Psycroptic's Dave Haley: Walking the Walk

"At the end of the day I’m there to serve the riff. That’s my job, I’m a glorified metronome".

Dave Haley is one of the most significant figures in the Australian metal scene. Not only does the Tasmanian drummer play in a host of bands, most notably Psycroptic, but he is also working constantly behind the scenes in touring and promotion. Direct Touring; the company associated with, has been responsible for bringing a lot of amazing bands to our shores throughout 2016. 2017 is looking to be an even bigger year however. The company is spearheading some amazing small scale festivals including Direct Underground and Thrash Blast and Grind, which features Psycroptic headlining amongst some great local and international talent. We caught up with Dave to talk about the festival as well as many of the other projects he’s been involved with recently...

Psycroptic is set to play next year’s Thrash Blast and Grind fest along with Revocation and some of the best Aussie metal bands going. What’s your involvement in Thrash Blast and Grind been so far? “The festival itself was spawned out of a conversation between Youngy from King Parrot and myself. We were just talking about how cool it would be to get out and tour again with each other. As the conversation went on it formed into a full Australian and New Zealand tour and we talked about adding on some bands and by the end of the conversation it had formed into its own mini-festival. The main thing is that this is an idea very much from the bands themselves and the whole thing being for the fans. It sounds cliché but it’s very much what it is.”

Following the demise of Soundwave, there’s been a scramble to fill the void it has left on the Australian touring calendar. Obviously Legion Festival was one example, but it seems like Direct Touring has stepped up with some smaller scale festivals focusing on local and underground talent. Do you think smaller festivals like Thrash Blast and Grind are going to become the norm? “If I knew that, I would book a lot more. The idea of this is to start small, put out the feelers and if the punters respond well we can eventually start to grow things. The thing with Soundwave is that they did so well for many years but I think where it came apart was the financials, they tried to make it bigger and better every year instead of taking a break or scaling down on certain elements to make it more viable. As for Legion Fest, I think they were more trying to take advantage of the opportunity rather than fully thinking through doing a festival. We’re definitely starting out small and being both manageable and affordable. From there we’ll hopefully continue it and build it over the years.”

In my experience in the metal scene, I haven’t really seen many bills that give equal footing to Australian and International bands like Thrash Blast and Grind does. Is this kind of thing a new development? “Not really. In a lot of people’s minds that perception was changed because of Soundwave and its really heavy focus on international bands. I mean, it’s their festival they can do what they want and they just chose to focus on predominantly international bands. It’s not really a new thing, but it’s time for the cycle to come back. I think both fans and the bands are starting to realise again that what’s going on here is as good and sometimes better that what’s going on internationally. Just because a band’s from overseas, doesn’t necessarily mean they have to headline.” 

It seems to me like more and more tours are popping up every year, yet there’s never a shortage of people bemoaning attendance numbers at shows. Would you say that the live circuit in Australia is doing well? “I think it’s doing quite well. There’s definitely been a lot more competition and over the years there’s been a lot more traffic in terms of bands touring. But all that means is that you’ve got to improve your product and what you’re offering to the market. It’s simple demand and supply. In pure business terms, the shows that punters deem the best are going to be better attended. I don’t see the increased touring as a bad thing at all. With the decreased record sales, bands need to tap into different revenue streams and that’s where touring comes into play. I think we’re going to be getting a lot more tours happening.”

Being involved with the promotional side of music as you are, how important would you say it is for musicians to get familiar with the business side of things? “Unfortunately it’s very important these days. I’d like to say that it wasn’t. Ironically I started working for myself so I’d have more time to practice my instrument but all it’s done is given me less time because of the amount of work I have to put into the business side behind the scenes. It’s kind of the nature of the beast at the moment, you do have to know where the money comes from. I’ve seen so many super talented musicians and bands that should be making a living off of music but aren’t because they’re not aware, or choose to ignore certain business aspects. As a result, they’ve got to go work a shitty job where they could be living off the band.” 

You’ve also just put out a new album with Ruins called Undercurrent. Can you tell me a bit about the making of that record? “Undercurrent probably started about 3 and half years ago. From memory, that’s when I tracked drums for the album but the music dates back further than that. Ruins is primarily Alex [Pope] and myself, Alex being the main songwriter of the band. He is the driving force and I guess I’m just along for the ride. When music is ready that’s when I get to do the fun stuff of going in and recording it. Alex isn’t too concerned with touring or playing live or even putting out albums, so if it were up to him the album would probably have never come out. It’s interesting how a Ruins album comes together. It’s usually down to people around him hassling him to get it out. As a band we’re usually in a cycle of writing or recording. Since Undercurrent has been released, I’m already hassling Alex for the next one because I know it will take forever to actually get it out. It’s a different band vibe as opposed to Psycroptic as we’re more focused on the album/touring cycle whereas Alex couldn’t give a shit about it.”

Along with Ruins, you’ve been involved with yet another project this year called King. Your debut Reclaim the Darkness seems to have gotten the band to national prominence in a rather short amount of time. How has the reaction been so far? “Again, King has been something that has been enjoyable for me. I didn’t know too much about the music before I signed on to do it, I was just happy to work with Tony Forde and Dave Hill because they’ve also been long term friends. They played me some of the demos and I was quite surprised because it was quite a departure from what I would have expected from them. They did give me some instruction on what they were after, but also gave me some free range in the drum department. At first I thought it would just be for the album, but then the opportunity for some live shows have presented themselves and that’s been fun so far. I’m pretty keen to do it for as long as I can.” 

You seem to have a reputation for keeping busy. This year alone you’ve been playing with at least three bands to my knowledge on the live circuit, pulling double duty and playing two sets in a row on some occasions. You’ve recorded two albums and have had a big hand in bringing bands like Immolation to our shores. I guess my question is, how do you keep yourself so motivated? “The bottom line is that it’s my job. The pay is shit, the hours are long but it’s fucking awesome. I just have to work hard, I’m in a position that a lot of people would love to be in. That’s a huge motivating factor. I can’t take what I do for granted. I see so many people in other jobs working equally hard. I feel I could do a lot more, let’s put it that way. I treat what I do very seriously, and I work as professionally as I can. I don’t like to say no to things, because that’s an opportunity that’s passed me by. I do feel very fortunate to have created this lifestyle for myself.”

Each band you play in is quite different in its style. How do you approach your drumming for each of these different bands? Is there a mindset you have to get into for them? “Well I always try to play for the song and the riff in particular and make it both as complimentary and interesting as I can. That’s always going to be dependent on the musicians that I’m playing with. As a drummer I’m always trying to improve and keep things interesting but at the end of the day I’m there to serve the riff. That’s my job, I’m a glorified metronome. Whatever the song calls for, that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.” 

He closes off the interview by saying how much he’s looking forward to next year. “2016 has been really great, but I’m always looking forward to the next thing. I’m excited for next February.”