Come Out Beautiful Mushroom Boys: Dethscalator Interviewed
, October 31st, 2011 06:35
Dethscalator talk to John Doran about noise rock, experimental drugs in Toulouse and the importance of golf
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: I know Dethscalator because I take drugs with them. The whole music part of the deal came later on. Maybe you don’t need to be told that a band who spell their name in the same way as Megadeth and Lawnmower Deth, who have songs called ‘Kicking The Horns Off A Bull’ and ‘You Know Nothing About Cars Or Martial Arts’ take drugs. But just in case you are a cossetted innocent: they do take a lot of drugs. Often and unpredictably. And usually it is a question of strength and quantity over quality. Don’t worry though, they have a strong constitution. Being friends with some bands is like having very elderly relatives: you’re always waiting for that depressing phone call half way through Have I Got News For You. Dethscalator are big enough to look after themselves, however. You simply have to submit to their internal band logic to make sense of statements like: “I’m really worried about making this flight. I’d better take some acid.”
Musically, they sound like all the great bands who weren’t in Mike Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life - Killdozer, Jesus Lizard, Cows, Unsane, that kind of caper. Muscular, sludge-blasted, utterly disfigured riffs; a pummelling rhythm section that gets your limbs twitching like fish hooks under the flesh and muscle; and a front man who looks like a minotaur dipped in Immac bellowing horrific stuff that you’d sooner not know. They execute inverse psychedelia and anti-funk in equal measures.
They’ve stepped up their gigging in London town to such an extent that they’ve become fearsomely tight and punishing spectacle - like dressage with meat hooks. And all this makes it feel like they’re in danger of releasing a record soon. (To be fair, they have had a split out with Hey Colossus out on Riot Season, but it’s about time they put their own album out. At the time of publication the much talked about Racial Golf Course – No Bitches is still conspicuous by its absence from the shelves of HMV.)
Vocalist and cheese expert, the inscrutable Dan Chandler, and bassist Philly Kev, who is a lovely man but looks like he had a rough time in ‘Nam, are not with us today. This leaves drummer and urbane Satanist Stu Bell and affable guitarist and band dynamo Matt Ridout to answer our questions. But, in short: go and watch them at your nearest opportunity. There are only two types of people in this world: those who love Dethscalator and those who have not yet had enough crystal meth.
When and where were Dethscalator formed?
Matt Ridout: 2008. I’d started a band with this guy Ben. He said, why don’t we get Stuart [Bell, drums] who was in Gin Palace at the time. After that we ended up getting Percy [Paul Greenfield] in just because he was the only person at the time we knew who had a bass guitar.
Stu Bell: He found it in his next door neighbour’s loft.
MR: Yeah, he was doing some computer work for this woman who lived next door but she didn’t have much money so in lieu of payment she said, ‘My son’s left a bunch of stuff around the house which you can just have if you like. He’s got a lot of weightlifting equipment.’ Percy went into a cupboard and found this bass and she said, ‘Oh, you’ve found his chest expander.’ So that’s how he got the nickname The Chest Expander.
How did you find a singer?
MR: We did a couple of jams and we still had Ben on guitar even though it didn’t seem like he was going to fit because he was into screamo. But to be fair he found Dan on a message board. He’d said, ‘Moved to London from Bristol. Ex-Hunting Lodge. I’d like to start a band. Influences Black Sabbath and ZZ Top.’
SB: It was appropriate because now half the band is in a Black Sabbath tribute group [Rat Salad].
MR: We met up with him and went to a party. He came back here and got really weird. Eventually we had to tell him to leave. He’d had a lot of weed and was pulling a whitey. So eventually we said to him, ‘We’ll see you in the week at rehearsal. You should probably take off.’ He left but didn’t ask anyone to let him out so he was just stood next to the door for 40 minutes.
SB: Eventually he came back round the corner and said [sheepishly] ‘I don’t know how to get out...’
MR: That was the first time we met Dan. The second time was the rehearsal a few days later. I met him in the pub first and I waved hello to him and he stuck the Vs up at me. He was ripped. Totally wasted. He’d been at some works do with free wine all afternoon. He was so pissed he could barely stand up. We went over to the rehearsal rooms. Then when we were setting up he said, ‘Hey, check this out.’ And he ran across the room and jumped straight into the drum kit and wiped it out. Stu was in the toilet and when he walked through the door, Dan’s lying sprawled through the drum kit. He was like, ‘What the fuck?’ He’d buckled the legs of one of the toms. So Stu spent ages trying to fix everything and patch it up. We got stuff set up and started playing a song and he did it again. But this time he sheared one of the legs of one of the cymbal stands.
SB: The stuff wasn’t ours. I saw it and said, ‘We’re not going to get away with this.’
MR: So rehearsal ended and we left to talk to the guys who ran the studio. We said we were really sorry. They were like, ‘Was that your mate, he was really wasted.’ It’ll cost you £60 and he can’t come back here. So our first rehearsal we didn’t complete a song and we’d been banned from one of the three rehearsal spaces in Stoke Newington.
And didn’t it occur to you just to tell Dan to fuck off?
SB: It didn’t actually. But we did have to frog march him to the cashpoint to get money for the cymbal stand though.
Dan’s a bit like Barney Gumble in that respect that if you sober him up for a day or two he becomes an astronaut...
MR: That is the case. He gets really nervous round people he doesn’t know. So people don’t know what to make of him the first few times they meet him.
SB: He has to draw attention away from his nerves by belly flopping into a drum kit.
MR: So then we wrote about nine songs in really quick time.
Which was the best of those songs?
SB: I don’t know because I don’t know what any of our songs are called. Matt is the only one who knows.
MR: Yeah, even now I’ll write a set list and the rest of the guys will look at it and go, ‘Well, they’re just words...’ (An inability to remember basic information is part of the Dethscalator way. Before Kev they had a bass player for three months and no one bar Matt bothered to learn his name. Stu still doesn't know his name now.)
Now up until this point I’ve been painting this picture of Dethscalator - and Dan in particular - as a bunch of reprobates but the first time I saw your band was at the Hokaben festival which is probably the best London based festival I’ve ever been to. What was your involvement with this?
MR: Right from the beginning when we first new Dan, he kept on saying, ‘I’m doing a festival.’ And he’d only been in London for a year. I instantly flagged it as bullshit talk. So every time he said, ‘Dethscalator are going to play and all of these other bands.’ I’d be like, ‘Yeah, right.’ He’d be like, ‘I’m getting Sun Ra’s Arkestra.’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah... sounds great.’ About half way through planning this he got contacted by Incubate Festival in Belgium which was ZXZW at the time. They wanted to book Hunting Lodge but we told them about Dethscalator and we were like, ‘Maybe we should try and book a European tour?’ We hadn’t even recorded a demo at that point. So I was amazingly impressed with Dan. He may come across a certain way but he’s got an incredible work ethic. He pulled this festival together without knowing anyone in London and he did literally everything himself. The poster was designed by his flatmate. That was the only thing he didn’t do. And he lost a lot of money doing it.
What was the highlight of the European dates?
MR: Toulouse is the date I always remember really vividly. It was in a squat and Percy our bass player had taken a shit load of mystery drug that this dude had been harassing us about. It was a crazy gig, really insane and it really kicked off. Me and Dan went outside for a joint and Stu was like, ‘Er, have you seen what’s going on in there? There are two guys showing Percy their cocks while he’s fondling a girl’s boobs.’ And sure enough inside there were two guys displaying themselves and Percy was just gurning. To this day he doesn’t remember it.
SB: He was sat at waist height to these guys!
MR: There was a guy stood as normal as anything at the bar having a drink and talking to the bar tender but his pants were round his ankles.
What was the first time you went into the studio like?
MR: The first time we went into the studio it was Chuckalumba in the New Forest which Electric Wizard have used before. And we blasted through five songs. Joe [Thompson] from Hey Colossus said, ‘You guys play two shows a week, you have the most stupid gigging schedule. Where’s the record?’ We were like, ‘Ah well, we’ve got these recordings but there’s all this stuff going on.’ He said, ‘You need to stop fucking about. Just do a record.’ Then he was like, ‘Do you know what - fuck it, just do a record with us. We’ve got some tracks laying around.’ And that’s how we got to know Andy from Riot Season. Those guys have always been giving us a kick up the ass when we need it. But yeah, we’ve got that split and a bunch of tracks which have appeared on compilations.
There have been some line-up changes recently.
MR: Well we used to have Percy on bass but that didn’t work out and Kev seemed like an obvious choice. I’ve known him for about nine years and he’s a really good bassist.
What have you been up to over the last year?
MR: Playing Supersonic was a really big deal for us. Obviously we’d played Hokaben but that was Dan’s own festival and it was organized on a much different level. Playing with Merzbow at XOYO was particularly memorable. It was a big sound system and most of the gigs we’ve played have been in small venues with small sound systems.
So, at what point, in and around the band, does some drugs become too much drugs?
MR: Ahhhh. Ha ha ha!
SB: Hmmmmm. Ha ha ha!
MR: We had a gig in Bristol where Percy had had too much fun during the day and then for six of the nine songs we played he just sat on the floor grinning and didn’t play anything.
SB: He just turned his amp off and started laughing.
MR: It depends what your job is in the band. Dan has free rein. He can hold his own and he’s just the singer. Personally I don’t do anything before we play. It just wouldn’t work and I would be a horrible horrible mess.
Did you ever get into a situation where you thought, ‘I’m not going to get out of this?’
MR: Strasbourg. We were staying in the flat of the promoter and after the gig, Stu, Dan, the promoter’s flatmate and me had some mushrooms and went for a walk. Then bit by bit it just started getting weirder and weirder. First of all we found the missing cat of the friend of the promoter’s flatmate so we had to go back to her flat. It was a psychedelic nightmare. Her job was making kaleidoscopes and she had mannequin arms and legs coming out of the walls… (carries on in similar vein for ten minutes) …scratching on the door and I could just hear this voice saying in French, ‘Come out beautiful mushroom boys. Come out beautiful mushroom boys.’
Tell me about your album then.
SB: Racial Golf Course – No Bitches? I think it came about because we found out you can buy 500 golf tees with Dethscalator printed on them for £30. What does it mean? I just had this image in my head of a sign you’d see on a golf course by a picket fence that would make absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s how we came up with the band name as well. Just sitting around on G chat coming up with stuff that made us laugh. To be honest we were trying to come up with the worst band name possible but when I said Dethscalator, they said, ‘That’s it.’
MR: We often come up with the title and then attribute it to the song but that said, all of the lyrics are Dan’s. He has books and books of lyrics even though you can’t understand what he’s singing. Well… he did have this friend in Bristol who sadly got addicted to heroin and spent ages playing Dethscalator songs really slowly and apparently you can tell what the lyrics are that way. He wrote them all down and showed them to Dan, and he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty much it.’
Oh man. The joys of living in Bristol. I’m going to get addicted to smack and I’m going to stay in my room doing chopped and screwed Dethscalator remixes so I can discern the meaning of their lyrics.
MR: That’s when you should consider agreeing with the people doing the intervention.
SB: It’s what I'd call a bit of a wake-up call.
Get to the Shacklewell Arms early tonight to watch Dethscalator live