Last month, Maidstone’s Silence Remains announced a name change to Congress and released their new song ‘Clarity.’ Ready to burst out of the UK into Europe, I went to talk to the band’s energetic frontman Theo Halpern about the band’s upcoming dates in Europe, the name change, the local scene and their history.
Theo Halpern (vocals): Things are going really great. We’ve had an amazing amount of positive feedback since our recent name change and the release of our newest single ‘Clarity’. Things are looking very positive.
Jack: Why did you change your name to Congress?
Theo: So, for many of us, Silence Remains was a name that we had worked under since we were about fourteen years old. With that in mind we wanted to almost re-boot or re-brand the band with a new name that we view as more mature and more fitting to the style of music. As a name it is blunt and almost cold, like the new sound.
Jack: This is your second name change (you were originally called Deadzone and Silence Remains); do you think these name changes are damaging your career?
Theo: I wouldn’t call the first one a real name change. In essence, Silence Remains was a new band, but no, if anything the recent change has enhanced our career and band profile with new hype being generated around our music.
Jack: You recently lost original bassist John Weightman. Why did he leave?
Theo: Although John initially remained part of the band after beginning his first year at University it became far too impossible to have full practices and play shows with the full line-up and so after a while we mutually made the decision to part ways. It wasn’t an easy decision and we remain close as ever.
Jack: How did you find replacement Billy Kent and how is he doing?
Theo: So, Billy had been a long-time friend of our band, he ran merch for us a lot and was basically the sixth member of the group; he’d even filled in for John at some shows nearer to John’s departure and so when the position opened up there was no real question as to auditioning others; Billy knew the parts, played them well; as he continues to do both on record and live.
Jack: Despite the name change, will you still be playing material from Silence Remains’ Milestones EP (reviewed here). If you are still playing it, will it be temporary until Congress releases some more material?
Theo: A lot of the tracks from the Milestones EP still feature in our live set, all but a couple I think. People know them and we don’t have enough material under our new identity to fill out a set list. Either way, as soon as new material gets written they will eventually be removed from the set list one by one. I think I can speak for all the others when I say that we are getting tired and bored of those old tracks; we know we can do better.
Jack: Will you ever consider playing any covers live?
Theo: I don’t know, maybe on one off special occasions but definitely not as part of our regular setlists. It’s much more enjoyable to play your own material and it’s never good to become known as ‘that band that play that cover’.
Jack: Back to Milestones, why did you release the digital download for free?
Theo: As a band we’ve never been about making a huge profit, we sell our merch for very cheap and at the time it just made sense to release the record for free. It was our first big release and we needed to get as many downloads as possible; naturally the best way to achieve that was to make it free.
Jack: As Congress, your new single ‘Clarity’ sounds more melodic than Silence Remains. Was this new direction intentional?
Theo: No, I don’t think it was. We certainly set about writing the new material with new ideas and lessons learned from Milestones. I remember things being said like ‘less boring breakdowns, more riffs’ and so I suppose we just tried to write music that we enjoyed and ‘Clarity’ was the result. If other people enjoy it then great!
Jack: You scream about walking out of the darkness at the end of ‘Clarity’, what are the lyrics about?
Theo: ‘Clarity’ is a track that is essentially about looking back in hindsight on the darker times of one’s life. I guess that’s the easiest way to put it.
Jack: When can we see a full release from Congress?
Theo: We’ll be taking some time over Christmas to write new material, however that certainly won’t be a full-length, perhaps a new EP? Who can say? We do have some unreleased material already recorded as the counterpart to ‘Clarity’, which should be released soon enough.
Jack: Are you going to release it DIY or try and find a label?
Theo: As a band we’ve always been about DIY. I guess that’s because we can’t really afford professional help but we like the ethos of it. If a label we like came forward with a great offer I’m not saying we wouldn’t take it, but I imagine once again, it will be a self-release.
Jack: What are your influences as a band?
Theo: We all listen to a wide variety of music, not just Hardcore or Metal, but for me personally, especially lyrically, bands such as Counterparts, The Ghost Inside, Defeater and Departures as well as more punk orientated bands like Dead Harts or Rotting Out.
Jack: Does each individual member bring something different to the table?
Theo: Since we started writing Milestones we’ve written as a collective, rather than one member having written a track and taking it to the others so I guess the answer is yes; there are stressful times when no one has any creativity at all, but others in which everyone contributes at once, which always has the best result.
Jack: Despite all being based in the Kent area, is it hard fitting the band in around jobs/studying?
Theo: I’m sure any band would answer this with yes; it can be frustrating as hell but you work through it and that’s where organisation is key so everything is planned far in advance.
Jack: Are there any plans to tour?
Theo: We’re actually just finalising the booking of our first ever Euro Weekender, if you can call that a tour, I guess it’s a mini-tour, with our old friends in Whale Belly and new friends in Bones to Dust from Belgium. German bands Deliverer and Mel. T Eyes will be joining us for some of those shows and there will be plenty more tours afterwards (info for Belgium show is here with the other shows on the band’s Facebook page).
Jack: What has your stand out show been so far in your career?
Theo: For me, either our show at the Forum in Tunbridge Wells (reviewed here) – the sound was fantastic, two of the bands bailed last minute so we had an hour long soundcheck, and the crowd response was great – or our most recent show at the Rock Avenue Club in Gillingham (reviewed here), every time we play there the crowd response is great and the whole place has a really DIY feel to it. That was the first show we had played since releasing ‘Clarity’ and it was amazing to have so many people shouting the words back at me, really inspiring stuff, the fact that anyone has bothered to learn anything I’ve written is crazy.
Jack: Is there an ideal festival or venue you want to play?
Theo: I guess any festival would be great, but to name a few, Hevy Fest, Red Fest and of course Download and Sonisphere.
Jack: Your relationship with other Kent bands Avokan and Near Ruin has been a long standing one, how important is it to make friends with other bands?
Theo: Being in a band is about having fun and making friends, naturally some of these are in other bands. I guess it’s important in the sense that they can help get good slots at good shows but regardless of importance, it just happens, unless you are a band made up of arseholes I imagine it’s pretty hard not to make friends in local, underground music, that’s the best bit.
Jack: What is your opinion of the local scene in Medway/Kent?
Theo: There was a time (when we first started playing shows) when the local scene was quite good, big bands would headline all-dayers, giving bands like ours the chance to develop a fan base and progress but that stagnated a couple of years ago. I do think however, that the Rock Avenue guys have really succeeded in reviving a scene that I considered all but dead, at least for Medway. As I said, every show they put on packs out, the kids come out to have a good time and don’t care what they look like or what others think, a prejudice that I always hated at local gigs. Of course, there are other venues that keep the scene alive but right now, I would say local heavy music is alive and well.
Jack: Are there any unsigned bands that you can recommend?
Theo: There is so much talent in unsigned music right now; to name a few aside from those already mentioned, Doubt, Glacial Black, Prevailer, Five Days Time, Then The Wave Came and Roaming Arizona. There are quite a few upcoming bands that I’d look out for, Southpaw being one. Slightly bigger ones that influence my writing would be bands like Road to Manila; I don’t know if they’re unsigned or not… they never used to be.
Jack: What do you think of the state of modern metalcore and post-hardcore? Do you think it has become stagnant and boring?
Theo: I mean, like any genre it has a lot of frankly rubbish bands floating around, namely everything that Rise Records is churning out these days with the exception of a few acts, but there are also some really fantastic bands smashing it on the world stage. If you want an example of a really great band that are pushing the Post-Hardcore genre to new places then just look at Letlive.
Jack: Kosta V. of the thrash metal band Hatriot recently said: “Metalcore bands deserve some credit for metal’s resurgence.” Do you think metalcore and post-hardcore bands are given an unfair reputation?
Theo: I think yes, certainly by strictly Hardcore fans. A lot of people are very quick to judge bands simply by the style they follow without checking them out as individual acts. We all listen to hardcore bands as well as good metalcore bands, I guess you can hear it in our music, but unfortunately a lot of people simply dislike a genre because it’s not as trendy as it used to be, metalcore being the prime example.
Jack: Have you encountered any prejudice as a band due to your genre?
Theo: I can’t say we have off the top of my head, I suppose that’s because we’re one of the more Hardcore oriented bands in our area and that’s the ‘in’ thing at the moment. Oh, there was one time some deathcore bands weren’t impressed when we said we like The Ghost Inside, but I’m not sure that counts really.
Jack: Finally, will you ever change your name again or is Congress going to stick?
Theo: We’re all happy with the new name, we’d been considering the change since we were actually recording Milestones over a year and a half ago so I can’t see it changing any time soon. The only foreseeable complication is that there was another Belgian band called Congress back in the 90s, which we didn’t know when we made the change. So we put the full stop at the end of our name to spice it up. Maybe it will change at some point in the future; who can say?
‘Clarity’ is available as a free download here.
Milestones is available as a free download here.