Dead Head - Interview

Dead Head from the Netherlands are in my opinion one of the most underrated thrash bands in Europe. They always manage to release excellent albums with consistent quality and distinctive style. Their last album "Swine Plague" is now almost 4 years old, so it's all the more pleasing that they are in the middle of the recording process for their new album. I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with Dead Head's guitarist Robbie Woning via Skype (thanks again for that!!), where we talked not only about the new album, but also about the band's history, influences and funny anecdotes on tour. But read it yourself - have fun!!!


How are you guys doing with Dead Head?

Good. There is Corona, but still. We don't have any gigs, but last year in January or February we finished the songs for the next album and this January we recorded the demo. We used the time to write. The situation is not such a big problem for us as it is for other bands, because there are bands that just released a CD and they can't promote it.

I looked on Facebook and saw that you guys are recording new stuff.

Yeah, a lot of bands use that time to write and record stuff. But we had the songs ready before Corona happened. We'll see how that goes. I also talked to the label about it and the question is when the best time is to release the CD these days. What do you think about the fact that we are now playing again with the original line-up like 30 years ago?

That's definitely a cool thing!!!

We've been playing in that line-up again for 10 years now and that doesn't happen that often in a band. It might also have something to do with the fact that we all have steady jobs now and so we can take care about these circumstances. The band is not like a hobby, but still it's more like a side thing for us.

Is there anything you can tell about it (titles, themes)?

We had 20 songs, but 8 of them were not quite finished. Our drummer then said that we would only take the 12. I think 10 will go on the CD and the other two might come out as an EP. We want to have the same number of songs on the CD and the LP. The vocals are not quite done, the guitar solos are almost done, everything else is complete. Right now, we have almost only working titles like "sounds like Possessed" or "fast song". We don't really have a concept there. If, then the concept is rather the band itself - fast thrash and aggressive songs. The lyrics are mostly rather secondary. There are bands that consider their lyrics quite important, politically for example. I've learned German words like "Abtreibung" (means abortion, M.) and stuff like that before (laughs), but for us it's more about "Hail Devil, Kill, Satan" (laughs).
The new CD will be the same as always, because that's the only music we can do and we feel most comfortable with, but it's also a bit more influenced by classic heavy metal. That doesn't mean that we play Running Wild now, but you should pay a little bit more attention to the chords. But maybe nobody hears that, I have no idea (laughs)! There will also be a video that is a bit more professional than the last one. We did the previous one by ourselves and this time Hammerheart will support us.

In the past it was more about socially critical topics, but on "Swine Plague" you put more focus on religion. Has social criticism become old-fashioned in the meantime?

Our other guitarist Ronnie (Vanderwey, M.) mostly writes the lyrics. We have such themes, but not in every song. A new song of ours is called 'Age of Hype', which is about how people try to follow every trend these days. Ronnie turned it around so that it's now about Corona. Some people are skeptical about whether Corona is really that dangerous and he just stole my title for this theme. The title has a meaning, but only we know it. There are different levels of meaning in the song. I can mostly only say something about the titles. Ronnie is responsible for the lyrics and can say more about it. But he also says that he always just takes cool words, throws them together and then it sounds like metal.

Haha, like Obituary used to!

Yeah, we used to write our demos that way. It sounded good phonetically, but they weren't real words. It also helps with writing because then you already get a first impression about the songs.

Your last album "Swine Plague" has a very weird cover and I don't really understand the title either. What's the deal with that?

Yes, that happens. We also had a title that didn't fit and a cover with missiles in North Korea, but that wasn't really what we wanted. Ronnie then did the cover and he did it in MS Paint (laughs) and then the Hammerheart guys redid it. That's how the idea came about and then we had to come up with a title for it, something with a pig. We always felt it was important to use powerful words and Swine Plague fit. If you google it, you always find just swine flu, but plague can be equated with pestilence and that fit well. But there's no real concept to the title.

Okay, I get a little confused sometimes when I read your titles. Just like when I read your CD "Haatland", Hateland - I also wondered what that meant.

I can explain that to you, too. So "Haat" means "hate" in Dutch. But "Haatland" is an industrial area that we grew up near. With all the things in the world that cause people to feel more hate, we thought it was a fitting title because it's ambiguous. The producer of the album also got old maps of the site from the archives and used those for the booklet.

As a band, have you ever actually been on tour?

There were some phases in the band's history when we rehearsed twice a week and waited for calls that we could go on tour. But of course, there comes a time when that doesn't work anymore, and then you have other things like a job or children. That's what we decided for ourselves at some point. Before that we toured three times for a few weeks. That was very cool, we played in Scandinavia, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, among other places. Of course, we did not have as big tours as other Dutch bands like Sinister or Gorefest, who also toured with Judas Priest among others. When we started, we were a thrash band in death metal territory, but that was still good because we were different from the other bands. But we weren't traditional thrash either, we were more like Sadus or bands like that. Maybe it was also a disadvantage for us that we started with thrash, but live it always went well. Perhaps we would have been more successful if we had decided to be a bit more cliché and play death metal. But we grew up with the music and have always felt comfortable with it. When we're together, the music that comes out is always the music that we're making now. But there is a little bit of death metal in it as well.

Don't you ever feel like changing anything in your style?

Haha, funny you mention that. We tried to change the vocals a few years ago. That was at the time when Pantera was really big. But we decided against it because it sounded too much like Metallica. Our label at the time, Shark Records, wanted us to do it, but we never released a CD with them either because they had expectations of us that we couldn't fulfill. We made demos and the boss of Shark Records said that was just bludgeoning. But that's exactly what we do! We then tried to do some slower stuff and change the vocals, but it didn't feel right and then we quickly scrapped it. After that, we released Kill Division. For the new CD, Tom thought that he would vary the vocals a bit. We did 6 songs with the typical vocals and 6 with different vocals and he said he wanted to re-sing those again because it's not the same. If people know you a certain way and then that changes completely, you can change the band name directly. Sure, you can try changes, but I listened to it again today and realized we're not going to do that.

That's a good thing to realize. I felt that way with Watain back in the day with "The Wild Hunt" album when the singer started singing clearly.

Yes, Tom didn't try to sing completely melodically, but that's something else. There it's more about the melody and the pitch and that's a completely different way of singing.

The best example is Kreator. I always think you guys sound like Kreator in "Extreme Aggression" times. When I listen to the last Kreator, "Gods Of Violence" where Mille sings, I also always think, what's that about?

But I think it works better now. I talked to Tom about it today and I think that Mille has found a way that his singing works well. But the first record where he sang like that ("Renewal", M.) was terrible. Nobody listens to that one anymore, right?

I think it's quite good, I was listening to it the other day. Maybe also for nostalgic reasons. But I also meant the last Kreator, "Gods of Violence". They sound like Blind Guardian in parts.

I think that after 30 years you can try some things. That always offers the possibility to go back to the roots. "Violent Revolution" was pretty much like the stuff before, in a positive sense. But at the end of the day, it's about what people listen to. If they want to be in a good mood, listen to "Pleasure To Kill" or "Coma Of Souls", I don't think for anyone it's "Renewal" or "Endorama". But it's hard, if you do the same thing over and over again, then you're like AC/DC or Motörhead and if you do something different, nobody likes it.

What are your musical influences?

A lot of people always say that we sound like Kreator or Slayer, but we used to listen to Possessed, Sadus or Sacrifice from Canada a lot. Those were our main influences, but when the singer sounds like Mille, you don't hear it that way. The speed we play is a bit different than most thrash bands. With us it's always a bit more intense and aggressive. On the later albums we have more varied songs, so the songs are more different than on the old albums. Of course, I also like Kreator, I really like "Riot of Violence", but they were never a main influence.

You used to write for the Dutch Aardschok magazine, do you still do that?

Yeah, I wrote another review yesterday. I always take on the stuff that nobody can do anything with, like really weird bands or guitarists. Marty Friedman had sent me his new CD "Tokyo Jukebox 3", very interesting. I used to write a lot more, there were months when I wrote up to a third of the magazine. Then I often had to fly to the USA to do interviews, studio reports and so on. Sure, I still took vacations there, but that was all always as a freelancer. I didn't have a family and a house at that time. You can do that when you're young, but now I only do reviews, 2 or 3 a month, and only what I want to do myself. I also used to have to do soundchecks, where you had to listen to around 50 new albums by a certain deadline. In the first month that was great, but at some point it's exhausting. Apart from that, I can also report from the other side. A band has been working on something for 1 ½ years and a journalist is supposed to judge it within a few hours. That's not right. But that's how it goes in the music business now, especially when the festival season starts again. Everything has to run fast and that's too much.

What do you do full time besides Dead Head?

Our singer works in a factory that makes baby food for children with allergies, he always has to wear a protective suit because everything has to be sterile. Our drummer has many jobs and our other guitarist works in a psychiatric hospital recording. He often has night shifts and then he can always read books at the same time. And he also writes the lyrics there. I'm a journalist for regional TV and radio and I report on current things that have happened.

Are you still on the same record label as with the last CD?

We are still with Hammerheart. But something has changed, because the distribution has changed. There is now a sub-label called Petrichor. The label also re-releases our old albums, also on vinyl and also the Haatland is re-released. There is a second CD with 19 bonus tracks. That means that the Swine Plague and the Feast Begins At Dawn and Dream Deceiver reissues were on Hammerheart and the other stuff is now coming out on Petrichor.

Are you satisfied with the re-releases of your albums?

Our first album was a disaster back then. We did two demos in the late 80s and we were the next big thrash band from Holland and played with big bands. Then the album (The Feast Begins At Dawn, M.) was released and it wasn't really good, because something went wrong with the production and we never talked about it again. But a lot of people said that the album should be remastered, but we didn't want to do that. One day we saw on Ebay that there are people who pay 200$ for a CD with such a sound and then we finally decided to remaster it. Hammerheart was interested in it and finally we released a remastered CD with many bonus tracks. I think the bonus tracks are always important because the collectors who already have the original CD and buy the album again should also get something new. And that's what we did with all the CDs. It's not all unreleased songs but other versions of songs, but that's all we had left. Hammerheart is really trying hard with the CDs and we also spent a lot of time putting old photos in the booklets and we try to make it as good as possible. I spent a few evenings scanning old photos for it, but you only do that once.

You guys have been active for over 30 years now. Do you have some funny or thoughtful anecdotes you can share?

One Saturday in 1991 we had a showcase for Noise Records in Berlin. It was a festival and we were invited, and the label was there too. But it wasn't to be, because the previous night our drummer had gotten into trouble with a captain of a sailing ship. I wasn't there for a few minutes and when I came back I saw that our drummer was going after the guy with Ronnie's guitar and that's totally out of character for him. Actually, he's not like that. We weren't quite as strong as the guy and we couldn't perform. We didn't go to Berlin then and there was no Noise Records deal for us either. A few years later I met the captain again and told him all this and he was terribly sorry about it all, haha. There were a few moments in our band history where things didn't go the way they were supposed to. Another story was when we were on tour bus and then a window just fell out. It was a really old bus and then a whole window fell out. The driver just shrugged his shoulders and drove on. He didn't even stop. Another story is that we were playing somewhere in Germany and I was just holding up my guitar. Our singer was banging and went down with his head and hit the top of my guitar with his cheekbone and was bleeding. He just told us to keep playing. After the show we went to a private clinic and the doctor said he would help, but we had to pay 400 German marks for the treatment. What should we do there? Then we played once in Belgium and there are two places with almost the same name. Mechelen and Maasmechelen. Our singer went home for one day because he had something to do and then he went back to the wrong place. That means before the gig at 7 PM and we had to drive another 1 ½ hours to get our singer. The audience had absolutely no idea what was going on beforehand and it was a miracle that we were still on stage at the end. You know Spinal Tap - and it happens to every band. You could almost write a book about it.

Thank you so much for the interview!!!

You're welcome!!!

Entered: 5/2/2021 11:41:30 AM

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