probably.
Murph: Hey Chris! Well, I’ve just finished watching Back To The Future with my kids. Sundays are mostly spent with the family, so that’s all good. Now I’m starting this interview, blasting Sick Of It All - “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” while I’m at it.
IE: Tell us all about “Figurehead” which is your new one. From the song writing to the recording it seems like this release is a huge step forward for the band.
Bjorn: Thank you! I agree. These songs were written over the span of the last 2 years and while I still think “Hangman” – our first EP - had some really good tracks too, this time around we really tried to trim the fat off the songs, to make sure they were all compact and hard-hitting. We were definitely looking for the right balance between hard-ass riffs, hooks and a nice groove, with some melody sprinkled in here and there.
Murph: When we started working on “Figurehead”, we already had 2 songs (“Disconnect” and “Bleak Reality”) which were written right after the first EP. Those songs were a good base to build on. We wanted to take it a step further musically, but still maintain our style and our signature sound. When we write a song, we always aim to keep the listeners attention. A solid groove is something we all love, mixed with a dose of aggression and good hooks. To us, the songs on “Figurehead” all fit the bill. We recorded and mixed everything at Hearse Studios (shoutout Lander!), a place we’re all familiar with as we recorded all our previous releases there. Lander perfectly understands what we’re heading for as a band, so that worked out well. Will Killingsworth at Dead Air studios killed it at the mastering, so yeah, we’re very pleased with the outcome.
LISTEN TO "FIGUREHEAD" BY CLICKING THE COVER ARTWORK BELOW
IE: When I listen to “Figurehead” I think of mid-90s style hardcore and could imagine seeing you play shows way back when with bands like Indecision, Tripface, Crown Of Thornz and others from that time period. When this band was just starting out what were you all discussing as far as the direction you wanted the band’s sound to be like?
Bjorn: That type of show sounds about perfect! The band actually started without me, though when Murph first played me the earliest recordings they’d done, I definitely heard a lot of late 80’s and early 90’s vibes in there.
Murph: Sim, Clovis and myself all used to play together in a band called Kingpin, which was very NYHC-inspired as well, but more with an 80’s Cro-Mags vibe. We always wanted to do another band that could dig deeper into 90’s NYHC. Bands like Crown Of Thornz, Cold Front, later Leeway were and are definitely benchmarks. We started writing songs and recorded a demo but didn’t have a singer yet. We figured we’d eventually find somebody to do vocals on those songs. Time passed and when Bjorn came to my house for our annual BBQ, I played him the songs, just to get his opinion on them. He really liked what we had at that time and that’s when he suggested to try some vocals on those songs. Fun fact… Bjorn did vocals in the studio without us even rehearsing together. He just went in and nailed those songs, and that was when we actually started being a real band.
IE: “You're living in a dreamland in a time that never was” starts off “Figurehead”, the title track. Who is this song about? Talk about its message please.
Bjorn: “Figurehead”, the song, deals with the rise to power of neo-fascists. In the present, that’s people like Trump in the US, Orban in Hungary or Erdogan in Turkey, to only name a few. Democracy is what gets them elected, but democracy is also the least of their concerns. Belgium has taken a hard swing to the right in recent elections and we can see similar things happen in other Western countries. These motherfuckers rise to power using the same old trick, dividing the population between “true patriots” that want to restore so-called traditions, supposedly sharing a common patched-together identity, and the “infidels”, in the form of immigrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, communists, progressives, artists or what have you. They’ll try to sell the idea of a return to a glorious past, a trouble-free era of prosperity “in a time that never was”, at the expense of those they deem unworthy or undesirable, with no respect for human rights and human integrity.
IE: What's the intro to “Certain Death” about and where is the sound bite from?
Murph: That’s actually an outtake of an old MRR radio-interview with the Bad Brains from 1982. They talk about how their music affects all kinds of people, no matter the color or race. They talk about spreadin’ Jah’s word through their music, so what’s not to like? It perfectly fits the vibe of the record, so we went for it. Haha.
IE: “Some own the streets while others can’t afford to eat” is a main line in “Bleak Reality”. What inspired this song’s lyrics?
Bjorn: Briefly put, growing social inequality. The gap between rich and poor only seems to widen. Less than 10 of the wealthiest people in the world possess as much as the poorest 50% of the world’s population. That isn’t only obscene and unjust, but it’s also hugely problematic. It impacts every aspect of our society: access to healthcare and education, increasing violence, (gender) inequality etc. I think it takes a very crude and short-sighted capitalist to refuse to see the problems inherent to this.
IE: A few of the songs on “Figurehead” have lyrics that seem to be approached from a world view type of way. In your opinion what are some of the problems of the world that need to be tackled now to create a better tomorrow in our lifetimes?
Bjorn: Wow. Where to start? Inequality for one. Systemic racism. Systemic oppression of the poor. Our obsession with financial growth. A complete lacking distribution of wealth. The insane amounts of money governments spend on war, guns and the military, while they fail to provide food and shelter for their own citizens. The grip that organized religion still holds over so many people, often pushing them further into poverty, into sectarian violence, into wars, into barbaric rituals. I mean, I could keep going but I just really want to use this medium that I have, as a way to express myself and to speak out. Not every song deals with world-issues, but the older I get, the more I realize how true the old saying is… If not us, then who? If not now, when?
IE: From what I've read “Figurehead” was supposed to come out this past spring (2020). I have noticed some bands delaying their new records trying to catch what they feel is exactly the right time to avoid as much of the pandemic issues as possible. Is this the case with your new record and if so, what was your thinking in delaying it?
Bjorn: We recorded “Figurehead” in January and February (2020), so back then it seemed feasible to have it out before the summer. However, things started going a little slower after that, not just because of the pandemic, but mostly because of pressing plants being so busy. We handed in the final product around early May and then had to wait for the test press until mid-August. The vinyl should finally be ready mid-November. But to answer the rest of your question, I do believe that this is a good time to release new music, especially for a small band like ours. A lot of bigger bands and labels are postponing their new records and there simply is no touring, which kind of creates a level playing field, if you get what I mean? I know that I’ve been listening to a ton of music, both new and older, during these past 6 months and I don’t think I’m the only one. It’s what keeps me somewhat sane throughout all of this.
IE: What was the last show you attended before the Coronapocolypse?
Murph: For me that was the last Chain Reaction gig in Gentbrugge (Belgium), back in February. The live footage in the “Power Corrupts” video is from that show too. Haemers, Animal Club and Pressure Pact were also on the bill that night. The venue was awesome and there was a good vibe with all the bands, little did we know that this was going to be the last time we’d be able to play live for a long period of time.
Bjorn: The last show I attended right before Belgium went into “lockdown” mode for the first time was a small show at this punk venue called Music City in Antwerp (Belgium). I saw Muro from Colombia and they were seriously fantastic. I also got to hang with my old friend Spoiler at that one, so it was a great night.
IE: Without shows does it sometimes feel like you are not even in a band anymore? Personally I at times feel totally disconnected from the scene since almost all of my interactions are not in person.
Bjorn: I think we’ve been lucky in that regard. We’ve been busy finishing up “Figurehead”, getting it mixed and then mastered, getting the artwork right, discussing everything with the labels involved, preparing its release and so on, so that helps. Also, as soon as it was allowed, the band started practicing and writing new songs again during most of the summer. Unfortunately, that’s off the table again now, but we’ll see what comes next.
Murph: Like Bjorn said, the record gave us something cool to focus on. It felt kinda weird not going to shows or seeing your friends, but for me it also felt like a little reset, a break from the hectic life we all seem to lead. We started jammin’ again during the summer when things were getting back to normal, but since a couple of weeks, almost everything has been shut down again, so we’re back to scratch. I hope that when this pandemic is over, we all really appreciate what we’ve got going on in the hardcore/punk scene and that we don’t take it all for granted.
IE: Here in NY there have been some bands doing these pop up shows on city streets where they promote on social media and then play as many songs as they can before potentially getting shut down by the police. Have you had anything resembling this in Belgium?
Murph: As far as I know, no one over here has done anything like that, but it’s not a bad idea though. I guess Belgians are law abiding citizens. Haha.
IE: Chain Reaction is still somewhat a new band. How does it feel having to start over from scratch with everything considering most (or all) of you have been in bands before with some of them being pretty successful... and when I say successful I mean in a hardcore band type of way. Haha. What is the feeling like starting from the very beginning again?
Bjorn: That’s actually part of the fun for me. What you’ve done in the past may cause people to check out what you’re doing currently, but in the end, it doesn’t matter all that much. The excitement of getting something new going, putting out a demo, getting on those first shows, building things up from there – I think that shit’s cool. Success is such a relative thing in hardcore. I’m just happy to be doing what we’re doing, being a part of things in the now, in such an inspiring era for hardcore.
Murph: The same goes for me and I think I can speak for other guys too. We don’t mind the grindin’, opening up on shows, spreadin’ the word – it’s all good. It’s always cool to start with clean slates and build something new from the ground up, no matter what we’ve all done in the past. We’re not the type of dudes that lean back while telling tales of “the old days”. Hell no… We’re all excited about doing this band and we’ll see where it’ll take us, looking forward to that already.
IE: Bjorn, you were previously in Rise And Fall who did a bunch of full US tours, as well as some East and West Coast tours. What do you see as similarities as well as differences between US hardcore shows and ones in Europe? Don't be shy to hurt our feelings either. Haha!
Bjorn: Classic question! Please bear in mind that it’s been close to 10 years since I last toured or spent time in the states. What always really struck me was how inventive Americans had to be to get shows done. We used to play the weirdest spots (log cabins, ice hockey rinks, lofts, backyards – you name it), simply because regular, smaller venues that want to book this type of music are hard to come by, plus the fact that youth centers don’t really seem to be a thing in the US. In most European countries there’s this network of youth centers, where young people can just do their thing. Often the local hardcore community uses those places to start booking shows, as it’s a low risk operation and there really isn’t much of a barrier. I used to do that myself too. With those and with a ton of smaller or mid-sized clubs that book all things underground, Europe does have a very steady circuit that enables tours to happen and bands to play. So, that’s a big difference. It’s also a known fact that European bookers usually really take care of the bands. You’ll get food (or a buy-out), a place to sleep, drinks, whatever. That rarely seemed to happen when Rise And Fall toured the states. In return though, whenever we’d get pizza at an American show we’d be soooo thankful, whereas in Europe you almost take those things for granted. I’m not going to lie though, some of the wildest, craziest live sets I’ve ever seen were in the states. Especially fests like United Blood and Sound & Fury where shit just goes off, in a way that doesn’t happen over here.
IE: Is getting Chain Reaction on US tours a priority for you once things get back to some kind of normal in regard to live shows?
Bjorn: Priority may not be the right term, but we definitely want to make it over. There’s so many friends out there that I’d love to see, so many great bands I’d love to play with. We’re not a band that can tour a lot, but we’re focused and want to get the most out of the time and opportunities we have as a band. Plus, I’d love to see Brian’s farm and eat goat cheese there.
IE: What are some things you really miss that you can’t wait to get back to once Covid restrictions ease up and things (hopefully) get back to the way they were?
Murph: Oh man. Well, the thing I miss the most is hanging out with friends at a show, and I also can’t wait to play the new songs live, so yeah, looking forward to 2021!
Bjorn: I’m with Murph on that one. Plus, I’d love to be able to just walk around town, randomly meet up with friends, decide to hit a restaurant last-minute, things like that.