Since stumbling upon this band recently, purely by chance on Instagram of all places, I have had the opportunity to review the debut album Bad Dog, and now interview Jonny Gillard, of the absolutely incredible Deadhead. To delve a little deeper proved very interesting indeed, and through the course of the twelve questions, I got some additional insight in to the world of one half of a band you are going to want to keep your eyes on.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls, and aliens alike, here is my Q and A with mister Jonny Gillard, of the superb Deadhead, enjoy…
The band name, where did it come from?
Deadhead is a term for a band being formed as a result of being told by its government to retrain as banking consultants. I thought the term Deadhead summed up what we were being encouraged to become… clapping sycophants crossed with the zombies in a George A. Romero shopping mall.
Musically, what are your backgrounds?
Rob Harvey and I met at college when we were 16 after both being ‘encouraged’ to leave our previous schools. We bonded over our love of certain comedians and bands. Rob got me into Nirvana and Tool and I got him into Radiohead and Mogwai. Rob already played bass in a band, and I had just moved to Lincoln from out in the sticks and was desperate to join or start a band too. I’d been playing guitar since I was 10 after hearing Money For Nothing by Dire Straits and thinking it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. Soon after that, my parents showed me Hendrix and Zeppelin. Then I found out about Rage Against The Machine and that was that. My mum had an old nylon string guitar from when she was a kid, my dad taught me a few chords and that was the end of my academic future, I just played guitar all the time.
that was the end of my academic future, I just played guitar all the time…
Rob and I started a band not long after meeting and we were fucking awful. It’s hard to quantify how bad we were, but it got us gigging and on national radio. We moved to Nottingham for a better music scene when we were 19 as a three-piece metal band, but we all fell out and it ended in disaster. Drugs, fist fights, court cases, and no one speaking to anyone. We were all very silly boys. Luckily, time passed, we grew up a bit and Rob and I got in contact with one another again and we’ve been best of friends since then.
What music and bands are you into personally?
We have a really similar taste in music. Rob’s is more consistently based within rock, blues, and folk whereas mine is a bit more scattered. For both of us, the underlying theme is authenticity and sincerity. The music I always go back to is stuff by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Radiohead, Mogwai, Massive Attack, This Will Destroy You, The Prodigy, Bjork, MF DOOM, Bowie, Tom Waits, Deftones, Ho99o9, Boards Of Canada, Max Richter, Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins, Lead Belly, One Day As A Lion, Blind WIllie Johnson, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Stooges, Queens Of The Stone Age, Electic Wizard, Hammock, Czarface, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Rage, Run The Jewels, NIN, Sigur Ros, Sleep… I could go on for days.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
All of the above. But it’s also about what we want to avoid. Rob and I agree even more about what we don’t like than what we do, and that’s really useful when it comes to writing and editing. Bad Dog didn’t start off sounding anywhere near as angry as it ended up becoming. Personally, I honestly think that was influenced by living under Boris Johnson. That sentence has made me feel ill. But going through the last few years has been pretty eye-opening to the fact that there are no depths to which these people won’t sink.
Being very soundscape-y and NIN-esque, is this at all your motivations, is it a comparable end result that is accidental, or is it deliberate?
Making an album during Covid definitely had an impact for many reasons, mainly it prevented us from recording for months at a time. So, ideas would gestate and we’d both go off things we’d been working on, things that might have crept onto the record had we not had such a break in momentum. The stuff we both seemed to want to go back to was the more soundscape-y, experimental stuff. But even then, we edited our music really aggressively. Our poor producer (Sam Cook) had to have the patience of a saint as we’d frequently conclude that six minutes of perfectly recorded/produced music needed to get axed out of a track after having worked on it for a year.
Bad Dog didn’t start off sounding anywhere near as angry as it ended up becoming. Personally, I honestly think that was influenced by living under Boris Johnson…
Do you have plans for more recording, or are you going to organically let it take you where it will, and when the time is right you will lay more music down?
We’re going back into the studio at the end of this month. There’s two new pieces and another track we dropped from the original record at the last minute that we want to re-work. It was the first piece we recorded for the album, but we fucked it up right at the start and never got it quite right after that. We should have just re-recorded it, but we spent two years trying to fix it, because we’re idiots. Whether this turns into a new EP, a new LP or we add these tracks to Bad Dog as an extended cut, I’m not sure. I’m really excited about the new music though. I’m a sucker for a giant riff and one of these new tracks has an absolute bastard of an outro.
Although instrumental, do you plan on having any vocal tracks in the future? Or are you set on doing more instrumental work, without a vocal narrative to dictate the subject matter?
We’re not remotely opposed to vocals but at the moment, we’ll not have lyrics, so if we do record vocals, it’ll not be words. At least not for this project.
Visually, in regards to your videos, you use lots of old footage against the music, is there any specific reason for this?
I love old horror movies. Right from the Lang/Murnau silent era to the Lugosi/Karloff monster films, through to the Cushing/Lee/Price movies of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. I wanted to make music videos and little promo clips but I didn’t have any money and we were in lockdown so I went on YouTube and learned how to edit film, then I looked up films that were in the public domain and started cutting videos out of them. Amazing films like Nosferatu, Dr. Caligari, The Ghoul, Night Of The Living Dead, and Carnival Of Souls.
We both agreed right at the start that we were just going to make music we liked…
Do you see yourselves going out to perform live at any point in the future? Or is this a studio project?
We definitely want to gig this music. We’re trying to organise that at the moment. I can’t wait.
How have you found the interest for this project, and the way it has been received by both the public, and the music community?
We both agreed right at the start that we were just going to make music we liked. If we liked it, great, if we weren’t sure, we got rid of it. We tried not to worry about what anyone else thought when writing and recording. Once it’s released, it’s tricky to remain so brazen. Luckily, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re both pretty critical of ourselves so it’s been really nice to hear and read the great comments and reviews. Your review especially made us feel pretty good, not just because it was so positive but because you really connected with each song and the album as a whole exactly how we had hoped.
As more and more bands diversify, and move toward things like movie soundscapes, and other such projects, do you see Deadhead carrying on as you are, or are other opportunities something you would consider as the band evolves?
Rob, myself, Sam Cook (our incredible producer), and Jack Gregory (our amazing drummer) have really developed a pretty good way of working. We get the foundations of a piece in place and make sure they’re right (except for on that track we had to drop at the last minute), then we leave a load of room to experiment and make mistakes. I’ve recorded digitally before and whilst it can be amazing, I didn’t find myself stumbling on so many happy accidents as when I’m playing a live instrument. Our music is riddled with fuck-ups that became integral.
Also, a huge amount of the guitar work on the album is improvised as we record, I rarely play the same exact thing twice. Rob is really adaptable and open to last-minute changes if something isn’t working, or someone has an idea all of a sudden. Jack is the same. It’s always about whatever serves the song best. So, I think the way we work leaves a lot of room for variation and growth. It’s that sweet spot between knowing what you’re doing and not having a fucking clue.
a huge amount of the guitar work on the album is improvised as we record…
What’s next for Deadhead? Plans for the future?
Record these three tracks and sort out some gigs. We’re also going to hopefully be making a video for one of the new tracks. I’ve got an idea which I’ve been talking to an amazing director about for a few years. The other thing I’d love to do is release a vinyl version of Bad Dog with a booklet containing all the amazing art we’ve been sent. Currently I’m also working on a score for a horror movie that’s in pre-production and another for a play set in a 1700’s brothel.
Coming away from this, it’s all looking very promising for Deadhead indeed. New work and reworks already on the horizon, and some gigs too, sign me up, I’m in.
I will just sign off by thanking Jonny personally for his time, it’s been an absolute pleasure getting some time to delve a little deeper and see and read just how Deadhead have emerged. I think all that’s left to say now is that if you don’t already know the band, jump on now, you won’t regret it.
Bad Dog, and Deadhead, have been an absolute joy to welcome into my life, and now firmly in place. Even though we’re only halfway through 2022, its easily within the top few albums I’ve heard that have been released this year. It sounds like there’s so much more to come, so get ready, climb onboard, and become one of the Deadhead’s acolyte’s…
Interviewed by: Lee Beamish