Now an independent act in 2012, The Classic Crime couldn’t be happier making music on their own and guitarist, Matt MacDonald, spoke about the band’s journey thus far and their newest release, Phoenix, which was made available earlier this month.
Just as one may assume from the album’s title, Phoenix proved to be a rebirth for MacDonald and the guys of The Classic Crime. “It’s kind of the cliché, the mythological bird rising from the ashes; but for us, we felt like that was our band. I think it’s sort of poetic in that our first record was Albatross and it was clear to us that with the changes that have happened, going independent and losing a guitar player, that what we had hoped for had not panned out. So for lack of a better way of saying it, the bird had burned and we were sort of sitting in the ashes of that dream and that’s where this record was written. And when we were mixing it, we decided that this was our phoenix, this was the bird rising from the ashes.”
In order to fund Phoenix, the band enlisted the help of Kickstarter, a crowd funding website that is frequently utilized for artistic endeavors. While a bit of a risk, the move certainly paid dividends for The Class Crime; fans of the group were more than willing to show their support, donating even more than what the band expected for the new album. And only a little more than two weeks after its release, Phoenix has charted at #130 overall and #20 for independent releases. “It’s been crazy but it’s been really good. We have a really supportive fanbase; we had Kickstarter to make the record where we raised over 300% of what we asked for. So we just sent about to put 300% of what they expected into the record and I think that sort of dynamic and relationship has been really good about being independent. We communicate with our fanbase more, there’s more accountability, there’s no middle man to put a veneer over us, and overall it’s just more of a family vibe.”
Considering the band is clearly without a label and possesses little to no marketing budget, their current success is quite an accomplishment; not to mention the fact they’re selling about as many records as they were on Tooth & Nail only makes it all the more impressive. The reality is there are a bundle of headaches that come with working with a major label, especially if the band isn’t a mainstream or established act. And as MacDonald explained, sometimes it’s better to go the independent route and forget the monetary stresses that can go hand in hand with a record contract. Although the band is gratuitous for being signed onto the label for so long, it’s clear they are much happier moving forward as an independent group. In fact, because of their independent status, the group is earning money from their album sales more than ever before. “The label is trying to recoup; they’re a business and they’re trying to make a profit which is responsible of them. So when they’re trying to maximize profit, there is a certain amount of pressure there to sell. And we have to recoup their investments. So if they spend 50 thousand dollars making a record, they’re going to get their 50 thousand dollars before you even see a penny. And then you have to recoup 50% of the marketing budget, so anytime they spend something on posters or ads, then you share the burden of that. So technically speaking, you never recoup, especially when you’re spending 10 months out of the year on the road.”
For Phoenix, the goal was as it always has been for MacDonald– an attempt to re-invent the band by experimenting with a variety of musical and lyrical changes in order to create an album that stands apart from the group’s prior work. To no surprise, the latest record reflects much of the uncertainty that surrounded the band at the time of recording. “Every record is a little bit different and I always try to do a different approach because I want a different sound and umbrella of production. This one started mostly with me in my studio demoing songs and then adding layers and textures that I hadn’t really messed with before like tension notes with strings, piano, and stuff like that; and then bringing it to the band to work it out. The whole record was written sort of out of the ashes of going independent and not knowing if we were even going to be able to do this. So there are a lot of questions on the album and a lot of songs of lament which some people may not be into, but I like sad songs, I think they can be inspirational. So most of the songs were written from that and the album is sort of a journey through the ashes to rebirth.”
And regardless of what album he’s working on or even what song he’s writing, MacDonald will always have a deep appreciation for sad songs, or more specifically, the songs that depict the true hardships, torments, and worries of life. In their career, The Classic Crime has never moved away from this area of songwriting; for instance, even on Vagabonds where many listeners claimed the group had gone pop, the album still included the heartbreaking track, “Broken Mess.” “I just can’t escape the sad song, for me that’s the truth. When you can sing along to that, I think it’s like therapy and it changes you…the reality is this world is pretty messed up and life is going to be hard, and that’s the truth we’re all trying to escape. And that’s why I love music because it throws it in your face and it tears you out of your mundane and complacent life, and can grip your heart and make you think about the reality that surrounds you. We’re all trying to escape this sadness but the truth is it’s there and I love music for bringing that out.”
In regards to producing the album, MacDonald took the responsibility himself and then brought in close friend, Michael “Elvis” Baskette, to mix the record. Elvis has actually worked on all of The Classic Crime’s previous albums, but the creativity process behind Phoenix was a tad different than what they had ever done before. “I did all the things I always wanted to do that Elvis wouldn’t let me (laughs). Then I brought it to him and there was a compromise made where he would pull it a little bit in his direction…it was a good dynamic because we do well when we compromise. On some records and on some songs I just deferred, and then at times I would kick myself later. But that’s the good thing about producing it; you follow your gut instinct and once the production is done, you hand it over to the mixer and he follows his gut instinct. So once it’s done, you have a beautiful combination of two people’s gut instincts and hopefully it’s good.”
The Classic Crime will be on the road touring for about another week and half before taking a short break to hopefully shoot a music video. The band is also in talks of recording a live concert DVD.