Diablo 4 dropped 2 weeks ago, and I'm gonna be straight-up, I've been no-lifing that shit hardcore 24/7. So I could hardly resist when the D4 team reached out to us to do a promo and gave us the opportunity to interview Harlan from Banks Arcade. The game series is famous for it's instantly-recognisable soundtrack and D4 is no exception, with tracks like 'Kyovashad' and 'Neyrelle' turning up the goosebumps and pumping out the tears. I won't give any spoilers, but I'm just gonna say it; Vigo is the best character, and I can't listen to this lil ditty without thinking of him. Ode to an absolute ledge:
Originally hailing from NZ, before being adopted in Melbourne, Banks Arcade are a force to be reckoned with, combining elements of metal & hardcore with mind-defying synths and electronica. We got to catch up with resident bass-wrangler & comedian Harlan "H-Madness" Jones, and spoke with this loose wizard about everything from video games to life on tour, so let's jump into it:
Diablo IV dropped this last week, and the series has always been known for its high-quality unique soundtrack. I was wondering if any game soundtracks really stood out to you while you were growing up?
"Yeah so, Diablo’s soundtrack in particular has always had a good way of being there without noticing that it’s there. Which I think is actually what creates a good soundtrack - it’s not in your face, but you recognise it when you hear it and it’s kind of iconic. Especially the way they use… ya know, cultural-sounding things for the different geographical areas that you traverse within the games. Whether it’s like classical or Middle Eastern or like Amazonian and things like that."
"So, I think they’ve always struck such a good balance with that. But as far as soundtracks of games that stick out to me go, it’s super generic, but obviously the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games, and also of course Diablo 2."
Yeah hell yeah, it’s funny you say that, actually, because me and my brother still listen to the Tony Hawk Underground 2 soundtrack, ‘cuz it’s just got all the best songs on it
"Yeah I feel like it was whichever one your parents got you, that’s the one that gave you your taste. Like Rise Against, on those games was really my introduction to heavy music, I think it was either Underground 2 or 1. And also the Matt Hoffman BMX game as well."
Do you think there is a connection between gaming culture and music at all? Or that music has been influenced by gaming culture?
"So I actually just covered this recently in my reel that I posted for Diablo IV, and I think that the partnership between music and gaming is & always has been SO important. Because, if you break it down, it’s kind of funny - like it doesn’t make sense. These two things, gaming and music, from a surface level, are both kind of really… uncool. In a way. You know what I mean? But like, they’re not? They’re like the two most fuckin’ loved things of our generation in particular. So when you put the two together, again, it just creates SUCH an iconic partnership of two kinda things that maybe shouldn’t be the social currency that they are."
I know Banks Arcade made the move from New Zealand to Melbourne. What made you make the move, and how are you finding it now in Australia?
"So, there’s a lot of “lore” behind this band and what it’s ‘been’ versus what it’s ‘become’ and stuff. So like, when Banks made the move to Australia, I wasn’t even in the band. And essentially the band cut down to 2 members, ‘cuz the other two members weren’t too keen to make the move and shit, and the boys came over - Jason, who was in the band at the time, and Josh. Josh moved from being guitarist to singer, and they were gonna try crack it here, and they didn’t have any members. So they just pretty much moved to Australia and just started working normal jobs, and the band almost was not a thing anymore at all. And then, we had a producer come on board named Kenny, who started working with the band on the synth side of things, and he joined up so it was a three-piece. And I actually have a background in electronic music, so I was in a production duo with this guy, Kenny. And he was getting engaged, so I came over for his engagement party and Josh was there, and like we knew each other, but we didn’t know each other REALLY, we just had like kinda one interaction ever. And he was like “Oh do you wanna join the band and play bass?” Because I told him I’d been in hardcore bands and stuff."
"So I joined from there, but I didn’t move over for another 6 months. This is all in 2019, and I then finally 2020, I moved over on February 27th. And if you recall, there was this little thing that happened in the world - I don’t know if you can remember it or not - but I think it was called Covid or something? (laughs) So I moved over to Australia for a whole 3 weeks, and then we all got sent home because there was such uncertainty about the state of the world at the time and we couldn’t get support from the government. At that time they didn’t have anything in place for non-citizens."
"So, yeah, we moved back to New Zealand and all locked-down. And then kinda just started rebuilding the band from there, which was when the Fever Dreams cycle happened. And once Fever Dreams happened, our trajectory kind of skyrocketed from where we were at. At the time we were probably sub-1000 listeners, then once Fever Dreams dropped, we went straight to 30'000, which was a MASSIVE deal for us at the time. And then yeah, we kinda just boxed it out of New Zealand for 12 months, until the bubble re-opened and we came back to Australia and started the game-plan."
"I always call it the “dangled carrot,” like we recorded Future Lovers during that period, right after Fever Dreams while we were in lockdown. And then we had essentially a deal for it, right after we recorded it, but because of the lockdown, it took us another 12 months to even get it released. When it was already good to go. But so much little things come into play. Once we’d signed it, it had to go through all the formal processes, versus just some janky kids uploading stuff on Soundcloud or Spotify."
"So that was quite the process, but yeah we came to Melbourne because there’s a scene here. New Zealand, we love that place, but there’s only so much you can do there, ya know? (laughs) Like there’s 3 bands, and there’s 2 venues, and a New Zealand tour consists of 2 shows and you can do it once every 8 months. And that’s all you can really strive for as a band, in the heavy genres anyway. So yeah, it was really just an opportunity to seek it. We knew we had to go out and chase it, versus sitting around waiting for it to come to us."
I’m really interested in the band, particularly because I love heavy music, and you guys fuse it with pop, electronic, elements of hip-hop and all sorts of things. Did you guys always have such a diverse sound, or did it manifest as you grew as a band?
"So, in the early days of Banks Arcade, we had an EP called ‘Endnote,’ which NO ONE should go listen to. That one’s just a straight-up like ‘ambient metalcore’ EP, straight out of the Bible of Northlane. But I guess, we all have such a diverse taste in music. Like, Josh is a fuckin’ absolute hip-hop head. Me, I’m like… I was like a hardcore kid who ended up being an electronic producer, but then my background in music’s like… Reggae. I’m a Reggae cat. And then James… Like all of us have that common-ground of loving heavy music, but as far as our roots go, or where we’re at, James is a jazz musician."
"It’s so diverse. And I guess that’s why our music’s so diverse, because there’s just so much taste coming from different angles. And we try to make it as authentic as possible, because the elements that we incorporate are there for a reason. They’re not like “oh let’s just throw a hip-hop section in!” It’s more like “This is what we love, this is what we do. So let’s incorporate it into our music while still meeting in the middle on that heavy sound.”"
"So yeah, Fever Dreams was a great transition into showing our versatility, where it’s got this genre and that, but still so much heavy influence. And then Future Lovers was a compilation of all of that at once."
Your debut album Future Lovers dropped last year after a generous bunch of EPs & singles. You guys slogged through Australia and the US to support this record. How has the band been going since this monumental release? Any stories from the tour?
"Yeah, that’s just this constant narrative for us, just this sort of ‘uphill battle.’ One of the things being that Kenny left the band, before Future Lovers even came out. And he was such a big part of that record, especially from the electronic side of things. And right now, again, we’re in the literal stages of a rebuild. As it stands, we’re a three-piece, but we’ve got more members coming in. There’s always just kind of… something that happens, ya know? So, Future Lovers has been a really big metamorphosis, as far as the character of the band goes. ‘Cuz, prior to this, being in a band was easy because we were in a band that was playing 20 shows a year. And if you look at our schedule last year, it was 100 shows. In 12 months, we want that to be 200 shows, ya know? So it’s gone from being that ‘fun’ thing we’re all doing to “This is a CRAZY job. More than a full-time job.”"
"Anyone who’s in a band that tours hard will tell you, like, it fucks with your sanity. But! Those of us who remain understand that we do that because we love it. And it’s just that ‘teething’ process of us defining ourselves and figuring out what we actually want, and some people didn’t "want" that. Which is fine! Like, each to their own, it’s real trenches out there! It’s wartime."
"But as far as the touring goes, I’m trying to think of one particular story… (laughs) I feel like everyday there’s a new story. Everyday something funny happens, or something terrible happens (laughs). We don’t have “Thornhill luck,” thankfully. Because we just did a massive tour with them, and those cunts just have the worst of the worst happen to them. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."
"We did a run with In Heart’s Wake and Pridelands, last year. And we were in a van with Pridelands. That was the fuckin’ funnest, funniest tour of our lives. And then America, which we just finished, was with The Plot In You, Holding Absence, Thornhill and us. It was just like sheer chaos. Because, we’re sharing a bus with Thornhill. So it’s like… eight idiots, in a tiny little fuckin’ band wagon for five weeks or something. And Holding Absence are like.. THE nicest humans you’ve ever met in your life, and we’re all on the same management, so we’re all kind of like all a family. Yeah the tours have been crazy, there’s like a big lack of sleep, a lack of funds, you’ve gotta get really good at stealing from Walmart n’ shit. A funny part of touring is “What can I haul from a supermarket for free?” (laughs) I just wanna give a shoutout to self-serve checkouts, because they really change the ‘taking from corporate entities’ game. (laughs)"
Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever played? It can be somewhere small, like your hometown. Or somewhere that you thought was beautiful abroad. Anywhere. Just somewhere that you thought was sick and you wanna go there again, you know what I mean?
"Montreal in Ontario. So like, French Canada. That is like THE craziest fucking place. Like we’re playing first up, the entire tour. Being a first-up band… it sucks. We understand it’s what you have to do, ya know? (laughs) But there’s never a time when you’re like “Yay, we’re the first band on!” Because generally you try and win them over. You spend the first half of your set convincing the crowd you’re not shit cunts. And then you get to -maybe- if you’re doin’ good, you get to have them for the second half. You have a room that’s like gradually filling up, so even if you’ve won the people in the front half of the room, the back half filled as you played, and you’re still tryin’ to win people over."
"We get to Montreal, and, first of all, everyone speaks French there, as their first language. Which is just such a crazy change to make, you just cross an invisible line in the sand, and then magically just everyone speaks French. And they’ll talk to you in French and you go “Sorry, English?” And then they just switch straight to a HARD Canadian accent. It’s such a crazy experience to have, even though it’s so mild and not crazy, you’re just like “Whoa what the fuuuuuck.” But yeah, they’re just crazy. Like we’re on at 8 o'clock, and literally the room’s got a thousand people packed to the back, and the first note we hit, every hand is in the air, it’s wide open. And people are going crazy. And, (laughs) we were at the merch table, after the show, tryin’ to peddle some t-shirts. And there’s this crazy Canadian dude who’s just coming and just screaming in your face. For whatever reason, Canada loves us, and we had people driving five hours just to see us, as the opening slot."
"There was this one particular dude who just stood at the merch table the WHOLE night, and he would just pay for other people’s t-shirts. Like, I’m talking like hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Someone would come to buy their shirt and he’d be like “No no,” and then just pay for their t-shirt and like.. Give us their shirt money in a tip jar… I’ve never had an experience like it, and I’m like “Nah brah, you need to stop,” so I kept giving him more and more shirts, every time he paid off someone’s shirt, I’d give him another shirt. It was so fuckin’ funny. It was one of the best shows we’ve ever played, and one of the funniest shows we’ve ever played. But yeah, people in Montreal are just absolutely wild."
What has Banks Arcade got up their sleeves going into the future? Any upcoming releases or shows we can hype up?
"So we have taken a break from shows, because we haven’t stopped since March last year. We haven’t had a holiday at all. So we decided once we got back from America that we’d be more selective with what we do, at least for winter. Then once the weather starts to fine-up, we’ll start to spread our wings again. We have music coming this year, I don’t know how many details I can spare on it. So I have to be very vague about it, but just know that there will be singles this year. We’re in the process. The boys are goin’ to Byron tomorrow actually, to go into the studio. We’re working with Eaven from In Heart’s Wake!"
So there you have it, doggies. Big things coming from Banks Arcade over the coming year, keep your ears extra peeled and update your graphics cards to celebrate the release of Diablo IV. Mad respect for my brother Harlan, and big thanks again. Can't thank the D4 team enough for reaching out to me, it's an honour to talk about one of my all-time favourite game series and have the opportunity to interview one of the freshest bands to reach our shores. Banks Arcade are truly experimenting with their craft and pushing the boundaries of what metal can be. Ever elusive genre-benders, be sure to check them out and chuck them a like, so you can keep up to date with their super-secret upcoming releases.