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Escape Velocity

Slants, Kinks & Extremities: Evil Blizzard Interviewed
Noel Gardner , May 14th, 2014 09:54

Ahead of shows in London and at Supersonic, Noel Gardner catches up with Preston's finest purveyors of chemical bass ooze and juddering funk to talk their debut album The Dangers Of Evil Blizzard

As it becomes ever more difficult for rock & roll to pay the bills, music journalism is now required to do a little more than simply writing about great music. With this in mind, this article exists not only to highlight the exploratory excellence of Evil Blizzard, in all their psychedelia, post-punk and prototypical doom rock finery. It's also a vessel to advertise the services of David 'Kav' Kavanagh, one of the band's four (!) bass players and a plumber in the Birmingham area.

A couple of days before I speak to Mark Whiteside, singing drummer and founder member of Evil Blizzard, it transpires that Kav is fitting a friend of mine's bathroom. The limited public profile the band have at this point chiefly concerns their 'gnarly riffage' and Hawkwind-esque sonic excess; the unsettling latex masks they wear onstage, which makes them look like a 19th century freak show or about to rob a bank; and the fact that Mark E Smith, who hates nearly all bands, personally invited them on tour with The Fall a couple of years back. That carry on is for when they clock off, though – at the day jobs, expect only the last word in professionalism.

"Kav rang me last night and said about this!" says Mark, who goes by the nickname Side in the band. "It's actually through him working there and meeting the Capsule people that we've got our foot in the door and are playing Supersonic." The rest of Evil Blizzard are based in Preston, a town whose part in the history of rock is not exactly substantial.

"Through the years, there have been hundreds of good bands in Preston, but I don't think there's even been a scene," says Mark, who himself has played in local bands since the 90s. "There's not been anyone in Preston who've got that far. Tjinder [Singh] from Cornershop was at uni in Preston, and some of the other members were from here. Preston has always been a bit strange because of where it's situated. It's one point on a triangle with Liverpool and Manchester, which have traditionally been at the forefront of music and who have their own sounds. The press go to those places to find bands."

Although The Dangers Of…, Evil Blizzard's splendid debut album, has only been out a few weeks, and has presumably not paid off anyone's mortgage yet, they're certainly the most talked-about musical spawn of their home town right now. "If we do a bit more on down the line," says Mark, "maybe some journalists'll come down to see what sort of thing there is here. And say we're from Preston, rather than Manchester, which does happen sometimes."

The gravitational pull of the larger cities aside, it's reasonable to suggest the Evil Blizzard sound has developed many of its slants, kinks and extremities as a result of them having to follow their own path. Although they've performed alongside some of the UK's finer peddlers of semi-underground guitar grot – "we've played with Conan and the audience appreciated us, we've played with Bo Ningen, we've done quite a few with Gnod in the past" – they haven't gone on to buddy up close with these bands. "It may be that we haven't done enough yet to get into a scene," reflects Mark, by no means sounding like someone eager to crash a private party.

As it goes, their deployment of four bassists (and no guitarists) came together piece by haphazard piece, as a result of limited resources and a make-do-and-mend attitude. "About five years ago, my old band were booked to play a gig and got a late call off the guitarist saying he couldn't make it. So the bass player and I did it as a two-piece, and it went down okay. About a year later, we disbanded and I said to Stu [Broadhead], how do you fancy carrying this on? While thinking of names, I looked at an Ozzy Osbourne album; at the time the band sounded quite nasty, because it was bass with full distortion, so we went with Evil Blizzard.

"Another guy [Michael 'Stoko' Stokes] saw us and said, 'I really enjoyed it but I think you could benefit from another bass'… so he joined. Then we supported Ufomammut, and the first bass player couldn't make it! So we called on Kav, who ended up joining, so when the original bass player came back, we had three basses. A bassline, solos, and Kav putting weird effects on it. Stoko brought the keyboards in, too.

"Then we got the Fall gigs [in 2012], after Mark E Smith saw us in Manchester. The last guy to join on bass, Pete [Brown], is a really big Fall fan. He asked, 'can I not come onstage with you to do one song? I can play on 'Whalebomb', I don't really know it, but it's only two notes!' And it worked really well."

There's also a pleasing, ego-defying egalitarianism to Evil Blizzard that comes from the guy delilvering the vocals sitting down at the back, and no-one's actual faces being on display in any case. "With me being a singing drummer, it's good to have those four at the front," says Mark. "We don't have a frontman to look at, but our show is obviously quite visual. We're also not a typical verse-chorus band – there are a couple of songs on the album, 'Slimy Creatures' and 'Clones' that are sort of like that – but generally, the vocals are more like… a sound that comes out with the music. And in the case of a song that's nineteen minutes long and fifteen of that is instrumental, I don't know what a singer would do anyway."

As much as Evil Blizzard are a pretty fearsome experience live, despite the stacked amps and low frequencies their music isn't the sort of endurance test that would leave you replacing your solar plexus with a steel plate. "Each individual bass sort of does its own thing," as Mark puts it; songs like 'Feed The Flames', 'P.U.N.I.S.H.M.E.N.T.' and the nineteen-minute 'Whalebomb' are rhythmically tactile and use space creatively. Others mine a groove with deadly intent and dark dancefloor precision, bringing to mind current bands as disparate as Factory Floor and Hey Colossus.

"The songs aren't always the same and can go on different tangents. A song like '(Open Up The) Red Box' can be four minutes long or ten minutes. A lot of people who like the band seem to like a lot of dance music as well – I think it has that same hypnotic groove going through it. One of the reasons for me not being a singing singer is that I like using a lot of repetition, a lot like what John Lydon used to really. I think it suits the music: when you have that sort of hook, people in the audience can get really into it." Mark's background is fairly solidly in rock music, which might explain why he consistently refers to Kav's FX-unit tinkering as "sonic sounds" (while also – accurately – likening it to the contribution of Dikmik in Hawkwind).

"I think there are elements of psychedelia in it," he says, in a game attempt to summarise Evil Blizzard's widely scattered inspirations. "People have also said it sounds very post-punk and last week we got a bit of a strange one – someone was saying it reminded them of Tangerine Dream. I guess we also have a crossover into doom, in a way. The first song on the album ['Feed The Flames'] was an old pre-Blizzard one which we've developed into a Blizzard track. And it does have that Sabbathy sound to it."

The two bands that the group most often get boiled down to, Hawkwind and Public Image Ltd, is, Mark admits, "maybe partly explained by my vocals" – the sonorous tone of John Lydon circa Metal Box is a comfortable point of comparison, but works perfectly with Evil Blizzard's instrumental questing. "It's always good to get reviews, but there've been a few recently which are just like, '…they sound like doom metal', which makes me think they've not really listened to the album beyond the first track."

One item on Evil Blizzard's bucket list for 2014 is a slot at the nearby Liverpool Psych Fest. "We haven't played a lot of festivals, whereas Gnod – for example – play a lot of psych festivals in Europe. Supernormal [last August] was the first we did of that type. The gigs we did with The Fall moved us on a bit, but their audience isn't really the type that go along to those sort of festivals. "We are doing Supersonic next month, which should be good, and the night before [May 29] we're playing The Lexington. I think this year's going to be a bit of a building year for the band. We've been going a while in the north-west, but it's only really taken off since John Robb got involved, and we've got some exposure through Louder Than War. We're not a pop band, so it's likely to be a thing that builds slowly." 

While Evil Blizzard have been an effectively self-sufficient DIY operation in their lifetime to date, this doesn't preclude Mark having fixed ambitions regarding the band, and a wish to take their thrilling, inventive music to a larger audience. With their debut album having been released less than a fortnight before we speak, its creators are already cracking on with assembling a second one.

"I think some of the newer songs might go down more rhythmic paths. Getting a loop together and seeing where it takes us. For the thing we did recently in Bristol, soundtracking Haxan, we basically just played one song for about twenty minutes – some of which we'll probably use for the new album. Not that I want to try and sound like Gnod, but they've done that crossover of electric guitars and computers [analogue gear, actually, he noted pedantically] very well. Not techno, exactly, but heavy bass, atmospheric sounds, builds, rhythms, dropdowns. I just want to stay away from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-verse-chorus that most other bands do."

The album The Dangers Of Evil Blizzard is out now via Louder Than War

Evil Blizzard play at London's Lexington on 29th May, and Birmingham's Supersonic Festival, which takes place from 30th-31st May.

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