Liverpool duo Benn Helm and Andy Paton, better known as Killaflaw, make music which fuses blues and rock ‘n’ roll with beats and dance music – and probably do it better than anyone else. They’re currently at the finishing stages of their eagerly awaited debut album on their new label ‘Wall of Sound’ (the band want it made very clear that it’s a new label that they’ve signed too & it’s not their label. They don’t own the label. Someone else does.) so Louder Than War’s Carl Stanley decided to have a chat with band members Andy and Benn.
By picking up on the rawness of the blues and the energy of Led Zep and then matching it sweetly with the beat and euphoria of dance music, Killaflaw have built up a healthy fan-base with releases such as the sublime ‘Set me on Fire’. They topped US dance charts back in 2010 & you could say that if Carlsberg released electro-blues numbers ‘Set me on Fire’ is exactly what it would sound like – it really is that good!
Hi Benn and Andy, big thanks for talking to Louder Than War, how did the concept of your “electro-blues” sound come together, was it like one of you was into Howling Wolf and the other into more electro based sounds?
Benn: “Well I’ve always wanted to write music that was a crossover of a kinda Led Zep meets The Chemical Brothers, and Andy’s style of music and mine just seemed a perfect fit for that. It all just started as a few jam sessions — at first I’d play some riffs and Andy would work his magic on them by adding the beats, then I’d sing whatever came into my head, then put lyrics to it at a later date! Since we both like the same type of music but in different degrees, it just works. Obviously I bring the rock / blues element and Andy adds the electro side but we both work on arrangements together quite often. I’ve always had an interest in dance music from the early days of Jungle.”
Liam Howlett said about you ‘I’m totally feeling em’. Any fan of music, new or old is going to get a tune like ‘Set me on Fire’; it’s full of power, intensity and total energy & is everything from Otis Reading to New Order to Daft Punk but above all it’s rock ‘n’ roll & it’s an awesome track & a massive tune for the group hasn’t it.
Andy: “Thank you. Yeah, ‘Set Me On Fire’ had a limited release through our old management’s label. The track was born from me putting a rough track together one night in my flat, I passed the demo to Benn and the first time I heard it with vocals was on stage — and it went off! We thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got something with this’. It went down well in America off the back of a very limited digital release, which was good. I actually did the final release mix for it on headphones in my bedroom, hence it being a bit rough around the edges. We’ll do a full release on it soon.”
Benn: “Well, for me it came very easily. Andy already had the basic track written and played it to me one afternoon. I just came up with the opening lyric and melody straight off the top of my head and went from there really. It seemed to lend itself to a blues vocal, plus I just wanted to keep it simple and not over-laden with lyrics, as I do have a tendency to get carried away slightly when writing ha ha! But yeah, everyone seems to latch on to ‘Set Me On Fire’ in particular, for some reason. Maybe because it’s so dance floor friendly?”
You’re et to release the new album on your own Wall of Sound label … how’s it sounding and shaping up?
Andy: “Sounding great, we hope. We always try and keep the raw / melodic blend as pure as possible. Think people are in for a treat.”
Benn: “Yeah, it’s sounding really good and powerful. There’s quite an eclectic range of styles on there, from dancefloor killers like ‘Set Me On Fire’ to more mellow acoustic tracks like ‘The Park’. Some of the tracks put forward for it were written a few years ago and have undergone some production and arrangement changes, but have retained all the original energy.”
Has the group made any changes since you first released music?.
Benn: “Yeah, we’re signed to Wall Of Sound now, which is amazing! an We’ll have our first double A-side single ‘Broken Idol’/’Milk & Whiskey’ out sometime in the summer, closely followed by our album ‘Sleaze & Grit’.”
“I think we’ve matured and improved from the time of the ‘Happy Daze’ release, but musically not much has changed really. We still like to make it heavy and large!”
Andy: “We’ve shaken things up a bit from our previous releases. Happy Daze was a stop-gap really. Although it’s been a while since we’ve put anything out, we feel it was the right decision to make sure everything’s in place for us to hopefully make a bigger impact.”
I’m guessing between you both Killaflaw have a really wide range of influences so what are the ideas and styles which have inspired the new material?
Andy: “In whatever we do, we’ll always try and mix it up. We’re on the final shortlist for the album tracks. The title track is Sleaze & Grit’, a downtempo filthbomb. There’s the blues element – strong in tracks like Milk & Whiskey’, Message’ and summer’, there’s more grimy electro-rock numbers on there like Already Dead’, Holy Funk’,Broken Idol’ and Stand Up’, then some floor-fillers like Set Me On Fire’ and Dr Faustus’.
“Influence-wise, like you say, they are far and wide. I’m huge on MSTRKRFT and Vitalic, there’s certainly some of that in there. But also some half-time elements.”
Benn: “For me, there’s nothing I can say directly inspired me on any of the tracks on the album, I just try to be as original as I can be. Artists who’ve inspired me personally though are Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, etc, etc, I’ve always had a heavy blues/folk/rock influence on the way I sing and play in previous bands I’ve been in — especially in the acoustic songs I sing and write! For me the album has to be varied in song styles, but I do generally prefer a heavy aggressive sound and edge to the music I write.”
Being fans of both classic guitar groups as well as beats, electro and dance I guess your own record collections are also quite varied, but what do you think to the new wave of young artists like Jake Bugg and The Strypes , is that too trad maybe, do you feel it’s going backwards a bit or rather is it good that the traditional styles and sounds are being played by new groups?
Benn: “I’m all for the more traditional styles of music being popular and re-emerging every few years. For me the current music scene is polluted with too much generic pop garbage which has no soul or depth to it! Don’t know much about the Strypes but Jake Bugg is very good and his songs are quite mature, especially considering his young age. Artists like Black Keys, Two Gallants and Laura Marling are who I consider today’s superstars.”
So what are your shows like, you’ve played Glastonbury, NME nights, Brixton Jamm, quite a range in gigs, from clubs to the summer fests, I imagine tunes like ‘set me on fire’ sound awesome live?
Andy: “We like to hit people hard, not say that gig was decent. We want people to say, ‘That band blew my fucking face off!’ Playing live is our bread and butter, and it’s really when we come alive.”
Benn: “To be honest everything tends to sound awesome live — ha ha! I don’t mean that in a big-headed way, just that it’s going through a big system and the power of the tracks can flourish.”
… and where are you playing this year, Germany tour dates have just come up I see, any other gigs or dates lined up this year?
Andy: “Yeah, we’ll be doing some festivals and dates in Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as the UK festivals”.
Lastly…your own hopes for the album, artists like Liam Howlett are taking notice and digging the group, do you feel the debut album could open Killaflaw up to a whole new set of fans and take the group to that next level?
Benn: “For me, once the album drops people won’t be able to help but take notice! I’ve always had a belief that once people hear us properly then we’ll take off as there isn’t much out there at the moment that sounds like us — and we’re both very good at what we do. So yeah, my hopes are a number 1 debut album, then bigger and better gigs on the back of that, top billing act on the Pyramid Stage at Glasto would be nice, ha ha! But British tours and European tours would be fantastic an open us out to a wider spectrum of fans, although I think we can already attract both dance and rock audiences with our sound.”
All words by Carl Stanley. More of Carl’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.