Pagan don’t fit in. Never have. The quartet are straight-up insubordinate in regards to the rules and regulations of any particular genre one might hope to associate them with. They’re either the most accessible or melodic band on a heavy bill or the heaviest band on a mixed rock bill – there is never any in-between. All the same, the band itself reasons that there’s no point being fence-sitters: why not go to the extremities of genre confines? “Some people honestly wouldn’t believe the different kind of audiences we’ve played to,” says Nikki Brumen, who serves as the band’s lead vocalist.
“We’ve played at things like Unify Gathering just as much as we’ve played at things like Yours & Owls. I suppose it’s in the way that we market ourselves – we’ve never really been interested in giving ourselves a label. We’re not interested in being the next big black metal band. We don’t want to be the next Misfits or the next Sex Pistols. We don’t even really want to be associated with a genre. We’ve just moulded this band into just being something we all wanted to do.”
Forming in 2015, Pagan is a reflection of the common interests that the band members share, as well as the individual tastes of each musician. You’ll find elements of hardcore, black metal, rock and roll, and even a splash of post-punk within their sound – it’s a multi-faceted element of the band that arose naturally over the songwriting process. “When we were first starting out, we wanted to take everything about ourselves into account,” explains Brumen.
Watch the clip for ‘Death Before Disco’ by Pagan below
“Matt [Morasco, drums] loves French pop music, for example, so that’s where we got the idea to play around with dance beats. I love heavy music, so I wanted to incorporate death-growls and blast-beats. Really, it’s about the four of us being true to who we are. We didn’t want to waste our time pursuing something that’s categorically been done already.”
We’ve never really been interested in giving ourselves a label.
This mentality and attitude persevered through the writing and recording of Black Wash, the band’s debut LP. With High Tension guitarist Mike Deslandes behind the boards across studio sessions in their native Melbourne, Pagan created an album that is as fierce and exploratory as anything they’ve done previously – indeed, probably even more so. For Brumen, the creation of this record reflects on her innermost self, and resembles a purge of sorts for the high-running emotions that were impacting her life at the time. “Writing this record was almost therapeutic,” she says.
“I feel like my personal favourite albums are the ones that have directly spoken to me – ones that reflect on my own life and my own stories. That’s what I wanted to get out of making this album. It’s not linear by any means, and a lot of it is shrouded in metaphor, but it’s all there – where I was, what I went through and where I am now.” Brumen also notes that she’s come to be more comfortable with finding her literal voice as far as being a vocalist is concerned. Drawing primarily from screams and growls, there’s a ferocity to Brumen’s voice on Black Wash that is hitherto untapped – a sense that Brumen has realised her potential.
Watch Pagan perform ‘Wine & Lace’ at Unify 2017
“When we first started writing the album, I made a pact to myself to really start focusing in on dynamics,” she says. “I wanted to take more risks with that side of things. As a screamer, you do run the risk of sounding repetitive or having a comfort zone as to where your voice fits and sticking to that. I was really adamant about shaking things up.”
Brumen goes on to praise producer Deslandes for his ability to bring out a different side of her in the confines of the studio. He did so, she says, by pushing her to the very limit. “Here’s the thing,” Brumen begins: “I’ve never recorded more than four songs in a day the entire time I’ve been a musician.
“I told Mike straight up that, at a push, I’d be able to do five songs in a day. I don’t know how he did it, but he got me to do 10. I was an absolute mess by the end of the day – I was almost crying, and my stomach muscles had never felt so sore before in my life – but I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. To be able to do that, and not lose my voice, really showed how far I’ve come, and that I was in the right headspace to be making this album.
When we were first starting out, we wanted to take everything about ourselves into account.
“Mike really knew what direction to take, and we pretty much got all the vocal takes done in a single day. I know for a fact that there’s no way I could have done that back when the band was first starting out.”
Pagan are set to take Black Wash out on the road from the end of August on what will be their first-ever headlining tour. Ahead of the album’s release, Brumen has the usual nerves that go with such a big moment. She’s not afraid, however – and nor should she be. “I think we’ve found our truth on this album,” she says. “I’m far more interested in finding the truth in art than I am in following the rules. After all, we’re all outcasts in heavy music – aren’t we?”
Black Wash is out Friday, July 6. The band’s national tour commences in Adelaide on Saturday, August 11.