SHADOWS FALL’s BRIAN FAIR Has ‘No Problem’ With Limited Use Of Backing Tracks During Live Shows

SHADOWS FALL vocalist Brian Fair has weighed in on bands who rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances.

In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they’re not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.

Speaking to the Syncin’ Stanley YouTube channel, Fair stated about acts who rely on pre-recorded tracks (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “We do not use any tracks. Now, I know this has been a controversial subject.

“My thoughts on the whole idea of backing tracks, which I consider very different than lip syncing… Lip syncing, I mean, if you were on ‘Top Of The Pops’ or something back in the ’80s and that was the only way it was done, I guess that’s a thing. We’ve been fortunate enough to play some late-night TV shows where we were able to play live, and I feel like in this day and age that can be pulled off. But that’s a whole different world than backing tracks.

“To me, backing tracks can be used by a band in ways like to cover some things that they can’t play live, as far as if you don’t have a keyboard player and you’ve got some synth parts and you wanna add that into the live show,” he continued. “No problem with that, man. You’ve got some horn parts or some strings and you’re not gonna be able to afford to bring a string quartet on the road with you, hey, man, play along to a click, add those in. It’s all good.

“With SHADOWS FALL, we didn’t mess with anything,” he added. “Whatever you heard from us was just five dudes up there rocking. We didn’t have good luck with technology in general, never played to a click track, so we never used anything. The only thing we ever ran on tape was intros in between songs, so like the acoustic intro to ‘The Light That Blinds’ or something like that. But we never even layered anything. If there were keyboard parts in the studio version, we just didn’t use ’em live or found a way to maybe play a guitar melody that would cover that. But some bands don’t have that. If you’re an industrial band and you need these samples and drum loops that are a huge part of your sound that you use in the studio, that’s totally legit. No problem there. But when your actual performance parts, like whether it’s the main vocals or guitar lines and you’re playing along to something you recorded, to me, that’s just — ah, it takes away from the live experience. To me, I get why bands do it, ’cause it makes things sound huge and it makes it sound like the studio, so inhumanly tight. But that’s, to me, not the point of live music. Live music should have an ebb and flow. It should have an energy. Things should speed up and slow down, depending on the emotions of the moment. The crowd can inspire that. If the crowd’s going crazy, of course you’re gonna play a little faster. So, I like that variable of live music. I’m also a huge fan of like improvised live music as well. So that’s just a different world. But I can understand, like I said, using some little candy tracks here and there, but to straight-up play over your own parts or to perform along with your own parts to give it that huge sound, to me, I don’t wanna call it cheating, but it’s close.”

SHADOWS FALL guitarist Jonathan Donais also offered his thoughts on bands using backing tracks, saying: “ I don’t like it. I’d rather hear the bands be real and what they have. But I also understand if you have an orchestra and all these backing vocals that you can’t recreate that live sometimes with the budget, but I’d rather hear the band struggle.”

KISS frontman Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band’s classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS‘s ongoing “End Of The Road” tour.

Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.

“I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks,” Simmons said. “It’s like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that’s at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you’re paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they’ll sing sometimes, sometimes they’ll lip sync. At least be honest. It’s not about backing tracks, it’s about dishonesty.

“There’s nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there’s no samples on the drums, there’s nothing,” Gene continued. “There’s very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can’t even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There’s very few bands who don’t use [backing] tracks.”

This past March, KISS‘s longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley‘s vocal performance on “End Of The Road”, explaining that the “Star Child” “fully sings to every song” at every concert. He explained: It’s enhanced. It’s just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that’s not real, that’s not what they came to hear.”

When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was “actually saying there are backing tracks that [Paul is] singing to,” Doc said: “He’ll sing to tracks. It’s all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song.”

In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that “90 percent” of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: “It bothers me that it bothers people. I’m, like, ‘Why does this bother you?’ It’s the way it is. People have been doing this since the ’80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that’s not how we wanna do it.”

Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is “one of the last people” who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. “I don’t know how much longer I can say to you that I don’t use tapes onstage, because I don’t, and I never have,” he told Consequence Of Sound. “And I still don’t. When I have opening bands, and they’re using tapes, and then I come out and I don’t use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I’m like, ‘What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don’t have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?’ Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?’ It’s becoming very rare to come see a good band that’s actually a real band — that’s not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on.”

In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn’t “agree” with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. “I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he told the New York Post. “I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We’ve toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it’s not real. You’re supposed to play live; it should be live. I don’t agree with using tapes … I think it’s a real shame.”

One musician who has been open about his band’s use of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: “We’ve used technology since ’87.” He added the group employed “sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can’t tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc…. We love it and don’t hide it. It’s a great tool to fill out the sound.”

In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I think a band like ours… I have to say ’60s bands were my favorite — ’60s and ’70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It’s the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that’s what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don’t wanna do that.”

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