Zero-Sum: Exclusive Interview with Insurgent


Midlands four-piece, Insurgent, met at the prestigious Birmingham BIMM institution opened by guest ribbon-cutter, Tony Iommi, as a college for British and Irish modern music in 2017. As a young quartet with prog metal and alternative rock influences, the group aim to spice up their powerful choruses and succinct compositions with a careful balance of technical brilliance and poignant song-writing. 

Fans of the djent guitar style will salivate at the mouth when they hear the axemanship of Joe Rowley, but admirers of Unleash the Archers will also be in seventh heaven when subjected to the powerful seduction of Kate Teitge’s vocals. Insurgent write cerebral music with enigmatic metaphors about the shallow narcissism of the modern age and the divisive nature of social media. Labyrinthine guitar hooks and bubbling bass grooves sit in the pocket of the drumbeats like coins in a slot machine. It’s sophisticated yet also gives the illusion of simplicity. You can see why the organisers at Bloodstock hand-picked them to play at the prestigious festival in August.

We spoke to the quartet about the recording of their debut Sentient EP and the meaning behind the songs. As you will see, this is a precocious band with a lot to say and an admirable willingness to keep learning their craft.

Insurgent: (Left to right): Kate Teitge (vocals), Jake Brette (bass), Joe Rowley (guitar), Mike Tabone (drums).

Let’s start with the origins of the band when you all met in music college. Tell us more about the music college where you studied, and the vision you had for the band after your first rehearsal together as a quartet.

Band: “So, we met at BIMM Birmingham, shortly after the first term had started. Joe was in search of a band and started to jam with Mike and Jake, and it very quickly followed that Katie’s voice would be perfect to front the four-piece. The vision for the band was (and still is) to create a sound that blends catchy, infectious vocal melodies with crushing rhythmic instrumentation, and we think we delivered that with our debut EP.”

The level of musicianship is indeed high, but the listener will also notice the song-writing strengths on your debut EP. How does a typical Insurgent chorus emerge from the genesis of a song?

Joe: “Thank you!  We always try to avoid letting ‘musicianship’ get in the way of a good song. Sure, we are all fairly capable musicians, but there’s not much point in having that capability if you don’t know when to tone it down to serve the song in the best way. Choruses tend to be the last ingredient to a song, largely because they normally begin with a riff idea and the chords in the chorus are often based on the note choice in the riff.”

Yes, the prog-metal/djent influence is notable in the guitar approach on this EP. Who are you influences as a guitarist?

Joe: “I’d say my main influence is definitely Mark Tremonti. I love how he manages to deliver heavy riffs that aren’t too complicated or convoluted but remain unique at the same time. I’m also a massive Dimebag fan – his grooves are still yet to be topped in my opinion. I’d also mention guitarists such as Mark Holcomb [Periphery], Wes Hauch [The Faceless/Black Crown Initiate/Alluvial] and Jim Root [Slipknot] as influences on my song writing and guitar playing as they’re totally just awesome.”

Above: Guitarist, Joe Rowley.

Question for Kate Teitge: Your expert use of the falsetto and head voice on ‘Zero-Sum’ is phenomenal. How would you describe your singing style and what kind of training do you do to keep your voice in peak condition?

Kate: “Well, I’m classically trained, but after singing metal for the past few years, I’ve got a bit of a mixture going on between harsh and soft! I do a lot of sirens during warmups, which I find helps a lot when reaching big notes! Other than that, there is probably a lot I should do that I don’t!”

Alternative rock is a clear influence on your music, but you ground it in the technicality of metal. Why do you think alternative rock looks towards prog-metal these days for reinvigoration?

Band: “That’s a very good observation. It’s so difficult nowadays to write a song with standard timings, melodies, and structures without just sounding like a copycat band, so turning to these concepts can help with finding that edge in your sound that no other band has found before. It’s a tricky balance though because it’s all too easy to go off the rails and sound a little too weird… if that’s possible?”

Of course, the city where you’re based could be considered the global capital of metal music. What pressures, if any, does basing yourselves in Birmingham have on the expectations people transfer onto your music?

Band: “Funnily enough, the pressure doesn’t feel massive! Sure, there are some big bands from Birmingham, but we like to think we can stand on our own two feet regardless. That said, there are some great up-and-coming bands from this city; Netherhall, Axiom and Take Breath to name just a few. Maybe the city does have something special about it. Who knows!”

You decided to write the songs on Sentient from the perspective of a God-like figure. Can you give us a brief two-sentence summary of the meaning of each song below?

Zero-Sum

“This song is written as a critique of society as a whole; we act as if happiness is a ‘zero-sum game’, meaning that for one person to be happy, another person must suffer. Global suffering continues on a daily basis so that we can live a comfortable life, and the song aims to challenge the idea that one person is worth any more than another. The menacing guitar riffs, followed by the uplifting choruses, serves as a metaphor for the difference between the evil of society today and the good that we can achieve if we strive for equality.”

Counterpart

“‘Counterpart’ describes the struggle that people endure to show the truest versions of themselves and the societal obstructions that make it difficult for people to present themselves in the way they wish. The chorus is told from the perspective of someone who has transcended these boundaries and feels no need to adhere to the guidelines that society places on us.”

Dogma

“‘Dogma’ is told from the perspective of an egotistical individual who believes only in having things the way they like regardless of the consequences to themselves or others. The quietened, sadistic vocals exemplify the temptation that is faced by many to act in a negative, self-interested way despite knowing that, in the end, nobody is better off from this behaviour. The selfish attitude of the lyrics is mimicked by the chaotic nature of the song.”

Colours Bleed

“‘Colours Bleed’ is a critique of modern society’s proclivity to lie and to present to the world an artificial version of themselves. The narrator sees through this facade and warns of the devastating consequences of living a life of deceit. The finale of the song recounts the final words of the narrator as he challenges human society to do away with its falsities and live a life of meaning.”

Eclipse

“This song serves as a warning for the future as people begin to replace their true identities with their online personas. The lyrics warn that true authenticity and real personalities will be ‘eclipsed’ by our online replicas, known as the ‘reflections we can’t reclaim’. The groove and feel of the song are indications of the arrogance with which society approaches technological developments without fear of repercussion. The wide-open bridge section represents the ‘eclipse’ that we, as a society, should be striving to avoid at all costs.”

My Sentence Awaits

“This track is the finale of the EP. The narrator feels a sense of hopelessness as he realises that despite his best efforts, he has made a society that values everything he stands against. The song then goes on to reflect on the fact that the narrator himself is responsible for the failings of modern-day society, and, as such, he should practice what he preaches and take responsibility for his shortcomings and do what he can to be the best possible version of himself.”

Thank you for that fascinating summary. Another observation for you: The guitar work on Sentient is ideal for harsh vocals as well as powerful rock vocals. What plans do you have to explore the more extreme vocal style on your next release?

Band: “That’s a difficult one. We want to keep our music accessible to a wide range of audiences (without watering it down), so it’s difficult to know when and where to place harsh vocals. But it is definitely something we have given consideration to. They may appear one day, who knows!”

Our readers will want to know what the future plans are for your band. How much work is underway on your next release, and will it be a full-length album?

Band: “We are looking to get back into the studio asap. We won’t be doing an album until we have the proper funding to do so, but we will continue to release music, probably in single or EP format. We have new songs ready, and they sound killer, so that’s something for the fans to be excited about!”

Yes, there’s a real buzz about your band at the moment. How much of your efforts over the next year will go towards showcasing your music to established record labels?

Band: “Our focus is to just keep putting out great music and playing great shows. Hopefully, if we keep doing that, the right people will see it! We will of course be making efforts to contact labels, management etc… but we hope that the music speaks for itself on that front!”

How important is live performance to the identity and sustainability of the band?

Band: “Live performance is really important to us. There are no gimmicks or tricks at our shows – we just aim for a real connection with the people in front of us! The best live shows are the ones where you can forget about the real world for a bit and just enjoy the show, and we hope we deliver that.”

Final question: In your opinion, which of the following has been the most beneficial to musicians over the last three years and why?

  • Patreon
  • Bandcamp
  • Twitch
  • Facebook
  • Big Cartel
  • You Tube

Band: “Bandcamp is awesome. We only just started using it, and we’ve already received several orders from people that we’ve never met, halfway across the world! Social media is a great thing, but the problem is that it is oversaturated, whereas Bandcamp seems to show your music to a good handful of people! We will be launching our Patreon soon, so we will have to keep you posted on that one!”


*** Insurgent self-released their Sentient EP on 6 August 2021. You can read the original SBR review here. ***