Friday, 6 June 2014

Dan Sartain

There's no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact that listening to Dan Sartain's music will make you a better person. The Alabama rockabilly-punk-blues troubadour has a new album (his eighth) - the brilliant Dudesblood - out now on One Little Indian.


 
Dan Sartain by Hayley Grimes


Hi Dan.
Dan Sartain! That's my name! Don't wear it out! Sorry... I've been watching a lot of David Lee Roth interviews.

Right on, that's cool. I've got my hopes up for this now.
He's so funny man. He's got lines for days and days.

The new record sounds like you've gone and written some hits, and it's got a cover of a Knife song on it. The last guy that covered the Knife got famous... Was that you plan?
Who was that? What song?


That guy José González covered 'Heartbeats', and it got used on a Sony TV ad, and he got really huge.
I know the song but I haven't heard the cover. Advertisements are kind of the monetary success that you hope for these days. It used to be that that was the most uncool thing ever, you know? Bands would really pride themselves on rejecting corporations and things like that. Then later on, to a lesser extent, you would hear bands kinda brag about this. Like, somebody wanted one of their songs and they said "no!" It's still cool to tell politicians "no", especially if it's a lame politician. Why started that..? Woody Guthrie, I think, then Bruce Springsteen perpetuated it when some politician wanted to use his song and he said no. Nowadays the people who do advertisements have better taste than the people who run the radio. You see and hear Iggy Pop on advertisements, you don't hear him on the radio! At least not over here.

He did that car insurance ad over here, did you get that?
It was really funny! He's like "I don't trust car insurance to just anybody!" Haha! People were mad about that. People are mad over here, this week, people are grumpy because they used some Pixies song on an iPhone ad or something like that. You just gotta get over it, we can't have it both ways where music is free and musicians aren't compensated for anything. Maybe musicians don't deserve to make as much money as they have in the past...
 

Pixies and the Stooges both reformed for money, it's not like these bands don't exist as businesses. But yeah, that José González cover was definitely the first time a lot of people heard the Knife. How did you get from you last album to this new one?
The last album was kind of a... I don't want to call it a 'concept album', because when people say that they usually mean Tommy by The Who or something. The last album wasn't a concept album in the traditional sense, I was just trying to write a record for the Ramones, and I was thinking largely about Richie Ramone, who was their drummer in the mid-80s. He kind of got offered the job out of the blue, and with the job came a lot of writing, and lifting a lot of weight, because Joey was sick at the time and everybody was kinda mad with Johnny but they all wanted to keep the band going. So in a lot of ways, in his short time with the band, that guy was the driving force of the band. I just wanted to imagine, "What if I got that kinda call?" To join one of your favourite bands and be a major part of it. I kinda fantasy-casted myself as one of the Ramones, and wondered what kind of album I'd write. Obviously it's impossible now. So I did that, but it was hard coming out of that. When we started to put the wheels in motion to do this album, I had contacted Richie Ramone. We did a song together, and we talked about working some more, but it didn't flesh out. At the time it wasn't a fantasy anymore, writing an album with the actual person. So I could write an album of mine with him in mind, with that speed and intensity. I still had those songs, so instead I got DJ Bonebreak from X. X are a huge influence to me. They hit me harder and a lot longer than the Ramones did. I saw this documentary that had footage of them doing 'Johnny Hit and Run Paulene', that I later found was from The Decline of Western Civilization, and I thought they were the coolest people in the world.

It changed you!
Definitely. I've always loved them. So while I'm cold-calling heroes of mine to see if they'll play on this record, I wondered what DJ Bonebreak was doing. I figured he would charge a lot more, because he was the only constant member, and he's played on side-projects, and everybody in the band seems to love him. The fall out with each other, but they love DJ! And I can see why. I sent him the tracks, and we would speak briefly, and he always sent something back that was better than what I was envisioning.



And that's how Dudesblood came to be?
Pretty much! I wasn't planning on it being so marimba-heavy, but I figured that if I have this guy at my disposal, and he's so good at all that... I started thinking of different stuff. The Knife song, I love that. I listen to songs on repeat, and it drives people around me crazy.

That's because you're a fan of really short songs.
Yeah! Haha! I don't listen to much prog. But I would play that song on repeat until I realised there was something morbid and weird that wasn't on the surface about it. It dawned on me what it was; the singer wasn't the subject of the song. It's a female voice saying the stuff, but I put two and two together, and learned more about the band, found out the were a brother and sister duo, then it kind of made sense. I still don't really know what the song is about. I've been told it was about a stalker, but I assumed it was maybe about a letter or something that the sister got. Or some drunk person chewing her ear off backstage, and they were just kind of mocking this person! I dunno. But it's not straight ahead storytelling.

So did you try to write hits for this record?
Kinda. Obviously a song like 'Dudesblood' or 'Smash The Tesco' aren't really going to fly with some markets. In one I'm screaming "Fucked in the face with a chainsaw" and the other I'm screaming "I'll throw a Molotov right through the fucking glass". The song 'You Gotta Get Mad To Get Things Done' was absolutely recorded with the radio in mind. It features Misty Miller on vocals. She's a young singer from London with a seemingly bright future ahead of her. It features DJ Bonebrake on drums and marimba. He's a full on legend. I wanted that song to have something for old punks and young bucks in one setting. I'm kinda in the middle of that. The label liked the Knife cover for the first single. Can't say I saw that coming, but I don't find that decision to be disagreeable. 'You Gotta Get Mad' was the "I want to keep my job song", though. I was trying to think like Tom Petty or Elvis Costello or something. It's not my favorite song, but it feels like the most presentable one. To answer your question, ever since the first Swami album, we have wanted to be contenders for whatever it is everyone else wants. I failed at sports before I was a musician. I look at music like a sport, a competition. I want to win, but I have to eat it like a pro when we don't.



Since you talked about fantasising about writing for the Ramones, is there a movie you'd like to write a soundtrack for? Maybe something where the actual soundtrack sucks.
Rumble Fish. I love that movie, and I hate that soundtrack. Stewart Copeland? Did he watch the movie he was making the soundtrack for?! I mean, I understand he was being adventurous and using an instrument people hadn't used to score films with, but man, it just ruins the film. I would love to do that, even on a fan edit level, do an alternate soundtrack to Rumble Fish. God, it's so good! Matt Dillon in his prime?! Mickey Rourke in his prime?! Who was the girl from the Fabulous Stains... Diane Lane! Nic Cage looking cool and young?! Rumble Fish is a perfect movie! I mean, it has Tom Waits in it, and I'm not the biggest Tom Waits fan, but if you have Tom Waits at your disposal and you're making a movie like that? I would way rather there was a Tom Waits soundtrack than what Stewart Copeland did. Stewart Copeland's soundtrack is just goofy on that, and it takes me out of it, and it doesn't match the scenes at all. That's a good question and one that I'm happy to have a definitive answer for.

You did an 'Ask Me Anything' thing on Reddit, and seemed quite surprised how nobody was a dick to you. Why?
It's the internet, you know? I'm guilty of it too, because I'm a fan of stuff. I was just on the internet just now, ripping on Van Halen. I love David Lee Roth, and people always act like those two need each other. I was like "No, it's a one-way street! David Lee Roth's solo stuff is better than Van Halen because it's him in his prime going off the chain!" I thought people were just gonna be like "How many dicks do you suck?" I dunno, a lot? Haha! I expected them to go crazy on me.

That reminds me of a lyric on the new record... Have you actually stuck your penis in a glory hole?
Hahaha! No comment! I will say this, with the last record, and this record, things have just become funny. I'm going to need to write a sincere record. Since that last record, and this record, everything's kind of a joke.

But why? You play punk rock music.
Yeah. I guess not. When I was doing the whole Ramones thing, I felt like a lot of bands did that. There have been whole record labels of bands that rip off the Ramones, but oftentimes the miss how funny they were. Joey was pretty sincere in a lot of those love lyrics, but to us it was just funny how there's this giant guy with a funny accent who's really sincerely in love. I think people often miss the mark with them. Even the Misfits, people always associate Danzig with being a stupid tough guy, but those lyrics were pretty funny. I don't think it's that funny to see him carrying around cat food, because I think that dude is pretty funny, and he has a good sense of humour, and it's probably a lot of other people misinterpreting him.
 

As if Glenn Danzig doesn't feed his cat cat food. 
Right! Haha! 

What were the Toe Rag versions you did about? 
What's that? Sorry, I'm at the store... 

You're not at Tesco, are you? 
Hahaha! No. I was hoping that would come up. That song, 'Smash The Tesco', is about my English friends who have a tendency to want to riot. Last time I was over there, they were rioting against Tesco. We were in Bristol, I think, and the students were smashing Tescos. I think it's cool, I mean, I wish Americans would riot more. Against consumerism, against Americanism. But when I'm actually in the UK, Tesco is actually a kind of a relief! Like, it's not that much of a threat. They don't make the Daily Sport any more, but I'll go in there and get some sport magazine with titties, and maybe some sunflower seeds, and a chocolate egg with a little toy inside it. It doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but out in the street they're like "Fuck the Tesco!" and they're smashing the shit out of it. It's funny to me; I live in a town that's pretty much nothing but strip malls. It's awful! If my English friends could see that..! Tesco is so quaint, and necessary, compared to Walmart, which is obscene. Walmart is so big, and such a huge cog in the wheel, that they don't even chase after you if you've shoplifted less than $10 worth of stuff. Like it costs more in manpower for them to fill out the paperwork to catch a shoplifter if they've stolen less than $10 worth. So basically anything under $10 is free at Walmart if you have the guts to take it. They aren't going to go after you. I stole some sewing needles this week. I needed to sew up my jacket. Haha!

 
Have you ever eaten horse? Or any other domestic creature? 
Yeah, I have. Over in Europe. I had horse on a pizza over in German, and it was really good. At an Italian restaurant. 

That was a thing that upset people about Tesco; they sold horse meat but told people it was cow meat. Beef, I mean. 
Oh wow! They did that somewhere here too, they found out there was horse meat in something. But then I remembered eating horse and it was pretty good! Haha! 

You'd think it would be harder to get horse meat. You'd think they'd be harder to keep, and breed, and catch, than a field of cows lying around. 
They're lean too. It would take some work to get meat off of a horse.


What do you think of Record Shop Day?
For my own interests, it's good. I'm more of an enthusiast about movies really. I stay away from music blogs and things of that nature. I get more from movie blogs, and I get into rumours, and making-of things, and I probably believe things that aren't true, and I probably perpetuate lies I've heard on the internet about movies. I understand the fan-dom behind it, it's cool.

Is it fair to say that you're bigger in the UK than you are in a lot of other places?
Yeah. It's been like that for a long time. It makes it harder to get money, because it all goes back into the production of it, and buying plane tickets. Sometimes you just want to save some money or tour with local musicians. When I'm over there I feel like I'm being spoiled and humbled at the same time. Sometimes it'll be the best of anything I've ever had, and sometimes you don't get my creature comforts, and you're being a whiny baby because you don't get orange cheese and yellow mustard. 

A mutual friend of ours, Bryan McGarvey, told me I better not mention the Third Man thing, or you turning records into ashtrays. So tell me about that.
I didn't like the record that I did with them, and I would up with hundreds of 'em. I feel like there was a little bit of a lack of quality control with them. With that label. 

Is that Jack White, or the people he employs? You'd think a boutique label like that would be on it.
Jack gets the final say, as far as I know. It's weird, because I'm friends with all those guys. There's a couple of guys named Ben, one of them used to play with the Soledad Brothers and the other Ben was from the Dirtbombs. I know those guys from touring and I know Jack from touring, and they've always seeked me out! I mean, I liked the White Stripes when they came out, and I still like the White Stripes. Some of it. But I was never like "Oh wow, I gotta get my music to these guys!" I kept getting calls from them, and they seemed like cool, nice guys. I've played music with all those guys. It's cool that Jack is getting people into collecting records, but I just felt that mine wasn't very good. I think it's a little ridiculous, I mean they can spend their money however they want, but that people are spending a lot of money on these limited editions. I have these records sitting around, these tri-coloured records, these Halloween editions, all this stuff, and they're just sitting in my closet and I'm ashamed of them. Kind of to prove a point I just melted them into bowls and put them on eBay. I made like a thousand dollars, selling these guys melted records. Idiots. I had the standard versions, and I sold those at the merch tables for like $5. I you made me laugh I would just give it to you. $5 is an investment or whatever, but to spend $50 on a melted record? You're an idiot.

People who call themselves 'record collectors' are the worst. Buy the music, don't collect the item. You don't need the same thing three times.
Yeah. I went through a thing a few years ago when I was collecting a lot of action figures, and it became obsessive. Those people are the same way. With toys, the only good thing is that you can touch them and hold them and stuff! These guys want them in the package, and the package to be pristine. 

And it has to have the right barcode on it, before they can put it away in a box in a cupboard that nobody will ever see.
Yeah, exactly. They would label these people as 'card-benders'. They would go into the retail shops and find the toys on the pegs, and they knew that they were collectors' items, and they would bend the cards, so that when the collector would get to it they'd be like "Aargh! I can't buy this, the card is bent!" I became one of those people. Eventually I just became a troll. An internet troll and a real-life troll of toy collectors. I found that you could buy these toys, take them out of the box, keep the toy and put in a different toy from a charity shop or something, then take it back to the store and get a full refund. Haha! They would put these charity shop toys back on the shelf, so you'd go back into the store and see the wrong toy in the box. Haha! I was in this toy collector community, and they'd post pictures of these on the internet and say "I can't believe how somebody could do this" and I'd be like "I know, it's terrible". Hahaha!

What are your plans for the year, after the record comes out and after this tour?
Well, when I got out of toy collecting I got a vintage car, a '57 Plymouth. I always loved the car but I'm getting to where I can't keep it up any more. It sucks but I gotta let her go. I think I sold the car to this guy in Australia, and I'm kinda dating a girl in San Fransisco. I'm a little too early for my midlife crisis and a little too late for my quarter-life crisis. I think I already had that. I hope I did, anyway. If that wasn't it, I'm fucked. But I'm selling the car and I'm gonna try and move out west. I'm buying a mototcycle. I've never been on a motorcycle before. 

Be careful, man.
Yeah. Yeah. Well I quit smoking, I quit drinking and I quit hard drugs. I gotta increase the likelihood of an untimely death, that I've worked so hard for. If things keep going like this I'm gonna live forever and I'm gonna see all my friends die. Now I'm looking at living in a world where Ghostbusters die, and where members of Devo die. You know? I'm not OK with this! Beastie Boys are dying. Dude, I gotta do something to get outta here before I see everybody I love go away! Haha! I may as well get on a fuckin' motorcycle and drive to San Francisco. I'm way too safe in a car!

Dudesblood is out now on One Little Indian.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Death

The story of the hard rock band Death is a story that has taken decades to unfold and, in a twist no one saw coming, isn’t over yet. The Hackney brothers, Bobby Sr. and Dannis, thought Death was done not long after they moved from Detroit to Vermont more than 30 years ago, especially after their brother and musical mentor, David, died of lung cancer in 2000.
Around a year ago, rare copies of Death 7-inch vinyl records began selling for unbelievable prices on the internet to music collectors who recognized the group as the pre-punk innovator that it was. One fan passed his excitement and the band’s songs on to Chicago-based Drag City Records, who went on to release the first-ever Death album, 38 years after the group began.
The Hackneys grew up in Detroit as the city was becoming famous for its Motown sound, and started in 1971 as a funk/rhythm-and-blues group. David steered the brothers toward another style coming out of Detroit, the noisy garage-rock sound being produced by the likes of the MC5 and The Stooges. That flew in the face of what was expected of young black musicians in Motown.
For a more detailed background, find and see the movie 'A Band Called Death'. It's awesome.


Hey guys. Introduce yourselves, please.

Bobby H: I'm Bobby Hackney, I'm the bassist and vocalist with the band Death.
Dennis H: I'm Dennis Hackney, I'm the drummer.
Bobbie D: I'm Bobbie Duncan, I'm the guitarist.

The press release for this record says you've come full-circle, but it seems more triangular. There are three clear moments in Death's history; when the band formed, when the 7" was discovered, and then now. Is it really going in a circle? Have you come round to the beginning again, because you're a band again, playing these songs?
BH: It's full-circle, but it's also triangular. We really concentrate on that triangle, because with the band, that was David's concept. As much as we used to hear all his concepts about the triangle, we can really feel it now. Because it's all in place. When someone leaves you, you always feel like they're above you. You never see anybody look down to talk to a person that's left. They always look up. So David is at the top of that triangle, and here we are, down here, doin' our thing. Basically what you said is the spirit of Death. It's a spiritual, mental, physical trip, man.

At the beginning of Death, you were making this ferocious, angry, raw, protest music. What were you angry about? You were talented musicians living in Detroit at the end of the '60s! It must have been amazing there, at that time.
BH: Hahaha!
D: We were angry about trying to maintain the identity that we wanted. We were angry because people around us didn't accept it. We were angry because we tried to do things that other rock bands did, but it didn't work out for us. We'd try to book ourselves in a club and either we was too fast, too unknown, or in a few cases too black. What you see now is just a continuation of what we wanted to do. If Dave had not been taken away, what you see would be a completion of what he wanted to do. Just continuing on from when the music got picked up, discovered.


How much did David's death affect where you are now? If you didn't have David's legacy to think about, would we be having this conversation?
BH: We were basically musicians from the time that we decided to play instruments, in 1969. We set out on a mission to play music. Our mission was to play music for life with each other. When that didn't work out, me and Dennis carried on in the hope that David would re-join us in some shape, form or fashion one day. We went through a lot of pain, watching his demise, but now it goes back to the full-circle thing. Because it feels like he's here with us just now. He just transcends the whole situation here. His spirit is our spirit, and vice-versa. When the music was discovered and people were asking if we could play Death music again, at the time we had been playing reggae music for over twenty years! We didn't know ourselves whether we could play Death again! One of the things that helped us get back into that focus was that me and Dennis would spend days on end talking about the things we had planned in that room in Detroit, and the things that we wanted to do. We realised that we may have an opportunity to do them. That was a real inspiration to get back into the music. That's what makes it so much fun. We left a lot of fun on the table in Detroit, man. It's beautiful to be able to pick it back up.

It was written somewhere that you "changed your name to 4th Movement", but surely 4th Movement was a different band? You didn't change the name of the band, did you?

BH: Hahaha! You gotta understand, we were Death from 1973 all the way to 1980. It was around that time that we had been through so much rejection, that David finally came up with another name for the band. We had moved to Vermont, we'd tried to introduce the town to Death, and they thought we were bringing a gang from Detroit. It was after so much rejection, and under David's guidance, that we became 4th Movement. He actually did a funny twist on that, because the triangle he had, there were four dots on it and the fourth one represented the guiding spirit. So he said "OK, we're not gonna be Death, but this is how we're gonna hold onto Death. We're gonna be called the 4th Movement." Because that's what death is - the fourth movement. You have a spiritual, mental, physical life; then you go to the fourth movement.

An extension of Death.

BH: An extension of Death! Exactly. David put a lot of elements of what we talked about with Death into that name, into the 4th Movement. That's one of the reasons we embraced it so much. We still went through a lot of rejection as 4th Movement, because it was a gospel-oriented rock n' roll band. Everybody loved the music, but they just couldn't get around the words. We were the 4th Movement, but we were still rough and rugged, you know? Doin' our Death stuff on the side! Haha!


How big a thing was it to start operating under a different name, after so long? Was it like conceding? Or was it bringing an end to Death?
BH: It wasn't that we wanted to change the name for that reason. The great thing about Death, and all these groups that we were in, was that we loved each other, and we loved playing music with each other. We loved creating. We really wanted to be big, and we really believed that we would be heard one day, but it was really about the art. Especially with David. David was always confident, David was "This is gonna happen, man. This is gonna happen". You couldn't shake him. A bad gig wouldn't shake him, losing a contract wouldn't shake him, he was always adamant about the fact that "It's not us that's crazy, it's them".

Did the changes in the music you were making reflect changes in the music you were listening to at the time? You always say you were turned on to heavy music by Alice Cooper, and there's definitely the Stooges and the MC5 in there too, but were you listening to other stuff when 4th Movement came about?
BH: Yeah. We were always writing about the things that we felt. Rock n' roll was the voice, man. And it still is, if radio and the public let it be. You can still hear that voice. It's like a watchtower cry. You know? War is not right, we live in a corrupt system - and it's not just one system, it's the world system. When there's a man in the street, sleeping in front of a mansion, it's that contrast that makes rock n' roll the voice of any generation. That's what we were into. If anybody knows rock history, it's America. There were two years that were very pivotal - 1967 and 1968. In 1967 you had magical things that happened at a concert for the first time; you had Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin on the same stage, you know?! It was a big festival (the Monterey Pop Festival), and nobody had ever seen a festival like that before in music. And that inspired the next festival, which was the biggest one, that was Woodstock. With Sly and the Family Stone, Country Joe and the Fish, Richie Havens, The Who and Hendrix and everybody! But the whole message was peace and love, the whole message was "power to the people!" We were against the war in Vietnam, man. Nobody wanted to get drafted and yet we had a president in the White House who was adamant about continuing a failure of a war. You see that all around the world today. Rock n' roll has always been that cry. I mean, we loved The Beatles when they first came out, the first three or four years when they were soft and cuddly and everything, the bubblegum time. But man, when those guys came out with Sgt. Pepper in 1967 and when John Lennon was the real watchtower voice, he was demonstrating to the world that something wasn't right. That's what we tuned into, that's what affected us. And it was just a great music to dance around to, to jump to! Rock n' roll, man!
DH: All the way from back then, to groups like Pussy Riot. You talk about a "watchtower voice", those are watchtower voices. Those girls are on the front line. They take the crap that we talk about. In America and Europe, we enjoy a certain amount of freedom. We can say what we want and we can do what we want but over they they can't say what they want. They can't even play rock n' roll. I want to give a shout out to those girls, I want to tell them to keep on keepin' on, and I hope you can make it to America one day.
 


When people like Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins started talking about how good you guys are, did it make you re-evaluate the music you made in the past?
BH: It made me fall off my chair! That's a whole generation for me, because my sons grew up listening to those dudes. That was the music all the skateboarders would listen to. Bobbie was turning me on to Henry Rollins, Bad Brains, Gorilla Biscuits... Groups like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag. People say we "pre-dated the punk sound", but we didn't. You see, in 1974 the word "punk" wasn't even phrased yet. It was rock n' roll. In Detroit, if you called someone a punk, you got either one of two things - a bloody nose or a black eye. We just called it hard-drivin' Detroit rock n' roll. We did hear a lot of those bands that came along as part of the punk era, and some of that stuff reminded us of some of the stuff we did in Detroit, you know? 

When US punk started to change and evolve, around 1980, were you aware? Did you care? Things moved away from spiky hair and spitting...
BH: We were doing reggae music, but through my son and his friends, through the skateboard fraternity, we were hearing a lot of that music. Things were getting faster, and the lyrics were changing. We used to say to our sons, "You know, me and your dad were in a rock n' roll band in Detroit", and they would go "Yeah dad, whatever", because they had never heard the Death stuff. 

Did you ever point out that you were playing that music long before those guys?
BH: I never said "long before", I'd just kinda say "This reminds me of a band me and your uncles were in, in Detroit". They would just look at me, because all they had heard was the reggae stuff. Haha! 

So from the 7" getting passed to Drag City, how long was it before you started to notice things changing?
DH: That was quite a transition, man. The west coast record collectors and the underground DJs was what made us take notice. We'd get calls about what we used to do, about the old recordings, and we'd just pass it off, like "Yeah, it's just some collector looking for a record". Then we got the news from Bobby's son Julian that these guys were actually playing the records at parties and stuff, it kind of took us by surprise. That's when the whole scenario changed, when his son realised that we were in a good rock n' roll band! Hahaha! That kinda brings up your cool-level with your kids! We were definitely enjoying a new level of cool. We never told them about the bad things, just the good things! 


How come there's such little footage of you guys from way back?
BH: I wish we had more live footage, man. We just didn't get much of a chance to play live that much. Or at all. David tried to book us at some shows, but this time he booked us at an all-black cabaret, at a Masonic temple. Hahaha! They were working people, factory workers, and they want to hear stuff like Al Green and Aretha Franklin and B.B. King, they want to hear blues and stuff. This was a packed house, and it was bring-your-own-bottle. So we're up playing the blues, and then we go into our Death stuff, and after every song you could hear a pin drop. We'd be playing rock n' roll, then go into this crescendo, end the song like BANG, then it would be silent. You could hear the mice running around. Hahaha! I wish we had footage of us playing, but back in the 70s nobody was recording anything unless you had a big production going on or something like that. It was hard for us to get a gig that we wanted. One of the rock clubs did give us a show, but it was on a Monday night, outside of Detroit, in Ann Arbor. There were only two couples on the floor dancing. They were older couples, but at least they were dancing! The promoter said to us at the end of the night that we were a good band, but we had to change the name. We heard that a lot!
DH: It wasn't a name you wanted to put on a marquee. 

It's the best name ever.
BH: We waited a whole generation to hear that! Hahaha! Every time somebody would ask for the name of the band, it was like David just could not wait for this opportunity. He would just put this face on and say "DEATH". Just to see the reaction. People on the phone would think we were making a prank call. 

It says a lot that you guys stuck with the name, and struggled with it, rather than just listening to the first person that told you to change it. I doubt that would happen nowadays. Do you think there's ever going to be a musical revolution again?
BH: Radio kind of blocked out everybody. That was one of our frustrations when we were putting those records out. Up until a few years before, you would be able to go up with the acetate, straight from the record pressing plant, go right to the disc jockey, and they'd play it. That's how a lot of hits were born in Detroit. By the time we put out our little single, the radio stations were going really corporate and disco was taking over. A lot of rock acts defected to disco! It was a weird time, the mid-seventies. So as long as people embrace it. I think with the technology, it's not something anybody would be able to stop. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. I was watching television the other day and they were advertising the new YouTube single! And the adverts used to say "Get it at Sears! Get it at Walmart! Get it here! Get it there! Get it wherever!" Now it just says "Download it from iTunes". And these are just the big companies. I sure hope there is a musical revolution. And I hope it's good! 

Am I right that you guys are making new music again?
BD: As a matter of fact we are. We released a single by the name of Relief, and that's on the album which is dropping later this year. There's also a Death archive album out now, called the III, the third installment.
BH: There's some new stuff on there as well as a flavour of what we did in the past. It's gonna be a great year for music for Death, man! We're just continuing on what Death set out to do. Real rock n' roll! It's been so long now, we don't care about being accepted, we can do what we want! Rock n' roll, alright?! Hahaha!


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

PAWS

Channeling Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr  and Archers of Loaf into an impassioned cacophony of noise, melody and lyrical sincerity; Phil, Ryan and Josh of PAWS left behind their various backwater hometowns of rural Scotland to thrash it out in Glasgow before signing to Transatlantic indie uber-label Fat Cat. Having just returned from their latest US tour - a trip that also saw them record their second album in upstate New York - I spoke to singer Phil, bassist Ryan and drummer Josh about musical epiphanies, snobbery in skateboarding, posers, existentialism and death.

Ryan, Phil and Josh. San Francisco, 2013.

You've just flown back from LA. How was America?
Phil: It was great. We flew out on the first of November to New York, so we were in this place called Highland Mills about an hour outside Manhattan, where our label boss Adam has a house out in the woods, and he has a log cabin thing in his garden that has a recording studio in it. We were there for the first two weeks recording our new album. We'd been talking about going over there to record our record for a couple of months now so it was cool to actually get it done and know that we had a tour to go straight into after we'd finished it. It was a headline tour, and we started in Philadelphia and did a run of east coast shows, then we made our way over to the west coast. We'd never been to the west coast before.

You'd been to the east coast before?

P: We'd done two other tours this year, that was our third tour of the US this year. Two east coast tours. One in March, then we went to South By South West at the same time, then in June we went back and did another east coast run. The plan was to get us out to the west coast before the end of the year, there was a bunch of people out there who hadn't seen us before that wanted to see us play. We did like 5,500 miles in three weeks. Our tour manager Brendan was like a superhero, he was just pedal to the metal every day. One day he had to drive from Seattle to San Fransisco, and that's a sixteen hour drive...


Fat Cat have got offices in Brighton and in New York. Seems like they're quite keen to push you to America. Are you more appreciated there?
Josh: Probably because America's so vast. You just have to hammer it. We've done so much in the UK that we just want to do America now.
P: Being on a label with presence in America definitely helps. I can't even think how many shows we've played in the UK in the last couple of years. Hundreds. First time we went to London there were 30 people there, but then you go back, and you build it. It was surreal, in March we went to New York and there were 80 or 90 people at our first show there. I think because we did well on our first trip there, they wanted to keep getting us back. We're getting loads of good press over there, which could be because we've played with a lot of bands from America when they've come over here. Our first ever show was opening for Sub Pop band Dum Dum Girls. Then every show we got offered seemed to be with American bands. 

You sound like an American band, but in a good way. You sound like lots of good American stuff.
P: Sometimes my voice comes out a bit American, but I think that's just from hanging about with a lot of them. And I guess it's just the music we've grown up listening to.
J: Even going back to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, they were trying to sound like American bands.

Phil skates.

You were on Gerry Loves Records weren't you? That's not actually Gerry Love's (from Teenage Fanclub) record label, is it?
J: They love Gerry Love.
P: The guys who run Gerry Loves Records, I think they became best pals in Aberdeen, listening to Teenage Fanclub, and I think the first gig they went to together was Teenage Fanclub. They're obsessed with Teenage Fanclub. They're the best guys.
J: They're like our spirit guides.
P: They came to see us one night in Edinburgh, and bought us loads of beers afterwards. They're the best dudes because they just love music and care about music and don't care about any kind of label bullshit. They just release music from their friends' bands and they really care about it. Our goal with the band at that point was to get one of our songs on a 7", then we'd have done everything we wanted to do. They offered to do that so we were just totally beyond stoked. I don't think anybody would have thought anything would have gone as far as it's gone. At that point we were content with what had gone on, but when they gave us that 7" we had something to push, and tour with. They really fueled the band in a big way. There wasn't loads of press and it wasn't on a big label, but just in giving us this thing that was ours to play shows with and tell people about. It was cool to be able to pass it on to other musicians. What's the guy from the Buzzcocks called, I always forget his name... 

Pete Shelley?
P: Yeah, I gave a copy to Pete Shelley.
Ryan: I remember that!
P: Yeah, you were there but you weren't in the band yet.
R: Just lurking around, ever hopeful.
P: That was the cool thing about that 7", they gave us a thing so that we could let people know that we were a band. They're a really great label. 

How did you go from there to Fat Cat, this big Transatlantic label?
P: With Gerry Love's we were never really 'on the label' as such. I guess we were just writing and gigging so much, we had enough stuff that could potentially be an album, and we were just like "Fuck it, let's keep going and see what happens". We never really shopped around for a label, or looked for it, we just wanted to do little releases with labels. We played a showcase festival in Inverness called Go North, and Alex who runs the British side of Fat Cat, he saw us at this venue that was this terrible old man pub, called 'Flames' or something like that...
R: 'Phoenix'. I think it's now called 'Deeno's'. With two 'E's...
P: Yeah. We played in there and it was the most rowdy Inverness show we'd ever had. We'd either played in places where it was really quiet, and we'd played in our friend's skate shop, called Creative Skate Store, when it got shut down after ten minutes. We had to lock half the people out. They're the best guys up here man, they're doing shit and keeping it real. Not only have they started a skate shop, they've started a place for youths in Inverness to go and hang out and have an identity. Inverness has been notorious for kids having nothing to do, but now there's a place where they can go and annoy the staff and play pool and drink tea and get to know the other kids, and they're all starting to skate. I used to work in a skate shop called North 57; I did my work experience there from school and I stayed on. When that shut down the whole skate scene in the Highlands just stopped. All these kids stopped skating and started drinking and smoking instead. The guys that run Creative have just made a go of it, they've revitalised it a million percent. They've got a skatepark coming next year.



You're all from small towns, and your music seems to be very influenced by that background. How much did small town life inform the music you make now?
P: A hundred million percent.
J: Boringness always breeds creativity.
R: I was joking about that the other day, because when we were on tour I got really excited about driving through a couple of these small towns that we knew people were from. The one I always talk about is Dayton, Ohio, where Guided By Voices and The Breeders are from. And also Dave Chappelle. I was so excited about driving through there, then we were there like "This is a total fucking shit hole", but of course it's a shit hole because that's the reason those guys did those bands. I think when you're in a small place you do feel compelled to do more.
P: I can't generalise, but I think if you live in a big city, and there's a lot of people who are like you... Say I'm a goth in Glasgow, then there's going to be other goths at school that I can relate to. If you're a goth in Tain you're getting burned at the stake. They hate you. You're more compelled to do something about it rather than just being all "Oh well, I've got my group".
R: People in cool cities still do great stuff but I think people from shit holes are more driven to do it.
P: In Tain there was literally three or four of us that were total freaks and liked that sort of thing, and we couldn't go to Inverness because there was nothing happening and we weren't old enough to go into places, so we would rent a Brownie hall or a Scout hall and put on a show that three of our friends would go to, and maybe their parents would stand at the back. And we'd be angry at them for supporting us because we were trying to do a punk thing. Haha! I think you're more compelled to do stuff if everything around you is shit. Especially if you get bullied and you're a bit different. One thing we were talking about the whole time we were away - if you're a skateboarder in America, you're cool. If you're a skateboarder here, you're scum. A lot of the reason I got into doing music was through the people I met through skateboarding. 

The music in skate videos?
P: Probably seventy five percent of my music tastes come from the first time I saw Sorry. Or the first time I got given the old Zero videos.


You released an EP called Misled Youth...
P: It's just a nod, but it has nothing to do with anything in that video. It's just my favourite title for a skate video, because that's exactly what it is. It always appealed to me. In the Highlands, if you're into that sort of thing, people look at you as if you are misled, a fuck up. Like if you want to roll around on a plank of wood and talk about music with your buddies, you're misled. It's not really what most people's grandparents or parents would see as normal. It was more about that. About being a freak. 

Ryan, you're the new guy. How did you come to be here?
R: I'm from Orkney, but it was through a bunch of people that I know from Inverness that I ended up meeting Phil. It was about six years ago and we were in different bands. 

And what were the names of these bands?
J: Kaiser Chiefs.
R: Yeah, Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fi. Haha!
P: I was actually managing Chas n' Dave at that time.
R: These were the first bands we were in. Phil was about 15 and I was 19 or 20, and we were the only people there that took a smoke, so we went and hung out in the carpark. We didn't know each other but we knew everybody else from each other's band. Phil was like "I like Sonic Youth!" and I was like "Fuck! I like Sonic Youth! Do you like Dinosaur Jr?" "Yeah! I like Dinosaur Jr!" and it just kept going like this for ages and ages and he was weirded out that I knew all these bands and I was weirded out that he knew all these bands because the bands that we were playing for sounded nothing like these fucking bands. So we pretty much bonded there and then over a mutual love for all these weird bands. Eventually a few years later I bumped into Phil in Glasgow and it turned out he was starting another band, and I saw PAWS' first show at Stereo...
J: Were you at that?!
P: Were you at the first show?! That conversation I had with Ryan was the incentive for me to leave the band I was in. There was one dude in that band that liked the stuff I liked, but we were playing music like the Faint and stuff, kind of like electronic stuff.
R: Same with us.
P: It was either go to school or drop out and play in this band that I didn't really feel, but it was a bit more of an experience rather than sitting around in school. My mum was like "Fuck school, go and be in a band". So I did that but I wasn't happy, then I had that conversation with him and I realised there were more people - outwith this little group I was in - that were actually into the things I was into. So that was enough incentive to think "Well, fuck this", and move to Glasgow.
R: It was weird because I saw PAWS, and I ended up loving it, I thought it was great, and I actually ended up writing about it for a few different magazines, just local ones like The List and The Skinny. The first time I ever got a 'thank you' on the back of a CD was with these guys.
P: He even sang guest vocals with us a couple of times when he was drunk.


Phil ponders.

So you're like the Henry Rollins of the band, the fan who ends up joining.
R: That's the best thing anyone's ever said to me! 

Henry Rollins ruined Black Flag!
R: OK, that's the worst thing anyone's ever said to me! I hope I'm not going to completely ruin the band! Thanks Neil. Although Henry Rollins is a bit of a hero of mine. Although I know he can be a dick. So anyway they were playing a show at the GU, and for a laugh they said I should come up for the last song and basically just scream. I thought "I can do that!" We were always friends and we would see each other here and there while we were each doing other things. About six months ago I was walking home from work and I bumped into Josh's flatmate, who at the time had said about two sentences to me the whole time I knew him, and he said out of the blue "You might want to speak to Phil and Josh", and I hadn't seen those guys in a few months. He said "Matt's just left the band, I think they want you to join PAWS". So I walked in, and they had no idea I was there, and they started freaking out.
P: Matt had left the band, and it was a pretty stressful time; we were touring non-stop. We'd just come back from a European tour and a festival in Dublin that I think had destroyed Matt.
J: Because he was driving.
P: Yeah. He left and we had this American tour booked, and all this other amazing stuff, and we didn't know what we were going to do. We'd never thought about who we would want to play with because we had no idea he was going to leave. In my head the only guy that would make any sense at all would be Ryan, but we hadn't even finished discussing it by the time he came in. Because Josh's roommate had blabbed. 

Because you'd told him?
P: Not really, we were sitting there getting drunk having a conversation about who our favourite bass players were, and we said Ryan, and then he was there about two hours later.
R: It was really good for me, because for the first half of that year I was trying really hard to do freelance writing and stuff, and I was fuckin' dying on my ass. I was struggling to pay rent. I'd just got a job in a restaurant and I'd resigned myself to spending the whole summer, and probably beyond, working in this shitty job. And then two weeks later this happened, and they're like"Do you want to come to America with us?" Three weeks after that we're in America.
P: Our first American tour with Ryan was really great. We got to play with some of our favourite bands. It seemed to make more sense with this new format, where everybody was just ready to go into it and absolutely slam it when we were playing with bands like Fucked Up and stuff.


What was the story about Ian MacKaye inviting you round?
P: That was so surreal. When we met Ryan he'd been interviewing people, but more so for himself, and one of those people was Ian.
R: When we were over in America and these guys were telling me all where we were going, and I was like "Holy shit, we're playing DC!" I'd interviewed Ian before... My good friend 'Ian'... 

Mine too.
R: Have you interviewed him too? Gnarly! 

He's not an easy person to get to agree to an interview, so props.
R: That was the thing. I had done a few interviews before, and I was like "I wonder if I can an interview with someone I actually really like", because I got in trouble for trying to sort out my own interviews before, for other magazines because they said if I use their name and it doesn't go through it makes them look bad. 

Not The Skinny?
R: (nods) 

Sophie who runs it is just brilliant, but that magazine is so terrible.
R: I'm glad you said that man. I once got £20 for doing a 1,200 word piece. If I did the same thing for a newspaper I would have got a couple of hundred quid. 

Every album they review gets either three or four out of five. It's like they don't want to commit to anything.
P: Nothing's great, and nothing's shit.
J: That's basically a stupid system in the first place. You can't 'rate' something like that.
P: Why did Pitchfork give us 7.1? It's a good score, but what earned us that extra point-one?! What was the lyric that nudged it over? 

At least the Wire describe the music. Rather than trying to mark it out of something.
P: Pitchfork try to do that all the time, but they fuck it up. We were laughing about Pitchfork the other day because when Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie first came out the slated it, then when the reissue came out they bumped it up three points. How the fuck do you say something's shit then say it's great because it's aged? 

Sorry Ryan, go on.
R:After I got into trouble I thought about just doing it for myself, so I sent an email to Dischord asking how I would get in touch with Ian.
J: Ian at Dischord dot com?
R: Haha! Yeah. I got a reply back saying "Hi Ryan, this is Ian. When do you want to talk?" My mind was blown. If you've spoken to him you'll know, he's such a cool guy but he's very challenging to speak to. He's really accommodating but he's quite aggressive. 

He doesn't take a breathe, he doesn't pause or hesitate...
R: That was the coolest thing he said to me, he said "Just make sure you have a recorder because I talk lots and I talk fast". So when I knew we were playing DC, I - for a laugh - sent him an email, just to say we were playing. You never know, if he's around he might want to come to the show or something. He said he was going to be busy that night, but he might be able to get out later, but he was on the other side of town. Then he said "Failing that, let me know the next day and you can come over and I'll show you round Dischord". I was like "Fuuuuuuck!" Then we got the opportunity to come back here and play pretty much one of the biggest shows we could have played, which was playing with The Breeders when they did 'Last Splash'. They're one of our biggest influences, so we had to do that. We managed to fly back a a day early and play the show, which was amazing, but it meant we couldn't do the DC show. I emailed him back and thanked him for the offer, and said that hopefully we'd be back sometime soon and he said just to let him know.
P: It was weird emailing Ian MacKaye to say "Sorry we can't come to Dischord, we're playing with The Breeders". I was a bit gutted about not going to Dischord because I became obsessed with that kind of stuff because of Gray Matter...


In the Flip video?
P: That's exactly the reason I became infatuated with that label. It's really hard to find anything by that band online, or to buy their original releases. Dischord don't really press it any more because nobody really wants it. I was really excited about going to Dischord so I could ask Ian everything I wanted to know about Gray Matter. That was the first punk rock band I got into that wasn't from my older brother telling me about British punk, or Nirvana and stuff like that. I just watched that video over and over. To this day I think the soundtrack on that video is just ridiculous. A year after that I played my first gig, as a twelve year old at school, and we covered 'Burn No Bridges', the song in Boulala's part.
R: That's the thing. I'm a huge Minor Threat and Fugazi fan, but it's more the stuff he did around those bands that fascinates me. 

When I first heard Fugazi they were still active, and I was able to go and see them, but you must have heard so much stuff you'd have missed otherwise through skate videos.
P: I always find it intensely hilarious what the general public's consensus of what skateboarders listen to is. In reality, I wouldn't know who the Delgados were, or who Belle and Sebastian were, or Gray Matter and I wouldn't have listened to David Bowie if it wasn't for skateboard videos. And that's ridiculous! But as a young teenager, nobody in my family told me to listen to David Bowie. Skate videos are some of my favourite mixtapes.
R: I remember, another interview I did, with RM Hubbert. And he used to be really into skating. He's a huge Minutemen fan, and a Mike Watt fan, and he said that the reason he got into that was a Santa Cruz video. Streets On Fire. He said the soundtrack was pretty much all SST, so I went back and watched it and it was all Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, fIREHOSE...


Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai used to always bang on about how he was a skateboarder. Posing in NME or whatever. He's also the worst person I've ever interviewed.
P: Our friend Ben's in that band Fuck Buttons, and they were playing in Glasgow recently and we went down. Stuart's a big Fuck Buttons fan. I'd been skating all day and I had my board with me, and we're backstage drinking with Ben and Stuart's there, and he had these brand new fuckin' Rowleys on, and a Thrasher t-shirt and shit. He goes "Oh, do you skate? I skate." All this shit. I was just thinking "No you don't". After everybody cleared out I was skating there for about two hours while they were all drinking. It was in SWG3 and it's really smooth, and I was just doing stuff over the barrier from the stage - it's the perfect height to just fuck around in there. Stuart was just standing around watching and you could tell straight off the bat he doesn't have a fucking clue, it's all just an image thing for him. Maybe he can drop in or whatever, but you can instantly tell that if he skates he doesn't skate for the reason that he wants to be a skateboarder. He just wants to fulfill an image or something. It's quite sad. I'm not hating on Mogwai or Staurt Braithwaite but when it comes to bands attaching themselves to the whole skate thing it really pisses me off. I don't understand why anybody would want to adopt 'being a skateboarder' as a fashion thing.
R: You're instantly fake if you don't do it. 

It's like basing your image on what toothpaste you use.
J: Yeah! It's like if I went around dressed as a footballer. "Oh, do you play?" "Nah, I just like the stuff". Big socks with shinpads, sliding around the street in football boots.
P: Maybe Stuart does fucking skate, but I highly doubt it. 

I think he used to. As much as everybody used to. When Back To The Future came out or whatever.
R: Haha! He's maybe got a hoverboard. He can probably afford one.
P: You can tell. All the people I skate with, when they're walking around you wouldn't know they were skateboarders. Whereas all these people who don't skate, are definitely trying to look like they must be skateboarders. You can tell there are real people in music who do skate, because they're not hyping the fact that they do it. Like Odd Future, they're a prime fuckin' example of that. Some of those dudes in that crew are really good. Have you seen their Berrics edit thing?
R: It's maybe not quite the same because it's punk so maybe it's kind of expected, but Cerebral Ballzy and Trash Talk and stuff like that all skate. 

And Municipal Waste and all that. I think that comes from the whole Suicidal Tendencies thing.
R: Yeah. Those are a few bands who write songs about skateboarding, but it's because they skate.
P: There are so many bands right now that make me feel nauseous with the "We smoke weed, we surf, we do all that" stuff. It's like "No you don't, you live in Paisley. You've never seen a wave and you've probably only smoked council brown in your life". Everybody's banging on and writing songs about how their stoned, and skating all the time. Shut the fuck up. There's been an influx of bands like that, maybe because of Wavves. None of them skate. They don't say they do, but they've totally pushed this whole wave of bullshit. There are so many bands in Glasgow that just piss me off because they're so desperate to fulfill this stereotype. This surf-y, skate-y, smoking weed thing. When that becomes something you're aspiring to be, then you're fucked. It's not 'cool', it's a thing that you do. 


Didn't you get noised up outside the pub when you were wearing a Thrasher top?
P: Here's the thing. The whole Glasgow skate community is fucking bizarre to me. I'm not from here, and moving from Tain to here, I was thinking "shit, there's going to be so many more skateboarders here. I am stoked". And I moved into a flat that was across the road from Kelvingrove so I was going there every day when I moved there. And the fucking static that was involved with going to that park if you're not part of that crew or from one of the areas those guys grew up in is really sickening. I thought that if you were a skateboarder, and somebody else is a skateboarder, then you instantly have something in common. Like Andy White, he is the fucking dude. That guy rips so much harder than all of those guys and if he sees you trying something that you're not getting he'll come over and take your board and show you how to do it. He's such an inspiration for the skate thing in Glasgow, but he obviously wouldn't think that. He's so rad, but all the rest of those dudes are so caught up in this almost gang mentality. And that sucks. But one night i was in Sleazy's, and we had just came back from SXSW where Thrasher had asked us to play. We were playing with Wavves, Bleached, Trash Talk, all this shit, at the mini ramp watching Ben Raybourn slay the ramp. He was just destroying that mini ramp when we were playing. And then I come back here and I'm wearing this hoody that I got from Phelps - he was just giving out shit to all the bands - and after we got a write-up in Thrasher, and these guys were all "What the fuck you wearing that hoody for? Fucking poser." I had my board, and I'd been skating all day, and those guys were all "Come on then, tre flip". I'm not going to fucking jump for them. I just assumed that as long as you're rolling you're of a similar mentality. 

It wouldn't have been Tom Shimmin that said that.
P: Nah, Shimmin's cool. I don't know him, but I've seen him rip.



You've got a label.
P: It's me and Josh, with some other friends. It basically started by accident. As long as I've been making music with friends I've always made shitty CDs and tapes of said music to give away at gigs. I hate how the majority of bands in the UK will record demos and demos and they'll never release anything until they have a proper studio recording released. We didn't have money to go to a studio or anything like that, so anything we recorded, we saw as a good representation of what we were doing at the time. I'd buy 20 or 30 cassette tapes and dub them all just so we had something to give away at our shows. By the time we had three different tape releases people were asking about it, and what label it was on and stuff. We didn't really have an answer, but I thought that if I was doing it for my band I could do it for my friends bands, and maybe group it all together so that this stuff has a home. I guess we were running a label without thinking about it, so we decided we should give it a name and keep doing it. But I haven't done it for a while. One band we released just got way too much hype, because we were doing so much, and people knew it was our label. Because we were getting attention it felt like anything we did got attention too. That wasn't right because those bands were great on their own merits, rather than me stamping an approval on something. I don't really want to talk about that. 

Can you talk about who that band were?
P: They're called Honeyblood, and they're my ex-girlfriend's band. They recently got signed to Fat Cat. It's a load of bullshit basically. I put all my effort into releasing this thing for my girlfriend, then I got dumped and they got signed. It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's essentially how it looks in hindsight. 

Can that go in?
P: Yeah, I don't give a fuck. It freaked me out because I was running a label on bedroom ethics, and I put this out because I loved someone, not because I thought they were going to be huge or anything. They could have done that on their own and I'd have had no attachment to it. we're going to release something properly now, we're going to do a 7" for Black Cop. 


Why did you put tapes out before? it's an awkward medium.
P: It was all I could afford.
J: You could afford CDs as well, but they're fucking shit. Tape sounds nice.
P: As annoying as they are, when you actually find somewhere to play it, it sounds great. Tapes are second to vinyl, then CDs are somewhere way off. I'd take MP3 over CD. I like tapes because if people own it they must really like you, because they have to go out their way to listen to it. You know if they're buying it they're actually gonna listen to it.
J: I don't have a computer or anything, and for a while I only had this old ghetto blaster than my grandma gave me. That was the only means I had to listen to music so I'd go round charity shops and buy stuff up. I found some Sonic Youth singles once. I'd just listen to tapes all the time, until Sean fucked it. Tapes are something you can do yourself, in the house. Unless you have a fucking vinyl press in the house then your next best option is tape.
P: It's hard because you need patience. I couldn't afford to buy the tapes and have them dubbed. I could afford to buy them and - with my ex-girlfriend's release - sit and listen to those songs a hundred times each. You can't turn it down or it doesn't go on the tape. It's not just like burning something on your laptop.


Phil, I know you lost your mum to cancer last year. She definitely seems to have inspired a lot of the music you do.
P: It's kind of more fucked up because - this sounds insane - but two days ago I found out that my dad isn't my dad. And I'm half Spanish. It's a really weird time to ask because this is even more important now than it was then. On the last day of our tour, in LA, my brother who lives there that I haven't seen for ten years disclosed this information to me because he felt like no-one else was ever gonna. He thought my mum was the only one that would ever tell me, but now he knew it was his job to tell me. I found out that the guy who I'd been believing was my dad for 23 years isn't. Obviously he still is, because he brought me up, but I don't really see eye to eye with the guy. I never have, and this is why, I guess. My mum was with this Spanish guy, and for the benefit of everyone I guess she decided it'd be a secret. There's an eleven year gap between me and my older brother, and I've had all of this shit my whole life. The first day I went to school, these kids were "Where are you from? You don't look like you're Scottish", and all this shit. There's been loads of gaps in my life that I've always just ignored, because I had no reason to believe that I wasn't related to my dad. We respect each other, but we have no similar interests, no involvement in each others' lives. It sounds like I'm making this up, but I found out yesterday that he now has cancer. So I found out that within two days of finding out he's not my dad. 

Have you spoken to him about him not being your dad?
P: Not yet. I've decided not to. So now my relationship with my mum is even more intense. My whole life, she brought me up under the pretense that I was special to her, that I was different to my other brothers. I thought it was to try to raise my self-esteem because I was a really depressed teenager, but I know now in hindsight that it was because she was obsessed with Spanish culture, and wanted to move to Spain and all this shit. And now I know that she was calling me special and all this stuff because I was a Spanish kid that she'd had. My whole life I had a really extreme relationship with my mum, because she was the only person other than my oldest brother telling me to pursue anything I wanted to do as long as I didn't do it half-assed and as long as I didn't fuck around. To the point where she let me drop out of school to be in a band, even if it was a shit band, as long as I was serious and wanted to learn from that experience and apply it to my life and figure out what I wanted to do. She was always pretty full on with always pushing me to do what I wanted to do, and not do anything that was boring or stagnating. When she got ill the band was just starting to do pretty well. The day before she passed away we had a gig booked in London. It was the gig that Fat Cat came to and decided they wanted to sign us. She was literally dying, and then eventually I had a choice between going to her funeral and doing this gig. I went to the gig, but I somehow made it back to Inverness on a bus to go to the thing, but she wanted me to do my own thing to such a degree that she didn't give a fuck if I missed her funeral. Before her passing I had this urge, this compelling desire to do these things, but now it's the only thing I have. It feels more natural. If I didn't do anything I wanted to it'd be like I was lying to her and to myself. Her whole life she'd just tell me to fuck complacency, and fuck where you're from, and fuck getting caught up in what other people think or expect of you. Just do everything you want to do. I guess the effect of losing someone that close to you is just to embody their life's efforts in encouraging you to do something and not give up on it. To follow through on the things you say you're going to do. I know a lot of people who shit about "I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that" and then months later they've not even lifted a finger to do anything. The positivity I got from my mum is just to encourage people I know to do things they want to. Don't be a dick, just do it. Otherwise you'll be sitting around when you're 60, if you're lucky to make it that far, saying "Why the fuck didn't I do that?" It's better to do something and fail than sit around on your ass getting old and boring and not try something you really care about. Live healthy and make sure you can pay your rent, even if only just. 


Plans for 2014?
P: I think we're going to tour, like three times as much as we did this year. The new album comes out in May. We're doing a full UK tour in February, then a European tour with We Are Scientists, who are fucking great guys. Then we're going back to America for more touring. We're doing a Highlands and Islands tour, Shetland, Orkney, those places.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Witch

It's pretty lazy to call any loud, bass-driven psychedelic rock 'Stoner Metal', but it happens all the time. Sometimes, I suppose the bands are happy with it. Weedeater and Sleep, you'd imagine, probably don't go out their way to distance themselves from the label. Queens of the Stone Age got called it for a while, but they didn't like it. Witch get called it quite a lot, just because they play that riff-heavy, bass-driven, propulsive, noisy rock music. They do tick a lot of the boxes that qualify a band as Stoner Metal, but there's so much more going on with them than that label would suggest. Formed in 2005 by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr and his friend Dave Sweetapple, Witch have their roots as much in U.S. hardcore as they do in metal - two genres that don't often see eye to eye - and while these influences are definitely identifiable in their music, the sound they make is simultaneously incomparable to either. We spoke to Dave just after he returned to the States following a trip to Europe.


How was Europe?
Europe was a lot of fun. I went along to tour manage part of the Earthless tour and launch the first round of decks the French and I doing on 1939, which included an Earthless board, but the plant never got them finished in time. The only item we had along with us was a 1939 collaboration t-shirt with Alan Forbes art on it. But yeah man, record shopping, good eats, and late night tourist shite made it all worth it.

Did you have a favourite town, or show?
I'd have to say London was my favourite town. I knew quite a few people that came out to the show and it was kinda like a party rather than a show where you pull into a town, play, pack up and leave. And of course, French and his wife Chrissie came out which was awesome. When he gets a few beers in him, he blossoms into a wonderful arsehole. He pretty much emptied the the backstage fridges of beer. Stood by me at the merch booth all night and yelled at people buying things. It was great fun, especially when the prospective buyer would ask for a deal on two or more items... He would swoop in and start berating them, "What the fuck do you think this is mate, a fucking bazaar in Marrakesh? You see the price. Fucking pay the man". I was laughing my ass off all night.


How did you meet French, and how did 1939 come about? I don't think too many people over here know much about that.
French and I met at a think-tank in Wyoming. I have no idea why we were there, except it was good food and beverage with a really nice outdoor pool. After a few more times of hanging out and having a mutual interest in skating and music, we decided to start this new company. Of course, he has been putting out boards for a long time through his Witchcraft Hardware brand, and I've been involved with releasing music for many years, so we thought... "Hey let's mix the two!" So we decided to start doing skateboard decks with band graphics on them, mostly in old school shapes. The first three decks were kind of a no-brainer... Witch, because I play in it, and the Earthless and Graveyard ones because it's like doing stuff for family. Coming up are boards for Doomriders and High On Fire, with a few more in the pipeline. It's not like this is a new concept, as there have been sick board designs in the 80s for bands like Metallica and Gang Green, The Big Boys and so on, but for me, those boards always meant something a little more than just a simple generic graphic. it was like wearing your favourite band on your t-shirt.


Do you like being called a Stoner band? I've always thought that term was kind of marginalising.
That's true. I have never liked that term. At first I was completely against it and to drive that point home, our label Tee Pee put some disclaimer in the press kit. It was sent around stating something to the effect of "Not to be pigeonholed in the Stoner rock category". But these days I don't really care. It's easier to call it that than say, "It sounds like Sabbath mixed with...".

What records made you want to form Witch, and make this music?
It wasn't so much listening to records that made us want to start Witch as it was a reaction to what was going on in our area (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) in the mid 2000s. Mascis and I more or less came from the same musical background, classic hard rock into punk followed by hardcore. We'd been going to these shows in our area, more as a social thing than even for the music itself. There was a whole thing going on in these hill towns, which at the time hadn't yet been called Free Folk or Freak Folk or whatever you want to call it. There were tons of bands and they were playing this mellow, folky, falsetto vocal, clanging, folk music... Not that it was bad but it just had so little energy. One day, J and I were talking to Kyle (Witch singer/guitarist) who at the time was playing in an eight-piece folk band called Feathers, making fun of the 'scene', and J starts talking shit about how when we were his age, we listened to and played music that had balls. Kyle more or less dared us to start playing with him and after a few practices, we decided to record the first LP.


Just after you formed Witch, Dinosaur Jr reformed. Were you worried that your drummer might end up being too busy with his old band?
No, I was psyched for him and the fact that his second wind swept in. It did mean not doing certain things at times but none of us had that 'do or die' mentality about the Witch 'making it'. We just pick and choose things that make sense these days.

Were you a fan of the Californian band Witch? Have you met those guys?
No, truthfully we'd never heard of them before. same goes for the African band called Witch. 'Witch' is a tough thing to Google or whatever because it's such a basic, common word. Upon first looking into the name, nothing else had appeared relating to a band using that moniker.

Do you listen to any music that might surprise people? Did your listening habits change over the first couple of years of the band? It sounds like they might have.
I used to be a partner in a music distribution company, and we carried anywhere between 300 to 400 labels at any given time, so it meant exposure to a lot of different bands and a lot of different types of music. If anything I've reverted back to rudimentary shit from my childhood and followed some of that lineage to find new things to listen to. Before the punk/hardcore days, it was all classic rock from me. When I got out of the distro racket, i pretty much stopped listening to new music, mostly because it had been a job. Then I got back into enjoying music.

What do you think of the hardcore scene these days?
I don't really follow the hardcore scene much these days. Like every genre, it has splintered so much that it's hard to keep track of what's out there. Like metal, it's become really watered down with tons of derivative bands. I'm not saying I don't still buy hardcore records, I'm just a lot more selective of what I do buy. Check out Obliterations. They're from Los Angeles and have that '82 style thing going on.


Did you know your Roadburn set was going to be released?
The German cassette?

Yeah.
Yes. Chris from the label asked about releasing a live Witch recording and I didn't really have much other than the Roadburn thing to give him.

What appeals to you about cassettes? It's quite an impractical medium.
Truthfully, nothing appeals to me about cassettes. I hate them as much as I hate CDs. I gave away almost everything I owned on cassette and CD, except for a few nostalgic things, like the first Bad Brains tape, and some other stuff form the early skate days... There's Raw Power- the Italian band- 'Live', the Toronto Hardcore '83 compilation, Direct Action, etc. These days I only have a basic stereo amp and a turntable at home. I got rid of the cassette and CD players. 

Witch isn't as full-time a project as it could be. Does that make it easier to make music, knowing everything's on your own terms?
Yes, the pressure isn't there to bang out a record every year and try to stay at the top of the heap. We do shows or whatever for fun and if we happen to record then cool, and if not, same thing. 

Witch isn't your day-job, is it?
No, I do a bunch of stuff. I work for a couple of record labels and do the 1939 skate thing as well. Witch is just one of the bands I play with. I just got the test pressings for a new project I'm doing with a few friends. There is no name attached to it yet, but it's it's more doomy that than the others. A drummer friend and I recorded the basics riffs, sent it to California where another friend added layers of guitar, and then the whole thing was sent to Bergen in Norway where vocals and Moog parts were woven into it. It all came back to Vermont where it was mixed and that'll come out later this year.


Can you tell us who's involved?
Sure, I play bass and the drummer is Terri Christopher from 27, who are on Relapse. The guitar was added by Tim Lehi. He's co-owner of Black Heart Tattoo in San Francsico and records solo stuff under the name Draugar. He's a sick artist as well. He did the last High On Fire album cover. The singer is Grutle, who is the frontman for the Norwegian black metal band The Enslaved.

Is that hard work? It sounds a lot more complicated than jamming with your friends in a studio.
No, it was quite easy and stress free actually, because you can do it on your own time without doing multiple takes as a band. The problem is that those freedoms eat time like nothing else. It took us months and months to end up with the recently finished masters, but it's just a project, so it's not a big deal.

What's it like at Tee-Pee? They seem like a pretty good label.
Tee Pee has gone through many phases since I have been involved with it. It's a fine label with much recognition, but a book could be written about the label itself based on all the drama surrounding it. 

Have you got the nicest name in metal?
You know what they say about apples...


How do you know the Earthless guys, and how did the Volcom split EP come about?
Getting to know the Earthless guys came from being signed to Tee Pee around the same time. Witch and Earthless did a few shows in Europe together around the time that we both played our first Roadburn sets. Then we did some east and west coast U.S. tours to follow. (Earthless drummer and former pro skateboarder) Mario Rubalcaba actually filled in as the Witch drummer on a tour or two when Dinosaur first started its reunion shows. Tee Pee used to be like a real family back then, with all the bands touring together and hanging out in each others towns. Bands like Witch, Earthless, Graveyard, Assemble head in Sunburst Sound, Annihilation Time... It was one big family. Things got a little divided in years to follow with newer bands being signed, but I have to say that from that original group of mid 2000s bands, we are all still very tight. I see the same kind of vibe starting these days with a bunch of newer bands, bands like The Shrine, Hot Lunch, Lecherous Gaze, Carousel and so on... With regards to the Volcom split, Kurt, who runs the music division over there, just asked us to do it and we said "Definitely".

What do you think of the new Black Sabbath album? And the new Black Flag line-up..?
I haven't heard the new Sabbath. I'm not sure why, but I haven't had the desire to even check it out. I did, however, buy the new Deep Purple and it fucking rules. I haven't paid much attention to the Black Flag drama. Two bands playing the same songs with different line ups. Pick your kings.  

What are your musical plans for this year? A third Witch LP?
Hopefully, one of these days, we, Witch, will all be in the same room and bang out another record. If it doesn't happen, well... Once this U.S./Norwegian thing comes out, I'm planning on working on another one of those long distance recordings. Time is tough with that one though, as the singer plays in a touring metal band who are rarely home. Another band I started a while back is called Dusty Skull. We released a single earlier this year on Outer Battery Records. It features, me and the drummer from 27, and Graham from Witch and Lecherous Gaze, with Isaiah from Earthless on vocals. I really want to do a full length of that stuff. I guess I just need to book a ticket to Oakland and get it started.