Three heads from a dying monkey: the Headcount Interview

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It was with the release of the Two Heads/Die Monkey Die EP that UK punk/noise provocateurs Headcount ignited a long term passion for their sounds here at the site, a slavery which only bled excitement when the band released their new album Lullabies for Dogs recently. The Oxford trio thirteen years or so on from their first steps as a band with the Malicious Damage Records released album showed they still had the snarl and lyrical provocation not forgetting the mischief which twisted our imagination and emotions into submission a decade ago. Grabbing the opportunity with possibly over eager hands to find out more about the band past and present we fuelled the band with numerous questions. With great thanks to vocalist/guitarist Rob Moss, bassist Rob Jeffrey, and drummer Stef Hale we talked about Lullabies for Dogs, Paul Raven, Marco Pirroni, the dying days of music and much more…

Hi and welcome to The RingMaster Review.

Before we talk about your new album Lullabies For Dogs, can we swiftly go back to fourteen years ago when the band began? What was the spark which brought the band together and what was the main driving force for its intent?

ROB MOSS: We were brought together by a mutual friend who sang in a pre-Headcount band for us. After he went to the states we just carried on! To be honest, we’d been starting to follow a heavier direction anyway but the change in circumstances gave us a chance to do a wholesale change of go for it!

The driving forces? Just general reaction to all that goes on in the world. You will note that I, in particular, seem to have an opinion on everything and , of course , believe that EVERYONE wants to hear it……..

Are those inspirations just as potent and forceful now or have they changed or evolved especially in regard to your songwriting?

ROB MOSS: Absolutely. Probably more so because the world does not seem to be getting any better does it? Look at Syria and Egypt and the whole global economic crisis or the homophobic laws being introduced in Russia. Hardly an improvement – more’s the pity

ROB JEFFREY: Our songs have always been about current issues, which kind of makes us like a loud version of HEAT Magazine. Mossy has something to say on most things, and whilst we don’t always share exactly the same opinion on everything we generally move in the same direction, give or take the odd punch up. If anything, our more recent approach is darker and more subtle then the old days of openly fighting paedophiles, the church & Earl Spencer!

STEF HALE: It’s a strange mix which makes Headcount but with all of our differing tastes in Music, this is what creates the noise, brutality and melody. Headcount are not wannabe pop stars, punks nor metal heads we play what we like and that comes through from Mossy’s punk, Robs thrash metal and my “listen to anything”. The collaboration is catchy and “fucking have it”! rhythm section with the lyrical content and melody from mossy of all the things that “gets on his tits” this is what makes us sound like…well, Headcount

So you still get as creatively angry about the same things or has that canvas widened over the years?

RM: It’s widened as there are more and more ridiculous events happening. Headcount existed pre 9/11. I was amazed that things went that far. I could NEVER have imagined someone crashing a plane into the two towers, call me naive if you like. From then on, anything seems possible and there are ever increasingly ridiculous scenarios being thrown up by the world. Politician’s expenses, banks failing, churches arguing over women bishops and gay marriage. All that nonsense!

As mentioned you have just released your excellent fourth album Lullabies For Dogs; is the anticipation and excitement releasing a new 528281_563301857015153_1671612872_nrecord the same for you as when you began or is there a different stronger emotion surrounding these moments for you now?

RM: Hmmmmm. Hard to say. The first things you release are always exciting but as you go on that excitement tends to give way to a more nervous approach. Will they like it as much as the last one? It’s still a great buzz getting your music out there.

RJ: It’s much more exciting now. Mainly because we know we are a good band with a damn good album, and other people do too, whether it is their kind of thing or not. We were really keen to see how people responded to it, because it is not classic Headcount as such, and the response and reviews so far have been great. The next album will no doubt sound different though.

SH: Just fucking glad it’s finished and we can move on to the next!

The album does have that familiar or rather distinct Headcount sound which for us seems less heavy than your previous albums but has a more developed intensity and even more deliberate snarl to its provocative attack. Would that be a fair assessment and if so did you aim for this direction or one which organically came about?

RJ: It’s Marco’s fault. He’s a dandy highwayman and can’t cope with riffs.

RM: Well, you say it’s less heavy, others have said it is heavier! Actually, I’m with you. I think it’s less brash. More refined but has a brooding malevolence about it because we have refined out songwriting, developed our musical skills (arguably) and got older. I feel better equipped to express myself than before.

How and where specifically has your music and songwriting changed and evolved since your early releases?

RM: We’re 14 years older! I can’t keep that pace up now. I’m an old man. To play like the first album, well, I’d need oxygen after 10 minutes. But seriously, our influences have changed, we have more subtlety in our lives now and I think ideas and methods have been absorbed into our approach in a good way. We have middle eights now and a few key changes that we didn’t have before because we just didn’t know how they worked!

RJ: We are little bit more experimental nowadays, especially in the studio, and songs tend to develop as we tinker rather than being a finished product at the first time of writing. But again, in true Headcount style the next era of Headcount could just as easily consist of 3 minute hardcore thrashers. Who knows? Or cares!

It has been five years between the new release and last album To The Point, time where the band seem to sink quietly into the background. What led to your low profile and did the sad loss of Paul Raven who produced your last two albums and I know was a friend, play a part too?

RJ: We needed a break from what we were doing. For lots of reasons. Not all bad ones, but we definitely all needed to do some other things. We actually rehearsed and wrote and recorded loads of stuff in that time, but that was kind of peripheral meanderings. We collaborated on a hip –hop album (yes Headcount and hip hop!) with Dynamax, recorded some secret punk songs with a secret trance superstar (still secret) and wrote lots of songs, which eventually led to us recording many and choosing a few of them. So, very busy just away from gigging and the whole ‘scene’ for a bit.

RM: Actually Raven only produced Die Monkey Die but his influence was there on To The Point. Raven died just as To The Point was released and that hit us hard and made us very introverted. There were a few things going on that made us think “what’s the fucking point” and we retreated. We wrote some new songs and they got heavier as we played them and we though “yes, this is Headcount” and went for it!

SH: Raven was an inspiration. The Man could extract more energy and playing ability from any of us than we ever thought possible. We all miss him. Outside of his death I think we all got pissed off with the music scenes and having to support the same type of shit wherever we played and what is it with promoters today putting us in with a religious acoustic band! I think this all got to us all so we needed time away.

headcount 2Was there a strong emotional element when recording Lullabies For Dogs, because of Paul’s presence in the previous releases and if so did it add something extra to the album would you say?

RM: In honesty, no. The sessions for Lullabies were different in that we recorded using different technology and had Marco on board who brought a very different dynamic. That’s not to say that we don’t miss Raven. He crops up when you least expect him to

The new album as you mentioned, sees for us the legend and ex-Ant Marco Pirroni bringing his guitar skills back to the band having appeared on your 2002 debut album. Was this in your minds when writing the album and what does Marco bring which accentuates and builds on your core sound and ideas?

 SH: Marco, although a miserable bastard at times, is a genius and transformed a couple of OK songs or album fillers into rip roaring classics with a couple of Killer riffs.

RM: Marco came on board just as we were about to record and I don’t think he had an intention of making an album with us. He was just looking for something to do and we kidnapped him and sent him home a year later! Marco is a great guy to work with. I can go all gushy if you want but seriously he is very inventive in the studio and very generous with his time. He provided some great hooks for the album like the chorus riff on Black Dog Days and forced us to look at the structure of the songs, cutting out the “bollocks” and looking at adding middle eights. He took the seeds of a song and said ”do this, do that, swap this with that, cut that out, play this here”. You can see that the lad has a bit of talent and I’m glad he finally got to work with a band as talented as us after all those years farting about with make-up and No 1 records.

RJ: Marco manages to find melody in the strangest of places, and you just have to let him work out whatever he wants as the track plays. He has definitely brought out the melody makers in us, and the songs where Marco’s playing is most prominent are definitely the most accessible to listed too.

Lyrically you as expected are pulling no punches on the album, as with the track News Corpse. I guess in the world as it is there will never be a shortage of triggers to inspire and vent against.

RM: I’m afraid not. There are plenty of targets out there aren’t there? People are pretty grimy creatures aren’t they?

On the other side do you think the music fan still takes as much notice of lyrical commentary or is led to thinking deeper about things by music nowadays as in previous decades?

RM: I don’t know really. Probably not. There are lot of great lyricists out there but if the tune isn’t kicking then it’s not going to fly is it? Turn it the other way round. How many great tunes have bollocks lyrics but are still hits? Some people love to look at the lyrics. Probably got too much time on their hands…..

SH: For me, music is dying a death. Where is the enjoyment of waiting outside Our Price for the new Iron Maiden album and reading from cover to cover? Maybe music is just too accessible and “clean” today. All being done with loops and synths. Teenagers have their little earphones and digital media, what’s happened to saving up for the expensive stereo with Fuck off speakers? It’s not only the lyrics people don’t listen to. Music has become a disposable commodity.

How much is the lyrical aspect of songs just observation of social and world issues and how much is closer to home, taken from personal headcount3experience?

RM: Probably 50/50. Some of the lyrics are personal, not necessarily me but reflecting issues in and around the band and others are wider socio-political comment. Depends on the mood of the day when writing; if something has irked me, it might become the subject of the song

Can you tell above another song on Lullabies For Dogs, the track Black Dogs Days and its link to the great mental health charity SANE?

RM: Churchill used the phrase Black Dog and it seemed apposite to use it when writing about depression. Then we saw that SANE were running a campaign to de-stigmatize mental health issues and we thought that there was a tie up that was worth mentioning. Their Black Dog campaign has really helped get the message over that mental illness needs to be openly discussed and that it does not mean that you are confined to an institution to chew your elbows! It’s treatable using all types of therapies and there are HUGE numbers of people who suffer but live normal lives. Just like people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic flatulence (drummers mostly)!

Humour has always played a big part in your music in a merger with your directness and uncompromising look at things. This is a reflection of you as people and personalities?

RM: Yeah. We’re pretty easy going people. Like a bit of fun and try to make gigs an interactive thing. We like talking to people, sharing opinions and having a laugh. Our humour is cruel though. Poor old Stef gets it in the neck a lot. Mainly from Rob J who is an evil bastard. We couldn’t live our lives like we write lyrics. That would be just too grim.

What is next for Headcount?

RM: Promoting the album with a couple of releases planned. As many gigs as we can get and then maybe some more songwriting. The next album I want to record quickly. A few days. Bang it out. It might be a heavier album. Not sure yet. Let’s see what comes naturally.

Many thanks for sharing your time with us and revealing some of the depths within Headcount. Anything you would like to add?

RM: Thank YOU for having us. It’s really difficult for unknown bands to get the exposure so folks like you make a MASSIVE change. There are so many barriers to getting good music heard. There is a lot of shit that is bankrolled and gets the exposure. Honestly. So many shit shit shit bands stealing the oxygen of publicity! Lots of them with horrid clothes and wank haircuts and no fucking tunes!

You’ve left it so open ended Pete by asking if there’s anything we want to say that I fear we could be here for days!

So I’ll just say to folks, listen to the album (you can find it on Spotify first) then buy the bastard thing and come to a show for the full, undiluted experience. Live Headcount is something quite different to the recorded version.

See you there???

Read the review of Lullabies For Dogs @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/headcount-lullabies-for-dogs/

Pete RingMaster

The RingMaster Review 27/09/2013

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Headcount – Lullabies for Dogs

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Having been seduced and violated firstly by the Two Heads/Die Monkey Die EP and the Die Monkey Die album which spawned it, UK punk rock/noise twisters Headcount has held a corner of the passions in slavery ever since. The trio from Oxford now release new album Lullabies for Dogs and dig their claws in just that little more deeply and appealingly reigniting some of that early excitement upon finding the band and opening up some new lust to contemplate.

Formed in 1999, vocalist/guitarist Rob Moss, bassist Rob Jeffrey, and drummer Stef Hale soon lit up the local area and beyond with a sound which has been described as like “Adam and the Ants being sodomised by Therapy?”, whilst the band itself was declared as “hell bound pig-fucking devil dogs”. Debut release It’s a business doing pleasure with you on Mettle Tester Records in 2002 nipped at the hearts before being put in its place two years later by the aforementioned excellent Die Monkey Die via Malicious Damage Records, the ancestral home of Killing Joke. Produced by the now sadly deceased Paul Raven (Killing Joke) who also did follow-up To The Point in 2008, the release concreted the organic punk/metal/noise rock fusion of the band into the passions of the underground leading to the kind of anticipation and thrill going into this new album. Fourth album Lullabies For Dogs as well as seeing another rousing collection of distinctly Headcount sounding songs also features the continually magnetic guitar skills and invention of Ivor Novello winning co-writer and ex-Ant Marco Pirroni (also Sinead O’Connor/Wolfmen), who also featured on the band’s debut. Again on Malicious Damage Records, the twelve track record snarls with the recognisable bass belligerence and guitar based contagion which has marked the band since day one and the lyrical provocation on politics to religion and love to greed again made in notable Headcount way.

From the sinister Intro, there is always something disturbing from the combination of a child’s innocence and the stark mistrustful 528281_563301857015153_1671612872_nambience of reality, the album coaxes out the passions with firstly Liar. Lone guitars are soon joined by pulsating beats and an industrial toasted intensity to rile up the imagination before settling into a low to the ground prowl with the bass of Jeffrey as intimidating as it is seductive and the rapacious guitars riding upon its broad back to further incite the senses. The vocals of Moss with his unique tones walk through it all with his narrative whipping up the intensity primed to burst in the vibrant chorus. It is a strong and pleasing start especially with the almost southern drawl to the guitars at times licking upon the ear.

News Corpse steps up next, the song launching a scathing attack on Murdoch, politicians, and the corruption around them. Again there is an immediate lure at work which hooks attention and an eager energy to climb on board with its charged and persistent presence. It brings that earlier mentioned comparison to Therapy? to mind throughout, though also with an equal thought of One Minute Silence making its raw temptation. The track rises the temperature of the release before passing the beacon onto the even greater likes of Black Dog Days, a song which has been picked up by the mental health charity SANE as part of their Black Dogs campaign, and Sleep Well Tonight, though they in turn are left in shade by the outstanding Greed. The first of this trio has a brawling breath to its potent fire of rock ‘n’ roll whilst the second from a calm start stalks and leans on thoughts and senses with metal sinews veining the riffs and a muscular rabidity to the rhythmic caging. It is a delicious romp of punk bred confrontation and garage rock bruising soaked in a sonic antagonism that inflames the heart with an almost Richard Hell like abrasiveness upon an infectious anthemic underbelly. The last voracious song of the three reaps even stronger essences of One Minute Silence into its uncompromising attack, the guitars and rhythms unpredictable provocateurs leading the listener into the scarring and scintillating storm of intensively sculpted noise.

As each track leaves pure satisfaction in their path and wake, the likes of the savage Cross The Line with its impossibly tantalising lures and Tortured Tongue with its blues flamed guitars skirting another virulently infected maelstrom rife with teasing hooks, potent vocals, and richly hued energy raise pinnacles within the album whilst the title track unleashes an epidemic of barbs, grooves, and riffs which ignites every instinctive sense, thought, and emotion. Again reminding of the Irish trio previously mentioned, the track is a blistering storm of a riot which leaves the breath lost for air and mind lacking words for the pleasure felt.

Completing the album with the squalling mighty of What I’m Worth and the more than potently decent Leave It To The Dogs, Headcount brashly and noisily return to the fore of punk honed, noise filtered rock with their album. Though debatably it does not quite reach the heights of earlier releases and for personal tastes the production on the vocals lacks the bite they deserve, Lullabies for Dogs is a thrilling and inciting treat reminding society and its perpetrators that no one is safe with Headcount around.

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8.5/10

RingMaster 18/08/2013

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