2023 has started with a bang it seems and in the camp of Oxford heavy hitters Desert Storm there has already been much to celebrate with the release of their sixth full-length album, Death Rattle that’s out now on APF Records. The nine tracker has rightly garnered critical praise across the board, not only from here at The Sleeping Shaman, but also in larger publications.
The band recently completed a successful jaunt across Europe in support of the release that culminated with an appearance at Desertfest so Mark Hunt-Bryden caught up with drummer Elliot Cole to try and gain insight into the album writing process, the rigours of touring, and hidden treasures in the fridge.
Hi Elliot, nice to touch base with you again. I believe having spoken to you about The Grand Mal and Wall that this is actually the first time I have interviewed you about Desert Storm!
Hi Mark, hope you are well. Thanks for taking the time to interview us.
First off, congratulations on completing what seemed to be a successful European tour, from observing things on social media it looked like a great showcase for the band. How did it go from your perspective?
Thank you, yes, we felt the tour was very successful. All the shows were well attended, and we completely sold out of our new album on the last date which was brilliant.
How is the new line-up gelling on stage?
I think the new line-up is gelling really well. Probably the tightest we have sounded really.
the new line-up is gelling really well…
And what were the highlights and lowlights, if any other than returning to the daily grind?
There were many highlights on the tour such as going to new places for the first time, meeting new people and checking out cool support bands. Also, we got to catch up with friends out in Europe that we hadn’t seen for a while.
As for the lowlights… I suppose the two that stick in my mind is after the first show we all only got about 2 hours of sleep before having to be up to catch the ferry. Our original ferry was cancelled so they stuck us on an earlier one…. this resulted in me having an epileptic fit through the lack of sleep and stress of it all. The second lowlight that sticks in my mind is having our van break down in the middle of Germany when we were travelling from Eindhoven to Dresden. We had to wait 7 hours for the tow truck to arrive, however, we managed to make our show in Dresden luckily.
What is it like nowadays for a British band to tour Europe and how difficult can it be?
We have seen bands charging high prices for merchandise to cope with venues adding prices, the rise of ticket prices and everything costing more globally.
How have you tried to tackle these issues?
We have actually been fairly lucky so far. I know a lot of bands have had to pay hundreds of pounds on getting carnets (ATA Carnets – simplifies clearing your goods through customs in exporting and importing countries), but we decided to take the risk and not bother… luckily each time we have been over we have never been asked for a carnet and we have sailed over just fine… otherwise we would have been pretty screwed – Haha.
As for the merch price increase, I think that affects bands playing the super big venues more really. I know the 02 Academies take a big cut, however, we managed to avoid paying any fees for our merch sales at the Oxford 02. It shouldn’t be allowed though, merch sales is literally the only way bands make money nowadays so taking a cut is just not right. It is also unfair on the fans because it results in bands upping their prices which means they have to pay stupid prices for merch. The only ones winning here are the big venues.
If I can step back to the past for a second as we are talking of touring an album cycle. Last time we spoke you talked of the frustration that led to Wall, but it can sometimes be overlooked that in the lost times of 2020, Desert Storm dropped the excellent Omens album and it felt by the time things began to get back to normal, you never really got to capitalise on the strength of that record and take it to a deserving audience, Can you give us your thoughts on that ordeal?
Yeah, it was a very frustrating time for everyone really but we kind of just had to accept that. Luckily, we did manage to do some shows and our 15-year anniversary tour was kind of also the Omens tour. We also still sold some of those records on the recent Death Rattle tour which was cool. A lot of those tracks are also still on our setlist.
Matt took care of the lyric duties, which are considerably darker than usual, and lead to us coming up with the album title Death Rattle…
If I am right, the genesis of the new album, Dead Rattle, began about that time. Can you give any insight into the approach and inspiration to the record?
That is correct. We pretty much started writing straight away. Ryan had a lot of riffs written and Chris also had a few. Most of the songs came together pretty quickly actually. I think maybe (lead single) Cheyne Stoking took the longest. It was the same method as always though really… jam on a few riff ideas and build the songs from there.
Matt took care of the lyric duties, which are considerably darker than usual, and lead to us coming up with the album title Death Rattle. Dennett didn’t help with any of the structuring of these songs as they were already written by the time we brought him into the band, but he did write his own bass lines and record his parts. His tone is quite different to Chris Benoist’s subbier bass tone, so I guess it gave the album a slightly different sound from before.
I would expect that you are understandably proud of the finished result. The reviews I have seen have been incredibly positive and when I was sent the promo I immediately messaged Fieldy (APF Records head honcho Andrew Field) to say ‘Goddam! The guys have knocked it out of the park’.
Yeah, we are all very happy with it. I know bands always say it about their new album… ‘it’s our best yet’ but I genuinely think Death Rattle is our best so far and the reviews seem to agree. Obviously, you will never please everyone but that is music for you… it is all subjective and would be a boring world if everyone liked the same stuff.
The album, whilst retaining many trademarks of what you could call the ‘Desert Storm sound’ also feels like a very different beast that incorporates many new or pronounced elements. Was that a conscious decision?
Not really. I think we all wanted to get slightly more progressive with our songwriting but apart from that, we just wanted to approach the songs in the same way as always.
I know bands always say it about their new album… ‘it’s our best yet’ but I genuinely think Death Rattle is our best so far…
You all work full-time jobs, but we live in a connected world with technology allowing us to send ideas back and forth across the internet. What is your writing process as a band these days? Are you coming together with defined songs or sweating it out in a jam room?
Well, when we were teaching Dennett the riffs, Ryan would often send him guitar videos via WhatsApp, but I think when we come to write new stuff as a band it will be the old-fashioned way of all getting together in a jam room.
It is noticeable that on this album there is a greater range in all the performances, from the light and shade in the balance of the songs to Matt’s vocal delivery. Is this a result of having more time to brood and focus on the craft, a band decision or just the enforced downtime?
I think it was a bit of all those things really to be honest with you.
It feels like you have allowed yourselves to be more vulnerable on Death Rattle and this reflects in the lyrical direction of the songs. How do you approach the stories that you tell and how important is it for the themes to be cohesive when constructing the album?
Matt (Ryan) has a very vivid imagination and is an incredible lyricist. He often writes crazy kinds of stories, however, there was slightly less of that on Death Rattle, he wrote a bit more from personal experience. Our song Bad Trip for instance was all about our good friend, Alon, that sadly passed away some years ago and also Insomniac was all about the insomnia that he, Matt, suffered in his teenage years. As for the writing of the stories, I am pretty sure Matt will be able to tell you better than me but what he tends to do is jot down feelings and ideas to start with whilst we are jamming and developing ideas.
This is the first record to feature Matt Dennett on bass (who also plays in the awesome Battalions). How has he fitted in, other than his extremely competent contribution to the album, and what has he brought to Desert Storm?
He has fitted in just brilliantly. He is really easy to get along with and is a phenomenal bass player. His onstage presence is amazing too. The only bad thing is his fucking arsehole in the tour van! His constant farting is horrific – Haha
Obviously, you are just at the beginning of this cycle, what are your hopes for Death Rattle in terms of the success you would like to achieve as a band?
He [Matt Dennett] has fitted in just brilliantly. He is really easy to get along with and is a phenomenal bass player…
Any dream line-ups or bucket list gigs that you would love to be a part of?
I’d love to be able to tour with bigger bands and do massive festivals like Hellfest and Download in the summer months. Playing with bands like Metallica, Clutch, Monster Magnet, High On Fire etc would be cool and the biggest dream would be for the original line-up of Black Sabbath to reform and for us to support them! One can only dream – Haha.
Most importantly for collectors like me, when is the vinyl coming out?
I am told the end of May. It was a real shame we didn’t have them for the tour. Sorry to keep you waiting mate!
Best of luck with the new album, it is definitely a fantastic statement from the band and a high bar to set yourselves for the future. Before I leave you, do you have any last thoughts, on the album, the state of the industry, life in general or even just your favourite cheese?
Thank you Mark, I appreciate the time to interview me. Hmmm cheese, I have some Boursin in the fridge which you just reminded me about. Catch you at a gig soon hopefully!
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Elliot, enjoy the Boursin – we wish you and the rest of the band much success with the upcoming shows and beyond! Death Rattle is also out now through APF Records, with vinyl due imminently.
Interviewed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden