Howard Smith of Acid Reign Interview

Howard Smith of Acid Reign Interview

29th September 2016 0 By Rich Price

We caught up with Howard Smith of UK thrash legends Acid Reign to talk about Bloodstock and arguably the biggest gig of their career so far.


Hi Howard, How are you?

Funnily enough I’m speaking having just read the laziest review of our Bloodstock performance i think I’ll ever read. Within the first two sentences it says ‘If you’ve never seen the band they’re similar to thrash contemporaries Lawnmower Deth’

I was just thinking right okay, we performed a seven minute epic called thoughtful sleep about a boy who kills himself due to parental neglect, they perform one and a half minutes songs about Lawnmowers and running over grandmothers and somehow because we have fun live that makes us similar. Whatever? Unbelievable.


I guess that’s a bit of a lazy reference because of the Kev connection?

I dunno, It cracks me up, I was talking to Paul about it today, actually. He said it used to really annoy him back in the day as he was an Acid Reign fan. It used to annoy us and it used to annoy our fans that people used to refer to us as a joke band, when in fact we take our music very seriously and we write very serious music. The fact that we piss about live and don’t give a fuck doesn’t make us a joke band, it just makes us a normal band who just have a sense of humour.


I remember getting into you when Kev joined Lawnmower Deth, so I checked out Acid Reign and thought this is fantastic and I never saw the connection as obnoxious was quite a serious thrash album, and a really good Thrash album which I really enjoyed.

Well thank you very much because that’s my favourite too


But it wasn’t a joke it was really good proper stuff with good thoughtful lyrics.

And there’s a Funk break at the end and a speed up tune and that’s it. As opposed to the entire album, everybody’s name on it, every song being a joke. Which is absolutely no criticism of Lawnmower Deth in this at all, by any stretch of the imagination. As anybody in Lawnmower Deth will tell you, How you compare the two bands musically, because there’s nothing similar whatsoever.

So you’ve recently rebooted, How has it been going for you?


It’s a year ago now, we released Plan of the Damned last summer. To give everybody an idea of what the new lineup was capable of. That went down a storm and then we toured in October and everybody realised that we could deliver the goods live if not better than the old lineup. I mean really we’ve been, Bloodstock was mentioned as a how would you fancy headlining the Saturday next year, that was mentioned to me at Bloodstock last year. That was a real possibility and at that stage we hadn’t even done a gig. Various bods from Bloodstock came to see us on the re-booted tour and loved it. We got offered the Saturday show, and we’ve done a few bits and pieces in between time, a few gigs here and there, we also went over and played the Eindhoven metal meeting last year, which went phenomenally well. Then all roads led to Bloodstock.

We’re writing new material as we speak, I’m demoing new material next weekend. All roads led to Bloodstock, and to be honext i think, i hope, that this is one of the last interviews whereby I talk about the band as a new band or as a new lineup because i think what Bloodstock did or us was make everybody realised that this incarnation of Acid Reign is Acid Reign and basically that’s it. There’s nobody in that tent at Bloodstock going ‘aww where’s Kev?’ and funnily enough not at any of the rebooted gigs. If anything we’ve had people coming up to us saying wow that was better than i remember you from the old days. That might sound arrogant if it weren’t a) true and B) Kev said the very same thing when he came to see us.


I never got to catch you originally as I was a bit too young, but I was absolutely punching the air when I found out you were playing Bloodstock. I was in the photography at Bloodstock struggling to keep up as you were belting across the stage in that pink suit. I nearly got dizzy and fell over.

Oh that’s brilliant I didn’t realise you were at Bloodstock?


Yeah, it was an amazing gig, I was really looking forward to it, and it was was like ‘Boom!’ when you started, and wow!

Ahh so you know exactly what I mean then. Yeah we pretty much fucking went for it! It’s been described by one of the websites that reviewed us, one of the fastest thrash sets of the weekend. We certainly didn’t hold back, Marc was in no mood to hang around that night. I’m glad that after all these years you finally got to see the band. That’s awesome.


Yes it’s one of those bands you get into after the fact and then spend the next 20 years saying ‘I wish i’d have seen those’. The energy on stage was phenomenal

To be honext it’s a tired old cliche but we felt the exact same way except in reverse, the energy in the crowd was phenomenal and that spurred us on, but it has to come from the band first, you can’t expect the audience to carry the band. The band has to set the bar and we were determined to set the bar pretty high. The minute we started there was a pit and that pit lasted the entire set. As soon as we said look, security are a bit bored and they want you to come over the top, straight away people were like crowd surfing to nothing, people were crowd surfing to me saying come over the top, it was mad, it was completely and totally mad and yeah it was one of those where both parties fed of each other.

Did you manage to catch any other bands whilst you were there? One thing about Bloodstock is its support for upcoming bands and there are a lot of thrash bands coming through I was wondering if you caught any?

To be honext, no. I’m not one of those people who feels responsible for new bands coming through, or the scene. I’m basically, I kind of did my bit, and I’ve done my bit and those bands coming through. Obviously I’m aware of a few, but it’s kind of like, I’m just into my music and that is just like, was is and always will be very heavy. And if I happen to come across something that happens to be a new UK thrash band and it’s any good then I’ll play it, but I’m not going to go out of my way to look for that stuff. I’m going to be honext 85% of the time I would be disappointed.

I’m not aiming that at any particular bands because I hear a lot of new school thrash from all over the world and just think Really? Have we come nowhere in 25 years. You sound like you’ve just gone chronologically through nuclear assault, slayer, merciful fate albums and copied the riffs, rearranged them stuck your own terrible lyrics on top and that’s somehow thrash, is it?


There’s a lot of that going on at the minute?

I just feel that, if you love old school thrash, that’s fucking marvellous for you, i’m pleased for you, but don’t wear skinny jeans buy hi-tecs of ebay, wear slayer shirts and suicidal tendencies baseball caps with the peak turned up and have albums that sound like they were released 25 years ago, that’s not taking music forward, music has to progress we have to move forward.

I was part of a thrash movement 25 years ago that was new, it was new, and we were inspired by the bands we were hearing, so that made us start writing our stuff and yes there’s obvious influences in our stuff but we were trying to do something different, we were trying to do something our own way. There’s timbales on Humanoia, there’s… there’s all sorts of stuff like that and that’s what we do, because we try to push music forward. And again people might listen to this and think ‘hang on that’s just Plan of the Damned’ and you know ‘that sounds really old’ and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. We try to release contemporary Acid Reign, you know, something we think we might have released back in the day, but something a bit slicker and a bit more up to date. Because, funnily enough we don’t want albums to sound like we recorded them 25 years ago.

The New blood stage, god bless them, good luck to you all. Tonnes of admiration for all of those bands, but you know I can’t do anything for you. We’re fighting a battle to get our own career back online. We’re trying to get this tour or get that tour, get this gig or that gig, we’re way too busy doing our own thing, than being concerned with what anyone else is doing. But that’s me personally I’m sure that Pete would tell you something completely different. He’s very much a student of pretty much everybody and everything that’s around him at the moment on the heavy side of things.

But to be honext with you I watched 3 songs of Gojira, and during those 3 songs I was hassled for i think 4 selfies and I just thought ‘right okay, I’m Off’, So I watched 3 songs of Gojira and 2 were the two of my favourite songs of the new album so I was really pleased to see that, and I kind of wandered off. I had to go and help a crew member get into VIP area to get some food and stuff like that, so off i went. So basically my entire viewing experience at Bloodstock was three songs of Gojira.


Wow, that’s the polar opposite of myself, as I saw 75 bands that weekend.

But it’s different when you know you’ve got a big show that night. To stand and focus on someone else’s performance is not something that I can do. If I start watching another band, then I start thinking about us playing later that night, the adrenaline starts pumping and you just can’t afford to do that. I can’t turn the adrenaline on at 7 O’clock and walk on stage at 10:40 because I’ll be knackered, It’s kind of, almost self preservation.


I can imagine, especially with the show that you put on.

Well the thing is, It’s not even that It’s just that a regular normal human being, you can’t walk around for hours and hours with adrenaline coursing through your veins, because you’ll be worn out. It was very much a case of If i started thinking about the gig then I had to put it out of my mind. Not because I was nervous but because I knew if I thought about the gig then I’d get excited, and if i start getting excited then the adrenaline starts pumping. It’s just not time to focus on the gig yet, so you have to leave it right until the actual sound check and you’re getting your shit together in the dressing room before it’s all about to kick off. That’s when you can start affording to think bout ‘right, okay, this is actually fucking happening now!’.

The atmosphere in the dressing room before we went on was fucking amazing and manic, never mind outside. We could hear the crowd outside chanting Acid Reign a good five to ten minutes before we were due on. At that point we were thinking ‘this is so on, This is REALLY on!’ It’s one of those things though where, if i’m gigging it’s difficult to focus on anybody you know.


So one thing that’s been very popular has been the pink suit, I’ll not go into too much detail about it, I imagine everybody and their dog has asked you about it, where you bought it and the company has probably got orders for Christmas as long as their arm. But I’m just wondering how you’re going to top that for the next gig.

Well it’s funny you should ask as I had the conversation with Paul today and he said ‘yeah, it’s something you can only do once though isn’t it’ and I was like, ‘yeah I haven’t got a clue what to do next’ but then again do I actually need to do anything. I wish I could say I was a media mastermind and I knew that this suit would get attention, but i didn’t think for a minute that it would be latched onto by everyone, It’s mentioned in every review, it’s mad.


It really is, I was sitting there wondering how you were going to top that, and I had images in my head of you coming out dressed as Bernie Clifton or something.

Well, you see that WOULD be Lawnmower Deth. Ultimately I had the idea back in December, a friend of mine showed me the site called – I’d better get an endorsement –  and she was saying they did summer suits as well, and she clicked on summer suits and I saw the pink one and I just said ‘Bloodstock, that’s it I’m having that’. The top hat we bought on the day, probably about 2 hours before we went on. Mark and Paul found it, and I bumped into Paul about an hour later and he was like ‘You’ve got to come with me, You’ve got to come with me!’. I was sat with friends who I hadn’t seen in 2-3 years and he was like ‘You’ve got to come with me, you’ve got to come with me!’, So i  said okay guys I’ve got to go somewhere. Then he took me to this stall and showed me a pink top hat, and I was like ‘Oh My God’. I tried on the small but it was too small so I asked him if he had any mediums left, He had one medium left, I put it on and it was just ‘WOW!’ It was meant to be, it was meant to fucking be’, and it lasted about one song.


Yeah I remember you throwing it into the audience and thinking ’I wonder what Keith Platt would have made of that’

Well yeah funnily enough, me as a Yorkshire man, I’m still pissed off about it.


Well they’re not cheap those stores are they?

Well funnily enough it was, it was about £15 which was an absolute bargain. I asked the guy who was selling it if they had any artists discounts. He said ‘well to be honext mate normally we sell them for £25 but here we sell them at £15’ so I said, forget I asked here’s your £15. It was just one of those things. I think the way I’ll top it is by not topping it. It was just a one off, it’s not something I’ve done before and it’s not something anyone’s associated with me or my performance.

To be honext the thing i’m really pleased about with the performance more than anything else is the way the set spanned out was that the two hardest songs to sing which are plan of the damned and thoughtful sleep, we ended up with them back to back, which was a big ask. With such a big stage and so much running around I thought ‘right okay this is going to be an interesting night’, but the sound on stage was so good, it meant I could preserve my voice quite well because I could hear myself with crystal quality. So what I was pleased with most was my vocal performance, I was really pleased: which you won’t hear me say very often, in fact you won’t hear anyone say that very often about me.


The sound was actually really good all weekend, except maybe a bit for the main stage I found

Well that’s because you had a guy in the Sophie stage who does the sound every year, and he also did Xentrix’s sound when they were on the road, and of course we were on the road with Xentrix, so he knew our stuff, and that meant we had a bit of a head start.


Yes, I hear from a lot of friends in bands about the struggles they can have with sound, so it’s always good when you have a sound guy who knows what you sound like and how to bring out the best, especially in an arena like that.

Yeah, well the thing is it’s half the battle, and the fact that he knew the songs was just an absolute bonus. Very pleased about that and quite a few people have commented about how good the sound was.


I’ve got one question that’s been burning in my mind since you were talking about the younger thrash bands trying to sound like old school. I’m Interested to hear what you think about metallica’s new single.

Ahh, okay, well to be honext I quite like it. I think it’s a blunt instrument, it’s short and to the point, and to be honext I’m just absolutely thrilled to hear Hetfield swearing again. To me I don’t care what he’s singing about, if Hetfield’s swearing again then all is right with the world as far as I’m concerned: I love that. If i’m really really honext, how many times have I played it? All the way through 4 times.  Does it cross my mind at all to play it again? No.

By the same token, I’ve listened to it four times and gone, right that’s done, that’s parked, I don’t want to over-listen to that because the album’s coming in November and there’s nothing worse than listening to an album and constantly skipping the first single because you’ve listened to it to death.

So I’m a bit like that, I’m a bit like ‘yes I’ve listened to that and yes I like it’; better production without a doubt, couldn’t be much worse, well St. Anger, sorry that’s a bit silly. It’s Lars’ least annoying drumming for a while; there are still bits that annoy me, when he smashed the hi-hat and the snare at the same time which he seems to fucking love doing, and he seems to be the only person who loves doing that: That winds me up, but it’s not too bad. Then when he goes half time towards the end of the song and he goes into his um-chah um-chah um-chah beat, that does my head in when he does that as well.

Aside from Lars’ lack of ability to drum in a contemporary style, because I think are and do still sound quite contemporary bar the drumming. If you put a top thrash drummer on that song it would sound frighteningly contemporary. As it is, it doesn’t, but then again maybe that’s what makes Metallica Metallica. I don’t want to be all anti-Lars Ulrich because his work on Master of Puppets is absolutely legendary; his ability in arranging tunes is absolutely superb, so who am I to criticise. I just think that towards the end of his career he’s got very lazy with his drumming. He seems to have 4 drum beats, and I think personally that everyone else is putting a lot more work into their actual instrument.

I’m sure he’s still totally on top of his game when it comes to arranging and the rest of it which he’s famed for, him and Hetfield. I just feel the rest of the band musically certainly in their ability have left him behind a bit and he’s just sat in the background going um-chah um-chah ‘will this do fella’s?’


I was in two minds about it myself because I thought lyrically it was a bit simple, but the drumming was one of his stronger performances in a while, there was a bit more enthusiasm to it and anything which doesn’t sound like St. Anger’s snare drum is always a bonus.

Yeah, but Hetfield lyrics are always more complex than at first read. It’s an interesting take on a band that like the rest of us are getting older. Hardwired to self destruct is an interesting line coming from a band that nearly self-destructed around the time of St. Anger. Death Magnetic was always going to be interesting, this album has to be more than interesting. This album, for me, defines whether there will be another album after it or not, so it’s gotta be good.


One last question, I’ve recently started listening to the Talking Bollockz podcast and it’s been fantastic. I really like the rough and ready approach and the humour that’s in there. Humour doesn’t tend to be something readily accepted in metal, it’s often like Metals dirty little secret. You always see the promo shots of bands looking deadly serious in a disused warehouse, if a band posts picture of someone smiling then it tends to throw people off a little bit. As a band with such serious song, yet with a reputation for being fun on stage and also as you yourself being a stand up comedian, how easily do you find the balance of getting the humour right?

The honext truth is when I do the podcast, I will have a line about each story that I want to cover, and by that it’s just a line to jog my memory about the stories and that’s it. What you hear is one take and that’s it. I’ve been doing comedy 17-18 years now, so I pretty much know how to make it funny. It’s just stream of consciousness really. It’s the exact opposite of what you would think. You’d think it’s where do you find the humour in it, where do you find the angle in it, where do you find the jokes. The truth is you don’t, you just go in there and they find themselves, it’s very counter intuitive. All you need is 17-18 years experience doing stand up comedy and you too can do that.

It’s kind of like that, I don’t pressure myself, whenever I’m ranting about stuff, I’m not doing it to be funny, I’m doing it to get my point across, to get my thoughts and feelings across. I know who I am and ultimately that’s just me ranting, now sometimes I get tweets and message from people saying ‘oh that bit about blah blah blah, that was fucking hilarious. I nearly spat my lunch out’ and I’m think ‘yeah but i was being totally serious, I was making a serious point there’ but what people see and what makes them laugh is the absolute and total conviction in an opinion or a view that is so opposite to theirs, they find it funny. It’s the same as writing music, all you can do is just go for it and hope it’s not shit.


Well that’s a pretty good way to live life to be honext

Well it could be our new motto, our motto at the minute is ‘when in doubt don’t give a fuck’ but that could be our new one, just ‘go for it and hope it’s not shit’

I like that I might use it myself

Well it’s two potential new album titles there.


So what can we expect from the new podcast.

Well funnily enough it’s coming out tomorrow, and it’s a writer’s special with Xavier Russell, former Kerrang writer, and a man who was very influential in the early years of Metallica’s career, and Mike Exley who was around right back in the day, he used to write for Metal Forces. It will be an interview with those two, and there’s going to be an Acid Reign Bloodstock debrief special as well. That’s just me having a chat on the phone with each member of Acid Reign, getting their recollections thoughts and feelings two weeks after the biggest night of our career, how are you feeling?, how did it go? That’s a special which will be coming out in a couple of weeks.


I’ll be looking forward to hearing those.

The next Talking Bollockz should be coming out tomorrow


It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you thanks for the chat

Absolutely thanks a lot


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