Interview with Dave from Anaal Nathrakh22nd April 2015
AATR – Hi Dave. Thanks for taking the time out to meet today and have a chat. I was speaking to a couple of fans outside earlier as I have never seen you live before; I asked them what to expect from the show and they said ‘Fucking Metal’. Hopefully I can get you to elaborate on that today.
Dave – Hopefully yeah.
AATR – So I am guessing the shows are pretty intense; do you have a particular way of preparing yourself for the gig?
Dave – Yeah I have a set ritual in that 4 hours before the show it’s beer o’clock. I don’t drink before or after that but I drink entirely during those fours hours. Then about 10-15 mins before the show I get changed into my stage gear which is pretty much the same as these that I have got on but are ones that I won’t need afterwards because they are going to stink. Then I punch walls for five minutes and generally go a bit mad; that’s about it.
AATR – I am glad you said that to be honest; it beats saying something like “no I just drink elderberry cordial and go for it”.
Dave – Well I like to think that if you are going to do a gig then there should be a level of emotional engagement, you know what I mean? If it’s just something that you can crank out without thinking about it then why should you bother? Why would anyone find something like that inspiring. I don’t want to be performer that stands on stage feeling like they are just at the office. In this job you need to take time to separate that part of yourself from the other less interesting bits, like sitting on planes and in vans and such, and find that part that makes it interesting. We [the band] certainly try to give the fans, and ourselves, a reason to keep doing this and be the best we possibly can be.
AATR – It’s great to hear that Dave. I think now that music is so accessible with the likes of Spotify and iTunes its easy to get bogged down with mediocrity and accept it as ‘the best it gets’. I know when I heard Desideratum I thought it was unique amongst what I was hearing at the time.
Dave – Yeah I agree. There is a lot of music around that feels very, well, generic I suppose. I think what some music lacks is that sense of what is internal to you as an artist; what it is that you need to get out. What it is that you need to do to express yourself in the best way possible; that doesn’t mean it is about being the best at what you do. It’s not like trying to be the best damn accountant you can be. It is much more than that. I think that is potentially why there are so many similarities in the music world; everyone is trying to be the same thing; that is the consensus risk I guess. If you try to do something generic it will only ever be generic. Instead you have to figure out exactly what it is that you want out of it and forget what you mates or peers are doing.
AATR – So you and Mick [Kenney]. Have you known each other since school or something like that? How did you hook up?
Dave – No not since school, but we have known each other for years. We probably met when we were about, erm, well it was when we were less than twenty. I was doing a gig in the rock club in town. I was at that age when I was thinking “oh what is my place in the world, what pertains to my interest?” [laughs]. Actually I think it was in some shit hole pub. Anyway Mick walked in, he happened to be there because his brother’s band were playing later on and he’d only just moved to Birmingham. I was one of the people that he thought “if I bump into him again I will probably talk to him”. And we did, eventually.
AATR – Your sound is pretty stylised and unique. When you first started playing together did you know exactly what you wanted it to sound like or did the sound develop over time?
Dave – Well when we first started playing together Mick already had a band and he was really just happy to be playing guitar but I could do things with my voice that their singer couldn’t; make noises he couldn’t and things like that. So they asked me to sing for that band. They were doing things like Cradle of Filth and whatever was happening on the scene at that time and Mick and I were not really interested in doing that sort of thing anymore; neither were the other band members at the time. Actually it was me and Mick’s brother that stayed together initially which eventually turned into Mistress. Mick was doing stuff by himself that was a lot harsher and nastier than anything else on the scene but he needed a singer. So he asked me to have a go. That became the first demo of Anaal Nathrakh. Mistress and Anaal Nathrakh were about at the same time.
AATR – So Mick played everything and you did the vocals?
Dave – Yeah, singing was about the only thing Mick couldn’t do; he played the drums and all that so…
AATR – Sorry. Mick played the drums? It’s not a drum machine?
Dave – No is it fuck [laughs]. I don’t know if he knew what he was doing but he could hit things very hard and very fast.
AATR – I couldn’t believe it when I found out there was only two of you in the band.
Dave – Well we do go out on stage as a full band. I have seen some bands that do it with programming and it works well; even when on paper it kind of shouldn’t. Does that make sense? Sometimes the result can be greater than the sum of it’s parts and can have an emerging quality about it. I saw a band years ago called Phantom Limb Management and they had this guy who looked like a body builder have a raging fit on the stage and some chav playing guitar in the background and it kind of worked. Don’t ask me why but it did. To be honest I wouldn’t want to do this without a full band.
AATR – I suppose you could find that programmed drums might make the sound a little too clinical?
Dave – Exactly. In fact in the studio when we do use the drum machine we deliberately fuck up the drumming sometimes to give it a more natural feel; I know that sounds weird but you can really tell. Live we just use this semi-human thing here [gestures towards the guy sitting in the corner of the room].
AATR – Ahh [quietly] is that your drummer?
Dave – Yeah. He is fantastic; a world class blastbeat drummer. I think the idea when using a drum machine isn’t to cheat people into thinking it is the real thing. It’s to use the tools that you have to create a particular sound; it is just another instrument at your disposal. You just need to be careful that you don’t make the sound too sterile.
AATR – With that in mind did you always know who you would take on the road with you when you played live or do you audition? I noticed you have had Shane Embury play live with you in the past.
Dave – No. We didn’t decide to take it on the road initially. Years ago I was working as a security guard in a factory and I got a call from a number I didn’t recognise; I didn’t answer it initially. Anyway I eventually called the number back and it was a woman who introduced herself as John Peel’s producer.
AATR – Really?
Dave – Yeah I know. I thought “no you’re not” but it was true. I thought there would be some sort of ceremony connected to a phone call like that but anyway. We did the Peel session and about 18 months after that we did another BBC radio live session and this time we wanted to do it with a full live band so we got a band together just for that. And it turned out alright; it really did. So because we had done that as a band we got an offer for a gig. It was a kind of Christmas special thing organised by Terrorizer magazine. It was at the Underworld and we were asked to headline so we were like, fucking hell, who do we know who can do this? Shane agreed and Danny agreed to play the drums so we had half of Napalm [Death] playing our first gig [laughs]. And because Shane knows pretty much everyone, he had asked Devin Townsend and Gene Hoglan from Strapping Young Lad (who were playing across town) to come so they came down, and Jeff from Carcass was there too; it was fucking ridiculous.
AATR – I take it it went well.
Dave – Oh yeah it was about 150 past capacity. It was stupid [laughs]. It was only as a result of that that we decided to do more gigs, and we just ended up picking people up along the way. The more people you work with you tend to keep their numbers and things just snowball.
AATR – Do you change the songs much when you play them live or do you think “that is what we created, it is as good as it gets, lets do our best to recreate it.
Dave – Most definitely. We keep it as close to the original as we can. We don’t think much about playing the songs live when we are recording the album but when it comes to playing live you do need to consider which songs will work better live and also which songs are popular. I’m not one for necessarily pandering to popularity but the fans come to see their favourites and they have paid money to see you; they are the fans so we have to make sure people hear what they came for. But there is also the challenge of when you think of a song that initially may sound impossible to play; you just have to find a way to play it.
AATR – Does the use of programming determine the setlist all?
Dave – It never used to be a factor when we played without programming obviously, but now that we use programming to fill out the sound we do play in a semi-programmed format. It gives a richness to the sound and I don’t want to give a stripped down version of the song.
AATR – So we are not likely to see Anaal Nathrakh unplugged? [Laughs]
Dave – No I can’t see that happening. I think it’s better to have the full compliment. We do try to have everything at the live show so the fans don’t miss anything and it’s important to convey the same point as when recording the album both musically and lyrically.
AATR – Talking about lyrics I have noticed that you don’t have any lyrics in the liner notes of your albums. Why is that?
Dave – Well I am fascinated by culture, and I mean culture full stop. Its all around us. But one of the things that I have noticed about today’s culture is how ephemeral, how throw away everything is. Things are manufactured to be purchased, consumed then repurchased. And that is a really powerful force in culture. There’s a lot of that going on. It kind of fits in with MP3 downloading and all that. You can literally have at your fingertips anything that you desire but with instant discard as well. You can stream an album, listen to the first song and if you don’t like it you will probably never listen to it again, and theres no latching on. Sometimes you miss those “challenging” albums that you have to listen to before you “get it”.
AATR – I agree totally. I think there are occasions where you have to invest time and effort into some albums to get the most out of them; yours being one of them.
Dave – Well thanks very much [laughs]. No seriously there at least has to be something about the music that you create that has an immediately grasping aspect to it but it should not be made up of only immediately grasping material, otherwise it gets boring too quickly. I think a certain part of it has to do with the lyrical interplay with the music. I don’t want it to be too obvious but I think by putting lots of clues (primarily in the song titles) it prompts the listener to look further for the meaning. There are a lot of references in there so with a PC and a bit of time you can find out what its all about. And because you are the type of person that wanted to find it out in the first place you are likely to invest more time in it maybe. The signposts are there if you want to go looking for them.
AATR – OK Dave, I better let you go and get yourself ready for the show but just one last question. I saw an old interview with Angus Young once and the interviewer asked if he preferred recording or playing live; so I am going to ask you the same question. Which one is it?
Dave – I don’t actually see much of difference between the two. Playing live is very physically demanding; I am exhausted after a gig. Perhaps I am not as fit as I should be. However playing live is still swimming around in the same fishpond as recording is as far as I am concerned. The writing is like the last ten minutes before going on stage; I am summoning the things that made sense at that particular point in time. So I guess I am saying that they are the same. What did Angus Young say?
AATR – He liked playing. Listen Dave. Thanks once again for taking the time to talk to me; its been a real pleasure.
Dave – No problem, hope it was alright for you too.