Interview: Lee McKinney of Born of Osiris
Interviewed by Tim Finch
Today we are chat with Lee McKinney, guitarist with technical progressive metallers Born of Osiris. We chat about the bands back ground, the new album, and when they'll be hitting the road again.
The Razor's Edge: So welcome to The Razor's Edge.
Lee: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me
The Razor's Edge: I'm going to start by apologising and admitting until your new album landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, I hadn't really listened to Born of Osiris. I'm sure a few of our listeners are the same, so to kick off, can you tell us a who are Born of Osiris?
Lee: Yeah, so we put our first record out in 2007, we recorded it at Senior High School. So we basically came out of high school with a record and hit the road of traveling the world. We are progressive metal band, I say progressive, because it doesn't put a box around us. Whereas if you get real, you know, descriptive about your genres, then it puts a box around you, and we just try to leave that out of it. But yeah we are heavy, we have two vocalists that trade off to keep things powerful. You know, you're gonna find crazy drums, keyboards, you're gonna find guitar solos and all that.
The Razor's Edge: So you say you're progressive, I've seen you described as metalcore as well. There are so many acts who all sound the same, but having now listened through your back catalogue through to your new album, your sound and delivery is so distinctly different. Is that a route you consciously chose to take with your song writing to be different from anything else?
Lee: No, and I do thank you for that. But I do know one thing, and it's just that as our band's been around for a while and there's trends. Since 2007 there's been so many different trends that we've rode the wave of. And we noticed that in metal you can hop on these trends. For example, we did a couple of years of work to where we were the heaviest band on a tour. But what we saw was like a trend where everyone was like “this summer, this is really cool to do musically”. So all the bands would do it. And they would pop off and the next year they were on the biggest band in the world tour, but then two years later, they’re on a small stage of Warped Tour. Because they're cashing in on these trends that make you popular at the moment, and they come and go.
We’ve never done that we've kind of just made music how we wanted to, we have kept the fans in mind. But overall, it's kind of the music we want to make. So I would say we're different, because we're not necessarily following the trend of what we should be at any given time
The Razor's Edge: For me as a new listener, the keyboards add an extra dynamic that sound which so many bands don't have. Certainly making you stand out from the crowd.
Lee: Yeah, you can do so many things with it. Like it can be a keyboard, it can be a piano, it can be a choir, an orchestra. When you're running MIDI, with a keyboard like that you can really create any sound you want. So I think it's an invaluable asset to a band granted, otherwise, we'll put it on a backing track, and that's fine, too. I'm not here to talk about right and wrong when it comes to backing tracks, but if it's someone that is working full time in the band to make an array of sounds it works.
The Razor's Edge: For those hardcore fans of the band, what would you say they can expect from your new album?
Lee: I think they can expect some different sounds and the reason is, for the bulk of our career it takes everyone in the band to write a song, but the bulk of the song like will come from either myself or the drummer. So we'll present a demo. In this demo, we'll have drums, bass, guitars, keys, everything minus vocals, then the band takes it and makes it their own.
However, since ’The Simulation’ we have a new member in Nick, and so now we have a third mind kind of at the at the base level of our song writing which is really helpful. So it's a whole new sound of the band that hasn't necessarily been experienced yet. You're going to get “Born” just as he used to be, but with a new new creative force behind it as well, to add to the sound instead of replacing it.
The Razor's Edge: It's been two and a half years since 'The Simulation'. How would you say 'Angel or Alien' differs from that as an album and how have you developed as band in that time?
Lee: It's interesting, half the songs were from that era, because ‘The Simulation’ was going to be part one of a two part thing. So some of the songs were from that era. So there's a similarity there. And then the rest of it is just what we had done since and as I mentioned, Nick coming into the fold, he was there at ‘The Simulation’, but I think towards the end. So as far as helping with the songwriting this time, he was there from the ground up, so you're gonna get more of his views and styles on this one than you got on ‘The Simulation’.
The Razor's Edge: What does Nick bring to the table in the songwriting that you maybe didn't have before.
Lee: He's got this Lamb of God riff style and guitar sound which incorporates into our already technical music really well. He also has the big chorus in mind, which is something we've always had in mind. And he also feeds off of us; I've put demos forward since he's joined the band and then he'll put a demo in months later, and I can tell he was inspired by something that I did. Or vice versa, he'll send something to the band and it'll be like “Oh shit, I never thought about Born of Osiris in that way before”. Well it's because I've been in it and he hasn't. So he brings a new thing to the tablen an outside point of view, someone who watched the band's from an outside point of view and said it be cool if they did this or it would be cool if they did that, and now he's in it he can just do that. It’s just been interesting in that aspect he brings that to the table, like someone who saw the band from the outside, who has his own style, respects the style that's made us who we are and he's just the perfect new partner in this.
The Razor's Edge: I hate to mention it, but did the dreaded pandemic affect the album at all, be it writing, recording, release dates etc?
Lee: So to be honest the songs were done within days of the pandemic beginning. However, what it did do is kind of slow the world down. What I say is that what benefited the most was our artwork.
For people who know the band and been with us for the beginning they know that our art is kind of distinct, and there's a couple styles you're going to get like, you're going to get that Egyptian style with Osiris, where you're going to have the castles in the desert and the end the pyramids, you can also have like the beings in the sky and the space. There's kind of two distinct styles that we've played with.
This time around, we wanted to do a different one. And when you have five guys that are very opinionated and care about the artwork greatly, it's hard to say we're gonna do something that takes us out of our comfort zone. So we're able to take all that time to find artwork that's very different than what we've ever done. But we're comfortable with it, you know, and it took that time, it would have been a lot longer if we were still touring and playing shows and traveling the world and also trying to do that.
The Razor's Edge: To touch on the artwork some more, for me as part of the older generation, artwork is a key piece of any record. So briefly talk us through the very distinctive cover for 'Angel or Alien' and the creative process behind it.
Lee: Yeah, there was a team this time. And again, that's another reason why I think the pandemic benefited at least our artwork because usually we've picked a guy he makes a cover and then we bring it to the art team at some Sumerian Records and then they take the cover elements and they make like a booklet out of it.
But this time around we have a team. So we found finally found the right guy, we want to do the cover art and we wanted to play on the 'Angel or Alien' theme and so we did that with the cover art. We purchased three images from this person. But they weren't created yet. We told them what we wanted and we had hand sketches drawn of what we wanted. And they followed it.
There’s the angel cover, inside, you have the alien and then the third piece, you have the angel and the alien embracing, which all follows kind of concepts of the lyrics. Then another cool part about it we have is, I think it's called an enneagram, or something where no matter which way you turn it, it says like the same thing.
So we just took the time with and these are all different people that did all this. So it's just a team of people that, you know, without one element, I don't think it would have felt complete. And so we're just grateful that we did have the time via the pandemic to to make it all happen.
The Razor's Edge: As a band you produced the album yourself. Is there a reason for going down that route rather than bringing someone in?
Lee: Yeah, we all are multi-instrumentalist, producers, every one of us and so we have a wealth of ideas from the band internally. We all bring different things to the table as far as engineers and producing and mixing and mastering. We didn't mix and master by the way, but outside of the band I run a studio and do all this and so the other guys. So we just have so much experience, it's one of those things where when you have the knowledge we do, then you usually find yourself overpaying. And here's why; to have someone truly bring more to the table, they're probably worth a lot of money and deserve a lot of money and rightfully so. And when we bring them in, we find that the amount you have to pay to get these people to add a small amount of knowledge sometimes isn't worth it, sometimes it is but it's a hit or miss thing. There’s just something honest about it, you get a record and it was made by the guys in Born of Osiris and relatively untouched by outside forces. There's something honest about that. I'm not saying everyone should do it. But that's what we've been doing lately.
The Razor's Edge: Is that a way of working you’re always going to stick with going forwards?
Lee: I don't think it would be, but I have a big hand right now. Since ‘The Simulation’ I've tracked the instruments, edited the instruments, been the file holder, and I have to send all the files to the guys if they're doing vocals, are the guys doing the drums, are the guys mixing and mastering. So I find myself as the hub, and it's extremely busy.
I enjoy it. I enjoyed it for ‘The Simulation’. I enjoy it now. But I can also see that there'd be a ton of fun if I just played guitar and that was it like the good old days. So I'm not, not enjoying it. But I can see the fact that down the road, it would be really nice to maybe just only focus on guitar again.
The Razor's Edge: Obviously I've never seen you live. Talk me through a Born Osiris live show. What's it like.
Lee: I like to think it's high energy. Since we have the two vocalists basically, we have a vocalist, but we have a keyboard player who is the second vocalist. When he's not playing he's definitely always up front stage, interacting with the crowd, half the time he’s in it. We had a heavy emphasis on lights, that is always important to us. I think a show isn't complete with unless it's like visually and audibly entertaining. We try to just bring the whole package to the table as much as we can, we're not pop stars with that kind of money to just put insane stages together. But we do the best we can with the money that the band brings in to re-invest and give the crowd the best show that we can give.
The Razor's Edge: I'm assuming like all bands you'll be hitting the road as soon as restrictions allow. As you grow in popularity, will you be adding anything to the live show experience?
Lee: We’d love too, in a perfect world right now we do all the lights synchronized and all that stuff. But we love to add screens. And you know what I mean? I think that's the next step for the band. As you see bigger bands have video screen. So I think that's the next step. You know, assuming financially we get there wouldn't be nice.
The Razor's Edge: What would you do with the video screens? Any ideas for when you reach that point?
Lee: I think it'd be cool to incorporate just all the aspects of the artwork make each song fit with the artwork of that album. So if it's the beings floating in space, maybe have them interacting.
I should say I forget, I guess right before the pandemic, we were incorporating video. So we would travel with video and if venues had it, we would play it and it was really the art interacting. If we have beings on a cover, we had the beings looking at the crowd and the eyes scanning the crowd, we were starting to get into that. But just basically incorporating the art and making it fun for the crowd.
The Razor's Edge: When can we expect to see you hit the UK?
Lee: December right now is the plan.
So March last year, arguably, the first big month of the pandemic, was when we were supposed to be there. We had the whole tour set up and had to postpone, and it got postponed throughout the pandemic couple more times. Because bands want to get the dates as soon as they're available, because when dates are available, everyone's coming for them, and then there'll be quickly unavailable again. So we kind of push things back six months at a time throughout the pandemic, knowing that it probably wouldn't happen, but if it did, we had our dates reserved. Currently they're sitting in December. I don't know where you are with the pandemic as far as allowing people from other countries in or what phase you are and all that and how open but if assuming we are able to come in December we will 100% be there.
The Razor's Edge: What's life like on the road for you? Are you all in for the excesses of touring culture? What do you do with yourself between live shows when you are out on the road?
Lee: Well, and it’s cliche but in the UK, in Europe, we definitely like to see things because obviously living in America, you kind of know what it is. But so it's different there. I think that in UK and Europe we want to go and see landmarks, we want to try food we've never had or just different things that we don't get over here in the US. So I'm sure that's a cliche answer, but it is what it is.
Other than that, we like to have a good time. Have a couple drinks before and sometimes we'll hit a local bar after see what the local scene looks like, as far as you know, food and drinks after we'd like to have a good time, but we stay professional beforehand. And yeah, we like to sightsee, especially in other countries.
The Razor's Edge: Is there any bands you'd either love to tour in support of, or to bring out on tour when you headline?
Lee: We kind of have one of these lists with our agent and it's for him to say “Oh, I can get them on this tour that they have. It's like a dream tour”. So we went on a tour with like Meshuggah, that's one of them. Gojira we'd love to tour with, Lamb of God. Those are the ones that we say “hey, if you if you can get us on that please do”. And then as far as new bands like I'm kind of always discovering new bands. I heard a couple cool bands this weekend. One's called Paleface I think they're from like, Switzerland, maybe? One of my favourite bands lately is Sleep Token. I believe they're from the UK. I'd love to bring them out. You know, I think they're pretty big over there. I don't know how they do elsewhere. Maybe we'd be in a position to bring them out. I love the visual things they're doing with the masks and all that and, and just like I put their records on all the time. I love the music.
The Razor's Edge: One final question for you tonight, I like to ask of everyone I talk to. What new music are you listening to right now? Any bands that our listeners need to be checking out?
Lee: Not necessarily new, but been listening to Sleep Token, Paleface. There's a new Lorna Shore song I've not previously been a fan of the band. Not that I’m not a fan just never listened. I thought that new one was good. Alluvial is a band that just came out with a new good record called Sarcoma. Gojira has a new record out. So stuff like that is kind of what I'm jamming.