Sunday, April 15, 2018

#MeToo Goes Metal: Black Moth's Harriet Hyde on Turning Rage into Music

Black Moth (photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions)

As previously discussed on this site, Anatomical Venus by UK Doom/Stoner Metal act Black Moth is one of the most intense - and essential - listening experiences released so far this year. If theres ever a song worthy of serving as an anthem for the #MeToo movement, its the fiery “Sisters Of The Stone” - a track (and captivating promo video) thats been turning heads since its debut earlier this year.  

I recently touched base with singer Harriet Hyde to discuss Black Moths new album (their third), the inspiration behind “Sisters Of The Stone” and where the growing attention directed towards the band may lead them in the future. 

Anatomical Venus is your first album in four years. Why was there such a long stretch of time between records?

It’s actually three and a half years, but I get your point. (laughs) Actually, we recorded the album over a year before it was released. There were so many bureaucratic delays, as we changed record labels from New Heavy Sounds to Candlelight/Spinefarm, which was incredibly frustrating and a real test of patience! Other than that, we prefer to take our time until we have an album we are really happy with rather than churning them out. It’s not so easy now that we live in different cities as well and are a little bit older. We have actual lives outside the band!

The new album is much heavier than your previous work. Was this an intentional goal going into this album or something that naturally developed as the material was being written?

We don’t tend to like writing with a specific purpose in mind, as that can stifle creativity for us. However, it is certainly true that we were tired of hearing people say that we are much heavier live than on record! So sonically, we were conscious that the production must capture more of the weight and energy of our live show.

How has the addition of [new guitarist] Federica [Gialanze] most impacted where the band is now in terms of the overall sound and the direction you took on the new album?

Fed is a Heavy Metal guitarist to the core. She replaced [former guitarist] Nico [Carew], who was a great player but from more of a Surf/Punk/Rock’N’Roll background. Having an absolute shredder on board has definitely catalyzed a move towards a more metallic sound. She also has some quite Proggy influences, and I think they creep into the songwriting, too! She and Jimmy have a fantastic writing and performing relationship, so you can hear a lot more Thin Lizzy-esque harmonies in our new stuff – and lots of sword-crossing onstage!

The lyric video for “Sisters Of The Stone” has been getting a lot of attention. What was the inspiration for the song, and what is the takeaway you’d like listeners to get from the finished product? 

The song itself was inspired by some shocking stories I had heard from close friends about abusive relationships. One day, I went into the rehearsal room just seething with rage about the maltreatment of my female friends, and it started there. I had Tarantino’s Death Proof as well as the Furies of Ancient Greece in mind when writing, and I imagined a vigilante troop of women who would seek vengeance for wronged sisters. I also think there were notable ripples of violation felt by many women in the aftermath of the exposure of America’s ‘pussy-grabbing’ President. It felt very appropriate to release this on the centenary of votes for women in the UK and with the wave of female empowerment around #metoo/#timesup campaigns.

The label asked us to make a lyric video, and I often find these quite cheesy! Luckily, I met [director/producer] Noomi Spook, who is incredible. She used vintage archive footage to build a video montage ‘herstory’ of vintage archival footage. Noomi dug out glimpses of female power excavated from the swathes of old footage of Stepford Wives advertising domestic bliss.

Jim Sclavunos [Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds/Sonic Youth/Grinderman/The Cramps] produced your previous two albums, while Andy Hawkins – who was involved with your last album, Condemned To Hope, as an engineer – produced Anatomical Venus. What led to this change, and how do you feel it most impacted the new record?

Jim was amazing to work with, and it certainly isn’t the end of our relationship with him! We learnt so much from him and grew as musicians with his support and encouragement. We know Andy very well from working with him, and [our bassist] Dave [Vachon] had been helping him to build The Nave – his stunning new studio in Leeds. It is a conversion of an old church and a fantastic space. Andy offered us a whole month in the studio, and we were intrigued to see what we could create together. The man is a true eccentric and a bit of a mad genius - fueled entirely on cups of Yorkshire tea! We felt more relaxed than ever in the studio this time, with more time and experimentation with a new producer, and I think that had helped to keep our output varied and interesting.

Your previous band, The Bacchae, had a clear ’60s Psychedelic influence, while Black Moth are obviously taking things in a more Metal direction. Why did you decide to follow this musical thread as opposed to carrying on with the vibe you established with The Bacchae?

I think The Bacchae never quite managed to pin down our sound, and when [our drummer] Dom [McCready] came along, our sound became more cohesive and our mission became clearer. Dom is a heavy hitter and brought a heavier, metallic leaning to our songwriting. It was so much more fun to play live that we never looked back! We found our calling!

What are the chances of seeing Black Moth in the States in the near future?

Well, we would absolutely love that, but to tell you the truth, it is extremely expensive for a UK band to get over to the States. Fingers crossed, a feasible opportunity comes up, because we have a lot of people asking for us over there!

This is your eighth year as a band. What has been your greatest achievement so far, and what are your greatest hopes for the future?

For me, the greatest achievement was supporting L7, a band who made an immeasurable impression on me as a young woman who loved music. They made me want to be in a band and showed me I could do it… and on my own terms. My only hope for the future is to reach more people with our music and continue to create raw, exciting songs straight from our souls to your ears! If we can play more shows around the world, that would certainly be a bonus!

*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity. 

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Another Sunrise: Jeff Pilson on Dokken's Return to the East

When the classic lineup of ’80s Hard Rock legends Dokken – singer Don Dokken, guitarist George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Mick Brown – reconvened in 2016 after an 18-year break (and plenty of splits and reunions before that) to perform a string of dates in Japan, it marked the return of a musical partnership that created magic in the genre’s heyday despite an ongoing internal soap opera of personality clashes and missed opportunities. For at least a few short days, the four musicians who comprised the band’s most successful era were back. Now, Italian label (and longtime ’80s music champions) Frontiers Music are gearing up for the April 20 release of Return To The East Live (2016), an album/DVD/Blu-ray combo culled from the band’s performance at the Loud Park Festival in Japan and (on parts of the DVD) a warm-up gig in South Dakota. In addition to featuring bonus acoustic studio recordings of “Heaven Sent” and “Will The Sun Rise,” the collection is bolstered by the inclusion of “It’s Another Day,” the first brand-new studio song from this lineup in two decades. Although a killer version of Dokken currently exists with Don and Mick still behind the wheel, Return To The East Live (2016) proves that there will always be something truly special about this earlier incarnation. 

Now in Foreigner after a celebrated stint in Dio, Pilson was in high spirits when I recently connected with him to discuss the new Dokken release, the possibility of future plans for this version of the band and what makes them still relevant after decades of intense ups and downs. 

I love the new studio track. What were the logistics involved in getting that song together?

When we originally did our Beast From The East [live] album in 1988, we were going to record a new song live at the show along with the rest of the stuff and debut it on the live record. We did actually write a song, and we recorded it, but we weren’t happy with it when it got done. (laughs) We thought, ‘Okay, let’s try that again.’ To make a long story short, we also realized, ‘You know what? It’s just not practical to try recording a song initially live.’ Good theory, but it doesn’t work out in practicality. But before we did the tour, George and I got together and wrote the music for it with it being a new Dokken song in mind. We wrote the music and we were very happy about it, but then we didn’t actually get a chance to work on it until we got back from Japan – at which point, we sent it to Don and Mick. Don suggested we speed it up, which we did and we liked that. Then, he came in and just nailed his vocals in what was one of the most painless Dokken recording sessions ever. (laughs) It just happened very naturally, very organically and quickly. We’re all really happy with the results, and it just turned out great. 

For the live record and the sets you did in Japan, what was the level of difficulty – if any – in selecting the songs you ultimately performed during that run?

It wasn’t very difficult, because we decided early on, ‘Let’s just do music from the ’80s heyday; let’s kind of keep this to the ’80s version of the band.’ That’s why I brought back bass pedals and keyboards and that kind of thing. We knew there would be none of the ’90s material that we did together or material from any of the other versions of Dokken. We kind of had a good idea already of what we were going to do. We did add in a couple of different songs that we thought would be interesting. On the first show, we did acoustic versions of ‘Will The Sun Rise’ and ‘Heaven Sent,’ which we also ended up doing in the studio as acoustic remakes. At the first show we did, we did them live acoustically, and we weren’t really happy with how that came out. That’s why we ended up just recording it in the studio, where we were very happy with it. But then when we got to Japan, we didn’t want to do an acoustic set there, but we ended up working up ‘Will The Sun Rise’ as a live track. We were really excited about that. Unfortunately, none of the recordings of it came out pretty good (laughs), but we were really excited about working up that track. To answer your question, most of it was pretty obvious and automatic [with] what we were going to play. It was exciting that we did ‘Dream Warriors,’ because that was one we didn’t always do live because it can be a difficult song. But we decided we’d go for and do the big ’80s songs and have fun with it.

This new record was done in Japan, and its coming out on Frontiers – an Italian label. I talk to a lot of acts from the ’80s that are now working with Frontiers, and there’s obviously a scene for this genre overseas. From your perspective, why does it appear that this era still resonates so strongly with folks outside of America?

For one thing, I think people outside of America tend to be a little less trendy. This is not a slight; this is just kind of an observation. Americans tend to be a little flightier and trendier. People in Europe and Japan in particular – and South America as well – tend to be very loyal. If they like something, they like it regardless of what’s hip, trendy or otherwise, and then they stay with it. A lot of this ’80s Rock didn’t penetrate into Europe as much the first time it came out; it took a while for that music to catch on over there. We had a certain amount of success in Europe, but not to the degree that it became. I think they’ve just latched onto the music, they love it and they appreciate it. They listen very closely. If they like something, they like something for life as long as you do a great job. That’s a great thing. 

You mentioned “Dream Warriors” earlier. I’m not alone in being introduced to Dokken through that song. When you look back now, how do you think that partnership with the Nightmare On Elm Street thing ultimately impacted the band’s career?

In a big way, because you’re not the first person to tell me that. There are a lot of people who did get familiar with us through that. Our managers at the time were really great. Cliff Burnstein, one of our managers, was really close friends with Wes Craven, the guy who did the Nightmare series. Those are the two who kind of concocted this idea. Not only was it a great thing to be involved in the movie, but the video that came out afterwards was the first time that a commercially released movie included a music video from the band that did the title song. That got us a lot of exposure. I would say that ‘Dream Warriors’ was a critical song for us as far as introducing us to a lot of people, and it is a very consummate Dokken-sounding song. It sort of established our sound with a lot of people, which was a great thing. 

Not terribly long after that, the band broke up. When that took place, did you feel satisfied that the band had indeed gone as far as it could? 

Absolutely not! (laughs) We did break up, but it happened as the result of Don leaving. I can remember having many a talk with Don. I would pull out statistics, like, ‘Only 41 albums went Platinum in 1988, and we’re one of them!’ I was really trying to sell the idea of keeping the band together for at least a couple more cycles. Our management was trying to do the same; they were dangling large monetary carrots in front of us. Money was one of the reasons that I thought we should stay together, but I also felt like, ‘No! We haven’t taken this as far as we could.’ In retrospect, having broken up then probably eliminated us from being part of the carnage that Hair Metal received in the early ’90s. (laughs) We were already gone by then. We did have a career after that; we were able to come back a couple times. That may or may not have happened had we continued then. Who knows? But I did not want the band to break up; I did think we had more to do. I thought had we done one more record, we could have really put ourselves in a much, much bigger position – which, again, would have suffered terribly in the ’90s, but maybe we would have had a better springboard to jump off of from there. 

My next question is the one you’re likely hearing a lot. Obviously, this new release features the classic lineup. Do you see a future for the four of you working under the Dokken banner?

You know what? You just never know. We talk about it all the time; we get along well enough now that we communicate pretty well. There are always offers coming in, and there’s always talk of it. A lot of it comes down to scheduling; it’s very, very difficult to schedule. One of the reasons the Japanese tour worked out so well is that they really, really worked around our schedules to make it happen. They wanted it to happen as badly as anybody. Foreigner happened to have a three-week break in that period in October [’16]. That worked out really, really well. There’s not a lot of that that happens. I don’t know how often our schedules would be able to coordinate so easily, but I would never say never, because the demand is still there and shows no sign of letting up. I’ll say that we’ll probably always entertain it and look into ways of making it happen, but who know when it is or if it’ll ever happen. We’ll just have to wait and see. 

What does the rest of the year look like for you?

Well, right now we have this Foreigner with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus record coming out this month as well as the Dokken record coming out this month. Foreigner is going to be heading to Europe in May; we’re also going to do two more nights with the symphony in Lucerne. We’re going to do two more orchestral show there, plus a European tour in the UK. Then in June, we start a tour with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening that’s going to go into August. That’s going to be a very exciting shed tour, and we’re really excited about that. A great night of music! I’ve been wanting to tour with Whitesnake for a long time – love the band, love the people. Then in October, Foreigner heads to Australian and New Zealand to do an orchestral show there, which is going to be very, very exciting. In the meantime, I’m trying to finish up two records. One is an album I have with George and Mick from Dokken and Robert Mason, the singer from Warrant. [The project] is currently being called Super Stroke. We’ve written 11 songs, and seven are completed. We’ve got four more left to put vocals on. That record will come out in early 2019. I’m also [producing] a second record with Last In Line, which is the original Dio guys with Andrew Freeman singing and Phil Soussan playing bass. I’m finishing up that as well this year [to be released in] early 2019. I’ve got a pretty full plate in front of me, and I’m just looking forward to everything coming out and hoping everybody loves what they hear. 

The internal ups and downs within Dokken have been well documented over the years. Putting that aside for a moment and just thinking about the creative aspect of the band, what was it about the classic four members that made it magical despite all the personal things that came up along the way?

It’s just musical chemistry, and it’s something that is still there. It was still there as soon as we got together and did some stuff again. I think it’s a combination of things. For one thing, George and I have always had a tremendously powerful musical chemistry. We’re very honest with one another. ‘That sucks!’ is not a phrase we’re afraid to use with each other. (laughs) But encouragement is also there, too. We’re of a similar mindset, and I think we respect each other tremendously. For the musical side of things, he and I have a lot of simpatico – something happens when he and I work together that makes great things. We haven’t been as involved in the lyrical side of things as we were in the ’80s. In the ’80s, we also wrote a lot of the lyric and melody stuff together. We haven’t been doing that as much with Dokken this time around – well, there’s only one song – but even with this Super Stroke thing we’re doing with Robert Mason, Robert and I are pretty much dealing with the vocal stuff. But George is great at that stuff, so that chemistry with him has always been a very solidifying factor. I have a great chemistry with Don, and Don has very unique ideas. You wouldn’t think on paper that it would sit with what George does, but it does. Maybe I have something to do with facilitating that, but I think more than anything, there’s just a common musicality that sort of threads this all together somehow. It just works. Mick is the perfect guy to play drums, and he’s got this great voice and also some great writing ideas. There’s just a lot of musicality between the four of us, and I think it’s that musicality that is the thread that makes our chemistry work. Music was always the easiest part for Dokken; it was the other crap that got in the way. (laughs)

*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity. 

Dokken, 2018. Left to right: Mick Brown, George Lynch, Don Dokken, Jeff Pilson (Photo source:

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

EP REVIEW - Gang of Four: Complicit

So… an EP with songs about sunshine and surfing, then?”

That was my initial thought when I received an advance copy of Gang of Four’s upcoming EP, Complicit, and peered at its cover. First Daughter Ivanka Trump is pictured smiling in front of American flags, while the release’s title (and, presumably, its Russian equivalent) takes the bottom. Naturally, the image has received quite a bit of major press in recent days. Not only is it a ballsy move for Gang of Four (currently led by guitarist/sole original member Andy Gill) to make in 2018, but it’s a surprisingly overt message by a band typically known to exist in a world of subtlety and grey shades.  

As just one example, lets take Gang of Four’s 1982 hit, “I Love A Man In A Uniform.” On its surface, the tune works as a brilliant dance floor number that could (as least in superficial terms) be interpreted as pro-military. However, a deeper journey into the song reveals everything from a subversive dig at societal perceptions of male virility (“The girls/They love to see you shoot”) to the Village People undercurrent of the Disco-driven chorus. Of course, I could be totally off in this assessment, but that’s what has made listening to Gang of Four’s body of work such an unceasingly fun endeavor over the years: They deliver the records, and then it’s up to us to make of them what we will.

(“I think Gang of Four, over the decades, has sometimes been guilty of trying to be our own reviewers and trying to really spell out what we think [a song is] supposed to say,” Gill told me in 2015. “I think sometimes, you can take away some of the magic in things by over-talking them.”) 

What do I make of Complicit? Well, first of all, the cover is the least interesting aspect of this thing. What’s more intriguing is the fact that the EP’s three tracks (plus a remix of the song “Lucky,” which I previously discussed here) embrace the smooth and soulful Pop-focused (but no less incendiary) sounds of Gang of Four’s tragically overlooked early-to-mid-’80s period. “Ivanka (Things You Can’t Have)” could have found a comfortable home on 1983’s Hard, while “Lucky” sounds like a lost single off ’82’s Songs Of The Free (or even a missing track off Gill’s 1988 solo EP, Dispossession). It’s a peculiar turn for Gill and Co. to take at this stage in their career, as both of these aforementioned albums are often (and unjustly, in my opinion) viewed as their creative nadir. But if you’ve been paying attention to Gill’s version of Gang of Four over the last six years, then you know that he’s been steering the band in any direction he chooses. 

The music contained on Complicit might not turn on everyone who has 1979’s Entertainment! permanently embedded on their turntable, but those of us who appreciate all facets of the Gang of Four discography will find plenty to appreciate here. (Complicit also has enough distorted guitar bursts and electronic beeps to give the tracks a fresh edge - but as a general reference on the EP’s overall vibe, think “Sleepwalker” off 1995’s Shrinkwrapped mixed with “Woman Town” off Hard.) 

Considering that Gang of Four have utilized the talents of Dave Allen, Sara Lee and Busta “Cherry” Jones over the years, the bass is obviously a critical component of any Gang of Four release. Complicit is no exception, and the EP’s strongest moment comes courtesy of long-serving member Thomas McNeice’s raw and brutally funky performance on “I’m A Liar.”

Gill’s decision to carry on with the Gang of Four moniker has prompted a fair share of apprehension from fans in recent years (including on this site), but his previous output as the last man standing (including 2015’s What Happens Next) still offered strong hints that his vision of the band would eventually match – and quite possibly progress beyond – the band’s legendary early work. Complicit finally fulfills that promise and offers a fascinating teaser of where he might go with the next Gang of Four full-length album (due later this year). Forty years on, Gill is still gifting us with music that excites our ears and our minds.

Complicit is out April 20. 

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