Arcane Saints founder, singer and guitarist Michael John can't remember the first song he wrote. "But it was probably about how much I hated school," he chuckles. "I got expelled from my first high school for continual disobedience, so I'd write these angry songs about authority. To this day I have a problem with authority and I don't like being told what to do."
UK-born and raised in New Zealand, John was initially a sportsman like most of his family. But the grunge angst of Soundgarden, Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots struck a chord, and he picked up the guitar.
That initial teen angst might have been the catalyst to make a mark in music. New Zealand was too obsessed with r'n'b and dub. So when he won an international songwriting competition, John blew some of the dosh on a wild bacchanalian celebration, and the rest on moving to Melbourne. He formed Arcane Saints ("arcane means mysterious and un-noble and I liked that connotation"), with Michael 'Sheep' Gooding on guitar, youth prison guard Jim Luxford on bass and recent addition Ben Redlich on drums.
But a more recent experience in Australia is what's led John to intensify his ambitions. "It was standing a few years ago in front of 30,000 people over two nights at Rod Laver Arena with my uncle's band."
His "uncle's band" are Iron Maiden, and his uncle is bassist Steve Harris, who powers the ferocious metal beast. During a family reunion, Harris invited his singer-songwriter daughter Lauren and John to come up and do some backup vocals for a song or two.
"It was an absolute buzz, I won't lie," the guitarist and singer recalls. "I've never experienced something in my life like that, before or since. Especially since I've only met Steve and Lauren a couple of times. To be at a family reunion and then to be told, 'Why don't you come on stage with us' was surreal. The adrenalin was amazing. It was like the whole thing lasted just five seconds, and I was walking off stage high-fiving people," he recalls.
"But it was an experience that's got me working harder. I want to get a response like that from a crowd as large as that. But I'd like to do it with my own band."
Presumably what he could learn from Iron Maiden was to never be trendy, and to tour like crazy? "Exactly! I asked Steve if there was a big secret to success, and he replied, 'Work your arse off'. It worked for him…"
After three and a half years of establishing themselves in Melbourne, things are moving beyond this city for Arcane Saints. Their new single Nervous Breakdown is getting airplay on Triple M - and, because of their marketing themselves through Facebook, also on community radio stations in the US, Canada and New Zealand. The band hopes to get to these countries this year, and do more traveling around Australia.
The single, produced by Evan McHugh (Jet, 'Oils, Dead Letter Circus), mixes a Red Hot Chili Peppers funk-vibe, with grunge and pop-rock all in one song. John agrees that it is actually a pop song: "Yes, you could happily play an acoustic version and it'd sound good," he muses. "It sounds different from the rest of our set. If there was an overall theme in the songs we write, it's about staying positive in times of adversity, accepting there'll be highs and lows so you go for the ride and do the best you can."
And is there anything about him that would surprise their fans? "I was conceived in Spain," he replies with a grin, "so I have a tattoo which says Music Is Freedom in Spanish."
ARCANE SAINTS play The Prague (911 High Street, Thornbury) this Friday May 27 to launch their Ignite EP with friends Admiral Ackbar's Dishonourable Discharge, Cirque Du Freak and Good Sun. Ignite is out now. Check out arcanesaints.com for more info.
BY Christie Elizer