Entwining shadows, breaths, and sound: an interview with Defeat

defeat

The industrial/electro scene in the UK is aflame right now one with emerging creative and imaginatively accomplished bands and musicians of whom, Hertfordshire band Defeat, is one of the most stirring and promising examples. A duo comprising of Anthony Matthews (Vocals) and Gary Walker (Synthetics), the band has released one of the best of year album challengers in the genre with their striking confrontation [Seek Help]. Eleven tracks of immense, sinister, and fire bred tracks, the release confronts the ear with invention spawned enterprise and compelling provocative mastery. Making up for lost time to learn more about Defeat, we had the pleasure of finding out about the origins of the pair of musicians as well as the band, their thoughts on the industrial scene, personal inspirations, and much more with the help of both Ant and Gary. This is what they revealed…

Hi Guys and welcome to the site.

You two have known each other for a very long time, when did you first meet?

Gary: We met in at secondary school when we were 13 in French class. We were both completely uninterested in the subject being taught and just talked about the music we liked; girls and other stuff teenage boys are into.

Ant: Yes, it was a school in Harlow where we grew up. Although, with regards to exactly when, as ever I have to yield to Gary’s fantastic memory on that score!

When did music come into the relationship?

Gary: Almost straight away if I remember correctly. Part of the class involved making up a conversation in French and telling each other about ourselves and what we liked. We found we had the same taste in music then.

Ant: I remember once we had talked music we would swap lyrics written on scrappy bits of paper in school. I think we immediately had a similar sense of humour as well as musical tastes. There weren’t too many people in our school into putting a band together at our age so it was all kinda hush-hush!!

What were your early influences musically and have they remained still a potent inspiration now or has that evolved like your music?

Gary: I got the music bug seeing Howard Jones on Top of the Pops playing all those synths and thought “I want to do that”.  I’d say that was my biggest early influence as I pestered my parents relentlessly for a keyboard for Christmas, and they got me a Casio keyboard. I then taught myself a few chords and scales and learnt to play some songs by ear.

Ant: The early-eighties electronic explosion and new romantics must have subconsciously influenced me. At that age it was all chart music, but I suppose I was looking for something to follow. Howard Jones was that first big inspiration. I never really know what inspired me to listen to darker electro-bands but I always loved a bit of controversy I suppose. I had always followed Depeche Mode but it was when I discovered Nitzer Ebb and Nine Inch Nails that my head was turned to Industrial influences. I was always a collector of vinyl in those days so and once I’d found a band I had to have the entire collection. It’s been a curse ever since!

Your first musical project was Seek Help, where did that name come from and as we made the assumption that your new album also named [Seek Help] was seeded from then, is the album title just a nod to the past or holding a stronger meaning behind it for you?

Gary: The name “Seek Help” originally came from a joke. The track ‘Revenge’ had existed in some form right from those early days, and we didn’t have a name as such then. We had recorded a very rough and basic demo of the track and played it to friends, and their response was “You two need to seek help”. We looked at each other and laughed, and about 10 seconds later said “that’s our name”, and it stuck. For me, naming the album [Seek Help] is just a nod to that.

Ant: This is where I do have a clearer memory of exactly when it came about. A college mate had always added the phrase “Seek Help” to the chorus of ‘Revenge’. We went into our first proper studio sessions in Chelmsford to record our first proper demo as “Who Cares?”, but as Gary suggested it wasn’t a definite. The guy recording the demo heard the phrase and “Seek Help” stuck.

What brought Seek Help to an end and how long was it before Defeat emerged? 

 pic Malcolm Tyler

pic Malcolm Tyler

Gary: A disastrous gig in Romford did the damage. Technical cock-ups and apathy from the (very) small crowd that bothered to show up didn’t help. I basically had a meltdown live on stage and trashed my drum pads. Shortly after the gig Ant and I both came to the conclusion that the name Seek Help had run its course, and because of the sense that we’d been beaten, Ant suggested ‘Defeat’ as a new name. Musically, we didn’t really change anything and we just set about doing stuff under the “new banner”, as it were, a few months after we’d taken stock of what happened that night.

Ant: That was definitely the end for a while. And life, love, marriages and the day job kept us apart for a good few years. I’d just like to say that Seek Help never really ended. The songs from those days are now under the Defeat banner. And adding to the previous question it just seemed apt to name our début album as a nod to that fact. The name Defeat for me was perfect as a negative and positive. Those days it was only the name that changed. I suppose for me Defeat only really emerged fully in 2011.

There was a kind of hiatus for Defeat from its opening breath I believe, what brought that about and what was the spark to reactivate the project?

Gary: Basically as Defeat was starting up, I got married and had kids so my focus and priorities changed. Ant also had his own stuff going on, so although we still met up and dabbled with music a bit, the other things in our lives at the time had taken over. It continued pretty much that way until mid-2011 when I discovered after coming home from holiday that my mother was ill in hospital. She dropped the bombshell they’d found cancer in her liver and six weeks later she had passed away. I was beside her when she died, and although it was (and still is) painful for me, I am so glad she didn’t die alone. My mother was a person who lived life on her terms and did things as and when she wanted, and I remember at the time a little voice in me said “Seize the day. If you don’t do this thing now you never will. Life is too short.”, so shortly after my mother’s funeral I spoke to Ant about starting up properly again.

Ant: Yeah, I didn’t know at the time that Gary losing his mother was the catalyst for him but he was suddenly very prolific with sending me demos. The advent of new technology and social networking meant that we didn’t need to be that close to bounce stuff back and forth. The process was so much more instant and the spark had not gone.

How would you say the two bands differ in sound and in your intent behind them?

Gary: The sound is different, but only because technology and our own tastes have evolved – I would say it’s a natural progression really as we started listening to different artists too. The songs still come together in the same way they always have for me. In terms of intent, that has remained the same for me – to write, record and perform music I would personally like to hear myself.

Ant: I can’t disagree with that. It has always been about evolution. You cannot help being inspired by what you hear. For me it is an outlet. Music without passion or feeling is not music. You will notice that in our live performances. For me it could be a beat or a lyric or a melody, whatever type of music it is, if there is one or all of those elements, and it is well produced then you have cracked it. If we can do that, and I believe we have, then our work is done.

Was there a core lesson you learned with your first project that you took into Defeat to either avoid or embrace?

Gary: In Seek Help I was constantly worried that our songs didn’t sound hard enough, dark enough or industrial enough and may have been too lightweight and poppy. I don’t think that way anymore and if something is lighter in tone, then that’s how it is – I suppose you could say I’ve learned to trust my instincts more.

Ant: From my side of things, lyrically that is, the songs have always been formed in my head. As Gary says, how light or dark they come out is of no consequence. It’s just that most of the time we do like a darker twist! In terms of lessons learned – that implies a failure. I feel we have never failed. It’s just that in the early days we had no time to push what we wanted to do.

166719_571237349577479_1654124329_nThe four track Outbursts! EP was your first release as Defeats on Static Distortion Records. Did you have a particular idea and intent for the EP and its introduction of the band to the country?

Gary: Initially after getting Defeat up and running again in 2011, we’d put together a version of Outbursts for a competition on Side-Line.com. The track didn’t do anything as far as the competition was concerned, but the process of putting it together and actually finally sending something out gave us an impetus to record. So we hooked up with long-time friend Nik Hodges (Chas Hodges Band / Psykelekrik / Deletists) and we went to his studio. Initially it was nothing serious; the idea was to put a few tracks down (and for me also to have a chance to play with lots of lovely analogue synthesizers – lol). I played Nik a few rough instrumental demos and we started fleshing out the production of the songs musically from there – the lyrics were already written at this point.

Ant: I always knew we had some winning tunes. So we went in the studio with someone who knew the tracks and had the same passion as us for the songs. And I think Gary would agree with me that those few sessions in the studio with Nik have had a massive effect on how we work now. To be surrounded by some lovely old analogue kit, combined with new plug-in technology, I think really opened up our eyes. The original intent was for a self-release. In the digital age, once your work is out there it stays. I just wanted what I knew was a great group of songs out there.

How did the link up with Static Distortion come about?

Gary: We’d been noticed on-line by Steve (Fearon) when we posted the track for the Side Line contest, and he contacted us inviting us to join the label. We met with Steve and after an earnest and honest discussion with him, we joined SDR. At this point the EP was still unfinished, so we agreed this would be Defeat’s first SDR release, providing we could wrap it up reasonably quickly. A month after that first meeting, the EP was mastered and delivered to Steve.

Ant: Yeah, social networking and a lot of spamming around on various sites was where Steve heard of us. I was basically searching out any band of a similar style I could find. Outburst caught his attention and he contacted us. The rest is history.

How does the songwriting happen within Defeat and has that stayed the same from day one?

Gary: Although we do tend to have some lyrics as a starting point, how a song develops and comes together is never the same. Some songs we agonise over and we can and sometimes do argue vociferously over certain parts of a song. On the flip side of that, we have written tracks where everything just falls into place, although that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. One example of everything falling into place happened when we wrote ‘Ripcord’. I had a simple beat going in the sequencer and I started jamming a fairly minimal bass line over it. While listening to this, Ant was rifling through his lyric book and found some lyrics he’d written down that fit the vibe we had going on. I added the other keyboard parts while Ant fleshed out the lyrics he had written down, and in around 2 hours or so, ‘Ripcord’ was completed.

Ant: In essence, Gary is the musician and I provide the lyrics. Which way round a track develops is not always the same. As I alluded to earlier, I often write a whole song in my head. But I then need Gary to get it out of there and sometimes that is very simple and sometimes a drawn out process. Other times, Gary will put something together and I will remember a lyric and fit it to it. We haven’t jammed together for a while, as all the songs we have released so far (with the exception of ‘Scars’) were already there, but when we do I know the spark will always be there.

You have just released your excellent debut album which we mentioned earlier, [Seek Help]. It is a record which builds on the EP, its sound and songwriting, whilst lying just as easily alongside it, how do you regard it in comparison?947044_603508886350325_1407494312_n

Gary: I see it as a natural progression from the EP in terms of production. I’m always keen to learn new production techniques and use them wherever possible. A couple of the songs on the album were actually written before some of those that are on the EP, so from that perspective the EP and the album dovetail each other quite nicely.

Ant: You could almost merge the two. When we put the ‘Outbursts! EP’ together we had enough material for two albums but an EP was suggested as our first introduction to SDR. So the album is a direct continuation. I think we have forged a clear sound for ourselves which is evident in both releases; I am hugely proud of them both. To finally get them out there is fantastic.

What is the biggest evolution of change in your sound for you since making the EP to now?

Gary: I’d say we’ve probably got more layers in the sound now, and everything sounds a little bit sharper and brighter on the album compared to the tracks on the EP, as I’ve gained more confidence in using new plug-ins and trying out production techniques I’ve picked up in the time since the EP was released. For example many of the lead sounds I use now are made from several sounds stacked and layered together, rather than trying to make one massive sound on one particular synth. It does make replicating those sounds for live gigs a bit trickier, but I’m more relaxed about the live sound now than I used to be, and providing the sounds I play are close enough to those on the recording, then that’s fine. And I like to think I’m proficient enough to recreate those sounds without too much difficulty.

Ant: I defer all tech-based questions to Gary! But I would like to praise Gary’s growing proficiency in mixing and production. His work will soon be seen in various other projects around the scene.

Do you have a particular method in recording your songs and especially with the album this time around?

Gary: With this album, most of the songs were musically complete as demos from around Christmas 2012. We then set aside time to record the vocals in early 2013. We work very quickly when the ideas flow and we were able to track about 90% of the vocals for the album in a few sessions. We tend to get the music tracked first and then record Ant’s vocals. I also did some backing vocals on this album, unlike the EP where vocally it’s all Ant, and I was able to do those bits fairly quickly in those same sessions.

Ant: Yeah that’s basically it. Like I said earlier, the tracks just needed fleshing out and adding our vocals. Gary puts the tracks down and I will lend an ear. These were long-standing songs for us so I had a lot to say in terms of how they sounded. Two tracks that we thought were a shoe-in for the album were dropped from the album sessions due to us not agreeing on a final mix. But these are finally the definitive versions for us.

The album has a building malevolence to loosely describe its intensity of breath and seeming nature as you venture deeper into its provocative presence track by track. Is this something you see too and was it intentional or a rewarding by-product of the albums natural progression?

Gary: I think it was a bit of both. We always knew the album would start with ‘Fear’. The album actually starts with ‘In Vestri Genua Descendamus’, but this track is in fact made from parts of ‘Fear’ and is the intro we use for live. On the album it could be seen as a longer intro to ‘Fear’. We also knew that ‘Scars’ was going to be the final track and we just had to put the remaining tracks into an order that ebbed and flowed as naturally as possible. It’s that flow, which is part-planned and part-accidental that imbues the album with this sense of building malevolence.

Ant:  I’m glad you picked up on that because I always had a plan to weave a pattern throughout the album. When ordering the tracks we treated it how we would a gig set. ‘Fear’ was always the big intro; ‘Ripcord’ was always track 2 live. ‘Defeat’, again, had been used as a gig opener. ‘Revenge’ through to ‘Cry At Your Funeral’ was always going to be grouped together. ‘Scars’ was originally an instrumental that was always going to end the album.

There also feels, certainly on the album, at times a strong personal element to songs, is this the case? How close to home are the inspirations for songs?

Gary: Everything lyrically is either from a situation Ant or I have experienced, or from an observation we’ve made of the world around us. I tend to leave the lyrical side of things to Ant, although I do write lyrics sometimes. Whenever I do write lyrics I always then give them to Ant, and he will invariably twist them and take them in a different direction.

Ant: Yeah I always get blamed for the cynicism in the lyrics! Gary never complains though! Following on from the last question, the bulk of the album is from personal experiences. If you don’t get a feeling from a song then no-one will connect to it. I don’t apologise for how personal the lyrics are. It’s what I believe is the core to our identity. All the best songs I have ever known come from the heart, however light or dark they are.

defeat coffin  video stillIs there a particular moment or aspect of [Seek Help] which gives you an extra tingle or glow of satisfaction?

Gary: For me, the satisfaction comes when someone else really likes the album or says “that song is great”. For me that’s the greatest compliment. Of course I still get moments when I hear certain elements in a track and I’ll think “damn, I like the sound of that!” One such example is the intricate “clicky” percussion at the beginning of ‘Scars’.

Ant: The compliments have been fantastic. What amazes me is that when I listen to it now there are elements in there that jump out that I’d even forgotten about! For me, that shows that we have produced something that will not get stale quickly. The ominous opening bass on ‘Ripcord’ gives me a great thrill, the urgency of ‘Cry At Your Funeral’,  the fantastic synth lines across all the tracks still excite me. And I was really happy with the vocals. ‘Scars’ was a real treat at the end as it was always an instrumental with one vocal line so to finally get a full track was a huge bonus. Proud is an understatement.

What comes next for Defeat?

Gary: We’re working on putting a free download single for “Coffin” together which will include a few alternative takes on the song. There’s also a video of the track in the pipeline too to coincide with the single release, but we’re not working to a particular deadline on either at the moment. I think after that, we’ll look in 2014 at doing either another EP or the traditionally-labelled “difficult” second album. At the moment I’m also involved with mixing the new album for D.E.P feat. MiXE1.

Ant: 2013 will hopefully come to a close with the single release. A lot of remixes are surfacing now so there will be some form of remix collection. 2014 will bring that second full album. No dates are set but it is going to be an exciting times as new tracks will need to be written alongside some older ideas. We will also be looking to gig a lot more regularly throughout the coming months.

Many thanks for taking time to chat with us, anything you would like to add?

Gary: I’m just very grateful for the chance we’ve been given to get our music to a wider audience – and huge thanks must go to Steve Fearon for giving us that chance. In addition, I’d also like to state for the record that despite the oft-documented drama that occurs in the industrial scene, everyone I’ve come into contact with in the scene since joining SDR have been some of the friendliest and welcoming people I’ve met.

Ant: I echo those comments. I think I’d just like to say that there is a lot of good music out there that we all need to support if we are to keep this scene going. It doesn’t matter if it sounds old-school or like someone else. If it stirs something in you and is well put together then cherish it. Take a risk on something new. You might surprise yourself!

And finally what are the five most important songs or releases that you feel guided or lit your own musical mind-set?

Gary: Oh, that’s a tough one – and this may seem like a cop-out – for me there are just too many songs that have had some sort of influence on me, and the list changes constantly.

Ant: I know it sounds clichéd but for me it is ‘Violator’ and ‘Masses’ (DM), ‘Pretty Hate Machine’/’Broken’/’Downward Spiral’(NIN), ‘Belief’/ ‘Showtime’/’Ebbhead’ (NE), ‘Headhunter’/’Welcome to Paradise’ (242) and more recently ‘Gelb’ (Neuroticfish). Yes, I know I’m old but those were my early dark inspirations! We are influenced every day by what we hear, see and experience. That’s what inspires me to write but all the above artists and more are guiding the feel of the music.

Go download the EP / Album and come see us live soon – I assure you it is worth it! Cheers.

Something we at the RR wholeheartedly agree with. Checkout the review of [Seek Help] @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/defeat-seek-help/

Questions:  Pete RingMaster

The RingMaster Review 03/09/2013

Stranger by Starlight : Chalk White Nights

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Seemingly bred in the darkest depths of the psyche and shadows, Chalk White Nights from Stranger by Starlight is an album which explores and takes the senses and imagination to places they do not necessarily want to go and maybe did not even know existed within their once safe worlds. It is a potent intrusive confrontation that leaves the listener exhausted, haunted, but irresistibly drawn to its heavy noir persuasion.

The result of the coming together of the creative ingenuity of composer Anthony Saggers a.k.a. Stray Ghost (plus White Lace and Tender Prey) and experimental-rock pioneers Oxbow vocalist Eugene S. Robinson, the Bad Paintings released exploration is a continual journey through troublesome atmospheres with a sinister underbelly and a voracious stark hunger which works visually and mentally upon the mind. The perfect soundtrack to a premise like the game/film Max Payne or the comic book Hellblazer, it is also a sonic narrative to the blackest reaches and corners of life. Chalk White Nights is a mix of tantalising temptation and destructive uncomfortable confrontation which will seduce some and scare off others, and certainly if someone is mentally standing upon a tower block with their only seeming option being to take that step over the edge, this album is best avoided.

Consisting of five lingering consuming tracks, Chalk White Nights opens with the dawning almost church like synth whispers of The Nights of No Sleep with Robinson soon after wrapping his pained narrative gently but richly around the chilling ambience. Managing to be expansive yet isolated to a narrow breath, the track is a resonating overpowering taunt with Raymond Chandler like detective chills permeating the streetlight lit noir clad street and thoughts he sculpted with his words. It is a startling and unsettling encounter which perfectly hints at the album as a whole and leaves emotions in two minds whether to hide or embrace the incitement.

    Beautiful Boy with a Stone moves off from the same breath of its predecessor, the pair kin with a central angst core which is expressed and taken into separate realms and sorrowful sonic paintings. Once more the vocals of Robinson sink easily within the emotive icy climes of the keys, their presence magnetic and distrustful with the vocals at times slipping from mental clarity into almost bedlamic spawned expulsions of passion. There is beauty and mordant charm to the song whilst its successor An Organist is pungent sonic sourness immersed within cavernous washes of keys veined by the continually absorbing vocal presentation of Robinson. The track is like a ‘talking book’, voice and sounds creating a brooding and intensifying web of danger and intimidation aligned to reflection and black tales.

The dramatic poise of The Red Print offers up the next venture of dark physical and mental rooms, its murderous narrative upon another climactic brewing of energy, emotional manipulation, and darkly hued scenes a foreboding pleasure and seductive fear. As across the album the track is a masterful portrait of dark times and crimes but especially here bringing greater menace and pressure on the emotions to bear whilst Robinson like a dark preacher recounts his darkly coated message within a beautifully melancholic string woven cloud.

The album is completed by A Black Cat, a track which is like an epilogue brought from a time ahead to the previous body of the narrative and another reflective boil of intensity which creates a tempest of squalling vocals and energy that is sheer manna. It is an exceptional storm upon ears and thoughts which ebbs and flows ruggedly within a plateau of sonic provocation and suggestion which verges at times on indigestible but is still devoured greedily. It is a stunning end to a staggering release which you can only hope is the first of many from the collaborators.

It maybe is not an easy companion at times but Chalk White Nights is one of the most rewarding and creative encounters heard in quite a while. A must investigate blackness for all.

https://www.facebook.com/strangerbystarlight

9/10

RingMaster 03/09/2013

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