Vocal-less Omni-metal™ four-piece Astrohenge have been purposefully over-exciting audiences in Camden and beyond for several years now. I’ve been a fan ever since I first heard their self-titled first album back in 2010 and was lucky enough to catch them live in Manchester last year. With the group currently writing new material for an album to be released by Shels Music, I interrogated founding member Matthew Rozeik about all things Astrohenge.
Thanks very much for taking the time to answer some questions Matt, I really appreciate it.
No worries John, thanks for speaking to me!
Firstly, could you give us a brief history of Astrohenge to date? How did the band come about?
We’ve been around since late 2007. I knew Hugh (Harvey – guitar) and Olly (Weeks – keyboards) and approached them to join the band. I met Kieran (Iles – drums) sometime afterwards, though it turns out he knew Hugh anyway, so it all slotted into place pretty easily. We jammed out some songs I had demo’ed and it became clear that this lineup would not be suited to playing the slow, serious (i.e. boring) music I originally intended to make, so we started playing to our individual strengths and it sort of turned into Astrohenge.
You seem to very deliberately avoid the high-concept approach taken by many other singer-less heavy bands; there’s a lot of humour and fun in your music. Do people sometimes treat it as a bit of joke, ignoring the musicianship? If so, does that bother you? (Tackle that in as many parts as you like, I know it’s a bit lumpy)
I don’t see any distinction between instrumental bands and ones with a singer, it’s all just music to me. I’ve never described Mozart as ‘instrumental’, the term is used almost as an insult half the time. What’s so highbrow about any metal exactly? I mean, if you want to name all your songs after characters from Chekhov and have a tree on your front cover, then knock yourself out, but if you’re playing loud tritone riffs with distortion, surely you have to admit to being a bit of a knucklehead? Don’t get me wrong, I think a bit of intellect is very welcome in metal, but the best metal bands are not massively cerebral: they are just heavy and enjoyable.
I’ve never been aware of anyone treating the band as a joke and it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest – I’d probably get a weird kick out of it to be honest, because I’m an annoying dick. We all have a sense of humour in the band, which is what makes it fun for us. Fun and humour are such essential facets of life that I can’t imagine keeping them out of music.
I would prefer it if people ignored the musicianship to be honest – it’s just a vessel for conveying the songs. I don’t think a higher level of musicianship elevates one band over another anyway, otherwise I’d think Dragonforce were better than Circle Jerks and not the other way around!
You’re currently recording your third album which is going to be released on Shels Music. How did the label change come about?
The label we released our last two records on (Eyesofsound) was winding down, and we sensed that it would be a good time to look for somewhere else. We’ve always known that Medhi McShels dug the band and we’ve played a few shows with his band, so we couldn’t be happier that he wants to release it.
What’s the song writing process like in the group and have there been any changes in the way you’ve put things together for the new record?
As the least employed member of the band, I write the songs and then the band together makes them sound like Astrohenge. To be frank, we haven’t even written all of the new album – it’s about 33% done, but we’re still trying new things out. We want to make sure this one is different to the last, as we kind of feel that we’ve reached the wall when it comes to the faster, more crazy stuff. The new stuff is a bit more organic and trippy, we’re trying to jam ideas a little more for this one rather than cram 162 riffs into two minutes.
Your second album, II, was based around “a concept of going on holiday to a strange planet of women”, is there a concept (and a title) for this new record?
This one is about magic. We should probably call it something like ‘Escape From Bong Mountain’, and keep up with our peers…
How does recording this album compare to your previous ones?
It’s 100% non-corporeal at the moment. We want to try and experiment with sounds a bit more, try different ways of recording the guitars and keyboards. We’re trying a lot of different sounds on the keyboards, trying to use different tones and colours for this record – I want it to sound really vivid.
When can we expect to be able to get our hands on a copy?
Literally no idea about that. When we pull our thumbs out and get it recorded. We’re not all in the same place at the moment, so it’s a mission to get in the same room and get anything done.
You’re playing ArcTanGent in Bristol next month alongside some amazing bands, you must be looking forward to that.
I am indeed looking forwards to it! I haven’t played a show with the Henge since December last year, so here’s hoping I’m not too out of shape and that I can still wheeze my way through a set!
Will you be playing any new songs?
Hopefully at least one new one.
Who are you hoping to catch while you’re there?
It would be nice to see Diagonal, Fen, and my man Theo, though he’s playing on Thursday. I’m more likely to be sitting with the merch and sipping warm beer trying not to look creepy and blow sales.
Astrohenge have an absolutely massive sound, can you give us a brief run-down of the gear you’re using live?
I think our sound is less about what we use and more about how we split the sound up – we all have a set frequency range that we try to fill and so far it’s worked really well for us. Hugh plays stuff in the higher frequency range, I play lower, and Olly does both. I think a lot of bands think lots of expensive amps + no riffs = bigger sound, but it often sounds like mush to these ears.
Hugh plays a George Formby Axemaster BC900 head with a Merkin 9×12″ cab. He plays a Fisher Price copy of a Japanese Les Paul copy.
I play an Anneka Rice signature 2×12″ combo with a Harrison tweed finish, and Saturn 3 1×15″ bass combo signed by Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett. I split the signal into two pedal boards, with one signal going directly into a Ginsters pasty, to give it a cheesy warm tone. We are both endorsed by Mothercare and use their Metal Maniax II distortion pedals.
Olly plays a Bontempi keyboard through 7 HM-2 pedals for that authentic Gothenburg sound. He usually sets it to the ‘boogie woogie’ preset and just chills for the rest of the gig.
Kieran plays whatever is in front of him, I don’t think he really gives a fuck about what he plays. He had his cowbell half-inched by a certain chart-topping dubstep band who were in the same studio as us when we did our 2nd album (we miss you Bellinda), but we’ll replace her for ATC fest. I think it’s fair to say everyone is expecting at least one Cowblast™ from Kieran.
What’s your personal favourite track to play live?
Probably my least favourite is ‘Venusian Steel’, as it’s quite hard to play and it’s always near the end of the set when we’re all knackered. We usually have fun playing ‘Toil In Hell’, as we can never tell what speed Kieran is going to play the second half.
And please use this space for any final words…
Thanks to anyone reading this, and big up The Sleeping Shaman – they’ve always given us some love and it’s appreciated. Also check out some UK bands who rule supreme: The Afternoon Gentlemen, Lasers From Atlantis, Nitkowski, Latitudes, Zoltan, Dead Existence, Bastardhammer (you suck), Slabdragger, Nately’s Whore’s Kid Sister, Teef, Living With Disfigurement, Nadir, Yards and Visceral Attack.
Interviewed by: John Reppion