In summer 2011, two bands from the UK’s south coast, Jovian and Funeral Hag, broke up. Being at a temporary loss, four refugees from these bands decided to jam together. An hour into the session they had written their first song and Sea Bastard, as they were to become known, had formed. Ever since their first gig on Hallowe’en that year lending support to Pagan Altar they have been washing up in many a town to ply their doom. I caught up with them on one of their recent inland excursions.
The headline is going to be ‘Sea Bastard Hate Guinea Pigs’.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” agrees guitarist and riff-writer Oli ‘Irongiant’ Heart. But he wants to be clear on the point: “I hate the people who like guinea pigs more than the guinea pigs themselves.”
A biting wind cuts across the handful of wooden tables which constitute The Unicorn’s beer garden, overlooking the rumbling traffic on London’s Camden Road. We are huddled around one of these tables, having escaped the talk-drowning noise of the soundcheck already underway for tonight’s show where Sea Bastard are to support Iron Witch.
“I kind of want to know what they taste like, because they are a delicacy in some places,” says vocalist Ian ‘Monty’ Montgomery. The general consensus from the group is that they probably taste gamy, though Oli explains that he and bassist Steve Patton are actually vegetarians. Brought up vegetarian, and having dabbled in veganism before the draw of cheese pulled him back, Oli says he has tried meat and describes himself as being non-plussed by it.
“I’ve got nothing against meat-eaters, I’m just a vegetarian myself,” he adds. “I hate the way that food is produced, especially the way animals are treated in food production.”
“Intensive meat farming is not good,” Monty nods in agreement. “And also the meat you get out of it is shit.”
“We’re down with farmers, though.” The interjection comes from drummer George Leaver, and whilst at first seems flippant, it belies a genuineness which the rest of the band support with murmurs and head-nodding. The general feeling is that the industry needn’t be the way it all too often is. As Steve points out, when you start treating living things as just a product, it’s tipping things too far. He has a word of caution about portion size for veggies who may wish to try flesh: “If I eat lots of meat now, I get the shits really quickly.”
“I just like eating cows. They’re tasty.” Confirmed omnivore Monty is something of a connoisseur and talks briefly about how a £40 US steak trumped a £100 Wagyu, before recounting the best steak he’s ever had, sourced from a farm shop just outside the band’s hometown of Brighton.
These differing viewpoints on the bovine question don’t appear to have any impact on the band’s cohesion.
“We’re very different people, yeah,” says Oli.
“We’ve been mates for 15 years nearly. I mean, me, Monty and George have been mates for 13 years now. We’ve known Oli for about four or five years,” Steve explains.
“We just get on very well. We very rarely argue. We just like making the same kind of music, and we do it quite diplomatically and smoothly most of the time,” says Oli. “Even our musical tastes are very diverse.”
George has a theory about the uniting force at Sea Bastard’s core. “It’s the Power of the Riff; we’ve been pulled together by the Power of the Riff.” Laughter; a toast is drunk to the Power of the Riff, this seeming wholly appropriate.
“We just love playing really fucking loud,” is how Oli explains it. “I was into slow music from the first time I heard Earth, Dylan Carlson’s band. Black Sabbath was, and is, my favourite band ever, and Earth kind of took it a bit further. That was before Sunn O))) became their mimics. […] Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars has some of the best doom tunes I’ve ever heard. And Earth 2 is just incredible.”
“I usually get bored during drone [music], to be honest,” laughs Monty. “They need more riffs and some drums and stuff.”
From various quarters of the band many musical influences are cited, including Cathedral and Electric Wizard. For Oli, Corrupted is his favourite doom band of the moment. “Corrupted are one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. Sleep are the best band I’ve ever seen.”
And what of newer bands?
“The newer bands I like are the rougher ones,” Oli explains. “I like a lot of classic doom, myself. I do like Pagan Altar and stuff like that. But the bands that imitate them these days really piss me off; like, young bands playing old-style, classic doom really piss me off. I like purely bludgeoning, horrible doom made today rather than—”
“Dennis Wheatley-occult; kind of showy,” Steve finishes for his bandmate.
Oli goes on. “The only bands that I really like that do 70s really good stuff are Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and Blood Ceremony from Canada. But there are so many people trying to do the old traditional doom that just suck.”
Steve, however, questions whether it is a matter of backward-looking bands or personal aesthetics. “The first three Electric Wizard albums are perfect. Then they turned into a pop band, essentially.” The comment is greeted with a ripple of laughter, but Steve is not trying to be disparaging. As he points out, “It’s what they’re into, though, isn’t it?”
“I’m really looking forward to checking out 11Paranoias, the guy from Ramesses’ [Adam Richardson’s] new band, and the guy from Bong [Mike Vest] on guitars,” says Oli.
So where is Sea Bastard located amongst these rising bands?
“We’re all quite old these days. George has got his second kid on the way, and he’s the youngest of the band,” says Oli.
“We’ve got 20 years left and then we’re gonna hang it up,” deadpans George.
“The sound that we’re pummelling out now is the sound of sheer fucking perseverance,” Oli presses on earnestly. “We’re never expecting to get anything out of this except enjoyment.”
“We’re all failed rock stars at this point, so we’re just soldiering on,” says George.
Oli inadvertently hits on what may be taken as the band’s motto: “We love cocaine and drink.”
“It’s just been great that people like what we’ve been doing,” says Steve. “It’s been flattering that people like what we do. They buy a record, buy a T-shirt…”
“It’s amazing how many people actually like Sea Bastard,” agrees Monty. “I kind of thought that when we started no-one was going to like it because it was really, really horrible.”
“Especially as Steve tries to make it as unlistenable as possible,” Oli needles.
“What do you mean, just Steve?” Monty erupts with mock indignation, “Isn’t that what we’re all doing?”
“Yeah, but especially Steve.”
At this point, a stranger emerges from the warm innards of the pub and asks about a spliff. He’s told we’re not smoking. “Not yet,” someone adds quietly.
“I’ve always been most interested in the sound in-between the notes,” says Oli. This is obvious to anyone who has heard Sea Bastard either live or on record, where songs are flanked by heavy amp hiss and individual chords are left to crumble.
“That’s what we pushed for in Scabrous, having that space to give George the room for the drum fills and things, and Oli and I kept it really simple,” says Steve.
Why the name ‘Scabrous’ for the new record?
“We were trying to find a word that fitted the record and we were all emailing each other with various suggestions,” says Steve. “It’s partly from the song ‘Nightmares of the Monolith’; I was flicking through some Lovecraft stories.”
“We’re all into Lovecraft,” says Oli. This is something they share with many a well-regarded doom band.
“‘Scabrous’ was one of the words that described someone’s skin,” Steve goes on, “and it sounded like the songs. […] It was the one that stuck.”
Steve leaves no doubt that Lovecraft is one of the band’s chief non-musical influences, and Oli reaffirms the sentiment: “I love the imagery that he uses, and always have done. He’s one of the best horror writers.”
That element of horror can certainly be felt in the four tracks on Scabrous. “We like to think we steered ourselves a bit more in the direction we were originally aiming for in the second album,” says George. Oli aptly describes this direction as “Nastier, more horrific and more mournful.”
“It’s all recorded live as well, facing each other while we play,” says Steve.
It is agreed that heavy music should always be recorded live and not to a click track. It’s how they write and play the songs, George says, so it’s how they want to record them as well.
“We find a common tempo,” muses Oli as the Irish whisky slips down. “It’s funny how songs take a different character the longer you play them live. I’ve found that George plays the fast bits faster, and the slow bits slower, than the actual recordings. I love that natural process.”
“Essentially, we’re slow, loud, simple,” admits George. “But we don’t want to be a complete one-trick pony, so we put a little bit here and there that changes it slightly.”
“We love Motörhead as much as we do Electric Wizard,” says Oli, as if to suggest how these variations may have crept into their writing.
“We even did a Motörhead cover set, once.” Monty is referring to the gig they played as part of Brighton’s Sea Monsters festival. They kept their low tuning for the performance.
For tonight’s performance they have been allotted 30 minutes, so they should be able to play a song-and-a-bit.
“We are hoping to fit in two,” says Monty. “According to the timings on the album, they should fit, so we won’t be pissing everyone off by over-running.”
“We’re playing the longest song we’ve ever written tonight, which will be the last one, called ‘Metamorphic Possession’ and it’s the most complicated one we’ve ever written as well,” says Oli. Both songs on the set list are taken from Scabrous. “We’ve fucked the song up so many times live.”
“And something always breaks,” Monty adds.
“I fucking hope not!” There are smiles, but it’s clear Oli is being sincere.
“Last week his amp set on fire before he even actually played a note,” says Monty.
“I’m using my favourite amp tonight; I usually use two amps, but tonight I’m just using the one which is my ‘old faithful’, so hopefully she’ll make it through,” says Oli. “Marshalls are fucking shit, sometimes. Especially modern Marshalls. I like older Marshalls, but modern Marshalls suck so badly. Hopefully we’ll not have [amps breaking] tonight.”
“If not, maybe we can break someone else’s amp instead,” Monty beams.
Sea Bastard’s records are available for digital download from http://seabastard.bandcamp.com. Scabrous is expected to be available on vinyl, cassette and CD in the spring.
Interviewed by: Stephen B Murray
Additional Questions: James Thomas