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Play King of the Day by Karman Line on repeat, and you get a hint of the kind of old-school yet contemporary energy and sound this talented UAE rock band wants to showcase through its debut album, Like A Machine.
The five-piece multinational outfit (Tristan Surina, guitar; Greg Brown, vocals; Frank Bassiouni, guitar; Danny Langston, drums; Petar Milosevic, bass guitar) couldn’t be more thrilled to see over a year’s worth of songwriting and production efforts come to fruition as Like A Machine is launched on May 5 and then unleashed on a discerning live audience in the UAE, at The Fridge on May 9.
In a chat with City Times alongside his bandmate Frank, Greg revealed that Like A Machine was meticulously crafted during the pandemic and comprises a range of influences, both musical and cultural.
Describing Karman Line as “a bit of a mix”, Greg shared that the members’ diversity helped shape the band’s sound.
“Frank is from Egypt, Tristan’s from France, I’m half English, half South African, our drummer Danny is from the UK and our bassist Petar is from Serbia. I like to think that with everybody coming from different places we all have a different background and different influences, and more so than the music (because I think we probably all listen to the same music), I hope those cultural influences come through and give us our own unique kind of sound in a way.”
Karman Line found its “truest form” during the pandemic, Greg said, elaborating on how the line-up was finalized.
“The first line-up happened around 2016 under a different name completely, and during the pandemic is when this line-up and this band really took form. So myself, Frank here and Tristan started getting together during the pandemic once a week, just jamming and writing some stuff with the goal to eventually create and write an album. Eventually we finalized a load of songs and recruited two more members which were the rhythm section - Danny and Petar - and those guys completed the line-up. Then we went into the recording studio with them once we had finished all of our tracks together as a band.”
Among the vibes fans can expect from Like A Machine is 70s rock, a genre that has clearly left a huge impact on Karman Line. However, while delving into the subject of influences, both Greg and Frank emphasized it was impossible to pin down any specifics.
Frank said, “I think we all have different influences but we share the same ‘school’. 70s classic rock is a main influence even though we don’t really sound purely like that but it’s definitely there and it’s definitely been on our mind the whole time. Not to copy or imitate anything - it’s just like a fingerprint. You are what you listen to, in music terms.
Greg added, “I think everybody also has their own influences, which is cool, and they kind of bring different things to the table. We had some good press in the UK comparing us to bands that we never thought we would be compared to because we didn’t think we had that sound, you know? One of them was Deep Purple and we were like ‘we don’t sound like Deep Purple’ (Frank: ‘Yeah, that was strange!’) So I think people have different ideas of what we might sound like. But generally I mean… a lot of 70s rock bands to even some newer bands... modern rock bands like Rival Sons, or even the old Kings of Leon style… I think they’re all influential on the sound for sure.”
Both Frank and Greg pegged their initial interest in rock music and forming a band, to a liking for the late, great Jimi Hendrix.
“In high school, when I was 16 years old, I heard about this scene (where) it was just two bands happening at Red Sea (Egyptian record label); I was already into guitar and guitar heroes, especially Jimi Hendrix; I was obsessed, and I wanted to chase that dream,” shared Frank, adding, “I had to study Fine Arts at University but decided to take a break and see how it goes. Turned out great! I went back and finished school but still became a guitarist!”
Greg said, “I don't think there was any sort of defining moment for me, but I've been interested in instruments and making music for as long as I can remember. In fact, I recall seeing Jimi Hendrix on TV when I was about 7, smashing his guitar into pieces on stage, I remember thinking that was pretty awesome and that maybe I'd do that one day. Have yet to though! Let's see what this album launch show brings…”
The launch event is “really special” to the band, shared Greg, in light of the album’s inception during a period that was life-altering for many, as well as the effort involved in creating it.
“We’ve put a lot of time and energy into the writing, and we were recently discussing how it’s been there through such a turbulent time and such a changing point in everybody’s lives at the same time, during Covid. Over the two, two-and-a-half years that we were writing there is so much that happened, and I think that’s what makes it so much more personal to all of us. But also, it’s something that we knew we didn’t have to finish in a rush so we all really put our time and effort into perfecting and crafting it properly. We didn’t even start recording the album until we knew that we had had the songs down.”
Expect all-original music from Karman Line’s debut album, the kind of material that Greg said would strike a chord with hardcore rock fans.
Is it difficult to compete with cover bands, a popular concept in UAE?
“I don’t think it’s harder to get noticed; I think when people are making original music, it’s appreciated and it kind of cuts through the noise of the cover bands.”
Like A Machine was recorded and mixed by producer Sandeep Sequeria in Dubai and mastered by award-winning engineer Andy ‘Hippy’ Baldwin, who has worked with the likes of The Who and Blur.
Some of the band balancing day jobs with music also meant the recording process took a while, said Greg, who used to work at a creative agency in a typical 9-to-5 (or 9-to-11, he joked) situation, but eventually took out more time to focus on music.
“Although it’s a big priority, we had to take it in parts, and even when we went into the studio we knew we didn’t want to rush it. So everything that you will hear on the record is the product of a lot of time and careful effort.”
The band is not signed to any record label and going the independent way has its perks, admitted Greg. “We recorded the album independently and I think that’s a cool thing, because we’re not really tied to doing things other people want us to do and any sort of creative restrictions.”
The band is looking forward to performing at The Fridge as part of the album launch, and expressed hope for a resurgence of the live rock scene in the country, which Greg said was “pretty good” at one point.
While Frank shared that they were all “really excited” to get back on stage, Greg added, “I’m super looking forward to playing everything that we’ve written, just to kind of showcase what we’re so excited about and hopefully other people will be as excited as us to hear it (laughs).”
Both Greg, a long-time resident of the UAE, and Frank, who has lived here for five years, feel the country does present unique opportunities for independent musicians and bands. But there is a flip side as well.
Frank said, “I feel it’s a good starting platform. We see few original bands here and some of them are really good. They deserve better exposure, but it’s up to them really how to chase this, or how long to keep working on it.”
Greg believes there are two sides to the coin. “You know you have really good opportunities here because the talent pool is quite small, so often local bands get picked to do opener shows for bigger bands coming to the country whereas if you were in the United States, for example, that opportunity would be super rare to come by. At the same time, there isn’t much of an international eye on the scene here or in the Middle East in general so I think in that sense you get opportunities and it looks really good on your band’s resume, but then you can’t go the next mile because there’s no one really looking at it."
Karman Line will launch Like A Machine on May 9 at The Fridge. The night will feature other acts including Salt Tooth as well as WYWY. Keep an eye on the band's Instagram @karmanlinetheband for ticket details
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