Sitting down with front man Shelby Schwem and bassist Alvaro Lopez of Green as Emerald to discuss their curious, if not miraculous, trajectory to success is a little like meeting someone before he or she becomes famous. Very famous.
The Houston five-piece’s journey forward seems improbable, even impossible. Consider this: They've been a band for less than a year, don't even have an EP out to speak of and have played fewer than ten shows, all while doing things only long-established acts can boast about. For example, Green as Emerald have opened for the likes of Fear Factory, Saturate, Doyle (yes, that Doyle) and All That Remains. They now find themselves opening for the likes of Soulfly and Allegaeon in the coming weeks.
Add to that the incredible victory of winning the "Headbang for the Highway: Battle of the Bands" at Walters on September 30 for a coveted slot at Slipknot’s Knotfest in San Bernadino, California, and you have the makings of an incredible beginning.
But how does a seemingly young, unknown band (fewer than 2,000 Facebook likes) find themselves in the very fortunate cross section of supporting national acts and being invited to play on major festival tickets?
Easy: with a sound Schwem describes as something similar to European metal. He compares Green as Emerald to such acts as Soillwork, Every Time I Die and In Flames. “It's definitely heavy…but not as heavy as other projects we’ve done in the past," he says. "We want to be original…we also want to be accessible. We play the kind of music that gets our rocks off, so to speak.”
The yet-to-be-released EP, Powered By Human, showcases Schwem’s range. From growls to punk-anthem shouts and Randy Blythe-esque vocal work, seemingly all genres are expertly covered. The new EP is a collection of tight riffs and melodic tunes. But it’s more than the music that is capturing so much attention.
There’s an incredible tenacity and vision of success from Schwem, something he's absolutely possessed by. Think Jay Gatsby and the green light here. This is clearly a man on a mission, unstoppable, undeniable. “When we play, I want every note to count…we’re not just lucky to be here.” Lopez adds. “Our presence is just as serious as our music. When we take the stage, it’s all business.”
Schwem is no stranger to struggle. The ninth of ten children, he’s had his share of difficulty in the music business. “Look, I’ve been doing this since I was a kid," he says. "I’ve had [hard times], you know, sleeping in cars, being homeless, family and friends telling me stuff like ‘This music looks like it’s taking its toll on you; maybe you should go to school,’ you know, settle down. No way, this is everything to me. Everything I’ve wanted since I was a kid.”
As a manager, Schwem is a man to be reckoned with, sporting an insatiable appetite for promotion. As a demanding supervisor, he is admittedly tough. “I get in everybody’s ear that I can, and I expect things to be done whenever I inquire about them," he says. "I mean, the worst thing that can happen is someone tells me no. Then I’m like, ‘Okay. Fuck you, I’m on to the next one.’ [Laughs]
When I ask Lopez, “Is Shelby obsessive-compulsive?” Schwem’s head drops and Lopez laughs, shakes his head yes and answers, “No, of course not.”
Schwem leans in. “No matter how tough you think you are, it’s still show business," he says. "[We] don’t want to look like we just got off work from Domino's and had to rush to our gig. We take this very seriously.”
Even down to what the band members wear onstage, every detail is planned beforehand. Schwem manages the band like a football coach with Super Bowl rings in his eyes. He carefully chooses each performance, and says he turns down many gigs Green As Emerald is offered. But that is the genius, yet so-obvious strategy of Green As Emerald.
"We play the big battles," Schwem says. "We’re picky about venues; we only take the biggest shows we can get.”
Either they are the most pretentious, self-absorbed musicians on the planet, or they’re experienced musicians who know exactly where they want to go. While other bands beat away at any open-mike, playing haphazardly and hoping to win a big opening spot, Green As Emerald doesn’t believe in luck. Their tactic is paying off.
“We never just say [to a venue], ‘Oh, you have electricity?’ Yeah, let’s play there," says Schwem. "Present yourself as something, and other people will believe it, too. We don’t want to play the same little bar every weekend. There’s no appeal to that. People will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t catch them this time. I’ll catch them another time.’”
Schwem lights up when telling of how his management style works with venue owners: “If you are the shit, carry yourself like it," he says. "Have some confidence, like, ‘I deserve to be here.'"
Winning Knotfest was no easy gig. “We played [the Battle] as if we had already won," Schwem explains. "Like, we were already at Knotfest…but we play every show like it’s us against the world. When the talent scout came backstage after our set, he usually had lots of notes for the other bands. Shit like, you know, ‘Learn how to tune your fucking guitars, or whatever’; when he got to us, he had no notes. He just asked if we were ready to play Knotfest. Hell, yeah.” Schwem smiles widely at the recollection.
Who can blame him? Knotfest is one of metal’s largest and greatest gatherings. This year’s lineup includes an entire sampling of metal entertainment’s best: three days, five stages and dozens of national bands, including headliners Judas Priest, Korn, Bring Me The Horizon and Slipknot themselves. This kind of exposure is a local band’s golden ticket to the publicity factory of metal.
That exposure was Schwem’s design from the very beginning. “We’re not going [there] to party," he says. "We have a list of goals. Firstly, we’re there to put on our very best fucking show. We’re there to network, promote, get a buzz going…We are truly peers with these people. This is our stage, and we’re there to make an impact.”
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Schwem continues, “We play Sunday, but we’ll be there Friday. [Laughs] Probably at Kinko's [making flyers]…We will promote all day Saturday, just engage people, shake their hands and invite them out to our show. You know, just kick maximum ass.”
Schwem gets quiet and reflects for a moment. “You know, as hard as we’ve had to work to get where we are, we have a lot of great supporters," he says. "Punkstar Industries, people at Scout [Bar], connections we’ve made with old bands. For me, I just want to get to California [Knotfest]; I just want to represent us and Houston, you know? Show them who we really are, what we’re capable of.”
Apparently, there’s not much they’re not capable of. Godspeed, Houston boys.
Catch Green As Emerald's homecoming show next Tuesday with Soulfly, Soilwork and Shattered Sun at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Boulevard in Clear Lake. Doors open at 7 p.m.