Sort Out Your Shoes, Then Liberate Your Mind: Taman Shud Interviewed

Ahead of their show at Supernormal Festival, Ben Graham meets the thirsty occult louts behind Taman Shud's mighty psychedelic racket, to learn about coping with office job boredom through transcendent volume, esoteric weirdness, crisps and booze

Taman Shud are a young band whose primary interests include paraphilia, vivisepulture, scaphism, Crom Cruach, Mokèlé-mbèmbé, cannibalism and the Marianas Trench. They are also four mild-mannered Londoners who work in desperately boring clerical jobs, and are clawing at anything that might stave off the existential torpor of spreadsheet hell, and so save them from committing routine hari-kari with the office stapler.

"We’re all working in offices, fucking bored all day long and finding the longest word in Sanskrit and sending it round," admits guitarist Greg, making fast work of a Monday evening pint.

"We have an email thread, and we talk on through the day, and we started sending each other images of demons, pages from grimoires and stuff," adds equally thirsty drummer and vocalist Nick. "You’re just bored at work."

Certainly, coruscating apocalyptic sonic juggernauts like ‘The Hissing Priest’s Remains’ and ‘The Ziggurat, A Mirage’ are the charred and blackened anti-matter antidote to corporate team-building exercises, positivity jargon and thinking outside of the box. There may be no ‘I’ in team, as your blank-eyed project manager repeatedly insists, but in ‘The Hex Inverted,’ Taman Shud put "the hole in holy" and "the 666 in the 60s". This is the bad acid in your water cooler, and the poisoned pasty in the office canteen.

"For me, it’s about coping with the professional world," says Nick. "It’s the space outside of capitalism where all sorts of magical, imaginative possibilities become live again. We’re so fucking loud that anyone who comes to our shows is just subjected to such a level of loudness and occult ideas and just ridiculousness that it forces capitalism out of this magic space."

"You’re sounding a little bit like The Ex," Greg points out. "But I think there is a connection between our music and the fact that we all work in an office."

"Man, fucking hell, I think it’s definitely the case," says Nick. "It’s a big thing; for me that’s what it’s all about. We don’t really talk about our music. That’s another thing."

"This conversation is starting to be a surprise to everybody," pipes up bassist and keyboard player Tasha.

Greg: "We’re actually just about recycling."

Taman Shud’s heavy, gothic riff monsters are a wild, orgiastic release from day job existence, an inverted productivity chart over a blazing pyre as blunted melodies are swiftly pitchforked off the nearest cliff by the twin bass guitar assault of Tasha and deadpan Liverpudlian Derry. It’s an unholy fusion of post-punk, no wave and psychedelic metal, like the Butthole Surfers of ‘Sweat Loaf’, the Sonic Youth of ‘Death Valley 69’ and the Chrome of ‘TV As Eyes’ being mugged by Les Rallizes Dénudés and bundled off to a Walpurgisnacht convention of satanic biker gangs. Or as the band themselves put it, somewhat more succinctly: "DNA meets Mainliner. Meets Red Stripe."

Derry: It’s about shocking people out of, you know…

Nick: That is kind of what it’s about, actually. It’s about producing a mental space that is completely other than the shit that people have to deal with.

Derry: It’s like an extreme hobby.

Nick: Yeah, but for everyone. You come to the Taman Shud gig and your brain’s transformed afterwards.

Tasha: You can’t really hear straight for a week. Everything’s a bit different.

Derry: Your eyebrows have vibrated off your head.

Taman Shud are named for an unsolved Australian murder case from 1948, when the body of an unidentified man was found washed up on an Adelaide beach. The phrase "Tamam Shud" – Persian for "It has ended"- was found on a scrap of paper in a "secret pocket" in the man’s trousers, torn from the last page of a rare edition of the Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam. A spelling error in the initial press report led to this being known as the Taman Shud case.

Nick: We were very nearly called Crisps as well. That was when we were on the post-punk tip.

Greg: That was when we discussed fucking 40,000 names in a pub one night, and started naming objects that we could see.

Tasha: And then we picked an arcane Australian murder mystery instead.

Unfortunately, it turns out that there’s an Australian soft-psych band from the 1960s called Tamam Shud (correct spelling) that Taman Shud are constantly mixed up with on Google.

Derry: Someone was on Facebook saying, are you connected? Are you related to the Australian psych band of the 60s? Perhaps one of you is their son?

Nick: But the weird thing about the Australian band is they’re a four-piece; one blonde [Nick nods towards the conspicuously blonde-haired Tasha] –

Greg: What are the odds?

Nick: One kind of looks like Derry, and the other two look like me and Greg! It’s really weird!

Greg: I do not believe that. Let’s have a picture.

Nick: They do, look!

They don’t, but never mind. Taman Shud the contemporary London cave punk combo formed about three years ago, and are about to come to wider attention via a split EP with Fat White Family and as a last minute addition to the Supernormal bill, after the festival’s music bookers were blown away at a recent Taman Shud Brighton show.

Greg: We started gigging after about a year, and we played a load of gigs with really random bands who didn’t particularly gel with us, but it was still fun, and then we played with The Fat White Family at a New Year’s Eve show in a railway arch in Brixton, and they really liked us and introduced us to their label. Liam, who’s the guy who runs Trashmouth, he’s really into it. And around the same time we recorded our album and Liam was like, great, and basically remixed the whole thing. He’s given us shitloads of help and support, set us up with a bunch of shows and just been really great with us.

Tasha: We really started getting gigs because people in the places that we practiced in started offering us them. We’d get knocks on the door like, you guys are fucking brilliant, we’re putting on this night at a squat party somewhere if you want to come and play. And so we only started getting gigs through people hearing us through the wall of the practice room. And that was really fun, so we just kept doing those kinds of shows. And then the Fat Whites came along, and I guess got us exposure to a few more people.

Is the split EP with Fat White Family the first thing you’ve done?

Tasha: That’s two of the tracks from the album, but it’s the first thing to come out, yeah. And I’m really happy with how it sounds. It’s definitely a testament to modern recording technology.

Nick: It still doesn’t capture the live experience though.    

Tasha: No, but nothing ever does, right?

Nick: We really wanted to do it in an underground way, recording it ourselves, putting it on tape and everything, but we just couldn’t record it properly. It’s too rich; it’s too dependent on the harmonics and stuff. The weird sort of epiphenomena and stuff, when you’re playing and there’s stuff and you’re like, who’s even playing that?

Tasha: The ghost. There are definitely vocals that aren’t there.

Greg: It’s probably just lots of delay, but still, it just sounds fucking great sometimes.

Is it a bit weird having your first release split with Fat White Family, who are – I don’t want to say hyped, but they are a really written about band. Is it a bit weird to have your debut split with somebody who’s really getting a load of attention at the moment?

Tasha: I think it’s really fun.

Nick: One thing that’s quite cool about it, and this whole Fat White Family thing, is that we don’t really get associated with a genre or anything. It’s just two psychedelic bands with very different ideas about how to go about it on the same record.

Tasha: And I think it’s a great record. It works really well, and I think the Fat Whites are great, and they’re total dudes as well, and it’s really fun to be chosen.

Derry: We’re really different bands.

Tasha: I think that’s why it works. And we can play shows together and do records together without competing for some kind of spot in people’s musical landscape.

Nick: Those guys are over-hyped, but there’s no way they’re not for fucking real. Those guys are living it, man… I feel we’re both outside of genres really, and that’s good. I’d much rather be hanging with those guys than the Melvins or some other band that’s more sludgy and psych.

Taman Shud insist their music evolves completely organically, with no individual member considering themselves the songwriter. As singer, Nick writes the lyrics, but only in the same spirit that each member writes their own parts.

Nick: A lot of bands we play with, every member’s in three or four bands and they can turn their hands to death metal or jangle pop or whatever. Whereas we just play the Shud music. One of the coolest things about the Shud is that there are no leaders. There’s no-one who’s writing the stuff. I do the vocals but I’m tucked away at the back of the stage and it’s all echoey and stuff.

Greg: We’re Sparta, not Athens.

Nick: It’s like the Cornelius Cardew idea of a band being your idea of a perfect society. For me that’s very true of the Shud. It’s an anarchist band; there’s no hierarchy-

Derry: We also get nothing done, though.

Nick: We take fucking ages to do anything.

Greg: Just like true anarchists!

Nick: I want people to stop thinking about what shoes they’re going to buy or what’s good for lunch or what they’re going to do next at work or whatever, and just liberate their imagination a bit.

Derry: But you can also have nice shoes and come to see Taman Shud.

Tasha: Sort out your shoes first, and then you can liberate your mind.

Speaking of sartorial choices, you all look very normal; short-haired, presentable young people, yet your music sounds like you should be wearing cowls and robes and playing through banks of smoke and freaky projections.

Nick: We don’t do anything like that. We play like this. And that’s another thing that I really like about us; that we don’t do that. The theatre is all in the sound. We’re people like you, but we do this, and you could do this as well.

Greg: I know what you mean; there is something quite nice about going on stage and looking spoddy…

Nick: Yeah, we look like librarians, and then we launch into it and it’s like shit, they’re normal looking people on stage, but it sounds like fucking volcanos and earthquakes and tsunamis all going off at once. But I always inscribe sigils on my body before we play.

Tasha: With a sharpie.

Derry: Like an occult lout.

Greg: That’s pretty much our sound, actually; occult lout.

Derry: If we have anything in common, the occult lout thing is probably it.

Nick: And beer. Beer is a brilliant sacrament, it really is. For getting into a trance state where you’re not preoccupied with your own thoughts, beer is the best sacrament.

Derry: It’s liquid bread.

Greg: Mouldy liquid bread.

Tasha: The mouldy liquefied body of Christ.

There was obviously a point where you decided to focus on this occult image; I can’t imagine that we’d be talking about all this if you’d decided to be called Crisps.

Greg: Could we have been called Crisps and stayed true to the occult?

Tasha: As we were saying before, we don’t tend to talk about the music so much. So there was probably just a general shuffling around of imagery and different kinds of sound.

Greg: Yeah, the sound just gave its name to everything else, really. It was just getting heavier and louder.

Tasha: There’s a parallel in the way our music ends up being made, in that we’ll turn up, play some shit and see what happens, and then things get vetoed. So someone will play something and either it will stay or get vetoed. And a lot of stuff gets vetoed, which is part of why it takes us a while to write stuff, because the process is just come up with whatever, and if someone says no, I don’t like it, then you just chuck it and start again. And maybe with the imagery it was a similar thing, that there were a lot of ideas kicking around.

Nick: It’s hard to pin down exactly what happened, but we fixed on the sound and it became a very psychedelic, hard sound.

Greg: And we got a lot more interested in arcane stuff as well.

Nick: Yeah, that’s true, too.

Greg: But it has a real purpose, it’s not just something that fits with the sound, like Wolves in the Throne Room or something, where you just slather an image on top of the music you’re playing because it’s convenient for your market.

Tasha: Don’t diss Wolves in the Throne Room! Wolves in the Throne Room are great!

Nick: Basically, certain god forms took hold, and I answered to those guys.

Tasha: And those forms fluttered around, and certain of them identified with the rest of the band, and those forms were kept.

And the God of Crisps was jettisoned.

Tasha: Yeah; the God of Crisps may find some other resting place.

Greg: I’m quite into the God of Crisps. On a serious level, I’m quite up for that.

Tasha: He’s a real shape shifter.

Nick: Yeah, man! One moment he’s all made of corn and he’s shaped like a monster smurf; the next minute he’s like, ooh, slinky disco! What’s going on there?

He’s the magical partner of the Beer God. The Alchemical Wedding of Beer and Crisps.

Tasha: I guess we’ve stayed with the God of Beer; less so with the God of Crisps.

Nick: Shiva Shakti, man. Crisps and beer. Seriously, if Shakti is the loose one, then Shiva is bringing you back on track. It makes so much sense! The booze is Shakti, and female; the crisps are Shiva, and you dip the crisps into the beer.

Tasha: No, don’t dip the crisps into the beer!

Greg: It’s got to be done.

Taman Shud play at Supernormal Festival, which takes place at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, from 8th-10th August. For more information and tickets, click here to visit the festival website.

The band’s split EP with Fat White Family is out now via Trashmouth – click here to listen and buy it.

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