Interview with: Oli Bowker (vox/guitar), Martin Gray (bass/vox), Fraser MacIntosh (guitar) and Dave Cumming (drums)
Interview by Jessica Plumb
Hey, thank you for your time today and I hope you’re all well and staying safe sound throughout COVID 19. Can you please state your name and position in the band?
(OB) Thanks, you too. I’m Oli, I sing and play guitar.
(FM) I’m Fraser, or ‘Fuzz’ for short, lead guitar.
(MG) Martin, I play bass and sing.
(DC) I’m Dave and I’m the drummer.
You’ve been playing the UK live circuit since 2011. How did you guys all meet?
(OB) Myself, original guitarist Stevie and bassist Iain previously played in a band together, we formed A Ritual Spirit when that band split. We jammed with several drummers until Dave sat on the stool, and knew instantly he was the man for the job. We self-recorded our first demo in 2010 and played our first show in January 2011.
[DC] Yeah I knew Stevie from a previous band. We lost touch for years but thanks to the internet and social media we caught up again. He invited me along to jam and help the guys write and record their demo while they continued looking for a full-time drummer. I think we’re still looking!
(OB) It’s definitely about time we made it official.
(MG) I had known Oli and Dave for a few years due to playing in another band on the live circuit. They asked me to join in 2016 and here we are.
(FM) I was first introduced to Oli by a close friend and singer from my other band, we chilled at his place one night in late 2018, talked music and listened to Alice in Chains records which was awesome! That same friend then shared a post a month or so later by A Ritual Spirit saying they were holding auditions for a lead guitarist. I thought “f*ck it, I’ll throw my hat in the ring” and auditioned, at which point I also met Martin and Dave. The audition went well, though I do distinctly remember Oli and I missing our turn-off from the Edinburgh bypass on the way back to my flat! In January 2019 I was recruited and the rest, as they say, is history.
(OB) Ha! Yeah, we got talking about analogue consoles and vinyl records and I totally missed our exit! Glad you still joined the band after that knowing I’d be driving you around.
What is the meaning behind the band name?
(FM) From what I’ve been told, the process of coming up with names consisted of the boys picking words out of a hat until they found something they liked. “Ritual Spirit” was the one that stuck and the “A” at the start was added so the initials would spell “ARS”, that’s too good an opportunity to pass up!
(OB) You’ve got part of the story right, we did pick words out of a hat at one point but what came from that were along the lines of “Sonic Death Squirrel” and “Alien Sound Spoon”. Ritual Spirit was suggested out of the blue later, and yeah I added the “A” for comedy value!
[DC] I don’t actually know what it means, I just like shortening it to ARS with an added “e” on the end!
(OB) We’ve tried to steer clear of telling folk this for years now! When the name was first suggested we all just liked the sentiment behind the words. I think people should have their own interpretations of these things but since Massive Attack ‘stole’ it for the name of an EP a while back the cat’s sort of been let out of the bag… do a bit of research into 90s counterculture and you’ll soon find out what it means. Also, ARS is an old unit of measurement equivalent to a forearm – I have a tattoo inspired by our first album cover on my forearm just to perpetuate the ritual of the spirit and the spirit of the ritual.
Have you been in bands previously?
(MG) Yeah, a few, but nothing as cool at this.
(OB) I’m into double figures.
[DC] Yeah, like most drummers, ARS(e) isn’t my only current band. I’ve been doing this a few years now. My first band started after a drunken party at a friend’s house – standard band forming procedure! We recorded 3 albums and toured the UK and into Germany a few times. Towards the end of that band, I joined another band that needed a drummer to help them record some music. Another 3 albums under my belt I quit them to focus more on ARS. I’ve since been back in the studio to help out on a record with those guys and they’re releasing that as we speak.
(FM) Yes! My first band was a college band and we only ever played two gigs, one of them was at Belladrum Tartan Heart festival though so that was pretty cool. I also have a band called Red Larsen which was formed in 2016 and consists of me and some awesome dudes I met at Uni. We play a mixture of stoner rock, grunge and heavy metal with some influences from rap, psychedelia and odd time signatures aplenty. I also play bass in a groove metal project which is still in its infancy at the minute.
When did you first start getting into music and know you wanted to join a band?
(OB) Music’s been with me my whole life, I knew I wanted to play in a band from a young age, 7 or 8 years old. I started playing guitar at 11 and formed my first band at 13.
[DC] I’ve always enjoyed music, my folks even had me at guitar lessons for a while. It was the first year of high school, 11 years old, that I picked up the sticks and found something that I actually wanted to play. A mate got lessons and I went along to support him, plus it meant ditching English, Maths, Science, PE and all the other important subjects I should have tried harder at! The same mate introduced me to the likes of Iron Maiden and Mötley Crüe, and that’s when I thought, I want to do this.
(FM) I’d say around the age of 15 I fell in love with the heavier genres of rock. It was my experience of playing in bands at college that sparked my desire to form my own band and going to uni to study music gave me a great platform to do that.
(MG) I had been singing since I was around 6, but never picked up an instrument until I was 16. Ever since learning to blast out a track in my bedroom, I couldn’t wait to get on a stage.
You’re releasing a new video from your new EP The Antidote and it’s a “lockdown” video. What would you like to tell our readers about the track and the concept behind the video?
(OB) Broken/Disappear is a fairly autobiographical track, it began as a poem I wrote called ‘The Broken’ and developed into lyrics for the song. Several lines from the original poem appear in the lyrics. I won’t elaborate too much, I like folk to find their own meaning in my lyrics rather than searching for mine. As for the video, we made it ourselves from all the live and behind the scenes footage we have, it documents the past year and a half, since Fraser joined the band. It was fun to make and we’re pretty happy with how it turned out.
(FM) Yeah, it’s a quirky little number with a heavy alternative/psychedelic rock vibe. I still have PTSD from trying to track the solo in the studio when we were recording, let’s just say it was a bit of a b*stard to tackle! The video features our own footage and material kindly offered by several of the bands we’ve toured with and some of the videographers who have caught us at gigs. Massive kudos to Oli for basically putting the whole thing together himself.
(OB) It was a group effort, I just did most of the work!
Through this difficult time of lockdown have you learned a new skill, or inspiration in writing new tracks for future?
(OB) Yeah, I learned how to video edit! I’ve been playing around with video for a while now but had to take it several steps further for the Broken/Disappear video. I also did an online course for 6 weeks, I’m now a qualified EFL teacher.
(MG) I’ve written a lot of lyrics during lockdown but I’m yet to put them to music.
(FM) It’s been uni assessments for me, one was to do with improving and expanding my lyric writing abilities and I ended up getting decent marks so yeah, I’d say so! I’ve also experimented with writing tracks using a whacky guitar tuning – D, F#, A, E, A, C# – from top to bottom string, which was interesting!
[DC] Hell no! Sadly I’ve still been able to work from home, although I very much appreciate being in this position as well. In saying that I’ve been maintaining and modifying the band van so I suppose I could add “learning how NOT to spray paint bodywork” to my list of skills!
What’s the first thing you will do once lockdown is over?
(OB) Go to Bannermans, one of our local venues, buy a cold beer and watch some live music.
[DC] Hug the guys at the first band practice!
(MG) Yeah, hug everyone when it’s safe to.
(FM) Hug my grandmother.
(OB) Oh so now I’m the guy that thinks about getting a beer instead of hugging someone, cheers boys!
What’s your favourite track from The Antidote EP?
[DC] ‘Sacrifice’ because I got to roll the glass bottle and smash it for the intro! I like breaking or burning things!
(OB) Probably ‘Dead From The Waist Down’, it’s by far the oldest track on the EP, it’s actually the second-ever song I wrote for A Ritual Spirit and it appears on our 2010 demo. Bryan Ramage (Ramage Inc) did a great job of producing us and how the track ended up with Martin’s sexy bassline under the vocal refrain in the pre-choruses and the “choir of Ramage” at the end is way beyond how I ever imagined it sounding… we didn’t actually credit Ramage for his vocal performance there, but that “choir” is several layers of him coming at you all at once!
(FM) Oli might be cross at me for saying this but I like ‘Celebrity’ the most. For me, it’s the most compositionally ambitious track on the EP.
(MG) Yeah ‘Celebrity’, but that’s just narcissism as I’m lead vocal on that track.
(OB) ‘Celebrity’ is a great track, having Martin take over lead vocal duties for a song adds a whole new element to the band and Ellen’s (Kilonova) guest appearance just gives it that added extra edge. Funny that none of us have mentioned the next single ‘Broken/Disappear’… lets put that down to how many times we’ve heard it recently while making the video!
What makes this EP different from your previous releases?
(MG) It’s full of new ideas due to the addition of Fraser to the band. We’re still essentially the same band but Fraser’s technique really stands out.
[DC] I’d say it’s a different band, all of the guys have brought something different to the end product. The lead singer doesn’t always take lead vocal duties which you may or may not hear more of. The backing vocals are better. The guitar solos are better. No offence to the previous folk we’ve worked with, but it was nice, and hard work, having a producer that suggested changes and improvements that suited our end product.
(OB) You will definitely be hearing more of Martin’s vocals on the next record!
(FM) I’m probably not the best one to answer this since “The Antidote” was the first ARS release that I was around for. Musically I would say its more eclectic in terms of its soundscapes. I think it draws on a wider range of influences than, for example, the 2013 album “Carnival Carnivorous”. Not saying it’s better or worse, just that it sounds a bit more varied to my ear.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
(FM) I think we are condemned to forever roam the void between hard rock and heavy metal. While we do enjoy incorporating our fair share of metal-centric riffage in our music, we’re not consistently heavy enough to be considered exclusively heavy metal because we also feature quiet, soft sections to juxtapose the heavy parts.
(OB) In short, we’re a grunge band with a metal drummer.
[DC] My immediate response was always grunge but listening back to the latest release, I’m not sure there’s even that much grunge in there any more.
(OB) And that’s why we refer to ourselves as heavy-rock!
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with, be it an artist/photographer
(OB) I’d love to write a record with Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, maybe get Jack Endino to produce it. I have a lot of respect for both those guys and to collaborate with either one of them would be a dream.
What is the procedure of producing a new album/EP? Do you have a set way of doing things?
[DC] It’s pretty much always the same for me. I sit back and let the musicians write everything. Sometimes the guys come in with some drum ideas, sometimes I just play along with the riffs that they’ve brought to the table until we hear something that we all like.
(OB) Martin, Fraser and myself are all writing material for our second album at the moment. It’s the first time we’ve ever had three people writing for the band and I’m really excited about how it’s going to turn out. We’ve used different studios for the two records we currently have out there, I think it’s good to mix things like that up a bit, but we’ve developed a great working relationship with Ramage and the new tracks are sounding like the kind of thing he’ll sink his teeth into so there’s every chance you’ll see him in the producer seat for album number two.
What has been your favourite gig to date and why?
(OB) I’ve been fortunate enough to play some fairly big gigs, I can’t decide my favourite but it’s between London Astoria in 2008 or Download Festival 2009 in the previous band. In A Ritual Spirit without a doubt, it’s Bloodstock Festival 2018. All of them were incredible experiences.
[DC] Obviously Bloodstock with these guys, which was just a blast. So well run by a great crew backstage that helped us relax and enjoy the experience. Even had my own drum tech for the duration!
(FM) With A Ritual Spirit, I’d probably have to say Trillians in Newcastle, April 2019. It was the last night of the tour and the atmosphere was electric. The headliner’s Kilonova got all the touring bands up on stage during their last song and everyone went absolutely mental, it was awesome! After the gig a few of us stuck around the venue and got pished, talked absolute boll**ks and it was fantastic. Then, to cap the night off, I discovered on the way back to the hotel that tuna on pizza is a heavenly combination and now without a doubt my favourite pizza topping!
(OB) That was a messy end of the tour, still the most drunk I’ve seen Fraser to date.
Where do you draw your influences from when it comes to producing new music/lyrics?
(OB) Creativity usually comes in phases for me, I can write two songs in a day then not write anything for months afterwards. I tend to write from the heart so, I guess if there’s something I need to get out of my system I write a song about it. I used to write lyrics every night when I was younger, a lot of them were crap but I still dip into those books from time to time if I need help with a line or two for a new tune and usually find something I can use or adapt.
(FM) How long have you got? Short version – I love writing music that combines the rawness and aggression of heavy grunge, the groove and psychedelic atmosphere of stoner rock along with the complexity and intricacy of more progressive arrangements. Some key bands that I owe my music writing style to are Kyuss, Alice in Chains, Orange Goblin, Toska, Black Stone Cherry, Stoned Jesus and Truckfighters.
Is it difficult balancing out being in a band with a ‘normal working life’?
(MG) Absolutely. Working Monday to Friday, being a dad and fitting in time with the guys can be taxing. But it’s all worth it!
[DC] Playing in a band, or three, has always been part of my weekly routine, like going to work but less often. Thankfully my day job allows me to take individual holiday days and I’m not fixed to taking a week or two at a time like some, so I can spread them out over the year allowing me to tour over multiple long weekends when needed.
(OB) Yeah, I’m a chef which is pretty tough in itself but like Dave, I can take the odd day here and there for a gig or mini-tour.
(FM) I don’t have a ‘normal working life’ being a student, and this may be quite naive of me but I think I’ll always make time to do the things that I’m passionate about. It’ll be difficult at times, I know that, but I also believe that it’ll be 100% worth it.
What is the music scene like where you are based in Edinburgh?
(MG) Great scene in Edinburgh, so much talent around and, for the most part, everyone is in it together and helps each other out.
(OB) Yeah,32 there are some awesome bands here, we don’t see so many bigger touring bands with Glasgow being on the usual tour schedule but we have plenty of local venues to play and the underground rock and metal scene is thriving.
Do you think image is important when being in a band?
(MG) It shouldn’t be. But it can be. What?
(OB) I don’t like this question.
(FM) I think it is and it’s important to look professional as well as sound professional, but I also think that image should always be second to the actual music itself. This is a very personal opinion, and a lot of people may disagree, but I would always rather see a band that looked shabby but sounded on point than the other way around.
(OB) Let’s build a world where bankers walk around in ripped jeans and rockers wear suits and see if image matters then.
What is it like touring?
(OB) I love it.
(MG) It’s exciting but tiring. And sore.
(FM) In a word, liberating. For me touring is a time when it’s about the music, the camaraderie and the patter, nothing else matters. It’s like dedicating X amount of days to doing what I love and it’s the most incredible feeling.
[DC] For me it’s a bit like going on a short beer-drinking holiday with the lads, but with the added bonus of playing music. I don’t like the bit in between setting up all the gear and then waiting to get on stage and play. That’s when you might accidentality drink too much beer and play a messy show.
(OB) Said like a true drummer!
What was it like winning Metal 2 The Masses Glasgow and being able to play Bloodstock in 2018?
(MG) Insane. And doubly such for me as my son was born the day we won M2TM. I was going to pull out of the show but the midwife told me that fathers don’t get to stay in the hospital overnight, so with my wife’s blessing, I played the show. And what a way to celebrate becoming a dad!
(OB) Bloodstock was fantastic, it’s a great festival and was an honour to play. The whole M2TM set up is great, we’ve met so many people through it, some we can now call friends.
(FM) I wasn’t in the band at that point but was actually at the final as an audience member. I didn’t even know who A Ritual Spirit was at the time, but I loved their style. Who’d have thunk that twelve months later I’d be in the band and sharing that same stage with Oli, Dave and Martin at the following year’s M2TM final as guest headliners?! Crazy times.
Is there anyone or anywhere you would like to play and haven’t yet?
(OB) I’ve only toured the UK and Ireland so the rest of the world really. Realistically a European tour or festival appearance is very high on the agenda. If the man gives us a visa that is!
(FM) The Glasgow Hydro. Is that too ambitious?
(OB) The world is an oyster dude.
(MG) Your oyster.
(OB) Only with a pint of Guinness.
(MG) Not sure where to go with that!
(OB) To the Hydro!
How do you think the music industry has changed over the years?
(OB) Some parts have become more accessible and other parts have become pretty much obsolete. It’s not even the music industry any more really, it’s a collection of music industries. The dream I had growing up isn’t even a feasible one these days, the idealist in me wants to revert back to pre-streaming and downloads and youtube when bands retained so much more mystery than they do now, but the realist embraces the fact that we have the opportunity to run our own label and access fans on the other side of the world with relative ease.
What genres of music do you like to listen to personally? Any bands that have caught your attention recently?
[DC] Thanks to Spotify, I’ve recently found Killus, but as a general rule I like thrash. Anything that’s got some good drums and riffs normally grabs my attention.
(OB) The last band to have an impact on me was Alien Weaponry, they played Bloodstock the same year we did and completely blew me away. Reminded me of Silverchair but heavier.
(FM) I have a deep-rooted connection with pop-punk and I still love it as much now as I did back in school. Aside from that, I’ll pretty much listen to anything that’s heavy – the bands I tend to gravitate mostly towards are from the grunge, stoner rock and melodic or progressive metal genres.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start a band?
[DC] Find a drummer that is available and interested first, then start a band!
(FM) I would say if you’re serious about wanting to do something with a band – gig, record etc – make sure that all the other members are on the same page. Other than that, just try to have fun, write and perform music that you’re passionate about.
(OB) You’ve seen the meme “A musician is someone who loads £1000 worth of equipment into a £500 car to earn £50” right? Yeah that, but make it a van.
(DC) Find a drummer with a van and you’re laughing
What are the pro’s/cons of being in a band?
(FM) For me, there aren’t really any cons. Sure, there are difficult scenarios that may present themselves but at the end of the day, we’re doing what we do because we love doing it.
[DC] Friendship. Big pro. You meet some great people while in a band, including your bandmates. Unfortunately, you also meet some ARSeholes at the same time. Our last couple of tours have been with the same few bands and it’s great to develop friendships with them during the time on the road. Sometimes you wish you had booked longer tours to spend more time with these people and see them play every night for several weeks on the trot.
What do you like to do outside of music? Any hobbies?
(OB) I’m a mad keen fisherman, I love getting out to the rivers and lochs and casting a line.
(MG) I watch a lot of football. I used to play a lot too but don’t have the time now.
(FM) I enjoy playing basketball and am an occasional parkour practitioner. I am also a huge nerd and love geeking out about things, musical or otherwise, be it anime, Marvel, animals, art, space, time, the very concept of existence within the great cosmic flow of the universe. Anything really.
[DC] I have a Star Wars Lego addiction that’s getting out of control!
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
(MG) Work on as much of the next record as we can. It’s hard during lockdown not being able to be in the same room but we can write bits and pieces ourselves and then put them together.
(OB) Yeah we’re hoping to have the new album out in 2021 so just working towards that and getting back gigging again if we’re allowed to.
(FM) I’ll try, and fail, to not get too upset at the lack of gigs. Also, figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life now that I’ve finished my uni course.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
(MG) Thanks for checking us out and hopefully we can come play live for you all soon!
(FM) Stay safe in these unprecedented times and stay metal \m/. Cheers for reading!