Bands touring the underground circuit in Canada don’t have it easy. With population centers spread out over vast expanses of geography, only the strong and determined make it out of their formative years intact. Of the survivors, Endast shine bright as an example to other bands within the scene. Birthing their melodic thrash in the metal hotbed of Montreal, these charismatic gents have been making waves with frequent national tours, crushing yet catchy tunes, and an undeniable presence. Vocalist James Arsenian recently took the time to recap with me on recent successes and future plans. Read on!

You guys recently got back from the Blue Skies Tour, covering all of Canada. How did that go? Any high points or low points?
James: The tour was our most successful to date. It was also our most extensive Canadian tour, running coast to coast, about forty shows. We were fortunate enough to have a team of sponsors for this tour that made it a lot easier for us to focus on playing without worrying about a lot of things that were issues in the past. We also were able to afford certain luxuries on this tour we couldn’t have before. A tour manager (Luigi Zaccardo, for instance, who was invaluable and made my life a million times easier. Also, being able to afford actual food on this tour was a pleasant change. I honestly can’t think of any low points on this tour.

What was the tour mainly in support of? Some new songs have appeared on your MySpace in the last few months, were any of them road-tested?
James: We are building hype for our forthcoming full length The Black Cloud, which we’re recording over this winter with producer Dave Sheldon (Exes for Eyes, ex-Man With Target). The new songs on the MySpace are pre-production tracks for the album. We wanted to show people that we haven’t been sitting around with our thumbs up our asses, but have in fact, been extremely busy outside of our touring schedule writing this album. We have a ton of new material and we definitely wanted to road test it to help us decide what will make the album and what won’t. This process had pros and cons, the pros being that the material was very well received nation wide and we were able to really focus in and identify weak points of the songs based on crowd reaction. The cons are that it is now even harder to choose which songs will make the cut.

This leads me to ask about your most recent release, Odds Against Tomorrow. What was that album about? What did it mean for the band?
James: Odds Against Tomorrow was our first full-length album, which followed our debut EP The Promise. It was a stylistic departure from The Promise and introduced our guitar player Pepe to the band. It was an album that set the foundation for our sound and our vibe. We toured extensively in support of that album, and sold thousands of copies of it across North America. It really was the true beginning of the band that people see today. It launched us into full-scale touring and we learned a lot through that process. Nobody was there to hold our hand and teach us how to tour in support of an album. We just did it. We released it ourselves, on my own label, got the distro and then got in the van, selling it to anyone and everyone we could. While now three years old, I believe the album still stands up to the stuff we’re writing today. It still sells literally thousands of copies while we’re on the road and the kids dig it. So it’s a very important piece of Endast’s history.

Speaking of Endast’s history, the band has gone through multiple incarnations to arrive at where you are today. On the surface the vibe seems very positive now. Can you shine a light on some of the changes that have happened?
James: Endast is a band that Chris started right out of high school, and as such has seen a few lineup changes. When he realized this was what he wanted to do for a living, things kicked into high gear. Let’s face it, touring as an underground band is not for everyone. It’s fast paced, it’s physically demanding, it’s financially stressful and we really had to learn how to do this ourselves for the most part. So out went the weak and in came people more suited to the demanding nature of the band. We’ve had a solid lineup for two years now with the most recent additions of Ryan Miller on bass and Blair Youngblut on drums. Those two gentlemen were fans of the band from the Kitchener, ON region who hopped on board and moved to Montreal in a very short amount of time. Miller had one tour with us under his belt before he moved, but Blair was fresh to the scene and had never really been in a band, but showed up knowing how to play our album front to back and his work ethic in studio and on the road is a shining example of what a drummer should be. This is as solid a lineup as any band could ask for. We’re good friends, and we have more fun on the road than ever before.

You guys have obviously done a lot of touring and undertaken various strategies to promote yourselves. Your video for “The Craving”, as well as your collaboration with Godin, Jägermeister, and Exclaim magazine all come to mind. What do you feel has worked best? What would you suggest to newer bands trying to get ahead?
James: It took us a few years to be able to start working with companies like Jägermeister. Our sponsorships and endorsements are invaluable to us as an indie band because we simply don’t have the resources to do the things those working relationships allow us. What I would recommend to newer bands trying to get the ball rolling is to practice as much as possible, then play as much as possible in as many places as possible. This will give you a fan base and the fan base gives you leverage to broker deals like this for yourself. Through playing the shows you’ll meet tons of people and start creating a network of resources. Our video for “The Craving” was shot on a budget of exactly zero dollars. We have also recently shot a video for “Pray For Rain” on the same budget. We’re able to do this because we can provide much needed support for up and coming directors who need to make names for themselves. Speaking of which, check out the work of directors Justin Peeler (www.myspace.com/frontline_pictures), and Bryan Wilkat (www.virb.com/bryanwilkat).

Yourself as an individual has a sizable reputation within the metal scene. Everyone seems to know of Big James from Endast who welcomes folks with open arms, speaks his mind, and even intervenes to stop fights during shows. How do you feel about all that? Do you feel the metal scene has shaped you or do you shape the metal scene?
James: I didn’t make metal, metal made me, as the saying goes. I’ve got more than my share of haters, but I do my best to be a good person and return some of the kindness people have shown me in my travels. My band would have a much harder time doing the things we do if it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers, who then become close friends. The reality of it is that we all shape the metal scene by going to shows, opening our doors to touring musicians and picking up instruments to make the music. I’m privileged to say that I’ve become extremely close with people all over North America and in a lot of ways I’m closer with these people than other people I’ve known at home for a lot longer. Mostly because we share the same passion and endure the same hardships so we can connect on a different level. Every tour I go out on makes it harder to say goodbye to these amazing people but I know I’ll see them again in a few months when we tour back through or they tour through Montreal.

Thanks for talking with me James. Before we go, is there anything you’d like to say, anything people need to know about Endast right now?
James: It’s 100% my pleasure. The only thing people need to know about Endast right now is that they need to tell their friends about us, and that we love to meet people. Get in touch with us, be it through Myspace, Facebook, Youtube… whatever they want. Drop us a line, we will do our best to reply. We get a LOT of email for a band our size, but we read everything and try to reply to everything that comes in. Keep it up!