Interview: God Damn – we have a chat to the black country noiseniks about their new album
Photo above and all others on this page B At GIPPA.
God Damn are a fuzz-driven rock & roll band from the Black Country who we really, really like! Our recent review of their new album, Vultures, was a near perfect 9 / 10 which made our sitting down and having a chat with them a no-brainer. Over to DB Schenker…
Part Swans, part Kyuss, part Melvins, part the sound of tectonic plates colliding, Wolverhampton’s God Damn are arguably the single loudest band in the land right now.
Equally liable to gleefully loosen the plaster on the walls or suck the air out of the punters’ lungs with their sonic equivalent of carpet bombing, God Damn are a fearsome live prospect. Which is even more impressive, given that there are only two of them up there.
As their layered and assured new album Vultures demonstrates though, it’s not just about the decibels. There’s subtlety and a conscious post-industrial grit in the seismic noise that these two lads produce. And they have a work ethic that suggests they are both in it for all the right reasons – and in it for the long haul.
Due to their superficial similarity to Royal Blood (they’re a two piece and there’s guitars involved) and the current buzz around “the rise of the two piece”, God Damn are getting increasing mainstream attention. And like their self-declared brothers on the circuit, Slaves, you may be hearing more from them.
We caught up with guitarist and frontman Thomas Edward last week to chat about the new album, being compared to Alice Cooper – and the power of quiet.
First thing to ask though is just how in the name of sweet merry fuck do they manage to generate quite so much noise with just two people?
“It’s quite simple, really” Thom says, “I use the right fuzzes and I use two guitars amp and a bass amp. I think I was kind of getting it wrong for a while. We were a naturally quite loud band, but we didn’t realise that it was the wrong kind of loud. So now we’ve spent a bit more time getting the right kind of frequencies for people so it’s not as… painful. I admit we were painfully loud. Now we’re just really, really loud. Probably even louder than painfully loud.
“Then, Ash the drummer is a bit of a powerhouse. I literally don’t know a drummer who is louder than him – or as busy as him. So he’s to blame really. I have to compete with him.”
And it should be said that drummer Ash Weaver, live especially, is a genuine phenomenon. Not unlike Animal out of the original Muppets channelling the undiluted spirit of John Bonham. The single most physically entertaining man on a stool hitting things with sticks you will see.
God Damn band also once described themselves as an “experiment with decibels”. The description is apt. As it appears that to be truly loud, you must first be quiet. As Thom explains:
“When we first started the band all we listened to were the Butthole Surfers and bands like Selfish Cunt, and we just wanted to piss off as many people as we could, and make as much noise as possible.
“There was a time when that was a bit of a gimmick. We just wanted to be really loud, getting people to pay attention to our music because we were the loudest, turning it up the most and hitting it the hardest. But we are trying to write songs at the end of the day, and there shouldn’t be any gimmicks in there. Good songwriting is very important. We’re trying to achieve certain sounds and sometimes you need a lot of gear to make them. So I think it is an experiment in decibels. As we can go really, really quiet – and then go blisteringly loud.
“On our album there’s some quiet acoustic, techy stuff – tracks like Skeletons or Vultures. It goes down quite a lot volume-wise and in terms of heaviness and fuzziness, and it all kind of cleans up quite a lot. You have to have that juxtaposition to maximise impact.”
Thom and Ash seem rightly proud of Vultures – their debut long player on One Little Indian. And as suggested, it has some sharp sonic contrasts. As Thom continues:
“We wanted to do an album that will stand up in ten years to come or that could have been made twenty years before. We wanted to take our time and make the best possible first album we could. It’s a bit eclectic – it’s got rockier songs, concept bits and pieces. I think it’s got a lot of depth to it. The record label said you only make your first album once, so we made it the best we could.”
Vultures is so so eclectic that the NME – one of the band’s biggest fans right now – made comparisons to Alice Cooper and glam rock in their review of it. The irony is not lost on them, although their actual influences are perhaps more obvious:
“Yeah, the NME made some weird comparisons in that review. I’m not sure what that journalism was about there, but they gave us 8/10 so that’s cool. All respect to Alice Cooper, I think he’s a fucking dude but I’ve never sat down and listened to his music. The whole glam thing is cool though as we are genuinely into David Bowie and T-Rex. So that’s fine.
“As young boys though, we grew up listening to Queens of the Stone Age. A lot of people our age have that in their lives. And there’s kind of a lot of grunge in there – and a lot of scuzzy noise rock. There’s a lot of math rock in what we do too – like Mars Volta. As a kid I used to play Nirvana, Melvins covers all through high school. That’s a pretty obvious one though if you listen to our music.”
Though placed by some in the vanguard of the latterday march of the two piece rock bands (see below), a duo was not their preferred line up. God Damn were a solid three piece until the departure of their guitarist Dave Copson in 2013. But in adversity can be strength, as Thom explains:
“Me and Ash met each other when we were about eighteen-nineteen,and we talked about forming a two piece about seven years ago [they are both twenty six now]. But we started God Damn as a three piece. And then it all evolved, and we ended up signing a record deal as a two piece by accident.
“Dave was a big influence on our lives. And for one reason or another we couldn’t carry on with him although we were always hoping to get him back in the band. It didn’t quite work out, so the best way for us to carry on was just to keep making music, to keep it alive. We didn’t want all of our hard work to go to waste. Me and Ash have been in bands together for a long time, so we knew each other well enough to pull that off. I think that if the bond hadn’t been so strong we might not have been able to. But we’re stronger now because of it.
“We were a three piece before for a long time, three people trying to sound like five people. Now we’re two people trying to sound like five people.”
And on the subject of guitar bands with just two members… and the hype that seems to be swirling around this ground-breaking idea in some literary quarters, what’s their take on the current two piece “thing”?
“There’s always been two piece bands. Before the White Stripes there were the Flat Duo Jets. It’s just that someone has decided to say that rock and roll is dead, and what they do in the media is they say rock and roll is dead so that a lot of people can jump on your back when you bring it back to life again. That’s what it is. It’s become clichéd. You’ve got the Monkee’s face on it. And reluctantly we’ve ended up being part of it. People make out that two piece is a style and a genre, and it really isn’t. We played with Slaves – Slaves are brothers of ours. But we couldn’t be two more different bands though, and two more different two pieces.
“I think we’re the ones that are pulling our hair out over it, because we’re always getting compared to Royal Blood. I’m sure Royal Blood would get offended if they got compared to God Damn. We’ve got as much in common with Royal Blood as Royal Blood have with the Ting Tings.”
And try as you might, you can’t avoid the Royal Blood “thing” either. The popularity and ubiquity of Royal Blood is, arguably, creating a market for guitar music and even punk that wasn’t there five years ago, as the growing success of Slaves and alleged increase in rock music airplay on mainstream radio might tend to suggest. Thom is however more philosophical:
“Royal Blood are great, if there’s more people listening to rock music. However there are so many other great two pieces and so much other great music. Initially we didn’t say in any of our press that we were a two piece, in fact we try and avoid saying we are, because people would pre-judge you, and think “oh, I’ve already heard Royal Blood, so I don’t need to hear any other two pieces”, or “oh, they are just trying to be Royal Blood”. We’ve been going for five years, so it’s hardly jumping on a bandwagon.
“But are they more rock music on radio one? Are they doing it? I don’t think they are. They have played a bit of Turbowolf, and they play Slaves quite a lot which is fun, but are they playing more rock music on daytime radio one? No I don’t think they are. All the actual rock bands aren’t playing it safe and won’t get played. Again, it’s just that somebody wanted to paint that story of let’s say rock and roll is dead so that they could bring it back to life – and a lot of people at major record labels can make a load of money. Are they playing more rock in the daytime? Maybe one or two bands – but that’s not enough for me.”
Wolverhampton and the greater Black Country, which is separate from Birmingham as locals and watchers of Peaky Blinders know, has a fine and flinty musical tradition: Slade, Judas Priest, and the mightly Neds Atomic Dustbin, PWEI and The Wonderstuff of old. To name but a few. So does the character of this deeply unfashionable and usually maligned of regions shape God Damn’s sound in any way? It seems that it may:
“On our album we have the sound of our lock up in Horseley Fields in Wolverhampton”, said Thom, “and you can hear the train station and the sound of canal barges going past. It’s a thing that I think about a lot. Wolverhampton is a lovely place. There’s some lovely parts. It gets bad press. The centre is shocking, and there’s nothing particularly amazing to go and see. But it really isn’t that bad, it’s just like anywhere, anywhere has its rough areas and anywhere has their really dark places.
“However, where we rehearse and where we have always rehearsed over the years, our lock up, is in the shithole bit of it.
“As you get the train into Wolverhampton you see that post-industrial wasteland, it’s in there. And I kind of think it does have an influence on our music. We write quite dark and horrible songs. There’s some pretty grim tales in there. And I think the environment does have an influence. I’m not going to deny. Heavy metal came from someone working in a metal factory having an accident with their fingers. I think it does have an influence – but it’s a very dystopian and romantic way of looking at it.”
Speaking of romance, there are those that argue that record labels are irrelevant these days, and would question why a hard-working crew like God Damn even need a record label at all. On this Thom is again philosophical, and pragmatic:
“You need a certain amount of money to do what we do. It’s a fact. We’re not from wealthy backgrounds, we both work jobs when we can [Thom works as primary school supply teacher, Ash in retail], and we’ve only ever got by being in this band by going to work and earning the money to pay for instruments and to pay for recording. However, a record label comes along and says here’s an advance, and says we’re going to pay for your album and so on. So it’s all very well if you’re Steve Albini to say you don’t need labels and can do everything DIY, when you have already got money and a lot of contacts from making records. But a lot of the people that don’t have record labels have money from somewhere, from publishing deals or whatever, but you do need to find money from somewhere.
“And if you’ve got a fanbase and got to that point then yeah – the dream is to do it without a record label. But it doesn’t always work like that.”
Not unless you have rich mummy and daddy to pay for your press, or can otherwise afford to live in London and hang around with the right people… But that is another essay entirely.
And anyway, what’s next for God Damn?
“We’re just finishing our UK Tour now, playing the smaller venues” said Thom, “and then it’s Liverpool Sound City – on the same stage as The Membranes I think – in May. Then we’ve got Download and a bunch of smaller festivals and European festivals. And then hopefully some more tour supports, and just get hot to it and start recording ad releasing stuff for the next album.”
As apparently much of the new album is already written. So expect to hear a lot more from these chaps.
And when you do: bring your ear plugs.
Order ‘Vultures’ here.
All photos © B At GIPPA.
All words by DB Schenker. More writing by him on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.