Dead Head - Interview
A sunny Saturday afternoon, the best time to go to soccer match (Borussia Dortmund) but right before to ask Rob (git.) from Dead Head some questions about the great new album "Slave Driver" the Dutch guys have recently released with a new (who is also a former member of the band) vocalist. (read review here) So I disturbed him during some garden work to have a Skype chat with him. Dank je wel, Rob!
Hey Rob, how are you doing?
Pretty good. We had one bad review so far, it was in a Norwegian magazine and the guy wrote about five lines with some Google info. About how long the band existed, how many albums and that we changed the singer and that we're from Holland and one line about that the new album is not so special. But all the other ones have been great! I don't know how to put it, but maybe if you keep working on an underground level and keep continuing and doing it in the margins, then one day people will start to appreciate that. And I have the idea that maybe that's happening now, that people think: "Okay, they have been continuing for so long… there must be something good about that". But I hear something good about the music, about the new singer, about the songs and the production and also because we have such a great distribution this time, thanks to Napalm Records. Hammerheart is now working with them. We reach Australia and other countries far away, which is good because some people there have never heard of us before. So I really hope it's best this way. And there are a lot of comparisons with older bands which were thrash influences. And usually they write like "THAT band died in 2005, but Dead Head is still doing it the old way". So there are a lot of compliments and positive things and of course it's nice to read. I mean, we do it for ourselves, but if other people appreciate it, of course it helps and makes you happy in a way.
The album cover is pretty cool – what does this person (or at least the remains of it) shall represent?
Well, Dead Head was never a conceptual band. I mean I like "Operation: Mindcrime" and stuff like that. I like King Diamond, but first of all it takes a singer that likes to do such stories. And it's best when you are a native speaker in English, of course because that really helps you a lot. I've seen some concept albums from Holland like Ayreon and it worked well, but it was never my thing. On OUR first albums the lyrics were pretty stupid: hell, Devil, kill, Satan, Belial…but I mean, if you grow up with Possessed and Slayer, that's just okay. But after a while we started doing a little bit more conscious lyrics, but we have never been a conceptual band. There has really not been a connection between the album cover, the title and the songs. But when I look at it, it really fits very well together this time. Because the guy is a really nasty-looking character. If you have a slave driver, somebody who is making people work really hard and don't pay that much – he could look like this. It's a next-level album cover, because we were really into the pop-art, kind of simple images on the cover which worked well. Like the cover of our album "Kill Division" is just a page from a book from the library, but it works well. And, as I told you before, "Swine Plague" was even made in MS Paint!. But this time Hammerheart said that they wanted a good cover and we agreed. Then we were looking for something and found this. It worked well together with the title and I think it's some kind of international thing. Of course we always wanted a cover like this, but it's also a matter of inspiration and budget.
Who is the Slave Driver? Is it referring to quite everyday things like religion ('Alcolyte'), personal desires ('Grooves Of Envy') or fear ('Fear Scraper') or is there a more special meaning behind the title?
Well, that was an interesting thing. WHEN we got the new singer, the first thing that happened was that he said that he doesn't want to hear any of the vocal recordings we did with our old singer Tom. Because Ralph wanted to do his own thing. But of course some lyrics were already written and eventually some of the singing is in the same style, but he put a lot of his own things into it and there are a lot of meanings this time in the songs. He even made a little paper for me (laughs) with which song is about what. A lot of the songs are about the dark side of people in general – 'Acolyte' is about the perversions of the Catholic church, 'Grim Side Valley' is about the dark side of human beings. 'Frequency Illusion' is a very interesting thing because it's a phenomenon if I tell you about it you will recognize it. If you buy a new car and you drive with it, you will suddenly notice a lot of those cars. You never saw them before, but as soon as you or your parents have a new car you certainly see that car everywhere. That is the frequency illusion phenomenon. So if you look it up at Wikipedia, you will find that it means that if you start noticing something or learn something new, then you will see it everywhere. It's new, but it's really not. It has always been there, but you never noticed. I told you last time about our other guitar player who works in a psychiatric asylum and he has a lot of night shifts. So he comes up with all that stuff you never knew about. 'Polar Vortex' is about a natural phenomenon that is currently happening, the jet stream moving and the climate change – so it is really worth looking into the lyrics this time. I could not always explain them so well, but this time it just has more different subjects. And Ralph, our new singer, put a lot of styles into that. I mentioned King Diamond before, he also does these different voices, not schizophrenic but maybe a guy being angry first and then it changes during the song or like Rob Halford – he really likes to do stuff like that. That's very inspiring, of course.
Can you tell a little bit more why Tom left? The last time we chatted, you told me that you are going to record the album and it would be all pretty fine…
Well, Tom didn't want to sing any more like he used to sing. I always thought that we are not a big band, but a band with a certain number of followers who love what we do- aggressive thrash, not like Exodus or Testament but quite different. I think that the vocals are very much related to that. So he wanted to sing differently, something like Pro-Pain. At first we did some demos at home, so it was not like an album, but more like an idea. When we came to the recording of the real thing, he still did that new style. I tried to find some kind of middle way for both of us, but he was really not going to do the old style any more. So we thought: what will happen now? People buy our new record with certain anticipation, put it into the CD player and it sounds like a different band….what the hell? So we were very hesitant about the new singing style and thought about it a lot. Tom was really focused on the new thing and refused to discuss it, because we didn't like it. He became totally frustrated with us and one day he said that we should call Ralph because he would quit. So he suggested calling Ralph, because he knew what we wanted. If I listen back to Tom's vocal recordings now, they sound less motivated than Ralph's vocals, but also a little bit like he is searching for what he wants and that was not Dead Head from the past. So it is a good thing that he quit, also for himself. Because he got totally frustrated with us and then we found Ralph again and we called him the next day. He was totally into it from the beginning. He started doing everything again, but quite differently and it took like 6 or 7 weeks until all things were done just like we wanted them to be. It's cool that he already did an album with us, of course. He really grew as a vocalist, also because he has been in Bodyfarm which is a death metal band from Holland so he also developed the deeper voices. It really works and he is very creative, all rehearsals he is doing with us and we're already doing new songs with him.
Did you also write new songs for Slave Driver with him?
No, all songs were already written. Only the vocals had to be re-recorded.
I think you've changed more into a more brutal, almost death metal-like style. In the past you had more groovy, catchy elements in the songs…
The stuff is there.
Yes, of course it's there but in my opinion it isn't that much in the foreground than in the past…
We have one song without speed, but we didn't put it on the album. It's gonna be on the bonus CD for the next reissue. This is quite funny because now that Ralph is in the band, the next reissue from Hammerheart is "Depression Tank" where he also sang. Now, Hammerheart usually wants a bonus CD with the re-issues they do. But there are no demos for "Depression Tank". So we thought what we could do? We had two songs that we didn't put on "Slave Driver" and also an acoustic part. And in May of this year we recorded some extra songs for that bonus disc. That means that the re-issue of "Depression Tank" which will come out next year, has a second CD with seven songs – three that are left from "Slave Driver" with one really groovy song and four new songs. It will also be a separate vinyl release, something like "Flag Of Hate" or "Eyes Of Horror"- EP but of course less legendary (laughs).
Having a look at the titles of your albums – "Dream Deciver", "Kill Divison", "Haatland" etc – do you regret the long title of your debut?
(Laughs) We never thought about it. It was the first album and it was just a song we wrote. I don't know – we don't have any regrets anyway. We have some regrets regarding not waiting for a better record deal and stuff like that, maybe some regrets in terms of production choice, each album has one song that we don't like to play but that's it. It's A creative thing and you can judge choices afterwards but you can never change them.
You are also working at Dutch TV and I saw a few months ago that you had the honor to drive a new police car quite fast on your own – how did this happen?
Well, I wasn't actually allowed to drive. But working as a journalist, we usually have contact with the official press people from the police, fire department, the community and from the government. And sometimes you have connections to some guys who work on the streets or on the highway. This was a highway patrol, driving an Audi that can speed up to 280 km/h or so. I don't know exactly, but it was very fast and so I was allowed to sit in the car. I talked to some of the guys working on the road and they provided me some tips and told me some crime stories and so I got to this. So they showed me all the secret things they have in the trunk, it was really interesting.
Coming back to Dead Head, do you have some gigs planned outside the Netherlands and Belgium? You played with Suicidal Angels a release show in May I realized…
Well, I know people who still have like 15 tickets for some postponed shows and even bought tickets for the same show again, because they lost the overview about it. And all because of Corona. If all these shows are still going to happen and the festivals who already paid money to the bands and the bands don't want to give it back, this means that most of the shows are still booked for this year. We knew that in advance and our management in Hammerheart said: "Listen, we understand totally that this year is not a good year for you guys, because you have a new album but there are still bands out there that did an album two years ago and they still wanna promote it. So all the shows and festivals will be mostly booked". So there is an understanding from the label about this, which is good because so we don't have to feel sorry. What we do, is that we have an own network for clubs and we always have been pretty good at putting ourselves in a support spot for bigger bands – we played with Exodus, Slayer, Sadus, Candlemass and we always had support through the big bands and we still are able to connect to guys that do shows and they help us a bit and so we have one show in Denmark in October and there are a few more things will happen. But it's quite difficult, because you have all these bands that still want to play their shows that originally were scheduled in 2019 or something. There is this Stonehenge festival in Holland and they still have the same line-up they had two years ago. They had to replace two bands, because they no longer exist or had some fight in the band. But all the others are the same that were announced two years ago. This is also the reason we did the videos. To show that we're still alive after Tom left. And it is also an alternative way of exposure. A lot of people watch YouTube videos in the evening and we have 60.000 views now for 'Acolyte' and that's okay. I mean it's not Kreator who has a million views, but it cool.
Do you have some last words for our readers?
We're still alive and play some loud and aggressive music for the people. I hope that the people will take the time to listen to our new album and appreciate or hate it but at least invest some time into it. And check our three videos on YouTube!
The Shark Tapes
Come To Salem
The Feast Begins At Dawn
- Pantheon - Empire In Ruin - Feb 01
- Act Of Impalement - Infernal Ordinance - Feb 02
- Skratte - Akt II: Des Wolfes Klagen - Feb 03
- Palace Of Worms - Cabal - Feb 03
- Memoriam - Rise To Power - Feb 03
- Mithridatum - Harrowing - Feb 03
- Godiva - Hubris - Feb 03
- A Diadem Of Dead Stars - Emerald Sunsets - Feb 03
- Black Water Sunset - Engraved Spectral Aeons - Feb 03
- Scáth Na Déithe - Virulent Providence - Feb 03
- Bodyfarm - Ultimate Abomination - Feb 06
- Häxanu - Totenpass - Feb 07
- Moonthoth - Uroczysko - Feb 07
- Crimson River - Here’s To The End… Again - Feb 10
- Atomwinter - Sakrileg - Feb 10
- Funereality - Til Death - Feb 10
- Terrestrial Hospice - Caviary To The General - Feb 10
- Withermoon - A Testament To Our Will - Feb 10
- Frozen Dawn - The Decline Of The Enlightened Gods - Feb 10
- Sermon - Till Birth Do Us Part - Feb 10