When you go to the Metal Insider-sponsored Metal Alliance tour starting in April, you’re going to want to get there early. Black Crown Initiate, the first band on, is unsigned, with only three shows under their belt. Yet their four-song EP, which you can listen to on Bandcamp, sounds more mature than bands that have been together for years, and they’ve more than earned their spot on the tour. We caught up with the band’s founder Andy Thomas to discuss how an unsigned band from Reading, PA got on one of the biggest tours of the year and what they’re looking forward to on tour.
You’re an unsigned band playing the Metal Alliance Tour, which is a gig that most bands, signed or unsigned, would kill for. How did that get started?
I should say, first thing, that we’re incredibly thankful for that. I started this band with our bass player, and we played in a bunch of technical death metal bands together, and it was really boring. So we set out to do something exactly the way I wanted to do it because I’m 27 now. The clock was ticking, so I had to do exactly what I wanted to do in order to be happy? So I did, and made an album. We wrote the album with our drummer Jesse Beahler, but he left to join Rings of Saturn. So when we recorded, we had no drummer, and had programmed drums on that. I did all the guitars, our bass player, Nick, did the bass, and we got James, who we played in bands with before, to do vocals, and I did vocals as well. It really wasn’t much of a band and we just put it out on Bandcamp. We didn’t really send it to anybody, I figured I’d put it out and that would be it. Within a couple of months we had a full band. We had pretty notable people in the industry reaching out to us and telling us they really liked what we were doing, which was crazy, so we played some shows and here we are. It happened very quickly, and it’s very hard to explain.
So did you do anything beyond just putting it up on Bandcamp, like get a manager?
We do have a manager now, but at the time we didn’t. We’re working with Steve Seabury now and he’s been awesome for us – and Dan Rozenblum as well. We just did Bandcamp, and later on we did iTunes, but that was really it. And as far as I can remember we didn’t send it out to any labels or anything.
Who were the first people to pick up on it?
The first person that actually reached out to us I believe it might have been Dan Rozenblum a while ago. He said he thought it was awesome. He was working at Pantheon at the time, and now he’s at The Agency Group. He was the first one, and that was a long time ago. We were just like, ‘Holy shit this is really cool,’” and he just said to keep in touch and we did.
Had you done much touring before?
No, when we wrote the EP, it was just me and the bass player. We had worked with the singer in a band prior so we were very familiar with what he could do and we knew we wanted him to do it, but it was pretty much like a studio project.
What’s the scene like in Reading, PA? I’d imagine there’s not a gigantic one.
There is not a gigantic one. Basically, Rivers of Nihil is from Reading, as well. They just got signed to Metal Blade – they’re an amazing band and very good friends. There are some other bands, but they’re pretty much the extent of the Reading metal scene. Everybody for years saying, “Holy shit this band is amazing.” We’re lucky enough to be playing a show with them in Brooklyn on February 21st. We came up together – all of us.
What’s the nearest big city from Reading, Philly?
Yeah, Philly is like an hour Northeast from here. What’s funny is I’ve never played in Philly, ever. And I’m basically from there – I’ve played a bunch of places like Canada and wherever else – never played in Philly. But that’s gonna change because we’ll be at the TLA on April 17th.
So that’s almost a hometown show for you.
Yeah, actually it’s my anniversary with my girlfriend as well, which is pretty cool.
Even better! What are you looking most forward to about Metal Alliance?
A few things because that’s kind of tough to narrow down. One is seeing Behemoth every night. They’ve always been one of my favorite bands – a huge influence. Learning from them and seeing how the hell they do what they do. They’re obviously about as professional as you can get and that’s kind of an understatement. Learning as much as I can from all the bands like how do you do this effectively and efficiently as far as living on the road and things like that. I look forward to playing every night, getting to play my music for people – that’s a beautiful thing that I’m very thankful for. I look forward to seeing new places too.
How much playing have you done as a band?
Actually as of this February 21st show, we’ll have done 3 shows. So we’re very new, but the band itself and everybody in it – we’ve all been playing together for years, so we sort of just get in a room and everything is fine. With us there’s always been a lot of homework to do. Show up to practice and ready to play. We’re pretty professional in that regard.
What advice would you have for a band that wants to do what you guys are doing?
I would say do not compromise. I’ve played in a lot of bands prior to this – which was sort of a catalyst for this band – where I was getting to play in a band with pretty competent musicians, but the material was such that I couldn’t 100% stand behind it. The point is, don’t settle for something that isn’t exactly what you want. Like anything in life, it’s not going to amount to shit if you do that. That would be my biggest piece of advice to anyone if you’re looking to be successful musically. Unless you want to be a studio or session musician, there are those outlets too. But do exactly what you want, and leave it at that. You’re not responsible for it after that and this is kind of living proof. I mean, you’re responsible in that you need to cultivate whatever you need to cultivate and be professional at all times, but once you put out something that is exactly what you want, in a way you’re absolving responsibility for it. It’s up to other people and how they want to receive it.
Did you really feel like this was kind of a last ditch effort since you’re just starting out in a band?
I did. I absolutely did. I was ready to kind of say, ‘Okay… it’s time to grow up, get a job and think about a career I guess.’ But I’m not really good at anything but playing guitar. So that was a daunting task to look ahead to. It was kind of selfish. I was like, ‘Well I’m going to go into a professional studio and I‘m going to make the best sounding album that I can, and it’s going to sound exactly what I want.’